Martial Arts

Hero

dir: Zhang Yimou
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Yes, yes, a beautiful film. You know that, I know that, but does that mean it’s a decent film as well? Surely a film needs more than stunning visuals to make it worthwhile? I mean there are a tonne of pornos that have stunning visuals and amazing views of that which one rarely sees in their own lifetime, but that doesn’t make them Oscar quality films to show the whole family over Christmas dinner, does it?

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Myth, The

dir: Stanley Tong
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Jackie Chan films are, by and large, pretty silly. The Myth is even sillier than most, but that doesn’t mean it’s completely unentertaining. Is there such a word? That’s it, I’m copywriting it.

Who cares, either way. The Myth is a silly but not unentertaining film about two guys in two different time periods played by Jackie. Let’s fact it, even Jackie’s best films are pretty silly. And here, paired with the same director who made Rumble in the Bronx and the appalling First Strike, this flick happily resides somewhere in the middle.

I love Jackie Chan. It’s impossible not to love him. Anyone who doesn’t love him barely retain the tattered remnants of a soul that makes them human. He’s just so lovable, like puppies, like cute little babies, like panda cubs.

That’s not the same thing as saying that a) he’s a great actor, or b) most of his films are good. Most of his films are crap. Really, really crap. So crap that they make you want to gouge your eyes out and those of the people sitting next to you. And the longer his career has gone on, the more crap his films have generally become. Of course, he’s been in 97 movies, so it’s not surprising that most of them are shite.

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Forbidden Kingdom, The

dir: Rob Minkoff
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Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a young clueless kind of guy (Michael Angarano) who’s a big fan of 70s Hong Kong martial arts films gets mysteriously yanked through time in a bid to save China from the evil Jade Warlord (Collin Chou) by returning the staff of the Monkey King (Jet Li) to its rightful owner.

From zero to hero in record time. Yes it is the same plot as every ill-advised attempt to bridge the cultural and box office gap between America and China through the distorted lens of Hong Kong cinema that has ever been committed to celluloid, cellulite and cellulose as well.

Homaging, pastiching, or downright ripping off Hong Kong flicks is nothing remotely new, in fact some hacks have made a career out of it. This flick takes a slightly different tack in that it uses CGI and current editing/post production tricks not to reference those flicks, but to at least replicate them on the whole, whilst remaining American-friendly throughout.

In other words, except for the pasty, awkward American teenager, this looks like a pretty good approximation of one of the many Shaw Brothers flicks that they talk about, except it’s in English.

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Rocky Balboa

dir: Sylvester Stallone
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Why did this film have to be made? Was it because of you?

Did anyone want a sixth Rocky film? A film where a guy in his sixties steps into the ring once more at an age where what he should be fighting against is the onset of diabetes and osteoporosis? Whose greatest opponent should be his fragile hips?

I’ll tell you who demanded that this flick get made, who needed to see it through: Stallone himself. It is impossible to separate the motivations of the character from the actor/director. Rocky feels the need to once more step into the ring at a time and place so far passed its use-by date that the very idea is met with incredulity by all around him. Stallone resurrected and made this flick when no-one around him apart from accountants thought it should be made.

“Rocky/Sylvester, you’re too old, no-one thinks you can do it, you’ll embarrass yourself, get over your glory days and live in the present. Just let it go, old man, please, we’re begging you.”

But, like Don Quixote, like King Knut railing against the tide, like Rocky Balboa himself, Stallone refuses to admit his age and to admit his own irrelevancy in this modern day and age.

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Fearless (Huo Yuanjia)

dir: Ronny Yu
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They’re selling this as Jet Li’s last action film. We can only hope and pray…

Jet Li, god love him, has had a very variable career. It started off all right, performing gymnastics in front of Richard Nixon as a child prodigy, but mostly it’s been downhill from there. Sure, he was in a bunch of cool martial arts flicks, but who really cares? As the philosopher Janet Jackson once rightly pointed out: What Have You Done For Me Lately?

Okay, so he was in Hero, which was good, and gets better with every viewing, but does that make up for all the awful American crap with his grimy fingerprints all over them? The One, Cradle 2 the Grave, Kiss of the Dragon, Romeo Must Die: the list drags ever on.

There’s just not that much to the guy. He’s too well known for his past exploits to be considered much of anything other than a fighter, and he’s considered too wooden to be considered much of an actor. Saying Fearless is his last action role is akin to announcing his retirement. I can’t exactly see him taking the lead in the next Robert Altman film or taking the stage to play Uncle Vanya or Richard the Third.

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Banquet, The (Ye yan)

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(also released as The Legend of the Black Scorpion, for no good reason)

dir: Xiaogang Feng

A wuxia version of Hamlet sounds like a crazy way to try to sell tickets. It comes as a major surprise that it actually works. The universal themes of treachery, loyalty, love and revenge are easily transferred from the court of the Danish monarchy to the throne room of the Tang Dynasty.

The writers retain the elements from Hamlet that work, discard the rest and make fundamental changes where it suits them, turning the tale into one of court intrigue and romantic deceptions rather than emphasising an indecisive son's desire to avenge his father's murder. Wu Luan (Daniel Wu) is the crown prince in this version, without the madness or the indecisiveness, but his desire for vengeance against his usurper uncle remains the same.

The new Emperor Li (Gou Le) tries to wear his brother's armour, but it is uncomfortable. The armour bleeds from an eye socket just to make sure we understand that something is wrong.

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Death Trance

dir: Yoji Shimomura
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Easily the dumbest and most worthless flick I’ve seen in a Japanese donkey’s age. Run, don’t walk to not hire a copy from your local Blockburster. Be excited, be be excited.

A review like this is more of a warning for people to not make the mistake of hiring something or soiling their eyeballs by watching if they’re unlucky enough to be caught on a couch when the remote’s broken and they’re forced to watch it on television. Just keep your eyes closed, even when they start bleeding. It’ll be easier that way.

The film used to brainwash and punish the guy in A Clockwork Orange should have been Death Trance. You know the famous scene; where Alex is strapped to a chair and clamps are used to force his eyes open as he screams and screams watching the onscreen madness. What the hell does Death Trance refer to anyway? It’s not mentioned in the flick. Perhaps it refers to the state the filmmakers expect the viewers to be left in when it’s over.

The plot, if I can insult the English language by using the word in this context, has to do with a magical coffin which, if it is dragged into a particular forest, can either make the Goddess of Destruction appear, or make their bum look smaller or something when they’re wearing that pair of pants that used to fit them so well a few years ago

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House of Flying Daggers

dir: Zhang Yimou
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What a truly beautiful film, in all the senses that the word can encompass. And if you think about just how important beauty is to those of us with eyes and ears and hearts, you might know how it is that I can forgive the shortcomings of a film solely for its sheer visual splendour.

Film, being the most complex of the visual mediums (well duh), needs beauty like homeless drunks need booze: fiercely, deeply, utterly. For those of us that try to watch much of the new stuff that comes out at the cinema, it’s the knowledge or the conceit that seeing a film on the big screen is somehow ‘right’ or inherently ‘better’ than waiting to see it on your television screen that is a driving force. In truth most of the time it’s a complete delusion. My life and my experience of film is none the better for having watched Blade III, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Van Helsing or Cabin Fever on the big screen, in fact I can say that in some ways it’s probably worse off. I’m sure that watching bad films on the silver screen causes brain cancer or genital warts or something.

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Kung Fu Hustle

Gong Fu

dir: Stephen Chow
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Who? What? What the fuck? Huh?

Easy. Calm down. Breathe. Relax.

So you may not have heard about the so-called follow up to Shaolin Soccer by Stephen Chow. Unless you’re in Melbourne I don’t know if you can even see it yet unless you wander down to the Chinatown cinemas in the middle of the city’s Golden Triangle (Russell, Bourke and Swanston Streets). And since according to my sources it’s the last Chinatown cinema still operating in Australia, until it starts playing in the arthouse cinemas in a few month’s time (since Sony snatched it up), it may seem a bit pointless reviewing it when those few people who might be interested in seeing it don’t really have the option. Unless they get a pirate copy from someone who looks dodgier than the guy behind the counter at a sex shop.

It’s one of the reasons why when I see films at film festivals I mostly don’t review and post about them. It seems both pointless and self-aggrandising, as if to brag about films others can’t see yet just to show how wonderful and nerdy I am. Which I’m not. I swear I’m not, you’ve got to believe me.

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