Fire of Conscience was mildly entertaining, but in the end pretty stupid. I’m never impressed much with any of the Hong Kong action films as they rarely take the time to develop any sort of decent plot and the characters never have any decent backstory. The martial arts epics tend to be slightly better, but they always follow the same pattern: little fights against minibosses, build to epic battle against epic boss. Boss is always some caricatured enemy. Ip Man 1, it was some feisty Japanese general with a smidgen of honor; his subordinates had none. I declined to watch Ip Man 2. The enemy in that case was some British boxer dude whose backers represented the worst of the worst, the British colonizer who besmirched the honor of China. Ip Man apparently saved China’s honor from being completely destroyed by the Japanese and British, a feat which seems more magical than true history.
The best Asian action movie I’ve seen thus far this year has got to be Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen. The movie is very anti-Japanese – but it’s justified as it is a movie about a Chinese hero, who just happens to unite a few of his countrymen against Japanese imperialists. It happens to tell a decent story with some mad decent action scenes (take the beginning…. Chen Zhen goes all kung-fuey on WWI Germans while assisting the Allies in France), which is a rarity in Chinese action movies. The Shanghai nightclub scenes are filmed effectively and with style, and there’s relatively little cheese in the romance/drama parts of the movie. No overblown soap opera here. Casting is done well, and the Japanese/English spliced in are generally good and not awkward (save for one “British” businessman who says ‘fucking Japanese’ in some weird accent that’s definitely not a British one… cue lots of laughter at the awkwardness, which cuts off almost immediately when he’s then shot and pitched of a roof by a Japanese spy posing as a Chinese cigarette girl). It’s all very “for China!” so I assume the film censors would have nothing to say about this one, other than “hurrah,” foreign film market! Donnie Yen is cast well here as a nightclub manager slash secret revolutionary and does the handsome action hero well, almost pulling a Bruce Lee with some of the action poses and pre-attack shrieks that he’s got going. The Bruce Lee comparison is intended, as they slyly hint at Lee many, many times during the movie, though not borrowing him too much. Somebody posted on a msgboard and complained that the editing hinted that Donnie was unable to do too much action because of injuries sustained during filming for another movie… that may have been true, but the action shown was more than adequate, and I value the reason for the fight scenes a bit more than the fight scenes themselves. Too often, martial arts movies are setpieces for action sequences; I could rewatch this on the merits of the whole movie.
Cold Fish was aggravating but ultimately satisfying in its slow build, continuous torture and almost unexpected gruesome violence. The old man – young female sexual relationship and power dynamic, a short skirt fetish, suicidal tendencies (so you’re not doing as well as a psycho serial murderer who has to kill to make his money… is that comparable in the least? if so, then you really have some issues.), preoccupation with honor, all these items seemed distinctly (or stereotypically) Japanese so that without any actual thoughtful analysis, I imagined the movie to be some sort of reflection of Japanese society, and a condemnation of something. Or whatever.
Wuss was entertaining, but failed to make an really adequate point. I felt mildly satisfied at the end mainly because the wuss proved he could get the girl… but then, the girl was underage and obviously got some of her own back letting this dude buy her booze and get high with her. So, a morally ambiguous tale. Perhaps they meant there to be no point; unfortunately, I need one.
Incendies was amazing. Looking back, the story does seem somewhat of a tabloid shocker and the basis for some horrifying C-list bargain bin shocker. However, the director took his time exploring the cultural and semi-historical aspects, thus making the story way more meaningful than the horrible news the main characters have to face at the end. The “climax” ends up being proof positive that the whole journey needed to be taken, even if the results could be published in the National Enquirer and would seem entirely melodramatic on its own without the build.
Lapland Odyssey shows that Finns can make stupid road trip comedies just as well as US filmmakers can. Essentially forgettable, it got a decent amount of applause because it was just that – decent. People were probably expecting some abysmal work or a movie in which the jokes don’t translate well at all. Instead, it was funny and easy to identify with. Nothing outstanding however, expect for the platinum blonde girlfriend whose staying or leaving is the central conflict of the whole movie. You can see why the dude would go to great lengths to keep her, even though she’s not that nice to him… she actually gets all her stuff into her ex’s van before rethinking her actions. That’s hella far to go on a one-day fight that she’s not even that serious about.
This year’s Jane Eyre was a quality adaptation. The dramatic elements (the leering Rochester and his murderous harpy wife) are so often grotesquely emphasized in other productions, but they kept it reasonable and focused the attention where it should be: on what Jane wants and what life deals her, and how much of it she will take. It was portrayed as somewhat of a ghost story in the trailers, which I appreciated. THe mood should be sombre, damp and a little haunted. How could you not be, with Jane’s life as it was?
Hanna definitely worked well for me. I came out of it thinking that it was a great action movie (with enough action scenes in it to justify being compared to other action movies, aka 3-4 decent fights, lots of running) and also a good character exploration. Saoirse Ronan did an amazing job as a woman-child coming to terms with the real world, and was entirely believable as a super soldier. In one shot, she spars with a thug and then takes his knife and stabs him viciously in the stomach – I wanted to see more of it, but even with that regret, I understood why they only did it once. Her new “friend” watches it and is horrified with this crazy girl from the forest, and Saoirse’s character realizes how different she is. How do you pronounce Saoirse anyways? Seems like an awesome name to have. Also, the languages spoken are pulled off pretty well. Her Arabic seemed to have pretty crisp delivery. It was filmed well, with lots of lingering shots (and one long, long shot for one of the Eric Bana fight scenes) and a nice sense of space. The tense score by the Chemical Brothers also helped. They really helped pump up the chase scenes, and it wasn’t all thumping bass like most would expect from an electronic music tag team.