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Welcome to my movie blog, containing reviews and articles. I've been writing since 2004 - with a short break during 2009.

I know kung fu!


I have a stack of Kung Fu movies to watch, so I thought I’d review the first two as a bundle, just to see what slice of the genre I’ve ended up with. And demonstrate the important difference between them.

I’m going to try hard not to offend anybody in the know, but I’ll start by saying I know nothing. I’m a lousy westerner who is trying very hard not to commit the cardinal of confusing Japan and China, which I'm fully aware is an infamia on the largest scale. And I use kung fu as an interchangeable term for karate, ju-jitsu, kick boxing and anything else under the umbrella of martial arts. Friend 1 is especially annoyed by the latter habit...

The Bulletproof Monk is Hollywood’s response to the wushu craze. Realising it had missed out on the newest thing (and doubtless irritated it wasn’t 100% homegrown American) they dashed after the bandwagon until they came up with this – the Van Helsing of karate films. And it’s got it all – mystical prophecies, wise Asian mentors, Nazis and young punks who can learn kung fu from working at a cinema…hell, it’s even got a hardcore party on an abandoned subway train. If I’m making this out to sound like campy good fun then my mistake.

The more “Hollywood” films I watch, the more I hate them, with their neat camera work, their tidy narrative structures and character arcs. Most people don’t watch enough films to notice how samey they all are. Until you’ve met something that’s really willing to throw the rulebook out, how do you know what you’re missing? Unless you know what good direction, good acting, good cinematography, good sound design is, how can you be expected to miss it? A few months ago, I reviewed C4’s “100 films to see before you die”. If you made Joe Average filmgoer sit through half the films on that list, he might realise the difference.

This isn’t just an excuse to rant at the “don’t watch foreign film” crowd. Having seen the Matrix and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon – both genuinely different films it obviously tried to capitalise on the success of – this is painfully banal and middle of the road. Perhaps if I’d seen it three years ago, I would have loved it. But try as I might, I cannot bring myself to say anything nice about it. I didn’t even enjoy it as “rubbishy” good fun. But hell. If you’ve got an idiot friend or relation who thinks that anything made more than a few months previous (except Dirty Dancing LOL!) is a waste of time, who doesn’t go to the cinema to read and has no interest in all things black and white, start them on this. It’d be a good backdoor way to sneak both Chow Yun Fat and kung fu into their consciousness. And who knows – if they like it, you might be able to get them through Crouching Tiger (dubbed, of course). They’ll be requesting Seven Samurai before the week is out!

Contrast with the Street Fighter. As a genuinely oriental movie, it dispenses with Hollywood’s portrayal of Japan and China as purveyors of ancient wisdom, proverbs and stir fried rice. Our anti-hero Terry is a uberwarrior for hire, with his own alternative concept of honour. And discovering a noble path to his destiny is the last thing on his agenda…

I didn’t quite follow the storyline with its tangle of bit players, but to be honest, I think it’d be fair to say it’s little more than an excuse for a series of fights. And by gum there’s a lot of blood! Perhaps it’s because I’ve never been exposed to properly violent films, but I think not…even in more adult films I’ve never seen this level of cartoonish bloodletting – heads exploding, people’s throats and balls being ripped out by hand, people being shot and beaten up to a chorus of hearty thwacks and large, bright red splats. Between my occasional exclamations of "ooooeuch!", it brought to mind something Mr Tarantino said about Kill Bill and cultural tolerance.

We didn’t actually get to see his uncut vision of g(l)ory over here. In the version for us western pansies, the fight/massacre against hundreds of armed enemies was put into black and white to tone down the nastiness. The east, however, got it in Technicolor. QT said this was because they are far more relaxed with their standards and are far more used to copious bloodletting. At the time I shrugged it off, but having seen this I see what he means. After all, Kill Bill was an 18 just like The Street Fighter, so technically he should have been able to get away with almost as much gore as he liked.

Apparently, QT was surprised when Res Dogs gained a reputation for being “really violent”. But if his theory is correct, it’s more because we’re not used to that level of sadistic, messy violence than him making something truly nasty. I must admit, I was somewhat surprised by the merciless bloodletting in The Street Fighter. I was expecting people falling over and going “oogh!” Zulu-style. On the other hand, I didn’t check the certificate first, so mea culpa

(incidentally, QT’s comments only occurred to my mind because the only reason I was watching The Street Fighter at all was due to its inclusion in his* film True Romance. Or rather, the refusal of this woman in the first scene to attend a triple bill. She is everything I hate about the world. She would probably enjoy the Bulletproof Monk though…)

*this “his” is highly debatable. He wrote the script, but Tony Scott directed it. His ending was changed, and the soundtrack is definitely not what QT would have had in mind. However, I think there’s enough there for it to count as least half his. The Sonny Chiba marathon is one of the main arguments in his defence. Who else would have picked that?

This isn’t a classic by any means. The gleefully atrocious dubbing alone puts it in a class of badness. But it is good badness – the rawness of the action is a good antidote to more clean-cut kung fu (say, the Bulletproof Monk), and there are some painfully touching moments between Terry and his punier tagalong Ratnose. I know, I know, Emily loves a film about buddy-love. Call Harry Knowles – who saw that one coming? And it’s a very good example of that sort of properly vicious martial arts movie QT obviously grew up on.

(by the way, I’ve recently developed a bad habit of comparing films to films I haven’t seen yet. Most recently, John Boorman’s Emerald Forest to Deliverance. One scene in this struck me as reminiscent of one in Planet Terror. But I’ll keep my mouth shut until I’ve seen it, just in case I’m wrong…)

Next installments if I can be arsed: Enter the Dragon, A Man called Hero, The Tuxedo, Return of the Street Fighter and Sister Street Fighter.

2 comments:

Benjamin said...

If you like 'mindfuck' movies, try watching (and understanding, that's the tricky part) the 2004 movie Primer (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0390384/).

Ninquelosse said...

Oooh, thank you - I love 'em. It looks good, I'll keep an eye out for it.

 
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