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Monthly Archives: October 2010

Detective Dee—The latest “wuxia” movie recommended by our woman from the land down under.

Detective Dee—The latest “wuxia” movie recommended by our woman from the land down under.  With guest co-author Bonnie (who has not actually seen the movie but still feels free to offer an opinion and research and who may have imbibed some sense of Detective Dee via osmosis when her parents were reading the Judge Dee mysteries based on this character many years ago).

I am sitting in the Houston airport for the next 9 hours waiting for my plane to  . . . well you’ll read about that later.  Anyways, I asked Dangerous what she thought the next movie we may want to take a look at should be and she said take a look at Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame (2010).  So I did.

Detective Dee is played by Asian movie and pop legend Andy Lau (Battle of Wits—Mozy Warriors and many others) and is a good “popcorn” movie.  Detective Dee is the latest “wuxia” movie directed by Tsui Hark—a pioneer of the wuxia genre.  Wuxia films are particular to China; they blend martial arts with chivalry and tend to have a protagonist who is similar to, but not quite the same as, a Western knight-errant.

Not only does this movie have Andy Lau in it (which always makes it a must-see in my book), but it is directed by the formidable Tsui Hark (who will, incidentally, be helping to judge the feature films category at the Cannes Film Festival this year). Hark also directed Once Upon a Time in China (for a link to our friend Silver’s masterful review of that flick, click here). Standing at 5’9” (it’s amazing what you can find out on IMDB), he is considered a master of the kung fu action genre and, from what I saw (and what Bonnie didn’t see) here, I have to say that he is a master of the wuxia subgenre as well.

The story is about a woman who is about to become emperor and unite China.  Naturally she is getting many people in the kingdom all pissed off because a woman is about to ascend to the throne.  In honor of her coronation a 1,000 foot Buddha is being constructed overlooking the palace.  Officials working on the statue are starting to self-immolate; that is, bursting in to flames from the inside out. (I hate it when that happens!) With the coronation not far off the soon to be empress needs these crimes solved to avoid any taint on her ascension to the throne.

She calls in Detective Dee, the Sherlock Holmes of China.  Dee also happened to be one of the leaders of a revolt against her when he emperor-husband died under mysterious circumstances.  I guess when you need the best you need the best.

Detective Dee starts his investigation which begins to reveal an ugly trail of deceit and murder perpetrated by the Empress to seize power. Her motto is “everyone is expendable in the pursuit of power.” As Dee gets closer and closer to finding the truth, the stakes get higher and higher for his life. However, it is Dee’s old assistant, who was tortured by the Empress to the tune of having one of his hands cut off, who is responsible for the Phantom Flame deaths. His axe to grind is simple: revenge. He was tortured for years and as we know, payback’s a bitch. His plan is to have the Buddha crash down on the coronation ceremony, killing everyone in the palace. Dee figures this out and puts a stop to the madness.

This movie is interesting because the viewer does not have a clear “hero riding on a white horse” to sympathize with. The Empress and the assistant are each quite a piece of work; the Empress has got a trail of dead bodies as long as the Boston Marathon, while the assistant has been putting beetles into people to cause them to self-immolate (they weren’t really immolating themselves out of anguish over watching a woman ascend to the throne, as it turns out).

Any of you who know anything about me know I am a big Asian movie fan.  So it’s good to see another big budget, big screen Asian movie hit the theaters, though it probably will not get any decent play in the states a la Red Cliff (bastardizing the movie by leaving two hours of film on the cutting room floor).

 
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Posted by on October 31, 2010 in Movie Reviews

 

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Here is a series that is may be lost but not forgotten: The Tick

The Tick was the cartoon version of the comic book that didn’t get nearly enough exposure from comic book stores it deserved.  The show takes place in “The City” which is filled with other superheroes and super villains.

The saga starts when The Tick crashes the annual superhero convention where various heroes and their side kicks are matched with the urban areas they are to defend.  The Tick unintentionally pretty much destroys the convention center while demonstrating his super powers—nigh invulnerably and super strength.  He is assigned to “The City,” and travels there in a bus where he meets up with Arthur, a mild-mannered accountant who walks around in a moth suit dreaming of becoming a superhero instead becoming the necessary sidekick.  The two – along with occasional help from fellow superheroes like the cowardly yet self-styled ladies man Die Fledermaus (The Bat), the capable American Maid who throws her stiletto heals at villains, the Sewer Urchin who uses his smell against evil doers, the Civic Minded 5 and many more.  Some of the super villains  included such inspired creations as The Idea Men, The Breadmaster, Pineapple Pokopo, Chair-face Chippendale just to name a few.

The Tick’s sidekick, Arthur, was a pudgy accountant who found a “Moth Suit” that lets him fly around, and left his old hum-drum life behind to fight crime.  A chronic worrier with a belly, he’s the smart but timid counterpoint to the Tick’s brazenness.  His catchphrase of “Not in the face!” pretty much sums him up.

“The Tick” enjoyed a three season run in the mid-’90s, largely fueled by the fact that the show was enjoyed by adults just as much as it was children – it offered wacky battles between the heroes and increasingly bizarre villains, but was always quite clever. The series, which certainly didn’t take itself too seriously and is a funny today as it was when I watched it originally.

 
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Posted by on October 24, 2010 in Movie Reviews

 

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Our Woman From Down Under Looks at “Valiant Ones.”

As you may recall, our woman from the land down under, Dangerous Meredith, won any DVD of her choice and she happened to choose “Valiant Ones” (a/k/a Zhong lie tu).  Directed by King Hu, with action choreography by Sammo Hung.  So let’s see what Dangerous has to say:

Valiant Ones

Directed by King Hu, with action choreography by Sammo Hung.

Cast and crew  found here:

http://www.hkcinemagic.com/en/movie.asp?id=2572

Final fight scene:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NF_gDlm0SyU

The overall look to this film is elegant and spare. It is mostly set in a forest, with some interior shots of headquarters and tents. Some of the action also takes place on a sea-shore, and the first action scene happens in and around an inn in a poor fishing village. The costumes could be considered as being tasteful rather than glamorous, and feature scholars’ robes, peasant dress and soldiers’ uniforms. Even the high officials’ rich robes feature somber colors. The palette for the art direction in this movie sits harmoniously with the greens of the forest and the blues of the sea against which it is set: blues, grays, beige’s, browns and whites predominate. The occasional red of some soldiers’ uniforms is a nicely judged splash of color.

The performances could be called elegant and spare as well. Although the actors all use the ultra intense eye focus and graceful and stylized placement of gestures, limbs and bodies that is (to me anyway) a hall mark of kung fu movie acting, there is no really ‘big’ or extravagant acting here. The simple plot and action choreography do not seem to call for it. Our heroes are a band of fighters that have been called together to take on a troupe of pirates that are threatening to colonise part of China’s coast. The fighters are experienced and adept martial arts veterans. They are taciturn, dignified, cunning and of serious intent. Outrageous shenanigans are not their bag. In keeping with the austere overall tone of this movie, even the villains are not as over the top as in some chopsockies.

It is as if director King Hu has done away with anything that could be a distraction to the forward motion of his plot. There are no tizzy costumes, no fake tiger skin rugs, no bizarre and gurning villains in this film. The one female warrior is nicely dressed, yes, but she does not wear a pastel coloured costume or fake eye lashes. Instead the intentness of the Valiant Ones, the build of tension as they wait for the pirate attack on their forest camp, the ploys they use to outwit the pirates, are presented to us in a steady unfolding of plot.

The action scenes break out as a necessary expression of the tension and contained energy that builds during the film. The action scenes are embedded skillfully in the narrative, as they are in the best kung fu movies. In one way, the dialogue scenes could be seen as setting the scene for the fights. But in another way, the plot developments and expression of character and feeling that is contained in the choreography seems to initiate and make sense of the atmosphere in the dialogue driven scenes. The libretto of this film has a nice balance between dialogue and action, and these 2 components have been skillfully integrated.

The lovely choreography in this film is interesting. One the one hand it is by far the most flamboyant and fanciful element of this movie. But, compared to other kung fu movie choreography, it is (as with all other aspects of Valiant Ones) pared down and more austere. There are no balletic, acrobatic, wire fu inspired fantastic flights of fancy here. The movement is elegant but not in the least bit quirky or whimsical or baroque. The fight scenes do their job – they serve the plot – and then they contribute just enough beauty to ensure the aesthetic appeal of the film (but not one jot more). I have just finished blogging about the fight in the White Lotus temple in Once Upon A Time in China 2. Choreographed by Yuen Wu Ping, this fight scene does a grand job of supporting its host movie’s themes and narrative but could also stand alone as an independent piece of performance art. None of the fight scenes in Valiant Ones could quite do that. The intention behind the choreographing, directing and filming of the action here is quite different.

Editors Notes:  Dangerous always writes almost metaphysical reviews of movies which are a welcome change of pace from your run of the mill recitation of the facts.

Thanks Dangerous!

 
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Posted by on October 22, 2010 in Movie Reviews

 

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I can’t believe it took me this long to review a Pink Panther movie.

I can’t believe it took me this long to review a Pink Panther movie.

After looking over the site, I realized that I had not reviewed any of the Pink Panther movies.  Well than nonsense ends now.

Though my favorite Pink Panther movie is A Shot In The Dark, we will look at the Pink Panther Strikes Again because I had the pleasure of watching it with Dr. H.

In this one, former Chief Inspector Dreyfus (Herbert Lom) is about to be released from a mental hospital– in which he has resided since being driven crazy by Clouseau– the very afternoon of his release hearing he is visited by none other than Clouseau.  Clouseau has come to speak on behalf of his former boss because he “is not without influence.”  When Clouseau is through `helping,’ his former boss, he is driven from the premises by the relapsed, stark raving mad Dreyfus.  And it’s only the first scene of the French Inspector’s antics that, before it is over, include a fantastic bout with Cato, a trip to Oktoberfest, encounters with a dozen hit-men from around the world, a beautiful Russian spy named Olga (Lesley-Anne Down), a surprise Egyptian spy and a one-man assault on a castle.

I know, some of you may be thinking “but J.P., the movie’s plot is totally absurd,” and yes you are correct.  Seller’s Clouseau requires a totally absurd plot to perform his laugh out loud style of comedy.  There was no end to the ways Sellers could make you laugh; from a subtle expression– an eye averted or perhaps the slight raising of an eyebrow– to the most overt slapstick, he was the master.  Physically, practically all he had to do to get a laugh was show up.  One of my favorite lines in movie history is when Clouseau is questioning the residents/staff of a manor and he has managed to get a mace stuck on his arm.  He swings at bee flying around and smashes a priceless Steinway piano–well its not one any more:

Clouseau:  “A beekeeper who has lost his voice, a cook who thinks he is a gardener and a witness to murder . . . Oh yes it is obvious to my trained eye that there is much more going on here than meets the ear . . . (swings a buzzing bee but smashes piano)  . . . before you are dismissed Mr. Stutterstutt, I suggest you count your bees, you may find that one of them is missing . . .”

Lady-Witness:  “You ruined that piano”

Clouseau:  “What is the price of one piano compared to the terrible crime that has been committed here?”

Lady-Witness: “But that is a priceless Steinway!”

Clouseau:  “Not any more.”

It may not look that great on paper, but watching Sellers perform it always makes me laugh.  I included this scene as one of the clips so enjoy.

The clips chosen are the longest I have put on the site since its creation.  I thought it was necessary because to really appreciate the humor you need to watch the entire scene.

 
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Posted by on October 1, 2010 in Movie Reviews

 

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