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What does two men playing cards, $100,000,000 and a lot of clicking noises equal? The South African film The Gods Must Be Crazy (1980).

I had forgotten about this film until someone recently mentioned it to me.  When I heard the title I knew I had to review it because to this day it is one of the funniest films I’ve ever seen.  It is a light-hearted film about who has the better life the “uncivilized” bushman of the Kalahari Desert or the people living in a “civilized” world with all the modern problems and stresses of everyday life.  Apparently the film generated much controversy and the government of Trinidad and Tobago even went so far as to ban it.  You’ve got to be kidding me—banning the Gods Must Be Crazy!  What film are they watching?

 

It is a simple film with three plot lines that starts with a Coke bottle falling out of the sky (tossed from a passing airplane) and is found by a tribe of Bushmen in the Kalahari Desert.  The bottle, being unique and beautiful, leads to the new feelings of jealousy and conflicts within the tribe.  So the leader of the tribe, Xi, decides to travel to “the end of the Earth” to return this gift to the Gods who, Xi believes dropped it.  As he travels to the end of the Earth, he encounters civilization, and civilization is shown to be ugly, cruel and insane compared to the simple, Eden like life of Xi’s blessed, relaxed people.  The second plotline has Mr. Stayn, a scientist working in the game reserve, meeting Miss Thompson, a school teacher, to whom he‘s attracted, but Stayn cannot do anything right around women.  The third has Sam Boga lead an unsuccessful military junta and becomes a fugitive running from the law in neighboring country.  Boga takes Miss Thompson and her class hostage during his flight.  Mr. Stayn and Xi, who temporarily works as a guide, help free the hostages, capture Boga and his men, and Stayn finally is able to relate his feelings to Miss Thompson.

The film has many slapstick moments that actually work in the picture.  One scene has Sam Boga’s gang burst into the President’s cabinet room only to have the doors slam back on them as they try to shoot the President and his subordinates.  Two of Boga’s men (that are constantly playing cards) are trying to shoot down a helicopter that is chasing them with a bazooka only to first shoot a bunch of bananas and have the shells keep falling out of the weapon before finally blowing up their pursuers.  The two go back to playing cards and try to every chance they get.  It may sound corny but it actually works.  Xi eventually saves the day by tranquilizing Boga and his men and eventually finds himself at the top of a cliff with a solid layer of low-lying clouds obscuring the landscape below. This convinces Xi that he has reached the edge of the world, and he throws the bottle off the cliff; this scene was filmed in South Africa (now Mpumalanga)), at the edge of the escarpment between the Highveld and of South Africa.  Xi then returns to his tribe and a warm welcome from his family.

Frankly people who call the film racist or anything along those lines just needs to calm down.  The fact of the matter is that the film grossed $100,000,000 worldwide shattering box office records in many countries.  The film also spawned two authorized sequels and three unauthorized films made in Hong Kong.  It is a great lighthearted film that equally funny for adults and children alike.  I suggest you watch this grainy classic and take it for what it is—a movie.

The Start of all the trouble is a simple Coke bottle.

 
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Posted by on July 30, 2013 in Movie Reviews

 

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I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again a little Woo goes a long way: The Killer (1989).

The Killer is a 1989 Hong Kong crime film written and directed by John Woo and starring Chow Yun-Fat, Danny Lee and Sally Yeh.  Chow is triad assassin Ah Jong, who accidentally damages the eyes of the Jennie (Sally Yeh) with his gun’s muzzle flash during one of his hits.  He later discovers that if Jennie does not have an expensive operation she will go blind.  To get the money for Jennie, Ah Jong decides to perform one last hit—and it will indeed be his last.

A police detective, Li Ying (Danny Lee), spots the assassin completing the job but he escapes.  Triad leader Hay Wong Hoi double crosses Ah Jong, and instead of paying him, sends a group of hitmen to kill him.  During Ah Jong’s escape from the Triad, a young child is injured by a stray bullet.  After dispatching the attackers, Ah Jong rushes the child to the hospital while being followed by Li and his partner Sgt. Tsang.  Once the child regains consciousness at the casualty ward, Ah Jong escapes Li and Tsang who becomes obsessed with Fat’s act of goodwill.

The detectives stakeout Jennie at her apartment and plan to arrest him the next time he visits her.  Ah Jong visits Jennie and is caught in an ambush from which he manages to scramble away.  Li and Tsang explain to Jennie that Ah Jong was the assassin who blinded her at the nightclub. Ah Jong meets with his Triad manager, Fung Sei (Chu Kong), and demands his payment for finishing the job.  Fung Sei brings a suitcase for Ah Jong, who discovers it to be filled with sheets of blank paper before finding himself in the middle of a Triad ambush.  He dispatches all of the Triads, but leaves his old friend Fung Sei alive.  The next day, after Fung Sei’s pleas for Wong Hoi fall on deaf ears, Ah Jong does a fantastic hit-and-run on Wong Hoi’s car, wounding the Triad leader and killing his driver and bodyguard.

Li begins to close-in on Ah Jong after Tsang follows Fung Sei; Tsang is killed after revealing the location of his home.  Because of their friendship, Fung Sei leaves a large stockpile of weaponry for Ah Jong.  The home is another ambush; Li is first to attack followed by a group of Triad hitmen. Li gets caught in the middle of the crossfire between Ah Jong and the Triad.  Ah Jong and Li flee, and while Ah Jong’s wounds are mended, they find themselves bonding and becoming friends– it seems strangers can make good bedfellows.  Ah Jong tells Li that should anything happen to him, Li should try to have Ah Jong’s eyes donated for Jennie’s surgery; otherwise, he is to use Ah Jong’s money to fly her overseas to have her surgery performed by more experienced doctors.

Li, Ah Jong, and Jennie wait in a church for Fung Sei to return with Ah Jong’s money.  Fung Sei arrives with the money, horribly beaten by Wong Hoi’s gangsters who have followed him.  He is mortally wounded when the hitmen barge into the church.  After Ah Jong ends Fung Sei’s misery, he and Li engage in a long and bloody shootout with the Triad all over the church. The battle ends with a Mexican standoff between Ah Jong, Li and Wong Hoi.  Ah Jong manages to wound Wong Hoi, but the Triad leader lands two bullets in Ah Jong’s eyes before the latter dies of his wounds.  When a police squadron arrives in the scene, Wong Hoi begs to be taken into custody.  Frustrated by the outcome of the battle, Li fatally shoots Wong Hoi before he himself is arrested.

The Killer is an important and influential film for both Western and Asian filmmakers.  Film scholars have noted the similarities between Woo’s style and The Killer with the films La Femme Nikita (1990) and Léon (1994) directed by French director Luc Besson.  Kenneth E. Hall described Léon as having the similar character configuration of a hitman and the person he protects. In Nikita, the main character’s crisis of conscience after performing a number of hits is also seen in The Killer.  And, not surprisingly, Quentin Tarantino developed films that were influenced by The Killer.  In the film Jackie Brown, Tarantino wrote dialog referencing The Killer.  No references to the film are made in the original novel.

The Killer was also influential in hip hop music.  American hip hop artist, and Wu-Tang Clan member Raekwon released his critically praised debut album Only Built 4 Cuban Linx. (1995) that sampled numerous portions of dialog from the film.  RZA, the producer of the album described the albums themes by stating that “Rae and Ghost was two opposite guys as far as neighborhoods were concerned, I used John Woo’s The Killer.  You got Chow Yun Fat and Danny Lee.  They have to become partners to work shit out.”  Woo apparently felt honored that the group sampled The Killer and asked for no monetary return from them.

Director John Woo has described The Killer as being about “honor and friendship,” “trying to find out if there is something common between two people” and as a “romantic poem.”  The structure of the film follows two men on the opposite side of the law who find a relation to each other in their opposition of a greater evil, Wong Hoi, the leader of the Triad.  The relationship between the two main characters was influenced by the Spy vs. Spy comics from Alfred E Newman’s Mad Magazine.  It is reported that Woo recalled “when I was young I was fascinated with the cartoon–I love it very much…the white bird and the black bird are always against each other, but deep in their heart, they are still friendly, and the idea came from that.”

Though the film received praise and box office success outside of Hong Kong, The Killer’s success around the world made several Hong Kong filmmakers jealous: “It created a certain kind of resentment in the Hong Kong film industry.  One thing I can say for sure is, the American, European, Japanese, Korean and even the Taiwanese audiences and critics appreciated The Killer a lot more than it was in Hong Kong.”

Naturally because of Hollywood’s lack of imagination, an American remake of the killer is in the works.  Director John H Lee will be remaking the film which is supposed to take place in Chinatown, Korea town and south-central Los Angeles.  Luckily, the remake will be produced by John Woo and is set to be filmed in 3-D.  Let’s be honest, a remake of John Woo’s The Killer was inevitable.  While this flick may not be as well-loved as Woo’s Hard Boiled it’s still a master class in acting, heroic bloodshed and ultra-violent gunplay.  Unfortunately, US audiences largely refuse to see films created in other countries probably because they can’t read subtitles not to mention anything starring a non-white actor, or, failing that, Will Smith, so it’s almost surprising that it’s taken this long for Hollywood to decide that the film ought to be recreated with a white lead and an American setting.

My guess is the remake will be a piece of film junk that only insults the original masterpiece created by Woo in the late 1980’s.  With any luck, however, it may be as good as the remake of Death of Samurai released last year.  But I’m not betting on it.

What can you say about this movie?  It was powerful, influential and ahead of its time much like many of John Woo’s films.  One of JPFMovies trademark sayings is “a little Woo goes a long way.”  Now imagine what a lot of Woo does and you’ve got The Killer.

 
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Posted by on December 5, 2012 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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We take a look at Once Upon A Time In China

My new partner in crime at http://silveremulsion.wordpress.com and I have decided to collaborate on some of the finest Asian movies we’ve seen and give you, the reader, our thoughts on these films so you can make an informed decision on whether to view them or not.  Also, if you have seen any of the movies we decide to collaborate on we would love to hear your comments on the matter.  Again, this is one in a series we are going to do together so stay tuned for some great Asian movie reviews from two movie connoisseurs.

China has had a very tumultuous history, including hundreds of years of civil war, a humiliating defeat in the opium war and a bloody occupation by Japan.  It was during the dark times between the opium war and the Japanese occupation that a Chinese folk hero, physician and martial arts expert was to emerge — Wong Fei-hung (1847-1924).  Wong Fei-hung, a legendary figure, would, among other things, later inspire his countrymen to endure even bigger ordeals in the last century.  The legend of Wong Fei-hung has also inspired dozens of films.  In my opinion the best is Once Upon a Time In China, a 1991 Hong Kong kung-fu epic directed by Tsui Hark.  This film had five sequels and was among the first to introduce Jet Li as its main star to Western audiences.  Li as Wong Fei-hung provides the viewer with a fine performance especially given that role was played very early in his career.

The plot:  On the surface the movie seems simple enough, as my colleague said, almost Shaw Brothers simple, but in reality the story is very complex and transcends the many martial arts films whose plots can easily be summed up in a single sentence.  Wong Fei-Hung, like his countrymen, is forced to endure the humiliation of American slavers, local gangs, a renegade martial arts master and even his own wayward (but well-intentioned) students.  As if these problems were not enough, he has to contend with his growing affection for Aunt Yee (Rosamund Kwan) which is important as to movie is set around the end of the 19th century when there were great social changes in China.  This is typified with his relationship with his “Aunt” Yee (who is not related to him by blood), as she would be taboo to marry.  The fact that this is a series of films allows the relationship to develop slowly also setting it apart from many Hong Kong films where romances are very fast-moving and unrealistic.

The action sequences are superb, which is unsurprising considering that they are choreographed by Yuen Woo-Ping, though dim-witted critics who can find fault in anything point to the wire-work and use of doubles.  The final showdown is a stunning success of editing as Jet Li was injured and had to be doubled for many of the shots that weren’t above the waist, but his extraordinary  fist techniques make up for this.  The film has a long running time for a martial arts movies so for once there is plenty of time for story and action.

Hong Kong movies don’t come much better than this.  Anyone who is a fan of wire-work and/or the likes of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon should hold this movie in high esteem—either that or they are a communist.  I could not agree more with my new partner in crime at Silver Emulsion.  You must check out his take on Once Upon a Time In China at http://silveremulsion.wordpress.com — you would be a fool not to.

 
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Posted by on April 25, 2010 in Movie Reviews

 

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Heavenly Mission–Hong Kong Triads, A Great Lawyer and the Bad Guys Win!

Heavenly Mission–Hong Kong Triads, A Great Lawyer and the Bad Guys Win!   I have to tell you this movie came out of left field for me.  I watched this flick expecting nothing more than a run of the mill HK Triad movie and I have to eat crow on my assumption.  This movie was refreshingly well written, good acting, had a great lawyer and best of all the bad guys win–or at least don’t lose.  The story focuses on a triad gang member (Yip) who gets out of a Thai prison after serving 8 years for manslaughter.  His return to the HK Triad scene is not welcome by the police who are determined to put him behind bars again whether or not he actually commits a crime.  Needless to say, Yip has had eight years to plan his return and has anticipated most (but not all) of the HK Anti-Triad Unit’s tactics to keep him away from society.  I love it when the “good guys” are portrayed as criminals with badges who will break the law as much as their targets to get what they want–motives which are not as pure as the driven white snow.  Though it is a close call, Yip and his team manage to stay one step ahead of the task force formed specifically to keep him behind bars.  If you can handle subtitles and want to see a movie based on a different perspective than typical Americana, take the two hours and watch this one, you will not be disappointed.

A rose.

 
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Posted by on January 6, 2010 in Movie Reviews

 

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