Watch out for the!!
HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS, the new film by Zhang Yimou, is sweeping and beautiful and sort of sweet if a bit kitschy.
The scenes in HoFD far surpass any movie you can name in the Hollywood-based action category. Forget MATRIX RELOADED or THE PHANTOM MENACE, Zhang Yimou blows these films on their filmstock ass (dv ass). You want beautiful costumes and amazingly balletic choreographed fight scenes? You can't beat HoFD. Zhang Ziyi, Andy Lau, Takeshi Kaneshiro do a great if slightly awkward job of displaying raw emotion in the story of a love triangle and deception in the time of the Chang Dynasty. The movie is all eye candy with the referred to flying daggers, beautiful costuming, and intense looks all through the lens of Xiaoding Zhao. (And if you're into cinematography there is an amazing sudden snowstorm scene!)
Unfortunately everything feels a bit trite in HoFD. If you are hoping for a story that goes beyond Asian period piece soap operas, look at renting HERO again. The story of assasins and political intrigue falls a bit flat. And unfortunately the chemistry in the love triangle (though sweet) doesn't feel as hot and burning as the chemistry between Maggie Cheung and Tong Leung in HERO.
Still, as an action film it far outweighs what we in the West would expect in terms of cinematography, costumes, and action scenes. For this reason I recommend you go out and see it. If only so Sony and Miramax will continue to widely distribute Hong Kong films (action or otherwise) in the US.
Give me the Head!
Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior is the latest action film out of Thailand. Starring Tony Jaa as Ting who journeys from the provinces into Bangkok to retrieve the stolen buddha head of Ong-Bak. Since the robbery, the village Prong Nardu is drought ridden and suffering greatly, all the villagers believe the drought will end once the head is recovered.
A thug named Don has foolishly stolen the head and takes it to his boss in Bangkok. The courageous Ting volunteers to track Don down and bring the head back to the village. When he arrives in Bangkok, he meets up with a former villager, Hum Lae, who now goes by "George" and is a scam artist and gambler. Through his travails of hanging out with George and pursuing Don, Ting gets into a lot of fights involving his expert skills at Muay Thai/ kick boxing.
The plot's premise and how he constantly ends up in chase scenes and fights is a bit outlandish -in a Benny Hill sort-of-way - but the story has two great points that they grind home:
- The problem of modern day stealing and exportation of cultural treasures
- The stereotype of Asian males as weak*
*The second one having an excellent line voiced by an Aussie actor:"You Thai men are weak, that's why your women go to my country to become prostitutes!"
[Umm, okay, so the simple law of supply & demand have nothing to do with it and the women actually like having sex for money. Whatever dude.]
The movie has the same joy that one got of watching early Jackie Chan movies. The thin storyline is a vehicle for Jaa to walk on people, kick like a mofo and put an elbow pretty much through anyone's skull. His acrobatics are amazing and perhaps I'm blind, but I didn't see any wire. Billed as the next Jackie Chan, Jaa seems more than capable of taking on the responsibility. A fun action-packed film.
Look into the Dep(p)ths of the Story
Marc Forster (MONSTER'S BALL) does a more than capable job of directing Jonhhy Depp, Kate Winslet, Julie Christie, Dustin Hoffman, and Radha Mitchell in this fictionalized biopic about James Barrie, the creator/playwright of Peter Pan.
At the beginning of FINDING NEVERLAND, we are shown Depp as Barrie, nervously pacing the theatre house where his play is about to be staged. The story is set that the character is a little neurotic and his wife (played by Mitchell) is a little uptight and disapproving of him. The story then follows Barrie as he meets and befriends the Davies family with Kate Winslet as the single mom Davies.
The movie is very PG as Barrie has neither lascivious thoughts for the four boys or for Mrs. Davies (or for his wife for that matter). Depp's little boy nature plays perfectly into the fantasy worlds Barrie creates for the boys and himself as he romps with them in the Davies' garden.
Forster is able to create a seemingly real bond between Barrie and the Davies children (especially Peter). But something falls flat, the film's joys aren't that high and the sorrows aren't that low. Call me a cynic, but I think it is the fictionalization that did it. The Barrie character played by Depp seemed to be accessible and passionate, yet had no physical connection to others?
The real life Barrie had an extreme affection for the Davies family, but was compulsive about not being touched. He abhorred it and would recoil. Which already makes him more interesting, he enforced no physical connection with people (autism? ocd?). The film's depiction made a failed sanitized version of the real Barrie, and as a result made it less believable/interesting to watch.