Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu is The Name, ANd Views Are My Game.

How often do you come across people who say “I want to be wrong?” Not very, I’ll bet. And yet, that was exactly what I kept saying to myself as soon as I heard that Netflix and The Weinstein Company were making a sequel to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. See, I might not have mentioned it here before but, Crouching Tiger , Hidden Dragon is my favorite film of all time. It’s not only the first movie I ever saw, but it’s also the movie that inspired me to want to make films. Seriously! As soon as I saw it, I went out and made a short movie “Crouching Lion, Hidden Eagle” with my parent’s cam quarter. And, keep in mind, I was only six at the time I did this. Any movie that can inspire a six year old to want to go out and make movies, when he doesn’t even know what a camera is yet, is fucking amazing! And I’m not the only one who feels this way. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was a huge critical and commercial success at the time of its release, taking home four Academy Awards, and, to this day, remains the highest grossing foreign language film in American history. Everything about it, from its direction, to its screenplay, to its cinematography and its score, were lauded. This was the film that made an international superstar out of Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi, who went on to star in such acclaimed movies as Hero, House Of Flying Daggers, 2046, and Memoirs Of A Geisha. This was the picture that cemented director Ang Lee’s status as one of the all-time great filmmakers, and proved to Hollywood executives that, yes, non-English movies can make money, and are, in fact, worth producing.

This sequel, however–this sickening piece of filth that dares to carry the same name as the original, beloved masterpiece–is nothing but garbage. It is the total antithesis of everything the first film was, or stood for. Just to give you an idea of what we’re dealing with here, the original film was over three hours long, shot entirely in Mandarin, and was primarily a drama, but with fight scenes scattered throughout. The sequel, by contrast, is barely over an hour and a half long, shot entirely in English, and is just a series of fight sequences strung together by the loosest of plots. The original Crouching Tiger took its time before jumping into the action, with the first 20 minutes being devoted to character development and dialogue. The sequel barely waits 2 minutes before shoving us into one of many pointless, poorly shot, poorly edited fight scenes. The first film was done entirely in-camera, with actual people performing the stunts and choreography. The sequel has A LOT of CGI in it, and, half the time when you’re watching the movie, you can tell that those aren’t real people, backgrounds, or objects. I could go on forever, but I think you get the idea.

Now, to be fair, this sequel was doomed from the start. The original Crouching Tiger ended with all but one of the main characters dying. This, by itself, makes it very difficult for anyone to make a sequel without there being a huge shift in tone and style. Add to this the fact that the studios waited over 15 years to make the sequel, and you’ve got a project just begging to fail. Now, by itself, a delayed production and drastic shift in tone aren’t enough to doom a film. Aliens came out in 1986, a whole seven years after the release of Alien, and was an action film as opposed to a horror movie, and yet, it turned out to be great. But in that circumstance, you had a really talented group of filmmakers–James Cameron, Walter Hill–working behind the camera to make the movie the best that it could be. The sequel to Crouching Tiger, by contrast, lacks any such talented individuals on its crew. Just to give you an idea, the film’s director, Yuen Woo-Ping, isn’t even a director. He’s a fight choreographer. He gave us all the combat in The Matrix, Kill Bill, and the original Crouching Tiger, so we know that he’s good at getting people to punch, kick and strangle each other in an entertaining manner. But can he tell a good story? Can he create characters who are well-rounded, and that you want to see prevail? No, and no. Ang lee, the man behind the original Crouching Tiger, has one two Academy Awards for Best Director. He knows how to get good performances out of actors, and to build up worlds with subtlety and nuance. Yuen Woo-Ping is about as subtle as a bat to the head. Add to this the fact that the sequel was written by John Fusco–who penned such films as Thunderheart, The Forbidden Kingdom, and Spirit: Mustang Of The Cimarron–and you’ve got everything you need to know.

Guys, I’m going to make this very simple by stating that the sequel to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is absolute garbage. I award it a 0 out of 10! That’s right. I hate it more than Inglorious Bastards, the remake of Point Break, and 50 Shades Of Grey combined. DON’T WATCH IT!

Superman: Red Son (Comic Review)

Written by: Mark Millar.

Penciled by: Dave Johnson and Kilian Plunkett.

Inked by: Andrew Robinson and Walden Wong.

We all know the basic origins of Superman–in the dying moments of a distant world, a lone space craft carrying a baby is sent off into the void. This ship ends up crashing on Earth, where the boy, re-named Clark by his adopted parents, slowly discovers that he has extraordinary powers, including flight, super strength, near invulnerability, and heat vision. Deciding he is morally obligated to use his powers for good, Clark embarks on a life of crime fighting, and adopts the alter-ego of Superman. All this is more or less common knowledge to most people. But what if, instead of crashing in Kansas and being raised on Mid-Western values, Superman landed in the Soviet Union, and was raised to be a champion of Communism? This is the question that Mark Millar seeks to answer in Superman: Red Son.

Set at the height of the Cold War, the graphic novel begins with Stalin unveiling a new weapon to the World; Superman, a being with near god-like powers. Realizing that nuclear weapons are more or less obsolete when compared to a guy who can fly, shoot lasers from his eyes, and pick up buildings, the US government asks Doctor Lex Luther, a scientist of impossible brilliance, to develop a means of combating Superman. Over the next several years, the two engage in various battles, with Lex eventually becoming President of the United States, and Superman becoming supreme dictator of the Soviet Union after Stalin’s death. Luther devises several strategies for defeating the latter, including making a deformed clone of Superman, and using a Green Lantern ring recovered from a crashed alien space craft, but all to no avail. Superman, for his part, uses his powers to bring the rest of the world under Communist control, and, with the help of the alien robot Brainiac, ensures equality and good living for everyone.

Eventually deciding that America, too, must be perfected, Superman launches a full-scale invasion of the continental United States, only to be stopped by a simple piece of paper that Luther’s wife, Lois Lane, holds out to him. On it is written the simple question, “Why don’t you just put the whole world in a bottle, Superman?” This query destroys him, as he now sees that he is no different from Brainiac. Both of them are just aliens bullying less-developed species. Neither one was born on Earth, and neither one has the right to interfere with the affairs of creatures they don’t know or understand. Realizing that he must leave for good, Superman destroys Brainiac and vanishes. Many centuries pass, and Luther’s descendent, Jor-El, discovering that the sun is about to explode, sends his son, Kal-El, back in time, where his pod crash-lands in Kansas, starting the whole saga anew.

There’s a lot to admire with this comic. The story is compelling, the artwork is, for the most part, brilliant, and I personally love it when writers are able to re-imagine classic characters in new settings. Something that this book does very well–and that a LOT of other re-imaginings don’t seem to understand–is the fact that, even though the characters are occupying different positions than the ones they have in ordinary continuity, they are still very much the same people. They have the same personalities, the same interests, and the same goals. Superman in this book is still an overgrown boy scout who wants nothing more than to do the right thing. This universe’s Luther is still a narcissistic asshole with nothing more on his mind than destroying the man of steel. By keeping the characters and their choices consistent, Millar is able to make the story, as a whole, more believable, and the re-interpretation of the material more acceptable to die-hard readers, like myself. There’s never a point in it where I put the comic down and say, “Oh, bullshit! Superman would never do that!” Which is always a good sign. I also like the fact that you get to see the fictional characters interacting with real historical figures, like JFK and Stalin. I don’t know why, but whenever I see real people walking around in a work of fiction, I feel happy. I guess it’s because it gives a whole new level of depth and texture to the narrative. But perhaps the greatest strength of this work is its setting, the Cold War. I thought it was absolutely brilliant of Millar to have the conflict between Luther and Superman be emblematic of the real-life conflict between the United States and Soviet Union. It’s impossible for most people to understand the complex social, historical and economic factors that drive countries to fight one another, but we can understand fights between individuals. And in the case of Luther and Superman, that conflict does mirror the one that actually took place. Luther in the book, like the United States following World War 2, wants to show off his intelligence and strength, and eliminate anyone whom he views as a threat to maintaining authority. Similarly, Superman’s naive desire to foist prosperity and equality on everyone without their consent mirrors the doctrine of Global revolution practiced by the USSR and other Communist states. I thought it was a clever metaphor, and an effective means of educating the readers about how, very often, it is people wanting to do the same thing, just in different ways, that causes conflict. Wonderful stuff! Wonderful stuff!

Now, with all that said, the graphic novel does still have problems. First of all, as much as I praised the artwork earlier, there are certain places where I don’t think it looks all that good. The design for Batman, for instance–yes, Batman is also in this story–is kind of odd-looking. He has this weird little Ushanka–that’s the flappy, fur-lined hat you see Soviet officers wearing in old photographs–on at all times that looks a little silly. I mean, he’s supposed to be dark and menacing. He’s supposed to strike fear in the hearts of his enemies. Having him wear big wooly hat just makes him look cold, and I don’t know about you, but I’m a lot less scared when I see my assailant shivering in the breeze. The second major problem with the graphic novel is the inclusion of other superheroes, like Batman, Wonder Woman and Green Lantern. Each of them is only featured for a brief amount of time, and none of them really has any bearing on the plot, so I don’t think their appearances were necessary. Not only this, but if the whole idea here is that Superman’s existence is enough to change the course of the Cold War, doesn’t the presence of other super-powered people lower the stakes? I mean, if America has access to individuals with the same level strength and speed as Superman, why get scared? Why talk to Lex Luther? The theory of mutually assured destruction still stands. In my humble opinion, the story would have been stronger if it had just included characters from Superman’s mythology, like Luther, Lois, Brainiac and Jimmy Olson, and nothing else. But, for me, the absolute biggest problem with the book is the ending. I mean…really? If you’re going to go through all the trouble of writing a story that re-imagines the Superman mythos and creates new rules, why throw it all away at the end just to give the readers stuff that they already know? Doesn’t that make everything you just did pointless? I don’t know. For me, the ending just felt tacked on. It felt like Mark Millar was trying to be clever. The book would have been perfect if it just ended with Superman leaving Earth for good after realizing how horrible he had become.

But, all these flaws aside, I do still think the book is a strong piece of work, and would highly recommend it to you comic readers out there. It’s smart. It’s well-written. It’s a re-imagining that truly understands the mythology that it’s adapting. It’s an 8 out of 10. If you love the man of steel, or re-imaginings of classic stories, give this comic a look.

Hail, Caesar! (Film Review)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

A phrase you often encounter when reading reviews of bad movies is “it has no plot.” When you hear that, you probably think, nothing happens in this movie. Well, that’s not necessarily true. A movie can have no plot, and still have lots of stuff happen in it. To have no plot, it just has to lack a single MAIN story. And what I mean by a main story is a single protagonist, with a clear goal, going up against various obstacles, experiencing a climax, and then changing as a result of all that they have gone through. John McLane fighting Hans Gruber and the other terrorists to save his wife in Die Hard, Martin Brody protecting Amity Island and his family from the Shark in Jaws, Indiana Jones racing against the Nazis to recover the ark in Raiders Of The Lost Ark–these are all perfect examples of films with main stories. They have beginnings, middles, and ends. They don’t have an excessive amount of sub-plots and supporting characters to distract us from the Main story, which is the protagonist with his or her goal, going up against an obstacle, ultimately achieving their objective, and becoming a better person as a result.

Now, you’re probably wondering why I’m bringing all this up. Simple, the subject of today’s review, Hail, Caesar, the latest film written and directed by the Coen Brothers, has no plot. There’s no main story. Just sub-plots. No one goes up against any extreme obstacles, experiences any climaxes, or changes as a result of all that they’ve gone through. Now, to be fair, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If you’ve read my review for Wong Kar-Wai’s Days Of Being Wild, you know that I still enjoyed the film, despite it having no real plot. The acting, cinematography, color scheme, soundtrack, and most importantly, its emotional resonance all made the film enjoyable and touching. They made it worth watching. Hail, Caesar also has characteristics that make it worth watching–some beautiful sets and period costumes, some funny dialogue, a rich supporting cast–but, in the end, these things don’t make the film good. They’re just salt to cover up bland food.

For those of you who want to know what, exactly, I’m talking about, Hail, Caesar is set in the 1950s, in California. The main character, Josh Brolin, is the studio head for Capital Pictures. He is a man with a million things on his plate, and yet, somehow, he always manages to find time to go to Church and give confession. Now, the movie’s been advertised as a kidnapper comedy, with George Clooney being the dim-witted star who’s been mysteriously taken from the set of his latest feature, but that’s not really what the picture is about. It’s about the movies made back in the 1950s. There are several, rather lengthy, segments in this film where we just cut to various sound stages where different movies are being shot. These include a Western chase scene, a Gene Kelly style musical number, and a big water aerobics act. These segments have nothing to do with the kidnapper plot, and are really only there to paint a picture for us of what movies were like back in the day. Yes, they’re well-crafted, and relatively entertaining, but they have no purpose. This makes them distracting, and, ultimately, annoying. In addition to having all these cutaways, the film doesn’t really spend all that much time on the kidnapper story. We spend at least two thirds of the movie with a guy named Hogey Carmichael, a cowboy who can’t act, trying to act in a dramatic film, and failing miserably. And when we do return to the kidnaper plot, it’s not interesting. The Big Lebowski, another Coen Brothers Film dealing with kidnapping that I actually like, is able to keep the audience’s interest because it keeps us guessing the whole time. We don’t know, until the very end, whether or not the person who was kidnapped actually got kidnapped. The protagonist gets a severed toe in the mail, and a group of men actually come by his house and threaten to castrate him if he doesn’t pay. All of this creates genuine stakes. We believe that someone really could get hurt in all this, which makes the story as a whole more interesting. In Hail, Caesar, by contrast, we see who the kidnappers are very early on in the story, and we know that they have no intention of hurting Clooney. This causes any semblance of tension that was in the film beforehand to just vanish, and leaves us with far less interesting storylines, like will Hogey Carmichael learn how to act, will Scarlet Johansen find a father for her baby, and will Josh Brolin leave the movie business and go to work for Lockheed Martin?

All I can say is that, if you want to go to the movies and be mildly entertained for a few hours, and all while knowing that nothing you just saw will stick or resonate with you afterwards, go see Hail, Caesar. As for me, however, and it truly pains me to say this because I love the Coen Brothers, this is just a 5 out of 10. Apart from the acting and the period decor, I can’t think of anything that makes this movie worth my time or money.

A Picture Of You (Film Review)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

We don’t like to think about it, but everyone, even our closest family members, keep secrets from us. Especially when it comes to sex. Various directors have sought to tackle this topic, and one that, in my opinion, has done so rather well, is JP Chan, whom wrote and directed the subject of today’s post, A Picture Of You. The story of two estranged siblings, Jen and Kyle, clearing out their deceased mother’s house, and discovering some rather raunchy pictures of her, the movie is touching, poignant, and exceptionally well-acted. This latter fact is especially important. See, small indie films like this tend to have miniscule budgets, and therefore depend on their actors to carry the story and make it interesting. Jo Mei and Andrew Pang, whom portray Jen and Kyle respectively, do absolutely superb jobs, showing a wide range of emotions, and really capturing the pain that these people are going through, while remaining very subtle and realistic with their performances. The subtlety and realism are key because, I might not like to admit it but,very often, Asian-American films like The Joy Luck Club and White Frog tend to have slightly over-the top stories and acting. Not here. This film is a perfect work of realism. What I mean by that is, there are no coincidences in the story, no unessential elements, every major character has an ark, every plot thread is tied up by the end of the movie, and there is an obligatory scene where the pro and antagonists confront each other before the climax. These five elements are the defining features of realism, and this film certainly contains all of them. For this reason, as well as the touching story and stellar acting, I would highly recommend this movie to you all. It’s just become available on Netflix, and I would urge you to sit down and watch it.

But, before any of you accuse me of grading this film on a curve because it was written, directed by, and starring Asian people, I would like to make it clear that I do have problems with this movie. For starters, it suffers from what I like to call Return Of The King syndrome. This is when a movie has false endings, points where you think the filmmakers are about to wrap up, but then they decide to keep the story going for another few minutes. I don’t like it when directors do this but, to be fair, the false ending in A Picture Of You doesn’t really detract from the rest of the film, and since it’s not nearly as long as Return Of The King, you don’t really feel like it’s dragging on unnecessarily. The second major problem I had with this movie is that, for a film that’s been advertised as a comedy-drama, with emphasis being placed on comedy, it’s not really that funny. Oh sure, there are jokes sprinkled throughout the story, and I did get a few good chuckles in towards the end, but, for the most part, I thought the humor was a bit awkward. Like, the two main characters, Jen and Kyle, are Chinese-American, and there are several points where they try to make jokes about race and racism that just feel awkward. It’s not even that these jokes are offensive or anything, they just feel kind of forced. When you watch them, you just kind of roll your eyes and say, “Really? Was that necessary?” But, all that said, I don’t really feel like the lack of humor was that big an issue. Yes, this film is supposed to be a comedy drama, and it isn’t that funny, but the drama is so well-handled, the story is so engaging, and the acting is so good, that you can honestly forgive the lack of laughter.

So, again, I would highly recommend this film. It’s touching without being super sappy, it’s well-acted without being melodramatic, and even though it isn’t that funny, it’s still enjoyable as a drama. For that reason, I have decided to give A Picture Of You an 8 out of 10. Like I said before, it’s streaming on Netflix right now. Don’t hesitate to watch it!

Boy, Snow, Bird (Book Review)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

Don’t you just hate it when adaptations of beloved stories take huge liberties with their source material? No? Well, some people must, because critics everywhere went nuts over the fact that the subject of today’s review, Helen Oyeyemi’s Boy, Snow, Bird, a supposed re-telling of the Snow White story, didn’t follow the plot of the original fairy tale. But, here’s the thing: if you actually read this book, you realize that it’s not really Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. Sure, it’s got elements of the Snow White mythos in it–there’s a “wicked” stepmother who dislikes her beautiful, fair-skinned step-daughter, and frequent references to mirrors and apples–but it is ultimately its own animal. It’s got its own story, its own universe, and its own resolution. I honestly think that the only reason it got marketed as a Snow White re-telling is that the publishers didn’t know what to make of this surreal, highly original work, and decided to give potential buyers a categorization they could understand.

But, all that aside, you’re probably wondering what this book is about, and more importantly, if it’s any good. Well, concerning plot, the novel begins with a young blonde white woman named Boy–trust me, the color of her hair and skin are actually important–running away from her abusive father in New York, and moving up to a small town in New England. There she meets Arturo, a jewelry maker with a daughter from a previous marriage, they court, fall in love, and get married. Everything seems hunky dory until Boy has their baby, a little girl named bird, who is born Black. Boy doesn’t know what to make of this until Arturo explains to her that he and his whole family are actually fair-skinned African Americans who have been passing for White in order to avoid discrimination. This whole story takes place back in the 1960s, so race is a huge deal here. Now, at this point, you’d think the story is going to be about Boy overcoming her prejudices, and learning to love her husband and step-daughter, Snow, who, like her father, is White passing. BUt it isn’t. We just jump ahead 12 years, and find ourselves being told the story from the perspective of Bird. Apparently, Boy sent Snow away to live with her Black family, and Bird doesn’t know her sister because her mother doesn’t let Snow come back. All this seems like good material for conflict–maybe Bird will run away to be with her sister, maybe Snow will come back and kill Boy–but, once again, the author does nothing with it. We just read some of Bird’s diary entries, as well as some letters she and Snow exchange, and then the narration switches back to Boy, who explains that Snow is living with them again, and that she and her step-daughter have made up. But what is perhaps the most infuriating about this novel, besides its wasted dramatic potential, is the last fifteen pages. They throw in a brand new story element that, while it does, admittedly, explain some weird aspects from earlier in the book, changes the tone and themes of the novel completely. Imagine if you were reading a book that, up until the last ten pages, seemed like a straightforward murder-mystery, but then, in the very last section, was revealed to actually be an Alien invasion thriller. If you can imagine the amount of shock and frustration you’d feel at something like that, then you’ll have a pretty good idea of how nonplused I was at the end of “Boy, Snow, Bird,” because that’s basically what the author, Helen Oyeyemi, did. She took a seemingly straight-forward drama about race and identity, and just flipped it on its head.

Now, before I go any further, I just want to be clear and say that I don’t think this novel is all bad. The characters are interesting, and you get to know the three women of the title pretty well. In addition to this, Oyeyemi has a unique and quirky voice that I find very enjoyable to read. The problem is that, very often, it feels like she is focused more on showing us how quirky, off beat and original she is than telling a story that makes logical sense. For instance, there are several scenes in the novel where characters describe not being able to see their reflections in the mirror, as well as conversations they had with spiders. (I’m not kidding about that latter part.) And while you could make the argument that the mirror bit is in keeping with the overall theme of identity being a fluid concept that isn’t always clear, the spider part contributes nothing to the overall narrative, and never gets explained. So, when you combine these odd, unexplained story elements, with the completely out-of-left-field ending, you get a novel that is entertaining to read, but ultimately frustrating.

For that reason, I have decided to give Boy, Snow, Bird a 6 out of 10. It’s not the best thing out there, but it isn’t half bad either. If you can accept the strangeness, you’ll probably like it. If you can’t, well, do your best to avoid it.