Memoirs Of A Geisha (2005)

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House Of Flying Daggers (2004)

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

The Tang Dynasty is in shambles. The government is both corrupt and weak, and, every day, it loses more ground to the House of Flying Daggers, a popular rebel group. So, in a desperate ploy to bring the insurgents down, the Tang give two detectives, Leo and Jin, ten days to find and kill the head of the cell. Believing that Mei, a blind dancer at a local brothel, might have connections to the rebels, they arrest and interrogate her. But when Leo decides that they might be able to use Mei to lead them to the group, Jin springs her out of jail, pretending to be sympathetic to the insurgent’s cause. As they travel north, towards the Daggers encampment, however, Jin finds himself growing closer to Mei. So much so that, when they finally find the Daggers, he might not want to bring them down after all.

House Of Flying Daggers is beautifully-shot, and superbly acted. And it’s the sort of film that only makes sense to the eye. What I mean by that is, many things happen in it that work as pure eye candy, or visual representations of character’s psyches–like a scene suddenly shifting from summer to winter. But when you actually stop and think about it, none of the movie makes sense. And I mean none of it. If you consider this movie’s plot or characters even slightly, the whole thing comes flying apart. This all stems from a veritable marathon of twists that get revealed within the last 20 minutes of this 2 hour movie. First, you find out that Mei isn’t actually blind. Next, you find out that the Madam of the brothel where she worked is actually the head of the Flying Daggers. Except, as you learn just a few minutes later, she’s not really. Then you learn that Leo, who’d been using Jin and Mei to track the Daggers, was actually a member of the Daggers the whole time, and in love with Mei. None of these twists are built up to in any manner, and when you stop and think about them, none of them make sense. First, why would Mei pretend to be blind? How does that help her? There are several points in this movie where characters trick her, or sneak up on her, because they know she can only hear them. Except, as it turns out, that’s not true. She can see them. So how would they be able to sneak up on her? Why would she let them sneak up on her? Next, why were she and the leader of the Flying Daggers in a brothel?  What was their goal in doing so? To seduce people? To gather intel? Was it even a brothel to begin with? How did they infiltrate it? Third, if Leo was a member of the Flying Daggers the whole time, why would he arrest Mei? Why would he use her to find the Daggers? Doesn’t he, as a member, already know where they are? These are just a few of the many, many, many questions you find yourself asking when you start to think about this movie and it’s twists. And that’s not good.  A film’s narrative logic should be air tight.

But, you know what? I can forgive logical errors. Those mistakes happen in filmmaking, and, oftentimes, you don’t spot them until you’re done shooting. What I can’t forgive is rape, and this film has no less than three attempted rape scenes in it. Mei’s character is molested by both her male love interests, on multiple occasions. No, they never fully rape her. But they do grope her without consent, and tear off her clothes. Thankfully, each time they do so, someone intervenes. But that doesn’t make up for the fact that this movie has the balls to show her getting molested, on multiple occasions, and then have her fall in love with the assholes who groped her. I find this crude, misogynistic sentiment to be utterly revolting, and I think it’s long past time we stopped using it in our art. No one asks to be raped. No one enjoys being raped. No victim of rape ever falls in love with their rapist. Why, filmmakers, can’t you accept that?

Guys, if it seems like I’m angry, it’s only because I expected so much more from this movie. You’ve got one of the most talented directors in the world, Zhang Yimou, behind the camera, and one of the most talented actresses of all time, Zhang Ziyi, in front of it. And to be fair, they both do their part. The cinematography, costumes and color palate are all exquisite, as you expect from a Zhang Yimou picture. And Zhang Ziyi gives a believable, heartbreaking performance as Mei, also as you’d expect. But the script just isn’t up to the same level that they are. It relies too much on twists that are never built up to, and it’s sexual politics are beyond disgusting. For that reason, I can’t recommend you all see this. Maybe watch some of the fight scenes on YouTube, but definitely don’t buy or rent the whole movie.

Underrated Directors Who Should Totally Helm A Blockbuster

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

Directors; to many casual film goers, they are the driving force behind all aspects of a movie. And while those of us who actually work in film, writing scripts, editing footage, mixing sound and so on, know that this isn’t true, it is true that directors can have a huge influence on a picture’s look, tone, and style. And that look and style can attract audiences, and make the pictures better as a whole. Now there are certain directors whose look and style have become well known to the public–the Spielbergs, the Burtons, the Tarantinos–but there are others whose talent is clear when you watch their films but, for whatever reason, they and their work have remained out of the spotlight. I’d like to remedy that today. Here is my list of awesome, underrated directors who should totally helm a blockbuster. Why a blockbuster? Because that’s what most people see, and, if we’re being honest with ourselves, it’s the only way most of us will ever hear about these artists.

1. Bong Joon-Ho.

  • What They’ve Done: The Host, Snowpiercer, Okja.
  • What I’d Like Them To Do: A Star Wars Movie.

Perhaps the best-known filmmaker on this list, Bong Joon-Ho is one of my all-time favorite directors, and a household name back in his native Korea. And yet, despite all his critical and commercial success in Asia, he remains relatively unknown in the West. Film nerds have probably watched a few of his flicks, but the vast majority of audiences aren’t familiar with his sumptuous visuals, dark humor, sudden shifts in tone, and biting social commentary, all of which make him ideal to helm a Star Wars movie. Just watch The Host, see how he shoots action, writes villainous characters, and uses creature effects, and tell me you couldn’t see him directing an episode in a galaxy far, far away.

2. Jaume Collet-Serra.

  • What They’ve Done: Non-Stop, The Shallows, Orphan.
  • What I’d Like Them To Do: A MIssion Impossible Movie.

Best known for his many collaborations with Liam Neeson, Spanish director Jaume Collet Serra has a habit of taking silly genre scripts, and turning them into much better films than they have any right to be. Seriously. If you take a hard look at the plots of any of his features–Unknown, Non-Stop, Orphan–they don’t really hold up. But the films themselves are so well-acted, so beautifully shot, and so viscerally entertaining that you don’t really care. Which makes him an ideal match for the Mission Impossible franchise, which, let’s be honest, isn’t  really famous for having the most believable story lines, but whose insane action set pieces more than make up for that. And let’s not forget, several of Collet-Serra’s flicks, like Unknown, have espionage elements to them. So it’s not altogether out of his wheelhouse.

3. Wes Ball.

  • What They’ve Done: The Maze Runner Trilogy.
  • What I’d Like Them To Do: A Fast & Furious Movie.

Say what you like about the Maze Runner films–I, personally, am not a huge fan–they have amazing action sequences. Even these movies’ harshest critics agree that the chases, the fight scenes, and the stunt work are incredible, and that the director, Wes Ball, has a good eye for action. So what better franchise to put him in than the Fast & Furious, which we all can agree is extremely light on story, but very heavy on amazing set pieces? I have no doubt whatsoever that Mr. Ball could concoct some truly bonkers action scenes, and give this series’ fans the high octane thrills they crave.

4. Mike Flanagan.

  • What They’ve Done: Oculus, Hush, Gerald’s Game.
  • What I’d Like Them To Do: A Batman Movie.

One of this generations true horror masters, Mike Flanagan’s films work, not just because they’re beautifully shot, and possess ghosts and serial killers, but because of their fascinating explorations of their characters’ pasts and psyches. Gerald’s Game and Oculus are all about people revisiting childhood trauma, and trying to work through it. And if there’s one blockbuster franchise that relishes horror, and childhood trauma, it’s Batman. He’s a tormented character, who just can’t let his past go, and several of his rogues, the Joker, Scarecrow, Two Face, are horrifying manifestations of various mental illnesses. So who better to helm a Batman film than a horror master with an interest in dissecting the minds of damaged people? Well, okay, I’m sure there are loads of filmmakers who’d be totally great for Batman, but Mike Flanagan is at the top of my list.

5. Takashi Miike.

  • What They’ve Done: 13 Assassins, Audition, Ichi The Killer.
  • What I’d Like Them To Do: A Predator Movie.

A prolific and controversial director, whose work I’ve written about before, Takashi Miike is perfectly suited for the Predator franchise. Why? Because just like John McTiernan’s 1987 classic, which began as action, and ended as horror, many of Miike’s films blend genres and tones. Several of his features, like Yakuza Apocalypse and Ichi The Killer, synthesize elements of thrillers and horror. Many more, like Fudoh: The New Generation, Blade Of The Immortal, and Terra Formers, include insane, stylized characters with insane, stylized weapons i.e. the exact kind of fighters that the Predators would want to hunt. And, as if this needs mentioning, Miike is superb at crafting creative, bloody fight sequences, which are precisely what this franchise thrives off of.

Hero (2002)

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

In a period of Civil War, a ruthless king is poised to take over all of China. All that stands in his way are three assassins–Long Sky, Broken Sword, and Flying Snow. For 10 years, they have thwarted his efforts, and personally tormented him, to the point where he can neither sleep, nor remove his armor. Now, though, after more than a decade, a Nameless Warrior claims to have slain them all. To see if this is true, the King summons the swordsman to his palace, and ask to hear how he achieved such an impossible feat. As the Nameless Warrior talks, however, the King starts to suspect that he may not be who he says he is, and that he might have ulterior motives for being there.

Hero is colorful, melodramatic, beautifully-choreographed, and surprisingly philosophical. It is a film that I loved when it first came out, and that I can appreciate even more, now that I know about all the effort that goes into movie-making. From a purely technical perspective, it’s perfect. The shot composition, use of color in costumes and sets, editing, music and fight choreography are all flawless. It holds up after 15 years, and for good reason. Every single earthshaking,gravity defying moment was done by actual stuntmen, with practical effects. Yes, it’s all very heightened, but it all looks real. Because it is real. And that makes it so much better. The movie is also surprisingly thought-provoking. Most people go into martial arts films expecting pretty visuals, but not much else. Hero, however, takes a more grounded approach to its storytelling and characterization, and actually has some pretty interesting things to say. At its core is the question of what is more important, the greater good, or personal loyalty, and I, for one, think it handles that topic with both care and insight. All of this can be found in the relationship between Broken Sword and Flying Snow, played by my all-time favorite screen couple, Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung. They are lovers torn apart by that central question; what’s more important to me, loyalty or good? By the movie’s end, both are left (literally) heartbroken, because of their inability to compromise. Their downfall is both a joy and a torment to watch. And, as always, they’re chemistry is effortless.

Now, with all that said, I’m not above admitting that this film has problems. Some are simple matters of personal taste. Others are larger, and story-related. The biggest, for me, is the fact that you don’t know the characters too well. This is due, in large part, to the fact that we see the same story unfold multiple times, from different perspectives, like in Rashoman. In each version of events, the character’s personalities and goals are changed to fit the views of the teller. In one version, for instance, Broken Sword and Flying Snow are petty, jealous and violent. That’s because the narrator wants us to think they are. In another version, however, they are shown as loving, loyal, and willing to do anything to keep the other safe. That’s because the new narrator views them that way. As such, you don’t get to know the characters very well. Or, at least, not until the end. The dialogue is also very on the nose and melodramatic, with no one sounding like an actual human. Yes, that’s to be expected for a martial arts period piece, but still. The third flaw, and the one that matters most to me, personally,  is the way the film treats Zhang Ziyi’s character. She plays Broken Sword’s assistant, Moon. In one version of events, she is his lover.  Or, rather, in that version, Broken Sword is angry at Flying Snow, and so he more or less rapes Moon to make Snow jealous. Yes, the film implies that Moon has feelings for him, and I suppose that’s meant to make his assault of her slightly less awful. But he does still grab her without warning, throw her to the ground, rip her clothes off, have his way with her, and then kick her out. And the movie does show Moon crying after this, so I’m not sure how to feel. When I first saw this film back in 2004, I was only about 9 years old. I didn’t know what sex, let alone rape, was. And yet, even then, when I watched this scene, I got upset. Something about it felt wrong to me, and it still does, all these years later. It’s my least favorite aspect of an otherwise awesome movie, and if you do watch the film, maybe fast forward through that part.

But, all in all, Hero’s visual brilliance, strong performances, epic score and gripping narrative more than make up for its flaws. And they certainly make the picture, as a whole, worth watching. Don’t hesitate to give it a look.