The Foreigner (2017)

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

When his daughter is killed in a terror attack, Chinese immigrant Ngoc Minh Quan (Jackie Chan) sets out to find the culprits. His search leads him to the doorstep of Liam Hennesey (Pierce Brosnan), a British politician and former IRA member. Quan asks Hennesey to tell him the names of the bombers, but Hennesey claims not to know who’s behind the attack. Quan, correctly, assumes that this is bullshit, and begins tormenting Hennesey, blowing up his bathroom, attacking his staff, and more or less making his life a living hell. This, naturally, places a great deal of stress on the former terrorist, who decides to do some research on Quan, and discovers some disturbing facts about him. What are those facts? Well, you’ll just have to watch the movie to find out.

Guys, I’m not lying when I say that The Foreigner was one of my most anticipated movies of this year; right up there with Logan and Wonder Woman. I’ve loved Jackie Chan literally my whole life, and the idea of seeing him in a darker, more dramatic role was beyond appealing. I also thought it’d be fun to finally hear Pierce Brosnan, an Irishman from County Louth, use his native accent in a film. So i’m not lying when I say that, when I sat down in the theater last night, I was pumped. I was ready to be blown away. And now, having seen the movie, I can safely say, it’s not as good as I thought it would be, but it’s still a damn fine film.

Starting off with the positives; the performances are all superb. Jackie Chan and Pierce Brosnan are both given the chance to play against type here, with Brosnan playing a smarmy, cowardly weasel, and Chan playing a subdued, slightly unhinged man, and both of them really deliver. But I would be remiss if I overlooked the supporting cast, all of whom do terrific jobs. Even people who are only in one or two scenes, like Chan’s daughter, played by Cho Chang herself, Katie Leung, really shine here. So if you’re looking for one reason to see this movie, you’ve got the performances. Another reason to watch this film is the action. It’s brutal, visceral, and beautifully shot. There’s one sequence in the woods, where Chan is attacking Brosnan’s guards, that had the audience in my theater wincing, and going “ooh!” It’s really impressive that, even now, in his 60s, Chan can still punch, kick, and flip with the best of them. Another thing I liked about the movie were the characters. They were well-rounded, believable, and, for the most part, I could understand where they were coming from. I didn’t necessarily condone their actions, but I could understand. Each of them, even those characters who, in other movies, would just be throwaway victims or henchmen, like Brosnan’s wife and nephew, were given a bit more depth and backstory. And I really appreciated that, since it made the whole thing feel more realistic. So, from a technical standpoint–the acting, the cinematography, the sound design–the film is expertly crafted. Why then am I not totally in love with it?

Well, it all comes down to the fact that, for a movie that advertises itself as a Jackie Chan revenge flick, The Foreigner doesn’t actually have that much Jackie Chan. Oh, he’s in it, and he does do a fair bit of stuff. But a great deal more screen time is devoted to Pierce Brosnan’s love life, and IRA infighting. I’m not joking when I say that there’s a good 20 minutes, about halfway through, where Chan just disappears. Which is disappointing. Jackie Chan is the main reason I went to go see this movie, and I’m certain it’s why most other people will as well. Now, granted, when we do see Jackie kicking ass and blowing stuff up, it’s very satisfying. But, the truth is, we have to wade through a ton of baggage to get there. This movie has an extremely convoluted storyline, with so many subplots, from Pierce Brosnan’s affair with a younger woman, to his wife’s affair with his nephew, to how and why the IRA did this attack,that it gets a little boring at times. Now, as I said before, whenever the film does get boring, something usually happens to get you invested again, like Jackie Chan strapping on a bomb, or digging a bullet out of his chest with a knife. But still. A film with this basic of a premise shouldn’t be so complicated. We don’t need to see all this backdoor stuff with the IRA. We don’t care who masterminded the attack. What we do care about is whether or not Jackie Chan will get revenge for his daughter’s death. That’s it. I honestly think that if Martin Campbell, the director, had cut out all the political stuff, and just made this a straight forward revenge film, the movie would have been tighter, cleaner, and considerably more enjoyable. But, then again, Campbell got his big break directing Edge Of Darkness, a 6-hour-long BBC Miniseries about political corruption and conspiracy, so, what do you expect?

Guys, all I can say about The Foreigner is this. If you’re looking for a darker, more serious Jackie Chan, you will get that in this movie. And you’ll probably enjoy the film as a whole. But go in knowing that there’s a lot of added baggage. And sometimes the pacing can get a bit slow.

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Three (2016)

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

When a gang leader is cornered, he injures himself so as to force the cops to take him to the hospital. There, he refuses to be treated, citing his right to die. The cop who brought him in, however, urges the doctors to go ahead with the operation, believing that this “right to die” nonsense is nothing more than a stalling tactic. This confuses the attending physician, who finds herself caught between the law on one side, and her duties as a doctor on the other. And with the gangsters closing in, she has to make a decision quick. Otherwise, she, and everyone in the hospital, could wind up dead.

Three is a film with superb acting, gorgeous cinematography, and distinct characters. And I absolutely hate it. It’s one of the most boring movies I’ve ever seen, and that’s saying something. It takes a basic premise that’s worked in the past–people in one location, waiting for something bad to happen–and sucks all the life and energy out of it. There’s no tension. There’s no urgency. Even the climatic final shoot out, which you have to wait over an hour and twenty minutes to get to, is a bore, with it all being done in slow motion, and the music accompanying it being so soft and gentle that it puts you to sleep.

As I said before, this film is well-acted, well-written, and well-shot. But dialogue and cinematography are only part of a film. How you put those things together–what music you decide to use, which order you place the clips in–can drastically alter the tone and meaning of the content. There are tons of videos on youtube where people take shots from horror films, and re-edit them with jaunty music so that they’re no longer scary. The same principle holds true with Three. What you essentially have is a suspense story, with characters being trapped in one location, waiting for a monster to finally show itself. As such, you should edit the film in a manner that conveys how anxious the characters are feeling. You could have a clock ticking loudly in the background, or maybe have certain scenes feature an ominous, slowly building score. Instead, what we are given is a dull, subdued film, with restrained performances, long-lasting shots of people just sitting and talking, almost no background music, and a cool, blue color palette. These things sap all the energy out of what should be a tense situation, and leave us feeling bored and frustrated. If certain shots had been cut off sooner, or a bit of ominous music had been added to emphasize the importance of particular moments, I might have enjoyed Three more. As it stands, though, I was left seriously disappointed, and can’t recommend this picture to you all.

The Mermaid (2016)

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

When playboy businessman Liu Xuan purchases the Green Gulf Wildlife Reserve, he uses a sonar device to clear the area of fish. Unbeknownst to him, the Gulf is actually home to a small community of mer people, many of whom have been made sick by his company’s activities. To save themselves, the mer people send one of their own, Shan, a mermaid who can walk on her fins, to assassinate him. But, as is always the case with such stories, Shan ends up falling in love with Liu, and things get complicated from there.

The Mermaid is a very weird film, with very many aspects to it. It’s got romance. It’s got fantasy. It’s got cartoonish, slapstick comedy. It’s got very blatant environmental messages, and its got surprisingly horrific violence. When I first saw it back in 2016, I really didn’t know what to think. On the one hand, I appreciated what the filmmakers were going for, as far as messages were concerned, and I liked the fact that a Chinese picture had become a global hit, with it actually out-grossing Hollywood blockbusters like X-Men: Apocalypse and Batman V Superman. On the other hand, I wasn’t a fan of the over-the-top acting, cartoonish slapstick comedy, and surprisingly gory climax. When I expressed my confusion to Chinese friends, they told me that all these things–the clashing tones, big acting, broad comedy–were just part of the director, Stephen Chow’s, style. Maybe so, but that didn’t help me make up my mind.

Well, having thought about it for a few months now, I think I can safely say that I didn’t enjoy The Mermaid. I didn’t like how silly and unrealistic the comedy got, with one character literally spending an entire scene whizzing around a room on a jet pack, and I was really turned off by the climax, which involves the gruesome murder of an entire family. And as broad as the humor might be, there are some jokes in it that really only make sense if you speak Chinese, or are well-versed in Chinese pop culture. Some movies, like In Bruges and Trainspotting, can deftly ride the line between humorous and horrifying, and even hit you with pathos when they’re done. The Mermaid is not one of those movies. It’s heavy-handed when it comes to conveying messages, and it never manages to make the transition between silly and sorrowful seem natural.

And yet, with all that said, I would, in a weird way, recommend this movie to you all. As I mentioned earlier, it was one of the highest grossing films of 2016, so, clearly, there’s enjoyment to be had in it. And I know for a fact that there are many people, like the fans of Baz Luhrman and the Tom & Jerry shorts, who like extremely cartoonish acting and humor. So, if you’re one of those people, or are a fan of Stephen Chow’s other works, give this film a look. You’ll probably have fun.

The Great Wall (2017)

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

What can you say about the Great Wall Of China? Well, It’s ancient, majestic, and truly breathtaking when you consider it was built entirely by hand. As someone who’s actually seen it, I can tell you, it is worthy of the title “Seventh Wonder Of The World.” When you’re standing on it, you really feel as though you’re in the presence of something spectacular; something that proves what mankind is capable of. And the craziest thing about it; it was built to keep out Space Dragons. Yes. You heard right. Space Dragons. At least, that’s what Ed Zwick and Marshall Hershkovitz, the writers of this movie, want you to think. As for me, I’m not buying it.

Now, I’ll admit, I was super excited to see this picture. Not only is it directed by one of my all-time favorite filmmakers, Zhang Yimou, but its written by Ed Zwick, the man behind three of my most-beloved films; Glory, Blood Diamond, and The Last Samurai. It also has a huge budget, the largest one in Chinese cinematic history, and has some top-tier Chinese and American actors in it. All the ingredients for a truly spectacular motion picture are present. There’s no reason, or way, this can suck. Right?

Well, I wouldn’t say that this movie is terrible. I wouldn’t even say that it’s bad. But its definitely disappointing, especially when you consider what the director, screenwriters, and actors have done in the past. It’s basically just a series of elaborate fight sequences, with bits of dialogue thrown in. And while the sequences themselves are very impressive, proving once again that Mr. Zhang is an amazing visual craftsman, there’s just not enough in the way of plot or character to get you that invested. The movie’s story, what little there is, concerns two European mercenaries, Matt Damon and Pedro Pascal, who go to China to steal Gun Powder, only to get captured by soldiers patrolling the Great Wall. They then learn that there be dragons afoot, and decide to help fight them off. And that’s it. The rest of the movie is flying arrows, balls of fire, and flashing steel. And when it’s not those things, its focusing on characters who are so thinly-drawn, that I wouldn’t even call them characters. The acting in this movie is also very shaky at times. Matt Damon keeps trying to do an Irish accent, but he can never hold it for more than a few words, and he says everything in this grave, flat tone. I’m happy that he’s not a White savior, with him spending most of the movie in shackles, learning respect and humility from the Chinese, but he’s still really uninteresting.

Now, as I said before, this is not a terrible movie. It’s certainly entertaining, in a “turn your brain off” kind of way. There’s no pornographic shots of women’s bodies, or stupid, adolescent humor, like what you might find in a Michael Bay movie. And the level of detail that went into crafting some of the battle sequences, and divisions of the Chinese Army, like this all female brigade called the Cranes, is spectacular. There’s just not much in the way of story or character-development. But if that doesn’t matter to you, go ahead and watch this. You’ll probably have a good time. Even if you do want plot and character, you’ll probably be pleasantly distracted for about two hours.

The Grandmaster (2013)

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

Anyone who knows me in real life knows that I’m a die hard fan of martial arts cinema. Whether they’re colorful, Oscar-winning epics like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, heart-warming, coming of age dramas like The Karate Kid, or campy, Hong Kong Fooey films like Iron Monkey, Kung Fu movies will always hold a special place in my heart. That’s why, last week, when my friend and I sat down to watch The Grandmaster. I was positively giddy with excitement. Not only was the premise of the picture awesome–this 2013 film tells the story of Ip Man, the Wing Chung master who trained Bruce Lee–the movie was made by Wong Kar-Wai, one of my favorite Asian directors, and it had Zhang Ziyi of Crouching Tiger, and Tony Leung of Infernal Affairs in the leads. Needless to say, it was all I could do to keep myself from squealing with delight when the lights dimmed and the opening credits started rolling.

Two hours and ten minutes later, that excitement, which had previously threatened to blow me to bits, was gone, and replaced by something else. What, you might ask, was that something? Anger? Confusion? Disappointment? The most honest answer would probably be some combination of “none of the above,” and “all of the above.” I didn’t hate the movie, but i didn’t love it either. I knew going into it that I was in for something strange–the director, Wong Kar-Wai, has gained a reputation for making movies that have little to no plot–but even I felt perplexed by the end of it. First of all, Ip Man, the titular character, is only in about a third of the movie. The rest of the film focuses on Gong Er (Zhang Ziyi), a female martial arts qmaster, and Ip’s unrequited love interest. Second, there isn’t even that much Kung Fu in the movie, and when there is a fight scene, you can’t really see what’s going on. The Grandmaster was nominated for two Academy Awards–one for Best Cinematography, and one for Best Costume Design–and after watching it, I can understand why. The vibrant color scheme, exquisite use of slow motion, and creative camera angles are all breathtaking. But, at the same time, the beauty of these images is kind of distracting. In several scenes, like the opening fight where Ip Man takes on ten guys, the filmmakers seem more concerned with making the audience appreciate the aesthetics of the sequence as opposed to the sequence itself. I could never really tell who was punching who, or, to be honest, who was who. Instead, all I remember about the fight was extreme close ups of people’s hands, and slow motion shots of flying water droplets. But by far the greatest issue I had with the film was the fact that nothing really happened. Seriously! There were at least a dozen scenes in this movie where characters did nothing more than sit at a table and stare at one another. It was at points like this that I couldn’t help but wonder, “Did I somehow put the wrong movie in? Because I know for a fact that this isn’t the martial arts epic I was promised!”

And yet, as much as the film confused, bored, and in some cases, flat out frustrated me, I’d still recommend it to most people. As I said before, the visuals are absolutely beautiful, the soundtrack is appropriately dramatic, and the acting is nothing to snub one’s nose at. People in the West have developed this notion that Kung Fu movies are all over-the-top, weak in plot, and poorly acted, but this film just about disproves all those things. The leads give restrained, yet believable performances, and the art and philosophy of Kung Fu is far more prevalent here than most other movies. So, is it what I expected it to be? No. But I still believe its a film worth seeing. Think of it as a more colorful, brainy, poetic version of Donnie Yen’s Ip Man.

6 out of 10.

Give it a try if your in the mood for something heady.

Days Of Being Wild (1990)

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

Contrary to what it’s title might lead you to believe, Wong Kar-Wai’s Days Of Being Wild is NOT a raunchy comedy about rebellious youngsters living free and easy. Rather, this moody, atmospheric, and virtually plotless Hong Kong drama film focuses on emotionally abusive relationships, and how the time we spend together still impacts us long after that time has passed. I love it, and most mainstream critics these days agree that it’s a very well-made movie but, sad to say, this wasn’t always the case. When it was first released back in 1990, critics and audiences despised it. So much so that the director actually had to wait a whole decade before making another movie. Fortunately for him, that next film, In The Mood For Love, was both a critical and commercial success, even getting nominated for the Palme D’Or at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival.

But, returning to my original point, many of the problems that people had with Days Of Being Wild back then were ones that I too had the first time I saw it. Critics said that it was a film without a story–all conflict, and no resolution, and I can certainly see why they’d think that. The movie’s plot, if you can call it that, is essentially just a series of episodes in the life of York (Leslie Cheung), an angst filled, fearful of commitment man, and his one-sided relationships with stadium worker Li Zhen (Maggie Cheung) and dancer Mimi (Carina Lau). There’s no real inciting incident, no rising action, no climax, and by the time the end credits roll, we’re left with several unanswered questions. What happens to York? What happens to Mimi and Li Zhen? Do either of them get over the heartbreak York put them through? Does York stop being so cruel to women, or does he go right on being his nasty, manipulative self? Needless to say, this movie is seriously wanting in the area of closure. In addition to this, it possesses several scenes and subplots that don’t really add to the overall story, and never get addressed after they’re brought up. In one scene, for instance, York and Mimi are in bed making out, and then, for no reason whatsoever, York’s friend climbs through the window, says a line, and then leaves the way he came. Why he decided to scale a four story wall just to make some chit chat and not take the stairs beats me, as well as everyone back in 1990, but, honestly, that kind of logical thinking doesn’t work with Wong Kar-Wai. He is, in many respects, a slightly less surreal, Asian version of David Lynch, in that his movies often make no sense, but are still enjoyable because of their emotional content.

And that, I think, is where Days Of Being Wild’s true genius lies. Yes, it doesn’t really have a plot, and yes, it does leave a lot of questions unanswered, but, the emotions of the characters are so powerful, so real, that you almost forget about all those other things. Everything about the picture, from the grey, overcast color scheme, to the mournful, jazzy soundtrack, to the subdued, yet striking acting of all the leads, conveys a strong sense of depression and hopelessness. You really feel how much pain these people are in, and the movie does an excellent job of illustrating how long that pain can last–the film includes several lengthy shots of clocks, and the passage and meaning of time is a frequent topic of discussion. And as for all the ambiguity at the end, I actually kind of liked that because, in the real world, we don’t always get the answers we want. In fact, most of the time we don’t. Can you really say you know what’s happened to every friend, teacher or lover you’ve had in your lifetime? No, of course not. Plus, there have been lots of successful movies made–Inception, Lost in Translation, Oldboy–that didn’t give us total closure, and yet were lauded by critics and audiences for this very reason. Why were we comfortable with their ambiguity in those stories, and not with the ambiguity in this one? So yes, Days Of Being Wild has virtually no story, and it fails to answer all our questions, but its acting, soundtrack and color scheme all convey the thoughts and emotions of its characters so well that you feel as though they’re your own, and by god, that must count for something! 8 out of 10. Give it a look!

PS–to all the readers of my blog, thank you for staying with me for so long. Please, please, please leave comments about which pictures you’d like me to review or analyze. I want to give you all the most enjoyable blog-reading experience possible. Nathan