A Flower Of War

She fought like a tiger the day we first met. Or perhaps like a crane. She certainly displayed the ferocity of a tiger, slicing through my soldiers like a hand through water, and yet, the way she moved, the way she dipped, and dodged and leapt through my men’s ranks, was so graceful that I couldn’t help but be reminded of a crane taking flight.

Perhaps that was why, when Colonel Yi and I arrived on the scene, finding her panting over the corpses of no less than 40 soldiers, and the Colonel told our archers to fire, I yelled out “No!”

“No?” he asked, turning in his saddle to face me. I felt my cheeks flush with color, and cleared my throat.

“No. Spare her.”

Colonel Yi exchanged an incredulous look with Captain Zhang before turning back to me.

“Princess–” he began, adopting the condescending tone of a parent addressing a child.

“That’s General, Colonel Yi!” I snapped. “My father left me in command of this Army, so unless you wish to hear from the King of Xia, you will do as I say.”

Colonel Yi wrinkled his nose, as though my words carried some foul odor, but said nothing. He wouldn’t dare say it outright, but, deep down; I knew he resented being led by a woman. And, even deeper down, I knew that if I pushed him too hard, it wouldn’t matter who my father was.  He’d kill me and take command. That’s why, as soon as I saw his expression go dark, I instantly changed my tact.

“I understand your confusion, Colonel.” I said, doing my best to appear calm and level headed. “And I understand your desire to seek vengeance for our brothers. But let’s be pragmatic. We’re outnumbered. The Tang are closing in. And this woman single-handedly managed to kill 40 of our soldiers. We need every warrior we can find, and this woman just might be the secret weapon we’ve been looking for.”

“You’re saying you want to recruit her?”

“Give me three days, and I swear I’ll have her waving the flag of Xia.”

He looked at my face long and hard, as though it were a piece of armor and he were searching it for cracks. I looked right back at him, giving, and saying, nothing. Finally, he nodded, and looked away.

“As you wish. Archers, stand down!”

“Stand down!” Captain Zhang repeated, waving his arm at our men.

Down the line, our archers lowered their bows, and, even from a distance, I could see the shock in her eyes. This brought a smile to my face, and I tapped my heels into my horse’s side, sending it trotting forward. The sight of me approaching caused her to scowl, and raise her sword as though she meant to skewer my steed.

“You want some too?” She snarled, daring me to come closer.

I tilted my head to one side. Being this close to her allowed me to see how young, and beautiful, she was. Even under all the blood, even with her hair inn tangles, she was radiant.

She must have thought my staring odd, because she tilted her head to one side and asked,

“Well?”

I shook my head. Hard.

“Give up, sister,” I called out, “You’re outnumbered, and surrounded.”

“That’s what this lot said.” She grinned, gesturing to all the dead soldiers. Something about her smugness, about the sheer confidence of her delivery, stung my pride, and I found my cheeks again flushing with color.

“But did ‘this lot’ have arrows?” I asked, folding my arms in defiance.

This shut her up good and quick. She looked around at the archers, at how really and truly cornered she was, and then glanced back at me. For a brief moment, I saw fear in her eyes. It truly did last a heartbeat, but that small display of doubt touched something inside, and, before I knew it, I was dismounting and walking over to her. I could hear my men’s murmurs of disapproval, but I didn’t care. She was all that mattered.

“It’s all right, sister,” I said, placing a hand on her shoulder, “No one will hurt you. I promise.”

She looked into my eyes, searching them for hints as to whether or not I was deceiving her. I looked right back, silently preying that my sincerity would be felt through my gaze. For a long while, we stood there, saying nothing. Then, at last, she looked down, and offered me her sword. I took it, and led her by the hand back to my horse. Together, we mounted, and began the long ride back to camp. As we passed Colonel Yi, I gave him a quick, sideways glance. His eyes were as cold as a river at midnight.

Back at my tent, I poured out two glasses of plum wine. I offered her one, but she shook her head, “no.” I shrugged, and took a sip.

“What’s your name, sister?” I asked after I’d set the cup down.

She didn’t respond.

“Why are you dressed like a man?” I probed, taking a step forward. Her eyes flashed with fear, and she quickly backed away.

“What do you want from me?” she snapped, balling her hands into fists.

This caught me off guard. It was a simple enough query, and certainly logical for the situation. And yet, in all the time it took to get from the place where I captured her back to my tent, I’d never once thought of an answer.

“I…”

“I’m no one important,” she chattered, her words coming out quick and jumbled. “So there’s no point trying to get ransom.”

I laughed, and shook my head.

“Sister, there was never any question of ransom.”

“Then why spare me?” she pressed, taking a step forward. “Why take me to your tent?”

I pursed my lips.

“I… I couldn’t let someone as fair as you just die.”

She stared at me, mouth agape.

“What?”

Again, my cheeks flushed with color.

“I– Well, what I mean is–”

“You want me?”

I stopped; looked her right in the eye. She nodded, the gears of her brain turning fast.

“Of course, it all makes sense.”

“No! No, nothing makes sense!” I snapped. “I don’t– The fact that you would even imply that I would want–”

“Then what do you want?” she asked, folding her arms.

I closed my eyes, and took a deep breath.

“I want my father to win this war. And the only way we can is if we have warriors like you in our ranks.”

“Is that right?” she chuckled, running a finger up my arm.

“Yes it is!” I snapped, turning my back on her. “And, starting tomorrow, you’ll begin training my soldiers. Understood?”

Over the next few weeks, I did everything I could to avoid her. This proved to be far more difficult than I thought. First, I had to restrain the men, who wanted nothing more than to kill her. Next, I had to find her a place to sleep, since I certainly couldn’t just leave her in the barracks. And, wouldn’t you know it, the only place that was safe for her was my tent. And, finally, I had to keep reminding her that it was not at all appropriate to indoctrinate the men with Tang propaganda. I can’t even begin to count how many times I came upon her, lecturing my soldiers about how the armies of Tang were invincible, and how they were better off surrendering now, instead of wasting their time training. It happened so often that I spent more time chaperoning her than strategizing with Colonel Yi and the others. I don’t think he minded, since it gave him the chance to take command. As a matter of fact, I know he didn’t mind. That was the problem.

As the weeks wore on, I started noticing a change in his demeanor. When I gave him orders, he would either ignore them, or be slow to respond. When I reminded him that, as the daughter of the King of Xia, I was in charge, he would simply smile, and say, “for now.” And on one occasion, I caught him standing outside my tent, surveying it with something close to a buyer’s eye.

“What are you doing?” I barked.

“Just checking on your majesty’s residence,” he responded smoothly. “It would be quite a shame if something were to happen to it.”

I opened my mouth, but he was already gone.

And yet, despite all that, and despite all my efforts to avoid her, I couldn’t help but learn details from her past. I learned that a blind man named Liu taught her how to handle a sword. (This detail slipped out during a training exercise). I learned that she had two sisters. (This tidbit was divulged while insulting one of my men; “My sisters could swing that axe better than you”). And I learned that her favorite fruit was persimmons. (This was made evident by the fact that she devoured at least three of them everyday). But perhaps the most important thing I learned about her was her incredible talent with a needle.

I learned this on a hot day about a month into our relationship. I was training with my bodyguard, Shen, and, as always, he was letting me win. He never said he was, but I could tell. I was lousy with a blade, and Shen had been a professional soldier for over a decade. There was no way in hell that I could beat him in sparring every single time. She knew that, and when she saw us training together, she came over and pushed Shen out of the way.

“What are you–?”

“Giving you a real lesson in combat.”

I scoffed, and looked at my men for support, but none of them made a sound. This caused her to snicker, and my cheeks to burn red.

“Don’t look at them. They want you to learn as much as I do.”

I scowled, and turned my back on her.

“There’s nothing you can teach me that I don’t already know.”

I took a step forward and instantly felt a sharp sting against the back of my head. I whirled around, clutching my throbbing skull, only to find her smirking, and tossing a pebble up and down.

“You sure about that?” she said with a wink.

That sent me over the edge. I drew my sword, and lunged for her. She easily sidestepped, and slashed her blade upward, cutting my arm. I cried out in pain, and clutched at my wound, which, by that point, was bleeding profusely.

“Never let anger rule you in battle.” she said, sheathing her sword.

I groaned, and fell to my knees.

“Oh, come now.” she huffed, turning around. “It’s not that bad–”

She fell silent when she saw how much blood was coming out of my wound. Her whole demeanor instantly changed, and she fell to her knees beside me.

“I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean to cut you that deep.”

I didn’t respond. I was too light-headed to speak. She looked to the men for help, none of whom did, or said, a thing. She sighed, and ripped off a piece of cloth from her uniform.

“Someone get me a needle and some thread!” she shouted, wrapping the makeshift bandage around my wound. None of them moved.

“Now!” she barked, and they finally went off in search of medical supplies. At that point, my head was spinning, and my fingers had become numb. The last thing I remembered before passing out was the sight of Shen returning with a needle and thread.

I woke several hours later in my tent. She was sitting over me, stroking my forehead. A few weeks ago, I would have balked at such a blatant sign of intimacy, but, at that moment, it was like a ray of sunshine on the glacier of my heart.

“You’re awake!” she smiled, cupping my face with both hands.

“Yes.” I sighed. “Thanks to you. Where’d you learn to stitch a wound like that?”

“You grow up on a farm, you get injured. And when you grow up poor, the only doctor you can afford is yourself.”

I nodded.

A silence followed, in which both of us pondered how best to say what was on our minds. She broke it first.

“I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have challenged you–”

“No, I’m glad you did.”

She frowned.

“You are?”

I nodded, and stared up at the roof of my tent.

“I’m a proud fool. I needed to be humbled.”

She looked down. I turned to face her, and place my thumb and forefinger beneath her chin.

“Pride’s kept me from doing a great many things. And it’s held me back from admitting a great many more.”

“Oh really?” she asked slyly, leaning forward. “Like what?”

“You know.” I said, bringing her lips to mine.

She didn’t leave my side that night, or any night after that.

“I’ve got it!” I said, after an evening of particularly passionate lovemaking.

“Got what?” she asked, draping an arm across my chest, and burying her face in the crook of my neck.

“I finally found out what you are.”

“What I am?” she laughed, arching her eyebrows.

I nodded.

“The first day we met, I couldn’t decide what you were more like; a tiger or a crane. You were ferocious like a tiger, but graceful like a crane.”

“Oh. So which am I?”

I smiled, and cupped her face with both hands.

“A flower.”

“A flower?”

“Yes. But not just any flower; a flower that only grows in earth that has been soaked with blood and tears; a flower that never wilts, even in the dead of winter. A flower of war.”

She smiled, and gently kissed my lips.

“I like that,” she said. “I think you’re right.”

A week later, she broached the topic of leaving.

“We can’t stay here.” she said. “At least, you can’t stay here.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Your men are planning on killing you.”

“I… That’s…”

“The truth, and you know it.”

I looked down, and nodded.

“Yes.”

A long silence followed, in which the weight of truth bore down on us like a blanket. I was the first to break it.

“I want to leave,” I groaned. “But, my father–”

“Is dead.”

I rounded on her.

“What did you say?”

“It’s true,” she nodded. “As I was making my way to the battlefield, I learned from some passing Tang troops that the King of Xia had already been killed. All they were doing now was routing out rogue regiments that hadn’t yet been captured.”

I stared at her, uncertain as to whether or not I should believe her words. It seemed plausible. We hadn’t heard anything from father in weeks. It was possible he’d been overthrown. But was it true?

“How do you know they weren’t lying?”

She looked away.

“I don’t want to tell you.”

“Mulan!” I shouted, tears rolling down my cheeks. She sighed, and looked me in the eye.

“They had his head on a pike.”

Her words pierced me like a dagger. I looked away, and covered my face with both hands. She reached out to comfort me, but I shrugged her off. I stayed like that, weeping, for what felt like an eternity. I wept and I wept, until it honestly felt as though all the liquid in my body would pour out. Finally, I could weep no more, and so I stopped, and looked her right in the eye.

“Let’s do it.”

Her face broke into a massive grin.

“You mean it?”

I nodded.

“Yes. Let’s do it tonight.”

We packed as quickly, and quietly, as possible, taking only what was necessary to survive. Finally, we had what we needed, and we snuck out the tent under cover of darkness.

She at first moved towards the stables to steal some of the men’s horses, but I held her back.

“No,” I whispered. “I’ve got a better idea.”

That, “better idea” was the pair of stallions Colonel Yi kept by his tent. It was all I could do to keep myself from laughing as we untied them and led them to the outskirts of camp. By the time we mounted them, and began our long ride off towards the horizon, I felt great warmth seeping through my veins. I had lost my father. I had lost my home. And yet, in that moment, I felt strangely optimistic. I was free; free to do whatever I wanted, and go wherever I pleased. And more important than that, I had the woman I loved–my flower of war–by my side. Our lives would not be easy. Our lives would not be safe. But together, through our trials and our turmoil, we would make the brightest blossoms bloom.

Copyright 2018. Nathan Liu

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The Post (2017)

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

It’s the early 70s. Richard Nixon is in office, and the Vietnam War is in full swing. For years, the American people have been told, “Don’t worry. We’re winning. It’ll be over in no time.” But, as it turns out, that was a lie. No less than three presidents knew that the war was un-winnable, but decided to keep it going, solely because they didn’t want to say they lost. Dan Ellsberg, an analyst for the RAND Corporation, decides he can’t live with this, and so leaks several thousand classified documents detailing these lies, the Pentagon Papers, to the press. The New York TImes snatches them up straight away, but the ink has barely dried before the White House shuts them down with a restraining order. So it’s up to the Washington Post, a small, privately-owned DC paper, to pick up the slack, get the word out to the American people, and hold the government accountable for their lies. Will they be able to? Well, you’ll just have to watch the film to find out.

The Post is directed by Steven Spielberg, scored by John Williams, and starring Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep. Do I really need to tell you it’s good? Because it is.  It’s well-acted, well-shot, well-directed, and the story is compelling. Which is surprising. I mean, if you step back and look at it, it’s a talky drama about a newspaper leaking government documents. That’s a pretty dry premise. There’s no sex. There’s no drugs. There’s no action, though there is a brief, highly effective war scene at the start of the movie. This is a film that relies entirely on its dialogue and its actors to carry it along, and by God, both of those do so in spades. I was never bored once, and even though I knew where the story was going, since I’d learned about the Pentagon Papers in history class, I felt the pressure that these characters were experiencing. And any time a picture about events that happened over 40 years ago can make you feel invested in those events, it’s done something right.

That said, I do have a few complaints. The film is a bit slow in the first half, which is not to say it’s dull. It’s just, when The Post finally does get the papers, the movie becomes so much more vigorous and lively. So you’re left wondering why the first half couldn’t be as energetic. On top of this, the film does definitely play it safe. This is very much an Oscar-bait movie, trying to make a statement, while also not wanting to ruffle too many feathers. Granted, unlike other films like this, such as last year’s Battle Of The Sexes, which tried to talk about sexism while simultaneously making its sexist characters as likable as possible, this movie does at least pull no punches in the portrayal department. Still, it is an awards flick, and I know that some people will avoid it just because it’s that.

Nevertheless, The Post’s fine performances, tight script, and strong direction do make it worth watching. Don’t hesitate to give it a look.

Their Finest (2017)

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

It’s 1940, and Britain is in serious need of a morale boost. Food is scarce, cities are being blitzed, and the British Army has just been driven off the continent at Dunkirk. Life, to put it bluntly, is shit. So, to give their country the shot in the arm it so desperately needs, the government begins churning out propaganda films, and because all the young men are off fighting, they hire women to write the scripts. Enter Catrin Cole, a novice screenwriter whose been given the task of adapting a “true” story to the big screen. She’s new to the business, and as she goes about bringing this story to life, she encounters all the typical roadblocks a screenwriter does; truth not lending itself to a traditional dramatic structure; producers demanding last minute changes to the script; cast members being difficult on set, etc. And yet, as hard as her job is, as difficult as her colleagues can be, Catrin finds herself falling in love with the business, and discovers a freedom in her work that she never experienced beforehand. Will it last? Well, you’ll just have to watch the film to find out.

Their Finest is a sweet, utterly charming movie. It’s funny, moving, beautifully-shot, and exceptionally well-acted. It is the total inverse of Dunkirk in every way. Dunkirk is a spectacle. Their Finest is a story. Dunkirk is about the war. Their Finest is about the home front. Dunkirk has no characters. Their Finest has several, very well-realized ones. But beyond simply providing a pleasant, alternate perspective on this period in British history, Their Finest is also just an all-around engaging film. You like these characters. You enjoy watching this picture get made. And because this is a movie about movie-making, the screenwriters are able to throw in some clever commentary on the tropes of the romance genre. Also, unlike many other films set during this era, Their Finest holds nothing back when it comes to portraying the devastating sexism that these women faced everyday. Yes, It’s difficult to watch, but it also makes you appreciate these ladies’ strength even more. And that’s always a good thing in my book.

That said, as charming as Their Finest is, it is still, ultimately, a romantic comedy, and comes with all the tropes and baggage that that entails. True, most of the cliches are addressed in the film within a film, and the screenwriters do come up with a clever way of not giving you the ending you expect. Still, there are several plot points in this movie that feel very familiar, like the main character starting off in an unhappy relationship, her meeting a new man, her significant other cheating on her, which makes it okay for her to be with the new guy, etc. But, like I said before, the film is well-written enough to recognize those cliches as cliches, and it does come up with interesting ways of subverting them. So it doesn’t bother me too much.

Guys, all I can say is this; Their Finest is a charming, well-written, well-acted little romance film, which does feature some cliches, but is also entertaining, and clever enough, to overcome them. I love it, and I think you’d love it too if you watched it. Please give it a look.

Dunkirk (2017)

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

The British Army has been driven back. All the way to the French coast. Now, if Britain is to survive the war, they must evacuate 400,000 men from the beaches at Dunkirk. And they must do so fast, because, every hour, the enemy draws closer. And every minute, another life is lost.

Dunkirk is a spectacle. It is the cinematic equivalent of a roller coaster. It’s loud, intense, it puts you on edge; but , when its over, you don’t really feel like you’ve learned or gained anything. You just feel tired. Part of this has to do with the fact that this film has very little dialogue, and no real characters. Now when I say that, I don’t mean that there are no people in this movie. There are. We actually follow three different protagonists; an RAF pilot trying to shoot down enemy aircraft, a civilian mariner trying to rescue soldiers, and a private trying to get off the beaches. But we never learn who these people are. In fact, I’ve thought back, and I don’t think we ever hear their names. There’s never a moment where the soldiers tell each other about their lives back in England, or where we get any sense of what their interests, or political views, are. They don’t have clearly-defined arcs; where, say, they start off arrogant, and end humble, and the movie itself doesn’t even have a climax, since every moment is huge and dramatic. Dunkirk is basically just 2 hours of people you don’t know anything about reacting to explosions. And that’s it.

Now, in case it sounds like I didn’t like this movie, I did. Sort of. It’s entertaining, to be sure. I was never bored while I was watching it, and there were many points where I jumped. And the acting, as you expect from a Christopher Nolan movie, is quite good. Mark Rylance, whom plays the civilian mariner trying to save soldiers, is a particular bright spot, since he’s given the most dialogue, and you know the most about him. And the dogfights that Tom Hardy’s RAF pilot gets into are definitely gripping.

But when you strip all that away–all the dogfights, and explosions, and Mark Rylance–what you’re left with is a very hollow movie. I understand that the lack of characterization and character development was a deliberate choice, since, in the real world, you don’t take a break during a battle to tell people about your significant other back home, but realism doesn’t always work in drama. If movie dialogue was exactly like actual conversation, it would be duller than paint drying, since there’d be a lot of repetition, very little conflict, and every third word would be “uh,” or “um.” Similarly, having the audience of your movie not know anything about the characters they’re supposed to be following creates a disconnect between observer and observed. I didn’t know who any of the soldiers on the beaches were. Not just because I didn’t know their names, or anything about them, but because they were all pretty generic-looking white dudes with Brown hair. As such, I didn’t care what happened to them. Hell, there were a few points when I got confused, because I thought one of the characters I was watching had died earlier. Are we just supposed to sympathize with them because they’re British? Because, let me tell you, I knew exactly as much about the Germans as I did about them, and they’re supposed to be the bad guys. That’s not good. Some reviews I’ve read have praised this film for not being “sentimental,” and not “manipulating our emotions” with speeches and a touching score. But what’s wrong with that? Saving Private Ryan, one of the greatest war films ever made, has just as intense action as Dunkirk does, but it actually has scenes where we hear the characters talk, and we get to know them. Matt Damon’s speech about the last night he spent with his brothers is one of my favorite monologues in film. And why are we so opposed to sentimentality? What’s wrong with caring about the people we’re watching? It’s human to empathize. It’s natural to care. Why have we gotten to a point in our pop culture where being earnest in our emotions is a bad thing? It’s not. It’s actually quite a good thing. Ah well.

Guys, I can’t say that I liked Dunkirk, but I can’t say that I didn’t like it either. It’s definitely entertaining, and the acting is good. But the lack of dialogue, and discernible characters to latch onto, made it extremely difficult for me to care. Make of this what you will.

Straight Outta Compton (2015)

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

In 1986, Eric Wright is a drug dealer, Andre Young is an aspiring DJ, and Oshea Jackson is a wannabe rapper. They’re all poor, they’re all disillusioned, and they all have a long way to go before becoming Eazy-E, Dr. Dre, and Ice Cube. But they’re talented, and driven, and have a unique voice that they know will speak to millions. So they decide, “screw it,” and form their own record label, Ruthless Records, and start their own rap group, NWA. When the first song they put out, “Boyz N The Hood,” becomes a local hit, they are approached by an agent named Jerry, who offers to “make them legit,” if only they will make him their manager. They agree, and Jerry keeps his word, giving them greater exposure, and booking them in bigger venues. But rifts quickly form within the group over payment, and it’s not long before Ice Cube breaks off, and a vicious rivalry between him and his former band mates flares up.

Straight Outta Compton is a film I don’t feel fully qualified to judge. I didn’t grow up with NWA’s music, I’m not Black, and I wasn’t alive at the time this movie is set. So I don’t really feel I can comment on the picture’s historical accuracy, or on the way it portrays Rap culture. What I can comment on is the filmmaking itself–the writing, the acting, the production design–and that is very impressive. All the actors do terrific jobs, the camerawork is smooth, and the story is consistently entertaining. From a purely technical standpoint, I have but a few complaints, and those that I do have are relatively mild. The film is almost three hours long, and there are points where the pacing does drag. There are also some scenes that never get brought up again, like one on a bus where a gang member says “remember me” to a passenger, and another one in a hotel room involving a guy looking for his girlfriend. And the film doesn’t do much in the way of female representation, with most of the women in the picture being groupies, and the others being worried moms, or supportive girlfriends. But, again, I’m not a part of that culture, so I can’t comment on the misogyny that might very well have been a huge part of that time period, and that scene.

All in all, though, I quite enjoyed Straight Outta Compton, and would recommend it to you. If your a fan of NWA, or are just looking for a good biopic, check this film out. I’m quite certain you won’t regret doing so.

Lust, Caution (2007)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is the name, And Views Are My Game.

In 1938, a radical Chinese theater troupe decide to put on their most daring performance; the seduction, and assassination, of a high-ranking Japanese collaborator. The first thing they do is find their leading lady, a naive college student named Wang Chia-Chi. Next, they find their stage, a mansion in Hong Kong where Wang is to catch her prey. And, finally, they introduce her to her main opponent in this great drama, Mr. Yee, the collaborator they intend to kill. The stage is set. The pieces are in place. All that’s necessary is for someone to make the first move. But, just as in an old Greek Tragedy, nothing about their scheme goes according to plan.

Lust, Caution is a movie I’d been wanting to see for years. Not only was it directed by Ang Lee, the man responsible for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon–my favorite film of all time–but the picture’s story also checked all my interest boxes. World War 2 in Asia? Check. Espionage? Check. Stories about artists and creative types saving the world? Check. On paper, it seems like the perfect movie for me. Having finally seen it now, well, I’m a little less starry-eyed. Is this a terrible movie? Not at all. Is it bad? Not in the slightest. But will I ever want to see it again? Absolutely not. Lust, Caution is a film with what I have decided to refer to as, “La La Land Syndrome,” in that it’s a well-shot, well acted movie with high production values that I didn’t enjoy because I didn’t feel invested in the story.

When you watch the film, you can tell that it was made by people with talent. The music, the cinematography, and the costumes and sets are all superb. I’d actually like to take a minute to talk about those last two, because they are absolutely beautiful. Every outfit that Tang Wei, the lead actress, wears in this movie is exquisite, and the props, vehicles and buildings that were used all bring 1930s China to life. And the acting, as you might expect from an Ang Lee movie, is top notch, with the one possible exception being Wang Leehom, whom plays the leader of the main theater troupe, and whose American accent while speaking Mandarin was noticeable even to me. But, really, that’s a minor detail. Technically, this film is perfect.

It’s just that, when it comes to story, the movie isn’t nearly at the same level. The film is about three hours long, and I swear I’m not making this up, it’s not until we’re an hour and a half in that anything interesting happens. For the first 90 minutes, we’re forced to endure an endless series of Mahjong games, drawing room conversations, and walks through the park. And virtually none of what gets said in these conversations comes into play later on, so they just come off as pointless padding. I understand the slow pacing and extra dialogue were added to flesh out the characters–the film is based on a forty page short story where not much background is given–but they’re just a slog to get through. There were several points in this movie where I seriously considered stopping. I didn’t feel invested in the characters, and the story was taking too long. Now, before any of you accuse me of being a brain dead millennial with the attention span of a squirrel, just know that some of my favorite films of all time–Gandhi, Lawrence Of Arabia, Dances With Wolves–are well over the three hour mark. It’s not the length of the movie that bothers me. It’s the slow pacing, and the fact that nothing of substance happens until we’re more than half way through it that get me. This script was in serious need of a trim.

Something else that I wanted to touch on in this review are the sex scenes. When Lust, Caution was released back in 2007, it was banned in several countries, and given an NC-17 rating in the US because of its “graphic content.” Now, hearing that, you probably think that this film is overflowing with sex–that there’s hardly a frame where breasts or genitals aren’t on display. Not so. I counted, and it’s not until the two hour mark, on the dot, that we get any kind of sex or nudity. And, the truth is, you don’t actually see anything when Wang and Mr. Yee are doing the deed. All that’s visible are breasts, and you can see those in any R-rated movie. Can someone please explain to me why this film, and not any of the other raunchy comedies out there, deserved to get an NC-17 rating? Now, it’s possible that the version of Lust, Caution I saw was edited, and that the original cut featured far more graphic stuff, but that still doesn’t change the fact that for a movie that advertises itself as an erotic thriller, nothing remotely erotic happens until two thirds of the way through. And the sex itself isn’t even that interesting. It’s all done in one, long, static wide shot, the lighting is low, and the whole thing kind of comes off as cold and unfeeling. If you’re looking for titilation, you won’t find it here.

As I said before, this movie is beautifully crafted, well-acted, and the premise is very interesting. For those reasons, I feel like I should recommend it to you. At the same time, however, I’d be remiss if I failed to point out that the movie is very long, very slow, and that the sex scenes which its famous for don’t come until about two hours in, and that they aren’t even that interesting. Make of that what you will.

Changeling (2009)

 

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

On March 10, 1928, Christine Collins came home from work, and found that her son, Walter, was not in the house. She looked in every room, scoured the entire neighborhood, but it was all to no avail. Walter had vanished. For five agonizing months, Christine waited for the authorities to find something, anything, that would indicate where her boy had gone. Then, finally, the police claimed that they’d located him, but when she was presented with the child in question, she realized that it wasn’t Walter. The boy was three inches shorter than her son, circumcised, and lacked certain knowledge that Walter would just instinctively have, like what his teacher’s name was, or which desk he’d sat at in school. But when Christine pointed this out to the police, and urged them to keep looking for her son, they refused, insisting she was mistaken. They hired doctors to explain away the physical discrepancies between Walter and this new boy, and got reporters to write articles smearing her as an incompetent, neglectful mother. Then, when all this failed, they locked her away in an insane asylum, claiming she was hysterical, and that she needed to be restrained, “for her own good.” It wasn’t until a detective, working on a completely unrelated case, uncovered a connection between her boy and the crimes of a serial killer that Christine got released, and people started listening to her.

This horrifying true story forms the basis of Changeling, a 2008 drama film, directed by Clint Eastwood, and starring Angelina Jolie. I’d never heard of it, or the events that inspired it, until I watched the movie this weekend, and now, with hindsight, I think that’s a shame. This is a well-made film, and it tells an incredible story from our past, which has far more relevance to the present than we might like to admit. The fact that a woman who spoke out against an authority figure was written off as hysterical, and even institutionalized, just so that she couldn’t threaten their position, is both terrifying, and not at all hard to believe. To this day, women around the world face huge amounts of backlash whenever they “rock the boat” by discussing mistreatment or abuse. That’s why so many rape cases go untried, the victims are too scared to speak out. For this reason, I highly urge everyone out there to watch Changeling. Because even though its set 89 years ago, what happens in it is still happening now. And if we want a better world, we need to learn from our past.

Now I realize that that statement will be enough to turn some of you off this film. After all, movies that are “important” aren’t always entertaining, or even well-crafted. I appreciate Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and Dear White People for their messages, not because I’m gripped by their stories or performances. Likewise, Schindler’s List, City of Life and Death and 12 Years A Slave are so painful to watch, in spite of their craftsmanship, that most of us can’t bear to see them again. Changeling is neither of those things. It’s not so heavy handed that you can’t get invested in the story, and its not so painful that you feel tempted to look away. The movie is 2 and a half hours long, and I was never once bored while I was watching it. The acting in it is also very good, and, as with all Clint Eastwood films, it looks very nice, with the costumes and sets being downright exquisite. So if you’re afraid that Changeling will be a boring, or excessively brutal issue movie, don’t worry. This film does get you to think, but not without entertaining you all the while.