Wednesday, 9 May 2012

New kids in FoShan: Look! It's plane, it's a bird! Alas, it's a sword...

In history of flying and aviation many great people left their marks throughout the ages, from the uneasy start to the modern day experiements in improving mankind's transportation and bringing us closer to technological perfection.

 In history of martial arts movies a particular sub-genre is aiming towards new hights, presenting fantasy myths and legends (and powerful love element too) where good & bad are in constant clash and strive for air superiority - wu xia pian movies combine different segments wrapped in ethereal cloth, floating gracefully in thin air, thus defying gravity and laws of physics with such ease, that made it believable. It most certanly gives to "I believe I can fly" a new meaning... 

To me this genre was (and still is) full of unrealistic display and exagerrated human emotion, no matter how pure and clean they were supposed to be. And here it is the last seen effort in that direction, given to me by Tsui Hark in collaboration with Jet Li & Fan Siu Wong - Flying Swords of Dragon Gate...

 Being a Horse (in Chinese astrology) with element Earth I look for more ground-breaking shots than people sailing through the air like superheroes - it might work in Hollywood, but for me it looks plain boring. Maybe the problem is just me, probably a lot of people like such movies and appreciate the amount of flying powder in it, but I prefer more steady approach with any martial arts choreography. Well, I admit that if not so annoyingly done a proper presentation of "flying" martial arts can score high in my own vision and the last really good wuxia movie was Michelle Yeoh's "Reign of Assassins" - intriguing plot, nice characters and wire fu that was really elaborate and well-made. 

The majority of movies in that genre I saw were with so sloppy wire fu that I lost interest after the initial fights and to the end my expression was flat as ironing board and tastless as I've ate a sheet of paper, despite it's healthy dose of celulose. However, now I have to share my thoughts and emotions about a different movie, which sounded bit promising at first. Again I was fooled and terribly wrong in my impression that it might be at least better than The Lost Bladesman (it was better than It's love, but compare to this manure any other film with Jet Li might be a masterpiece, except Once upon a time in china 3, where Yuen Bun makes extraordinary things with wires, but this is a subject I'll discuss a bit later in this article). 

Nice hat, Mr. Li - please explain how many straw houses did you destroy...

Tsui Hark is a man of many talents indeed - director, producer, screenwriter, actor - the only elusive thing left for him, to be a martial arts choreographer, but he leaves that to experienced people with some impressive background. Or such with a repetitive one. Anyway - here we have something like a remake inception - this movie is a remake of New dragon gate Inn (although Tsui Hark claims that it has no relation), which itself is a remake of Dragon Gate Inn by King Hu (I think) in the late 60's. So we have familiar pattern now here, old ideas getting recycled and refreshed, just like the Hollywood tradition of putting numerous reboots, remakes, and extended series. So nothing new here, probably I would move along and pay no attention, however I decided to stop and see this new extravaganza from Tsui Hark. Which was shot in 3D - for good or bad. 

The plot is simple enough for you to follow - we have a bad guy terrorising the population in China and on the opposing side, the good guys led by none other than Jet Li, formed a band of brothers to put on the throne some exiled prince (as usual). They join forces with some other guerrila strike force and lure the bad guy into a trap in Dragon Gate Inn, which happened to be close to a treasure town, accesible only at midnight on February 29, during a full moon and when the owls are howling only three times. Well, almost... During a climatic fight, which gave an anticlimax experience the good are victorious and they lived happily ever after. Well, almost... 

Fly is in the air, just make a clean landing this time...

Jet Li was somewhat distant here, not a main character, but more like an extra or extended cameo (sort of like Jackie Chan in Twins Effect, but he was at least funny) and not doing much up until the end, where he has to fight the last battle (well, who else). It seemed to me that he is a bit bored and just doing it for the money, not for the thrills anymore - not because of age, but because he is probably tired of movie business in general. No wonder, seeing the latest additions to the martial arts genre. He flies in the air, here and there, trying to show some emotions, but at the same time has to keep his image as tough guy - it must be challenging. But at least he has improved since the wooden dummy performance in It's love, which is something positive to notice. On the other hand again I see that his name was used to generate box office success, but I'm just wondering when this formulae will be left dry and all the producers would have to search for a new ground getting steady flow of money. For now this trick is still working I'm just curious about the lifespan of it. Time will tell, there is no point for me to dwell on the unknown, it will bring me more frustration and wrinkles over my old forehead. 

Back on track - there were couples of female characters, which balanced the macho charisma in the movie, and they were equally good with weapons making them a worthy advesary. Of course a love sub-story is involved too, but it wasn't something of great importance for me, a needful detail to keep the audience touched and mooved - well I guess I was made out of stainless steel, because it didn't move me a bit. It was just there, hanging in the midair, floating like all the characters as if to keep up with the overall feeling and tone of the movie. Afterall a wuxia without a love story inside is like disabled person without crutches - it always fall off-balance.

Nice eyball, however I do think that you look better with your mask on

 I was most interested with the action choreography, but when the name of Yuen Bun appeared (bringing mediocre wire-fu since OUATIC 3) my expectations went down the drain. It was nothing new, nothing amazing, nothing jaw-dropping (although there is a scene which takes place inside the eye of a tornado), the same game of flying objects, scattered around the premises until you get mixed sensations in your eyeballs, finding it difficult to tell where are the actors in the picture. I was having trouble with CGI too, it wasn't very well implemented into the movie and some scenes were deliberately put in there as to emphasise the 3D effect, wihtout any other reason. 

Okay I know that 3D need some shots to stand out and blah blah, but here it's just wrong. I'm not too fancy of blurred action scenes enhanced with visuals and bad wires all over, I'm sorry but it's hard for me to appreciate the whole effort, when I do not know where to look, as our heroes jump from side to side like some hyper active rabbits on steroids. Talking about the Duracell/Energizer bunnies...

The Flying Circus is on fire tonight, don't mind the cows and other objects...

 Another weak point for me, was that after the initial 40 mins all righteous fighters gather inside a mud made cottage and start planning their trap - I almost fell asleep during this piece - it was so slow, so boring, so uninteresting, filling the time until the final battle with dialogues made of serious business, charts, presentations and other office tools like I was on a staff training trip. And then the last fight ensues and the movie was over. As I saw on the character list the name of Fan Siu Wong I was trying to find him on the spot, only to realise that it was another cameo, which had nothing to do with the main story - a famous name thrown in just like an exotic flavour to a already tasteless meal. I mean, what is the point of all this - you are afraid that the movie is weak, so hire a couple of big shot names from the industry to boost up all the stats and then sells it to the public. Pathethic. 
Some clever way to hook the audience, but it's getting rather tedious now - maybe the stars themselves are feeling comfortable in such place, not trying to go out of the box or routine in recent movies, I understand that some of them are getting older, but this is not an excuse for me - I felt really dissapointed by this approach and with sadness I have to admit that the good days are over for at least Jet Li. 
But he should draw the curtain in style not as he doesn't care anymore for his fans - people which remember his old exploits and know he can do better. 

Nice couple, but I do not wish to see their offsprings... Although the female have a naughty look.

Here in this movie the story was again attached to the action (which was nothing spectacular), characters were being seen in most of the movies from the genre, I was not gathering any emotions towards any of them, all felt disconnected and scattered, as the scenes were thought as they go, and apparently I was left in dismay. Once more it proved that Hong Kong cinema industry is going down, heading at a greater speed towards concrete wall... I hope that someone will put the brakes on at certain point, so to balance things out and reduce the casualties from the initial impact. 

For the whole spectacle I can give no more than - 3.5/10 - for the beginning and the end, and some nice scenery thrown here and there.

Yours Truly
The Grim Reaper


  1. Great article ...

  2. Thanks a lot for this comment - I'll try to keep up the blog with more interesting articles.