So cashew and I had a girls day/night/day out yesterday and today, our last day(s) of freedom before classes start... tomorrow. *sobs*
Anyhow, we rented three videos from Blockbusters yesterday evening - "Big Fish" and "Once Upon A Time In China" I & II. This afternoon we saw "Hero" in the theaters. So yeah, reviews are as follows:
Big Fish reminded me of fanfiction in a lot of ways. Heck, most of it *was* practically a Gary Stu-ism made into the big screen, on purpose. The idea is this father who tells a lot of tall tales about his past to everyone who would listen, most of which seems really impossible/unlikely, and he of course is always the amazing hero and center of everything going on. The problem is that his son has gotten majorly tired of all the stories that have been told over and over and over and over again, and is unhappy that he doesn't know anything about what his father is "really" like under all the bluster, because the dad insists that the stories were all pretty much true aside from a few "minor" embellishments.
Of course, you'd wonder, if the whole movie was one big fanfic/Sue-ism, then wouldn't it be a very *bad* film? Well, no. I guess the movie proves one thing about fanfics that only persistent readers already understand - that there is a way to write (or produce) well in any genre, no matter how hopeless it seems. Mary Sue-ism, while infamous, does not map 100.00% onto BAD stories. Indeed, with the right skills, there can be good Mary Sue stories. Of which this is one. Basically, the last half hour or so of the film turned the whole setup on its ear - not in the predicable way that the stories are shown to be untrue and the son's predictions of a mundane background of his father come true... Rather, that there is more truth that one'd expect in those tall tales. In fact, I think one of the most lasting and compelling impressions at the end is the ambiguity of exactly how much of the stories are truth, based on the revelations that are sprinkled and dropped here and there, and what is plausible and believable.
There were many other things that were also really good about the film. It's an artsy type film, which means that the quality of the scenes and shots were very nice. The sceneries were absolutely beautiful; the actors did a great job bringing their characters to life and the characters themselves were fleshed out pretty well by the script. There were some very nice touches of humor and symbollism buried in the plot which made the movie both enjoyable and gave it depth. In short, it had the visual equivalent of Very Good Writing, enough to make even a Mary Sue a very enjoyable and highly acclaimed story.
In short, I would high recommend this film to anyone who has an eye for aesthetics and who likes a good story. It's not a fantasy or sci-fi, and there's not that much action in it, but it's a very good story that could possibly fall under realistic fiction, if anything.
Oh, my favorite scenes:
* The siamese cat performing tricks in the circus. That was an absolutely beautiful kitty, on a lovely circus pillow.
* The field of daffodils. OMG how so much yellow on one screen can be sooooo pretty. Dangit. Now *I* want a field of daffodils like that too. *pout*
* The Chinese/Mandarin-speaking, Korean-writing, Kungfu-wielding, Vietnamese soldiers which had me snickering. Because stereotypes taken to their most absurd extremes are just plain hilarious.
* How the poet turned bank robber ended his first unsuccessful heist by "just starting" on his crime spree...... by going to work (legitimately) on Wall Street. Ha!
Apparently, it was a crime for me not to have seen this Classic wuxia (kungfu) movie despite being a wuxia fan. So cashew insisted that we remedy this failure and we ended up watching I and II of the series. I'm sure we'll also get around to seeing OUATIC III eventually too.
This movie also pretty much inducted me into the fandom of Jet Li (Li Lian Je), who plays the character of Huang Fei Hong (which is also the title of the movie in the original Chinese, but what else do you expect from kungfu translations?). But let's not get ahead of ourselves on that particular topic...
The movies take place in the Qing Dynasty (the last imperial dynasty), centering around Huang Fei Hong, who was an actualy historic person of the time. The theme and conflict mostly revolves around how China is floundering with in and without: without under the various pressures of the foreign imperial powers and threats of foreign technology, and within from flawed officials and civil unrest. The depictions of everyday life and the common people/officials are a pretty sadly accurate look at what China really was like at the time.
The first movie focused on the foreigners as villains, with the typical stereotypes as seen by the Chinese of that era. Though, the Jesuit priest as a good guy was a surprise, but welcome contrast. And I loved the nice touches depicting the antagonism between the American and the British.
The second movie focused on the various cults and rebels that sprang up near the end of the imperial era as villains. The White Lotus cult nuts, Sun Yat Sen, etc... while the foreigners were mostly the victims in this one.
And, of course, these being wuxia movies, one MUST mention the martial arts. Wow. Those were some really, really good fight scenes. All done without any wire tricks or CGI effects either. This is classic wuxia fighting/filming, and I loved it.
Characters... let's start with Jet Li's character. Cashew tells me that Jet Li is typically cast as the stereotypical Buddhist-ideal, self-assured, calm 'n centered, highly honorable/loyal/virtuous/etc., and somewhat naive character. And of course the uber-kungfu which is never even come close to being defeated in even an unfair fight, unless his character chooses to turn himself in. Does that sound like a Mary Sue/Gary Stu? Yeah... except...
...except Jet Li is really like that in REAL LIFE! *gapes* Y'know, started training at 3 and competed professionally at 18 and the 5-time world champion etc. Not to mention he was the first choice for Li Mu Bai in "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon", a role he really wanted to do but refused...... because he promised his wife that he wouldn't take up any projects on the year of their 10th anniversary. *swoons* And then there's the fact that he still had some of his baby fat in his face in his thirties, which makes him look uberly much younger than his is, Kenshin-style. Good gods! Men like that should only exist in fiction... in Gary Stu fiction no less. They shouldn't exist IRL! AAAAAHHHHH!!! *swoons* *eyes glaze over*
*shakes head clear* Um yeah, now where was I?
The cute thing is that Huang Fei Hong is pretty clueless about women (whereas Jet Li is just very private and shy, from all accounts). This is the character who turned pale after accidentally walking in on a naked woman (who has the hots for him)... instead of say, blushing and turned on that a normal male would be. Of course, this brings up all sorts of possibilities of the slashy kind regarding that character, *especially* given the chemistry between him and the official guy in the second movie, and even Sun Yat Sen (the character). It also led to interesting dreams on cashew's part about slashiness between Jet Li and Jackie Chan. But you'll have to ask her about that one. ^_-
My favorite parts of the movie:
* The theme song. Because it's addictive.
* All the fight scenes. Because they're naturally great and Jet Li does a wonderful job fighting in period-styles/costume/weapons.
* "Huang sensei especially loves dog too!" --said by Foon to Auntie, while unbeknownst to her, they're all eating a dog-meat entree. Take that you Peking Moon lovers.
* The American (merchant?) ship "accidentally" shooting their cannon into the British ship. Oopsies. ^_-
* The western doctor trying vainly to get the kneejerk reflex to work when their vict--er, testor is paralyzed via acupuncture. Heh.
This is actually the second time I've seen this movie. The first time was a DVD that my dad brought back from China, where it first came out. I've also read the comics version of this movie, which changed the ending a lot. Anyhow, overall I enjoyed this movie a lot. Though, going in, I expected to be feeding my new-found Jet-love. However, instead I ended up swooning over Chen Dao Ming (who played the King of Qin). A lot.
Stuff I loved about the movie:
* The scenes. Beautiful landscapes. Beautiful film angles and lighting effects. Beautiful, period.
* The dialogue and voice actors. Ooooh, it's been a long time since I've seen the classical dialogue styles. It just gives me the shivers. The language and wordplay are heads and shoulders above most Chinese shows/movies, even period shows/movies like Crouching Tiger. It's a pity that the non-Chinese-speaking audiences will be missing that. For a movie of this particular classical genre, a large part (40-50%) of the emotions/emotional effects/underlying meaning are evoked via the enunciations.
* Most of the acting, especially on the part of Chen Dao Ming, who is born to play the role of Chinese emperor, as cashew agrees. Hey, he's already done it twice before, famously (in China, at least). For a guy whose majority of onscreen time is spent in the exact same position, with very little action or even acts of movement at all, he was able to carry across EVERYTHING and more that is expected of such a powerful persona such as Qinshihuang with the most subtle changes in facial expressions. And his voice... oooh, his voice. Okay, so he was a bit overdone in the fight scene with Broken Sword, and looked like he belonged more in a peking opera play than movie... but aside from that, he was Perfection. Jet Li also did a good job at *suppressing* his facial expressions to an almost freaky degree, which made it all the more poignant when he did emote in the brief moment of hesitation that was one of the turning points of the movie plot.
* The ending. Tragic in that they all die, and yet a happy ending, of sorts.
* The Qin armies. Impressive. I wonder if we'll be seeing them in Rumbles matches anytime soon...
* Authenticity. 'Nuff said.
Stuff that I just found amusing or intersting:
* The color coding of the various "substories segments". Red for the lie that Nameless told. Blue for the idealistic and virtuous hypothesis that the Qin king posed. White for the truth (hah!) of what actually happened. Green for the flashback into the past.
* Almost every different-colored version of the events had a different take on the romance/relationship between Flying Snow and Broken Sword. They had everything from unthinking passion to virtuous sacrifice to just plain twisted.
Stuff that sucked:
* Zhang Zi Yi (who played Moon, the servant girl) was totally unneccessary to the movie. Why was she even in it? The girl can't act. In a show that's focused on subtleties, she's flinging around more emotional outbursts than the rest of the cast combined.
* The fight scenes could've been better, especially after having recently seen Jet Li's older films. The wire-fu actually hurt the performances in the fight scenes, I think. The one between Qinshihuang and Broken Sword was way too operatic for no reason. The one on water in the blue segment was way too long (it gets boring fast after the novelty/cool factor wears off). The ones featuring Jet Li (who is after all the top billing actor) ought to have been lengthened, especially the duel with Sky. It's a pity that Donnie Yen didn't get that much on-screen time.
All in all, I would recommend this film to wuxia afficiandos. However, I still say that the translation takes a lot of the depth and greatness out of the film.