03/13/2021 – My Name is Nobody

Nobody, Warrior, HyoYul on the green

Have you seen the trailer for this movie Nobody? You’d be excused for not remembering the title, it’s horrible. Looks like Bob Odenkirk is the latest dad action hero, and I appreciate his gradual rise in stardom. I mean, I think he’s a good actor, but more so the rise is visibly apparent. He goes from sketch comedy to memorable supporting character on buzzy TV show to lead role on buzzy TV show sequel to supporting roles on A-list Oscar movies. With an arc like this, we see how some roles and projects are more “legitimate” than others, whether or not our personal valuation of them is consistent with the objective assessment. Similarly, our previous understanding of Odenkirk slots into a different kind of spectrum. On Breaking Bad, he’s menaced by Jonathan Banks, an actor typecast as action movie heavies. Do we buy the funnyman as badass?

Well, the comedic background gives him the edge Chris Pratt had early in his blockbuster career. “Maybe Pratt could be a new kind of action hero,” I so ruminated around the time of Jurassic World, but as James at Dead Meat will tell you, Jurassic World makes an obnoxious habit of telling you how badass he is. Yes, he’s kind of funny, but otherwise he’s archetypal, ironically standing out in the line of Jurassic Park scientist protagonists. Nobody might actually be playing with this preconception of Odenkirk, but to my very slight frustration — not enough.

You see, the trailer gives you a little bit of the shim-sham, teasing a psychodrama about masculine insecurity before giving way to John Wick meets A History of Violence, which is kind of like “question” and “answer.” In case the trailer can no longer be viewed, Odenkirk is accosted by home invaders and wonders why he didn’t attempt to fight back. Others also wonder. That right there is an interesting premise. Maybe he goes out and tries to get Bronson’d up and he’s doubting himself the whole time, with the neurosis a performer like Odenkirk might offer. No, turns out he’s an ex-secret-special something trying to hide his lethal talents, and go forth ye. I’ll likely still see this movie, but I’ll feel salty, maybe sitting there imagining the other movie, with its questions about modern manhood.

Speaking of modern manhood, I started watching Warrior on HBO Max, and this is a Cinemax show from 2019 based on — I believe — Bruce Lee’s original notes for Kung Fu. If you need a reminder on Kung Fu before CW’s reboot this year, this is the “Chinese kung fu guy in the Old West” TV show Bruce Lee pitched apparently successfully before being replaced by David Carradine in yellow-face. Warrior is perhaps an attempt at rectifying that odd story, with Bruce Lee’s daughter Shannon Lee executive-producing and a half-Japanese, half-English gentleman starring (close enough). I actually hadn’t put together that the protagonist was supposed to be a Bruce Lee character until the first scene, which is the truest distillation of a Bruce Lee movie I’ve seen since Bruce Lee. This protagonist guy, Ah Sahm, arrives in 1878 San Francisco via boat (the kind what people are fresh off), and he surprises the inevitably racist immigration officials with snarky English before beating them up Jeet Kune Do-style. Needless to say, it was an excellent opening.

I’m a few episodes in — I don’t know how many because I’ve been binge-watching it since yesterday, a rare practice — and as that might indicate, I think it’s really good! This is a moment in American history outside my education, the “tong wars,” and it’s interesting to see the old kung fu standby of “axe gang” rendered in prestige television. What’ll they think of next? And let me tell you, Alexa L. Fogel (The Wire) puts together an amazing cast. Not only is Joe Taslim here, but this is the first time I’ve seen Jason Tobin since Better Luck Tomorrow (Justin Lin is also producing the series) and as an actor, you imagine he was born in this sort of milieu. Anyway, it’s the second and third episodes I wanted to discuss. At the end of the first episode, Ah Sahm discovers his journey to America was for naught and now he’s trapped, having been initiated into a violent gang.

In the second episode he’s arrested and put in jail, and spends much of the third episode sitting in jail waiting for assassins. My reaction was, “Oh, isn’t this what they call a ‘passive protagonist?’ I am very smart,” but the point of this turn is to express his directionlessness. That’s a tough thing to do in storytelling. I should’ve understood that as soon as I called “passive protagonist,” but what I was picking up on was Ah Sahm’s admittedly muted reaction to the plot point, while other characters’ were more centered. In fact, we witness a range of actions and arcs by other characters around him — Ah Sahm’s imprisonment ends up being more about them, and he’s immobile by comparison.

I watched a video essay about The Dark Knight, and while I found it insightful, there was the moment where a comparison to the average superhero movie is made, like “In most superhero movies…” or “The superhero genre usually…” and this made me think. It hasn’t been entirely conscious, but it’s something I’m trying to move away from in criticism because it suggests insecurity — weakness. I don’t like a movie because it’s different or better than the norm, though that may be a minor factor. This line of thought runs the risk of praising a movie for things it doesn’t do rather than things it does do, even if revision is surely a done thing.

Finally, Yuri and Hyoyeon from Girls’ Generation are collaborating, sort of, this time for “LeCoq Golf,” if I’m getting that right. I don’t really have anything to say about that, other than they’re super cute as always and one of my favorite K-pop pairings, right alongside Bomi and Chorong. Also, yes, it looks like Hyo’s back on blonde.

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