The Shadow Whip

There’s a scene where the heroine Yun enters a tavern and all the patrons look up from their tea and wine and my heart sank a little. What are they seeing? What are they thinking? There’s no spark, no grin threatening on Yun’s face at the realization she’s the baddest guy in the room. The problem is that Yun is played by Cheng Pei-pei, and this is a woman who doesn’t just walk into a tavern. Her debut character, Golden Swallow in Come Drink with Me, exuded such an aura of mystique, a gravity I’m missing in The Shadow Whip. What we have, then, is a study in functional direction, and how imprecision can be ruinous. … More The Shadow Whip

My Wife is a Gangster 3

There’s a tropey thing in movies where the badass hero guy goes big-league, demonstrating killer skills outside his usual environment. Maybe it’s Ray Liotta pistol-whipping the guy in Goodfellas, or Jason Statham beating up the basketball court in The Expendables. We know they deal with bigger threats, so this one’s just for fun — applied badass. I went looking through the Goodfellas listing on TV Tropes and didn’t find anything, though the scene is considered, among others, an example of their trope “All Girls Want Bad Boys.” True enough, in both cases, the badass application makes audience of a woman (“I gotta admit, It turned me on,” says Karen Hill). … More My Wife is a Gangster 3

05/23/2021 – Election vs. Outrage

I just saw the Johnnie To movie Election, and I was struck by its depiction of violence. There isn’t the usual staging around murders which typifies gangster movie structure. And the murders or beatings themselves aren’t gory or operatic. The contrary example I may as well be describing here is Takeshi Kitano’s Outrage trilogy, which I find interesting for being pure genre exercises. They’re very matter-of-fact, pretty low-energy, almost procedural yakuza dramas. The first Outrage was actually designed around the murder scenes, and throughout the series, they’re pretty extravagant. There’s death by baseball, horizontal hanging via car, mass shootings, explosions. It’s all over the place. And it’s all done with the expected style: black suits, shades, pistols, dignity. … More 05/23/2021 – Election vs. Outrage

05/16/2021 – Wonderful Days

The last few posts here have been fluff, and that feels especially callous as so much tragedy is happening in the Asian world — Palestine, Myanmar, India, so many more. I’ll hopefully get back to more important business soon, but for now, I just want to record some recent thoughts. First up, I rewatched the original A Better Tomorrow on Friday in anticipation of a future QNA episode about the sequel. I hadn’t remembered much of the first, just that it isn’t as actiony as Woo’s other big movies, and that Chow Yun-Fat surprisingly dies at the end. Watching it this time, I was blown away. … More 05/16/2021 – Wonderful Days

“Warrior” Couldn’t Be More Relevant in 2021

Just as some believe anti-violence in film can be achieved by sickening the audience with ultraviolence, any cinematic depiction of racism necessarily traffics in the imagery and narratives of racism. And necessary they may be in turn, all the brutal historical dramas which bring atrocities to vivid life beg the question: isn’t there another way? Perhaps there have been or could be movies about racism that forgo such descriptions as “confrontational.” Instead, we could have two strangers from opposite sides of the track building a new and honest relationship with nary a slur slipping out. Sometimes you want that, and that’d be nice. But sometimes, you want to see a racist guy kicked through a wall. … More “Warrior” Couldn’t Be More Relevant in 2021

So Close

I’m a talker. I talk to movies, I talk at the screen. It’s weird, but I do it. I was fully expecting to come into a review of So Close focused on how it’s the guiltiest guilty pleasure, how its predictability is disarming on purpose and that purpose is just north of lurid, but then it pulls a turn with 30 minutes on the clock that had me shouting. The climax plays out and I’m sitting there with “Here she comes.” “This is where she comes in.” “She’s coming back.” “Could they really…?” and then the credits roll and I am just “What the fuck?” “Are you fucking kidding me?” “What the fuck?” It’s the next morning as I write this [diary entry] and the sting resounds still. … More So Close

Sisters of Mulan Part II: Golden Swallow vs. The White-Haired Witch

Whether it’s Wang Cong’er taking up her righteous sword against the Qing Dynasty or Ching Shih living the freest possible life yet expressed, rebellion lies at these restless hearts. Where there is war, there are warriors, and where there are warriors, there are warrior women. It’s really that simple, and so I think it’s only right how we’ve gone to great lengths, by way of mythology and science both, to complicate it. Selective history is exactly that — it is conscious. Before I raise hell about all the Chinese warrior women omitted from my American public school education, what about all the important American women of history I only learned about later and at random? Why were they excluded? Did the people who made the choice to exclude even know about them? Were they excluded for them too, and then, who was the original excluder? By George, this goes all the way to the top, or at least, to some rather unpleasant gentleman. … More Sisters of Mulan Part II: Golden Swallow vs. The White-Haired Witch

Sisters of Mulan: The Warrior Women of China

What about Mulan? I always thought she was a real historical figure, maybe because she was also pretty. The movie has only a dash of the supernatural — seasoned just right — and we certainly never learned about Chinese history in school, so how, before I looked it up, could I have known, how? Well, it turns out that the Mulan story dates back to a poem, not an actual, factual woman who rode off to war in her father’s place. But that’s such a good story, I want it to be real. And because our perception today of Mulan is so tied in with female empowerment, that she’s the Disney princess who kicks butt and challenges a woman’s place in society, shouldn’t that have some basis in reality? Obviously you can enjoy the Mulan story or the movies any way you’d like, and feel empowered by them, so the answer is no. But if the answer is yes, the question “Was Mulan real?” becomes “Is Mulan believable?” And to answer that question, I’d like to take a look today at the historical figures with similar stories, and their depictions in movies. Because it’s not enough that Mulan has spiritual sisters, we have to understand that she does. And so, our story begins where a lot of great stories begin. … More Sisters of Mulan: The Warrior Women of China

That Infernal Departed

When The Departed won Best Picture for the year 2006, it assumed an unexpected place in American pop culture. Years later, another Leonardo DiCaprio movie was nominated, The Revenant, preventing its rightful destiny as a beloved cult classic, and not just because it feels like Ravenous. A movie cannot be underrated if it wins Best Picture, and you cannot be its champion, because it’s already got one. … More That Infernal Departed