American Kung Fu Primer [PODCAST]

This month, Donovan Morgan Grant returns to provide an overview of the American kung fu movie, which is also the story of the evolution of the action scene and the United States’ cultural perception of China, Hong Kong, and Japan. We start at prehistory, before the advent of martial arts styles, and move through the watershed year of 1973 — challenge the conventional wisdom that that was the beginning — and continue onto the Golden Age and the resulting Doldrums, both pivoting around the rise and fall of The Matrix. Throughout, we introduce the careers of the action icons like Chuck Norris and Jean-Claude Van Damme, and whittle down a list of recommendations. … More American Kung Fu Primer [PODCAST]

Gianna Jun | The Last Vampire vs. Ashin of the North

Like all those books with straightforward titles like How to Learn JavaScript, I’ll note in this introduction that “This is not a book on how to learn JavaScript,” and in this case, I won’t be summarizing Gianna Jun’s career between the films Blood: The Last Vampire and Kingdom: Ashin of the North — not exactly. But I chose these two movies because together, they suggest something about how stars are made. … More Gianna Jun | The Last Vampire vs. Ashin of the North

Zombie Mad Scientist [PODCAST]

With Netflix K-shows being renewed left and right, what better a time to talk about Kingdom than this tense moment before season three gets the green light, too? In other words, I couldn’t wait. How could I resist Gianna, focus of this month’s discussion? For whatever reason, when Kingdom: Ashin of the North was released, my first thought was Blood: The Last Vampire, and together, they may say something about international star-making. … More Zombie Mad Scientist [PODCAST]

Underworld Politics

By happenstance, I waited more than a year to revisit the world of Johnnie To’s Election, finally sitting down to watch Election 2 (A.K.A. Triad Election) kind of on a lark. I was all geared up for Reign of Assassins while the world is in Yeoh mode, but then a flip switched in my head. I liked the first Election well enough, despite that its depiction of gangsters took me by surprise. They were always getting hit by cars or eating plates or never, ever firing a gun. I also struggled to keep up with the story, thrown immediately into the deep end with way too many characters all talking about many other characters. But by the end, it weirdly clicked. Oh, shit, that’s a hell of an ending. Now that I kind of understand, I’m wondering if the second and final Election movie will be clearer to start out. Nope! But what is clearer is that it’s phenomenal. … More Underworld Politics

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