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

Hydra

It would be a cliché if it were true, that action movies always start off with a bang. In the opening scene of Hydra, a peeing man is attacked and dragged into a stall – piss spraying everywhere – to be stabbed repeatedly. It’s fast and brutal and that not-insignificant urinatological detail recalls Japanese shockers like Ichi the Killer. It also sets the wrong tone, quickly giving way to a moody, synth-infused credits sequence tracking a long drive home and deflating the excitement. It’s unfortunate, and this review is the worst kind to write. Hydra should be a success story on the order of The Raid or John Wick, and it follows that formula: the talent showcase. This is the directorial debut of Kensuke Sonomura, whose work you may have seen floating around the Internet accompanied by “holy shit, what,” in the form of a high-speed fistfight with, say, Chris Redfield or maybe Raiden and a U.S. senator. Without knowing it, I’ve been enjoying Sonomura’s work as an action director for decades, since Godzilla: Final Wars and through Hard Revenge Milly to Gantz: 0. I’d always assumed this frenetic, anti-gravity action choreography was a broader cultural product – “so Japanese” – when in fact, it’s the brainchild of one twisted genius. … More Hydra

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

Rewaking into Dream: The Matrix Resurrections [Podcast]

After a second viewing of The Matrix Resurrections, special guest host Stella and I attempt to piece our feelings together. It’s a complicated story, isn’t it? A movie that shouldn’t exist but is entertaining. A good movie but maybe a bad sequel. An action movie with questionable action scenes? And this is assuming we understood it at all, which is very much up to debate. … More Rewaking into Dream: The Matrix Resurrections [Podcast]

Top 10 Action Movies of the 2000s

Writing that review for Unleashed, this question really stuck in my head: what were the action movies of the 2000s? It really was a rancorous time, despite being a very solid decade for movies overall. It saw Spirited Away, Children of Men, Lady Vengeance, City of God, No Country for Old Men, the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The Korean New Wave came into its own, David Cronenberg reinvented himself, but action and horror were a way’s off from their own resurgences. We were mired in their episodes of blockbusters and remakes respectively, reinforcing the creative depletion surely at the heart of either. I can’t say there was a truly great “pure” action movie made in the span of 2000 to 2009, between the highs of Hard Boiled, The Matrix, and T2 on one side and The Raid, John Wick, and Inception on the other. … More Top 10 Action Movies of the 2000s

Unleashed

Everything about this movie is profoundly strange. Kerry Condon is the too-young love interest, Morgan Freeman is the Magical Negro, the most prominent motif is Bob Hoskins getting injured in cars. Beneath the streets of Glasgow, rich businessmen bet on gladiator combat fought by emotionally-damaged S&M goths. Then there’s the story itself, where Jet Li plays Danny, a seemingly mute enforcer for a loan shark, only unleashed from a literal collar to apply whirling kung fu on unsuspecting thugs. After he’s taken in by a blind piano tuner and his white teenage step-daughter, Danny will surely regain his stolen humanity. What that means is we’re gonna see Jet Li observing the world and piecing things together like a cute Pixar robot, wearing pajamas and hiding under the bed, not to mention bursting into scenes with awkward lines like “My mother, she was a whore” instead of “Hello.” … More Unleashed

K-Drama Report: My Name (2021) Follow-Up

Funny story with this one; I’d checked to see, “Hey, when’s that new Korean cool girl show out?” and it was that day, Oct. 16. Two thoughts seized me, then: “Yay!” and “I should write about this.” See, I’ve been on kind of an SEO tear lately, which is partly why the last several posts have skewed entirely Korean. That seems to be the country of the week, and I’m glad there’s a country of the week at all. I just happened to see the SNL Squid Game parody, and that’s how you know you’ve made it, aside from the massive revenue. The recent post I did about Squid Game, in fact, was a cynical product, and even a bit rushed as a result — a hastily-thought-out premise effecting a strange contrarian opinion. But once I read that review of Parasite, I couldn’t let it go. And then comes My Name, yet another Netflix K-drama, and this one — unlike Squid Game — actually appealed directly to my sensibilities (which probably makes for a less compelling post, because I tend to say the same, uncomfortable thing). But because I’d checked, I had the opportunity to post something that very premiere day. … More K-Drama Report: My Name (2021) Follow-Up

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

04/11/2021 – Pilot Pains

It’s just how things are these days, that the credits on the Kung Fu revival fade in and make a promise soon to be unfulfilled: “Based on Kung Fu by Ed Spielman.” This new show has nothing to do with the earlier one, which was a western, and the current narrative in television is that Kung Fu has been reclaimed by the Bruce Lee estate, by way of Cinemax’s Warrior. Why go back and reclaim again, in that way we ordinarily do, by only populating a problem canvas with better faces? The whole thing needed restructuring, from the draft phase, and it was already done. It was done. So I guess, well, now time for the next one! Hell, bring on The CW’s Kung Fu, because I don’t need to hear the argument that The Hunger Games is a ripoff of Battle Royale. If The Hunger Games can offer anything new, anything extra or different or special, why argue it shouldn’t exist just to boost your cult film creds? (Battle Royale does not count as “cult”). I’m perfectly willing, even possibly excited, to see the Y.A. version of “martial arts woman,” because I want to see all versions. I want to see a martial arts woman in everything I ever watch — provided she’s treated with respect. Or rather, demands respect — takes it, by the throat. … More 04/11/2021 – Pilot Pains