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

Ghost in the Shell | 5 Essential Elements

Call me a romantic if you must, but I’m one of those people who believes in the one. If you find yourself at a loss out in the dating circle, take heart: there is a perfect match for everyone. I know that because I found Ghost in the Shell, and I hope you can be even half as happy as we are. For me, Ghost in the Shell is electric to the touch. The premise of the world, and the perspectives through which we engage in that world make for the most stimulating meditations on human nature, on existence itself, building toward spectacular releases in mind-bending action. This is thought-provoking science-fiction, one of the quintessential anime, period. The arrival of any new installment in this media franchise which has spanned manga, film, television, books, and video games means that so much is again possible as we return to such a richly-imagined world. But it’s also a moment where I reflect on what makes a good Ghost in the Shell? What are the fundamentals that I’d like to see reembodied each time, so to speak? Now ideally, a top five listicle like what follows is more of a celebration than a list of demands, but I think outlining what I most appreciate and look for in Ghost in the Shell will help me evaluate what comes next. … More Ghost in the Shell | 5 Essential Elements

Zeiram

Zeiram is a film of details. Necessarily so; the big picture is murky, with its strange plot and stranger circumstances. The mystery of Iria: Zeiram the Animation, or at least, the mystery of its awkward title, terminates here, in a live-action Japanese science-fiction film from 1991. It’s directed by Keita Amemiya, and I’ve long wondered the how and why of this man. What market granted passage to the wellspring of his imagination? It remains a mystery to me even after watching the film, which offers no clear rationale for its existence and yet exists so loudly. All of its details, whether protagonist Iria’s braids which have cultural meaning or every gun and piece of armor that’s associated with a proper noun, seem to be shouting a franchise into being. On closer inspection however, these details are also shouting in a strange, wonderful language, and this might be its downfall. In total, there are two Zeiram features, a six-episode OVA (the Animation), and a PlayStation video game. As soon as it arrived, it was gone, and all follow-up questions went with the solar wind. … More Zeiram

The Villainess

You ever go on a date with someone fun and you’re, like, a 95% match, but then they say something that grinds the conversation to a halt, and it throws the integrity of the match into question and also possibly the premise of matchmaking itself, that there are no true matches, only fish in an endless sea broiling with riptide and Bermuda Triangles? Well, I didn’t actually go on a date with director Jung Byung-gil, but him and I are that 95% match, and his 2017 film The Villainess is my Bermuda Triangle. It is a siren’s song; it is my doom. … More The Villainess

Battle of the Warrior Queens Part I

2019 was a big year for Rani Lakshmibai. She had two movies, a TV show, and an appearance in a third movie. This isn’t the first time there have been movies and TV shows about the Queen of Jhansi, but why this sudden interest? It’s the kind of thing that would happen in Hollywood once upon a time, where a more mercenary studio would produce a movie to capture some of the craze generated by a big blockbuster: Carnosaur in 1993, or Leviathan and DeepStar Six in 1989. I know why this doesn’t happen anymore, because there’s no market for movies that can be made quickly and cheaply, but it’s fun to see multiple interpretations of the same subject matter, especially with that mercenary edge, and especially when that subject matter is something rare like dinosaurs. I love dinosaurs, and I can hardly think of anything I’d want to see more in a movie. Except for maybe a warrior queen. … More Battle of the Warrior Queens Part I

Julie Estelle | The Future of Action Cinema

If you are a movie producer anywhere in the world and you’re looking to make an action movie, there’s someone I need to make sure you know about: Julie Estelle, an Indonesian actress. Now, like many other American filmgoers, I first saw Julie Estelle in The Raid 2: Berandal, in which she played Hammer Girl. The Raid 2 is great movie, and Hammer Girl was a wonderful addition to the cast. But while she was an important supporting role, there is more to roles than even being extremely interesting. … More Julie Estelle | The Future of Action Cinema

Furie

Furie was a mega-hit in Vietnam and became a crossover success; I watched it on Netflix. It’s tempting to ascribe a Thailand/Indonesia breakout narrative here, as the film’s aesthetics recall Ong-Bak Muay: Thai Warrior and Merantau, and the passion behind its making suggests national pride. It broke box office records across the country and provided Vietnam its Oscar submission for 2019. However, this is not an actual debut. The cinema of Vietnam is older and more storied than I realized, and that lack of awareness is partly why I hope Furie indicates the path forward. Gorgeous and confident, graced by moody color and a free-flowing camera, there’s no mistaking it for the unrefined opening statement of a burgeoning industry, as in Ong-Bak and Merantau, but without those rough edges, it comes up short on character. … More Furie

Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)

What has long been said of Mary Elizabeth Winstead, from her early days of horror through her trading insular indies with strange blockbusters, is that she’s the best part. Sometimes this comes from her starring in genre trash like Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter or a remake of The Thing, but regardless the prestige, she always gives a commanding performance. She speaks with that deep voice and you listen — lest you think I toss off an idiom like “commanding performance,” without charming self-consciousness. The slow arrival of Mary Elizabeth Winstead has made me anxious since I first saw her in Death Proof circa 2011. Not only that she’s too talented to play in genre garbage like The Thing remake, too beautiful to remain overlooked by conventional wisdom, but more broadly, her perpetual square peg to Hollywood’s round hole illustrates one of Hollywood’s woman problems. And it begins with The Thing. … More Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)