Jun. 18th, 2009

reileen: (TONIGHT WE BLOG IN HELL)
Because it's not like I already have a messed-up sleeping schedule, last night I ended up staying up into the wee mornings hours watching some of the martial arts flicks that I borrowed from my brother's rather substantive collection while sketching. The problem with having a brother who shares similar tastes in movies and games is that I can easily borrow that stuff while I'm still at home, but once I'm out of the house I'll have to get my own copies... Let me tell you, it was a pretty bloody night.

Ong Bak was first into the ring. Prior to this, I'd seen Tony Jaa in Tom Yum Goong (known as The Protector in the US, which I really liked) and Spirited Killer (which I, uh, didn't), so I had some idea of what to expect in terms of fighting style. Ong Bak is a good introduction to Jaa, but it may not be for those who get squicked by film violence real easily, because Ong Bak is far bloodier than either Spirited Killer or Tom Yum Goong. I'm mostly inured to that stuff by now, and even I cringed at some of the scenes. The film's been described as an unabashed "look what I can do!" demonstration, but seriously, when you can pull off all the crazy shit that Jaa can, why wouldn't you want to show that off?

In the movie, Jaa's character, Ting, is a devout young man from a tiny village in Thailand whose most precious possession is a statue of the Buddha called "Ong Bak". One day, the head gets stolen by a low-level mafia thug, and Ting vows to get the head back even if it costs him his life. With only the donations from the villagers and his own determination to live on, Ting travels to urban Bangkok to hunt down the perpetrator, eventually getting entangled with an elderly mob kingpin who speaks through an electrolarynx but otherwise is a pretty boring character. This is a remarkably similar plot to the later film Tom Yum Goong, so it's no wonder that TYG was sometimes mistakenly referred to as Ong Bak 2. It's a pretty straightforward plot, so all you have to do is just sit back and watch Jaa kick ass and take names. Interestingly, though, my favorite action sequence from the film isn't any of the actual combat scenes against the big baddies like the obnoxious Australian(?) guy and the Japanese guy in a schoolboy uniform with the quasi-Spike Spiegal hair, but instead a chase scene through the alley markets (is that what they are?) of Bangkok, when he and another character Humlae (played by Thai comedian Mum Jokmok, who also appears in a comedic sidekick role in The Protector) are being pursued by a gang of thugs that they pissed off. I guess it's because it injected some humor into a deathly serious movie with a ridiculous plotline? That's fairly early on in the movie, though, and it only gets darker from there, although the ending is relatively "happy."

Kill Zone (originally titled SPL) is even worse in terms of the graphic nature of the violence. In particular, the various death scenes involving the character played by Wu Jing (who is kind of a little bit awesome in his white-clad knife-wielding crazy assassin role) were pretty much the most expensive meal you could get on the Menu of Death: a Whopper-sized Knuckle Sandwich with a side of Supersized Pain and a Big Gulp of Agony. I'm hungry, I haven't eaten breakfast or lunch. I think it all served the plot well, though. I'm not sure what I would peg as my favorite action sequence - maybe the fight between Donnie Yen and Wu Jing? And certainly the smackdown between Yen and Sammo Hung is a thing of Much Awesome.

The movie is, at first glance, a standard cops versus the mafia kind of story, but there's a lot of nuances involved in the portraiture of the characters and the climax and resolution of the storyline that make it stand out to me. (Not that I've necessarily viewed a lot of cops vs. mafia movies, never mind movies in general...) I found myself developing empathy with both sides of the law here (barring Wu Jing's assassin - he had no development at all, but I liked him anyway 'cause he was crazy style like damn), and I think that Kill Zone, outside of being a really badass-looking flick starring a showdown between two of the world's greatest martial arts legends, is also a good study in how to potentially handle nuanced characters. Which is a pretty mean feat, considering that a lot of martial arts flicks, even some of my favorites, aren't exactly huge on either coherent, deep stories or 3-dimensional characters. So Kill Zone is definitely up there with one of my favorite martial arts flicks of all time, with a pretty damn good drama to boot. (Spoiler: Too bad nearly everyone dies in the end. The last scene is pretty depressing, although because I'd read some spoilers a while back, I knew that it was intended to symbolize Simon Yam's character finally dying from the brain tumor he was diagnosed with three years ago. But the movie doesn't really remind you of that fact throughout, so by the time you get to this scene you may have forgotten about it.)

At some point last week, I also watched Invisible Target, which is yet another "cops versus the bad guys!" flick, although this time the cops - played by Nicholas Tse, Shawn Yue, and Jaycee Chan - are chasing after a mercenary group that's wreaking havoc in Hong Kong. Crazy-ass Wu Jing returns as the leader of the mercenaries. Jaycee Chan's father Jackie Chan makes a small cameo near the beginning of the film, as a guard for an armored truck that's being looted by the mercenaries. (He gets shot ded, lulz. It's one of those "blink and you'll miss it moments".)

Invisible Target, similar to Kill Zone, also makes attempts at drawing out nuanced characters and a deeper storyline, but for some reason it didn't resonate with me as strongly as Kill Zone's did. The heroes are all pretty distinct in terms of their backstory and personality: Tse's a rather impulsive officer who lost his fiancee to the mercs (she was collateral damage in their rampage), Yue's an effective but arrogant detective who seriously got served by the mercs' leader early on in the film, and Chan's an earnest and idealistic beat cop whose older brother (an undercover cop) may have gotten inextricably entangled with the mercs. All of them are generally likeable.

On the other hand, the mercs' portrait is a bit more...muddled. They were apparently all orphans raised together in a...military...training...camp...thing? And they hate all cops because of...something-or-other that I'm not even sure the movie knows what it is. THEY JUST HATE ALL COPS, OKAY. AND THEY BE TIGHT WITH EACH OTHER, YO, THEY BE TIGHT. LIKE LEATHER PANTS ON A WELL-CHISELED ASS. Probably the only interesting thing about the mercs (besides the intimidating presence of Wu Jing, who once again doesn't get much development - although it's certainly more than what he got in Kill Zone) is that we actually get a female merc (no development, but she can kick some ass well enough) and we get a merc who seems to have some sort of conscience and is probably the most well-characterized of the mercenaries...for a certain value of the term "well-characterized". (Spoiler: When Chan and this guy finally get to talk, Chan makes the comment to him that "you act like my brother, but you don't look like him". It turns out this guy was responsible for killing Chan's older brother. Echoes of BMJ, anyone?)

All in all, despite the narrative deficiencies, Invisible Target is still well worth a watch for martial arts or action junkies, especially for the bar brawl scene where we get to see Jaycee Chan kick some ass with Tse and Yue (although this only happens after a series of events with Chan that pegged my embarrassment squick liekwhoah). Actually, though, my favorite scene in the movie isn't an action sequence at all: it's a conversation early on between Chan's character and his grandmother, where Chan is describing what his day was like.

Wai King Ho: So, I kissed someone today.
Grandmother: (serenely filling out a sudoku sheet) That's nice. Bring her over for dinner.
Wai King Ho: It was a guy.
Grandmother: Guys have to eat too.


Chan was referring to the fact that he had to give a homeless guy CPR.

Invisible Target also taught me that you can throw a bottle of booze at a lightbulb and break it, and the resulting sparks mixed with the alcohol will cause a nice kaboom! Awesome. [/tongue-in-cheek]

Meanwhile, I found out a while back that Jeeja Yanin (Chocolate) is set to star in another movie, currently called Raging Phoenix (original Thai title Du Suay Doo, meaning "stubborn, beautiful, and fierce"). It's apparently going to revolve around a romantic storyline, and hip-hop elements and moves will be incorporated into the movie somehow. Me, I'm just glad that Jeeja no longer has that fugly haircut from Chocolate. She's a cute girl, but her costumes from that movie were just so damn ugly. Look, she might've been playing an autistic girl, but autistic girls deserve to dress cute too! *eyes her younger sister's closet full of bright cheery outfits* I know some people weren't impressed with Chocolate and they're not overly impressed with what they're hearing about Raging Phoenix, but any movie that stars a gal who can pull off this pose in those shoes has to be worth watching.

***

I changed the color scheme of my LJ layout to something green, in honor of what's going on with Iran right now. I'm not informed enough or smart enough to write anything particularly insightful about this, but I can link y'all to some pages that I personally found well worth reading, for various reasons.

[livejournal.com profile] one_hoopy_frood talks about ways to help out and provides other helpful links. ciderpress on Dreamwidth has a pretty short entry on the entire thing, but I'm gonna quote these two lines from it here for Big Fucking Truth:

There are mass protests, students, adults, young and old, and the heavy cost of a revolution, one that has never been required of me to live this good life I have, is being paid. I'm not sure were I asked whether I would be able to pay it.

[livejournal.com profile] yasaman briefly argues why the absolute worst thing for the US to do right now is to get involved.

Here's a post on a forum compiling several confirmed happenings in Iran, based on tweets.

And someone - I can't remember who it was, but I saw the entry on my flist somewhere - was talking about the implications of Iranians using Twitter and other social networking services to fight this out and to get the news out about what was happening in their country. As if we didn't already know that we had entered a new information age, this just clinches it, and it's amazing that something so seemingly innocuous and insipid like Twitter could be used in such a world-changing way. It's really mind-boggling.

Also, appropriate icon is actually kind of appropriate. I originally made it from a joke or something during LJ Strikethrough, I think, but honestly, it's better fitting for the people over in Iran right now.

-Reileen
regardless of warnings the future doesn't scare me at all

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Reileen van Kaile

April 2010

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