Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Review - Dragon Blade

Warning: This entire post is a spoiler.

This is a story about Jackie Chan leading his band of blue-armband-wearing brothers in an attempt to establish the first United Nations (Asia). This ancient UN serves to protect international trade lines and prevent western superpowers from establishing trade monopolies.

As expected, the 36 Asian nations are at loggerheads with each other at the start and the United Nations (Asia) had plenty of teething problems, but this is nothing a bit of western foreign aid cannot solve. (Of course the foreign aid comes in the form of technology and expertise from good Europeans who desire nothing from the Asians other than food, water and a cultural exchange event.)

In the end, world peace is established when all the Asian countries unite to throw out the greedy white colonialist from Asia, with the help of the good Europeans who are willing to follow a Chinese leader (who can speak all 36 languages and English although he had never met a westerner before). They live happily ever after in a city with 36 different flags flying from its wall (excluding Korea because they helped the bad westerners).

My only question is this... If this civilization is so ideal, why does the movie ends with this city in ruins?

It's basically the Chinese answer to The Battle of Five Armies, eagles and all (I'm not kidding). Asians are good only when united, and Westerners are good only when divided.

Bechdel Test: Failed - Jackie Chan shows are all about Jackie Chan.

No. of films seen this year with:
     White man saving the world - 3
     Non-white/male protagonist - 5

Monday, February 23, 2015

Retro Review - The Help


A movie with a non-white, non-male protagonist!

But as expected of all such movies, it's kinda about slavery.

This movie follows the stories of two female house servants "of colour" (Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer) as they serve white families and help them raise their children in racist Mississippi. Emma Stone plays a young journalist who tries to give them a voice in a time that they are given none by recording their stories for publishing.

Thing are so bad for the blacks that I'm not sure if the white antagonist characters are stereotypically portrayed, or if it was a horrifying reflection of society at the time.

I've seen so few of such movies that I cannot give much of a critique, but I'm left with one terrifying thought and question:

A generation ago, the oppression of the blacks was so complete that people did not think it strange. In fact, the ones on top in society did not even notice they were being absolute racist. Everything they knew, and all that society told them, was that they were in the right.

My question is thus: What are the groups our generation discriminates against without us even realising?

Watch this movie and search your soul.

Bechdel Test: Passed. The male characters in this movie hardly even talk to each other.

No. of films seen this year with:
     White man saving the world - 3
     Non-white/male protagonist - 4 (This counts as 2!)

Monday, February 16, 2015

Review - Kingsman

Colin Firth plays a secret service agent in an organization called Kingsman. After the demise of a fellow agent, he helps in the selection of a replacement, while investigating the death and inadvertently saving the world. All this is carried out in the most suave and sophisticated manner characteristic of the James Bond (pre-Daniel Craig) British spy archetype.

- Spoilers ahead - 

It is an age of sequels: Transformers 4, The Hobbit 3, the rebooted Spider-man 2… and soon Avengers 2, The Hunger Games 3 (part 2), Fast and the Furious 7 (oh have mercy)...

Thus to see something a bit more original, something that dares to break the mould, even if it is a reinvention of something that is considered old-fashioned, is refreshing.

In other words, I really enjoyed the Kingsman movie.

Colin Firth does a ridiculously good job as the respected agent Galahad. Although a gentleman going about his day in a formal suit looks almost archaic in modern times, Colin Firth proves that the one thing the world needs now could possibly be such good, albeit kickass, gentlemen.

The action sequences are gruesomely violent, but played more for laughs than cringes. The plot is a bit over the top, no surprise for a spy movie, but the story manages to stay relatable through the proper character development of the new agent designate.

The only issue I have with this movie is how it puts the British gentleman on a pedestal above all the other characters, even if they may say otherwise in the film. The only black character is a villain, as is the only disabled character. All politicians other than the British are corroborators with the criminal mastermind, and all females in this story are damsels in distress, even the other agent designate. The only good men are thus British gentlemen.

Kingsman is a thoroughly entertaining movie that you can enjoy for as long as you do not think too much about it.

Classic James Bond, with all its glory and flaws, for the 21st century.

Bechdel Test: Passed - I can't believe it passed. This movie had 3 pretty kick-ass women, but all of them were damsels in distress who needed saving by the hero. This movie only passed this test because the hero told one girl to call his mom to warn her about the end of the world. This case probably highlights the limitation of the Bechdel Test.

No. of films seen this year with:
     White man saving the world - 3
     Non-white/male protagonist - 2

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Retro Review - Top Secret

Top Secret is an old-school spy movie parody that is difficult to describe because it is something so different from anything I have seen.

Released in 1984 and set in East Germany, the movie follows Val Kilmer's protagonist, the first American Rock&Roll star to ever enter the country. He is invited to perform at an international cultural event, which is of course a Communist evil ploy to distract the world form an attack on the NATO submarine fleet. It's a ridiculously funny plot, although it is not that different from what we are seeing today in the movies.

The movie is absurd, almost like a Monty Python film, but the difference being that Top Secret does not let the absurdity get in the way of the plot. The overall film has a much more cohesive flow to it than the Monty Python movies that lack any form of boundaries.

One of the ways in which this movie managed to pull off jokes without going off on a tangent was to use "visual puns" or optical illusions to make a humourous point while the characters had a serious conversation. This is probably the greatest contributions this film made to the industry and I wonder why we do not see as much of such things now.

I really don't want to write too much about this movie for fear of spoiling it. I've already gone on too much of an overly-excited rant to too many friends already.

Go watch this film.

The funniest movie I have seen.

Bechdel Test: Failed - There's only one woman in this movie.

No. of films seen this year with:
     White man saving the world - 2
     Non-white/male protagonist - 2

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Review - I

Disclaimer: I find it really difficult to review a movie in a foreign language without blurring the lines between a critique of the film and the critique of an entire culture. I thus need to make clear that this post is an attempt by an ignorant Chinese boy in trying make sense of an Indian Tamil movie. I run the risk of being culturally insensitive, and i apologise in advance and am open to correction.

The name of the show is I, and while I as a letter is supposed to stand for a lot of words that appear throughout the movie, to me, I is Intense.

I've seen some mind-blowing movies, some even bordering ridiculousness, but this film goes so far down the rabbit-hole that it becomes something else altogether, and that something is a visual spectacle.

Take for example one of their musical numbers in the middle of the movie that contributes nothing to the movie's plot. They constructed this entire, very elaborate set with amazing costumes and flying wire-work just for a short few minutes of music. On its own it is already an epic music video.

No wonder this movie was among the costliest Indian films of all time.

(Yes I know this is in Hindi, not Tamil, but i could not find the Tamil equivalent of this video. The tune is the same though.)

This movie is loosely about a wronged protagonist seeking vengeance on his enemies. I say loosely because other than covering the plot, this three hour epic seemed to have left nothing out in its making. I can't imagine anything that this movie did not manage to cover:
  • Beauty and the beast scene with flying caucasian angels? Check.
  • Chinese triad members on BMX bikes having a kung fu standoff with an Indian hero in the middle of rural China? Why not.
  • Nokia phones transforming into girls? How about motorcycles transforming into girls? Maybe dumbbells and fish also while you are at it? Check.
  • A fight scene at the dressing room of the Mr Tamil Nadu body-building competition involving about a hundred oily, muscular guys in nothing but trunks fighting with the hero using dumb bells? Oh goodness why.

There are 3 lessons I learnt from this movie:
  1. Product placement is most effectively done when the movie is about a model who does endorsements. I don't think I've ever seen so many products advertised not-so-subtly in a movie before.
  2. The standards of female beauty in India seem to have reached a level of fairness that Indian actresses can no longer attain. Yes, that leading lady in the video above is a real-life English beauty queen acting as an Indian supermodel.
  3. Karma. It is perfectly okay to set your enemies alight, unleash bees on them, poison their beauty products so they grow hair all over, electrocute them until their skin burns off, sever their arm, and inject them with a virus causing elephantiasis... as long as they are evil. Cuz evil people have it coming right?
I am honestly a bit disturbed by that last idea, even though it was played for laughs, because the flip side of karma is victim blaming; If bad things happen to someone, this person must have done something evil before.

I can't summarise this show but I felt real life was very mundane after seeing something as grandiose as this.

Bechdel Test: Failed - Three hours with only one girl in this whole film. Oh wait there's her mom too and they were talking about... oh... arranged marriages.

No. of films seen this year with:
     White man saving the world - 1
     Non-white/male protagonist - 2