Kung Fu Killer. One of the small pleasures of international films is seeing the little differences in societal choices. For example, how the police uniforms and prisoner uniforms are different than what we see in the States. Nothing new here story-wise, but plenty of good fightin’, and the variety of weapons, styles, and freakish athleticism is always fun.
Man of Tai Chi. Good fightin’. It’s rare that martial arts movies work in some good grappling and wrestling, but it really takes this one to another level. This makes a nice pairing with 99 Homes – about a hero’s incrementally ignoble choices leading to self-destruction. Filed under: Keanu Reeves, martial arts
The Assassin. Not going to pretend that I understood the plot in its finest details, but it’s pretty great. We have a heroine who’s had her life planned for her, and now she is wrestling with a choice. Love how the soundtrack often sticks to almost silence, except for a slow drum strike every few seconds. There’s one long scene that’s we watch – just barely, sometimes – through these gauzy curtains that drift back and forth as the camera pans from A to B and back. It’s one of those moments that gets me fired up about what you can do with movies with a little patience. Rare to see something so reflective yet so lively.
The Raid: Redemption. This is an implausibly heightened* excuse for great choreography and fightin’. (*a pregnant wife; an innocent bystander who needs to deliver medicine to his bedridden spouse; an unauthorized mission without backup; corrupt leadership; sibling rivalry; etc.) I loved early parts of the movie, where there was more play with music vs. silence, shadow vs. light, when things felt more precarious. Once the shit hit the fan, it was still fun, but more predictable, and less interesting. Transitions got a bit awkward as the stories splinter and rivalries come a head, and people start talking more. I think I would have appreciated something leaner, and something that took more advantage of the architectural aspect like Die Hard. Good relentless fun, though. Two more things: 1) I am getting a bit too old and squeamish for gore, and 2) that moment when the camera drops through the floor (!!). Another movie that’s “pure gold when it comes to the art of moving cameras around moving bodies doing cool things”: Ninja.
Kickboxer. Another childhood favorite revisited. This has not aged well. If you need ‘80s Van Damme, you will be much, much happier with Bloodsport. This one does have that classic dance scene, though.
Ninja. I overreacted, but that doesn’t mean my opinion was wrong. I was inspired to watch this after the AV Club article on direct-to-video action movies. You will find nothing surprising in plot or writing, and now that I think about it, a lot of the actual ass-kicking isn’t that amazing. But – huge but – this movie is pure gold when it comes to the art of moving cameras around moving bodies doing cool things. Really dynamic fight scenes that are still completely comprehensible in time and geography? Sold. E.g., the subway scene. Ultimately, it gets down to a one-on-one battle like you’d expect, which isn’t as cinematically fun. Plenty of good stuff, though.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. I didn’t know anything about wuxia when this came out; fun to remember my first moments seeing the wirework and acrobatics, I could feel the neurons lighting up and stretching out. There are movies that, although perhaps not Great Films, you remember because they open up a new world for you. Respect for an interesting balance here. It gave some philosophical weight to ass-kicking, and gave some visual fireworks to solemn melodrama. And what melodrama it is, so drawn out. Our two heroes’ relationship is traced in three conversations spaced out over two hours, and doesn’t culminate until the last breaths. Even the fighting deaths are delayed. And the flashback? Dang, a full half-hour? I still think Jen is an asshole.
Warrior. I’ve raved about this movie before. A few things I appreciate on third viewing… 1. The efficiency of the startup. A few bits of dialogue, usually barbs hinting at old wounds. Some are too vague to be effective (“That shit you pulled”), but some are so wincingly perfect for character and delivery (“Must be tough to find a girl who could take a punch nowadays.”) 2. Shot, reverse-shot. Sports movies have to deliver on dialogue when you’re not at the relevant events. This is why you care about Rocky or Rudy. Style-wise, these shots reminds me of Michael Mann, peering over the shoulder. 3. Obstructing the shots. I’m thinking of the husband-wife conversation in the bathroom and the father-son scene in the hotel room. Doorways and bodies block the view, so you instinctively want to tilt your head a bit. It also works in the fight scenes cage, where you’re trying to peek through the fence to get closer to the action. In a way, those shots feel more like you’re “there” in the arena than when you get the clean close-ups. 4. This movie is now 3-for-3.
Warrior. Some plot points are about subtle as a kick to the head, but the power is there, too. Much, much better than I expected, thanks to a great cast (A.O. Scott: “These are tough guys, but you can only care about them if you believe that they can break.”) and a great pace. Ebert:
This is a rare fight movie in which we don’t want to see either fighter lose. That brings such complexity to the final showdown that hardly anything could top it — but something does.
Bloodsport. ★★★★★. Finally saw it on the big screen. And there’s nothing like seeing a movie with a crowd that cares as much as you do. This movie is one of the first things I remember me and my big brother bonding over, so I’ve lost all critical perspective. That actually might have happened before I saw the movie, when my brother told me about the shin scene (spoiler!). I was horrified/sold. I love how briskly it all moves. Backstory and dialogue are mostly functional. A route from A to B. We all know why we’re here: fights! Surprisingly good soundtrack, though. I haven’t met anyone who’s seen this that didn’t love Paco. And there’s a young Forest Whitaker!
十三人の刺客 (13 Assassins). One important thing others movies can learn from this one: the diplomatic boardroom plotting in the first part of the film is perfectly balanced with an absurd(ly fun) bloodbath at the end of the movie. I’m pretty sure there was some Japanese cultural nuance here that I just didn’t get, but I still dig it. Great directing and great acting. Also, be ye warned, there is one scene early in the movie that I just can’t unsee.
The Karate Kid (2010). I accurately predicted this would be bad. Everything is bigger than it needs to be. The actors are way too young to carry their extremes. The emotions, the violence are waaaaaayyy over-the-top for their age. The 1984 film hit the right tone with hormonal high-schoolers. These kids barely have all their teeth. Smith has little of Macchio’s likeability, and I think a large part of it is because he’s a tween. Weak soundtrack that has too many “We’re on a magical adventure!”-type swelling moments. I could pile on more, but I’ll just point you to these 11 criticisms.
The Karate Kid (1984). This one holds up! The opening scenes come along one-two-three and you’ve got all your plot pieces in place. Macchio has serious charisma. I didn’t remember how well-shot this movie was. There are some lovely scenes.
Fist of Fury. Okay. Philistine that I am, I was bored when they weren’t fighting. One side benefit was that I was reminded of and re-watched Everything Is a Remix on Kill Bill.