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Memoirs of a Geisha (2005)
Seriously mediocre, there are better ones of this type out there
I suspect that people who raved a lot about "Memoirs of a Geisha" as a masterpiece, a classic, best movie of the year (if not "in the world" or "of all time"), etc., do not watch much if any at all authentic Japanese films or Chinese films. It has more to do with one's repertoire of movie viewing than one's national or cultural identity. Sure, the latter succeeded in fanning controversy Chinese playing Japanese and whatnots - but ultimately was not a significant factor in its box-office or critical reception.
"Geisha" has Hollywood A-list production qualities written all over it but - not surprisingly lacks in direction and creative writing. "Amateurish" best describes director Rob Marshall's efforts. Nothing he did in his only other screen effort the Oscar-winning "Chicago" - prepares him for something of this scope: a story set in a culture he's wholly unfamiliar with, and without any musical or dance numbers. "Chicago" and "Geisha" are not alike. Not even by a long shot. He's at his element when it comes to musicals, being his specialty. He is brilliant with "Chicago" but fails with "Geisha". In "Geisha", he's a fish out of water. Let me count the ways.
One: rare use of establishing shots. This is fine for "Chicago", since it's a musical. It isn't really about the title city and people know enough about Chicago to not require establishing shots to be informed. But for a period piece set in a place largely unfamiliar to most audiences, establishing shots are necessary to give the story the sense of time, location, purpose and scope of the protagonist's world. Without it, it would be like watching a daytime soap opera.
Two: too many close-ups. They do nothing more than make the lead actors' acting seem more important, even though they don't reveal any more facial or subject information had medium shots been used instead. Judging by the storyboarding, it appears that the camera is just passively recording everything that's written on script also very common in daytime soaps. There is no sense of vision or imagination in creating a visual language. Which goes into the next point.
Three: a director that doesn't have his own direction. If the best concept a filmmaker can come up with is the 'Cinderella' story typical Hollywood cliché - then he's not much of a director. Even a truly good director can build on that or bring a different take to it. Not Marshall. He takes the source material and structures it around the fairy-tale motif. Simply put, the script is the naked body; 'Cinderella' is the costume it wears. Sayuri (Zhang Ziyi) is Cinderella, 'Mother' Kaori Momoi and 'Auntie' Tsai Chin are a pair of Evil Stepmothers, Hatsumomo (Gong Li) is the Evil Queen, Mameha (Michelle Yeoh) is the Fairy Godmother, Pumpkin is the Selfish Stepsister, and The Chairman is Prince Charming (Ken Watanabe). The story runs page-for-page like the 'Cinderella' tale, save for a clothing fabric substituting for a glass slipper. In this situation, imitation is not the sincerest form of flattery. It is a indication of a lack of an original idea.
Four: erratic jump cuts. Marshall uses plenty of jump cuts in the first 20 minutes, and then doesn't use them anymore. Was it just to call attention to itself (to impress viewers of his ability to do jump cuts)? I believe the first 20 minutes be done (by a more experienced director with a real vision) better without those jump cuts.
Five: similarly erratic pacing. The overall pacing is a rough and bumpy fast-slow-fast-slow rhythm. The 'slow' parts, most of which are in the final hour of the movie, drag excruciatingly. With the decreased pacing, Marshall does not even make any effort to build or develop the drama. All he does is slow it down.
Notice I made no mention about the acting. Didn't have to. The film has enough shortcomings without bringing acting into it. Furthermore, it wasn't the actors' fault. When you put an inexperienced, ungifted director at the helm, you're going to get mediocrity. "Geisha" could have been a better movie had someone else done it.
"Geisha" is not that good of a film, let alone that good of a film about Asians, their story and their culture. Because there are so many better ones out there. From Japan, there's Akira Kurosawa ("Seven Samurai" for instance, though every one of his films is a true masterpiece), Shohei Imamura ("Black Rain", "The Eel"), Masayuki Suo ("Shall We Dance?") and Beat Takeshi ("Zatoichi", "Battle Royale", "Blood & Bones"), just to name a few. From Chinese-speaking nations, there's Zhang Yimou ("Raise the Red Lantern", "Hero"), Ang Lee ("Eat Drink Man Woman", "The Wedding Banquet") and Chen Kaige ("Farewell My Concubine", "Temptress Moon"), again to name a few. Even some of Steven Chow's earlier comedy flicks can blow "Geisha" out of the water.
Seriously, go check them out. Then come back and say if "Geisha" deserves all the praises you initially gave it. However, if your taste in movies is too conditioned in Hollywood junk, forget it. The above-mentioned will probably bore you.
I suppose as long as "Memoirs of a Geisha" is the only movie you'll ever watch about Asians, their story and their culture, it'll always be a masterpiece to you.
Jenny Jones (1991)
A 'Dirty' Guilty Pleasure
One good thing and probably the *only* good thing about "Jenny Jones" is that it tries to cater to various fetish tastes. Beefy musclewomen; blond, busty pornstars; scantily-clad, sexually promiscuous underaged girls (read: pedophilia) with potty mouths; glamour-girl wannabes. You name it, "Jenny" has it. I won't deny I enjoyed watching the show if only to see these females exhibited like pieces of meat to be craved for as if viewers are carnivorous dogs.
"Jenny" is no better or worse than "Jerry Springer". It is just classier looking (sort of like "Star" being a classier version than "National Enquirer") and, unlike "Jerry", allows underaged girls to behave 'out-of-control' on national TV, much more so than shows like "Maury", "Ricki Lake" or "Sally". On that alone, "Jenny" has done more to promote pedophilia tendencies whether that is the producers and host's intentions or not than any pornographic material. Consider these: Why are the girls scantily-clad? Why do they cuss? Why do they strut like street-walkers? Why do their talks almost always include bragging of sexual promiscuity? Why no troubled boys featured (when there are as many of them out there)? The other talk shows take great strides to tone down the profanity and on-camera behavior of the underaged guests. "Jenny" exercises no restraint whatsoever, other than no nudity or physical assault.
The show has it good moments. Paternity tests a talk show staple past guests taking ownership for their bad behaviors, showcase of local talents, even tackling racism. But the afore-mentioned bad points greatly outweigh the good, because the former literally sells sex. Just the fact that it has underaged girls behaving like street-walkers and whores is enough to turn off mainstream audiences. "Jerry Springer" is at least smart enough to keep the underaged away from its show. Even if the sensational murder on account of the "Same-Sex Secret Crushes" episode never happened, "Jenny" would have gone to the gutter anyway. Besides lovers of trash shows, who else watches it? Closet perverts, potential registered sex offenders??
Some day the whole world will find out the actual demographic breakdown of "Jenny"'s viewers by episode themes. Meaning statistics by gender, age group, TV tastes of they that watch 'bony to buff' musclewomen, out-of-control underaged nymphos, narcissists claiming to be too beautiful to get dates, or whatever floats their boat.
Yet I don't miss the show. It was fun and self-gratifying (for me) while it lasted. But trash is trash. When it's gone, you don't really miss it.
The Keenen Ivory Wayans Show (1997)
Fine line of mediocrity
"The Keenen Ivory Wayans Show" is a case-in-point of what a talk show should have done to be successful. One, don't rely solely on monologues keep the show afloat. Two, be creative; do skits, mock interviews and engage audiences' interests especially when a guest is not familiar to them. Three, don't flirt unabashedly with only the African-American female guests. Four, don't give screen time to anyone or anything that does not need it. "Keenan" failed on all counts, and it's not hard to see why.
Keenan may be a terrific stand-up comedian, but that does not necessarily make him a similarly terrific talk-show host. He lacks screen charisma (as evident in movies where he's the leading man), is a mediocre interviewer (as evident in his handling of little-known guests), and uninspiring in the creative department. Much of the latter goes into developing stand-up material for the monologues, which suffice for only the first 10 minutes of the show. But the remaining screen time is sore with little to no creative segments. The segments that do have airtime are mostly rehashed from other talk shows. Then there are the occasional pans to provocatively-dressed band members that are always seen but never heard, and mediocre guest interviews except where the guest is an attractive female.
Keenan's lethargy as an interviewer rears itself when the little-known guests appear. He tries to engage his guests but does not succeed in engaging his audience. You don't care for the guest to begin with (because we know little to nothing about him/her), and you don't care any more (or less) after the show's over. Only when the guest is an attractive female does he become a ball of enthusiasm. More so if she's African-American. This seems to be the trend of African-American male hosts to hit on every ebony queen that appears as a guest. (FYI, D.L. Hughley does it too during his brief stint as host of CBS' "The Late Show".) As for the band, they never made a peep. Not that the music they make counts, i.e. if that is really them playing and not a track dubbed in. They are always provocatively dressed, fair-skinned and drop-dead gorgeous. Even their facial grunts seem out of place, as if they are pumping iron in the gym than playing their musical instruments. Wouldn't it kill Keenan to at least acknowledge them once in a while so that they are not there as eye candy. But he never did. That's part of the problem. Jay Leno interacts with Kevin Eubanks and the Tonight Show Band. So does David Letterman with Paul Schaffer and the CBS Orchestra, Conan O'Brien with Max Weinberg and his 7, Sinbad with Mouse and his band in "Vibe" (the show that ultimately drove Keenan's show to cancellation). Keenan does not have to do that. Nor does the camera have to pan to the band every now and then. Except only for eye candies. This is reinforced in the opening credits, the only time Keenan and the band are in the same frame. The girls play their instruments vigorously, he steps out of a limo (foot shot only), cuts to him pointing to the camera in foreground blocking the girls in background. Yeah, he's the man of the show. It also affirms the real reason why the girls are there. Not for their music. I have a hard time believing those girls are actual musicians.
That "Keenan" lasted two seasons is a miracle. It was living on borrowed time. Its cancellation was a relief. What makes it all the more unfortunate is Keenen Ivory himself blaming his network (and its audience) for being racially-biased. Seriously, Keenan. Your show sucks because you don't get a clue. When a show's single reputation rests on getting the entire female cast of "Baywatch" (and its spin-offs) to make guest appearances, it's not going to go far. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy some of the segments. Unfortunately, they all feature attractive female guests.
The Count of Monte Cristo (2002)
Unsweetened revenge. Count on it!
Yet another adaptation of Alexandre Dumas pere's famed novel to add to the list of numerous TV and screen adaptations of the same - the last version was a 1998 miniseries with Gérard Depardieu in the title role, the last English language version in 1975 with Richard Chamberlain in the title. This latest one is not expected to be any more comprehensive as the others in two hours of film reel, but it tries. Prepare for a great story, don't count on it.
The long story short: Edmund Dantes (James Caviezel) is framed for a heinous crime plotted by his best friend Fernand Mondego (Guy Pearce). During his time in the island prison of Chateau D'If, he falls under the tutelage of an ageing inmate Abbe Faria (Richard Harris) from whom he learns the fundamental tools of life that includes math, economics and fencing. Consequently, he escapes in search of treasure, from which he attains wealth, forges a new identity and exacts revenge on those who set him up, namely Villefort (James Frain) for sentencing him, Mondego for framing him, Danglars (Albie Woodington) for assisting Mondego, and Mercedes (Dagmara Dominczyk) for marrying Mondego. Along the way, he befriends smuggler henchman Jacobo (Luis Guzmán) who becomes Edmund's right-hand man.
On its own, `The Count' offers sufficient entertainment. Edmund's revenge, which takes up the second half of the film, is interesting enough to maintain curiosity in the fate of his victims, though not elaborate enough for taste. Caviezel is a good Edmund. Superb hair and beard styling grandly support his contrast from naïve ship captain to wealthy vengeful count. He shows that he can deliver a strong leading role even though his star is yet to be at its pinnacle. Pearce provides a good leading antagonist as Mondego. He vividly shows Mondego's afflictions under Dantes designs, and under the influence of alcohol. Together, they deliver two great swordfights. Guzmán is stiff, but in a comical way. As Edmund' loyal servant, he's the film's court jester.
Unfortunately, `The Count' is also a long story short, condensed to a few characters in one single plot: an all-Edmund affair. Whatever drama there is in the lives of the other characters do not matter unless it directly involves Edmund. It reveals enough of them to briefly inform, not to develop. There are no subplots, which are plentiful in the novel. Edmund' time in prison is long but uninteresting, yet it is given a ridiculous lengthy screen time, half of which are nothing but still shots of his solitary confinement. The ending is predictably dull, especially when the shocking twists in characters, particularly in Mercedes' case, are not utilized towards the conclusion.
Sadly, `The Count of Monte Cristo' fails in the only thing that can make it great: the plot. For fans of the novel, it is disappointing as only the bone of Edmund' story is adapted sans the meat. The first-timers to this Dumas tale will find the swashbuckling feel appealing, but are ultimately better off at the nearest video rental for a superior adaptation or a similar revenge film for less than the cinema price.
Spellcaster Level 5
What an impostor!
impostor - [noun], a person who pretends to be someone else in order to deceive others. (Cambridge Dictionary of American English)
Looking at `Impostor', it certainly lives up to its name. Because it is full of them.
Philip K. Dick's science fiction story chronicles the unexpected life of Dr. Spencer Olham (Gary Sinise), the supposed title character, and a supposed engineering scientist and loving husband. He shows up for work one day only to be captured and charged for being an alien-built cyborg with a timebomb hidden deep inside his body. The fun ala `The Fugitive' does not begin until he breaks out and sets out to clear his name while being one step ahead of the authorities.
If one imposter is not enough, how about a few more. One being Spencer's supposed beloved wife Maya (Madeleine Stowe) - another Dr. Olham but of medicine - who is a supposed associate director in a city hospital but somehow does not fit into the role. She turns out to be a little more than a token female, the 'little' part being the surprising ending. Another is the smug supposed villain Agent Hathaway (Vincent D'Onofrio) who doubles as Spencer's manhunter and his judge, jury and executioner. If his seeming villany is excessive, it is because he is not. Nor is his seeming absolute power of barking orders, executing suspects in his self-styled hung trial (in all of the three power roles), and arrogant retorts towards his superiors as if they are his inferiors, make him more of a bona fide field agent than he 'is' a villain. Rounding up the fakers' club is Cale (Mekhi Phifer), a citizen in a slum-like village outside the city dome where he also plays vigilante. Ironically, although he shows typical traits of a bad-ass gangster, he turns out to be the only heroic character at the end.
Though the original short story pre-dates that of `The Fugitive', its film production does not. It takes its spirit straight from the hunt for Dr. Richard Kimble, condenses it to pure action thriller, and developes it along Dick's pages towards the conclusion. It is short enough to cut to the chase without long dull breaks in-between the action scenes. However, nothing that is shown is anything that has not already been done before. Dr. Spencer Olham is a futuristic re-packaged Dr. Kimble, Hathaway plays up to the stereotypical snarling devilish egotistical baddie, and Cale is exactly like the typical character that hails from and lives in the slums / bad neighborhood.
`The Impostor' does nothing for Sinise's resume, nor for those of the other cast members. Stowe is grossly misused. Except for D'Onofrio, whose portrayal of the supposed bad guy is actually good. The plot is peppered with holes and oblivious. No proof is provided of Dr. Olham's alleged non-human background other than a lecture of cybernetic theory, not that his digitally-enhanced flashbacks is any indication of who (or what) he truly is. Adding to that is the frequent mention of a powerful alien race that built the cyborgs, which Dr. Olham is accused of being, but those aliens have never been seen on screen.
Be not deceived, `The Impostor' is not what it appears to be, yet it is what it is supposed to be. And that is most distasteful, unless you have fondness for B-rated action flicks.
Spellcaster Level 4
Spy Game (2001)
`Don't hate the player, hate the game.'
`It's not how you play the game. It's how the game plays you.' No truer words have spoken on this hard lesson of love, lust and relationship. Thanks to `Spy Game', we now learn there is another arena where players' play espionage. And it involves three individuals: Robert Redford the player, Brad Pitt the played, and Catherine McCormack the bait.
The film opens with the capture of an espionage agent Tom Bishop (Pitt). News of his capture reaches a retiring CIA operative Nathan Muir (Redford), his one-time teacher. In a cross-examination by the CIA brasses, Muir narrates the career profile of his one-time protégé via a series of flashback sequences. Espionage looks exciting, if Bishop's life is any indication tremendous explosions, people getting killed, many heated arguments with superiors, and sleeping with a total stranger. A good director also helps, and Tony Scott is to be commended for his visually stunning treatment of the sequences. Each is a riveting yet grim presentation of a day in the life of a spy. You'd think you're watching a full-length episode in each sequence.
Within 24 hours, Muir plays the biggest game of his life to rescue Bishop, after finding out that his mission was to rescue, of all things, a female prisoner Elizabeth Hadley (McCormack) who is imprisoned in China and whom Bishop frequently sleeps with. Errr no, they are not in love, not really. There are no exchanges of `I love you' between the two.
`Spy Game' shows that Muir can still play the game very well even in his retirement. If the movie attempts to convey that true love conquers all even in the world of espionage, it is overshadowed by Muir's playing ways. Scott needed a conclusion that does not ooze a romantic happily-ever-after schmuck to screenwriter Michael Frost Beckner's masterpiece. So he had the leading spotlight on Muir, and in the process relegating Bishop to a flashback character by downplaying Bishop's daring prison rescue. Little of Bishop is shown after his capture, except in the flashbacks. And Scott makes it clear that Bishop's own rescue is Muir's design.
Clearly, Muir is the biggest player of all. He played Bishop and the CIA bosses, though one would wonder if he played himself by spending his retirement savings to spring Bishop and his partner from prison. More importantly, why would he even care for someone whom he no longer is on speaking and professional terms with for more than 5 years? Bishop, as smart as he thinks he is, never realizes that he is being played by Muir and, to a lesser degree, Hadley no better bait than sexual temptation.
Speaking of Hadley, her character background is unknown. Aside from a brief explanation why she had to flee London and her global charity service, that is little factoid about her. Her presence in the film is clear: to feed Bishop's sexual fix. It seems that the only reason why he goes out to rescue her from a communist prison is so that he can bed her once more. But wait a minute! Why is a woman imprisoned in an all-men's prison? (Look, I know this is China, and last time I checked, the Chinese do not practice co-ed housing!) But seriously, McCormack's talent is wasted here. She is quite alluring as Bishop's squeeze sporting a British accent, but nothing in her performance stands out or is remotely memorable.
Pitt, on the other hand, is a fantastic character actor. He is in fine form here, and works very well with Redford in heightening the tensions between their characters, and is very convincing in his own scenes too. Redford, unfortunately, is an old bag by himself. He is clearly past his prime and would have been stiff if it was not for his cast members that shared scenes with him. His best moments are with Pitt, though there are not many of them. He is also good next to , who plays his secretary. In his own scenes, which includes 10-plus minutes of phone dialogue, he is uninteresting. He is a little better when cross-examined by the CIA brasses in the conference room.
By the end of `Spy Game', we see two types of espionage: the field agent (Bishop) and the executive spook (Muir). The former profiled in flashback narration, the latter by his `real' time activities. It would help facilitate your viewing pleasure if you approach `Spy Game' as a character drama film first and action film second. Expect just an action film, and you will be played. But remember, `Don't hate the player, hate the game.'
Spellcaster's Level 6
The One (2001)
One, or None???
A dangerous criminal whose serial crime is traveling to parallel universes and murdering parallel versions of himself. After 123 hits, he arrives on Earth to slay his last surviving counterpart. So that he can become the One, the only one remaining in the all the entire universes. Incidentally, he gets stronger with every version of himself that he destroys, hence his motivation for doing so in the first place.
Enters Jet Li, who plays 1) evil slayer of himselves from another universe, and 2) good guy version of himself of our universe. Evil Li enters Earth, being pursued by 2 multiverse agents (one of whom played by Delroy Lindo), to search and destroy the good Li. This leads to a climatic showdown, in which the two Li's clashing to the death.
`The One' had an impressive science fiction backdrop, as mentioned in the above paragraphs. That changed after evil Li arrives on Earth, after which it becomes plain old action flick with a little makeover courtesy of `The Matrix'. Evil Li does his impression of Keanu Reeves' Neo, from blinding fast movements against slow motion scenes to the displays of superhuman strength. The sci-fi aspects of the plot take a back seat to Li's display of martial arts.
We all know what to expect from Jet Li: a lot of action and little of everything else. He makes no attempt to set apart the parallel versions of his characters. Although the early scenes in the movie show the differences in the series of events in every universe (Al Gore is the President of the United States in one alternate universe), it does not translate to Li's acting. Even his characters' fighting styles showed no distinction between each other, despite his claims that they are.
But what he does right, and does very well at (pay attention, van Damme!), is delivering solid galvanizing series of fight sequences. And unlike most other action film actors, he does not have to strip off his top to do so. His lengthy battle with himself is one continuous rush of energy that never loses steam. So we can't tell apart good Li from evil Li, but that is the point of it: we aren't supposed to. Just sit back and enjoy the battle, because there probably won't be another one like it, or one near as good as his.
Sadly, this is all about Li. The lacking in plot is accompanied by lacking in character developments. Carla Gugino plays Li's wife TK who, aside from being a female presence, is just there. Perhaps the writers, including writer/director James Wong, should do actual research for the right formulas to brew chemistry between a caucasian woman and a chinese man, because there obviously isn't any between Li and Gugino. (Side note: WWF star The Rock was actually considered for Li's role, which could explain TK being caucasian.) Lindo could be better if he is not underutilized. But the lack of screen time does not allow him to work his character deeper, affecting his overall performance. The only possible exception is Funsch, played convincingly by Jason Statham. The rest of the characters are thin.
`The One' is not a bad film. However, the lack of plot development particularly in the science fiction aspects leaves a sense of being cheated, because it has been promoted as such. Surely there are many ways the idea of traveling across universes can be exploited on script. But it never came to pass. All we are left to contend with is just another Jet Li action flick. (Take a hint, Mr. Wong. Learn from the Americans the "How to"'s in writing interracial couples on film.) In the end, this is not the One.
Spellcaster's Level 4
Monsters, Inc. (2001)
Be not afraid, be not very afraid.
In Monsters, Incorporated, monsters make their living scaring kids through their bedroom closets. The reason? To power the City of the Monsters with their screams. (Point to ponder: why don't the monsters do their own screams? If they can roar, they can definitely scream.) One day, a human kid enters their world, turning the lives of every monster upside down. Particularly those of professional scarer James P. 'Sulley' Sullivan, the big blue furball, and his roommating buddy Mike Wazowski, the little green blue-collared eyeball and a devoted friend to Sulley.
Mike and Sulley race against time to return the human kid back to the human world, sandwiching that into the dramas they currently have in their respective lives at that time. Mike is trying to win the affections of snake-haired receptionist Celia while trying to avoid confrontations with mumbling slug monster Roz over a job-related assignment. Sulley is doing his best to keep his Top Scarer throne from being usurped by closest rival Randall, the slithering slimy chameleon type. Monsters, Inc. CEO Henry J. Waternoose the crab-legged rounds up this grotesque cast.
True to tradition, the Disney-Pixar duo never fails to deliver superb animation that stretches beyond our imaginations. They show it in their creativity of various monster species, in every possible shapes, sizes and positions eyes relative to their faces, and not to mention excellent casting of voiceover actors. Crystal accentuates Mike's brashness, with the occasional obnoxiousness that comes with being a loudmouth. Goodman shows an exceptionally kind and gentle side to Sulley, opposite to what the furball is known for at Monsters, Inc.. He is warm and loving, and dotes on the human kid (ugh!!). In one scene, he actually feels sorry for scaring her. Together, Mike and Sulley compliment each other perfectly in a clown-straightmonster antic that is reminiscent of Abbott and Costello. Celia could not be more beguiling as Tilly's voice. Buscemi's Randall is every bit as slimy and cold-blooded as his reptilian counterpart.
But, the film falls flat in its thin storyline and excessive slapsticks. Gone are the deep and serious emotional contents of previous Disney films, instead `Monsters, Inc.' focuses on comical antics almost to the exclusion of all else. While this approach keeps the under-12 fully entertained, it can leave the rest of the older-aged audience peeved at times. Mike and Sulley's attempts to return the human kid to Earth comes across like an extended version of a Mickey-Donald-Goofy situation comedy. Although that is not a bad idea, it does not make the story any more interesting than it already isn't. Mike is occasionally annoying when he breaks into comedy. Yes, he is supposed to be the funny monster opposite Sulley, and therefore gets most of the comedy routines. His problem is that not all of his routines delivered their punches. Case in point: Apartment scene of Mike's motivational' speech to Sulley when Sulley is doing morning exercises. But he is not alone. The frequent monster-infected-by-objects-belonging-to-human-kids gigs dehydrate with every repetition. John Ratzenberger's brief appearance as the abominable snowman provides a little relief, only a little .
`Monsters, Inc.' is not bad compared to most animated films of this year. It is at least more family friendly than the summer-released `Atlantis: The Lost Empire'. But Disney & Pixar's fourth animated film isn't so good next to its predecessors. It lacks the heartfelt storytelling of `Toy Story 2' and the wit and colorful characterization of `A Bug's Life'. It is enjoyable for a good laugh, but only if you are young enough at heart.
Spellcaster's Level 6
East BEATS West!!
Like a page right out of the 60's `Batman and Robin' series, the masked vigilante Iron Monkey, possessing the modus operandi of Batman and the heart of Robin Hood, is the champion of justice in a small town in 19th century China. Like Batman, he has a dual identity, battling evil and corruption at night while masquerading as a law-abiding citizen by day, he has a bag full of gimmicks, and he has a sidekick.
In this episode/movie of the exciting adventures of the eastern Dark Knight and Miss Orchid, the Girl Wonder, corrupted town governor Cheng, the Sheriff of Nottingham', with his assistant Chief Fox, a homage to Chief O'Hara, called upon a visiting pugilist warrior and his much-more-famous partner/son (think Green Hornet and Kato) to capture the Dark Knight. Just when the home hero and his visiting counterpart are about to clash in grand spectacle, they joined forces against an evil threat in the form of a renegade Shaolin monk.
It does not take a genius to realize that this is no `Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon', and the differences do not stop with the action scenes. While `Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon' is a magnificent work in many respects, `Iron Monkey' is not. Aside from the action scenes, there is nothing of substance about the film. Direction and cinematography are lackluster. The storyline is grossly thin, as well as far-fetched and unbelivable. It is unrealistic to think that a pre-teen kid can not only fight but also be able to beat up adults single-handedly; or a villainous monk ascending to a government position despite his checkered past and current ignoble accomplishments, without any opposition whatsoever. Adding to the negatives is bad dubbing. The characters are often heard speaking without moving their lips. Horrible editing of sound and picture only makes matters worse.
Yet the only gold mine of this movie, which makes it entertaining despite its many flaws, is the action sequences. They are abundant in quality and quantity. This undoubtedly establishes the standard in which all martial arts films will be judged, which American martial arts action flicks should follow but do not. American martial arts films rely on machismo and natural charisma of the actors to carry the film, an approach that often dies of boredom especially since their fight scenes are frequently one-sided. Chinese martial arts films have breathtaking fight choreographies that emphasize on creativity and improvisation, so even if the same style is utilized the approach makes it look fresh and original. Besides the actors' expressing themselves beautifully in their own unique martial arts background, their repertoire of weapons include ladders, umbrellas, chains, metal balls, wooden benches and flaming bamboo poles (you have to see it to believe it!). Not only do all of the main characters participated in the fighting, they were also defined by their own styles on-screen: Iron Monkey being acrobatically-inclined; the Girl Wonder dancing her movements like a ballerina; Green Hornet' excessive use of his legs including drawing an arc with the tip of his toes as a pre-fight stance; Kato's cockiness and use of bamboo pole; and the Villain being hands and claws for the most part.
One can fault an action film for its lack of everything else, but `Iron Monkey' does put films of van Damme and Rothrock's to shame, or to the level of slow-motion tai-ji, or better yet to oblivion. Definitely enjoyable, even if its only for the fight sequences.
Spellcaster's Level 6