This is the 18th article of this kind I’ve written for this magazine and, to the best of my knowledge, it’s the first one I’ve written wearing pants.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve never written naked. It’s always been sort of a boxer shorts/ sweat pants operation. This time, however, I’m bucking the trend and sitting in front of my computer wearing a nice pair of gray pants. They fit me pretty well and they’ve got a nice texture to them. Suitable for a "casual" Friday or even a night out. They are also very comfortable.
Let’s review some movies.
This is Donnie Yen’s second try at the auteur thing and he has, in my opinion, taken a large step backwards in terms of his development as a director.
This isn’t a good movie.
I wanted to like this film. I went in to it with a totally positive attitude despite some of the terrible things I’ve heard about it and I really tried to approach it with an open mind. It didn’t work. Even with that "I want this to work" feeling I just couldn’t get myself to like this movie. It’s overly dramatic, unrealistic to the extreme and far, far too ponderous for it’s own good.
If you were fortunate enough to have read my assessment of Legend of the Wolf (Donnie first film as director), you’d know that I enjoyed about ninety percent of that one. The exception was the over-stylized, pointless framing sequence. Ballistic Kiss is that framing sequence developed into a whole film.
To temper this thing, I do have to admit that Yen is still someone to keep an eye on. Even in the midst of this cliché ridden angst-fest, he manages to remind folks that he really does have some real natural talent for this whole directing thing. Visually, he’s interesting. There’s a little too much of a style over substance feel for my tastes (for full disclosure’s sake, I have a similar reaction to the work of Wong Kar-Wai), but all in all this is an attractive film. Isolated scenes/ sections also work well. The low-lights are far too numerous and blatant to ignore however: a gun battle with no casualties by two guys separated only by the top of an overturned armchair (I shit you not), two scenes of female roommates (one of whom is a cop) chasing each other around their apartment giggling like little schoolgirls (the second instance is jarring), an over-reliance on certain John Woo-isms (think- slo-mo blood splatters), and, well… the list goes on.
Watch it if you’re specifically interested in Yen’s work as a director. Otherwise… I’m suggesting that you take a pass on this one.
This has been out for a while now and I’ve just gotten around to seeing it. At first I was disappointed that I hadn’t gotten my hands on it earlier since I’m such a fan of Jet Li’s work. After the slow, arduous process that is the production of Li’s new film, Romeo Must Die, however, I’m pleased as punch to have waited. This is a solid, fun movie.
Definitely worth the wait.
It’s not action-packed. There are impressive sequences and Li, of course, looks good but the focus of this film is on the story and the relationship between Li and co-star Eric Tsang. This is a good thing as the two work well together. Like Li’s performance opposite the incredible Lau Ching-Wan in Black Mask, this one shows off Li’s ability as an actor. Again, he is matched with one of Hong Kong’s top talents and he comes through with flying colors, working well with Tsang and almost equaling Tsang’s incredible, at-ease screen presence. The scenes between the two are natural and charming and because of that the film really works. It’s funny (Li broodingly drinking milk dressed as Leon from Luc Besson’s Leon: The Professional is worth the price of admission alone), exciting and well-acted.
All that and I saw it at Tower Video.
Now you have no excuse.
"Oh wow! A movie directed by Tsui Hark, starring Jet Li and Yuen Wah! Sign me right up!"
"It’s not that good."
"What?!? How can it not be? Tsui and Li working together arguably produced one of the greatest martial arts films of the decade. I mean, these are the guys responsible for Once Upon a Time in China! How could they have failed?"
"I have no good answer for that. I can tell you that they did however. Not completely, but just enough to make you shake your head and wonder, ‘what the hell were they thinking?’
"This is an almost stereotypical late 80s actioner. It’s just one with a better pedigree. It’s got a mindless story, horrible performances from the mostly American cast (it was shot in LA), and some of the worst characters ever put on film. Take, for example, the three Latino gang-bangers that follow Li around. These guys are about as far away from reality as is humanly possible. Aside from their dress they have nothing at all in common with any human being living on the planet. They’re more like a lobotomized, Mexican version of The Three Stooges.
"Did I mention it was horribly goofy? It is."
"Is it that bad? Should I even check it out?"
"It’s not all bad. The fights are pretty good. Li himself is amazing physically. If anyone again complains about Li’s recent use of doubles for more acrobatic moves, I’m going to shush them and point them in the direction of this movie. Filmed before the series of injuries that sorely limited his ability post Once Upon a Time in China, Li pulls off moves in this film that should put that argument to bed forever. For example, Li does an aerial kicking combination that would make 70s super-kicker Hwang Jiang-Li envious. Jumping off of a four foot high platform Li takes out a circle of four or five guys before his feet touch the floor.. I rewound that one a couple of times. Yuen Wah is pretty good too, although he really only gets to let loose for a short period towards the finale.
"It’s worth checking out. Just don’t expect anything like Li’s phenomenal 90s output."
Five Element Ninja
Chang Cheh is a lunatic. This movie proves it. Bloody, hallucinogenic and somewhat disjointed, Five Element Ninja is a unique, unforgettable effort from the man who brought us the Five Venoms. Made towards the end of the Shaw Bros. run (1982), Five Element Ninja is sort of a distillation of all that Chang had done previously. It is lurid to the extreme, filled to the brim with creative deaths, outrageous costumes and piles of blood. Imagine a Las Vegas show complete with peacock plumage, mix in some off-the-charts violence, like a man being drawn and quartered and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what Five Element Ninja is all about.
This my kind of movie!
Two months in a row I’ve done this. I had a few more movies set to go this time (In the Line of Duty IV, Shaolin Temple II, Naked Killer) and again I’ve gone and written myself out of space. Add to that the fact that I’m wearing pants (the novelty has worn off) and you’ll obviously see why I have to bow out gracefully with this small assortment of films.
Now, if you’ll excuse me I have to go strip down to my boxers and run around the house.
This article first appeared in Shovel #18. November 1999.