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Remember When I Told You That There is Nothing to Regret in Life?
My inspiration to see today’s movie started years ago when I saw a movie called Ip Man. This movie was so awesome that it drove me to then see the sequel and the prequel. In fact, it seemed to inspire me to see anything that had to do with the character that the movie was based on. I watched more Bruce Lee movies because Ip Man had trained him. I even researched the man … on Wikipedia. Where I research everything. When I started in my Film Criticism class, the teacher pointed out similarities between some movie and today’s movie, which I had not yet heard of. When I looked into it, I found out it too was based on the life of Ip Man. I’m in. Let’s see how that turned out as I review The Grandmaster, written by Zou Jingzhi and Xu Haofeng, co-written and directed by Wong Kar-wai, and starring Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Zhang Ziyi, Wang Qingxiang, Zhang Jin, Song Hye-kyo, Chang Chen, Zhao Benshan, Xiaoshenyang, Cung Le, Lo Hoi-pang, and Yuen Woo-ping.
Ip Man (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai) was a dude that was good at martial arts, but bad at deciding if he wanted his name to be spelled “Ip” or “Yip”. A martial arts master named Gong Yutian (Wang Qingxiang) announces that he’s going to retire and leave Ma San (Zhang Jin) as his successor. Representing the South, Ip Man agrees to fight Gong Yutian, but they instead dance around a cookie and talk philosophy. Not a joke. Yutian’s daughter, Gong Er (Zhang Ziyi), decides to challenge Ip Man because her family has never lost a fight OR a cookie dance, and she manages to defeat Ip Man on a technicality. But the two of them remain on friendly terms and may or may not have been in love with each other even though Ip Man is married to Cheung Wing-sing (Song Hye-kyo). Then some other stuff happens and Ip Man trains Bruce Lee to be awesome.
I suppose I would have to reach the conclusion that I liked this movie, but I did spend the majority of it being bummed because it wasn’t anything like what I expected/wanted it to be. But my expectations for this movie kind of confuse me. Basically, I wanted this movie to be Ip Man. But if I really want a movie to be Ip Man, I can make a movie Ip Man by popping in the Blu-rays that I already own. But I feel like it was a mistake for them to make the movie seem like a martial arts movie in the trailers when it was really more of a drama or biography. On the other hand, I paid for a ticket, so maybe it wasn’t that much of a mistake after all. Another problem I worried about when comparing this movie to Ip Man was that this movie might be spoiled by having seen Ip Man, but the stories really weren’t that similar. Plus, the second half of the movie feels more like the Gong family legacy and barely involves Ip Man at all. And some of it is also a history and explanation of different forms of Kung Fu, like when the three different masters showed and explained their styles to Ip Man for no discernible reason. I found it interesting, but I wasn’t here to watch the History Channel’s documentary on martial arts.
The real problem I kept having with this movie was with the fighting. There was not nearly enough of it, and when it happened they were too in love with making the movie artsy fartsy to make sure we could watch the thing. They did have a couple of fights in this movie, but they spread them out so much that I felt like I wasn’t getting nearly enough. And some of what they might consider fights were far from it. Like the different masters showing their techniques. That’s more a demonstration than a fight. And then when he fights Gong Yutian they were really just dancing around a cookie. It really did feel like there were more scenes of people sitting down to have their picture taken than there were scenes of fighting. When they had actual fights, they were pretty good from what I could make out, which was hard to do since they took the Hunger Games style of action editing by being too close to the action to see most of what was going on. And they go into slow motion for them way too often. How awesome was Ip Man without bothering with any of that artsy bullshit? Answer: Very! I still would say I liked the fights, but I would also like to say that I’m no doctor, but I think that getting your head slammed into a moving train – even if it was the side of it – would probably keep you from speaking directly afterwards as you’d probably be overcome with a serious case of death or retardation.
I do acknowledge that they were going for something different with the look of the movie and that apparently overrode their desire to show their action scenes. And it was very stylized and pretty. Lots of fights happening in the middle of a rainy day, because apparently Foshan is the Seattle of the Orient, but it makes it look good and Yuen Woo-ping showed us in the Matrix Revolutions that he loves fights that happen in pouring rain. They did a lot of slow motion outside of the fights that started getting on my nerves because it was really jerky, as if the movie was glitching out. I don’t know what they were trying to say with that jerkiness, but I just assumed that they didn’t film it to be in slow motion and did it after the fact because their movie was too short.
I had no problems with the performances in the movie, but as always I have problems with the characters. Tony Leung Chiu-Wai played Ip Man very well. I also know that he wasn’t meant to be a perfect hero in the movie and so was meant to have flaws, like the fact that he’s married but still having an emotional attachment to Gong Er. But was it custom at the time that no one mention the fact that he’s married and coming dangerously close to cheating on her? If he was in the presence of Cheung Wing-sing, the movie acted almost as if Gong Er didn’t exist, and vice versa when with Gong Er. The only time I recall them even bringing up the scenario was when Ip Man was with his wife and brushed the hair out of her face and she looked like Gong Er, but I can’t blame him for that. Asian people look the same to me too. The only other time they dealt with it was when Gong Er was telling Ip Man that she wouldn’t be seeing him anymore, to which Ip Man should’ve just responded, “That’s cool. I’m married with two kids anyway, so I’ll still get mines.”
The Grandmaster was a fine movie that bummed me out for not being what I hoped it would be. I wanted it to be a martial arts movie, but it was really more of a love letter to the guy that trained Bruce Lee. It worked well enough as a drama, but the low number of actual fights and the emphasis on the artistic value of fight scenes at the expense of the fight itself kept it from working as the martial arts movie I wanted it to be. I guess I would say this movie is worth watching if you go in wanting drama and biography more than martial arts. If you want a martial arts movie along these lines, just watch Ip Man. The Grandmaster gets “If life had no regrets it would be really boring” out of “No news is news.”
What Must Be Done is Being Done.
When I reviewed Fist of Fury, my coworker friend Markle felt it was necessary to come to the defense of his fellow Asian Bruce Lee and request a movie that he felt would redeem the man. He requested today’s movie and I pretty much forgot about it. But today I had been looking for something that I could watch in my living room so that I could watch the movie while using my stationary bike to increase my sexy and hopefully make Markle leave his lady to get a little piece of the Robert, but I had no movies from Netflix in, and I haven’t seen anything on RedBox I wanted to watch in some time now. I instead decided to browse through my Netflix instant queue to see if there was any talent within, and I found the movie Markle had requested. So I decided to review Game of Death, originally written by Bruce Lee, but rewritten by Jan Spears, directed by Robert Clouse with the action choreographed by Sammo Hung, and starring Bruce Lee, Kim Tai-jong, Yuen Biao, Dean Jagger, Gig Young, Colleen Camp, Mel Novak, James Tien, Robert Wall, Dan Inosanto, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Chuck Norris, and Sammo Hung.
A criminal syndicate, run by Dr. Land (Dean Jagger), is trying to pressure a martial arts movie star named Billy Lo (Bruce Lee, Kim Tai-jong, or Yuen Biao depending on when you’re looking) into signing a contract with them. Both Billy and his fiancée Ann Morris (Colleen Camp) refuse, so the pressure is amped up, getting them attacked numerous times. It reaches its peak when Land’s assassin, Stick (Mel Novak), sneaks onto the set of Billy’s latest film and replaces a blank with a real bullet, hitting Billy in the face. Working with a reporter friend named Jim Marshall (Gig Young) and the doctor, Billy fakes his death so that he can take the fight to Dr. Land and take them by surprise.
What in the hell is wrong with Markle? This movie sucked. But the reason this movie sucked was not because of Bruce Lee. It was because of the lack of Bruce Lee. Bruce Lee actually died during the production of this movie, but the director wasn’t about to let that little hiccup slow him down. He decided to use the 11 minutes that Bruce had filmed of the movie – along with scenes from his other movies and body doubles – to make Bruce appear in the movie anyway. They seemingly had to hastily rewrite the intended story in order to make it work and explain why you couldn’t often see Bruce Lee’s character, and the story shows it. But the story itself isn’t really all that bad for a martial arts movie; it was just hard to figure that out when I kept getting distracted by how badly Bruce was substituted. We’ll get to that in the next paragraph. I feel like the movie might not have been that bad if someone could go back in and use the technology of today to put Bruce into the whole movie, young Jeff Bridges style. It’s fairly typical stuff for a martial arts movie. The bad guy does something to the main character that pisses him off, and he fixes everything with the power of his fists. Before he’s figured that part out, he wastes a pretty good amount of time going around talking to people about what he should do in this situation. I too feel that the first places I go when I have a problem are a reporter and a Kabuki actor. I also thought it was a strange bit of horrible coincidence that a large part of the movie revolves around shooting blanks at Billy but them actually killing him because that same thing would lead to the death of Bruce’s son later on. But I wasn’t really worried when Billy got shot in the movie. They had plenty of backup Billy’s apparently, and it would just be an excuse to wrap his face up for a large portion of the movie. The ending of the movie was also really lackluster. The bad guy dies. ALL WRAPPED UP! Let’s go home, gentlemen. Good work!
Obviously, the look was my biggest issue with the movie. More specifically, the shitty way that they patched in Bruce Lee when he wasn’t actually there. It was always obvious and usually distracting. If you’d like the best example of how bad it was, it would have to be the part where they literally taped a cardboard cutout of Bruce Lee’s face on a mirror over the face of the substitute. That is not a joke. They also were big fans of using their actor and cutting away to a picture of Bruce Lee’s eyes, or his scene from one of his other movies. He has an entire fight with Chuck Norris in the movie that was just clips from Way of the Dragon. I guess Chuck Norris is so powerful that he roundhouse kicked that movie and it ended up in this movie. They also used a lot of stand in work, but they were both obviously not Bruce Lee, and that’s saying a lot since my racism makes me think they all look the same. I’m pretty sure Markle and my friend TimKim stood in for Bruce Lee at one point in this movie. The fights involving the non-Bruce people were not that spectacular, but the fights where Bruce Lee was actually there were good. The bulk of it is in the last 20 minutes of the movie, which is also the only parts of the movie that I would say are worth watching. Thankfully, you can skip right there with Netflix and get everything you need out of the movie. Horribly, I was not afforded that luxury. But the last 20 minutes is good times, while actually not being much more than a series of Bruce Lee fights back to back. The first one starts as a fight where Bruce puts a Charles Manson style X on the forehead of his enemy with a jade fishing pole, then a standard fight, and the boss battle with a giant black man.
I can’t really say anything about Bruce Lee’s performance in this movie. He didn’t offer one. The only scenes he’s in are fights at the end of the movie. The stand in people are wooden and unconvincing, and the people that dubbed his voice made Bruce Lee’s trademark “WAAAAAAAH”’s in battle sound really goofy. Dean Jagger was actually an interesting character to me. I liked that he was a mob boss but didn’t choose to take the standard intimidating guy performance. He actually seemed likeable. And it was also nice that he never really discussed their crimes openly with his associates, as if there was a chance he was being recorded at all times. I actually liked Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in this movie. But he also didn’t really speak. He was just a gigantic black guy fighting tiny Asian people. I think it should also serve as a lesson that you should never teach giant black guys martial arts. They would be too powerful! It’s bad enough that tiny Asian people can use them against us! The guy Bruce fought right before him caused me to laugh out loud too because, when they met, he obviously said something, but they muted him. So he just stands there for about 10 seconds moving his mouth in silence before they start to throw down.
Aside from the last 20 minutes of the movie, Game of Death is a total failure in filmmaking. The story was pretty basic. At least I think it was, as I was too distracted through the entire movie with the horrible way they tried to have Bruce Lee in this movie when he wasn’t there. The fights that they have that Bruce had already recorded were good, but the rest were just bad. Personally, I think this movie should have died when Bruce did. There was nothing in the bulk of this movie worth seeing for anything other than an instruction in what not to do. I recommend the last 20 minutes of this movie for viewing, and the rest of the movie for burning. Game of Death gets “A venereal disease. Often terminal” out of “You lose, Carl Miller!”
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Now You Hear This! I Will Accept Punishment For the Lives I Took!
I told you it was coming. Don’t act like I didn’t. After watching two Chen Zhen-based movies, I felt like it was necessary to complete the series (at least so far as I care too) by watching today’s movie; the first Chen Zhen movie and the basis for Fist of Legend that I reviewed already. I was also inspired to watch this movie because it stars quite possibly the most famous actor in the genre and I think I’ve only ever seen one of his movies before and a movie based on his life. No better time than the middle of the resurgence of my love for the martial arts movie genre – that had been lying dormant for some years now – to review today’s movie. And so I bring you my review of Fist of Fury (also known as The Chinese Connection), written and directed by Lo Wei, and starring Bruce Lee, Nora Miao, Riki Hashimoto, Robert Baker, Tien Feng, Paul Wei, Feng Yi, Hwong Chung Hsin, and Han Yin-chieh.
Chen Zhen (Bruce Lee) returns to the Jingwu martial arts school to marry his fiancée, Yuan Le-erh (Nora Miao), to find that his master Huo Yuanjia has died of some illness. Soon after, some Japanese martial arts students show up at Jingwu to taunt the Chinese students, calling them weaklings. Chen Zhen does not take this well. He shows up at their school and beats them all down, including their sensei. In retaliation, the Japanese attack Jingwu and demand that they hand over Chen Zhen. Chen Zhen goes into seclusion temporarily as he figures out his next move.
I didn’t expect it, but I was pretty disappointed by this movie. It’s exactly the type of movie that so many other things have mocked in the past. It’s like watching Kung Pow!: Enter the Fist if the movie wasn’t in on the joke. The movie is abound with odd choices in cinematography that have been mocked for so long. Things like quickly jutting the camera in on people’s faces to show their surprise, over the top performances, oddly timed music stings, terrible dubbing, and lots of unnecessary hand gesturing. The story of the movie was not altogether different from Fist of Legend that I already reviewed, but with all the unintentionally goofy things going on around it, I couldn’t really take it seriously. It was the same stuff as the remake. It hates Japanese people, it’s about revenge, and it’s about punching people in the face. But the action was also pretty lackluster. I feel like I still definitely want to give Bruce Lee a chance, but nothing he did in this movie impressed me for anything other than his speed. The fight choreography really wasn’t that impressive. Wanting to make the character superhero-esque, he defeated most of the enemies with little more than a strike. Jet Li did a much better job in his movie, especially in the part where he was fighting the Japanese sensei. Bruce Lee did it because the Japanese made fun of him and, though he won the fight pretty handily, he did have a few moments when he didn’t seem like he was the dominant one. When Jet Li did it, he did it to find out if the sensei could’ve beaten his master when he was in good health, and the way he performed in the fight showed him to be the clearly dominant one. All of the rest of the fight scenes were far inferior in this movie as well. Bruce Lee has style and speed that is impressive, but they just weren’t technically complicated enough to impress. And with some of the action, it was just ridiculous. The superhero things that Chen could do weren’t limited to simply beating people in one strike. He was also able to lift up a rickshaw with a person inside it as an intimidation tactic and turn two people into mannequins as he was spinning them around before throwing them at their compatriots. They probably thought these things were cool and impressive back when the movie came out, but they just seemed goofy to me.
As was already hinted at, none of the performances in this movie manage to impress. Bruce Lee was able to perform all of the stone-cold ass-kicker requirements, but the acting parts seemed over his head. Take, for instance, when he had to cry over the coffin of his departed master. He spazzed out so hard that it was not just over the top, but laughably so. Even some of the stone-cold ass-kicker parts didn’t work because of how thin the line between confident badass and asshole is.
I found Fist of Fury sadly disappointing. I can forgive the goofy and clichéd cinematic techniques that are so common in older Asian movies if the martial arts are super cool, but they weren’t that impressive either. Bruce Lee is really fast and pretty good at being a badass, but the choreography of the fights wasn’t that impressive when compared to some other martial arts movies I’ve seen come out since this one. This movie isn’t a bad movie but, given the choice, I’d stick with the remake, Fist of Legend with Jet Li. The stories are very similar, but the action is much better in the remake. Fist of Fury gets “To think, I was going to ask you to be my wife…” out of “I feel dizzy; so dizzy.”
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