Another Kung-Fu Triple Bill

My good friend and longtime sparring partner Hong Kong Phooey had noted with concern the recent lack of activity on the blog, especially in the Asia-thon 2016 Film Project. So he paid me a visit and upon finding me in good health proceeded to deliver a well-aimed roundhouse kung-fu kick to my head in order to focus my efforts. Suitably reprimanded, I sat down with him to watch a trio of cult martial arts films, which those nice people at Film4 had shown as part of their Martial Arts Gold season.

Come Drink With Me (King Hu, 1966) is a very influential martial arts movie from the Shaw Bros, not least because it had a strong female protagonist at the center of the story. Indeed, viewers may be puzzled by some of the opening scenes, in which various opponents mistake kung-fu expert Golden Swallow for a man, despite the fact she is clearly a young, beautiful woman. Cheng Pei-Pei was chosen for the role due to her background in ballet, and her graceful movements add a real elegance to the fight scenes as she glides around beating the shit out of clumsy, expendable opponents. The split -level tea-house scene is particularly memorable. So it's all a bit of a shame that half way through the film, the plot demands she suffers the indignity of being rescued by a male sidekick; Drunken Cat, another kung-fu expert masquerading as a drunken beggar. She was doing quite okay by herself, ye drunken bum - piss off to your own film! Anyhow, it all ends up in a big fight, which calmed my inner feminist a little because a kickass team of girls rock up to help. This is a big favourite of Quentin Tarantino (who once planned a remake and paid homage in his Kill Bill films), the wuxia genre in general (homage also paid to Pei-Pei who was cast as Jade Fox in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) and the Drunken Master films from Jackie Chan (who allegedly appears as one of the singing children).

Five Deadly Venoms (Chang Cheh, 1978) is also a cult favourite, the title referring to five martial-arts experts with different fighting skills; The Centipede, the Snake, the Scorpion, the Lizard, and The Toad. Pitted against these fearsome foes is inexperienced kung-fu student Yang (Chiang Sheng), who has been taught the secret weakness of each by their former master. But will this knowledge be enough for him to avoid defeat? This is good fun, with ludicrous-sound-effect-enhanced chop-socky action, dramatic use of slo-mo and crash-zooms, impressive maniacal laughter, some splendid sideburn action and - WHAT THE HELL IS THIS??!! A PLOT??!!
*insert exaggerated reaction shot here* 
Well, so it is - and it turns out to be quite an entertaining whodunnit as a Scooby-Doo masked villain must be caught - those masks are pretty cool, actually. No surprise that it was a big hit on original release and it went on to spawn numerous official and unofficial sequels, many of which are in fact very crap. It was a big influence on the films of John Woo (a protege of Chang's), and is the inspiration for the deadly skilled teams in the Kill Bill films, the Kung Fu Panda films, and the, er, the Power Rangers.

It's not surprising that Eight Diagram Pole Fighter (Lau Kar-Leung, 1984) has a similar style to Five Deadly Venoms since director Lau had a close working relationship with Chang Cheh, choreographing the action for many of his films. Here, Gordon Liu (who previously worked with Lau on the classic 36th Chamber of Shaolin) plays a warrior who is forced to hide out in a monastery after most of his family is killed where he learns to both fight with a pole instead of a sword, as well as learning to control his rage, before he exacts his revenge. Again, this is great fun, principally because almost every single time characters meet each other they end up in a fight. Sometimes they even fight inanimate objects. But that's okay, because they're great fights, with some fabulously choreographed and colourful chop-socky action - watch out for the bit where Liu continues to hold his own in a fight despite having an arm and a leg immobilised and a girl strapped to his back. It's probably the weakest of the three films featured here, but it does features the best extraction-of-an-opponents-teeth-with a-pole moment in the movies, which must count for something.

And so I thanked Hong Kong Phooey for kicking some sense back into me and showed him out, before dashing out the back, clambering over the roof, vaulting over the garden fence and surprising him at the bottom of the drive with a good old-fashioned flying kung-fu karate chop to his nether-regions. Ha! It'll be a while before he can take Rosemary the Telephone Operator out for dinner again! Incidentally, the Asia-thon 2016 Film Project is my New Year's resolution to watch more films from the Far East, a project which is both laudable and insufferably pretentious. A full list of films viewed can be found here.

The Hunger Games - Mockingjay Pt 1 & 2 (Francis Lawrence, 2015)

What are they about? In time-honoured fashion, the third part of Suzanne Collins' trilogy has been split into 2 films in a blatant money-making exercise to do full justice to the story. Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) has become the somewhat reluctant figurehead for the oppressed masses of Panem. If that makes no sense, better catch up with the first and second films in the series first.

Are they any good? As the films were released several months apart, I took the decision not to review Part 1 here until I watched Part 2. Unfortunately, when I came to watch Part 2, I found that I could remember nothing from Part 1 at all. Nothing. I think Jennifer Lawrence was in it but maybe that was the girl with the mop story? A quick bit of research did little to refresh my memory and then I realised with relief that I wasn't going senile after all - it's just that Mockingjay Part 1 is utterly and literally forgettable. Nothing of note happens that couldn't be condensed into a few minutes to be added at the start of Part 2. It's a pity because the central theme of wartime propanganda, and its possibly reluctant participants, is another interesting slant in the series, which hasn't let its mainstream blockbuster status stop it from addressing challenging ideas. Sadly, however, the redundant Part 1 dulls, rather than stimulates, the brain, and there's not enough action to compensate either as it moves to a ho-hum cliffhanger. Part 2 is better, moving things along in snappier fashion, merrily dispensing with various expendable characters, and rallying to a reasonably satisfying climax to the overall tale. Throughout, as in the first 2 films, Lawrence continues to dominate the screen, even as the likes of Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman (who died during filming) and others attempt to steal scenes from her. The film-makers have a lot to thank her for keeping the franchise going through the bad times.

Hopefully, one day, someone will create an abridged version of the two films which should dispense with the boring bits. Until then, what we've got is a rather stodgy, tasteless dessert, desperately followed up by a double espresso Irish coffee and a couple of quick Jaeger-bombs at the bar to ensure the entire feast doesn't end up with us falling asleep at the table. 

Anything else I should know? As it happens, shortly after writing that previous sentence, I was taken from my house and forced to fight in a Hunger Games-style battle to the death with other reviewers who had thought it clever to use meal-related analogies to review the franchise. Confronted with the shameful evidence, we had little choice but to fight to regain our dignity. I won, but sadly I didn't get to fall in love, become a hero or wear a nice fiery dress. However, I'm told the crowd went wild when I fashioned a shiv from a sharpened spork and sneakily stabbed Paul Ross in the back.

What does the Fonz think? I've had enough now, thanks

A sort of Sci-Fi Double Bill

Been a slack few weeks at The Fast Picture Show. I'd like to say it's been because of Real Life things like work and commitments and, you know, like, responsibilities? But in truth it's because......of the aliens, man. Don't laugh, You weren't there, man. I SAW!!!! Talk about a Close Encounter. Now I know how the guys in these films feel...

Midnight Special (Jeff Nichols, 2016) starts off in intriguing fashion as two men (craggy Michael Shannon and shifty Joel Edgerton) shepherd a young boy into a car in the middle of the night. Have they kidnapped him? Where are they going? And why has the kid got goggles and ear-protectors on? All is revealed as....No wait...some things are revealed, but actually we get more questions than answers here as the film progresses.  It's fine to ask the audience to think a bit, but too many things are left unexplored or unexplained here, so it doesn't really deliver on that promising set-up. Nonetheless it still works as an old-fashioned throw-back to sci-fi films from the 70s and 80s, where story and characters were the focus, rather than special effects. Spielberg is the easy comparison here, but John Carpenter's Starman is a better one, particularly given the evocative score. Or perhaps D.A.R.Y.L. if we want to introduce a little esoteric nostalgia in the Things This is Like game. Anyway, good performances help it along and it's another good film from Nichols even if it's ultimately Midnight not-very-Special.

10 Cloverfield Lane (Dan Trachtenberg, 2016) also starts off with an intriguing hook. Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) awakes after a car accident to find herself imprisoned in an underground bunker by Howard (John Goodman), who claims to have saved her from some sort of apocalyptic event outside. Is he lying? How can she find out? And why is there another person imprisoned in there too? The scene is set for a tense, claustrophobic thriller and for most of its running time that's exactly what we get, with good performances, especially from Goodman who veers between friendly and fearsome at the drop of a hat. So far, so good. But then there's a bit where Michelle exclaims 'Oh, come on!!!!', which echoes the disappointed cry of the viewer as the sustained tension is dissipated as soon as the film shows its hand. Here, all IS revealed and to somewhat underwhelming effect. And of course anyone who knows their movies will have unavoidably spotted a rather, well, avoidable spoiler in the title. What a pity they didn't stick with the original title 'The Cellar', which would have presumably taken more people unawares. Incidentally, I was reminded of another Jeff Nichols film as I watched this, the excellent Take Shelter, which I've reviewed here.

So there we go. I'm back to Earth and my brain hasn't been fried too badly by my alien experiences, so I'll be adding more stuff soon, like how this guy really knows what he's taking about.

Deadpool (Tim Miller, 2016)

What's it about? Wise-cracking solider-turned-mercenary Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) agrees to undergo a special treatment to cure his terminal cancer. It works, and gives him superpowers in the process, but leave him horribly disfigured. Out for revenge, he dons a mask and becomes....CAPTAIN DEADPOOL!!! No, wait, just Deadpool. 

Is it any good? Violent, profane, lewd, crude, puerile and.......really quite funny and entertaining. Sure, a few of the jokes and innuendo (in your endo *snigger*) come across like a teenage stand-up trying too hard to offend, but there's some funny stuff in here too as Deadpool breaks the fourth wall, makes pop culture references and sends up the comic-book super-hero genre. Thanks to a likeable and self-deprecating performance from Reynolds, Deadpool's smart-ass (ass *snigger*) attitude keeps just the right side of irritating and the snappy action is handled comfortably by former special-effects guy Miller.  It's all good, fun, and so I'm prepared to overlook the causal sexism and misogyny, which isn't really a problem, cos the opening credits show that it's all, like, ironic, don't you think? The endless joking aorund and wise-cracking does undermine the emotional core of the story, however - dealing with terminal cancer and horrendous scarring never seemed so easy. Plus, it's certainly not as subversive or satirical as it might have been in skewering the comic-book world properly. But it succeeds in its primary aim to amuse and is a vast improvement on both Reynold's first outing as Deadpool in the lamentable X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Clint Eastwood's last outing as Dirty Harry. (Dirty Harry? More like Farty Harry *snigger*).

Anything else I should know? Never heard of Deadpool? Well, here's a bit of background from the Marvel wiki. On this evidence, expect about sixty-nine sequels. (Sixty-nine, *snigger*). If you really want to geek out, here's the short DC Universe Online film by Miller that got him the Deadpool gig, which features about a million super-hero characters. Also, boobies (*snigger*)


What does the Fonz think? Dirty Ryan makes my day.

A Twitter Inspired Review Round Up

As well as teaching us procrastination and the art of wasting time, Twitter also helps us understand that short is indeed sweet sometimes. Which helps when you watch more films than you can actually review properly. Hence, in lieu of real analysis there follows a quick round up of reviews in 140 characters or less.

Duel (Steven Spielberg, 1971)
Jaws & Steven: The Early Years

Sudden Impact (Clint Eastwood, 1983)
aka 'I Spit on Your Flatulent Bulldog'. Did not even come close to making my day.

Goosebumps (Rob Letterman, 2016)
Not scary enough to raise any actual goosebumps, but clever enough to raise a few laughs instead.

Halloween II (Rick Rosenthal, 1981)
Patchy sequel set in the quietest hospital ever. Most A&E units would be glad to end a night with the modest body count that Michael manages

Oblivion (Joseph Kosinski, 2013) 
Remember that terrific film Moon? Now, imagine if it starred Tom Cruise and made no sense and was a bit shit. Well, then you'd have Oblivion

The Two Faces of January (Hossein Amini, 2014)
Strangers on a Greek Bus meets The Talented Mr Isaac

Sunshine on Leith (Dexter Fletcher, 2013)
Amiable musical-drama based on Proclaimers songs. I wouldn't be their biggest fan but I would.....WALK 500 MILES AND I WOULD WALK 500 MORE!! 

*links arms with strangers and dances off out the door*

Think that's special? I once reviewed 10 films in 10 words or less. Yeah, that's how I roll in my house, baby.