The Last Outlaw

tn_lastoutlawcountdownlogoI meant to do this back when I reviewed POINT BLANK (Mickey Rourke vs. mall terrorists version), but I forgot, so here’s another Mickey Rourke picture to kick things off on a new thing I’ll try called COUNTDOWN TO THE EXPENDABLES. Not sure if I got enough time before the movie comes out next month, but I’m gonna try to go down the list of all the main EXPENDABLES cast members and review one of their movies that I haven’t seen before. (See, it’s a good thing Seagal turned the movie down, because there’s not anything by him that I haven’t seen. Maybe I’d have to review the cameo on the episode of Roseanne that I didn’t find out about until after Seagalogy went to print.)

Whether or not Stallone’s movie ends up being any good I think we can all agree that he did a good job of casting a wide range of tough guys from different movements, generations and disciplines. So through this journey I think we will all learn a few things and expand our knowledge of the Badass Arts in its many forms. I know I’ve already seen one unexpected gem in preparation for this series, so this could be a great time.

THE LAST OUTLAW is not that unexpected gem. Sorry. It’s not too bad, though.

I heard from exactly one person who has seen THE EXPENDABLES at a test screening. He liked it and one thing he seemed enthusiastic about was Mickey Rourke’s performance. So in honor of the hypothetically great job Rourke did in a small role I wanted to find one where he is the main attraction. This 1993 western seemed promising because the cover is a big picture of his face, the director is Geoff Murphy (UNDER SIEGE 2: DARK TERRITORY, second unit director of the LORD OF THE RINGS joints) and the writer is Eric Red (THE HITCHER, NEAR DARK). What I didn’t take into account is that, like most westerns of the era, it was made for cable and has that made-for-cable-western look and feel. I don’t know why, but most of these feel kind of the same.

It’s kind of good, but it has a major casting problem holding it back: the least cool star in the ensemble is the hero and narrator. You got Mickey Rourke, Keith David, Steve Buscemi, John C. McGinley, Ted Levine… but bland Dermot Mulroney is the one we’re supposed to root for and not scoff at when he half-whispers his melodramatic voicovers about his personal war with Rourke’s magnetic character Graff. It’s hard not to prefer the villain in this one. Now that I think about it it’s almost a horse-riding version of THE HITCHER in that sense. Eric Red, you sneaky son of a bitch. But don’t worry, there’s no horse crashes in it.

The aforementioned individuals play a gang of Confederate soldiers who felt they had nothing to believe in after they lost the war so they started robbing banks. I’m not clear why Keith David hangs out with these pro-slavery assholes, but oh well. The movie starts out really cool with the rare but always satisfying trick of credits where the actors names are shown over their first appearances as they ride into town. It’s like a roll call.

A huge posse has a tip which bank the gang is gonna rob. They’re all hidden but have the place surrounded like an old west SWAT team, all prepared to shoot these crooks dead the moment they step off their horses. The plan fails because the gang stays on their horses and rides right into the bank. Whoops.

But a little later in the movie the posse gets their shit together and manages to actually capture Graff. Well, maybe they just luck out. Mulroney turns on Graff due to an ethical disagreement about whether to never leave a man behind (Mulroney’s position) or sometimes leave a man behind (Graff’s). The betrayal compels Graff to come along in chains with the posse and a bank manager to hunt down the rest of the gang and get the money back.

Graff is kind of a Lucifer type figure. He mostly stays quiet but drops little comments here and there to manipulate his captors. When a bunch of people get killed and the posse’s decided it’s too dangerous and time to quit, Graff mutters something about them getting the dead people’s share of the reward, so they all decide to stay. He tries to pretend like it’s an off hand comment, but come on dude, it’s so obvious. These are some stupid motherfuckers to fall for it.

He’s even more of a devious mastermind than that, though. He manipulates the whole situation to force Mulroney, as the new leader, into having to make difficult decisions like the one they had their fallingout over. He’s teaching him lessons.

The actual DVD cover has better proof-reading than this one I found online
The actual DVD cover has better proof-reading than this one I found online

Rourke is really good, as dedicated and as weird as we’ve come to expect. And he seems as deviously smart and as scary as the character is supposed to. My only maybe-unfair criticism of him is that his face looks strange, overly made up or surgeried or something, and it’s kind of distracting. I also noticed, strangely enough, that he looks alot like Bruce Willis in this movie. Look at the cover here, I think you can see what I’m talking about. Weird. I guess we can give the movie extra points for that. Residual Bruce Willis presence.

I guess I shouldn’t be too hard on this. There’s alot I liked in it, lots of good scenes and moments, like when Graff shoots McGinley’s horse so Mulroney will be forced to make the decision to leave him behind. And then McGinley accepts his fate and decides to wish them luck and try to take some laws down with him. A nice old west bonding moment.

I’m afraid my man David comes off kind of bad in the end. His character is supposed to be real superstitious and he gets all panicky. He plays it real over-the-top and it reminds me of that old racist stereotype where for some reason black people were supposed to be afraid of ghosts. Otherwise he’s good in the movie, but I think his character deserved better. He should have the last laugh on these slavedriving crackers.

Red comes up with some good scenarios, it’s a good showdown, but I think it doesn’t quite work because the casting is so off balance. Mulroney is nowhere near Rourke’s equal in presence, charisma, acting intensity, audience interest or perceived badassness. It throws the whole thing off.

And since it’s not quite gelling the slightly pretentious touches come off bad. There’s a scene where Mulroney meets Graff in a saloon, buys him a drink and tries to ask for a truce, but Graff shuts him down. It’s a cool scene, but we watch it reflected in the mirror behind the bar, which has a big crack across it, separating the images of the two actors. There’s that visual cliche in movies about a split personality, they like to show the person reflected in a mirror or window that’s cracked, to visualize the split in their indentity or whatever. But this? What is this supposed to tell me? This partnership broke up and now they’re in a mirror that broke up. Is that supposed to be deep or something? If it was an opponent worthy of Rourke I woudln’t even be thinking about it. I’d be thinking, “Wow, look at Mickey Rourke and Viggo Mortensen just sitting there… what a great matchup!” But because it’s just the guy from MY BEST FRIEND’S WEDDING I’m stuck thinking about the crack in the mirror.

As flawed made-for-cable-westerns go though I can recommend this one. At least they’re trying.


This entry was posted on Friday, July 16th, 2010 at 10:28 am and is filed under Reviews, Western. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

78 Responses to “The Last Outlaw”

  1. I can’t wait to see The Expendables. Make sure you check out The Losers. I liked it well enough.

  2. Your right it is creepy how much Rourke looks like Bruce on that DVD cover.

  3. I kind of liked this one. It’s from the era where “made for cable” meant “bigger squibs than usual.”

  4. Mac, I can’t wait for the Expendables either, but I was underwhelmed by The Losers. I liked the cast, but the directing was cheesy and heavy handed. There was a lot of clumsy and unnecessary slow mo shots, and every other scene seemed to be cut to a classic rock song. It had a couple effective and fun sequences but overall the directing took away from a decent story and some good performances by the cast. Maybe I am being harsh on the movie. It has some good things going for it. I think I would have liked it better if it had been directed by someone else who have just let the cast and the story carry the picture instead of drowning it distracting cuts and editing.

  5. Horse Crashes . That’s an interesting concept , maybe even a new kind of gimmick for action movies. Instead of car chases , this movie “will be full of horse crashes”. I can even see , down the line , movie blogs and articles with “Top Ten Horse Crashes”.

  6. Michael Bay needs to make a western where a bunch of horses are pulling a trailer full of other horses that are then thrown off of the trailer at high speeds so they somersault into yet other horses that are in hot pursuit.

  7. See that ? That’s me shooting myself in the foot . Now I will be thinking about the best horse crashes that I remember for hours . The best one , in my opinion , is when G.W. Bailey crashes head-first into the ass of that horse in that Police Academy movie . Man , that’s one for the ages .

  8. I’d like to nominate ‘Snatch’ for the Statham selection, Vern. I love that movie. Although for some reason I thought I remembered you hating that one.

  9. Majestyk : In my opinion , in a Michael Bay horse-crash western , we follow a band of horse thieves . When they escape with the horses , they crash with the sheriff and his horse and with other thieves and their stolen horses. Since this is a Bay movie , every character is even more stupid than the last one and there’s plenty of stereotypes, so they hide their horses in an abandoned mine full of dynamite.The movie ends with the biggest horse-‘splosion ever filmed.

  10. Stone Cold Steve Austin did a movie called “Damage” where he plays a parolee who becomes a bare kuckle fighter/street brawler to pay the medical bills for the daughter of the man he killed. I really enjoyed it. It also has Walton Goggins of The Shield and Justified and Laura Vandervoort who plays Supergirl on Superman: The Teenage Years/ Where The Fuck is His Fucking Costume Already as his friends. I only bring up the latter because she needs a d in the a. But seriously it’s a good movie.

  11. I second review of Snatch for Statham. For Jet Li, I recommend THE LEGEND (AKA FONG SAI YUK), in which he plays a young cocky martial artist who gets drawn up into revolutionary business against the Emperial Regime. Something different from other martial arts movies I’ve seen is his mother fights alongside him a lot of the time.

  12. Stu: I’m not a huge fan of Jet’s costume pictures (I can’t take a badass seriously with that haircut) so I will recommend HIGH RISK, which mixes in some over-the-toppedly ridiculous machine-gunnings and vehicular type stuntasmigoricalness into the equation.

    Or to save time Vern could kill two expendables with one stone and do WAR. Not because it should be viewed by anyone ever, but so he can cut it open and do a postmortem to figure out how they managed to so egregiously fuck up what should have been a sure thing.

  13. I can kinda see the Bruce resemblance in that picture, but frankly, it’s the only time I’ve ever seen Mickey Rourke looking like Charles Bronson!!! Although, he’s not the new Charles Bronson, that’s Danny Trejo.

  14. I suppose Jet looks the same whenever he plays guys with those haircuts, like Fong Sai Yuk and Wong Fei Hung.
    BTW, I forgot to mention in my last post, but to me, as well as looking like Bruce, Rourke also looks like a younger thinner James Gandolfini. Anyone else? I’m also wondering what Vern’s going to review with Terry Crews in it. The only thing I really know him from is EVERYBODY HATES CHRIS and IDIOCRACY.

  15. I don’t know if you’ve picked a Gary Daniels movie to review yet, Vern, but if not I’d recommend either Cold Harvest or Blood Moon.

  16. Jet Li:The Defender or Fist of Legend. Both great action film, Fist is historical while Defender is modern action.

    For Sly: Cop Land which I thought it was good.

    For Bruce, what haven’t you reviewd ? Mortal Thoughts ? Death Becomes Her ?

    For the rest, I don’t know.

  17. I second COLD HARVEST. The best sci-fi kung-fu western of 1998, and an Isaac Florentine joint to boot.

    Speaking of Israel’s finest martial arts director (sorry, Menahem Golan), I just watched his second movie, the VHS-only SAVATE. It’s a very decent kickboxing western (also known as THE FIGHTER) with the cut-rate Van Damme (Olivier Gruner) in the lead but a solid supporting cast featuring Ogre from Revenge of the Nerds, the blond guy from 90210, Rance Howard, the chick from the first two Hellraiser movies (hubba hubba), R. Lee Fucking Ermy, and the goddamn Beastmaster himself, Marc Singer, as a dandy Prussian kickboxer with a monocle and a bowler hat. I put it on DVD, so if you want, Vern, I could mail you a copy for historical-type purposes.

  18. I just realized that, due to imprecise punctuation, I may have just implied that Ron Howard’s father Rance played the blond guy on 90210. That would have made it a very different and far more awesome kind of show in my opinion.

  19. And for the record, I liked DEATH BECOMES HER.

    I don’t have a political future.

  20. Guys, honest question: what’s Jet Li’s best film? I ask because I’ve seen some (mostly his English ones), but not all of them, and I just can’t say that I’ve ever seen one that I really thought gave him the role he was born to play. HERO might be the closest, but he plays kind of a nonentity in that one, and I just don’t buy that that’s the best he can do. I’m certain that he has a truly fucking classic badass role somewhere out there that I just haven’t seen. Suggestions?

  21. FIST OF LEGEND. No question.

  22. And what’s wrong with liking DEATH BECOMES HER? It’s the movie where Bruce proved that he could do comedy and not just action after proving that he could do action and not just comedy.

  23. I’m going with HERO

  24. Mr. Majestyk – You’re preaching to the choir. Of course that was made back when Robert Zemeckis can play with his CGI shit without forgetting to make fun entertainment.

  25. Maybe Vern will throw us a curveball and review LOOK WHO’S TALKING…

  26. I’m waiting for the prequel: LOOK WHO’S TALKING: THE SPERMENING.

  27. Mr. Subtlety – ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA, FIST OF LEGEND and FONG SAI YUK are good places to start if you haven’t seen them. I’d say all of those are way better than any of his English ones, with the possible exception of UNLEASHED and the hopeful exception of EXPENDABLES.

  28. Majestyk: More like LOOK WHO’S TALKING: PORT OF CALL NEW OVUM?

    I’m so, so, sorry…

  29. Mr. Subtlety, hands down FIST OF LEGEND. I just watched it again on Blu Ray recently and it is even better then I remember.

  30. FONG SAI YUK is a great movie and very funny, but the fight scenes in FIST OF LEGEND are some of Li’s best.


  32. I didn’t say I hate Death Becomes Her. In fact, I’d rate it pretty high above the other Bruce films not reviewed by Vern yet (mortal thoughts, Bonfire, Breakfast of champions, the kid, mercury rising).

  33. I will look out for “Fist of Legend” then. As for Jet Li’s other films, I’ve seen “The Enforcer” (might be ok but spoilt by bad dubbing instead of subtitles on the DVD I have), “The One” (boring waste of time with terrible action direction), “Hero” (more on that in a sec), “Kiss of the Dragon” (probably the best of the ones that I’ve seen) and “Lethal Weapon 4” (an ok film, but Li added nothing at all to it). I actually think Li is great when he gets the proper part, but I don’t think he’s had a role in any film I’ve seen that makes proper use of his talents consistently.

    I strongly dislike “Hero”, largely for subjective reasons. I don’t doubt that it has good cinematography and some decent acting, but everything about it screams “cash-in” (it came out right after Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon was an unexpected critical and box-office success) and I instinctively recoil from films that have an “agenda” other than providing entertainment or telling a story. (You see this a lot with the “sequel-that’s-really-a-remake” or the “marketing-campaign-disguised-as-a-film”).

    Nonetheless, I think there was the genesis of an interesting story here, even if it’s not the one that’s shown on film. I can imagine a scriptwriter sitting down and writing a fascinating parable of a world ruled entirely by ritual, before some producer came along and decided that what the public really wants is a dumbed-down “Crouching Tiger” ripoff. On a purely artistic level, this one took the basic idea of that (far superior) film, and beat the living crap out of it.

    I mean, there were reasons “Crouching Tiger” worked as well as it did, reasons that didn’t involve a subtext of “conform to whatever society’s rituals or the whims of a tyrant say you should do, even if it means your death”. The makers of “Hero” clearly either didn’t understand these reasons or just didn’t care about them, and the result is a film with an artificial “conflict” which never holds true because every single person on both sides of it behaves exactly alike and conforms to the same petty rules. There is MAYBE one underdeveloped “outsider” character, but otherwise the “humans” in this movie might as well be robots.

    So basically, it’s Hollywood blockbuster syndrome – you have a lot of pretty bits for the trailer, but they’re never put together into a credible story and there are no real characters in the film. My impression – and I may be doing the writers a disservice here, since this could be down to the production and direction – is that nobody cared. Well FUCK THAT.

    And that’s why I dislike “Hero”. It felt like a con. Like whoever released it wanted my eight quid at the cinema but hadn’t bothered to hold up their end of the bargain and make an original (hell, nothing about it is original) or enjoyable film for my money.

  34. I really want Expendables to be good, but the trailer looks really lame. The visuals don’t look that good. Dialogue sounds terrible, and I really think it’s criminal for Stallone to be marketing the Schwarzenegger and Willis aspect. I hope he pulls it together in editing. He did a great job with Rocky Balboa and Rambo, so those are two very positive signs, which is why this trailer gives me the disconcerting feeling that he’s bit off more than he can chew, and that this film will lack the heart or simplicity of the others, by which I mean: I fear this i going to be a big, bloated, unwieldy, choppily edited, poorly acted, incoherent mess. If I am wrong, i will be the first to admit–and celebrate–it.

  35. Mr. Subtlety: I think The Warlords might actually be the best all-around movie that Jet Li has done, but it’s not really a full-fledged kung fu movie. For his best kung fu movie, I’d say Kiss of the Dragon. Best Chinese kung fu movie: Tai Chi Master.

  36. When I read Vern’s idea to review 1 film each for The Expendables stars, the very first thing I thought was Fist of Legend. A searchbox inquiry indicates it hasn’t been done here, so we’re all correct & in agreement that that needs to happen. It’s an homage of sorts but also fine as its own story, and it’s a perfect fit for the website of a guy high on Bruce Lee.

  37. Well said, Paul. I couldn’t quite place it, but I disliked Hero as well. It was kinda good, but it came nowhere near meeting expectations, which was especially a shame because my friend got an advance DVD copy months before its theatrical release.

    I thought it lacked excitement & momentum because it was too perfect-seeming, too clean, too filmatistically technically perfected, which I think you stated better with your “ritual”‘complaint catalogue there.

  38. Did many people see RED CLIFF when it was released over in the US? I really enjoyed that and it felt a lot more relatable than HERO did because there was a clear villain and difference between him and the heroes. Though still probably a bit too much of the characters standing around while someone played a chinese musical instrument for a few minutes type scenes these things always have.

  39. Red Cliff was fantastic, 7.5 outta 10. I only saw the 150 minute version, but someday I’ll view the whole spectacle. I absolutely loved that “Bigger, bigger!” scene with the fireball testing.

    The special features include a good segment on the John Woo super-bird shot.

  40. Hero gets my vote for being the greatest kung fu movie ever made…and I love how weirdly pragmatic the ending is. (Though I think Jet Li’s best performance is actually in Fearless) It’s one of those movies where, when people say they don’t like it, it feels to me like they’re saying they don’t like something that’s so obviously good that it’s almost silly to try and defend it. Like hearing someone say that The Godfather sucks, or Jaws, or Taxi Driver…what can you really say except to just pretend to agree and hope to change the subject? “Yeah, I guess Travis Bickle was ‘weird’ and he probably SHOULD have talked more. So, anyway…”

  41. Like I said, Hero is, like, too perfect-seeming. An odd complaint, but it somehow detracts from my desire to rewatch it. Well, W.S., I’m definitely due to see Hero again, but, until that viewing validates your assertion, it’s absurd to say it’s better than Fearless Hyena, Master with Cracked Fingers, The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Ong Bak, Rumble in the Bronx, or several other martial arts films that have proven infinitely rewatchable for this guy.

    I’d suggest that Hero resembles Duel to the Death, in that both movies do melodrama and fantasy extremely well but are lacking oomph & believable-ish crispness in the fight scenes.

  42. Matter of fact, W.S. (and I don’t mean to demean your choices the way you belittled mine), I could flip the script on you and more easily say that people who claim Hero is the greatest kung fu movie ever are just victims of relativization. So finally you get to see a decent Jet Li film that focuses more on pretty cinematography & art direction than any previous kung fu film, and you just fall for it and proclaim it the best.

  43. Rourke also looked almost exactly like Bruce Willis in year of The Dragon

    anyway sorry to be off topic yet again, but I saw INCEPTION tonight and holy shit, that movie is a MIND BENDER! I loved every minute of it

  44. It’s not Jet Li’s _best_ film, but it’s the one I’d most want Vern to review — My Father Is A Hero.

  45. The Last Outlaw is the first film that really highlighted the “dead meat” character. The one you know is going to die as soon as he opens his mouth. In this movie it happened to be Steve Buscemi. As soon as he starts going on about what he intends to do with his share of the loot (I’m gonna buy a farm, raise some cows, etc…) the guy’s got a target painted on him. However the film KNOWS the audience knows, so he gets shot in the head while still waxing on about his future dreams!

    Vern, for Dolph’s turn may I humbly suggest his latest, ICARUS, in which he’s really starting to look like Lee Marvin.


  46. mike, i scoffed but then googled it and you are totaly right. lee marvin look alike!! Oh but dolph was hot in red scorpion. I like how a swedish guy makes a better russian than most russians. lol.

    sometimes I’d like to see the cliche live. you know. pop up at the end of the move, “surprise! i’m not dead. yay! cows here i come!”

    well, good for you mister cliche, you’ll be dead in the next one.

  47. Fist of Legend is one the best martial arts film of all time. Each sequence shows a different take on Jet Li’s style, and the choreography and editing is superb. Li also has his intense stare down which further enhances the badassness of every scene.

    But why no love for Hero? It think it’s beautiful and concise compared to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’s more convoluted plot.

  48. HERO is an excellent movie. It is a beautiful and elegant martial arts film, but it just doesn’t kick anywhere near as much ass as other Li films like FIST OF LEGEND. Also the real star of HERO is the director Yimou Zhang not Jet Li.

  49. I agree that HERO is too pretty and perfect for its own good. It’s depicting violence; it shouldn’t look like Cirque Du Soleil.

  50. I enjoy HERO for what it is, but its definitely not the great badass role I’ve always wanted from Li. He’s more plot point than character in that film — hell, he has more badass characterization in LETHAL WEAPON 4.

  51. I don’t know, I might have been too hard on “Hero”. It’s certainly pretty enough, and there are plenty of brainless blockbusters out there without individual “characters”. This one made a particularly negative impression on me though. It’s not so much the cinematography or how “perfect-looking” it is.

    I mean, remember how the best scenes in “Crouching Tiger” were the ones where Jen and her bandit boyfriend were hiding out in caves, far from civilisation? How Jen’s rebelliousness acted as the perfect counterpoint to Chow Yun Fat and Michelle Yeoh’s observance of the social rules of the time? “Hero” doesn’t have that. I could make a great list of similar things that I loved about “Crouching Tiger” and why “Hero” misses the mark so completely. But most of all, I felt as though I was getting “ripped off” when I saw it. As though the movie had promised something that it hadn’t delivered.

    If I had to name the point at which is completely lost me though, it would be the calligraphy scene. Apart from the fact that it, and the way it was done, is one of the most blatant rip-offs of another film I’ve ever seen (seriously, how many films have you seen with calligraphy in them? It’s like the “rule of two” taken to its ultimate extreme. At least “Deep Impact” was a very different film to “Armageddon”.) Apart from the rip-off factor, everything about that scene is wrong. The dialogue is wince-inducing. And then the soldiers start killing off the students, who do nothing to save themselves, and we’re supposed to feel that they’re somehow noble or something for sacrificing themselves for nothing. Ugh. Just… wrong.

    Like I said, it’s subjective. Others clearly don’t have the same problems I do with that movie.

    Anyway… “Fist of Legend” is next. Hopefully this one lives up to some of Li’s potential. Although I’ve got a very very very long list of films I’d like to see before I get the chance to watch that one.

  52. Might I add something here – reading over my recent posts, it seems as though I either love or hate every movie. This isn’t the case. Generally speaking I only comment on those I’ve seen and that 1) I strongly like / love, 2) I strongly dislike, or 3) I think add to an interesting point that can be made about movies in general.

    Example: I haven’t commented on the “Kick-Ass” thread because, quite frankly, I’ve only just seen it and don’t have much to say about it. I didn’t think it was as good as some of its fans, nor did I think it as bad as Vern thought it was. I don’t think it’s an interesting enough film as a subject for debate.

  53. Higharolla Kockamamie

    July 17th, 2010 at 11:31 pm

    Ang Lee’s RIDE WITH THE DEVIL caught some shit as I recall for featuring the great Jeffrey Wright as riding with Quantrill’s Raiders, even though his character is based on an actually existing black man who rode with Quantrill and scouted for his group.

  54. Maybe Keith David’s character just hates those blacks too?

    I mean remember that scene in BOYZ N THE HOOD? I mean besides the “I wanna suck ya dick” line.

  55. For Jet Li, if not Fist of Legend then I suggest either My Father is a Hero or Last Hero of China.

  56. Hero is one of those films that’s beautiful to look at, but boring to watch. Its the sort of movie you put on your blu-ray/HD tv during a party with the sound turned off.

  57. Mike, I feel stupid that I forgot to mention that part with Buscemi. I forget what his dialogue was but it made it hilariously obvious that he was doomed and then his face got messily blown off. Good stuff.

    As for Icarus, I can’t find a release date for that one, but I can’t wait.

    And I’m gonna have to watch Hero again to figure out what’s wrong with it because it sounds to me like Paul sneezed some kind of crazy dust all over you guys. I mean I can understand the deconstructions of the political subtext and what not but how can you deny that those are some incredible and beautifully shot (and sounding) fights and battles? Not to mention a really compelling story. I forget who it was but isn’t his Exhibit A-Z of what somebody was talking about where we’ll jump up to defend Street Fighter the movie because there’s a part we like where a guy does the splits but then complain that Hero is worthless because the cinematography, choreography, editing and sound design are simply too good?

  58. Maybe it’s because there’s no Kylie Minogue in Hero?

    But I think it boils down to genre expectations. If you want pure martial arts heaven, it’s Fist of Legend, Drunken Master and 36th Chamber of Shaolin.

    But Hero (and House of Flying Daggers – I love me some Yimou) are more like art films. They are poetic and ephemeral, and I like their plots and imagery.

    If you want cinema that transcends everything, watch Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat.

  59. HERO is amazing, but I think that House of Flying Daggers is better, just because the love story is so well done and tragic and you don’t have to worry about that nagging subtext about how communism is awesome and totally worth getting impaled by thousands of arrows for.

  60. Vern, it’s not that all that stuff is too good; it’s that its goodness is inappropriate, at least for me. About halfway through the movie I realized that I was watching all this violence and death but the movie wanted me to think it was gorgeous and lovely, and my brain rejected it. I was actually sort of offended that all of the pain and ugliness could be taken out of fighting like that. It was weird. I think this is how Roger Ebert felt when he saw KICK-ASS.

  61. Mickey Rourke playing off Viggo? Is even the true Imax screen big enough for that? I’m not sure there are lenses wide enough, neither…

    I call for a test to be made forthwith!

  62. While CROUCHING TIGER, and HERO and HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS are all beautifully shot and all that, as a fan of the genre I can’t help feel some resentment towards them as it seems asian martial arts movies can only really get any acclaim in the west if they’re sold more as pretentious foreign art movies, while the more straight action-oriented stuff with more pure entertainment value are just ignored or kinda patronised with the “good for a kung fu movie” type reaction.
    It’d be like if DIE HARD was a HK movie…it’d only get appreciated in the mainstream over here if it had a bunch of extended flashbacks on how John and Holly’s marriage broke down and they took out most of the oneliners. And there was a five minute geisha performance sequence at the Nakatomi Christmas Party that didn’t add anything to the plot, but looked arty.
    Plus the wire effects in those films really take me out of the movie. Yeah, Kung Fu movies have always used them, but they seemed especially obvious in these cases with characters fricking flying but their bodies not really acting in a convincing way that it was them just jumping.

  63. Jareth Cutestory

    July 18th, 2010 at 9:30 am

    Stu: I sort of agree and disagree with you. I agree that the arty wuxia stuff gets a disproportionate amount of recognition in the West. But there is nothing in CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON that wasn’t either nascent, implicit or touched upon in old wuxia films: honour, unfulfilled love, yearning. These are all inherent in wuxia from the beginning, so it’s not like some western concept is being grafted unnaturally onto the genre; we’re just seeing a shift in emphasis. Maybe for you that is a fatal shift, but I actually like it. I’d agree with you, however, that the films you listed shouldn’t be seen as definitive wuxia, just as one strand of the genre.

    Also, the wuxia films you mentioned are, significantly, all made by Chinese directors who grew up with the genre, love it, and decided to honour it. Thematically, these films focus on issues important to their creators and audiences, and they’re articulated in an idiom that is relatable first and foremost to Asian audiences (so much so that I’ve talked to people [ie. idiots] who simply don’t understand why Chow-Yun Fat and Michelle Yeoh didn’t just hook up at the beginning of CROUCHING TIGER). As far as I’ve seen, no one has made a wuxia film that pandered to the themes it thinks a western audience wants to see (which doesn’t mean that a wuxia WEEKEND AT BERNIES has to be a bad thing).

    It could be argued that the guys who really drastically changed wuxia recently are Jet Li, whose FEARLESS is structured more like a Hollywood biopic, and Wong Kar-Wai, whose ASHES OF TIME is much more interested in memory and perception than it is in action, a conceit familar to the French new wave. It could also be argued that the arty trend in wuxia at least stripped the genre of the goofy slapstick that so many of the films had in the 1980s.

    Thankfully, we’ve been spared the kind of cultural imperialism we’ve seen in the past. Western film-makers like Tarantino and the Wachowskis are more respectful of the art, and understand that they can’t simply reproduce wuxia. They can acknowledge the elements that impress them by incorporating them into their own sensibility.

    Also, the bamboo forest fight scene in HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS is one of the most awesome things I’ve ever seen. Too bad about the rest of the movie.

  64. Jareth Cutestory

    July 18th, 2010 at 9:35 am

    Majestyk: You have to watch HERO with the volume really loud. The sound design is brutal. Those arrows almost come through the sofa where you’re watching the film from. All those peaceful flute solos? They’re just softening you up for the killer blow.

  65. Jareth: “I agree that the arty wuxia stuff gets a disproportionate amount of recognition in the West. But there is nothing in CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON that wasn’t either nascent, implicit or touched upon in old wuxia films: honour, unfulfilled love, yearning.”
    Yeah, but the older stuff I’ve seen dealing with that actually made those topics INTERESTING for me to watch. It didn’t try to pass of angsty awkward silences and musical interludes as actual drama/plot. Once Upon A Time In China for instance covers those things, as well as themes about the past vs. the present future and the need to change (even if only a little), and still deliver a fun, kick-ass martial arts flick. Which is kinda what’s missing from those sorts of things compared to the old days. FUN. They take themselves way to seriously. RED CLIFF was much more of a balance between the modern arty style and just generally providing a fun time.
    Also specific to CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON, when I first saw it I really felt like something was missing from the story, like there was a lot more that should have been covered. I later found out it was based on the fourth novel in a five part series, so yeah, I assume a lot of the backstory and character development to get to that point with Fat and Yeoh’s characters’ relationship was covered in that, so it was kinda unearned in the movie. We’re just told about their history rather than shown it.

  66. Jareth: I listen to movies the way God intended: on the tinny little speakers inside my square TV. SurroundSound is cheating.

  67. Vern – I never argued that “Hero” wasn’t pretty. Are you REALLY going to give it a pass because of this? I thought it was cynical, soulless, tedious, and the subtext annoyed me. It’s not that long since I’ve seen it and yet I couldn’t name you any of the characters, let alone say what they were doing in it. Basically there was nothing at all to like. Some good fight scenes, but I didn’t care about the characters doing the fighting. But I suppose we should all give it a pass because it looked good and the action sequences weren’t completely incomprehensible.

    Seriously, are our standards supposed to be that low? Are we supposed to accept films that have a ridiculous story, obviously “made-for-trailer” bits that rip off other films wholesale, and have zero interesting characters, just because they have some interesting ideas regarding cinematography and sound design? Yeah, it’s clever. A book written entirely in six-syllable words might be clever. Doesn’t mean it’s smart, meaningful, or that you’d enjoy reading it.

  68. Hero is more than pretty. It’s a real nice film, a good story, and a great character. It’s very well-done. I don’t think it’s the greatest martial arts film of all time or the best exemplar of Jet Li being a badass or anything like that, but it’s a very solid action drama, and I think any comparisons to Crouching Tiger are based on strictly superficial. This movie stands on its own.

  69. Jareth Cutestory

    July 18th, 2010 at 12:05 pm

    Stu: I don’t disagree with your points, but I will draw you attention to the note of melancholy that runs through most of these ballet wuxia films. I believe that Ang Lee and Zhang Yimou are situating themselves at the end of a tradition looking back. I think they want us to see their films as eulogies. Maybe that excuses some of the lapses in plot and fun that you rightly see these films as failing to have.

    Paul: I’m going to give HERO a get-out-of-jail-free card when it comes to character. I simply don’t think that we’re supposed to see the bodies that populate the screen in that manner. They’re more like chess pieces. You can get away with that shit when your themes are so grandiose. It’s also a strategy Zhang has employed before, yet with far more humane results in RAISE THE RED LANTERN and SHANGHAI TRIAD. Stripping people down to the role they fill in society is one of his preoccupations.

    And I know the themes in HERO can been seen as ugly – security triumphs over liberty is one interpretation – but I have to hand it to Zhang Yimou to have the nerve to put it up there on the screen in such a bold, lyrical manner. Similar state-sanctioned films, like TOP GUN, look kind of transient in comparison.

    Majestyk: Well, that’s one mystery solved: Majestyk isn’t the dude in the Maxell advertisements.

  70. I didn’t say anything like “give it a pass” or that it just has comprehensible fight scenes. It has *incredible* fight scenes. It has Donnie Yen fighting Jet Li in a uniquely dreamy sword duel. I’ve only seen it once, and it was in a theater so the sound design could be truly appreciated. To be honest I don’t remember that many specifics but what I really remember is the way it made me feel. It was one of those very rare moviegoing experiences where the look and feel and sound are so gorgeous they make you feel like all your senses are heightened. Like that thing I tried to describe about watching JAWS, except in a fantastic world instead of a real one.

    I think it’s a great movie but I was just saying okay, if for whatever reason you weren’t entertained by it at least you gotta acknowledge the absolutely knock you on your ass gorgeous filmatism and fight choreography, because those are undeniable.

  71. Jareth Cutestory

    July 18th, 2010 at 12:56 pm

    Vern: In fairness, it isn’t a subtext that so many people find objectionable, it’s an explicitly stated theme of the film, and it could be seen as a justification for totalitarianism.

    Having said that, I can’t improve on a single word that you just wrote. The film had the same effect on me. And as a fan of Zhang Yimou, it came as a surprise, as his previous films were far smaller in scale and shot in a deliberately ugly kind of way.

    The cast also features Tony Leung, Maggie Cheung and Zhang Ziyi, all of whom individually are five different kinds of awesome.

    I’m also going to cut Zhang some slack on his persoal commitment to the possible One China interpretations of the film, if only because so many of his earlier films are filled with an obvious love of humanity, HAPPY TIMES being among the best examples. Besides, HERO isn’t half as obnoxious as BLACK HAWK DOWN.

  72. I do acknowledge the excellent cinematography, and will give the choreography a half-pass – I think more than once “Hero” knocked itself by trying so much artsy stuff (and look, I’m not against artsy stuff, my favorite film of all time by a long way is “Lost in Translation”, but you have to recognize when something suits the movie and when it detracts from it – isn’t this the whole idea of “avid farts”?) that what was actually happening in the fight scenes was obscured. Having said that, it did do the cinematography extremely well. So I’ll give it that and say no more about it (seriously, this debate could go on forever, it’s not helping anybody; everyone knows where everyone else stands and nobody’s going to be persuaded to change their minds.)

    Heck, I’m the guy who hated “Munich”. Different tastes, etc.

    I’ve never seen “Black hawk Down” which again is on my “soon to see” list. Damn, I gotta start writing stuff on these films.

  73. I liked MUNICH. Nice to have a good Jews with Guns movie.

  74. Vern

    Dolph Lundgren’s Icarus is shortly being released in the UK as The Killing Machine. Imagine a low-budget
    True Lies where Harry Tasker is leading a double life as an ex-KGB assassin.

  75. How about Lucky Number Slevin for the Bruce Willis portion of this countdown ? That’s a big gap in Vern’s Bruce collection.

  76. Yes, Lucky Number Slevin is great

  77. Shame shame shame! HARLEY DAVIDSON AND THE MARLBORO MAN not only should have been the Rourke choice, but in a comment section filled with allusions to Rourke looking like Bruce no less it gets nary a mention.


Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>