Sunday, March 18, 2012

#41 City on Fire

From Blogger

Recently, I stumbled upon this list of the 100 Greatest Hong Kong Films. I've been a fan of Hong Kong cinema since the mid-1980s, when I discovered the section of martial arts movies at my local video store where I was dazzled by the films of Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan. In the last few years, I've again been watching the movies that are made in the Hong Kong industry and many of my very favorite filmmakers have multiple films on the above linked list. And while I've seen many films from Johnny To, John Woo, Yuen Woo-Ping, Stephen Chow, Tsui Hark, and Wong Kar Wei there are still several of their films that I still haven't taken the time to watch. In addition, I still haven't seen much at all by Fruit Chan or very many HK movies that aren't genre films. So, I plan to use this list as a guide to try to broaden my knowledge of Chinese cinema.

We started with City on Fire, the film from Ringo Lam that was the inspiration for Reservoir Dogs. Ko Chow (Chow Yun Fat) is an undercover cop who in infiltrating a group of jewel thieves. And while I immediately appreciated that many of the plot points from the second half of the film along with one of the shots were lifted for Tarantino's film, City on Fire really only appeared important for the establishment of several action tropes that I have seen used numerous times in more recent films; the lack of any uncomplicated heroes, the Mexican stand-off, the bullet riddled walls creating dozens of pin-points of light, and the final death of the protagonist. How the plot actually unraveled appeared simplistic and even a bit jokey and heavy handed.

But then, I discovered to my annoyance that this may be due to seeing the Dimension, US release. Sadly, it was dubbed and while the dubbing was better than average, this results in the dialog being simplified. Also, there were quite a few bizarre jokes and puns that apparently were added to this version. And the entire soundtrack is changed for the US release, which can have a huge impact on the atmosphere and tone of a film. Therefore, much of what I was interpreting as being bizarrely comedic elements, were most likely not in the original release. Granted, some of them are, as I'm slowly becoming accustomed to Chow Yun Fat's screen personae being comedic after having seen him a a few comedies. Oddly, he manages to juggle being goofy and cool.

So, I'm afraid that I'm going to have to re-watch this one in the future once I find a better version. Could be fun to do a comparison with Reservoir Dogs as that is probably the one Tarantino movie that I've only watched a couple of times. It is so irritating to forget to closely scrutinize the version of the movie when renting.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


My immediate reaction to Chronicle was amazement that I couldn't figure out how to concisely describe the film as it refuses to fit neatly into a familiar genre. This was totally unexpected since Chronicle was written by Max Landis, son of John Landis, best known for making An American Werewolf in London, but while one can draw comparisons with Carrie, I hesitate to call Chronicle a horror movie. It could also be superhero origin story, but while the teens do acquire superhuman powers, it also ultimately skeptical of heroism, so the tone definitely keeps it outside of the superhero genre. Ultimately, Chronicle functions as a modern morality play, a cautionary story that warns of the corrupting properties of power.

Chronicle is a found footage movie, popularized in numerous horror movies, presenting the story from the viewpoint of Andrew (Dane DeHaan), as he is documents his life with a video camera and at the beginning, we get a first glimpse of his home life when his father interrupts his editing, loudly warning him to keep his bedroom door open and do his homework. But the story doesn't really begin to unfold until Andrew leaves a party to follow his cousin, Matt (Alex Russell), and popular student, Steve (Michael B. Jordan), into a mysterious hole in the ground. When they re-emerge, they have telekinetic abilities. At first, they are used for hands-free lego creations and potato chip consumption, but later, they begin to use their strengthening powers to dazzle fellow students, increasing Matt and especially Andrew's reputation.

The strength of Chronicle is the attention given to character development. The teens are not the simple archetypes that are the staple of the high school movie. Andrew is an unpopular loner, which is easy to empathize with considering the dysfunctionality at home. His father is an alcoholic and his mother is chronically ill and in constant pain. But the film is nuanced enough to slowly reveal that the reason Andrew's father isn't working is that he is an ex-firefighter, no longer able to work and therefore on disability and using a bit too much booze to forget his troubles. While Andrew is often furious at his father, the film never acts to demonize him and if anything humanizes him.

Andrew's friends are also well realized. Steve is popular. He's running for class president and appears to be friends with everyone, but this seems only natural. Steve is very charismatic and genuinely a nice guy. It only makes sense that his peers would like him. And Andrew's cousin, Matt, is not popular, but doesn't share Andrew's outcast perspective. In fact, Matt appears to work to include Andrew simply because he knows he has few friends, inviting him to the party where they venture into the deep, hole in the earth. It is after, that this experience bonds them, giving them a shared secret. And they each consider using these new powers in different ways. Steve sees these powers as a nifty party trick and way to increase Andrew's status among his classmates, Matt becomes concerned as these powers strengthen, that they could be used to hurt others and Andrew is completely focused on controlling and using these new found powers, with no thought as to whether they should be used. Once he grasps the desperation of his parents situation, Andrew begins to strike out and Chronicle thus becomes an illustration of moral downfall or maybe a super-villain origin tale?

The one thing that bothered me about Chronicle is the scene depicted on the movie posters. Recently, there have been quite a few movies that have been obviously filmed in Vancouver, but set in Seattle that are laughable. 50/50 was the worst offender with random, Seattle street signs on obviously Canadian streets and was pleasantly surprised that Chronicle, being filmed in S. Africa, really did seem like Seattle. Even the news coverage was spot on accurate. No, my issue with the final, Space Needle battle is due to CGI. Even well done CGI has a weightlessness that I really don't ever believe. I really would prefer to see an occasional wire or obvious plastic monsters to the massless gloss of CGI. Evidence that I am old? But otherwise, I found Chronicle to be a surprising movie and best of all, a movie unlike anything I've seen.