The Matrix [1999)

I tried to make her understand.

I tried to tell her what she needed to hear.

I am still waiting.

Waiting for a sea change.

Assange is the superstar hacker.

Mendax.

QAnon lifted “follow the white rabbit” from this film.

Unless this film and the QAnon op stem from the same source.

Smith of 1984.

Turned.

Red-pill me on Tylenol.

LSD implications of Alice.

Mirror from Cocteau.

Keanu Reeves dips his fingers into Orphée (1950).

The Wachowski brothers have both now become trans women.

How fitting.

They are both (incidentally) married to women (Karin and Alisa).

From Walter Carlos to Wendy Carlos.

In which Neo wakes up in the “warm liquid goo” phase.

Brave New Fahrenheit 1984.

Baby farms of dystopia.

Elon Musk has been worried about the very premise of The Matrix.

Worried that his buddies at Google are creating for us the very hell foretold in this movie.

Really.

AI.

Pacified with free porn.

Zion of Joel Silver (producer).

With the “desert of the real”, we get Slavoj Žižek a few years later.

And one of my favorites:  Baudrillard.

Or vice versa.

Oracle like Oprah.

With cookies and everything.

Great acting by Gloria Foster who died in September 2001.

After 9/11.

And this film predates flying machines being swallowed by skyscrapers.

And mass shootings.

Indeed, Columbine kicked off a new era…a mere three weeks after The Matrix was released.

Hmmm…

Many kung fu rips.

It would be four more years before Tarantino began ripping kung fu with the first Kill Bill.

So The Matrix was first here.

A new Star Wars.

Luke Skywalker of Neo.

And the Holocaust chic costumes.

Schindler’s List set this up six years previous in 1993.

Kiss of life.

Great romance.

Sparks.

Channeling Bruce Lee the whole way through.

Great drum and bass tracks.

Cool soundtrack.

I can imagine Thom Yorke really getting into this shit.

The next Radiohead album after this film was the start of a new bleep bloop era.

Kid A.

And Carrie-Anne Moss is really pretty.

Good movie!

 

-PD

Jia Zhangke, a Guy from Fenyang [2014)

I bet you thought I stopped writing about film, right?

🙂

Me too.

Sometimes.

I think…

“Am I still a film critic?”

With all this Trump this and Trump that.

With these tableaux.

This lazy poetry.

But I am back with an actual film.

And it is a masterpiece.

But I don’t know what to call it!!!

It’s a Chinese film.

Sort of.

But not really.

Because it’s by a Brazilian film director.

But not just any Brazilian film director.

Someday I will get around to reviewing one of the best exemplars of naïveté ever made.

Yes, one of the best FILMS ever made.

Central do Brasil.

Central Station.

A formative episode in my filmic life.

But back to this Chinese film directed by a Brazilian.

I didn’t even get to his name yet 🙂

Walter Salles!

Yes…two masterpieces are enough to make an auteur!!

But we can’t use the Chinese title here.

For the film.

Under consideration.

Because that would be disingenuous (and we will get to Trump).

[Or we will try.]

{so much…stuff…in the world}

Let’s paint the picture…

Three Gorges…no.

We must wait.

Central Station was a fiction film.

A beautiful masterpiece which stretches even up into the sertão.

But Jia Zhangke, a Guy from Fenyang is a documentary…about a guy from Fenyang…named Jia Zhangke.

Messrs. Baggini and Fosl (Julian and Peter) would call that a “spectacularly uninformative sentence”.

And Kant, the less-colorful–less-candid “analytic proposition”.

But we hit an impasse.

The film I am reviewing is so little-known (apparently) that it doesn’t have a Wikipedia page.

Worse, it has a strange, butchered title on iMDB.

There it is called Jia Zhang-ke by Walter Salles.

Hmmm…

I must admit:  it appears some people in marketing over at Kino Lorber are dicking around.

But we press on…

Just who the fuck is Jia Zhangke?  And why should you care about him?

Well, first:  he’s a film director.

And second:  he’s as good as Jean-Luc Godard.

Did I just say that???

Yes.

I just put someone on an equal level with my favorite director of all time.

What’s more, a Chinese guy you’ve probably never heard of.

Of whom.

And what about this Fenyang business?

Well, let’s get out our maps.

First, we must find Shaanxi Province.

Northern China.

The capital is Xi’an.

But we must get to the more obscure.

Fenyang.

Home of our subject auteur:  Jia Zhangke.

So we don’t exactly know the title…here to there…from this platform to the next.

But we will say this.

If you are in the U.S., this film is currently streaming on Netflix under the title Jia Zhangke, a Guy from Fenyang.

Or something like that.

This is the confusion of a lack of standardization.

Where’s ISO when you need them…or Zamenhof!

Ok…so why should you watch a 105 minute documentary about a filmmaker of whom you have likely never heard?

Because Walter Salles compels you.

He says, “Watch my story…  Pay attention to this little self-deprecating Chinese man.  He’s a cinematic genius.”

Wouldn’t it be great if all artisans and artists helped each other out in such a way?

A filmmaker, age 57, decides to make a film about another filmmaker, age 46.

Actually, that is quite an honor.

That an older filmmaker would help in the career of the younger one.

So we heartily praise Salles for his mise-en-scène as well as his morals.

But then we hit another impasse.

Because words cannot express the brilliance of Jia Zhangke’s grasp on cinematic language.

And so, why should you watch this film?  I ask again.

Because it gives you an introduction (not dumbed down in any way) to the works of a contemporary film artist who is leading the cinematic medium into this new century.

Likewise, it gives you an introduction to Chinese film at the same time.

These aren’t kung fu flicks (for the most part).

These are art films.

Similar to Breathless

Born of the French New Wave.

But also born of Raj Kapoor.

Indeed, as a young boy…Jia Zhangke remembered an early film which extolled thieves.  And it was this Indian film shown in China.  And the Chinese kids remembered the melismatic melodies for decades…to rip off a shred and a few threads of a melody which bound them as enfants terribles.

Jia Zhangke, a Guy from Fenyang is a bit like Cinema Paradiso.

The big director returns home.

And there’s a sadness.

Maybe you can see your childhood home.

And hit the wall one more time.

You can imagine the family bed and the father’s desk was there.

And the books on shelves along here.

So many books.

That there is a sadness of being from Fenyang.

I feel it being from San Antonio.

And Jia Zhangke, all throughout this film, ideates thoughts which have now and then wisped in and out of my dreams.

Jia is very calm.  Thoughtful.  Serene.

A true artist.

And as he talks about the process of creation, I find him to be an exceptionally dedicated artist.

We hear about Xiao Wu (1997).

Pickpocket.  Starring Wang Hongwei.

I mean, this bloke…Wang…  His clothes hang on him in almost a magical way.

He’s a good-for-nothing bum in the Chaplin mold, but still puffing away like Belmondo in Breathless.

But Jia was right.

It’s the gait.

The way Wang Hongwei walks.

Body language.

Brilliant!

And the shots we see of Platform are really moving.

It’s like being from a place like Kiruna, Sweden.

Gotta get there by train.

Up past the Arctic Circle.

And the kids…they don’t have a lot of entertainment.

Maybe even the sight of a train.

But in China…………….far more vast.

These remote places.

Like the Three Gorges area where Jia made Dong and also Still Life.

But the joke’s on me.

Because the whole world knows Jia Zhangke.

The whole world of cinema.

And me, with my insular approach, not so much.

Because Jia won the Palme d’Or in both…wait.

We have the wrong envelope.

Ok…so maybe he’s not that well know.

His films have been screened in competition at Cannes, but no hardware yet.

With the exception of his Golden Lion from Venice.

But none of that matters.

What matters is that he’s making great films.

What matters is that he has the potential to best us all.

This was a very moving film for me.

Because it speaks to the obstacles of life.

Of the unhappiness.

Of the solitude which must be for creations to ferment properly.

To mix metaphors, we need the darkness in which to screen our masterpieces of light.

We cannot screen them in a glass house…at 2:30 p.m.

Finally, this film will give you invaluable insights into the recent history and current state of China.

All the people on Weibo (like Twitter).

The market system which has been kicking ass since the 1990s.

And crucial periods such as 1976-1989.

The restructuring period right after the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).

WE NOW JOIN PAULY DEATHWISH NEWS NETWORK…IN PROGRESS: “…

Xi Jinping.  His father purged in 1963.  His father jailed in 1968.  Xi was sent without his father to work in Shaanxi Province in 1969.  [The remote province from which film director Jia Zhangke hails.]

This was a time of immense violence in China.  Being purged.  Being jailed.  Being sent to the countryside to work and be re-educated.  All of this was suffused with violence.

So when President Xi got the message from President Trump himself that the U.S. had just launched 60 Tomahawk missiles into Syria minutes earlier, President Xi was met with the shock of surrealism…a perfect steak…beautiful ladies…the glitz and glamour of Mar-a-Lago…and the throat punch of an actual tiger.  No paper.

“Get North Korea in line, and fast!”  Would have been the message.

So that, in these times, to truly appreciate that which is unfolding around us, we need directors like Jia Zhangke.

These are our new philosophers.  Our new poets.

Thinking about social media.

Fooling around with it.

Inventing new artistic forms.

And finding new types of loneliness.

And desperation.

Jia came from a very poor area.

He loved his family very much.

The Chinese don’t like violence.

We Americans don’t like violence.

See this film.

Then get back to me on Dereliction of Duty 🙂

-PD

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory [2005)

I was very apprehensive.

Because I loved the original so much.

1971.

Trying to remake one of the best films ever.

An unenviable task.

But Tim Burton was bringing it all back home.

1964.  Roald Dahl.

But let’s take a step further back.

Camp X.  Ontario.

“Established” December 6, 1941.

Yes.  You read that right.

The day before the attack on Pearl Harbor.

It was established by the “real” James Bond:  a Canadian by the name of William Stephenson.

His codename?  Intrepid.

He oversaw British intelligence, MI6, for the entire Western hemisphere during WWII.

(!)

Roald Dahl, the author of the children’s book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, was one of the men trained at Camp X (today known as Intrepid Park).

So it should go without saying that we are not dealing with just any children’s author.

And herein lies the secret of Tim Burton’s success.

He reimagined.

I fully expected full-on ball-tripping excess in homage to Mel Stuart’s “wondrous boat ride” of 1971, but Burton managed to restrain himself.

Indeed, the psychedelia of this film (and weirdness in general) is evident throughout almost every part of the film…EXCEPT THERE.

And so I must hesitantly call 2005’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory a masterpiece.

Against all odds.

It’s only fitting that the lead child actor who plays Charlie Bucket (Freddie Highmore) was born on Valentine’s Day.

Yes Virginia, perhaps some things are fated.

Highmore is fantastic in a role created by Peter Ostrum.

And though we miss Diana Sowle and her priceless rendition of “Cheer Up, Charlie”, Helena Bonham Carter is quite magnificent in her limited scenes as the cabbage-cutting Mrs. Bucket.

But Tim Burton updates our story considerably to make it more relatable to the Harry Potter generation (and the service-industry pipe dream known as the “third industrial revolution”…for the “adults” in the crowd).

Yes, we needs must only revisit Eliyahu Goldratt’s “business novel” The Goal to remember the shortsighted “local efficiencies” which factory robots can produce.

By the way:  there’s a father Bucket.  And he runs into a patch of robot trouble.

Updated.

But Tim Burton does not stop there.  Whereas the original film focused tentatively on child  spies (remember the purloined Everlasting Gobstopper?), the film under review seems to situate itself amidst the full-scale industrial espionage (and, in particular, intellectual property theft) which the United States attributes to China.

But let us pay our respects here.

David Kelly was fantastic as Grandpa Joe.  Truly a wonderful performance!  And we are sad to have lost his talents in 2012.

Reading from back to front:

-our Augustus Gloop is somewhat forgettable (save for his Lowera Bowie hair tint)

-AnnaSophia Robb is appropriately snotty as the overachieving brat Violet Beauregarde  [How did Tarantino not hire this girl for his next refried kung-fu film?!?]

-Julia Winter (who strangely has no Wikipedia page) is really special as the mouthy tart Veruca Salt

-and Jordan Fry plays Mike Teevee (though they might as well have gone with “Hacker” Mike Xbox or some such first-person shooter sobriquet).

And that leaves us with the big dog himself:  Johnny Depp.

Stepping into some very big shoes.

Gene Wilder.  Taken from us just months ago.  A truly magical being.

And so Depp and Burton needed a strategy.

And it appears it was something like, “Ok, let’s make him weirder.  Like, lots weirder.  Remember those sunglasses Keith Richards wore on Between the Buttons?  And the hair like Brian Jones.  Prim.  Proper.  Rocker.  Ok, ok…but we want the Salinger recluse thing with some Prince or Michael Jackson oddity.  Purple velvet.  Ok, yes…we’re getting somewhere.”

Most striking, however, is Depp’s accent.  Very Ned Flanders…but possessed by the thoughts of Salvador Dalí.

But the Burton touch shows through.  That macabre glee.

A little cannibalism joke here.  “Which half of your child would you prefer?”

Oddities.

Though tempered by quick-tongued childlike wonder, Depp is still a rather darker Wonka than Wilder’s fatherly archetype.

Yes, Depp could fit fairly well into Kraftwerk (especially germane had Augustus from Düsseldorf won the grand prize).

Johnny and his purple latex gloves.

Not a touchy-feely Wonka.

Doesn’t even bother to learn the kids names.  [there’s only five]

Totally off his rocker.

Makes Gene Wilder’s Wonka seem like Mister Rogers in comparison.

But this is mostly secondary to the success of this film.

Tim Burton evidently didn’t feel making a true family film was beneath him.

And so, perhaps with a bit of inspiration from Wes Anderson, he made an immensely touching picture here.

Charlie Bucket is the kid we need in the world.

The chosen one.

The needle in the haystack.

And it is Wonka’s quest to find such a unique child.

Charlie almost gives up the ticket (sells it) to help his desperately poor family, but one of his four bedridden grandparents must have read Hunter S. Thompson at some point.  And so Charlie is convinced to “buy the ticket, take the ride” so to speak.

It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Enter Deep Roy (Mohinder Purba) as ALL (and I mean all) of the Oompa-Loompas.

It is in the short (!) song sequences where Burton’s debt to David Lynch emerges.

Kind of like Danny Elfman’s debt to Tom Waits.

Comes and goes.

Burton, being the mischievous connoisseur of all things dark, manages to make Veruca’s exit an homage to Hitchcock and Tippi Hedren (albeit with squirrels).

Very inventive!

Sure, there’s some crap CGI in this film (not to be confused with the even more insidious Clinton Global Initiative), but it is generally restrained.

At a few points, it gets off the rails and threatens to damage an otherwise fine film.

But I tell you this…there are plot twists here which for someone who has merely seen the first film (like myself) truly baffle and surprise.

And they are touching.

So it is with no reservations that I call this a family film.

Sure, some of the jokes are a bit obtuse.

But the framing story (the Bucket family’s existence) is indescribably magical.

It is then, only fitting, that Christopher Lee be the one to welcome the prodigal oddball Depp.

Which is to say, this film has a sort of false ending…which is inexplicable…and genius.

It is at that moment where the film finds its soul.

Family.

Love.

Humility.

Sacrifice.

Happily, Burton gives us a fairy tale ending in which the young mind can work with the eccentric master…and the eccentric master can once again know what home is like.

Home.

Wow…

-PD

Airplane! [1980)

My congratulations to Hulu for finally making a move in the right direction as regards comedic movies.

This is a chestnut from my youth.

Directed by Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker, this endless stream of one-liners hits some very special notes indeed.

[flying on instruments]

Ted Striker has a drinking problem…

His aim is off.

It dates back to when he was stationed on the island of Drambuie [sic].

He led the strike against Daiquiri.  We’ll be coming in low…beneath their radar.  Attacking from the north.

[when will you be back?  I can’t tell you that.  It’s top secret.]

Yes, his postwar record is even worse than his war record.

I know the feeling.

Leaves his cab with the meter running.

Striker is always coming in too hot.  Robert Hays.

World record for sweat.

But at least he has his Elaine for whom to hope.  Julie Hagerty.

Avoid the brown acid.  And the fish.

But if you do need a doctor, just look for someone perpetually wearing a stethoscope.

Leslie Nielsen.

Plays it straight as a javelin [donnnnnngggg!].

The cavalry trailing Kramer.

But back to Leslie…from Regina, Saskatchewan.

[Municipal bonds…AA rating…best investment in Canada]

Extremely underrated is Peter Graves as the pilot:  Clarence Oveur.

On the ovarian trolley.

[Have you ever seen a grown man naked?]

and

[Do you like gladiator films?]

or

[Have you ever been in a Turkish prison?]

And of course, the man himself:  Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

{on this night when my Spurs fell a point shy to the Thunder}

The NBA’s all-time leading scorer (38,387) is Roger Murdoch.

I previously wrote about Kareem’s turn in the Bruce Lee “almost” Game of Death.

Airplane!, then, was his second appearance on the big screen (and first since his kung fu debut in 1972).

Lloyd Bridges picked the wrong week for everything.

All the vices.

From a fag to a swig to bennies to some genuinely Ramones shit.

{now I’m gonna have nightmares about Westbrook}

[How ’bout some coffee?]

[…never has a second cup of coffee at home.  …never vomits at home.]

Robert Stack checks in like Gregg Popovich after a meal at Taco Bell.

[That may have been the lousiest landing in the history of this airport…]

But the absolute secret weapon is the flamingly-gay Stephen Stucker as Johnny Henshaw-Jacobs.

[it looks like a big Tylenol]

[a hat, a brooch, a pterodactyl]

Stucker’s contribution is still alive (though he sadly passed away in 1986 at the age of 38).

And so the queen act was no act.

AIDS.

Shit…

[golly]

June Cleaver speaks jive.

Joey Hammen (Ross Harris) went on to have a very interesting music career which saw his path intersect with Beck, Stereolab, and The Dust Brothers.

[Odelay!]

David Leisure and Kawhi Leonard both went to San Diego State University.

That should definitely help us in Game 3.

But we’re going to need a lot more defense from Ethel Merman.

Really, the Spurs need to revisit this excellent tome by Joel Cohen:

dynomite

No library focusing on military strategy is complete without it.

From Jomini to Clausewitz to Winshield Wiper Man:

if he can just manage to get the hood back down on the Boeing 707 after checking the dipstick.

No need to commit hara-kiri, James Hong.  Just filed under “seppuku”.

It’s 1-1.  Go Spurs Go!

 

-PD

Game of Death II [1981)

And now we ostensibly enter the schlock of true B-movie Brucespoitation.  Eight years after his death, producer Raymond Chow and distributor Golden Harvest were still trying to milk money from the cutting-floor scraps of their cash cow.  But someone kept things fairly interesting:  director See-Yuen Ng.

Though there is little to no continuity between Game of Death and Game of Death II, both films share a watchable quality which teeters on the edge of this viewer’s incredulous ennui.  Put simply, this film is better than it has any right to be.  Which is not to say this is a great (or even good) film.

The most hilarious midnight movie aspects are the contrasts between film fidelity and definition circa 1973 (the actual footage of Lee) and 1981 (the footage of everyone else).  I almost feel sorry for director Ng for the sleight-of-hand editing and shooting necessary to even attempt this picture.  Back to the film stocks not matching…much of that is also evident in the lack of deft color correction.  Occasionally a background matches and we must hand it to the technicians who found just the right shade of puke green to provide a shred of matching in the shot-reverse-shots.

Fortunately for all involved, Lee’s character meets his demise about halfway through the film.  It’s smooth sailing from there regarding the different eras of film stock.

This film is not without messages.  Some, apparently, have not been interpreted the same by all viewers.  Whereas I distinctly heard the Ginza district of Tokyo mentioned as Lee’s (and his on-screen brother’s) destination, English Wikipedia tells us that the action moves to Korea.  Of course, the astute spectator who added this bit of plot synopsis to the aforementioned site seems to have been oblivious that another contributor has Lee active before the end of the paragraph (the initial contributor giving away Lee’s character’s death along with the Korea location).  So to clarify, Lee does not resurrect during the course of the film.

Roy Horan plays a significant role as a raw-venison-eating, deer’s-blood-drinking, bearded kung fu nut.  As the name implies, Horan’s character is of white European lineage (not Chinese).  There is a subtle undercurrent which implies that Lee’s friend (and consequently his own character as well) died for teaching kung fu to non-Chinese.  This, of course, has some parallels in Lee’s actual life story.

For all of the professional attributes in this film, the “lion” attack (obviously a human in a lion costume) does not pass muster.  It is, again, the stuff of midnight movies.  Perhaps they were over budget by that point…

Tong Lung is actually pretty darn good as Lee’s brother (the hero of the film) Bobby Lo.

I won’t give away the ending, but suffice it to say that a multinational organization turns out to be the ultimate culprit of the two film murders in question.  There are all sorts of strange strings waiting to be pulled here…fake deaths, the aforementioned cartel (this particular multinational is illegal in nature), etc.

The most interesting takeaway (take out?) was the revelation (somehow…perhaps due to the less than enthralling screen drama) that one political entity would have stood to gain from the actual Lee’s real life death.  That entity would be China.  Made before Hong Kong rejoined the PRC, Bruce Lee’s films and fame might have posed a significant threat to China in that (had he lived) he might well have been a unifying figure which could have fired the flames of revolution for those residents of HK not particularly excited about joining a country with such a totalitarian approach to dissent.  But then again, any country which blocks the Internet (not counting Hong Kong and Macau) has far less to worry about.  No information dissemination, no 21st-century speed of dissent.  And it would just happen that today was July 4th…

-PD

空手バカ一代 [1977)

[KARATE FOR LIFE (1977)]

Shin’ichi Chiba.  Another world.

The floating world.

Sonny Chiba.

We struggle with what can be expressed.  Our only means meanwhile our only limitation.

Language.  To the edge of verisimilitude.

Perhaps the greatest of all karate movies.  And yet no plot summary waiting to remind us.

This appears to be the final film directed by Kazuhiko Yamaguchi.

From the first iconic Toei breakers upon the rocks to the karate Karajan of the final plea for peace revenge.

Breathing into the ocean a righteous fire anger.

It is not the kung fu of China.  Not solely the karate of Japan.

It is the story of Mas Oyama.  Korean.

That said, it is Chinese martial arts…at the time of Japanese occupation…of South Korea.

Manchuria.

It is also the story (very tenuously) of Kanji Ishiwara. A Japanese general unpopular for his opposition to Japan’s invasion of neighboring countries (like Korea).

All it takes is one good egg.  Isn’t that what they tell us???

What is karate?  1963.

Strange in a stranger land.  A land more strange.

Chojun Miyagi.  Wax.

Wane on, wane off.

Okinawa.

You want an anti-imperialist film?  You want a political film?

Hear it is.

Her lips flaming with booze…ready to slice her wrists and end her pathetic life as a prostitute for U.S. airmen.

What would you do if you lived in Iraq?

Chiba Prefecture.

Doubt.  Retreat.

All we have needed is a little encouragement.

The geometric equation of detractors.

We admire the beards of the Marxists and the Muslims.

What if Thoreau had retreated to Walden in order to perfect his ass-kicking skills?

Ah, but all good things must come to an end.  T.B. sheets.  Van Morrison meets La bohème.

Perhaps they were trigger-happy with the inscrutable conventions of French title capitalization.

Maybe it is the e.e. cummings of opera composers.

We wait for Satie.  Erik.

Not to bore you, but judo and karate unite.

Enter The Dragon suffers.  The lady from Shanghai prefers Yamaguchi.

Raging bull fights ox luchador.

Bizarre.

Beautiful.

-PD

激突!殺人拳 [1974)

[THE STREET FIGHTER (1974)]

Cinema lets us enter a new world.  When we get off that ferry with Bruce Lee and his uncle in The Big Boss, we are entering the world of Hong Kong fighting.  There’s something about that green suitcase which Uncle Lu totes along the gangplank which makes the whole thing believable.  That cheap green suitcase.  It is sad somehow.  A day’s change of clothes, perhaps.  There is something so humble about the mise-en-scène to indicate that we are not in Kansas anymore.

Our eyebrows raise as the opening credits roll on this excellent Sonny Chiba flick.  Japan!  The wah-wah guitar beckons us into a world which no longer exists–a place in history.  But we are fortunate that Sonny Chiba lives!  He is 76 years old. What an impression he makes in The Street Fighter!

It is not completely clear early in this film what is going on.  In fact, there are several times when the storytelling becomes a bit convoluted.  Don’t misunderstand:  this isn’t a complex film.  But somehow, the storytelling is very…different.

We remember Christian Slater at the beginning of True Romance when he unsuccessfully tried to pick up a girl at a bar…

Girl:  You want to take me to a kung fu movie?!?

Slater:  Three…kung fu movies.

Yes.  I’ve taken a couple of jabs at Tarantino on my site.  Perhaps I’ve been too harsh.  I mean, maybe Quentin has it all figured out.  No doubt the masters like Godard were initially impelled and instructed by the likes of B-movies, gangster films, pulp…from Nicholas Ray to Samuel Fuller.  Silly me…I thought QT grew up in Knoxville, but that isn’t quite right.  That said, his upbringing sounds about as shitty as I imagined…just transposed to various urban sprawl appendages of Los Angeles.

And so, from “one inch punch” to “oxygen coma punch” we dovetail into Chiba’s oeuvre.

Nothing about the beginning of this film foreshadows the touching moment late in the film when Ratnose (Chiba’s sidekick) finally gets his friend’s attention.  This subplot between Terry Tsurugi and Ratnose is really remarkable…almost a Clouseau/Cato dynamic early on, which proceeds into a harrowing/endearing funnel of climax.

Yeah, Slater was right:  Chiba is a rough customer.  He’s hard to like.  You have to stick with it.  Slowly, his unique morality comes to the surface.  Tsurugi is a damaged character, but the hardships he has experienced make him one of the toughest people on the planet.

Interestingly, Tsurugi’s rampages are in the context of big oil.  Though it was 1974, we feel a palpable thrill as he deals with the dealers.  It is still relevant.  Consider this recent story, for instance:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2015/03/20/wall-street-journal-reporter-david-birds-body-found-in-a-n-j-river/

Likewise, Chiba plays the role of an anti-mafia loner.  In other words, this guy’s not afraid of anyone.  Pretty powerful stuff!

Although Tsurugi doesn’t really have a way with women, his “beast” mode wins over the beauty Sarai (Yutaka Nakajima).  Chiba is all action–very few words.

And if you think Bruce Lee makes strange sounds in his fights, Chiba takes the cake…perpetually clearing his sinuses while trying to self-induce a heart attack (or so it sounds).  It is mondo bizarre!

Shigehiro Ozawa manages to make this a particularly artful film at times…especially the fight between Chiba and Masafumi Suzuki.  The focus on fists bears a striking resemblance to the famous “gun” shot from Hitchcock’s Spellbound.

The Street Fighter diverges from Bruce Lee movies in that Chiba gets his ass kicked pretty severely throughout this movie.  I suppose there is a proto-Rocky element here:  Chiba is the guy who can roll with the punches.

Another couple of nods to Lee occur at the beginning and then much later in the film.  Milton Ishibashi is made fun of by the prison guards who say something like “he must think he’s Bruce Lee.”  More importantly, we later learn that Chiba’s character is half Japanese (hi Jad Fair). His father had tried to combine “Chinese boxing” and karate.  This reminds us of Way of the Dragon…where the restaurant employees mock Lee’s “Chinese boxing” in sneering tones (until they see what it can do).

I won’t give away the bizarre ending, but suffice it to say that Junjo (Ishibashi) will be singing “Kumbaya” like Ned Gerblansky from here on out (if at all).  Who’s ready for some pie?

-PD

Way of the Dragon [1972)

1770.  Beethoven.  Dragon.  If my math is correct.  I was born in the year of the dragon.  Hour of the dog.  For dragon, I will own eccentric.  For dog, sense of justice and lazy.  Bruce Lee was born in the year and hour of the dragon.

Strong.  Intestinal fortitude is usually used figuratively.  Early in this film we might be disoriented by the clumsy, blurred  mise-en-scène.  Indeed, this was Lee’s first and last completed directorial effort.  The beginning doesn’t bode well.  Just like his character, who accidentally orders five bowls of soup, Lee seems in over his head as an auteur.  As his character Tang Lung deals with a seeming case of the shits, the film moves (on the contrary) very slowly.  Not only do we wonder about the technical proficiency of the cinematographer, we experience a claustrophobic hyper-sensitivity to the passing of time.  Mercifully, this is offset by a cinematic tone which echoes Tati’s Playtime.

But the strength builds up.  The film, literally, comes into focus (albeit slowly).  Lee once again plays a similar character to those he delineated in The Big Boss and Fist of Fury.

You must put your hip into it, he says.  Yes.  This is the secret to power.  Leverage.  Chinese boxing.

We are made aware of Lee’s strength on several occasions when he flexes his taut physique.  Suffice it to say that there is nothing slight about the diminutive Lee.  One senses that every square inch of this man is power.  Strength.

Proud.  Nothing is like back home.  Hong Kong.  Rome doesn’t impress Lee.  On one occasion he seems to see things through the eyes of Respighi for a moment, but then makes a flippant comment about a grand fountain.  Tang Lung (Lee) would build over it.  Make money.

But this façade is at odds with the loyalty he shows to his newfound friends in Rome (themselves likewise expats from Hong Kong).

Direct.  Lee begins to direct.  There is a panache in all of his movements…like a lethal Chaplin.

Eccentric.  Can I buy a gun around here?  Yes?  Good.  I’ll whittle some bamboo darts instead.

He moves in squawking orbits.  Distractions.  Diversions.  Like Muhammad Ali with Tourette’s.

Show off.  More like a selective extrovert.  Beware of the quiet ones.  The humble ones.  When they reach their breaking points, God forbid they be the most genius asskickers on the planet.

Lee refrains until his adversaries ask for it.  Backed into a corner, he turns the tables…every time.

Arrogant.  Sometimes…  It takes a Chuck Norris to remind us that there are other masters in the world.  And if we beat them, we salute them.  But he who seeks not money shall have a superior core to the mercenary.  To protect is more powerful than to attack.

Violent.  Damn right!  You want violence?  You’re about to be dealt the quickest administrations of pain you’ve ever seen.  Calling Dr. Lee.  This is where shock and awe comes from.  And machinery/technology will never ascend to the glorious depths of human creativity.  Endurance is in the mind.

Brash.  Occasionally.  The big boss needs to learn.  The big boss hires his murders–his terrorism–his intimidation.  The big boss runs and hides when the fast bullets fly.  But once in awhile the masters of war find themselves in very uncomfortable circumstances.  The teacher does not love war.  The teacher masters war.  The teacher masters the passions of revenge.  Bruce Lee never distributes a disproportionate riposte.

Controlling.  Control.  First, control yourself.  Seek to master yourself.  Listen to your body.  Control what you can control…knowing that the world is chaos…an indeterminate harmony.  Then you will be ready to think on your feet.  You will be ready to invent and improvise like Thelonious Monk.

This is the way of the dragon.

-PD

The Big Boss [1971)

I taste my own blood and I spit.  The New World Order kills even little children.  Revenge is a dish best served with chopsticks.

I promised my mother I would stay out of trouble.  Hong Kong.

Thailand.  I recognized the script.  It’s been so long since my beloved professor wrote in Thai.  Emails.  A QWERTY keyboard rigged to write Thai.  Little stickers on the keys.

But let me back up to poverty.  Humility.  We see the uncle with his humble green suitcase.  The ferry.  Stay out of trouble.

Trouble is my middle name.

Those young boys.  So innocent.  They refuse the bribe because they hadn’t earned it in their work.  The ice factory.

Crime takes no chances.  And in taking no chances it takes repeated chances.  You will know them by the trail of dead.

They wouldn’t have squealed, those two young men.  You don’t work in an ice factory to make trouble.  When you get home and have your humble bowl of rice on the little coffee table…gathered around brothers and cousins…  And you sleep on the floor beneath a mosquito net.  You are not looking for trouble.  You are merely subsisting.  And then a fellow like Gandhi steps in.  A giant like Martin Luther King, Jr. shows up on the scene.

Yes, Bruce Lee was the baddest motherfucker one could ever dream of.  Gandhi, MLK, Bruce Lee…human wrenches who threw themselves into the works.

The important detail is that Bruce Lee was an actor.  But he was an actor so convincing that his legacy is worldwide and unwaning.

Why do we believe?  Because Bruce gets wasted on Hennessy.  Bruce gets the titties.  Bruce becomes a “sellout” to his extended family.  It takes Lee awhile to see how crooked the world is.  He’s not in his rural home anymore.

You’re going to have to fight your way through this mountain.  Long odds.  Shoe (we will call him) was two against 13 earlier in the film.  Those are the odds Lee faces.  Let’s call it one vs. 17.

But he will eventually dig his fingers in.  A knife is not enough for what you have done.

Name:  Cheng Chao-an

Occupation:  ice factory employee

Distinguishing features:  bandage on right index finger

Born in the hour and year of the dragon.  Return again.  And again.  And again.  And again.

Bruce Lee and Jimi Hendrix.  Seattle.

Two-finger push-ups.  One inch punch.

Practicality.  Flexibility.  Speed.  Efficiency.

You are in the midst of this.  Right now. The style of no style.

Disgusting revenge delicious.

-PD