I realized after watching The Dark Knight last weekend that ever since Iron Man in May, nearly every movie that I paid to watch in a cinema has been a comic book movie. The sole exception was Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, but Indy’s roots lie in pulp comics anyway, so in a way, that still counts. I suppose that this is partly due to the current state of film-making and CGI technology that allows directors to fully recreate the fantastic visuals of the comic book medium on the big screen and partly due to the successes of X-Men in 2000 and Spider-Man in 2002, which opened the eyes of the studio bosses to the commercial lucrativeness of comic book licenses. Not every comic book movie since then has been a success, Spider-Man 3 in particular was a disappointing dud even with Sam Raimi still at the helm, but there have been enough films that “get it” to make this a great time to be alive for a comic book fan. Here’s a quick recap of the comic book movies that I’ve watched so far this year.
My wife’s first reaction as we walked out the cinema after watching Prince Caspian was “Aslan is such an asshole.” Indeed he is, and in the same way, so is the personage after whom Aslan was clearly modelled, Jesus Christ and the Christian God.
This second installment of the Narnia series based on the novels by C.S. Lewis has been marketed as a harmless, big budget, family-friendly, action adventure fantasy flick. So harmless and family-friendly that no blood whatsoever is shown on screen even as Gentle Queen Susan perforates countless enemies with her arrows and Magnificent King Peter hacks and bashes his way through the Conquistador-like opposition. But I can’t help but wonder how many of my fellow Malaysians who sat with me in the same cinema were aware of the Christian agenda behind the novels and the films it has inspired. In a country so paranoid about religious sensibilities that The Passion of the Christ was banned in cinemas and the word Allah was, initially anyway, forbidden to be used by a local Christian newspaper to describe the Christian God, it’s a wonder that Prince Caspian is being shown on Malaysian cinemas with an “Umum” rating.
Courtesy of my friend Kien Boon of Boonuhkau, I had the opportunity of watching The 11th Hour at the KL Pac in Sentul on Sunday. It was my first visit to the KL Pac or even anywhere inside the new Sentul development zone and I have to admit that they did a great job in making the area look like an oasis of serenity in the middle of busy and dirty Kuala Lumpur. The price to pay of course is the prominent advertising everywhere on behalf of YTL Corporation, including brightly illuminated banners on both sides of the stage that remained lighted throughout the film and that we felt detracted from the experience of watching it. Nevertheless, it’s heartening to see a new addition to the cultural scene in Malaysia and my wife and I will be paying attention to what performances are going on there from time to time.
The film itself is a slickly produced documentary on environmentalism, focusing on global warming, that was apparently a personal project of Leonardo DiCaprio. As a long time skeptic on environmentalism, it shouldn’t be a surprise that I strongly disliked the film. Not only is it an example of hysterical scare-mongering of the worst sort, it ends up being inconsistent in its message and ultimately contributes nothing new to the subject. Worst of all, it preaches straight to the choir of the green movement, shying away from perspectives and solutions that could be beneficial but are controversial and unpopular among green groups.
My wife and I have been watching the first season of Lost (yes, we’re slow) and one of the episodes featured a classic French song, La Mer by Charles Trenet and after that I just had to search Youtube for the full version of it. In fact, we’d recently spent one evening searching for classic French songs after learning of the surprise win by Marion Cotillard of the Best Actress award for her role in La Vie en Rose, so I thought it would be nice to write a post of some of the songs we found.
When studying the French language at the Centre de Linguistic Appliquée in Besançon, one of the exercises we were given was to transcribe the lyrics of French songs, beginning with nursery rhymes and moving on to classic songs and more modern pop music, which was how I learned about many of these songs. I’d actually guess that most English speakers in Malaysia would actually have heard of them in one form or another, only most won’t know their titles and singers, so here they are.
Ok, here’s another round of China bashing by me. The Chinese government has just banned actress Tang Wei, who is of course best known for her role in Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution, from all media in China. The kicker here is that although Lust, Caution was understandably controversial in China, the State Administration of Radio Film and Television (SARFT) had already approved it for release last year after its producers cut some footage from it. It seems however that the release of even the censored version offended someone higher up in the government so it has put pressure on the SARFT and the film’s producers and this is the result.
What really angers me about this, aside from the issue of a government handing out an approval from one hand and taking it away with another, is that the Chinese government chose to ban Tang Wei and only her. Why not slap a ban on co-star Tony Leung as well? What, it’s okay to show a Chinese man having sex but it’s not okay to show a Chinese woman having sex? Why not ban Ang Lee as well? After all, no one is more responsible for what happens in a film than its director. Of course there’s the little fact that both Tony Leung and Ang Lee are internationally renowned artists and who can forget how gushingly proud all Chinese were when Ang Lee won an Oscar for Brokeback Mountain despite its very politically incorrect content in Chinese eyes.
Meanwhile, Tang Wei is just an unknown starlet who took off her clothes in front of a camera for the whole world to see, embarrassing China in the process, so it’s perfectly alright to censure her for it. Good job, China.
While I generally leave most superhero movie news to The Superheroes Base, I felt that Watchmen deserves a special note here. The movie adaptation to be directed by Zach Snyder, who also directed the movie version of Frank Miller’s 300, is still at least a year away but the release of the photographs of the main characters has me psyched like few movies have. Pictured above is the Comedian, who is sort of a melange of DC’s Joker and Marvel’s The Punisher. Note his crazed grin and the yellow happy face badge on his shoulder. It’s details like this that make me hope Snyder that will do his best to be as faithful to the original graphic novel as possible.
The other photographs on the site are from top to bottom: the Nite-Owl, who is a sort of Batman with high-tech gadgets and vehicles; Ozymandias, who represents the peak of humanly possible perfection in both physical and mental abilities; Rorscharch, who is inspired by Steve Ditko’s Objectivist superhero The Question and is every bit as psychotic as the criminals he hunts and the Silk Spectre. I’m not sure which Spectre the photo represents though, since in the comics the title is held by a mother and then passed down to her daughter. The most glaring omission here is the god-like Doctor Manhattan, the only one among them who actually has superpowers.
Watchmen is worthy of special attention here because it is one of the very few comic books that have transcended its superhero genre to be recognized as a genuine piece of art. It is the only comic to have won a Hugo Award and the only comic to have been included in Time Magazine’s list of the 100 best English-language novels. It tells a dark story that bring superheroes down to the messy, grimy and morally ambiguous real world. My only worry is that the short length of a movie adaptation wouldn’t do the story justice. Please get and read the comic if you can. It will be worth your time.
Apologies for the poor quality of the screenshot. I had to disable hardware video acceleration to take it. It’s from a recent Hong Kong movie that my wife and I just watched, called Gong Tau in Cantonese, and badly translated as Oriental Black Magic in English. Check out LoveHKFilm.com (which happens to be my favourite site for reviews of Asian cinema) for a full review.
By any reasonable standard, this is one terrible film. It has bad acting (Mark Cheng is impossibly stone-faced no matter what kind of crazy shit is happening while Maggie Siu is a hopeless mess of hysterics in just about every scene), a perfectly predictable by-the-numbers plot hurried along by wildly implausible yet convenient events, sometimes extremely fake-looking CGI, and absolutely zero sense of actual horror due to the lack of any tension or dread. What is amazing about this film however, is its sheer excess that as LoveHKFilm points out, has not been from Hong Kong in a while.
Full frontal nudity, both male and female? Check. Mutilated baby? Check. Gross autopsies and vivisections? Check. Animals shredded into stringy bits? Check. It’s like the film makers held a round table to brainstorm ideas for the most shocking and disgusting scenes possible and high-fived each other over every sick suggestion. You know how in some games when characters get blown up and you end up with gory bits of blood-drenched remains scattered all over the place that are now known as gibs? Well, if you ever wanted to see what gibs might look like in a movie, Gong Tau is the film to watch.
Even the ridiculousness of the Asian curses aspect of the movie pales before the excessive gore, but they still deserve some mocking. I mean, flying heads? Mind control? Black market magicians selling each other corpse oil? I don’t really need to reiterate my longstanding disdain of superstitious nonsense here, but I have to say that sometimes the best way to show how stupid something is, is to take it to its extremes. If stuff like this really works in real life, why are we still using bullets and bombs?
Anyway, check out this movie if you have a fetish for disgusting gore, or I suppose if you want to see pretty new actress Teng Tzu-Hsuan fully nude, but there’s really no other reason to put up with this pile of crap.