2014 Martial Arts Movies

[My 2015 Martial Arts Movies post can be visited here.]

Here are some of the known or suspected martial arts movies for the new year.

 

RAZE; January 10, 2014

A film to appeal to guys who make the RAARRW noise when they see two girls get in a fight, but to the extreme.

I, FRANKENSTEIN; January 24, 2014

OK, this is better labeled sci-fi as it’s based on the premise that Shelley’s monster lived into the future. However, I heard that Aaron Eckhart spent six months learning Kali for the film, so I’ll throw it in the pot. (Also, all martial arts films are cross-genre anyway.)

ENEMIES CLOSER; January 24, 2014 (US release)

A Jean-Claude Van Damme film in which two enemies must come together to avoid being killed by a common enemy.

SPECIAL ID; The Chinese release was in 2013, but there may be a US release in March 2014

This is a 2013 Donnie Yen action film that was not released in the US, but may be soon.

JOURNEY TO THE WEST; March 7, 2014

For those who liked Kungfu Hustle (and who didn’t) this one should appeal. It’s a period piece, but with the same kind of humor and visual affects as Kungfu Hustle.

THE RAID 2; March 28, 2014

This is a sequel to the 2011 Indonesian film produced by Gareth Evans.

ICEMAN; April 3, 2014

The latest Donnie Yen film. It’s about an ancient Chinese warrior who is unfrozen and kicks ass in the modern age.

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES; August 8, 2014

Another attempt to capitalize on the inexplicable popularity of this cartoon. But I’ll give it a chance.

THE MONKEY KING; September 14, 2014

A new play on the popular Chinese folk tale.

Cash Cow Disease: or, I Hope The Americans Don’t Get Lost

AmericansTVIn political economy, “Dutch disease” is a term used to describe a situation in which a nation’s windfall successes in one sector lead to everything else going to crap.

Dutch disease reminds me of a phenomenon rife in television today. A series pilot is shown. It’s wildly successful. The writers came in with a clear overall narrative arc, but now the show is a cash cow and they have to extend it out indefinitely. This is a script-writing nightmare. Writers have to give the viewer a new puzzle piece each episode but they’ve got to end the episode with a cliffhanger and they’ve got to be able to tie up all their loose ends at some undefined point when the series becomes a train wreck.

I was aware of this phenomena, let’s call it “Cash Cow disease,” when Lost came on the air. I’d been through it with the X-files.  But damned if I didn’t go and get myself engrossed in Lost. Lost started out with such promise. It seduced me, and even when it became clear that the writers and director might not know where the ship was headed, they kept feeding me tasty bread crumbs.  Then the network said, “Get us off this crazy train, quickly.” So  it was that the show that began with an atomic bang ended with the whimper of one of the worst endings ever.

Having been hurt twice thusly, I’d given up on watching television serial dramas. Then I made the fatal blunder of watching the pilot of The Americans. Why did I do this? Ironically, I probably watched it because I assumed it would be bad. It was, after all, a Cold War show in a post-911 world. Oh, the thwarted expectations. Now, I’m hooked.

The Americans is about a man and wife who are Soviet sleeper spies during the early 1980’s. The couple lives in the suburbs of Washington DC with their oblivious kids, and appear to operate a travel agency (for young readers, there used to be people who booked one’s flights and hotel before the days of Kayak, Orbitz, and Travelocity.)  In reality, however, the couple are deep cover spies who are attempting to get information about America’s ballistic missile shield, Reagan’s “Star Wars”, and other strategic concerns. The show depicts the cat-and-mouse game of Cold War espionage with great tension.

In an act of coincidence that strains credulity (but which is no stranger than things that actually happened) an FBI counter-intelligence agent moves in right across the street from the couple. The KGB couple and the FBI man are working at cross  purposes without the FBI agent (played by Noah Emmerich) being the wiser. (Emmerich’s character has early suspicions that he dismisses as paranoia after a close call for the KGB couple.) The male lead KGB sleeper spy (played by Matthew Rhys) plays racket-ball with the FBI agent.  This apparent friendship is to the chagrin of the female lead (played by Keri Russell) because she’s not quite sure if her husband is working the FBI man (as he says), or whether he’s facilitating changing sides. Part of the tension of the series stems from the fact that Keri Russell’s character is a dyed-in-the-wool patriot of Mother Russia, but her husband is having second thoughts–he sees himself as a family man first and a patriot second and America is growing on him. This tension is made all the more complicated by the fact that she seems to be just starting to fall in love with him, though he seems to have loved her from the early days of their planned, forced, and in some sense fake relationship.

The signature trait of The Americans is that characters on both sides are sympathetic  but complicated. This is part of a “shades of gray” motif that informs the show. Emmerich’s character, the FBI agent, is a loyal patriot and family man trying to do his best under the pressures of a hectic and tense job. However, we see him torment and rob a suspected Soviet information trafficker. Rhys character, the KGB sleeper, is also quite likable and sympathetic. At one point we see Rhys’s character beat up a pedophile (what’s more likable than that.) Russell’s character is not so likable, but that’s good for the tension. She’s a cold, fanatical Communist, but we can see the outlines of humanity in her character. For example, despite her jingoistic nature, she refuses to report her husband’s second thoughts.   On the FBI side, the most unlikable character is the boss (played by Richard Thomas, aka John Boy.) He’s a rash hot-head who,  in last night’s episode, wrecked an operation through his knee-jerk reaction (or maybe he’ll turn out to be a mole.)

I can already imagine how the wheels may roll off. There’s a supporting character, a mole in the Soviet Embassy (played by Annet Mahendru), that I imagine they intended to kill off to add to the angst of the Emmerich character (the FBI agent cultivated her through “soft-blackmail” and acts as her handler.) However, she’s really an endearing character. In a field of patriots that sometimes approach zealotry on both the US and Soviet sides, she seems to just want to have a peaceful life, but she’s trapped. Despite being manipulated, she’s a strong character. I can imagine her becoming a more central role–not that that’s an inherently bad thing.

I’d like to recommend this show, but I face a dilemma. If fewer people watch, I think it’s more likely to end well.

2013 Superhero Movies

2013 will be a big year for superhero flicks. There will be two films in The Avengers domain. The third Iron Man film will be out at the beginning of the summer and Thor: The Dark World is out at year-end. Given my preference for superheroes that don’t wear tights as outer garments, I have to say that Iron Man 3 is shaping up to be my favorite. The Wolverine is also unlikely be in tights in this personification, but I’ll go into that one with low expectations. (Don’t disappoint me again, X-men. Actually, I liked First Class, but the others were making me consider a life of  super-villainy.) I’m not big on gods as heroes, but that’s just me.

I am serious about having high hopes for Iron Man 3. The trailer suggests they are putting Stark in his darkest hour. Hopefully, they won’t entirely lose the trademark humor of the franchise. Having said that, I think some enhanced tension could be good. I don’t know why they couldn’t find a Chinese guy to play Mandarin, but it’s a good arch-villain and will be mirrored by some brawn. (I’m not down on Ben Kingsley. I loved him in Ghandi. I just think we should have left casting Caucasians for non-Caucasian parts with 1950’s Westerns.)

I recently did a post on the Man of Steel. As I suggested, I like my superheroes more flawed and vincible (it’s  a word, and it doesn’t mean capable of being turned into a Vince.) It sounds like they’ve made efforts to build tension, but in the trailer we pretty much see that as superman v. man conflict (which doesn’t sound like a thrill-ride.)  I’m leaving room to be pleasantly surprised.

The most tight-lipped franchise is that of Kickass 2. I don’t know if that should be taken ominously or not. They may have been so surprised by response to the first that they don’t want to jinx things.

Iron Man 3 (May 3)

Man of Steel (June 14)

Kickass 2 (June 28)

The Wolverine (July 26)
(This is not a trailer, but it’s a summation of movie’s development that is humorous in places.)

Thor: The Dark World (Nov 8)
Also not a trailer

Will “Man of Steel” Turn the Tide on Superman Movies?

I hold contrary views to the character Bill, played by the late David Carradine, in the Kill Bill movies. Bill said that Superman was his absolute favorite superhero. The Man of Steel is among my least favorite superheroes. From a writer’s point of view, it’s hard to write an edge-of-the-seat Superman tale because readers have to feel the protagonist is in peril at every turn. That’s a tough sell if your hero is all-powerful and invulnerable. Superman writers learned this quickly, and they responded by creating a rock that could weaken or kill their character by its mere presence. In books and movies, the bad guy should be stronger and smarter than the hero. Lex Luthor is a devious fiend, but he’s no match for Superman in any domain but wickedness.

There’s a lot of talk about this year’s Superman movie, entitled Man of Steel, being darker and grittier with the implication that it’ll be more interesting than past Superman movies. The involvement of Christopher Nolan, who is most famous for the outstanding Dark Knight movie trilogy, makes many optimistic. It may be that they can tap into some of the Dark Knight narrative power. However, it’s easier to have gripping Batman tale. Batman is only human, with no superpowers, and he is inherently a loner (or in some cases a dynamic duo.) Batman may be smart, but he’s not the smartest. He may be strong, but he’s not the strongest. This makes it relatively easy to write him into perilous situations in which he is outmatched.

I have high hopes for Man of Steel, but I’m skeptical.

2013 Martial Arts Movies

Chinese classic literature will make a major appearance in martial arts cinema this year, with movies entitled The Monkey King and Journey to the West. Both movies will likely featuring the staff-wielding monkey who made mischief in heaven and on earth. You may be familiar with the tale from Jet Li’s portrayal of the Monkey King in the 2008 film The Forbidden Kingdom. Readers can get the jist of the tale by reading the book.

Japanese classic literature will also be addressed, sort of. In the tradition of The Last Samurai, Keanu Reeves will star in movie that has no business having an American lead. It will be some sort of take off on the famous tale, 47 Ronin.

There will also be another iteration of the life story of Ip Man. Ip Man was a Wing Chun grandmaster who, as one can tell from the pile of films about his life, lived a fascinating life. While his fame is eclipsed by that of his most famous student, Bruce Lee, Man was a police officer who had to flee China to Hong Kong because of his support for the Kuomintang.

The sequel to the Tony Jaa film Tom Yum Goong (Ummm, Tom Yum) is due out this year. It will be entitled The Protector 2 in the west. The Thai star is continuing to give Chinese Kung fu cinema a run for its money.

The Grandmaster

Journey to the West

The Monkey King

Tom Yum Goong 2 (aka The Protector 2)
TYG2

47 Ronin

2013: The Year of Post-Post-Apocalyptic Sci-fi

If the sci-fi movies of 2013 reflect a zeitgeist, then we’re shifting from a people who think bad things await the Earth to a people who think we’ll have to abandon the planet altogether. That’s a prevailing theme in the upcoming big box-office movies of the genre. In <em>Oblivion</em>, Tom Cruise plays a drone repairman who at least believes himself to be one of the last people on the planet. In <em>After Earth</em>, Will Smith and his son (in character and real life) return to an Earth devoid of humanity. In <em>Elysium</em>, not everyone has left Earth, but everyone who is anyone has.

There are still a few of the traditional dystopian visions in which some dire fate confronts humanity on Earth. World War Z is a movie adaptation of Max Brooks’ novel that brought the Zombie back to life (admittedly bad pun intended.) It features Brad Pitt battling an ever expanding horde of “fast zombies.” Pacific Rim envisions giant alien monsters coming through a dimensional portal at the bottom of the ocean, and the giant robots humanity creates to battle them. The movie adaptation of Orson Scott Card’s novel Ender’s Game, while largely about the training of the genius Ender Wiggin, also imagines an Earth in peril from an alien threat. Even the new Star Trek movie at least partially abandons frolicking in deep space in favor of confronting an evil genius who threatens Earth.

Oblivion


Star Trek Into Darkness

After Earth


World War Z


Pacific Rim


Elysium


Ender’s Game