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Kozo’s Mailbag: What I really thought of The Dark Knight

Like The Dark Knight, this edition of Kozo’s Mailbag is a sequel.

A reader named David sent me the following:

You should review The Dark Knight

Here are the reasons why:
1) I want to hear your opinion
2) Edison Chen is in it
3) Some of the action is set in Hong Kong
4) The low amount of Hong Kong movies

David is right about points #2-4, though I question why he cares about point #1. Still, his question was echoed by comments at the LoveHKFilm Facebook group, the LoveHKFilm Community, and on Damn You, Kozo itself. My original response was some jokey review of the 10 minutes that took place in Hong Kong, but that likely was not the answer that people were asking for.

So, here’s the rest of the story. Excuse my long-windedness, but this is what happens when you ask me my opinion of a movie, Hong Kong or otherwise. To make matters worse, I refuse to be that thoughtful and insist on posting my comments without editing for coherence, clarity, or spoilers. You reap what you sow.

Batman in Hong Kong
Batman invades Hong Kong right in time for the Olympics

My short answer: The Dark Knight is a great movie, and worthy of most of the praise it’s getting. I believe its success lies more in content than in form, but the form is still pretty damn good and either way you slice it, this is a triumph for the comic book film genre. Comic books have not been your granddad’s funny books for up to forty years, and it’s great that film adaptations of comic book heroes are finally maturing. This is an exceptional case because The Dark Knight isn’t Sin City or 300, i.e. it’s not based on a completely dark media property. Batman has seen interpretations that range all over the spectrum, and some of them were more than a little cartoony. This is easily the character’s darkest depiction outside the four-color printed form, and as an audience member, I’m grateful for it.

A round of applause for everyone

Now for the long answer.

The Dark Knight is the best live-action Batman film, if not the best comic book film ever made. Christopher Nolan and company actually delve into the character beyond just his origin, and don’t reduce him to a masked foil facing an over-the-top cartoonish villain. The Dark Knight explores what it takes to be Batman; the billions of dollars and kickass technology help, but it’s Bruce Wayne’s sacrifice and will that make it possible to put up with all the crap that Batman has to. The filmmakers doesn’t trivialize the character, and actually attempt logic and reason in their exploration of the Batman character and his world. Batman is put in tough moral positions in the film, and his methods and choices aren’t always as successful as they are telling and appropriate. He discovers the consequences of putting on a mask to fight crime, and chooses to push forward because that’s what his crusade requires. The film is as faithful a live-action representation of Batman as we’re ever likely to see. For a lifelong Batman fan, The Dark Knight is a gratifying motion picture.

For everyone else? Maybe not. I’m actually a little surprised at how much positive press The Dark Knight has been getting, because this is not a film for families or audiences looking for anything remotely warm-and-fuzzy. I maintain that good times are still the primary attraction for the mass audience, and as such, it’s strange that this dark, violent, and pessimistic film would be getting so highly rated over, say, Wall-E, which manages to have its cake and eat it too. Wall-E is a thoughtful, intelligent, and also funny, heart-warming, and happy little movie. Frankly, I liked Wall-E more than The Dark Knight - but maybe that’s because deep down, I’m a sap.

Also, Wall-E’s depiction of a junk-filled Earth reminds me of my apartment.

This movie is pretty good, too

The Zeitgeist should get some of the credit for The Dark Knight’s popularity. Aside from the Heath Ledger factor, much has been written about The Dark Knight’s brilliance in encapsulating the War on Terror and the fallout from 9/11 into its complex, borderline confusing narrative. An article in the Wall Street Journal even interprets Chris Nolan’s Batman as a metaphor for George W. Bush. I would puke if I weren’t laughing so hard. Dark Knight does possess many themes and ideas that make intriguing metaphor for the War on Terror, and willing cinema readers and columnists should have a field day looking for a hidden agenda. There’s even a column out there talking about the significance of dogs in the film. I predict that many film theory teachers will soon receive a deluge of Dark Knight papers.

I think some of the discussion is overblown; sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. The film’s themes completely make sense for Batman, and have appeared in one form or another in the comics. Christopher Nolan and the writers (Jonathan Nolan and David Goyer) swipe from nearly 70 years of comics history, and while current events undeniably influenced Nolan’s cinema interpretation, reducing the film to a simple “Batman is George W. Bush” message ignores the character’s published legacy. George W. Bush is not as self-punishing a hero as Batman, and Batman’s problems aren’t as complex as George W. Bush’s. Also Batman takes fewer vacations.

Batman wants you|
Fight the War on Terror and wear a kickass mask

However, Dark Knight has rightly been called out by parents groups warning of its inappropriateness for younger teens and kids. This film has disturbing images and themes, and possesses an intensity that goes beyond the stereotypical comic book film. The film is more than a little frightening, and I do feel for the disturbed tykes. However, as a film and comic book fan, The Dark Knight is a fantastic step forward for the super hero film genre. Comic books are our modern day myths, and deserve greater respect than as fodder for box office receipts, ancillary merchandising sales, and thinly-supported op-ed pieces. The Dark Knight succeeds in large part because its director wanted to make a Batman film on both his AND the character’s terms. The property is twisted slightly to fit Nolan’s realistic take on Gotham City, but the spirit and themes are faithful to the character and his source material.

If you’re a parent, though, I suggest you see the film first before piling your kids into the minivan for a family viewing.

He wants to watch The Dark Knight too.

Ultimately, I don’t think the film has a truly exceptional point of view, meaning it’s not really trying to give us a singular, overriding message. It gives time to various stories, themes and ideas - some could argue too many to efficiently process - but this, I think, is ultimately a strength of the film. The Joker, Batman, Harvey Dent, Commissioner Gordon, even Alfred - all of these characters offer different points of view in The Dark Knight’s exploration of justice, heroism and morality, and something worthwhile can be gleamed from each and every one of them. This is a great movie in large part because it possesses so much to think and talk about, even though it may not be saying anything that definitive. Postmodern superhero comics have arguably found their greatest impact when dissecting the role of the hero in our cynical times. Graphic novels like Watchmen and Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns are so fascinating because they take the superhero archetype and apply it to politics and the current cultural climate, and address the difficulties that come with seeking justice in a complex, compromised society.

Typically, revisionist Batman comics end up with a scene like this:

Batman versus Superman
Batman has little patience for a tool of the Man

Not that The Dark Knight is perfect, because few films are. At two hours and thirty-two minutes, the film is a long haul, and could tax more than a few audience members with its enduring grimness. Christopher Nolan still needs some help in the action department; much of the action is difficult to follow, and is punctuated in a way that sometimes deflates the action (the flipped semi-truck is one large exception). Still, this falls into Nolan’s realistic take on the character, and Dark Knight one-ups Batman Begins by giving most of the action an emotional reason for occurring. Characters are put in peril, revenge is sought, and the stakes are considerably more felt. The film successfully creates the impression that anything - good or bad - can happen to its characters, and gives their choices and situations emotional weight beyond the expected good vs. evil stakes.

The actors are uniformly very good. I’d just be echoing every other person in the universe if I praised Heath Ledger’s frightening take on the Joker more, and Christian Bale is perhaps too good as Batman, in that much of the time, his character is also acting, if not as Batman (complete with that overdone, growly voice), then as his superficial playboy alter ego Bruce Wayne. The supporting roles are frequently well-written and the actors not wasted. The story is also very complete, though not without numerous plot holes that could easily be challeneged. Then again, plot holes are something that are unavoidable in a film of this size and scale, and The Dark Knight never resorts to convenience to move the plot along. The film isn’t boring either, and Nolan makes judicious and very effective use of cross-cutting, raising the stakes and upping the tension of his film smartly. There’s a lot to follow in Dark Knight, and while it’s not always easy, the tension and emotion are very well conveyed.

For a commercial film, The Dark Knight has guts, and the perfect storm of media coverage and marketing have apparently prepared people for it. It’s a smart, dramatic, and compelling piece of blockbuster entertainment, and sells pessimism and tragedy because that’s what the story and situations require. At the same time, it delivers some great action film moments (I found the debut of the Batpod to be exceptionally cool). Audiences have responded incredibly well, though I do question the overwhelming public acceptance (I’m waiting for the film to fall out of the #1 slot on IMDB’s Top 250). If the film does receive some of that discussed Oscar consideration, it would be healthy. Popular entertainment should not be excluded from serious awards consideration simply because it’s for the masses. It may not win Best Picture, but I’d be okay with seeing it in the Top 5.

Batman on car
Best Picture Oscar, here we come!

Then again, I’m a massive Batman fan, so my opinion on this movie could be totally, completely out-of-bounds. Hell, I’ve seen it three times and will be checking it out on IMAX in two weeks. You’re welcome to completely disregard my comments on this film. I’ve been a fan of the character for way over 20 years, so if someone wants to tell me that I’m clouded by obvious bias, then they’re welcome to. That’s what blog comments are for.

As proof of my fandom, I own this:

Batman Takara
Complete with alternate Christian Bale head

And this:

Batman and Monkey
Monkeys love Batman

I also preordered this:

Batman and Batpod from Bandai
I have no idea where I’ll put this

Yotsuba and the Thing approve:

Yotsuba and the Thing
Soon, they’ll have more friends to play with

About the other Dark Knight issue

Four Heroes
Edison Chen: pwned

The above graphic came from a bulletin board here in Hong Kong, and is easily the best thing about Edison Chen’s involvement in The Dark Knight. Honestly, it’s bizarre that Edison Chen took this part because it’s a total nothing role, and one wonders what he hoped to accomplish with this minor appearance. The part is so inconsequential that it’s beneath mention, and the only reason that anyone would bring it up is to wonder why Edison even bothered to appear in the film. Surely it couldn’t have been because he matched the skills of the rest of the cast.

Christian and Morgan
“Edison Chen is in this movie, too?
We’d better bring our ‘A’ game!”

I’m operating from memory here, but I seem to recall that when Edison’s appearance was first bandied about way before Sexy Photos Gate, he was reported as saying that he wasn’t going to take the role because it was so small, but changed his mind because the director asked for him personally. Really? Did Christopher Nolan really say, “Edison Chen, please play Security Guard #1?” Honestly, I find that very, very, very hard to believe.

Edison and Amanda
This photo convinced Christopher Nolan
to cast Edison Chen in The Dark Knight

It’s easier to believe that Edison took the role because he’s a Batman geek like untold millions of guys are, but if that’s the case he should have simply owned up to it. He would have earned much more cred with people had that been true. As it is, he was recently dissed on the radio by Sandra Ng and Lee Lik-Chee, who asked the question, “Why did Edison choose to appear in the film?” Basically, the part makes Edison look like a bit player, and not the A-list Hong Kong star he’s been reported as.

Besides, he was out of focus. True, maybe he was going to be in focus before Sexy Photos Gate, but how much could the role of “Security Guard #1″ have been expanded? Maybe he also directed Lucius Fox to the bathroom, or opened a door for him. Someone recently suggested to me that maybe they cut a fight scene between Edison and Batman. While it would have been great to see Batman whale the tar out of Edison, I seriously doubt it’s on the cutting room floor. If deleted scenes reveal something different, I will gladly apologize and shut down as penance.

Wrapping Up

To finish this Batman-themed megapost, here’s a random memory:

Worst movie ever
Damn You, Kozo! You could have prevented this.

Back in 1994, I was working as an intern on the Warner Bros. lot and I delivered a package to the office of some director who had recently arrived on the lot. That director: Joel Schumacher. His new project: Batman Forever. I handed the package to his assistant, but I recall seeing Mr. Schumacher sitting in his office, feet propped up on his desk, and talking on the phone. At the time, I thought, “Wow, this guy is going to make the new Batman movie!” I was actually quite excited at the thought.

Had I knew then what I know now, I could have sprinted past his assistant and given him a severe Korean gangster film-inspired beating, thereby preventing him from ever destroying the franchise. Hindsight is a bitch.

Had I done the smart thing in 1994 and kneecapped Joel Schumacher, it would have landed me in jail. I would have been branded a criminal - a guy who attacks big-time Hollywood directors without provocation. But, if I had succeeded I would have spared the still-fledgling Internet generation from the horror of two Schumacher-directed Batman films. More importantly, the Batsuit-with-nipples and its omnipresent Internet meme might never have existed.

I could have been an unknown, unappreciated, and unheralded hero. Hey, just like Batman in The Dark Knight!

Kozo at his desk
Sadly, I’m just a guy with a bunch of stuffed monkeys on his desk.

That’s it for Batman, who is hereby being served with a LoveHKFilm Embargo™, meaning we’ll be banning him from this website for a good long while. Batman is not Asian film-related, so he shouldn’t be wasting our time. This is the last time I’ll talk about Batman on this blog.

Unless I buy more toys. Or it’s related to Edison Chen.

Edison is Batman
He lived to become the villain

17 Responses to “Kozo’s Mailbag: What I really thought of The Dark Knight”

  1. MW Says:

    I went in with wildly high expectations and the pre-release hype and rave reviews inflated them more. I expected a dark and realistic adaption of Gotham’s dark knight like in BATMAN BEINGS. But I was very surprised of the “moral heaviness” of the story, not something we have seen in any comic book movie before.

    It is definitely not for young children though, just the unpredictability of the Joker creates suspense not suited for teens even with any blood in sight. But there was no way Warner would have a R-rating on this movie, no way.

    Upon my second view at IMAX, the introduction of the Batpod and the subsequent chase became my favourite scene of the movie. WALL-E was great but maybe my mindset was still “darkened” from Batman a few days earlier that I thought it was very fluffy (or there were no cute animated animals).

    I wonder though, with Batman’s code not to kill, what does he think will happen to the driver when he runs his Tumbler head-on onto a truck?

    Semi-lastly, look on the bright side Kozo… if you stopped Schumacher from screwing up the franchise, we might have not gotten a reboot with BEGINS and DARK KNIGHT. (”The night is darkest just before the dawn. I promise you, the dawn has arrived.”)

    Lastly, where did you buy the Batpod figurine? Is it the remote control one or just a model? Now I want one… life-sized.

    P.S. If Batman gets the LoveHKFilm Embargo™, does that mean Edison is the LoveHKFilm Constant™?

  2. duncan Says:

    You’re still using a CRT monitor?

  3. achillesgirl Says:

    Kozo! Dude! I greatly enjoy reading your blog. Please don’t self-destruct your website! Or I will be sad face.

    I do agree that Dark Knight is dark, grim, violent, and sells tragedy, but I disagree that Dark Knight was a pessimistic film. Oh, I wanted it to be. Being a real pessimist, I found extremely irritating the film’s lowest-common-denominator weakling need to redeem humanity ad nauseum. Had Dark Knight been a truly pessimistic film, the idiots on the ferry boats would have gleefully blown each other to bits, Oil-Can-Bound Rachel would have traded Dent’s life for her own in a hot second, Batman would have continued to exploit his super cell-phone surveillance system for the purposes of evil long after his first good deed was done, and Edison Chen wouldn’t have been wearing any pants. In other words, Dark Knight would have been like real life. But it wasn’t.

    It may well be that the creators of Dark Knight did not intend to redeem humanity as much as their Taco Bell-Sony-Wal Mart-Nabisco-Johnson & Johnson Film Studio insisted that they do, but the final product was ultimately an only-slightly-deeper-than-usual exploration of the role of “Hero” in American society (yawn) and the boring, obvious, predictable triumph of boring, obvious, predictable good over evil.

    Don’t get me wrong; Other than that (and a few other petty annoyances), I enjoyed it!

  4. Webmaster Kozo Says:

    MW, Batman’s code not to kill is the biggest plot hole in his entire history. By now manslaughter should be on his rap sheet. What if he runs over a homeless guy when he’s zipping through alleys on the Batpod?

    True, without Schumacher’s terrible films, there would be no Batman Begins or Dark Knight, so in retrospect, the whole thing is a blessing. Still, I sometimes flash back to that day and remember the letter opener on his assistant’s desk…

    The Batpod toy is a figure and vehicle combo, and can be found on YesAsia plus I’m sure a zillion other toy importers. I’ve also preordered the Batman and Joker 12″ figures from Hot Toys. I regret it already.

    Haha, if anyone is the LoveHKFilm Constant™ it’s Ekin Cheng. I would term Edison Chen as the LoveHKFilm Temporary Annoyance™.

    Achillesgirl, you’re correct that the film could have been much more pessimistic. It’s still massively downbeat for a summer film, and essentially the bad guys do win this one. I agree with Sanney when he likened seeing the film to being “stomach-punched”.

    And Duncan, that photo is actually a couple of years old, and since then, my CRT has been replaced with an LCD. Also, I have fewer monkeys now.

  5. Sanney Leung Says:

    I’m with you Kozo. If Christopher Nolan really personally asked Edison Chen to be in this film, I will eat printouts of all the Sexy Photo Gates pictures I have on my hard drive. Fortunately for me, I don’t have any as I’m a high-class pervert who keeps only high-grade professional porn on my hard drive.

    Kidding aside, I also find it hard to believe that LoveHKFilm Temporary Annoyance™ had a bigger role. At most, he may have had a couple of more lines and a few seconds more facetime. In his defense, I will point out that his role was not “Security Guard #1″ but “LSI VP”. VP is classier than security guard so maybe his role went like this: He confiscates Lucius Fox’s cellphone but Fox objects because he wants to have a picture of him and mob accountant Lau for posterity. Edison says: “Don’t worry, I’ll take a picture for you with my camera and e-mail it to you.”

    I think something like that definitely falls within Edison Chen’s skill set — or in EDC lingo “skillz”.

    By the way, all this talk of “constants” and “embargoes” has me thinking I need to see those LOST episodes after “Meet Kevin Johnson” — even though the only character I care about any more is Desmond.

  6. eliza bennet Says:

    Thank you for this review. And your toys are impressive!

    I completely agree with the optimistic tone of The Dark Knight. Being an optimist I find especially the boat scene very uplifting and the sacrifices the characters have made make total sense to me.

    But I wouldn’t take a child under 13 to watch this one. Joker even managed to scare me sometimes…

    Hahaaaa I loved the graphic.

  7. MW Says:

    Kozo, I find the no killing code to be a convenient device for Nolan to humanize Batman in the movies. But I guess he did everything else so well, he can’t please all the comic book geeks on everything. Still, Batman is like shooting cars on highways and self-destructing his tank around bums, he might be killing more innocent than baddies. Batman mythology is he is a punisher of the criminals, not really saving people like Superman. An anti-superhero (aka: not a hero).

    I forgot about Ekin being the LoveHKFilm Constant™ with him winning acting awards and all.

    In the original script, maybe Edison as “LSI VP” would try to sell hard drive security to Freeman. “Hey dawg, you gotz to protect yoz piktars and hrrd drives frm dem hackerz!”

  8. peachey Says:

    I must put that Edison Chen pwned pic up at Alive Not Dead. I hope you don’t mind. You get the credit, of course. ;D

  9. Webmaster Kozo Says:

    Hi Eliza, nice to hear from you. :)

    I could easily turn this thing into a toy blog, but if I did, I’m may lose interest in the actual movie review portion of the site. So I try to limit myself.

    MW, the “No Killing” code is standard for the Batman comics. My main gripe with the Tim Burton movies is that his Batman kills without any issue. The character shouldn’t kill, period.

    I agree with you that with all the mayhem that Bats causes in Nolan’s version, it’s hard to believe that he hasn’t killed anyone yet. Anyway, he seems to have no issues blowing up parked cars.

    I stand corrected about Edison being “Security Guard #1″. Still, I wonder what his VP role could have done besides the mobile phone shtick. Maybe he offered Lucius Fox some “company” leased from a certain local entertainment agency.

    Hi Peachey, the image was sent to me by a co-worker. I believe he found it on a local BBS. No clue who made it though.

  10. David Harris Says:

    Now that’s what I call a desk! :)

    For a big budget film the Two Face make up was really not that great

    More content than form? Certainly

    While it did perhaps stretch the boundaries of the 12A certificate here in the UK it felt like it was more down to a pervading atmosphere and strong use of anticipation than actual out and out violence. The usual pro-censorship types are bitching about it here…..

    I’ve always let my kids watch films outside of their age category. That said I never let them watch just anything and always watched with them and talked to them about what they were seeing (that’s the key as I see it)

    My youngest has a love of HK films too (she’s a big Death Note fan as well) - she even came with me to HK in 2006!

  11. MW Says:

    I’m just watching BATMAN BEGINS again, and Batman has no problems spiking police cars and flipping them. This “no killing” really is a big plot hole. Batman blows a lot of stuff up.

    Does anyone know where to buy a nice Batman t-shirt in Hong Kong? I would like this new bat symbol instead of the old school yellow logo. I wouldn’t mind just a plain black t-shirt with a white outline of this new school bat logo with no words anywhere.

  12. Webmaster Kozo Says:

    Hi MW, I think you can buy licensed shirts at HMV. I was in there this weekend and saw a couple, though I can’t be sure of the designs. There must be some available at other outlets, but I don’t know where.

    Sadly, one of the big chains is not carrying Batman shirts. In 2005, Baleno was selling a full line of Batman Begins wear. This was back when Andy Lau was the face of Baleno, so I could stop by the store and get my daily fix of both Batman AND Andy Lau. Good times.

  13. laicheukpan Says:

    Sorry to be off topic, but Sanney may I ask who’s your favorite AV idol(s)?

  14. MW Says:

    Looking at HMV HK online, there’s only three designs… at $195HKD each! So looks like I’ll keep looking around in small stores or oulets or wait for the DVD release and hope for t-shirt combo.

  15. MW Says:

    I’m just looking for something like this (or black logo on white shirt):

  16. vid Says:

    Well considering that Nolan doesn’t usually release deleted scenes…at least there were none on the Batman Begins dvd, it’s safe to say that sanney won’t have to eat any scandalous printed photos and kozo won’t have to shutdown lovehkfilm since it’s unlikely we’ll get to see any delete scenes from the dark knight.

    as for batman’s no killing code, well like most DC heroes, he’s gone under so many revisions and reboots, it’s hard to say which of these versions is the definitive batman. When the character was first created he actually used a gun and shot at criminals so…no killing? depends on the era of comics. The no killing is a more recent part of the character’s history.

  17. ben Says:

    to MW:

    Batman’s no kill code is from the comics. it’s not something nolan just came up for “plot device”.

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