Wednesday, August 6th, 2008
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 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.
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 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.
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:
Complete with alternate Christian Bale head
Monkeys love Batman
I also preordered this:
I have no idea where I’ll put this
Yotsuba and the Thing approve:
Soon, they’ll have more friends to play with
About the other Dark Knight issue
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.
“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.
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 LoveHKFilm.com as penance.
To finish this Batman-themed megapost, here’s a random memory:
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!
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.
He lived to become the villain