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Musings from the Edge of Forever

Note: This blog expresses only the opinions of the blog owner,
and does not represent the opinion of any organization or blog
that is associated with RONIN ON EMPTY.

Archive for July, 2010

The Good, The Lazy, N’ The Crazy


I was gonna make a new feature called “ Time Machine,” but seeing as how pretty much every Hong Kong film I talk about in this blog is going to be something that’s already on DVD, I decided to scrap the idea altogether. Besides, I’ve got enough new features every week on this now almost-daily updated blog, so why bother adding  a category that isn’t necessary?

The inaugural Time Machine post was going to focus on Crazy N’ the City, so here it is sans categorization.

Crazy N’ the City did not make my top list of Hong Kong Films of the 2000s, but with good reason — I hadn’t seen it. I know I’m a movie reviewer by trade, but some films simply slip through the cracks, especially stuff that comes out in another country altogether. The year Crazy N’ the City came out, I’m pretty sure I was regularly watching Korean romantic comedies and horror films (don’t ask) instead of my beloved Hong Kong cinema. Well, I finally saw the film awhile back, and I can now say that I totally understand why Kozo and the Readers ranked it so high. I don’t know where I’d rate it, but I really liked it, all the same.


The Specter of Charlie Chan

“What’s your dissertation about?” That’s a question I get asked fairly often when people learn I’m working towards my PhD in literature. With that in mind, I thought I’d use Ronin on Empty to address that very question. Usually, I like to play things close to the vest for fear that someone might steal my idea or some other similiar paranoid thought. But seeing as how I’m pretty far along in the project, and I’m actually declaring myself here “in print,” you’d have to be one bold bastard to try to rip me off. So, for those who are interested, here’s my dissertation concept:

 Specter of Charlie Chan

Who is Charlie Chan, and why does he remain such a controversial figure? Created by Earl Derr Biggers in the early 1920s, the Honolulu-based Chinese detective appeared in six widely popular mystery novels. And beginning in 1931, the Fox Film Corporation spearheaded the creation of an even more successful “Charlie Chan” film series – running nearly fifty movies in total – first starring Swedish actor Warner Oland and later American actors Sidney Toler and Roland Winters in the title role. Beloved by Depression-era viewers nationwide and hailed as a progressive depiction of a Chinese character amidst a sea of crass Orientalist stereotypes, Charlie Chan was far from the controversial figure he is today. Since the late 1960s, revivals of Chan, particularly on the silver screen, have drawn protests and condemnation from the Asian American community. Despite the tremendous success of the character prior to the end of World War II, Charlie Chan eventually lost his status as a beloved matinee icon, as his name alone became a kind of shorthand for the racist stereotyping of Asians in the popular American imaginary. In less than a half-century’s time, Chan has gone from celebrated hero to an object of scorn and ridicule. What accounts for his precipitous fall from grace? And how is it that an ostensibly moribund character such as Charlie Chan can persist in his refusal “to go gentle into that good night”?


The Audience as Victim — MURDERER

Aaron’s Review

Aaron Kwok’s reaction to Murderer’s script.

Murderer is the kind of film that makes me both relish and regret my position as a movie reviewer. For those of you who’ve seen this turkey of a film, “relish” might be an easy reaction to understand, thinking that I would love, love, love to mock this movie. But “regret”? Maybe you’d think I mean that in terms of regretting to have to sit through it, but that’s not what I mean by “regret” at all.

While I recognize some films are work-for-hire/totally commercial enterprises, I would hope that most movies are labors of love for the filmmakers involved. Why dedicate a good chunk of your life to something you don’t feel strongly about? Why even bother? A quick glance at the “Making of” Featurette included on the Murderer DVD confirms that director Roy Chow (not to be confused with Rey Chow), writer Christine To, and two-time Golden Horse winner Aaron Kwok devoted countless hours to preparing for this movie.

And after all that hard work, here I come — the snobby film critic — ready to pan their precious creation into oblivion. To tell you the truth, I actually don’t like being in that position. Writing reviews is sometimes difficult, but negative movie reviews are probably some of the easiest reviews to write, as it’s fairly easy to list all the ways you didn’t like a given film. But with that “passion” there’s also the potential to be just plain catty or unnecessarily personal in a review, and I really try to avoid that. I haven’t been perfect; there are plenty of reviews where I’m just a little too snarky, but otherwise, I do try my best to stick to the film at hand.

Anyway, it’s been over a year since the movie was released in theaters, but since most people outside of Hong Kong haven’t necessarily seen Murderer or even heard about it, I have to be careful about spoilers. For those of you who do not want to be spoiled about the plot, continue no further. Some would say that you need to come into the film totally unspoiled to appreciate the twist, but I went in having a somewhat vague notion (Kevin told me, but I forgot the details) and it wasn’t a problem. Actually witnessing the scene play out was nothing less than breathtaking. I’m not kidding. So, for those of you who’ve seen the film and for those of you who haven’t but would like to be spoiled, please feel free to follow me down the rabbit hole…


Random Movie Quotation of the Week: JCVD


The “Muscles from Brussels” delivers a bravura performance in JCVD, a genre-bending 2008 film from French Algerian director Mabrouk El Mechri. Now I realize that me saying that the film boasts Jean Claude Van Damme’s finest acting turn may sound like sarcasm or faint praise when talking about the man who rose to fame in films like Bloodsport, Kickboxer, and Cyborg, but, it’s not meant to be thinly-veiled diss at all.

This movie was a brave and smart choice for Van Damme to make; let’s just hope he can follow it up with something that’s equally as interesting. Otherwise, his “comeback” will be short-lived indeed. If not, there’s always this to remember him by:


La Femme Nikita 2010


Maggie Q, looking a heckuva lot like Jim Lee-era Psylocke

Maggie Q is my girlfriend’s father’s employee’s ex-girlfriend. What’s that make us? Absolutely nothing. Nevertheless, my interest was piqued when I recently learned that the former Maggie Quigley will be starring in the CW’s adaptation of Luc Besson’s La Femme Nikita (1990).

This marks the third official remake* of the original French film starring Anne Parillaud. The first, Point of No Return (1993), was directed by John Badham and starred Bridget Fonda. The second, a 1997 TV series that ran for five seasons on the USA channel, starred Peta Wilson, who later appeared as Mina Harker in a movie so bad that it made Sean Connery quit acting altogether.


Should Our Reviews Have Ratings?

Siskel and Ebert

When returns from its hiatus, it probably won’t add star-ratings to its reviews. This issue has been discussed internally a couple of times, but when all was said and done, Kozo stood firm on the current format. Honestly, I don’t really have an opinion one way or the other. If he wants ‘em, let’s do it. If he doesn’t, that’s fine with me.

Of course, it would likely be a huge logistical nightmare if we were to implement star-ratings.

Not only would it be a massive headache going through the entire back catalog of reviews and applying a star-rating to each film, but what do we do about movies we’ve changed our minds about? For example, I gave Justice, My Foot! a lukewarm review after first seeing it, but after watching it again, I liked it better and put it on my Hong Kong Cinema Recommendations List. So should I award a star-rating based on my old opinion or tweak my review to match how I currently regard that funny Stephen Chow film?

And what about movies that were reviewed by people who no longer work for the site? Do we leave ‘em as is or try to track them down? Or how about trying to rate movies that are neither great nor horrible? The difference between a two-star film and two-and-half star film would probably not have any mathematical basis whatsoever. And most important, what about movies like Murderer that simply defy a ratings system altogether?


Fire of Conscience, Spark of Interest


Leon Lai calls to check on Norelco products at his local Walgreens in Fire of Conscience

Judged solely on the basis of its action sequences, Fire of Conscience is, to my mind, an overwhelming success. From the restaurant shootout to the human bomb showdown to the flaming garage of doom finale, this Dante Lam-directed film contains the kind of tense, teeth-clenching action scenes that make you flinch, groan, and maybe even cheer with every act of violence shown onscreen. While the martial arts choreography of something like Ip Man 2 might be more athletically impressive, the thrills and spills of Fire of Conscience are far more involving.

It’s just too bad the rest of the movie isn’t quite as compelling.

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