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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.

All for One, and One for All — Hong Kong Style!

BTTF

[Every once in a while, I’ll take a trip down memory lane to spotlight an important, interesting, or just plain peculiar historical moment in Hong Kong cinema history. This will be the first. Hope you enjoy ‘em]

Do you remember when Hollywood finally got hip to Hong Kong action? In the aftermath of the Yuen Woo-Ping choreographed fight scenes in The Matrix (1999) and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), Hollywood producers began importing Hong Kong action directors with increased frequency for at least the next three years. Yuen returned for the two Matrix sequels as well as the two volumes of Quentin Tarantino’s saga. His brother, Yuen Cheung-Yan handled the action choreography in Kill BillCharlie’s Angels (2000), Daredevil (2003), and Charlie’s Angels 2: Full Throttle (2003). Corey Yuen-Kwai, who actually got a head start* in Jet Li’s American debut, 1998’s Lethal Weapon 4, which was soon to be followed by his participation with Romeo Must Die (2000), X-Men (2000), Kiss of the Dragon (2001), The Transporter (2001) and its sequel, and a personal guilty pleasure, Cradle 2 The Grave (2003).**

If you’re a Hong Kong cinema fan, you’ve probably heard of, if not actually seen, all of these films. But there’s at least one title missing from the millennial “Hong Kong action director” boom. Does anyone remember The Musketeer back in 2001? That title might ring a bell with some of you, but I’m not sure everyone will remember its Hong Kong connection.

Musketeer

Okay, here’s the scoop. When approached to direct The Musketeer, Peter Hyams (2010, Timecop) was not at all keen on helming the picture – that is, until he came upon the idea of melding Hong Kong wirework with old fashioned Hollywood swashbuckling might actually make the project more interesting – not only to himself, but to the film-going audience as well. For reasons I haven’t been able to determine, Hyams hired none other than Xiong Xin-Xin (most famous as Club Foot in the latter half of the Once Upon a Time in China series) to be the film’s action director. Xiong reportedly spent something like a year thinking up the action setpieces in collaboration with Peter Hyams.

In terms of action, the film borrows liberally from Drunken Master II, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and (most obviously) Once Upon a Time in China). There are a lot of fights, but the one most memorable is at the end. The climactic duel between D’Artagnan (Justin Chambers, now of Grey’s Anatomy) and the one-eyed, black-clad villain, Febre (the great Tim Roth, although Xiong himself doubled for the actor) is a ripoff/homage to the final fight in Once Upon a Time in China between Wong Fei-Hong and Iron Robe Yim. Despite the fight’s unoriginality, the sequence itself is surprisingly thrilling, if not the best thing in the entire picture — although a bit too short for my liking. The scene takes the essentials of the OUATIC fight, adds swords, and ramps things up considerably in terms of the ladder work. It’s a great scene.

There used to be a Youtube clip available of the ladder fight, but all I can find now is the trailer. It’ll give you a taste of the action. You can, however, you can still take a gander at the still-awesome final duel in Once Upon a Time in China.

But what about the movie itself? Is it any good? Well, while I’m assuming a lot of people would think that Alexandre Dumas would be rolling over in his grave due to the addition of kung fu swordplay and stuntwork, I think that would be the least of his worries (aside from being dead, of course). The Musketeer is pretty terrible. The less said about the film’s plot and acting, the better. As indicated by the title, The Musketeer focuses only on D’Artagnan, rather than the remaining Musketeers, who are all played by bigger nobodies than lead actor, Justin Chambers, who himself is woefully miscast. Lacking the star power of Russell Wallace’s Leo DiCaprio-led Man in the Iron Mask and the sheer daring do of Kevin Reynolds’ The Count of Monte Cristo,*** The Musketeer doesn’t hold a candle to its more recent swashbuckling peers. Aside from the action, Tim Roth is probably the best thing in the movie, but is utterly wasted, although he does get to sell at least one line:

QUEEN

Have you no mercy in your heart?

 

FEBRE

 No mercy. No heart.

One could perhaps say the same thing about the movie, although I would argue that the action sequences — and the action sequences alone — are the very heart of the film. The rest is filler.

Well, that’s that. I hope you enjoyed this brief trip in the way back machine to revisit a time when Hong Kong action was all the rage, and making a musketeer movie with HK-style wirework seemed like a perfectly good idea.

__________________________________

*If you want to be technical, Corey Yuen Kwai’s American debut was the HK/US co-production of No Retreat, No Surrender which featured Jean Claude Van Damme and the ghost of Bruce Lee. Really.

**Heck, even Stephen Tung Wai helped with the stuntwork on the live-action Scooby Doo movie!

***The Count of Monte Cristo, starring Jesus H. Christ (aka Jim Caviezel) and scenery-chewing Guy Pearce is an underrated gem. You absolutely must watch this movie, if for no other reason than to witness the pure joy that is Luis Guzman’s anachronistic sidekick. His alternate plan for revenge is not only more straightforward than the count’s, but absolutely hilarious.

2 Responses to “All for One, and One for All — Hong Kong Style!”

  1. tinyskwa Says:

    Any mention of No Retreat, No Surrender must be acknowledged! An amazing movie I watched and re-watched as a youngling, and then forgot about for a couple decades; I re-discovered it several years ago (on laserdisc–still no U.S. DVD release) and it turned out to be a fantastically entertaining Bad Movie, full of great lines and performances. It deserves to be referenced in new movies–the only one I can think of is in Pineapple Express a Chinese gangster uses the phrase “no retreat, no surrender!” as a battle cry [and rightly so]. I yelped out loud in the theater when I heard that.

    I’ve seen The Musketeer on cable years ago; all I remember is the obvious Chinese stunt/fight double(s), wearing whiteface and a red wig. Your musings encourage me to see it again. Thanks for the column!

    -tinyskwa

  2. Sanjuro Says:

    I appreciate the comment!

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