am a huge Jet Li fan. In fact, if it weren't for him,
I probably wouldn't have developed such an obsession
with Hong Kong cinema, and certainly wouldn't be writing
While growing up in Middle America, I had a somewhat
limited knowledge of foreign films. For the longest
time, all I knew about Chinese movies were the ones
by Bruce Lee (and his imitators) and those poorly
dubbed chopsocky flicks that the local channels would
show on Saturday mornings. But on a trip abroad to
Singapore, I had the distinct pleasure of watching
Once Upon a Time in China 2 on the big screen.
The experience was nothing less than magical. Much
like seeing Christopher Reeve take flight in Superman:
The Movie or Mark Hamill wield a lightsaber for
the first time in Star Wars, watching Jet Li
take on the role of the venerable Wong Fei-Hong in
that Tsui Hark classic left an indelible mark upon
me. From that moment on, I sought out and voraciously
devoured as much HK cinema that I could get my hands
on. So it's no wonder that I have a soft spot for
Jet Li and rush to see each new film he's involved
with on opening night.
Which brings us to his
latest project, Cradle 2 the Grave. There's
a certain "Catch 22" dimension to Jet Li's
American success. On one hand, it's gratifying to
see Li begin to approach an almost household name
status in America on par with a Bruce Lee or a Jackie
Chan, but on the other hand, it's sorely disappointing
to see the great Li attach himself to such inappropriate
starring vehicles. Romeo Must Die, The One,
Kiss of the Dragonwere any of these truly
great films? For Li fans, I'm sorry to report that
Cradle 2 the Grave does not dramatically rise
above this established Hollywood standard. But on
the bright side, it doesn't sink far below it either.
Taking a cue from Romeo
Must Die and the Rush Hour series, Li is
paired with hip-hop superstar DMX. The need for suspension
of disbelief has never been so necessary. The plot
involves Tony Fait (DMX), who we are supposed to believe
is a jewel thief who robs only from the "bad
people," abhors using firearms, and most importantly,
is a sensitive, doting father of one. Sure, I'll buy
Jet Li plays a boy named
Su (sadly, no Johnny Cash remix on the soundtrack),
who forms an uneasy alliance with Fait. It seems that
Su is a Taiwanese agent in pursuit of some elusive
black diamonds that Fait has stolen in a jewelry heist.
But Su isn't the only one who wants the diamondsthe
villainous Ling (Mark Dacascos) will stop at nothing
to obtain "his preciousss." In a scene very
late in the film (which feels like tacked on exposition),
Ling is revealed to be Su's former partner, whoas
movie bad guys have a tendency to doturned traitor.
To summarize the rest of the plot in a sentence, the
evil Ling and his cronies kidnap Fait's daughter,
get the weapons-grade diamonds back (don't ask), try
to sell them to some arms dealers, and basically await
Su, Fait, and the rest of the gang for the final confrontation.
If you thought Kiss of the Dragon had a gruesome
ending, wait until you see what happens to poor Mark
Despite my playfully
sarcastic comments, Cradle 2 the Grave was
not a horrible experience. While dumb and predictable,
the film is admittedly entertaining at times. That's
the dilemma. How can I pan a film that I was generally
amused by? The main reason, I think, is that the film
just feels like recycled material. In some instances,
that can be a good thing. The fight scenes, the ATV
chase, and even Li's freefall drop at the beginning,
all seem reminiscent of the Hong Kong craziness that
hooked most of LoveHKFilm.com's
readership to HK movies in the first place. And to
the filmmakers' credit, the awkward, groan-inducing
wirework of Andrzej Bartkowiak's Romeo Must Die
and Exit Wounds has been practically eliminated.
Still, the execution
of said fight scenes leaves something to be desired.
On a purely conceptual level, the kung fu sequences
are intriguing. Seeing Jet Li face off against a bunch
of ultimate fighters in a cage match? Sounds great.
Jet Li dueling with Mark Dacascos in a ring of fire?
Sounds like the makings of a classic scene. But the
first sequence isn't as thrilling as one would hope,
and the latter seems a little too derivative of Jet
Li's climactic battle with Russell Wong in Romeo
Must Die. Granted, Brotherhood of the Wolf's
Mark Dacascos makes for a more compelling adversary,
but it still seems a little too "been there,
Performance-wise, Jet Li and
DMX swagger through the proceedings with a certain
charming panache, but they both deserve better material.
For DMX, his father-daughter scenes are supposed to
come across as tender and heartwarmingin effect,
the emotional core of the movie. But instead, the
awkwardly scripted heart-to-hearts feel more than
just a tad weird (to all jewel thieves out there who
are faithful, loving fathers, I apologize). At least
the supporting players in the Joel Silver Actors Troupe
do a competent job of keeping the audience entertained
between the action sequences. Gabrielle Union and
Kelly Hu (alas, playing yet another dragon lady stereotype)
up the film's sexiness quotient while Exit Wounds
alums Tom Arnold and Anthony Anderson (who appeared
with Jet Li in Romeo) almost steal the show
with their well-placed comic banter.
And hey, not only does
Jet Li make a Bruce Lee joke, but he even fights a
dwarf, so the movie's at least worth a look, right?
Wait, what am I doing? Am I talking myself into liking
this movie? How's this for a final score: not 2 bad.
(Calvin McMillin, 2003)