Sunday, August 21, 2005
If We Don't Try, We Don't Do. And If We Don't Do, Why Are We Here On This Earth?
Caught Shenandoah as part of James Stewart Day on TCM. Small-scale Civil War movie with Stewart as the head of an anti-war Southern clan. Really more of an anti-war movie than anything else. It came out in 1965, which seems a little early for such an obvious Vietnam commentary, but there it is nonetheless. Great performance by Stewart in his angry, depressed old man period. The story is awfully dark, but you never get the full effect of depression you'd get if such a film were made today. I blame Technicolor: the movie's way to bright and colorful for it's subject matter. It looks like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, but could have been The Deer Hunter. And the terrible supporting cast Stewart has to work with (outside of Katherine Ross), certainly doesn't help. Recommended for Stewart's performance though. He really is very good.
Also saw Once Upon A Time In China 2 dubbed, panned, and scanned on the Encore Action channel. There are a lot Once Upon movies, 4 of which star Jet Li. The fourth (or sixth) one, Once Upon A Time In China And America, in fact was ripped off by Jackie Chan and turned into Shanghai Noon.
Li plays Wong Fei-Hung, who is to China what Robin Hood would be to England if he lived in the early 20th Century. He was a real person, a legend in his own time, so to speak. In fact, he was the first martial arts movie star, acting in a number of pre-war Chinese films (with his umbrella). He's been adapted into a lot of films, either keeping his name (like in Jackie Chan's Drunken Master movies, though Chan came up with the 'drunken' part as a joke) or being the basic mold for another character (as in Jet Li's Fong Sai-Yuk films, which are really similar plot-wise to the Once Upon movies, though set hundreds of years earlier).
Anyway, in this movie, Wong has to help protect Sun Yat-Sen and his group of revolutionaries from the anti-Western White Lotus Clan and corrupt members of the Chinese government who appear to have sold out to the Japanese. As in many films of this genre, the hero is out to defend ordinary Chinese from foreign invaders (usually either the Manchu or the Japanese). The twist of the Once Upon movies is that, while Wong fights the Eastern foreigners, he's curious about, and very fond of, the West (mainly British and Americans and their inventions and weird customs).
It's well-directed by Tsui Hark, one of the best Hong Kong directors of the 90s: his Swordsman 2, also starring Jet Li, is highly recommended as possibly the best film in this genre. The martial arts are choreographed by Yuen Wo-Ping, the guy who's choreographed every martial arts sequence in every film made in the last 10 years, and with good reason. Donnie Yen (Hero, Shanghai Knights) is the only recognizable co-star, though I didn't recognize him at all. All the Once Upon movies are recommended, though they probably aren't the best way to start in the genre.