Black Mask (1996) — March 22, 2016
Saw this dubbed when it got released in the US in 1999. Surprisingly enough, it’s better in the original language. Best part of rewatching these movies now is recognizing the character actors: Lau Ching-wan as Jet Li’s cop buddy, Anthony Wong as a freaky drug dealer, Karen Mok as the librarian who might have a crush on Li. There’s even screenwriter Roy Szeto as one of the library co-workers and Story of a Discharged Prisoner director Patrick Lung Kong as the final villain.
Anyway, it’s pretty silly, but I’d still take this over every Marvel movie of the past decade.
Dragon Blade (2015) — September 17, 2015
A historical epic with Jackie Chan, John Cusack and Adrian Brody, set along the Silk Road as a fugitive Roman legion encounters a Chinese security force, this was even worse than I imagined it would be. Let’s set aside the complete and utter ahistoricality of it all (despite the “based on real events” title card at the start) or the simplistic naiveté of Jackie Chan’s vision of interracial harmony, the uplifting and apparently inevitable side effect of manly exercises like play-fighting and building stuff, and just focus on the action, which is ostensibly all one looks for in a Jackie Chan film. It’s pretty boring. Chan looks old and tired, the costuming pads him out (the better to absorb blows he would have taken bare-chested 30 years ago?) and slows him down. The choreography occasionally makes creative use of found objects, but that only reminds one of better scenes in other Chan films. The editing has the same peripatetic rhythm of 21st century wuxia, but with none of the surreal flair that CGI effects can give such films (Chan remains the most committed to actuality of his peers). Most absurdly though, director Daniel Lee continually frames Chan as an angelic figure, beaming beatifically on the men he has lectured and unified, awkward grin on his poorly-coiffed head (some things never change) as he is haloed by the backlighting sun. It makes one long to return to the striking image of a crucified, eyeless, John Cusack, if only out of a longing to take his place.
OK, one point: it’s set in 48 BC, but all the Romans refer to themselves as being part of the “Roman Empire”, but Julius Caesar wasn’t assassinated until 44 BC, and the Empire wasn’t really established until 27 BC, and even then it wasn’t called that for quite awhile later. ↩︎