Dead on Arrival

Maybe if I get it out I can let it go.  I’m not down on remakes, just bad ones.  Let’s take some time to see what the remake means.  It means that you are taking something that is already out there, and “reimagining” it.  Fine, cool, but you have to be ready for the inevitable comparison to previous versions, that’s the price you pay.  Pony up!

Let me start by saying I do find things to appreciate in the filmmaking of Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese.  I can’t deny the inherent “coolness” of Tarantino’s stuff.  I have found myself on many a day contemplating whether I am the shepherd or the tyranny of evil  men.  There are still slots open for my own personal set of Crazy 88s. And no one will be able to convince me that Daniel Day-Lewis was not robbed in Gangs of New York. He didn’t play Bill “The Butcher” Cutting, he WAS Bill “The Butcher” Cutting. 

My issue comes with the fact that I can’t watch The Departed and not think of Infernal Affairs, and I can’t watch Kill Bill Vol. 1 and not think of Lady Snowblood.  Let’s take Marty first.  I tried.  I tried to watch The Departed.  I gave it the college try. And then I had just turn it off.  To me, Infernal Affairs is this film built on a certain kind of subtlety.  It doesn’t rely on accent laden dialogue to get the point across.  It’s a complicated elegance that The Departed entirely lacks.  For example, the scene where there is a near miss at the movie theater.  In Andrew Lau’s film, there is a building tension when Tony Leung follows Andy Lau down the corridor and around blind corners.  There corridors are empty, adding to the tension. Will he turn around?  And then the cell phone rings, its sound echoing off the sides of the building.  In Scorsese’s film, Leonardo DiCaprio chases Matt Damon down a crowed city street, to a side alley.  The scene is shorter, and lacks the tension found in Lau’s film.   

While my issues with The Departed have a lot to do with aesthetics, I’ve saved a special place of dislike for Kill Bill, Vol.1.  Others more eloquent than I have taken the film to task for various and sundry reasons, but let me add more.  My primary issue with Tarantino’s film is that many American audiences look at it and go, “Gee, that’s cool.”  My response is:  that ain’t new.  There are women wielding swords all over Hong Kong, Japanese and Korean film.  What is especially troublesome is that Tarantino appropriates from Lady Snowblood and in doing so takes the whole revenge plot out of context.  He leaves behind the whole backdrop of shifting political realities in Japan, particularly the conscription of people and misuse of taxes, which underwrites the reasons why the main character has to go on the revenge quest in the first place. And context is key.  

Let’s talk a little more about context.  If Tarantino really wanted to revolutionize the genre, he would have cast someone not white not blond not blue-eyed as a protagonist in a yellow jumpsuit who beats everyone down, with no status as sidekick, no need for a buddy, and no casting him/her as the villain. He would have culturally corrected the horrendous mistake in casting that sent Bruce Lee to Hong Kong in the first place.  But nooooooooooo.

For people who have seen the Asian films that inform these films, but The Departed and Kill Bill, Vol. 1 are dead on arrival.

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