The Warring States (2011) fails on nearly every level it can: faulty plot, underdeveloped characters and a distinct lack of key elements of narrative. I know it’s tough, but I have to be honest. This is probably the worst historical film I’ve seen, because at least Three Kingdoms: Resurrection of the Dragon had Andy Lau looking fierce even as an older Zhao Zhilong.
Ok, not really the first YesAsia order, but I thought it would make an interesting post to see what I’m getting and why. Also, this presents a nice change from me complaining about how Netflix has completely ruined our relationship by not having my Asian stuff!
First, let’s talk about what I’m NOT getting: the 94-episode Three Kingdoms released in 2010. Thanks, China, for not loving me. Why no subtitles in English? WHY?! Really, why make it region free (not like I care) but not have English subtitles? And I can’t do the various OTHER internet ways of accessing this (read: quasi-legal). Standards are too high when it comes to wuxia series. Can’t do parts.
So, let’s move on to what I am getting:
Reign of Assassins: You can’t be surprised by this. Michelle Yeoh and Jung Woo Sung. Co-directed by John Woo. I’ve been waiting for this, not just for the action but for the domestic story. It could be an interesting twist on the “I don’t wanna fight any more” plot, because it’s a woman saying it. Usually, we see swordsmen become beleaguered by the life of a hero. They retire to some cave, or become a monk on a mountain somewhere. Which is fine, but when it is a female lead, inevitably part of her domestic life is going to involve becoming romantically involved with a guy. Where else would the tension come from when her gang comes looking for her trying to drag her back into the life? The stakes are different for ladies, and I’m interested in how they handle this.
Shaolin: Once again, this is a given, ever since I saw the trailer for it. AND it’s not JUST because it has Andy Lau, Nicholas Tse and some guy named Jackie Chan in it. Corey Yuen does the martial arts choreography and it’s written by Benny Chan. Yeah, I know we’ve seen the destruction of the Shaolin temple many times, but I’m never opposed to revisiting it, especially if someone can bring something new. Plus, it looks like there may be some engagement with the modernization of China. At least that’s what I think of when I see cars and guns versus monks.
The Lost Bladesman: Me, absolutely giddy with delight at the prospect of seeing Donnie Yen play Guan Yu. You had me at Guan Yu. You know he’s your favorite of the Three Brothers. I want Liu Bei to be a better man than he is, and Chang Fei is just cray cray. Now, there is the potential for disappointment here, especially since it will invite comparisons to Red Cliff. You know my aim here is not to tell you what’s “good” and what’s not. I’m just telling you what I like. And I like Donnie Yen. A LOT. Plus, Guan Yu seems to have more potential for exploration as a character. I do want to see him do more than wield the blade and do that move with the beard. I’ve heard some less than stellar things about the actual plot, but hey, I’m getting it ANYWAY!
True Legend: Yes, not just because of Vincent Zhao but because of Zhao PLUS Yuen Wo Ping! Ok, I do have a thing for Zhao and it has everything to do with the emotional roller-coaster he took me on as Chu Zhaonan in the wuxia series Seven Swordsmen. STILL not over that ending! I think that he could be a viable go-to guy for action and wuxia films, but no one seems to go to him. Putting him with Yuen Wo Ping seems like it will be a treat. Yeah, I’ve heard some less than enthusiastic things about it, but hey. I’m getting it ANYWAY! I’m really looking for another treatment of the Beggar So legend than Steven Chow’s stuff.
Ok, so that seems to be a good deal of wuxia-related stuff. But that’s not all I’m getting!
Turning Point: This is has been in my saved cart for a while, and I wondered why I put it in there in the first place. Then I remembered: Michael Tse, of Young and Dangerous fame. You know how attached to Young and Dangerous I am, and I really like this guy. Plus I heard good things about the television show, EU, on which the film is based.. And it has Anthony Wong AND Francis Ng, each with crazy haircuts, which means the potential for their portrayal of off-the-chain characters is high.
Stool Pigeon: I’m always looking for a good crime drama, and given that this is directed by Dante Lam, who also directed Beast Stalker, I’m willing to give it a try. I always love to see Nick Cheung do serious roles, because the first time I saw him was as the wise-cracking security official in Andrew Lau’s The Duel. Who knew he’d go from that to things like this? Plus it looks like Nicholas Tse isn’t as pretty as he usually is in films. I’ll deal with it.
And to round it out, Don’t Go Breaking My Heart: Who doesn’t love Louis Koo? And I particularly like him when he’s being silly and romantic. Pair him up with Daniel Wu in a Johnnie To vehicle, and this could be great.
So that’s it. That’s what I’m getting. Once my shipment arrives, I will regale you with my opinions, because I know you are so looking forward to that.
Reign of Assassins, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-i4yVbYX98I
The Lost Bladesman, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sA2NETUFkc0
True Legend, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sNzRP0ZSKzw
Turning Point, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J5EMxEVFE2E
Stool Pigeon, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N-6NX_ZnCLM
Don’t Go Breaking My Heart, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yh0gGbDf6XM
I can’t exactly say I like Francis Ng. But, weirdly, I do look forward to the crazy characters he plays. Need a weird, awkward, alcoholic, pathological anti-social pyschopath? Then Francis Ng is your guy! I first became aware of his unique talents in Young and Dangerous. Dude does not-right RIGHT!
So imagine my glee(?) when I heard he was teaming up with Marco Mak for Tracing Shadow, billed as a wuxia parody. To its credit, I think it is shot better than you would anticipate a dramedy of this kind to be. It’s pretty and the martial arts choreography, wire work and swordplay is better than I would have expected.
To be honest, you are not going to find anything new in this if you’ve seen even a sprinkling of wuxia films. It didn’t make me laugh out loud, but it did make me smile. It wasn’t over the top crazy like mo lau tai wuxia comedies, but it had its fair share of subtle humor and just things that didn’t go together in a weird kind of way. Like that impromptu jam between Ng’s character and the eventual object of his affection, in a brothel, to what sounds like a fusion of traditional Chinese music and hard rock. Yeah. And there THREE crazy things waiting for you in the middle, but unlike other people, I’ll let you find them for yourself. You’ll know when you see them. And THAT made me smile, that I was able to recognize what, or more accurately, WHO, they were supposed to be. See, watching all that wuxia pays off in the end! Another redeeming factor is that Jaycee Chan is actually decent in this. I’ve seen him in other things, and I don’t blame him because he’s been in roles that didn’t really fit him. But here, he is actually kinda charming. Good job!
And while I’m thinking about it, can people who write about films please stop heralding the end of Hong Kong film with EVERY film that does not meet some high expectation? Good grief. If I had a dollar for every film somebody said was killing Hong Kong film, I’d be rich. Chill out. Not every film is supposed to be super great. I’m not mad at this. I save that for things have truly no redeeming value whatsoever, and when you think about it, that’s pretty rare.