The Grandmaster (2013)

I was ready to be impressed by this movie. Sadly, I was not impressed.

Wong Kar Wai takes on the story of Ip Man in The Grandmaster, with his favourite muse Tony Leung in the title role. It tells the story of… well, I’m not sure what it’s all about, really. It is ostensibly about Ip Man becoming and being the Grandmaster. But it’s also about Gong Er (Zhang Ziyi), the daughter of the Grandmaster before Ip Man. The stories are linked and yet not linked, and could probably have been split into two different movies for all I cared in the end.

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Best Film Fights

I was looking through some movies a couple of weeks ago, searching for some clips to use in one of my classes, and in the middle of that search I started wondering: what would I pick as the best movie fights I’ve seen?

After some contemplation, I’ve managed to whittle it down to a top five, with a bunch of honourable mentions. And in compiling this list, I’ve discovered the elements that make an on-screen fight “good” to me: outstanding (or at least interesting) fight choreography, good pacing, injections of humour or some sort of emotional gravity to the scene… and preferably, no one dies or is mortally injured.

So here’s what I think are the best five fights on film (in order of appearance):

Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi vs. Darth Maul (Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, 1999)

The original Star Wars trilogy is better than the prequel trilogy in terms of storytelling and innovation but the fights simply cannot compare. For their time, the lightsaber battles in Episodes IV to VI were good, but the choreography of the prequel fights is rather different and much better – or better, at least, for the contemporary viewer’s eyes. It’s more fluid and more complex, as Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan demonstrate here when they take on Darth Maul and his double-bladed lightsaber. (I appreciate how the person who uploaded the video has edited out all the other scenes – because in the movie, the fight was crosscut with Anakin’s scenes and Padme’s, which made it harder to appreciate the fight setup.)  There’s no humourous angle to this fight, but there is the shock of Qui-Gon’s death, which adds weight to the fight and makes Obi-Wan’s win at the end bittersweet. I daresay Obi-Wan wouldn’t have beat Darth Maul on his own if he wasn’t propelled by the agony of seeing his master go down like that…

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Wolf Children: Ame and Yuki

Hosoda Mamoru’s latest piece, Ookami Kodomo no Ame to Yuki (henceforth Wolf Children for short), is the story of Hana and her children. Hana falls in love with a wolf-man and they have two children together – Ame and Yuki. Though the children are the titular characters, the story is really about Hana and her struggles trying to raise two half-wolf children alone after the wolf-man dies.

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Iron Man 3

Brief, spoiler-free review: Not bad at all. Definitely better than Iron Man 2, but I’m not entirely sure it’s better than the first Iron Man.  I’d rate it ★★★½

Robert Downey Jr. returns as “billionaire, playboy, philathropist” Tony Stark, a.k.a. Iron Man, in this third installment of the franchise. But it’s a slightly different Tony Stark. This is a Tony Stark plagued by discomfiting uncertainty and questions after the alien attack on New York City, in which he nearly died after delivering a nuclear missile into enemy territory. He’s just a “man in a can”, he tells Pepper. A man subject to panic attacks and sleepless nights, which he chooses to spend building and testing new suits of iron instead. At the same time, a terrorist named The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) is threatening America with inexplicable bomb attacks where no one can seem to locate or detect the explosive device that creates the blasts. One such explosion puts Stark’s old friend and bodyguard on the brink of death, prodding Stark to declare war on The Mandarin. The immediate aftermath of that declaration is an attack on Stark’s home, and he ends up being separated from Pepper and from all his beloved technology, save his most recent suit – which definitely performs just like a prototype, to say the least…

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Movie Round-up #4

Time for more mini-reviews… Eight films, ranging from one-star to three-star ratings. As usual, a mixture of English language, Mandarin and Japanese films.

Tenchi Meisatsu (2012) – ★★★
I was very happy to find this (and Rurouni Kenshin) on the list of in-flight movies on the way to London. :D
Considering that this film is about the creation of a calendar, it’s pretty good. Takita Yojirou of Departures fame directs, and the always amazing Hisaishi Joe provides the music for Tenchi Meisatsu (which goes by the English title “The Samurai Astronomer” but I prefer the direct translation “Insight into the Universe”). It isn’t a very riveting film, but Okada Junichi and Miyazaki Aoi inject a great deal of charm into their characters – Santetsu Yasui, member of a samurai family who has an unusual liking for puzzles and stargazing, and En the keen and clever sister of a well-known math teacher (also played charmingly by Sato Ryuta). There’s quite a bit of intrigue as courtiers attempt to assert their power by blocking the adoption of a new, better calendar, and Santetsu tries to defy them. I found the courtly intrigue a little dull, but fortunately it didn’t overwhelm the story.

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Rurouni Kenshin

Wanted to get this done before 2013 rolled in… but failed. So I guess this will kick off my 2013 blog posts instead of ending 2012? Anyway, here goes:

In a nutshell, Rurouni Kenshin is about Himura Kenshin, a wandering swordsman who has sworn never to kill again. (“Rurouni Kenshin” can be translated to “Kenshin the Wanderer”.)

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