The Ruminator

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Sunday, March 30, 2003

Hip-Hop Chop

Michelle Yeoh - among the many things I have wanted to be in my life. For the uninitiated, she kicked ass in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon – the older, wiser woman who was in love with Chow Yun Fat, not the young whiny one with an attitude problem. I really love martial arts flicks, which if done well are fast-paced, skillful, and violent without being gory.

This weekend I went to see Cradle to the Grave, the latest Hollywood Jet Li film. In case you had any doubts, this will not go down as one of the greats of martial arts cinema history. It did provide the couple of hours distraction I expected, as well as many examples of classic movie formula.

Plot Summary Taiwanese bad guys kidnap the daughter of a diamond thief with a heart of gold (played by rapper DMX). Jet, DMX and a merry band of sidekicks have to get her back and foil the kidnapper’s evil plan, which threatens the world as we know it. Conveniently enough, the kidnapper was once a friend of Jet’s, who betrayed and tried to kill him.

Buddy movies In the eighties, black guy/white guy buddy movies were very big – the Lethal Weapon series for example. These days black guy/Chinese guy seems to be the formula of choice. Think Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker in Rush Hour, or Jet Li and another musician, the late Aaliyah, in Romeo Must Die (OK so in this case black chick/Chinese dude). This is a combination which allows for wacky cross-cultural mishaps, and provides one street-wise bad-ass, and one little dude who causes great surprise when he kicks the shit out of 20 guys twice his size.

Asians are inscrutable Jackie Chan tends to do the wacky Chinese guy shtick, Jet Li is more your silent type. This is probably almost as much to do with his fairly tenuous grasp on English as racial stereotyping. He really didn’t say much that was not basic and functional, which made him problematic as a sympathetic character as you really knew nothing about him personally. He also notes that, being a Taiwanese secret agent, he is hampered in America by not being allowed to beat information out of people.

Diamond Thieves are not really criminals Diamond thieves have always been the gentlemen of the movie criminal world – think David Niven. It is almost a Robin Hood image. Early in a heist DMX’s merry men inquire as to who owns the gems they are stealing. Apparently only drug dealers and crime lords can afford that kind of jewelry, which makes it all OK. DMX also has a no-guns policy and is a doting father, so clearly these facts outweigh his criminal tendencies.

Every movie needs a cat-fight Naturally, the movie also had a couple of hot chicks – one Asian, one black. In accordance with racial stereotypes, the Asian chick was exotic, deadly, and would torture you for fun to fill in a slow weekend. The black girl was sassy, sexy, not averse to giving a blow-job to create a diversion, and had a heart of gold. Naturally, the two girls end up fighting. No, they didn’t end up kissing.

Hollywood has discovered the martial arts flick, but still hasn’t figured out what to do with it. The martial arts skills are not used to best advantage, which means there is not sufficient distraction to compensate for the thin plot and characterisation. You really need to watch the classic Hong Kong kung fu flick to get any real satisfaction. Yes, the plot and characters are often stupider than those in Hollywood, but man those guys really kick ass, so who cares. Also look forward to the big budget Hero, which should see Jet Li in true form.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I just need to learn how to use a dozen more weapons, run up walls, and keep a poker face.


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