5-Word 365 #327 – Flying Swords Of Dragon Gate 3D

I should have left this flick to the end of the year. Everything else is just going to be boring now.

Flying Swords of Dragon Gate

Bonkers story, but who cares?

At this point, I would usually summarise the plot of the film. A couple of sentences just to give you a bit of a primer on what the flick is about. That’s not really going to be possible today. I have just watched this movie twice and I’m still not sure exactly what I saw. There was something about a Palace courtesan who didn’t want any women getting pregnant except her so she had her favoured eunuch kill any pretty maids, but one escaped. And there was a group of master swordsmen who travelled around the countryside rescuing people, and a mythical city full of treasure out in the desert, and there was an inn that was pretty much a wretched hive of scum and villainy.

There is a reason for this uncharacteristic confusion however. Flying Swords of Dragon Gate may be the single most visually astonishing film I have ever laid eyes on. From the first shot to the last it is a two-hour spectacle of dazzling colour, dizzying camera moves, and the finest use of 3D since Avatar. Legendary writer/director/producer Tsui Hark is the first filmmaker to attempt to translate the wuxia genre into the third dimension, and to be honest, everybody else should just give up and go home. I can’t see this being bettered anytime soon. Wuxia movies are of course characterised by their magical fight scenes, and the action assembled for this film is nothing short of jaw-dropping. Everything is a weapon, from the usual swords and flying daggers to ropes, logs, even golden thread in the thrilling climax.

I have a sneaking suspicion that this fella might just be the bad guy.

Flying Swords ostensibly stars Jet Li as the great fighter Zhou Huai’an, but it is really more of an ensemble cast. Tsui has brought along two of the three leading ladies from his modern romantic comedy All About Women, Zhou Xun and Kwai Lun-mei, and there is a dual role for Chen Kun as the evil eunuch and his lookalike. Kwai was the highlight for me, playing a Tartar warrior princess who is quite capable of killing everyone around her just for fun.

Trust me, you don’t want to get that thing around your neck…

Technically a sequel to Tsui’s own 1992 picture New Dragon Gate Inn, which was itself a remake of the 1966 Dragon Gate Inn, Flying Swords is an original story that doesn’t require prior knowledge. The story may be overly-plotted and confusing, the characters may be rather thinly drawn, but today none of that matters. This is all about the spectacle, and what a grand spectacle it is. If you have a 3D TV, Flying Swords of Dragon Gate belongs in your Blu-ray collection. If you still think it’s all just a gimmick, this is one of the films that might just change your mind.

Excuse me, I’m off to watch this again.

5-Word 365 #326 – Bad Company

There are times when I feel that I should stand up and defend a maligned movie. This is not one of those times.

Bad Company

Same old, same old. Snore.

After his hitherto unknown twin brother Kevin is killed during a CIA operation in Prague, New Jersey hustler Jake Hayes is recruited by The Agency to pose as Kevin in order to complete his mission: buying a suitcase nuke from the Russian mafia. What could possibly go wrong?

This 2002 effort from the superteam of director Joel Schumacher and producer Jerry Bruckheimer is the textbook example of the cynicism of Hollywood. Containing not one single iota of originality, every single plot point and story beat is straight out of the Big Book of Mismatched Buddy Action Comedy Clichés. Had Bad Company been written twenty years earlier by Shane Black or Daniel Petrie Jr (for example) then it could have been fresh and exciting and interesting, and probably funnier. As it is, Jason Richman and Michael Browning’s script does nothing but tiredly tick the boxes.

As our mismatched buddies, Chris Rock and Anthony Hopkins struggle to make a silk purse from a sow’s ear. The tone of the film is too far down the middle; not comedic enough for Rock to cut loose, and not serious enough for Hopkins to really get his teeth into. Rock does get the occasional mini-rant that could have been lifted from his stand-up act but, just like in Lethal Weapon 4, these moments don’t quite gel with the rest of the scene around them. Hopkins comes across as somewhere between bored and sardonically amused at the situation he’s found himself in. His performance here is a lot like his M:I-2 cameo in fact, only expanded to a lead role. There are moments that hint at the chemistry that could have been, but unfortunately they never quite ignite.

Nah. I’d be ashamed of myself if I fell into that trap.

Schumacher has assembled a solid supporting cast to back up his mismatched buddies. Peter Stormare seems to be relishing his Maffiya moments but is unceremoniusly dumped halfway through the movie. A pre-Mad Men John Slattery classes up the joint as Hopkins’ Agency superior, and there’s a shamefully uncredited turn from Shea Whigham as the tech support guy. Here’s one for the trivia fans among you: Hopkins’ partner Swanson is played by Brook Smith, who played the girl Hopkins (as Hannibal Lecter) was recruited to help save in Silence of the Lambs. All together now: “it puts the lotion in the basket or it gets the hose again!”

Cinematographer Dariusz Wolski (Prometheus) shoots the hell out of the Prague sequences, but as with everyone else, he never has the opportunity to get experimental or come up with something too new or interesting.

Let’s give it up for Mr Shea Whigham!

As well as the general feeling of “woulda, shoulda, coulda” that surrounds Bad Company, it’s grasp of logic is just embarrassing. I almost turned the flick off when the bad guys seemingly get from Prague to New Jersey – with a suitcase nuke in their possession – in about twenty minutes. And I love how nobody questions the fact that the CIA is putting white-haired Welshmen in the field…

5-Word 365 #319 – Thick As Thieves

We had a bit of a turn up for the books with today’s flick.

Thick as Thieves

Might try it again later.

Four times I tried to watch this film. Four times I got Netflix all primed and ready. Four times I poured myself a refreshing drink and got comfortable. Four times I fell asleep within half an hour.

I love heist movies, and on paper this sounds like it should be right up my alley: Morgan Freeman and Antonio Banderas as a pair of high-class thieves trying to get their hands on $40m worth of Fabergé eggs; Radha Mitchell (swoon) as the girl who comes between them; Robert Forster and Tom Hardy as the cops on their trail. And yet Mimi Leder’s first film since 2000’s Pay it Forward couldn’t hold my interest (or my consciousness) for even thirty minutes.

I think we share the blame for this failure. The flick doesn’t get off to a terribly exciting or compelling start, and none of the actors seem to be particularly invested in the story. Also, it’s been a long year here at Casa de 5-Word and I’m feeling the pinch a little as we draw inexorably towards December 31st.

Ryan’s Rules for making a good movie: No.1 – Put Radha Mitchell in every scene.

Known in parts of the world by the even worse title of The Code, I don’t want to call Thick as Thieves a bad movie because I simply don’t know for sure, but I can say that it isn’t a very interesting one.