While we were taking care of things (see previous post) the family decided that we all needed a break so we headed out to the local theater to take in a picture. There wasn't much to pick from, so we ended up seeing Forbidden Kingdom, a fantasy-lite Kung Fu flick starring Jet Li and Jackie Chan.
Despite several years of my formative youth spent deep into Hong Kong cinema, I've never been a Jet Li fan at all. Jackie Chan, on the other hand, was The Man for several years running as far as I'm concerned. I was such a fan, I even went out of my way to meet him twice when he came to the states. Nicest guy ever, and Ken Lo (who was with him at the time) was a pleasure as well. I say this to establish the fact that I'm no stranger to films of this sort, or to either of these stars. So how was the movie?
For starters, the plot was like an anglo HK nerd's wet dream. In a nutshell, a doofy-looking white kid finds a "magic staff" that teleports him into some misty, magical Asian dimension sporting every possible HK reference and cliche from the last, oh, I don't know... forty years or so.
I mean, if the film had been an obivous parody or designed for the 'core HK fan as a sort of Where's Waldo spot-the-nod it might have been passable, but there's not even the slightest hint of tongue-in-cheek going on, which makes watching the insipid quest to learn martial arts, win the heart of the chaste Asian girl, and defeat the Jade Army (yes, it's really called the Jade Army) completely unbearable.
The only people I can see actually enjoying the film are the 12-and-under set thanks to the bloodless combat, silly characters, and pap plotting -- and even under the grip of a Red Vines sugar coma, I doubt the savvier kids will sit through something that would have felt dumbed-down even in the midst of the late '80s/ early '90s kid-movie boom. I mean, 3 Ninjas Kick Back had more edge than this gauzy piece of fractured fairytaling.
This is what we get when we take two of the biggest martial arts stars in the history of the world and put them on film together? I can't even put my disappointment into words.
On a more positive note, I finally wrapped up the Death Note manga series a day or two ago. Many thanks to Nightdreamer for turning me on to the best Japanese comic I've read in years.
There's tons of info online detailing this series, but the gist is that a supernatural entity gives a magical notebook to a high school genius. This book can kill any person whose name is written on its pages, and after criminals start dropping like flies, a super-detective named L is called in to solve the case. After many twists and turns, the book becomes a battle of wits between the boy with the notebook and the detective pursuing him, and the spiraling corkscrew action of the plot is guaranteed to make anyone's head start feeling a little dizzy, in a good way.
Bizarre as it is, I completely recommend this series to anyone looking for something far off the beaten path, as long as you don't mind reading the comic from right to left in Japanese format. If the strain is too much, it's also an anime series currently running at night on Cartoon Network and there's even an upcoming live-action film. (Trailer here.)
If any of you readers out there have more suggestions for quality manga, drop me a line... I'm planning on finally completing the Lone Wolf & Cub series at the moment, but I wouldn't be opposed to getting into something more recent as long as it delivers the goods .