Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Asian Stuff  

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.

Jackie's hair in this pic says it all.


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?


Frickin' terrible.


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 .

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5 comments: to “ Asian Stuff

  • Chi Kong Lui

     

    Golgo 13, Vagabond and Berserk.

    Golgo 13 is the Law & Order of Manga. The only difference is that instead of someone turning up dead at the beginning of an episode, someone ends up dead at the end, courtesy of Duke Togo. Viz just completed a 13 volume collection.

    Berserk is just crazy (no pun intended). Skip the first volumne. Just the most sweeping medieval/horror epic imaginable. Truly a manga for adults as violence, sex and taboo topics are all explored to their darkest depths.

    If you want a more modern take on the samurai genre than Vagabond is shits. The first 20 volumes are just sublime. Unfortunately, the more recent volumes have become a bizarre grind.


  •  

    Sanctuary is friggin clever, and with any luck you can find it cheap just like I did!

    According to Wikipedia (but don't read the Wikipedia entry unless you want plot spoilers):
    Sanctuary is a political thriller and crime story that featured two childhood friends, Akira Hojo and Chiaki Asami, who are ruthlessly struggling to set a new paradigm of living in Japan. However the two friends took radically different paths: Akira chose the dark path and joined a Yakuza gang, while Chiaki strived to become the youngest member of the Japanese Diet. Being survivors of the Cambodian killing fields, the two characters developed an unmatched aggression and survival instincts, helping them to achieve their common ultimate goal: making Japan their own sanctuary.

    Something more recent is Fullmetal Alchemist. A bit of a heavy manga too, but not as dizzying as Death Note. The anime is also worth checking out as the two takes a radically different path in their storytelling.


  •  

    Thanks for the suggestions.. I'll see what I can dig up!


  •  

    Brad,

    What did you think of the end of the manga? I know a lot of folks felt it dropped off in quality after the "BIG PLOT TWIST" halfway through.

    As far as recommending manga, check out Uzumaki, Drifting Classroom and Monster.


  •  

    Thanks for the recommends Chris and everybody.

    and about the end of Death Note... well, honestly i felt like the final twist was prety preposterous-- but to be fair, a lot of the things that happen in Death Note are preposterous anyway.

    As someone who writes, there are a lot of things they tried to do that I *never* would have attempted, and because of that madness, it became a pretty engaging read that was tough to predict the outcome of.

    was i happy with the ending? well, no... not really. i actually wanted it to end the opposite way, and i thought it was a little bit of a cop-out that they ended it how they did.

    that said, i did enjoy DN from start to finish, and it sort of got me excited about manga all over again. i had given up on it a while ago when the market stared to flood, but seeing such odd, interesting stuff still out there was a thrill.

    the last time i was heavy into manga, i read Battle Angel Alita, Area 88, Crying Freeman, Lone Wolf and Cub, Ranma 1/2, Lum, and a lot of the other vanguard works that opened the market up in the states.

    things went south soon afterwards, but i'm definitely going to start investigating things a bit more.