In 2010 my wife and I set up a weekly movie night and I selected a Japanese film for us to watch every other week. In 2011, I am upping the ante and trying to watch a movie each day. The first week of 2011 was characterized by action films from Asia. Well, most of them were action films. Here’s how it broke down.
Avalon (2001) dir. Mamoru Oshii
Supercop (1992) dir. Stanley Tong
The Chaser (2008) dir. Hong-jin Na
Ip Man (2008) dir. Wilson Yip
Survive Style 5+ (2004) dir. Gen Sekiguchi
The Stool Pigeon (2010) dr. Dante Lam
Exiled (2006) dir. Johnnie To
Tears of the Black Tiger (2000) dir. Wisit Sasanatieng
Chop Socky: Cinema Hong Kong (2003) dir. Ian Taylor
The week was by no means an exhaustive or even particularly diverse study of Asian action cinema–China, Indonesia, India and others weren’t even included. It’s probably not fair to call Survive Style 5+ an action film at all, and while Tears of the Black Tiger has plenty of action, that term is so inadequate to describe its lunacy that I hesitate to include it. Finally, I wrapped up the week by going meta with an American-made documentary about Hong Kong martial arts movies, but still, I think I learned a thing or two.
Guns Are Bad, Hammers Are Worse
There’s probably a thesis topic in here somewhere, but I was struck by the use (or absence) of guns in these films. Exiled featured a handful of scenes of intense gunplay including a finale that saw probably a hundred rounds fired off at close range. Any time a bullet his someone, the victim’s blood atomized into a red cloud which was a great visual effect until it started feeling even more played out than the digital squibs in most contempoary shoot-em-ups.
Where things got interesting was with The Chaser and The Stool Pigeon. The two most recent films on the list featured almost no guns at all, and in fact, a gun might have come in handy in either of those films. In The Stool Pigeon a police informant is chased down by a gang he has ratted out and when they catch him they hack at him mercilessly with machetes. I can’t imagine this scene being written into a contemporary American gangster movie since such a chase would be avoided the moment when someone pulled out a Glock. Likewise in the Korean serial killer flick The Chaser, the cops come face to face with the killer pretty early on and yet there’s never a gun around when they need one. The titular Chaser doesn’t pack a gun either, and for a guy who’s job it is to protect his call girls from dangerous Johns, a gun would seem like a reasonable precaution.
Western gangster and serial killer movies turn to guns by default. The final fight in The Chaser was made so much more intense by the fact that no one could end it with a simple pull of a trigger.
Cops Are Bad
Except for Supercop, not many of the cops in any of these films was particularly worthy of praise. The cop in Ip Man turned stooge, the cops in The Stool Pigeon all screwed over anyone they could to save face. The cops in The Chaser, a whole army of them, couldn’t keep one guy from escaping on foot, and couldn’t do anything to find or stop the killer. The police sergeant in Exiled was merely hours from retirement so he looked the other way whenever he saw men carrying guns. Even Tears of the Black Tiger was plagued by a police force that the film rooted against. Is there just some institutional mistrust of police in Asia? The cops in each of these films were either corrupt, inept, or completely impotent.
Ip Man is a Badass
I’m now on a mission to see as many Donnie Yen movies as I can (though I wish I hadn’t seen his official website.) Yen is amazing in Ip Man, and what’s more, Ip Man is a real movie that just happens to be about kung fu. You know, for all of the supercops and the triads and the larger-than-life hitmen, sometimes I just want to see a good story, well told, that also has a man kicking people’s arms in half. Ip Man had that.
Vinnie Jones is a Mess
As a contract killer, you could do a lot worse than to hire Vinnie Jones! If you don’t believe me, check this movie out. If the image below and the madcap poster don’t convince you, I don’t know what else to say.
Survive Style 5+ also stars Tadanobu Asano who was fantastic in Mongol and who may not be cut entirely from the upcoming Thor film.