Sunday, February 1, 2015

East and West

I admit it - these were a couple of bagatelles I watched on streaming when I didn't have anything else in particular to watch.

Chinese Zodiac (2012) is more or less the latest Jackie Chan action film. It may be his last big stunt oriented movie, but we've heard that before. Last or not, it is a return to his Armor of God style - Jackie is a treasure hunter looking for the twelve bronze sculptures that the British looted from the Summer Palace. Like is Armor of God, he has a couple of cute women working with him: art historian Helen Yao and Laura Weissbecker, a descendant of the original looters.

The movie starts with a ridiculous rocket-powered street-luge-suit escape scene, and there are several equally amazing set pieces throughout. In between these stunts, there are plenty of the usual fights, done with the usual joy and charm. The credit sequence includes stunts from past films instead of the usual out-takes. I admit, I got a little misty. This trip down memory lane seems to indicate that there will be no more of these crazy movies.

Journey to the West (2013) is Stephen Chow's latest (more or less) crazy movie. It strikes me as a little Kung Fu Hustle, a little White Snake. Zang Wen plays a mop-headed demon hunter, who tries to subdue demons by reading them kiddy songs to bring out their goodness. He doesn't have much luck with this, but one of his gorgeous competitors, Qi Shu (So Close) keeps showing up to bail him out. His master sends him to find the Monkey King demon, who was imprisoned by the Buddha long ago.

Lots of adventures, demons, kung fu, and silliness. Zang Wen maintains a humble, good-hearted attitude throughout, although he always doubts his skill when he always needs Qi Shu to save his skin. But it ends with a very sweet cosmic Buddha cameo, and shows how this is a prequel to the classic Monkey tale of a monk travelling east to bring back sutras with the assistance of demon companions.

I've mentioned before that I am a Buddhist, and I always get a little thrill when a movie features Buddhist themes, instead of the Christ figures we always get in American and European movies. Of course, Buddhism can be used in a shallow, cliche way just like Christianity. I'm not judging Journey, just saying your mileage may vary.

Finally, one last - 14 Blades (2010), a Donnie Yen costumer about the brutal imperial secret police and the powerful swords they are entrusted with. I can't say this is worse than the usual stuff, but it isn't better. It's a small thing, for instance, but I didn't care for the art design of the weapons or the ubiquitous seals and sigils the factions used to identify themselves. Too contemporary and somewhat clunky. So this one turned out to be just a time-filler.

The other two were worth watching though.

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