Category Archives: Movies

Not Unnoticed: Asians in Pop Culture

I’m a pretty chill guy.  Not critical at all.

No, that’s a lie, I’m pretty darn critical.  That being said, most of the things I like to argue about and criticize are hypothetical, and not something that I feel passionately about.  Usually, it’s because I’m discovering whether I care or not as I discuss – usually by the end of the argument, I care very much.

So it is with the Asian presence in pop culture.

Something is off…

When I first encountered this issue, it was (as it was for a lot of people) upon viewing Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.  Short Round was just… offensive.  I was a child, so I couldn’t really put my finger on it.

Then I watched Big Trouble in Little China in elementary school during afternoon day care.  I was surprised when a character in the middle of the movie started fighting everybody with clear, practiced moves, as I had assumed the character to be a helpless bystander.

“He can fight?!”

Brandon, the aide watching my class during afternoon day care, said “He’s Chinese, so in this movie, of course, he knows kung fu.”  Then he and the students around me laughed; his laughter was because the movie was making fun of pop culture by enabling it, and the students’ was because that logic just made sense to them.

I just didn’t get it.  I assumed it was a plothole.

I grew older.  I grew up on Jet Li, Donnie Yen, Yuen Biao – and absolutely anything by Tsui Hark, Corey Yuen, or Yuen Woo-Ping.

I found out that Jackie Chan was going to be in a movie with Jet Li.  It would be called “The Forbidden Kingdom.”  This is the poster:

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It would get a western theatrical release!  How exciting!  Choreographed by Yuen Woo-Ping?!  Yes, yes, yes!

So imagine my surprise when the movie was in English.  Okay.  Interesting, considering almost nobody in the movie speaks it as a first language.  Then I saw the most offensive part.

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Who the flying Funk & Wagnalls is this, you ask?  It’s the star of the movie.

What, was there not enough star power with Jet Li and Jackie Chan?  These are international powerhouses.  The marketing alone shows that they were aware of how Li and Chan would draw people in.

I was reading The Joy Luck Club with my class, and I decided to watch the movie.  I didn’t end up showing it to my class because a lot of the movie has a mother talking to her daughter about her life at home in China – all in a thick, Vietnamese accent.

I got mad about it.  I read Yellowface in college and got mad some more. Then I decided that the world needed to take a chill pill.  It’s not worth being mad about, I thought.  The world will learn, people will see.

Nobody sees.

Warning: the following image may cause intense physical pain to the viewer if they are in any way appreciative of the manga/anime Dragon Ball.

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I can’t even talk about that one without seething for the rest of the day, (no matter who apologized) so I’m going to discuss one that all Americans have a chance of understanding.

Bones is one of those rare shows that both my wife and I enjoy.  In it, a forensic anthropologist named Dr. Temperance “Bones” Brennan works with her FBI partner Seeley Booth to solve crimes by looking at the clues found in murder victims’ human remains.  The show is entertaining because it has action, mystery, romance, and even elements of science fiction (the multi-million dollar Angelatron named for the Bachelor of the Arts grad that can hack into anything and create facial reconstructions from remains – no matter how grotesque of a condition they may be in.  Once, the victim was already cremated.)

I was binge-watching the series with my wife on Netflix today when we got to an episode of Season 10 called “The Lost Love in a Foreign Land.”  In this episode, Bones and Booth discover an underground human trafficking ring in which women were being trafficked out of Yianbian, China.

The murder victim looked pretty Korean to me, but that’s okay, I reasoned.  [Further research explains this, as Yanbian is on the border between Korea and China.  I didn’t know this, but before you start forgiving people, keep reading.]

Then it got insulting.

The Angelatron used facial recognition (or some other garbage tech) and pulled out a list of suspects.  This led them to their suspect, Sung Dae Park.

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I’m just so thoroughly disturbed by how Vietnamese his accent was.  At this point, I realized that the story they wanted me to buy was that this Vietnamese guy had a Korean name and lived in a village in China.  Maybe you can’t hear it, but his accent might as well have been Australian, and his name Igor Boris Natasha – that’s how noticeable these things are to an Asian audience.

I understand that the Korean thing can be explained by the bordering Korea thing, but you can bet that if it was a white person speaking Spanish, they would bother to explain why he knows the language.  They just threw us Chinese people with Korean names… then had them played by Vietnamese people.  Even if you excuse that, the accent!  The ACCENT!  Worse, the accent was a choice – by either the director, the producers… or Scott Ly, the actor himself.    How do I know that?  Look, Ma, no accent!

(“Ly” is a Vietnamese name, in case you’re doubting me.)

Maybe they couldn’t find anyone to play this character more authentically, you think.  Well, Bones was filmed in Los Angeles.

 

enough

 

This was just like the lady in The Joy Luck Club.  If Jackie Chan can play a Vietnamese guy in his upcoming movie The Foreigner, then surely this is to be expected, right?

Wrong.  I know I can’t effect change all by myself, but I’m putting them on blast.  You thought surely nobody would notice?

We all notice.  Be ashamed.  Do better work.

That being said, I’m torn – because The Foreigner looks awesome.

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The Rock is Terrifying – Review

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Central Intelligence definitely has all the appearances of a mass-market, mainstream product of the Hollywood movie factory.  After all, you have Kevin Hart – who has been blowing up with his new stand-up movie, 2 Ride-Alongs and 2 Think Like a Mans… and Dwayne Johnson, who has been subtly trying to get my attention in comedy movies for some time now.  Why not just the adrenaline-charged serious action movies, Dwayne?

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Johnson has been walking that typecast line for a while.  With knockout roles in GI Joe, The Fast & Furious series, and remakes like Walking Tall, Escape From Witch Mountain, and the upcoming Jumanji, he has more or less played the same character, with varying degrees of charisma depending on the movie’s requirements.  With his intelligence varying from doofus Pain & Gain levels to the cunning Hobbs introduced in Fast Five, I have yet to see him in a role that required more from him than an angry, determined look and a muscle flex.

Kevin Hart, similarly, has been in the same role for much of his movies: the insecure, self-absorbed goofball that always tries to talk his way out of situations.  I actually began to tire of this character after the second Ride-Along movie, and I was prepared to groan at his resurgence with this new venture.

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Surprise, surprise, Kevin Hart is the straight man in this movie.  His character, nicknamed in high school as “The Golden Jet,” is not only a normal person, but he’s faced with very real passions, problems, and insecurities.  He’s worried that he peaked in high school, and that he is less of a man because of it.  This insecurity leaks into his relationships.

Meanwhile, The Rock has been thrust into the comedic role.  The movie not only calls his sanity into question throughout the entire running time, but also uses close-ups to show… emotion?  On The Rock?  It’s like they gave him one of those charts with the different feelings and what they look like.

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Central Intelligence is hilariously fun.  Kevin Hart is satisfyingly fresh and comical as the straight man because that’s what makes his stand-up funny; he’s a relatable, insecure guy with real concerns.  Seeing that man flustered is too funny.

The Rock is hilarious because he’s honestly terrifying.  Not in his usual way – in a deranged way.  If one of my friends began acting like he does in this movie, I would have run far, far away within the first five or six minutes.  Most of the laughter at Johnson’s antics starts with nervous laughter.  The action is fun, over-the-top, but not 21-Jump Street insane.

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That’s not to say that this is a perfect movie.  No way.  The beginning of this movie reminds me of 17 Again in all of the wrong ways, and features some of the most horrendous CGI of the decade.  The Golden Jet’s love interest is vapid and cardboard, convinced that they need counseling with little to no evidence of any real problem between the two.  Yet somehow, I know that when this title goes on sale I’ll be there to swoop it up.  Definitely worth a Red Box night with the lady.

On a scale of Doom to Fast Five, I give this movie a Get Smart.  It’s funny, full of action, and has some excellent scenes, but has little to actually remember.

About This Here Power Rangers Reboot…

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Whoa whoa whoa, slow down, America!  We’re really doing this?  We’re going to make a reboot movie of a show which literally took action footage from another show and inserted white people to make a completely new show with roughly the same storylines and battle scenes?

Okay, I’m down.  But we all know this is going to be bad, right?  Even the best parts of the original show are bad.  Awesome?  Sure, but nobody thinks that this is going to be good, right?  Like am I going to be mad because Saban’s Power Rangers was overlooked by the Academy?  Every year, I keep expecting the acting for the latest Power Rangers franchise to get better because, hey, it’s 2016, maybe they figured it out by now.  No such luck.  The movie will not be better.  CG doesn’t make everything better.

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This is the armor Saban made for the very first movie.  Besides removing the lump that was the Yellow Ranger’s package (he was a man in Japan, you see) and making everyone shiny with little coin logos, there wasn’t much modification done.  Now we have alien cyber-suits, possibly some kind of bio-engineered thing.  But of course those aliens made sure the girls got boob cups and high heels.

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And let’s not forget our classy villain played by Academy Award Winner wait no sorry Elizabeth Banks.  She’ll be wearing an equally practical suit for ruling the world.  Is that part of her gauntlet doubling as shoulder armor for an otherwise bare shoulder?  She looks like a stand-in for Poison Ivy from Batman and Robin.

Ooh.  Just got a chill.  Must be a freeze coming.

The only way I’m really on board with this is if it really embraces what it is and doesn’t even try to be serious.  This is not going to be Chris Nolan material – heck I’ll be glad if it’s even Chris Rock material.

Half of the success of the Power Rangers is the amount of camp in it.  No camp = no Power Rangers.  If they try to get dark and gritty, or worse, go the way of CG = Everything.  If that happens, I wouldn’t be surprised if we got an apology to the fans a decade later.

I could swear I’ve seen something like this, where an alien suit gets dropped down and some kid finds it and uses it to fight the alien chasing after the suit… I could never find that movie.  I guess I won’t have that problem anymore after this.  Just…

(UPDATE 5/7/16: Because the Internet is mighty, I found it.  The movie is called Star Kid.  Don’t watch it.  Just rest knowing that it was found.  Curiosity satisfied.  Case closed.  Keep moving.  Don’t IMDB it.)

Are we sure we want millions spent on this?  Don’t we have a struggling education system that could use the money more?  What if they just made a new series with our own CG and solid acting and just aired it after Arrow on the CW until people realizes it won’t work, or it backfires and goes on for 10 more seasons and makes a lot of people famous?

Update 5/07/2016

I can’t believe I didn’t see this before: WHERE’S FREAKIN’ TOMMY?!

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I mean, yes, they’re probably doing the whole evil to good arc considering that’s the only story arc worth anything from Mighty Morphin’, but still… how dare they cause us to doubt his presence.  Obviously if they can’t get JDF in there they should at least have the character.

Dragon Ball Evolution Writer Apologizes to Fans | The Dao of Dragon Ball

Apparently, the writer of Dragon Ball: Evolution has apologized to fans for writing that monstrosity of a movie.  I think it’s admirable for him to put the onus on himself considering there was way more than awful writing going on with that movie.  Also, there are many who suspect that if not for this horrible movie, Toriyama wouldn’t have come back with Battle of the Gods and Resurrection of F, not to mention his decision to continue the series.

“I went into the project chasing after a big payday, not as a fan of the franchise but as a businessman taking on an assignment. I have learned that when you go into a creative endeavor without passion you come out with sub-optimal results, and sometimes flat out garbage. So I’m not blaming anyone for Dragonball but myself. As a fanboy of other series, I know what it’s like to have something you love and anticipate be so disappointing.”

We forgive you.  Now let’s forget.  Forever.  Don’t be that guy that keeps getting our attention so you can keep apologizing.  We all want to forget this movie.

Source: Dragon Ball Evolution Writer Apologizes to Fans | The Dao of Dragon Ball

Kylo Ren and Darth Vader (Not a Review)

This is not a review of The Force Awakens.  This is a discussion of Jacen Ben Solo’s arc.  Specifically, comparing it to the arc of Anakin Skywalker.  I don’t claim to have any kind of canonical authority, just an opinion with lots of facts to back it up.  Let’s start with the punk whiner baby first.

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I never really bought the Anakin to Vader transformation.  Don’t get me wrong, this kid had Dark Side all over him.  However, as far as character transformations go, Darth Vader was nothing like Anakin.  Anakin Skywalker was a whiny man-child with raging hormones.  He was angry pretty much all of the time.  His murders were crimes of passion.  His decisions were rash, bold, and improvised.  His major sin was Wrath, followed closely by Envy and Greed.

The taking of Tantive IV (by Jerry Vanderstelt)

Darth Vader may have been a servant of the dark side, but he always struck me as cold.  Darth Vader’s presence was chilling and inhuman.  He seemed to know your thoughts before you thought them.  He killed swiftly and brutally, punishing his opponents relentlessly.  He killed all who got in his way, even if it was his own subordinates giving a show of incompetence – he would dispatch them quickly, with the turnover for his second-in-command subordinate rank in any mission notoriously high.  Darth Vader did not yell in anger.  He did not cry out in rage.  Well, not after that first time.

That was the major problem.  Anakin Skywalker was supposedly seduced.  He was supposedly a victim.  Darth Vader is nobody’s victim.  If you look at Darth Vader, his character is completely different from Anakin’s in more ways than just which side he’s on.  When did Anakin become so cunning?  Using the torture of Han and Leia to lure his son via the Force so that he could ambush his son and freeze him in carbonite (The Empire Strikes Back)?  That’s not an Anakin plan.  That’s a Vader plan.

In fact, it’s a bit ironic that the Jedi Order promotes a lack of passion and serenity, because it almost seems like Anakin attains this by becoming what Obi-Wan called “more machine now than a man.”  As Vader, he feels no love, has no possessions, and feels no jealousy… or at least that’s the vibe that he gives.  For someone whose power flared the most in times of passion, Anakin lost everything that made him turn in the first place… and not just literally.

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… oops.

Would Vader, the villain of IV, V, and VI lose himself and kill his entire reason for turning to the Dark Side in the first place?  No way.  That’s some Anakin tomfoolery.  Vader is cool and calculating.  Vader does not look like someone who was just turned to the Dark Side.  Vader is a master of the Dark Side.

How does Vader find this mastery?  Could it be that some promises were kept between him and Sidious the Liar Who Transparently Offers You What You Want at That Exact Moment?  I read the Darth Vader book that supposedly takes place right after Revenge of the Sith in search of this answer, but to no avail.  Yes, it showed a bit of the Darth Vader Learning Curve, but nothing about how he went from the screaming, hormonal, unwieldy, potent, explosive rage monkey of unspeakable and often uncontrollable power to the icy, relentless presence of Darth Vader.  I’m pretty sure I saw Luke hit this guy twice with his lightsaber and he kept on coming.  Han Solo shot him, but he simply absorbed the energy of the blaster bolts into his hands.  (As Corran Horn would later learn to do to a greater extent.  Read I, Jedi for more info… you know, after you read the rest of the Jedi Academy books.)

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Enter Darth Caedus Kylo Ren.  Unlike Vader, this character is extremely angry.  All the time.  He is also conflicted, as if traumatized by the recent stress of turning his back on all that he was taught as a child.  The Dark Side is a big, powerful thing that he has just joined as an older person.  Not trusting its volatile nature save when needed in moments of sheer destruction, Ben Solo uses his lightsaber more than his Force abilities, which are fierce indeed, showing us some feats never used before.

Ben knows his grandfather was full of the same rage… yet Vader was obviously on point with his powers, never showing his emotions.  Never letting them consume him.  Ben is adamant about finishing Vader’s work.  He has vowed to learn from Vader’s mistakes too, as evidenced by the handguards on his saber that would easily prevent the wielder from getting his hand severed.  You know, like in every single movie so far.

(UPDATE 5/2/2016: I know that the official explanation is that the quillons of the saber is formed from  raw power vented out the sides from the primary central blade.  Whatever you say, what do I know?  I’m only an expert in the LEGENDS of Star Wars, not the CANON.)

Ben Solo looks a lot like his grandfather in terms of style choices.  In fact, for those of us who just watched RotS, the resemblence is uncanny.  He has shown himself to be powerful and extremely angry as well.  Immediately we think of Anakin in his “prime.”

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Look at this beast.  In his prime, Anakin was uniquely gifted with powers of an unprecedented magnitude, even if they were not extremely diverse in variety as Ben Solo’s abilities.  He was a superb duelist, with Temple training and Jedi experience built in to his combat repertoire.  Anakin Skywalker, Hero of the Jedi.

But we know that Ben Solo is no Anakin.  He is not dogmatically sure that what he is doing is right.  He has no Padme to blind him.  We have no idea what Snoke used to get him… all we know is that for some reason, he identifies with Darth Vader on a near obsessive level.  Why?  Have they both experienced love?  Is he wondering how Vader could turn, and become so powerful as to master the Dark Side without any kind of doubt, such that he could kill his mentor – which perhaps Ben attempts to mirror in his father’s murder for the same kind of catharsis?

Well, for one thing, we know that Anakin’s story is not one of the best-preserved pieces of history in the Star Wars Universe.  Nobody seems to recognize Vader as Anakin… ever.  So really all the knowledge Ben logically has at this point is that Anakin became Vader in the pursuit of power… and according to Vader’s reputation, Ben has to assume that he got what he wanted.

Ben will never be Vader.  This has to eat him.  Maybe he’ll try cyborging himself one day in an attempt to try.  He wants to be Vader, but this is shown especially in the way he is only human.  He is injured twice by Finn, defeated by Rey, and let’s not forget shot in the side by Chewie’s bowcaster.  He can’t keep on coming like Vader can.  Not yet.

I think that when Ben finally finds out enough, and does enough, such that he can truly understand his grandfather, he will also find himself in a position more than ever to understand why Vader came back to the light.  I think Ben’s last moments will be those of redemption, even as we hit Episode VIII, where it’s – as Kevin Hart would put it – about to go down.

Finn’s Star Wars Adventure – Review

So I know this review is considered “late” by movie standards, but the rule seems to exempt Star Wars movies, as I know there are people still writing their personal reviews of A New Hope… so I feel that my thoughts are still worth recording and presenting.

I’m split like Two-Face about this movie.

On the one hand, this movie does a lot of things right to the Star Wars franchise.  The prequels’ hugest mistake was that it moved Star Wars away from being an adventure movie series.  Nobody was experiencing new things, everyone was an expert and engaging in political negotiations and such.

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Episode IV: A princess fleeing Darth Vader with plans to destroy the Death Star?  Adventure!  Excitement!

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Episode I: Jedi sent to mediate the taxation of trade routes, which are in dispute.  They are called on to settle things between a Trade Federation and a planet you just introduced with a monarchy ruled by a 14-year-old girl who has so much makeup that she is instantly alienated from the audience until halfway through the movie?  Did you even make it past the words “taxation of trade routes” in that sentence before your eyes went half-lidded?

The Force Awakens follows a girl with an unknown past who has only really stayed on one planet, and a stormtrooper who has only known an upbringing with the Empire – both people who have experienced very little of the rest of the galaxy.  These characters go through new things with the audience and can react like the audience, instead of like smug little experts (old Han Solo…).

So now we’re back on an adventure!  There are plenty of similarities between A New Hope and this one.

  • Dark villain introduced in first few minutes and kills someone.
  • Big bad guy ship opens movie.
  • Droid given secret information and then abandoned on a desert planet.
  • Stormtrooper rescues prisoner from the bowels of enemy territory.
  • Lightsaber duel at climax.
  • Superweapon threatening Rebel Base in seconds before exploding.

We got to see some new things.

  • We got to see a pedestrian (non-Jedi) use a lightsaber.
  • We got to see a “inferior saber.”
  • We got to see troopers actually shoot people.
  • Blah blah blah minority blah blah woman main characters.

We also got to see a villain at a crucial point in his character development.

I really enjoyed Finn’s character, and how he has all the experience the Resistance needs, but other than that nothing else that would make him “street-smart.”  Finn freaks out during all the times that I would freak out.

Poe Dameron was interesting.  He was a cocky, arrogant, male character thrust into the role of a damsel in distress.

Then there’s Kylo Ren.  On one hand, horrible horrible name.  I get that you’re tired of Darth Villain being the dude behind stuff but between “Kylo Ren” and “Supreme Leader Snoke” I’m having a hard time taking anything seriously.

However, I like the character arc that he immediately represents.  Instead of showing us a cold, transformed villain (seen it) we have a villain at the very start of his transformation.

So yes, fun movie.  I predicted most of the story, but that’s okay!  True to form, they know we really wanted to see Old Luke’s power, so they slapped in a flashback so we could see Mark Hamill’s name and get excited and then just made him part of the cliffhanger.  Now they’re challenged with doing the ESB of the new trilogy…

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“Good Luck.”

Then there’s the part that infuriates me: in one deft move Disney has destroyed the EU and relegated those stories to “Star Wars Legends.”

Wow, way to relegate decades of acquired knowledge and emotional investment.  Knowing their futures and their place in a larger extended universe is part of what gave the movies replayability.  Now every character is gone?  No Jacen Solo becoming Darth Caedus?  No death of Chewbacca wracking young Anakin Solo with guilt?  No Thrawn?  No Mara Jade Skywalker?  No Lowbacca, Jedi Wookiee?  No Jaina?  No Zekk, no Kyp Duron?  No Tenel Ka, losing her arm in a lightsaber accident?

… Oh well.  It was only my childhood.