Gone with the Bullets (Review)

Gone with the Bullets

aka 一步之遙 aka Yi Bu Zhi Yao aka 隨子彈飛 aka One Step Away
Gone with the Bullets
Written by Jiang Wen, Wang Shuo, Guo Jun-Li, and Shu Ping
Directed by Jiang Wen

Gone with the Bullets
Jiang Wen’s followup to Let the Bullets Fly goes in a completely different direction, a period satire of the entertainment industry, a scandalous crime, and a China carved up by colonial forces. Basically they gave Jiang Wen a dump truck full of money and he made the most ridiculous razzle-dazzle he could craft that also spent a good portion of the film mocking the very razzle-dazzle it celebrated. Yet the whole thing is hard to engage with, not even bothering to spend time to keep the audience and just flies off in whatever direction it feels like as the story rumbles along. It is certainly a spectacle, but the whole thing just isn’t my cup of tea.

Jiang Wen is Ma Zouri, a local scam artist who is so good at self-promotion that a warlord’s son comes to him for advice in an effort to switch from new money to old money to impress foreign women. Ma Zouri and his partner in crime Xiang Feitian (Ge You) see this as the perfect opportunity to fleece this guy out of all his money while simultaneously putting on the biggest talent show for ladies of the night in the history of the world, which will put Shanghai on the map. The pageant for President of Escort Nation features women from across the globe and is a huge production with multiple numbers, but in the end Wanyan Yin (Shu Qi) emerges victorious. She’s a former flame of Ma Zouri as they were growing up together, and soon the pair are racing around town high on opium until Wanyan Yin is dead in a car accident and Ma Zouri is on the run, assumed to be her killer.
Gone with the Bullets
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Links Complex

[adrotate banner=”1″]Hey, it’s about time I put up a new wall of links. In fact, I had so many that I had saved in various drafts I combined several together for this entry, and will get a separate entry that is links to cool posts on movie blogs later in the week. Learn from me and finish your articles! But let’s get on with the show…

**An awesome graphic about gender inequality in film. Especially relevant since this is the first time in forty years a female-lead movie was tops at the box office.

**Can it be December already so I can watch the new Jiang Wen movie? Gone with the Bullets (一步之遙) will be the followup to Let the Bullets Fly, which was spectacularly awesome. Jiang stars along with Ge You, Shu Qi, Wang Zhiwen, Wen Zhang, and Zhou Yun, and the plot involves a beauty pageant.

**In yet another short gets optioned into a feature film news, Beyond has been optioned by SyFy. Beyond was created by Raphael Rogers, who wrote and directed it on a budget of $1000. Beyond is about a woman who can teleport across space and time, and is the last of her family.

You can watch Beyond here, it is less than 9 minutes long.

**Everyone’s favorite mobile game that’s just the opening scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark will hit the big screen, where hopefully it will be more than just 90 minutes of the opening scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Temple Run becomes the latest of small scale games to get a movie option (preceded by Angry Birds), thanks to Warner Bros., who are increasingly desperate to find a new franchise to milk. Speaking of which, I need to rewatch Raiders of the Lost Ark….

**South African thriller iNumber Number will get an American remake by Universal. No word yet on if writer/director Donovan Marsh will be involved. iNumber Number is about an honest cop who goes bad after being cheated out of a promotion. Soon he has bigger problems when the gang he robs wants revenge.

**I am very excited about the Flawed Dogs animated movie, based on the books by Berkeley Breathed, specifically The Shocking Raid on Westminster.
Flawed Dogs

**Nickelodeon will bring us a film called Boogeymen, where a kid teams with the Boogeyman to investigate paranormal activity. I guess it’s sort of like that old Fred Savage movie Little Monsters, except they do Scooby-Doo stuff instead of just act silly. Boogeymen is based on a pitch from John Sullivan, and Howard Deutch will direct. Howard Deutch directed Pretty in Pink and several random sequels: The Odd Couple 2, Grumpier Old Men, and The Whole Ten Yards

**I’ve been arguing this for years, nice to see it getting some actual attention. It is possible you are made up of more than one genome, due to absorbing other genomes in the womb. It’s a type of chimerism that turns out to be a lot less rare than previously thought.

**From Pyongyang to Mars: Sci-fi, Genre, and Literary Value in North Korea

**Mel Gibson, Taylor Lautner and the 20-Year Effort to Make a ‘Stretch Armstrong’ Movie

**The Adventures of Pete and Pete is back (sort of) in podcast form!

**The MPAA, RIAA, and various ISPs have come up with their own “downloading is bad” school curriculum for California. A bit of advice: unless this crap is on the state exams, no teacher is going to bother. Though I wouldn’t put it past one of those “charter” schools after the MPAA gives them a sizable donation. Because they’re greedy cesspools.

**The awesome story of young Russian WWII heroine Zinaida Portnova

**Explore hundreds of old movie magazines for free thanks to Lantern/The Media History Digital Library! Say goodbye to your free time!

**After the Cinema of Disgust – A close reading of the renegade New Wave of Tamil Cinema

**Remember in The Wizard of Oz when Scarecrow had a gun?

**Air Bud is real!

**Jon Sorensen – Personal recollections and impressions of working on Alien

**The Great Lester proves even a dummy can go to jail!
The Great Lester

Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons

Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons

aka 大話西遊之三藏付魔 aka Xi you xiang mo pian

Written by Stephen Chow Sing-Chi
Directed by Stephen Chow Sing-Chi and Derek Kwok Chi-Kin

Journey to the West Conquering the Demons
Stephen Chow makes his triumphant return behind the camera for Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons! While early trailers played up the comedic aspects, Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons is thematically very different from what you would expect. It is mainly a horror comedy with romance elements. A sort of prequelized tale to the Journey to the West mythos, with the usual liberties and elements of true love and wackiness sprinkled in.

Stephen Chow spent most of the time since CJ7 running his own company (including work on the CJ7 cartoon) and randomly getting attached and unattached to various Hollywood projects. Even with this return to directing, Chow did not appear in front of the camera, despite rumors to the contrary. Those rumors have even started for the eventual sequel, of which I don’t think work has even begun. Whatever Stephen Chow wants to do is fine by me, because despite the flaws in Journey to the West 2013, it is still a marked improvement over a lot of the boring big budget garbage coming out of Chinese cinema lately.

Chow’s usage of actors with nonstandard physical appearances is still happening, the look of the background actors becoming as much of their role as their actions. There is even a sort of comment on the usual lack of problems with a woman getting hit by a man in Hong Kong comedies. Everyone freaks out when it looks like Shu Qi is about to get smacked by Monk Chen, and of course she then beats up the guy who almost hit her.
Journey to the West Conquering the Demons
Chow’s fantasy retake is unconnected to the prior A Chinese Odyssey films, and is stylistically very different. The depiction of Monkey King is more of a mean-spirited animal than a practical joker, but again this is before he became “reformed”. But don’t fret, the classic songs from the original Chow films still show up in unexpected ways.

The true main character is the Monk Chen Xuan-zang (more commonly known as Tripitaka), here just beginning his monkhood service as a demon hunter. Chen Xuan-zang follows a particular philosophy where there is good in everyone, even demons, and he doesn’t set out to kill the monsters. His travels cause him to repeatedly cross paths with professional demon hunter Duan, who ruthlessly stops her targets with magic flying rings she wears as a bracelet.

Soon their continual meetings is revealed to be more than just an accident, as Duan chases after Chen Xuan-zang in an attempt to get him to marry her so she can settle down. The Monk is adamant in his devotion to his faith, dismissing romance as “Lesser Love” and he is following “Greater Love”. But despite the problems, their paths continue to merge, leading to drama when the Monkey King is unleashed.

The different portrayals of Monkey King by Huang Bo and then some guy in makeup are a great example of building a complex character. Monkey King appears as a friendly, grateful guy who is convinced to help to try to regain some cosmic karma. But he’s far more than that, and soon the demeanor changes as his plan for freedom falls into place. Monkey King is then a wild animal in a costume, basically a cartoon character, who then has a big cartoon violence fight with several demon hunting champions, each with their own ridiculous powers. The kindly grey Huang Bo would not work in these action sequences, just as the monkey costume version would not be believable as a captured and tormented soul yearning for freedom.

Chow’s borrowing of other properties takes a turn to the lazy here when various scenes are lifted wholesale
most notably an action cinematic that is swiped directly from the Asura’s Wrath video games. Other characters are takes on some classic wuxia characters through history, including one called Almighty Foot, who is basically Sek Kin from The Furious Buddha’s Palm, right down to the identical foot growing sequence (even the music and foot growing sound effects are borrowed!) but with a bit of CGI enhancement. Heck, even the concept of a prequel-style movie with Tripitaka in a love story was done before (by Jeff Lau, in A Chinese Tall Tale!)
Journey to the West Conquering the Demons
All is forgiven thanks to Prince Important, who is Law Chi-Cheung doing a ridiculous impression of Stephen Chow. He plays him sickly and carted around by four “beauties” – older women who talk back at everything Prince Important tries to do to look cool.

Journey to the West‘s biggest problem is it needed an editor. The pacing in any Stephen Chow flick is always off, but here it also rather long. Certain comedic scenes could have been cut down without losing anything important, and making the film tighter as a whole. While not as original as I could have wanted, and prone to meandering off on random topics, Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons was still a joy to watch, and hopefully helps give a needed kick to the seat of Chinese big budget cinema to bring more to the table than the blandness. Anything that ups the game is always welcome.
Journey to the West Conquering the Demons

Chen Xuan-zang/Tripitaka (Wen Zhang) – Newly minted demon hunter from a sect that believes that the demons are still good creatures at heart. After capturing the demons, he reads t them from The Demon Hunters Handbook – just a book of 300 Nursery Rhymes! His sifu believes in him and thinks he’s just missing that little something. During his missions he continually runs into Miss Duan. Cares more about the people he is saving than any of the other demon hunters we see in the film.
Miss Duan (Shu Qi) – Demon hunter and posesser of the Infinite Flying Ring, which she uses to destroy her unholy opponents and wears as a fashion statement. Duan keeps running into Monk Chen, falling for him despite his incistance that he isn’t into that lesser physical love stuff. The flying ring concept is borrowed from the Buddha’s Palm films.
Chen Xuan-zang’s Sifu (???) – Monk Chen’s master, who knows almost everything that is going on in the spiritual world even if he can’t keep things straight in the physical world. Spends most of his days srawing images on walls that tell the past and future.
KL Hog (??? and CGI) – Former good man turned revenge demon after his wife cheated on him with a beautiful man. Is a powerful demon and spends much of the film chasing the heroes.
Monkey King (Huang Bo) – Monkey King has been trapped in a cave for 500 years, but is always eager to please anyone who stops by asking for help. I’m sure the master trickster has nothing up his sleave….

Journey to the West Conquering the Demons
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The Sorcerer and the White Snake (Review)

The Sorcerer and the White Snake

aka 白蛇傳說 aka It’s Love aka Bai she chuan shuo aka Madame White Snake

Written by Charcoal Tan, Tsang Kan-Cheung, and Sze-To Cheuk-Hon
Directed by Tony Ching Siu-Tung
Action Directors – Tony Ching Siu-Tung and Wong Ming-Kin

Ice Age 5: Journey to Mt. Doom!

The Sorcerer and the White Snake is a big budget effects bonanza that also doubles as a sleeping aide. Thanks to China attempting to become a major player in the movie department, they’ve begun adopting the worst aspect of Hollywood blockbusters. Giant empty special effects, bland characters, story arcs that go nowhere, and a film made as generic and non-offensive as possible to ensure the widest possible audience. Sadly, that also makes The Sorcerer and the White Snake just like so many of those big budget films in that it is not very good. Now, I can’t fault them entirely for being inspired by generic Hollywood junk, that’s most likely the films that are imported over to China that clean up in the box office. But in the race to show how China can do it too, they failed to realize what China is doing is failing just as bad.

We’ve come to avenge Ting Ting from Thunder of Gigantic Serpent!

When making The Sorcerer and the White Snake, the producers decided the most interesting part about this classic love story was a supporting character who fought spirits. My thinking is they wanted to do a familiar story but also wanted to do a film with huge action sequences. The only feasible way was to graft it onto the classic White Snake story. But it just doesn’t work. The original tale is diluted and weakened, while the Monk’s expanded story receives little payoff. This decision even further boggles the mind because they kept the title It’s Love, which hints that the film should be focused on the couple and not the monk. The biggest sin of all is the action sequences ring hollow and bland. Large portions of what should have made the film great were sacrificed for spectacles that focues on looking good over actual impact. Thousands of people at thousands of computers worked for thousands of hours to make me bored. Many of the huge battles fail to even convey a sense of danger for the combatants, even when the entire ocean is turning into giant tidal waves with giant snakes swimming around, no one seems to be in real danger.

Someone wasn’t paying attention when they read the Book of Genesis!

But are there bright spots? Well, the film certainly looks very nice. Good cinematography. Moments of the action sequences are good, but not enough. This paragraph should be longer, but I really can’t think of anything.

By that time, my mouse lungs were aching for air.

It is legally impossible to talk about The Sorcerer and the White Snake without bringing up the last well known theatrical version of this story, Green Snake. I’m serious. Lawyers will call you and yell. While Tsui Hark’s film is a masterpiece, it is a completely different story (based, in fact, on a separate work, the book Green Snake by Lilian Lee!) Comparing Green Snake to The Sorcerer and the White Snake is like complaining because The Muppets Wizard of Oz isn’t enough like Wicked. They are two different stories with two different tales, with the same narrative starting point. And this post isn’t about Green Snake, it’s about The Sorcerer and the White Snake.

I hate it when I’m in the bamboo forest and a rap video breaks out…

Let’s meet the cast, then I’ll point out some places where the film did okay and where I got annoyed.

Master Fahai (Jet Li Lian-Jie) – The abbot of Jin Shan Temple and famed demon hunter. Very arrogant and strict, though he does try to capture most of the spirits in case they want to meditate for rehabiliation. See more Jet Li in The Forbidden Kingdom.
Susu aka White Snake (Eva Huang Sheng-Yi) – White Snake spirit that is thousands of years old and has the fortune/misfortune to fall in love with a human being. Eva Huang is best known for appearing voicelessly in Kung Fu Hustle, then getting fired from Stephen Chow’s production company, and drama ensuing, then still making it in the cutthroat world of acting/producing.
Qingqing aka Green Snake (Charlene Choi Cheuk-Yin) – The rowdy Green Snake, who is more emotional and joking than her friend White Snake. But she is loyal and will defend her friend to the end. Charlene Choi is also on TarsTarkas.NET in Treasure Inn, Hidden Heroes, Beauty on Duty, and Protege De La Rose Noire.
Monk Nengren (Wen Zhang) – Assistant monk to Master Fahai and he accompanies him on all his adventures. Until he’s bitten by a bat demon and begins turning into a spirit himself. It also looks like the monks don’t have much of a health care plan…
Xu Xian (Raymond Lam Fung) – A young herbalist with big dreams and posessing enough of a cool factor to catch the eye of Susu for some cross-species romance. Turns out he isn’t that upset that his wife is a snake.
So much CGI, the excitemenZZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzz…..

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The Sorcerer and the White Snake

[adrotate banner=”1″]The Legend of the White Snake lives again in movie form with the upcoming The Sorcerer and the White Snake (白蛇傳說), which hits theaters in China in September. The Legend of the White Snake is a story older than writing, and has been the basis for countless stories, books, operas, tv shows, and films. The version probably most familiar in the west is Tsui Hark’s 1993 Green Snake, with Maggie Cheung and Joey Wong. White Snake and Green Snake are two snakes that have taken human female form, and the basic story usually involves White Snake and a young scholar falling in love, until a monk comes along and throws White Snake into a well. Later versions sometimes change things to a more happy ending.

The Sorcerer and the White Snake has Jet Li as the Monk Fa Hai, and it will feature many martial arts battles. Eva Huang is White Snake, and Charlene Choi is Green Snake. The scholar Xu Xian is Raymond Lam, and the Monk’s understudy is played by Wen Zhang. Several others have been cast as various demon characters, including Jiang Wu as Turtle Devil, Vivian Hsu as Snow Goblin, Miriam Yeung as Rabbit Devil, Chapman To as Toad Monster and Lam Suet as Chicken Devil. So it will be a huge zoo of fairy monster people!

The Sorcerer and the White Snake has had a few English titles, originally Madame White Snake and then It’s Love. But It’s Love is a lame name, thus the distributor changed it to The Sorcerer and the White Snake to pull in Harry Potter fans. I’m kidding, they actually did it to get fans of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice franchise! But will it have the “mocha mocha” song? Because you need the “mocha mocha” song!

Ching Siu-tung (1987’s A Chinese Ghost Story) directs.


English subs trailer:

Effects work video:

Sorcerer and the White Snake
Sorcerer and the White Snake
Sorcerer and the White Snake Charlene Choi
Sorcerer and the White Snake
Sorcerer and the White Snake
Sorcerer and the White Snake
Sorcerer and the White Snake