Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Street Fighter: Legend of Chun Li (2009)

Overall verdict: 4/10

The Good: frantic fight scenes, realistic setting

The Bad: cheesy dialogue, no explanation for sudden inclusion of fantasy elements, cliched story, lack of deeper themes, contrived narrative.

Current Availability Status: on discount priced DVD in singapore

DVD features:
- just the movie

DVD Grade: C-
A bold idea with a failed execution, "Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li" is obviously going for a "re-imaging" of Street Fighter. In a re-imaging, one takes a storyline and makes it realistically believable. A number of movies adapted from comic books, cartoons and games have succeeded in that aspect; choosing to disregard the more far fetched and fantastical concepts and replacing them with aspects that are more rooted in contemporary reality. That much should be a big cue to any viewer to NOT expect something true to the original video game.

It is not surprising that the creative team decided to go with this decision. Previous game adaptations that stuck with its more "unrealistic" concepts(Dead or Alive, Street Fighter 1994) never did as well as those that underwent a realistic re-imaging like Tomb Raider and Resident Evil. Even unrealistic comic book movies like Fantastic Four and Ghost Rider did not do as well as those more grounded in reality like Batman Begins. In fact, it would be a breath of fresh air to have a Street Fighter story taking place in the real world and without all the campy goofiness that made its 1994 predecessor such an embarrassment.

The idea and The concept were good, but the execution was horrendous. Story-wise, "Legend of Chun Li" is a simple "hero's journey" type of tale. At Twelve years old, Chun Li, a talented pianist and martial arts prodigy under her father's tutelage, witnessed the violent kidnapping of her father one night by an international crime lord named Bison. Though the memory of that night remained with her, Chun Li managed to suppress it and move on with her life, eventually becoming a respectable pianist many years later. One day after her eighteenth birthday, her mother passed away. Lost and trying to find direction in life, Chun Li discovers evidence that her father might still be alive and an ancient scroll that leads her into the heart of the Bangkok slums in search of a mysterious man named Gen who might hold the answers to her father's fate. There she witnesses first hand the sad state of the town and the cruelty inflicted upon them by the local crime syndicate which Chun Li soon discovers, happens to be run by none other than Bison himself. Determined to ascertain the fate of her long lost father and exact vengence on Bison, Chun Li apprentices herself to Gen, who so happens to be a master of a mystical form of martial arts.

Now if its one thing that director Andrzej Bartkowiak seems to be able to do,it is staging a fight and working a camera to bring out the best in that fight scene. Each kick and punch is shown with such vivid impact, yet wire stunts are used with restraint so as to not take away from the realism of the show. Whats more, the director is in familiar territory. With crime syndicate/revenge/martial arts movies like Cradle 2 the Grave and Romeo Must Die in his resume, Legend of Chun Li is right up his alley.

So what went wrong? Everything else, basically. The series of events that lead to Chun Li's run in with Gen and to her finale showdown with Bison felt too convenient and contrived, at times almost like it was lifted from a cheesy kung fu B-movie. She conveniently gets sent an ancient scroll, conveniently runs into Bison's secretary at a night club, conveniently meets Gen; it is an entire string of convenient plot holes. The dialogue seemed awkwardly cartoon-like, despite the best efforts of the cast, more the fault of juvenile writing than with the acting. But the real crime comes when the producers took what could have been one of the MOST grounded-in-reality story for any video game adaptation, and threw in some of the most unbelievable, far out elements from the game.

The movie was going strong until 30 minutes into the film when you see a character tossing a "special power fire-ball" around. Yes the game characters tossed special power balls around like pies among clowns but against such a down to earth setting and backdrop, such a concept would be ludicrous. They changed Bison from a power hungry, "psycho power" wielding dictator in charge of his own terrorist nation, into a more realistic underworld crime lord who works through blackmail and subterfuge. Then they had to go and throw in "ancient dark arts to rid a person of his conscience by transferring it into a baby". Those concepts and more........are just there. There is no explanation as to how they come to exist. Is Chun Li a mutant with special powers? Are people hurling fireballs at each other such a common sight that civillians in the movie do not seem to be surprised at it? All of it sounds like something out of a bad 1970s cartoon.

So, Unable to decide if it was going to be a straight out adaptation or a re-imaging, this movie failed to define its target audience and instead delivered a half baked product that was all over the place but not where movie goers want it to be. It pissed off the fans of the game, a game that is the absolute definition of "unrealistic". It alienated blockbuster fans thanks to its low budget look, incoherant story and juvanile dialogue. Lastly, it even put off lovers of realistic martial arts movies by throwing in the unrealistic game elements without so much as an explanation. Overall, it is an entertaining but slightly clich├ęd cop/criminal organisation/martial arts/revenge story that barely even gets the basic elements (a good story for example) right. This movie had potential for great things. At very least, the ever attractive Kristin Kreuk provides good eye candy .

*****************************Review End******************

Go For it: to see a daring attempt at a realistic reinvention of an unrealistic video game and imagine everything it could have been
Avoid it: if you are a fan of the Street Fighter video game who would rant bloody murder if just one hair on a character's head was hanging in the wrong direction or if martial arts movies were never really your thing.

Entertainment: B-
Story: C
Acting: C-
Characters: B-
Replay value: C
"Brains": D-

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Predators (2010). Of Monsters who Hunt Men.

Overall verdict: 7.5/10

The Good: stay's true to the spirit of its predecessor, intense action, believable tension among the characters, expands the scope of a languishing film franchise, underlying themes make it smarter than your average sci/fi creature film.

The Bad: characters more memorable as archetypes than by their names, some underdeveloped parts, geared more toward long time Predator fans rather than newcomers.

After the stunning success in of John McTeirnan's "Predator"(starring Arnold Schwarzenegger) in 1987, the franchise has spawned a decent range of video games, novels and even a long lasting comics run. Sadly that same success has not been replicated in the movie side of things; one lackluster sequel in 1992 and two crossover "Alien Vs Predator" films that many fans consider to be utter disappointments. Twenty three years after Predator's premiere, producer Robert Rodriguez and director Nimrod Antal finally serve up their vision of a true sequel to the classic sci/fi movie.

Within moments of the movie's opening, it immediately drops the audience into the thick of it, which in this case involves a the literal "dropping" of a mercenary named Royce and eight other people into a strange jungle. Despite being complete strangers, every one of them have a bloody history of violence and killing with occupations that range from CIA and Black Ops Commando to Yakuza hit-man and Drug Cartel enforcer; the only odd one out being Edwin, a bespectacled wimp of a doctor. Naturally, the motley crew of killers do not get along well; disoriented and distrustful, they turn on each other at first. But just as they put aside their differences and decide to work together, they discover that they are being hunted by a dangerous alien enemy armed with high tech weaponry, near perfect camouflage and inhuman strength. Back on earth these humans were hunters and killers of their own kind, now on this strange new world, the hunter has become the hunted.

Smarter than your average sci/fi thriller, "Predators" manages to weave in a couple of intriguing themes into the tension filled narrative. Writers Alex Litvak and Michael Finch portray the alien Predators as dark reflections of man's own monstrous nature. Their cruel hunting tactics like making traps to maim instead of kill, and leaving a wounded victim in the open as bait to lure in compassionate comrades, are the exact same strategies that the human characters admittedly used on their quarries back on earth. There is also a subplot about a rivalry between two different clans of alien hunters that mirrors mankind's nature to turn on their fellow man in the pursuit of own interests. The cast's excellent acting creates a very memorable set of characters archetypes despite their names being easily forgotten.

The people who worked on this movie have admitted to being big fans of the original Predator and that love for the franchise shows in every single facet of the movie. Fan-favorite scenes are re-created, little bits of familiar lines are slipped into the dialog, even the music by John Debney recreates many of the original themes by Alan Silvestri that any fan of the franchise would recognize. While newcomers to the franchise might not understand "Predators" as much as those who are already familiar with at least the first movie, they would no doubt enjoy the solid sci/fi action it presents. Nimrod Antal's camera-work during fight scenes is clear and concise; none of that jittery-cam effect that so many action directors (see: Michael Bay) are addicted to.

Overall, "Predators" is a like well worn hunter's blade, just like the original classic. Although like any blade, a couple of parts could have used some "sharpening". The first act for example manages to maintain a constant state of tension, but viewers expecting wall-to-wall action might end up bored. Events like the civil war between the two tribes of Predators are only implied, leaving the viewer to put the pieces together. Also Laurence Fishburne's deranged Vietnam veteran Nolan, who has survived on the planet for "ten seasons" could have used more development.

Robert Rodriguez's intention was that 2010's "Predators" be to the Predator franchise what James Cameron's "Aliens" was to Ridley Scott's "Alien". Like the rival tribe of alien Predators, this movie is a bigger, meaner and fiercer affair that successfully fulfills the creative team's intention by expanding the scope of the Predator's fictional universe. Not to mention, a much needed jump start to a waning film franchise.
*****************************Review End******************

Go For it: if you are a long time Predator fan disenchanted by the 3 other lackluster film sequels or heard great things about the Predator film franchise from friends.
Avoid it: if you never did like sci/fi creature films to begin with or think that such movies should not come with anything deeper than "kill", "blood" and "violence".

Entertainment: A-
Story: B
Acting: C+
Characters: B-
Replay value: B-
"Brains": B