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Posts Tagged ‘Kelly Hu’

From the Hootoo archive. Originally published April 25th 2002:

When is a prequel not a prequel? This question occurred to me while watching Chuck Russell’s The Scorpion King, which is being marketed as a spin-off from the massively profitable Mummy franchise. Set long before the rise of Imhotep, the film finds the ancient world ground beneath the iron heel of Memnon (Steven Brand), warlord of Gomorrah, who is invincible in battle thanks to his sorcerer’s prophetic powers. The inevitable alliance of rebels hires a trio of warrior-assassins to eliminate the sorcerer – but they’re betrayed and two are killed. The survivor, Mathayus (played by the Rock, who’s played by Dwayne Johnson) reaches his target but – understandably – hesitates when the sorcerer turns out to be the very glam Kelly Hu off TV’s Martial Law in a chain mail swimsuit (her role in the movie is an essentially decorative one but any criticism of this on my part would probably sound rather half-hearted). Escaping the understandably irked Memnon and acquiring the compulsory comedic sidekick (Grant Heslov) – according to the IMDB his character is actually called that! – Mathayus vows revenge on the man who killed his brothers…

And it’s rippling beefcake and alluring cheesecake all the way from this point onwards. Now I can’t stand American ‘wrestling’ and for me alarm bells were ringing from the start at the memory of how the CGI Scorpion King in The Mummy Returns was a better actor than the flesh and blood version, but Dwayne is absolutely fine here. It isn’t a tremendously deep or demanding role, which is probably just as well as Dwayne’s range as a thespian is roughly that of the desk at which I currently sit, but he looks the part, beats stuntmen up with convincing aplomb (hardly surprising seeing as that’s his day job), and delivers a one-liner better than Arnie. He’s well supported by a fairly eclectic cast including the equally muscled Michael Clarke Duncan (I particularly enjoyed the fisticuffs between the two of them) and Bernard ‘Yosser Hughes’ Hill, who actually seems to be doing his own stunts.

Speaking of Schwarzenegger, this film reminded me of his outings as Conan the Barbarian more than anything else. It’s totally unsubtle, faintly formulaic in places, and could only really be described as cutting-edge cinema inasmuch as Dwayne scimitars his way through an improbable number of goons before the proceedings are concluded. But it has something of same tongue-in-cheek style as last year’s A Knight’s Tale, which adds to its charm enormously.

However, it seems to have been edited for length fairly rigorously, to the detriment of the story (two quite major characters pop up, unexplained, having previously been left in very different circumstances). Part of the plot seemed to me to be very obviously nicked from Live and Let Die. But my biggest complaint would be that this is a Mummy spin-off in name only – a bit of a cash-in, truth be told. There’s only the vaguest possible of references to Dwayne’s ultimate destiny as a malevolent special effect, and the ending gives no clue as to how he becomes the nasty piece of work seen in the prologue to The Mummy Returns.

Taken on its own terms, though, The Scorpion King is a cheerful, rip-roaring adventure packed with energy and fun. I can smell what the Rock is cooking, and while it may be a cheesy stew, it’s still tasty stuff.

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From the Hootoo archive. Originally published April 3rd 2003:

When embarking upon a major undertaking, such as the making of a movie, it is generally a good idea for everyone to know what their role is, and for those roles to have been assigned by someone who knows what the participants’ individual strengths are.

For example, in 1974 Hammer Films teamed up with the Hong Kong-based Shaw Brothers to make Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires, in which Peter Cushing and some contracted martial arts experts set off into the Chinese interior to sort out some unconvincing zombies. Crucially for our thesis, Cushing was excused almost all kung fu duties, while the Chinese actors were called upon to say ‘Transylvania’ no more frequently than was absolutely necessary.

A similar careful allocation of duties seems to have been employed by Joel Silver and Andrzej Bartkowiak, producer and director of the new thriller Cradle 2 The Grave. This film features martial arts champion Jet Li (assignment: ass-whuppin’), rapper DMX (assignment: shouting m****f***** a lot and being down with da street), model Gabrielle Union (assignment: filling cleavage and booty quotas), and comedian Tom Arnold (assignment: being Roseanne’s unfunny ex-husband). A shame they forgot to include any actors, but then again this is a Hollywood action movie. Also stirred into the mix, although to be honest providing not much more than extended cameos, are Mark Dacascos and Kelly Hu as the villains (Hu is obviously getting in practice ahead of her scrap with Wolverine in X-Men 2).

Why is this film called Cradle 2 The Grave? I haven’t a clue. It’s all about Taiwanese spy Su (Li), who’s in LA on the trail of secret ‘black diamonds’ stolen from his government by ex-colleague Ling (Dacascos), who plans to auction them off to arms dealers. But the diamonds have fallen into the hands of improbably virtuous gangster Tony Fait (DMX), who gives them to his fence Archie (Arnold) to check out. This annoys Ling who… oh, good grief, I really can’t go on with this. It’s got a rapper and a kung fu star in the lead roles! Do you honestly think the plot is remotely important?!?

The script, as usual with this sort of thing, is mainly there to propel the stars from one (usually violent) set-piece to another, and to be fair the film racks up an impressive quotient of carnage as it goes along, building up a sort of deafening, juggernautish momentum in the process. By the climax it’s all degenerated into absurd cartoon mayhem, but by this point you’ll have either walked out of the theatre or given in and put your brain in neutral. Li does his regular thing of looking impassive and laid back (with admirable sang-froid, he performs one fight sequence without removing hands from pockets) and gets his signature beat-the-crap-out-of-twenty-people-simultaneously fight as well. Possibly not one of the world’s greatest actors, but who is in this line of work?

Well… having said that, as martial arts stars go Mark Dacascos is virtually unique in being charismatic and articulate and actually able to emote convincingly (he’s a fair singer and dancer too). He’s deserved a lucky break for many years now and I hoped this movie would be it. So it’s a shame that he gets so little to do here. His closing showdown with Li is everything one might have hoped for, but its impact is diluted by being intercut with two rather less impressive fights, Hu vs Union and DMX vs Woon Young Park.

Cradle 2 The Grave‘s action movie credentials are respectable but those who see cinema as an instrument of social change will probably be more concerned by the frankly dodgy message this film is putting out. It’s racist (Chinese people know kung fu, black people are criminals, and white people are overweight and smug) and homophobic (there’s a terrible scene in which one of the DMX bandits tries to distract a gay security guard by coming on to him rather like John Inman in Are You Being Served?), and this is before we even get to the film’s treatment of women. The script’s attempts to make a hero out of a robber are risible: in just one of the film’s unintentionally funny moments we see DMX hurrying home from a diamond heist to tuck his little daughter in and say her prayers with her. He also has a ‘no guns’ policy (at the start of the film, anyway), not that this stops him using a bazooka to blow the door off a bank vault.

And, yes, the film’s attitude to women is clearly derived from gangsta rap culture. That, or the early 70s Carry On films (not that there’s much to choose between the two), because the sense of humour on display is, ahem, obvious. Gabrielle Union is the butt of most of the jokes (the norks too, if we’re honest). She also gets lumbered with one of the most outrageously contrived and gratuitous lapdance/striptease scenes in recent memory. This is not redeemed in any way by the director’s belated attack of coy tastefulness halfway through (guys, if you’re going to make films which exploit women and their bodies in such a leeringly prurient way, you could at least do a decent job of it!).

I imagine following Jet Li’s American film career is rather like being a fan of Preston North End football club. I regularly trot along to each new film he stars in, ever hopeful that this will be the one that showcases his talent to good effect, and regularly I’m in for bitter disappointment. While Cradle 2 The Grave is better than Lethal Weapon 4, The One, and Romeo Must Die, this really isn’t saying much. (Jet, pride is all very well but you shouldn’t have turned down that part in The Matrix!) It’s noisy and fairly engaging but it leaves a sour taste in the mouth and is, in the end, dramatically and morally ridiculous. Undemanding trash entertainment – not the worst film ever made, but you really should be able to find something better to do instead of watching this.

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