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Posts Tagged ‘Lucy Liu’

From the Hootoo archive. Originally published July 24th 2003: 

Odd things occasionally happen to foreign movies when they reach the west – the original Godzilla had thirty minutes of wholly superfluous Raymond Burr edited into it, for example – so it’s hardly surprising that strange fates sometimes befall English language cinema when it ventures abroad. Most commonly these take the form of eccentric re-titling: in Hong Kong, A View to a Kill was renamed The Indestructible Iron Man Fights The Electronic Gang, and the Lancaster/Douglas comedy Tough Guys got the less succinct moniker Archie And Harry, They’re Too Old To Do It Anymore. But the most famous of these occurrences is the South Korean version of The Sound of Music, which the distributor decided was far too long and, in a stroke of genius, shortened to a more acceptable length by cutting out every last one of the songs.

I’ve never seen this promising-sounding edit but I was reminded of what it might be like while recently watching Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, which resembles nothing so much as an hour and three quarters of MTV with all the actual music excised. And most of the plot, too, now I think of it. Like its predecessor, this is un film de McG.

This kind of misappropriation of the possessive credit is usually one of those things I get oddly irritated by but in this case it seems very nearly justified as without McG’s frenetically glossy direction there wouldn’t actually be a film to review. The plot is gossamer-thin gibberish, kicking off with Cameron Diaz riding a mechanical bull in a Mongolian bar and concluding with Demi Moore swooping through the streets of Los Angeles in a bat-winged frock, rather like the Wicked Witch of the West. In between there’s a lot of to do about some rings with secret info on them (McG probably stands for McGuffin), not that it matters much or makes any kind of sense.

What this film is all about is outrageously flashy camerawork and editing, and manoeuvring our three fully emancipated heroines into as many different improbable disguises and situations as possible – vets, wrestlers, nuns, lap dancers (this bit isn’t dwelt upon nearly enough, if you ask me), motocross racers, car-wash attendants, rodeo riders, and surfers, to name but most of them – before forcing them to engage in fight sequences from the Gerry Anderson school of kung fu. Even then the movie is utterly shameless in going off on wild tangents to incorporate a wide range of guest stars – Luke Wilson, Carrie Fisher, surly popstrel Pink, Matt LeBlanc, Bruce Willis, the Olsen twins – or engage in sledgehammer satire of other action movies, or even just grind to a halt for a dance routine paying homage to MC ‘Reverend’ Hammer. John Cleese plays Lucy Liu’s father, and Bernie Mac plays Bill Murray’s brother: that’s the level of credibility we’re operating on here.

Personally I found it all rather enjoyable: this is a film with no pretensions to depth or art whatsoever, but everyone involved is clearly giving of their best. McG’s hyperactive direction has no truck with things like sense or credibility, just as his action sequences ignore trifling concerns like logic or the laws of physics: one startling shot has the three butt-naked Angels erupting out of a marble frieze within which they have somehow secreted themselves, only – seconds later – to have found themselves sturdy yet stylish T-shirts and jeans, ready for the next bout of ass-whuppery. Bullet-time, slo-mo, impossible zooms, ridiculous wirework – yup, they’re all here and the film rather profits from trading style for substance.

Of the leads, Producer Angel Drew Barrymore appears to have pulled rank and secured for herself virtually all the serious dramatic material that the film possesses, while Blonde Angel Cameron Diaz once again displays a hugely impressive talent for self-mocking ditzy slapstick. Quite what Ethnic Diversity Angel Lucy Liu brings to the mix, I’m not certain: her role is rather akin to that of Emile Heskey in recent England sides, in that it’s not really clear what she’s doing, but one is certain it’s in some way fundamental to the whole success of the undertaking. She does get the film’s funniest scene, breathlessly recounting her latest escapade to an appalled Cleese, who – understandably – is under the misapprehension his daughter is a high-class call girl.

Most of the guest stars acquit themselves fairly well – Justin Theroux’s terrible Oirish accent notwithstanding – but a few words about one in particular seem justified. Ever since her mid-90s heyday I’ve followed the career of Demi Moore with a kind of appalled fascination. Her movies have been one creative train-wreck after another, yet she has always emerged with her profile and salary somehow boosted. Her relentless pursuit of stardom, powered only by sheer willpower and the efforts of her personal trainer, inevitably elicits my horrified respect. Here she turns in another performance carved of the finest Formica, but she does get a kung fu fight with Diaz, and if you’re not going to go to the cinema to see that, what are you going to go and see? You will probably be pleased to hear that the ‘Demi, if it was artistically justified, would you consider keeping your clothes on in a movie?’ joke is still not past its use-by date.

Full Throttle really turned out to be pretty much what I was expecting it to be – a bizarre amalgam of Carry On film, live-action Bugs Bunny cartoon, and hair-care products commercial. The cinematic equivalent of drinking a crate of Bacardi breezers and then pummelling yourself into a coma with a glittery handbag: it may seem like fun at the time, but in the long term it surely can’t be healthy.

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From the Hootoo archive. Originally published October 23rd 2003: 

It is with a mixture of pride, alarm, and indifference that I look back and realise I’ve been writing reviews of various kinds for well over nine years now, on and off (mostly off). I started off as a theatre critic, and the first film I wrote about was, well, The Crow, which isn’t particularly relevant to this week’s topic. But not very long after that I reviewed Pulp Fiction, which is. The piece itself got spiked, which is probably just as well as the last paragraph started something like ‘What’s most exciting is that Quentin Tarantino is only 31 and still has decades of film-making ahead of him…’ Yeah, at the rate of one film every five years.

Well, anyway, the lad is back and he’s brought with him Kill Bill (Volume One), the first half of his latest project – a grindhouse epic split into two halves, solely to maintain that punchy, authentic exploitation movie feel, and in no way shape or form simply a ploy to double the box office of a massively over budget project. Those dismayed by Jackie Brown, with its tendency to focus on things like characterisation, depth, and credible plotting, will be relieved to learn that this is much more of a muchness with Tarantino’s first two movies.

This is the story of an assassin known only as the Bride (played, rather laconically, by Uma Thurman). She tries to retire and get married. Her boss, Bill (a largely unseen David Carradine) is reluctant to let her go and sicks the rest of his employees on her, slaughtering the wedding party and putting ol’ Bridie in a coma for several years. Eventually she wakes up and sets off to slaughter the lot of them in revenge, starting with petite Yakuza overboss O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu). The exploits which follow are gripping, startling, funny, and in places quite extravagantly horrible.

As I mentioned, on the face of it this has a lot in common with Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction – it’s a retro-styled film pastiche with a higgledy-piggledy narrative structure, some rather peculiar directorial quirks, many geeky in-jokes, a strong soundtrack, and a black sense of humour. There is also, to be sure, some very strong violence, although I personally think this is something of a departure, Tarantino hasn’t actually made an action movie like this before. The director’s mastery of style and soundtrack and gift for inspired casting are still very much in evidence, along with signs of a new talent for shooting and editing fight sequences (of which there are several, one lasting about twenty minutes all in all).

But where this film seems different to me, and here’s where my opinion will probably become quite outspoken, is in the way that underneath all the quirks and conceits and cartoon sequences and narrative shifts, there’s virtually no substance to speak of. (Maybe all the plot and depth is in Volume Two, but even so that’s not much use at the moment.) The characterisation is almost nonexistent, and the film has zero credibility when it comes to things like realism and credibility (Thurman carries a samurai sword onto a jet airliner as part of her hand-luggage, and we’re also led to believe a doctor can be brutally murdered in his own hospital without anyone raising the alarm for thirteen hours.)

Tarantino simply doesn’t seem interested in credibility or, indeed, in giving his film any kind of moral grounding or framework whatsoever. This is cinema stripped of any kind of context beyond other films, with no relationship to reality. Right and wrong, good and evil, are simply not factors in Tarantino’s universe. Instead he is only concerned with what is and isn’t cool: and what’s cool mainly seems to consist of extremely graphic violence and very sick jokes.

I read a review of Pulp Fiction back in ’94 which basically accused the director of perpetrating a pornography of violence – films which were made solely to revel in the depiction of violent acts, in the same way pornographic films are made solely to depict sexual activities. I didn’t think that was true then, but to me it seems like a fair description of Kill Bill. Violent films per se don’t bother me at all, so long as the violence serves the story. Here the story seems to exist only to serve the gore and slaughter, and the fact the audience is clearly intended to find this funny (and often did, at the screening I went to) really disturbed me.

Tarantino’s technical virtuosity, the skill of the martial arts team, and some impressive performances from Liu, Sonny Chiba, and Chiaki Kuriyama conspire to keep it extremely watchable, though, and I expect I will fork out five quid to see Volume Two (the movie’s closing twist is impeccably delivered). But for me Kill Bill only demonstrates Tarantino’s arrested development as a director – and, what’s more, he’s becoming the very thing his critics have accused him of being all along. Brilliant, but sick.

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