Scene(s) Spotlight: Nic Cage as Castor Troy in Face/Off

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Happy Friday everyone! I don’t usually post about the same actor back to back, but y’know what, I’ve been wanting to highlight some scenes from FACE/OFF. I’m an unabashed fan of this John Woo movie, and it’s no doubt one of my favorite 90s action flicks. Ok so technically John Travolta plays Castor Troy as well as they switch roles in the film, but for the most part I prefer Nic Cage in the role than Travolta, save for that one scene in prison in the last clip below.

I know it’s got its haters and some people can’t stand its over the top action sequences with all the quintessential Woo‘s stylized action with the slo-mo and of course, flying doves! But for some reason I loved everything about it, the performances, the action, the music, everything just works. I have to mention that Joan Allen is also brilliant here against both actors. Even after re-watching it recently, I still love it and embrace the preposterous ‘in order to catch him, he must become him‘ plot and everything that goes with it 😀

I always think of Face/Off as my guilty pleasure but y’know what, I’m not the least bit guilty for liking it. Apparently the critics did too, I was surprised to see it got 91% rating on Rotten Tomatoes!

Though we’ve seen Troy in the opening scene but THIS is the grand intro to the bad ass Castor Troy. The whole cape blowing in the wind, the twin golden guns, Troy shows his minions who’s boss. But he’s also got a softer side with his kid brother (Alessandro Nivola), as you’ll see later in the film, and that shoe-tying scene is repeated again later in the movie.

The famous line uttered in classic Nic Cage fashion. “I’d like to take his face… off” to the utter bewilderment of his drug dealer BFF. Ok so technically Cage is playing Sean Archer in this instance, but he’s pretending to be Troy to his enemy’s friends so he’s sorta playing both. Psychotically brilliant if ya ask me.

The soundtrack by John Powell is fantastic here. I also love this anachronism use of the classic Somewhere Over the Rainbow song in this bombastic shoot-out scene. The contrast between such a wholesome song with something so brutally violent somehow just works beautifully.

I have to give credit to both actors for convincingly play both good and bad guy convincingly. In this scene, Travolta is chewing all kinds of scenery in his first appearance as Castor Troy, and that character seems to lend itself for over-the-top ridiculosity [yep, I just made up a word, he..he..] Clearly the bad guy is having way more fun!


Did you love Face/Off? If so, what’s YOUR favorite scene(s)?

The Flix List: Top 5 Action Spectacle Endings

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I love big tent pole movies and Hollywood love to make them. Studios spent hundreds of millions of dollars on these movies and we the audience expect nothing but big spectacles when we go see them. I hate it when I go see big action films and the climax action scenes were quite lame (Mission: Impossible 3, The Saint, Pirates of the Carribean 4 and Spiderman 2 were some good examples.) Most directors understand that action films needs to close out with a bang; in an interview with Sam Mendes he said he first only wanted to have a basic shoot out for Skyfall’s climax, but then he realized this is a James Bond film and so he needed to included some sort of spectacle. He decided to have a big helicopter shooting up Bond’s old house and then clashing into it.

Iron Man 3 already kick-started the hot box office Summer season, followed by the upcoming big action flicks such as Star Trek: Into Darkness, Fast & Furious 6, Man of Steel, World War Z, The Lone Ranger, Pacific Rim, The Wolverine, and Elysium. I expect most, if not all, will have some sort of big over-the-top action sequences for the film’s climax. With all these films coming out, it got me thinking of the best spectacle climax I’ve seen throughout the years. It’s hard to come up with just five but I think most people will agree with me on these scenes. I think all these action scenes were quite creative, well-staged and of course exciting to watch.

5. The boat chase in Face/Off

After directing two mediocre films to start his career in Hollywood, John Woo was able to convinced the studio to give him more than $80mil and made his best film since Hard Boil. Face/Off is probably one of the best action films of the 1990s and Woo’s top 3 best films ever! I loved this movie, I went to see it three times in opening weekend in the summer of 1997. The film’s full of spectacles, from the opening shootout in the airport hanger to the shootout in the apartment building of Castor Troy’s gang. But the best one is the big boat chase near the end of the film, it started with a shoot out at the church then the boat chase that ended with a clash that sends the film’s hero and villain flying through the air. I love it!

4. Shootout on top of snowy mountain in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

I can’t make this kind of list without a James Bond movie. In this sequence, Bond, his future father in law Draco and his men were on their way to rescue Draco’s daughter and Bond’s soon to be bride, Tracy. She’s being held captive by film’s villain, Blofeld. Bond and the men were in two big helicopters and once they reached Blofeld’s lair, there were shootouts, explosions, hand to hand combats and then it ended with a bob sled chase that would rival any modern day action sequences. Since this is Christopher Nolan’s favorite Bond film, he decided to copy this sequence for his film Inception, fans of that movie will see some similarities.

3. The car chase through the streets of Moscow in The Bourne Supremacy

The film that kick started the crazy hand held shaky cam and quick editing craze that plagued most action films the last few years. I’m not a fan of this kind of style, as I already ranted about it a while back. BUT for this film the style fits perfectly and the car chase near the end was one of the best car chases ever put on film. Paul Greengrass and his crew staged the whole sequence so well that it was exciting to watch and I love how the sequence ended. Since I’m quite sure most people have seen the film, I won’t have to describe it.


2. The final shootout in The Wild Bunch

This Peckinpah’s masterpiece pretty much kick started the over the top shoot outs in films we’ve seen through the years. The film opened in the summer of 1969 and it’s now considered one of the best films ever made. Up until this film, most westerns and action films didn’t have this kind of action sequence and that’s why Peckinpah’s been known as a revisionist. I assume most film buffs have seen this movie so I won’t have to describe the scene. I just love how Peckinpah move his cameras and how well he staged the action. I think this scene should be shown to any directors who needs to learn how to shoot action scene properly.


1. The final battle in Terminator 2

This summer hit has so many climax sequences that I couldn’t just name one. First the shoot out at Cyberdyne building where Arnold blew up a few of the police vehicles, he then kneecapped about dozen of the cops. After that, there’s a chase involving a swat van and a helicopter; then a big chase between a truck and semi-truck. It finally ended in a factory where the two Terminators engaged in a hand to hand combat.

James Cameron is a master of spectacle and this film is a good example of that. It’s the first film that actually cost $100mil to produce and it shown on the screen. There were so many big action scenes in this film and all of them were quite impressive.


Honorable mentions:

  • The motorcycle chase in Mission: Impossible 2 – I would’ve included this sequence on my top 5 but I thought Woo just recycled the sequence from Face/Off.
  • The final chase in Fast Five – This over-the-top chase to close out the film is one of the craziest car chases I’ve ever seen and it was a lot of fun to watch. I just thought it went a bit too long and some sequences weren’t that creative.
  • The final battle in Avatar – I’m one of the few people who didn’t really care for this movie but again Cameron showed that he’s the master of spectacle and the big action scene near the end is top notch. It didn’t make my list because I didn’t like the film.
  • The battle sequences in Star Wars Ep.1: The Phantom Menace – I love the light sabers fight between Darth Maul, Obi Wan and Quai Gon Jin and the space battle with little Anakin. But I can’t stand the sequence with Jar Jar Binks and his clan battling the robots, it annoyed the heck out of me so I couldn’t include it on my top five list.

– Post by Ted S.


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Those are some of my favorite big action sequences for tent pole pictures, do share your favorites in the comments section. I’m sure I’ve left out some good ones.

Rental Pick: Red Cliff (2008)

RedCliff_posterThough I’ve just blogged about Asian auteurs recently, I figure I should watch one of the Chinese films I’ve been meaning to see in a while. Glad to see that John Woo’s Red Cliff is on Netflix streaming.

Despite not really being a fan of far films, I was quite engrossed in this film which centers on the battle on a region called Red Cliff. The one I saw here is the 148-minute western version, truncated from 280-minute, two-part versions of the original that was released in Asia. Apparently, to appeal to western audiences, they trimmed much of the historical details of the story whilst still keeping the essence of the events set at the end of the Han Dynasty in ancient China.

The story is loosely based on the 14th-century Chinese novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms. A megalomaniac Prime Minster Cao Cao somehow convinced his inexperienced Emperor Han to allow him to conquer the kingdoms of Xu in the est and East Wu in the south. In a way it’s kind of a David vs Goliath story not unlike how the Spartans fought the Persians in 300, but with a bigger army and more um, clothes on them.

Some of the battle scenes remind me of those in The Lord of the Rings trilogy in terms of scale. Though normally I don’t care about war films, I was quite engrossed in all the war strategies depicted here. The dialog is brisk but quick-witted, even poetic at times, combined with visual grandeur and exhilarating action set pieces. This film is absolutely beautiful to look at, the long shots of the naval armada and a legions of army in a tortoise formation are incredibly majestic. Yes there’s extensive CGI involved but some of the battle scenes still look pretty organic and gritty. Much of battlefield acrobatics and exquisite slo-mo scenes of Mr. Leung & co. in battle that are exciting to watch.

Woo’s trademark kinetic action style are put to good use here, including scenes where the hero wield two weapons—two swords in this case—whilst going ballistic (literally). There’s of course the flying dove that’s never absent from his movies. I must say he’s rather indulgent filming a lone dove flying across the ocean, but it’s so beautifully-shot that I don’t mind it.

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The film starred the who’s who of Asian cinema, particularly Tony Leung (Zhou Yu) and Takeshi Kaneshiro (Zhuge Liang) who play shrewd military strategists. Both are wonderful to watch for their Zen-like grace and astute discernment, it doesn’t hurt that both are easy on the eyes as well. Zhang Fengyi was quite good as well as the villain Cao Cao, he’s power-hungry but Fengyi did not portray him as a repulsive monster. Leung is absolutely fantastic here, as the viceroy Zhou Yu, he is by far my favorite character in the film. One particular scene with a young flute player during war training depicts him as the ideal military leader: razor-sharp with acute sense, but wise and even-tempered. There is a sweet love story between him and Chiling Lin as his elegantly beautiful wife, and it’s nice to see that women also have key roles in the story instead of simply being pretty ornaments.

What I like most is the meticulous war strategies depicted here, the generals and war-experts must have been part meteorologists in the way they could use the weather, particularly in regards to the wind, into account in their plans of attack. Despite the 2.5 hours running time, I was not bored even for a minute. My hubby and I are even considering watching the 4-hour version and all the behind-the-scene featurettes. There’s more historical context in the full uncut edition, such as the background and motivation behind Zhuge Liang’s plan to obtain 100,000 arrows. That arrow scene is quite humorous and thrilling to watch, definitely one of the highlights!

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It’s certainly John Woo‘s return to form after making a few American flops (Windtalkers, Paycheck), and his ambitious project seem to have paid off. At the time of its release and perhaps to this day, it’s the most expensive Asian-financed film to date with an $80-million budget. The film ended up being a huge hit in China and even surpassed the domestic box office of Titanic in that region.

If you’re into war films, I highly recommend this one. It astutely depicts that ancient Chinese military philosophy The Art of War that all warfare is based on deception. Its epic scale and visual prowess—down to the weaponry, lavish costumes and set pieces— made me wish I had seen this one on the big screen.


4.5 out of 5 reels


Thoughts on this film? Let’s hear it in the comments.

Musings on Asian directors… why so few of them thrive in Hollywood?

StokerPosterI had just seen STOKER on Tuesday night, which inspires me to write about this post. Now, a lot of you know I was born in South East Asia but I moved to the US to go to college and has been staying here since. I feel like I need to preface this article by saying that I am actually guilty of not being familiar with Asian cinema even though my brother was into Kung Fu movies at the time (particularly the Sin Tiaw Hiap Lu series). I personally am not a fan of martial arts nor samurai movies, which explains why I have not seen any of Akira Kurosawa films.

Even today, there are only a handful of Asian directors I could name whose work I’m familiar with. I’m focusing primarily on Asian actors born outside of US soil. One of the most successful one is the Taiwanese-born Ang Lee, who’s got two Best Director Oscars under his belt by now. Sense & Sensibility is one of my favorite films of ALL TIME, whilst Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and Life of Pi are two of Lee’s films I’ll remember fondly. I’ve become quite familiar with Chinese-born John Woo (Face/Off) and Zhang Yimou (House of Flying Daggers, Hero), Japanese Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away), South Korean Jee-woon Kim (The Last Stand) and most recently, fellow Seoul-born Chan-Wook Park with Stoker. I still haven’t got around to seeing Wong Kar Wai‘s work, especially In the Mood for Love and Chung King Express.

JackieChanThis article from Film Junk has asked a similar question back in 2009, focusing specifically on Jackie Chan. I bet many of you were surprised by that, and so did I, but apparently one of Chinese’s most famous action hero has directed 18 films since 1979! The article even mentioned that “…there are action scenes in Chan’s Police Story aka Police Force that have been duplicated in Hollywood films…” citing Tango & Cash and Michael Bay’s Bad Boys II as examples. Yet the writer argued that Chan could only find work in Hollywood as an actor.

I discussed a few of these articles with my pal Ted (who’s also a South East Asian native) who’s perhaps more familiar with Hong Kong action films/thrillers. He agreed that “…it’s hard for these established directors to come over here and be successful. Most studio executives wants them to make the same kind of films but with Western actors. Then a lot of audiences here aren’t used to their kind of film-making so their films won’t make any money.” Of course this issue isn’t just limited to Asian actors, apparently it’s also tough for most European directors too, unless they’re Brits. Most well-known French or German directors have failed to make it in Hollywood.

Now, since Stoker is still fresh in my mind, let’s talk about Chan-Wook Park for a bit. I know Park is quite popular to Western audiences thanks to his vengeance trilogy, particularly Oldboy. He’s done about a dozen feature films in his native South Korea, so Stoker is his first English-language film and his first time working under the Hollywood system.

I found this Wall Street Journal blog interview with Park, and asked about his Hollywood debut, he replied that he…” felt there was a slight barrier and the humor that was found in my Korean films [did] not always travel well…” Now, the cultural barrier certainly could play a part in whether a non-American directors could make it in Tinseltown, though having seen Stoker, I don’t think that was an issue for Park. Even fellow Korean Jee-woon Kim did very well with the action-comedy The Last Stand despite the language barrier with the actors (I mentioned in my review that he barely speaks any English).

So perhaps it’s something else that might’ve been a hindrance for them to making it big. This article from The Grid points out that perhaps the key that a foreign director could thrive in Hollywood is versatility. It stated that “…[John] Woo’s problem may have been typecasting. As a vaunted Asian action director, he was expected to work the same magic in his American vehicles, and every one was compared (usually unfavourably) to his earlier movies in Hong Kong.” The writer Martin Morrow astutely compared Woo’s career to Ang Lee’s impeccable versatility.

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Ang Lee and John Woo

I saw Lee’s Taiwanese film The Wedding Banquet before I saw the Jane Austen adaptation Sense and Sensibility, and he’s been genre-jumping ever since with The Ice Storm, Marvel superhero Hulk, Brokeback Mountain, and going back to his roots in creating the martial-arts fantasy Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and the highly risque NC-17 sexual thriller Lust, Caution. The article quoted an interview with NPR where he said, “I was afraid that if I stayed in one place doing [the] same type of movies, I’d be pigeonholed.. and I would have a very limited career.” Of course the road to success did not come easy for Lee either, as veteran Chinese-born actress Lisa Lu — who knew Lee from his days as a film student in NYU in early 1980s — revealed in this Voice of America article, “He asked me to see his thesis film, and when I looked at the film, I knew he was very talented,” Lu said. “So from there on, we became very good friends, and I tried to introduce him to everybody, but the timing was too early. At that time nobody wanted anything Chinese.”

Going back to Park, currently he seems to be associated with cerebral, violent thrillers, even though he did a Korean sci-fi rom-com I’m A Cyborg but that’s OK, but I don’t know how many western audiences are familiar with that one. Ted gave me a script review of an ultra-violent Western that supposedly Park was attached to direct, I’ll post that later this month, but that gives you a hint that Park might also be capable at genre-jumping. I’m curious whether Park could make the leap the way Ang Lee did and perhaps even make it to the awards circle.

I certainly would like to see more foreign directors not just make it but thrive in Hollywood. I mean, since Hollywood is notorious for ripping off Asian and European cinema anyway, why not make room for their filmmakers to do well here?


So what do you think? Curious to hear your thoughts on this one, folks. While you’re at it, who’s your favorite Asian director(s)?

Conspicuous trailer of the week: RED CLIFF

My husband clued me in on this after seeing it on Apple’s trailer site. My initial impression was that it reminded me of Bernardo Bertolucci’s Chinese epic The Last Emperor I saw in Jr High. Directed by John Woo, the Chinese director returned to his roots after making a string of Hollywood blockbusters — i.e. Broken Arrow, Face/Off and Mission Impossible II — with his most ambitious project to date. The epic reportedly cost US$80m to make, making it the most expensive Chinese-language film ever made. Check out the impressive trailer with its grand battle scenes:

Here’s the plot courtesy of FirstShowing.net:

Red Cliff is an epic Chinese-language adventure drama that stars Tony Leung (Lust, Caution) as Zhou Yu, Takeshi Kaneshiro (House of Flying Daggers) as Zhuge Liang, and Zhang Fengyi as Cao Cao, and tells the sprawling tale of the battle of Red Cliff, in which the imperial army took on warlords throughout the Chinese empire in a period at the end of the Han Dynasty.

The visual looks compelling enough to check out on the big screen. I quite like Woo’s stylish direction — Face/Off remains one of my favorite action movies — and his trademarks of slow motion/freeze framing and the flying white dove are definitely intact here. Starring the who’s who of Chinese cinema, the movie underwent some casting changes as Ken Watanabe and Chow Yun-Fat were initially attached to the project.

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Takeshi Kaneshiro

Former pop-star singer turned actor Takeshi Kaneshiro — who’s dubbed the Asian Johnny Depp — was in critically acclaimed Wong Kar-Wai film Chungking Express.

The original film was released in two parts in Asia — released in July 2008 and January 2009 — totaling 4.5 hours in length. However, it’s been condensed to 2.5 hours for North America release, and will be released in limited theaters starting November 13 (see full schedule on Magnolia Pictures site).

Check out the super cool looking poster at FirstShowing site here.