Trailer Spotlight: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

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Woo wee!! Thank you Marvel Studios for dropping this high-energy trailer on a sleepy Monday!! This is one of the most anticipated Phase Four of the MCU and if it weren’t for Covid, we should’ve seen Shang-Chi movie by now but the February release had been delayed to September 3, 2021. Poster looks good too, though I can’t help but think of the Olympics with all those rings!

Here’s the short premise per Wiki:

When Shang-Chi is drawn into the clandestine Ten Rings organization, he is forced to confront the past he thought he left behind

Well, behold its first trailer!

Well my first reaction is WHOA!!! I mean it’s a Kung-Fu movie so naturally I’m expecting some high-octane, gravity-defying moves and that’s what we got in this trailer. Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton (Short Term 12, Just Mercy) from a screenplay by David Callaham (Expendables, Mortal Kombat), the film has a mostly-Asian cast led by Simu Liu, including Awkwafina, Tony Leung, Ronny Chieng, and Michelle Yeoh. Having just seen In The Mood For Love recently, I was expecting Leung’s co-star Maggie Cheung to show up here as Shang-Chi’s mother!

Now, based on some videos of Simu Liu I’ve seen so far, he seems like the right actor for the part. The Chinese-Canadian actor seems charismatic and witty in interviews, which I think it important beyond just having the martial art skills. 

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Visually it looks impressive, which is to be expected given the Marvel budget. Some of the scenes reminds me of Inception and The Matrix

… as well as Zhang Yimou’s movies like HERO, House of Flying Daggers, etc. There’s even a scene that reminds me of the neon-lit fight scene in Skyfall. I take it the storyline will take place in multiple timelines, mixing the production design from various ancient/modern. The DP is Bill Pope who’s no stranger to fantasy/comic-book movies

 

Timeline-wise, I’m curious where Shang-Chi fits in within the MCU timeline. It’s possible that it takes place before Avengers: Endgame after the Snap?

It’s a pretty short teaser consisting mostly of action/fight sequences, but I’m hopeful there’ll be a compelling story just like most of movies in the MCU. I have to admit, not being much of a comic reader, I had to search for some videos about the character’s history. This one did a pretty good job explaining it:

One thing for sure I like the casting of Tony Leung who always looks elegant and dignified as Shang-Chi’s father aka The Mandarin/Wenwu who is the leader of the Ten Rings.

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Now, thanks to Wiki, apparently Marvel replaced the comic-book version named Fu Manchu with Wenwu, citing it as a “problematic character” associated with racist stereotypes whom Marvel Studios does not hold the film rights to. I certainly am glad they didn’t stick with Ben Kingsley as the character, that just wouldn’t be right.

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Looking at the way the character is drawn in the comics (released in 1973 by Steve Englehart & Jim Starlin), no doubt the inspiration was Bruce Lee. Per this article, Paul Gulacy, the artist for several issues of Master of Kung Fu, spoke about his desire to honor the legacy of Bruce Lee in his work in an interview for Comic Book Artist Collecti on. The link between Lee and Shang-Chi was so prominent that when plans for a live-action adaptation were in the works, Bruce’s son Brandon Lee was the original actor eyed for the role. Unfortunately, Brandon Lee died on the set of The Crow in 1993 from an on-set accident. I have faith Simu Liu in bringing Shang-Chi character to life. 


I’m certainly excited for this one and can’t wait to see it on the big screen!

How about you?

Rental Pick: Wong Kar Wai’s The Grandmaster (2013)

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When I watched Ip Man earlier this Summer, someone recommended that I watch The Grandmaster, but unfortunately Netflix Streaming doesn’t have it. But thanks to my dear friend Michael from It Rains … You Get Wet for kindly lending me the dvd via mail. If you’re curious which version, it’s the Special Edition 2-Disc version in Chinese with English subtitles.

There are three things that appeal to me about The Grandmaster: Tony Leung Chiu Wai as a protagonist, Wong Kar Wai‘s direction and the story of Ip Man itself. Apparently it took the perfectionist director 10 years to bring this film to live, and from what I’ve seen, seems that most of it is spent on perfecting the visuals of the film. Now, I’m not being sarcastic here as the visuals truly is ah-mazing! My hubby said it’s as if every frame of this film is picture-frame worthy, and the opening sequence of Ip Man fighting a bunch of people in the rain is just glorious!

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This is the first film of Wong Kar Wai that I’ve ever seen, as our plan to watch In The Mood For Love for our Movie Night a couple of years back fell through and I never got around to it since. So I later found out from his IMDb page of the Chinese director’s signature style, i.e. his frequent usage of time-lapse photography, quick freeze-frames in the middle of certain scenes, and the way his characters are often shown having a conversation mostly off-screen or with their faces shown in reflective surfaces, etc. The Grandmaster is certainly a VERY stylish film, there’s a meticulous attention paid down to the last detail which I find really fascinating. I mean, the martial arts master is wearing a white Fedora the entire time he’s fighting in the rain, and the gorgeous Ziyi Zhang’s never without a white flower in her hair even as she does her Kung Fu. If you like martial arts films, you’ll surely enjoy the fight scenes! Tony Leung reportedly trained pretty hard for a whole year in preparation for this role and it shows! He’s quite graceful in his moves, but I think that’s largely how the sequences were shot.

TheGrandmaster_ZhangZiyi

The thing is, as a character study, which is what I would expect here, the film is lacking a focused narrative. I feel that the strong visuals trumps storytelling and that seems as if it’s a deliberate move on the director’s part. I think it’s interesting that the story of Ip Man is intertwined with Gong Er’s (Zhang Ziyi), both in Foshan and later in Hong Kong when the Japanese invaded their city. Their path crossed as Gong Er is seeking vengeance for the death of her father in the hand of her own family member who’s become a Japanese sympathizer. As intriguing as that story is, I struggled to follow the story with the choppy narrative and overwhelming visuals. There is a man named Razor (Chen Chang)that I haven’t got a clue what his relation was to the main characters, despite a fascinating introduction on the train. I had to read about it later to find out who he was. Perhaps this film is intended for people who are already familiar with Ip Man story? I’m not sure but I certainly knew less about the character than what I’ve learned from the 2008 Ip Man film.

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That said, I’m still glad I watched it and got to know Kar Wai’s beautiful cinematic style. I love the minimalist dialog to contrast the rich and tremendous visuals. The lack of spoken words are more than made up by the subtle gestures and delicate glances, enhanced by the Zen-like charisma of Tony Leung and Zhang Ziyi. I could watch both of these actors all day, they’re so mesmerizing! As I’m not as familiar with martial arts films, I’m afraid the metaphors and underlying messages might be lost on me [my brother who’s more into Kung Fu movies might appreciate this more], but it’s still worth a mention. Lastly, I was hoping to see Bruce Lee as he’s clearly Ip Man’s most famous pupil, but I don’t see a scene with him specifically. He might’ve been one of the students shown towards the end and in this photo but not sure which one he is.

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Overall, The Grandmaster is an intriguing film that warrants a recommendation. Even the lack of focused storytelling still makes this a compelling film and a visual feast. It takes a certain level of sensitivity and patience but I do think it’s worth the effort.

Three and a half stars out of Five
3.5 out of 5 reels


Thoughts on The Grandmaster? I’d love to hear it!

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.

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.

Takeshi Kaneshiro
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.