Michelle Yeoh

Better in The Dark #65: GOLDENEYE and TOMORROW NEVER DIES

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It’s time for the final leg of our tour through the Bond films with the first half of the tenure of Pierce Brosnan. The Boys Outta Brooklyn argue that the Brosnan films represented a hard reboot that predated the Craig reboot years later, and examine a great debut picture (GoldenEye) and a lousy, lousy follow-up (Tomorrow Never Dies). We also discuss how the loss of the lawsuit with MGM-UA affected how the Brosnan films were written and produced, the value of fresh directorial blood, and a flaw in “The Commentary Script.” Plus Tom likes Michelle Yeoh… a lot, the revelation of the Peckinpah-Bond connection, and Derrick talks about his nominee for worst Bond henchman. We are inwincable, so get to clicking!

http://www.betterinthedarksite.com/episode-archives/episodes-61-70/

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Sunshine

2007

Fox Searchlight Pictures

Directed by Danny Boyle

Produced by Andrew MacDonald

Written by Alex Garland

My wife Patricia got turned onto Danny Boyle when she insisted on seeing “28 Days Later” when we were on vacation in Florida.  She loved the movie, mainly because she’s a big fan of Doomsday Movies anyway.  Give her a movie where the world is going to hell and she’s sitting in the theater with a big ol’ grin on her face.   Sometimes I worry about her.  But I digress.  She would give me no peace until we saw “28 Weeks Later” which she also loved but I think she may have cooled on Danny Boyle with SUNSHINE.  Not that it’s a bad movie.  Not at all.  It’s extremely well made, the acting is solid and the special effects are state of the art.  But SUNSHINE starts out as one thing then turns into another and along the way there are so many references and homages to other science fiction movies that I’m afraid I spent more time thinking about all the other movies SUNSHINE reminded me of rather than concentrating on the actual movie itself.

It’s the year 2057 and The Earth has entered a new Ice Age (a pox on you global warming fanatics, say I!) and the nations of the world have pooled their remaining resources to build The Icarus II, a giant spaceship carrying a thermonuclear bomb the size of Manhattan.  The idea is to drop it in the sun and re-ignite the sucker.  Earth has already sent one spaceship:  The Icarus I on the same mission seven years previously but they never accomplished it as all contact was lost.  If Icarus II doesn’t succeed Earth has no more resources for an Icarus III so this crew had better get it right.

There are only eight crew members: Capa (Cillian Murphy) who designed the bombs.  Captain Kaneda (Hiroyuki Sanada)  Navigator Trey (Benedict Wong) Pilot Cassie (Rose Byrne).  The psychiatrist Searle (Cliff Curtis) Communications/First Officer Harvey (Troy Garrity) Engineer Mace (Chris Evans) and the botanist Corazon (Michelle Yeoh) who tends the ship’s hydroponics oxygen garden that helps recycle the air.  They’ve formed a strong bond in the time they’ve been together due to the urgency of their mission.  A mission that after 18 months is reaching its end.  But everything is changed by their receiving a distress signal from Icarus I which has been locked in orbit around Mercury all these years.  The decision is made to rendezvous with Icarus I in order to secure their bomb and therefore drop ‘em both into the sun.  The idea being that two huge honkin’ bombs will be better than just one.

Now obviously none of these crew members have ever seen “Alien” or they would have known what happens when you deviate from your mission profile.  Things go horribly wrong.  And so they do for the crew of the Icarus II.  It’s just one damn thing after another as the crew makes mistakes that result in them losing much of their precious oxygen.  So much in fact that it’s doubtful that even if they complete their mission they’ll be able to get back to Earth.  They get aboard the Icarus I and find that the crew, following ‘God’s will’ destroyed their computer, disabled the bomb and committed mass suicide.  The navigator makes a crucial error that results in the death of a crew member and he goes suicidal.  In fact, for every mistake the crew makes, somebody dies.  Valiantly they go on with their mission but their chances of completing it get even smaller as it soon becomes apparent that something from Icarus I has come onboard the Icarus II and this something is more than willing to help the already frightened crew of the Icarus II die.

The first half of SUNSHINE reminded me of a couple of other science fiction movies: “2001: A Space Odyssey”  “2010” “Solaris” and most notably “Silent Running”.  There’s also heavy “Alien” influences, including a scene with the Icarus II crew sharing a meal together that is so much like a similar scene from “Alien” that I’m convinced they’re using the same utensils from that earlier film.  And I was even more reminded of “Alien” in the second half of the movie where the crew has to fight for their lives against a hideously bloodthirsty entity that is bent on killing them off.   But it’s that second half that threw me off as I was really enjoying the first half of the movie.

Let me explain: back when I was growing up, the term ‘Science Fiction Movie’ meant something quite different from what it means now.  Somewhere around the time “Predator” hit the screens, science fiction movies mutated into action thrillers with science fiction elements tossed in for flavor.   But before then, science fiction movies were a totally different animal.  And I think that with SUNSHINE Danny Boyle and his writer Alex Garland (who I understand is a legitimate science fiction writer) were trying to do an honest-to-Arthur C. Clarke-science fiction epic with solid characterizations.  But I don’t think they had they conviction to go all the way through with it as they turn the last half of the movie into a bloody carnage of mayhem and murder when in the first half they’d set it up so well that the crew’s problems were caused by their own human failings.

I’m never going to warm up to Cillian Murphy, I guess.  I liked him well enough in “28 Days Later” and “Batman Begins” but I’m not about to break my hump rushing out to see a movie just because he’s in it.  I was much happier to see Michelle Yeoh here.  Having been a fan of hers since I saw her co-starring with Jackie Chan in “Supercop” I was pleased to see her in a role where she had a chance to do some acting and not just kick ass every ten minutes.  Chris Evans is probably my favorite actor in this movie as he’s the obligatory Only Guy Who Makes Sense.  You know what I’m talking about.  In a movie of this sort there’s always one guy who knows what he’s talking about and always tells the others: “Well, if we do this, we’re going to screw up.” They don’t listen to him. They screw up.  Then they come to him to pull their collective asses out of the pit of alligators they’ve fallen into.  Which he does so only so he can say; “I told you so”  It also tickled me to death that the guy who plays The Human Torch in the “Fantastic Four” movies is on a mission to reignite The Sun.

So should you see SUNSHINE?  I would say yes if for no other reason than it’s an interesting throwback of a film to a time when science fiction movies were more about ideas, concepts and characterizations than eye-popping action sequences.  I liked how the scientist characters in this movie acted like scientists and not action heroes.  I’m not sure if the ending worked for me but then again, I’m not sure I understood the ending.  It’s got all the right elements that a good science fiction movie should have.  I just wish it hadn’t changed gears so abruptly halfway through the movie and had the courage to continue on with its theme of human fallibility in the face of cosmic finality rather than turning into a big-budget remake of “It Came From Outer Space” in the clutch.

Rated: R

108 minutes

The Mummy: Tomb Of The Dragon Emperor

 

2008

Universal

Directed by Rob Cohen

Produced by Sean Daniel, Bob Ducsay, James Jacks and Stephen Sommer

Written by Alfred Gough and Miles Millar

Since I’m a major fan of pulp action adventure there’s very little chance of you getting a bad review of THE MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR outta me.  I think it’s only fair to tell you that up front.  Even though I did miss the direction of Stephen Sommers and Maria Bello is no substitute for Rachel Weisz.  And yes, the climatic battle between the two undead armies did go on about five minutes longer than it should have and it’s true that Brendan Fraser didn’t have to yell: “I hate mummies!” every ten minutes.  But I was willing to overlook all that and just allow myself to enjoy what is essentially a B-movie with an A-budget.  It’s not the best of ‘The Mummy’ movies but it does exactly what it’s designed to do and really, that’s all I ask from any movie.

Rick O’Connell (Brendan Fraser) and his wife Evelyn (Maria Bello) live in a splendid English country mansion big enough to have its own zip code.  They’ve retired from their life of wild adventuring and while Rick attempts to become a proper country squire, Evelyn has become a best-selling writer, using the adventures she’s had with Rick as the basis for her books.  The adventuring is handled now by their son, Alex (Luke Ford) who is something of a maverick like his dad and has quit college to join an expedition to discover and excavate the tomb of Han, The Dragon Emperor (Jet Li)

 

Alex soon learns that he’s in way over his head as there are two factions fighting over the mummy of Emperor Han.  It turns out that Han was cursed by the witch Zi Juan (Michelle Yeoh) more than two thousand years ago to remain encased in living rock but he can be revived if one knows how.  One faction knows how and it involves a giant diamond, The Eye Of Shangri-La while the other faction mostly consists of Zi Juan’s daughter Lin (Isabella Leong) and Zi herself (didn’t I mention both mother and daughter are immortal?  I didn’t?  Sorry, my bad) Rick and Evelyn are soon heading to Shanghai to help out their son, picking up Evelyn’s brother Jonathan (John Hannah) and a half-drunk pilot, Mad Dog Maguire as backup.

It’s a race against time to find the mystical city ofShangri-La and stop Han from reclaiming his humanity and his awesome mystic powers to control the five elements (earth, air, fire, water and metal) which he needs to resurrect his army of warriors and resume his ambition of ruling the world.  Considering that he’s now in the year 1946 and his men are armed with spears and swords while modern armies have bombs, machine guns and tanks, I must say that admire Han’s confidence.  Me, I don’t think that the modern world would have sweated Han too much, even with his magic powers but then we wouldn’t have much of a movie, would we?

How much you want to see this movie depends on how much you like pulp adventure, Brendan Fraser, Jet Li, Michelle Yeoh or the previous ‘Mummy’ movies I would guess.  The ‘Mummy’ movies have been looked upon as ‘Indiana Jones Lite’ but I think that’s unfair.  There’s more enough room for two globe-hopping adventurers in the movies today and indeed, back in the 30’s and 40’s where these movies are set you could go to your local theater or newsstand and there were literally dozens of movies and magazines featuring two-fisted men of action that were the grandfathers of both Rick O’Connell and Indiana Jones.

What sets the ‘Mummy’ movies apart and especially TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR is the interaction between this family of adventurers.  Alex has grown up into his own man and his style of adventuring is different from his mom and his dad’s.  But even though father and son have their differences they can still bond over mutual interests such as what’s the best machine gun to use against a rebel Chinese army trying to kill you or exactly how much dynamite it takes to blow up a golden shrine.  Evelyn is trying hard to be a lady and a respectable mom but she’d much rather be raiding tombs and destroying evil mummies trying to take over the world.  Jonathan has become a successful nightclub owner but he drops it all to help out his brother-in-law, sister and nephew save the world.  Of course the fact that Rick and Evelyn have The Eye Of Shangri-La has nothing to do with it.

By now Brendan Fraser can do a ‘Mummy’ movie without thinking about it.  He turns in a dependable, solid performance and here he’s not just a rough-and-tumble mercenary with a quick quip for every occasion.  He’s now a husband and father and he takes a little more time to think about what he’s doing and how it affects the people he loves.  Luke Ford does an okay job but I liked the relationship between Rick and Alex better in the previous ‘Mummy’ movie.  Here Alex has an attitude toward his father for much of the movie and I never quite understood why.  I like Maria Bello as an actress but for some reason she didn’t do anything for me here.  She did have a cute little scene during a book reading where she’s asked if the character in the book is anything like her.  Her answer kinda reminded me of George Lazenby’s classic: “This never happened to the other fellow” line from “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”

Michelle Yeoh walks away with the acting honors in this one.  Her character has a fascinating back story and the first ten or fifteen minutes of the movie relates that in such a way that you almost wish the entire movie would continue that story.  She’s never anything less than convincing and of course any time you get to see two such masters such as her and Jet Li fight on screen that’s a definite bonus.  Don’t look for a lot martial arts from Jet Li in this one.   He does have some nice fight scenes but nothing spectacular.  And I’m always delighted to see Russell Wong in anything as I was a major fan of ‘Vanishing Son’ and he has a small but pivotal role in this movie.

 

So should you see THE MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR?  I would say yes.  It’s a totally undemanding movie and asks nothing more than you sit back, relax and have fun.  It’s got hidden tombs with lethal death traps, undead armies, Abominable Snowmen, Shangri-La, plenty of chases, fights and last minutes escapes from fates worse than death.  And it’s done with style, good humor, top notch stunts and special effects.  It’s one of the most enjoyable Saturday Afternoon Movies I’ve seen in quite a while.

112 minutes

Rated PG-13

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

True Legend

 

 

2010

Shanghai Film Group

Focus Features

Directed by Yuen Woo-ping

Produced by Bill Kong

Written by To Chi-long

 

If you’ve been hanging out here with me or over at Better In The Dark then you’ve probably heard me going on and on about how much I miss Manhattan’s 42end Street of the 70’s and 80’s.  I spent a lot of time and money seeing movies on that old street, lined on both sides with grindhouses.  If you had even as little as ten bucks in your kick you could spend the whole day going from one theater to the other watching double and even triple features.

One of these theaters was famous for showing nothing but a triple feature of Kung Fu/Martial Arts movies.  That’s right.  During the entire decade of the 80’s you could go see three Kick ‘Em Ups for three lousy dollars at this one theater.  I don’t believe it ever lost money as I recall it always being damn near packed.  A lot of those movies were horribly dubbed, poorly shot and looked as if they’d been made in somebody’s backyard but damn if they weren’t fun.  Sure, we still have Kung Fu/Martial Arts movies being made today but oftentimes to me they come off looking too slick, too polished, too expensive and too well made for me to fully enjoy them.  “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and Jet Li’s “Hero” are good examples of what I’m talking about.  Oh, I liked them both a lot but they’re both too art-house and much too self-important for my taste

I guess that’s why I liked TRUE LEGEND so much.  Even though it is extremely well made, professionally polished, slick and a lot of money obviously spent on it, it was made in the true spirit of those Kung Fu epics of the 70’s and 80’s.  There’s just enough story to support us from one scene of spectacular asskicking to the next and it’s a wild story that goes from one twist to another with a gleeful abandon in a way that satisfied a long-time Kung Fu movie fan like me.

 

The movie opens with the great warrior General Su Can (Vincent Zhao) rescuing his prince from a forbidden mountain top fortress.  Any movie that opens with an insanely over-the-top battle that most movies would have ended with catches my attention right away.  In gratitude, the prince wants to give Su a governorship but Su turns it down.  Su persuades the prince to give the governorship to his step-brother Yuan (Andy On).  Su wants to go back home to be with his wife Ying (Zhou Xun) who is Yuan’s sister and open up his own martial arts school.

We jump five years ahead and now Su is a renowned Wu Shu master, raising a son, Feng with his wife and preparing to welcome Yuan home.  It’s a bloody homecoming indeed.  Yuan has hated Su for years because Su’s father killed Yuan’s biological father.  Su’s dad raised the boy and his sister as his own children but Yuan’s the kinda guy who holds grudges for a looooong time.  To ensure his revenge, Yuan has learned a forbidden evil martial arts technique called The Five Venom Fists and has had some really wicked, demonic looking armor grafted onto his arms, legs and torso.

Yuan’s kills Su’s dad, Su’s entire household of retainers, staff and family.  And that’s just before lunch.  Before he’s through he’s beaten the piss outta Su and thrown him down a waterfall.  Ying follows her husband and Yuan thinks they’re both dead.

Not so.  They’re found by a herbalist physician,  Sister Yu (Michelle Yeoh) who nurses them back to health.  Su is obsessed with once again fighting Yuan and getting revenge.  But his confidence is shattered.  He regains it when he encounters The Old Sage (The Great, Great Man Gordon Liu) and The God of Wu Shu (Jay Chou) and begs to be their disciple.  The Old Sage tells him that once he defeats The God of Wu Shu he can be their disciple.

Now that’s all the set-up I’m going to give you and actually it’s all you really need as from here on out the movie goes in a couple of directions that you really need to be ignorant on if you want to truly enjoy it.

The acting in this one is nothing to rave about but let’s be honest here; you don’t watch a Kung Fu/Martial Arts movie for Academy Award winning performances.  But it’s always good to see Gordon Liu in a Kung Fu movie where he belongs and Jay Chou reminds me here of why he was the only thing good about the recent “Green Hornet” movie.  Don’t look for Michelle Yeoh to bust any moves as her role is little more than an extended cameo.  As is David Carradine who appears in the last twenty minutes of the movie as the ruthless manager of a cadre of bloodthirsty fighters.   Su takes them on in a really outstanding fight scene where he demonstrates the Drunken Fist, battling his opponents on a platform over a pit of hungry tigers.

So should you see TRUE LEGEND?  If you like Kung Fu movies I recommend it highly.  I’ve read some reviews that claim the fight choreography is unmemorable and I have to wonder what movie those reviewers saw because I found the fight scenes in TRUE LEGEND exhilarating and exciting.  The only odd thing about the movie is that it goes on for another twenty minutes for the battle against Carradine’s fighters when there really is no need as the movie’s story has ended but hey, I’m not gonna argue against twenty more minutes of Kung Fu mayhem, especially when it’s this much fun.  TRUE LEGEND is no masterpiece of the genre but it’s a damn good movie and that’s all it has to be for me.  Highly recommended.

115 minutes

Rated