Bai she chuan shuo (2011)
★★ / ★★★★
While out picking herbs in the mountains, Xu Xian (Raymond Lam) falls from a cliff and into a lake when Green Snake (Charlene Choi), a demon that is more playful than mean-spirited, tried to scare him. Her sister, White Snake (Shengyi Huang), dives in to save Xu Xian and kisses him, unaware that she has casted a love spell.
When Xu Xian wakes up, all he is able to think about is the mysterious woman who came for his rescue. Meanwhile, two monks, Abott Fahai (Jet Li) and Neng Ren (Zhang Wen), are on the hunt for demons, either to kill or capture them so these creatures can repent in the temple for centuries.
Directed by Siu-Tung Ching, “Bai she churn shuo” is a bizarre mixture of fable and action because it is rooted upon a love story involving a forbidden love affair between a human and a thousand-year-old snake demon. Although there is a clash between tender moments and kinetic action, the former is amusing cornball while the latter is second-rate (but nonetheless appealing) special and visual effects extravaganza.
The way Xu Xian and White Snake, named Susu in human form, meet only happens in the movies. Susu is so smitten over her man that she does everything so that he (literally) falls over and ends up in her arms. Never mind that we are given no good reason why she has fallen in love with him other than the fact that she wishes to know how it feels like to love and be loved. It is like an adolescent pop song in pop-up form. I found it amusing and charming (and brainless and cheesy) in small dosages.
It is plagued with one-dimensional characters, from Xu Xian who is ceaselessly noble in his actions to Neng Ren who acts more like a clown than a monk on a mission. As a result, when the story reaches some of its dramatic arcs, the way the characters react to them are far from believable since emotions are forced to run from one extreme to the next. In order for a dramatic occurrence to feel real, even if it is constructed within the confines of fantasy, a reliable gradient is a requisite as to not come off silly.
I enjoyed that it is not afraid to go over-the-top with its visuals. During battle scenes, for example, stone structures are destroyed and the pieces are used as jagged weapons. Just when I thought I had seen it all, it turns tranquil lakes into violent whirlpools of doom, sound waves are utilized to incapacitate bat she-demons, and others best remain unmentioned as to prevent ruining the element of surprise. All of these are fun, but what I found most absurd are the talking turtle, rabbit, and rat—just in case it isn’t obvious that the entire thing is not to be taken too seriously.
“The Sorcerer and the White Snake” benefits from taking a whole enchilada of risks. I would rather watch a movie that looks ridiculous with elements that do not completely work (but some do) instead of boring usual tripe that showcases neither creativity with regards to what is up on the screen nor imagination on paper. It is a lot of things, good and bad, but it is also a good time because it has a sense of humor about itself.
Expendables, The (2010)
★★ / ★★★★
A group of mercenaries (Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Randy Couture, Terry Crews) was hired by an enigmatic man (Bruce Willis) to go to an island in South America in hopes of overthrowing a dictator (David Zayas) being controlled by a former CIA agent (Eric Roberts) and his beefy minion (Steve Austin). The film was thin on plot and very heavy on the action which means it’s perfect for men just wanting to sit back, have some laughs, and a couple of beers. I think it succeeded as a brainless action film but it failed in terms of strongly establishing a franchise that could potentially continue and thrive. The script developed certain characters like Lee Christmas (Statham) being a softie at heart, Ying Yang (Li) wanting to have a family someday, and Tool (Mickey Rourke) having a tortured past. However, the rest of the group didn’t get enough attention. For instance, I thought it was very awkward when Crews suddenly appeared (with the big guns and hilarious overkill) near the end when I didn’t see him at all since the beginning of the movie. The picture would have benefited as a whole if it had taken a little bit of time to explore each one even though the exploration may not have been very deep. Forgetting about a character is the worst. Furthermore, not for one second did I believe that the villains’ plans could succeed at the end of the day because they were overpowered by the good guys in numbers and weapons. Was it too much to ask for more (former) action stars to have been hired as bad guys? Although there was genuine tension in the action scenes and I found my heart pounding like crazy because of the adrenaline during the impressive car chase and plane acrobatics, I didn’t feel a thing when all the action died down. When the characters conversed, the lines were laughable; their words were obviously directed toward each other but I felt like they were having completely different conversations altogether. They were like young children still developing how it’s like to really communicate with someone else in a meaningful way. “The Expendables” proved that nostalgia could only take a movie to a certain extent. Without surprising twists and compelling moments of silence (I did love the one scene when the camera was fixated on Rourke’s face as he told his painful story) in between action sequences, the movie stayed limp even though there was an overdose of testosterone. Those impressed with the trailer will end up enjoying the movie one way or another. I did like it but I thought it could have been a lot better if it had filled in some gaps and ironed out its inconsistencies.
Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, The (2008)
★ / ★★★★
When I read this film’s scathing reviews (to say the least), I thought people were just being way too hard on it so I still wanted to watch it. Despite people’s advice (and insistence) to stay as far away from this movie as possible, I still hoped that I would like it even just a little bit because I love the first two “Mummy” installments (they reminded me of the spirit of the “Indiana Jones” franchise). This time around, I’d have to agree with everyone else; this is as bad as they say it is. First of all, they replaced my favorite actor from the franchise: Rachel Weisz. I thought she was perfect as Evelyn O’Connell because she excels at being bookish-smart and rarely depending on chance in order to reach some sort of success. It means that she’s perfect for Brendan Fraser’s character, Rick O’Connell, because he’s too goofy for his own good (which often leads him to trouble) and only depends on luck in order to get the upper hand. Maria Bello, Weisz’s replacement, interprets the character so differently, I felt like she was Rick O’Connell’s unwelcome second wife. She’s one dimensional, not that strong, and lacks charisma. Not to mention she doesn’t have chemistry with Frasier. Moreover, even though Luke Ford as Alex O’Connell is nice to look at, I didn’t find him as witty and as plucky as the younger Alex O’Connell (Freddie Boath) back in “The Mummy Returns.” In fact, I found Ford as interesting as an inert plank leaning against a wall. Brendar Frasier, despite his best efforts and fun energy, was sidelined. To me, the focus of this film was the conflict between Michelle Yeoh and Jet Li’s characters. Not only did the camera spend too much time on them (even though I really liked their martial arts scenes), the story is really about a thousand year old thirst for power and revenge. And somehow, Frasier and the gang managed to get tangled in its maelstrom. As for the film’s pacing, it didn’t really get interesting up until the forty-minute mark. In fact, I was kind of getting sleepy which is not a good sign because I love action-adventure films. I love watching characters travel from one place to another, seeing exotic locales, and winning at the end of the day. In this film, I didn’t really care about the characters because I never thought they were in any real danger. I literally rolled my eyes from when the Yetis appeared up until the end. Just when I thought that’s the worst of it, a dragon appeared… and then a giant monster that could bring down planes. In a nutshell, it just got too ridiculous. As much as I love the “Mummy” franchise, I’d have to urge everyone to skip this one and see something else–something that truly captures how it’s like to go on an adventure.