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Monthly Archives: July 2016

It needs quite a bit of something different to get me interested in comic book adaptations these days. I get confused and bored between all those team this, team that franchises, and I remember being slightly amused by only two out of the last 15 or so Marvel, DC and whatever comic adaptations (the first Avengers film, and Guardians of the Galaxy were slightly amusing).

As part of the problem is the streamlined and family friendly environment in which all this takes place, Deadpool got my attention when it became clear that it is neither. It’s hero is a narcissistic prick, a potty-mouth supreme and they producers take the “comic style” premise seriously. Not so much neon-clad fist fights, but excessive and gratuitous violence, so much over the top that it can only be justified within a comic setting. And they got me with the opening credits: if you don’t laugh at “Director: overpaid corporate tool” and “Written by: the real heroes”, then you can just as well leave the theatre right away. This, I got the signal, is a film made by the guys who are as fed up as I am, and they found a channel for their anger in making a film they would like to see.

Superhero Wade’s casual conversations with his buddy Weasel and his flatmate Blind Al, the bickering with minor X-Men characters over their failed efforts to recruit him (and the producers being unable to afford more senior X-Men members)  … these are the film’s strengths. When it comes to the third act, as you would expect, things get a bit more straightforward, epic battles lead to epic destruction and ultimate happy endings. But despite this more conventional part, they managed to keep me interested and entertained – in stark contrast to the likes of recent Superman or Iron Man installments, where boredom started creeping in as soon as the final battles commenced.

Hence: very entertaining adult entertainment, which will certainly trigger more of the same which will be much less entertaining. Let’s take it as it is, a surprisingly fresh element in an otherwise stale genre.

Stephen Chow knows how to make blockbusters for Chinese audiences. My guess is he is mystified as to why they keep racking up box office records in China, while being ignored by the rest of the world. The reason, I think, is because they are pretentious and poorly made. They pretend to be blockbusters of international quality, while actually being slightly embarrassing variations on what you have seen on the screens already. As the Chinese domestic audience seems not to care about the absolutely sub-par quality of cgi in films consisting mainly of cgi, he is getting away with it here, but not there.

This is what stuns me the most, really: you would expect that Chow and his producers could afford to bring in some serious cgi talent when making films about Chinese mysticism or mermaids. The revenues generated from his films would allow for the extra expenses. But you end up seeing crappy waterfalls, half-developed monsters and afternoon-tv explosions. This is distracting… what’s also distracting is the lack of judgement about to what level to raise the violence in a romantic comedy such as “The Mermaid”. I guess the lack of a film certification system and board is to blame. They would certainly have a word with the producers about scenes of vicious slaughter amidst a family entertainment movie such as this…

After the “Journey West”, another mystifying disappointment…

A film about a celebrity actor who gets into trouble after a drunk night out and seeks to remedy his life and career by making the ultimate superhero movie, said superhero being a Jian Bing (Breakfast pancake) vendor with superpowers… this could go either way, really. Even for the standards of Chinese comedy, this is camp and slapstick and as low-brow as it gets. That being said… I laughed a couple of times, and a few times out loud. Da Peng manages to mock the vacuous life of movie celebrities (certainly limited in its insight to the Chinese movies, international Hollywood stars would never be caught jogging with a bunch of bodyguards while puffing on a fat cigar, right?). That is fun already, and it gets more fun where he decides that – lacking resources after old friends and partners do not take his phone calls anymore – his film will need to be shot guerilla style, sneaking up on famous actors, kidnapping them or pretending an assault, with Jian Bing Man coming to the rescue. This actually works, some moments of utter hilarity ensue, with the locals probably mostly enjoying the known faces of Chinese films falling victim to assaults with raw eggs and onions, choice of weapon for every Jian Bing man of self-respect…

It is not much of a surprise that this film catapulted itself into the top grossing films in mainland China in a short time. When you look into other non-Hollywood domestic markets, simple-minded comedies that manage to push the right buttons at the right time are the one segment where local film industry can hope to compete with blockbusters for the hearts of the local audiences. Jian Bing Man follows “Lost in Thailand” in that respect, but with (I would guess) considerably higher budget (needed to show off some celebrity lifestyle and Beijing cityscapes). Whether or not Jean-Claude Van Damme was a necessary addition… well he is there and manages another split, which is an achievement that sets a good example for senior citizens. Stay fit, it might lead to a small part in the next screen sensation.

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