These theaters used to show kung-fu flicks, blaxploitation films, and after 10pm, maybe a cult horror and then some porn. The theaters might be big or small, but it didn't matter, they were usually pretty empty. The films never showed on time, either, and it seemed like they just kept playing on a continuous loop. The sound was horrible, and echoed across the room from some tinny speakers. But you didn't some to hear the dialogue, which was badly dubbed anyway, but just the "whoosh" and "slam" sound effects (and for blaxploitation, a huge "BANNGGG" of a gun). You hoped the movie was dubbed, so you got some idea what was going on, but would settle for subtitled if they didn't talk during the fight scenes. There wasn't a lot of talking during these films, but sometimes they were dubbed AND subbed, often dubbed in English, and subbed in Chinese or something. The films were worn and scratched, often missing several feet of film from each reel. Sometimes there were grossly audible audio cues, like a harsh beep. Sometimes, in order to pass whatever rating system these had to go through, the gore was filmed in black and white. The acting was often bad, and the action a tad bit unrealistic, but you didn't care. You went to see some fighting gore.
"Normal" gore was so lame in American cinema. They lacked the edge a lot of these cheesy kung-fu flicks had. Like in some American slasher, you had some guy get cut by a machete and that was it. In a martial arts film, you had some guy who had his eyes slowly poked out by red hot metal tongs. I recall one fight where a guy got his face stuffed in a hornet's nest, and as his swollen, bloody face tried to scream in pain, wasps crawled out of his mouth. He then walked off a cliff, and impaled himself on the edge on an iron gate. Complete with gory, squishy, sound effects. The gore was not only present, but exaggerated and disturbing. There were many unusual ways for the bad guy to die. And I loved it. Later on, local Channel 20 used to show several of these films (notably the less gorier ones, or the gory parts were heavily edited) on Saturday afternoons. As for those theaters? I doubt they are there anymore. A lot of culture left DC in the 1990s, and theaters were the first to go.
Quentin Tarantino must have gone to the same films. Warts and all. I heard rumor he used more stage blood than any film, and that this was in response to his critics who said all his violence was "off screen," kind of like a Greek tragedy ("Just off stage, the main character has been impaled on his sword!"). I must say, he was very true to the original cheesy kung-fu films because a lot of the old, "Oooh!" and "Ugh! Wow..." moments came to me. The violence in the film is heavy and fast, but it's so much more. Tarantino weaves the artistic and sometimes disturbing styles of Lucio Fulci, Chang-Che, Sergio Leone, Kurosawa, Zhang Yimou and Busby Berkeley into an exhibit of remarkable style montage grandeur. The themes of betrayal and revenge come off strong. Every camera shot and scene seems to scream out; non-stop in an artistic melange of adrenaline-filled, 1970s style of kung-fu and spaghetti western films. Yes, the moody western imagery right out of a comic book, the Hong Kong martial arts-action, the influences of the ritualistic samurai swordsmanship, and even Japanese anime (done by the same brilliant artists who did "Ghost in the Shell") are present. There are a tremendous number of in-jokes to those of us who saw these films in the 1970s. This film spoke to me, and stuff I know, but I wonder if it will speak to the rest of the intended audience?
This is gory, western, kabuki film noir at its finest. I loved this film. Even the soundtrack was awesome.
Like all forms of exaggerated cinema, there needs to be some suspension of belief. Luckily, the editing and directing of this film remove most of the feeling of, "Oh, come on now!" Some of the wire work which caused many to criticize "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," is present, but only in a few seconds of a few fight scenes. Of course, this was also a common kung-fu style I remember. I used to remember scenes that were people jumping into trees (filmed backwards of them jumping from them) and wire work so bad, you could see the wires knocking over things. The film is not nearly that bad. There's also the fairly fake backdrops (like Tokyo from the plane), far too much blood spurting out of some wounds, and the inaccuracy of "some wounds kill, the same wound on a main character does not." I'd say that some of the bad guys must have 8-10 gallons of blood in them, spurting like fountains connected to a firehose. There is a lot of gore in this film, and some of it has the "edge" of being disturbing like people with chunks of table leg stuck into their head. But I didn't pause for some of the weaker elements in the story, the film wouldn't let me. It usually made a in-joke about it (like those audio BEEEP noises whenever the main character's real name is spoken) that made you go, "Haha, yeah! I remember those moments in the old films, too! Hee hee!" Even one gore scene is filmed in black and white, and thank goodness for that, because what a lot of red was left behind!
The acting was good. Hell, Uma was GREAT! I mean, I expected an expressionless vigilante from her, but she showed a range of emotion, rage, and ... well, she was just very believable. I felt for her. I felt the need for revenge. The choice in actors was good, too, and the balance of characters was film noir perfect. Chiaki Kuriyama? Excellent pyscho. Julie Dreyfus? Awesome. Lucy Liu? Impeccable! Everyone was good, and played their part to the hilt.
My son is 13. I felt he could handle it, and he loved the film. I wouldn't however, take my toddler to see it, especially because there's several scenes where little kids watch their own parents die in gory splendor. That didn't stop some of the audience goers, though, and I wonder how they are going to explain these scenes to them. "Mommy, do you have a gun in the boxes of cereal?"
Anyway, I know this film won't be for everyone. Some will obviously find it disturbing, and some in-jokes may just look confusing. But I can't wait until February of 2004, when part 2 comes out.
This entry was originally posted at http://www.punkwalrus.com/blog/archives/00000249.html