2017’s Oscar Buzz

The Oscar Season has started and it is time to binge these nominated (or potentially) films to see what makes them so Oscar-worthy.

Arrival
Arrival could be the first science-fiction film about aliens visiting Earth that is non-violent in a long time. Instead, the film chooses to focus on the linguistic aspect of communicating with aliens and how humans race against time and rising tensions of potential retaliation. The film features a particularly great performance by Amy Adams, although the premise of her character being able to sense the future is pretty Deux Ex Machina.

La La Land
There has been a while since I was so thoroughly entertained by a film, until La La Land. While the storyline of a struggling actress and her love interest, a jazz musician, is pretty cliche, Damien Chazelle’s direction and choreography of the entire musical film is extraordinary. It does not just pay homage to jazz, but the Golden Age of Hollywood too, putting his own spin into the whole genre.

Hacksaw Ridge
Hacksaw Ridge features a number of battle scenes that are pretty intense. They are bound to shock you into the cruel reality of war from the first bullet to the head to the last living breath. The biopic about Desmond Doss’ heroics is bound to be an Oscar-bait. The film features some pretty funny scenes involving Vince Vaughn’s character too.

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ASSASSIN’S CREED [a Film Review]

Assassin’s Creed is the latest video game-turned-film adaptation to hit the theatres. Given that it’s a video game adaptation, people have come to deem them as really bad ideas because their track record of successful adaptions is not really extensive, or even existent. That said, I feel that Assassin’s Creed is a pretty decent attempt at tackling one of the most popular games out there.

Assassin’s Creed stars Macbeth actors, Michael Fassbender (X-Men franchise) and Marion Cotillard (The Dark Knight Rises), and is helmed by director Justin Kurzel, who also directed that Macbeth film. In a sense, I guess you can see this film as a reunion of all Kurzel’s Macbeth cast. With a huge A-list cast, the film looks promising in their star power and acting chops, but unfortunately falls to a lack a expansive space for the actors to play out their role to the fullest.

While I will not disagree that Assassin’s Creed did not live to its hype due to the mundane “rebellion” storyline and series setup, I think that the film is a relatively well done one, and certainly don’t deserve the overly critical expectations of other reviewers. Video game adaptation has always been a dangerous minefield to explore. While you have to honour the source material to appeal to the already massive gaming fan base, you have to think about offering a degree of authenticity and originality for film goers so that the film does not appear as just a higher-budgeted cinematic trailer for the game.

As such, I would say that the film is a relatively good attempt at breaking the curse of film failures. While it may not be cinematically the best, it’s definitely commendable.

DOCTOR STRANGE [a Film Review]

This is one superhero film we have come to expect from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but Marvel Studios still continue to fascinate us with new concepts and takes on a worn-out genre. Doctor Strange, and its trippy, colourful presentation, is the latest film to hit theatres.

Starring megastar Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock, The Hobbit trilogy) as the titular character, Doctor Stephen Strange, the film is not just another chapter in the cinematic universe; it has the responsibility of introducing the magical realm and the mystic arts to the otherwise sci-fi determined reality established through the previous films. Now, people of science like Tony Stark and Bruce Banner have to come to terms with this new possibility of infinite possibilities. Even Thor’s Asgardian world seemed more science-y than Doctor Strange’s world. Indeed, the world is about to get “Stranger”.

The film boasts of an incredible cast with phenomenal actors and actresses like Rachel McAdams (The Notebook, Spotlight), Chiwetel Ejiofor (Children of Men, 12 Years A Slave), Tilda Swinton (Burn After Reading, A Bigger Splash) and Mads Mikkelsen (Hannibal, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story).

BRUCE LEE [a Film Essay]


Bruce Lee: A ‘Bruce Lee’ Character

When news spread of Bruce Lee’s death in 1973, the world mourned the passing of a young, up-and-coming actor who challenged racism, redefined the cinematic martial arts genre – while opening the Western floodgates to Asian actors – and metaphorically ‘stood up for the little guy’. When his actor son, Brandon Lee, tragically lost his life in 1993, fans thought that was the end of the Lees’ legacy. Little would they expect Bruce Lee’s legacy to continue thriving virtually in the form of cinematic homages, the success of Asian martial artist-actors – like Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Donnie Yen – in Hollywood, or even video games. The only representations – alongside old films of Lee – available to the post-1970s entertainment consumers, these digital replicas of Lee metaphorically detaches Lee’s identity from his physical body, to only resemble a ‘Bruce Lee’ brand – a capitalistic commodity of the entertainment industry. By replicating characteristics synonymous with Lee’s identity, the entertainment industry aims to preserve and retain his post-mortem legacy, yet simultaneously, substitutes Bruce Lee with a commodified representation, resulting in a dehumanized iconification of Bruce Lee.

Commodity Orientalism

There is no doubt that Bruce Lee already has a cult following before his untimely death. Incorporating his martial arts skills in his cinematic career, Lee does not just defy the ‘pre-Bruce Lee’ Western stereotypes of Asians but ushered in a new appreciation for the Asian experience – the martial arts films.

425-lee-hornet-lc-042910In 1966, Lee made a name for himself when he appeared as Kato in The Green Hornet (1966-67) television series where his “screen presence and physical grace, impact and abilities” were widely recognised (Bowman 3). Despite Lee’s breakthrough performance, the Hollywood industry remains hostile towards an Asian lead actor. However, cashing in on the increasing success of Hong Kong kung fu films, the leading Western film industry created their “first American produced martial arts spectacular”, Enter the Dragon (1973). According to Bowman, the film “almost single-handedly revolutionised the American perception of the Chinese” (4). Till the rise of Lee’s career, Asians typically cast as “docile servants, unskilled laborers or evil geniuses patterned after the Dr. Fu-Manchu character”, according to Robinson. He continued that Lee “made Asian men lethal, graceful and cool”. Yet, despite Lee’s second ground-breaking attempt at changing the Western gaze on Asians, the Asian body transcends from one stereotype, only to fall back into another.

 

the-face-of-fu-manchu-original1Robinson points out that “Hollywood’s tendency to stereotype and unwillingness to go beyond proven formulas of success turned Lee’s legacy into both a blessing and a curse”. As mentioned previously, Lee’s performance in Enter the Dragon defied the ‘Dr. Fu-Manchu’ stereotypes of the Asian body. According to Kim, the martial artist-turned-actor represents “a powerful figure”, presenting “idealized strength and masculinity”, but ultimately, “couldn’t help the racism that was in Hollywood, that studios began to typecast people” (qtd. in Robinson). As Hye puts it, “the Bruce Lee craze of the 1970s created a new stereotype of the Asian man: the martial artist” (qtd. in Robinson).

Although Lee appeared in only two – both post-mortem – Hollywood films, Enter the Dragon and The Game of Death (1978), the influence of martial arts films has already reached an international scale while cash cow corporations look to feed the global demand for this commodity Orientalist consumption. According to Chong, commodity Orientalism “traces the association of rugs, tea, porcelain, and silk with people” and “frames the movement of goods not only within a symbolic system but also a materialist economy that mirrors the circulation of laborers” (184). Similarly in the case of Bruce Lee, his influence that gave birth to the Asian martial artist image objectifies and Orientalises him and all succeeding Hollywood Asian actors into a commodified Oriental product – the Bruce Lee.

tumblr_njw2tdlu121tljkc0o1_1280As YouTube commenter, Spider-Man, says, “You can kill a man but you can’t kill a legend”. Unfortunately, that also demonstrates the consumers’ everlasting consumption of the Asian body, and Bruce Lee, as an Oriental product. Chong details that recent versions of commodity Orientalism “[enables] non-Asians to take on the role of Oriental master or teacher” (184). In this case, “an experience of ‘becoming-Oriental’ … is what is being commodified, enabling non-Asian consumers access to an idealized realm of spirituality, authenticity, or cultural otherness that some may view as a form of racial minstrelsy” (Chong 184). One such access is through Lee’s prolonged legacy through the availability of video games, like Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat and Tekken, where players across the world are given the choice to play as an Asian martial artist. By playing as a Bruce Lee character, the player essentially becomes the Oriental character and thereby commandeers the Asian body through commodification.

Player Select: Bruce Lee

03To play as a Bruce Lee-inspired character would be the closest the consumers would be to being the Chinese martial artist. So, to sell the idea of ‘becoming-Bruce Lee’ video game developers replicate Lee’s tropes to create the most authentic Bruce Lee experience. YouTube channel, WatchMojo.com, published a video, “Top 10 Video Games Characters Based on Bruce Lee”, featuring popular internationally-acclaimed video game franchises like Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat and Tekken. Voted by public subscribers and viewers, characters from these three franchises came up at the top; specifically, Fei Long, Liu Kang and Marshall Law. Bearing similarities in backstories, symbolic references and behavioural tropes, these virtual warriors imitate the identity of the legendary martial artist, serving the consumerist hunger for Bruce Lee.

street-fighter-4-fei-longFei Long, a character added in their 1993 release of Super Street Fighter II – The New Challengers, is regarded as Street Fighter’s –and its developer Capcom’s – tribute to Lee. Fei Long, possibly a play on Lee’s Mandarin name, ‘Lee Xiao Long’, also means ‘flying dragon’. This symbolic association to the mythical creature resurfaces commonly in reference to Lee. In two of Lee’s posthumously released biopics, Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story (1993) and Birth of the Dragon (2016), the mythical creature is mentioned in both of the titles. Liu Kang, the Bruce Lee-inspired character from the Mortal Kombat franchise, possesses several ‘Dragon’-named fighting moves and even embodies this symbolic link by turning into a physical dragon to devour his defeated enemies. These examples show how synonymous Lee’s identity is to the concept of a dragon – a revered creature of the Chinese mythology – to the point of mystifying his identity. Wilson mentions that “[symbolism] enhances the significance and power of images, and transforms ornament into complex coded diagrams” (286). As discussed previously, the concept of commodity Orientalism objectifies Bruce Lee as a cultural product. Similarly in the sense of symbolism, it transforms Lee in a similar fashion as it would on a dragon-imprinted ornament. As mentioned by Wilson, ancient dragons are “pure products of the imagination” that are “[drawn] out of thin air and unrelated to the natural world” (286). Being synonymously linked to a “product of imagination”, Lee’s identity is at the risk of being made unreal. While Lee is in the process of being commodified into the Bruce Lee product, the mythical association exotifies the connection to make Lee seem as godly as the dragon is to the Chinese. In a rather odd twist of fate, Bruce Lee, a once-stereotype-breaking role model, is made exotically unique through his identity’s association to the Chinese representation, the dragon. Lee, now a symbolic representation of what is exotically Asian or Chinese, loses his own representation and gives in to the consumerist embodiment of what is defined as ‘Bruce Lee’, the commodified identity of Bruce Lee. As different video game characters take on this mystified identity of Bruce Lee, Lee’s own identity stops belonging to “[pre-existing] systems of belief or meaning”, and instead, serves “an unceasing desire to create designs that embellish surfaces” (Wilson 286). Just like an Oriental vase covered with dragon symbols, Bruce Lee symbols envelops Lee’s body.

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While Lee’s Hollywood stint was short-lived, it is undoubtedly an impactful one given the material legacy that followed his death. Indirectly involved in the birth of a new genre of films in the 1970s, Lee’s martial arts films, like Enter the Dragon, are important in explaining Lee’s birth to fame. As such, it should come as no surprise that many video game backstories are inspired by Lee’s films. Fei Long’s story plot in Street Fighter Alpha 3 is reportedly based on Lee’s unfinished film, Game of Death (1978). Among the three game franchises mentioned, most obvious homage to Lee’s film career has to be Mortal Kombat. Released in 1992, the titular game features a martial arts tournament where representatives of different factions, including a Shaolin member, fight to restore balance to the world; a plot eerily similar to Lee’s Enter the Dragon. By re-presenting Lee’s most iconic film in a video game format, the entertainment industry introduces Bruce Lee, or rather Bruce Lee, to a new generation of consumers. For those who watched the original screenings of the film in the 32464-detail-5805202a9de51_1024x10241970s, the game preys on the nostalgic factor while encouraging introduction to their children, ensuring a continual inheritance of generational consumerism. An example is the recent Star Wars phenomena where the new film, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, instils nostalgia in the adults while it promotes a new line of toys and memorabilia to the younger members of the family, guaranteeing the ‘passing of the torch’ – in this case, the fandom – to a new generation of consumers. Loosely based on Lee, Bruce Lee’s character in Enter the Dragon, Liu Kang not only introduces the film and Bruce Lee to the 1990s generation, but introduces the Bruce Lee brand too. Born to a generation post-dating Lee’s death in 1973, the virtual representation of Lee becomes the reference point for these consumers, denying Lee of a realistic representation differing from the objectified Bruce Lee. As a result, Lee is ultimately commodified due to the passage of time and his lack of realistic representation.

new-tekken-6-imagery-reveals-more-characters-maintains-tekken-6-wackiness

Even though symbolisms and similar story plots in video games can point towards the possibility of who or what a character is based on, the signification through identifiable tropes is the easiest, and unknowingly the most dangerous, form of homage and commodified representation. Marshall Law, a character introduced to the Tekken franchise in the original game, bears many of these behavioural tropes that come to define a Bruce Lee character. Marshall Law often does high-pitched screams while fighting, bounces in his fighting stance and occasionally fights bare-bodied or wears a yellow jumpsuit; all of which are tropes commonly identified to be inspired by the late martial artist. Daly identifies tropes as “particularised properties and relations” that “form a distinct type of entity” (253). The entertainment industry often replicate particular actions or items in non-original works as a way to create linkages and references to invoke the same sentimental or disruptive feelings felt at the point of identification in the original. Consequentially, Lee’s individualistic behaviour is simplified into commodified exploitations of the Bruce Lee image. Similarly in Fei Long and Liu Kang, the imitation of Lee’s bouncing and frequent screams distinctively makes them easily identifiable as a Bruce Lee clone, without explicitly labelling as a homage to Lee. However, this easy association to a Bruce Lee trope endangers Lee’s ability to stand out as a realistic personification of the true ‘Bruce Lee’. When two representations of a Bruce Lee trope are presented at the same time, it is unsettlingly difficult to differentiate between an imitation and the actual Bruce Lee. Linguistically, the trope – or the sign – of a Bruce Lee breaks down into the sensible signifier and the intelligible signified. In this instance, the tangible representation of a ‘Bruce Lee’ character, regardless of the original person or the virtual copy, is defined as the signifier – “sound-image” – while the intangible thought of a Bruce Lee character, is defined as the abstract signified. However, Saussure theorises that the “bond between the signifier and the signified is arbitrary” (qtd. in Leitch, et al 964). In the case of Lee, the concept of what defines as being Bruce Lee, the behavioural tropes, is not immediately binary to the identification of a Bruce Lee representation as there is the possibility of multiple signifiers, in the form of multiple representations of the one Bruce Lee. As seen in the examples highlighted thus far in the essay, Fei Long, Liu Kang, Marshall Law and even the cinematic appearances of Bruce Lee are representations of the real Bruce Lee, the optimal bond between the representation and thought of the martial artist. As such, the arbitrary nature of language and fragility of proper representation hinders the consumers’ ability to properly identify the true Bruce Lee from the Bruce Lee representations. With the virtual replica much more accessible and popular than the original identification of Lee among the post-Bruce Lee generations, entertainment consumers could possibly recognise a virtual replica to be the ‘Bruce Lee’ than the actual person. This existential confusion causes consumers to doubt even further if Bruce Lee is ever a real person, or just an entertainment representation of an Asian strongman.

Due to the popularity of the virtual imitations in video games, Bruce Lee’s identity is endangered by resulting rise of the commodification of the Bruce Lee product, and faces the possibility of emancipation into the consumerist commodity that rids the famed martial artist of all true representation.

Just a Sequel to the Great One

main-qimg-5f87d1285c14ce2bab7836c669949f4b-cBruce Lee’s Hollywood breakthrough is a pivotal moment for the Asian presence in the global cinematic industry, and as such, is difficult for any material done after Lee to be considered a greater moment. Bowman correctly identifies the common trajectory of studies and narratives – including this essay – on Lee towards “disappointment”, including Lee’s role in “[diversifying] and [ethicising] the previously white realm of international film and the associated global popular cultural imaginary” but encounters the “subsequent easy pigeonholing of ethnic Asian characters as martial arts ‘types’” (125). He continues by pointing the reason to nostalgia. While most of the succeeding actors that followed Lee’s footsteps into Hollywood fame and cinematic tributes do have their signature identity and style to them, it is difficult to separate them from an embodiment of what has come and gone of a Bruce Lee era. Lee’s entrance and subsequent departure from the Western cinema allowed other Asian actors to enter the foreign industry, but not without its typecasting burden. Rather than expanding Asians’ representational strength within the new global industry, rising actors like Jackie Chan, Jet Li and Donnie Yen serve more to fill in the void left by Lee’s passing after the peak of consumerist demand for martial arts films.

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Jackie Chan, the first of the three above-mentioned Chinese actors to rise to international fame, is a failed product of the phenomena known as ‘Bruceploitation’, a film exploitation movement to cash in on Lee’s fame and passing, before defining his own genre – the blend of comedy and martial arts. The earliest of the three to attempt on filling Lee’s place, Chan stars in Robert Clouse’s The Big Brawl (1980), who also directed Lee’s Enter the Dragon. The film fails to catapult Chan to international fame, a direct result from the fallout of Lee’s irreplaceability in Western cinema. It is not until Chan’s Rumble in the Bronx (1995) when the Hong Kong actor brought a comedic twist to the martial arts genre, solidifying his mark in the post-Bruce Lee cinematic market.

Jet Li, on the other hand, broke into the Western market through his villainous appearance in Lethal Weapon 4 (1998); an exceptional move since till Li’s role, most non-Asian films have Chinese characters playing heroes in martial arts films. In an interview about Bruce Lee, Li praised the late martial artist’s ability to detach his own persona from his cinematic roles; a feat he has been trying, especially in his diverse choice for heroic and villainous roles. Despite the Western cinema’s tendency to typecast Asian actors as poor comedic representations of Asians in a pre-Bruce Lee era, Lee’s heroic roles broke the cinematic stereotypes, thereby affirming a new representation of Asians; the strong, independent individual capable of standing up for himself. As the Western cinema once again typecasts Asians based on this new representation, Jet Li breaks typical heroic associations by portraying villains and anti-heroes, defining himself as a post-modern Bruce Lee.

67a363ff1bf37567f4a8f75aa6fa0773The latest of the three to emerge on a global scale, perhaps Donnie Yen owes his success the most to Bruce Lee. While Yen has been making martial arts films for years, his international calling did not come till his role as Ip Man, Bruce Lee’s real-life master whom he learned Wing Chun from, in the titular film in 2008. Citing Bruce Lee as his role model, Yen said in an interview with CCTV that he “worshipped Bruce Lee” and “hoped [he] could be the second Bruce Lee one day”. Due to the spectacular success of the biopic and a triumphant return of martial arts films to a Chinese cinematic market saturated by crime and romantic comedy films, Yen’s role in Ip Man reinvigorated the action film genre in Asian markets and brought martial arts back into the Western genre; kicking start a second wave of martial arts obsession. Bruce Lee’s first outing in Hollywood starts off a ‘Bruceploitation’ movement at the peak of consumerist demand for Lee. Likewise for Yen’s ‘second coming’, the global market demands for more Ip Man, the new Bruce Lee brand replacement. Multiple films about Lee’s master are made in the subsequent years, including, The Legend Is Born – Ip Man (2010), The Grandmaster (2013), Ip Man: The Final Fight (2013), a 2013 Chinese television series and two sequels to Yen’s version in 2010 and 2015.

While all three action stars do ultimately define themselves differently since the pivotal representation set by Lee, it is almost impossible to think of them without thinking of Bruce Lee. No matter if the actor defines his own unique branch of the genre, or redefines Asian roles in Western films or even kicks off a separate cinematic trend, Jackie Chan, Jet Li and Donnie Yen would always be haunted by the spectre of the late martial artist, standing in the shadows of the legendary actor; forever a post-modern pastiche of a cultural product that is Bruce Lee.

Conclusion

There is no denial that Bruce Lee would remain as a pioneering hero to all Chinese and Asians trying to make their mark in a foreign economy. There is no doubt that his legacy as a stereotype-breaking actor or as a phenomenal philosopher and practitioner in the martial arts field would live on for generations. However, through the consumerist demand for more Bruce Lee in the entertainment industry, it has effectively objectified the identity of Bruce Lee himself and simplified him into a dehumanised Oriental commodity – the Bruce Lee – in his post-mortem legacy. The wide reach of video game clones of the actor himself through portrayals like Fei Long, Liu Kang and Marshall Law – and their mystifying symbolisms, duplication and re-introductions of familiar storylines but with a consumerist agenda and selection of character tropes – blurs consumers’ ability to correctly identify a true representation of Bruce Lee from an array of Bruce Lee representations. This existential confusion extends to the real-life actors succeeding after Bruce Lee where rising action stars, like Jackie Chan, Jet Li and Donnie Yen, find it difficult to detach themselves from the shadow of the legendary actor despite their unique takes on Lee’s paved formula to Western fame. Ultimately, to the post-Bruce Lee generation, the martial artist-turned-actor’s identity is reduced to a commodity slaved by consumerist demand and post-modern rehashes; a commodified brand of Bruce Lee.


Works Cited

Ali Simyari. “Bruce Lee, Donnie Yen, Jet Li, Jackie Chan.” Quora, http://www.quora.com/What-is-kungfu.

Bowman, Paul. “BEYOND BRUCE LEE.” Beyond Bruce Lee: Chasing the Dragon Through Film, Philosophy, and Popular Culture, Columbia University Press, 2013, pp. 1–41, http://www.jstor.org.ezlibproxy1.ntu.edu.sg/stable/10.7312/bowm16528.4.

—. “BRUCE LEE IN THE POST: POST-COLONIAL, POST-MODERN, POST-PROTESTANT, POST-HUMAN.” Beyond Bruce Lee: Chasing the Dragon Through Film, Philosophy, and Popular Culture, Columbia University Press, 2013, pp. 125–161, http://www.jstor.org.ezlibproxy1.ntu.edu.sg/stable/10.7312/bowm16528.8.

brucelee-online.tumblr.com. “Bruce Lee, Donnie Yen, Jet Li, Jackie Chan.” Pinterest, http://www.pinterest.com/source/brucelee-online.tumblr.com.

Chong, Sylvia Shin Huey. “Orientalism.” Keywords for Asian American Studies, Edited by Cathy J. Schlund-Vials et al., NYU Press, 2015, pp. 182–185, http://www.jstor.org.ezlibproxy1.ntu.edu.sg/stable/j.ctt15r3zv2.50.

craiglgooh.blogspot.com. “Enter the Dragon – Bruce Lee.” Pinterest, http://www.pinterest.com/source/craiglgooh.blogspot.com.

Daly, Chris. “Tropes.” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, vol. 94, 1994, pp. 253–261. New Series, http://www.jstor.org.ezlibproxy1.ntu.edu.sg/stable/4545197.

E!. “Bruce Lee, Green Hornet.” E! Entertainment Television, LLC, http://www.eonline.com/photos/2095/top-9-hunkiest-heroes/73948.

fumanchucomplex. “The Face of Fu Manchu.” fumanchucomplex, fumanchucomplex.wordpress.com/2013/08/31/who-is-fu-manchu-2/.

Gubert, Arthur. “Liu Kang, Marshall Law, Fei Long, Bruce Lee.” Grupo RBS, atl.clicrbs.com.br/infosfera/2014/10/14/5-famosos-que-se-parecem-muito-com-personagens-de-jogos/.

Holmes, Lee. “Kung Fu Trailers of Fury.” ClonesOfBruceLee.co.uk, http://www.clonesofbrucelee.co.uk/?i=1.

“I Once Hoped that I Could Be Second Bruce Lee: Donnie Yen.” YouTube, uploaded by CCTV+, 15 Feb. 2016, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uuT3AXp_vv4.

“Jet Li talks Bruce Lee.” YouTube, uploaded by Marten GO, 21 Dec. 2011, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=58nQTbhS0Hg.

kungfukaiju. “Video Game Characters Inspired By Bruce Lee.” Tumblr, kungfukaiju.tumblr.com/post/111225557205/video-game-characters-inspired-by-bruce-lee.

MKBATMAN. “Fei Long.” Capcom-Unity, http://www.capcom-unity.com/street_fighter/go/thread/view/7411/28868359/street-fighter-x-tekken-fei-long-vs-law?post_id=515451485.

“Mortal Kombat All Liu Kang Fatalities Ever Made.” YouTube, uploaded by deathmule, 23 Apr. 2016, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WInZpLBfCS0.

Robinson, Bryan. “In Bruce Lee’s Shadow: Asians Struggle to Create New Hollywood Images.” ABC News, 20 May 2005, abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/International/story?id=497530&page=1. Accessed 30 Oct. 2016.

Saussure, Ferdinand de. “Course in General Linguistics.” The Norton Anthology of Theory & Criticism, edited by Vincent B. Leitch, et al., W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2010, pp. 960-76.

Spider-Man. Comment on “Top 10 Video Game Characters Based on Bruce Lee.” YouTube, n.d., http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bc167MGiTJo.

SSfox. “Marshall Law.” Tekken Zaibatsu, http://www.tekkenzaibatsu.com/forums/showthread.php?postid=4723977.

“Super Street Fighter 2 – Feilong Ending.” YouTube, uploaded by GamesPaloma, 6 Jun. 2011, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ym5wXcJWzmc.

“Top 10 Video Game Characters Based on Bruce Lee.” YouTube, uploaded by WatchMojo.com, 23 Jun. 2014, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bc167MGiTJo.

Wilson, J. Keith. “Powerful Form and Potent Symbol: The Dragon in Asia.” The Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art, vol. 77, no. 8, 1990, pp. 286–323, http://www.jstor.org.ezlibproxy1.ntu.edu.sg/stable/25161297.

THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN [a Film Review]

There hasn’t been many thrillers as intriguing as 2014’s Gone Girl until the recent film, A Girl on the Train, starring Emily Blunt (Edge of Tomorrow, Sicario) as the titular character who watches a young couple’s private affection from her daily trip on the train, only to be embroiled in a mystery when the girl from the couple disappears.

The film starts off in a voyeuristic manner with Blunt’s character, Rachel Watson, always looking out of the train’s window to observe the houses that she passes by every morning and evening. With only snapshots of memory lasting only seconds, Rachel witnesses the occupants’ love and affection, from their private to their most intimate ones. Bearing only these snapshots, Rachel could only envision what love she could have possessed, if not for her self-destruction leading to her divorce. However, it is what was unseen that really intrigues us, especially in a thriller. Director Tate Taylor (The Help) plays this void of knowledge, coupled with Rachel’s alcoholic blackouts, to derive a story of unexpected twists and mystery. The audience is just as blind to the truth as Rachel seeks to find out what really happened behind the girl’s disappearance.

The film stars Emily Blunt, who displayed a great performance of a depressed woman seeking to piece together the puzzle of her memories, all while battling her own demons of divorce and alcoholism. A Girl on the Train, also stars Rebecca Ferguson (Mission: Impossible: Rogue Nation) and Haley Bennett (The Magnificent Seven), with wonderful performances coming from these two actresses too to give us a thriller event that ties the fates of these three women together forever.

A Girl on the Train is an intriguing thriller film that possesses interesting twists and revelations enough to keep you on the edge of your seats. As Blunt’s character seeks out the truth, the audience would be just as shocked with the story’s development.

RASHOMON [a Film Essay]

Kurosawa’s Rashomon adopts a cinematic style of revisiting the past to shed light on the present. Unlike most films we have seen in previous classes, it does not follow strictly to just one linear timeline. By revisiting the incident in the grove through Tajomaru’s, the husband’s, the wife’s and the woodcutter’s accounts, Kurosawa essentially lengthened and slowed the cinematic time for the viewers to assess the incident. Each account of the incident serves its own “selfish” “truth”. With each revelation impacting the conversation in the future, as the commoner finds the truth to be more ludicrous with each new information revealed.

screen-shot-2010-09-22-at-am-09-47-44That said, these stories were unreliable, given that they were all made known to the viewers through the retellings by the woodcutter himself. Essentially, Rashomon is built on a nesting doll-like narrative, where narratives exist in a hypodiegetic manner. At the base of the frame narrative, we hear the story based on the conversation between the woodcutter, the priest and the commoner. As we dive deeper into the narrative, it appears that we hear stories told at the courthouse by victims and suspects of the incident. As such, the narrative of the film is layered to contain multiple narratives through the act of story-telling.

Incident < Wife, Husband, Tajomaru, Woodcutter’s accounts < Woodcutter, Priest’s accounts

rashmonWith each layer of story-telling, the essence of “truth” is tainted by the storyteller’s intentions. The woodcutter’s account of the courthouse scene may be affected by his desire to hide the truth behind the missing dagger. The wife’s account of the incident may be affected by her desire to cover up her infidelity. The husband’s account may be affected by his honour and dignity. Tajomaru’s account may be affected by his intention to seem honourable even when accused of manslaughter. All these intentions of malice affects the way the viewer would deduce the mystery of the incident. Since the film seemingly ends with ambiguity, the viewer’s choice would be correct. Since there are multiple possibilities of the “truth”, Kurosawa may never had intended there to be any “Truth” in the film.

Kurosawa, may instead, have been pointing towards a more philosophical motive in the film. By looking at the four incident accounts of the film, one could also spot the usage of multiple stories to create the overall story arc; Rashomon’s overarching theme of “selfishness” and the ambiguity of truth. True to the Eisenstein’s montage technique, the film’s presentation of multiple truths through multiple story arcs creates a “third effect” when placed altogether; the film’s exploration of “Truth”. Much like the Russian filmmaker’s Battleship Potemkin, Rashomon’s breakdown into multiple stories within the same film structure mimics the former’s five-act-structure, and at the end, while these different accounts may point to a different “truth”, their conflict produces the intellectual product of the film.

Ultimately, Kurosawa’s Rashomon could be seen as a unique method of mystery investigating, and yet it could also be seen as the director’s philosophical exploration of humanity. In the end, the film’s disinterest in revealing the “truth” may have its similar affection in the film’s intentions on the viewers.

MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN [a Film Review]

What do you get when Tim Burton (Alice in Wonderland series, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) gets his hands on the X-Men franchise? You get the latest young adult novel adaptation to get the big screen treatment, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.

Starring Eva Green (Casino Royale, Sin City: A Dame To Kill For) as the titular character, the film follows Jake (Asa Butterfield; Ender’s Game) who journeys to an island on Wales to look for the the mysterious children’s home hosted by Miss Peregrine following his grandfather’s unusual death. The film quickly follows Jake on a self-discovering journey as he discovers the peculiarity of these children at Miss Peregrine’s and their relationship to his late grandfather, played by Terence Stamp.

While I can understand that this film is based on the novel of the same name, the film does bare significant similarity to Marvel Comics’ X-Men series. In both series, there is a headmaster/mistress that runs a children’s home for unusual humans [Charles Xavier’s School for Gifted Children vs. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children], a female shapeshifter [Mystique vs. Miss Peregrine], a pyromaniac [Pyro vs. Olive], a girl who can control air [Storm vs. Emma Bloom] and the plot of giant monsters looking to kill these unusual children [Sentinels vs. Hollows].

Essentially, this film is a children’s version of the X-Men made with Tim Burton’s cinematographic touch of blending horror with children’s stories. This is not new to the director, who has worked on projects like Corpse Bride, Alice in Wonderland, Nightmare Before Christmas, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. However, “not new” is somewhat a a curse to Burton’s films lately as they tend not to satisfy the audiences with his own blend of horror tropes and style with children fantasy adaptations. Like Alice in Wonderland and Chocolate Factory, Burton’s toying with children’s literature hasn’t been well received. the hype for Miss Peregrine looks fascinating and offers to show something mysteriously new to the Tim Burton taste. But in the end, the film just falls back into a generic plot with an unsung hero who has to rescue and battle to save the day from the dangers of a splinter group of equally-enhanced beings (sounds more like X-Men yet?).

The film stars primarily new young actors with two more seasoned young actors, Asa Butterfield and Ella Purnell as Jake and Emma. Undoubtedly, Eva Green’s performance as the titular headmistress is the saving light in the film with her elusive yet authoritarian personality as Miss Peregrine. Miss Peregrine also features seasoned actors like Chris O’Dowd, who plays Jake’s distanced father, and Samuel L. Jackson and Judi Dench is small but prominent roles in this first outing into Miss Peregrine’s literary universe.

While it is unsure if this film will lead to other sequels following the book series, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is certainly a “peculiar” addition to the genre of Hollywood young adult novel adaptations. If you are interested in superhero team-ups and is a young adult, this would be an entertaining film.