Big Trouble In Little China (fight 2 of 2)

Yet another Schwartz-measuring contest.

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2) Good vs Evil

The Fighters:

  • Jack Burton, a cocky but good-hearted American trucker who’s become embroiled in this ridiculous plot. In addition to never driving faster than he can see, Jack is a burly man of action whose gutsy impulsiveness screws him over about as often as it saves the day. Curiously, though Burton is presented as the protagonist, if you look at his role in the story objectively he’s much closer to being the sidekick– another clever move on Carpenter’s part. Played by national treasure Kurt Russell.
    • Armed with: A small machine gun and a knife hidden in his boot.
  • Wang Chi, Jack’s friend and arguably the real hero of the story. A first-generation Chinese immigrant, Wang is quintessentially American, having built a business and a new life through pure hard work. He’s also a capable martial artist and is determined to do anything to recover his beloved. Played by Dennis Dun.
    • Armed with: A Chinese sword.
  • Egg Shen, the Yoda/Obi-Wan of Chinatown– a lovably crotchety old sorcerer who fights on behalf of good. Though an excellent character, Shen is one of the looser parts of the movie’s backstory; it’s not fully explained who he is besides being Lo Pan’s ancient enemy, and if he is, shouldn’t that mean he also is over 2000 years old, but better preserved for some reason? Regardless, he’s a real hoot, especially as played by the late Victor Wong.
    • Armed with: His own significant mystical powers, and also a bag filled with several stones that act as, essentially, magic grenades.
  • The Chang Sing, or at least the five members who survived the previous encounter.
    • Armed with: Various handheld weapons.
  • Lo Pan, the film’s villain. An ancient, evil wizard whose power has been trapped for 2000 years in the decaying (but never dying) flesh of a mortal businessman. Up until this point, Pan has switched between his crippled human body and his mystical but immaterial & largely powerless true form. Played with unmatched gusto by the great James Hong.
  • Thunder, the most active and visible member of the Three Storms. As fits his name (note: unless I missed it, none of the Storms are addressed by name on-screen), Thunder’s power lies in his incredible strength. Played by Carter Wong.
  • Rain, the member of the Three Storms who specializes in high-flying agility. Played by Peter Kwong.
  • Lightning, the member of the Three Storms who can fire electricity. Played by James Pax.
  • The Wing Kong, a couple dozen or so of them.
    • Armed with: Various handheld weapons.
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“The Wing Kong can’t beat us. We’re on a mission from Buddha.”

Just before the good guys enter the chamber, all of them chug a potion provided by Egg Shen, which gives them a temporary magical boost to put them on par with their enemy’s superior numbers (and the power of the Three Storms, who the mortals had previously been unable to touch). Additionally, it provides a “great buzz” and seems to help one of the Chang Sings be more open about his sexuality.

Also present are the captive ladies, Gracie Law and Miao Yin.

The Setup: The heroic duo’s previous effort to infiltrate Lo Pan’s headquarters and rescue Miao Yin turned up largely fruitless (or worse, since Gracie got kidnapped at the end too), they’ve returned in force now. They arrive just in time to interrupt Pan’s wedding ceremony. He needs to marry and then sacrifice a green-eyed woman, which will appease his dark god and restore his youth, blah blah blah mumbo jumbo. Since fate dropped another green-eyed temptress in his lap in the form of Gracie, Pan intends to sacrifice one bride and keep the other for himself. I know what you’re thinking: Son of a bitch MUST pay.

Having made their way through the catacombs Burton’s band of magically juiced-up soldiers break into the wedding chamber.

The Fight: As the good guys cheer just before their assault, Jack goes a bit too far, and fires his gun into the ceiling.

Whoops.

Whoops.

It ends up knocking loose some chunks of the stone ceiling, which fall on his head and daze him for a few minutes. Nice job, hero.

For everyone else, the battle goes from zero to crazy pretty quick. Despite being heavily outnumbered, the good guys kick some serious ass. For the most part, their enhanced abilities are underplayed– when they start fighting against their evil counterparts, it looks like they’re fighting normally (i.e., no crazy special effects or sped-up movement), but they’re consistently able to overpower and outmaneuver their foes.

Of course, it helps that Egg Shen is there to even the odds a little bit more by intermittently tossing off his magic grenades.

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Wang spends almost the entire battle occupied with Rain. The mortal man’s agility is greatly improved by Egg’s potion, and he cockily shows off no shortage of impossible leaps, multiple consecutive flips and other gymnastic feats as he duels with the high-flying demi-god. It’s neat, and Dennis Dun (with help from his stunt double, presumably) cuts quite the impressively nimble figure, even stopping to occasionally throw some non-verbal taunts at his opponent. But it goes on just a bit too long, it’s fairly repetitive, and Hollywood’s facility with wire-fu was about a generation away from capturing what Carpenter was aiming for here; it’s not exactly Crouching Tiger.

But on the plus side, it won't make you cry like Crouching Tiger.

But on the plus side, it won’t make you cry like Crouching Tiger.

Meanwhile, the handful of Chang Sing cut pretty effortlessly through their remaining rivals, and Jack eventually rejoins the battle. He tries to open fire on Lo Pan, but his gun is seized and crushed by the deadly Thunder.

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Who was immediately booked as a guest on Piers Morgan

One of Egg’s bombs is able to take Thunder out of the combat zone temporarily, but that still leaves Jack to deal with an armored warrior. He struggles to get the knife out of his boot, and ends up surprising his foe by shoving the blade through the bottom of his footwear and kick-impaling it through his chest.

Unfortunately, he gets it so deeply embedded that he ends up awkwardly pinned underneath the warrior’s corpse.

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“This isn’t what it looks like!”

This leaves Egg Shen to deal with Lo Pan, who has conducted enough of the ceremony to make himself flesh once again. Interestingly, Hong’s reactions to Shen convey more about their rivalry than anything in the dialogue; the mixture of irritation and hesitant condescension he greets Shen with indicates the old man isn’t quite the Superman to his Lex Luthor, but Shen’s still powerful enough for Pan to take him seriously.

Egg first launches a firework-like projectile that misses L0 Pan, which the villain scoffs at as “peasant magic.” The two then each fire a magical beam from their rings, and when the lights meet in mid-air, the clash of the sorcerers’ power is represented by the silhouettes of two imposing warriors who fight in stately, slow-motion combat.

I don't know if I mentioned it before but this movie RULES.

I don’t know if I mentioned it before but this movie RULES.

It’s an unexpected bit of bonkers filmmaking and really quite delightful. Hong makes it even wilder when he gleefully twitches his thumbs, as if he’s pantomiming playing a video game.

The magic-hologram battle ends in an apparent stalemate after the projections have a particularly strong clash which collapses the entire thing. Still, Lo Pan even finds room to sneer over a tie, telling his old foe “you never could beat me.”

Lightning arrives and tries to take out Egg Shen, who bounces his blasts back with a metal fan. Meanwhile, Lo Pan escapes with Miao Yin and Thunder, and Lightning knocks some debris loose to block the entrance to any pursuers. Wang finally finishes off Rain with a thrown sword, sending the warrior through a wall that allows the heroes to pursue.

From here it’s pretty much over. Even a surprise encounter with the Rob Bottin version of Chewbacca is handled with alarming ease. By Gracie, no less.

Cattrall's experience in handling beastly abominations would came in handy years later when working with Sarah Jessica Parker

Cattrall’s experience in handling beastly abominations would come in handy years later when she had to work with Sarah Jessica Parker

Jack and Gracie share some smooches in the elevator (leaving him with some rather undignified lipstick smear for the climactic showdown). They track down the two villains, and first face off with Thunder, who Wang is able to sidetrack by drawing him into another room. This leaves Jack to share another one of his patented half-amazing/half-bullshit speeches, then he flings his knife at Lo Pan.

It misses. Wildly. Looking amused (while everyone else groans at Jack, Jack included), the villain retrieves the blade, admires it, and throws it back. But with catlike speed, Burton catches it in air, and throws it right back at Lo Pan, hitting him square in the forehead.

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That’s because it’s all in the reflexes.

From there it’s not too interesting. Lightning gets taken out in a rather boring way as the heroes all escape, letting a chunk of stone drop on his immortal head. For reasons that are not entirely clear, Thunder, after seeing his boss’ corpse, does this:

Pictured above: most YouTube commenters

Then he explodes, accomplishing exactly nothing because the heroes avoid it simply by going around the corner. It’s wild, though.

The bulk of this fight is taken up by a similar sort of chaotic mass battle we saw last time, but executed with much more panache and given lots of extra flavor by adding in our known characters, some crazy magical combat and bits of comedy. Though they do suffer some delays accomplishing their overall goal, the momentum is very clearly on the protagonists’ side during the fight and they don’t experience any true setbacks or pains along the way. This ought to rob suspense from the encounter but instead gives it a manic energy, making it thrilling and triumphant.

And that ending! In another sly move, Carpenter effectively takes his “hero” out of the action for the majority of the fight, leaving the ostensible supporting cast to do most of the work. But Jack Burton still comes through when it means the most, even after a ridiculously stupid setback. It takes a genius like 1980s John Carpenter to be able to have his cake and eat it too– to make Burton a badass AND a clown.

On a purely technical level, this showdown is no great shakes, but everything taken together it’s a rollicking good time for the ages.

Grade: A-

Coming Attractions: A man without fear.

“Hey, it’s that guy from the site banner!”

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Big Trouble In Little China (fight 1 of 2)

Now for yet another movie that wasn’t taken seriously by audiences at first.

For some reason.

For some reason.

John Carpenter’s 1986 flop Big Trouble In Little China was intended at the time to be a big hit, but looking back now it’s almost the definition of a cult classic. It’s an early entry in the East-Meets-West genre, crudely tossing an obnoxious American trucker into a convoluted martial arts fantasy amidst all sorts of cheesy special effects and winking humor. This is a movie with so many volatile ingredients; had it tipped the scales too far at any point (too weird, too serious, too funny etc) and the whole thing could very easily have been an unwatchable disaster. Yet Carpenter and his crew managed to nail the perfect alchemy which resulted in an endearing, hilarious and truly one-of-a-kind experience. Even its imperfections– among them a sloppily constructed mythology, dialogue so blunt it sounds like it was written by Jack Kirby, ambitions that outstripped the current state of martial arts choreography/special effects, Kim Cattrall’s acting– are somehow endearing.

So while it’s a shame the movie didn’t catch on at the time and prompt studios to make more of the same (perhaps even a sequel?), in the end it’s unlikely this lightning could have ever struck twice.

1) Chang Sing vs Wing Kong

The Fighters:

  • The Chang Sing, an old Chinese society that’s good.
  • The Wing Kong, an old Chinese society that’s bad.

Both are filled with able-bodied kung fu warriors and are armed with an assortment of swords, knives, machetes, sticks, cleavers and various firearms (including one tommy gun). Also joining the party at the very end will be the mystical “Three Storms,” but they contribute so little we won’t discuss them much here. Ditto for the film’s protagonists, who mostly just observe from Jack’s truck.

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Most of the combatants are unrecognizable stuntmen, but noticeable among the bad guys is Jeff Imada, legendary Hollywood stuntman and coordinator.

The Setup: Our heroes, Jack Burton and Wang Chi, travel to San Francisco’s Chinatown to save Wang’s fiancee, Miao Yin, from her fresh-off-the-plane abduction by Chinese gangsters. (This broad-daylight kidnapping isn’t even the tenth weirdest thing to happen in the movie.)

Their pursuit leads them to a narrow alley where they come close to a funeral procession consisting of dozens of Chang Sing members, honoring a fallen leader. But Wang has barely finished explaining this to Jack when the Wing Kong stroll in from behind the truck, ready to confront their ancient rivals in an ambush.

The Fight: There’s a brief standoff as both sides brandish their weapons and glare angrily. It’s finally broken when one of the Tongs unload with a machine gun, prompting a hail of bullets from the other side. Sings and Kongs both fall, until each side is apparently out of ammo. Then both come out from cover and there’s a longer stare down.

The “Chinese standoff” (as Wang calls it, with hilarious seriousness) ends when both sides scream and charge at each other. They collide in a huge, bloody martial arts brawl.

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“A MAAAAAADHOUSE!”

What follows is very well done, if not spectacular, example of a chaotic free-for-all. There’s kicks and punches and stabs and chops and smacks and all sorts of delightful mayhem. It’s pure Red Shirt on Red Shirt violence– we don’t know the names of any of the participants, and only from context (and a couple colorful casting/costume choices, on the bad guys’ side at least) can we even infer who some of the lead fighters on each team are. Both heroes & villains suffer their share of losses.

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One guy suffers through this.

The martial arts choreography’s about as good as you can expect in a (somewhat) mainstream Hollywood action film from the time period– fun, varied and cool-looking, if a little stiff by modern expectations.

Eventually the pace picks up (via rapid editing) a bit, and it seems the odds are beginning to turn in the Chang Sings’ favor. But before that can get too out of hand, the battle is interrupted by the Three Storms, demi-godlike warriors loyal to the Wing Kong’s leader. They arrive one after the other, each in a way that corresponds with their powers and names: Thunder emerges from out of a loud explosion, Rain glides down from overhead after a brief downpour, and Lightning appears from a lightning bolt.

The Storms execute a bunch of scary moves and provides some super-intense glares, then they all line up together to stare down the shocked gangs. Several Chang Sings raise pistols and unload at the mystical warriors, but their bullets seem to have no effect.

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It’s like a Mortal Kombat game where you can only play as Raiden

In response, the Storms simultaneously draw their curved blades and fling them at the Chang Sings, with deadly accuracy. Jack & Wang take this as their cue to book it, and drive through the narrow alley. Before escaping they have a brief encounter with the intangible form of Lo Pan, the film’s villain, but it doesn’t come to much. More on him later.

Again, all well done fun even if it’s not amazing. It serves as a pretty good escalation to the movie’s stakes as established so far– an obnoxiously awesome trucker gets embroiled first in a kidnapping plot, then in a kung fu gang war, and now in a magical epic. Or at least it would, if the studio-mandated prologue hadn’t spelled out right from the beginning that the movie would eventually dive headfirst into Eastern mysticism.

Ah, well. Regardless, the best is yet to come.

Grade: B

Coming Attractions: The movie gets even weirder, in the best possible way.

It has a lot of big fans.

It has a lot of big fans.

Scott Pilgrim vs The World (fight 1 of 4)

This movie has “vs” in the title so you KNOW it’s classy.

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Like that tear-jerker action movie, Kramer vs Predator

Scott Pilgrim vs The World was practically designed to be a cult film rather than a big hit, but it still didn’t deserve to bomb like it did. There are certainly some strange decisions and missteps, and course a film like this lives or dies on how well its “tone” resonates… and this kind of tone is incredibly hard to get right. But if anyone could do it, it was the mad genius filmmaker Edgar Wright, flexing his impressive cinematic muscles to give audiences a one-of-a-kind experience: a real-life comic book/video game of a movie. Audiences were divided on how much they liked watching a bunch of aimless hipster kids walking around a cartoon-ish world, but everyone can agree there’s nothing quite like this movie’s particular brand of playfulness.

Compounding the hard sell of this unusual approach was the unfortunate timing: Scott Pilgrim vs The World debuted just after the public had turned against its star, Michael Cera, in a big way. Seemingly overnight (it looks like the disastrous Year One was the turning point) America went from loving Cera’s trademark “smart but hapless wimp” routine to absolutely despising it, thus once again proving the wisdom of The Simpsons. (Many haters ding Cera ostensibly for only having one “persona,” but come on, not every actor is in the Daniel Day-Lewis mold. Some of Hollywood’s biggest stars also basically did the same thing every movie. How many times did Clark Gable play a nerd?)

Something like this, you either love it or you hate it.

“Frankly my dear, I don’t give a KROW”

Anyway, I personally really dig it, and find it gets better with re-watching. It’s also an inevitable subject for the blog, but we’ll be grading with a different sort of scale in mind. The fighting, while often surprisingly complex, is also lighter and of less consequence than the average in-depth movie fight… which is to be expected, since it’s more of a comedy. So we’ll keep in mind not just how well done the combat is but the overall effect of the scene itself. And though each entry will be about a specific Evil Ex, we’ll naturally be skipping the three whose battles involve little to no genuine fighting. Sorry, Todd and the twins.

1) Matthew Patel

The Fighters:

  • Scott Pilgrim, the film’s titular hero, a hapless 20-something slacker/hipster with no job and a wonderfully naive teenage girlfriend. In pointed contrast to his personal aimlessness and generally wussy demeanor, he’s inexplicably amazing at fighting (in the movie it’s not remarked upon, but in Bryan Lee O’Malley’s original comic book it’s casually mentioned that Scott is “the best fighter in the province”). Played by Michael Cera, who unfortunately is the film’s weak link. Though he tries mightily and even stretches a bit, there is just something off about Cera’s take on Pilgrim, who in the books was more of a manic livewire in addition to being dumb & unambitious– he had a kind of Jack Black-like intensity rather than Cera’s typical low-key, lovable beta male. So perhaps the trouble with the character comes from the awkward dissonance of fitting the square peg into a round hole. And to be fair to Cera, when you get right down to it there’s not much to actually like about Scott Pilgrim for much of the story: he’s an objectively bad person.
  • Matthew Patel, Ramona’s first Evil Ex-Boyfriend; they dated for about a week and a half in seventh grade. A young man of Indian descent with advanced fighting skills, supernatural powers, and an odd fashion sense, Patel is arguably the most overtly cartoonish of all the film’s villains. Played by Satya Bhabha, who does a great job with what could have been a very annoying part in the wrong hands.
Seriously. You try doing this in a movie and not making people walk out.

Seriously. You try doing this in a movie and not making people walk out.

The Setup: Scott Pilgrim is a strikingly unambitious youth in the mystical land of Canada, 23-year-old Scott is now finding his precious little life a lot more interesting as he pursues the mysterious newcomer Ramona Flowers. Through unexplained means, word of his interest in Ramona has spread to the League of Evil Exes, seven of Ramona’s former romantic partners who seek to control her future love life by making any new lover go through them. (It’s a metaphor, see.) Scott would have clued into this earlier but, foolishly, he only skimmed the email warning him of the consequences of his attraction.

For his first quasi-date with Ramona, Scott takes her to a club where he and his friends are competing in a battle of the bands. Scott’s actual girlfriend, Knives Chau, conveniently passes out from pure excitement early into the band’s first number. Also on hand at the event are Scott’s gay roommate Wallace, his little sister (rated T for Teen) Stacy, and Stacy’s date, who is unbeknownst to her being quietly seduced by Wallace. And that date must be really gay, because let’s face it gents: there’s regular gay, and there’s “walk away from Anna Kendrick” gay.

Yeah, I was surprised too.

Yeah, I was surprised too.

Sex Bob-omb (that’s the name of Scott’s band, because of course it is) is doing pretty well, when suddenly they’re interrupted by the crashing arrival of Matthew Patel.

The Fight: Crashing, specifically, through the ceiling, free-falling down and calling out Scott’s name as he does so.

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There’s a great slow-motion sequence of Scott reacting with genuine puzzlement, finally only being spurred into action by Wallace’s gleeful urging to fight. Pilgrim unplugs his guitar, blocks the diving attack, and counters with a sweet punch that sends Patel flying back.

He lands okay, but after some more sardonic assistance from Wallace (“Watch out! It’s that one guy”), Scott counters Matthew’s next charge with a face-kick that shoots him into the air. Scott leaps up high in pursuit and gives a follow-up uppercut and a 64-hit punch combo.

They went ahead and did the counting for me.

They went ahead and did the counting for me.

They both come down and land in that “versus” image from way up top, and here’s where they start jawing. The weirdo introduces himself and explains he’s the first Evil Ex. In a movie full of over-the-top characters, Matthew Patel is particularly over-the-top… and in a very un-ironic and cartoonish way, what with all his jerky head movements, exaggerated body poses, speech contortions and guyliner. So again, all props to Bhabha for pulling off so well. (He’s barely recognizable from his other major claim to fame, his lengthy run in season two of New Girl.)

The two engage in some more down-to-Earth sparring. It’s surprisingly complex and reasonably “realistic” though of course very stylized. Mostly a lot of blocks and near-misses. Both Cera and Bhabha, neither of them experienced martial artists, acquit themselves well. Wright’s camera work, as expecting, is dynamic and exciting, as if he’d been directing fight scenes for years. One nice touch is the use of a special kind of dust applied to the actors’ clothes that shakes off and briefly lingers in the air with every impact– one of the many tricks Hong Kong action stars use to accentuate each blow.

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While most of the crowd is excited, Ramona appears visibly embarrassed at being the cause of this, and there are repeated cutaways to Stacy making expressions of disbelief– essentially as a way to tell the more skeptical audience members Hey, it’s okay, this is silly, you can laugh at it. Which might seem like unnecessary hand-holding, but you’d be surprised how slow some audiences are.

Speaking of puzzlement, Scott is still confused at what’s going on here, and he stops long enough to ask Patel what his deal is, which is when the villain is irked to learn that Scott blew off his explanatory email. Also between rounds of heightened fighting (and as Matthew starts to get in some solid hits), people in the crowd inquire about his outfit and ask if he’s a “pirate,” which is odd because aside from the Jack Sparrow-esque guyliner he doesn’t really look like a pirate. And Ramona is finally goaded into explaining her brief history with Matthew, in a strange half-poem accompanied by illustrations straight out of the comic (or possibly new drawings by O’Malley just for the movie).

When Scott reacts incredulously to Ramona’s mention of Matthew’s “mystical powers,” the evil ex decides that’s his cue to exercise them, floating in the air, conjuring fire in his hands and summoning a pack of “demon hipster chicks.” He does all this while singing and dancing a Bollywood-esque number. It’s… well, for me it was a little much, even for this movie’s wacky concept of reality. I suppose everyone has to draw the line somewhere.

This. This is the place where I draw the line.

This. This is the place where I draw the line.

So that weirdness happens and Patel starts flinging fireballs mid-song, all of which Scott dodges and one of which vaporizes a pair of roadies. Angrily noting that Matthew’s last two lines didn’t even rhyme, Pilgrim grabs a cymbal from Kim Pine’s drum set and hurls it Patel, hitting him hard enough to dispel the demon hipster chicks and leave him spinning vulnerably in the air. Scott takes the opportunity to leap in with a devastating punch that finishes off the evil ex for good, turning him into a handful of coins a la River City Ransom.

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If there’s any real problem (aside from the Bollywood stuff) with this, it’s that it seems to lack a sense of… scale? Weight? Consistency? Other than the fact that it’s the end of a fight, there’s no extra oomph to Scott’s last punch that indicates it should even be a finishing move– Patel didn’t seem tired at all before that, and he endured several blows that seemed just as powerful earlier on and came down smiling. The fight only ends because it seems like it was time to end. Which, come to think of it, might play into the story’s themes: Scott feels like he’s the main character in his own movie, and that everything should eventually go his way just because he’s, well, himself, regardless of whether he’s earned it or not.

In any case, it feels odd to criticize such an achievement as this. The movie actually took plenty of time to get to its first fight– enough time for Wright to lay the groundwork for the movie’s strange, hyper-stylized world. If this had come much earlier it would have been quite jarring even for the more patient fan. And what a payoff it is: finally we’re treated to the sight of real human beings flipping about like characters from a video game or anime but without it seeming painfully fake or dumb. There’s visual onomatopoeia incorporated in a much less intrusive way than in the old 60s Batman cartoon. Explosions and flashes of color change the entire screen filter for brief seconds before switching back (something you appreciate a lot more when looking for just the right screenshot, mind you). There’s a great mixture of the immediate and the spectacular, the thrilling and the ridiculous. Edgar Wright can basically do anything, and here he did something very, very fun.

Grade: B+

Coming Attractions: Our Canadian slacker hero fights an American superhero. Kinda.

"I understood that reference."

“I understood that reference!”

Freddy vs Jason (fight 1 of 1)

A truly horrifying match-up.

Almost

1) Freddy vs Jason

The Fighters:

  • Frederick Charles “Freddy” Krueger, aka the Springwood Slasher, aka Son of a Hundred Maniacs. A creepy serial killer of children, who came back more dangerous than ever after being killed by a vigilante mob (his hideous face wounds are from the burns he suffered in death). Freddy’s status as master of the dream world makes him almost infinitely powerful when he enters his sleeping targets’ minds. Whenever he’s pulled to the real world, however (as he is here), he’s deprived of his reality-warping abilities and while more durable than a normal human, he’s not nigh-unkillable like he is in dreams. Possessed of a cunning mind and a truly sick sense of humor. Played by the endlessly charming Robert Englund.
    • Armed with: His iconic “claw,” a specially made glove on his right hand with knives attached to all four fingers.
  • Jason Voorhees, the killer of Crystal Lake. A handicapped boy who survived a negligence-caused drowning and went on to become a hulking murder-zombie, Jason is practically a force of nature. Ever since the resurrection that kicked off his sixth installment, Jason’s physical strength and durability have been downright supernatural. He brushes off most blows with ease and can only even be stunned by heavy weapons fire or explosions. He can overpower any human and can punch right through flesh & bone with little effort. Mute and simple but possessed of an odd tactical intelligence (he’s excellent at covertly stalking his prey and hiding their corpses, for example), Jason is one hell of a blunt instrument, albeit a blunt instrument who prefers sharp implements. Played by stunt man Ken Kirzinger, who mostly acquits himself well in his one & only turn in the role (after replacing fan favorite Kane Hodder).
    • Armed with: Jason loves all sorts of killing tools but here he comes equipped with his trademark machete.

The Setup: Freddy vs Jason was never going to be a great movie, or even a good one. Neither character’s home franchise ever was, after all; the best they achieved was cheesy entertainment (with, occasionally, fleeting moments of greatness). Since it was always going to be crappy, the question was if it was going to be the right kind of crappy. A proper camp tone is hard to strike just right even when you know what you’re doing. It’s even harder to squeeze it in alongside occasional moments of genuine menace even bad horror movies need to have if they’re going to be memorable, and harder still to try to mix the apples & oranges approach of the titular monsters’ respective cinematic legacies.

Above ingredients do not mix well

It is, perhaps, about as good as any Freddy vs Jason film could ever get. Director Ronny Yu often strikes the right balance of cheesy enjoyability, but a lot of it is also just so much polished dullness, with many of the jokes falling flat. And, occasionally, it is really cool.

The plot is a hasty hash of “sure, why not” thinking. In an actually quite well done prologue, we learn that due to his prior defeats and many of his survivors being drugged into dreamless complacency, the youth of Springwood (home of Freddy’s beloved Elm Street) have forgotten Freddy, and without fear he has no strength. (This is not how Freddy’s powers have ever worked before, but like I said, “sure, why not.”) So, he enters the dreams of the slumbering Jason Voorhees, manipulating him into turning his wrath on the teens of Elm Street, reasoning that a renewed bloodbath on Freddy’s home turf will get people talking about him again. Improbably, this actually works.

But Jason keeps killing even after Freddy gets his mojo back, which ticks off the old sweater man. Thanks to both Krueger’s machinations and those of some kids caught in the crossfire, Jason gets hit up with enough tranquilizer to pull him into the dream world. He ends up getting schooled pretty hard by Krueger, as he’s the master of that domain, but the kids concoct yet another plan to lug Jason’s slumbering body off to Camp Crystal Lake, and send one of their own into the dream world to pull Freddy out just in time to square off against an awakened Jason. Again, this somehow works.

Annoying teen Lori (Monica Keena) yanks both herself and Freddy into humdrum reality (specifically into a Crystal Lake cabin, which is on fire for some reason) just as he’s about to kill her. Freddy’s delayed reaction to realizing he’s been plucked out of a realm where he has godlike status is precious, even more so as he turns to discover a very pissed off-looking Jason staring him down (Kirzinger’s imposing body language and the sudden heavy metal tune actually manage to convey the emotions of a masked mute pretty well). They approach each other with the flames adding an appropriate-if-unsubtle touch to the epic nature of their confrontation.

(Wisely, they decided to cut the part where Keena hammily declares “Place your bets!”, though it did appear in the trailer.)

The Fight: After Freddy finishes his cartoonish gulping, he mans up and does what he can to stand against the unstoppable force.

They set a pace early on that keeps up for most of the fight: Freddy is fast & wily, landing lots of small blows, while Jason is a big slow ox who hits with great force but very rarely.

It’s hard to see any other way this could have been blocked out (and lasted more than five seconds), but it’s still objectionable. Jason is often lazily thought of as “slow”– the stereotype is of him lumbering along through the woods after a sprinting co-ed– but his actions can be more properly described not as slow but as deliberate. He’s not stupid, either, at least not when it comes to killing; he’s certainly out-maneuvered smaller prey than Krueger before.

Freddy, for his part, does the lion’s share of work, not just physically but verbally. He grunts and howls with every blow he takes, and laughs triumphantly with nearly every bit of abuse he dishes out. Some of the moves around look like something out of pro-wrestling and cross the line into unacceptably silly, even for a character as hammy as Freddy. And while I’m prepared to believe that Jason’s resistance could be whittled down with lots of small cuts from Freddy’s glove, he wouldn’t be fazed for a second by anybody short of Captain America dropping elbows on him. Englund does what he can with the material and Kirzinger, who is good for most of the movie, is stuck playing the slow dummy.

They’re in the cabin only briefly, with the most notable part being where Freddy tries to kick his foe in the nuts and only ends up hurting himself. Jason then grabs the burned killer and drags him bodily through the wall the long way, then launches him into the open air.

There’s some boring business where the surviving kids try to escape and are confronted by Freddy, who really ought to be worrying about bigger things. That bigger thing presents itself by slicing up the teen who’d remained to stay and distract Freddy, and the fight begins anew.

Their dance continues as before, until one good blow sends Freddy near a bunch of oxygen tanks, which are there because, um… the now-abandoned Camp Crystal Lake had a huge scuba diving program? Sure, why not. Freddy figures out quickly that by using his claw to slice the caps off, the compressed oxygen will launch the canister through the air at high-speeds (repeat after me: sure, why not). Krueger than embarks on the weirdest game of impromptu Missile Command ever as Jason slowly stalks toward him. A couple lucky hits send Jason dozens of feet backward into the middle of a small construction site, because of course there’d be a partially-finished building right in the middle of an abandoned summer camp, right next to where they keep all the oxygen tanks for scuba diving. SWN.

Freddy quickly climbs to the top of the scaffolding and drops a whole crapload of long steel rebars on Jason, a couple of which skewer right through him and pin him to the ground. While Jason tries to tackle this problem in slow-motion, Freddy kicks off a dangling… cement mixer, I think?… and sets it ricocheting an absurd number of times, hoping it’ll hit Jason. He also tries to set off a mine cart (?) full of dirt to roll down a ramp at Jason, but it get stuck, and meanwhile Freddy himself gets caught up by the swinging movements of the crane he knocked loose, which brings him right into Jason’s waiting fists. They both get creamed by the freed cart and go flying to the dock. Lot of flying through the air in this fight.

Both are clearly more tired at this point, especially Freddy. Ronny Yu helps to signal that it’s the final round by making heavy use of slow motion and some more melodramatic music. Jason starts laying into Krueger pretty good at first, cutting him across the chest several times, until the Springwood Slasher slices Jason’s fingers off just as he’s goes in for the kill. Freddy seizes Jason’s machete with his ungloved hand and delivers some serious payback, with a bunch of hacking blows that send him to the ground. Again, this isn’t something that should do more than just piss Jason off. In a really gross move, he gouges out Jason’s eyes right through the hockey mask’s eye sockets. Ouch.

Should have used the Three Stooges defense

This is when those meddling kids interfere by spraying the dock with gasoline (there’s a gasoline hose nearby. You know how to react) and lighting it afire– ain’t nobody got time fer dat. Jason uses the distraction to punch one stub-fingered arm right into Freddy’s guts and rip his arm off, then Freddy retaliates by machete-ing Jason right in the chest. Both get blown right into the lake when the flames reach a nearby gasoline tank and make a fireball out of the whole thing.

The kids think they’re safe, but they should know the first kill NEVER takes with these guys, because a machete-wielding figure slowly stalks up to them. Yu shoots it cleverly to not give away which of the two villains it is, before pulling up to reveal that it’s Freddy, still wielding his opponent’s weapon. But just as he raises it to make some teen-kababs, he gets stabbed in the back and right on through his chest by his own claw… still attached to his own arm. An exhausted Jason drops the limb and falls back into the lake. Lori takes this moment to say a really lame one-liner and decapitates Freddy.

But that’s still not the end, because after they leave, we return to the lake in the morning, and in dramatic slow-mo, Jason Voorhees rises triumphantly from the water, machete in one hand… and Freddy’s severed head in the other. Last man standing, bitches!

Until we zoom in on Krueger’s head, and… oh no….

I can’t really convey how hilarious it is. Perfectly timed.

A mighty mixed bag. There are a few really awesome parts, especially the beginning and ending, with many tedious or annoying parts. Jason & Freddy are two very different kinds of monster, and unfortunately the way the filmmakers tried to square that circle was to turn Jason into the chump. Similarly, the whole oxygen missiles/construction yard derby part is really convoluted in execution, even if it was inventive in concept.

The fight does cover a lot of ground with a couple daring change-ups. And it certainly doesn’t cheap on time: even subtracting the cut-aways to annoying humans, this fight still lasts in the neighborhood of around ten whole minutes. That’s impressive all on its own. And the ending, with Jason walking away in (mostly) one piece and Freddy’s wink, actually finds a way for the movie to have its cake and eat it too: giving one character a real “victory” rather than a “they both lose” cop-out but still not completely ruling Freddy out.

Grade: B-. Or an A if you’re seeing it at midnight with a bunch of drunken pals.

Recommended Links: Kumail Nanjiani’s take on the expectation of Freddy Krueger’s racial sensitivity.

Coming Attractions: “Daniel LaRusso’s gonna fight?? Daniel LaRusso’s gonna fight!!”

He’s a real macchio man.

Ninja Scroll (devil 5 of 5)

Say whatever else you will about Genma, dude has chin for DAYS.

He registers a 3.5 on the Bruce Campbell scale, or 0.4 Z’Dars.

[A quick note: His name is definitely “Genma” not “Gemma” no matter what the subtitles on your copy say or what you think you hear. That’s the way it’s written in all the movie’s material, and the nature of the Japanese standalone “N” precludes the two sounds being interchangeable or an understandable Japanese attempt at mimicking a Western word, such as “Bejiita” for “Vegeta.” Don’t feel bad for how Manga Entertainment lied to you for decades, I just found it out myself.

Even though “Gemma” is still widely accepted amongst fans, I’ll stick with “Genma” here, as much for nerdy accuracy as for how I don’t need this site turning up in image search results for horny boys looking up a certain pair of buoyant British actresses who are also named “Gemma.” Although I spoiled that by said “Gemma” a bunch of times anyway. DAMMIT]

5) Genma Himuro

(voiced by Daisuke Gori)

The leader of the Eight Devils of Kimon. Although not quite the size of Tessai, still a monstrously huge & muscled man, with speed and quick-thinking to back it up. A cunning, ruthless and patient strategist. Most importantly, though, is his mastery of the resurrection spell: Genma has such control over his whole body that he can recover from any injury, even death.

Though the machinations of the plot would have required a showdown between the two anyway, for both Jubei and Genma this fight is personal. They knew each other back in the day, when Genma was a high-ranking vassal of the clan Jubei served as a ninja for. Jubei hates Genma for how the villain manipulated Jubei’s friends into killing each other over the stash of gold that would later serve as this movie’s Maguffin; Genma, meanwhile, is still ticked about the time Jubei cut his head off.

He got better.

He got better.

Armed with: Almost nothing. A good portion of his left arm is covered in metal plating, but for the most part Genma chooses to rely on his advanced personal strength and immortality to do the job.

Fights with:

  • Jubei, who is SO freaking pissed off.
jubeiyell

No, man, it’s spelled… ugh, never mind

The Fight: As the film approaches its climax the vendettas between hero & villain grow more personal. While Dakuan restrains him in concealment, Jubei watches as Genma fatally wounds Kagero, having impersonated her liege lord the whole story. This makes Jubei go completely apeshit; he breaks free from the monk’s grip and charges out sword-blazin’. He eliminates a small army of disposable, faceless ninja goons, one swipe at a time, while Genma gets away. Unfortunately that action mostly happens off-screen or in quick cuts & flashes, but it’s still one helluva cinematic beast mode.

After tearful goodbyes with Kagero, Jubei sneaks aboard Genma’s departing ship. With the help of Dakuan and (unwillingly) Zakuro’s gunpowder-filled body, Jubei creates a large explosion in the ship’s main hold, destroying or sinking all the gold Genma was going to use to finance his conquest of Japan.

The scene where Genma hears the explosion and calmly waits is pretty amazing. He sits stock still, only his eyes moving, as he takes it all in, and calmly tells an underling to order an evacuation. He barely moves but the artwork and voice acting convey someone absolutely enraged, knowing that his years of careful planning have all been undone. He descends into the fiery cargo hold to find Jubei waiting patiently.

The hero cuts quite the striking pose there, particularly as some blaring horns kick in along with the steady drumbeat. The two talk for a bit and then charge at each other. Jubei’s blade, unfortunately, proves a poor match for the villain’s speed and power, with every blow either being dodged or stopped cold by Genma’s plated arm.

Genma returns every strike of Jubei’s with a devastating counter, but, never missing a beat, Jubei just continuously picks himself back up and charges Genma again. He’s so relentless it’s almost funny. Jubei will not be denied– he gonna GET that ass.

When Genma seems tired of this game he traps Jubei’s sword arm in his own massive paws, and gives him the mother of all Indian burns– apparently up until it breaks. Then he pins the hero up against a support beam and hits him with a devastating series of blows. Undeterred, Jubei distracts his foe with some trash talking as he reels his sword back in and, with his uninjured hand, lops Genma’s own right arm off.

Aside from the initial shock, Genma reacts with admirable stoicism, and goes right back to beating the stuffing out of Jubei. He re-attaches his own arm and leans menacingly over the hero, who surprises him again with the rather direct route: he seizes Genma’s collar and head-butts him to death. Like, over & over. Just rams his forehead into Genma’s face until it looks like a pile of smashed ass. As with his undeterred behavior earlier in the fight, it’s at once impressive and morbidly funny. Skill and power disparities be damned at this point– Jubei is just a single-minded engine of vengeful rage. As he says to Genma, he’ll kill him as many times as it takes.

He ends up getting held to that word, because he has to kill Genma a few more times immediately: first with a sword to the gut and some wooden shrapnel to the chest….

… then when that doesn’t stick, ripping his sword out from Genma vertically.

Just as Genma starts to re-form and it seems like Jubei just can’t catch a break, the consequence of all those tons of gold being exposed to heat from the fire comes due, and a small flood of molten gold comes rushing in. Jubei high-tails it up a ladder, whereas Genma gets a thick coating of the liquid metal. He flails about a bit and grabs at Jubei’s leg, but the hero ultimately escapes while Genma sinks to the bottom of the sea, trapped forever in a frozen gold prison. If only he’d listened to his father’s lessons.

jww

This one’s pretty close to flawless. Unlike every other fight in the film, it doesn’t suffer from being too short. The build-up to it is excellent, it has some great change-ups, a killer setting, awesome music, cool moves by the hero and an amazing villain. They really did save the best for last.

Grade: A

Well, that’s it for Ninja Scroll. It somehow did mostly manage to survive the ravages of time and maturity. Thanks to Yoshiaki Kawajiri and all others involved for the memories.

Coming Attractions: How sweet, fresh meat.

Welcome to MY blue Photoshop filter!

Ninja Scroll (devil 4 of 5)

Creeper ninja is creepy.

“Who, me?”

4) Shijima

(voiced by Akimasa Omori)

Shijima is arguably the most ninja-like of all the film’s many ninjas: he employs stealth, deception and diversion over outright combat. Also, whereas most of the other devils only have one real “big” power or gimmick (Zakuro stuffs corpses with explosives, Tessai can turn to rock, etc) Shijima has four: he can create illusory copies of himself, he can control people’s minds, he has a sweet chain-claw, and he can fade into & transport himself via darkened areas– allowing him to quite literally strike from the shadows. Though he pops up more than many of the movie’s other villains, he has a such diverse skill set and is interesting enough he could have stood to play a much bigger part.

Armed with: The Claw!

No, not this one.

Not quite….

There you go.

It’s a huge, sharp claw on one hand that he can fire off on a chain at will. And, as I suppose is standard issue for ninjas, a supply of small darts.

The Fights: Shijima has one very brief encounter early in the film, where he attempts to kill Dakuan as the monk is separated from Jubei on a trek through foggy darkness. Through a clever trick, Dakuan just barely managed to avoid the villain’s claw bursting out of the shadows. Not much to it, but a nice way to establish the character early on and tease at his potential.

The second time our protagonists encounter Shijima, they’re all standing in a clearing as they suss out the villains’ overall plot and figure out what to do. Shijima makes his presence known with several furtive movements at their peripheral vision, then goes all-out by surrounding the trio with dozens of his illusion copies.

He throws a few darts at Kagero (which she dodges) to attempt to keep her from sending off her carrier pigeon message for help, and that move turns out to be what Jubei needed to determine which Shijima is the real one. The hero lunges in and cuts the devil’s leg right off. Taking it like a champ, Shijima hops away wordlessly with Jubei in pursuit.

While Jubei hunts down what turns out to be a fake trail, Shijima uses the shadows to double back and kidnap Kagero– it’s implied he got the drop on her because she was stunned after Dakuan dropped some particularly shocking news on her. When the two men return, they find that Shijima has carved a note into a nearby tree telling them to come and get her, if they dare. Dakuan figures it for a trap (duh) but Jubei heads in regardless.

Shijima had, it turns out, taken the unconscious Kagero to an abandoned temple nearby. Between the dilapidated condition of the building and the setting sun, the place makes both a cool backdrop for a fight as well as a tactically advantageous (i.e., shadow-filled) ground for Shijima. Before Jubei arrives, the creepy little devil does something quite lascivious to Kagero, which is implied to be what allows him to mind-control her. So when our hero shows up and finds Kagero, she awakes with a glassy-eyed stare and immediately attacks him.

Kagero was never a match for Jubei, really, but his efforts at defending himself are hindered by the escalating effects of the poison he’s infected with (long story) as well as Shijima hassling him from the sidelines. But mostly Shijima’s contribution here is to use his claw to grab Jubei’s sword, attempting to drag it with him into the shadows. Jubei has to wrestle for control over it, which causes him to get stabbed in the hand by Kagero.

Jubei decides to let him have it, releasing the sword so that it stabs Shijima as it comes in. The creeper slowly tumbles out of the darkness, dead. Jubei passes out and Kagero comes to her senses.

Shijima’s a lot of fun, so it’s a shame that after two really promising build-ups he had so little participation in his own final battle; pitting the two heroes against each other is an interesting twist, but it’s too brief and Shijima’s own presence in that fight is minimal. However, as a whole he’s a welcome and dynamic addition to this movie’s crazy little world. Thanks, Shijima.

Grade: B

Coming Attractions: Boss fight!

GEMMA SMASH

Ninja Scroll (devil 3 of 5)

Dance of death.

3) Mujuro Utsutsu

(voiced by anime legend Norio Wakamoto)

A change of pace from his companions, Utsutsu is a devil with a genuine sense of honor & fair play, and though he speaks with an air of superiority it’s less bluster and more of a well-earned confidence. A supremely talented swordsman, Utsutsu’s real advantage is related to his blindness: his hearing is greatly magnified to compensate, allowing him to rapidly react by echo-location and listening to his opponents’ muscle movements. Basically he’s like the superhero Daredevil… and many, many other genre characters. Honestly, this gag is a little played-out, and probably was even in 1993. Do real life blind people find this trope offensive?

Armed with: A simple katana, which he can also use to “blind” opponents by shining light on their faces. The implication is that he’s merely reflecting sunlight off of it (difficult in a setting where the trees create a lot of shade) but the visual and its effect are so oversold it seems more like it’s glowing of its own accord.

Fights with:

  • Jubei, mostly.
  • Kagero, who again plays a small but vital role.

The Fight: Kagero, having been overcome with emotion, foolishly charged into a trap (you don’t have to be Mister Sensitive Feminist to deduce that this movie thinks VERY little of women), which caught her and reluctant partner Jubei in an explosion that sent them off the side of a cliff. Using Jubei’s cord-attached sword as an impromptu grappling hook, the two find themselves literally hanging on by a thread. They ascend one at a time, and find that not only was Mujuro Utsutsu waiting for them at the top, it was he who held Jubei’s sword after it dislodged from the rocks, acting as their anchor. Very sporting of him– shades of Princess Bride.

Utsutsu challenges the pair, which Jubei takes personally. In fact, all throughout the fight he behaves with uncharacteristic pride, repeatedly insisting to Kagero that he fight Utsutsu alone. This can’t be personal to him since he doesn’t seem to know the devil from earlier, so it’s possible that he sees a more direct challenge to his personal skill in Utsutsu’s straightforward swordsmanship, or perhaps he’s still upset with Kagero for her dumb play earlier– after the fight, he does dress her down about not taking her own life seriously.

Anyway, the two men charge off into the nearby bamboo forest, running alongside each other for a long time before Jubei ever makes his first move. What follows is the closest thing to an actual sword duel in the entirety of Ninja Scroll. And it’s mostly Mujuro’s game: he reacts with ease to all of Jubei’s strikes, and when he goes on the offensive it’s all the hero can do to keep up.

Jubei still attempts to think strategically, though. He brought the fight to the forest to, as Utsutsu immediately guesses, try to dampen the devil’s advantage– the preponderance of static obstacles would ostensibly challenge his ability to navigate. However, Mujuro’s skill is more powerful than that, and he dodges every tree with calm ease. He’s even unruffled when Jubei covertly slashes a few of the bamboo stalks in the hopes that the resulting noise would mask the hero’s own movements, but he is again unsuccessful; Utsutsu can hear him even amongst a veritable cacophony.

Mujuro then puts Jubei on the defensive and pursues him with a series of strikes that the hero only barely counters. One of the advantages of animation is employed here as we see Jubei being pushed what must be a dozen feet or more over the course of his multiple parries– a bit of choreography that would be impractical and/or silly-looking if attempted in live-action.

Waving off Kagero’s attempts to help, Jubei squares off against Utsutsu once more, even as the devil employs his trick of trying to weaken Jubei’s sight with the glare off his blade, turning the hero’s own eyes against him. Jubei gets knocked to the ground as they clash in mid-air, but Mujuro’s killing stroke is stopped short by a dagger Kagero had left planted in a bamboo trunk and escaped his “radar” vision. Jubei wastes no time killing the surprised villain with one lunge through the heart.

Again, even though there’s some slight supernatural enhancement, this is the straightest fight in the whole film; it is, ironically, unusual in its ordinariness. And certainly never boring. Short, as most every Ninja Scroll fight is, but more in the “whew, that was intense” sense rather than the “aw, that’s it?” one. Mujuro Utsutsu is very efficiently introduced, deployed and dispatched, during the course of which we get a thrilling little scene that allows for some very head-scratching relationship development of our two leads. Not truly great, but not bad at all.

Grade: B

Coming Attractions: Ninja, vanish!