So I'm Watching Kubrick's Lolita Right Now

For the first time, I'm beginning to understand why my brother hates Stanley Kubrick so much.

Not that I hate Kubrick. He's not my favorite, but I liked Dr. Strangelove well enough, and 2001: A Space Odyssey is quite interesting in small doses, although I can't watch it too terribly often, if for no other reason than its length.

As far as his take on Lolita goes, it's a rather silly black comedy that suffers from comparison with Nabokov's actual fiction, which is unfilmable. I understand that he wrote a screenplay for this film that wasn't followed, and that he said something to the effect of the film being about as good as a movie based on his writing could hope to be, barely attempting to hide the snark beneath such a back-handed compliment. Not that this little piece of sixties era sleaze deserves any more than that, but it's funny if nothing else.

I don't really have much else to say about it, or at least there isn't much left to be said after forty five years of criticism from people more qualified than I. I just thought it would be funny to have a "review" of a Kubrick adaptation of Nabokov following my various reviews of films like Child of Peach, Orochi: The Eight Headed Dragon, and DragonBall: Evolution. (Which has been responsible for about half of the traffic for this page)

However, I do have a point to this. I have often advocated watching an otherwise terrible movie and appreciating it anyway; not laughing at it or even with it, but in spite of it. Seeing Nabokov's tale of cruel self-hatred manifesting itself in the tyranny of one person over another, told from the perspective of the tyrant turned into a work of minor perversion/transgressive humor could cause me to nerd rage all over my blog -- and if I devised any sort of slightly clever methods of insulting the film or the director the temptation might have arisen. But the cheap scoring and absurd performance from Peter Sellers, as well as what I'm assuming is a fifteen year old Sue Lyon never fail to remind that this is dopey studio film making from the sixties.

And I'm actually kind of okay with that. Like any other thoroughly awful movie, I enjoy watching it on its own terms. The bitchin' early sixties hairstyles and awful sound track help with that.

Please don't hate me too much, Kubrick fans. Surely even you lot must realize that his Lolita is a meandering, pandering mess.

It would have worked better under the title, "Pedo-a-Go-Go."


Movie Review -- Full Moon Scimitar

Well, what did you expect?

Full Moon Scimitar is one of the eighteen films that Shaw Brothers director Chu Yuan adapted from the novels of Gu Long over the course of about six years. Made in 1979, it stars Derek Yee (billed as Erh Tu-Sheng) instead of Ti Lung, who was very often the lead in Chu Yuan/Gu Long films at Shaw Bros. It's not one of the stronger films in the series, but that should be expected since Chu had already made at least twelve films of varying quality. Do the math: that's four Gu Long films per year, in addition to other projects, including a two part adaptation of Jin Yong's Heaven Sword and Dragon Saber the previous year. It's a testament to Chu's formula that any of these films display any signs of quality at all, and yet, most of them do, if only in small quantities.

And to be honest, Full Moon Scimitar is one of the more disappointing films for many of us not because it's a particularly worse film than, say, Death Duel (1977), but because of its very particular lack of availability. It was one of the last Chu Yuan films released on dvd by Celestial pictures, but it was one of the first titles that caught my attention when I started looking for films to watch on my newly acquired region-free dvd player. The first three films that I bought were Magic Blade (Chu Yuan, 1976), Martial Arts of Shaolin (Lau Kar-Leung, 1986), and Buddha's Palm (Taylor Wong 1982), and while reading various forums, I found a few mentions of Full Moon Scimitar as well as a poster and lobby card images. The mere image of the scimitar, a crescent moon shaped blade that folds out to make an S-shaped weapon gripped in its center, sent my imagination flying with possibilities for fight choreography. And with Chu Yuan as director, I knew it would have all sorts of weirdly colored lighting schemes and plenty of convoluted plot twists.

Hence, I had built this movie up to a point that it had no chance of meeting my expectations. The same thing happened with Life Gamble, which is actually pretty decent, and would have happened with Clan Feuds had I not already learned my lesson.

Full Moon Scimitar tells the story of Ding Peng (Derek Yee) an aspiring swordsman who gains enough fame to fight a duel with Liu Ruo Song (Wong Yung), who uses his wife's charms to steal Ding Peng's sword manual and defeat him in their duel. Humiliated, Ding Peng takes off, running into Qing Qing (Lisa Wong), a fox spirit whose clan holds the titular Full Moon Scimitar, which Ding uses, along with some trickery that's even more underhanded than what Ruo Song used on him, to defeat Liu Ruo Song in a rematch and then take up a position as head of the martial world, earning the ire of practically every major clan chief or notable swordsman, alienating Qing Qing in the process.

Like many other Gu Long adaptations, the theme of the corruptibility of power gets hammered home in no uncertain terms. That makes Derek Yee's character an unlikable jerk, and all of the characters with only a few exceptions despicable. The "righteous" clan leaders frequently resort to treachery in order to get their way, and their corruptibility extends to protection for members or relatives of their own rank. Their victims, generally speaking, actually deserve the pain inflicted on them, although pretty much everyone in need of punishment gets it by the end of the film. So much like Magic Blade, The Sentimental Swordsman, and Death Duel, the film presents a sadly treacherous, tragic version of the martial world. It must be mentioned though, that a twist in the plot towards the end of the film confuses some of the earlier events in the plot, since it eliminates the justification for certain unlikely supernatural happenings, all of which are filmed in Chu Yuan's usual method, using lots of wide angles and "spooky" green lighting.

But Full Moon Scimitar, for all its formulaic elements and (retroactive) lack of clarity, has some undeniably appealing things going for it. Among Chu's films, I think this one has some of the most consistently good fight scenes. Action director Tong Gaai worked very often on these films, and in some of those others his choreography seems workmanlike, if not bored. The fight scenes here bare lots of his trademarks, like extensive stunt doubling, weird weapons, formation fighting, and acrobatic, dance like choreography. Yueh Hua, Wang Lung Wei, and Norman Chu all have memorable parts, with Yueh Hua stealing every scene he's in as a master swordsman with no need for a sword. And certainly, the number of attractive women filling out the cast doesn't hurt the film one bit.

There's not much to quibble about with the "message" either. One can seemingly never remind the world enough of people's inability to resist temptation.

The only thing that actually disappoints about this movie is that it isn't the mind-blowing spectacle for which I hoped. Full Moon Scimitar won't win any new fans for Chu Yuan's brand of films, and in the end it it's a formula film: one of eighteen. Why were so many of these films made in such a limited amout of time anyways? These films were being churned out before the emergence of home video, produced at such a rate that there would always be one ready to premeir as the previous Chu Yuan/Gu Long film was making its way out of theaters. They form something like a serial without continuity (or continence, some would likely say) but with an incongruous amount of effort when compared to most serials, or much of what was being produced for television.

Full Moon Scimitar gives you what you ought to expect. It can't really be faulted for that.


Mtn Dew Game Fuel -- Screw the Dew

I know the title isn't at all clever, but Mtn Dew Game Fuel - Wild Fruit is unworthy of creative insults.

Really, it's shocking that such a product exists. How could anybody produce something that tastes so absurdly bad? The first sip reminded me of babysitting a young relative who made Kool-Aid with so little water that it practically clung to whatever moisture was in my mouth and left my tongue dry and brightly hued. There is so much artificial sweetener in this particular flavor of Mountain Dew, that it actually eliminates every other flavor in your mouth, with an aftertaste vaguely reminiscent of chewing on a plastic bag.

As I understand, this is a re-released, repackaged Mountain Dew "Revolution," one of a few flavors released a year or two ago, none of which came even close to tasting good. The new "Game Fuel" flavors not only taste bad, they've tasted bad for years.

In the past, I've spent hundreds of dollars at restaurants, cooked expensive cuts of beef more or less on impulse, and drove hours out of my way to eat at burger and barbecue joints instead of just stopping at McDonald's. I watch the Food Network. And yet, I never thought the American obsession with food somehow unhealthy. Then Pepsi partnered with Microsoft, and wrought upon the world the abomination of "Game Fuel." The world is a perverse place.


Mtn Dew Game Fuel - Do the Dew Doo

It's a long established stereotype that video gamers, role players and nerds enjoy Mountain Dew to an unhealthy degree. Proof enough comes from Summoner, a game developed by Volition for the PS2, which featured a video in which various characters from the game play Dungeons and Dragons while one particular character whines over Cheetos and Mountain Dew. It's one of the funnier instances of marketing and reality misaligning; Mountain Dew frequently ran commercials with X-treme sports themes, with snowboarders and skaters doing tricks and telling us to "do the dew," while the only people who were actually buying and enjoying Mountain Dew for purposes other than the massive caffeine jolt were guys who lived the exact opposite of an extreme sports lifestyle.

I do not know precisely when it occured, that fateful moment when Mountain Dew became self-aware, but I do know that we felt its effects around September of 2007, upon the release of Halo 3 for the Xbox 360. Myself, RockmanXZ24, Pilgrim, and Waffler proceeded to the local the supermarket, where Waffler purchased a box full of Halo 3 themed Mountain Dew Gamer Fuel cans. We had balked at the thought earlier in the day, and when we actually tried it, balked at the idea that anybody else would actually drink it. Never the less, we consumed every can, albeit over a period of weeks, usually not touching it until several hours into Halo 3 multiplayer or a couple of dungeons deep and a couple of level ups into Phantasy Star Online for Gamecube. It was during one of these marathon gaming sessions that I learned RockmanXZ24 had never drank a Mountain Dew before his introduction to "Gamer Fuel," and this is somebody who owns every Nippon Ichi developed game that has been released in the US (excepting Rhapsody, but we can understand not owning that one).

Amusingly, the marketing had once again failed to match up with reality. By the time that Pepsi co. started making Mountain Dew specifically geared towards nerds, we found out that at least one of us nerds hadn't even bothered to try Mountain Dew before. After that one attempt at fitting the stereotype so carefully researched by the powerful corporate soft-drink entities, I lacked even the slightest wish to drink Mountain Dew ever again. There were a few other flavors that were attached to the label, none of which did anything for me. Apparently the rest of the world felt similarly, since I don't see most of those flavors around anymore, and Gamer Fuel was no exception...

Until last night.

With Waffler, RockmanXZ24, Pilgrim and I all in the same place for the weekend (an unusual enough occurance), Waffler brought something to help us celebrate: bottles of newly re-christened Mtn Dew "Game Fuel," the Horde Red edition. Now featuring a World of Warcraft theme and a title lessened a single letter, Game Fuel is exactly the same as it was two years ago. It touts a "citrus-cherry" flavor that tastes not only artificial but completely awful. Most shockingly, Game Fuel now has two flavors: Horde Red and Alliance Blue, reminding one of the heinous Energy Potions that I complain about so often. I've only tried Horde Red so far, but as I remembered, it's disgustingly sugary and caffeinated to a likely unhealthy degree.

Back when Mountain Dew was the unnoficial drink of nerds, there was certain ironic affection that I couldn't help but have for it. Now that I see orcs and night elves and Master Chief emblazoned all over it, that irony is gone. Now it's just gross. A google search for "Game Fuel" brought me to an online promotion for World of Warcraft, and that just makes me hate that game even more.

Cherry and citrus are two perfectly acceptable artificial flavors that simply shouldn't mix. Soft drinks and video game promotion are the same. Spelling words without vowels is jst pln stpd, and I have a feeling that I'm probably going to try the Alliance Blue Game Fuel tonight, out of some combination of fleeting interest and masochistic glee.


Review -- Chinese Martial Arts Cinema: The Wuxia Tradition by Stephen Teo

When I first started this blog, it was to fulfill a requirement of a media studies class that I was mildly excited over. The class centered around a paper that would examine a cultural trend or artifact of the student's choosing. I chose kung fu movies, and the paper I wrote (the name of which I don't recall) attempted to reconcile the seemingly nationalistic impulse of martial arts films with their popularity among western viewers, particularly urban, African-American audiences. The professor graded my paper an "A-" which means it was good enough for an undergrad media studies course, but I was thoroughly frustrated with finding basic data on ticket sales and distribution records for many of the films I wished to talk about. I don't plan to write academically about my favorite much-maligned film genre ever gain (unless I get paid); learning how little of the basic information about the films that saw release in my own country had been recorded for posterity discouraged me greatly.

It is with that knowledge that I say Stephen Teo's monograph of the Wuxia genre, from the conception of the term to the present trends among Mainland Chinese film makers, is an excellent resource for the history of the genre, as well as topical and retroactive critical appraisal. Exhaustively researched, filled with anecdotal information about the earliest Shanghai produced films and their reception by audiences and the intelligentsia, often painfully academic, Chinese Martial Arts Cinema: The Wuxia Tradition is not bathroom reading.

Given the general lack of academic writing on the genre as a whole, and partly because of the constraints placed on the author (which he discusses in the epilogue) this book is a bit dry and to the point. If you're not one for scholarly reading, you might want to have Wikipedia open and ready to look up such concepts as "self-fashioning," "historicist," "orientalist," as well as more common terms for film criticism (auteur, mise en scene, etc). Teo does not write a journalistic survey of the genre, he writes a narrative of its evolving relations between nationalism and transnationalism, masculine and feminine emphasis within the genre, and (to a lesser degree) auteur film making as opposed to generic film making. Covering eighty years worth of genre movies as they were produced over periods of war and economic upheaval, a goodly portion of work is evaluated for a single book, with only a single chapter on the kung fu genre deviating from the central, specific history of the wuxia film "to suggest a less than smooth development of the martial arts cinema..." (p.81) That suggestion is a very wise one that justifies the inclusion of a chapter that breaks the chronology built by each previous chapter.

In spite of his excellent scholarship, exemplary conveying of oft forgotten or simply uncommonly known historical facts, and consistent explanations of the wuxia genre, I must qualify my recommendation of Mr. Teo's book with more than a general warning to those who wouldn't want to read such an academic text in the first place. Firstly, Chinese Martial Arts Cinema: The Wuxia Tradition is not a comprehensive study. I recall very well approaching the end of the chapter 4 "Rise of New School Wuxia," waiting for a bit of analysis on the films of Joseph Kuo and Tien Peng and other Taiwanese films, and finishing the chapter only to find that there wasn't any. I quickly finished the following chapter on King Hu, thinking that his relationship with Union film company might segue to a discussion, however brief it might need to be. Once again, I was a tad disappointed. I also hoped for a bit more information if not critical discussion of the Cantonese language serials (although there is a great review of Ling Yun's 1964 Buddha's Palm series) and some of the more notable wuxia shenguai films, like Monkey Goes West (Ho Meng Hua, 1966) or even The Eight Immortals (Chan Hung-Man, 1971). The author explains in the epilogue that he wished to include more of Taiwan's Mandarin language cinema, but could not due to considerations for space. He also makes mention of the unavailability of extant film texts in some of the genre's more distant corners, which many a collector can relate to.

Also for those looking for observations or reviews of specific films, directors, or stars, this book is probably not what you're looking for. Stephen Teo explicates even directors like Chang Cheh and Chu Yuan in generic terms, and only King Hu receives treatment as an auteur. (In one amusing paragraph, however, Teo reviews most of Chang Cheh's more noteworthy films in short sentence fragments, which usually do convey the best aspects of each) And while many films are discussed, this is not a book of reviews.

There are other minor quibbles. I disagree with Teo's assessment of Zhang Yimou's Hero. I think he over-interprets symbolism in King Hu's films (see his King Hu's A Touch of Zen). I also think that the kung fu film is more important for American audiences and don't feel like the chapter he includes is necessary, although Teo has just reason to include it.

All that said, this is an unprecedented English language resource for those interested in the history of the genre, particularly its roots in literature and the lost films that can only be researched obliquely through reviews and articles written by people who have seen them. I'd recommend it to those who are willing to read an academic, scholarly text, and even to those who aren't interested in scholarly reading but wish to know more about this unappreciated and misunderstood genre of film.