Monday, September 26, 2011
Monday, September 13, 2010
Monday, August 30, 2010
Project A Part II (1987)
Category: Fight - Multiple People
It has taken me many viewings to come around to this finale sequence, but in the end, I felt a top ten without it couldn't be representative or authoritative. It's not the only Chan finale to stretch over ten minutes long and it's not the only Chan finale to be a hybrid of stunts, visual gags for humor, and quick fights (this is a hallmark of the Project A series), but it's quite possibly the best mixture he's ever achieved. Like the last half of The Beatles Abbey Road album, this sequence plays like a medley of half imagined ideas that when taken in individual parts isn't remarkable, but when put together and taken as a whole, achieves the level of a masterpiece. Stand out moments for me include a beat where Chan enters into and fights a bad guy in a rotating cage (The most remarkable aspect is just how fluid and easy Chan makes the whole thing appear), the numerous high level falls Chan takes, and the ending stunt tribute to Buster Keaton in Steamboat Bill, Jr. Just as in Keaton's film, this mad cap assembly of moments is pure genius and quintessential to any Chan top ten.
The Accidental Spy (2002)
(the sequence begins in the first video at 4:20 and continues into the second video)
Similar to a the "Rat Glue Factory" sequence earlier in my Top 100, this is a hugely entertaining chase scene devoted entirely to Chan's slapstick and visual gags. You can't make as many movies and action scenes as Chan has and continue to put out original material without constantly coming up with twists to the usual chase formula. This scene see's Chan put the simple idea of trying to keep his private parts covered and takes it to very creative lengths with a bevy of props. It could've been just one covering after another, but Chan actually decides to try and use these props to good use against his attackers as well. The scene plays more like an innocent riff on the similar 'Austin Powers' sequences, but with the goodness appeal and action appeal that Chan exudes.
Who Am I? (1998)
Category: Fight - Multiple People
Perhaps the last great pure 'fight' that Chan ever filmed. When it comes to his contemporary fights, Chan can sometimes be overlooked because he employs a more slapdash kickboxing style as compared to the slicker and more traditional kung fu based styles of Sammo Hung, Jet Li, and Yuen Woo-Ping, but there is a real art to what Chan accomplishes in this lengthy and punishing fight. Like most of his 90's fights, it's less about the physicality (although there is a good bit of it) and more about the efficiency and intricacy of the fight. What starts out as a strong one on one fight eventually ramps up into an amazing two on one bout that uses the setting to its full advantage.
Once the one on ones break down (and I admit there is a little too much blocking by Chan here), there is a vertigo inducing sequence on the side of the building that I think is pure genius, not for just the athleticism, but Chan's camera placement as well. If the fight wasn't enough, it's capped off by one of Chan's most incredible stunts ever. I don't care if he used wires here, this stunt takes courage and bravery, and is filmed perfectly. All in all, a masterpiece of fight cinema.
Mr. Nice Guy (1997)
Category: Fight -Prop
Starting off this sequence (one of my personal favorites to watch over and over again) is a doorway sequence that would make 'Looney Tunes' writers proud. Immediately following it is a masterpiece of prop fighting in a construction site. I remember walking through a Home Depot as a kid and imagining what a fight sequence would look like in a store like it and I think this sequence tops anything I could've imagined or dreamed. Again, it's less 'fight' and more intricate prop use, but how can one argue against the several perfectly timed and executed beats present here? When Chan rolls over the table saw, ducks under the grinder, slides down the rollers, its as if they were always meant to be used that way. This sequence never fails to put a smile on my face.
6. Jackie Chan vs. Bennie "The Jet" Urquidez
Wheels on Meals (1984)
Category: Fight - One on One
I wrote an earlier article on Chan featuring this fight and I commented on the fight there, here is what I wrote then about the fight, "Impressive right? It's brutal, quick, and well paced. Jackie and Bennie's fights caught so much attention because they are both not only legitimate fighters but they are legitimate tough guys as well. Supposedly Jackie asked Bennie to be more aggressive than usual hoping the intensity would come across on screen and it certainly does. They are both so well matched, their fights feel real to me. My favorite elements of the fight are the playful back and forth between them as they feel each other's skills out, as well as several well placed slow motion shots and impact shots. The flip and leg sweep combo that Jackie does at 0:19 is just beautiful." I still agree with the comment and would add that this is the finest one on one fight Jackie would ever produce. It not only rates in his top ten, but would blow away the top ten of most any other fighters.
5. Chairs, Ladders, and Brooms Oh My!
Police Story IV: First Strike (1997)
What you have here is the pinnacle of the type of prop sequence that dominated Chan's output in the 1990's. Gone is the emphasis on big falls and hard hits, and what we do have is Chan's most efficient, intricate, and entertaining prop fight ever. It's not only the pinnacle in terms of choreography, but in direction of this category as well. The pacing, the angles, and the editing perfectly cohere to make each shot a perfect complement to the one before. The flow of the action is enhanced by a camera that is always where it needs to be, and an editor that knows exactly when to cut.
Despite it's relative shortness, it tends to feel longer due to a three act structure, and constant ramping up to a sublime climax including feats with a ladder that would make even WWE Money in the Bank ladder match contestants think twice. With the exception of one other fight on my list, this just might be Chan's most iconic fight ever.
4. Yuen Biao & Jackie Chan Clear Out a Heroine Factor w/Urquidez Part II
Dragons Forever (1988)
Category: Fight -Multiple People
There isn't much to say about this sequence other than, "WOW". The stunts are ridiculous, the fighting great, and the acrobatics are top notch. The fact that we get to see a rematch of Chan and Bennie "The Jet" Urquidez as the climax of the sequence is what puts this one into the record books.
3. Rope Factory Finale
Category: Fight - Multiple People
It's telling that this scene came out in 1989 because it perfectly straddles two periods in Chan's films, his hard hitting and stunt filled films of the mid to late eighties and the more comedic, prop-driven and choreographed films of the nineties. Like Project A Part II's stunt extravaganza finale, this sequence strikes the perfect balance. What sets this one apart is that it isn't a medly of individual parts, but a greatest hits of one homerun gag, one homerun stunt, one homerun back and forth after another. Seriously, do others catch all the details of this fight? This is someone not just at the top of their particular game, but someone creating something completely unique and beautiful that transcends it's own trappings.
2. The Mall Brawl
Police Story (1985)
Category: Fight -Multiple People
Like my #3 choice and my #1 pick, watching this sequence for the first time was just jaw-dropping. As I said before, it represents not someone working at the top of their game, but the work of someone pushing all boundaries and executing such unique vision that it can't help but inspire and entertain. While it's not the most definitive or my favorite of all-time (that belongs to my #1 pick), this is easily the most brutal fight Jackie has produced and the best display of how he envisioned an all out cop vs. thugs finale should be.
This sequence might as well be brothers to the hospital gun fight in Hard Boiled, because both are the epitome of their genres, but both also have still yet to be topped. The crew workers apparently joked that the film should actually be entitled "Glass Story" because of how much glass they break in this finale. I could name all my favorite moments, but the stunts and fight beats are too numerous to share. Like the fight before it, this is one highlight after another.
1. Final Factory Fight
The Legend of Drunken Master (1994)
Category: Fight - Multiple People
This is Chan's greatest masterpiece. The over fifteen minute finale to his greatest film (The Legend of Drunken Master) is one of, if not the greatest, fight sequence ever put onto film. It's said that it took months to film this sequence alone, and every bit of it shows on the screen. When it comes to fight scenes, this is every bit as epic as it gets.
This is a fight fan's dream, a veritable feast of action. Within fifteen minutes we get almost every genre you want; multiple people vs. multiple people, one on many, one on two, one on one, weapons, props, and hand to hand. While it's most remembered for the final fight, it's worth noting that this progression of fights and moments is perfectly plotted. What more could one want? This is easily Chan's most definitive fight as well. Although the fight was released in 1994, it contains elements from his output in the 70's, 80's, 90's and 2000's.
Hearkening back to the old school kung fu flicks and styles of the 70's, Chan brings back his popular drunken style and throws away the slapdash kick boxing style that he thrived on since Project A. This is heavily stylized and tough to execute style of drunken boxing. Also present are the tough, stunt filled moments of Chan's mid to late 80s films. Between the fire stunts and the burning coals, this is perhaps one of the most dangerous shoots Chan has encountered. The 90's peeks its head in with Chan's clever and heavily plotted choreography featuring weapons and different objects. It's most notable in the iron bar fight between a few factory workers. Taken alone, it's a beautiful sequence that would make my Top 100. Chan's future work in the 2000's is also present in that he allows a single creative idea (often a playful one) to drive the fight, and shaping everything in it.
This is supremely evident and gratifying in the final one on one fight sequence between Chan and his most impressive opponent, the fast kicking Korean, Ken Lo. As Chan begins losing the fight to the superior Lo, watch as Chan discovers the high proof alcohol that allows him to fight fire with fire (literally). Not surprisingly after an accidental swallow, he also discovers it allows him to get drunk as well. With this discovery, Chan takes the fight to an extreme you would never guess. What follows are perhaps the most intense 5 minutes of fight every filmed. Fully red faced and going insane, Chan unleashes his full drunken style upon Lo to the amazement of even the most cynical of fight fans. After stringing together 3 or 4 full on attack combo's, the fight comes to a satisfying conclusion more than 15 minutes after it begun.
It's simply the best action sequence Chan has ever filmed. It draws on not just a part of his vision and arsenal, but encapsulates nearly everything he has wanted to accomplish on screen. What is given to us is not merely a dance of kicks and punches, but an accomplishment that engages the viewer and challenges them. It's a message to it's viewer that when one calls upon all the fullness of their faculties, executes with all their abilities, and employs their grandest of visions, they can accomplish something that speaks beyond language barriers and simple entertainment, and can inspire the world over.
Monday, August 23, 2010
Michael Cera plays Scott Pilgrim, a young adult in search of a life and a new girlfriend. At a party he spots Ramona, and attempts at scoring a date with her. He eventually wins out, but there is a catch. Ramona has a bit of a past, and in order to date Ramona, Scott is forced to fight all seven of her evil ex's. You see, Scott has to fight off Ramona's past that keeps catching up to her and ruining her present, get it?
In what world, outside of Pilgrim's dreams, would someone like the neurotic, jobless, and mumbling Scott Pilgrim be able to land the relationships that he does? He's able to date a 17 year old high school student, Ramona 'the girl of his dreams' and apparently dated the popular lead singer of hot indie band. The film never provides a good reason for the attraction these girls have to him, and vice versa. At least the film attempts to make the girls good looking, providing some reason for Pilgrim's attraction to them. Redeeming character traits or good personalities are to much to ask for in the stylized world. After several awkward meets, Pilgrim essentially beds the 'girl of his dreams', until she puts an impromptu end to it. Even Pilgrim's gay roommate is shown bedding numerous men, including straight men, with nary a wink. These relationships are so light and meaningless, how does anyone (including the audience) really get upset or that emotional about any of them. Let alone enough to create an entire league of angry ex-boyfriends?
While that may be true in regards to the fighting, it's unforgiveable when the film attempts real lessons at it's conclusion. In the climax of the film, Pilgrim is supposed to have discovered self respect and thus ultimately that the battles he is fighting in life is not for a 'woman' but for self-respect. While that's cute, it would be nice for the rest of the film to support that conclusion. What has Pilgrim come to respect about himself in the end? He is still the same neurotic, jobless, and mumbling guy as he was before. Even without this little thematic twist, the film still plays out exactly the same as if he was just fighting for the girl/ On top of that, what about Ramona's self respect? Does she have to stand by and watch as a boy fights to free her and earn his self respect? What about all the supporting characters who continue on in self-disrespecting lifestyles filled with vulgarity and cheating? Does real self respect and love exist in a world without gravity?