Monday, July 26, 2010

Jackie Chan's Top 100 Action Scenes: 30-21


30-21

30. Handcuffed and Running from Pirates
Project A Part II (1987)
Category: Chase



This premise is pure silent comedy star and the execution is pure Jackie Chan. It's not a long sequence (about three minutes), but this is one of those quirky chase scenes that is distinctly Jackie. Long before parkour became popular, Jackie is not only incorporating it into his action sequences, but mixing it in successfully with comedic gags as well. Incredible athleticism, gags and some solid fight work make this an all-around wonderful sequence.



29. Nazi Gold Mine Fight
Operation Condor (1991)
Category: Fight - Multiple People



As I've stated before, this kind of sequence became Jackie's bread and butter, especially in the 90's. Put Jackie into an interesting environment, fill it with martial arts bad guys wanting to get a hold of him, and watch Jackie use every part of that environment to hide, neutralize and fight his enemies. It's not the best of the bunch, but it's still WAY out ahead of anyone else. Great, excellent work here. My favorite bit is when Chan nearly gets his head sliced by a rising steel structure overtop some electric coils (its at 2:50). It's a close call that Jackie's face sells perfectly.


28. Escalators and Horse Carriages
Mr. Nice Guy (1997)
Category: Chase




I still continue to believe that Mr. Nice Guy is one of the most underrated of Chan's efforts. Here is a sequence that shows the gentle mix that was trying to be accomplished by Chan and director Sammo Hung. Having seen multiple of Hung's 70s and 80s Hong Kong efforts it isn't hard to understand why Chan plays a chef and can still match anyone kung fu for kung fu. That kind of stuff is accepted in Hong Kong film. Unfortunately, it just doesn't fly for most American audiences that desire some Navy Seal like background for our heroes. I like the mixture of stunts, to fight, to gags that this scene is able to pull off. Unfortunately the editing misses some of the lighter moments that begin this sequence. Enjoy.


27. Train Thief Fight in Three Stages
The Legend of Drunken Master (1994)
Category: Fight - Weapons




The first time the two kung fu legends, Jackie Chan and Lau Kar-Lueng met onscreen, and it doesn't disappoint. Classic weapon work here and there is a particular sequence underneath the train where there must be 10-15 moves in a single take. It's fast and intense and shows the skill involved on both sides. It's a shame that we never saw a finale one on one with these two in a film, but at least we'll always have this one. Wish this could've made my top 25.


26. Arresting Choi Wolf in the Restaurant
Project A Part II (1987)
Category: Fight - Multiple People




Not a lot of frills and novelties in this fight, but this is about five minutes of pure fight and stunt work. It's all fast, and it all looks like it hurts. There are more bad spills and falls in this sequence than in most action stars careers.


25. Motorcycle Chase Through the City to the Docks
Operation Condor (1991)
Category: Car Chase



This is the best car chase (it happens to be a motorcycle though) in Chan's career. I don't think he ever accomplished a truly visceral scene, but he really nailed the stunt work and wide shots necessary for a great scene. Two things in particular stick out here; a sequence where he narrowly misses oncoming cars and cycles by swinging on a bar and the final stunt onto a net over the sea.


24. Pachinko Parlor Brawl
Thunderbolt (1995)
Category: Fight - Multiple People



Here's a standout sequence from an otherwise mediocre film. It's a bit more intense than the typical Chan sequence, but I really enjoy how this film continues to raise the stakes as the fight progresses.


23. Cops vs. Sailors in a Bar
Project A (1983)
Category: Fight - Multiple People



I think this sequence here is able to strike a great balance (as the best ones do) between Chan's gags and legit fight and stunt work. Nearly every gag works superbly here and because it's more limited, the stunts are more memorable.


22. Fireworks Factory Finale
Police Story II (1988)
Category: Fight - Multiple People



How does Chan live up to the standards set in the first Police Story? While not quite as good, this is a fine example of nearly everything Chan brings to the table. Much like in Police Story, Chan goes all out here with stunts, this is work that still has yet to find equal. Although Jaa and his team have come close, there are a few beats here that must've certainly inflicted terrible harm on Jackie's team.


21. Mitsubishi Car Factory Fight
Twin Dragons (1992)
Category : Fight - Multiple People - Prop



The film overall is as terrible as Van Damme's twin feature Double Impact. However, unlike Van Damme's film, Twin Dragons has a couple redeemable action scenes. This is the finale sequence where Chan uses just about everything one could find in a car garage. I love Chan literally running up a moving car, on top of the multitude of other great moments in this sequence. Something you'll hear a lot, the movie is sub-par but this sequence is worth the whole thing.

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Inception: A Second Look

**Spoilers Contained

This film has more heart and soul than anyone is giving it credit and I deserve part of the blame for that. The general critical narrative for Inception has been that it's a film that features boundless creativity, a great imagination, and a pulse pounding plot; but sadly lacks the emotion to truly involve your heart along with your mind. Upon a second viewing of the film, I think we've got it all wrong. Inception is a film that beams with humanity and features a simultaneous affront and encouragement to its viewer.

In fairness, I think that Christopher Nolan is partly to blame for such a misinterpretation of his own work. The truth is, there is just too much going on within this film to be fully experienced in just one viewing. I'm not saying that it's too complicated, but perhaps too dense to reward a viewer it's fullness with just a single screening; at least it was for me. While I'm still in awe of the ideas at play and the visuals put on screen, my second viewing was more a revelation of themes and heart. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't fighting back tears, but I was touched by several themes that spoke to me in ways I hadn't thought about in my first viewing. It has helped me to reconsider the film, and I hope that you consider them as well. Let me explain.

For me, the film's central dramatic struggle was to keep hold of reality. For the most part, this means that our characters want to know if they are in the real world or are in a dreaming state. Although it also stands in for the central idea of inception; are these my real thoughts after all? It provides for great tension in the film, as it's a nagging problem for Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) as we see him constantly spinning his top to remind himself of reality.

Interestingly, there are two people in the film who truly do lose sight of what 'reality' is; Cobb's wife Mal and a group of 'shared dreamers' in a Mombasa backroom. In the case of Mal, Cobb informs us that, "...she locked away a secret, deep inside herself, something she once knew to be true... but chose to forget." In this case, she locked away and forgot her totem (the same top that Cobb uses), symbolizing that she has chosen to lose track of reality; accepting the dream world as her new reality. In the Mombasa backroom, we are told that this group of 'shared dreamers' meets everyday for several hours of dreaming (equaling many more hours in the dream world). The overseer then states, "They come to be woken up. The dream is their reality now. Who are you to say otherwise?"

Upon first watch, I felt the Mombasa scene was more or less a throw away sequence intended to show how some have become addicted to the dreaming. In retrospect, it provides a sharp contrast and a strong argument against what would become the major theme of the film. With all that 'shared dreaming' has to offer; the extended lifetime, the creativity, and the experiences; it's not reality and therefore inferior, a shade of our real world.

In Cobb's final confrontation with his wife Mal he must confront the decision of spending a practical eternity with her in their own world ("I miss you more than I can bear, but we had our time together. I have to let you go") and desiring to return to the real world and see his children*. Ultimately, Cobb declares to Mal, "Look at you. You're just a shade, a shade of my real wife. How could I capture all your beauty, your complexity, your perfection, your imperfection, in a dream? Yes, you're the best that I can do. But, I'm sorry, you're just not good enough."

I particularly like this idea that we deserve better than our dreams, we deserve reality. Risk, adventure, loss, tragedy, grief and imperfection are central to the human experience and isn't worth losing even if it means gaining immortality or 'togetherness'. While enlightening, it's not exactly a groundbreaking insight into life and one could possible even argue (as Mal and the Mombasa shared dreamers do) that Cobb is wrong and reality isn't all its cracked up to be. This is where I think the film really shines in that Cobb comes to this insight and conclusion honestly and naturally. It is faith that is required in order to understand Cobb's arrival to truth. This is where Nolan's humanity shines through and the cold precision is put to bed.

When Saito offers Cobb the possibility of clearing his name in return for inception, Cobb asks what assurances Saito could give. The reply is "none" that he would have to take him on good faith. Saito offers, "Dare you take a leap of faith? Or become an old man, filled with regret, waiting to die alone." Cobb decides to take the job, hoping the reality of seeing his children again would be better than becoming old and filled with regret. Similarly, when Cobb and Saito (now an old man) both meet again in limbo, a remarkable exchange takes place,

Saito: You remind me of someone... a man I met in a half-remembered dream. He was possessed of some radical notions.

Cobb: I came here to tell you... something.
[pause]
Cobb: Something that... you once knew to be true.
Saito: [remembering] Impossible...

Cobb and Saito have a vague remembrance that their current world is not reality, that reality was awaiting them, but they would both be required to die for it. There are clues, evidence (the spinning top, vague remembrances) and doubts about what is real and not (and ultimately the film still leaves room for doubt), but it will require faith in order for them to meet reality. It's not a math problem or a scientific experiment, but a journey.

While I think this is a correct interpretation of Inception's central theme, it has reverberated with me so strongly because of its ability to speak to my religious beliefs. As a Christian I believe that there are clues and evidence within our world that points to a creator God and an entire spiritual realm of reality. However, there are still doubts (Man is there doubts!) This isn't a math problem or science experiment, but a journey; one that requires faith. Incredibly, like Cobb and Saito who must give up their world of limbo, (where they have full power and control) and literally die; Christ says that we must also give up our world of power and control and die to ourselves in order find the real truth of our world. I find this incredibly enriching.

Am I saying that Inception is a Christian film? Certainly not. Both seek to speak to the truths of our existence, and in that way they are indeed similar. The film's acknowledgment that there are not only clues to ultimate reality, but also doubt about our reality, makes it surprisingly relatable (especially in our postmodern context). Even more so, the films embracement of the necessity of faith in order to experience the realities of life, makes it thoroughly human. In that sense, I think it speaks not just to Christians, but to anyone who has experienced life. Appropriately there is room to doubt for those who look for it (does that top keep spinning?), but Cobb's and Inception's embracement of the real and rejection of the dream (making it very Matrix-esque), symbolized by Cobb's journey to his children, is a full on emotion and humanity.

In fact, taken to its conclusion, the film almost insults the viewer. Like the shared dreamers of Mombasa, we viewers connect and share this dream with Nolan, projecting our own subconscious into the film. In our ever increasing media society where we consume films, television shows, and video games for hours a day, are we not like those living their lives away in a dream world? To that, the film's exhortation to reject the dream and embrace the fullness that reality has to offer is both an affront and an encouragement to its viewer. Of course it's the best type of affront, a warning and a clarion call, that reality waits beyond the doors of the theatre. This to me is the humanity of the film, and it comprises the true contribution that Inception has to offer.


*This also rings true with Cobb's notion that positive emotion always seems to trump negative emotion. Ultimately, the positive emotion of reuniting with his real children has trumped the negative emotion of the guilt he feels for conceiving the idea that would lead to Mal's death.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Jackie Chan's Top 100 Action Scenes: 40-31


40-31

40. Sword, Pipe, and Skirt Fight
The Young Master (1980)
Category: Prop Fight - Multiple People




I've always found this sequence of fights to have a very natural flow to it without feeling like it was an efficiently edited scene like in Jackie's later years. Here you see what I believe to be the first use of the comedy gag that Chan finds an artifact or prop very useful to his enemy and uses it to fight against him. Lots of great comic moments here, and the final fight between Chan and the woman is quite interesting in how she uses her skirt. In a scene later on this list, Chan will actually pick up that skirt trick and use it himself.


39. Chan vs. Bradley Part 2
Gorgeous (1999)
Category: Fight - 1 on 1



This is the follow-up match to one that occurred earlier in the film Gorgeous. It's a great one on one that features some incredible speed and a real kickboxing vibe to it. It really is a great match, but it's held back a little bit here by Chan's desire to throw a little humor into it. The fight for the most part is about realism, quickness and the upper hand, but there are a few moments that just strike me as too cheesy to give this one a higher placement on my list.


38. Rollerskate Interstate Chase
Winners and Sinners (1983)
Category: Chase




I've mentioned before that there are sequences that just set Jackie Chan apart from any other action star in the world, this is a prime example. The sequence starts out with some pretty impressive stunt work on skates by Jackie and escalates to see him skating between cars and under semi-trucks! This is real dare devil work that isn't paralleled by anyone I can think of. Could you imagine Stallone, Van Damme or Seagal doing anything like this? The whole thing is topped off by a fantastic car pile up. A great sequence.


37. Wooden Shoe Chase in Rotterdam
Who Am I? (1998)
Category: Chase



We are really getting into some of my favorites now. It's not his best chase sequence or fight sequence, but four things work and work really well in this scene. First, the whole play on Jackie losing his shoes, getting his feet hurt, and hurting other's feet serves as a fun gag that binds the whole sequence. Second, the setting really shows off the great architecture and variety in the city. Third, the use of the wooden shoes to me is genius. It's brutal, funny, and ties into the running theme. Fourth, the final stunt where Jackie slides past a street with trucks blaring by has got to be one of his greatest and most dangerous stunts of all-time or a visual trick. Either way, it always catches me off guard and by surprise.


36. Thugs Attack the Car and are Dispersed
Police Story (1985)
Category: Fight - Multiple People



Again, this is the first 'fight scene' from Jackie's redefining Police Story. The focus in these fights wasn't so much on being a stunt-fest, intricate fight fest, or a comedy showcase, but a shortened version that included all those features. The fight would be quick, brutal, and effective. It's a short scene, but there is more packed into it pound for pound than other sequences. Enjoy.


35. Shark Tank Scuba Fight
Police Story IV: First Strike (1997)
Category: Fight - Prop Fight



Here is an easy fight to overlook because it's no slugfest, but to overlook this fight would be to overlook Jackie's uniqueness. If you thought it would be impossible to have an underwater fight, think again, because Jackie milks this scene for all that its worth. Throwing in some great gags with sharks, blood from cuts, and air tanks, just makes this an even better all-around fight scene. Add this with the skate sequence above and has anyone ever had two more diverse action sequences in their career?


34. An Old Man Stops Two Robbers
The Young Master (1980)
Category: Fight - Multiple People



The final and best fight sequence from The Young Master. It's a great all-around fight that Jackie chooses to show off about every skill he has. It also includes the use of the skirt trick from the 'Sword, Pipe, and Skirt' sequence mentioned above. Overlooked and under appreciated, this scene is a great representative of how early Jackie was distinguishing his brand of action apart from any drunken styles.


33. Three Way Fight in Lo Sam Pao's Lair
Project A (1983)
Category: Fight - Weapons Fight - Multiple People



It's always great to see the 'three brothers' (Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, and Yuen Biao) get together for a fight sequence. It starts out as a pretty good scene where each individual gets some great moments and develops into a full three on one against Dick Wei (a regular bad guy in these films). Great team work and fighting set this one apart.


32. Drunken Master vs. Thunderleg
Drunken Master (1978)
Category: Fight - One on One



Although I prefer The Young Master to Drunken Master when it comes to older Chan films, there is no doubt that the finale fight in Drunken Master is leagues ahead of The Young Master's finale. This is one of Chan's all-time great one on one fights. It's long, brutal, and showcases what would become probably his most famous style, drunken boxing. Outside of the sequel to Drunken Master, this is his best sequence of drunken boxing.


31. Construction Site Shootout and Fight with Dick Wei
Heart of Dragon (1985 )
Category: Fight - Multiple People




Heart of Dragon teamed Chan up with Sammo Hung in an attempt at a real drama. Although the movie is a failure, their attempt at a more serious tone did produce this gem of a finale. The violence level is definitely upped from Jackie's normal limits, and the fight style is a little more brutal and street fight esque. Dick Wei re-appears here for an even better fight than the one in Project A.

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Friday, July 16, 2010

Inception Review

Overall Grade: A

"We create the world of a dream. We bring a subject into that dream and they fill it with their secrets." Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) explains this key plot point early in the film to newcomer Ariadne (Ellen Page). It's an important description of the dream heists that Inception is based upon, but it's also a good basis for understanding how the film as a whole works, how the director/writer Christopher Nolan put it together, and even on a deeper level, how an audience interacts with a film. While Inception is about as intelligent, entertaining, and imaginative as summer blockbuster's get, its lasting contribution isn't really what someone is going to get out of it, but what someone is willing to put into it. However I think I may be getting ahead of myself here, so let me begin on the surface level.

On the surface, Inception is a marvelously written heist film with a science fiction twist. Instead of stealing money, or artwork, the idea here is to extract corporate ideas within the vault of someone's subconscious. If that sounds terribly un-cinematic, it's not. This isn't a 2 hour art-house drama between an estranged and damaged widower and her psychiatrist taking place in just one shot. Nolan, his art director, and cinematographer transform and translate what could essentially be just conceptual ideas into a true visual feast. We are talking exploding realities, cities turning in on themselves, worlds crumbling, and gravity defying fights; is that visual enough for you? Two twists take this basic plotline and begin the real story that drives Inception.


First, a corporate industrialist Saito (played superbly by Ken Watanabe) wants to hire Cobb and his team not to extract an idea from a rival CEO, but instead to implant an idea. It's a risky venture that would require Cobb and his team to go several layers into the subconscious, risking their lives in the process. Cobb is at first not willing to take the risk, until the second twist comes in, Saito offers Cobb as his reward, the chance to return to the United States and see his children. Essentially offering Cobb the vaunted one last job to make things right. Cobb takes it and sees it as his chance to "come home". Why he's exiled from the US, and why he's estranged from his wife and children are answers the film will later unfold.

These two threads (the act of inception and the emotional journey home to his wife and children) really drive the action and emotion of the entire film. From here we get to see Cobb assemble his team, hatch their plan, and then, for the last half of the film, execute the inception itself. Enough about the plot and surface level stuff, how does it all come together and work as a film?

If it seems I've focused a lot on the plot, it's because this film is packed with it. In fact, it feels at times that the film is probably a little too packed with it. The world, ideas, and storyline that Nolan has created is truly incredible, creative, and intriguing. I have no doubt that the ideas and concepts Nolan explores here will spark a slew of like-minded films within the next few years. However, the world that Nolan creates is so intricate and clever, the forward momentum of plot and action so unstoppable, that the performances and drama of the film struggle to become it's equal.

From the very get go, the film hits the ground and keeps moving from one moment, one place, one idea to the next. It's a torrid pace of storytelling that can leave some behind, but more than likely, serves to wrap one up into the film and its ultimate trajectory. This is a film that starts out running, and picks up momentum as it hurls forward and digs deeper. However, the deeper it goes intellectually, the more distant I felt emotionally.

For instance, while the audience is supposed to care deeply for Cobb's emotional 'Journey Home' and reconciliation with his children and wife, the movie never takes the time to bond us with this family. While the film revels in slowly revealing the hidden secrets behind his family, it never revels in revealing to us what was so special about 'home' to begin with. It unfortunately turns his family into one-dimensional pieces of a puzzle that slowly reveals itself and solves itself, as long as you just stick along for the ride.

It's not as if Nolan doesn't spend time focusing on these relationships, there is actually a decent amount of screen time devoted to it, it's that it just doesn't work in the way that everything else does in this movie. Incredible visuals? In spades. Seamless art direction? Check. Ominous and pounding score with accompanying sound design? Best of the summer. Clever and brutal action? Will be remembered for years. Powerful and three dimensional emotional archs? Sort of.

Perhaps though, this isn't a problem of Nolan's making. As I mentioned in the opening, our characters in the film create a dream world and then allow subjects into the dream that populate the dreams with their secrets. What's onscreen is the film and world that Nolan has created; the themes and emotion of the film reflect the vision and mind (secrets) of Nolan himself. However, in talking with a few people about the film, I found that they had a connection with Cobb's family that I didn't. As I expressed my disappointment in the emotional arch, they were surprised because they felt it worked perfectly. Perhaps, the story is a bit more complex than I've given it credit. Perhaps my disappointment and disconnection reflects less Nolan and more of me?

As I began to think along that line of thought, I find it incredibly rich that the central idea of the film (that of building a dream and allowing others to fill it) are essentially what happens when an audience interacts with a film. Each film has all the same elements of a dream world created and sustained by architects (writers), point men (directors), and forgers (actors). Like dreams, movies just begin suddenly and move from scene to scene, and when they bend reality in a way that's unreal we react accordingly. What makes this idea interesting is that the audience then becomes the subject, and we fill these films, stories, and worlds with our secrets and our projections.

** For an interesting read using this line of thought, read below the end of the review. Warning, it contains some spoilers

In this way, Nolan has left several things open to the viewer, and really allows the viewer to fill in accordingly. In this regard, the film is a smashing success and works not only as entertainment, but as a journey of adventure, interaction and catharsis. Without giving away the ending, I will say that it's most not an artistic cop out, but is seated firmly within the ideas and intentions I've mentioned above.

While it isn't a perfect film, Inception is a wonderfully crafted, and intricately plotted film that allows itself to be filled with the themes and idiosyncrasies of not only it's architect and writer, but us the viewer as well. In fact, should we not have expected as much from a film entitled "Inception"? For that reason, this film is able to rise above its few faults, rise above just being an entertaining film, and become a real piece of art. Like the best films, I think it allows each new viewer not just to enjoy it as it is, but to make it their own. Learning not just about Nolan's world and his secrets, but about our own in the process.




**Continued from above: SPOILERS

Continuing from the idea I've outlined above that this film functions in the same way that audiences interact with films. When can say this interpretation actually is manifested onscreen in the character of Saito (Ken Watanabe') as the 'Tourist'. Why does he tag along as part of the team? He say's it's to ensure that Cobb goes through with it. Essentially, I would argue that Saito is the stand-in for the audience here. The film is called "Inception". This is what we want to see Cobb and his team do, along with all the action and drama that comes with it. Saito (the audience) is the one that enrolls him in this action. In fact, isn't the idea of planting ideas into someone's mind, one of the reasons we go to the movies at all? To be inspired by ideas and to let them influence us?

Saito then comes along as 'The Tourist' as the stand-in, getting to not only watch the team in action, but also take part in the whole ordeal. In fact, our main character Cobb can't leave the film until he rescues us and brings as back into the world after the act of inception occurs. It's not until this happens that Cobb is allowed, by an act of Saito, to return and find his happy ever after. Cobb isn't allowed his happy ending, until he's accomplished what we want him to do, overcome his problems (which I would argue is the idea we want to have implanted in us), and get us out in the process.

Is it foolproof? No, but I think it's got a lot to say. Just a cursory reading of the IMDB boards shows there are several other interesting ideas and readings out there as well. This is just one that speaks quite a bit of insight to me.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Jackie Chan's Top 100 Action Scenes: 50-41


Coming to the Top 50 is a welcome sight as the quality of the sequences continues to get stronger and stronger (as is the natural progression of a Top 100 I suppose). The previous sequences were all quality, but it's always nice to make one's way into the meatier and more substantive sequences of Jackie's career. Keep in mind, there is always some play room in these standings as there really isn't much difference between something at 47 and 42, but I did make sure that natural cutoffs were honored. In other words, the Top 25 was chosen because it's the best 25, and #26 doesn't belong. The top ten was was chosen at the best ten and #11 doesn't belong, and so forth through top five and the final one. I hope you enjoy.

50-41


50. First Full Demonstration of Drunken Boxing
The Legend of Drunken Master (1994)
Category: Fight - Multiple People




Some might put this spectacular sequence higher (meaning a better spot) on their lists, it is indeed incredible, but it's a little too nicely choreographed for my tastes. The whole routine goes a bit too neat for me to make it higher, but that aside, and one has to marvel at the creativeness to think this up and the athleticism to pull it off. One of those sequences you rarely find any other action stars pulling off.


49. Art Gallery Flight Ends in Chasing a Balloon
Around the World in 80 Days (2004)
Category: Fight - Prop Fight/Multiple People
(The fight begins at 8:43 and continues to the next video. There is a brief pause of action and then it begins again on the balloon)




While the film itself isn't much to write home about, Jackie delivers several creative fight sequences in Around the World in 80 Days two which have already made the list. This is the best fight from the film and is one of the best examples of the typical type of fight he would put together for his Hollywood films. While the true fight fan would be disappointed, Chan does little more than simple kicks and punches, but for one looking for more creativity, this sequence is genius. I love the methodical way in which Chan paints a landscape on a canvas during the fight, accidentally punches himself in the mirror and in true Chaplin fashion creates a couple hilarious visual gags going up the side of a building on a rope. In fact, Chan later loses his pants on a statue (with a Chaplin mustache from the art fight earlier) in a reference to Chaplin in the opening scenes of 'City Lights'.


48. Indians Attack
Shanghai Noon (2000)
Category: Fight - Multiple People



As I mentioned earlier, Chan's approach to his Hollywood films seem to be less 'fight' centered and more 'creativity' centered. This focus lead to a lot of prop fights and creative weapon fight scenes, and this is a great example of what he could do. It's a short scene, but it's packed with one creative use of environment after another. Again, easy to overlook as not on par with his Hong Kong work, but this is a different side of Jackie here. There is more efficiency to the scene, and more creativity, just less diversity in the punch/kick area. Seriously, if you were asked to think of creative ideas for fights with only trees as your environment, would you come up with half the ideas Chan did here?


47. Sideways in a South African Alley
Who Am I? (1998)
Category: Car Chase



One of two car chases to make Top 50 (there isn't another until the Top 25), and this one is vintage Chan. Lots of great destruction, narrow streets, and one particular stunt that see's the car go sideways in order to make it through a slim alleyway. Topped off with a nice crash from the top of a parking garage and this is definitely a car chase to feel proud of.


46. Chan vs. Bradley Part 1
Gorgeous (1999)
Category: Fight - One on One



Here is a rare One on One fight for Chan, and it's a powerful and fast back and forth exchange. One of the best ways to really know if our actors have the goods and if the choreographer has the goods, is to see how long the camera maintains a shot, and how many moves are featured in each shot. This fight amazes in that it's composed of several long shots featuring 10 or more moves each! Keep in mind, most Hollywood fight scenes to this day only feature 2-3 moves before a cut. Despite mild use of wires, this is an excellent pure fight for Chan, without the use of props.


45. Indian Temple Fight
The Myth (2005)
Category: Fight - Multiple People/Prop



Did I say that his was kind of fight was Chan's bread and butter? Did I also mention that it's one of my favorite types? Here's another great example of Chan mixing humor, martial arts action, and creative prop/weapon/environment use to craft an efficient and entertaining sequence. It's incredible that Chan was still creating these scenes this late in his career.


44. Motorcycle & Bats Fight
Gorgeous (1999)
Category: Fight - Multiple People/Weapons/Prop



How long do you think it took Chan to learn how to pick up those bats off the ground with just his feet? It's little details like that, which are easy to look past and not appreciate when it comes to Chan sequences. It's a real move, as is all his incredible slickness with those bats. Perhaps this isn't 'better' than the likes of some of the other sequences above, however, it never fails to entertain me greatly to see him go back and forth with those bats like a great Harpo Marx routine.


43. Boat Fight with Gangsters During Lunch
Dragons Forever (1988)
Category: Fight - Multiple People



Can you tell we've returned back to 80's Chan sequences? The fighting is a bit quicker, a little more brutal, but also a bit sloppier. Chan wisely decided to feature a bit more of his athleticism in this sequence, giving it a lot more room to roam and show off all the different things he could do around the boat. Of course, the final stunt kicking the bad guy out the window and out the boat is a perfect topper to a fast moving sequence.


42. Drug Deal Gone Bad Turned Chase
Mr. Nice Guy (1998)
Category: Chase





This sequence comes from one of my favorite Chan films and one of his most underrated. It's the second sequence to make the list from Mr. Nice Guy. Chan always seems to be on top of his game when it comes to foot chases and he throws out all the stops in this one. Great comedy gags (I love the food vendor giving Chan up), quick fighting, and some very creative environment use (seriously, finding a way to fight with inflatables). It's one of those hybrid chases that only Chan can do. Unfortunately, the editor of the videos above cut out some of the visual gags in the sequence.


41. Jackie vs. Jet
The Forbidden Kingdom (2008)
Category: Fight - One on One
(Click HERE or the image to watch the fight. Embedding was disabled)

Look past all the hype surrounding the first match up between Jet Li and Jackie Chan and you'll find a fairly excellent back and forth fight that (while it doesn't blow anyone away) is actually a darn good. The fight is broken up into a couple different sections with each featuring a different fighting styles, including emphasis on leg work, foot work and hand work. I don't mind the wire work (they are both playing mythical characters), but I still would've hoped for a more 'definitive' fight. Still, I don't think we should look past just how great this fight is because it isn't the greatest ever.

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Monday, July 5, 2010

Jackie Chan's Top 100 Action Scenes: 60-51


60-51


60. Bench Fight Between Chan and Biao
The Young Master (1980)
Category: Weapons Fight
(The fight spans both videos)




Another fight from the exemplary Young Master. It's always fun to watch part of the original trio of stars (Jackie Chan, Yuen Biao, and Sammo Hung) get to fight against each other, and this intricate pole and stool fight is a lot of fun. It's a bit slow and some might question it being this low on the list, but the reason this fight scores so well is because I find myself watching it again and again.


59. Capturing Chan Ho in a Club
Project A (1983)
Category: Fight - Multiple People



After a string of intricate 'fight' focused films earlier in his rise to stardom, it seemed like Jackie used Project A to focus more on his comedic abilities and (as evidenced in this fight scene) his athleticism & stunt work (and more appropriately, stunt team). A great fight here is capped off with a couple brutal falls from the top of the stairs that few teams are still willing to take.


58. Teaching a Lesson to Stalkers in a Restaurant
Police Story II (1988)
Category: Fight - Multiple People



The follow-up to Chan's immensely successful Police Story (1985) features a type of fight that Chan pioneered with this series of films. This fight, like the loft fight included earlier in this list, is brutal where each punch and kick results in a stunt of some kind. Unfortunately, this fight is also very quick. If Chan could sustain this intensity over a four to five minute fight (which he would in further scenes) then this would rank higher. Still, as is, it's great to watch.


57. Fighting for the Baby in the Villain's House
Rob-B-Hood (2006)
Category: Fight-Multiple People




About as vintage Jackie Chan as contemporary Chan gets. Had this sequence been considered outside of the context of Chan's career work, then it could be very high on this list. It's a longer fight with lots of the elements you want: comedic gags, stunts, good back and forth fighting. The only thing holding it back, is that Chan has done this kind of sequence before, but faster and better.


56. Barn Fight for Father's Honor
Dragon Lord (1982)
Category: Fight - One on One



This is practically the lone redeeming sequence to Chan's Dragon Lord and it's quite an epic fight. I've labeled it as one on one, but it's essentially a two on one fight. Although longtime Chan stunt man Mars begins the fight, the real meat of the fight is really a one on one event. Its long, brutal, and exhausting. My only complaints are that it's probably a bit to long for my tastes, and there is too much of a sloppy feel to the fight, like Chan is throwing everything at the wall here. I know thats what he was going for, it's just not my preference.


55. Chan vs. Whong in Sik
The Young Master (1980)
Category: Fight - One on One




This fight is very similar in nature to the previous one, but even more brutal and long (if that can be believed). My same complaints still stand of the previous one also stand for this one. What these two fights, and this one in particular, show though is Chan being able to pull off long and brutal fights (with brutal combat) in the traditional kung fu format of one on one fights against a kung fu master. Perhaps it doesn't bear the full artistic stamp of Chan, but it bears the stamp of Chan taking a genre tradition and giving it his own take.


54. Monk Cafeteria Fight
Armor of God (1987)
Category: Fight - Multiple People



This is a great sequence seeing Chan take on multiple people with some Looney Tunes gags and the requisite stunts included. I especially appreciate the gag where the secondary characters continue to find their exit ways blocked while Chan is forced to fight the men singlehandedly. Also, look out for the final stunt where a monk does two 360 flips after a kick. Incredible.


53. Cornered Upstairs and Fighting his Way Down
Miracles (1989)
Category: Fight - Multiple People



Here is another case of a fight scene that I'd love to see more of. At just 96 seconds, it really lacks enough breadth to become something of more substance, but does it really pack a punch in those 96 seconds! Some of my favorite Chan stunts are in this little scene, including the splits down a circular stair and falling from the second level loft to a desk on the first floor!


52. All Parties Fight in an Apartment for the Baby
Rob-B-Hood (2006)
Category: Fight - Prop/Multiple People



Chan's third re-teaming (and not his last) with Yuen Biao in this posting is a better and more concise sequence than the finale fight of Rob-B-Hood at #57 on this list. In its shorter running time (but not too short) this sequence (like the other one) contains all the right elements without wearing out it's welcome. Welcome also, is a lovely little handcuff sequence that is the physical equivalence of Groucho and Chico bantering back and forth.


51. Rickshaw in the Alleyway Fight
Miracles (1989)
Category: Prop Fight - Multiple People



I really wish I could've fit this one into my top 50, but it just missed out. Here is a sequence that pound for pound is as great as most anything you'll see, but I do think it's still too short. Now, it's two and a half minutes, but every time I watch it, I feel like there was so much more potential for this to be a true great. As is, I adore the rickshaw sequence and find the move where Chan gets a crotchshot to be one of the funnier and more sophisticated crotch shots in cinema. Now there's a sentence I didn't expect to ever write!

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Friday, July 2, 2010

Jackie Chan's Top 100 Action Scenes: 70-61


70 - 61


70. Spanish Mission Showdown
Shanghai Noon (2000)
Category: Weapons Fight
(this is a part of the whole finale)



This is a generally well plotted finale and there is a great spear sequence included. How often do we get the chance to see Chan (late in his career) working with real chinese weapons, especialy the three sectioned staff?


69. Beating Up Thugs in a Van
Mr. Nice Guy (1998)
Category: Fight - Multiple People



Think to yourself, how could I have a 3 minute action sequence take place in the back of a van, and for the heck of it, throw in a recurring comedic gag without ruining the sequence? Great use of seat cushions, emergency brakes, and kicking people out of doors here turns what could've been a run of the mill sequence into something tight, fast, and fun to watch. Great to see Sammo Hung (who directed this film) get a little comedic cameo on the side.


68. Legoland Fight
A New Police Story (2004)
Category: Fight - One on One
(All emedding on this one is off. Click Here or the Poster to watch the Video)


While the film itself was a mixed result, this was the best action sequence to come out of it. It's actually a rare one on one fight for Jackie and one that features a lot of leg work, another rare occasion. Jackie's been in better fights, but this one stands out in particular because of the bright and memorable Lego setting. There are also a couple great choreographed beats as well.


66. Library Fight with Knights
Shanghai Knights (2003)
Category: Prop Fight - Multiple People
(there is an extended version on the DVD that is much better)



I think these sequences are Chan's bread and butter. When Chan is able to mix his martial arts with an interesting environment and opponent that allows him to come up with visual gags and running themes, he seems to always be able to produce. I love the ever decreasing book sizes as well as the reverse situation of artifacts we found in the Rush Hour finale sequence.


65. Catching a Street Race: Hong Kong Night Race
Thunderbolt (1995)
Category: Car Chase



One of few standout racing scenes in Thunderbolt this is a authentically filmed night race. Incredible night footage of two cars going fast and doing some great stunts. One thing you'll notice in each of Chan's car chase scenes is that he understands these sequences need several beats or punctuated moments of action. Many filmmakers think two cars just racing or chasing are enough, but see how Jackie plots the chase well providing certain 'moments' of stunt work with a finale ending.


64. Running Away from a Biker Gang
Rumble in the Bronx (1996)
Category: Chase



Another bread and butter genre for Chan and this is one that few martial artists have even tried. It's not just a chance for action, but one for Chan to show off the myriad of talents that he has. Chan treats his chase sequences just like his car chase sequences. His chases are filled with beats and stunts and usually are always capped off by a particularly incredible stunt. This one is no different. There are a couple incredibly close run ins with vehicles and a jumping stunt (really done) to top it off. Only Tony Jaa in the first Ong Bak has used this style of sequence to it's potential.


63. Car Garage Fight
Thunderbolt (1995)
Category: Fight - Multiple People



This is an unusually strong sequence for Chan, I don't mean that in quality, I mean that in intensity. It's rare he basically manhandles a group in a fight, but this is one of those rare scenes. Also different in this scene is the lack of Chan's usual camera work. Instead of master shots, this is more tightly cut and dynamic. Proof that Chan could be successful even outside his comfort zone.


62. Swordfight in the Temple with the Local Officials
The Young Master (1980)
Category: Weapons Fight



Another example of Chan's early fast and intricate work from The Young Master. Notice how this scene is all about Chan showing off how he can arm himself while disarming his opponents. Fast, complicated, and extremely impressive.


61. Chased through Town by Monks
Armor of God (1987)
Category: Car Chase



I've always viewed Chan's 1987 Armor of God and the follow-up 1991's Operation Condor to be his general take on a Bond film. So this to me, is what a car chase sequence in Chan's version of James Bond would look like. While it's got the usual stunt beats I've mentioned before, the big difference to me between Hollywood car chases and Chan's version is the way Chan approaches filming his stunts. Hollywood likes to get up close and favors a more visceral appeal. Chan likes to show off the size, destruction and danger of his stunts, so his camera sits far away. Different styles, different outcomes.

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Movie Review: The Last Airbender

Overall Grade: C-

What shocks the most about M. Night Shyamalan's The Last Airbender is not that it's bad, (children's fantasy series don't always deliver on screen, Eragon anyone?) but that it's an absolute incompetent mess. Extending grace, I would first try to understand if the source material was flawed or presented an unadaptable challenge. On that note, it seems clear that the basic concepts of the source material are the few creative bright spots of the film. It's when Shyamalan overlays his adapted screenplay and his confused directing that the concepts fizzle out under overly expository dialogue, barely sketched out characters, and half-baked themes and arcs.

Still, M. Night can walk away with a few successes on this film. For the most part, the art direction, costume design, and visual effects work well to create the world this bumbling story inhabits. They are some great landscape shots and a clear idea (artistically) what the different nations (fire, water, wind, and earth) look like and feel like. Add to that a couple good shots of action when M. Night allows his camera to focus for a longer period of time (a camera move he would use for his most dramatic moments). Dev Patel walks away with perhaps the only three dimensional character (albeit slightly overplayed at times), and in my opinion is the only character to emotionally root for in this film. That's a problem.

Overall, Shyamalan seems to get bogged down in trying to explain this whole bending universe solely through expository dialogue. It shocks me that someone who was able to keep such subtlety and restraint in The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable couldn't find out how to let the story tell itself, Robert McKee would not like this film. So many fans hoped that coming upon previously written material would give Shyamalan the creative spark he needed to return to his former self; those hopes are now dashed. As bad as The Happening was, at the least it was the failure of an artist taking risks with original material. What makes The Last Airbender a bit harder to stomach, is that there is no risk here, only incompetence on display.

The only noticeable difference between a Shyamalan directed Last Airbender and if Uwe Boll (In the Name of the King, Alone in the Dark) had directed it, would be the name in the credits. I've tried to keep up hope with Shyamalan, but he seems to only be going downhill (which is saying something after The Happening). There's always a possibility for redemption, but for now, the most accurate way to recommend Shyamalan's work in The Last Airbender is, "Abandon hope, all ye who enter here"