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Non-Review Review: Paradox

This film was seen as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival 2018.

The obvious point of comparison for Paradox is Taken.

Of course, Taken is so archetypal an action film that it has become a stock point of comparison for any gritty action movie with a paternal protagonist. However, the similarities to Paradox are quite apparent. Both Paradox and Taken are the stories of fathers who discover that their daughters have been kidnapped while holidaying abroad, and who inevitably use their investigative skills (and their capacity for violence) in order to track down their lost loved one while venturing into a disturbing subculture that exists for the gratification of the rich and the privileged.

Paradox follows veteran Hong Kong police negotiator Lee Chung-Chi when his daughter is kidnapped in Thailand. It quickly becomes clear that the girl has been targeted by illegal organ dealers to provide a heart transplant for the corrupt local mayor, meaning that the father is caught in a desperate race against time to pull back the layers of corruption and indifference that serve to insulate those responsible. Along the way, he teams up with local police inspector Tsui Kit to crack the case.

However, much like the obvious comparison to Taken, the simple plot description does not do justice to the weirdness and tonal awkwardness of Paradox. It is perhaps most accurate to describe Paradox as a film quite like Taken, if Taken featured a scene in which one character dangles another off the roof by their penis.

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Iron Fist – Bar the Big Boss (Review)

It’s impossible to talk about Iron Fist without talking about cultural appropriation.

There are multiple reasons for this. The most obvious are baked into the character himself, from his origin all the way back in Marvel Premiere as a white guy who travels to a mystical Asian city and becomes better at kung fu than any of the inhabitants before returning to America. There’s also very much the conversation that has been happening around the television series, which has prompted larger debates about the role of Asian performers and culture in Hollywood. Finally, there’s the fact that show so expertly puts its foot in its mouth.

Shaping up…

Bar the Big Boss is the perfect point at which to address this. Again, for multiple reasons. The most obvious is that it represents the last point at which the most obvious aspects of Asian exoticism are in play; barring the closing scene of Dragon Plays with Fire, this episode is the end of the Hand and K’un Lun as narrative forces in the context of the larger narrative. It is also an episode that effectively allows Davos to lightly touch upon the issue of cultural appropriation before brushing his concerns aside by turning him into a stock villain.

But, really, the issue is so firmly baked into the Iron Fist mythos that it is impossible to talk about in isolation.

Warding off evil spirits.

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Non-Review Review: Headshot

This film was seen as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival 2017.

The obvious (and easy) comparison for Headshot is The Raid.

Part of that is down to the superficial similarities. Both are relatively straightforward Indonesian action movies starring Iko Uwais with an emphasis on martial arts. Even beyond that, The Raid was a breakout hit and exists as one of the defining modern martial arts movies for wider audiences. Even without the similar stuntwork and the combination of lead actor and genre, The Raid would be a stock point of comparison for Headshot. The film even seems to invite and encourage the comparison, with directors Kimo Stamboel and Timo Tjahjanto consciously evoking Gareth Evans’ style.

Headed into danger.

Headed into danger.

The comparison does Headshot no favours. For all the similarities between the two films, the differences are telling. Headshot has a style that consciously evokes The Raid, but it lacks its streamlined efficiency. It has a number of impressive prop-heavy set pieces that call to mind the impressive work in The Raid, but it never embraces the loose and freewheeling style that made The Raid so striking. More than that, Headshot never manages the delicate balance between rudimentary character work and a solid story, leading to a film that feels both paper-thin and over-developed.

Headshot is a solidly middle-of-the-road martial arts slugfest, but it lacks the sheer “wow!” factor that made The Raid pop.

Bar none.

Bar none.

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Non-Review Review: The Raid 2

The Raid is a modern action classic. It’s a rather simple premise executed with incredible flair – a bunch of cops find themselves trapped in a high-raise tower with an army of organised thugs, forced to fight their way to freedom. It’s not the most original of plots, but it works quite well as a framework upon which to hang some genuinely breathtaking martial arts set pieces. It was a showcase for director Gareth Evans and fight choreographers Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian.

The Raid 2 has much to recommend it – with Evans and his collaborators dramatically increasing the mayhem captured on screen. There are any number of memorable fight sequences contained within the film, with Evans, Uwais and Ruhian finding all sorts creative manners of dispatch. The stunts are bigger, the scale larger and the ambition more palpable. In terms of sheer action quotient, the bar has been well and truly raised.

It is a bit of a bloody mess...

It is a bit of a bloody mess…

Unfortunately, The Raid 2 lacks the elegant simplicity of its predecessor. Confined to a single building for one hundred minutes, The Raid was tight and claustrophobic – moving like a locomotive. Running almost an hour longer, The Raid 2 is rather bloated and overstated. Evans’ ambition extends beyond stunt work and fight sequences, and so he tries to craft a crime epic that seems half-way between Infernal Affairs and Only God Forgives, lacking the humanity of the former and the operatic sensibilities of the later.

The result is an overblown mess of a film that really comes together for a powerhouse final forty minutes. The last act of The Raid 2 manages to capture the frantic momentum of the first film, with a sense of constantly escalating scale and brutality. Unfortunately, the rest of the film doesn’t quite measure up.

Raiding the pantry...

Raiding the pantry…

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My 12 for ’12: The Raid (Redemption) & An Action Aesthetic…

I’m counting down my top twelve films of the year between now and January, starting at #12 and heading to #1. I expect the list to be a little bit predictable, a little bit surprising, a little bit of everything. All films released in the UK and Ireland in 2012 qualify. Sound off below, and let me know if I’m on the money, or if I’m completely off the radar. And let me know your own picks or recommendations.

This is #12

It’s a bit of a stereotype that critics don’t like action movies. It’s one of those handy clichés that gets trotted around whenever some mega-blockbuster brings in a ridiculously large number at the box office after a thrashing from the pundits. I can’t speak for the critics, of course, but I can tell you that the reason I disliked The Bourne Legacy or Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon had nothing to do with an innate dislike of action movies as a genre. I’m a big fan of action movies. However, like any other genre, an action movie needs to be done right.

The Raid does an action movie right.

theraid1

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Non-Review Review: Ninja Assassin

I want to like Ninja Assassin. I want a nice, pulpy, old-school hyper-violent throw-back like the title suggested. The two words thrown together don’t necessarily evoke the imagery of classic cinema, but they at least promise a reasonably diverting action thriller. However, it seems that nobody told the writer and director this. Despite it’s surprisingly direct title, the movie is just one big bloated mess, which seems to aspire to a complexity that nobody expects of it, and fails miserably. There seem to be occasional moments where the film grabs the potential of the concept, acknowledging a sort of Tarantino-light nostalgic approach to pop culture trash, but most of the film takes itself far too seriously, but without the skill necessary to succeed as the film it seems to want to be.

All fired up...

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Non-Review Review: Kung-Fu Panda 2

I think the original Kung-Fu Panda might be my favourite Dreamworks animated film. A lot of people go on and on and on about how that particular studio’s animation can be measured against that of their competitor Pixar, with arguments about intellectual and emotional maturity and sincerity. Some argue that the reason Pixar dominates their field is because they don’t treat animation as something just for children. Others suggest that they have a mathematical formula devised to break human hearts. Personally, the feeling I always got from Pixar films that I only fleetingly sensed in the work of Dreamworks, was that those creators were essentially making their dream movie – each and every Pixar film seems lovingly crafted according to a creative vision not based around the “rules” of the industry, but around good ideas and the kinds of stories those people like to tell (and like to hear). I think that is why the original Kung-Fu Panda worked so well, and also why Kung-Fu Panda 2 does such a great job as a follow-up.

They know kung-fu...

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