Brainflow Feed

That term first came to my mind when, as a child, I’d try to say “stream of consciousness” and end up with “brainflow.” It seems to fit here.

Welcome to the ramblings of my mind. (For now, they revolve mostly around films.)

War

Monday, August 27th, 2007 9:12 pm—Film

War (USA 2007, Action/Thriller), Writers: Lee Anthony Smith and Gregory J. Bradley; Director: Philip G. Atwell

War brings together two of today’s hottest action heroes—England’s Jason Statham and China’s Jet Li—for the ultimate summer movie showdown. Sort of a wet dream for action fans everywhere.

Renegade FBI agent Jack Crawford (Statham) is on a mission to avenge his partner, who died at the hands of Rogue (Li), an elusive hit man who has worked for both the Japanese Yakuza and the Chinese Triads in San Francisco. As Crawford tries to bring Rogue down according to the rule of the law (for the most part), Rogue is busy turning the Yakuza against the Triads and creating an all-out war.

Rogue’s storyline reminds me of Akira Kurosawa’s 1961 film Yojimbo (one of my film school favourites), about a ronin, or masterless warrior, who turns two gangs against one another to take them both down. Indeed, Rogue says more than once that he serves no master. But War is less artfully made than Kurosawa’s film. It throws in too many twists and doesn’t show a proper appreciation for the culture behind martial arts, or the history of either the Yakuza or the Triads.

In one of War’s early scenes, Crawford chastises two white cops for not learning Japanese, despite the fact that they work in the Yakuza district. It’s a blatant attempt to show that the filmmakers are considering the “other” side of things. But later in War, when one of the Yakuza members tells Crawford he wouldn’t make it in Japan, Crawford says “This isn’t Japan” and shoots him dead, blowing away the film’s credibility as a respectful representation of the different cultures it depicts.

I know less about Chinese film than about Japanese film, so I’ll focus on the latter. From what I understand, Japanese audiences have a higher threshold for gruesome on-screen violence than do other film audiences. It serves as a release for a culture that is generally more reserved than, for example, North American society. Many Japanese films explore this tendency toward both tranquility and aggression by contrasting images of nature, beauty and stillness (flowers, paintings) with sudden bursts of violence.

Case in point: Takeshi Kitano’s 1997 film Hana-bi. Its title is translated as Fireworks, but the Japanese words actually mean “fire” and “flower,” a reference to both the rage and the calm that reside in protagonist Nishi’s (Kitano himself) heart. He is sweet and gentle with his wife, but is capable of extreme and ferocious violence when dealing with the Yakuza. There’s a scene that features Nishi eating in a restaurant, seemingly unperturbed by the thug who is trying to rile him up. In a flash, he rams a chopstick through the man’s eye, and then returns to his calm so quickly that you might wonder whether you’d imagined the whole thing, if not for the victim’s screams of agony.

Still, even when featuring explicit violence, Hana-bi and other Japanese films tend to reflect their culture in a thoughtful way that makes the violence appropriate, and even necessary, rather than gratuitous. War, on the other hand, features plenty of gratuitous violence, in the form of martial arts (though less than you would expect from a Jet Li film), boxing, gun fighting and sword fighting. Because the fight scenes aren’t as poignant and focused as those in Hana-bi (among other films), they lose some of their punch. In fact, the scenes tend to be confusing, thanks to some fairly frenetic direction. To my mind, confusing fight scenes result in bored and disengaged viewers; despite the fact that War is only 100 minutes long, it drags on and feels well over two hours.

War does get one thing very right: casting Li as a man of few words. A gifted martial artist, Li’s strength doesn’t lie in acting. But even Statham falls a bit short in this movie; he works better in slightly comedic, sarcastic roles than as a serious action star. The one-two punch of Statham being somewhat out of his element and Li having terrible delivery is a killer combination for War. The viewer isn’t drawn into their characters’ relationship, and a pivotal scene at the end of the film falls flat as a result.

In fact, the film’s conclusion is probably the worst thing about it. It’s abrupt and anti-climatic, as if the editors lost a reel of film and threw in whatever they had to cover the ending. It’s never a good sign when you leave the theatre thinking “Huh?”

After Action Report: If you’re looking for a strong climax this summer, you’re better off staying in bed.

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