Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Once a Thief (1991)

John Woo took a breather from his normal bloody thrillers to make this questionable romantic action comedy in 1991. The story focuses on three orphans who grew up under the tutelage of wealthy crime boss and a kindly police officer and train as thieves.

The film opens with a scene of the three swearing that the heist they are about to undertake will be their last. With a myriad of high tech thieving methods, they steal prized paintings around Europe. Chow Yun-Fat, Leslie Cheung, and Cherie Chung play the siblings with a light hearted but serious intensity portraying some of the tougher assignments that the thieves must have had to undertake along the way. There is a constant reminder of the theft of a mysterious "cursed" painting and how its obsession affects the trio, which moves the plot along in a number of places.

Their crime boss father double crosses them with a painting, so they decide to pay him back. As you can expect from Chow Yun-Fat and Leslie Cheung, there is gunfights, punch ups and plenty of slapstick comedy. Its hard to say if it was just me , or if Chow Yun-Fat does not fully engage in a romantic role. In some of the scenes where he was meant to be tender and caring, it appeared he’d rather be slicing something up with a machete or kicking some serious butt. Perhaps its just me?

Again, the music score can be unsettling, but the set ups for the burglaries easily make up for that.

Once a Thief is an exhilarating action-packed film with plenty of comedy and shades of sappy romance. It's got everything - suspense, gun-fights and laughs. A passable heist movie which could be used as an introduction to Woos other works - or simply because you love Chow Yun-Fat. The pair always deliver an entertaining film, and although not on the same level as some of the later ones, its once not to pass up ether.

Theatrical Poster via Wiki

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Shaolin Wooden Men (1976)

Shaolin Wooden Men is a typical Hong Kong Martial Arts Movie which cobbles thin storylines and questionable acting to some awesome kick but action.

The music swings between twee and chinese ‘action music’ most westerners find discordant. With dreadful dubbing and poor quality film, its a movie best fast forwarded through to the action scenes.
In saying all of this, I am a huge fan of Jackie Chan. He is an immensely talented man and martial artist; regardless to the quality of the movie, he is fun to watch.

Shaolin Wooden Men comes from his early career and it is a bit of a rude shock to revisit it and see just how young he looks. Jackie has an unmistakable style, great timing, and ability to do some impressive things with both his body and surrounding props. He manages to meld the slapstick and serious in a way no other action actor is able to.

Shaolin Wooden Men focuses on the journey of Little Mute, an orphan taken in by the Shaolin Monks after his father was murdered by a unknown fighter. Since the day he witnessed his fathers death, he refuses to speak. Little Mute works hard to learn the skills from the monks, but is constantly taunted by his fellow students.

Although he has a tough time in his training, he is taken in by two monks with differing styles.One teaches him a graceful and subtle style, the other is a prisoner of the monks. Little Mute works hard to mesh the styles together to enable him to pass the test of the Shaolin Wooden Men, a series of 108 wooden men who block the path of any new monk.

Once he passed the test, Little Mute leaves the monastery to search for his fathers killer and break his vow of silence.

The copy of Shaolin Wooden Men I was able to get a hold of was badly degraded and had crackly, monotone dubbing. Though perhaps a little unfair to pass judgement on this experience, its poor dialogue and bad music made the film a trial to endure in so many spots. What saves it is Jackie Chans presence, skill and martial arts ability. Turn the sound down and enjoy his mastery.

Theatrical poster via Wiki