Haywire opens with a scene in which Mallory Kane (the retired mixed-martial-arts fighter Gina Carano), an erstwhile member of a private contractor’s elite, government-sponsored fighting force, has a tense meeting with Aaron (Channing Tatum), a beefy colleague who’s come to retrieve her from the field. Before the inevitable beatdown ensues — she’s gone rogue after being double-crossed by her boss, so she’s obviously not going anywhere without a fight — it becomes apparent that this isn’t your typical action programmer. The tip-off isn’t in what you see, but what you hear. Or, rather, what you don’t hear. The two leads converse in near-complete silence, as if they’re floating in space instead of sitting in an upstate diner. The waitress says a few words, meekly, but the expected sound bed of dishes clanking and walla FX is conspicuously absent.
District 13: Ultimatum is at its best and silliest in the opening reels, which place French supercop Damien Tomaso (the lanky, bald Cyril Raffaelli, who’s also the film’s stunt coordinator) in a chaotic undercover assignment — he’s in the back room of a nightclub, decked out in a dress with a peekaboo ass and masquerading as a kind of courtesan to a Chinese drug kingpin. When his backup arrives, all hell breaks loose. The sequence is staged with tongue tucked firmly in cheek — the contrast between Raffaelli’s muscular, manly frame and that of his obvious female body-double is faintly hilarious — but it more or less brings the goods, staging an extended martial-arts fight that plays as an affectionate tribute to Jackie Chan in his prime. In other words, props matter, from the stepladder that brings the pain when villains are slammed into it to the priceless Van Gogh painting that Tomaso employs as a delicate weapon at his disposal. You’ll laugh, you’ll wince. It’s a good time.
The Hurt Locker opens in medias res, depicting a trio of soldiers working on the streets of Iraq. The movie doesn’t stop to explain what they’re up to or put their actions in context. The audience is left to infer the circumstance, but it’s not hard to imagine the scenario. Judging from the cutting and the jumpy handheld camera style, we’re looking at a tense situation. That robot rolling around by remote control, poking at a pile of refuse, is probably looking for a bomb. And when the robot breaks down and one of the men starts suiting up like Sigourney Weaver in the last scene of Alien, it’s a sure bet he’s about to play a game of red-wire/black-wire with a scary chunk of explosives. The tension is heightened, actually, by the fact that the movie has just begun. These characters are interchangeable and, because the movie has yet to present us with a formal protagonist, potentially expendable. That’s how director Kathryn Bigelow gets way ahead of her audience in this film’s very first sequence. Barely five minutes into her movie and already I was cowering in my theater seat, terrified that something was about to blow.
Released in 1984, this widescreen actionfest/drug-addiction drama was the final film of only three directed by longtime action choreographer Tang Chia — and one of the last films ever released by the legendary Shaw Brothers movie studio, which in its heyday made dozens of movies every year but by this time was struggling to keep up with the popular trends ushered in by Bruce Lee and expanded upon by Jackie Chan and friends.
Crummy by mainstream standards, this low-budget martial-arts programmer has lots of charm, starting with the opening shot depicting the inside of a church with saloon-style swinging doors banging against the wind and dust outside, and Tarantino fans will make note of some of the source elements he appropriated for his Kill Bill revenge pastiche. But the real attraction here is Yumi Higaki, playing a talented but reluctant martial-arts disciple seeking payback for injuries to the body and pride of her master (Sonny Chiba, in an extended cameo at the film’s beginning). I had seen her previously in Sister Street Fighter, released two years earlier, but her poise and confidence has improved here. A prototype for any number of femme videogame ass-kickers, from Chun Li down the line, she has an overgrown-kid look to her that makes her determination and eventual triumph in the violent coming-of-age scenario more rousing.
On reflection: this review may contain SPOILERS. Proceed at your own risk.
My review of Starship Troopers 3: Marauder on Blu-ray Disc is online at FilmFreakCentral.net
position on religion evolves from wary tolerance (because the more
pious citizens tend to oppose the war) to outright enthusiasm, once the
military manages to conflate aggression and holiness in the public
mind. “God’s back,” declares a government mouthpiece at film’s end,
“and He’s a citizen, too!”