Movies - Foreign postsThursday January 13, 2011
Alice in Hanoi
Because, I suppose, I write about movies, I like going to movie theaters when I’m abroad. I’m curious not just what they watch but how they watch it.
In Taiwan, for example, when I lived there 20 years ago, they played the national anthem before each show. We’d all stand and sing along while they ran a short, government-created film. In 1987, when I first arrived, the theme of the film was martial in nature: troops and tanks and such. (China and Taiwan were still at war, after all.) By 1988, it became more cultural: dragon boat races, etc, and by 1990 it showcased the beauty of the Taiwanese landscape: Ya Ming Shan, waves crashing on rocks, etc. Not that “martial” was forgotten. That final film ended with the characters Jung Hua Ming Guo (“Republic of China”) dominating the screen, then appearing on a map of Taiwan. Except it wasn’t a map of Taiwan. It was a map of mainland China. The two countries were still at war but both agreed on this most important fact: there was only one China.
Then we watched “Ghost.”
So at the tail end of our Vietnam trip last spring, after all the museums and mausoleums and parks and restaurants, Patricia and I agreed to check out some movies.
We had two options. I’ll write about the second one, Rap Thang 8, tomorrow. It’s a smaller theater, shows some Vietnamese movies, foreigners rarely go there. Often for a reason. But we did.
On our second-to-last day in Vietnam, however, we went to MegaStar Cinema on an upper floor of the Vincom Towers in the southern part of Hanoi. It looks like almost any shiny megaplex in the States. They serve popcorn and colas and M&Ms and Mars bars. Also sausage and seaweed. I should’ve gotten the seaweed.
Eight movies were playing that day, seven from Hollywood, one from Hong Kong (Jackie Chan’s “Little Big Soldier”). The biggest of the bunch was Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland,” in both its 3D and 2-D incarnations, on its way to grossing more than a billion bucks worldwide.
I’m not sure who was responsible for marketing “Alice in Wonderland” in this megaplex in Hanoi, the capital city of communist Vietnam, just two miles from the former Hanoi Hilton where prisoners of war were held and tortured, but the results were a capitalist’s wet dream. Employees were wearing “Alice” T-shirts. There were “Alice” posters and tables and a little set in the lobby where you could sit in big-sized “Alice” chairs and pretend you were small.
It was a quiet, weekday afternoon in early April, and a few kids were hanging out in a lounge area set up just off the concession stand. There was also a big fan board for Robert Pattinson, and pleas for him not to forget his Vietnamese fans, as part of a “Remember Me” promotion. It was all very clean and empty and kind of depressing.
We had assigned seats for the movie and listened to music from XONE FM, including, oddly, “The Girl Can’t Help It,” as we watched the last of the couples straggle in. The ads before the feature were of the superloud, superbright, supercheery Asian variety: teeth whitener, a product called “Diana,” another for a drink (0°?) in which everyone is refreshed by synchronized swimmers. I don’t know if knowing Vietnamese would’ve made sense of these things. Then theater ads:
- No smoking
- No chewing gum
- No cameras
- No outside food and drink
- Please remain silent
The movie was the least interesting part of the exercise.
Tomorrow: Nung Nu Hon Ruc Ro at Rap Thang 8.
My Jackie Chan (成龍) Retrospective
The remake of “The Karate Kid” opens today, starring Will Smith's son. Second-billed is some guy named Jackie Chan, with whom I have something of a history. At least I keep writing about him:
- Becoming a Jackie Chan Fan: MSNBC, August 2007
- Review of “Drunken Master II”: The Seattle Times, October 2000
- Review of “The Medallion”: The Seattle Times, August 2003
- Review of “Around the World in 80 Days”: The Seattle Times, June 2004
- Review of “The Spy Next Door”: January 2010
How big of a fan was I? Not enough to like “The Medallion,” or “Around the World in 80 Days,” or “The Spy Next Door,” but in the mid-1990s I was actually a member of the Jackie Chan Fan Club—the only fan club (officially, Salma!) I've ever been a member of:
Hell, this is a dream I had back in 1994—back when I used to write down my dreams:
Jackie Chan and his entourage are on an old “Mike Douglas Show” from the 1970s. They are the main guests of the day. Jackie is so enthusiastic he comes across as clownish. He's depicted as “the wacky stuntman/actor from Hong Kong.” There's a musical number as well, with another actor (his co-star from “Armour of God”?) singing, then sprinting towards the camera, then over the camera; one imagines him sliding on his knees toward the audience. It's so cheesey I’m embarrassed. Jackie, meanwhile, is in the background, sometimes clowning, sometimes playing an instrument. Nobody gets the talent that’s there, but they’re not exactly demonstrating it, either.
1994 was the year I tried to get anyone in America to publish anything on Jackie Chan. No one was interested. “He's the biggest movie star in the world,” I'd say, “and we don't know who he is!” They preferred not knowing. They couldn't tie it to anything being sold so they felt there was no point. The one pub that actually published a piece of mine on Jackie was The Stranger, an alternative weekly here in Seattle, and they did it because something was being sold. The Varsity Theater in Seattle was holding a retrospective on Hong Kong cinema in general and Jackie's cinema in particular, so they gave me 1,000 words. It was called “Fightingest Man Alive” (not by me) and appeared in September 1994. Excerpts:
I'll cut to the chase. Jackie Chan is the greatest action star making movies today. He may be the greatest action star in the history of cinema...
What action stars do we admire? Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger. What do they do? Not much. They look strong and hold guns and enunciate (just barely) bad puns as they blow away bad guys. What does Jackie do? He fights, yes, but he also runs away. He is self-effacing. He clowns. ... His physique is the result of his training. For Stallone and Schwarzenegger, their physiques are the reason for their training. There's a difference and it shows...
Even a western star with a martial arts background like Jean-Claude Van Damme doesn't compare. In Project A (1983), Chan is fleeing his enemies, riding a bicycle through narrow alleyways, when a bad guy blocks his way. Unable to turn around, Chan puts his weight on the handlebars, plants his feet on the opposing walls, swings the bike like a weapon and knocks the guy down. A second later he continues his flight, not realizing his bike seat has fallen off. Cue grimace. This is the essence of Jackie Chan: the extraordinary followed by the farcical. Van Damme, in comparison, may use his legs to suspend himself between two walls, but the way the camera lingers on this talent is narcissitic, and, in the end, duller than spit. In the time it takes, Jackie could have fought past 10 henchmen and continued his lurching flight to safety.
Inaimate objects become animinated in his hands in a way that has not occurred in the movies since Fred Astaire danced with hat-trees. Give Arnold a wooden bench and what does he do with it? Probably hits someone over the head. (“Have a seat.”) Give Jackie a wooden bench and it becomes not just a weapon but a thing of beauty...
That was a long time ago. I'm glad he's still rolling. I'm glad I'm still rolling. I hope “Karate Kid” does well...for his sake. Hsie hsie ni, Cheng Long...
The nominees for the French Cesars were announced last week, and Un Prophete (A Prophet), whose trailer I've seen a dozen times at Landmark theaters in the last month, and which is among the front-runners for the Academy's best foreign-language film, was the big dog, le grand chien, with 13 nominations, including best picture, director, actor, supporting actor and original screenplay. According to boxofficemojo, Sony Classics will finally release it here on February 26, but I'm not sure where "here" is yet. NY and LA? Probably. Fingers crossed for more. Hell, fingers crossed for Arkansas.
Speaking of—foreign films—what a motley crew the Cesars chose! At the same time they obviously don't suffer from the same strictures the Academy operates under—one film per country, selected by said country, etc.—because there are three Hollywood productions among the nominees. Mais..."Gran Torino," France? Vous etes fous?
Last year, by the way, "Seraphine" won the Cesar for meilleur film over, among others, "Entre les murs," "Il y a longtemps que je t'aime" et "Paris." "L'heure d'ete," my favorite film from last year, received only one nomination: meilleure actrice, un second role, for Edith Scob, for playing the mother, or grandmother, Helene.
MEILLEUR FILM (BEST FILM)
- A L’ORIGINE (IN THE BEGINNING)
- LE CONCERT (THE CONCERT)
- LES HERBES FOLLES (WILD GRASS)
- LA JOURNÉE DE LA JUPE (SKIRT DAY)
- UN PROPHÈTE (A PROPHET)
MEILLEUR RÉALISATEUR (BEST DIRECTOR)
- JACQUES AUDIARD, A Prophet
- LUCAS BELVAUX, Rapt
- XAVIER GIANNOLI, In the Beginning
- PHILIPPE LIORET, Welcome
- RADU MIHAILEANU, The Concert
MEILLEUR ACTEUR (BEST ACTOR)
- YVAN ATTAL, Rapt
- FRANÇOIS CLUZET, In the Beginning
- FRANÇOIS CLUZET, Le dernier pour la route
- VINCENT LINDON, Welcome
- TAHAR RAHIM, A Prophet
MEILLEURE ACTRICE (BEST ACTRESS)
- ISABELLE ADJANI, Skirt Day
- DOMINIQUE BLANC, L’Autre / The Other One
- SANDRINE KIBERLAIN, Mademoiselle Chambon
- KRISTIN SCOTT THOMAS, Partir / Leaving
- AUDREY TAUTOU, Coco Before Chanel
MEILLEUR ACTEUR, UN SECOND RÔLE (BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR)
- JEAN-HUGUES ANGLADE, Persécution
- NIELS ARESTRUP, A Prophet
- JOEYSTARR, Le bal des actrices
- BENOIT POELVOORDE, Coco Before Chanel
- MICHEL VUILLERMOZ, Le dernier pour la route
MEILLEURE ACTRICE, UN SECOND RÔLE (BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS)
- AURE ATIKA, Mademoiselle Chambon
- ANNE CONSIGNY, Rapt
- AUDREY DANA, Welcome
- EMMANUELLE DEVOS, In the Beginning
- NOÉMIE LVOVSKY, Les beaux gosses
MEILLEUR SCÉNARIO ORIGINAL (BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY)
- JACQUES AUDIARD, THOMAS BIDEGAIN, ABDEL RAOUF DAFRI, NICOLAS PEUFAILLIT, A Prophet
- XAVIER GIANNOLI, In the Beginning
- JEAN-PAUL LILIENFELD, Skirt Day
- PHILIPPE LIORET, EMMANUEL COURCOL, OLIVIER ADAM, Welcome
- RADU MIHAILEANU, ALAIN-MICHEL BLANC, The Concert
MEILLEURE ADAPTATION (BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY)
- STÉPHANE BRIZÉ, FLORENCE VIGNON, Mademoiselle Chambon
- ANNE FONTAINE, CAMILLE FONTAINE pour Coco Before Chanel
- PHILIPPE GODEAU, AGNÈS DE SACY, Le dernier pour la route
- LAURENT TIRARD, GRÉGOIRE VIGNERON, Le petit Nicolas
- ALEX RÉVAL, LAURENT HERBIET, Wild Grass
MEILLEURE PHOTO (BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY)
- CHRISTOPHE BEAUCARNE, Coco Before Chanel
- LAURENT DAILLAND, Welcome
- STÉPHANE FONTAINE, A Prophet
- ÉRIC GAUTIER, Wild Grass
- GLYNN SPEECKAERT, In the Beginning
MEILLEUR MONTAGE (BEST EDITING)
- CÉLIA LAFITEDUPONT, In the Beginning
- HERVÉ DE LUZE, Wild Grass
- ANDRÉA SEDLACKOVA, Welcome
- LUDO TROCH, The Concert
- JULIETTE WELFLING, A Prophet
MEILLEUR FILM ÉTRANGER (BEST FOREIGN FILM)
- AVATAR; directed by James Cameron
- GRAN TORINO; directed by Clint Eastwood
- MILK; directed by Gus Van Sant
- J’AI TUÉ MA MÈRE / I KILLED MY MOTHER; directed by Xavier Dolan
- PANIQUE AU VILLAGE; directed by Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar
- THE WHITE RIBBON; directed by Michael Haneke
- SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE; directed by Danny Boyle
Le Monde lede of "Adieu, Gary"
Voici déjà quelque temps que le cinéma, à l'instar d'un public touché par la crise, ne prend plus de vacances. Chaque été, entre un mastodonte de l'animation hollywoodienne, quelques titres d'auteurs confirmés, une brochette de reprises savoureuses et un lot avarié de fins de série, se glisse donc une découverte à la fraîcheur bienvenue.
The cinema, following the example of a public affected by the economic crisis, can’t take vacations anymore. Every summer, between the mastadon of Hollywood animation, several titles from confirmed aueturs, a kabob of savory revivals and a rotting batch of oddities, slips a discovery of welcome freshness.
Where Goebbels and Hollywood Agree
Hey all. Just got back from a family vacation in Minnesota, where I re-encountered two of my favorite junk foods: Old Dutch Rip-L Potato Chips and Sebastian Joe's ice cream. It's a good thing I don't live there anymore or I'd be 200 pounds.
While on vacation I read Cinemas of the World by James Chapman, from which I'll be quoting in the next couple of days. A bit academic but mostly interesting and always informative. British press. Here's the first of them:
Triumph des Willens represented the high point of Nazi propaganda: it enshrined the 'Hitler myth' so completely that no further films of the sort ever needed to be commissioned. Goebbels, for his part, was firmly of the opinion that feature films should provide escapist entertainment for the masses and that direct propaganda should be confined to the newsreels.