“Stadium Seating” is a weekly film column that will be run over the remainder of the summer
A trailer preceding a recent screening of “American Pie 2” alerted me to an alarming trend picking up steam in Hollywood. Here, French Revolution-era soldiers dueled with flimsy fencing swords in a high-octane rehashing of the Three Musketeers legend. It wasn’t the fact that this, “The Musketeer,” is nearing the tenth film reincarnation of the Three Musketeers story that bothered me. The Chris O’Donnell/Kiefer Sutherland/Charlie Sheen/Oliver Platt version of the late ’90s left more than enough room for improvement. It was the nature of the film that set my mind in motion. Musketeers pulled horizontal mid-air barrel rolls and leapt from the ground to the safety of a tree branch with ease. Royal soldiers played footstool to the leaping/kicking feet of sword-wielding daredevils. The rapid pause-burst-pause sequence of action associated with Hong Kong action films was unmistakable.
Maybe it began with “The Matrix,” or maybe Jackie Chan kicked it all off. “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” no doubt played a crucial role in the movement. Regardless, there is a grotesque obsession these days with Hong Kong-style action movies, and nearly every genre of film is being tinkered with to form a Hong Kong hybrid. Chan alone has incorporated his amusing high-kick super stunts into the American western (“Shanghai Noon”) and the cop buddy flick (“Rush Hour”). Anything to make a Hollywood buck.
Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with Hong Kong action cinema in itself. At its best, it can be graceful and elegant while vicious and engaging. But the attempt to merge such with any number of traditional American genres has resulted in some disgracefully awful messes.
Director John Woo plugged Hong Kong action into the thriller formula with “Mission: Impossible 2.” As a result, he lost everything that was good about the original. The thin veil of Hong Kong action cinema not only failed to cover its shortcomings, but also made it more unbearable to watch. Much of the same can be said about “Shanghai Noon,” “The Big Hit” and any of these other Hong Kong-American hybrids.
While Ang Lee’s beautiful take on Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility” gives hope that a director with a grasp on Hong Kong cinema can adhere to genre forms, one is left wondering: How long before we see Hong Kong action haphazardly meshed into musicals; Disney cartoons; romantic comedies. “When Jackie Met Sally?”
Attack of the Bad Movie Titles
No one ever said movie titles these days are anything short of silly, but I’d like to think we’ve come a long way since the days of “Return of the Teenage Vixens From Outer Space,” “Attack of the 50-Foot Woman” or Ed Wood’s “Plan 9 From Outer Space.” Even Oscar-winner “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town” would probably get a catchier name were it handled by one of today’s studios.
Then there is George Lucas. I have to admit, it would be fair to say we should not expect too much from the man who used the phrase “Return of the…” in a movie title –but it worked. Even “The Empire Strikes Back” has a sort of campy feel to it, harkening back to the days of Buck Rogers science fiction — and maybe that’s the whole point. I am even willing to defend “The Phantom Menace,” although no one really knows what this “Phantom” is. And what’s so menacing about it?
Naming his next project “Episode 2: Attack of the Clones” this week, however, crosses a very thin and very crucial line. With this, he has stepped into the realm of “Attack of the…” movies, and the company is quite unremarkable. There has been an “Attack of the Crab Monsters,” “Giant Leeches,” “Killer Tomatoes,” “Puppet People,” “Swamp Creature,” and “Attack of the 60-Foot Centerfold.” If every person who saw any of those movies went to “Attack of the Clones” five times, “Clones” would still be considered a financial disaster, to put some perspective on the situation. Just reciting that name in my head causes premonitions of opening day: 13 screens at the multiplex, all showing “Attack of the Clones,” and barely 10 people in line to see it.
Low and behold, if history means anything, there is still hope.
Shortly before the release of Episode 6, now titled “Return of the Jedi,” Lucas faced a similar situation. Back then, he was sitting on “Revenge of the Jedi.” Posters had been made and the media campaign was in full swing when Lucas backed down and switched over to “Return of the Jedi.”
With the public’s reaction to the new title, Lucas is likely holed up in Skywalker Ranch, second-guessing his decision and trying to guard his dignity. Lead actor Ewan McGreggor’s remark that it is “a terrible, terrible title” can’t be helping Lucas’ ego much.
Let me be the ten-millionth journalist to throw my name into the hat of “Attack of the Clones” nay-sayers. My Microsoft Word thesaurus alone came up with half a dozen better names, so let us hope that the man heralded as one the greatest contributors to modern film can follow suit.