April 2009

Before they became stars - Part 2

I wrote an article recently about martial arts actors and their lesser known projects. Some of the comments reminded me of other noteworthy stars. Well, some of them are well-known all over the world and their pictures are splashed all over the place (or in Donnie Yen's case, baring his chest on his site and various magazine covers). In this article I will talk about Donnie Yen, Yuen Biao and Sammo Hung. (Note: If you don't give a hoot about going through this short list in ordr, click on each name to jump to the relevant section).

So, what did these guys do before they became the hottest foot-flicking, fist-waving martial artist on the block?


Donnie Yen

Anime Friday: Bleach

I've been getting some flack lately for not watching the series I cover in full. While on the one hand I do feel bad that I don't have enough time to give most of the series I watch a complete viewing, I feel that this is a good time to reiterate the purpose of Anime Friday. I'm not here to review anime movies and series the way I review non-anime movies and series on sites like TV World or Movie Center. This has never been about specific items, but more about anime in general. While I appreciate that many anime series have deep, involved plots and more than a little loving fan-service, the point of Anime Friday has been to identify and analyze the appeal of anime from a perspective of entrance, not sustained presence. If you're willing to sit down for, say, the 200-plus episodes of Bleach, chances are you've already been hooked as a fan of anime.

Anime Friday: A Return to Blue Seed

Last week I reviewed Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. I might have been a little harsh, but I stand by my arguments. All the same, I decided to consult once again with my anime advisers. They've led me to so many interesting features and series that I never would have found on my own, so even when they send an unmistakable stinker like SAC my way I'm still willing to trust their opinions. Before this project could move forward, we had to get back on the same page. The ensuing discussion was thankfully fruitful and not just a woefully stereotypical pitting of nerd rage against pigheaded Westernism. My pro-SAC advisers ran down everything they thought made the show good. Their answers were respectable enough, citing interesting existential dilemmas in the characters and some of the finer implications of the plot, like the transition of cyber-terrorism into a physical threat.

Before they became big stars ...

Everyone knows about the current movies and the latest hits. But what about the little known gems, the ones that were made when actors were trying their luck? Here I am picking out three noteworthy actors famous for their martial arts prowess and talking a little bit about their past ventures.

1. Jackie Chan

If you have not heard about Mr. Chan, you've probably been living under a rock. With big hits like the Rush Hour movies and the somewhat silly Shanghai Noon, he is a familiar face. So if there was a list of favorite martial artists, he would certainly be top of that list. Other than his recent successes that are roughly based on being the “mysterious man from the other land”, he has done some amazing movies in the past. These were from his young and daring days of trying just about any or every stunt in a movie. This made for fantastic viewing, especially since he loved to add the outtakes at the end of the movie.

Anime Friday: Ghost in the Shell SAC

Maybe I'm doing this wrong. I would have to be. Despite months of watching many different kinds of anime and even coming to have an appreciation for some of them that goes beyond the academic, I still can't manage to see the appeal of some of the most well-regarded series in the genre. I chose Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex for this week's entry because my anime advisers raved about it. I had every reason to believe them, too. The original Ghost in the Shell movie was one of the first animes I ever watched in my culturally formative high school years. I enjoyed it then for its good animation and interesting premise, even if I felt a little cheated by the thoroughly un-American concept of a movie that only lasts one hour. I had high hopes for SAC, so the disappointment was pretty deep. I say that I must be doing this whole project wrong because I can't for the life of me see why this series is appealing.

Who needs a BFF reality show?

First things first. This list is a collection of old hindhi songs about friendship. Thing is, given the quirky movie styles of the 70s and 80s, most of these songs are unintentionally funny. And this is coming from someone who can understand the language.

1. Prince and Pauper

This little number is from a movie called Dharam Veer. It's a classic in its own right, probably due to the extensive sword fighting. At least that was the reason why I used to be a fan of the movie. Well, this song is about the ever-lasting friendship between a prince and a warrior. The Fellowship of the Ring is nothing compared to the bond between these two; heck, they are even calling it the 8th wonder of the world. So, in the course of the song, they fend off some dodgy folk, harass an evil princess and hook up with the queen who decides the warrior is a-ok to pal around with her son.

Anime Friday: Read or Dream

So, I experienced a happy accident in this week's anime itinerary. I went in search of Read or Die, the OVA of Hideyuki Kurata's light novel series. Not knowing the full development history of his work, I began watching the TV show adapted from the partially-related sequel manga, Read or Dream. By the time I noticed my mistake, I had already gotten deep into Read or Dream and decided that it merits its own entry in Anime Friday. I'll certainly return to the original Read or Die some other week, but I feel compelled to give Dream its due. Right off the bat, I knew there was something special about Read or Dream. Maybe it was the pleasant jazz soundtrack or the unusually placid pacing. As I watched each episode, I couldn't believe how close the show got to "boring" without actually being boring. Instead, it was merely subdued and careful.