Category Archives: 1990s

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

*. I suppose the place we have to start talking about The Shawshank Redemption is with its cult.
*. The word needs some explanation. I don’t mean cult in the sense of an underground or indie favourite — The Shawshank Redemption is as far from that as you can imagine. Instead, I’m using cult to refer to the movie’s committed following, which (just to put my cards on the table) seems irrational to me.
*. When I say it’s irrational I’m talking more about the intensity of feeling the movie inspires rather than the fact that a lot of people like it. As is well known, for many years it was at the very top of the IMDb polls as the highest rated movie ever made (David Thomson: “Times are hard.”). And indeed it continues to hold a special, indeed singular place in many people’s hearts. This is one of those strange cultural facts that critics and commentators have for many years now struggled to explain.
*. I don’t think I can explain it either, aside from pointing out the obvious. It’s a feel-good movie with a message about the power of hope and the triumph of the human spirit. What’s not to like about that? Everything about it goes down as smooth as Morgan Freeman’s buttery narration, and while it mocks religious hypocrisy (a favourite target of author Stephen King) its own point of view is infused with spiritual feeling.
*. With regard to this final point, here’s a line about the film from David Thomson that I have to correct. Thomson writes that “It comes from a novella by Stephen King broadly dedicated to the notion that good nature will come through in the end, yet this is a principle that seldom operates in Mr. King’s customary horror works.” This isn’t true. King has always mocked organized religion, but his belief in a special providential force in the universe that sees to it that goodness and virtue receive their reward is almost always operative in his work. This is one of the things that has made him such a popular author, and which no doubt has contributed much to the staying power of this film.
*. Roger Ebert, a critic who could often be a reasonable proxy for an Everyman (I say that without any snark), had this to say about the Shawshank phenomenon: “Films about ‘redemption’ are approached with great wariness; a lot of people are not thrilled by the prospect of a great film – it sounds like work. But there’s a hunger for messages of hope, and when a film offers one, it’s likely to have staying power even if it doesn’t grab an immediate audience.”
*. So . . . hope. Redemption. The triumph of the human spirit. “No good thing ever dies” (that’s a quote from the film). There is a “hunger for messages” like this. The Shawshank Redemption is soul food for the needy.
*. It’s not to my tastes. I think it’s nicely turned out, but at the end of the day it’s such a hokey, clichéd  fairy tale I couldn’t get anything out of it. Instead of feeling uplifted at the end as Andy and Red meet for a chaste hug on that great, safely nondemoninational heaven of a beach in Mexico with all the money in the world I just thought to myself, “Well, that’s nice.” How much more can you read into a film so well-meaning and so bland? Its chief virtue is its simplicity, resilient to criticism and open to all manner of interpretation. Apparently there is a whole moral philosophy contained in the admonishment to “get busy livin’, or get busy dyin’,” but it’s a line that strikes me as meaningless. Am I trying too hard?

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Kull the Conqueror (1997)

*. Kull the Conqueror is a mediocre film in a genre with few if any bragging rights to begin with, but I think it’s still possible to say a few words in its defence.
*. It was a bastard project from the start. The intention was for it to be the third part in a Conan trilogy, but Schwarzenegger wanted no part of it. And before you say “smart move, Arnie,” remember that he wanted out of so that he could play Mr. Freeze in Batman & Robin. Kull is a crummy movie, but nowhere near that bad.
*. So instead of Conan they subbed in another Robert E. Howard barbarian named Kull. The difference being that Conan was a Cimmerian (who spoke with an Austrian accent) and Kull hails from some antediluvian Atlantis and wields a battle-axe instead of a broadsword. In other words, there was no difference at all between the two characters. In fact, one of the sources for the script here was a story that Howard had originally written about Kull. The names were virtually interchangeable.
*. Instead of Schwarzenegger they signed up Kevin Sorbo, who was playing Hercules on TV in a series called Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. Sorbo wasn’t as big a star as Arnold (or as big a “bulging bag of muscle and hair,” as Juba describes him here), but he is a better actor. If you don’t like Kull the Conqueror, don’t blame Sorbo. At least not too much.
*. Just as Conan the Destroyer was a lighter, more humourous affair than Conan the Barbarian, Kull the Conqueror takes another step in this same direction. We’re not in full-blown ironic territory yet, but this is a self-aware, funny movie with a heavy metal soundtrack and a handful of well-placed lines (ex: “Your bride is over 3,000 years old.” Kull: “She told me she was 19!”).
*. Tia Carrere and Karina Lombard both look great. Which is pretty much all they have to do. Though Carrere has to show a bit of wildness every now and then before finally transforming into Rider Haggard’s She-who-must-be-obeyed. Speaking of that finale, the move Kull has to pull to destroy Akivasha is pretty amazing, and one of the few things you’re likely to remember from the film.
*. The effects seem pretty crude 20 years later, but they’re no worse than the other Conan movies. The monkey-man in the dungeon is silly, but not quite as silly as the ape-wizard in Conan the Destroyer. And the demon form of Akivasha actually looks pretty good.
*. All of which is just my way of saying that Kull may be bad, but it’s not that bad. Still, it did poorly at the box office and marked the (real) end of the line for the franchise. I don’t think anyone then or since has cared very much.

 

Groundhog Day (1993)

*. On his DVD commentary for Groundhog Day director Harold Ramis tells a story about how the movie was immediately adopted by various spiritualities and philosophies. I don’t see much connection to Zen Buddhism or the other schools and denominations he mentions, but Groundhog Day does strike me as a movie that taps into two abiding imaginative archetypes that I think go a long way to explaining its abiding charm.
*. In the first place, it’s the fantasy of the do-over. Weatherman Phil Connors has obviously made a mess of his life. He doesn’t seem to have any friends, much less a steady girlfriend, and his dreams of leaving a local TV station for the big leagues are surely going to remain only dreams. But now, thanks to a bit of movie magic, he gets to try again to get it right. He can correct his mistakes. Who doesn’t dream of that?
*. What I especially like about the way this theme is handled here is that Phil not only gets to go back and correct his mistakes, he gets to try and recapture his best moments as well. For me, the saddest scene in the movie is where he tries to recapture the magic moment with Rita after the snowball fight. But that’s not the way happiness works, is it? You have to be surprised by joy. The eternal return can be used to get out of a jam, but you can’t re-create the good times.
*. The other fantasy is that of the makeover. In movies this is often a dark male fantasy. Think My Fair Lady, or Vertigo, or Nikita. Basically a man tries to transform a woman he meets into his dream girl, usually with disastrous results. It is, however, a female fantasy of longstanding too: how the love of a good woman will turn the bad boy into an ideal mate. In real life I don’t know which of these fantasies has resulted in more misery, but since it’s a romantic comedy Groundhog Day lets the female version come true. After a lifetime of effort Phil is finally able to turn himself into someone who is eligible for love. “The things we do,” etc.
*. I said “after a lifetime of effort.” Apparently there is a whole cottage industry devoted to trying to figure out just how long Phil is stuck in the loop. Ramis has said different things. I think the original idea was that he’d been doing it for 10,000 years, but this strikes me as impossible. After only 100 years I think anyone would have simply gone insane. Leaving that aside, I don’t think there’s enough evidence to come up with a precise calculation, even if such a determination were to mean anything.
*. The original screenplay, by Danny Rubin, started in the middle of things, with Phil punching Ned. Rubin thought starting at the beginning was too predictable. That seems odd to me, given that this wasn’t that familiar a story at the time. Audiences have since become more familiar with it, but even in recent adaptations like Edge of Tomorrow and Happy Death Day the movie still starts off before the loop begins. Audiences want that intro, and I think it makes sense dramatically.
*. I don’t find it to be a very funny movie, but I don’t think that’s what it’s going for. It has that lingering sense of sadness hanging over it. There’s a great line where Phil is talking to the local men at the bar and he asks “What would you do if you were stuck in one place, and everything that you did was the same, and nothing mattered?” The honest response he gets is that “That about sums it up for me.” That’s one of the funnier lines in the movie, but it’s funny in the tragic sense that it’s true. Or at least that the guy at the bar feels it’s true. And who hasn’t felt the same way at times?
*. I think this was Ramis and Murray’s sixth collaboration and you can feel how comfortable they are with each other. I think that fits with the low-key tone of the proceedings too. They’ve been here before.
*. This is the sort of film that makes a lot of people’s favourites list. Despite how hard-hearted we’ve become, sentiment has never gone entirely out of style. I find it a movie that I appreciate more than one I have a strong personal attachment to. The attention to detail that comes out on repeated viewings is really impressive and it’s a polished product in nearly every department. It’s a great little movie I’m happy not to read too much more into.

The Periwig-Maker (1999)

*. This isn’t quite what I was expecting. I didn’t know much about The Periwig-Maker going in, though it won scads of awards. I thought it might be a morbid little film along the lines of Poe’s “Masque of the Red Death.” Instead it’s adapted by the brother and sister team of Steffen and Annettte Schäffler from Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year, with overtones of Death in Venice.
*. The nod to Mann’s novella introduces a creepy note to a story that’s ghoulish enough as it is. The business of the Periwig-maker digging up the little girl’s corpse to cut her hair is bad enough, but when he sits up in bed wearing her flaming locks he might be the tarted up Aschenbach, grotesque in his dandy haircut and rouge.
*. Is the little girl the wigmaker’s Tadzio? I don’t think so, as there’s no hint of the erotic, even the morbidly erotic, here. I don’t think the wigmaker is sexually attracted to the little girl. He just seems to have a fetish for hair. Which is even creepier. Note that when he first sees her crying over her mother’s death he immediately thinks of her hair, reaching out to touch a wig in his shop. He doesn’t show any empathy.

*. Given how painstaking a process this kind of stop-motion animation is, you have to pay attention to every detail, however large or small. Among the large details I would rank the exaggerated shape of the wigmaker’s head, which tapers to a dagger-like pointed chin. His eyes are also grotesquely enlarged, and seem to protrude through a series of vertical parentheses, climaxing in eyebrows that suggest a permanent sense of surprise. You expect such a weirdo to sound like Vincent Price, not Kenneth Branagh.
*. What do such distortions mean? The eyes make him out to be a voyeur but vulnerable, looking out his windows at the plague world that he sees as such a threat. The pointy chin is sinister and though not strong, dangerous. Compare the size of the little girl’s button eyes, so like the doll she’s identified with.
*. Among the little things worth noticing are the reveal of the rain in the shadows running down the windows, and its mirroring in the melted candle. This is a world dissolving before our eyes. Or watch the shadow play of the little girl’s dead body being dropped into the wigmaker’s lap. Windows are a major motif throughout the film, and what’s interesting here is how we see through them both ways. We look out and the world looks in.
*. It’s the weirdness of The Periwig-Maker that stays with me. The subtext. I mentioned how Branagh’s narration doesn’t really fit the strange wigmaker, and when you watch the movie several times you start to wonder if it’s even meant to. Nothing in the narration really has to do with any of the action in the film at all. What the wigmaker is thinking has to be guessed at, interpreted through his gestures and expressions. What we suspect is something very strange. Perhaps something noble, or depraved. We can’t be sure.

Point of No Return (1993)

*. I didn’t have any expectations that Point of No Return would be as good as Luc Besson’s Nikita, but I didn’t think it would be this bad.
*. It should have been good. They stuck to the original’s script remarkably closely, at least through the first couple of acts. The changes they made are for the worse, but they are mainly cosmetic, basically just making it more Hollywood (in a bad, and literal, way). Nikita is now Maggie and her love interest is a photographer not a checkout clerk. She actually blows up the hotel room she brings the room service to. She and her fiancé go to New Orleans not Venice for her first undercover kill. The final target isn’t an embassy but some mansion in the hills overlooking L.A.
*. The end of the movie, however, is just a total fudge. Maggie inexplicably falls apart on her final assignment but somehow gets out of it without the assistance of a berserker Victor. We don’t get the scene where the boyfriend (what was his name? J.P. Yeah, J.P.) tells her that he knew about her double life all along. We find out that her handler Bob (Gabriel Byrne) was still in love with her. Victor the Cleaner is disposed of in a very silly, Hollywood way.
*. The cast is hit and miss, but overall I would rate it as strong. I really like Bridget Fonda and she should have been up to this part but she’s horribly misused. There’s no moment of agony when she opens up the present of the gun in the restaurant, but she breaks down in the kingpin’s lair. That makes no sense. Nikita at least had a coherent character arc. As for the rest of the names, Miguel Ferrer is as enjoyably sleazy as usual. Gabriel Byrne seems even sleepier than usual. Anne Bancroft is a strong presence that is wasted. Harvey Keitel starts off in good form as a nerdy version of Jean Reno’s Cleaner but is then simply dropped off a cliff. Tarantino would bring him back as a clean-up man the next year in Pulp Fiction.
*. So they had a good script to work with (meaning the original), and a decent cast, and they still came up with this. I blame director John Badham, who seems to have no feel for, or even interest in, the proceedings. The action and suspense sequences here all fall totally flat. Meanwhile, I could name a dozen individual shots in Nikita that stand out as so well composed and embedded as to have become nearly iconic. Point of No Return hasn’t a single one. Badham didn’t even keep any from the original!
*. Writing about this movie is making me hate it more. Because it’s so close to the original it’s one of those remakes where you have to wonder (and in my case I can only wonder) what your response would be to it if you hadn’t already seen Nikita. Would I have enjoyed it more? I like to think I wouldn’t have just because it’s such a lousy piece of filmmaking. Having seen Nikita first only made it seem worse.

Nikita (1990)

*. Along with a lot of other people (albeit not so many French film critics) I was pretty much blown away by Nikita when it first came out. What surprised me on this latest re-watch is how it hasn’t missed a beat despite having had many imitators, including a remake (Point of No Return) and a television series.
*. A less happy reflection is that despite all of his promise on display here, Luc Besson never came through. From what I’ve seen, Nikita may still be his best movie.
*. Obviously he’s infatuated with the character of the Manic Pixie Asskicker, his main protagonist, but I still prefer Anne Parillaud to Milla Jovovich or Scarlett Johansson in this role. And while he would go on to work with much bigger budgets I think Nikita manages to do more with less.
*. I mentioned that French critics weren’t as thrilled by Nikita, which may have something to do with Besson being hailed as Mr. Hollywood. I don’t know how fair that is. Nikita is a genre movie and Hollywood does define genres, so there’s that. Even Hong Kong action films were “Hollywood” to a large extent. But Besson does have a signature style even working within genre conventions. I mean, Point of No Return is, at least until the very end, a very close re-working of the same material and compared to Nikita it’s just dead.

*. One of the things that impresses me about Nikita is how stripped-down it is. A movie like this could have spent forever dealing with Nikita’s personal history and training, but Besson knew this was immaterial, inessential. So his heroine has her past erased and her training is foreshortened to the point where it seems almost comic. She’s already a master of the martial arts and is handy with a gun, which is simply given to her seemingly on Day One. Of course it isn’t Day One — her leg, for one thing, has had time to heal — but it seems like her training has just begun.
*. The other thing that stands out is the sense of style I mentioned earlier. It’s style employed with intelligence and restraint. There’s nothing over-the-top about Nikita, and I especially love how assured Besson was to run that whole hotel scene and not have any payoff. The American version was not so confident.
*. Anne Parillaud is great as the tough-but-vulnerable action hero and you couldn’t go wrong with this supporting cast. Tchéky Karyo is an actor I always enjoy watching. Jeanne Moreau is class, and Jean Leon is Victor the clean-up guy, a performance so good they had to bring him back. Who can forget that tub scene?
*. In his review Roger Ebert references the Pygmalion story (one “for our own violent times”) but I was thinking of Vertigo. Either way it’s part of that male fantasy of molding the perfect woman (or weapon) to your own specs. It’s a nice touch to have the two men abandoned at the end wondering what happened. Maybe Nikita was just a dream.
*. This is one of the best action films of the ’90s, but like I said earlier Besson never really built on it. I find this very hard to understand. Yes, he made some other good movies but there was so much promise here that was left unfulfilled. Why was it such a creative dead end?

A Shock to the System (1990)

*. I really hated this one.
*. Why? It’s a little movie that few people noticed at the time and that has since dropped almost completely out of sight. The theme was neither new nor interesting in 1990 and today seems even less so. What’s there to be upset about?
*. On the face of it, it’s a simple satire of the cutthroat world of business, where the law of the jungle prevails and psychopaths rule. Middle-aged, middle-management Graham Marshall (Michael Caine) seems ready to ascend to the next rung on the corporate ladder, before the job is unexpectedly given to a younger man. Mild-mannered and hen-pecked, an incident on the subway awakens Graham to the fact that it’s easy to kill someone and get away with it. What’s more, murder also infuses him with mojo. He becomes the alpha male: a real killer in the boardroom and the bedroom.
*. The troubling, even noxious thing is: where’s the satire? In the fact that Graham gets away with it? Is that part of the black comedy, or is the moral of the story that this really is the way the world works? The age differential between the leads is standard Hollywood (Caine was 56 and Elizabeth McGovern 28), but even so the way McGovern submits to Graham’s newly-acquired dominance (“his powers had been turned on to the point where no woman could resist him”) is hard to take. What is the message here? That her surrender is somehow wrong? Or rather that it’s natural?
*. In their At the Movies review of A Shock to the System both Siskel and Ebert spent most of their time praising Caine’s performance. I like Michael Caine, and think he’s a wonderfully versatile actor, but he’s badly miscast here. As a British Mad Man in the Big Apple he is out of place. He should be more of an American Everyman. Even the violence comes across as too dignified when delivered with his accent. A year later Bret Easton Ellis would write American Psycho and show how, in the New World, more really means more. You have to push  material like this to extremes.
*. The script needs to be livelier as well. Everything here just goes along the way you expect it to go, and it’s in no great rush to get there. The ending comes not as an ironic twist but simply as a way of underlining the depressing message.
*. Maybe it’s better off forgotten. To me it’s a pedestrian treatment of a hackneyed theme, and one that doesn’t work as any kind of critique of its subject at all. That is, if a critique was even intended.

Ravenous (1999)

*. The West (and the Western) was de-mythologized a long time ago. I don’t think Ravenous takes this project any further, and I’m not sure that was its purpose. I think it’s more about de-mythologizing the horror genre.
*. How else can you describe the motives behind a movie about a Wendigo-inspired cannibal in which the hero is a wimpy coward with a death wish? Guy Pearce as Captain John Boyd is not the kind of guy who is going to man up, which is wonderful. This is what a real antihero should be: not a bad man, but a vulnerable one.
*. Moving beyond this, however, I still find Ravenous to be a hard movie to pin down. And I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that way. Things got off to a rocky start when the original director was let go after a couple of weeks due to creative differences. The next fellow up didn’t work out either so Antonia Bird was brought in (she’d been recommended by Robert Carlyle). I think Bird does a decent job, but I have to wonder how personally invested she felt in the project, being brought in at the last minute. Apparently she had her problems with the shoot and with what happened to the film in post production as well, though on her DVD commentary she seems pretty sanguine about the whole experience.
*. There are two aspects of the film in particular that sow confusion. The first has to do with the story, which has a bifurcated structure. That is, there’s a strong medial split in the plot as Colqhoun (not an easy name to type) turns into Colonel Ives. There’s nothing wrong with such a structure, and sometimes it works, but here it just left me a bit puzzled by how Colqhoun was getting away with it and what the first part of the movie really had to do with the second. There isn’t a real clear narrative thread tying it all together.
*. The second puzzling aspect of the film has to do with tone. There’s nothing wrong with horror-comedy, at least in theory. In order for it to be effective, however, I think the horror has to work on its own. I’ve always thought that the best horror-comedies exploit nervous laughter. Unfortunately, Ravenous just isn’t scary, and there are points in the film where the comic elements seem jarringly intrusive. I’m thinking especially of the score, which sometimes has playful hillbilly music running alongside what should be tense action sequences. I guess something similar was done in Bonnie and Clyde (that’s what I was thinking of anyway), but I don’t think it works as well here because it just makes the violence seem like a joke.
*. The weather also messed me up. I kept wondering why sometimes it was a winter wonderland and the next scene everything was green. Apparently this was a problem they were aware of during production. The exteriors were shot in Slovakia and it was supposed to be snowy but it just so happened that this was a winter without snow in that part of Slovakia.
*. The characters all sound very contemporary, which probably wasn’t an accident. I don’t think there’s any historical axe to grind. Instead, the various angles being suggested, on matters such as genre, vegetarianism, and even drug use (Bird says on the commentary that Colqhoun is the ultimate pusher and Boyd the ultimate junky) are all modern.
*. I guess the studio wasn’t sure what to do with it either. In addition to the creative differences that led to the switches in director there was the genre confusion and also the absence of any female lead or love interest. When it was all shot they then recut it in ways that didn’t please everyone. Meanwhile, they couldn’t even spell Nietzsche’s name right for the epigraph.
*. Not surprisingly, it bombed. Badly. I missed it when it came out entirely. Indeed, before now I had never even heard of it.
*. Given all of this I think it’s pretty impressive they ended up with a movie this good. I think it has some nice atmosphere and there’s no denying its many unique qualities. If it doesn’t quite come together, well, we can always blame the weather.

The Trial (1993)

*. One of the maddening things about the achievement of Orson Welles — and I think it’s much the same with any great artist — is that you have to compare everything that came after him with what he did. So when you watch this adaptation of Kafka’s The Trial the first thing you’re likely going to think of isn’t Kafka but Welles’s 1962 film.
*. Welles’s The Trial was a freewheeling interpretation, full of visual exuberance and taking some real liberties with the text. This didn’t bother Welles a bit. He felt that books and movies were totally different media and that every film adaptation was by necessity an original creation. A director wasn’t just permitted but obliged to do something different.

*. I think director David Jones felt differently. This is a very respectful and literal adaptation of Kafka, with a screenplay by Harold Pinter. Pinter’s drama is often informed by the Kafkaesque, and in writing the screenplay I don’t think he was interested in taking things in any new directions. In general I’d just observe that it’s even darker. There’s little sign of humour and the people we meet seem angrier and more dangerous. If Pinter’s theatre was one of comic menace the emphasis here is mostly on the menace.
*. As far as the look of the film goes, it’s far less stylized and experimental than in Welles. The setting is Prague, and the costumes and conveyances suggest that every attempt was made to get not just the location but the date right. Instead of a timeless setting we feel like we’re in a period drama. Does that confine Kafka? I want to say yes, but then wonder if I’d say the same about a modern-dress staging of Shakespeare.

*. Because it’s such a faithful adaptation, all of the problems with the novel remain. Primarily what I’m referring to here is the episodic nature of the story, which strings together a bunch of only slightly related incidents and encounters in a random order (in fact, we don’t even know what order Kafka intended the chapters to be put in). Welles was able to knit the different episodes together remarkably well, but little effort is made to do the same here. The separate scenes in Huld’s house (a sadly underutilized Jason Robards), the painter’s garret, and the church (where the parable of the law is recited by Anthony Hopkins) all seem unconnected and disposable.

*. I think Kyle MacLachlan might have been good if he’d been let loose, but here he seems too constrained. I never had the sense of his Joseph K. having a distinct personality, like Anthony Perkins’s climbing neurotic. And this K.’s relationships with women, so essential to the book and to Welles’s version, are left completely mystifying.
*. I could go on making comments like this but I think you get the picture. This is a well-handled production, faithful to a fault to the novel, but it’s not a work of genius. One might recommend it to students too lazy to read the book but I think film lovers will want to stick with Welles.

The Enforcer (1995)

*. I wonder if Jet Li is more of an acquired taste, or if he loses something in the horrific dubbing of his films. He’s always been a huge star in China, and is the real deal as a champion martial artist, but in all the movies I’ve seen him in he tends to fade into the background. He’s good looking, but doesn’t have star presence. In the Expendables franchise he almost disappears, and even in this movie he’s upstaged by Anita Mui and child star Mo Tse (credited as Xia Miao).
*. Maybe he’s just too low key. In The Enforcer Rongguang Yu is a lot more fun as the bad guy Po Kwong. I don’t think he takes his white gloves and sunglasses off once, and his playing against the transgender villain Miss Li was a zany highlight.

*. I’ve already mentioned the horrific dubbing. It’s par for the course here, with the voices not matching up with the actors and several scenes where the characters clearly aren’t speaking but you can still hear them nattering on. What I was most curious about, however, was Blackie Ko’s street name, which is rendered as G-Dawg (or, alternatively, “Darkie”). I wonder why they decided on G-Dawg. To replace a potentially racist nickname with one even more inappropriate?
*. What can you say about a genre movie where the most memorable bit is also the worst or most ridiculous thing in it? Like the sleeping bag scene in Prophecy, for example. On the plus side, you have to admit that such a movie does at least have one scene or sequence that stands out from all its more conventional peers. On the other hand, that one thing . . .
*. If you’ve seen The Enforcer you’ve likely forgotten all about it except for the fight scene at the end where Kung Wei uses his son as a human yo-yo, tying a rope around him and flinging him toward bad guys that he (the kid) punches out before being yanked back. It’s physically impossible, and not even convincingly rendered as a stunt, but once seen it can’t be forgotten.
*. Aside from this, the fight scenes are nothing special. Li does a great turn with the tonfas, but that only lasts a couple of minutes. Most of the rest of the fighting relies on interesting settings (the catwalk over a huge auditorium, a specially-built glass cube of a restaurant with an indoor waterfall), assisted by some pretty obvious cable work. I mean, people can’t really jump that high, or that slowly.

*. Bey Logan, who seems to know every single thing there is to know about martial arts movies, has a good DVD commentary where he talks about the stylized, over-the-top quality of Hong Kong action films as opposed to what you get from Hollywood. Is that still true? I wonder how much the superhero franchises of the twenty-first century borrowed from the former in fashioning what has become the new house style for action flicks.
*. Logan suggests the freeway under construction might have been borrowed from Lethal Weapon 3. It also made me think of the (much) earlier Don Siegel vehicle The Lineup. There was probably just some construction going on that they decided to get production value out of. That was that happened in the Siegel film.
*. I couldn’t credit the story for a second. I didn’t understand Anita Mui tracking Li all the way back to Beijing, and immediately not only injecting herself into his family but actively supplanting the dying mother. She even starts wearing the mother’s dresses the very next day! At the end, “the newly put together family unit” (Logan) struck me as having been established in unseemly haste. Did Li even get a chance to mourn his wife?
*. So one good fight, a whole lot of silliness, good performances all around, and some nice photography and direction by Corey Yuen. Aside from the human yo-yo scene, however, it still doesn’t add up to much. A week after watching it the only part I could still remember was the kid on a rope.