Alright, now that I’ve been reviewing more films, I have a bit more footing when it comes to talking about them. I’m satisfied with how the last feature turned out, so I think I’ll make my grading scale the standard from here on out. I might even go back and adjust my previous assessments to reflect this change.
Crazy Rich Asians by Jon M. Chu (2018)
Nick Young has asked his girlfriend, Rachel Chu, a New York University economics professor, to accompany him to Singapore. He is to be the best man at his friend’s wedding. He also wishes to use the opportunity to introduce her to his family. Unbeknownst to Rachel, a gossip personality observes their relationship and texts to her friends who Nick Young is dating. As it turns out, the seemingly inordinate interest in Nick’s relationship is because the Young family is one of the richest in the world. Their ancestors made their fortune as real estate developers – a business that has lasted for many generations. Not knowing the shocking revelations awaiting her in the near future, Rachel heads for Singapore alongside Nick.
Jon M. Chu found success with The Legion of Extraordinary Dancers, a well-received web series that premiered in 2010 and 2011. Despite this, he seemed to have trouble translating that talent to big-budget, feature-length projects with his works leading up to it consisting of Step Up 2: The Streets and Step Up 3D and later ones being G.I. Joe: Retaliation and Jem and the Holograms – the last of which is considered one of the worst films of the year, if not the decade. Normally, this would be the sign that a director doesn’t have that certain something to well and truly make it, but Mr. Chu never gave up, and his adaptation of the book Crazy Rich Asians is considered his best film to date. With such high acclaim surrounding it, I knew I had to see it.
A lot of what makes the film intriguing is seeing how deep the culture clashes end up being. Nick’s family is highly traditional, always having an image to maintain. Rachel, despite being fluent in Chinese, is still American-born and from a largely unknown background, flying in the face of what the family’s matriarch deems an acceptable partner. The two leads have a strong bond, yet this trip is going to put the relationship through hell. |There’s one surprisingly shocking scene in which jealous women leave a dead, gutted fish in Rachel’s hotel room with graffiti that brings to mind something a serial killer would write.|
In all honesty, if you’ve seen any romantic comedy within the last decade or so, you’ll know what to expect going into this film. It goes through all the obligatory motions |– they’re excited for the journey, trouble brews shortly after they get there, they break up, and then everything turns out alright|. It’s a fairly predictable film, but it’s well executed and the acting performing are equal parts charismatic and charming. The two leads easily carry this film, and the supporting cast isn’t too shabby either. Rife with many amusing shenanigans, this is definitely worth seeing if you’re looking for a film to simply have fun with.
Tokyo Drifter by Seijun Suzuki (1966)
Tetsu the Phoenix is a member of a yakuza gang, though his boss, Kurata has ostensibly given up the life of crime and dissolved his syndicate. Rival gang boss Otsuka attempts to recruit Tetsu, but the latter turns him down. Fearing Tetsu may interfere with a real estate scam, Otsuka sends an assassin after him. Kurata catches wind of the scam and asks Tetsu to leave Tokyo. Realizing he has no choice but to abandon the life he made for himself, Tetsu begins wandering Japan in the hopes of making Tokyo a distant memory.
How I discovered the existence of Tokyo Drifter is rather straightforward. Having watched quite a few classic Japanese films this year, I decided to see if there were any good yakuza films I could check out. It didn’t take me long to find one such film – Branded to Kill, which was directed by one Seijun Suzuki. Looking into his filmography more closely is how I found out about Tokyo Drifter. I was especially interested when I learned of the scope of its influence with famous directors such as Quentin Tarantino and Jim Jarmusch taking cues from his work. Despite learning of Branded to Kill first, I decided to watch Tokyo Drifter instead.
After seeing what it has to offer, I have to say it reminded me a lot of Breathless, which I don’t think was a coincidence. Breathless was almost singlehandedly responsible for starting the French New Wave movement in cinema with its minimalistic approach and complete abandonment of what Hollywood had been doing in the decades leading up to it. As it so happens, Japan was also going through a New Wave of its own – the trend even borrowing its name from the French movement: Nouvelle vague. Unlike the French New Wave, which was largely auteur-driven, the Japanese New Wave was the result of the film studio establishment attempting to stay relevant in an age when television productions were beginning to usurp their market share.
With its legacy having been fully realized by this point, how does Tokyo Drifter hold up? Unfortunately, I find myself in a similar position when tasked with parsing Breathless – albeit for a different reason. I feel both films had a style-over-substance ethos to them, but while Breathless didn’t accomplish much with what few moving parts it had, Tokyo Drifter throws way too much at the viewer at once. I can appreciate the director expecting their audience to keep up given how grating the twenty-first century handholding approach can get, but Tokyo Drifter goes too far with that idea.
This isn’t to say the film is bad – far from it. The characters are intriguing, the conflict is compelling, and it boasts an amazingly good soundtrack. The introduction is creative in that it starts off in a highly stylized black-and-white only to switch to vibrant color when the credits roll. This was done to represent Tokyo after the 1964 Summer Olympics – the first time the games had been held in Asia. Its biggest problem is that there is very little cohesion between everything it does well. I do like that it deconstructs the yakuza sense of honor |in that Kurata betrays Tetsu when protecting him becomes too inconvenient|, but these character arcs often take a backseat to the style, meaning these developments tend to happen in disconnected segments. It would be like assembling a lost film from every single negative you could find only to realize the end product has several scenes missing. I find it appropriate that I got similar vibes from Tokyo Drifter as I did Breathless because I have the exact same stance when it comes to recommending it. As it stands, I could only realistically recommend it to history buffs or fans of Japanese cinema in general. If you have never seen a Japanese film, however, Tokyo Drifter isn’t a good one to start with, and though it remains a beloved classic, I myself wouldn’t dub it an essential watch.
The Blues Brothers by John Landis (1980)
After serving a three-year sentence, Jake Blues is released from prison and is picked up by his brother, Elwood in his Bluesmobile, which is actually a decommissioned police car. Visiting the Roman Catholic orphanage where they were raised, they learn from Sister Mary Stigmata that it will be closed unless they pay $5,000 in property taxes. It is at a sermon by Reverend Cleophus James at the Triple Rock Baptist church where Jake has an epiphany – they can reassemble their band, the Blues Brothers, and raise the money to save the orphanage. And so begins this bizarre journey of redemption that will see them run afoul of the law |along with a faction of Neo-Nazis and country singers|.
Even to this day, The Blues Brothers has quite a strong following to it, being considered one of the greatest comedies ever made. It seems appropriate that fresh off his success with Animal House two years prior, John Landis would knock it out of the park once more. As such, when I became interested in checking out classics I may have missed, this was among the first that I added to my collection. Despite this, the mood never struck me to watch it. I ended up seeing Animal House the previous Easter, because I thought it to be the most appropriate way in which I could have celebrated that particular holiday. I decided to finally take the plunge to honor the late, great Aretha Franklin, who was notably one of the many musicians who appeared in this film along with Ray Charles, James Brown, John Lee Hooker, and Cab Calloway.
All I can say is that after watching it, I fully understand why this is considered such a great film. The singing performances have a ton of energy to them, all of the jokes land perfectly, and the two leads have an excellent dynamic. Though the uninitiated wouldn’t think it considering the premise, this film has no shortage of excellent action sequences |– including the police chase through the Dixie Square Mall and the truly insane final twenty minutes involving multiple car pileups, and the Bluesmobile doing a perfect backwards flip, among other things|. And then, of course, there’s Carrie Fisher’s hilarious performance as the mystery woman who hounds the two protagonists at every turn.
Have you ever watched a film you liked so much you utterly failed to notice how much time passed when all is said and done? That’s how I felt watching the extended version of this film, which ran for about two-and-a-half hours. It’s quite long for what amounts of a comedy musical, but it earns every single minute. If you haven’t watched this film, you’re missing out. As far as comedies are concerned, I would even go as far as saying that it has the edge over Animal House and Monty Python and the Holy Grail, albeit by the slimmest of margins. Surprisingly, it has a rather modest score among the big three movie databases (iMDB, Rotten Tomatoes, and Metacritic) compared to those two aforementioned films. All I can say to that is, “Sorry, critics, you got this one wrong; better luck next time”.