Traces of a Dragon (2003)

Traces of a Dragon [龍的深處:失落的拼圖] (2003)
AKA Traces of a Dragon: Jackie Chan & His Lost Family

Starring Jackie Chan, Charles Chan Chi-Ping, Fang Shi-De, Fang Shi-Sheng, Chan Yu-Lan, Chan Gui-Lan

Directed by Mabel Cheung

Expectations: Moderate.


Traces of the Dragon is a documentary about the lives of Jackie Chan’s parents, the details of which were unknown to Jackie Chan himself until some time around the filming of this documentary. Crazy as that sounds, it’s true; his parents were focused more on surviving and keeping the family afloat than regaling their young son with tales from their lives before he was born. Jackie wasn’t around his parents for much of his youth, anyway. His distaste for regular school led to a 10-year, contracted enrollment in the Peking Opera school where he would meet Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, laying the groundwork for his life of entertainment and death-defying stunts. And from the way they talk about it in the film, it doesn’t seem like Jackie did much of anything but practice his skills during these school years.

Jackie Chan may have gone on to become a global star, but his parents’ lives are actually far more interesting and worthy of a documentary than his. It’s such a moving tale that the director of the documentary — well-respected Hong Kong filmmaker Mabel Cheung — would later dramatize it into the 2015 film A Tale of Three Cities. They not only lived through the Second Sino-Japanese War and the continued Chinese Civil War that followed it, his father was involved in the war as a Nationalist operative and both of his parents were hugely affected by these country-wide struggles. Their story is one of war, refugees, and making the hardest choices that life can throw your way.

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The Medallion (2003)

Starring Jackie Chan, Lee Evans, Claire Forlani, Julian Sands, Alex Bao, Johann Myers, John Rhys-Davies, Anthony Wong, Christy Chung, Scott Adkins, Tara Leniston, Lau Siu-Ming

Directed by Gordon Chan

Expectations: Moderate, but I’m excited cuz it’s Gordan Chan.

On the general scale:

On the B-movie scale:


The Medallion is an odd movie in just about every way. It’s definitely not a good movie, but I had a fun time watching it thanks to my love for the weird and wonderful world of B-Movies. This makes it something of a hard movie to rate, as I’d rather re-watch this movie than most of his US work leading up to it, but there’s no way that this movie is anywhere near as polished or well-made as those. These are the conundrums of my eclectic taste.

Jackie plays Eddie Yang, a Hong Kong police officer who finds himself pulled into the world of the supernatural when his target, Snakehead (Julian Sands), attempts to kidnap a boy from a local temple. The boy holds the power to reunite two halves of a sacred medallion that can give immortality and great power to those it is bestowed upon. It’s kind of a riff on The Golden Child, but beyond this basic premise of a kidnapped child of prophecy, The Medallion diverges significantly from anything resembling the classic Eddie Murphy film.

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Shanghai Knights (2003)

AKA Shanghai Kid 2

Starring Jackie Chan, Owen Wilson, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Tom Fisher, Aidan Gillen, Fann Wong, Donnie Yen

Directed by David Dobkin

Expectations: Super low. I remember hating this.


When I saw Shanghai Knights in 2003, it put me off Jackie Chan movies for years. Re-watching it was an equally painful experience; out of all the modern American films Jackie made up to this point, Shanghai Knights was easily the hardest to sit through. But in the nearly 15 years between watches, I’ve become a lot more able to sort through my feelings and process them into some kind of understanding. In 2003, I simply hated the film, but now in 2017 it’s more disappointment I’m feeling.

Shanghai Knights takes the Shanghai Noon boys and drops them into 1800s London, under the auspices of finding the killer of Chon Wang’s father. There’s a little more to it, but that’s pretty much the only thing that matters. Almost everything else is filler or distraction, and very little of it helps to further much of anything. The weak story of action setup can work in a Jackie film (see: Mr. Nice Guy), but this sort of thing lives or dies depending on the person watching it. The comedy of Shanghai Knights is far from funny or entertaining (most of it coming through inane references to popular things from our era), and the action, while good and a step up from the original film, is the source of much of my disappointment.

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Arnold Quick Takes: The Long Goodbye, The Rundown, The Kid & I

longgoodbyeThe Long Goodbye (1973)
onestar

Starring Elliott Gould, Nina van Pallandt, Sterling Hayden, Mark Rydell, Henry Gibson, David Arkin, Jim Bouton, Warren Berlinger, Jo Ann Brody, Stephen Coit
Directed by Robert Altman

Raymond Chandler is one of my favorite authors. After many, many years of procrastination, I finally read The Long Goodbye last month. It instantly became one of my favorite books from any author, and it is by far Chandler’s best. To put it bluntly: Robert Altman’s film version is a horrid adaptation of one of the best books I’ve ever read. Yet, this is a film with a fantastic reputation among film buffs! I can only surmise that they haven’t read the book. I understand that Altman’s goal was to subvert the detective genre with The Long Goodbye, but what I find most interesting is that Chandler’s novel does this better in many ways already. Much of the novel’s complexity is completely lost, and while some that is to be expected in any adaptation, it is very clear from the beginning that Altman was never interested in actually adapting Chandler’s novel. He supposedly didn’t even read the whole thing! The style, soul, and substance that made The Long Goodbye such a resonant piece of work are unceremoniously sucked out and replaced with an entirely different, Altman energy. I honestly don’t know that a faithful adaptation of The Long Goodbye could work as a film, but this sole attempt literally gets every aspect of the novel wrong. Even taking my love of Chandler out of the equation, the film itself hardly feels worthy of praise.

Oh yeah, I was watching this because of Arnold’s cameo. Even this was a disappointment! Arnold doesn’t get to say anything, although for what it’s worth, he sports a weird mustache and strips down to his underwear in one of the oddest gangster confrontation moments I’ve ever seen. WTF.  And don’t even get me started on the recurring Long Goodbye theme song… [and then, then I made a noise like this — HHUUUAAHH  HHUUUAAHH  HHHUUUUUUUUUAAAAAAAAHHHHH] I’ll stick with the book, thank you very much.

the_rundownThe Rundown (2003)
twohalfstar

Starring Dwayne Johnson, Seann William Scott, Rosario Dawson, Christopher Walken, Ewen Bremner, Jon Gries, William Lucking, Ernie Reyes Jr.
Directed by Peter Berg

The Rundown was the first starring role for The Rock, and he easily proved that he could be a capable leading man. It’s not a great film by any means, but it has an odd charm that most mainstream films, especially ones from this era, don’t have for me. Arnold’s cameo isn’t anything more than the quick line, “Have fun,” but in this single moment during the film’s opening, Arnold effectively passes the bodybuilder-turned-action-hero mantle to The Rock. He’s a perfect fit, too; he’s got the body, the charisma and the acting chops to do very well. And now, 13 years later, he definitely has! But The Rock isn’t Arnold, so The Rundown isn’t the type of movie that Arnold himself could have starred in. The Rock is given a few hand-to-hand fights, and the action choreographer (Andy Cheng) wisely incorporated wrestling takedowns and the like into the choreography to take advantage of The Rock’s special skill set. Capoeira figures largely into the film’s most impressive fight, as well as some excellent wirework. I was honestly taken aback by how much I liked the choreography. It felt very Hong Kong-influenced, so when I discovered that Andy Cheng was a stunt double/member of the Jackie Chan Stunt Team for a few years, it all made sense. Overall, the action is pretty good, the comedy not so much, but it was still a lot more fun than I remember it being.

The Kid & I (2005)
threestar

Starring Tom Arnold, Eric Gores, Linda Hamilton, Joe Mantegna, Henry Winkler, Richard Edson, Shannon Elizabeth, Brenda Strong, Arielle Kebbel, Yvette Nicole Brown, Gabrielle Sanalitro
Directed by Penelope Spheeris

The Kid & I genuinely surprised me. It’s well-written and it boasts a great cast with a bunch of fun cameos (including Shaq and Arnold as themselves). I wasn’t expecting anything, but I was instantly won over by the unexpectedly dark suicide humor that opens the film. What makes the film even more interesting is that it’s a blend of fact and fiction. The film revolves around Tom Arnold writing a vanity project for a billionaire’s kid to star in, and the kid is played by Eric Gores, son to real-life billionaire Alec Gores. The Gores family lives next door to Tom Arnold, so the film serves as both the vanity project AND a sort of documentary peek inside the making of the movie. This kind of thing could have easily gone off the rails, but the cast performs admirably and it is impressively well-directed and edited. I’ve wanted to delve into the work of Penelope Spheeris for a while now, but The Kid & I solidifies that inclination to explore the work of this interesting and varied filmmaker.

Dark Walker (2003)

darkwalker_1Starring Kathleen Taylor, Michael Sage, Rick Irvin, Brenda Matthews, David DeWitt, Emily VanSonnenberg, Clive Hawkins, Jill Small, Ali Taylor, Brad Potts, Ivan Glenn Hill, James Inch

Directed by Danny Draven

Expectations: Not much.

On the general scale:
onestar

On the B-movie scale:
twostar


I’m having a hard time solidifying my thoughts on Dark Walker. On one hand, it is in desperate need of a story for most of the movie, it’s shot on low-quality video, and it’s a slasher without the charm of the genre’s inventive kills and gore. On the other hand, it achieves a lot with its meager budget, including an interesting monster with great makeup, better acting than these films usually showcase, and some impressive & effective sound design. Both the faults and the ingenuity are a product of the film’s budget; in most B-Movies one side of this equation is usually in charge, but in Dark Walker both sides are about equal.

One night in 1878, a man sneaks into the Hobb’s Grove pumpkin patch. He cuts a pumpkin from the vine, ignoring (or not seeing) the sign that ominously warns, “Take not of this earth.” The earth means business, too, as shortly thereafter the pumpkin bleeds when cut and the Dark Walker, a hulking Swamp Thing-looking dude, busts in and kills the wrongdoing man and his entire family.

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Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)

t3_1Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Nick Stahl, Claire Danes, Kristanna Loken, David Andrews, Mark Famiglietti, Earl Boen

Directed by Jonathan Mostow

Expectations: I remember liking the crane chase and the ending… and not much else.

twostar


If you’ve seen Terminator 2, you will know that by all accounts there shouldn’t be a Terminator 3. They destroyed everything related to the Terminators and Skynet, averting Judgement Day and saving the world from a future robot war. “But what if–” said the greedy executive, “What if they only pushed Judgement Day back?” Herein lies the foundation of Terminator 3, and it’s a rocky, unstable one at best. So understanding that this is where the film is coming from, it makes complete sense that it’s something of a mess.

What’s a little harder to take as a Terminator fan is how the film gives John Conner amnesia about the terminators. He actually asks Arnold’s T-800 if he remembers him! Remember him? John, don’t you remember the Terminator that came to save you as a teenager was lowered into a vat of molten lava? This one’s completely different! I can understand a normal person making this kind of error, but the future leader of the human resistance that has supposedly been educated and trained specifically in all things Terminator since birth? Come the fuck on! I get that the scene is there to help the first-time audience members or ones that don’t have a great working knowledge of the Terminator mythology, but we don’t need to make the main character forget something so integral to the series just so Arnold can explain it to us. Ugh.

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Delta Delta Die! (2003)

Deltadeltadie_1Starring Julie Strain, Brinke Stevens, Joe Dain, Steve Malis, Karen A. Smith, Tiffany Shepis, Rachel Myers, Lizzy Strain, Jennifer L. Johnson, Kathryn Adams, Julia Marchese, Jordan White, Nic Oram

Directed by Devin Hamilton

Expectations: I liked the last movie I saw by this guy, Birth Rite, so I’m hopeful.

On the general scale:
onestar

On the B-movie scale:
twostar


Delta Delta Die! is a B-Movie for those that love ’em bad and trashy. Gratuitous nudity and horrid acting abound, and while it’s fairly tame when it comes to gore (like most Full Moon films), a good measure of sadism keeps the film at a level far, far below anything ready for mainstream consumption. Hahahaha, as if “normal” people are even considering watching a movie called Delta Delta Die.

The movie begins in hilarious fashion as we watch a fornicating couple dirty talk to one another, and it’s a shame the rest of the movie doesn’t live up to this promise. A part of me wonders whether it was supposed to be funny or not, but it has to be intentional when the guy says things like, “All you can eat buffet! Dig in!” as his lover is about to take his pants off. Anyway, it’s hilarious, but at the end of the scene the girl reveals her real motive for taking off his pants: to eat his penis! Oh, lawd almighty, say it ain’t so!

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