Posts Tagged ‘Tzi Ma’

The Emperor’s Saviour

Mulan

Director: Niki Caro

Cast: Yifeu Liu, Gong Li, Jet Li, Donnie Yen, Jason Scott Lee, Tzi Ma, Ron Yuan

Film Rating 7 out of 10 – Catch Mulan in Cinemas now or on DisneyPlus

Disney’s bid to attract the massive Chinese cinema going audience with Mulan which was scheduled for a worldwide release on the 27th March 2020 was an ill-timed affair as the leap year that is 2020 brought along a vicious virus from the Far East and ravaged the world, closing down cinemas and forcing cities into lock down.

The effects of the Coronavirus Pandemic on world cinema in 2020 has been devastating and only films like Christopher Nolan’s exceptionally brilliant Tenet will attract reluctant audiences back into the cinemas. Many big budget film productions have postponed their release dates until 2021.

Nevertheless, the New Zealand director of Whale Rider Niki Caro did a fairly good job of taking on Mulan, an adventure tale set in ancient China with a completely Chinese cast. Built on the premise that a young and feisty girl from a Chinese village Mulan disobeys her father Zhou played by Tzi Ma (Skyscraper, Arrival, Million Dollar Arm), disguises herself as a man and joins the Imperial army to fight Northern invaders led by Bori Khan played by Hawaiian actor Jason Scott Lee (Alaska is a Drag) and aided Xianniang, a witch played by Gong Li (Coming Home, Curse of the Golden Flower, Memoirs of a Geisha).

Mulan is played by rising Chinese actress Yifei Liu (The Forbidden Kingdom) who rises above her male counterparts in the Imperial army and comes to the rescue of the Emperor played by Martian arts legend Jet Li (The Forbidden Kingdom, Hero, Kiss of the Dragon).

Although the script of Mulan leaves much to be desired and the dialogue seems stilted and uninspiring, the action sequences are great and at least the cast is authentic although it would seem better if this film’s dialogue was in Chinese with English subtitles, but director Niki Caro was obviously appealing to Western audiences while paying homage to her Disney employees.

Unlike Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther which successfully captured the zeitgeist of 2018. Black Panther was released by the Disney owned Marvel Films and was part of the Marvel franchise of superhero films with sufficient legacy to back up the main character.

Mulan on the other hand was a Disney produced film which while brilliantly shot and cinematically constructed, the storyline was predictable and didn’t offer enough depth for this multi-talented cast of Chinese actors who have all appeared in far superior Chinese films including Coming Home, Hero and Curse of the Golden Flower.

Despite some flaws, Mulan is an enjoyable action film set in ancient China, a land filled with loyalty, honour and unbridled patriarchy. Some interesting aspects of ancient Chinese culture are examined but not in the elegant fashion done by far superior directors such as Zhang Yimou in Raise the Red Lantern in his breakthrough film in 1992 which was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film.

Mulan is enjoyable but unfortunately might be overlooked amidst the current existential health crisis engulfing the world. Mulan gets a rating of 7 out of 10 and is spectacular watch but the storyline is not original.

Pearl of Destruction

Skyscraper

Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber

Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell, Pablo Schreiber, Noah Taylor, Roland Moller, Tzi Ma, Byron Mann

How do you make an American action star appeal to an Asian market? Cast Dwayne Johnson in an action thriller entitled Skyscraper set in Hong Kong.

Dwayne Johnson plays Will Sawyer an American security expert who is hired by a Hong Kong Tech billionaire to assess the security of his latest project – a 220 story skyscraper named the Pearl built in Kowloon, Hong Kong, a sophisticated high rise which dwarfs other structures of its size like the Burj Khalifa in Dubai and the Empire State Building in New York.

Before the upper levels of the lavish Pearl can be occupied, extortionist terrorists led by Kores Botha played by Roland Moller set fire to the 96th floor. Sawyer’s wife Sarah played by Neve Campbell (The Company, Scream, 54) and young children are trapped in the upper floors.

Despite having a prosthetic leg and not completely physically able, Sawyer manages to hijack a crane and enter the skyscraper to find out exactly what plot is afoot.

If this plot sounds far-fetched it probably is, but director of Easy A and We’re the Millers Rawson Marshall Thurber does not give the audience time to contemplate the technicalities as he gleefully recreates a fusion of Die Hard and The Towering Inferno in the action packed and sure to thrill, Skyscraper aided by exquisite cinematography by Oscar winner Robert Elswit (There Will Be Blood).

Den of Thieves star Pablo Schreiber has a brief appearance as Sawyer’s friend Ben, but the main hero besides Dwayne Johnson in this film, is the actual skyscraper itself an elegantly designed super structure with a pearl at the top which miraculously turns into a visual hall of mirrors surely inspired by the opening sequence from the Bond film The Man with the Golden Gun.

Audiences should leave their self-doubt at the door and go and watch the action packed Skyscraper which effectively makes use of the 3D viewing to give cinema goers a justified sense of vertigo.

Skyscraper is packed with brilliant sequences that are sure to leave audiences gasping, neatly wrapped up in under two hours and perfectly set in an exotic location like Hong Kong. Cleverly plotted, well-filmed and superbly marketed Skyscraper is another reason why Dwayne Johnson has become one of the 21st century’s leading action stars.

Skyscaper gets a film rating of 7 out of 10 and will definitely be a hit with action fans that love a certifiable thrill ride.

The Universal Language

Arrival

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Director: Denis Villeneuve

Cast: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stulbarg, Mark O’Brien, Tzi Ma

With a screenplay by Eric Heisserer based on the story “Story of Your Life” written by Ted Chiang, French Canadian director Denis Villeneuve’s latest film Arrival gives Oscar nominee Amy Adams (American Hustle, The Master, Doubt) full scope to flex her truly extraordinary acting abilities.

Adams plays a Linguistics expert Dr. Louise Banks who is enlisted by the US army, when an alien space craft lands in Montana. However as Arrival gains momentum, it appears that there are 11 other similar alien space crafts that have landed unexpectedly in places throughout the world from The Sudan to Venezuela.

Banks is joined by Ian Donnelly played by Oscar nominee Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker, The Town) as they become the proverbial couple who must make first contact with the aliens and decipher their complicated circular means of communication and ultimately discover what their true purpose is on earth? Are they friendly aliens or have they come to annihilate earth?

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As other nations around the world become increasingly hostile to the foreign ships in their territories, mainly China and the American military is becoming more trigger happy that the aliens which take the form of giant squid have malignant intentions, Banks and Donnelly must race against time to establish a pattern of communication to discover their real intention.

Skilfully shot and mostly done in a murky light, cinematographer Bradford Young photographs Arrival very dimly at first but soon as the narrative progresses, the film becomes brighter and more explanatory.

What really makes Arrival so distinctive a film, especially about the possibility of contact with alien life forms is the skillful direction of Villeneuve who portrays the contacts between Banks and the aliens in a non-linear form.

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Secondly, it is Amy Adams superb performance as Dr Louise Banks who is desperate to not only save humanity but forge a future for herself beyond this supernatural event. Adams is brilliant in this role and most of the screen time is taken up with her contradicted thoughts and emotional turmoil as the mental toll of what she is trying to achieve is distinguishable in every frame.

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Whilst the rest of the cast including Renner and Oscar winner Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland) playing Colonel Weber along with character actor Michael Stulbarg as Agent Halpern all inhabit peripheral roles, it is Amy Adams’s performance which makes Arrival so absorbing to watch.

Visually the film is dark and almost perplexing but director Villeneuve handles the subject matter of first contact so elegantly that for moments, audiences will forget they are watching a sci-fi film.

Arrival is an extraordinary film with many intuitive moments much like the Universal Language that Dr Louise Banks discovers and ultimately ends on a poignant note, without resorting to corny or special effects laden farce. Arrival is a cinematic treat exploring how we as human beings assimilate language, despite there being so many different variations. Highly recommend viewing.

 

 

 

Slumdog Moneyball

Million Dollar Arm

million_dollar_arm

Director: Craig Gillespie

Cast: Jon Hamm, Alan Arkin, Suraj Sharma, Bill Paxton, Lake Bell, Aashif Mandvi, Maddhur Mittal

Disney’s take on baseball meets Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire comes in the form of the charming sports film, Million Dollar Arm featuring Mad Men’s Jon Hamm teaming up with Life of Pi’s Suraj Sharma and Alan Arkin from Argo.

Set in India and Los Angeles, director Craig Gillespie’s Million Dollar Arm premiering at the Durban International Film Festival 2014 – http://www.durbanfilmfest.co.za/ tells the true story of a down on his luck sports agents J. Bernstein, played by Hamm who while channel surfing flicking between Britain’s Got Talent and cricket in India on late night TV, comes up with an epiphany to travel to India to find the next big baseball player.

The only problem is that in India, once the jewel of the British colonial empire, the main sport is cricket as it in the rest of the Commonwealth and the general male population there do not play baseball. With the help of a shady Chinese business investor Chang played by Tzi Ma, J. B. Bernstein travels to chaotic Mumbai to discover a world so alien and different to his lavish and ordered Californian lifestyle, one in which he was a once successful sports agent.

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Spurred on by his tenant, Brenda played by Lake Bell, J. B. Bernstein travels the length and breadth of India in search of a cricket player with a million dollar arm. He is helped by a retired baseball talent spotter Ray wonderfully underplayed by Alan Arkin (Little Miss Sunshine) who discover two young men Rinky and Dinesh, played by Suraj Sharma and Maddhur Mittal respectively who each possess a million dollar arm, or an above average ball throwing speed.

Part of the enticement for these two young players is the opportunity of traveling to the United States and play a game that they have never played before. Leaving the rural confines of Lucknow, India, they are suddenly transplanted in University of Southern California’s baseball fields where they are coached by the cautious yet optimistic coach Tom House played by Bill Paxton.

Naturally as a Disney film, director Gillespie in Million Dollar Arm aims for a general feel good sports film while making insightful observations about the massive cultural differences between India and America and highlighting each society’s similarities.

Jon Hamm is excellent as the exasperated JB Bernstein supported by a great cast especially Oscar winner Arkin and the always amiable Lake Bell, along with Aashif Mandvi as Aash while Suraj Sharma and Maddhur Mittal make the most of their roles as young Indian boys caught up in an essentially American sporting dilemma. Watch out for a superb musical score by A. R. Rahman (Slumdog Millionaire).

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Unlike the very specific baseball films Moneyball or Field of Dreams, Million Dollar Arm is enjoyable family viewing and will appeal to sporting enthusiasts both in America and the commonwealth highlighting Hollywood’s increasing desire to deliver more international fare. A thought provoking and fascinating film about the increasing globalization of sport and the desire for all people to achieve seemingly impossible dreams. Like Indian hockey players trying out for the American National Baseball league. Recommended viewing especially as it is a true story.

Film Directors & Festivals
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