Search This Blog

Monday, March 12, 2012

A Beautiful Death

Continuing on from yesterday now I'll move on to the Heroic Bloodshed genre, something which is much more prevalent in Chinese cinema than it is in the States. There could be any number of reasons for this but one of the primary ones I believe is the cultural background, with loyalty as the key focus in many stories, something which is often deemed more important in Eastern culture than Western. I'll focus on John Woo's stuff because I know it best, but it applies to most of the genre.

So action movies centering on a personal story have more impact that ones which focus on armies taking down armies, but what if one man, or two mow down an enemy army? Well in the case of The Killer this is what happens, as a regretful assassin attempts one last job to pay for his love's eye surgery. He is opposed and later helped by a renegade cop, an archetypal loose cannon cop who cares more about getting the job done than the way he does it. These characters team up to take out a horde of mafia guys right at the end, and in a typical fight with doves and huge loads of bullets the opponents are defeated, though not without a personal loss by the protagonist. Actually the movie has a real downer of an ending, something which even the awesomeness of it doesn't really diminish.

But the themes it deals with, of betrayal and regret, and loyal friends, echoes throughout most genres, and makes the violence matter. The violence is the reason the movie was made, there is something almost dance like to it, especially some of the stunts that are pulled off like in the opening scene when the eponymous character shoots a mobster and uses him as a shield to fall in and take out some more guys. It is so well choreographed that we ignore reality for a while to watch the eloquent art. In general films of these types are less about the human struggle and more about the wider issues around it, and about the observation of death, and how even something so tragic can be so beautiful.

Another of Woo's films, perhaps his most famous ends on a much higher note, that is Hard Boiled. The last half an hour is essentially Die Hard but with much larger numbers and conflicts, and the protagonist is not alone inside the building. It is an effect fight scene, but loses some of the personal story that would make it a more relatable movie. Sure it's a nice looking movie with cool scenes, but it just doesn't resonate as well as some others like the above-mentioned The Killer. The focus is again on the action, this time at a slight detriment to the plot and characterization, with the main character as a Dirty Harry cop, the same as so many others from the genre. But though it may be predictable these movies continue to do well at the box office, and in audience's views.

Why do audiences enjoy seeing such violence, such terrible acts? Part is the desensitization due to the unspoken agreement that violence is okay but sex is not, that started right around when the Hayes code was finished. I don't know who or how or why they decided this but it has been that way forever in recent cinema, and will stay that way in any foreseeable future. Another part of it is the monkey-sphere, we don't care about the number of people that die because there are too many, we only care about those that the director intended us to, at least in most cases.

But ignoring the philosophical questions of why we appreciate others deaths lets look at some western equivalents, or at the least similar films. The style of Wire-fu and extremely choreographed fight scenes came into popularity due to the Matrix, and the sequels could never quite recreate the same feel, due in part to the same things as the Die Hard sequels. But the Matrix was heavily inspired by Hong Kong cinema, though it was actually significantly less bloody, kind of ignoring the whole bloodshed part of heroic bloodshed. The Matrix did something different with the characters though, making the protagonist a regular guy before it all started, creating a very different dynamic, and making the entry into the real world much more real for the audience, as they were as clueless as Neo.

Another reason that the Matrix worked so well was that Neo was not superman not yet, I mean in Reloaded a character actually commented that he was going 'superman' which is why he became less of a character and more of a caricature, unrelatable and merely a plot tool due to his immense power. In the first film he was just John McClaine, a guy who was good with guns and fighting skills, but nothing special to right at the end, where he pulled a Jesus, and when your main character becomes Jesus it really is time to end the series. So with Neo relatable people flocked to the theaters and a  whole new sub-genre was formed in the West, though it really was just stolen from the East. The same cool style of fighting is seen in other movies like Blade, or Underworld, movies where aesthetics overtakes substance.

The bloodshed part of the genre is actually taken somewhat by Tarantino, though he goes about it in a very different way than any other director. While he has not made a pure action flick yet, the Kill Bill movies come fairly close in delivering the same kind of action, though with swords instead of guns, thus emulating a different genre, though with obvious influences from John Woo. His mexican standoffs as well owe some to Woo, and other directors from the genre. There are certain scenes in Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction that have overt references, but later films like the Basterds have some as well.

So now I've looked at two sub-genres and I'm in no way done, because action movies cover a huge field, and show a lot more depth than meets the eye. I think I'll look at invincible heroes movies next, because they provide an interesting contrast to what I've already talked about, and are the frequent targets of criticism, and form the stereotypical action movie cliches.

No comments:

Post a Comment