Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Host: GobbledlyGook Monster

The Host makes you miss Johnny Sokko

Cast: Kang-Ho Song, Hie-Bong Byeon, Hae-il Park, Du-Na Bae, Ah-Sung Ko

Director: Joon Ho Bong
Genre: Thriller
Storyline: Gobbledygook monster plays hide and seek in the sea before gobbling down the gooks.
Bottomline: Dubbed a disaster. Subtitles, please.

How you wish they hadn’t messed with the original and not dubbed this Korean visual effects masterpiece into English!

It is rather difficult to take this monster film seriously with the flippant, often distracting, dubbing. It’s almost like the dubbing artistes decided to have their bit of fun, taking digs at the film, the dialogue delivery sounding rather tongue-in-cheek.

Had it been subtitled and retained in Korean, ‘The Host’ (‘Gwoemul’ in Korean) would’ve been immensely watchable. In English, it sounds like a sequel to the Hong Kong-made madcap entertainer Kung Fu Hustle.

The story isn’t new to us Asians, especially to those of us who grew up watching Godzilla on the big screen or Johnny Sokko and his Flying Robot on the small. We’ve seen creatures of all shapes and sizes on a rampage; assorted monsters on a munch-fest umpteen number of times. So why should we warm to ‘The Host’ today when it sounds like a spoof on the Grindhouse cinema of the seventies?

One, it works as a throwback to a bygone era, a homage made richer by state-of-the-art visual effects. Two, there seems to be some sort of poetry to the visuals with director opting for silence and quietness to add drama to the horror usually represented by characters shrieking loudly and running away. Here, they stand rooted in fear, terrified to even scream. Sometimes, the narrative distances itself from the thick of action and strives for objectivity and realism, even at the risk of making the sequences appear ridiculous. Sample a bunch of tourists on a bus who are briefed by their guide about the Han River look out only to witness a giant reptile chase scores of people all around the bank. Within moments, we are back in the middle of the bloody chase where a helpless father clutches the hands of his daughter and flees, only to turn back and look he has got hold of the wrong girl. The music goes quiet again and we feel for the character in the middle of all that comedy.

That’s the kind of movie ‘The Host’ is. Funny, unpredictable, moody, spectacular, cheesy and poignant.

Rush Hour 3: Same old traffic, different road

Cast: Jackie Chan, Chris Tucker, Noémie Lenoir
Director: Brett Ratner
Genre: Action
Storyline: Inspector Lee and Detective Carter go to Paris to take on the dangerous Chinese Triad.
Bottomline: Rush Hour is Rush Hour in any part of the world – only the ambience changes, the action is just the same.

The funniest part of Rush Hour 3 was the slide at the beginning that showed the local distributor’s corny title card that read more like an obituary ad, with the mug shot and all. If only the rest of the movie was as hilarious and not as cheesy.

What we get instead is another dose of the race stereotypes, borrowed jokes and stale situations, which you will only enjoy if you go with an open mind and an empty head.

It is surprising that Rush Hour 3, in spite of being helmed by Brett ‘Prison Break’ Ratner, who directed the first part, is in no hurry to get to the plot. This is assembly line cinema at its laziest.

The script for Rush Hour and its sequels were probably made up during a quick drive down an empty street: Two cops, an East-meets-West version of Lethal Weapon or Bad Boys, kick it (like the poster says) yet again, crack some jokes about each other’s race before showing off their respective talents – Chan with his gravity defying stunts with other Asian stuntmen/women and Tucker with his loud-mouthed black American stand-up act.

Hence, the only plot point that differentiates the third part from the first two is the location: Paris. The location dictates that the duo has to check out women at the cabaret, make friends with at least one French guy and hang out at the Eiffel Tower, literally, for the stunts.

Pretty predictable.

If you’ve seen Dude Where’s My Car and Austin Powers, you would’ve already got bored of the Mi/Me and Yu/You jokes. Else, you have something to laugh about.

So why would you want to watch this?

For Jackie Chan, of course. We love Jackie for the guy he is, for his never-say-die spirit and love for action.

Who wants a plot when you can see Jackie still kicking it, right?

Friday, August 10, 2007

Chak De: Ballsy!

Cast: Shah Rukh Khan, Vidya Malvade, Sagarika Ghatge, Shilpa Shukla, Chitrashi Rawat, Tanya Abrol, Anaitha Nair
Director: Shimit Amin
Genre: Sports/Drama
Storyline: A fallen hockey hero must redeem himself by coaching the reluctant Indian women’s team for the World Cup.
Bottomline: Hindi cinema finally gets what teamwork is all about.

Hindi films have always been about a few ‘star’ players, like every other sport in the country. When did we last make a solid ensemble film about sports - one that’s not about a few players saving the day but about the triumph of teamwork?

Come on, even Lagaan needed the star of the film, Aamir as Bhuvan hitting a six of the last ball. Iqbal was about a whiz kid’s spirit and talent winning it for the team. Jo Jeeta was a tale of personal triumph.

Chak De is that rare film where the hero watches from the stands and lets a bunch of ‘what’s-her-name-again’ girls do all the winning.

Jaideep Sahni is surely one of the finest screenwriters of our times, probably the best mainstream Hindi cinema has seen – Company, Bunty aur Babli, Khosla Ka Ghosla and now, Chak De!

It's high time screenwriters got their due.

Just getting Yash Raj Films excited about a non-formulaic script like this is a goal by itself. A winner! Especially, considering that making a sports film is one of the most physically and logistically challenging tasks for Hindi cinema that thrives on a staple of melodrama and star theatrics.

Sahni’s other masterstroke is to pitch it to a nuanced director who likes to work with the subtlety needed to make the story on the triumph of the underdogs realistic, especially since this is based on a real life hero – Mir Ranjan Negi.

The sporting action is riveting, like any good game of ball. As the film begins, we are right in the middle of the climax of an India-Pakistan Hockey World Cup final. Khan takes the penalty corner. In a typical Johar/Chopra film, the slow-mo that follows the dramatic tension-building shots would've introduced us to the triumphant demi-God hero.

But here, what we see is a hero fall and fail. Without the opposition's cheating or foul play. And then, a few moments later, embodying the true spirit of sport, our Muslim protagonist rises to shakes hand with the opponent: The Pakistanis.
This is India and that is blasphemy, right?

Chak De is not just a commentary on the way sport is run in the country, it also gets deep into the psyche of the typical Indian player, divided from his/her team by race, religion or language, playing for the self, doing what it takes to survive, biding time at training camps and complaining about the coach.

There are plenty of digs at cricket and the attitude of our celebrated cricketers. Be it the flashy Indian Cricket Vice Captain who believes that success is about making sure that none of your team-mates get anywhere close to where you are or when SRK stops a goonda about to attack his girls with a cricket bat from behind saying: "Hamare Hockey main Chakkey Nahin Hai".

At another level, Chak De is about women's liberation. It is one of the best feminist films of our times. That scene at McDonalds when the gang of girls get together to beat the burgers out of boys teasing them is not just a political statement about gender supremacy, it is symbolic of national integration, team spirit and also, a beautiful, cathartic release of their collective angst combined with the guilt of chucking their coach out of the team, triggered by what is otherwise a routine incident of everyday sexual abuse. This is truly one of the finest, layered, understated, game-changers in screenwriting in Hindi cinema of all times, ably handled with mature, clever direction.

Next, the girls themselves are the closest we've seen to a representation of India in any sports movie we've seen. They aren't 16 pretty young things. The casting is first-rate; even for the smaller parts, the choice of actors makes up for the lack of detailing. The rawness in the performances actually makes you forget these are actresses. Within moments after meeting them, you surrender to the types.
Though we begin by warming up to the ethnic/race differences among the players, soon enough, Amin skirts their inter-racial conflicts behind the uniform – the great leveler.

After all, sport isn’t about celebrating diversit, it is about the unifying spirit of playing with passion for the country and the team.

It is as authentic as it gets in a sports film: Multiple-camera set-ups, long-continuous shots of the field and action (which requires that the actors know to play hockey and play it at least reasonably good – which the girls do), racy narration, crisp training montage sequences, motivational speeches and a plausible road map for the underdogs to emerge victorious. It’s a fairy-tale told with utmost conviction, realism and logic.

Shah Rukh Khan, the star, is a delight to watch. As a performer here, he’s even better. After Sunil in Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa, Mohan Bhargav in Swades, here comes Kabir Khan, who once again lets his eyes speak volumes. Watch him savour his moment of triumph quietly, standing alone and watching his team from far away. That’s the kind of stuff legends are made of. He can choke your heart without saying a single word.

There’s just one thing that stops this film-of-the-year from becoming a classic – the music. Salim Sulaiman’s music is functional and it works at a very ho-hum level. The title song is hummable too.

Now, if only… If only this had A.R.Rahman doing the score… it would’ve been quite a match and an award-winning team!