Woman of Won­der, God of War, Short­com­ings of Yoga and Hero of In­dia

For decades, Hol­ly­wood-gen­er­ated pub­lic­ity cam­paigns hinged on co­or­di­nat­ing mag­a­zine ar­ti­cles so they would hit the news­stand in time to ben­e­fit a movie’s re­lease.

Black Belt - - SCREEN SHOTS - by Dr. Craig D. Reid

To make that work, writ­ers like me would visit �ilm sets, in­ter­view stars long dis­tance and chat with �ilm­mak­ers months be­fore any­thing de­buted in a theater.

With the rise of the in­ter­net and video on de­mand, all that changed. Set vis­its and print cov­er­age de­signed to co­in­cide with a movie’s the­atri­cal run are things of the past. Many crit­ics still rush to get their re­views posted on­line, but here in the print world, we have the lux­ury to write what hasn’t been writ­ten, and that helps con­vey the �ilm’s true spirit and feel. With that in mind, here are the movies we’re cov­er­ing this time. WON­DER WOMAN This movie ex­udes an up­lift­ing, al­most heal­ing spirit, and con­se­quently it’s be­ing her­alded as one of the best su­per­hero ori­gin sto­ries ever. It’s re­fresh­ing to watch a non-brood­ing su­per­hero who doesn’t wres­tle with in­ner demons and god com­plexes. In­stead, Won­der Woman makes us em­pathize and en­cour­ages us to be­lieve in love and the pos­si­bil­ity of chang­ing hu­mankind for the bet­ter.

Be­fore I be­gin, it’s worth not­ing that the Won­der Woman char­ac­ter, aka Princess Di­ana of The­myscira, born to Queen Hip­polyta and taught to �ight by her aunt An­tiope, may be �ic­tional, but in a sense, the Ama­zons were real.

The his­tor­i­cal war­riors lived not near the Ama­zon River in South Amer­ica but near the Terme River in north­ern Turkey. There, sci­en­tists have ex­ca­vated graves and dis­cov­ered pot­tery shards that point to the ex­is­tence of their war­rior cul­ture. (By the way, those sci­en­tists also dis­proved the far-fetched the­ory that these fe­male �ighters were les­bians who killed baby boys and cut off their own breasts to be bet­ter archers. But that’s a dif­fer­ent story.)

Back to the movie: Al­though the comic-book ori­gin of Di­ana’s as­cent into Won­der Wo­man­hood is rooted in World War II, the �ilm is pur­pose­fully set dur­ing World War I. Direc­tor Patty Jenk­ins com­mented that World War I marked the �irst time that mod­ern civ­i­liza­tion was con­tem­plat­ing its roots while not be­ing clear about which side was in the right.

Won­der Woman, por­trayed by for­mer Is­rael De­fense Forces com­bat trainer Gal Gadot, trav­els to France with a �ighter pi­lot/spy, con­vinced she can end the hos­til­i­ties by kill-

ing Ares, the evil god of war. At the Western Front, she learns that a mil­lion peo­ple have died in No Man’s Land, the space be­tween the trenches of the op­pos­ing fac­tions. When she’s told there’s noth­ing she can do to aid a de­fense­less vil­lage be­hind Ger­man lines, it’s time to act.

Re­mov­ing her dis­guise and re­veal­ing her true an­cient-ar­mor-clad war­rior self, she climbs out of the trenches and into No Man’s Land. The en­su­ing emo­tion­ally charged �ight is a fan fave. I shed a tear for two of my un­cles who ac­tu­ally fought in the trenches, espe­cially the one who didn’t come home.

Won­der Woman is full of Hong Kong– style bat­tles. How­ever, the in�lu­ence of the movie 300 is also ap­par­ent — for ex­am­ple, as the hero­ine crashes out of a bel­fry, we see a slo-mo, wide-an­gle shot of her body �loat­ing through the air, sword held high. It’s beau­ti­ful.

Black Belt Hall of Famer Caitlin Dechelle, who got her start in Jackie Chan’s Chi­nese Zo­diac (2012) af­ter he saw her in a U.S. Open mar­tial arts tour­na­ment on tele­vi­sion, served as Gadot’s stunt dou­ble. Da­mon Caro, stunt co­or­di­na­tor for Won­der Woman and 300, also has a Chi­nese con­nec­tion: He worked as a stunt­man in Sammo Hong’s Mar­tial Law TV se­ries, which ran from 1998 to 2000. GOD OF WAR This mo­tion pic­ture is set in 1557 dur­ing the Ming dy­nasty, speci�ically in the mid­dle of the Wokou Wars, which pit China against Ja­panese pi­rates. The ma­raud­ers pil­laged the Mid­dle King­dom’s coastal re­gions, which gave rise to two real-life he­roes: Gen. Yu Dayou (played by Sammo Hung) and a mil­i­tary strate­gist named Qi Jiguang (played by Vin­cent Zhao). In the movie, the younger man re­places the gen­eral af­ter the gen­eral’s bat­tle strat­egy is re­vealed as out­dated. The plot fo­cuses on Qi’s cat-and­mouse game against the pi­rates’ cun­ning and com­bat-hard­ened leader Ku­ma­sawa (Ya­suaki Ku­rata).

Qi con­cludes that the Ming army is com­posed of poor soldiers who fear the pi­rates, so he cre­ates a new �ight­ing force made up of min­ers from lo­cal vil­lages who will do any­thing to pro­tect their land and loved ones from harm. When Qi con­vinces them that the wokou are a real threat, they trans­form them­selves into China’s most com­pe­tent �ighters.

Al­though the bat­tles re�lect the strate­gies of Qi and Ku­ma­sawa in an en­ter­tain­ing way, the Yu-vs.-Qi pole �ight and Ku­ma­sawa-vs.-Qi sword �ight are worth their weight in gold. Both were �ilmed at nor­mal speed us­ing many medium shots. That can be chal­leng­ing for ac­tors be­cause if they make a mis­take, the au­di­ence will catch it. The ad­van­tage here is that view­ers can see the dif­fer­ent pole styles and the con­trast­ing Ja­panese and Chi­nese sword skills.

God of War sub­tly pays trib­ute to Qi and kung fu ac­tor Jimmy Wang Yu. The only other wokou-in­spired movie star­ring Yu is Beach of the War Gods (1973). Yu’s break­out �ilm was One-Armed Swords­man (1967), in which he fought with a bro­ken weapon. At the start of the duel be­tween Ku­ma­sawa and Qi, an ex­pert with the short sword, Qi uses a long sword. Then his blade is cut in half by Ku­ma­sawa. In a nod to Yu, the bro­ken blade matches the weapon Yu used in One-Armed Swords­man. In a

nod to the real Qi, the length of Qi’s sword is now his­tor­i­cally ac­cu­rate. KUNG FU YOGA Jackie Chan is back in a film that’s some­thing of an anom­aly be­cause it has lit­tle to do with yoga ex­cept for a few poses and a blasé ex­pla­na­tion of yoga breath­ing. Yet when we think of yoga, we think of In­dia — which makes Kung Fu Yoga an In­dia-na Jones in-search-of flick that has an ar­chae­ol­o­gist (Chan) help­ing a good-na­tured de­scen­dent of In­dian roy­alty find a lost trea­sure be­fore her power-hun­gry en­emy does.

Com­pared to Chan’s pre­vi­ous films, Kung Fu Yoga is in­ad­e­quate. How­ever, based on fight cre­ativ­ity and the way the ac­tion is shot — we can clearly see ev­ery move he makes — the bat­tles are bet­ter than those in most of the mar­tial arts movies pro­duced out­side of Asia. Chan may be 63, but we still ex­pect more from him in ev­ery film he makes. In a way, his suc­cess has be­come a hin­drance.

The fights and stunts in Chan’s movies typ­i­cally es­ca­late un­til the fi­nale, at which point he lets go and cre­ates an en­gag­ing bat­tle we hope never stops. End-credit out­takes re­veal the dan­gers as­so­ci­ated with the stunts. How­ever, Kung Fu Yoga has no fight es­ca­la­tion, and Chan’s fi­nale duel against the bad guy is weak. Even worse, there are no out­takes.

Chan’s next mo­tion pic­ture, which co-stars Pierce Bros­nan, will be some­thing com­pletely dif­fer­ent. Ti­tled The For­eigner, it rep­re­sents a change for Chan, one in which age will mean noth­ing. More on that to come. BAHUBALI 2: THE CON­CLU­SION This Bol­ly­wood hit is so out­ra­geous, wacky and stun­ning that I laughed at the ac­tion’s au­dac­ity. I first caught wind of Bahubali 2 when Kung Fu Yoga re­view­ers wrote that the Chan flick’s open­ing fight was in­flu­enced by Bahubali: The Be­gin­ning (2015). My ini­tial thought was, Since when does Jackie Chan need to be in­flu­enced by any­one’s fights? But now I be­lieve he was — and Bahubali: The Be­gin­ning was su­pe­rior.

The sec­ond Bahubali movie can be de­scribed as the Ten Com­mand­ments meets Ben-Hur in an­cient In­dia. In the first film, we learned that Amaren­dra Bahubali (Prabhas) and Bhalla (Rana Dag­gu­bati), or­phaned at birth, are cousins raised by the queen of Mahish­mati. Al­though Bhalla is her son, the more vir­tu­ous war­rior Amaren­dra be­came king. Bhalla’s ven­omous de­ceit caused Amaren­dra to be ex­iled. Fear­ful of his re­turn, Bhalla or­dered Amaren­dra’s trusted men­tor to kill him.

Au­di­ences had to wait two full years to find out ex­actly what hap­pened — and that Bhalla’s schem­ing couldn’t stop the re­turn of Bahubali’s son Ma­hen­dra.

The ac­tion chore­og­ra­phy in the sec­ond movie is so il­log­i­cal that it’s log­i­cal as each tech­nique, spe­cial ef­fect and over-the-top wire-work scene func­tions like clock­work. For ex­am­ple, when lack­eys at­tack Amaren­dra and his girl­friend, the cou­ple shoots three ar­rows at a time while leap­ing, duck­ing and rolling. Amaren­dra then says, “Four at a time!” and he pro­ceeds to show her how to do it. It’s art­fully con­vinc­ing. An­other ex­am­ple has Amaren­dra lead­ing a stam­pede of bulls, their huge horns on fire, to de­stroy a dam and wash away the army that sur­rounds the city. Holy cow!

The fights make lib­eral use of “speed ramp­ing,” Zack Snyder’s patented cam­era-chore­og­ra­phy tech­nique that was high­lighted in 300. It in­volves speed­ing up and then slow­ing down the tempo of mar­tial arts scenes to ac­cen­tu­ate the emo­tion of the mo­ment.

Bahubali 2 makes me think that Hol­ly­wood film­mak­ers had bet­ter watch out. Bol­ly­wood movies are here, and the In­di­ans are learn­ing fast.

Won­der Woman

God of War

Bahubali 2: The Con­clu­sion

Kung Fu Yoga

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