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.
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.
God of War
Bahubali 2: The Conclusion
Kung Fu Yoga