Review: The Raid

Garth Evans, Welsh born director of the new Indonesian action/ martial arts film The Raid, knows how to stage some great action.  His first work, Merantau, was very watchable and it seemed as if Iko Uwais (his star, master of Silat) was on his way to becoming the next Tony Jaa.  Unfortunately, the hype about The Raid is as excessive as his use of elbowing people in the back while they try for a take down.  It’s pretty cool, but we can’t figure out what exactly makes it so noteworthy.

At first the film builds a decent amount of tension and the timing is spot on, making the viewer cringe with the feeling of anticipation Tarantino gave us in Inglorious Bastards.  There’s some decent gun-fu, improvised explosions, and a few crazy kills.  These shots place The Raid in the “must check out on Netflix” category, but not quite in the “get the gang together and lets meet at the theater” category.

Some of the typical flaws you might find in any fight flick are here and are a bit distracting:  Why isn’t he picking up any of the weapons all over the floor?  Why is that other guy waiting to attack in the one vs many fights?  The scoring is also terrible, spoiling the flow of the action and peaking before the final blow is dealt. It’s as if the composer really hated the idea of his audience being surprised at all.

At one point we were able to predict what moves we’re coming next, as if Evans (or Uwais and his team) ran out of techniques and tried re-remixing their own work within a single film.  Elbow to the knee, whirl around and knee to the head… Uwais does a fair job and moves really well, but quickly you can tell he is more fighter than stuntman.  This limits the entertainment value of what is essentially an hour long fight scene with a brief setup attached to it.

Our other complaint is that the women in this film (of which there are nearly zero) are depicted as weak and sick.  Evans should take some cues from the Chinese and Thai martial arts film scenes (and the US in some cases) and grow up a bit when it comes to depicting female characters.  We would much rather see women getting in on the killing action than lying in bed, weak, pregnant, or addicted to drugs.

With Trent Reznor tweeting about it and all of the cool kids lining up to see it, we had hoped for more from The Raid.  Action fanboys and MMA kids will love it.  Those who prefer their violence served up with substance can pass.  For long time genre fans, here’s hoping TYG2 (which has Jija Yanin and Tony Jaa) is as good as it should be.

Dark Knight Vs. Dark Ninja

Saturday our son decided that he wanted to write a script and act out a one scene short film. In the early morning our wee ninja worked with dad developing the words for his scene. Mapping out the setting, characters and other details of the scene to be filmed. After much conversation and a few re-edits a script was born:

 

All great productions need some below the line talent so the mother unit was conscripted into the project as Videographer. After some practice with the actors lines and a few dry runs the producer was ready for our first take. So happy with his first go around he called the project a wrap and asked that we upload it to the internet for all to see. Naturally, we gleefully obliged and you can view our little budding film maker’s work at the ArtAux YouTube channel.

What excites us most in this process is a manifestation of Aux’s goals.  Children are natural creators.  Their imagination is boundless. Opportunities to join so many aspects of eduction into one creative project is an exciting prospect for educators. Part of our vision for Aux is this expansion of the creative mind. Our goals include melding, arts, education and movement through martial arts. Children learn with their whole selves. Providing them projects which encourage them to do so can expand their capacities for learning while encouraging them to use one of their greatest tools, imagination.

Creating an action film short provided the child with multiple educational exercises. From writing a script to rehearsing the action and editing the production the child is involved in every part of his learning experience. The goal is not to create the greatest action film but to bring the child through the full process of creation.

The child has learned to:

Read, write, cooperate, understand process, build confidence, and memorize. He has also experienced movement, concepts of technology use & how to bring an idea from concept to final product. In other words the child has learned with his whole self. Mind and body are engaged.

This is ArtAux in action. This is how we envision children learning. Empowering their imagination and nurturing the bond between the physical and emotional.

Straight Outta Brooklyn Form!

A few months ago we set out to create a series of original wushu forms appropriate for the Elementary School set, and we’d like to offer a quick film as a bit of proof of concept. This is the second in a series intended for publication in the near future.

As usual, our students completely blew our minds with their incredible spirit and willingness to try something new. When we shot this film, I sat them down and told them they were going to be working on a movie set, warming themselves up to prepare their bodies for the best performance possible (we normally warm up as a group). They chose their own placement in the formation.

So, after many weeks of jumping around like animals, here is:

THE STRAIGHT OUTTA BROOKLYN FORM!!

Here’s the script:

RAT – Snatches the cheese

PIGEON – On a hot sidewalk

SQUIRREL – Hops the fence

DOG – Smells a hotdog

CAT – Scratches the post

Next: From the Farm Form (say it 10 times at killa kung fu speed!)

Review: Art of the Samurai at the Metropolitain Museum of Art

If you have not yet taken the time to see Art of the Samurai:  Japanese  Arms and Armor 1156-1858 you should do so immediately as the show is only open until January 10, 2010 (that’s at the end of the week in which this blog was written).  Descriptions of collections such as this often carry descriptive advertising promising “unprecedented” wonders, and usually come up short.  This show is, in fact, unlike any similar show here in the United States or, as many of our AUX members who are experts in the area (hey Vernon!) will attest, in Japan herself.  It is simply the most complete and fascinating show of its kind.

Each blade is as an individual masterpiece with historic, artistic, and political significance.  They are displayed on plexiglass mounts so that, unlike with traditional wood racks, one may see the entire curvature of the blade.  These blades don’t just have dates and signatures stamped on the tang, or even hamons that look like mystical cloud formations, they have NAMES.

The helmets are so grand that I thought they’d look more in context on a club kid than on a Japanese general.  One piece in particular, a huge circular number that looked as if it would give its wearer neck strain in about 30 seconds of wear, carried a laugh-out-loud tale of a general who was mistaken for a giant bullseye.  Perhaps this is fitting analogy for many of today’s martial artists.

The most incredible element of this collection is being within it, listening to people of all interests discussing martial art in a serious and enraptured way.  Of course, there a few bored wives hustling to the gift shop.  Look around and you’ll see grandsons speaking proudly of their knowledge of Japanese history, girlfriends finally understanding what their boyfriends were talking about all of this time, and all kinds of people actively engaged in trying to understand and appreciate the gifts given to us by Japan’s legendary warrior-craftsman.

The show does have flaws.  Japanese knot tying (“hojo-jutsu” as a martial skill) is a fascinating craft from this time period that was a bit overlooked, perhaps because it is now mostly associated with modern bondage (Museum of Sex, let’s see a show!).  There could have been more full suits of armor, and some more obscure weapons.

Regardless, anyone even remotely interested in martial art will completely enjoy this collection.  If only it were here longer.  See it now or hear about how you should have seen it forever.

Ninja Assassin Review

We went to see Ninja Assassin over the Thanksgiving Holiday weekend. Here is Mr. B’s review which can be found over at the AUX Facebook site in the Notes section, as well.

Ninja Assassin (2009) – Directed By 
James McTeigue

To keep it simple: if you like ninjas, you will flip your shit for this monstrously gory heart attack of a flick. Cat and I actually slowly turned our heads and stared at one another in disbelief as a classic J-gore style partial decapitation sounded the opening of a series of grade A kills. Rain is mostly believable as Raizo the super ninja, and Sho Kosugi’s portrayal of the cruel master is spot on.

There are some problems for those of us who create ninja battles in our heads during our morning shower. Often the martial arts choreographer tries to give the impression of strength to Raizo by making him spin around like a Tasmanian devil. This unfortunately serves only to make him look weaker, as his opponent pauses during the moment his back is exposed. A true killer simply attacks, even if he can disappear and climb walls. To the stunt coordinator’s (and the after effects team) credit, most of the spinning and flipping does feel like it has purpose and is well shot (thank you freerunners!!).

Initially I couldn’t understand why this film was allowed an R rating, but upon consideration I think it was because the film involved almost all men. The only female roles were one knock off of the sidekick from Gov. Schwarzenegger’s “Commando,” and a couple of girls who tried to run away from their ninja training (Cat pointed out that there would be women lined up to become assassins). Where was the terrifyingly cruel wife of the master (the one who complains the master is too soft and does things no one should have the stomach for)? When the girls attempt escape, we should be treated to some serious carnage. They should have to drag them back near death, carrying wounded. But the director must have not had the time, or the permission. Women hacking and being hacked to pieces must rate as more severe to the MPA than men.

There was one other plot point in the film that was clearly let go: the white ninja. He appears as a boy, and again later.  I kept wondering where the white guy that can flip out all ninja crazy was.  Unfortunately I got no clear answer.

Hopefully there will be enough of an audience for a second film, which is usually where the bad-ass ladies and exotic characters show up. This installment is intense and immensely satisfying to this old fan of the genre. Sho Kosugi: I bow my head to the floor and hope you will not see fit to take it.

– Mr. B.