Friday, 26 June 2015

Jackie Chan in the 1980s - Police Story Part II












Jackie Chan's latest adventure is a two hour back-and-forth between the intimate and the overblown. On one hand Police Story Part II deals with the immediate repercussions of burning guts justice. On the other, Chan's character, Ka-kui, slips deeper into a spy gamer that anticipates the full-on international man of mystery seen in Police Story III: Super Cop.

Chor Yuen's mallrat drug dealer is out on bail, citing a terminal illness rather than the stunningly illegal way in which he was detained in the first Police Story. This information is conveyed in person by the sneering mob boss and underlined with a harsh guitar strum. Ka-kui is livid, while he has been busted down to traffic, his cackling adversaries go free.












Yuen's character disappears out of the film, leaving all the gloating and Maggie Cheung stalking to Charlie Cho as the poorly gangster's reptilian lawyer. Part II begins as a consequences focused revenge film. Ka-kui suffers because he was at fault for pursuing his enemies outside the system. As his superiors point out, Ka-kui believes he's exceptional, he didn't think he had to obey the letter of the law and is punished accordingly.

It's a great idea for a sequel, rather than just skip over the damage of the first film Part II wallows in it, dredging up a nasty adversary that's confident enough, thanks to Ka-kui's own trespasses, to harass the policeman outside his girlfriend's apartment. Cheung's beefed-up role is another welcome addition, the actress providing an anchor for Ka-kui. May promises a future for Ka-kui away from the perpetual conflict.












Although a lot of the boyfriend-girlfriend friction is played for laughs, a sullen May absolutely skewers Ka-kui's heroic persona after an energetic playground fight. She isn't impressed that her boyfriend was able to batter all-comers. She's disappointed because he abandoned her.

Ka-kui didn't stay to protect her, instead he left to settle a score. May argues that it could have been a distraction, She could have been kidnapped or worse. Part II is strongest when director-star Jackie Chan is playing with these kinds of ideas, Ka-kui snatching a personal defeat from the jaws of victory. This feels like the central thesis of the first two Police Story films - you're damned if you do, and you're damned if you don't.

As an aside, this playground confrontation features perhaps the finest piece of fight choreography Chan has ever delivered. Like his work on Police Story it's blisteringly fast, but it also finds time for physical dexterity and some fine comedic detailing. Regardless of how long it actually took to shoot, it reeks of the same obsessive drives that powered 1982's Dragon Lord.

Out for a midnight stroll with his girlfriend, Ka-kui is attacked by a small army of Triads, each carrying with a short steel pipe. After pinballing a few hopefuls off some primary coloured jungle gyms, Chan manages to get hold of his own club.

Chan starts the sequence physically low, driven to his knees by the attacking goons.













Chan is centre frame, crouched and injured. His opponent is confident, striking at a cowed Ka-kui. It's important that Chan's head isn't looking at the incoming blow. It gives the moment an extra sense of desperation, as if he didn't expect to counter the attack.

A key component of heroism is defiance, this is Chan using his body to communicate that idea physically. Chan's position also clues the viewer into his immediate plan of attack - this chump's knees.























Chan steers the impact off the knees into a strike to the guy's back, revealing his chest. It's a flourish, a superfluous link in a chain of total demolition. Chan reigniting the dancing fan muscle memory he picked up making The Young Master. Chan again travels with the blow's momentum, smashing the pipe across the goon's ribcage.



By now Chan has stopped following the directional energy created by his club interacting with a helpless body and has decided to hurl himself upwards.

Notice that Chan and the goon have swapped position in the above image. Chan is above and poised to strike, the attacker is cowering and attempting to raise his weapon.













Chan takes flight, whacking the goon across his shoulder blades. Both Chan and his adversary are on the floor. We presume he's finished but, as ever, Chan has one more trick up his sleeve.














Throughout the sequence Chan has kept a piece of a swing set in frame. We find out why - it's a visual cue for the next attack. Ka-kui hurls away his baton to halt another hoodlum. It cracks the attacker across his shins.

It's wonderful, a completely excessive cherry on top of another outstanding physical confrontation that not only underlines Chan's talent but that of his indefatigable stunt team. Chan doesn't even pause to drink in the victory, he's already moving. On to the next set-up.












It's a shame when the film's retribution threads are largely dropped to pursue a mad bomber storyline, but Chan soothes the transition with a series of great fire stunts and some genuinely extreme personal danger. Broadly, Part II's second and third acts run on James Bond beats - investigation, capture (torture), catharsis.

The brilliance in Chan's approach is he keeps everything street-level and incredibly mean. Even Chan's capricious approach to plotting and theme ends up working. As the first film demonstrated, Ka-kui's adventures are about a mounting sense of mania. What better way to simulate martyrdom than by having several completely unconnected challenges tracking in on the hero? Ka-kui is under attack from every possible direction.












The British Board of Film Classification have spoken at length about their difficulty when approaching martial arts films. No doubt they found Jackie Chan's work doubly problematic. Ostensibly, the star's films are for families looking to celebrate Chinese New Year, everybody gathering around to watch a righteous, moral individual triumphing through grit, determination and no small amount of self-sacrifice.

This apparently virtuous dimension wasn't irrelevant to the BBFC, if anything it probably accentuated their concern. The board's long-standing issue with kung fu films was often the execution, exciting combat built around an incredibly charismatic star. During James Ferman's tenure as director, the board felt the violence typical to the genre was excessive, a venal box 'em up that often strayed too far into alarming, sadistic areas that necessitated comparatively higher certificates.












Police Story Part II is this exact, brilliant film. The key props for the firework factory set finale are an endless supply of lumpy gunpowder bags that Benny Lai's Dummy, the man behind the bombings, excitedly tosses around. On contact the pouches explode, leaving raw, bloody welts. Stuck at the mercy of Dummy, Ka-kui and May are pounded with these pocket pyrotechnics until they're both snivelling, sobbing wrecks.

Interestingly, Ka-kui doesn't grit his teeth and power through, instead he cries and pleads with his captors to spare his girlfriend. Human frailty is an underrated virtue in action films, it only really weakens heroes in the eyes of sociopaths and teenagers. Everyone else is hoping that the victim will dig deeper and act a little nastier when the tables are turned.












Despite the BBFC's concerns, menace is something that Hong Kong films really, truly excel at. Since firearms are far from common on the island filmmakers have to get creative with their physical intimidation, often arriving at a situation full of visceral, easily digestible danger. Waving a gun around is mechanical and rote, it's an object that confers power and forces a situation. A movie prop for a movie situation.

The abstract danger of a gun, for most people, only accentuates the disconnect. A firework though, everyone's been around a firework. Jackie Chan using the visual language of Chinese New Year to terrify and entertain. It works all around the world too. Everyone's familiar with fireworks. For British children they're a commodity explosive that only adults can buy, wheeled out to celebrate / condemn Guy Fawkes' attempt to kill King James I. In America, July 4th serves a similar function.

You've probably seen your Mum or Dad light one then fretted when they didn't seem to be putting quite enough distance between themselves and the resulting detonation. Tradition hard-codes this sense of trepidation about these colourful explosives. You already have a horrifying idea about what they may do to naked flesh. Chan actually shows you, then overcomes it.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Jurassic World


















Jurassic World takes place in an appalling alternative universe in which bratty teenagers are completely numb to the sheer magic of a Tyrannosaurus Rex grinding a goat to mulch. Pre-release press and Universal's ad campaign seemed to share this detached indifference, selling hard on the kind of corporate cynicism that dictates we need a brand new Super Dinosaur and a pack of rehabilitated Velociraptors.

JP4's mammal characters are split between fans and cynics. Gray Mitchell (Ty Simpkins) and raptor handler Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) are the enthusiasts, allowing themselves to be wowed. They react to the animals as they are, rather than how they might want them to be. Gray's older brother Zach (Nick Robinson) and his Auntie Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), the resort's Operations Manager, understand the dinosaurs as abstracts that confer different kinds of value. Claire sees them as interchangeable assets to be managed, Zach gets to throb around the teenage girls they attract.

Colin Trevorrow falls in with the enthusiasts, elevating the special effects to featured players with character detailing to rival the human lead's admittedly slim pickings. Owen and Claire are closer to premises than fully-rounded characters. Their interactions have a similar irritated frisson as Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas in Romancing the Stone, but that's about it.
















Claire's big character moment is outrunning an apex predator in the heels she has stubbornly refused to relinquish. Owen is an all-purpose action man relegated to the role of babysitter for the finale. Claire and Owen's relationship never really adds up to anything more important than a way to ape an iconic shot from Raiders of the Lost Ark. The real stars are, obviously, the dinosaurs.

Jurassic World's latest attraction is the Indominus Rex, a committee shaped chimera that gobbles up siblings and is blessed with a suite of camouflage techniques. There's an open contempt at work in how Indominus has been designed, her outline is essentially that of a Rex but with muscular talons replacing that species' vestigial arms.

Owen, speaking with the authority of God, describes the Indominus as being the prehistoric equivalent of a psychopath. She isn't just isolated, she knowingly resides outside any prescribed social order. She's never existed before so she doesn't know any limits. It's an interesting point, is it expected that these resurrected beasts are functioning with a race memory? Do they instinctively fit into roles or are they remembering them from their original, pre-extinction lives?
















In this sense, it's easy to enjoy the Indominus' rampage. The park scientists cooked up a truly satanic dinosaur in an attempt to impress Verizon Wireless enough to part with some sponsorship money. Everyone expects it to play ball, being just threatening and monstrous enough that the communication company's executives are pleased with it.

Indominus should be a product that confers a sense of dynamism, instead it's a crocodile mawed hag that rends anything it comes into contact with. She's not defending herself, she's actively, aggressively seeking conflict. How's that for a company mascot?

Glimpsed as pliant missiles tracking alongside Chris Pratt's motorcycle in early trailers, JP4's raptors are, thankfully, very far from being domesticated. The crackpot plan to use them as bloodhounds to track the Indominus fails miserably, handing the Indominus a pack of stooges to take the fall while she makes her escape. This solves one of the bigger conceptual hurdles Jurassic World had to mantle - there can be no good or bad dinosaurs, they should all instead be barbed mouths that flex and snap for chaotic reasons.

Trevorrow and his special effects teams approach the feature monsters with a sense of reverence, the Tyrannosaurus Rex in particular is treated with the kind of awe and affection you'd expect for an ageing star. It's not unlike how Terminator: Salvation presented its digital Arnold, an indefatigable icon that shoulders tremendous punishment because the filmmakers know it's a great idea on loan from a better film.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

E3 2015 - MEAT VOLCANO



For Honor, Ubisoft Montreal's latest, promises to mix Shadow of Rome style viscera with some lightly strategic multiplaying. Based on this trailer, players can expect to control Vikings, Samurai, and plate-armoured Knights, all of which are twelve foot tall and exceptionally brawny. It's like an episode of Deadliest Warrior as designed by Hiroshi Hirata.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

E3 2015 - PEPPY



Shigeru Miyamoto's ode to flying under torii gates returns with Star Fox Zero, a multi-level scrolling shooter co-developed by Platinum Games. Zero will be an episodic adventure with a structure based on Gerry and Sylvia Anderson's Thunderbirds as well as a transformation gimmick on loan from the cancelled SNES Star Fox 2.

E3 2015 - COMIC MISCHIEF



Not too sure about that release date but everything else about Super Mario Maker speaks to pure, unadulterated joy. Never mind that this level editor lets you drag in power-ups that summon Link and other 8-bit Nintendo dudes, you can actually change the entire graphical style on the fly. What's better? The bleak simplicity of Super Mario Bros or Super Mario World's chubby, primary colours?

E3 2015 - HEADS UP



The scale of personal property damage in this new trailer for Uncharted 4: A Thief's End is up there with the opening of Jackie Chan's Police Story. Never mind killing every adult male in a never-ending parade of third world countries, Nathan Drake is going to trash their family's small, cart based business too, ensuring all the kids go to bed hungry. Still, this glimpse of Naughty Dog's latest looks to be the Sistine Chapel of driving-forward-in-an-action-game interludes.

E3 2015 - RUBE GOLDBERG



Square Enix and IO Interactive bringing some of that Roger Deakins glam to their asexual murderer games. Hitman looks like a soft-reboot for a series that became increasingly obsessed with exploring the motivations of its paper thin characters. Thankfully the fragmented nature of this tease seems to imply that Agent 47 is back playing the marble in a massive, lavish reorganising of Mouse Trap.

E3 2015 - BUSTER SWORD



After last year's frustrating, upscaled graphics bait-and-switch, Square Enix are finally delivering a lot of people's dream game (not mine), a current-gen Final Fantasy VII. Intense, nostalgic euphoria aside, it's encouraging to see Japanese developers wading back into the AAA space to wave their next-gen wares about. If Capcom can just remember how to how to make genre defining games again and Konami can find it in their hearts to woo back Hideo Kojima, then we'll be golden.

E3 2015 - DEVOLVE



Devolver Digital were at Sony's E3 conference last night showing off their 2016 catalogue. Ronin looks like an 8-bit Capcom explorer such as Bionic Commando but with Tenchu: Stealth Assassins executions and flash animation polish. Eitr reminds me of EA's The Immortal with added Dark Souls contrariness. Mother Russia Bleeds is my favourite, a Streets of Rage side-scroller filtered through Eternal Champions' Overkill fatalities and a general sense of alcoholic despair. Finally, Crossing Souls has the same pastel coloured crush as umpteen licensed SNES games and cut-scenes straight out of 90s conveyor belt animation.

E3 2015 - CHAPPIE



Did you think Destiny was far too colourful? Where you disappointed that Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare didn't steal every single good idea Titanfall had? Have Treyarch got a game for you! In the interest of pure honesty, Call of Duty: Black Ops III actually struck me as reasonably appealing. Gun design once again favours pipes and barrels over PDW blocks, and Treyarch are right to plunder their stablemate Bungie for multiplayer special moves - remember, it's not unbalanced if everybody can do it. If Treyarch can match these best-in-field steals with the kind of map flow and spawn progression they had back in 2010, they might even rescue a franchise stuck in the doldrums.

E3 2015 - LET'S GET SWEATY



Even putting aside the absolutely bonkers, out-of-nowhere Shenmue III announcement, it was a kick to see a real video game innovator like Yu Suzuki enjoying a standing ovation from the gaming press at Sony's E3 conference. Suzuki was the absolute cornerstone of Sega's golden age, having at least a guiding hand in creating games like Hang-On, OutRun, Space Harrier, After Burner, Virtua Racing, Virtua Cop, and Virtua Fighter.

E3 2015 - COLLAPSE



The Last Guardian on PS4 may look a little like a remastered re-issue of a PS3 game that was never actually released, but at least you're instantly getting all the positives a next-gen update usually confers. This trail hints at a rock solid frame rate and enough raw power to keep the unwieldy physics effects (the long-rumoured reason for the game's last-gen no-show) ticking over nicely.

E3 2015 - CANNON SPIKE



Looks like someone working on Street Fighter V's roster is a fan of Capcom and Psikyo's forgotten Commando update Cannon Spike. First they announce Nash, who admittedly was a strong presence in the Street Fighter Alpha series, now Capcom's second-lady Cammy turns up covered in gunslings and bandoliers, an outfit straight out of the Dreamcast multi-directional shooter.

E3 2015 - ATOM BOMB BABY



The more popular of the Fallout 4 trailers doing the rounds gives you an extended look at the character creation overhauls and how your story hinges on a relationship with a loveable, stray dog. It wants you to make an emotional investment. This one features comical, shoulder-mounted garbage hurlers that can pulp the heads of enemies blessed with names like 'Raider Scum'. I know which one better represents my previous dealings with the wasteland.

E3 2015 - WELL BLOW ME DOWN



Studio MDHR are back with another trailer for their beautiful Cuphead, a game that resides at the collision point between Gunstar Heroes and Fleischer Studios animation. Video games are good at magpie-ing visual cues, anime and manga have been thoroughly plundered for effects, but they rarely work so hard to properly contextualise the swipe. Cuphead doesn't just cherry-pick the ideas, it looks exactly like an interactive Popeye cartoon.

E3 2015 - 10,000 GAMERSCORE





Hopefully Rare Replay and Sea of Thieves signal a change in Microsoft's attitude towards the underappreciated studio. Not sure why you'd buy a second-party Nintendo studio then have them working solely on wallet bleeding t-shirts for online avatars. Anyway, Sea of Thieves has nifty cannonball firing animations and Rare Replay promises a curated moment feature that allows you to dip in and out of the assembled classics.

E3 2015 - DIAMOND DOGS



Perhaps Konami have finally twigged that Metal Gear Solid as a brand is indistinguishable from Hideo Kojima? As if to allay fears that the interaction auteur had been snatched off the project, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain's big E3 tease runs with a front-and-centre direction and editing credit for Kojima.

E3 2015 - HOTH



Star Wars Battlefront has got to be the easiest sell in the world. If DICE doing Battlefield with a space opera skin wasn't exciting enough, then you've got John Williams' rousing marching standards and Ben Burtt's indelible sound effects elevating the entire package into the fucking atmosphere. Good to see Luke firmly back in his black, ten-thousand-times-cooler-than-sweaty-old-robes Jedi outfit too.

E3 2015 - DOOM



Despite the Crysis cyborg suit and a brand new mantling mechanic, Id Software's latest pass at Doom looks to be maintaining the original games core appeal of wildly cycling through loads of amazing, gigantic guns while throngs of demons charge at you from every angle. The de rigueur executions barely feel like a betrayal either, they're just another excuse to fill the screen with gibs.

E3 2015 - GENERATION ONE



Platinum Games' take on Transformers is predictably perfect - a colour-popped, cel-shaded version of Generation One that looks like a cross between the beautiful Nelson Shin animated movie and Studio Ox's TV Magazine angles. This vid demonstrates a pretty bare game that looks more like a proof-of-concept than a full fleshed out game. Still, the Decepticon generics are wonderfully obscure, they all look like Runamuck with colour schemes borrowed from Whirl and the Stunticons.

Monday, 15 June 2015

E3 2015 - MOTHER



Famicom classic Mother makes the leap to the Wii U as EarthBound Beginnings. Presumably, given Nintendo's reluctance to get under the hood and tinker with legacy releases, this is a straight port of the 8-bit game. For people who struggle with embedded videos, Mother is an obstinate, surreal jab at the Dragon Quest formula, set in the United States as seen through the eyes of Japanese software developers.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

E3 2015 - NEW CHALLENGER



Nintendo are getting the jump on E3 with a couple of big announces. First up is Street Fighter stalwart Ryu being added to both the Wii U and 3DS versions of Super Smash Bros. Ryu makes the crossover with the majority of his movelist intact, apparently you can even use old Street Fighter II negative edge techniques to store up inputs for special moves.

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Jurassic Park III















The Jurassic Park films have real issues mounting a satisfying finale. Each is apparently operating under an undisclosed agreement to never actually have the humans and dinosaurs go claw-to-claw. Instead the tiny, pathetic fleshlings must mantle obstacles and flee. Few of these characters ever think to pack a gun when jetting off to any of the series' dinosaur islands, even if they do it's usually junked before they can unload on any advancing threat.

Either this is an attempt at an animal rights informed, conservation angle or the filmmakers just really want to keep their adventurers forever on the back foot. Mind you, it's not like you could blow the arm off a raptor and still maintain a family friendly certificate. Not in 2001 when Jurassic Park III was released anyway. Director Joe Johnston continues this passive trend with an airless finale that sees the malevolent new apex threat frightened off by the brief whoosh of petrol igniting and a pack of Velociraptors are placated with a flute.

Johnston is fine when it comes to arranging the specifics of hazard action but a little lacking when the time comes to go in for the kill. Unlike Spielberg who, let's face it, is a bloodthirsty savage, Johnston's just not interested in the gruesome details. Dismemberment is handled politely and usually obscured. Several deaths even involve some casual neck-twisting. This decorum jibes badly with a 90 minute screenplay going full speed ahead. JP3 is plotted like a state-of-the-art B picture but executed with all the excess of one of Disney's True-Life Adventures.

V-TRIGGER





A trailer and an impressions video from VideoGamerTV for Street Fighter V. As the guys mention in their discussion, it looks like Yoshinori Ono and his teams are trying to give the new game some of Street Fighter III: Third Strike's reversal magic. Although only a handful of characters are either shown or discussed, it looks like the new V-Trigger gauge will allow certain characters to absorb or even repel fireballs, much like a buffed version of the III series' parry system.