The Grandmaster – A Lover Not A Fighter

October 22, 2014

In conclusion – Wong Kar Wai clearly doesn’t get the whole martial arts movie genre.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

To lay out my stall, I’m not some Wong Kar Wai hater, he’s made some wonderful movies – Chungking Express is a particular favourite – but he needs to leave martial arts films to people who have some understanding of the form.

He’s already tried once with Ashes Of Time, a film that robs the viewer of the swordplay genre’s single most appealing trait – the sword fights themselves – by rendering them as blurry, impenetrable impressionist art. In Ashes Of Time, as indeed in all his work, Wong’s primary interest is in unfulfilled love. That’s his bread and butter, his rice and noodles. So decades after his artful but forgettable swordplay attempt, in The Grandmaster Wong tries his hand at the kung fu movie but, true to form, he delivers another tale of unfulfilled longing and completely botches the kung fu side of the story.

Grandmaster_07

Ip Man could rest easy knowing if ever attacked in the shower, he was ready. No one was going to take his Head & Shoulders and live to tell the tale.

His subject, at least to start with, is Ip Man. Following in the tradition of Cantonese folk heroes like Fong Sai Yuk, Hung Hey Kwun, Wong Fey Hung and so many others, Ip Man is undergoing the process of being transformed into a myth. It began with Wilson Yip and Donnie Yen’s biopic in 2008 and has been picking up steam with every subsequent sequel and knockoff. The Grandmaster continues this mythologizing but actually adds comparatively little to the mythos. Played here by Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Ip Man first appears fighting a gang of unknown assailants in the pouring rain, most notably a muscular chap played by Cung Le. This sequence quickly highlights one of the film’s central problems. It’s a triumph of style with precious little substance. Ip’s fight in the rain has no context, his attackers no identities or agenda. So what’s the point of it?

Where Donnie Yen’s Ip Man was a noble family man, in The Grandmaster he’s a smug playboy who spends most of his time hanging around an upscale brothel. The martial arts world he inhabits seems an intensely insular one, the development of skills an exercise in ego to prove who’s the best. Living in Foshan, Ip is the representative of the southern kung fu masters in a contest of skill against the leading master of the northern styles, Gong Yutian (Wang Qingxiang). There’s little sense of these masters being connected to their wider communities or world. The Japanese invasion of China is an inconvenience that disrupts their rivalries, rather than a blow to national pride – unusually for a kung fu film set during this period, The Grandmaster does not contain a scene in which Ip has to defend Chinese honour against a foreign fighter. On the one hand, that’s a refreshing choice, but on the other hand, Ip has no great rival in the film to drive his quest for martial arts mastery.

Hi, I'm here for my pointless cameo. What do you mean, 'Who are you?' I was in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon!

Hi, I’m here for my pointless cameo. What do you mean, ‘Who are you?’ I was in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon!

The second half of the movie isn’t about Ip at all, but about Gong Yutian’s daughter Gong Er (Zhang Ziyi) and her desire for vengeance against her father’s renegade pupil Ma San (Zhang Jin, who makes for a sneering, two-dimensional villain). This is the oldest, most over-used plot in the genre –  ‘You killed my father, I want revenge.’  If it’s over familiarity wasn’t bad on its own, Wong’s handling of it is clumsy. Gong Er desires retribution for her father and to reclaim the mantle of the Gong family kung fu style, a blend of Hsing Yi and Ba Kua. This is a well worn trope in the genre – the idea that kung fu is a form of inheritance passed on from generation to generation within a family, from master to student. But Wong shoots himself in the foot and robs the whole enterprise of any credibility. Determined to reclaim the Gong family style, Gong Er promptly vows to never get married, never have kids…and never teach anyone kung fu.

Wait…what?

She’s desperate to reclaim the family style from this evil usurper, just so she can take it to her grave? That makes no sense narratively or thematically. It’s a plot device so that Wong can construct an unfulfilled romance between Gong Er and Ip Man and everyone can look wistful all the time.

Grandmaster_04

Waiting for her train, Zhang Ziyi is forced to fight off a West Coast Mainline ticket collector who claims she can’t use her Off-peak Return for this journey.

Ip is not involved in Gong Er’s quest to fight Ma San at all. He’s pushed out of the film entirely for that sequence, only returning for the forced sentimentality of the finale. And then, the icing on the cake, the film closes with the declaration that Ip Man spread the art of Wing Chun all across the world.

Horse. Shit.

The only reason anyone has heard of either Ip Man or Wing Chun is because Ip was Bruce Lee’s instructor before Lee moved to the US. This is the worst sort of revisionism and typical of the nonsense that accompanies the mythologizing of these figures. Lee himself turned away from Wing Chun as he developed his own ideas on combat. This is clear in a comparison of his first book, ‘Gung Fu: The Philosophical Art Of Self Defence’, which is mainly based on Wing Chun, and then his series of ‘Bruce Lee’s Fighting Method’ books, in which he openly criticizes the stances and techniques of traditional martial arts, and his notes on punching in ‘The Tao Of Jeet Kune Do’ which borrow heavily from Western boxing manuals by Jack Dempsey, Thomas Inch and Edwin Haislet.

Grandmaster_05

Oh hey, remember me? I’m the star of the movie. No really, I totally am, not that scene stealing Zhang Ziyi.

The fight choreography in The Grandmaster was overseen by Yuen Wo Ping. For my money, the best Wing Chun fight scenes are those in Sammo Hung’s wonderful films Prodigal Son and Warriors Two, followed by the first Wilson Yip movie. In both Prodigal Son and Warriors Two, the fights are built in the choreography and performance, but the fights in The Grandmaster rely heavily on editing and camera effects for their execution. There are some scenes that showcase different styles in action, putting the spotlight briefly on Ba Kua, Hsing Yi and Hung Kuen but the restless camerawork and quickfire editing obscure a great many movements, rather than revealing the techniques being performed. While the script features a highly generic revenge plot, albeit not one involving Ip Man, there are many other genre motifs noticeable by their absence. Ip has no nemesis to overcome, no technique to refine or master, no process of self cultivation to complete. Instead he falls in love with a woman he can never have because she’s made a nonsensical vow. Yes, the cinematography is beautiful, the sets are lavish and all that, but as a kung fu movie, The Grandmaster is meagre fare.

How To Drive Your Man Insane In The Bedroom

July 16, 2014

Up until now Cosmopolitan Magazine has enjoyed an unchallenged monopoly on Sex Tip columns, but their tyranny ends today as Dorkarama humbly presents our inspirational guide, 5 Tips To Drive Your Man Insane In The Bedroom. If the spark has sizzled, if the heat has waned, if the bishop won’t stick his head out of his turtleneck, try our techniques for turning your boring, well-adjusted man into a lunatic of love.

 

Tease Him

In the words of the Spice Girls, tell him what you want, what you really really want. And that’s to ‘Zig-a-zig-ah.’ When he asks what that means, smile coyly and insist that he knows exactly what you mean. Refuse to explain further. Reject any and all subsequent advances with the words, ‘You’re doing it wrong again. I said I wanna Zig-a-zig-ah!!’

 

Zig-a-zig-ah. What could be clearer than that?

Zig-a-zig-ah. What could be clearer than that?

Stimulate His Taste Buds

Nothing adds flavour to an amorous encounter like food play in the boudoir. Smear yourself in Brie that has been left to soften in the sun. The ripe aroma will stimulate his senses in unexpected ways. This is best timed for the nights when you’re at his place.

The only thing softer than the cheese will be between his legs

The only thing softer than the cheese will be hanging between his legs

Unleash Your Fantasies

Dressing for pleasure always adds a fashion frisson to your frolicking. Slip out of the room promising to change into something more comfortable. Return dressed as the clown from Stephen King’s IT, if possible brandishing a knife. He won’t fall asleep on you tonight.

 

Fear - the ultimate aphrodisiac? We're going to gamble and say yes. Yes it is.

Fear – the ultimate aphrodisiac? We’re going to gamble and say yes. Yes it is.

Set The Mood

Establishing the right tone will help your lover let his guard down so you can really get under his skin. Arrange lighted candles in the shape of a pentagram and insist that Behemoth’s album ‘The Satanist’ is the perfect music to get you in the mood. Play it so loud you have to shriek in each other’s face to be understood. He’ll have to get up close and personal now.

Catch Him Off Guard

Routine is the enemy of eroticism. Try taking him by surprise by loudly reciting from memory entire passages from Mein Kampf in the original German during foreplay, gesticulating wildly throughout.

 

No One Can Resist The Fuhrer of Love

No One Can Resist The Fuhrer of Love

Congratulations, you are on your way to leading your man into the uncharted lands of erotic madness and unbridled passion. Enjoy the trip!

Like, y’know?

July 1, 2014

What

Never A Judge A Man Until…

June 29, 2014

WalkInHisShoes

Support Numeracy

June 12, 2014

percentages

Words to live by

June 10, 2014

BeKind

Ghost In The Machine

February 19, 2014

At the risk of gross generalisation, British sci fi is typically cast in a much gloomier hue than it’s American cousin. Think of American comic books, dominated by superheroes out to save the world, epitomised by Superman, known as both the Man of Steel and the Man of Tomorrow. It’s all very optimistic, the promise of a brighter future and bold, brave heroes fighting for truth and justice. The UK’s flagship comic is 2000AD, home to an array of dystopian visions of the future, from the fascist super-cop Judge Dredd, to the downbeat adventures of Strontium Dog or The ABC Warriors. In this vein of dysfunctional sci fi comes The Machine, a film produced in the unlikeliest of science fiction settings – Wales.

In my professional opinion, I can say with absolute certainty that you have a very nasty boo-boo indeed.

In my professional opinion, I can say with absolute certainty that you have a very nasty boo-boo indeed.

Written and directed by Caradog James (great Welsh name that, Caradog), The Machine is a typically bleak British piece of sci fi in which the promise of a technologically advanced future leads to despair. Set in the near future Vincent McCarthy (Toby Stephens) works for the Ministry of Defence trying to create intelligent machines, capable of independent thought. His aims are altruistic, to use technology to help soldiers who have suffered brain damage in war and those afflicted by degenerative diseases. Of course, the MOD, personified in the form of McCarthy’s cold-blooded boss Thomson (Denis Lawson), thinks only of offensive applications. The culmination of Stephens’ research is The Machine (Caity Lotz), an android in the form of a young woman whose appearance is modelled on Stephens’ assistant Ava (Lotz again). Thomson sees The Machine as a weapon, but Stephens worries that her apparent self-awareness means that The Machine is alive and not just an incredibly advanced computer in human guise.

Sure, it looked cool, but this modern art stuff confused McCarthy. Couldn't they put a nice painting in the office?

Sure, it looked cool, but this modern art stuff confused McCarthy. Couldn’t they put a nice painting in the office?

The Machine touches on some classic sci fi and cyberpunk themes – at what point does a machine with AI become a living being? If you can capture a human’s memories, thoughts and personalities in a computer, what is the essence of humanity? These ideas have been explored before in everything from Blade Runner/Do Androids Dream Electric Sheep to Ghost In The Shell but Caradog James digs deep into this central dilemma of the narrowing divide between humans and machines.

Caity Lotz is impressive as The Machine in a role that demands moments of vulnerability and innocence balanced against a very powerful physicality. With a background in dance, Lotz carries herself with self-assured grace and performs her fight scenes with speed and skill, although these are few as this is a drama more than an action movie. Stephens has a difficult task. McCarthy is emotionally brittle and a bundle of tension, which makes him difficult to sympathise with or to warm to. As Thomson, Denis Lawson is obviously the villain of the hour, so some points for style but none for subtlety. Pooneh Hajimohammadi is diverting as Suri, one of the staff in the MOD’s research facility, even if her dialogue is incomprehensible (which is deliberate), and greater development of the subplot around her character would have been welcome.

Now you're just showing off, young lady.

Now you’re just showing off, young lady.

The soundtrack is all synthesisers, which is both thematically appropriate – it’s all music made artificially without natural sound sources – and brings to mind the 1980s, particularly the films of John Carpenter whose self-composed film scores were always dominated by synthesisers. They also create a gloomy, downtrodden atmosphere. There are no soaring orchestras or bright guitars here, it’s all oppressive, cold electronics to match the mood.

TheMachine_01

Given that the film originated in Wales, land of song and valleys, it doesn’t boast a blockbuster’s budget but James and his team create a compelling world within the confines of McCarthy’s research facility. The visual effects on The Machine herself are impressive and moments when the limits of the budget are apparent – the avoidance of external locations being the most obvious – are easily forgiven as the gloomy interiors suit the story and add to a sense of claustrophobia. This is a film that replaces a big budget with big ideas which makes it a welcome contrast to standard sci fi summer blockbuster junk like the Transformers franchise or The Avengers (yes, The Avengers was fun and entertaining, but it was about as deep as a puddle in a drought). The pacing is measured – again anathema to Hollywood – but if the story engages your grey matter, it should have no trouble holding your attention. And, perhaps best and most British of all, The Machine offers a wickedly ambiguous, conflicted conclusion. The Machine will infect anyone who takes their sci fi smart, sharp and edged with darkness.

Only two things are infinite…

January 5, 2014

Einstein

The Secret Life Of Introverts (And Walter Mitty)

December 29, 2013

The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty

Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller) is a Negative Asset Manager at Life Magazine in New York. He lives a quiet existence of carefully cataloguing and processing photographs, a monotony that he escapes with vivid daydreams so consuming that he completely tunes out the world around him while lost in his fantasies. On the same day that Walter learns that Life Magazine’s new owners are wrapping up the print edition and going online, he receives a roll of film from famed photographer Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn) with a note saying that image #25 on the roll should be the cover of the final issue. Unfortunately, #25 is missing from the negative so Walter sets out to track down O’Connell in the hopes of finding the photograph.

Ben Stiller The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty

Stiller’s film is adapted from a short story that was previously brought to the screen in the 1947 movie starring Danny Kaye. The fantasy elements dominate the first chunk but as Walter sets out on his mission to find the missing negative, he slowly stops daydreaming and becomes immersed in the world around him. At the start, Walter is very much an introvert. He is quiet, struggles with small talk and idle chitchat but has a vibrant inner life that is invisible to the people around him. He has a crush on a co-worker at Life Magazine, Cheryl Melhoff (Kristen Wiig) but struggles to reach out to her socially and becomes the butt of jokes from Ted Hendricks (Adam Scott), the corporate shark sent in to oversee the buyout of Life and the laying off of staff.

Introverts are a rare breed in the movies, where extroverts are the norm. Quiet people are generally shown as being either creepy or as someone who needs to ‘come out of their shell’ (a phrase every introvert will have heard all too often). In a pleasant surprise, Stiller’s movie avoids the temptation to transform Walter from introvert to social butterfly. Certainly, he becomes more confident as his adventure unfolds, but he remains softly spoken and unassuming. His understated progression is expressed through the development of his online dating profile. At the outset, he has left most of his profile blank, believing he has not been anywhere or done anything interesting but his globe-trotting quest to track down O’Connell slowly but surely changes his mind as he realises his own worth. It’s refreshing to see a film in which the protagonist’s development, his coming into his own, is not linked with a change in their personality but instead with a greater sense of self-acceptance.

01

The plot twist concerning the location of the missing negative is easy to see coming well in advance, but that’s not the point of the movie. It’s not about ‘Where’s the missing photograph?’ It’s about Walter embracing the opportunities he encounters and reaching out to the people that he meets. It could be argued he is coming out of his shell, but perhaps he is simply taking his shell out to see the world.

The often elaborate fantasy sequences seem like Stiller has made a proof of concept reel to demonstrate he can handle special effects and spectacle, as if he’s auditioning to direct a superhero blockbuster for next summer. However while Walter’s daydreams are fun – the Benjamin Button parody is spot on – the story resonates most powerfully when Walter is doing not dreaming. The relationship with Cheryl is handled with a refreshing low-key approach for a Hollywood movie – there’s no heavy handed melodrama or overblown true romance in their scenes together. Stiller’s performance is naturalistic, with none of the outlandish caricatures of Zoolander or Dodgeball, and similarly Wiig is charming without needing to be zany.

03

The locations and photography are beautiful – well worth seeing on a big screen – and in contrast to Stiller’s earlier film The Cable Guy which offered a more cynical, twisted take on the world, The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty exudes warmth, optimism and a wide-eyed wonder at the possibilities that Life can offer when least expected. And introverts rule. They just don’t like to talk about it.

5 Signs Your Boyfriend Might Be Dead

November 2, 2013

The path to true love can be a winding one, but what if right when you think you’ve found ‘the one’ he stops responding to your advances? Before you start worrying that maybe he bats for the home team, first of all check he’s still actually among the living. If you’re not sure about your special someone, use this handy checklist and, chances are, it might just resuscitate your love life!

1. He’s lost his appetite

Before you go into mourning, it could be he's just not a morning person

Before you go into mourning, it could be he’s just not a morning person

One of the things you love about this guy is his hearty appetite. Like your mama always said, the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, but lately he seems to be leaving an awful lot of leftovers. If he’s having trouble finishing – and starting – his meals, there’s a chance he might have expired like last week’s yoghurt.

2. He’s not making eye contact

The eyes are the window to the soul, but it may be time to draw the curtains.

The eyes are the window to the soul, but it may be time to draw the curtains.

The eyes are the windows of the soul and what girl doesn’t like to gaze into her sweetheart’s limpid pools during moments of shared intimacy or when trying to figure out if he’s lying to you about checking out that girl’s butt on the bus? But if he’s just staring blankly ahead into space, something might be wrong. Don’t panic, he might just be trying to remember all the words to the theme song from Animaniacs, but it could mean it’s time to close his eyes…forever.

3. His recent work performance is sub-par

He'll never get that promotion at this rate.

He’ll never get that promotion at this rate.

Every girl wants a man who’s a go-getter, someone with drive and the ambition to succeed, but what if the guy you’ve set your sights on seems to be slacking off at the office? When your dreamboat stops bringing home the bacon and starts smelling like a butcher’s dumpster, it could mean he’s de-motivated or he might be dead weight in the corporate and corporeal senses.

4. He hasn’t updated his Facebook in forever

Don't start wearing bacl just yet, perhaps he's just recovering from an overstimulating Powerpoint presentation?

Don’t start wearing black just yet, perhaps he’s just recovering from an overstimulating Powerpoint presentation?

One of the great things about our modern, interconnected world is that it super easy to get to know your favourite guy just by checking out his social media presence. You can Google his name, have a look around his Facebook and find out what he’s having for lunch on Twitter. But if he hasn’t updated his status since that one three days ago about ‘Uncomfortable chest pains, probably just indigestion from that chilli LOL’ then there’s a small but significant chance that he’s logged out of this life and into the next one.

5. He hasn’t replied to your texts/calls/voicemails

Maybe his battery is flat, not his heart rate.

Maybe his battery is flat, not his heart rate.

Sending someone special a text at well-timed intervals throughout the day is a great way to let them know they’re on your mind. It’s a subtle hint to tell the guy that’s he’s that extra little bit important. But if he doesn’t text or call you back right away, don’t send him the angriest emoticon in your arsenal right off the bat. He might be in an area with bad reception but if he’s in the same room as you and still not responding to his phone, there’s an outside chance that his number has been disconnected permanently.


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