Monday, November 9, 2009

We're just doing our jobs

Coweb [***]
Xin Xin Xiong better known as Clubfoot from “Once Upon A Time in China” and more infamously known as the action choreographer of the flat-out dreadful “The Musketeer” gives us a pretty servicable action thriller that handily dispatches about ninety minutes of our time.

“Coweb” stars Luxia Jiang as Nie YiYi, one time runner of a successful martial arts school now working as a security guard at a shopping mall who gets recruited by a childhood friend to be the bodyguard of Mr. He, a wealthy businessman and his wife, only to have them kidnapped on her watch and she must endure a rapidly escalating series of public fights to get them back.

The twist is, each one of these fights is captured by a security camera and broadcast on the internet for your betting pleasure. She gets text messages sending her to each fights location and then, bam, we have action. Most of the fights are pretty lengthy but only two of them are particularly great—a fight in a restaurant and kitchen with a hulking wrestler showcases Jiang’s gracefulness and limber form but what really elevates that particular fight are the camera angles Xiong employs in the dining area, sometimes shooting at the floor so we see the action upside down. It’s not meant to sound unappealing because it really works in context and it also goes a long way towards forgiving the man for “The Musketeer.”

Another old standby is the fight on a rickety bamboo structure, it takes lots of precision and care, but it’s also a great source of tension and a great place to take risks. It goes a long way to establishing your hero’s dedication along with establishing a “you are there” immediacy not every fight is fully capable of conveying.

I know I just extolled the virtues of Jiang’s graceful and limber form because she really does navigate that kitchen countertop quite well, but she’s not as instantaneously bad-ass as the girl from “Chocolate” who seems ridiculously untouchable, Jiang seems to have to work at all of her battles, she’s scrappy but not because she’s sloppy but because these fights really work her over. She never strikes me as invincible but as wholly capable of rising to the occasion and even above it.

The long and the short of it is that this film works on the levels that matter most, the action. I look forward to seeing Jiang work her magic in another film and I wouldn’t even be opposed to Xin Xin Xiong directing it. That’s got to mean something, doesn’t it?

The Limits of Control [***]

The hitman (Isaach de Banchole) arrives at the airport, he is told in Spanish, French and English that his assignment is to wait at a café for a man with a violin, he will be given further instructions by that man. His routine is always the same: wait, sip two espressos and then someone will show up. He doesn’t speak much, sometimes he eats after waiting, sometimes he soaks up culture at the museum, but there isn’t a museum everywhere so mostly he just sists and waits. There is always an exchange of matchboxes and usually a coded message inside waiting to be read and eaten. The first contact always has a musical instrument no matter the city, the naked woman (Paz de la Huerta) is always around sometimes overtly sometimes covertly, the second contact is always a woman. There are those little details that are controlled and then there is the hitman’s routine of exercising and espresso, his abstaining from sex. The Limits of Control are pretty strong and absolute.

Perhaps the strongest limit of control is the performance by Isaach de Banchole he remains expressionless, his movements are economical and he wastes no time with talking. He betrays absolutely nothing, remains celebate, his eyes only flash anything when a woman catches his eye but even then it’s only a brief glimmer before he settles back into character…until the moment that he doesn’t. When asked by his target at the end of the film how he got inside his fortress he responds, “I used my imagination.” Since Jarmusch doesn’t show us how exactly this happened we too have no choice but to use our imaginations and we can imagine the carnage isn’t pretty. When the target inquires whether or not our hitman is there for revenge he says that revenge is pointless, but we both know he has made a discovery that would piss him off plenty going in to the finale. “The Limits of Control” pretty much lives and dies by this performance and maybe even this moment. It’s a wonderful thing.

Jim Jarmusch’s film pays off in numerous ways: every locale is practically postcard ready thanks to the gorgeous eye of Christopher Doyle (he of the gorgeously shot “My Blueberry Nights”), there are numerous cameos from wonderful actors, the occasional philisophical musing and the naked (occasionally transparent raincoat clad) form of Paz de la Huerta. It’s all a very Jim Jarmusch-y kind of hitman story…people talk, he listens, language barriers and non-sexual relationships with women ensue but mostly it’s about adherence to your rules. If you have the discipline this film will reward you.

No comments: