I broke my promise to you guys. I didn’t watch the movie about the Korean ski jumping team on my flight to Seoul, so I can’t report back. But I did finally get to (500) Days of Summer, which I thought was fine, though I still think Emily Deschanel is more interesting and less irritating than her sister, and that the movie as a whole while somewhat accurate to how some people in some age, race, and socioeconomic groups approach relationships, generally wasn’t worth the fuss. I tried to watch The Brothers Grimm, which for some reason the in-flight entertainment system and magazine were pushing really hard, which seemed incomprehensible to me because the movie is literally unwatchable, even if one is putting some genuine effort into seeing any Heath Ledger outings one hasn’t watched to date. The Ugly Truth remains better than it was given credit for, both in its acknowledgement that artificiality in relationships doesn’t make women very happy, and that men who act like jackasses towards women may actually be quite unhappy.
But really, the best thing I watched on the trip was Ashes of Time Redux, forming part of my slow but steady Wong Kar-Wai education. I think one of the things I liked most about the movie was the fight scenes. Unlike the fights in a lot of martial arts movies, which are very much about styles in virtuosity, or the fights in say, Ong-bak, which have moments that are replayed multiple times frequently for their sheer, ass-kicking awesomeness, the fights in Ashes are really all about the perspectives of different characters, who come into the narrator’s life as the seasons of a single year pass. The first interloper, a schizophrenic swordswoman who lives alternating between the personalities of a jilted and heartbroken princess and her vengeful and jealous brother, doesn’t actually fight an opponent (she stabs the swordsman who jilted her, but the blow is cut such that we don’t see the full scene). Instead, we see her practicing with her own reflection on a lake, jettisoning the water around her in fantastical patterns–she is literally walking on water, her entire view turned inwards. The second swordsman, played by Tony Leung (whom I adore), is going blind, a condition that plays a critical role in his battle against a group of bandits who are terrorizing a desert village. The fight is beautifully shot, but choppy and chaotic, since the hero can only really see in the sun. And a third defeats the same bandits in a battle that’s a rough mirror of his country upbringing.
It’s a really gorgeous movie. And as much as I’m a sucker for arty wuxia movies, I sometimes get sick of the stunty nature of the fighting. This is a different approach, and one that makes a huge amount of sense for Christopher Doyle, Kar-wai’s long-time cinematographer, who does amazing, hallucinogenic things with color and perspective. But even without Doyle at the helm, I think martial arts movies benefit when their fight scenes have more nuance. It doesn’t just have to be about discipline, who your master was, what style you prefer: a person’s whole self comes out when they fight, and it makes sense to explore that on film.