And after a weekend of partying on down, I finally manage to get a trip out to that old place in which I find solace and comfort, the cinema. And I must say, what better way to do it, than be witness to a riveting action film by the master guru of the genre for a period of about ten years. John Woo is a legend in the world of action cinema, with great films such as The Killer, Hard Boiled and Face/Off, but has really had a dry period as of late, with some real bilge such as Mission Impossible II and Paycheck. However, he seems to have rediscovered himself, having create the video-game sequel to Hard Boiled, Stranglehold, and now having a new playpit to roll around in, that of the ancient history war epic. I guess this is my way is starting on the positives, but Woo clearly uses his past experiences on urban-set action films and, to use a famous quote, puts the volume up to eleven. If you thought that the action sequences in his previous films were elaborate, you should see these. While in great contrast to the classics, these too prove that John Woo is still perfectly comfortable retaining control of a solid action film. Also, I think that he shows great restraint throughout, rather than letting the film spiral out of control. To get into other strengths on the film, my last review mentions Terminator: Salvation's cinematography. Well I'm sorry McG and co, but looks like you have to go job hunting again, because this is the best cinematography I have seen quite a time. Everything look's lavish and perfectly in place, although perhaps not matching but certainly bringing to mind the power of the image's found in Christopher Doyle's work on Hero. This molds beautifully with the special effects. For a film with about three times less the budget of The Lord Of The Rings films, it certainly makes a good stab in the visual effects department, creating a scale arguably on par with those films. Music too plays a major part in the film, tying in not only with the extensive battle scenes in the film, but helping getting across the film's philosophical messages referenced throughout. These references prove to be a rather strong point in the film, bringing it above the level of what is your bog-standard silly action film. Rife throughout are references to ancient war books such as The Art Of War, keeping it in time with the period, something which must be admired, for Woo could quite easily have taken the route of eschewing the truth for actions purposes, rather than enhancing the story of the piece. With regards to the acting department, despite being surrounded by the great Tony Leung Chiu-Wai and Takeshi Kaneshiro, the standout performance in the film is that of Zhang Fengyi as the main villain of the piece, Prime Minister Cao Cao. Despite having not starred in a film for ten years, Fengyi injects a certain poignancy into a character which could have easily been a snarling villain. There is a certain theme which occurs frequently appears in Shakespeare, in showing a great man in turmoil. Fengyi performance proves as is the truth in life, that even great, reprensible men as Cao Cao is are nonetheless human. Which brings me to the criticisms regarding the film. While in the acting department we are presented with a standout performance from Fengyi, being an ensemble cast, the cast suffer the problems of not having enough screentime, or simply not being good enough at injecting a certain three-dimensiality human element to their performances. For example, in a similar manner to Christian Bale in Terminator: Salvation, Tony Leung is completely underutilised. Leung is certainly one of the best male actors in the world today, and to squander his talents on under-developed material such as this is rather a disappointment, particularly seeing as how he plays the lead character. Leung manages to do far more in more minimal screen time in Lust, Caution than he does in this film. Also, with regards to the other talented actors involved, they are merely there, a body, a physical presence, not a performance. Also, I found that the central romance in many respects was rather empty. Call me a cynic, but if I want to see romance on film, I want something deep and meaningful as a story, not something that merely ties things together and gets the action sequences from point A to B. And yes, Leung has covered the romance base too in In The Mood For Love, one of the best films of the decade. However, excuse the extremities, but sometimes one must exagerrate in order to get a point across. Despite problems in the acting department and an occassionally lacking story, the film succeeds through the direction of John Woo, some brilliant technical wizardry by the cinematography, special effects and arts department and a great performance from Zhang Fengyi. It must be taken into account that the film's original cut was 280 minutes, whereas the final product has been cut down to about 150 minutes, so the film may well be a different film completely, but nonetheless, in it's current state, it does not stop it from being the first genuinely great film of 2009.
The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 8.4/10