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Fearless

In 1910, martial artist Huo Yuanjia fought in a competition against 4 skilled fighters, determined to defend Chinese honour.  Yuanjia fought in the ways of the Wushu, learning respect and humility after a period in exile.  Tragedy struck his family, providing the catalyst to correct his selfish ways and to form a code of honour for his people.  The true life tale inspired his fellow countrymen to take pride in themselves and to stand up against outside forces taking over their culture.
Fearless is among a new batch of martial arts films that have finally taken the genre out of the movie ghetto.  For years those films became a by-word for cheap filmmaking and bad acting.  In recent years that changed with the likes of Jet Li, Chow Yun Fat and John Woo elevating the form to new heights, showing the poetic beauty of the ancient code.  They have continued the legacy left by the legendary Bruce Lee, who infused his films with a mystic quality that briefly gave the genre mass appeal.  Directed by Ronny Yu, Fearless benefits from his Hollywood experience by blending the balletic action with stunning cinematography that perfectly captures the era.
A strong actor was needed to convincingly marry the action and drama, successfully carried out by Jet Li.  From being the young egotist to becoming a hero is well handled by Li, who has slowly carved out a fine career both in Hollywood and his native country.  This has been billed as Li’s ‘last martial arts film’, and if this is true, then he has departed the genre in fine form. 
The philosophy that was found in his fighting style bought Yuanjia from the brink, with lessons that still ring true today.  As a biography, the film shows the subject with all his flaws, but becoming a changed man by films end.  The stunt work is amazingly choreographed, with each move looking like a work of art.  Jet Li’s skills comes to the fore, whilst not forgetting to deliver a performance and showing off his fighting prowess.  The pacing of the story allows each major event to have their desired impact, without sacrificing any important character moments.
This is a very well executed film that digs deep into the heart of the ways of the martial artist, and shows why the skill is still practised centuries after its introduction.  The stunt work and action pieces are suitably spectacular with wire work being used to a bare minimum.  An excellent martial arts film that further brings back respectability to the genre that it deserves.
Rating out of 10:  8

Snakes On A Plane

When a witness to a crime is asked to testify in court, he boards a plane with his FBI handler (Samuel L Jackson), heading to Los Angeles from his Hawaiian home. The crime boss has ordered execution by having his flight infested with the deadliest snakes on the planet. As the reptiles slither their way to their victims, it is left to the passengers to defeat the hissing creatures, whilst trying to land the plane safely.
This film became notorious due to the rabid internet fanbase it spawned, with the producers taking onboard the suggestions made. Re-shoots were done, and an ad campaign was devised by the net users themselves, resulting in a film that gives new meaning to the word ‘interactive’. Snakes on a Plane is pure B Grade schlock with elements that made previous B grade films so memorable. The heroes are easily identifiable, the CGI effects are slightly dodgy, and a title that is marketing heaven. All of these things help create a fun, zippy film that never takes itself seriously at all.
Samuel L Jackson is the main lead and seems to enjoy the hammy lines he musters. Fans of Jackson wouldn’t be surprised by his appearance in this, as his long career has shown a tendency for quirky roles in very off kilter projects. His FBI agent encompasses all that has made Jackson such an appealing character, who isn’t afraid to poke fun at people’s perception of him. He takes the role seriously, but with the dangerous twinkle in his eye that shows he has his tongue firmly in his cheek. Nathan Phillips as the witness does well as Jackson’s foil, finally showing true heroism and doing everything he can to survive the flight from hell. The rest of the cast seem to enjoy the rollicking ride faithfully showing the microcosm of personalities that can be found on any flight.
The snakes themselves are incredibly creepy, and anyone with a phobia for them should stay away, as the plane becomes filled with them. The CGI used to replicate them is quite well done, rendering them as mile high stalkers attacking their prey. Anyone questioning the logic of the screenplay would have a tough time filling the various plot holes. The film declares its campy intentions from the outset, with every scene framed as if reading a comic book.
The storyline delivers on its promise for kitschy fun, with some genuine character development in evidence. The use of having the audience see through the vision of the snakes themselves is a clever device and adds to the tension. The great one-liners and well balanced acting all create an entertaining movie that revels in the ridiculousness of its bizarre situation.
Rating out of 10: 7
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