Ever since Netflix hired me to tag films for them, I've been getting an unofficial education of sorts. Initially, I was hired on as an Asian film expert, but soon enough things started to splay out, and I found myself assigned to all sorts of cinematic stuff, a veritable grab bag of filmic experience. In addition to numerous kung fu fight fests, I've seen everything from 70s skin flicks to hip hop high school romps to Kazakhstani historical epics.
And documentaries. Lots of documentaries. I've screened documentaries about eels, prescription drugs, film criticism, Steve Jobs, New York cabbies, forensic science, black punk rock bands, Sturgis -- you name it. But seeing as how this blog is dedicated to Asian film, I give you … another kung fu flick. Don't get me wrong, I really liked this movie -- I just wish they'd send me a Japanese film every now and then (haven't seen one since Sadako 3D back in July).
Anyhow, the film I want to discuss is Champions (2008). This film, set in the 30s and concerning a group of martial artists and runners who seek to compete in the Olympic games, was clearly made to rev up the masses for the actual Olympic games of 2008 (there's even a reference to the year inserted into the script). Therefore, it's a bit (or rather very) propaganda-y (yeah, that's a word I just made up). The cheery, let's-go vibe is quite strong at the outset (think hoo-rah, song-and-dance set pieces) but soon enough, things get down to some serious kung fu ass-kicking. Beneath the rah-rah, there is a film eager and capable of opening a big old can of Mantis Grip/Eagle Claw Fuck You and Die in Pieces You Bastard.
There are two villains, an unscrupulous martial arts master and a gangster, and they create most of the conflict in the film. What's most compelling is the size of the opposing groups. On the protagonist side we have Cheung Fung (Dickey Cheung), the smart-allecky upstart, and Kwan Shue Po (Xio Miao), the righteous one, as well as a whole host of locals with skills. And, of course, the bad guys come in waves. This is one of those films where, at any given moment, tons of people flood the screen.
What I used to hate about kung fu films was the elaborate, over-choreographed fight scenes. But recently, and certainly in Champions, there's been a movement away from such tiresome exercises, toward a more compelling (and lightening-quick) style of fight sequence. Fights still go on a bit, but now there's such a melding of speed and technique and wire-fu, plus (taking a page from Hollywood) explosions -- it's POPCORN time!
So if you get Netflix, Champions is coming your way (they give the films to me for tagging slightly before they put them online). I was never a subscriber before they hired me, but now that I've had a chance to check out their offering, I'm impressed with the number of Asian film titles on offer (tons of Korean flicks). I can see why people are tossing their cable boxes and opting for streaming services. Viva la revolution!