Friday, September 22, 2006

Life Is An Action Movie

Okay, okay. Yes, we've seen The Protector (No, there's no sign that Tony Jaa is a flash in the pan). Before the show we saw the trailer for Jet Li's new picture, Fearless, and that plus The Protector plus watching Police Story 2 immediately afterwards got me thinking.

Because honestly, the trailer for Fearless doesn't thrill me. And while The Protector's a solid fight film, it doesn't have the sort of thrill to it that Police Story 2 does. And I think I know what the missing component in both is.

Screwing up.

A subject near and dear to my heart. One of the things Jackie gets right in Police Story 2 (and in many of his best films) is failure. His character screws up, makes bad decisions, and has to pay for it. Right at the beginning of PS2 we see Jackie lose his temper over an attempted assault on his girlfriend, and storm across a busy street (and it's one of those only-in-Hong-Kong moments, as just watching Jackie dodge what looks like REAL traffic is enough to cause pulses to rise) to trash the thugs responsible, which he does. It's not the smartest decision ever, but we understand. Guy's gotta look after his girl, right?

It's that willingness to look wrong, to look weak, that really puts great fight films into the realm of great cinema. Jet Li's My Father is a Hero and Jackie's great films all allow that -- the heroes make mistakes. They don't just get hit really hard (which happens to Jaa in The Protector, sure enough); they make bad decisions.

When I see the trailer for Fearless I see shot after shot of Jet Li kicking ass. Which is great, as far as it goes, but if there were a few shots in there of Li getting HIS ass kicked, I'd be a lot more excited about the movie. And it's the same with The Protector. Never mind that Prinkaew hasn't figured out how to shoot a boat chase, or that Jaa relies a little too heavily on the old standy of having bad guys charge just past him so he can slap them a little as they go by, or that when he squares off against twenty guys somehow they all attack him one at a time -- the real problem in this film is that Jaa never ever screws up. He's never wrong, and that makes the whole film just an exercise in physical performance. Without a failure for our hero to overcome, without his own inner demons tearing him apart, there's nothing to the story. And all the fight scenes are nothing more than high-speed dance numbers.

Whasisname who write How To Save The World was talking about this recently when he talked about being a model:
Very few proponents and 'leaders' of successful organizations and movements have the humility to admit that successes and failures are invariably collective and mostly a matter of fortune, not skill or knowledge. Even fewer will tell you what's (still and newly) wrong with what they're doing, what keeps them awake at night -- though those few are the most likely to evolve and continue succeeding.

If I want my life to be a great story, I don't have to do anything very difficult, really. I just have to look at the failures in my life, acknowledge them and humbly set about trying overcome them. I have to give up the notion of always looking like I know what I'm doing, and keep in mind that it's in the moments when Jackie Chan screws up that I love him most.

I admit that it's possible I think more about kung-fu movies than anyone else I've ever encountered. So what?