DID YOU READ

Review: “Clash,” a martial arts flick for those who don’t mind derivative fun.

Review: “Clash,” a martial arts flick for those who don’t mind derivative fun. (photo)

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Reviewed at the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival.

When a movie begins with the image of two dead bodies, a gun and a sword arranged into the shape of yin and yang, you know you’re not in for an exercise in subtlety and restraint. And sure enough, the Vietnamese martial arts film “Clash” only gets more heavy-handed from there, with brooding heroes, cackling villains, and heartfelt meditations on the duality of cops and criminals. (The yin! The yang!) This is a movie with fight scenes so operatic they’re scored with actual opera music, and a mind-blowing shot of a single tear splashing off a gun barrel. As you can see, “Clash” is not lacking for sincerity.

It’s not lacking in fun either, provided you’re in the mood for fun that’s way over the top and as recycled as a box of Seventh Generation tissues. The plot concerns a bunch of badass gangsters assembled for a “Reservoir Dogs”-ish heist and given “Reservoir Dogs”-ish nicknames. (One guy even has a Steve-Buscemi-in-“Reservoir Dogs”-ish resistance to his cutesy “Reservoir Dogs”-ish nickname.) Knocking on if not completely busting through the fourth wall, the characters acknowledge that their new team and its extensive list of rules like “No bullshit questions” is “cheesy, like some Hong Kong movie!” And indeed it is. These self-aware mobsters also have extensive backstories to bring additional John Woo-ish flavor and moral complications to their underworld activities.

The movie isn’t original, but it’s clearly having fun with its influences. And it does at least deliver on the level of viscerally entertaining action sequences, the first I’ve seen to incorporate mixed martial arts moves into traditional punch-and-kick choreography. Plus, there’s something endearing about the way fights tend to break out in “Clash” at the smallest provocation, with very little attention paid to the standards of normal human behavior. Every time two or more people in the film have the slightest misunderstanding, they start beating the crap out of each other. (I kept waiting for someone to literally drop their hat and then kick someone in the face but, alas, no.) Yet if the sequences are largely unmotivated, they are also largely done with skill both in front of and behind the camera. Neither of the two ridiculously attractive leads (Johnny Tri Nguyen and Ngo Thanh Van) have the inventive acrobatics and timing of Jackie Chan or the pure physical gifts of Jet Li, but they’re never less than totally invested and totally believable.

04152010_JohnnyNguyenClash.jpgThough the cinematography has a certain monochromatic panache (cool blues for action scenes, warm earth tones in flashbacks), “Clash” isn’t so much a stylish film as it is a film about characters with a certain sense of style. There was probably an easier way for Nguyen’s Tiger and Van’s Phoenix to obtain that crucial bit of information at the nightclub, but there wasn’t a better way to look sexy while doing it than dancing an audience-distracting tango. Both actors look like major stars in the making, particularly Nguyen, who bears certain similarities to a young Clint Eastwood: casual handsomeness, a gift for silent intensity, a strong sense of moral outrage, and believable bursts of white-hot anger. All he’s missing are those gargling-with-rock-salt vocal chords and he’d be ready for a “Dirty Harry” remake. Someone get that kid a pack of Camels.

According to the film’s press notes, “Clash” is the highest grossing film of the year in Vietnam, and it’s easy to see why: solid genre thrills, attractive leads, and good stunt work. It’s the well-made foreign version of a film we’ve seen many times, if not always at film festivals. Largely cribbed from other movies, it does feature at least one alarming innovation I haven’t seen before: advertisements for the film’s corporate sponsors during the closing credits. They’re not exactly subtle either.

“Clash” is currently without U.S. distribution.

[Photos: “Clash,” Chanh Phuong Phim, 2009]

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.