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DID YOU READ

“Gallants,” a geriatric kung fu comedy.

“Gallants,” a geriatric kung fu comedy. (photo)

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Reviewed at the 2010 New York Asian Film Festival.

If Betty White can host “Saturday Night Live” at age 88, why can’t a bunch of former martial arts heavyweights headline their own kung fu movie at 60? They can, as evidenced by surprisingly athletic and impressively self-deprecating performances from Bruce Leung and Chen Kuan-tai in NYAFF selection “Gallants.”

Unlike their aging American counterparts, who stretch their faces tighter across their skulls with each new role, Leung and Chen look every bit of their 62 and 64 years, respectively, which is exactly what this film, a very funny comedy about the cruelty of old age, demands.

Leung and Chen are Tiger and Dragon — don’t expect much crouching or hiding, they’re too arthritic for that stuff — the last remaining students of the once great Master Law (Teddy Robin), who has been lost to an endless coma for 30 years. Eternally loyal, they’ve stayed at his bedside and turned his martial arts club into a teahouse that’s now part of a land dispute that dweeby young real estate agent Cheung (Wong Yue-nam) has been sent to resolve.

Lucky for Tiger and Dragon, he’d much rather learn kung fu than snatch the deed to the property, which was given to the Law club decades earlier by the father of the local bully (and object of Cheung’s childhood aggressions) Mang (MC Jin).

07052010_Gallants2.jpgReally, though, the film is less concerned with narrative than showcasing the still-feisty fighting skills of Leung and Chen, and the spot-on comedic timing of Robin, who awakens from his coma as a crazy old coot with no conception of how long he’s been asleep. He promptly mistakes Cheung for Tiger and Tiger for a new student, and then lays out his hilariously Draconian club rules: 1. No guys with long hair. 2. No one who wants to learn kung fu for the health or fitness benefits. 3. No ugly people. His whole schtick is one extended riff on the cliché of the wise old kung fu master, but if it’s a one-joke character, it’s a damn good joke. In his one fight scene, Robin’s Master Law is quickly felled by an errant fanny pack.

The Law clan’s battle with a flashier, slicker school of kung fu mirrors these aging masters’ struggle for relevance in the world of contemporary Asian cinema. Directors Derek Kwok and Clement Cheng have an obvious affection for their stars and the movies of their heyday, but they’re not so blinded by admiration that they can’t poke fun at them as well. Awesome as they are, those old kung fu flicks were a bit silly too, with their deadly venoms and excessively preening fighters, and “Gallants” does a nice job of memorializing all the stuff that made those films so simultaneously cool and goofy.

The film chugs along with a manic energy that belies the actors’ age and it captures the spirit of the old Shaw Brothers style with an evocatively retro score and opening credits sequence. But even if you’ve never seen one of those movies before, there’s a lot to enjoy about “Gallants.”

This could have been an exercise in cheap nostalgia, and it’s not. Taken entirely on its own, it’s a wholly entertaining and touching movie about friendship and growing old. So why stop the old school revival at one movie? ’70s-style kung fu by guys in their 70s would be awesome. Maybe they can get Betty White to play Master Law’s long-lost wife in the sequel.

“Gallants” does not yet have U.S. distribution. It plays Tuesday, July 6 and 8 at 6 PM at the Walter Reade Theater in New York City.

[Photos: “Gallants,” Focus Films/Newport Entertainment, 2010]

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.

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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.