Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Jet Li's Fearless: To Know Your Enemy

  Years ago I happened to catch some of a movie when my dad had it on. I had no idea what it was called, and when I later inquired, he could not remember. Only by accident, when looking for a movie by the same title, did I recently discover what it was called--Fearless. And needless to say I watched it.

jet li's fearless

    I appreciated it so much more than I even expected. It wasn't just another martial arts movie, with superb choreography, and that atmosphere of the culture that I have always loved. Though a popular theme in eastern storytelling, (and even elsewhere, but I have noticed it especially in eastern tales) this story carried itself well, with strength. It actually surprised me. It wasn't what I thought it was going to be.

  It was the true story of a man who realizes the cost of his own arrogance and recklessness. How much he had been his own enemy, and the cost of his sins and arrogance is the cruel loss of those he loved most--a direct consequence of his own failure to see the truth about himself. It took Moon, a sweet blind woman, to show him how to see.

  Huo Yuanjia is a young boy that his father won't teach, and grows up to know why. Despite this he grows into a formidable fighter, but with no real understanding of what a true warrior is. His arrogance and lack of responsibility lead him to reckless spending, gathering of "apprentices" that his true friend points our are little more than freeloaders. In his blindness Huo disregards the wise advice of his childhood friend and continues in his ways until his conceit leads him to disrespect and challenge a local enemy for beating his apprentice, when he wasn't even in possession of all the facts, (Something his enemy pointed out, who, at the moment, was showing greater courtesy), and loses the respect of his one true friend.
jet li's fearless
He ends up killing his enemy. And the cost for his reckless haste and conceit is his own family. Most notably, his little, precious girl. Without hesitation he takes quick reckoning for that, but even in so doing, it all catches up with him. He sees the worthless dog he is. And he flees from everything he knows, everything he is.

jet li's fearless
  When Huo Yuanjia comes back to awareness, he is in a place of peace, in the healing care of an elderly woman and her granddaughter, Moon. It is their kindness, mostly Moon's, that bring Huo to who he was really meant to be. Moon shows him how to see; her, a blind woman full of understanding and kindness. She shows him what kind of man Huo wants to be--a true warrior--and he spends the rest of his life trying to share that vision. He goes to those he has wronged, and pays his respects, destroys the reminder of his past victories, and becomes the new man--the one with a truth and example to share. It brings on a new chapter of his life, and his childhood friend back to his side. Together they create a school, Jin Wu Sports Federation--a real place, as this is based on the true story. Something for me to further study.

  But the wolves of money have it out for him, and while he knows that they have challenged him to a fight with their own champion only to accomplish something shady, he takes up their challenge in the desire to once again show people what he stands for. What it truly means to fight well--to show yourself for who you are. It is his honesty and true courtesy and wisdom that makes his final opponent respect him, and they prove both of themselves in their duel--both never backing down, even though Huo knows he's been poisoned.

jet li's fearless
  And this is how Huo finally proves himself. He finishes the fight, the challenge, even though he is spitting poison from his gut and every blow is breaking him down. This is his fearlessness--fearless in the face of death, and in the face of those who would hold wrongful gain higher than the merit of a honorable fight.

  He shows the world who he is and reveals the moneymakers as the dogs they are. He dies with a smile. He knows that he has died honorably. He could ask for no better legacy, this holding up of all he now stands for.

  This is a movie I would love to have on my shelf. The stories of real warriors are always stories that are needed. And I am blessed in that Huo Yuanjia was a real person. I can go and learn more of his real legacy, living still today. This story came full circle--the vices that made him into a wrong warrior, and the enlightenment and cost that forged the new one--one he fought for, and became and defended. The sort of man that enabled him to die with a smile on his face.


Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Measure of a Man: Captain America The Winter Solider

  I just enjoyed myself immensely, going to see Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It as absolutely worth the trip to the theater (which is always fun anyway). It was good, just sitting there enjoying a really good story, both well told and well portrayed through excellent performances and good, fresh cinematography.

steve rogers
  Going home, I wondered what exactly made it so great. That it was great, I had no doubt. I don't just like a movie for no reason. Then I realized it was because over all, the story was a test of Steve Rogers' faithfulness to who he is, what he believes in. He has come from a time that tested who he was, and to a point even made him--then he was asleep for 70 years only to get dropped in another time with further issues, some which aren't all that different. His life has been a roller coaster of things constantly challenging him. And here, there is yet again plenty to challenge who he is and what he believes to be right, through a mix of them that aren't all clear cut obstacles, good or bad--some come in the form of a friend. Or would be friend. Or used to be friend.

  An article that I read over at Confessions of a INTP made a very good point--hitting on a subconscious comparison even I had--likening Captain America to King David. Someone who had been a strong person with small things, who knew the value of having strength so as to do even greater good. I would greatly suggest you read the post Charity of Confessions of a INTP wrote on Captain America. It is greatly worth the read, hitting some points that I won't address as much in this review.

stever rogers and black widow
  In the beginning Steve is forging new friendships, friendships that will strengthen over the course of the story. What I really like is that it starts simply, a normal morning with a dude being outrun by another seemingly super-human dude with a sense of humor--yes, that being Steve Rogers. I liked how we were just eased into his story. It felt natural and easy-going, we were just back in the Marvel universe with one of our favorite buds.
steve rogers and nick fury pics  After a questionable mission Steve Rogers doesn't know if he can support everything Nick Fury stands for--not sure if he can stand with him. Shield has moved into something centralized around fear, not respect--but as Nick Fury puts it, they take the world as it is, not what they want it to be--and respond. I can understand them both at the same time. What Steve doesn't know is that Fury has his own doubts. And that before long, he will be doing what he can to help him. Steve recognizes the soldier in Fury, someone who fights, and dies for what he believes in.What do you do when someone you're not sure about shows you something about them that you know to be honorable and worthy?

bucky winter soldier
This sends Steve on the road to finding the truth about everything. And it also leads him to learn the true identity about the mysterious, fatal Winter Soldier. It's Bucky--his best friend, whom he thought had fallen to his death, leaving him with the burden of knowing he couldn't save him. Can he turn against his friend? Even now, now that he's changed almost beyond recognition, not even remembering who he was? This, I think, is the biggest challenge that Steve has--whether or not he will betray who his friend was. We would not judge him if he did--the Winter Soldier poses such a terrible threat to everyone, to what they're trying to accomplish. But it is because of Steve's resolve to continue to believe in himself, to not forsake believing that he can make his friend remember who HE is. Because, as he said, "I'm with you until the end of the line." When I saw the flashback scene where Bucky tells this to Steve when he needs it most, I knew it'd would come later at a defining moment in the movie, and I wasn't disappointed. However predictable, I love good lines like this that define a friendship, and I have joy when I see it--what their relationship had stood for--pulling through.

"And I'm with you--to the end of the line."

  Captain America is faithful. He fights for what he believes in, for what loves in his country, and values in those he fights alongside, especially those closest to him. And what is best is that we can believe that he always will, because he has proved it yet again. He has showed others in this story that they can be better, and he has learned from them as well. Those of Shield will have to start anew. But Steve Rogers will always be the same. A good man.

    If you haven't seen the movie yet, go see it. It will be worth it.


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A Desolation In Gold: A Hobbit Review, Part 1

  I held off on my review of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug for good reason, feeling like (not just because I'm a Lotr/Hobbit fan) I had to watch it a few times before I could really pass off a solid opinion. And I'm glad I did, and by this point, I am really ready to share why I love the movie. But, I'm finding out, it will have to be told in more than one part. Here, I will just share what the story meant to me.

  First and foremost, it showed how much the relationship between Bilbo and Thorin has changed, much for the better, if not tried by the end. There is a faith there. A subtle dependence on each other for hope and expectation. Bilbo wants Thorin to have his home back, and Bilbo again and again gives Thorin the chance to keep believing that they will succeed.  In this way, they are holding on for dear life. What is life, if there is not hope? That is what I love most about the movie, this relationship.

  To put it concisely, this story was about having a fighting chance for what you believe in, hope for. Discovering how far you're willing to go--how hard you can hold on. Bilbo and Thorin and the dwarves, we know what the cost is for them.
laketown pics
bard the bowman
But I appreciate that the writers have brought in the hopes of the people of Esgaroth more personally--I feel it more acutely, I feel, than I did in the book.
We get to know Bard and his family enough that I care about them, wish them better than the hardship they have, along with their fellow men. And of course, that is contrasted well by The Master and his sniveling aide. Their very existence makes me think of a  nasty snotty rag filled with sick. These people, the people of Esgaroth, need hope. And the coming of Thorin and his warriors bring them that. Yet Bard knows the cost may be their undoing. He is the unclaimed champion of the people, a true leader--but like many before him, few listen to him.

tauriel and legolas screencap
Another aspect is in the hope of Tauriel, whose creation was subject to much skepticism. My own opinion of her is mixed, as I don't perceive her quite as a captain--she always seemed just to be one of Legolas's men. She didn't give me the impression of someone who was the captain of men. But perhaps in the next movie I will see improvement on that. What I did perceive, and what I loved--was that her great strength is her kindness. Her love of what is good. Not always do we get to see that in a person, their kindness giving them the strength to kill. I appreciated that she impersonated a worldwide concern for the evil growing around them.

tauriel pictures
It did create an interesting addition to the story though, in that she knows Thranduil is cutting their people off from the rest of the world. Her best remembered line, "Since when did we allow evil to become stronger than us?" is well deserved. Her love of what is good and beautiful in the world is what makes her a good character. It is also reflected in her developing love angle with Thorin's nephew, Kili. Many have said that he's the heart throb of the story, but--well. People can have their opinion. I did like what they shared while the dwarves were hostage, the simple sharing of things they held to be beautiful. They both were better than letting cultural differences and old hatreds form their perceptions of individuals. And of course, it was also rife with humor. Amusing to see Legolas get a little jealous over a dwarf that was "admittedly taller than some, but no less ugly". However, I did not really feel that their love story was that strong. Still, that is just my thought. It's something that I can overlook, and I do wonder how it will end in the final course of the story. Tauriel hopes to see good fought for in the world, to see it protected. Kili hopes, as stated later, that she could love him. Still, I find his hope for the fulfillment of the quest more believable.

thranduil desolation of smaug
Contrasting is Thranduil--who, with a supremely creepy performance, made it perfectly plain that he was interested having the white jewels that he counted his to begin with. And he is willing to wait however long is necessary. His performance I couldn't tell at first whether I found it just strange--but then I realized something. He very may well be under the same sickness that ran through Thorin's family. After all, the gems were part of the treasure that made others whose possession it was in'm just saying it would explain a lot, and this theory has me excited to see what will happen next. His character was in equal measure creepy, weird, and interesting. I saw glimpses of the strong leader I expected, along with an intriguing mental aspect to him. 

gandalf desolation of smaug
  Further, the stakes are raised when Gandalf, early in the story discovers what is really behind the Necromancer. And it fully unmasks itself in the end, in a truly climatic, fiery confrontation that I will never forget. Never have I seen Gandalf so out of his depth--and his only hope that Radagast can get word to the High Council in time. Because nothing was as it seemed--they had all been blind. (Not that we who are fans of the book were surprised, but it was filmed with incredible brilliancy). One of my favorite scenes in the entire film.

the dwarves desolation of smaug

  In the story hope within reach is symbolized physically, and dually by getting to the Doors of Durin in time and opened, and the regaining, most importantly, of the Arkenstone--but in striving for that, the dwarves and Bilbo truly waken The Dragon. And what I liked most about this portion of the story was that not only was it a physical threat with a presence that shadowed over everything--it was incredibly psychological like a relentless nightmare. Vain, mental, and almost seductive in his magnificence and smartly woven words, dripping like patronizing venom. Smaug is a true impersonation of the classic serpent--and I will never forget his golden magnificence.

smaug screencap

  Smaug was everything we could have hoped for. And what escalates the story is that Thorin almost sacrifices Bilbo to finally get back what he wants most--it has become an obsession. Everything is turning to madness, leaving us knowing that something truly devastating this way comes.

Until the next part (where I continue to spill my guts)...

~E.C. Shore