Sunday, October 21, 2007


RUNTIME: 103 min.

There’s a golden rule I have realized over the years – sit in the director’s chair and wonder what he was thinking while making a film and more importantly, argue with yourself about the choices made, look for reasons if it is a good film you’ve made. Forget good, it is at least a watchable film that doesn’t drive audiences to wonder about comparing the size of your brain vis-à-vis a peanut. And if you truly are able to pass that examination, if you truly are able to convince yourself that every choice of yours has a reason, have faith that it is a good film you’ve made and there is nothing, absolutely nothing, to be embarrassed about.
Rogue Assassin, starring two of modern action cinema’s respectable figures in Jason Statham and Jet Li, is one such film. There’re a number of elements that, standing alone, might drive susceptible members of the audience to turn, in unison, towards the friend who thought coming to this was a good idea, especially when television has to offer all the super-exciting song-and-dance competitions. But as I reflect back at every such move, and many more, first-time director Philip G. Atwell seems to have reasons (ones that would make the heads turn back, in unison, to the screen) for most of them. Please don’t get any false notions; this is very much average cinema, but average cinema at its very best, the kind of average I would like my cinema to be and, not only in the said genres but all across the spectrum.
FBI agent John Crawford (Statham) is out to avenge the murder of his partner and his family, three years earlier, at the hands of an infamous assassin going by the name of Rogue (Li). Meanwhile Rogue now roams around by the name of Victor Shaw, having deep intentions of his own, as he squares off two mob families and starts wiping the members one by one, Yojimbo-style.
Now, this is actually a thriller masquerading as an action film. As a matter of fact, there is enough potential in the plot that it could have been an out-and-out no-holds-barred bang-bang action film, John Woo style (kindly do not misinterpret ‘bang-bang’ as Michael Bay but as Woo’s The Killer) or it could have been a psychological thriller, with twists and turns at every end, although that would have required a few more re-writes. And either way, the germ is present for a landmark film in this story inspired in doses from Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo, Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars and Woo’s The Killer. In its present form though, the director is quite satisfied with his seemingly low ambitions and I respect him for that. He does strive to make a memorable film, the attempt is visible, and there is visible the try to make a sensible story. There are obligatory elements from the action-movie checklist, and he does try to tick them all, he at least attempts to give a coherent reason for all of them. Since the names are Li and Statham we’re talking about, anyone would naturally assume that the film will have at least a million action sequences. Atwell does fail on that end though, and the reason for it is most people would expect a mindless action film while he’s attempting to bring some sense to the mayhem. I agree with him all the way. The action sequences aren’t exactly groundbreaking. Of course, you would often have trouble figuring out what the hell is happening – the editing isn’t that great – still here’s joy to be had. The violent choreography aims for the randomness in an action sequence, more Peckinpah than Woo. Not that it is memorable like any of these two, but it is just that describing the action in terms of these two names makes it a whole lot easier. To be frank, the action is unimaginative but I commend for he is at least attempting to do something worthwhile and not just exploding everything up at the drop of a hat (read Michael Bay and the kind). He does try to induce a lot of style, a lot of swagger in the action and he does succeed most times.
Halfway through the film, I found myself wondering about the wisdom of choosing Statham for the kind of character he plays. The character is one of those dramatic kinds, haunted by the death and tragedy and all that stuff, and Statham is hardly capable of being dramatic. Don’t get me wrong, Statham is one hell of an actor at what he does; he is one of my favorite actors. If I ever get to make an action film, he will probably be the first choice for the leading man with his no-nonsense demeanor and the wry sense of humor. He is the kind of actor that will inhabit the world of Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino. But not suitable for dramatic parts; he would hardly be chosen to play Jason Bourne, would he? After having watched the film, though, and its twists and turns, I guess the reason for which he was chosen is kind of good. Anyways, I always like the sight of Statham. But it is Jet Li who has the best part and the best performance. He needs to look cold and cool at the same time and he does a remarkable job at that. It immediately reminded me of his best performance across the Pacific, prior to this, in Lethal Weapon 4. He gets the meatier portions of the action sequences and he sails through them, the seasoned pro he is. But a quibble here, the director could have tried to ‘insert’ an action square-off sequence between Li and Statham. He does put one at the end but that is an embarrassment to any self-respecting action star, let alone Li and Statham. And what is more, he squares them off in a verbal duel. Someone ought to have realized that the audience members didn’t exactly consist of Shakespeare followers. There should have been something to savor.
John Lone, once the actor who once played Emperor Pu Yi in the great Bertolucci film The Last Emperor, is here too. I am not sure if that is a reason to be sad or happy.
Action films of this kind are so much better than their $100 million plus budget counterparts, shams masquerading as summer action blockbusters with names as Live Free or Die Hard and Transformers. This is many times entertaining than so over-hyped names, a film that isn’t soft in the head like on of these films but instead respects the tough nuts that are sitting expecting a real action film. On a scale measuring the action films this year, The Bourne Ultimatum being 10 and Live Free or Die Hard being -10, Rogue Assassin would probably stand at 5. It sure could have been better, a film that would explore the psychological themes at hand yet be an action film, but that would be asking for an utopian world. Good cinema, let us cast them aside for a moment. The rest, if it doesn’t get too much worse than this, I won’t mind even a bit.

1 comment:

Payal said...

have you seen Jason Statham's The Bank Job?