Before I begin to review the film, I’d better explain my bias, not just for your own guidance, but for mine too, so that I can take a step back from my impressions and feelings and write a little extra or acknowledge them when they crop up. Oh, and there probably are spoilers too, but I try not to give too many.
- I already knew who Jay Chou is, I have all his albums and have seen his Asian movies. I am not as big a fan as I used to be, because I am not happy with the way he produces his music right now (though that’s a post for another day)
- I dislike Asian stereotypes.
- I like what I have seen already of Michel Gondry’s work
As a superhero, the Green Hornet is somewhat different as he deliberately gives off the impression he is a criminal and vigilante, a sneaky and clever way of getting closer to the bad guys and mask his actually heroic behaviour. The Green Hornet’s alter ego is Britt Reid a newspaper publisher and his side kick Kato is also his Chauffeur. The original Kato was first Japanese, and then he was Filipino of Japanese descent, then Pearl Harbour happened and he became Filipino. By the time the Film serial was broadcast he was Korean and now in this modern version of Kato describes himself as Shangahinese.
The original Green Hornet was first a radio show in the 1930’s and has since then been shown as a Comic book and Film series in the 1940s and a TV series in the 1960’s that starred Bruce Lee as Kato. I’d not seen any of these at all, so I couldn’t make a judgement call on the characters or how they have been developed, but I did some research google-ing and found this:
http://www.otr.net/?p=ghrt <– the original radio shows streamed on Realplayer
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=81k_34ouQhM <– Bruce lee as Kato
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nsO7Xr6njMA&NR=1 <— Bruce lee as Kato
My initial impression of the film is that I rather liked it even though I actually disliked Britt Reid – which I hope was the point! Not just the party guy at the start but his attitude in general even after his ‘epiphany’ that he needs to do something more with his life. I appreciate its just how The Green Hornet comes into being, but judging by the one radio show I’ve now listened to, he has a long way to go to get to the level of maturity depicted in the radio show. I like how the Kato character isn’t just an ‘Alfred’ butler like in the 1930s and is smart as well as more sensible. The martial arts expertise came with the film and TV shows, splitting the roles into ‘brains’ and ‘brawn’. I like that Britt and Kato fight physically, Britt probably being very aware of his limitations and Kato’s superiority. This falls apart later in the film as I’ll mention further down.
I liked how the film moved between 2D and 3D shots, definitely easier on the eyes and helped the focus stay on the film rather than the ‘novelty’ of 3D which is always a pitfall. I like seeing this kind of film in 3D as it is a fun action film to relax watching. There’s no real tension that someone important might die, and you know that there will be a certain amount of character development to stop it being too shallow. Its not intellectual, but there were some very well though out visual expressions of thought and action which I’m guessing are very Gondry influenced. Some good car chases, narrow escapes. Its popcorn for the brain mostly.
The stereotype of the Asian martial artist in film dates back to an era when very little was really known about Asia, when the world was a different place than it was today and Western countries tended to use the East as the Empire’s playground. Sadly a lot of the roles in film and TV still follow this stereotype, but as the original Green Hornet dates from these times, I’ll not hold that as a negative point against the film, more just factoring it in when watching it.
I will say that they have fleshed out the role of Kato so that he’s not just a martial arts side kick, but a mechanical genius, good artist and can play the piano, but I do wonder if that’s just to ensure good rating across Asia. I think casting Jay Chou was a big part of this, cynical as it may seem to say so, and he does well in the role and knowing how film scripts get constant rewrites, its easy to spot little extra additions – like piano playing and basketball that are almost synonymous with Jay. (The nunchucks were a nod to Bruce Lee who is Jay’s idol.) I think actually that Kato’s character seemed far more solid than the Green Hornet, but then again I do have some personal bias so I can’t be 100% sure.
Some of the other actors up for the role were Kwon Sang Woo and I think Leehom Wang was even suggested at some point, but I can’t really see either of them in the role, particularly Kwon Sang Woo whom I do not find that expressive on film. I think Jay Chou and Seth Rogen match well in screen chemistry. Of course, its possible the other two could have been too tall at 182cm (KSW) and 179cm (Leehom). Jay is 173 cm which doesn’t sound like much of a difference but Seth Rogen is 180cm and the rule is that side kicks should be shorter right? Especially if they are Asian? Hmmm…. I think though the casting has to do with the largest potential audience, and Jay carries the role well, though his English is a little blurry at times, so one does wonder how much he understood of what he was saying. I say that only because I saw him on a TV interview and he didn’t say much until asked what he learned… and then I didn’t actually understand what he said (eep)
Another thing that bothered me was the whole ‘I grew up a street orphan’ and then a huge gap between his ‘uneducated’ childhood in Shanghai to being a mechanic in LA before Britt’s dad hired him. I’m sure its just a gaping plot hole that someone can actually make that life transition, Britt’s interruption of Kato’s story seems contrived to mask that – or are they implying he’s an illegal alien??? (haha).
Yet more that bothered me (does it ever end) was towards the end in the fight sequence at ‘The Sentinel’ when ‘Bloodnovsky’ causes the ceiling to fall and trap Kato who is then suddenly helpless until Britt distracts ‘Bloodnovsky’ by falling giving Kato the opportunity to spin kick the bad guy and then push off the furniture. Err hello??? Is this not the same Kato that one-inch punches a guy through a glass window? A little consistency in scripted ability would have been good! Was it because Kato had saved Britt’s ass too many times by himself that needed to redress the balance that Kato would die without Britt being there when in truth its the other way round? am i over thinking this? Maybe, but it did bother me when I was watching the film, so maybe not.
I did like that the two of them had a major fight and that Kato had the better of him, though I was not impressed with the choice of insults Britt’s character was scripted. There are so many other ways of being insulting without mentioning the stereotypical size of body parts and whilst its effective at showing how boorish and puerile western men can be about Asian men – this is an action movie with a 12 rating and not all viewers will be mature enough to not repeat that. It reinforces an attitude which shouldn’t even exist. I know, I sound ranty, but Hollywood films are one of the few areas that Asian actors don’t really get a fair play in. Its slowly changing, but I often can’t help but wonder if films like this, fun as they are, hinder or advance that change and in which direction.
It is however a fun film if you want the final verdict. The dialogue has some witty moments both in action and otherwise. The special effects are fun and outrageous and despite the small niggles I think the Kato/Hornet relationship was written better than I was expecting.
Agree? Disagree? Let me know!