Friday March 22 – Thursday March 28

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Featured Film:

What is Democracy at the Northwest Film Forum

After all the crazy action of last week’s Furie (and Triple Threat, if you managed to snag a ticket last Tuesday), what better this week than a movie about a bunch of people talking about the meaning of democracy? Astra Taylor’s new documentary likely has little in the ways of fisticuffs, although it does have Cornel West, still as animated as any action star.

Playing This Week:

AMC Alderwood:

Kesari (Anurag Singh) Fri-Thurs 
Climax (Gaspar Noé) Fri-Thurs 

Central Cinema:

Army of Darkness (Sam Raimi, 1992) Fri-Weds 
Howl’s Moving Castle (Hayao Miyazaki, 2004) Fri-Tues Subtitled Sat, Sun & Tues

Century Federal Way:

Band Vaaje (Smeep Kang) Fri-Thurs 
Guddiyan Patole (Vijay Kumar Arora) Fri-Thurs 
To Kill a Mockingbird (Robert Mulligan, 1962) Sun & Weds Only 

Grand Cinema:

Lords of Chaos (Jonas Åkerlund) Fri-Thurs 
Arctic (Joe Penna) Fri-Thurs 
Pity (Babis Makridis) Sat Only 
Searching (Aneesh Chaganty) Mon Only 
The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot (Robert D. Krzykowski) Tues Only 
The Backyard Theater Rewind (Various) Thurs Only 

Grand Illusion Cinema:

Birds of Passage (Cristina Gallego & Ciro Guerra) Fri-Thurs 
Saturday Secret Matinee Sat Only 16mm
Une Histoire Simple (A Simple Story) (Claude Sautet, 1978) Tues Only  

Cinemark Lincoln Square:

Kesari (Anurag Singh) Fri-Thurs 
Gully Boy (Zoya Akhtar) Fri-Thurs 
Badla (Sujoy Ghosh) Fri-Thurs 
June (Ahammed Khabeer) Sat & Mon Only 
To Kill a Mockingbird (Robert Mulligan, 1962) Sun & Weds Only 

Regal Meridian:

Kesari (Anurag Singh) Fri-Thurs 
No manches Frida 2 (Nacho Garcia Velilla) Fri-Thurs 

Northwest Film Forum:

Wrestle (Suzannah Herbert & Lauren Belfer) Fri-Sun 
What is Democracy? (Astra Taylor) Sat & Sun Only Our Review
Constant Thought (Palmer Morse & Matthew Mikkelsen) Sun Only Filmmakers in Attendance
Waiting in the Wings (Q. Allan Brocka) Sun Only 
Engauge presents: A 16mm Monument to Mekas Weds Only 16mm
The Trial (Sergei Loznitsa) Thurs & Next Fri Only 

AMC Pacific Place:

The Wandering Earth (Frant Gwo) Fri-Thurs Our Review 
The Crossing (Bai Xue) Fri-Thurs 
More than Blue (Gavin Lin) Fri-Thurs 

Regal Parkway Plaza:

Total Dhamaal (Indra Kumar) Fri-Thurs 
Ulan (Irene Villamor) Fri-Thurs 
Badla (Sujoy Ghosh) Fri-Thurs 

AMC Seattle:

The Wedding Guest (Michael Winterbottom) Fri-Thurs 
Cliffs of Freedom (Van Ling) Fri-Thurs 
Climax (Gaspar Noé) Fri-Thurs 

Seattle Art Museum:

Green for Danger (Sidney Gilliat, 1946) Thurs Only 35mm

SIFF Film Center:

A Breath Away (Daniel Roby) Fri-Sun 

AMC Southcenter:

No manches Frida 2 (Nacho Garcia Velilla) Fri-Thurs 
Furie (Lê Văn Kiệt) Fri-Thurs Our Review 

SIFF Uptown:

Everybody Knows (Asghar Farhadi) Fri-Thurs 
Never Look Away (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck) Fri-Thurs 
Birds of Passage (Cristina Gallego & Ciro Guerra) Fri-Sun
The Fireflies Are Gone (Sebastien Pilote) Sun Only Free Screening
Seattle Jewish Film Festival Mon-Thurs Full Program

Varsity Theatre:

Dragged Across Concrete (S. Craig Zahler) Fri-Thurs 
Out of the Blue (Carol Morely) Fri-Thurs 
To Kill a Mockingbird (Robert Mulligan, 1962) Weds Only 

In Wide Release:

Captain Marvel (Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck) Our Review Our Other Review
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Friday March 15 – Thursday March 21

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Featured Film:

Furie at the Pacific Place and the AMC Southcenter

You know I was tempted to put Jackie Chan in this spot again, as his Police Story and Police Story 2 have made the rounds and are now playing at the Crest, but Lê Văn Kiệt’s Furie is sticking around for another week and it’s about as close to an old-school 80s era Jackie Chan vehicle as we get nowadays. Veronica Ngo stars as a mother trying to win back her daughter from a gang of organ-harvesting kidnappers in Saigon. It’s quick and colorful with a minimum of subtext and a bunch of great fight sequences, all checking in at the ideal running time of 98 minutes. Also sure to satisfy that martial arts movie itch is Triple Threat, with an international who’s who of action movie stars (Tony Jaa, Iko Uwais, Scott Adkins, Michael Jai White, Tiger Chen, and so on). For some reason it’s playing one night only, Tuesday March 19, but at a bunch of theatres: The Meridian, Pacific Place, Thornton Place, Alderwood (Regal), Lakewood (AMC), Southcenter, and Gateway (AMC).

Playing This Week:

AMC Alderwood:

The Kid (Vincent D’Onofrio) Fri-Thurs 
Climax (Gaspar Noé) Fri-Thurs 

Ark Lodge Cinemas:

Capernaum (Nadine Labaki) Fri-Thurs 

Central Cinema:

Cry-Baby (John Waters, 1990) Fri, Sat, Mon-Weds  
Say Anything… (Cameron Crowe, 1989) Fri-Mon 
Leprechaun 3 (Brian Trenchard-Smith, 1995) Sun Only Hecklevision

Crest Cinema Centre:

Police Story (Jackie Chan, 1985) Fri-Thurs Our Review Our Other Review 
Police Story 2 (Jackie Chan, 1988) Fri-Thurs 

SIFF Egyptian:

Climax (Gaspar Noé) Fri-Thurs 

Century Federal Way:

Band Vaaje (Smeep Kang) Fri-Thurs 
Guddiyan Patole (Vijay Kumar Arora) Fri-Thurs 
The Kid (Vincent D’Onofrio) Fri-Thurs 

Grand Cinema:

Everybody Knows (Asghar Farhadi) Fri-Thurs 
Climax (Gaspar Noé) Fri-Thurs 
Arctic (Joe Penna) Fri-Thurs 
The Neverending Story (Wolfgang Petersen, 1984) Sat Only Free Screening
Lords of Chaos (Jonas Åkerlund) Sat Only 
The Worlds of Ursula K. LeGuin (Arwen Curry) Tues Only 
City Lights (Charles Chaplin, 1931) Weds Only 

Grand Illusion Cinema:

Iceman (Felix Randau) Fri-Thurs 
Combat Obscura (Miles Lagoze) Fri-Thurs  
Saturday Secret Matinee Sat Only 16mm

Cinemark Lincoln Square:

Climax (Gaspar Noé) Fri-Thurs 
The Kid (Vincent D’Onofrio) Fri-Thurs 
Gully Boy (Zoya Akhtar) Fri-Thurs 
Luka Chuppi (Laxman Utekar) Fri-Thurs 
Badla (Sujoy Ghosh) Fri-Thurs 
Thadam (Magizh Thirumeni) Sat & Sun Only 
Gone with the Wind (Victor Fleming, 1939) Sun & Mon Only 

Regal Meridian:

Gully Boy (Zoya Akhtar) Fri-Thurs 
The Kid (Vincent D’Onofrio) Fri-Thurs 
No manches Frida 2 (Nacho Garcia Velilla) Fri-Thurs 
The Wedding Guest (Michael Winterbottom) Fri-Thurs 

Northwest Film Forum:

Mapplethorpe (Ondi Timoner) Fri-Weds 
ByDesign Festival 2019 Fri-Sun 
Look but with Love (Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy & Chris Milk) Sun Only 
Island of the Hungry Ghosts (Gabrielle Brady) Weds Only 
The People Under the Stairs (Wes Craven, 1991) Thurs Only 
What is Democracy? (Astra Taylor) Starts Thurs 

AMC Pacific Place:

The Wandering Earth (Frant Gwo) Fri-Thurs Our Review 
Furie (Lê Văn Kiệt) Fri-Thurs Our Review 
The Crossing (Bai Xue) Fri-Thurs 
More than Blue (Gavin Lin) Fri-Thurs 

Regal Parkway Plaza:

Total Dhamaal (Indra Kumar) Fri-Thurs 
Gully Boy (Zoya Akhtar) Fri-Thurs 
Alone Together (Antoinette Jadaone) Fri-Thurs 
Badla (Sujoy Ghosh) Fri-Thurs 

AMC Seattle:

The Wedding Guest (Michael Winterbottom) Fri-Thurs 
Cliffs of Freedom (Van Ling) Fri-Thurs 
Climax (Gaspar Noé) Fri-Thurs 

Seattle Art Museum:

Fanny and Alexander (Ingmar Bergman, 1982) Thurs Only 

SIFF Film Center:

Styx (Wolfgang Fischer) Fri-Sun 

AMC Southcenter:

No manches Frida 2 (Nacho Garcia Velilla) Fri-Thurs 
Furie (Lê Văn Kiệt) Fri-Thurs Our Review 

SIFF Uptown:

Everybody Knows (Asghar Farhadi) Fri-Thurs 
Never Look Away (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck) Fri-Thurs 
Birds of Passage (Cristina Gallego & Ciro Guerra) Fri-Thurs 

Varsity Theatre:

Finding Steve McQueen (Mark Steven Johnson) Fri-Thurs 

In Wide Release:

Captain Marvel (Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck) Our Review Our Other Review

Furie (Lê Văn Kiệt, 2019)

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It’s not often we get a Vietnamese movie here on Seattle Screens, much less an action movie as kinetic and thrilling as Furie, a Taken-clone starring Veronica Ngô, the actress who stole the opening moments of The Last Jedi a few years ago. Like Ong-Bok: Muay Thai Warrior, from Thailand, and The Raid, from Indonesia, before it, Furie is a further marker in the spread of high quality martial arts cinema outward from Hong Kong and Japan across Southeast Asia at a time when the Hong Kong industry itself is having its lifeblood sucked away by the vast opportunities and resources but complicated politics of the Mainland Chinese market, like Jupiter stealing the Earth’s atmosphere in the biggest action hit of the year so far. Resolutely low-scale, Furie follows a mother’s quest from the pastoral countryside to the neon-lit criminal underbelly of Saigon in search of her ten year old daughter, kidnapped by an international cartel of organ harvesters. The plot is familiar, and its beats are nothing new, though the emphasis on the femininity of its heroes and ultimate villain is unusual. But the stunts, the stunts are terrific.

Unlike Tony Jaa and Iko Uwais, Ngô is more an actor than a martial artist, though like many a great actress before her (Michelle Yeoh, Zhang Ziyi, Kara Hui, Cheng Pei-pei) she is a dancer as well (she one the first season of Vietnam’s version of Dancing with the Stars). Director Lê Văn Kiệt, along with his stunt crew, do a fantastic job of covering any weaknesses as a fighter she might have, honestly I didn’t notice much of anything (unlike with Brie Larson in Captain Marvel, who just looks out of place in every fight). The fight scenes are fluid and brutal, in the bone-crushing-to-electronic-beats style that has dominated martial arts movies this century, ever since Donnie Yen discovered MMA at least. Best of all is that the fights actually build, they have a sense of rhythm and pace that is almost entirely missing from Hollywood filmmaking, and frankly from a lot of what comes out of Hong Kong these days. The final 15 minutes are spectacular without restoring to special effects or outlandish stunts: they’re simply the best fights in the movie, charged with emotion and skill and captured with a minimum of editing. It’s the best on-screen action since Paradox, and possibly since SPL 2: A Time for Consequences.

Other than that, and outside of Ngô’s soulful performance, which brings to mind some of Hui’s better work (the recent and very fine Mrs. K, for one), and the novelty (at least for us in the US) of seeing contemporary Vietnam on film, that there isn’t much to the movie. Where Paradox and SPL 2 complicate the simple missing kid/organ harvesting plots with complex conspiracies and some beautifully outlandish storytelling, Furie is a simple straight line: a mother doing the impossible for the sake of her daughter. But I’ll take the purity of this efficient, brutally exciting adventure any day over the bloated CGI artifacts and winking, middling politics of whatever corporate Hollywood blockbuster it is we’re supposed to be caring about this week.

Captain Marvel (Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck, 2019)

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A few weeks ago, concurrent with and possibly motivated by one of the many snowy disasters that has marked the early months of 2019 here in the South Puget Sound, I watched all of the movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in chronological order. Most of them I had seen before, either in their initial release (sporadically as I found them to be relentlessly mediocre and all pretty much the same) or last summer, around the time I started reading comic books again for the first time in 30 years. The books too I’m tackling in chronological order, following the Marvel Literary Universe from its Silver Age inception in 1962 with Fantastic Four #1 on into the present day (so far I’m somewhere in 1965). Watching the movies in order has given me a sense of how they have changed over time, responding to current events (especially the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the election of Donald Trump) in occasionally interesting ways and forming their own internal structure through a system of Phases which can serve as markers for changes in tone and approach as the series has progressed. Reading the books has given me a new perspective on the films as well: not only can I now find them wanting as action films (the house action style is poor without exception: the editing a half-assed knock-off of Paul Greengrass’s already bad Bourne movies; the choreography, even when it is good, buried under whip pans, extreme close-ups, blurry images and too dark night scenes designed to hide the seams of CGI), as auteurist expressions (with authorial voices as distinct as Ryan Coogler, Louis Leterrier, Shane Black, Kenneth Branagh, Peyton Reed and a host of less interesting types smooshed into the familiar rhythms and bland imagery of a bad knockoff Joss Whedon (including Whedon himself)), and as adaptations of one of the unique 20th Century American art forms: the comic book.

Watching the MCU films as comic book adaptations highlights two of their biggest shortcomings in the middle phase of their run (roughly Iron Man 3 through Ant-Man, with Winter Soldier, Age of Ultron and the Civil War (technically Phase 3 but in spirit belonging to Phase 2) being the big ones). This is Marvel’s “We Make Real Movies” phase, where heroes deal with trauma in increasingly dangerous and irrational ways. It’s Marvel’s only real attempt to deal with contemporary politics, albeit at least a decade too late (I mean, it is Hollywood), as the various heroes discover that the government is full of lies, that those lies are used to prop up a global system of never-ending war for the benefit of capital, and that the human consequences for both the people who fight the wars and the people who get caught in the middle of them are incalculable. But, rather than seriously explore these issues, or the contradiction of being critical of this system while also being a multi-billion dollar profit-generating machine for one of  the biggest and most powerful corporations in the world, the MCU films are content to merely touch on them at the most basic level of exposition or sad-face acting, brief pit-stops on the way to another nauseatingly hyperactive bout of fisticuffs or a weightless car (ship, plane, robot suit) chase through empty pixels. Borrowing from prestige television, the movies never really end: individual episodes are merely subsumed into the mass whole, with any glimmer of individuality or self-contained storytelling swallowed up by the need to hype up the next installment (a trend which reaches its apotheosis in Marvel’s unwatchable Netflix series, where every episode of bleak dullness blends into the next in a formless, personality-less mush of moodiness).

But, with Phase 3, things begin to improve. These are the movies I’d mostly skipped when they were released in 2016 and 2017, and so when I caught up with them last summer I was pleasantly surprised to see that Marvel appeared to be moving on from its moody teen years and rediscovered some of the fun of its pre-1990s self. Doctor Strange is a misfire, a rote origin story with a tenth of the imagination that the character should inspire, but the rest of the group (new movies for Spider-Man and Black Panther; bright, goofy sequels for Thor, Ant-Man, and the Guardians of the Galaxy; with Civil War and Infinity War as the big crossovers) are pretty good. Civil War, split between classic superhero vs. superhero stuff that’s been essential to Marvel’s storytelling since the very beginning, and gritty psychodrama is half good (guess which half), while Infinity War is the closest the MCU has yet gotten to the kind of all-star crossover epic these films are supposed to be: bright and fast-paced yet expansive in its world and never too self-serious (despite the whole killing half the universe thing). The others all approach having an individual style, with Taika Waititi’s Ragnarok being the closest the MCU has yet gotten to a true auteur movie, while Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther fights the good fight against the series’ corporately-mandated middle-road politics, Peyton Reed’s Ant-Man movies continue to shine in small moments (though they mostly fail in big ones), and James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy films do a pretty good job of capturing the (mostly safe) weirdness of Marvel’s cosmic adventures.

So, it’s with all that in mind that I found myself watching Captain Marvel, the penultimate film of Phase 3 (Endgame wraps it up next month while another Spider-Man kicks off Phase 4 this summer). And, well, it’s fine. It’s an origin story, albeit one that, like Black Panther and Spider-Man: Homecoming before it, avoids many of the clichés of that genre (unlike Doctor Strange). Brie Larson’s Carol Danvers is blessedly free of dark trauma, rather she suffers from some kind of amnesia while serving in the Kree army (the Kree being an alien race that figures in the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie) in their on-going war against the Skrulls, another alien race, this one with the ability to shape-shift into other humanoid beings. The Skrulls head to Earth in search of Annette Bening’s MacGuffin, and Larson follows them there. She teams up with Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury (this being set in 1995, Jackson has been digitally de-aged, a ghoulish special effect that hopefully will quickly be dropped from the language of cinema and forgotten for all time) and the two have adventures while on the run from the Skrulls, the US government, and the Kree, led by Larson’s boss and mentor, Jude Law (doing little more than fulfilling the contractual obligation wherein every actor in Hollywood must appear in at least one MCU movie).

Like most recent MCU films, Captain Marvel is at its best in its smallest moments, with Larson’s impetuous quips and her easy rapport with Jackson, who appears to be having more fun than he has in any of his big spectacle movies to date, or at least since he battled a plane full of snakes. Larson’s performance is closer to Chris Hemsworth’s Thor in its bug-eyed charm and confidence than any of the MCU’s stiffer, more tortured heroes, and the character should fit easily into the cosmic side of the cycle, alongside the Asgardians and the Guardians of the Galaxy. Which is good, because that’s where the Captain Marvel character belongs: she’s way too overpowered to be dealing with Earth-bound drama. Directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, mostly known for well-regarded little indie dramas that I haven’t seen like Half Nelson and Sugar, are an unlikely choice for a slightly goofy interstellar epic, and it shows in the film’s lack of visual and aural imagination (1995 was apparently a strip mall in suburban LA playing a “We Love the 90s” mix CD and that’s about it) and its action sequences, which are almost entirely bad. The fist fights (between Larson and Law in the beginning and between her and various other stunt people later) are jumbled to incoherence, which is to be expected, and Larson doesn’t appear to be a natural for this kind of physical performance: she always looks off-balance to me. Her stunt double is probably pretty good, but it’s hard to tell what they’re doing amid all the editing and camera movement. The only halfway decent action comes at the end, with a reasonably well done dogfight and then when Danvers has achieved full power and just turns into a fiery ball of CGI vengeance, ripping through spaceships like a superstar.

Captain Marvel is, of course, the first MCU film built around a woman, and much of the film’s marketing has revolved around this fact. People much more qualified than I am should speak to the film’s feminist credibility, or about just how much its representation is worth. It doesn’t seem to me though that it’s as nuanced in its engagement with feminism as, say Black Panther was in its examination of potential responses to institutional racism. Rather it’s content to just assert its heroine’s power as an end it itself. And that might actually be more revolutionary, more joyously liberating than Black Panther‘s middling neo-liberalism. Danvers begins the film as a subservient tool of the patriarchy and ends up burning a bunch of men to the ground before heading out to dismantle the entire social-political system they’ve constructed. It’s a real comic book movie and that works for me.

Friday March 8 – Thursday March 14

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Featured Film:

The Image Book at the Grand Illusion

Almost 60 years after Breathless, it remains the case that every new film from Jean-Luc Godard is a major event. The Image Book continues in his recent vein of gnomic thoughts about cinema and history spoken over striking imagery. Trains in particular stand out this go around. There’s a lot going on in it and what you get out of it depends in large part on you. For me, I’m always happy to spend time with a cranky old man who is still upset about cinema’s failure to prevent the Holocaust.
Also out this week are other films by big auteur names: Gaspar Noé who is not my cup of tea, and Nuri Bilge Ceylan, who sometimes is. Noé’s Climax plays at a few theatres around town and is sure to provoke people who enjoy being provoked by art house movies. Ceylan’s The Wild Pear Tree is at the Northwest Film Forum. As studies of obnoxious Turkish men go, it’s definitely about ten minutes shorter than his Palme d’Or winning Winter Sleep, with some similarly sublime moments.

Playing This Week:

AMC Alderwood:

The Kid (Vincent D’Onofrio) Fri-Thurs 

Ark Lodge Cinemas:

Capernaum (Nadine Labaki) Fri-Thurs 

Central Cinema:

Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941) Fri-Weds  
They Live (John Carpenter, 1988) Fri-Weds 

Crest Cinema Centre:

Triple Frontier (J. C. Chandor) Fri-Thurs 

SIFF Egyptian:

Climax (Gaspar Noé) Fri-Thurs 
Science Fiction + Fantasy Short Film Festival 2019 Sat Only

Century Federal Way:

Extreme Job (Lee Byung-heon) Fri-Thurs 
Guddiyan Patole (Vijay Kumar Arora) Fri-Thurs 
The Kid (Vincent D’Onofrio) Fri-Thurs 

Grand Cinema:

Everybody Knows (Asghar Farhadi) Fri-Thurs 
Capernaum (Nadine Labaki) Fri-Thurs 
If Beale Street Could Talk (Barry Jenkins) Fri-Thurs 
If You Build It (Patrick Creadon) Mon Only Free Screening
What is Democracy (Astra Taylor) Tues Only 
Cat Video Fest 2019 Weds & Thurs Only 

Grand Illusion Cinema:

The Image Book (Jean-Luc Godard) Fri-Thurs 
FP2: Beats of Rage (Jason Trost) Fri Only 
Saturday Secret Matinee Sat Only 16mm
Funny Ha Ha (Andrew Bujalski, 2002) Sat, Sun, Mon & Weds 35mm
Rock ‘n Roll Cowboys (Rob Stewart, 1987) Sat Only VHS

Cinemark Lincoln Square:

Climax (Gaspar Noé) Fri-Thurs 
Everybody Knows (Asghar Farhadi) Fri-Thurs 
The Kid (Vincent D’Onofrio) Fri-Thurs 
Total Dhamaal (Indra Kumar) Fri-Thurs 
Gully Boy (Zoya Akhtar) Fri-Thurs 
Luka Chuppi (Laxman Utekar) Fri-Thurs 
118 (K. V. Guhan) Fri-Thurs 
Badla (Sujoy Ghosh) Fri-Thurs 
Thadam (Magizh Thirumeni) Fri-Thurs 
Chambal (Jacob Verghese) Sat & Sun Only 

Regal Meridian:

Gully Boy (Zoya Akhtar) Fri-Thurs 
The Kid (Vincent D’Onofrio) Fri-Thurs 

Northwest Film Forum:

The Wild Pear Tree (Nuri Bilge Ceylan) Fri-Thurs 
Distant Constellation (Shevaun Mizrahi) Fri-Sun 
Indian Horse (Stephen S. Campanelli) Sat Only 
Island of the Hungry Ghosts (Gabrielle Brady) Weds & Next Weds Only 

AMC Pacific Place:

The Wandering Earth (Frant Gwo) Fri-Thurs Our Review 
Furie (Lê Văn Kiệt) Fri-Thurs 

Regal Parkway Plaza:

Luka Chuppi (Laxman Utekar) Fri-Thurs 
Total Dhamaal (Indra Kumar) Fri-Thurs 
Gully Boy (Zoya Akhtar) Fri-Thurs 
Alone Together (Antoinette Jadaone) Fri-Thurs 

AMC Seattle:

Cold War (Pawel Pawlikowski) Fri-Thurs 

Seattle Art Museum:

Fanny and Alexander (Ingmar Bergman, 1982) Thurs Only 

SIFF Film Center:

This Magnificent Cake! (Emma De Swaef, Marc James Roels) Fri-Sun 
Frey: Part 1 and Mies on Scene (Jake Gorst and Pep Martin) Weds & Thurs Only 

AMC Southcenter:

Everybody Knows (Asghar Farhadi) Fri-Thurs 
Furie (Lê Văn Kiệt) Fri-Thurs 

SIFF Uptown:

Everybody Knows (Asghar Farhadi) Fri-Thurs 
Never Look Away (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck) Fri-Thurs 
The 20th Annual Animation Show of Shows (Various) Fri-Thurs 
Brave Girl Rising (Richard Robbins and Martha Adams) Fri Only 
Science Fiction + Fantasy Short Film Festival 2019 Sun Only

Varsity Theatre:

I’m Not Here (Michelle Schumacher) Fri-Thurs 

Legend of the Demon Cat (Chen Kaige, 2017)

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Chen Kaige’s Legend of the Demon Cat is not what you’d expect it to be. Well, at least not after the first 20 minutes or so, wherein the eponymous feline wreaks havoc on the lives of Tang Dynasty courtiers, promising buried treasure in exchange for fish eyes and then turning to murder. That kind of Strange Tales of a Chinese Studio off-beat horror-comedy kind of thing (the cat talks, oh boy is this a talking cat movie). But after the set-up, the horror dissipates and for long stretches of time, the talking cat is absent. And what we get instead is a moving melodrama based on some real history about the fall of the Tang Dynasty, famously beautiful concubine Yang Kwei-fei, and master of drunken poetry Li Po, plus or minus some eunuchs and a magician or three. Our heroes in exploring this mystery are a Japanese Buddhist monk and an unemployed Imperial Scribe/would-be poet, and they live in a world as lushly gorgeous as anything Chinese CGI has yet been able to muster.

The two tones, that of a deeply romantic melodrama and a talking cat picture, should be, by all conventional rules of movie-making, incompatible. And judging by the film’s reaction in the 14 months since it was originally released back in December, 2017, the combination does not work for most (it’s hard to know where to laugh, I suppose), though it should be noted that it did seem to be greeted positively when it played in Toronto last fall, in a supposed Director’s Cut (I have been unable to find out any details on what did and did not change since the film’s initial release). But I’m weird and I loved it. Because I’m perversely fond of history, I loved how the whole long middle section of the film contains almost no action, but is instead just the monk and the scribe talking about what might have happened thirty years earlier, while gorgeous visions of a lost Golden Age play out on screen. It’s that loss that is at the film’s heart: a movie motivated by people who have had a vision of perfection (a woman, a world, a poem) and lost it, and the anguish that can cause. And it’s about the lengths they’ll go to to bring it back, defying the laws of physics and even death itself for that end.

The film’s vision of the present isn’t quite degraded enough for the dichotomy to work, though. Chen is still as decorous as ever (fans of Farewell My Concubine need have no fear: the costumes here are just as decadently lustrous). Even his lost world, which should be significantly diminished even 30 years after the An Lushan Rebellion, possibly the bloodiest conflict of the entire Middle Ages, looks pretty nice. But, maybe that’s to the point: that even in relatively prosperous times, not unlike our own, the lure of the ideal can still be destructively strong. Maybe it’s time to let the old dreams die.

I opened at random my copy of David Hinton’s translation of Selected Poems of Li Po, looking for something to tie into this lovely, sad, weird movie. This is what I found:

Making My Way Toward Yeh-lang in Exile, I Remember Walking
Among Peach Blossoms Long Ago at Autumn River

Peaches in blossom, spring waters high,
white stones appear, then sink away,

and rustling wisteria branches sway,
a half moon drifting azure heaven.

Who knows how many fiddleheads wait,
clenched along paths I once walked?

In three years, back from Yeh-lang,
I’ll resolve my bones into gold there.

Friday March 1 – Thursday March 7

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Featured Film:

Mutual Appreciation at the Grand Illusion

It doesn’t seem possible that Mutual Appreciation, one of the corwning achievments of the Mumblecore movement (some might say one fo the only good products of the Mumblecore movement) should be old enough to be in need of restoration. But here we are in 2019 and Andrew Bujalski’s now 13 year old film has indeed been restored and is playing four days this week at the Grand Illusion. His prior film, Funny Ha Ha, will be playing there next week. Bujalski has in recent years moved onto somewhat higher profile work: with the oddball minor sensation Computer Chess, the oddball rom-com Results, and the oddball workplace comedy Support the Girls, he’s responsible for some of the finest American films of recent years. Here’s a chance to catch up with where he started. And yes, it kind of killed me not to put Legend of the Demon Cat in this spot. A film far too good to be paired with SIFF’s novelty showing of a  Cat Video Festival.

Playing This Week:

AMC Alderwood:

Gully Boy (Zoya Akhtar) Fri-Thurs 
Luka Chuppi (Laxman Utekar) Fri-Thurs 

Central Cinema:

Blazing Saddles (Mel Brooks, 1974) Fri, Sat, Mon-Weds  
Serenity (Joss Whedon, 2005) Fri-Mon 
The Two Towers (Peter Jackson, 2002) Weds Only 

Cinerama:

Black Panther (Ryan Coogler) Fri & Sat Only 
Blackkklansman (Spike Lee) Sun & Mon Only 
Roma (Alfonso Cuarón) Tues & Weds Only 

Crest Cinema Centre:

Roma (Alfonso Cuarón) Fri-Thurs 

SIFF Egyptian:

Legend of the Demon Cat (Chen Kaige) Fri-Thurs Our Review
Cat Video Fest 2019 Sat & Sun Only 

Century Federal Way:

Extreme Job (Lee Byung-heon) Fri-Thurs 
Gone with the Wind (Victor Fleming, 1939) Sun & Weds Only 

Grand Cinema:

Everybody Knows (Asghar Farhadi) Fri-Thurs 
Cold War (Pawel Pawlikowski) Fri-Thurs 
If Beale Street Could Talk (Barry Jenkins) Fri-Thurs 
Police Story 2 (Jackie Chan, 1988) Sat Only 
Burning (Lee Chnagdong) Tues Only 
Women’s Adventure Film Tour Thurs Only 

Grand Illusion Cinema:

FP2: Beats of Rage (Jason Trost) Fri & Sat Only 
Jupiter’s Moon (Kornél Mundruczó) Fri, Sun, Tues & Thurs 
Saturday Secret Matinee Sat Only 16mm
Mutual Appreciation (Andrew Bujalski) Sat, Sun, Mon & Weds 
Lords of Chaos (Jonas Åkerlund) Mon-Thurs 

Cinemark Lincoln Square:

Everybody Knows (Asghar Farhadi) Fri-Thurs 
Total Dhamaal (Indra Kumar) Fri-Thurs 
Gully Boy (Zoya Akhtar) Fri-Thurs 
Luka Chuppi (Laxman Utekar) Fri-Thurs 
LKG (Prabhu) Fri-Thurs 
Sonchiriya (Abhishek Chaubey) Fri-Thurs 
Kodathi Samaksham Balan Vakeel (B. Unnikrishnan) Sat-Mon Only 
Gone with the Wind (Victor Fleming, 1939) Sun & Weds Only 

Regal Meridian:

Gully Boy (Zoya Akhtar) Fri-Thurs 
The Wandering Earth (Frant Gwo) Fri-Thurs Our Review 

Northwest Film Forum:

The Gospel of Eureka (Michael Palmieri & Donal Mosher) Fri-Weds Director Q&A Sat
Madaraka: The Documentary (Wael “L” Abou-Zaki) Sat Only 
Chronic Means Forever and Always (Kadazia Allen-Perry and Angela DiMarco) Sun Only Directors in Attendance
Salvador Dalí: In Search of Immortality (David Pujol) Mon-Thurs 
Festival of (In)Appropriation #10 Thurs Only 

AMC Pacific Place:

The Wandering Earth (Frant Gwo) Fri-Thurs Our Review 
Sharkwater Extinction (Rob Stewart) Fri-Thurs 

Paramount Theatre:

Asphalt (Joe May, 1929) Mon Only 

Regal Parkway Plaza:

Luka Chuppi (Laxman Utekar) Fri-Thurs 
Total Dhamaal (Indra Kumar) Fri-Thurs 
Gully Boy (Zoya Akhtar) Fri-Thurs 
Alone Together (Antoinette Jadaone) Fri-Thurs 

AMC Seattle:

Cold War (Pawel Pawlikowski) Fri-Thurs 
If Beale Street Could Talk (Barry Jenkins) Fri-Thurs

SIFF Film Center:

To Dust (Shawn Snyder) Fri-Sun 
Mankiller (Valerie Red-Horse) Thurs Only 

SIFF Uptown:

Everybody Knows (Asghar Farhadi) Fri-Thurs 
Capernaum (Nadine Labaki) Fri-Thurs 
2019 Oscar Animated Shorts (Various) Fri-Thurs 
Nordic Lights Film Festival Fri-Sun 
To Dust (Shawn Snyder) Mon-Thurs 

Varsity Theatre:

Gone with the Wind (Victor Fleming, 1939) Sun Only 

Friday February 22 – Thursday February 28

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Featured Film:

Jackie Chan at the SIFF Film Center

Apparently the first weekend SIFF played Police Story and Police Story 2 they were hits, because they’ve brought them back for another three days this weekend. With much of the calendar cleared this week for the Oscars (you can catch up with various nominees at a bunch of places around town), there isn’t a whole lot else of note out there. But the Chans are phenomenal, especially the first one, hands down his best film as a director. Catch them while you can. I reviewed them at the Notebook, and Ryan reviewed them here.

Playing This Week:

AMC Alderwood:

Gully Boy (Zoya Akhtar) Fri-Thurs 
The Wandering Earth (Frant Gwo) Fri-Thurs Our Review

Central Cinema:

Singin’ in the Rain (Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly, 1951) Sat-Tues  
Sorry to Bother You (Boots Riley) Sat-Weds 

Cinerama:

Roma (Alfonso Cuarón) Weds Only 

Crest Cinema Centre:

Roma (Alfonso Cuarón) Fri-Thurs 

SIFF Egyptian:

Burning (Lee Chnagdong) Fri-Sun 

Century Federal Way:

Oscar Shorts 2019 (Various) Fri-Sun 
Extreme Job (Lee Byung-heon) Fri-Thurs 
High End Yaariyaan (Pankaj Batra) Fri-Thurs 

Grand Cinema:

2019 Oscar Animated Shorts (Various) Fri-Sun
Cold War (Pawel Pawlikowski) Fri-Thurs 
If Beale Street Could Talk (Barry Jenkins) Fri-Thurs 
Police Story (Jackie Chan, 1985) Sat Only Our Review Our Other Review 

Grand Illusion Cinema:

Lords of Chaos (Jonas Åkerlund) Fri-Thurs 
Saturday Secret Matinee Sat Only 16mm
Hunter x Hunter: The Last Mission (Keiichiro Kawaguchi, 2013) Sun, Mon & Weds Only 

Cinemark Lincoln Square:

Total Dhamaal (Indra Kumar) Fri-Thurs 
Kumbalangi Nights (Nazriya Nazim) Fri-Thurs 
Oscar Shorts 2019 (Various) Fri-Thurs  
Gully Boy (Zoya Akhtar) Fri-Thurs 
URI (Aditya Dhar) Fri-Thurs 
LKG (Prabhu) Fri-Thurs 
Mithai (Prashant Kumar) Fri & Sat Only 
NTR: Mahanayakudu (Krish) Fri-Thurs 
Bell Bottom (Jayatheertha) Sat-Tues 
Bhai Vyakti Valli Purvardh (Mahesh Manjrekar) Sat & Sun Only 

Regal Meridian:

Gully Boy (Zoya Akhtar) Fri-Thurs 
The Wandering Earth (Frant Gwo) Fri-Thurs Our Review 
Total Dhamaal (Indra Kumar) Fri-Thurs 

Northwest Film Forum:

Seattle Asian American Film Festival Fri-Sun 
Kaili Blues (Bi Gan, 2015) Tues Only 
Prairie Trilogy (John Hanson & Rob Nilsson, 1977-81) Weds & Thurs Only 
Future Language: The Dimensions of Von LMO (Lori Felker) Weds & Thurs Only Director Q&A
AMC Oak Tree:
The Wandering Earth (Frant Gwo) Fri-Thurs Our Review

AMC Pacific Place:

The Wandering Earth (Frant Gwo) Fri-Thurs Our Review 
Fall in Love at First Kiss (Chen Yu-Shan) Fri-Thurs 

Regal Parkway Plaza:

Total Dhamaal (Indra Kumar) Fri-Thurs 
Gully Boy (Zoya Akhtar) Fri-Thurs 
Alone Together (Antoinette Jadaone) Fri-Thurs 

AMC Seattle:

2019 Oscar Documentary Shorts (Various) Fri-Thurs 
2019 Oscar Animated Shorts (Various) Fri-Thurs 
Cold War (Pawel Pawlikowski) Fri-Thurs 
If Beale Street Could Talk (Barry Jenkins) Fri-Thurs

SIFF Film Center:

Police Story (Jackie Chan, 1985) Fri-Sun Our Review Our Other Review 
Police Story 2 (Jackie Chan, 1988) Fri-Sun 
The Invisibles (Claus Räfle) Sat & Sun Only  

Regal Thornton Place:

Gone with the Wind (Victor Fleming, 1939) Thurs Only 

SIFF Uptown:

Cold War (Pawel Pawlikowski) Fri-Thurs 
Capernaum (Nadine Labaki) Fri-Thurs 
2019 Oscar Live Action Shorts (Various) Fri-Thurs 
2019 Oscar Animated Shorts (Various) Fri-Thurs 
Kirikou and the Sorceress (Michel Ocelot & Raymond Burlet, 1998) Sat Only 

Friday February 15 – Thursday February 21

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Featured Film:

Noir City at the SIFF Egyptian

Our Featured Film is a no-brainer this week, as Eddie Muller is back with another festival of film noir, this year focusing on noirs from the 1950s. All the shows are playing at the Egyptian, many of them on 35mm, and it’s a superb mix of recognized classics, underseen gems and films even a long-time noir fan like me doesn’t know anything about. If you’ve seen the big names (Touch of EvilKiss Me DeadlyPickup on South Street), don’t miss the less well-known, but just as good, File of Thelma JordanAngel FaceNightfall and Murder by Contract. The latter plays back-to-back with Touch of Evil on Wednesday night, which is as good a single night of movies that Seattle is likely to get this year. Best thing to do though is to go to some shows you don’t know anything about: you’re almost certain to find something special.

Playing This Week:

AMC Alderwood:

Gully Boy (Zoya Akhtar) Fri-Thurs 
The Wandering Earth (Frant Gwo) Fri-Thurs 

Ark Lodge Cinemas:

Afro-Punk (James Spooner, 2003) Thurs Only 

Central Cinema:

Black Panther (Ryan Coogler) Fri-Tues  
Sweet Sweetback’s Badasssss Song (Melvin Van Peebles) Fri-Mon, Weds 

Crest Cinema Centre:

Roma (Alfonso Cuarón) Fri-Thurs 

SIFF Egyptian:

Trapped (Richard Fleischer, 1949) Fri Only 35mm
The File on Thelma Jordon (Robert Siodmak, 1950) Fri Only 35mm
The Well (Russell Rouse, 1949) Sat Only 
Detective Story (Detective Story, 1951) Sat Only 
The Turning Point (William Dieterle, 1952) Sat Only 
Angel Face (Otto Preminger, 1953) Sat Only 35mm
Pickup on South Street (Samuel Fuller, 1953) Sun Only 
City That Never Sleeps (John H. Auer, 1953) Sun Only 
Pushover (Richard Quine, 1954) Sun Only 35mm
Private Hell 36 (Don Siegel, 1954) Sun Only 35mm
Kiss Me Deadly (Robert Aldrich, 1955) Mon Only 35mm
Killer’s Kiss (Stanley Kubrick, 1955) Mon Only 35mm
The Scarlet Hour (Michael Curtiz, 1956) Mon Only 35mm
A Kiss Before Dying (Gerd Oswald, 1956) Mon Only 35mm
Nightfall (Jacques Tourneur, 1956) Tues Only 35mm
The Burglar (Paul Wendkos, 1956) Tues Only 35mm
Touch of Evil (Orson Welles, 1958) Weds Only 
Murder by Contract (Irving Lerner, 1958) Weds Only 35mm
The Crimson Kimono (Samuel Fuller, 1959) Thurs Only 35mm
Odds Against Tomorrow (Robert Wise, 1959) Thurs Only 

Century Federal Way:

The Wandering Earth (Frant Gwo) Fri-Thurs 
Extreme Job (Lee Byung-heon) Fri-Thurs 
Fall in Love at First Kiss (Chen Yu-Shan) Fri-Thurs 
Kala Shah Kala (Amarjit Singh) Fri-Thurs 
My Fair Lady (George Cukor, 1964) Sun & Weds Only 

Grand Cinema:

2019 Oscar Documentary Shorts (Various) Fri-Thurs 
2019 Oscar Animated Shorts (Various) Fri-Thurs 
2019 Oscar Live Action Shorts (Various) Fri-Thurs 
An American Tail (Don Bluth, 1986) Sat Only Free Screening
The Lobster (Yorgos Lanthimos, 2015) Sat Only 
Bathtubs over Broadway (Dava Whisenant) Tues Only 
Laurel & Hardy Short Films (Various) Weds Only 

Grand Illusion Cinema:

Donnybrook (Tim Sutton) Fri-Thurs 
Saturday Secret Matinee Sat Only 16mm

Cinemark Lincoln Square:

Anandi Gopal (Sameer Vidwans) Fri-Thurs 
Dev (Rajath Ravishankar) Fri-Thurs In Tamil or Telugu, Check Listings
Gully Boy (Zoya Akhtar) Fri-Thurs 
URI (Aditya Dhar) Fri-Thurs
Lover’s Day (Omar Lulu) Fri & Sat Only In Telugu with No Subtitles
Nine (Januse Mohammed Majeed) Sat & Sun Only 
Natasaarvabhowma (Pawan Wadeyar) Sat & Sun Only 
My Fair Lady (George Cukor, 1964) Sun & Weds Only 

Regal Meridian:

Gully Boy (Zoya Akhtar) Fri-Thurs 
The Wandering Earth (Frant Gwo) Fri-Thurs 
Mirai (Mamoru Hosada) Mon Only Our Review Our Other Review Dubbed

Northwest Film Forum:

To Sleep with Anger (Charles Burnett, 1990) Fri & Sat Only 
Audition (Takashi Miike, 1999) Fri-Sun 
Children’s Film Festival Seattle 2019 Sat Only 
Tivoli (Alberto Isaac, 1975) Sun Only 
Wings of Desire (Wim Wenders, 1987) Mon & Tues Only 
The Worlds of Ursula K. LeGuin (Arwen Curry) Mon-Weds 
Kaili Blues (Bi Gan, 2015) Weds & Next Tues Only 
Ganja & Hess (Bill Gunn, 1973) Thurs Only 

AMC Oak Tree:

2019 Oscar Animated Shorts (Various) Fri-Thurs 
2019 Oscar Live Action Shorts (Various) Fri-Thurs 
The Wandering Earth (Frant Gwo) Fri-Thurs 

AMC Pacific Place:

The Wandering Earth (Frant Gwo) Fri-Thurs 
Fall in Love at First Kiss (Chen Yu-Shan) Fri-Thurs 

Regal Parkway Plaza:

Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga (Shelly Chopra Dhar) Fri-Thurs 
Gully Boy (Zoya Akhtar) Fri-Thurs 

Seattle Art Museum:

The Magic Flute (Ingmar Bergman, 1975) Thurs Only 

AMC Seattle:

2019 Oscar Documentary Shorts (Various) Fri-Thurs 
2019 Oscar Animated Shorts (Various) Fri-Thurs 
2019 Oscar Live Action Shorts (Various) Fri-Thurs 

SIFF Film Center:

The Invisibles (Claus Räfle) Fri-Sun 

Regal Thornton Place:

My Fair Lady (George Cukor, 1964) Sun & Weds Only 

SIFF Uptown:

Cold War (Pawel Pawlikowski) Fri-Thurs 
Capernaum (Nadine Labaki) Fri-Thurs 
2019 Oscar Live Action Shorts (Various) Fri-Thurs 
2019 Oscar Animated Shorts (Various) Fri-Thurs 

Varsity Theatre:

Tito and the Birds (Gustavo Steinberg, André Catoto & Gabriel Bitar) Fri-Thurs 
Love Eclectic (Bill Brown) Sun Only 
My Fair Lady (George Cukor, 1964) Weds Only 

Fists of Fury: POLICE STORY and POLICE STORY 2 (1985/1988, Jackie Chan)

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With the general, distressing decline in the state of action cinema, not only (but most noticeably) in the United States but in general film at large, standouts like the occasional Hong Kong film and Tom Cruise’s reign over the Mission: Impossible franchise become increasingly lonely lights in the darkness. So it comes as a relief to have the opportunity to reexamine works from more halcyon times, when pre-Handover Hong Kong served as one of the most exciting places for the production of film in cinematic history.

One of the most internationally well-known purveyors of Hong Kong’s particular mode of action cinema was (and to some degree still is) Jackie Chan, who, after a large amount of work as an actor and stunt performer and a brief, unsatisfying stint in Hollywood, returned to the colony to create his most enduring work as a director: 1985’s Police Story, which was followed by the equally popular (if not as artistically successful) Police Story 2 in 1988. Both star Chan as Inspector Chan Ka-Kui, a bold and talented police officer in the Hong Kong Police Force, who uses substantial martial arts skills and near-superhuman endurance to best the numerous criminals and gangs who beset him. This double-header cemented Chan’s status in the West as a presence equally gifted in death-defying action and physical comedy, and provided a path for his career going forward.

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Keeping all this context in mind, the actual manner in which Police Story proceeds is often surprising in a gratifying way; for all the surface pleasures that Chan provides in lightweight films like the Rush Hour series, this is a film that consistently and impressively touches upon structures endemic to Hong Kong society. (Not for nothing did Richard Roud select the film for the 25th New York Film Festival.) Police corruption almost serves as the subtext that threatens to become text throughout the film, as Ka-Kui’s compatriots are either incompetent, bribed by the drug dealers, or hamstrung by bureaucratic expectations and regulations. Chan fills the role of the rogue cop who gets results almost too well, and yet (at least in the first film) he never becomes just the hero: his character is always complicated by his all-too human traits.

Like many a great director, Chan is interested in the processes that run microcosms, and the slow build-up to the first great setpiece of the franchise — involving extreme vehicular destruction — observes the police force outlining an operation. This idea is taken even further in Police Story 2, which is half taken up by a full-on surveillance investigation led by Ka-Kui, a development which lends some nice Hawksian charm that, if not essential, is missing from its predecessor.

But of course, the one and only star of the Police Story films — not to discount the efforts of a very game Maggie Cheung (in her breakout role) as Ka-Kui’s long-suffering girlfriend May, and Brigitte Lin in the first film as a material witness — is Jackie Chan, and the films’ best moments focus squarely on him, whether in total action mode or in very deft physical comedy. The latter may be the more unfamiliar, but such moments as when Chan must juggle four telephones and conversations simultaneously in a police station manage to feel both completely self-contained and yet endemic to the flow of the film.

That flow, of course, is centered around the action, and this trait is key to the first film’s astonishing power. Police Story‘s trajectory feels almost predestined, as Ka-Kui is thrown further and further into the machinations of the triad until he quite literally cannot restrain himself from causing untold amounts of property damage and corporeal devastation (though not to the point of death). Action is reconfigured as a motivating force that overrides every character’s moral and physical capabilities; in both films every character — even and especially Cheung’s May — gets brutally injured. Chan’s brilliance, at least in the first movie, is that the lines are at once blurred and totally clear, where Ka-Kui still remains the hero because of his herculean feats. And the fact that it is Chan himself hanging on to a bus with an umbrella, or sliding three stories down a light-covered pole, makes it that much more impressive, that much more legitimately, wondrously dangerous.