Tuesday, February 09, 2021

Stuff that's been waiting: Monster Hunter and The Rescue

So, AMCs in Boston are selling concessions now. The offerings are exceptionally limited compared to the old usual - popcorn, nachos, and soda, maybe candy - and you don't get to serve yourself at the Coca-Cola Freestyle machine. I went with a soda because it was my second movie of the day and there aren't any water fountains, and it turns out that even with Chinatown right outside the emergency exit for screen #1, there are not a whole lot of people lining up to see The Rescue on the date of the Large Football Game when there's a snowstorm and it came out in China a month and a half ago, allowing the pirates to do what they do. I was alone and probably could have taken my mask off, but I like the front so there could have been people behind me.

Fun fact #1: It is a fair amount harder to snake a straw up under a KN-95 mask than it is the cloth masks I was using during the last round of movie theaters being open. Not saying I ever brought a can of soda in there, but I may have had one in between shows.

Fun fact #2: That's at least two delays ago! Those cups have been waiting for someone to pull them out for almost a year!

Fact that is fun to fewer people: Both of these films were produced by Chinese entertainment company Tencent, whose logo does not include a Minion as American viewers might suspect, but Wuba, the adorable star of their hit Monster Hunt series, which as you might imagine is in no way connected to Capcom's game. I vaguely wondered if they had to cut Tencent in to play China, although they apparently got pulled and banned for a joke that I don't remember at all.

Anyway, while Monster Hunter is the only one of the two specifically based on a video game, they both occasionally have that feel - mission-oriented, the physics and rendering sometimes a little off, camera doing weird things and pulling back to give you the lay of the land. It's messier in Monster Hunter, because the writing is, but it's a sensation that's definitely in play during The Rescue too.

Also, both of them look like they would have been more fun in 3D, with The Rescue possibly also wanting HFR and "4D" enhancements. Unfortunately, 3D home releases are getting harder to find - Hong Kong used to be my go to for that but it's dried up, and even the UK is iffier these days. It's a bummer, considering how it looks like the virus has apparently killed 3D here, although we'll see what happens in March when Ray and Godzilla vs Kong come out.

Oh, one final aside - I'm mildly surprised that The Rescue is available to stream on Prime already, although maybe I shouldn't be, as it's only at Boston Common for another couple days and was likely only there this weekend as a holdover from two months ago, and, besides, pandemic windows are weird. Still, it's the sort of thing that makes me do a little bit more digging before linking to it to see if it's legit or a pirate stream, since you can't always tell with Prime Video.

Monster Hunter

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 7 February 2021 in AMC Boston Common #13 (first-run, DCP)

You don't buy a ticket to Monster Hunter without knowing what you're in for, on a certain level - whether it's because you're a fan of the games, you know what sort of movies Paul W.S. Anderson and Milla Jovovich make together, or you just looked at the poster and/or trailer and caught the vibe. Still, even if you know the sort of thing it's going to be, it's not unfair to hope that it might be more, or at least be a better version of that thing. It's barely a movie as a whole, really only able to be appreciated for its various parts.

And some of those parts are pretty good! I admire Anderson's decision to not screw around much in the early going, as the movie kicks off with a nutso bit of fantasy action and a bland but no-nonsense bit getting folks from our world to the new one and fighting for their life. There's a fun, propulsive synth-heavy score, and it's probably a lot of fun in 3D, because if nothing else, Anderson knows how to build a shot. Don't ever suggest that Milla Jovovich ever gives half effort in this sort of movie, though the world is still trying to figure out what to do with Tony Jaa. He's fun, but he doesn't really get a chance to show his stuff with little but visual effects to fight.

This sure gets mired in a place where I badly wanted to see something half as cool as the prologue as soon as it gets to the point where any sort of story would be really helpful, though - things slow to a crawl, one group of characters is shuffled off, time is killed while Jovovich and Jaa play out the "people with no obvious reason to be enemies" fight bit, and then a new crew is brought in but never given a chance to make individual impressions (though I imagine fans of the game will enjoy seeing them). Anderson never engages with the bits of world-building that look fun, ending on an orgy of mean-spirited violence and hints at a sequel that seems unlikely to come.

It's a bummer to watch the movie sink from showing a ton of potential to becoming a complete mess. Maybe they can build on it - the Resident Evil movies hit their stride with #4 and #5, after all - but who knows if they'll get the chance?

Jin Ji Jiu Yuan (The Rescue)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 7 February 2021 in AMC Boston Common #1 (first-run, DCP)

Dante Lam Chiu-Yin's latest patriotic blockbuster has everything it needs to be a crowd pleaser and then some, the "then some" coming from a tendency to pile things on a little too high when there's already plenty for the audience to worry about. It's one of those action movies that puts just enough fairly predictable material between spectacles to get by but can escape feeling completely rote thanks to its star's charisma.

It follows a unit of the Chinese Coast Guard based in Xiamen and co-captained by Gao Qian (Eddie Peng Yu-Yen), the "winchman" who is lowered into danger via helicopter, and kicks off with the evacuation of an offshore oil rig in danger of collapse after a fire, hairy enough that one helicopter pilot is injured and the other loses his nerve. Fang Yuling (Xin Zhilei) and Liu Bun (Mario Li Mingcheng) are assigned to replace them, and while she's as good as anyone in the service, she's naturally a bit more conservative than Gao, leading to a little friction between her, Gao, and winchmen Zhao Cheng (Wang Yang-Lin) & Bai Yang (Xu Yang). She's also pretty, and Gao's five-year-old son Congcong (Zhang Jingyi) thinks it's about time the widower found him a new mother.

Lam and the other producers seemed to have had box-office ambitions even beyond being one of the big releases for the Lunar New Year holidays in 2020 - an English-dubbed trailer played American theaters in the weeks leading up to its intended release, and not only do the big set-pieces have a lot of English, but the film goes easy on the flag-waving and nationalism in ways that Lam's last two most certainly did not. It's not likely the film would have had that sort of crossover success before 2020 went haywire, but it's polished, the themes have broad appeal, and the Xiamen location looks good on screen; it's the sort of thing I can see recommending to people who are going to find any opportunity to dismiss a foreign film as weird or a Chinese film as hostile.

And it's enjoyable if not exactly deep. Eddie Peng is a pretty easygoing center of the film, making Gao Qian believably cocky on the job but a big dork around his son, playing his bond with his team as tight but not exclusionary. He and Xin Zhilei play off each other as colleagues and possibly friends well, although the script never bothers to find any reason for them to be paired romantically other than being the male and female leads. The rest of the cast is fine, good enough to pass the time between adventures with, whether it's Wang Yang-Lin as Gao Qian's younger and brasher partner or Lyric Lan Ying-Ying as his finacée, or Zhang Jingyi as the maybe-just-slightly-too-cute kid. It's not his fault that the film puts Congcong in the middle of a late subplot that stretches the film too far because it means cutting away from the big tanker fire that's already got two or three threads going (but I guess a Chinese movie needs Gao Qian to serve the people even when he's got personal concerns).

There's not much arguing with the search-and-rescue action, at least. Thus must be a heck of a thing to see with every bell and whistle a theater can throw at it from the exciting opening gambit to a plane-crash centerpiece that would probably be the grand finale of other movies. Lam is credited with action choreography as well as "regular" direction, and it lets him combine the large-scale set pieces with the up-close-and-personal very well even though that can often seem like the work of two completely different filmmakers cut together (and often is). He's got a good enough handle on how this all fits together than even the sequences where the CGI budget being stretched work better than they look.

It is, at times, a bit too much movie for how simple it is at heart, especially when it gets to the end and it's hard not to feel like there's been too much too often. Nevertheless, when Lam just gets down to delivering the thrills promised, The Rescue is a blast and goes down a lot easier than the more militaristic adventures.

Also at eFilmCritic

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