Friday, January 25, 2008

Rambo / Rambo 4 (Singapore Title)

The Force for Freedom

This is yet another Sylvester Stallone comeback movie, which in fact was conceived before the return of Rocky Balboa. On one hand, I find it kind of sorry that Sly had to dust off old cobwebs and revive his iconic heroes from the past, reliving his glory days. On the other, it made for an interesting situation to see if the characters of his can withstand the test of time. With Rocky Balboa, he went back to basics and was in part quite reminiscent of the original Rocky. And Rambo 4 no doubt had been drastically updated for today's audience.

In the original First Blood movie, John Rambo did what he did for himself. The prey to some sadistic law enforcers, he turned the tables and became the hunter. In Rambo: First Blood Part II, he single-handedly erased the horrors of the Vietnam war, and became a flag waving hero who sneaked back to the arena to stamp US supremacy. With Rambo III, he carries on some dubious US Cold War foreign policy in engaging the Russians head on, fighting alongside the mujahedeens to save his long time colonel friend. Well, we know what happened thereafter, don't we? And so, out of guilt (of course I'm speculating big time here) John Rambo becomes a hermit at the border between Thailand and Myanmar/Burma, catching snakes for snake shows. A waste of talent you say?

Yes, and given today's hotspot and international attention on Myanmar/Burma, that's where the theatre of war is set. In fact, the very first scene was footage from the very recent crackdown by the military junta, which tells you that the movie is very in tune with what's happening around the world, just like what Rambo III did. This time, Christian missionaries demand and convinced our tragic hero to bring them to the troubled country in order to assist the displaced. And with missionaries who decide not to heed warnings and place their trust in God, it's not before long that they run into trouble.

And it's a no holds barred caricature-like depiction of the represented military junta as blood lusting, cock-sucking pedophiles, whom nobody knows what the heck they're talking about, and whose pastime is the game Padi-field Race, laden with mines for additional kick of course. THey're faceless, mindless, with a single agenda to rape, plunder and pillage villages to sustain their decadent lifestyle. And when they pick on the Americans, you know they're in for some retribution, eye for an eye style, becoming simple fodder for our hero to mow down without remorse.

This is Rambo Generation 2. It's nothing like the earlier movies in its depiction of violence. Here, the full house audience I was with were shocked and awed into silence with the stark depiction of decapitated bodies, flying limbs, exploding heads and the likes, depending on what the weapon of choice is. It's very in your face, and if you watch this in a theatre hall with a proper sound system set up, you're in for some major vibes as the bass blows you many times over.

There isn't really a powerful story behind the violence (or subtly, the abhorring of it), as events get played out in quite ordinary fashion akin to many movies with (para)military search and extraction missions. Characters have little depth, but that's not what any audience is in for. It's the action, and for his age, Stallone plays it smart by not making Rambo a one-may army no longer, but assisted by bickering soldiers of fortune, and mujahedeen-styled rebels again. The set action pieces are only a handful, and those who relish watching Rambo in action will have to savour the few moments that he has in dispatching the opposition. I thought Rambo totally short changed everyone by standing behind an armour-plated machine gun. Like I mentioned, we're only provided glimpses of the gung-ho guerrilla tactics employed (more of that mean looking bow-and-arrow of choice from First Blood II), and a lot more of the generic firing off rounds incessantly. But there are still some cartoony elements retained, such as the Claymore having the destructive powers of a mini-nuke.

In short, Rambo 4 should work for fans, new found fans or the just-curious alike, and especially those who miss the nostalgic 80s where action heroes were a dime a dozen, but none quite as iconic as the man with the red headband who's a one-man war machine, whether he likes it or not.

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