Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Green Hornet


My first brush with The Green Hornet was through the reruns of the 60s television series which starred Van Williams as the Green Hornet / Britt Reid, and none other than martial arts superstar Bruce Lee as Kato, where its seriousness in tone contrasted with the really campy Batman and Robin series starring Adam West and Burt Ward as the caped crusaders. It only survived one season then, and I was pretty excited about the big screen treatment only for the musical chairs production to throw a spanner to that expectation. But as it finally turned out, Michel Gondry's film starring Seth Rogen and Jay Chou was a lot of fun!

And we thought the film would never see the light of day, with Kevin Smith originally set to make the film, followed by the horror of the less than trim (at the time) funnyman Seth Rogen being considered for the lead, leading to fears that it would be a vulgar comedy. Stephen Chow was attached to direct and star at the same time as Kato, before creative differences saw him giving up the director's chair, and then dropping out altogether. Who would have then thought French director Michel Gondry, known for his really inventive and creative eye with films like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Be Kind Rewind and The Science of Sleep, would have come onboard and therein was a hope that all would be well, before Jay Chou the Asian multi-hyphenated superstar would join in as the sidekick. While Jay had some experience looking pretty convincing with his martial arts moves (Kungfu Dunk being the case in point), but it's Jay-I-know-no-English. Really?

I suppose here's when all stars got aligned, and a fine product got delivered. Who would have thought Gondry would be comfortable in helming a mainstream commercial blockbuster fare, while retaining some of his quirky sensibilities and techniques which do call attention to themselves, one of which was an impressive multiple split screen unravelling in real time. Knowing that Jay Chou is no Bruce Lee, a visually gimmicky "Kato-vision" got created to compensate for Chou's lack of speed viz-a-viz Lee's version, coming up with an explanation of an adrenaline overdrive that makes him lightning fast. Hmm, ok. At least a tribute to Lee's famed One Inch Punch made it to the film.

Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg share story credits, and while yes it was jokey at times and not taking itself too seriously, on the whole the treatment worked, breathing life to a stifling serious than thou costumed crimefighter films that are glutting the screens. The Green Hornet turned out to be a breath of fresh air, dealing with the origins of the hero and sidekick, how their mutual disdain for Britt's father James Reid (Tom Wilkinson) and his demise led to the enlightenment and awakening of Britt and Kato to not waste their lives, to live them to the extreme, and to do so by pretending to be the bad guys, in order to take down the real ones. It's a serious bout of Bromance between the two that started off well, punctured by envy and jealousy courtesy of token female Lenore Case (Cameron Diaz) who got hired on the spot for Britt's The Daily Sentinel media company (note: it's updated for the modern age, so newspapers just aren't its only medium on offer), but like "brothers" (or Xiong Di as it is in Mandarin), they forgive in time to bring on some major pandemonium to the gangland of Los Angeles.

There's no let up on the action sequences, from fisticuffs to set pieces to just about throwing everything into their Black Beauty vehicle that will make James Bond and Batman drool with envy. From noisy, menacing twin machine guns to a wicked flamethrower, the Black Beauty has plenty of surprises up its chassis (check out that door gun!) that will make this go down as one of film's most memorable vehicles on par with the DeLorean and the various incantations of the Batmobile, with its fair share of property demolition and destruction, and a line of cop cars lying in its wake. Expect plenty of montage action scenes that had found their way to various trailers and TV spots.

Christoph Waltz was a major casting coup, hot off his dastardly evil turn in Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds which made everyone sit up. His opening in The Green Hornet was not lacking in that creation of impact, where again he owned his character's introduction balancing some repeated comedy about his name Chudnofsky, with some really bad ass attitude that will strike fear into opponents - here an uncredited James Franco as a pub owner cum meth dealer who rubs Chudnofsky the wrong way. Rogen and Goldberg equips the evil man with a handgun to behold in order to satisfy their innate fanboy tendencies, while weaving a character with serious psychotic overtones struggling with an identity crisis. It's a pity this role wasn't expanded to allow for the heroic duo more time, as Waltz played his part to pitch perfection.

Clocking in at almost two hours, not everything is about the man while in costume, as he spends significant time outside of it as Britt Reid, although not quite the newspaper editor we have known since the television days, but someone who's struggling to step out of his father's shadow, and a tale about how Britt climbs from a life of irresponsibility, to realizing the resources on hand to find the battle against the corrupt, through a free press, where advantages can be seen if politics get mixed into the equation to make the proponents strange bedfellows indeed. Slight twists come late in the game to add in some smartness to the storyline, and as you may find it hard to believe, the slight comedy in The Green Hornet worked wonders.

Due credit has got to go to Seth Rogen for being serious about looking the part, shedding kilos to get into the suit, and Jay Chou in putting in tremendous effort to learn English, despite some enunciation issues now and then. The Green Hornet is a fun filled romp of the costumed crimefighter like never seen before, and I was grinning ear to ear when the theme tune finally played. I'm not sure about you, but should there be another installment, I sure am looking forward to it.

Fast and Furious

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