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September 13, 2003

Why The Wachowski Bros. Lost Two of My Dollars

Posted by Mike on September 13, 2003 8:32 AM

Well, I dropped the whole "review anything and everything viewed" schtick a while back, but I'm coming back from the theater pleasantly buzzed this evening, so here's something:

The movie in question is "So Close", a Hong Kong action flick of the "assassin chick" branch of that genre tree (not unlike "Bullets of Love").

If you don't care for Hong Kong assassin chick films, there won't be much here for you: it's just an action flick, but it's fun and maintains its pace for most of its 110 minutes, slowing down only briefly to introduce some emotional conflict that's quickly atoned for with a car chase and bloody gunfight. The performances are all pretty good. The tough female cop comes off as a sort of Hong Kong-grown Janeane Garofalo. The actresses playing a team of sister professional killers are great, too. The action is well done in the Hong Kong tradition, and that's what I thought about the most this evening.

A Quick Digression Into The Matrix

Al and I were sitting around the pad last night trying to decide whether to head down to the local $2 theater to catch "The Matrix Reloaded". We've each only seen it once, which is sort of weird considering how much we anticipated it before it arrived.

"I could go see it again, I guess," I said, then thought on it a moment and said "No. I guess I couldn't. Weird."

Why the Matrix malaise? I'm not sure, except to say there's just nothing there to go look at twice, especially since the infamous Architect's speech is easily available with a Google search. The rest seemed to be a lot of punching and kicking in the service of ...?

Well, if the things the Wachowski brothers had to say are an accurate indication it's just punching and kicking in service of itself.

Anyone willing to take a 200-level elective at any liberal arts school get the philosophy that provides the underpinnings for the questions "The Matrix" inspires. The reason the characters have the Matrix to play around with in the first place, said the brothers, is to provide a logical framework for a superhero story that doesn't rely on extraterrestrial origins, bombardment with gamma rays, or mutated genes to explain super powers.

A less charitable take on the "clever Wachowskis are blowing our minds with philosophy while entertaining us and that's the genius of it" thesis is that the Wachowskis were merely forced to accomodate the impoverished imaginations of the American movie-going public. This less charitable take reduces the philosophical mumbo jumbo found in "The Matrix" to a colossal waste of time, if only because Hong Kong flicks have been doing without this for decades, and provide as much entertainment. Lawrence Fishburne's plodding speechifying and the Architect's snotty blathering are crippling liabilities, in the end, because they're uneconomic baggage.

Back to "So Close"

There's a flimsy rationalization for people being able to jump as high as their own heads in Hong Kong movies that fans implicitly sign on to: With hard training and a strong spirit, anything's possible. There's not a lot of explication devoted to this idea. It's just in the genes of these movies, and people seem to enjoy watching anyhow, the same way audiences for decades have blithely accepted that Superman's from Krypton so of course he can fly and stop bullets with his teeth, or that it's only natural for Reed Richards to respond to "cosmic rays" by becoming Mr. Fantastic. People who can't accept these premises in the context of a comic book, sci-fi film, or fantasy novel are missing a basic piece of wiring we've collectively had since Gilgamesh was first committed to clay.

"So Close" and its kindred in the genre get this. When we see a gorgeous little woman flip through the air with a Glock in each fist, blazing away, there's no indignant mutter rippling through the audience at the sheer improbability of the whole thing: it's part of the fun. And it's so much more fun that the Carpenters' "Close to You" is playing while she does it, stripping the proceedings of any claim to "seriousness," or the deadly need to saddle it with time-wasting attempts at 200-level high-mindedness.


I love a good piece of wire-fu. Just added So Close to my watch list. :-)

Posted by: Leopoldo Marino at September 13, 2003 5:10 PM