I don’t know why… but I *love* Asian Entertainment.
Martial Arts films, Monster Movies, Anime… yes, please. Right here!
Now, I am not Asian. Not even partially. I’m not related to anyone Asian, nor have I ever been to Asia. Yet, when my fascination for it started, the only real-world exposure I had was seeing the owners/operators of the China Moon Restaurant in Stoneham, Massachusetts. The first time I recall even having an Asian Classmate was in 5th grade, when a girl actually from Taiwan suddenly appeared in my class. I don’t remember how long she was there… but she wasn’t there at the end of the year. The next was in 6th grade when we moved to New Hampshire… and that guy was a Prick. (AND his family owned the local Chinese Restaurant… hate to sound like I’m perpetuating a stereotype, but that was a fact. *shrug* Good food, though…)
So, most of my experience… was movies.
Saturday afternoons… just after lunch… the “Creature Double Feature”. Almost invariably, one of those films would be a Godzilla movie. Well, I say “Godzilla”, but that’s basically what we called EVERY giant monster movie with a guy in a rubber suit; a “Godzilla Movie”. My oldest brother was the bigger Godzilla fan… his favorite character was Jet Jaguar, a tiny robot that grew huge, who was only in one of the movies. (I have to admit… he *was* pretty bitchin) I had a personal preference in the Gamera series… he was the giant Turtle. Probably only because he was *different* than Godzilla, and hence, I didn’t have to feel like I was copying my brother. Now, these were the old 60’s and 70’s monster movies… which veritably SCREAMED of “Cheese”. But when you’re a young boy whose age is in the single digits… they’re the greatest cinematic achievements known to mankind, hands down. Despite the fact they all had the same plot:
Godzilla appears. Another monster appears. Godzilla and Other Monster fight. Godzilla gets hurt, Other Monster reigns supreme. Japanese people try to find and exploit weakness of Other Monster, and fail. Godzilla comes back. Godzilla and Other Monster fight again. Godzilla kicks Other Monster’s Ass to Bloody Hell. Credits roll.
One time I was watching Rocky III, and it hit me… it’s the same damn plot! Rocky has moved out of the Sports Movie genre… and is officially a Japanese Giant Monster Film.
When I got into my late-teens… I cast aside such “silly pursuits”. (At least, that’s what I told people… I still watched them as a guilty pleasure.) Then, as I got towards college, my brother discovered that they were making “new” Godzilla films… and they were really good. He bought a bootleg of one from a mail-order in the back of a Fangoria magazine (or something)… Godzilla vs. King Ghidora. Still the whole man-in-a-rubber-suit… but the filmmakers got *good* at it… adding in a few modern-type special effects, and I had to admit, it was pretty darn entertaining. When I got to college, I made friends with a guy who was ALSO a Godzilla fan… but he had MORE of the new movies. So, I got to watch them… some were still a bit cheesy… but still enjoyable nonetheless. They satisfied my inner-creature-double-feature-watching-Kid with the badass monsters and wanton destruction… my slightly-more-mature-cinematic-sensibilities with the effects and storytelling… and my sense of humor with just the right amount of cheesy-looking silliness. They were the perfect movies!
Then… my friend told me that there were re-makes of the Gamera series as well. I was intrigued… because he was my favorite. So when he said he was making a trip down to Boston’s Chinatown, to hopefully pick up the final Godzilla movie he didn’t have (Godzilla versus Destroyah… the one where Godzilla dies!)… he asked me if I wanted him to pick me up a copy of Gamera, should they have it. I said, “Yes, please!”, gave him the money… and as luck would have it…when he came back, he had Gamera: Guardian of the Universe with him. (This was back in the end days of VHS… about 2 years before DVD came out)
That… was a Freaking Sweet movie. The effects were on par with the new Godzilla movies… and the story was great! Seriously… the actual tale being told was a good one! It was my new favorite Giant Monster Movie. All hail the Turtle!
They made 2 sequels… and I saw and bought the third one… now on DVD. Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris. Now… watching this movie… you know it’s a guy in a suit… but it *doesn’t look* like a guy in a suit! Holy crap… this movie was better in most every way to any Godzilla film I’ve ever seen… Story, effects, action… Oochie Mama! It was freaking brilliant! Never mess with a turtle that’s so determined to kick your ass, that it blows off its own hand with a fireball. I’m just saying… that’s probably good advice.
My oldest brother even admits that the new Gamera Trilogy (as it’s known as)… are the best Monster Movies ever made. Now, we both swear by them. So, if you’re ever in the mood to satisfy your inner-six-year-old-destruction-craving-self… the Gamera Trilogy is the way to go.
Though, recently… I did pick up the Original Godzilla movie from 1954… the first one that started the whole trend of a guy in a rubber suit. I bought the special edition that has BOTH versions… the one with Raymond Burr spliced in for the American audiences… and the Japanese original… Gojira. First, I watched the Raymond Burr one… and fell asleep. The Japanese version, is longer, and no Raymond Burr… and now I’ll never see the Raymond Burr one again. Supports the theory… “Always go with the original”.
The other kind of movie that Japan does really well (at least that I watch)… is their Animation. But it’s better than Animation… it’s just “Anime”. Because apparently, when you get cool, mature and edgy… you don’t bother to say the end syllables. The first Anime I saw was Vampire Hunter D. Very dark, very gothic and very violent… so naturally, it was loved by me and my pre-teenage self. The first time I realized that there’s some animation that wasn’t for kids… and look what it started; a whole new area of Geek for little ole me.
I was always a bigger fan of the Sci-Fi and Horror Animes (big surprise, right?). The “period” pieces that dealt with the Samurais and high fantasy… weren’t my cup of tea. Nah, I prefer my Anime to be set in the 20th century or later.
My absolute earliest exposure to it was the old Force Five series that played in the mornings before school. Each day of the week was a different show. There was Grandizer; an alien outcast disguised as a farmhand who discreetly hid his giant robot behind a waterfall... Danguard Ace; a flying battleship that also turned into a giant robot… Starvengers; 3 badass ships that combined in 3 different badass ways to make 3 different badass Giant Robots… Gai King; the baddest-ass of all the Giant Robots, and sort of the flagship show of the whole Force Five lineup… and as awesome as they all were, my personal favorite was Spaceketeers; 3 guys with little mini-ships escorting a galactic princess across the galaxy… and the only show that didn’t focus on Giant Robots.
Since my resurged interest, one that became amongst my favorites is the series Bubblegum Crises Tokyo 2040. It’s a reboot/remake of the original Bubblegum Crisis… and while more fans apparently swear by the original… I prefer the newer one, because there’s more episodes and better animation… but that’s just me. The concept is basically just hot chicks in super-armor kicking the crap out of robots that are going bonkers. It’s a dangerous combination of appealing to my geek side and my inner 13-year old that’s entering puberty. Call it a guilty pleasure… I just call it entertaining.
Other favorites are Ghost In the Shell (that’s a big one), Spriggan, Hellsing, Wolf’s Rain, Witch Hunter Robin, the original Fist of the North Star and the ultra-violent Guyver. (It’s a testosterone thing)
I’ve never seen Dragonball Z, but have heard its praises… but I’m still not desiring to see it. Yes, I’ve been subjected to Pokemon… and the sheer concept baffles me to no end. I’ve also seen some of the more “romance” series… like Love Hina, Please Teacher! (which was… odd), Please Twins (the not-so-odd sequel) and a few others. While I’m fascinated by the idea that this comic-book and animation medium has so many different genres and stories (the number of various titles produced in Japan is staggering!)… those just aren’t my cup of tea.
And a word about the “Hentai” genre: Uh… Why? It’s just porn… which is fine. Plenty of people want to see that. But conceptually… why? The comics (or “manga”) are easy enough to make, that’s fine. There are plenty of smutty comics and drawings out there… go nuts. But knowing how much work and time goes into ANIMATION… even for just a half-hour show (about 9 months), it just seems so… pointless to put all that effort into something that could more efficiently, more quickly, and much more easily be filmed in ONE day with live, willing actors. (I think it’d be sexier too… but that’s just me.) Granted, it would be funny to be a fly on the wall when they’re doing the voice recording of that. For the voice-actors… it’s gotta be humbling, just moaning into a microphone.
Oh, and for the Hentai that involves the “Naughty Tentacles”… uh… I’ll be over here, just let me know when you’re finished. For those readers that have no clue what I mean… Trust me… You don’t want to know. *shudder*
I don’t want to seem like I’m only having a thing for Japan. That’s not the only country I think of when I think about “Asian”. Hell, it’s really just a small island in comparison to the rest of it. Face it… China completely dwarfs it in size, though I don’t know about populations. But Japan is the specific place that’s associated with Anime and Giant Monster Movies (“Kaiju”, I believe it’s called).
China, on the other hand… that’s where I generally go for my Kung-Fu movies! (Not literally, as I’ve never been there… but one day!)
Now my standards for Kung-Fu movies are actually pretty low, I think. With most movies I want a good, believable story, solid acting, and (ideally) a slightly better understanding of the human condition. With Kung-Fu movies… I just need really neat-looking butt-kicking. I don’t normally care who the main butt-kicker is… (but Jackie Chan, Jet Li or Bruce Lee are always solid options)… it just has to have lots of flips, kicks, acrobatics, and imaginative attacks/counter-attacks/counter-counter-attacks. Plot? What’s that? Who cares? I’m only here for the action. (Hmmm… that’s an odd parallel to porn, right there)
The old Bruce Lee movies didn’t have a whole lot of the super-fancy made-for-movies type of choreography… Jackie Chan and Jet Li definitely have a lot more flipping and acrobatics in their movies… but Bruce Lee had far more straightforward, high-intensity-level Smackdown being laid upon any who dare mess with him.
I think a great comparison between those 3 is in the following situation… and how their movies handled that with their particular stock characters: 1 vs. 100
If Jackie Chan were alone, facing 100 enemies at once, he panics and tries to run away and dodge in a Buster Keaton/Charlie Chaplin-type comedic style. When cornered, he fights and takes out a few characters… dodges, takes out a few more… always moving, always dodging, never letting up as long as he’s being pursued. But not normally engaging more then 3 guys at any one instance. Highly entertaining with the best comedic value of the 3. Total sequence time: Probably 10 minutes.
Jet Li… facing 100 enemies at once. With Zen-like calmness he stands his ground… taking out each enemy one at a time (sometimes two or three at a time). Realizing he can’t be fazed… the majority back off, while the big bad Heavy steps forward to take him on one-on-one… who gets his ass handed to him in a more thorough manner than any of the other 99. Highly entertaining with an “Oooh… did you see that?” Factor. Total sequence time: Anywhere from 5-10 minutes.
Bruce Lee… versus 100 enemies. You know without a doubt going in, the odds are AGAINST the 100. He may be preaching Zen-like coolness… but he looks majorly pissed off. He actively walks *into* the fray… taking on 5-8 guys at any one instant, bodies dropping in his wake, ripping everyone a new bunghole in record time. Entertainment value is determined after picking your jaw up off the floor. Total sequence time: 2 minutes… tops.
While those three are most well-known… you definitely can’t discount many of the other great Martial Arts stars out there. Tony Leung, Stephen Chow, Donnie Yen, Sammo Hung, Michelle Yeoh (mmmm…. Michelle Yeoh. *drool*)… there’s really too many to list. All have distinctive styles and do their jobs VERY well.
You also can’t discount some of the non-martial arts action films that come out of China. If you’ve never seen John Woo’s Hard Boiled or The Killer both starring Chow-Yun Fat… then you may be confused why they call John Woo a “Master” when you see his American films. Just see the opening action sequence of Hard Boiled and you’ll have your answer. Seriously.
Now, as much as I love Asian movies and entertainment… I won’t automatically think its great if it comes from there. I have to admit, I’m not really a big fan of the Asian Horror movies I’ve seen. I really enjoyed The Ring, and after constantly hearing how “the original was better”… well, of *course* I’m going to track it down and watch it. So, I did find Ringu, and saw it. Honestly… I liked the American version better.
But I think that comes down to a cultural thing. In the Japanese original, when the Ex-Husband character comes into the story, he completely takes over the investigation… and the main female character takes a backseat. I seriously forgot she was there in some scenes. They also figure in psychic powers and telepathy into the story, so one character (usually the Ex-Husband) will simply touch another, get a psychic flash of all the convenient information they need to get to the next scene. Not only does it make the movie a half-hour shorter than the American one… it just all seems “too easy”... like the story was handed to them, and it would have happened whether they did anything or not. In the American… there’s no psychic-stuff… so all the clues and answers are found by actively investigating. No answers are handed to the characters… they have to take initiative and find them. Plus, it’s the main female (Naomi Watts) who’s doing most of the work (as well she should… because it’s her story). The Ex is useful in his own way, and he’s much less of a dick then the original guy. The scares and creep factor in both are probably about the same… but overall, I’d rather see the American one. *shrug* (Which goes AGAINST my theory of, “Always go with the original”)
So yeah… I pick and choose the stuff I like from that side of the world. But then again, who doesn’t? Hell… THEY do it themselves. But while “being Asian” isn’t a guarantee that I’ll like it… it will intrigue a small part of me enough to probably give it a chance. (At least enough to read a synopsis) And it’s led me to discover a lot of shows and movies that have made me smile for one reason or another. Isn’t that the most important thing?
And without my fascination for that side of the world… I never would have tried sushi. Which is probably my favorite part of the whole thing.