September 13, 2010


Following up on a late-night screening of Blue Velvet, here comes a matinee showing of Bruce Lee’s final completed film Enter the Dragon and Terrence Malick’s debut Badlands. They made for an interesting double feature, to say the least.

Enter the Dragon has everything you could ever want to expect from a classic kung-fu film: lightning fast moves from Lee, slightly out of it voice dubbing, an awesome Lalo Schifrin score, crash zooms, wise Shaolin monks, nunchuckas and slow-mo action. A chance to see all that on the big screen? Definition of a cinematic no-brainer. You've also got great sets and great locations (Hong Kong looking particularly dirty and... alive) with Bruce Lee at his most iconic; incredibly ripped and taking down opponents with screaming ease.

Some interesting social points even get raised amongst all the chop-sockey. As Jim Kelly's Williams says as they chug through a floating Hong Kong slum, "Ghetto's are the same all over the world. They stink." In his flashback he also deals to a pair of racist cops, before stealing their cruiser. But then, this is paralleled with weak female characters (when they're there), and helps perpetuates the myth of all Asian people knowing kung-fu (I guess it is a kung-fu film though, so everyone should know kung-fu).

But aside from some pretty poor work from extras - who can be seen flailing about rather than actually doing kung-fu - the film is a tight action film with few flaws. It's also so evocative of the era in which it was made, with it's muted tones, funky music and camera-work. If it got cleaned up for some sort of hi-def release it would all look a bit off, really.

I unreservedly and unashamedly loved it, and perhaps the biggest compliment I could give it is that I wanted to a) go out and track down more Lalo Schifrin scores and b) watch a whole bunch of 70's kung-fu films.

Instead I had Terrence Malick's debut film, the atmospheric Badlands. The film plays out a fictionalised account of the Charles Starkweather killing spree in the US in the late 50's. Martin Sheen is stunning as the pathologically psychotic, but withdrawn killer Kit Carruthers and Sissy Spacek is equally fantastic as his tag along girlfriend (and narrator), Holly Sargis.

I occasionally have difficulty in talking about a classic film - I often wonder what it is I can contribute to the (already lengthy) conversation. Which, I know, is a bit silly to be thinking when I'm writing a "Catch-up Classics" column every now and then. And it isn't like there aren't just as many reviews posted around for current films. It may be that I find it easier to understand the history of a current film and it's context within the history of cinema.

As with Malick's other films, there is a focus on the natural world, with many long lingering shots on animals and landscapes. There are also moments of cliched romanticism and teenage adventure juxtaposed with Kit's sociopathic violence and charming deception; almost like a corrupted fairytale.

After watching this, and also taking into consideration Apocalypse Now, it's frankly astounding that Martin Sheen wasn't a bigger actor earlier. While his contemporaries like Robert Redford, Harrison Ford and Jack Nicholson were constant presences throughout the 70's, Sheen seems to have dropped off. Here, he is absolutely fascinating. His Kit Carruthers is deluded, polite, violent, charming; a mixed bag o' crazy. I thoroughly recommend checking it out.

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