Monday, December 20, 2004

What makes an action movie work?

I'm going home tomorrow. It's been a really quick semester, seems like it just started and now it's half way over. Or perhaps half full. So, break the big push is to make a movie. Hopefully, this'll be the best thing I've ever done, and will be a big step up. I'm really psyched to see what we can do, and hopefully, will have some fun along the way. It's always good to have some kind or project keeping you moving forward. I feel like if I'm just going along, with no real goal in sight, I get more easily annoyed at things and am just less happy, but when I'm working towards something, things are better.

What else am I up to over break? I ordered 2046, the Wong Kar-Wai movie, yesterday, and I'm really looking forward to watching that. Once I see that, I'll have seen all of his movies. He's already one of my favorite directors, but with that film, he'll become one of about five or so people who I've seen everything they've done. He'll join Tim Burton, Terry Gilliam, David Lynch, and Quentin Tarantino among the people who've made a lot of movies, and I've seen every one. It's good company, and of those, Wong is definitely one of the most interesting directors. This past year, I've been watching a lot more foreign movies, and "art films," and Wong is probably the best producer of the pop-art film. His movies are always compulsively entertaining, and visually brilliant, while keeping the unclear, wandering plots of art cinema. However, the plot isn't the show in his movies, it's really the craft adn the emotion. Chungking Express, not that much happens, but the in between moments are so perfectly produced, it doesn't matter. That movie is also the best example of him creating characters you really care about, notably Faye and Officer 633.

I guess the most significant thing about Wong Kar-Wai's movies is the rambling nature of their narrative. Most Hollywood movies are so tightly constructed that there's no room for artistic tangents. This isn't always a bad thing, but it can restrict the artist's choices. Plot comes first, and character development comes second, something that's not always a good thing. The best plots come out of character choices. Recent action movies seem to be reducing any sort of character development, and instead become really long chase sequences that stretch over the movie's entire length. See Terminator 3 or The Transporter for examples of this. If you compare Terminator 2, where you really care about the characters, to Terminator 3, where the characters are barely established before we go off on a movie-long chase, you can see how action movies have changed. Wong's Fallen Angels or Ashes of Time are two movies that value character development and artistic expression over the action. Another example of a great action movie from recent times is Hero, which had great characters, incredible artistic flourishes and awesome action. The two are not mutually exclusive. The Matrix: Reloaded, despite being hated by people, worked because it was a director's showcase. They were going to make the coolest movie they possibly could, and to some extent, succeeded. Kill Bill was another example of that, and was even more successful. But, even in Volume 1, there are enough character moments that you actually care about who's involved in the action. And Volume 2 transcends that, to the point where the action is periphary, the real drama is in the characters interacting with each other.

Notably, what I'd consider to be probably the best action film of all time, Leon: The Professional, works solely because of the character development. What would be the main focus of any other movie, the rivalry between Leon and the Gary Oldman character, is pushed to the side, and instead we focus on the relationship between Leon and Mathilda, which is absolutely riveting to watch. Their relationship is one of the most interesting between two characters in any film, and that's what makes the movie work, not the guns or violence.

I wouldn't be particularly interested in making an action movie, because most action movies ignore the more interesting issues that surround the violence. I could see myself doing something like The Invisibles Volume II, which features incredible action, but is more about deconstructing the action, and using it as a way of making both King Mob and the audience reassess their attitudes towards violence. The total over the topness of the scene in Counting to None where he busts in on Takashi being tortured and guns down some Japanese business men in an over the top way is basically distilling the action movie to its bloody essence. The Invisibles is a commentary on filmic and comic book presentations of violence. I'd be interested in exploring that, juxtaposing the fact that we think those scenes are so incredibly cool with the fact that they're about killing people, which is inherently wrong. I'd also love to do an action movie that looks at violence in the way Irreversible does.

Irreversible takes the emotional justification out of the revenge film, and in the opening scene, it presents the brutality of revenge for what it is, just more violence. It makes the audience at first repulsed by what the characters are doing, but then, during the rape sequence later, puts the audience in the same mindset. I'd much rather play with audience expectations and emotions towards violence than just present violence as an end in itself.

And in talking about quality action stuff, I can't neglect to mention Buffy. Sure, it's a series about fighting vampires and preventing the apocalypse, but what matters much more is the personal interaction. Very few people who really like the show watch it for the fighting. Buffy the character is much more interesting than Buffy the action figure.

If you want to make a good action, make good characters first, then whatever you have happen will be interesting to watch.

Related Posts
Fallen Angels (12/10/2004)
Leon: The Professional (2/18/2005)
Ashes of Time (4/20/2005)

2 comments:

Shaun Thompson said...

Characterization is extremely important in an action film, along with plot. The only way to get viewers to care about the action in the film is if the action involves characters to whom they have already grown attached. I quoted from your post in my own blog, Cinema Sifter. Feel free to check out my post and offer me some feedback. Thanks!

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