Category Archives: Archived Movies

KILLERMAN

The meaning of the title of Malik Bader’s nasty crime thriller isn’t revealed until just before the end. It’s not worth the wait. Nor is the rest of “Killerman” worth your time.

The plot revolves around a couple of low-level NYC money-launderers whose attempt to make some extra cash goes haywire, with bloody results. They’re Moe Diamond (Liam Hemsworth), a stoic, taciturn fellow with a pregnant girlfriend named Lola (Diane Guerrero), and his scruffy, nervous partner Skunk (Emory Cohen), who idolizes him. They make ends meet by helping Skunk’s uncle Perico (Zlatko Buric) turn his ill-gotten gains into nice cashier’s checks, with a few stops in between (including, at one point, gold ingots).

Perico seems pleased with their work, so he offers them a chance to feather their nests further by helping him morph a bundle associated with a real estate deal he’s arranged with some crooked politicians. He assigns the duo to launder no less than $2,000,000 a day over the following two weeks, which will bring them a lucrative commission, a cool million each.

They take charge of the first installment of cash, but Perico abruptly orders a delay, and they see no reason to let all that money sit idle without bringing in a return. So they quickly arrange to use it in a lucrative drug deal involving some Nigerians and a bag of cocaine, which can then be resold at a profit. Unfortunately, the deal turns out to be a set-up, ending in a staged interruption by a corrupt cop named Leo (Nickola Shreli) and his confederates. A sniper gives Moe and Skunk the chance to escape with both the loot and the drugs, but in the course of their getaway they’re involved in a car crash that leaves them both seriously injured—Moe more so, however, since it turns out he’s suffering not just from the obvious physical bruises but that old pulp standby, amnesia (curiously, though the malady doesn’t impede him overmuch, it does bring certain personal complications).

Despite their troubles, the guys have to make things right in order to survive. That won’t be easy, as Leon is hot on their trail (the drugs, you see, have to be returned to the police evidence room), and Perico is unlikely to be too happy with the misuse of his cash. Neither Bader’s script nor his direction manages to keep the goings-on completely clear, but Moe and Skunk have to fight their way through obstacle after obstacle en route to the retrieval of money and coke. Many bodies fall along the way, and there’s some brutal torture as well.

It’s difficult to care a whit about what happens to these two scummy guys, especially since neither Hemsworth nor Cohen makes his character remotely likable or interesting, though the former lends his movie-star presence and the latter his gift for playing squirrely to the proceedings. The supporting cast offers some bluster but little more—especially Buric, who bellows and scowls as Perico, and Shreli, who comes across like a bargain-basement Vin Diesel as the sadistic cop. Guerrero is totally wasted in a thankless role.

Technical credits are okay: Freddy Waff’s production design certainly captures the seediness of the setting (according to the card occurring before the final credits, the story chronologically occurs in 2014), and DP Ken Seng collaborates with Bader in shaping some decent action sequences. Editor Rick Grayson could have sharpened the pacing; there’s really no reason for a piece like this to push the two-hour limit. Whoever is responsible for choreographing the car crash did a good job, as did those who provided the fake blood for the grisly scenes of violence: quite a few people get bullets in the head, with pretty explosive visual results.

“Killerman” is a thoroughly mediocre slice of big-city criminality and shady doings, unredeemed by its two capable stars. On cable or a streaming service it might pass muster; in the theatre it’s eminently disposable.

SHADOW (YING)

Grade: B+

After more than a decade Chinese master Zhang Yimou returns to the wuxia genre in which he excelled with “Hero” and “House of Flying Daggers,” and scores a third triumph. “Shadow” is a luminously gorgeous visual experience, and though parts of it are talky and theatrical, at its best it’s a remarkable accomplishment.

The narrative, loosely based on a part of the Three Kingdoms epic. is one of court intrigue in the third century A.D.. The fortress city of Jingzhou has been lost to General Yang (Hu Jun) as the result of a one-on-one combat with Commander Yu (Deng Chao) of the Kingdom of Pei. Yu was so terribly wounded in the fight that back home he retreated into seclusion in caverns hidden in the palace complex.

But his machinations did not cease; he has replaced himself at court with a double, Jing (also played by Deng Chao), whom he continues to train in martial combat. Only Yu’s wife Xiao (Sun Li) is complicit in the substitution.

All of this is revealed gradually: the film begins with Jing, in the guise of Yu, announcing to King Peiliang (Zheng Kai) that he has challenged Yang to a rematch to decide the city’s fate. The monarch, ostensibly a cowardly, frightened young man, is aghast: his policy has been to maintain an alliance with the seemingly invincible general. So he sends his chief minister Lu Yan (Wang Jingchun) to Jingzhou to propose the marriage of his beautiful but independent-minded sister Quingping (Guan Xiaotong) to Yang’s son Ping (Leo Wu). When the general responds by suggesting that she become his son’s concubine instead, it infuriates her.

Meanwhile the real Yu has been plotting with Captain Tian (Wang Qianyuan), who sees his king’s policies as misguided, to stage a backdoor assault on Jingzhou while the fight between Jing/Yu and Yang serves as a distraction. The dangerous assault will, it’s been decided at Xiao’s suggestion, utilize a new combat technique combining masculine and feminine elements, in which the soldiers will employ umbrellas outfitted with iron blades, which require some decidedly womanly moves when wielded but, as is shown in one especially astonishing scene, can also be used as virtual sleds to speed down a slick mountain street.

That sequence is physically possible, however improbable it appears in narrative terms, because of one of the film’s constants: the rain, which is unremitting, and gives everything a sheen. The visual side of “Shadow” is almost incredibly beautiful: unlike many of Zhang’s films—“Hero” a prime example—it uses bright colors barely at all, instead mimicking, in shimmering shades of whites, blacks and grays, traditional Chinese ink-and-brush painting. Ma Kwong Wing’s production design also makes ample use of the yin-yang symbol which, for example, fills the floor of the cavern where Yu trains Jing, as well as that of the bamboo tower high above a gorge on which Jing and Yang do battle. (The masculine-feminine motif is emphasized in the simultaneous one-on-one fight between Ping and Quingping.) Of equal symbolic significance is another motif—the zither duets of Yu and Xiao, which possess both a collaborative and an adversarial aspect.

Complementing the ravishing work of Ma Kwong Wing are the flamboyant costumes of Chen Minzheng, especially the court gowns that swirl luminously in the glistening widescreen cinematography of Zhao Xiaoding. When one combines all the technical contribution with Zhang’s operatic direction (complemented by the superb action choreography of Dee Dee, to which Zhou Xiaolin’s editing adds panache), the result is a film that can take one’s breath away.

In narrative terms, one must admit, “Shadow” will require some effort for western audiences, who are unlikely to be aware of the tale from the Three Kingdoms epic. The opening sequences, which take place before the Yu/Zing imposture is revealed, may confuse viewers, especially when it comes to the reluctance of “Yu” and Xiao to perform their music at the king’s request—something explained only later on. They may also be bewildered by the twists in the final act, in which characters who had seem fixed now become very different people.

The highly theatrical ambience naturally necessities a broad performance style from the cast. That’s especially evident in the dual work of Deng, whose subdued turn as Jing is in radical contrast to his hysterical one as Yu. He’s almost outdone in that respect by Zheng, whose king is wildly emotional. The other actors are less ostentatiously histrionic, but could hardly be called subtle; that’s not the approach Zhang has taken to the material.

Zhang’s treatment of the ancient Chinese legend may be narratively complicated and unbelievably florid, but it’s a completely ravishing visual experience.