July 10th, 2008

Flash Gordon

'Speed Racer' is the new 'Flash Gordon'

Yesterday I was suposed to go see Speed Racer with someone I work with, but he never showed up.  It turns out that he didn't really understand me when I told him which screening I bought tickets for, even though he nodded and said, 'OK'.  Why do Japanese people do this?  I think it is to be polite or something, but it is beyond pointless. 

Surprisingly, the cinema refunded me for his ticket.  They were really nice about it as well.  It was possibly the first time I've ever watched a film in the cinema on my own.  I tend to think of cinema going as a social activity, but it actually wasn't so bad.  I think maybe it's easier to lose yourself in a film if you are on your own.

I didn't ever watch the cartoon Speed Racer, although my best friend in high school was really into it.  I had also never seen a film by the Wachowski brothers before, but I had been told to expect something obnoxious.  I went to see the film for three reasons.  Firstly, the trailer looked pretty.  Secondly, I like some of the actors who were involved such as Susan Sarandon and Christina Ricci.  Finally, I liked the campy style of the trailer.  

In many ways Speed Racer was quite similar to Flash Gordon.  They both have the same bright colours and over the top acting.  In fact, the mise-en-scene for Speed Racer was nearly perfect, particularly the costumes.  Everything Trixie wears is fabulous, and in one scene Mr Royalton's tie is even colour coordinated to match the walls of his office.  

Moreover, Speed Racer is perhaps the first film I have seen that uses CGI creatively.  The racing sequences did make me feel sick at times, but I think that this is slightly more acceptable than usual due to the subject matter of the film. 

Like all great films, you could watch Speed Racer with the sound turned off, and it would still be enjoyable.  However, the sound was also well done.  It was alot more self aware than the sound for most Hollywood films.  For instance, in one scene Speed and Trixie go to a beauty spot to make out and there is this wierd luau music in the background.  They also remade the Speed Racer theme song, and it is incredibly mental but somehow still works.

In fact, the whole film was fairly self aware.  For example, there is one totally superfluous scene in which the entire Racer family fights with a ninja.  At the end of the scene, Trixie increduously asks, 'Was that a ninja?'.

There are also lots of really good minor characters.  I especially liked the female race car driver baddies with matching pink race cars in the Casa Cristo.  The montage showing how these two and all the other evil drivers got bought out by Royalton is especially entertaining.  Even the frequent little brother and chimpanzee high jinx somehow avoided being overly irritating.  Lastly, the film had an extremely strong if unsubtle anti-corporate message.

There were some negative points about the film, though.  Most significantly, the frequent deviations from linear narrative and overly complex storyline made the plot difficult to follow.  Admittedly, this is not a strong point of mine, but I am completely baffled as to how a child is supposed to be able to understand this movie.  It is allegedly a family film, after all.

I also don't really understand why they didn't use Japanese actors for Taejo and Horuko.  Rain is so hot that he could play Hamlet for all I care, especially in his first scene where he has been beaten up by a bunch of mobsters and has a bloody nose.  However, I just couldn't believe Yu Nan as Horuko.  It's like when they made Memoirs of a Geisha into a Hollywood film with an all Chinese cast.  They all look the same, right?

My final verdict is: if you like colourful, campy movies like Flash Gordon go see Speed Racer.  You won't be disappointed