The original Wizard of Oz, the one we have all seen many times, is on a very short list of nearly perfect movies. Everything about the 1939 film is superb in excess. It’s as fun to watch today as it was over seventy years ago and you cannot honestly say that about many films. Because Oz is such a towering film classic it has overshadowed all cinematic attempts to reenter and reimagine Frank L. Baum’s world. Without exception every Oz wanna-be, and there have been many, suck like motivated gay prostitutes. Perhaps if we hadn’t seen the original, Oz the Great and Powerful, might be judged a “good” film, but we have and this overblown homage underscores, yet again, the magnificence of the 1939 Oz. I have some advice for Baum fans. If you want to reimagine his world — read his damn books! Believe it or not the book, The Wizard of Oz, is as good, if not better than the film classic. As for film makers — just stop it! Oz is close to sacred ground; if you’re not a Kubrick-level cinematic genius, and very few of you are, all you’re going to do is embarrass yourself and induce Dorothy nostalgia in your audience.
Watching Oz the Great and Powerful (OGP) has its own minor schizophrenic charms. On the good witch side OGP is another stunning special effects extravaganza. 21st century movies are now in a weird place; if you can imagine it you can render it on the screen. If the ancient Greeks had a god of special movie effects it’s unlikely he could top your average contemporary big budget — tiny brain — movie. For decades producers and directors have strived to out-effect each other and they’ve finally ended up in a place Sophocles would recognize. Real improvements in modern movies can come from only one place: better stories! It was the telling of the story that distinguished the 1939 Oz. They took brilliant source material and merged it with equally brilliant songs. This is incredibly difficult and rarely achieved. In OGP’s case they didn’t even try. The suits that ruin Disney these days have a reputation for phoning stories in. With OGP they’ve out John Carter’ed themselves. I believe a bad Oz witch went all premenstrual on the screen writers. How else can you explain the transformation of classic source material into the Phantom Menace of Oz?
It’s a quiet Labor Day weekend in the drivel dome and your fearless reporter is a tad bored. I could help with the housework or get out and exercise but I have better things to do. Last night while trolling the intertubes for something to watch on Hulu I came across a transcendentally awesome Korean TV series called Faith. I know what you’re thinking. I haven’t fallen off the skeptical horse. I’m still the same old judgmental know-it-all bombastic boomer asshole you’ve come to know and love. The series Faith has, as far as I can tell after many long hours of couch research, nothing to do with religious faith. This is one of the many reasons I adore this show.
Faith is basically another Asian martial arts epic. After the demise of the demigod Bruce Lee it’s been mandatory for Asians residing east of Himalayas and south of Siberia to work martial arts into the plot whether it makes any damn sense or not. The Chinese, Koreans, Japanese, Vietnamese and other East Asians all follow Bruce’s mandate with various spins. Naturally, the most odious and predictable martial spins come from the mainland Chinese. With few exceptions mainland martial arts goes something like this.
Evil plots are afoot that are threatening the unity of the homeland. Nefarious forces, mostly internal, sometimes external, are plotting to bring down the well-ordered Middle Kingdom. A charismatic badass plans to exploit disunity, dishonor the people and shit all over the ancestors. Something must be done! The ruler, usually a wise emperor, or a really hot empress, tasks some typically reluctant super warrior to off the badass. The super warrior may have ambivalent feelings about the current ruler but never about the homeland. Sure the current ruler is a decadent pussy boy with weak Kung Fu and that’s too bad for him but damn, the country is not going down on my super warrior watch. Predictable mayhem ensues, bodies pile up, evil almost triumphs, gloats too much, and then falls to a combination of super warrior martial arts and old-fashioned hubris. In the end the homeland is saved and the closing credits suggest the super warrior might get some serious tail. I find it interesting that Hollywood is constantly destroying western civilization while mainland Chinese films forcefully reiterate that the homeland will always abide. I think it’s safe to say there hasn’t been an original mainland Chinese martial arts film since Bruce’s glory days.
Thankfully the South Koreans are not like mainland Chinese. Without the burden of an oppressive humorless government forever threatening serious consequences for plot wrong-think South Koreans can show some humor and originality. Faith is an excellent example. We know right away this is not standard martial arts because the bad guys are mainland Chinese threatening to overrun little Korea. Even odder, our hero and heroine are the oddest of couples. He’s a tall 14th century ultra-ninja-oid that can shoot lightning bolts from his hands while she is a ditsy 21st century plastic surgeon. It’s your basic boy meets time wormhole meets girl story. Faith only gets better after the hero drags the ditsy surgeon back to the 14th century. The result is a comical, martial arts, chick-flicky, self parodying guilty pleasure. You can see the cast members thinking WTF between their lines and is there a better endorsement than that?
Analyze the Data not the Drivel is not suitable for succinct self-deprecating self-reference.