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Martial Arts in Media 11/13

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Oh brother. First, I’m sorry this column is so late in the month, and second, sorry it’s going to be so short.

Anyone who knows me probably understands at least one of the reasons why this is such a busy time of the year for me (hint: ho ho ho, second hint: santaconfidential.com). But also, I’m working on three writing assignments (two tippy-top secret, and all with a 12/31/13 deadline).

So, anyway, here’s a crumb to hopefully tide you over to December, where I intend to give you more kung fu film bang for your non-existent buck (hint: Judge Letter-That-Comes-After-C, and “Yen” for a Special I.D.).

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Months ago, hidden away in Entertainment Weekly‘s Fall TV Double Issue was a one by three and a half inch rectangle titled BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE OPENINGS. It was a sidebar to accentuate a full page examination and review of a new Mexican child-rearing comedy called Instructions Not Included.

The five films were: Hero (eighteen million dollars), Fearless (ten point six million), Instructions Not Included (seven point eight million), Iron Monkey (six million), and The Protector (five million). Hmmmmm … anything look familiar? A game of “what doesn’t belong here?” would be super easy.

Yes, everything but the Mexican comedy was a martial art movie. In fact, except for Tony Jaa’s muy thai effort, they were all flat out kung fu films. Now just imagine how much more Hero would have made if the Weinsteins hadn’t worked so hard to hobble it?

Come on, Hollywood. Audience of all ages, races, residences, and incomes love great kung fu films (check the box office on Crouching Tiger, Kung Fu Panda, and Jackie’s “Karate” Kid, not to mention Jackie’s original Rush Hour [you know, the good one]). And also, Cantowood, stop selling your films to the Weinsteins! You’ll never get a foothold here if you keep doing that!

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Meanwhile, the Criterion Collection’s box set of twenty-five Zatoichi the Blind Swordsman films has arrived, and it is a heart-swelling humdinger. Although I look forward to savoring all twenty five chambara (swordplay) films, ranging from 1962 until 1973 (with some jaunts to the infamous PBS documentary chronicling the outrageous star/producer/director Shintaro Katsu, as well as a new interview with the great Tony Rayns), for the moment I only had time to watch the rare “last” film in the series (prior to its transfer to Japanese television and a final 1989 Katsu film, which I was proud to write the English liner notes for).

[By the way, those Zatoichi TV episodes are still be available on DVD from the good folk at Media Blasters and are well worth adding to your collection]

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Zatoichi’s Conspiracy actually looks like a “last” film, in that it seems tired in comparison to, and recycled from, what had come before. There’s precious little swordplay until the last quarter, and the gambling den sequence literally borrows its action from a previous film. But, despite all that, the plot is fitting (in that Zatoichi returns to his home town, bringing the series full circle) and the story still ably represents the thematic secret that helped make all the Zatoichi films so subconsciously galvanizing. Namely, that the blind swordsman, though sightless, could see the truth better than the villain, who was blinded by lust and greed, and the victims, who were blinded by hope and desire.

In any case, the Criterion Collection’s Zatoichi box set deserves to be under many a Hannukah bush, Christmas tree, and even Festivus pole.

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Speaking of the holidays, if you’d like to find a great, rare, special gift for that hard to satisfy film freak in your life, go immediately to psychotronicstore.com. That movie geek you know, or that’s inside you, will be glad you did!

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And, while I’m at it, to satisfy the Bruce Lee or kung fu film fan, why not pre-order the amazing books at hate-media.com? They will fill your hands, eyes, and mind with glory. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good month!

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