Sunday, April 15, 2012

Comica Obscura: Lady Snowblood rebuttal

To fully comprehend why an ass whooping is about to occur, please go and read Bill's review of Lady Snowblood at his Movie Emporium.

Look, Bill, I like you and all, I don't think that comes as a surprise or anything, but I was...befuddled by the review you wrote for Lady Snowblood last Sunday.

I found it curious that, following a few paragraphs during which you valiantly attempted to argue for the film's strong feminist approach (and don't worry, I'll get to that in a moment. I like starting small and building up arguments before going in for the 'coup de grâce') you write 'With my pretentious ramblings and all the feminist claptrap out of the way,...'. I sat there thinking for a brief moment: 'Has Bill just admitted that he was writing nonsense since the start of the review?' It did not seem possible, for many times in the past you have fought tooth an nail to support your opinions, both at your Movie Emporium and on the movie message board we used to frequent. I immediately squashed that possibility out of my mind, although your use of both 'pretentious', but more interestingly 'claptrap' hit me hard. I had a strong indication of what claptrap meant, but I'm a nit picky type of person when it comes to the written word, and so visited the Merriam-Webster anyways.

Definition of CLAPTRAP

: pretentious nonsense : trash

We shan't dwindle on 'pretentious' because you had just used that word barely five words ago, but 'nonsense' seems pretty powerful. That's kind of what I had in mind when the sentence quoted above, but Merriam was there to confirm my suspicions: what sort of nonsense are you talking about in that review of yours?

 I had a hunch you would take the opportunity to bring Tarantino in your review. I chose not to, albeit because more because I had totally forgotten about his Kill Bill films being inspired by this movie than anything else. I have no explanation as to how that slipped my mind, but so be it. Your 'empty style' and 'misogyny' comments had little effect on me. I, and I'm assuming most of your readers too, know you don't like his movies. Whatever, moving onwards. It was when you got into the whole 'Yuki remains a woman while Uma is a woman behaving like a man' speech that my head was spinning. ' I'm not here to debate Kill Bill so I'll let the Uma half of the comment slide, but I am honestly, sincerely confused about the Yuki comment. She is no different from a vast array, an army if you will, of like minded, very similar female heroines in revenge tales. Now, it becomes important to separate the qualities of a female character in a revenge film with the overall quality of a film. I can point you towards a movie that came out last year, Colombiana, that starred Zoe Saldana. Saldana plays a strong willed woman, a beautiful woman who at times behaves womanly while other times completely destroys a bunch of buff men. But that movie is a bucket of shit, so I won't force you to watch it. What I'm saying is that I found that specific argument to be rather empty. How many freaking Luc Besson projects have these same sort of female leads, only in his films they're carrying guns instead of swords? We could make a laundry list of such movies, which is why I was puzzled at how much you hampered on how it meant so much for this particular movie. In most cases, I don't see what how having the female makes said films any better than when the protagonist out for vengeance is a male. Don't mistake me, it doesn't make those films worse. Quite frankly whether they are men or women matters little to me, unless the movie is doing something really special (watch Chocolate, the 2008 Thai film, as a fantastic example where the femininity, and something else I won't reveal, about the protagonist mean a lot). The whole 'she's kicking ass while displaying wonderful feminine qualities' thing was provocative a 15 years ago. Oh look, I'm actually wrong. Lady Snowblood was made in 1973, 39 years ago. Again, it's not at all a bad thing to have in a film, but I don't see how that makes a movie so incredible, including Lady Snowblood. I've never studied martial arts but the girl in her mid twenties who works in HR at my place of employment spent her entire teenage-hood taking lessons. She can kick my ass and as far as I know I don't live in a movie.

But that's surface level stuff. That was foreplay. Peanuts. Things get even more interesting when you go into how the filmmakers, in your opinion, support this notion of Yuki's incredible femininity. You argue, and I quote 'A key sequence in establishing this in my mind was when Yuki is training as a young girl with her master, Priest Dôkai....' you go on to elaborate on how her light, effortless jumping up and down to avoid blows from her teacher is derived from the idea of femininity. Well, if that's the case, then there is a platoon, a hoard, a plethora of male heroes from Shaw Brothers films from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s who are thus a bunch of 'girly men.' Cause those boys are doing a fuck load of prancing around on their tip toes and balancing one foot atop tree branches, barrels and wires like ballerinas. Are those male heroes 'girly men?' No, of course they aren't. First, that's a stupid term to use (my bad) and second, those abilities, fantastical as they may be in these movies, are just as appropriate for men as they are for women characters blessed with fighting skills. Yuki's little jumps to out-manoeuvre her teacher has little to do with her being a girl. This isn't me disagreeing with you because I feel bloody like it, this is the 30, 40, maybe 50 martial arts movies I've watched, released over the past five decades telling me so, be they from Shaw Brothers or from any other studio (although Shaw is the most obvious example). Heh... I know I wrote that I'm not here to argue about Kill Bill, but now that I think of it, if you dislike Uma Thurma's character in those movies because she 'is a woman acting like a man', then don't check out Shaw Brothers flicks, you'd hate almost every one of them. Also, isn't there a scene in the second Kill Bill film when her sensei jumps as light as a feather onto her sword during one of her training sessions we see in a flashback? I wonder what makes that guy?... Now, if you tell me your exposure is martial arts films is limited, then I can be more forgiving. You can't possibly argue what you literally don't know about. That much is perfectly understandable. If you do have decent experience with said movies, then I really haven't the faintest idea where you are coming from with those arguments. 


The paragraph analyzing Yuki's birth makes a bit more sense. I mean, the idea that as Yuki is born her mother wishes to make her daughter a killing machine is interesting, even provocative to a certain extent. Other than the fact this desire arrives as Yuki's mother gives birth, which, again, is powerful, I'm not clear on how the film has moments 'that very quietly speak about the power of being a woman.' We got the whole training session nonsense section out of the way, but what is left after that? Her stone cold face. That's it. When the story writer first accosts her halfway into the movie, not only does she frown upon his nosiness, she even asks him if he wants to die. Is this her asserting her femininity? The reason why revenge films can be compelling (I intentionally write can be because I don't think that all of them work) is because they afford viewers a disturbing look into how someone can lose a part of their humanity as they embrace the dark side, dispatching emotions as they massacre people for a cause they believe to justify the means. That's losing humanity, so I don't see how Lady Snowblood, in which the character does just that, brilliantly offers any commentary on what it means to be a woman. I would even wager that Columbiana, that shit movie I referred to earlier, explores femininity more deeply, and even saying that film 'explores' anything is a stretch. Yuki is a woman and that, I imagine, makes the film interesting in some ways, but great commentary? I really don't think so. Last week I had some positive things to say about the character, but they mostly concerned her physicality, her appearance. I mean, she looks like a geisha but goes about killing a bunch of people. That's a neat idea, but espousing deep notions about what it means to be a woman it is not. It's fun for the irony of the context, it's even fun because she looks like a pretty flower, but there's nothing profound going on here. The whole femininity perspective feels very surface level to me and awards the film with much more praise than it otherwise deserves.
There were elements of your review, even beyond those concerning notions of femininity, that I had trouble wrapping my head around. 'Shurayukihime doesn't linger on moments, on character, on anything.' Then what in heaven's name is that boring narration doing except just that: regurgitating exactly what the viewer has most likely already deduced is going on in Yuki's mind? The narration does not appear too often, I can give you that much (and thank god for that), but its inclusion does exactly the opposite of what you argue the film does (or does not).

You want to know the worst part of this entire rebuttal? Our conclusions are the same!!!! You liked the movie, thought it was good and I liked the movie and thought it was good. I never in a million years thought I would be tearing down someone's arguments despite having identical overall feelings towards a film in question, least of all your arguments. The only other time I can recall disagreeing so vehemently with you on a film was our A New Hope reviews from two years ago, and, what's more, I I think I can detect a similar pattern this time around too. Let me put it this way: There is absolutely nothing wrong with your overall opinion. There is nothing wrong with you liking the movie even more because the heroine in a woman (even I had some positives about that aspect). In perfectly in your right to have your own reasons for first liking the film and, second, liking it even more because the protagonist is a woman. But exactly as was the case with A New Hope, I find there is this major disconnect between the generalities of your review (what you like or dislike) and why you like or dislike them. The more I ponder the matter, the more I wonder if the fact that you compared Lady Snowblood to Kill Bill skewered your review even more so than otherwise would have been the case. After all, Lady Snowblood is a good movie, but you loath Tarantino and his film with such a fever that I question whether or not you started to see things that are not even necessarily there just because in your eyes, Kill Bill is one of the worst films ever made. Hey, the same thing would happen to me too. If I write a review about X-Men Origins: Wolverine and compare it the Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, then Wolverine is going to start looking pretty damn good in my eyes (in truth, it's just a guilty pleasure of mine). Understandable, but a pitfall nevertheless and I wonder if you fell in it...

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