By now, if you’ve been a regular visitor here at the ol’ Litterbox, you already know I’m goofy for horror movies. But… ever since I was a wee lil’ kitten and more than a bit of a tomboy…. I’ve always had just one real regret about growing up Asian in the good ol’ US. Never getting to learn Martial Arts….
You see… in that secret place….. waaay back in my heart….. lives a fierce and deadly Kung Fu Princess…. ready to fight for truth, justice, honor… and the sheer fun of smashing bad guys into tiny bloody bits… Hehehehe!! But, no….. there was never any Kung Fu for Miyuki….. no nunchucks…. no Eagle Claw or Mantis Style…. not even one lil’ throwing star to be seen. Still… now that I’m all grown up, I still sigh sometimes and live my childhood dreams vicariously through the occasional Martial Art film that shows me that we girls really can kick ass.
Earlier this month, I made an evening of two recent such films, the Chinese film “Coweb” and the Thai follow-up to “Chocolate”, “Raging Phoenix”… First up for review… “Coweb”, and our synopsis goes like this: “Nie Yiyi (Jiang Lu Xia) is a skilled martial arts expert working as a security guard after her father’s death while dreaming about resurrecting her father’s martial arts academy. Then Yiyi’s childhood friend, Zhong Tien (Sam Lee), who works as a personal assistant to billionaire Mr He (Eddie Cheung), persuades her to become a bodyguard to Mr He’s wife. Reluctantly Yiyi accepts and she takes her job very seriously.
But before long, kidnappers appear and despite Yiyi’s best efforts, Ho Kwan and his wife are abducted, but not before he slips Yiyi a small box. Upon investigating, Yiyi learns her boss was kidnapped by ruthless gambling impresario Sung. The box contains a key to a mainframe that controls online betting on fights to the death, and in order to save Ho Kwan, Yiyi will have to join the tournament and gamble with her life.”
Hmmm? sounds like your typical martial art plot…. but that’s OK… I’m not watching these to be intellectually stimulated. So….. let’s all get with it and see if “Coweb” has all the right stuff for this lil’ Kung Fu wannabee!!
In the last year, there’s been a real increase in the number of “girl power” martial art films…. a nice throwback to the glory days of Asian cinema when the likes of Moon Lee, Cynthia Rothrock, Michele Yeoh, and Sue Shiomi routinely redefined the role of women as seriously dangerous butt kicking heroines. “Coweb” is mainland China’s latest attempt to steal back the genre from Thailand who scored major kickboxing gold with Jeeja Yanin’s “Chocolate” late last year.
It certainly has some good things going for it, but are they enough? First time director Xiong Xin Xin, best known for his role as the character Clubfoot Seven in Tsui Hark’s “Once Upon a Time in China”, certainly ought to know the ins and outs of the genre having spent years acting and in stunt coordination on some of HK’s most prolific action films. He’s also pretty lucky to have newcomer Jiang Lu Xia, a finalist from Jackie Chan’s China-based reality TV series “The Disciple” as his “heroine-to-be”. But often, the best combinations still fail to strike gold…..
Sadly… that’s mostly the case here. Jiang Lu Xia certainly has potential for this sort of film… she’s petite, athletic and physically talented, but “Coweb” doesn’t give her much to work with from an acting standpoint. In fact, the story itself is merely a recycle of the old “illegal Martial Art competition for gamblers” story I remember from more than a few old films… Furthermore, there is no real lead-in to get you involved in the story… At first you think Yiyi’s father has been killed by the gangsters for either “knowing too much about their business” or for “failing to supply them with worthy fighters”… but nope, he just died in an accident… really!! What a let down….
Well… OK… there’s always the “fight for honor” sub plot as Yiyi tries to redeem herself for failing to stop her boss’s wife from being kidnapped…. right? Well… not really…. there’s a “twist ending” here that comes as absolutely no surprise. The ease with which you will figure it out ruins any real chance for tension and leaves you just waiting for the thick headed main character Yiyi to finally realize what is actually going on. Even my sweetie Carolyn figured it out right away…. and she’s not exactly a big fan of these films. Sadly, if you wanted a story to grab you the way “Chocolate” did with it’s smart, simple, melodramatic story that made you root for the heroine right from the start, you just wont get that here.
What you will get is a series of fight scenes…. all very well done for the most part, that are strung together like the boss battles in a video fighting game. The fights are for the most part interesting and use some nice locales for variety, but somehow are without the emotional connection that a good storyline can invest them with to make you feel somehow involved in them on some level beyond that of simple spectator. Two in particular are neat ideas… a big chase scene and fight on some bamboo scaffolding, and an earlier battle in a commercial kitchen with a gigantic white guy (Although that one was probably interesting to me simply from my own experiences as a cook in a similar environment…Hehehe!!) but none come up with any new action you really haven’t seen elsewhere before. There are a few nice moments, but none that are just jaw droppingly amazing…. The ending? Pretty much a bummer from most standpoints…. our heroine lives, the villains are arrested by the police, Yiyi finds out she can trust nobody… not even her supposed childhood friend… and it’s a slow lonely walk away into the night for her. There isn’t even a romantic subplot to lighten things up….
So, despite it’s best efforts, Neko can only give “Coweb” 3 average “Meows” out of 5. It’s not a bad film… but it could have been soooo much better with a bit of work and serves as a pretty anemic debut for Jiang Lu Xia rather than as a performance likely to lead her on to Martial Art film stardom. Hopefully I’ll have better luck enjoying her next effort. The DVD itself was adequate… and I was lucky enough to see it on the Region 6 Chinese Mainland release with some fairly nice fansubs just available to use with it. Nice price at 6$ US…. but most of you would probably want to snag the recent Malay or Singapore versions, each with English subs already on board for your viewing pleasure.
And yes…. before we go, here’s the Trailer, for those of you wanting to see what are probably the best highlights of the whole film.