"Movies get around our cleverness and our wariness; that's what used to draw us to the picture show. Movies – and they don't even have to be first-rate, much less great – can invade our sensibilities in the way that Dickens did when we were children, and later, perhaps, George Eliot and Dostoevski, and later still, perhaps, Dickens again. They can go down even deeper – to the primitive levels on which we experience fairy tales. And if people resist this invasion by going only to movies that they've been assured have nothing upsetting in them, they're not showing higher, more refined taste; they're just acting out of fear, masked as taste. If you're afraid of movies that excite your senses, you're afraid of movies."


"People feel that there's violence out there, and they want to shut it out. Movies, more than any other form of expression, are capable of bringing us to an acceptance of our terrors; that must be why people are afraid of movies" - Pauline Kael, 'Fear of Movies', from When the Lights Go Down


The Villainess

A preposterous Korean martial arts film, with a loopy plot and absurd fights. The first is probably the best, starting out like an arcade shooting game before switching to first-person knives, kicks and a grim bit of garrotting for the finale. The film is very enamoured of the long-take action sequence, in which the camera whips around the protagonist as she slaughters foes by the hundred. The cuts are disguised by CGI and rapid camera turns, and a lot of it does end up looking like a particularly intense video game. But it’s something new in cinema, if a bit headache-inducing.

It’s a rather weird title (I put the Korean through google translate and got wicked or evil woman). She’s not actually a bad person, she’s more a victim of dastardly fathers, gangsters and intelligence agencies. The end of the film seems to imply that the wretched influence of all the above create a monster, and that villainy is a product of a corrupt society. There is a slightly annoying gendered dimension to this though, in that the protagonist is set down this path by being a dutiful daughter, girlfriend, wife and mother. She does a very abrupt turnaround as soon as she learns she’s pregnant, from wanting to end it all to wanting to live and protect her child. It’s almost as if the maternal instinct switches on automatically to overcome all prior trauma or depression.

For all the awesome killing she does, the protagonist has very little agency – being directed by others (mostly men) for the duration of the film. Even her boyfriend for the romcom interlude in the middle is there to manipulate her. Perhaps that’s the point, and it’s only when all the people who have ‘made’ her (as the big bad boss claims) have been dispatched can she be free to set her own course in life. Perhaps The Villainess is an ironic title. It’s the bad guys that call her a bitch. They can’t see a woman trying to escape their influence as the heroine.


Warcraft: The Beginning

Not a well-reviewed film. I ended up watching it with some Warcraft fans and their enthusiasm rubbed off on me. Duncan Jones, who won fame with Moon and my respect with Source Code, sticks within the parameters established by Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings. If anything, he is too faithful to the source material, packing in lots of lore which would confuse the uninitiated.

My experience of gaming makes me think the form is most effective at constructing brilliant alternative words. Warcraft III, the only game in the franchise I’ve played, has that in spades. But it also managed to string together an involving plot (that jumps four times in perspective) and some interesting character transitions. Indeed the effect of the game is to introduce you to different warring races and suggest that while not all ethically equal, each group has its own goals and justifications, which complicates a simple reading of good (human) against evil (orc).

The film copies all that across, producing a noble orc within a genocidal warband and a corrupt human within a peaceful kingdom. One of the issues is that the human’s turn to the dark side is never explained (it is in the games, one of the fans assured me). There are only hints of an interesting antihero before the demon takes over.

The rest is boilerplate Saturday morning adventure, and it’s about as effective as any of the Hobbit films, and certainly more enjoyable for having some of the murk replaced with shiny CGI plate-mail and barbarian muscle, and having proper wizards that cast proper fireballs. It didn’t make as much money as expected, but I for one would like to see Duncan Jones have a shot at making a sequel.