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VVB

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3 reviews in total 
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Possible Reasons for Success, 29 May 2001

It appears to us that the primary reasons the movie is so successful include:

1) It skillfully exploits the principle of `presenting large events through small groups of people'. Specifically, it gives us a peek into a whole imaginary Universe of supernatural martial arts in an ancient world Giang Hu. It is not an epic movie though for it never gives us a global bird-eye view of it but just enough for the thrilling sensation of peeking through a window into something immensely grand.

2) It is set in a magic fairy-tale-like environment reminding us of the warm fuzzy fairy tales most of us have had as kids. This effect is quite subtle and, apparently, very difficult to achieve for overdoing it quickly makes a movie overly specialized. The film does the trick mainly via the flying abilities of the heroes as well as the gorgeous mountain backdrops that look like they were taken straight off old Chinese ink drawings. The closest feature to this film along this dimension might be `The Monkey King' Chinese cartoon.

3) Most people appear to enjoy the thoughts of flying (freely like birds but not in airplanes, that is). Children often fantasize about it and adults frequently have it in their night dreams. It is not entirely clear why human beings crave flying (which is accordingly excessively popular in most countries' myths and tales). Regardless of the mechanism, the movie uses it in several ways. First, as pointed out above, the flying abilities emphasize the fairy-taleness of the settings. Second, the brilliant camera-work makes the viewer feel as if they are flying together with the heroes. Third, it takes the viewer through an imaginary quest to some magic hidden areas high in the mountains. In doing so the viewer flies over the trees, above the lakes, waterfalls, etc. Many people seem to have imagined/dreamt of doing a similar travel at least once in their life.

4) The plot uses the `an accident in the middle of normal life' paradigm. In other words, the viewer feels as if they were strolling along with the heroes in their daily routine when suddenly something extraordinary happened and they all got pulled into a whirl of unusual events. This seems to be a more immersive `formula' for it is easier for us to receive magic and supernatural events IF they happen as an exception to the ordinary life RATHER THAN as regular phenomena. The net effect is that we feel more engaged into the supernatural events ourselves. A number of successful movies and stories have used this framework. `Back To The Future', `Terminator - 1,2', `Matrix', `Star Wars' (with respect to Luke's initially `ordinary' life), `Evil Dead - 2,3' are just a few.

5) The movie is philosophically rich. Technically, perhaps, the only direct philosophical scene is the dialog between Li Mu Bai (Yun-Fat Chow) and Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh) where Mr. Bai tells her of his failure in reaching the inner eternal peace prescribed by Taoism and other Eastern philosophies. However, this short dialog, together with the rest of the movie subtly supporting his tragedy, probes fundamental philosophical issues more than most of the recent movies have. It does so by addressing one of the deepest cravings of humanity - the inner peace and happiness. Most people's life is a quest for these and yet very few appear successful. Taoism offers a solution further extended into the physical world by Tai Chi and certain martial arts such as Jeet Kune Do. Very crudely speaking, it tells us that the only way to achieve the true happiness is to empty yourself of flittering desires and follow the Tao. The movie questions this postulate through the character of Li Mu Bai who fails to achieve the happiness while supposedly exercising the Taoist approach. This `counter-example', as the movie presents it, can be interpreted in a number of ways. However, it achieves the goal by stirring our imagination and thinking in this area. It makes us want to reflect on our own related experiences on the topics of the utmost interest to most humans.

6) For those interested in romance, the movie seems to offer a subtle love triangle though the ties are delightfully light in their presentation and it is mostly left to the viewer's imagination. That by itself utilizes one of the successful artwork principles summarizable in a bumper-sticker version as `leave some food for the viewer's imagination'. It even makes us want to come back and see the movie again to pick the intricate details that we feel we might have missed on the first viewing.

7) For those longing for drama and tragedy, the movie delivers a non-Hollywood ending and some saddening plot developments.

8) Finally, a number of people appear to enjoy martial art related sequences. Viewers so inclined will find them in abundance throughout the movie (NB: such sequences probably took up most of the filming time...). This, on the other hand, can also be considered as a weakness of the movie since the overly-theatrical appearance of the sequences far-removed from the real life fighting will be obvious to any people in the field. Fortunately, there are fewer of them than the more impressible audience.

Possible Reasons for Success, 29 May 2001

It appears to us that the primary reasons the movie is so successful include:

1) It skillfully exploits the principle of `presenting large events through small groups of people'. Specifically, it gives us a peek into a whole imaginary Universe of supernatural martial arts in an ancient world Giang Hu. It is not an epic movie though for it never gives us a global bird-eye view of it but just enough for the thrilling sensation of peeking through a window into something immensely grand.

2) It is set in a magic fairy-tale-like environment reminding us of the warm fuzzy fairy tales most of us have had as kids. This effect is quite subtle and, apparently, very difficult to achieve for overdoing it quickly makes a movie overly specialized. The film does the trick mainly via the flying abilities of the heroes as well as the gorgeous mountain backdrops that look like they were taken straight off old Chinese ink drawings. The closest feature to this film along this dimension might be `The Monkey King' Chinese cartoon.

3) Most people appear to enjoy the thoughts of flying (freely like birds but not in airplanes, that is). Children often fantasize about it and adults frequently have it in their night dreams. It is not entirely clear why human beings crave flying (which is accordingly excessively popular in most countries' myths and tales). Regardless of the mechanism, the movie uses it in several ways. First, as pointed out above, the flying abilities emphasize the fairy-taleness of the settings. Second, the brilliant camera-work makes the viewer feel as if they are flying together with the heroes. Third, it takes the viewer through an imaginary quest to some magic hidden areas high in the mountains. In doing so the viewer flies over the trees, above the lakes, waterfalls, etc. Many people seem to have imagined/dreamt of doing a similar travel at least once in their life.

4) The plot uses the `an accident in the middle of normal life' paradigm. In other words, the viewer feels as if they were strolling along with the heroes in their daily routine when suddenly something extraordinary happened and they all got pulled into a whirl of unusual events. This seems to be a more immersive `formula' for it is easier for us to receive magic and supernatural events IF they happen as an exception to the ordinary life RATHER THAN as regular phenomena. The net effect is that we feel more engaged into the supernatural events ourselves. A number of successful movies and stories have used this framework. `Back To The Future', `Terminator - 1,2', `Matrix', `Star Wars' (with respect to Luke's initially `ordinary' life), `Evil Dead - 2,3' are just a few.

5) The movie is philosophically rich. Technically, perhaps, the only direct philosophical scene is the dialog between Li Mu Bai (Yun-Fat Chow) and Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh) where Mr. Bai tells her of his failure in reaching the inner eternal peace prescribed by Taoism and other Eastern philosophies. However, this short dialog, together with the rest of the movie subtly supporting his tragedy, probes fundamental philosophical issues more than most of the recent movies have. It does so by addressing one of the deepest cravings of humanity - the inner peace and happiness. Most people's life is a quest for these and yet very few appear successful. Taoism offers a solution further extended into the physical world by Tai Chi and certain martial arts such as Jeet Kune Do. Very crudely speaking, it tells us that the only way to achieve the true happiness is to empty yourself of flittering desires and follow the Tao. The movie questions this postulate through the character of Li Mu Bai who fails to achieve the happiness while supposedly exercising the Taoist approach. This `counter-example', as the movie presents it, can be interpreted in a number of ways. However, it achieves the goal by stirring our imagination and thinking in this area. It makes us want to reflect on our own related experiences on the topics of the utmost interest to most humans.

6) For those interested in romance, the movie seems to offer a subtle love triangle though the ties are delightfully light in their presentation and it is mostly left to the viewer's imagination. That by itself utilizes one of the successful artwork principles summarizable in a bumper-sticker version as `leave some food for the viewer's imagination'. It even makes us want to come back and see the movie again to pick the intricate details that we feel we might have missed on the first viewing.

7) For those longing for drama and tragedy, the movie delivers a non-Hollywood ending and some saddening plot developments.

8) Finally, a number of people appear to enjoy martial art related sequences. Viewers so inclined will find them in abundance throughout the movie (NB: such sequences probably took up most of the filming time...). This, on the other hand, can also be considered as a weakness of the movie since the overly-theatrical appearance of the sequences far-removed from the real life fighting will be obvious to any people in the field. Fortunately, there are fewer of them than the more impressible audience.

244 out of 426 people found the following review useful:
Kubrick's "Black Square", 20 May 2001
1/10

I normally keep my movie thoughts to myself but this movie affected me to the point of voicing myself out.

Movies are typically evaluated via (i) more/less objective attributes (plot, ideas, action, cinematography, etc.) and (ii) emotional impressions they leave. While the latter is extremely personal and diverse, some convergence can be achieved in the former. Unfortunately, this piece greatly fails in it: no plot, no original ideas, no action, horrible cinematography, and a very repetitive soundtrack. As far as the emotional impression goes: well, in my case, it gave me a highly unpleasant aftertaste: a very pretentious schizophrenic nightmare...

Why is it so overrated then? I'd hypothesize that it is for the same reason as in the case of Malevich's "Black Square". When one sees something a piece of "art" of that type, there seem to be two typical reactions: (i) "There is nothing there, it is junk." and (ii) "There is nothing there but it must be great because everyone else thinks it's great. Then it must be an art." So what created this mob fame effect for this movie? I don't know for sure but it might have been the big names of S.Kubrick and A.Clark. Once such a "snowball" starts rolling down the hill and picks up the momentum, it is more difficult to stop it than to roll with it.

Please trust your own independent feelings. Things don't become better because a million of other people say they are brilliant. Cheers.