Woo and Flint: offbeat kung fu film fighting from Hong Kong to Hollywood

By Jon Roig

Arizona Daily Wildcat

I've compiled a list of five of my favorite films, partly as a sort of guide to things you might want to check out if you're looking for something a little offbeat, and partly because I'll be one of your film critics this semester it's important that you know what perspective I'm coming from. Anyway, enjoy ...

5. "Our Man Flint"

This is the movie that convinced me that I should drop out of school and become a secret agent. Screw media arts. I'd rather be Derrick Flint: America's answer to James Bond. In fact, he's better than 007 ... and kicks his ass a few times during the film.

Flint isn't just smart, he's wise. He can stop his heart for up to three hours. Flint isn't afraid of electricity; at one point he sticks someone's hand in a light socket, grabs hold of him, and uses the juice to revive an otherwise dead soldier. He's a master martial-arts expert. He knows intricate details of regional French cuisine. His wristwatch aids in performing chemical analysis. His lighter has 82 different functions 83 if you count actually lighting cigarettes.

And that English weeny might get a lot of women, but Flint ... he's got a harem. And you don't mess with Flint's women even if you're an evil conspiracy of beautiful women with a penchant for international blackmail by controlling the weather.

1965 was a fine year for spy movies ... and men like Flint (James Coburn), they just weren't made for these more puritanical times. Think Hugh Heffner, Secret Agent ... and you've got Flint.

4. "How to Get Ahead in Advertising"

Richard E. Grant may be the best ranter in movie history. And, as the star of this film, he's given plenty of screen time to deliver insane monologues about the evils of advertising.

'Cuz he's lived it, baby. He's spent his whole adult life pushing fat-free food, diet plans, desert toppings, and hemorrhoid medication. But the boils, he just can't get a grip on the boils. And, eventually, it drives him mad ... or does it?

He grows a giant boil on the side of his neck. It starts talking to him, trying convince him that advertising is good.

A cheezy premise, perhaps, but it sets the stage for an epic battle. All that is true and good versus the evil corporate truth-benders. It changed my life.

3. "Hudson Hawk" Richard E. Grant is back, this time as a madman with his sights set on world domination! This may be Bruce Willis' finest work.

It's a weird and somewhat misunderstood film but that's its charm. Grant plays the role of the egomaniac to the hilt, while Willis' role as the thief/pawn is somehow oddly fitting. As a special bonus, we get Danny Aiello as his seemingly indestructible sidekick, and Sandra Bernhard teams up with Grant as the equally megalomaniacal wife. There are lots of really big explosions, shockingly out of place musical scenes, and a veritable cavalcade of bizarre running jokes throughout the movie. "Ishtar" ain't got nothin' on this.

2. "Tribulation 99" Castro is an unkillable zombie. The Earth is hollow and flying saucers enter it at the South Pole. Howard Hughes may be an agent of the antichrist.

Craig Baldwin, the master of found footage filmmaking, brings us a strange tale of worldwide conspiracy. Which is to say, he didn't shoot any new footage for the film he pieces together this wild tale from old educational films, public domain work, and various other things he's come upon through the years.

I still haven't figured the film out ... and I've watched it six or seven times, but each time I get lost in the anti-imperialist rants and notice something new and different. Also worth checking out (if you can find 'em) are "Sonic Outlaws," his film about Negativland and other media scavengers, the "SubGenius recruitment film," which employs similar montage approaches to try and entice people to join the ranks of the Subgenius religion, and "EBN Commercial Entertainment Product," a videotape of media clips set to dance music. It's an interesting genre and maybe I'll have a chance to explore it in a future article.

1. Any John Woo film. There's a certain magic in watching a man slide down a flight of stairs, do a roll, and pop up with two fully loaded semi-automatic pistols and annihilate the bad guys. John Woo, and other imitators working out of Hong Kong, have taken violence to a whole new level, and his influence is evident all over modern cinema. Quentin Tarantino cites him as his main influence, and some have even accused him of ripping off Woo directly for parts of "Reservoir Dogs."

As I see it, there are three ways to go for the John Woo virgin. "Hard Boiled" is an all out violence-fest that ends in an indescribably massive hospital gun battle, while "The Killer" attempts to establish the duality of a trained assassin on his last mission and a veteran cop who has sworn to stop him.

Both movies showcase the talents of rising Asian sex symbol Chow Yun-Fat. The guy kicks ass, on level that Bruce Lee never could. One gun just isn't enough, a trend that I'm sure we'll see a lot more of in the future.

You've gotta watch out though, Woo is a big fan of Hong Kong pop music and HK pop music is really, really cheezy. If you can't stomach this, his first Hollywood film, "Hard Target," starring "the Muscles from Brussels," Jean Claude Van-Damme, is also an incredible film.

Sure, he's got a bad haircut, and you've gotta swallow the premise that Jean Claude is a down-on-his-luck Cajun, but the action is unparalleled. John Woo only gets better at his art over time ... and it really is art. The fight scenes are beautifully choreographed ballets of gunplay and mass destruction. And the plot, in this case a "rich hunting the poor for sport" scenario, is legitimately interesting due to costars Lance Henrickson and Douglas Forsythe Rye. The Quaker Oats guy, Willford Brimely, is also in it. He kicks ass, too.

Hong Kong is the leading edge of action films, and while Woo has made a virtual cornucopia of other movies spanning every genre over his long and prolific career, his work proves that he just may be The Master.

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