• Film reviews

    #520 – Lôi Báo (2017)

    Lôi Báo (2017)

    Film review #520

    Director: Victor Vu

    SYNOPSIS: Tam is a comic book artist who is working to finish his next big superhero project. His work has left him neglecting his health, and when he finally visits a doctor about a cough, he discovers he has terminal lung cancer. Tam visits a family friend, uncle Ma, who reveals that he has been working on a secret project to transplant heads onto other bodies. Although initially reluctant, Tam eventually agrees to undergo the procedure, using a body that Ma found in the woods. The operation is successful, but it seems to have come with a side effect: he has acquired lightning-fast reaction times, fighting skills and super strength, making him a real-life superhero. however, these newfound powers begin to cause trouble for himself and his family, and the attention of a criminal gang…

    THOUGHTS/ANALYSISLôi Báo is a 2017 science-fiction superhero film. The film centres around Tam, who is a comic artist working on his next big superhero project. He has been neglecting his health though, and when he goes to a doctor, he finds the persistent cough he has is actually terminal lung cancer. Family friend Uncle Ma reveals he has been working in secret on head transplants, and that he could save Tam’s life by transplanting his head onto another body. Tam is initially reluctant, but eventually agrees, and using a body the two find in a forest, Tam successfully undergoes the procedure. However, this seems to have the side-effect of giving Tam super powers, turning him into a real-life super hero, but this also comes with it’s downsides, as his new body has a bit of a life of it’s own, putting a strain on Tam’s relationship with his family and others. The film is a first attempt by the Vietnamese film industry at a superhero blockbuster film in the style of the Marvel/DC films, and it has a lot of the plot staples assembled. The main character is fleshed out in terms of his relationships and what he is going through, but it often feels like everything that goes on around him is just a mashup of superhero tropes without developing into anything really unique. When the film tries to tie everything together in the third act, it ties everything together: every character and disparate thing is revealed to be a part of some big plan and criminal organisation. Even in this, it just feels like everything is just lumped together, and gives the film no spontaneity. The twists that the film presents are fairly predictable, leaving very little room for the film to actually do anything purposeful.

    The tone for the film is very odd: at some points it gets very dark, such as when Tam finds out he is dying, and attempts to kill himself. Other times it tries to be light and a bit silly, in particular with Tam’s young son, whose jokes about his own obesity don’t really hit the mark, and don’t really apply to anything. Tam’s relationship with his wife provides a high source of drama, particularly when his new body was previously involved with another woman who he meets, forming a love triangle, but even this is very surface level, and plays out exactly as you’d expect. With regards to Tam’s superpowers, they are also very inconsistent: he has faster reaction times, but also sometimes super strength as well, and how he actually got his new powers from his body is also vaguely explained.

    Where the film does excel in it’s action sequences: the fist fighting is nicely choreographed and has some silly, but very high energy fights and stunts, which are fun to watch; it’s just a shame there’s so few of them. On the special effects side, the CGI isn’t particularly great, which drags the film down again, but when it just does some good old-fashioned martial arts, it’s alright. Overall though, Lôi Báo is a fairly lacklustre superhero film that takes many superhero tropes and fails to innovate or join them together in a stand-out central character. There’s a effort to fit a lot of story and a myriad of drama in here, but though it tries to connect everything together, does so in a way that is predictable and isn’t particularly satisfying.

  • Film reviews

    #506 – The Hyperions (2022)

    The Hyperions (2022)

    Film review #505

    Director: Jon McDonald

    SYNOPSIS: In 1960, Professor Ruckus Mandulbaum invented the Titan badges: special devices that when worn could turn anyone in to a superhero. He adopted two young orphans and a third person to become a team of superheroes. As time went on, different heroes took up the titan badges as the original heroes moved on with their lives. In 1979, two of the original superheroes want their badges back, and take hostages until Mandulbaum agrees to release them…

    THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: The Hyperions is a 2022 sci-fi film. The film revolves around a group of people given superpowers by Professor Mandulbaum and his inventions, the titan badges. In 1979, nearly twenty years after they were first invented, two members of the first generation to wear the badges stage a robbery to try and get them back, realising that they need Mandulbaum’s help to do it. Despite looking like a superhero film on the surface, it focuses more on being a drama and the relations between the characters, with a hint of light-comedy thrown into the mix. The plot is pretty threadbare, and the whole premise of the film is laid out early on for the drama to unfold. The plot tries to raise the stakes by revealing the motivations of the characters, but it never really adds anything surprising or captivating to change the state of play. The constant back and forth with flashbacks revealing parts of the story really staggers any kind of progression as well. The pacing, especially near the end, is very rough.

    Being a superhero film actually plays very little role in the overall story, and as mentioned it’s very much focused on the characters. Maybe the point is to do something “different” with superhero characters and look at their humanity, but this is something that has been done to death with trying to show a “different” side to them outside of their superhero persona. While this usually results in making them angsty and tormented in comparison to their heroic status, The Hyperions seems to instead try to humanise them by focusing on the relationships between the characters, and the strain put upon them through being a superhero. Their disagreements and tensions are relatable, but maybe too much so: the superhero set-up in fact has very little effect on the content of the film, and while it can be good to have certain expectations subverted, instead the film just replaces it with…very little. The main characters have specific personalities and motivations, but the main cause of tension and drama between the characters is skirted around, and when it is addressed, is rushed and unrewarding. Aside from the main characters, there are a few support characters, but none of them really have an impact either. It is perhaps worth mentioning that this film is backed and produced by the Daily Wire, who have dipped their toes into filmmaking as a response to Hollywood’s “agenda,” in defence of free speech or something. So departing from Hollywood superhero films, they have instead used their free speech to make a film that actually says very little, which I think is quite interesting. It feels like it’s so hyper-conscious of not having any political message to preach that it just ends up being vacuous at it’s core. Superheroes are political, and they do have a message to convey: trying to erase that misses the point entirely. It might be trying to reinforce traditional family values as the solution to all troubles, which seems to be the justification of the ad-hoc ending where everything works out because they’re family, but if that is the point, then the film ends up looking seriously naïve.

    One of the most unique aspects of the film is the use of a 60′s animated aesthetic that is reminiscent of Disney films. Animated characters and effects overlap with the real-world, which provides some interesting visuals, but it just feels like there’s no purpose to it as a cinematic choice: it’s not parodying it, and the film isn’t structured or feature similar characters or plot points to those films. Combine this with the recurring problem of interrupting the film along with the flashbacks, and it ends up complicating the film without adding anything of significance. The sets look good, and have a particular aesthetic with it’s 60′s technicolour vibe, but other than that nothing really stands out on that front. Some of the lacklustre elements of this film can perhaps be put down to it being a directorial debut, but there definitely is a problem with the film being reluctant to say anything of importance, and as mentioned above, I think it has something to do with the people behind it rebelling against Hollywood’s perceived “agenda” and some imagined defence of free speech to the point that it has nothing to really say. there are some good points to this film: there are some good dramatic moments and emotional scenes between some of the characters, but a haphazard structure, bad pacing, confused comedic choices, and a jumble of aesthetic choices that combine to make The Hyperions an overall dull and meandering experience.