Killer Imports is a regular feature on Film Junk where we explore foreign-language films from around the world that haven’t yet had their chance to shine.
Whenever I appear on the Film Junk podcast and review a film, I invariably have a negative opinion. And when I write film reviews for the Film Junk web site, I invariably have a positive opinion, even for films that many Film Junk readers would consider bad. The discrepancy has to do with the fact that I don’t get to choose which films to review on the podcast. I find it easier to give reasons on why I like something rather than why I don’t like something. So for me, writing a positive review is easier to write and seems more worthwhile since someone may be influenced by a positive review to watch a film that I feel deserves attention. No one in a right state of mind sets out to make a â€œbadâ€ film, and I know the task of actually getting a film made is not easy. I prefer not to say anything bad about the result of someone’s efforts. But I thought I should correct the discrepancy between having all my podcast reviews being negative and all my written reviews being positive.
So it is with a heavy heart that I must say how much I disliked Coweb.
To be fair and in the effort of full disclosure, the DVD I have of the film had the audio slightly out of sync with the video. This is really bad for fight scenes when you see someone getting hit and a slight moment later, you hear the sound of the impact. (Have you ever noticed in horror movies with lightning and thunder that you always hear the thunder at the same time you see the lightning? For anyone who has taken a basic science class or who has paid any attention as to what happens during an actual thunderstorm, the sound of thunder can occur after you see the lightning with the duration depending on how far away you are from the lightning. I wonder if any filmmaker has tried to subliminally influence an audience by shortening the duration as a movie progresses in order to build tension. It may seem like that I’m digressing from actually talking about Coweb, but like I said, if I don’t have anything good to say about something, then â€¦)
Oh, I should mention that I couldn’t understand the plot of the film because there were no English subtitles, but I think I understood enough of what was going on. However, I don’t understand the significance of the title, Coweb. Maybe it refers to the corporation that is filming fights that are staged, unbeknownst to the fighters, in various locations for the purposes of illegal online gambling. Basically, the film involves a former woman cop (Jiang Lu-xia) who is hired as a bodyguard, fails to protect her client, and sets out to resolve the situation that culminates in infiltrating the corporation.
The makers of Coweb did try to make the fight set pieces interesting. There are fights that take place in a kitchen, on a water covered arena, on bamboo scaffolding, and on a street with rapper-type, free-style, break-dancing fighters. The editing and the framing of the shots allow you to see the full motions of the fighters, but I didn’t find the fighting to be all that exciting. Maybe the camera angles and movement were lacking. Maybe the fight choreography wasn’t varied or different enough. Maybe the fights lacked pacing with their unrelenting activity. To me, many of the fight scenes seemed obviously blocked out. The music was uninspired as well.
I’ve seen Jackie Chan and Jet Li movies with kitchen fight scenes before, and the kitchen fight scene in Coweb didn’t add anything new. She fights a much larger Caucasian guy (Wanja GÃ¶tz) for the whole kitchen fight, and the fight seems like it goes on forever.
Maybe some of you can appreciate the fights in Coweb more than I can. To put things in perspective, I’m not a fan of old-style martial arts movies where the fights seem to go on forever. I’ll make an exception for Jackie Chan films only because Jackie is so creative. Perhaps I should also mention for all you purists that besides during the bamboo scaffolding fight, I don’t think much wire-work is used as the acrobatics are somewhat subdued. But I could be wrong.
When she infiltrates the corporation, she fights a mass of men and pulls out a nunchaku! Unfortunately, I was underwhelmed by the whole sequence.
There is a climactic duel between her and a martial arts expert (Kane Kosugi) in a fighting ring. (I don’t think this is spoiling anything, because many martial arts movies adhere to the Enter the Dragon template. And I suspect Enter the Dragon wasn’t the first movie that had a climactic duel.) Yawn.
For those who have been following my written reviews of films, I have a soft spot for films involving women as the main protagonists who have no problem dealing out punishment. As I’ve mentioned in other reviews, I tend to develop infatuations with these women. I didn’t find Zhang Ziyi particularly attractive at the beginning of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but by the end of the film, I was smitten. With Coweb, I didn’t find myself physically attracted to the star, Jiang Lu-xia, at the beginning, and unfortunately, she still didn’t do anything for me by the end of the film. Her characterization was no different from Zhang Ziyi’s character either. She seemed to have a blank face with occasional moments of scowling. There was no attempt to feminize her and her clothing was rather drab. Her tomboy-ish haircut didn’t help.
There is one interesting aspect about Jiang Lu-xia that deserves mentioning. She was a finalist in a Hong Kong reality-type television show hosted by Jackie Chan. I don’t know what the name of the show was, but its title probably translated to something like, â€œSo You Think You Can Kung Fu?â€ (Okay, the show was actually called, The Disciple, but I bet if the show came over to North America, the producers would use my title.) She had actually gained some notoriety by posting on the Internet short films of herself displaying her martial arts skills. I think you can find some of these films interspersed with some making-of shorts for Coweb. To promote herself, she used the name â€œKitty Darling,â€ but if you try searching the Internet for that name, you’ll probably find yourself looking at some risquÃ© stuff. She has studied martial arts since the age of 6 and I don’t believe she has ever acted before.
The director is a first time director, Xiong Xin-xin. There was no major sponsor financing this film, so much hardship was endured in order to complete this film. Before becoming a full director, Xiong was a wushu martial artist and stunt performer (sometimes doubling for Jet Li) who eventually became an action director. His Hollywood credits include action choreography for The Musketeer and Steven Seagal’s Half Past Dead. He did win a Hong Kong action choreography award for Tsui Hark’s Seven Swords.
Apparently, the feeling in Hong Kong is that there have been no fresh martial arts actors being given a chance to take over from the aging stars like Jackie Chan and Jet Li in the international market. Studios in Hong Kong and China won’t finance movies with complete unknowns and the actors who can cause movies to be financed have not been able to penetrate international markets. Years ago, even Donnie Yen failed to succeed with a push from Quentin Tarantino in marketing Iron Monkey. And I’m wondering how many of you reading this know who Jacky Wu Jing is. Xiong has taken upon himself the task of trying to introduce some fresh talent. And so we have Jiang Lu-xia in Coweb.
As I said earlier, I hate writing negative reviews, but another reason why I hesitated posting this review earlier was that I thought I should wait for this film to become widely available and to see if a buzz developed over this film. (I had seen â€œCowebâ€ back in the summer.) I was afraid that if I wrote a review too early, then many of you would simply ignore the review. But I have yet to see this movie available anywhere with English subtitles. Perhaps you’ll never get a chance to see this film for you to make up your own mind.
The main advertising image is sort of abstract with yellow lettering on top of Jiang Lu-xia in a red hoodie, her hair covering most of her face, with a background of red splattered on black. It’s not obvious to me that this is a martial arts film. Maybe the producers should be commended as well for choosing a non-traditional title for this martial arts film. But choosing an action film based on its title given the choice of Coweb or Ninja Assassin, which would you choose?