Can a live action cartoon be watchable?

By Adam Lippe

kung-fu-hustle-3During a recent viewing of the insufferable Kung Fu Hustle, I was struck not by the plotlessness, the odd and meaningless insertions of homophobia (one character is continuously ridiculed for being a “fairy,” each time they call him that he does a little dance and exits frame, nothing ever comes of it), or the complete lack of tonal control (why, in the middle of a goofy comedy, is everything so strangely mean spirited, how many scenes do we need where a child is beaten up and then peed on?), but by the fact that I couldn’t have cared less what was going on. Now granted, this is a silly comedy, and you’re just there to laugh, and in this case, marvel at the myriad of creative CGI and fight sequences. But though writer/director/star Stephen Chow obviously intended for the movie not to be taken seriously, just as something inventively moronic, he underestimated one of the problems that he intentionally designed.

kungfuhustleIn the world of Kung Fu Hustle, there are no rules. Some characters cannot be killed. Some can fly. Some can run really fast. Some can withstand ridiculous punishment. Some can bend time and space. Etc. In an actual animated cartoon, these things are taken for granted, that anything is possible and the humor is literally not having any limit on what might happen next. I submit that this does not work in a live action film. Once you see human figures in human form, the notion that there is no consequence to anything going on and no limits to our understanding of this particular world we are viewing, the film becomes impossible to identify with on any level. I don’t think this is a result of aging, for I can see and appreciate the nonsense inherent in the childlike worlds of Transporter 2 and the first two Spy Kids films, in which there aren’t any boundaries to the imagination. But the difference is that there are established ideas of how the world within these films works, and still a minimal resemblance to how we understand our own laws of gravity, reality, etc.

While I was watching Kung Fu Hustle, I thought of Ebert’s review of Son of the Mask, which apparently has the same problem:

“In Jim Carrey’s original The Mask (1994)… there were rules. There was a baseline of sanity from which the mania proceeded. Son of the Mask lacks a baseline. It is all mania, all the time; the behavior in the movie is not inappropriate, shocking, out of character, impolite, or anything else except behavior… Even cartoons know that if you don’t have rules, you’re playing tennis without a net….”

So can a live action movie exist as a cartoon, without obeying its own internal logic, and still work?

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By Adam Lippe

Whenever there’s a genre parody or ode to a specific era of films, such as Black Dynamite’s mocking of Blaxploitation films or Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof, the second half of Grindhouse, the danger is that the film might fall into the trap of either being condescending without any particular insight, or so faithful that it becomes the very flawed thing it is emulating.

Black Dynamite has nothing new to say about Blaxploitation films, it just does a decent job of copying what an inept [...]

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Featured Quote (written by me)

On Cold Fish:

Though the 16 year old me described the 1994 weepie Angie, starring Geena Davis as a Brooklyn mother raising her new baby alone, as “maudlin and melodramatic,” Roger Ebert, during his TV review, referring to the multitude of soap-operaish problems piling up on the titular character, suggested that it was only in Hollywood where Angie would get a happy ending. “If they made this movie in France, Angie would have shot herself.”

Well Cold Fish was made in Japan, where Angie would have shot herself and that would have been the happy ending.