[REVIEW] ‘The Protégé’ or Maggie Q is Awesome

This Wednesday I had the chance to attend 2 film screenings: First, the violent action crime, thriller, The Protégé, and second the mystery, sci-fi, romance Reminiscence. Of the 2 I prefer The Protégé. I don’t know if that is saying much but if you are looking for an action movie with a kick-butt lead character you could do worse than Maggie Q in The Protégé.

The Protégé is directed by Martin Campbell who is most well known for his Bond movies like GoldenEye and Casino Royale. Here he has Maggie Q in the lead as an assassin who is asked to look into a mysterious disappearance and then it becomes a revenge story when someone she loves is threatened.

Samuel L Jackson plays her mentor who saves her from a traumatic childhood in Vietnam and they basically have a father/daughter dynamic. Their relationship helps soften Maggie Q’s character and gives the action stakes because she doesn’t feel invincible even when racing through scores of bullets unscathed.

Michael Keaton and Maggie Q also have chemistry. She’s the assassin and he’s the hit-man sent in by the criminal underworld to stop her. Their sexy repertoire is what you want in a movie like this.

Make no mistake The Protégé is an extremely violent movie with lots of brutal action. I wish that more of it had been hand-to-hand instead of with guns. It might be more shocking with guns but it’s less interesting to watch than martial arts/fighting.

The movie also starts to feel repetitive and has a major plot twist that is difficult to believe even for a movie like this. I don’t see many movies like this but my guess is others will call it tired and ‘we’ve seen it all before’ and they are probably correct. I’ve never seen movies like John Wick so The Protégé probably feels fresher to me than it might for others.

The reason to see The Protégé is Maggie Q. She’s awesome and I hope this is a jumping off point for more action roles in her career. We could use more female action stars like her especially being part Vietnamese.

She rocks. The movie is just fine if you can stomach the violence.

6 out of 10

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‘SHADOW’ REVIEW

One fact about me that might surprise people is I actually enjoy a good martial arts movie. While I wouldn’t claim to be an expert in the genre, I enjoy Jackie Chan movies like The Drunken Master, or other films like The Grandmaster or IP Man. I know these movies can be very violent but it’s so stylized and part of the choreography that it doesn’t bother me as much as other violence. The skill and craft that comes into making your body a weapon is beautiful and fascinating.

Naturally when I heard that director Zhang Yimou had a new film called Shadow, I knew I needed to see it as soon as I got the chance. Fortunately, it premiered today at the Tower Theater in Salt Lake City so I had to see it! It’s not the biggest screen in the world but it’s better than nothing! So I went to see Shadow today and to my relief the film lived up to the hype.

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Shadow tells the story of an ancient land with 2 feuding kingdoms. One is ruled by a man named Pei (Zheng Kai) and the other by a man named Yang Cang (Hu Jun). They both have generals, sisters, wives and followers to muddy the waters and bring their kingdoms into conflict. Pei, in particular, has a general named Ziyu (Deng Chao) who we learn is actually a look alike named Jingzhou (also Deng Chao), with the actual Ziyu being hidden away in a cave. Jingzhou has been trained to be Ziyu’s shadow hence the name of the movie.

I won’t give any more spoilers but there’s magnificent training sequences that take place on a giant yin/yang symbol. The cinematography of the film is incredible with a monochromatic aesthetic where sometimes the only color you see is the bright red of the blood.

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There is also a surprisingly effective love triangle between Jingzhou, Ziyu and his wife Xiao Ai (Sun Li). Most of this is done through looks and dialogue-free scenes that the actors pull off very well. In fact, it makes Shadow approachable for Western audiences because it’s all about the emotion more than the words spoken with each other. So if you are turned off by subtitles you might still want to give Shadow a try.

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The martial arts fighting is like none I’ve ever seen before (except maybe in Kungfu Panda 2 oddly enough). They use a metal umbrella made of spears in their fighting and all of these circles help reinforce the theme of yin/yang and combined with the monochromatic cinematography are quite mesmerizing. Honestly Shadow is the closest to watching a modern Kurosawa film that I’ve recently seen. It’s quiet and contemplative like his films. It’s striking like his films, and it has Shakespearean themes like his films. If you are a fan of visually dazzling films with heart than you will leave the theater awestruck by it.

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The only downside to Shadow is it can be uneven in its pacing. Particularly the first 30 minutes are a bit laborious. It gets too caught up in the diplomacy between Pei, Yang and Ziyu for its own good. Also it will take me a couple rounds to understand everything going on with the plot. Sometimes I decided to just enjoy the visuals because I wasn’t entirely clear on what was happening.

All that said, Shadow is a tremendous achievement for Zhang Yimou and a film I heartily recommend to film lovers and anyone who can tolerate a rather bloody martial arts action film. You won’t regret hunting this one down

8.5 out of 10

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