The Fate of the Furious: A Superversive Review

On one level, The Fate of the Furious is the easiest movie to review:
1. Great fun. and 2. Leave your brain (especially the part that understands physics) at home

And now, folks, your seatbelts (HA!) because I will try to make this post deep. How deep? Glad you asked. I’m going to take the recent discussion of what qualifies as superversive fiction and apply it to this movie. If you’re rolling on the floor in fits of laughter, I don’t blame you. But stick with me here. Just because something is lowbrow, doesn’t mean it can’t be superversive, at least in part. And if we can see superversive elements in this piece of schlock, maybe they would become easier to identify elsewhere. Thus, let the experiment begin!

Aspiring/Inspiring. Our heroes are far from being role models, that’s for sure. But are they reaching for something higher? Are they attempting to improve the world, what little of it is in their control? The opening segment includes a prolonged drag-racing sequence that ends with Dom Toretto acting with both generosity and honor towards a person who really deserves neither. Much later, when the villainess questions why Dom seemingly rewarded the man who tried to kill him, the response is, “I changed him.” Does it work like that in real life? Probably not. Thugs don’t choose to join the side of light because of one event, not commonly anyway. Is it possible? Yes, I suppose it is. Is it something we’d like to occasionally see in our art? Absolutely.

Virtuous. I can see how this requirement can be viewed as problematic at first glance, but we need to remember that superversive heroes don’t need to be perfect. They do, however, need to know right from wrong, and more importantly, the story itself must be clear on the matter. An advantage of a well crafted dumb action movie is that the central conflict is very clear. The good guys are… maybe not all that good, not all of them, but they are working for a good cause. And the villainess Cipher, played with obvious delight by Charlize Theron, is as cold and vicious as they come. Her purported justification sounds vaguely noble from throwing around words like “accountability,” but at no point are we sympathetic or thinking, “Well, she’s kind of right…” Nope. Not even close. In this story, shades of gray are non-existent.

Heroic. This one is easy. Unlike in some of the other entries in F&F franchise, the protagonists’ motives here are mostly pure: family, loyalty, honor and oh yeah, saving the world. There is revenge mixed in for some, and an opportunity for a second chance for others. In particular, Deckard (Jason Statham), a villain from one of the previous films, is at first hard to accept as one of the good guys, but he does redeem himself in one of the more spectacular and absurd scenes in a movie that’s full of them. In the end, they all rise to the occasion and do what they must to fight evil, no matter the cost. Additionally, in what to me is the stand-out moment of the movie, Letty bets her life, without hesitation, for a chance to reach and save her husband who appears to have gone rogue. It plays much better if you know the history of these characters, but it’s powerful in either case.

Decisive. Again, easy, as per requirements of the genre. The protagonists don’t have time to agonize over their choices, in part because there aren’t too many. Saving the world is a non-negotiable goal. While there are heart-breaking scenes, we see not a hint of the modern “why me?” angst that has infected even many of the superhero movies. They hurt and they grieve, but never stop moving towards the goal.

Non-subversive. You’d think a movie in a franchise built around essentially glorifying outlaws would be subversive by definition. Not so. This entry in particular has a villainess whose main intent is destruction of the current order, but there’s even more than that. In one of the obligatory Villain Exposition scenes, she’s intent on convincing Dom Toretto, the man who values family and faith, that he is wrong in his priorities. It’s not enough for her to use Dom’s skills. She has a need to destroy who he is, to prove that his life has no meaning, and by extension, no one’s life has meaning. This is an important point. If life is of no value, if family, faith and honor are but an illusion, then mass murder is a perfectly acceptable stepping stone to one’s goals. The villainess is a nearly perfect embodiment of subversion. She would not, in fact, be out of place in an old-fashioned fairly tale, from the time before our culture has developed a need to understand, justify, and sympathize with villains rather than to advocate and celebrate their unconditional defeat.

There were other things that are remarkable on that front. For all the banter and joking around, there’s not a hint of irony when it comes to good old fashioned values. Dom talk constantly about family as if it’s some kind of magic mantra needed to pull him back to the light. (One reviewer commented that at times the movie has a feel of a GOP convention, with the word “family” being mentioned over 50 times.) They pause before a meal to say grace. Crosses figure prominently, both in the visuals and once actually in the plot. Two young hot-blooded men are courting an attractive woman, but that’s where it stays. There is no obligatory danger-inspired hookup, but on the flip side, no blanket rejection of men or romance either. It’s a small scene, fun and light-hearted, but also old-fashioned. And in the end, for all the ridiculous special effects and action, I think this is one of the reasons the franchise has endured. These movies entertain and amuse without tearing down, and they leave you, if not inspired, at least satisfied with a simple tale that shows the world working mostly as you know it should. Not so bad for a piece of dumb action after all.

17 Again Pt 5: Liang and the Domestic Female’s Journey

I’ve noticed there has been a lot of talk on the blog about female characters, especially about the SFC. It’s just timely that this came up while I was writing these articles, because I was wanting to speak on this in regards to Liang.

See, some people push the unrealistic SFC, girl power stories, and ladies that “don’t need no man”; but I rarely find that way of doing them very appealing. In those stories, the girl either has no interest in domestic things or men, or worse, they totally stomp down on them. Because after all, womyn are SO much better than those pig-like men! But what about something I can relate to? Like being strong AND having a man?

17 Again was that story. The character is like most other girls, she wants a good life, a good home…. And a family. But she is held back, by herself as much as by Mao. Wanting to be a house wife is not a bad thing. Indeed, it is a very good and noble thing to strive for. Running a household and raising children is certainly not without its challenges. But I can agree with feminists and the like on one point, you shouldn’t be a mindless house wife with absolutely no life outside of your husband. Even the quiet house wife should have hobbies, something she enjoys or is passionate about. However, this is the rut we find Liang stuck in at the beginning of her journey.

The strong domestic woman is a very important force. I have more I’d like to say on her, but I shall save that for another post. For now, it is enough to say that a good society wouldn’t be able to hold together without them. To me, Liang’s Journey is in her going from a passive, clingy girl, to an intelligent and passionate woman. You’ve heard of the hero’s journey? Well, this is the domestic woman’s journey!

So what makes Liang change from a lame not-house wife, to an awesome woman and possibly real house wife? I think the biggest answer is she rediscovered her passion, and then worked for it. In some ways, she took on the actions of, “I don’t need no man” kinda girl. She kicked Mao away (although, admittedly, that was Little Liang’s doing) She went off and had her own fun and adventures, and she created a career for herself. She had dreams and passions, she perused them, and made them a reality. However, unlike the “don’t need no man” girls, Liang still wanted her man. But before she could have him, she had to learn to live without him. She had to learn to be strong in herself. Only then, could she have the relationship she always wanted.

See, good men don’t want a child for their wife. Some people make marriage out to be a man making all the decisions and dominating, while the woman stays quiet and goes along with whatever he says. That is askewed idea of marriage. Only bad men with control issues take advantage of their wives like that, and it is women without confidence in themselves, who have too many insecurities, that let them. But think about it. How much of a tiresome burden would it be to have a spouse that you have to do everything for? Who can’t make their own decision and opinions? Who has no ambition? Who sits around cleaning and making food while you do everything else?

That’s a maid, not a wife.

Men, good men, want someone to be on the same level as them. They want a partner, not a dependent. Because life is hard, a man wants a woman who can support him as much as he supports her. Now keep in mind, men and women are different, so the way they support and help each other will be different. But the point is, honest men don’t want a pretty-faced, mindless maid for a wife. They want a strong woman who inspires them, whose beauty shines from the inside out. One who will make a house into a home to come back to, and who will be there to catch them when  life is heavy. Someone who they can dream with, and make a life with.

Liang is not that woman when we first meet her. She got one part of it right; she’s there to take care of Mao and make a nice home. But she missed that part about having that deeper level of confidence and support. And because of that, her actions fall short, and somewhat superficial. The nice breakfast cannot be everything, there is something deeper that she is missing. And because of that, Mao has never bothered to marry her.

It’s not until Liang finds confidence in herself that Mao really starts to see her again. Gone is the drifting, shallow Liang. Now she is strong and confident in herself, she glows with the joy of her younger years. She has made herself a woman worthy of great attention and love. And because of this, Mao sees his short comings. He realizes that if he wants to keep this new Liang, he must change and become worthy of her. Because Liang has made herself great, she inspires Mao to make himself great as well.

At the beginning,  both of them are stuck in a rut, and have all but lost their love for each other. Love is  tricky, it’s something you must work to maintain. But by the end, once they both have grown, they are able to come back, stronger, and fight for each other and their love. Very pro-marriage. And I know, they weren’t technically married, but they seemed very much like a divorcing couple. But instead of giving up, they grow and learn, and eventually come back together. This is sooooo refreshing to see. I wish more movies and stories would give that same message of hope. That you shouldn’t give up on marriage just because it became boring or hard. That love is worth fighting for.

Because of that, 17 Again has a very superversive feel. But that is not the only reason. Liang is the focus of the story, the change in her relationship is provoked by her personal journey. And so it was her journey that left me with the greatest feeling of hope and inspiration at the end of the movie.

As someone who is still young and full of passion and dreams, but who also has a desperate desire to never let go of my inner child, I really connected with this movie. I wish to keep that joy and wonder at the world that a child has. I want to have passion to create and chase my dreams. I’m getting a taste of adulating and what real world life is like. With jobs, responsibilities, money, and bills, I’m discovering different kinds of stress and troubles that sometimes weigh heavy on me, and I don’t like it very much. But as long as I have my imagination to run wild, and my stories to get lost in, I can keep my younger self alive, and I’ll be alright. But….. If I ever lost that, if I ever stopped writing and imagining…. Well, the thought is truly terrifying.

And so the story of Liang finding her younger self, reconnecting with her passion, making herself better, and working for her dream, is very moving. She has adventures, learns from her mistakes, makes her dreams a reality, and gets her man back – even better than he was before! She became a stronger woman, but not a womyn. It’s hilarious, it’s refreshing, it’s inspiring, and it is superversive. Plus, there was chocolate! And in case you couldn’t tell from the FIVE articles and 5000 words I’ll spent on this thing, I really really loved it!

Hope you enjoyed my absurdly in-depth look into this movie! Time to go eat some chocolate.

17 Again Pt 4: The One About Love

 I REALLY like the romance in this. And I say “romancE” not “romanceS” because I don’t consider the fling between Yan and Little Liang to be any more than that, a fling. However, I know it was very real to Little Yan, so I’ll take a moment to say my piece about it.

It was a teenager in love. Fast, intense, exciting, but ultimately shallow. They had nothing really that much in common, only their infatuation and thrill of adventure. They shared some tender moments, but nothing truly deep. However, it’s hard for young hearts to know the difference between twitterpated love and deeper love, and heartbreak is no less painful because of it. Their story is of first love, and first heartbreak. Very suiting for Little Liang and her wild ways.

Now….. Let us talk about the important one. Mao.

Even though Liang and Mao are not actually married, from the very beginning I couldn’t help but think of them as if they were. The way they lived together and interacted around each other, the fact that they’d been together for so long, and how they had grown stale in their routine; everything about them was like a married couple, except for the ring and the kids. But they were not only like a married couple, more importantly, they were like a married couple that no longer wanted to be together.

See, in my view marriage is a very important and sacred union. Something that should be valued and respected. Too many people today treat the status of husband and wife with the same weight of girlfriend and boyfriend. It’s so frustrating to see people take that vow, and then toss it away when they loss interest, or they get bored, or loving that person becomes hard. True love isn’t supposed to be easy. A good marriage takes work from both sides. And that’s what people have forgotten.

That’s why I love the romance between Liang and Mao so much. She didn’t immediately give up on someone she deeply loved and go running off with someone new. Instead, Liang and Mao both have to work, grow, and ultimately come back to each other. To me this is very touching, for it shows perseverance and true love.

I’d like to get further into the character arc of Mao, but first there’s one other character I need to put some light one. Mao’s cute work assistant. She is always fluttering at his arm, and it’s obvious she likes him. Although Mao never expresses direct interest from what we can see, there are times when it’s hinted they might be seeing each other a lot more than work requires. To me, she is just one other thing dragging Mao away from Liang. It’s a subtle threat, but one I’m sure Liang feels. Often one relationship can be broken up by the forming of another. I don’t know for sure if that is what was happening here, but it’s a possibility.

Another thing we eventually see, is the shift in Mao. As I’ve mentioned before, Mao has no confidence in Liang. But then he sees her at the opening of the gallery. He sees her younger self, the one full of spunk and sparkle. This must be the first time he has really ‘seen’ Liang in a long time. He sees the girl he fell in love with.

If you watch him during these scenes, you’ll find he is slow in moving closer to Liang. Walking around the gallery, you see him closely examining her paintings. At the beginning of Liang’s speech, Mao is standing right next to his assistant, who was no doubt his date there, and yet he has all his focus upon Liang. There is a moment when his doubt comes back, when Liang runs away from the stage. But then she comes back, with the confidence of her younger self and the grace of her older self, and Mao is again transfixed. He doesn’t take his eyes off her while she paints, and we even see a little smile from him. The pretty little assistant casts glances at him, but in that moment Mao only has eyes for Liang. This is perhaps one of my favorite scenes of the whole movie. Because in a way, we see both Mao and Liang rediscovering themselves, and each other.

Following this scene, is a car ride and a conversation between Mao and Liang. In which Mao, having begun to realize how special Liang is and how much he’s taken her for granted, apologizes to her. Liang smiles sweetly and says, “You don’t have to apologize. Actually, it’s not all your fault. I just don’t want to stand behind and wait for you to turn around anymore.” This leaves Mao somewhat forgiven, but also further away from Liang than ever.

One other point, that might seem a little out of place at first, is the confrontation between, Mao and Yan. When Liang had went off to ask Ning to inform Little Liang not to waste any more time on Yan – after she had talked to him at the biker party – Mao gets his own revenge. Mao must have found out about Yan, because he comes to confront him….. With a punch. The very small fight scene may seem random, but really it’s not. What it is showing is that Mao still cares about Liang, he is jealous, and he wants her back.

And now we come to the end of the movie.

First we see Yan, sitting on his motorcycle, alone, looking up at a billboard with Liang’s face on it. He stares at it a moment, puts his helmet back on, and drives away.

And then there is Mao.

Liang is enjoying time with Ning and her little family, including the cute twin babies. This makes it obvious thatquite a bit of time has passed, and from the billboards and the smile on her face, Liang is doing quite well for herself. Then Ning notices something on the new. A man is running through the streets naked, trying to win back his love, holding up a sign with her name on it. At that moment, Liang hears her name being called from outside. She runs to the window to see Mao, holding the sign, in nothing but his running shoes, fulfilling the promise he made to her over a decade ago. The movie ends with Ning asking, “Well, are you sure you don’t want to reconsider him?” Then Liang laughs, and smiles down at Mao.

It’s a little open ended, but I think it’s satisfying enough. Liang is able to make something of herself, plus I really like that Liang and Mao come back together in the end. To me, this seems very pro marriage. In that, instead of throwing away the 10 years with Mao to go off with some other guy, Mao and Liang rediscover each other and why they fell in love.

This is very touching. Too often marriage is treated with no more gravity than just regular dating – and that when the going gets tough or boring, it’s easier to break up and move on, regardless of vows. At least, that’s the way I see it in movies a lot of times. It was so refreshing and inspiring to see the bad boyfriend get redeemed! It’s not often you see that, but I loved it! It shows that love takes work, and to never give up.

17 Again Pt 3: The Meeting of Two Minds

Everything is going well, but it’s not long before a Liang hits a bump. Old Liang overhears Mao saying that he will probably never get back together with her. Deeply hurt, Liang turns to crying and eating junk food. All the while, she is watching the video of herself and Mao on that fateful day when he asked her to be his girlfriend. In her sad frenzy, she accidentally eats one of the chocolates.

Little Liang wakes up, very confused, in a pile of junk food. But then she sees the video that is playing, and she finds out about the younger Mao. She learns about how he said he loved her and that he gave his word that if he ever broke his promise of loving her, he’d run through the streets naked. Little Liang also realizes the inner turmoil her older self has been suffering because of him. For the first time, Little Liang is sober and serious. She realizes that even though she’s seen Mao as a jerk and boring, her older self still deeply misses him and loves him.

Little Liang does something to stand up for her older self, by leaving Mao the CD of that video and a note scolding him about the promise he broke. This makes Mao begin to question, and to remember why he and Liang got together in the first place. He is also reminded of his younger self. Because before this point, Mao has only been interested in business deals. He had little faith in Liang and stayed very skeptical of her abilities. He had only been going along with everything because that’s how Mr. Geo wanted it. But now… What should he think now? My guess about Mao is that it has been far too long since he’s seen Liang as anything more than a docile, house not-wife. He doesn’t even bother remembering what she used to be like. But now that’s starting to change, and so is he.

Liang has been struggling with Mao’s lack of faith in her, but that’s not her only trouble. Over the news, they find out the factory that makes the magic chocolate was hit by a meteor and destroyed. Now, I will admit that it is a bit odd, and a bit overly dramatic, with the whole explosion-by-space-rock. I’ve heard people ask, “Why the heck is that there?” For me, I thought it was hilarious. And the purpose is to give a limited time that Little Liang can be around. That adds just a little bit more conflict, and it pushes Older Liang to take action and get Little Liang to teach her how to paint again. But aside from that, things are going great. Her art has taken off, and she is enjoying herself. Life is going well.

And then she lives the dream of attending the opening of her new art gallery.

In the car with Ning on the way to the event, she decides to eat a chocolate and let Little Liang enjoy this moment. Because, as Old Liang tells her best friend, “She made me who I am.”

Little Liang is perfect for the clapping crowds and photographers. She bounces and glides and waves to everyone. Filled with life, youth, and energy, she gives a charming little speech. However, while on stage, she turns back into her 28 year old self and can do nothing but give the audience a blank stare. Ning saves her by clapping like that was the end of the speech, and everyone joins in.

At that moment, Mr. Geo announces he has a surprise. Liang will do a live painting for them! Everyone cheers as a blank canvas is brought out for her, but you can see Old Liang is seriously nervous. Apparently, no one told her about this. Liang excuses herself for a moment and runs off the stage.

In the bathroom, she is holding up the piece of chocolate. It would be the easiest thing to do, simply hide behind Little Liang’s skill and confidence. However, she hesitates, then slowly sets down the chocolate, deciding she will do this one on her own. Old Liang returns with her head held high. She pauses to hand the chocolate back to her friend, who watches in shock as she goes up to paint as her older self.

This is a very important moment. Up until now, Old Liang has been relying on Little Liang to paint for people, but now she is taking it into her own hands. When Little Liang stands up to Mao it is like she is becoming a little more like her older self: for she is thinking of others and trying to look out for them. Painting in front of everyone is Old Liang’s way of becoming a little more like her younger self: finding her passion and confidence once again.

With only ten chocolates left, but her art doing well and some of her confidence restored, Older Liang gives little Liang the rest of her time to do whatever she likes. At last! Little Liang can go see Yan! She’s been so caught up working, that she’s barely been able to see him, and now she’s no doubt envisioning a great reunion between them! But if only she had the vision to see that Yan had grown weary of waiting for her and moved on. She would have saved herself the heartbreak of see her beloved Yan with some other girl – cozying up with him on his motorcycle.

This time, it’s Older Liang who wakes up to find herself surrounded by junk food. Getting up, she discovers a painting Little Liang had done in her misery. The girl in the painting is crying and gray. Perhaps she even looks a lot like the Liang from the beginning of the moving, which would be an interesting parallel. Now it’s time for Older Liang to stand up for her younger self.

She goes and disrupts the biker’s party to talk to Yan. She asks him why, after she spent all her time drawing for others just so that she could see him, why he would go find someone else? He replied, “If you can’t give me what I want, why can’t I find someone else?” Liang splashes his drink in his face and storms off.

Finding her best friend, Older Liang gives Ning her phone, and tells her to show Little Liang the video of Yan rejecting her. “Tell her not to waste any more time on him,” Older Liang says, then she eats a chocolate.

Little Liang doesn’t listen (big surprise there) and runs after Yan. Banging on his door, she storms into his place. She says that he’s wrong, she can give him what he wants, and begins to try to kiss him and take her clothes off. She assumes when he said, “You can’t give me what I want” he meant physically. But we find out he meant that in a totally different sense. He pushes her away, and his new girlfriend comes up and slaps Liang, saying, “I can follow him wherever he goes, can you?” But the thing is, if Liang was to say yes, she’d be making the same mistake she made with Mao; giving up all her plans and dreams to follow his. So in the end, it’s good she doesn’t end up with Yan.

But Little Liang does not see it this way. She goes crazy, lashing out in an immature way by fighting with Ning to find the rest of the chocolates. Then when she does, she eats them all at once and chases after Yan. She is in love, heart broken, young, and crazy. As you might guess, this doesn’t end well. In other words, she passes out in the train station and falls into shock.

Then comes a dream sequence in which the two Liangs confront each other. Older Liang is trying to call Little Liang; trying to get her to come back. But just as Little Liang is starting to calm down and come, they encounter a wall, and Little Liang starts slipping away again. Out of desperation Older Liang breaks the wall and catches Little Liang. They share a moment together in this dream world, while out in the real world (on a hospital bed)her heart has flat lined.

This is the moment where the two Liangs finally come together. All throughout the movie, it’s been the story of the younger and older Liang finding each other and working together. At the beginning, they are so far apart they aren’t even aware of each other. Then they tolerate each other. Then they help each other. And now, at least, they make peace with each other. As Little Liang slips away for the last time, Big Liang promises to never forget her and to always hold her near.

In a hospital bed, Liang wakes up. No longer Little Liang or Big Liang, but just simply, Liang.

At first I thought this was the end of the movie. I was a little disappointed and almost clicked away…. but I’m so glad I didn’t! I would have missed something very important! What I had mistaken as the credits rolling in, was actually a montage of all of Liang’s art and accomplishments over the next few years. And then the loose ends are tied up, and we see what became of the two men in the story.

17 Again Pt 1: Looking For Love, Finding Chocolate

 I have fallen in love with this story. I want to tell you all about it, so prepare yourselves.

It all started one night on YouTube. I’m not sure why, but in the suggestions next to the video I was watching, was a movie called 17 again. I’ve seen a movie by this title starring Zac Efron, but the thumbnail of this video was of a Chinese woman….. Definitely not the same movie.

So, it was already close to midnight and the question is: do I click on it and risk some loss of sleep?

The answer: Yes! (Curiosity is a cruel master.)

I’m not sure if I was expecting to watch the entire hour-and-a-half movie, but I soon found I had no choice. And boy, was I glad I did! Here are just a few reasons why:

It was funny.

It was entertaining.

You never knew what would happen next.

There was chocolate!!

It was strong girl story, without discounting the men.

It left me inspired.

It was superverise.

It fascinates me, and so I simply must talk about it! But I like to talk a lot, and there’s a lot I have to say. So my review/analysis of this story will be broken up into parts. But I suggest you watch the movie first if you can. There will be many spoilers ahead.

It starts off following the morning of this prim and proper house not-wife, Liang. Because even though she has been with her guy for 10 years and seems to act just like a housewife, they are not married. We find out today is the day she expects her boyfriend to finally propose to her. However, to the boyfriend Mao, today is just another day. He has work to get to, things on his mind, and he doesn’t pick up on the dreamy gaze of his girlfriend.

The breaking point comes when Liang plucks something out from his suit pocket, a case with a diamond in it, and holds it up in triumph – much to Mao’s confusion and annoyance. With a sigh, and a bit of hesitation, Mao explains, “Mr. Geo’s wife likes diamonds. So, when I was in Dubai last week, I brought one back for her.  As you know, it’s a critical stage for my company. Mr Geo is important.”

In that moment, we see Liang flash back to the moment when Mao asked her to be his girlfriend. He is bright and energetic, promising that he loved her, and in 10 years they’d be married and have lots of kids. Back in the present, Liang’s face turns from bright and flirtatious, to lost, to completely crushed; until she is reduced to nibbling on a piece of bread and staring at the table, as her not-husband leaves for work.

From there, I had to keep watching. What would become of Liang? Would she get her guy to propose? Or would she leave him? Would it all be for naught, and 10 years would have been lost on being the perfect woman and trying to get this guy to commit to her?

She does what any heartbroken girl would do in this situation. She sits on the couch eating junk food, watching TV, and crying. And in this dark and lonely place, a TV infomercial comes on, advertising this amazing chocolate that makes you feel young and revived again. Being the heartbroken, crying girl that she is, Liang orders the chocolate. Then promptly forgets about it.

Meanwhile, the plot moves on as Liang and her best friend, Ning, make a plan to get Mao to propose at Ning’s wedding reception. This gives Liang some hope, and she agrees to it. Unfortunately, the plan ends in embarrassment instead of a ring. Mao is hesitant when pulled up on stage. Liang tells Mao he is her one and only prince, but Mao is freaked out in front of the crowd of people chanting “Propose! Propose! Propose!” He says instead, “This is Ning and her husband’s special day, we should not intrude.” Again, we see Liang’s face crumpled by rejection. Mao then receives a business call and takes that as his cue to run away.

Liang can’t believe what is happening and chases after Mao. During the intense little car chase that follows, Liang finally gets Mao to pick up his phone. She tries to apologize, but she is cut off by Mao informing her that he thinks they should break up. Right at that moment, Liang is stopped by a traffic light, and when her cars slams to a stop, so does her whole world. Liang stares in shock as she watches Mao’s car drive away. And, at last, she completely breaks.

It starts raining, of course, as Liang sobs uncontrollably. And after noticing the chocolate on the seat next to her, she picks one up and eats it. That’s when things start going crazy.

Now, I forgot the mention one small, but very important detail. Where did the chocolate come from? Well, if you rewind just a little bit, to right as Liang arrives at the wedding, there is a very short scene in which a man steps in front of her car. He then delivers the box of chocolates she ordered from the commercial. Liang sets them on the seat next to her, and promptly forgets about them.

But in that moment in the car, because of those chocolates, something surreal happens. Liang is no longer the heartbroken, stale, and lost 28 year old. She is suddenly the wild, mischievous, and passionate 17 year old Liang.

And thus adventures and chaos ensues!

This opening is pretty well done. It sets up a character, makes you like her, then crushes all her dreams and throws her into an adventure. It starts out good, and only gets better. I can’t wait to tell you more about it!

Maleficent vs. Sleeping Beauty: A Lesson in Subversion

NOTE: The bulk of this article was originally posted on www.declafinn.com, almost two years ago. However, in light of the even-growing trend of “re-imagining” old stories for both children and adults, it bears repeating. This analysis also serves as a good demonstration of the differences between subversive and superversive storytelling. While Maleficent received mixed reviews from critics (50% on Rotten Tomatoes), the audience ratings were much higher (71%) and its financial success is undisputed. I therefore feel safe from any accusations of intentionally picking a modern dud to compare to a beloved classic. In my not-so-humble opinion, Maleficent’s flaws are features, not bugs, for it aspires to subversion and succeeds at that level.

One of the side effects of not growing up in the culture is that, no matter how well-assimilated, one inevitably misses some of the basics that all the native-born take for granted. Classic movies, especially those geared towards children, fall firmly in that category. So it was that after almost three decades in the U.S., I still was not familiar with one of the greatest creations of American culture. I am, of course, referring to the Disney classic movie, Sleeping Beauty. Suitably mortified, I ended up renting both the original and the “modern spin” version that is Maleficent.

I had reservations, having been burned to a crisp by the atrocity that was Ever After, but the trailers promised great visuals, plus Angelina Jolie in title role sounded intriguing.

Thus, a double-feature family movie night was on. Perhaps it is not fair to compare a modern Hollywood production to a beloved classic. On the other hand, since I had not seen either movie previously, sentimental value was a non-factor in my case and my expectations would not be unreasonably raised for one over the other.

*

First, Sleeping Beauty. In terms of storytelling, it is straightforward and honest, the way children’s tales tend to be. The rules of magic are simple, the threat and the possible salvation are laid out, all the characters are introduced in the early scenes, and we more or less know how this ends.

Yet there are layers, too, and it’s a great demonstration of how a story can be more complex than it seems while retaining its innocence. Take the scene where Aurora meets the Prince in the woods. They have, essentially, fallen in love before ever having laid their eyes on each other. The meeting is just a validation of something that is already there. How? Why? Is it magic, or destiny, or just a lucky coincidence? We don’t know, but by establishing that both had dreamed of each other before their encounter, we, even as cynical adults, are given enough reason to believe that true love is indeed in the works.

Later on, we get a surprisingly dark yet effective scene where Maleficent, having captured the Prince, torments him with visions of life wasted and love lost, but there is something else. She is mocking the traditional model of a heroic knight who defeats his foe and rescues a maiden, denying the very possibility that the good can triumph. In her world, there is only power and vengeance. No love, no hope, no joy except in denying love and hope to others—a perfect combination of ancient evil and modern nihilism.

In the end, while the Prince is the nominal hero of the story, a big chunk of the credit belongs to the good fairies. They free him not just from physical chains of the dungeon, but also from despair, give him the right tools (the Sword of Truth and the Shield of Righteousness- that’s right; in your face, nihilism!) and guide him along the way. Even in the final confrontation, where the Prince, seemingly alone, has to defeat a fearsome dragon, he is not, in fact, alone as the good fairies make sure the final strike of the sword strikes home. Is there a deeper meaning to the way this part of the story pays out? It is for the viewer to decide.

The rest of the story is simplistic by today’s standards. True love’s kiss is just that. Aurora does indeed wake up, and aside from a little comic relief, the story concludes exactly in the manner we had been promised at the start. It’s not a bad lesson to modern storytellers always on the lookout for The Big Twist. Some stories are beautiful just by their essence and can be told effectively using neither irony nor misdirection.

*

And now, for Maleficent. Skeptical as I was, the visually stunning opening scenes, combined with a hypnotic voice-over asking us to challenge what we think we know of the story, gave me much hope. A part of me wondered why a beautiful girl possessed of magic powers to heal and protect all living things would have a name that literally means “causing or capable of producing evil,” but I put it aside. It did, however, set the tone for the story: hauntingly, darkly beautiful; self-aware in a detached, post-modern way; and often too clever for its own good. In other words, mostly the opposite of the original story it was meant to re-tell.

Maleficent is not the villain of old, but a horribly wronged, heartbroken woman trying to heal her physical and emotional wounds through an act of revenge. And other characters are just as unrecognizable.

The King Father is first a thief and a liar, then a cruel coward, then a full blown lunatic obsessed with killing and destruction, his daughter merely an afterthought by the time the story really gets going. The brief moments where he shows glimpses of humanity are lost because they serve no purpose to this particular version, and that’s too bad because he could have been a great tragic character if handled by a more careful storyteller.

The fairies, who in the original are comical and lovable yet powerful when it counts most, are reduced to incompetent, annoying, squabbling hags who seem to understand nothing of life, or love. They disappear for large stretches of the movie, only to come back and remind everyone how ineffectual they truly are before slinking off again, not even managing to produce comic relief, let alone serious magic.

Aurora is sweet enough, and does get a decent amount of screen time. The best scenes that could really have been the whole (much better) movie are between Aurora and Maleficent, the innocence and innate joy of the girl slowly but surely melting the heart of the bitter, vengeful woman and turning her into a loving maternal figure. But the story’s ambition is bigger, and darker, than that. The little hint of what it might have been makes the end result so much more infuriating.

What about the Prince, you ask? Well, there is a Prince. Unfortunately, he has nothing to do but look confused. He’s not heroic, or interesting, or even particularly attractive. He shows up occasionally to signal in red flashing lights that this story is oh-so-very different. I suppose the script writers think we as the audience are just that dense.

There’s also a Raven who is turned by Maleficent into a shape-shifter and spends some of his time being a semi-useful sidekick who occasionally utters a word of wisdom before being turned into yet another CGI creature.

“But, but…What about True Love’s Kiss? You promised!” says a demanding, if unsophisticated, viewer who still thinks she paid the $10 to see a fairy tale. Said viewer will, indeed witness a kiss, and the Beauty will wake up, but that is all. The Big Twist so lacking in the original is found here. I did not feel cheated, per se, only because the “surprise” was, in a way, so tediously predictable, but neither was I satisfied.

Given the thrust of the story, the ending with Aurora ruling over the newly happy magical kingdom under the wise tutelage of Maleficent should have been enough. But is it? Is there room in the story for romance, for the quaint idea of “happily ever after”? Well, the Prince shows up at the end, for now apparent reason, and all I could think about at that point was “He wants MALEFICENT for his mother in law? He must be either very brave or very stupid, and from the movie’s view of men, I’d have to put money on stupid.” Since we aren’t supposed to question such things too deeply, the movie pulls us back to the beautiful vistas and a hypnotic voice-over, and soon the end credits start rolling to a suitably macabre remake of the original Sleeping beauty love song.

I have to give the script writers credit where it’s due: the movie stayed true to its vision till the very end. Unfortunately, the vision is thoroughly at odds with the classic it was claiming to re-tell. While it is possible to create a compelling story—NOT a true fairy tale, but perhaps a dark fantasy—where the hero and the villain is one and the same, Maleficent doesn’t quite gets there. Once you look beyond the special effects and Jolie’s solid acting, this “re-imagining” eagerly tears down the original, but fails to build anything substantial in its stead. But then, knowing what we know of today’s Hollywood, perhaps that was the intention all along.

Marina Fontaine is a co-founder of Conservative-Libertarian Fiction Alliance and the author of Chasing Freedom (a Dragon Awards finalist) and The Product, a dystopian novella published by Superversive Press.

CASTALIA: “It’s a Wonderful Life” is Dark, Brutal, and the most Superversive movie ever made

Okay, I’ve been waiting ALL YEAR to do the “It’s a Wonderful Life” post for Superversive Tuesday. For those living under a rock, “It’s a Wonderful Life” is the endlessly remade and parodied Christmas classic about a man, George Bailey, on the verge of suicide. Before he can complete this ultimate act of despair God (!!!) briefs the witless but kind-hearted angel Clarence on the important details of George’s life, so that he understands the background and context of George’s actions before attempting to save his soul. And that’s where we get our movie.

I’m not going to bother adding spoiler warnings for this film. If you haven’t seen it, do so right now. “It’s a Wonderful Life” is far more than one of the greatest holiday movies ever, it is one of the greatest movies ever made PERIOD. While most famous for its brilliant ending, where Clarence shows George what life in Bedford Falls would be like if he didn’t exist, the entire movie is excellent, featuring underrated performances from Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed and a rich character study on the level of “A Christmas Carol”. It’s as much of a must-watch movie as “Casablanca” – you really can’t call yourself a fan of films without seeing it.

But the film doesn’t need me to sing its praises. What I want to focus on is a curious kind of nostalgia that I’ve noticed follows this film around. People tend to have this idea that “It’s a Wonderful Life” is a happy movie and Bedford Falls almost a platonic ideal of small town life, probably because of its upbeat ending and status as a holiday film (holiday films being rightly notorious for trite sentimentality).

A rewatch dispels such a silly notion very quickly. That is, if anything, the opposite of the truth. Bedford Falls is a coin flip – one life – away from being a terrible, terrible place. Drunken drug store owners beat disabled children. A cruel business tycoon (Mr. Potter, played to perfection by Lionel Barrymore) has near-dictatorial control over half of the town. A man punches George in the mouth moments before the famous suicide scene. There is, of course, much to love about Bedford Falls, but it is not even close to being the ideal of small town life.

Continue reading