Based on a true incident involving a French diplomat who carried on an affair of 18 years with a man that the diplomat thought was a woman, M. Butterfly begins in 1964 Beijing, when French foreign service employee René Gallimard (Jeremy Irons) becomes smitten with Chinese opera songster Song Liling (John Lone). Before long Gallimard is enamored with Song Liling and they begin their Affair to Remember, but bracketed by the condition that Gallimard will not be allowed to feast his eyes upon Song Liling sans clothes. Gallimard agrees to the strictures but, as he climbs up the diplomatic ladder, the Communist government gets into the love affair, corralling Song Liling to become an informant for the government. When Gallimard's lust can no longer be contained and he demands nudity, Song Liling runs out of Gallimard's life and he becomes a lovelorn husk, forever pining for his lost love. He leaves China and accepts a two-bit diplomatic job, but then Song Liling appears again to Gallimard, just in time for Gallimard's arrest and subsequent sensational trial for treason, which exposes his affair for the sham it is.
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Despite its bold opening of Puyi's attempted suicide as a prisoner in a reeducation camp in his late 50s, The Last Emperor is your standard biopic, complete with the framework of the aged character telling the story of his life. Of course, Puyi's peculiar childhood is the most interesting half of the two-and-a-half-hour film, and it's there where Bertolucci's grip on the material is the strongest. From the seven-year-old Puyi's desperation to connect with the mother he was separated from six years prior to the teenage Puyi's pet mouse. Bertolucci's poetics seem to transcend the film's immaculate design and execution. It helps that the material is inherently interesting -- we are all bound by duty in some regard and are constantly looking for an escape. Still, Bertolucci takes chances, even shocking us with a seven-year-old Puyi nestling in his mother's bare bosom or the pet mouse meeting its demise against the Forbidden City's gate at the hands of a frustrated Puyi. These are not mere exploits, however, but sad moments where it's clear that Puyi's childhood and foreshadowed adulthood needs and desires are controlled by others.
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That pairing of B-movie titans, somewhat inexplicably titled War, is neither a team-up nor a battle royale; it's actually kind of like a low-budget Heat knockoff, with a far larger cast and a far snakier plot than is warranted by the stars' specific and unpretentious skill sets. It begins with FBI agent Jack Crawford (Statham) losing his partner (Terry Chen) to a mysterious assassin called Rogue; so far, so cheesy, so good. But when Rogue (Jet Li) re-appears three years later, involved in a convoluted (or maybe just dull) bit of Asian-mob rivalry between the Yakuza and Triad families, momentum falters. Crawford attempts to navigate the underworld and bring his nemesis to justice, while geeks in the audience become confused by Rogue's inability to absorb Jason Statham's mutant fighting powers.
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Unfortunately Ratner does not find the same joy in Rush Hour 2, an occasionally amusing comedic adventure that leaves us with a profoundly annoying Chris Tucker fighting for attention while Jackie Chan fights one-dimensional Chinese villains with his bare fists. The film contains some neat action sequences, a great third act, and the most hilarious outtakes I can remember - but the clash of genres feels intrusive and awkward. I wanted more excitement, more character dimension, and a whole hell of a lot less of Chris Tucker's irritating mouth.
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When a high-concept action-comedy becomes a hit despite slapdash scripting and single joke themes weaved into an emaciated plot, the ball starts rolling toward the inevitable: An even lamer sequel.
Thus was born the half-baked, ham-fisted "Rush Hour 2," another odd-couple buddy cop picture pairing Hong Kong detective Jackie Chan, king of the kung-fu action-comedy, with LAPD putz Chris Tucker, high-pitched hyperactive buffoon.
In the 1998 original set in Los Angeles, Chan and Tucker went against orders to rescue the daughter of the Chinese consul. This time they start their own investigation (against orders) when a bomb goes off at the U.S. embassy while Tucker is on vacation in Hong Kong. What this bombing has to do with the plot about a Triad counterfeiting ring isn't readily apparent, but the two are connected by Zhang Ziyi (the beautiful teenage heroine of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"). She delivers the package bomb in the movie's opening scene and is wasted in the rest of the flick leading a gang of henchmen into ho-hum high-kicking combat with our heroes.
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