woody, when he was silly

watched take the money and run last night. ah woody, why did you have to go ingmar bergman on us? you were at your best when you were silly, tossing off sight gags and set-ups without punchlines. you were the natural inheritor of the marx brothers and vaudeville but that wasn’t good enough for you, was it? well, at least you didn’t go soft in the head like all those 70s comics. but why am i addressing you in the first person like this?

he’s obviously made some great films after love and death (annie hall, the purple rose of cairo, sweet and lowdown) so i don’t want to push this early silly woody vs. later serious woody thing very far (and annie hall probably belongs in the first group anyway) but when i watch these old movies i wish he still made things like that. no one else seems to have after he stopped.

Johnny To

I’ve praised this director before, but I’ll bump him up again, having just watched Running on Karma, a neatly-strange little mix of genres that plays out quite enjoyably. In a nutshell: bodybuilder/male-stripper (Andy Lau, in a muscle suit) is a former Buddhist monk and sees karma, which gets him entangled with a police investigation. Yes.

It takes its notions of karma and the pleasurable protocol of action sequences seriously, yet its tone avoids that kind of unblinking engagement in genre or tone that other Hong Kong directors (like Woo) sometimes fall into–the conventions are, when you’re being melodramatic, play it over-the-top melodramatic, and the same when being funny, or romantic, or…. To, on the other hand, has this lightness of touch–while never mocking or ironic, his films also dance across generic boundaries so that, thinking you’re watching a comedy, something fairly violent happens, and vice versa. Besides the pleasures of Lau (I’ll go ahead and say it–as charismatic as and far more interesting than Chow Yun Fat), and the textbook beauty of To’s action choreography, you get a surefooted spinning that meets and disrupts our expectations.

So check out Karma, or even better, my favorite The Mission, or any of the many films of his Netflix carries. I mean you, Howell and Chakladar. These are damn fine action films.