Critism 2006: a gentle opening
- King Kong
A full-heartful of fury plus a tesco bag-for-life-ful tears would be probably enough for me to describe the experience of seeing the gigantic Mr. Kong. Up up and down down, intellectually and emotionally, Peter Jackson and his crew took me through a stunning cinema adventure with a good never-got-bored 3 hours, on top of a by-consumption of 200g crisps. Whilst I dare not burst out into exclamations to the film, because… trust me, there are reasons, I just need some time to reason the satisfaction and dissatisfaction gained from this three times re-shot modern narration of Beauty and Beast, better do it sip after sip of mild afternoon milky tea.
Rarely writing prolonged reviews on mainstream Hollywood movies, I want to start with asking myself: do I need to set a premise for the critique hence an excuse for not being too harsh of all these I used to scorn? Well, yes. But if there is a premise, it’s a premise for all other films: that ‘all films are about manipulation’ (Fred Wiseman link). A powerful manipulation can be regarded a good film, likewise to a successful attempt to weaken such effect. The debate of narration and form is becoming an eternity in film studies. Nonetheless the problem is when your mind is enclosed in the darkness of cinema where it provides you strong sense temporary escape, the battle tends to be unbalanced. You are probably easier adapted to the former as I adapted myself, though not all the way through comfortably, to the new version of King Kong. (Inevitably as an assumption, I would like to suggest that the technology of VHS and DVD has assured a more sober stream of critics – watching a video with the telly is by no means comparable to the cinema experience in terms of its manipulative power.)
So King Kong to me, first of all, is a powerful narration. My tear soaked and depigmented sweater can be a proof to that. An effective film narration normally consists of grasping storyline, finely designed shooting angle, breathing animation, and sometimes a same old moral. King Kong has got, at least, the former three. Not long ago, I was very much obsessive of reading a journal (A Vagrant Life in LA by Cai Kang Yong link) from a former UCLA link screenwriting student. From there I had a glimpse of how the prestigious American film schools educate the future narrators. Cai wrote in this journal, as the first impression of his course, that he was told only stories of unhappy characters will sell. The more the characters are tortured, the better the screenwriter is. Applying the inference to the case of King Kong, it seems very true that all the aspects of love, fear, heroism, and breathtaking conflicts owe their excellence to the tragedy of King Kong. Not only being tragedised for the sake of a good-selling story, the censored level of 12A also made King Kong’s sacrificing life to love a ‘Muss es sein? Es muss sein.’ (Beethoven link ). As my friend Sean earlier found out, the main plot of King Kong, despite of its metaphorical meanings, is a rather deviant love story between a female human and barbarian/alien being. If it was someone long being familiarised with those pornographies for special interest (accordingly illegal to be broadcasted in this country), it should not be very difficult for him/her to make some explicit association with the love between King Kong and Ann. To reduce such effect, King Kong has to, foremost, die, thus the implication will be severed forever. Other peripheral attempts of such reduction are: aligning the heroin another heroic male lover that she will have a happy ending with; and of course, desexualises King Kong. Exactly as Sean discovered, big as King Kong, it has no symbol of sexuality at all except some of its character that is commonly associated with masculinity: protective, fightful and… loves a woman. However, there wasn’t at all a clear gender cut on the character of King Kong, some features more often associates with femininity were revealed on it as well, such as appreciation of sun setting, patience, and tolerance. To make a decision on its gender is, therefore, inappropriate now. Within this loving character of a gigantic gorilla, I can say, the notion of gender and sexuality is blurred, and the fundamental belief of love became universal. Being able to predict the tragic answer of such love, the few romantic moments between the two became very moving, and that was when I devoted my precious tears. For me at these very moments, it was not the decided tragic destiny of the love between a human being and a monstrous being in particular that made me melancholy, but the association that nothing/particularly beautiful moment last forever. – only change is bound to be with eternity <-
So far I memorised my being tearful yet left the part of fury. Well, as you all probably know, I was a cultural studies student, and am still trying to maintain the school in the studies I do now. Culturally conscious hypothetically, I didn’t dare not to actively analyse the film throughout the length while indulging myself with the escapism with the narration and special effect. That particular reservation of consciousness evoked my fury. The charges I would put forward are: sexlisation, if not objectisation, of female character, alienation and demonisation of primitive society and black race, and too many vivid animations of disgusting insects….. ewwwwwwwwwww! Considering it’s a re-work of a 1930 film when only a few female elitists were aware of gender inequalities, the charge of objectisation of women can be reduced. Evidence of such charge are collected from such moments when men were killed but the woman posed as tribute to the mysterious power hitherto her humanity life value was deprived by not killing, when the sacrifice of life in order to seek a missed woman was seen heroic, when most of the time the woman was waiting some men to get her out of predicament etc. However, one particular and deciding scene turned all the situation up side down, that was the moment when Ann started to present her circus trick to amuse King Kong. Opposed to the failed violent attempts by the men, Ann’s attempt of humorous negotiation succeeded. Such quality, not as Carl commented in the end as a concluding moral of the story that ‘it was not us but the beauty killed the monster’, was but a universal quality of human wisdom. By presenting the wisdom of the whole human race, Ann, at least at that very moment, was treated as a fulfilled person rather than conformed to any particular gender role model. Nonetheless, it was Naomi Watts and her assistants of costumes that I want to accuse to have sexualised Ann. Not mentioning her wearing seductive clothes all the time before and on the boat – let me say it’s the historical context that confines this; given the condition in the forest, her silk dressing gown should long be torn into pieces, but not remained there to produce a sense of to-be-torn. Be reminded that as natural nudity is accepted in even U category, censorship was not a concern there. The only reason left to keep her seductive dressing gown on is to attract the male audience gaze. Moreover, through out the whole contact with King Kong, Miss Watt never ceased to draw her screaming of fear closer to the moan of sexual pleasure that is commonly heard in porn. It was reasonable for a Hollywood stereotyped female flower vase to act like so to irritate both the big gorilla and the audience. But to the very character of Ann – a person mentally strong enough to survive from devastating situations, a person seeking for meaning of life with a complex thinking pattern as premise, and most importantly, a character represents the human wisdom rather than stupidity, such acting was damaging. After all, it could be the will of the director, rather than Miss Watt herself to have performed the character in this way. So I decide to stop being so harsh to her. Come to the point to rant to the direct or screenplay reviser or whoever decided it that the primitive society should be represented by black actors in horrifying make up. Although it’s a re-work, coming from a socially race conscious environment, how many times should these people be told by their education and the mass media that mis-representation of race would deepen the social stereotyping and thus endangered to promote racist! If they were aware of the power effect of the horrifying scenes to the children, they should perhaps made up those primitives in a less African significant fashion, even it was like this in the original work of King Kong.
In spite of the melancholy and intellectual anger provoked, it was New Year’s Eve that I went to see this film, with its ripe narration and in-depth annotation of different characters, I was nevertheless entertained and thought-provoked. I therefore decide to give some credit to the special event of New Year’s Eve, my friend’s friend who was in the animation crew, the fun acting of Jack Black, the sad eyes of Adrein Brody, and the true humanity shown in the film etc., hence you see the rare four stars under the title.
If you haven’t seen it yet, I would say it’s not a bad cinema experience. Not sure about watching it on telly or computer though. (You’d better be careful with the latter two since my friend who saw it on the puter commented it as the most inhumane film of the year~ )