By Dr. Craig D. Reid
The Expendables is a film that based on what is being written about its box office numbers seems to have some inside backing that tries to make a big deal of a miniscule deal, which once again shows how in some circles in Hollywood, film production wise and media wise is a “good ole boys” network.
It’s also disappointing that Jet Li perhaps did not see beyond the money as he did not read between the lines of who is character is and all those jokes about being a half man is not as humorous as it is racist.
There are some who may think I’m over reacting about the racist undertones of this film, may be so, but I’ve worked in Hollywood for 10 years as a fight choreographer and have been doing entertainment reporting on Asian films and Asian American actors since 1992 and so I’m seen and heard a lot of what goes on behind the Hollywood “cels” that often times imprisons truth.
Investigative articles I’ve written for Reuters on Asian American stereotypes in the entertainment industry and the blatant unfair treatment that has been plaguing Asian American actors in Hollywood since the silent film era has ruffled many feathers in the biz.
For example, in 2005, after I interviewed director Sergey Bodrov as to why he cast Caucasian actor Channing Tatum to play Genghis Khan in Mongol: The Rise of Genghis Khan (2007), the ensuing article I wrote caused enough stir that he eventually cast Tadanobu Asano to play Khan.
Although with The Expendables lead actor/director Sylvester Stallone may be strutting around like a peacock, if you remove the feathers from the chicken, the resulting tar is yet another “cheep” shot at Asian cinematic stereotypes.
So who is in this film, a movie born out of Rambo 2? Yes, you read it right.
One of the famous lines from Rambo 2 is when actress Julia Nickson as Co Bao, Rambo’s love interest, puppy-eyed says, “Rambo, you are not expendable.” The line resonated with Stallone then and now we have the end product.
Similar to Rambo this wayward group of hardened mercenaries known as the Expendables also only know a life of war, where the only loyalty they know is to each other.
Roll call: Leader and mastermind Barney Ross, (Stallone); former SAS blade expert Lee Christmas (Statham); snipper Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundgren); demolition expert Toll Road (Randy Couture); long barrel weapons specialist Hale Caesar (Terry Crews); and hand-to-hand combat specialist combat specialist Yin Yang (Li).
Add in the likes of Steve Austin, Mickey Rourke, Eric Roberts and kickboxing champion Gary Daniels then we have what Stallone says is a, “Gritty, adrenaline-fueled odyssey, harkening back to a time when every punch was real and brute strength and sweat were supplied by the actors themselves.”
The only problem is that because Yin Yang is a short Asian man, the Expendables is comprised not of six men, but five and a half men. No joke there on the virility of Asians…right?
It’s this sort of stereotype that the other Lee, Bruce Lee, tried to eliminate and keep away from and here we are in 2010 doing it again. So much for racist humor by Stallone and his co-writer, guess they thought that was funny. The Asians I saw in the audience were not amused with the “joke.”
Their assignment: Infiltrate the South American, island nation of Vilena and take out the dictator. In reality, Vilena is a village in Columbia, but for the Expendables, it is a country of danger.
According to Variety, Expendables is a hit. Are you kidding me?
“…The Expendables fights its way to the top with a strong domestic opening weekend B.O. of $35 million.”
For a film with an $82 million production budget, a similar advertising budget, and starring the cast that has more testosterone-highs than all of the former East German Women’s Summer Olympic teams, $35 million barely covers star Stallone and Statham’s salaries.
Someone at Variety must be driving a brand new expensive car. But wait there’s more.
“In its second outing (weekend), Lionsgate’s guy gang pic The Expendables broke through a crowded frame of new entries, claiming the top spot again at the domestic B.O., with an estimated $16.5 million.”
That variety reporter must have earned a new house by now because to me $35 million and $16.5 million B.O. receipts are peanuts (flop) based on all the track records of the stars.
Li looks out of place and his dialogue doesn’t do him much justice where his running joke on size gets old quickly. Li additionally brought in Corey Yuen and three members of his stunt team to choreograph his fight scenes, which also looks to be a waste of time and talent as Li’s fights are shot just as poorly as all the other fights in the film. It’s the usual Hollywood style shot fight scenes that have been plaguing American films for the past five or so years, where it’s all close shots, snappy editing, can’t see anything and there is zero creativity.
Yet when it came to the fights, Stallone mentions that he was going for reality. But let’s face it, no fight on any TV program or film can be real unless it’s in a ring or octagon. There’s really nothing cool about any of the action sequence as the audience sat in total quite waiting for that “Ooooaaaa” moment that never came.
To further compound the dizzying look of the fights, Stallone used that jerky camera motion made famous in the first few seasons of NYPD BLUE (1993). The expected MMA vs. WWF fight scene does occur, perhaps a symbol of one dying out the other going stronger. Oh, and we also learn totally useful information during Couture’s minute soliloquy Ode to a Cauliflower ear. That’s character depth…not.
So just how good is this film?
For those who know martial arts films, this says it all. It’s as good as Li’s WAR meets Stallone’s RAMBO 3 partially wrapped in CRADLE 2 THE GRAVE, but with a little positive hint of THE TRANSPORTER.
Is that good or bad? Depends on who you are and what you expect from these living legends. Apparently my expectations were too high as within 15 minutes, the mood, most acting, the script, “humorous” one-liners, action and fight choreography, and directing were similar to Tiger Woods’ comeback to the golfing world. And apparently Tiger is still not out of the “Woods” yet.
And can somebody tell me how in god’s name can Li loose two fights against Lundgren?