By George Rose
April 14, 2009
In the 1990s, Jackie Chan was providing all the mindless debauchery a growing boy needed AND was doing his own stunts. I grew up with two brothers – and several cousins – close in age. Most of us were athletes (not me), but all of us were aggressive wrestlers. If there was one star that provided us with possible move sets and intricate battles using household objects, it was Jackie.
Who Am I? is one of the many Chinese imports featuring martial arts – and one of the many from Jackie Chan – but it always held a special place in my heart. He plays a Chinese commando dumped off in South Africa without memory, sending him on a journey back to China to discover who he is. Think the "Bourne" series with humor and voice-overs. Not much is funnier than watching a young, toned version of Chan scurrying around with English-dubbed confusion. As a confused child going through puberty, the question "who am I?" came up a lot. Not being able to answer it for myself, I took a break and let Chan help answer my problems.
He wasn't as popular at the time as he would become with the Rush Hour series, but he also wasn't trying as hard. You can tell he's having more fun in some of his foreign films – Drunken Master, Mr. Nice Guy, the Police Story series – than he is bickering with Chris Tucker or Jennifer Love Hewitt (sorry, my one-time love). Maybe it's because he was more physically able and could push his limits, but the modern day wall-jumper he is doesn't do the man justice. He's clearly best when he's able to communicate with his co-stars, but always better than the future impersonators. Here's hoping he makes Police Story 87 before he gets too old!
I'm dead serious, everyone, make Clive Owen a bigger star. He goes unnoticed far too often – Bent, King Arthur, Children of Men anyone? – but Closer brought him closest (oh yeah, I said it) to the A-list. The rest of the cast is superb as well, with Julia Roberts, Natalie Portman and Jude Law rounding out the group of swingers. Well, they aren't really swingers, but any movie about partner-swapping relationships with people this beautiful is worth two hours of your time. Portman is a stripper! Owen is a sex addict! Roberts keeps having affairs! And Law, well, I've never cared too much for the nanny-knocker.
The film came out just as I was entering college and well into my newfound appreciation of independent films. This release was more mainstream than most indies, given its cast alone, but since I was just starting my first real relationship it quickly became a chapter in my Handbook for Love. More "what not to do" than anything else, the movie revolves around four individuals with large sexual appetites and little knowledge on how to make commitment work. Portman and Owen both won Golden Globes and were nominated for Oscars – hence his critical status boost – for their performances, proving they both deserve a more credit and attention as actors than our wallets have suggested.
Closer is decidedly pessimistic when it comes to relationships, but the tone remains one the audience can connect to, if not at least be turned on by (perfect for a college freshman). It's accompanied by music that both sooths and haunts, with Damien Rice's "Blower's Daughter" headlining. The song was in my iTunes top five for no less than a year. Like the movie, it is beautiful and relaxing, even when the words and plot are void of hope. It's the perfect song to listen to alone while I wondered the late night streets of Boston in the middle of winter.
There are complaints from certain critics – pointless plot, uninspired directing – but none that affected my viewing of it. I can't say it enough, the moments in people's lives and the timing of discovery greatly affect what you might think about a film. When it premiered, it immediately became one of my favorite movies. Ever. And over four years later, I can still watch it on repeat. The cast, their performances (and beauty), and my youthful interest in complicated relationships make this one of my classic recommendations to friends. It won't tell you how to be the best boyfriend or lover, but will make whatever you're going through with your own partner not seem so bad.
With Armageddon right around the corner, who couldn't use a break to feel better about themselves? Take five and rent Closer, or any one of the other recommendations made above. If not, there are plenty more suggestions to come when Take Five returns next week.