NJ

by NJ

Shang-Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings Review

Shang-Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings Review

November 17, 2021 in Blogs

Shang-Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings marks the first Marvel Cinematic Universe movie I’ve seen from Phase 4, the first I saw theatrically since Spider-Man: Far From Home, and the first I watched on an IMAX screen since Guardians of the Galaxy.  When 2018 brought word that Marvel Studios would give Shang-Chi, Master of Kung-Fu, his own movie, it designated the fourth known attempt to bring him to the big screen.  Previous attempts included aborted projects from the 1980s and 2000s, followed by a deleted cameo from The Avengers. (The first project, in particular, would’ve starred Bruce Lee’s son, Brandon Lee.) The timing for this latest try seemed mainly like Marvel wanting to cash-in on the public’s growing appreciation for films cast either mostly or entirely with Asian-descended performers, especially after Marvel roped in Crazy Rich Asians cast members.  Major Shang-Chi comic appearances I read prior to The Legend‘s release include Master of Kung-Fu Epic Collection Vol. 1: Weapon of the Soul (1973-77, by Steve Englehart and Doug Moench), five storylines teaming him up with other Asian crimefighters (2017-20, by Greg Pak), and Shang-Chi Vol. 1: Brothers and Sisters (2020-21, by Gene Luen Yang).

With the fluctuating quality of Marvel Studios’ Infinity Saga in mind, Shang-Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings intrigued me mainly because it could give additional exposure to Asian-descended filmmakers, and inspire additional, potentially better movies about Asian superheroes.  Non-Marvel films I would watch from director/writer Destin Daniel Cretton before the premiere included the compelling Short Term 12 and the thought-provoking Just Mercy, which demonstrated his skills at intimately and emotionally presenting character dramas of varying scales.  When the 2020s rolled around, the need for empowering media portrayals of Asians and Asian-Americans grew even more apparent, as the COVID-19 pandemic sparked an alarming increase in hate crimes against Asian-Americans.  Since The Legend began filming before the pandemic, looks like I’ll have to wait for either a sequel or a spin-off to address this crisis. (It would probably only do so indirectly.) Regardless, even if Shang-Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings doesn’t mark my favorite Marvel movie, sometimes it feels too good for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

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by NJ

PREVIEW: The Book of Boba Fett Chapter 1 Review

PREVIEW: The Book of Boba Fett Chapter 1 Review

November 1, 2021 in Blogs

PREVIEW: The Book of Boba Fett Chapter 1 Review

Among the first three Mandalorian spinoffs announced, The Book of Boba Fett seemed the likeliest to hold my attention.  Boba Fett impressed in the original Star Wars trilogy mainly for superficial reasons, but Lucasfilm has since put forth some fascinating efforts at fleshing him out.  His surprise revival on The Mandalorian demonstrated Disney+’s potential for exploring his character and skillset in greater detail than any of the preceding movies did, as I previously discussed in my review of Chapter 14 – which later became the first Mandalorian chapter to earn four full viewings from me.  Additionally, undoing Boba’s embarrassing send-off in Return of the Jedi didn’t sound detrimental to any major Star Wars character arcs.  After I lowered my impatience for The Mandalorian Season 3, by accepting that Lucasfilm shouldn’t rush out a mediocre third season, the thought of following further adventures of the man who introduced Mandalorian culture to Star Wars viewers sounded enticing.

With Maori Temuera Morrison and Macau Ming-Na Wen reprising their respective roles of Boba Fett and Fennec Shand, The Book of Boba Fett marks the first live-action Star Wars TV show with AAPI leads.  I’ve admired Morrison and Ming-Na even before The Mandalorian, thanks to such works as Attack of the Clones and Mulan.  Neither Boba nor Fennec belong to the Children of the Watch, permitting both of them to show their faces at least once in each episode of the Book. (Even if the actors would continue wearing prosthetic scars, at least the characters would look more human than alien.) Morrison and Ming-Na have helped generate interest in their show with their strong passions for Star Wars, and – at least in Morrison’s case – for integrating international elements of real-world customs into the galaxy far, far away.

Full review coming January 1, 2022

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by NJ

Two More Spotlights on Fennec Shand

Two More Spotlights on Fennec Shand

September 30, 2021 in Blogs

As of this writing, my reviews of Fennec Shand’s appearances on The Bad Batch Season 1 mark my most-commented articles of 2021.  Thanks to the support of my readers, I’ve found motivation to blog about Fennec one more time this year.  While I wait for The Book of Boba Fett to herald her return to Disney+, I’ll share my thoughts on her smallest Mandalorian appearance so far, then on her seasonally-appropriate debut in non-canon animation.

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by NJ

In the Heights Stage vs. Film

In the Heights Stage vs. Film

August 1, 2021 in Blogs

In the Heights Stage vs. Film

Ever since I began recognizing the cultural and historical similarities between the Philippines and Latin America, a result of Spain colonizing the Philippines 500 years ago, supporting talented Hispanic/Latine entertainers has felt about as important to me as supporting talented Asian entertainers does.  Consequently, I eagerly awaited the movie adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s and Quiara Alegría Huedes’ Broadway musical In the Heights, about Hispanic/Latine Washington Heights residents trying to enjoy the last summer before their block’s gentrification.  I felt that a look at the film – the first I saw in a cinema since Sonic the Hedgehog – would fall under my blog’s scope, thanks to Jon M. Chu’s direction.

I felt pretty familiar with In the Heights by the time the movie premiered: I own the Original Broadway Cast Recording, and attended a high school production.  Compared to the other Lin-Manuel Miranda musicals I’ve seen on a screen, the movie would fall in the middle; the stories feel less engaging than Moana; but I find the characters more sympathetic than those from Hamilton.  To explore the methods Chu, Miranda, and Hudes used to update the 2008 Broadway musical for 2020-’21 moviegoers, I’ve decided to examine their cinematic adjustments to one of the play’s literal showstoppers.
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by NJ

Fennec Shand’s Animated Exploits: Bounty Lost

Fennec Shand’s Animated Exploits: Bounty Lost

July 1, 2021 in Blogs

Fennec Shand’s Animated Exploits: Bounty LostAfter “Cornered“, the next mention The Bad Batch made of Fennec Shand occurred in the fifth episode, “Rampage”; it also marked the first time the show referred to her by name.  After the Batch agreed to help former Jedi informant Cid (Rhea Perlman) complete a favor for Jabba the Hutt, she helped them learn Fennec’s identity, realizing in her research that the mercenary hadn’t taken long to develop a fearsome reputation.  By the next time anyone from the Bad Batch would encounter Fennec, the team discovered first-hand that more than one bounty hunter desired Omega.

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The Best of Kim’s Convenience (S5)

June 28, 2021 in Blogs


Before Kim’s Convenience season five finished airing on the CBC, Ins Choi and Kevin White abruptly announced that they would leave the show for other projects.  Even though the network already ordered a sixth season, fears that the series would further decline in quality without Choi – its only Korean writer – and White resulted in the studio abandoning those plans.  Since the actors can’t fall back on this sitcom anymore, I’ll support as many of their future projects as I can.  In the meantime, I’ll share a spoileriffic look at my favorite episode of the unexpectedly final season.
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by NJ

Tuca & Bertie Season 2 Premiere Review

Tuca & Bertie Season 2 Premiere Review

June 19, 2021 in Blogs

Tuca & Bertie Season 2 Premiere Review

The first season of Lisa Hanawalt’s Tuca & Bertie marked both one of the strangest and one of the best Netflix cartoons I saw during the 2010s.  Set in a world populated by anthropomorphic fauna and flora, the show follows two ambitious gal-pals, the boisterous toucan Tuca (voiced by executive producer Tiffany Haddish) and the anxious song thrush Bertie (voiced by executive producer Ali Wong), as they navigate the adversities of adulthood in Bird Town.  Hanawalt demonstrated animation’s potential for stimulating storytelling and entertainingly surreal humor, while Haddish and Wong delivered the necessary chemistry, comic dialogue timing, and pathos.  Future Oscar nominee Steven Yeun provided a versatile co-starring performance, as Bertie’s boyfriend, the nerdy robin Speckle.  Even though Netflix didn’t end Tuca & Bertie on a cliffhanger, the first season finale still left the door open for additional storylines.  When Adult Swim announced a revival, it became my most-anticipated cartoon of this year.

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Fennec Shand’s Animated Exploits: Cornered

Fennec Shand’s Animated Exploits: Cornered

May 23, 2021 in Blogs

Fennec Shand’s Animated Exploits: Cornered

Can The Mandalorian‘s original characters find life beyond their TV show and its merchandise?  Even before they started appearing in other canon Star Wars media, at least one member of Din Djarin’s clan seems destined to go down as one of Disney’s most iconic additions to the franchise.  Regarding the clan’s friends, Ming-Na Wen earned the chance to prove that Fennec Shand can cross mediums, when she joined the cast of Dave Filoni’s The Bad Batch.  I educated myself on the Bad Batch by watching the Clone Wars arc that introduced them, followed by the first three episodes of their spin-off.  (I watched the premiere on May the 4th, and the second through fourth installments back-to-back.)

The Bad Batch delivers some insight into the Batch’s lives during the rise of the Galactic Empire, which uniquely-powered Clone War veterans Hunter (Dee Bradley Baker), Wrecker (Baker), Tech (Baker), Echo (Baker), and their newest recruit, Omega (Michelle Ang), refuse to serve.  Fennec Shand’s guest spots promise a look into the mercenary’s younger days, with the first marking my first time seeing an original Mandalorian character animated, aside from parodies and toy advertisements.  The news of Ming-Na reprising her sounded especially exciting when considering none of those toy advertisements – including The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special – had any of the Mando figures deliver intelligible dialogue.

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by NJ

D. Lee Inosanto’s The Sensei Review

D. Lee Inosanto’s The Sensei Review

March 20, 2021 in Blogs

D. Lee Inosanto’s The Sensei Review

For Women’s History Month, I’ve decided to take a deeper look at part-Filipina-American martial artist Diana Lee Inosanto.  Her pedigree includes some legends, including her father, Dan Inosanto, and her godfather, Bruce Lee.  While writing my review for her performance in The Mandalorian Chapter 13, I decided to eventually share some more reasons to admire her in her own right.

Some of the most intriguing tidbits I’ve learned about Inosanto involve her efforts to demonstrate talents beyond martial arts.  In 2007, she wrote, directed, helped produce, and co-starred in her own movie: The Sensei.  It seems pretty obscure nowadays; I couldn’t find it on iTunes or Netflix.  Despite this, a Hapa Mag article about Inosanto credits the trailer for convincing Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni to cast her as the magistrate Morgan Elsbeth.  Fortunately for me, one of my local public libraries put the movie up through their hoopla streaming app.  YouTube and Amazon Prime also have it for free, though the former’s official upload – which I’ve embedded at the bottom of this page – lacks proper captions.  Inosanto’s pedigree and hoopla’s plot description both made it sound deserving of a watch.

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The Mandalorian Chapter 3 Review/Spotlight on Deborah Chow

The Mandalorian Chapter 3 Review/Spotlight on Deborah Chow

March 14, 2021 in Blogs

The Mandalorian Chapter 3 Review/Spotlight on Deborah Chow

Chinese-Canadian Deborah Chow became both the first Asian, and the first woman, to direct live-action Star Wars material, when she helmed The Mandalorian Chapter 3: “The Sin”.  The chapter subjected Din Djarin (Pedro Pascal providing vocals, alternating with Brendan Wayne and Lateef Crowder for use of the suit) – still known back then as only either “The Mandalorian” or “Mando” – to a life-changing moral dilemma, while raising the bar to a level that the series would take a very long time to top.  It at least feels like the most-quoted Mandalorian chapter, judging by how often fans – including me – reenact the scene in which the Armorer (Emily Swallow) leads her tribe in reciting the now-iconic chant, “This is the way!”   Chow’s other most notable contributions to the show included portraying X-Wing pilot Sash Ketter in Chapter 6: “The Prisoner”, and directing Chapter 7: “The Reckoning” – the first half of the Season 1 finale.  “The Sin” and “The Reckoning” both proved important and very enjoyable, convincing Lucasfilm to hire Chow as showrunner of the Obi-Wan Kenobi show. (To me, her Mandalorian track record seemed especially remarkable when considering the only material of hers I had previously seen came from Jessica Jones‘ disappointing second season.) When I decided to highlight Asian-descended talents behind The Mandalorian, Deborah Chow seemed like an essential choice.

In hopes of providing a fresh take on “The Sin”, my review combines comments I wrote down both before and after I finished The Mandalorian Season 2; my latest viewing of the episode tied in with Women’s History Month.  You can tell when I wrote each paragraph by whether or not I use terms introduced after this chapter, including Din Djarin’s and Grogu’s real names.

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