‘Crazy Alien’, ‘KGF: Chapter 1’ and the strange quirks of the Asian blockbuster

MARCH 30 — Due to our overfamiliarity with Hollywood blockbusters, which probably take up more than 60-70 per cent of our cinemas’ screen time, even the most casual of film fans are sometimes bored by the sheer predictability of it all. 

They don’t call some films by-the-numbers for no reason. A proven formula, adhered to strictly, does gain healthy financial rewards, at least before saturation and fatigue kicks in.

Yes, there’s always indie or arthouse cinema to provide a nice riposte, but not everyone can warm themselves up to the pleasures provided by indie and arthouse films. 

The issue of pace will usually provide the biggest hurdle for most people, and it’s something perfectly understandable — not everyone wants to use their brain too much when watching movies. 

Some just look for a quick escape and prefer nothing more than to turn off their brains at the cinema doors, and just enjoy the stories thrown at them from the big screen.

So why not enjoy non-Hollywood blockbusters then? Thanks to Netflix, I think a lot more people are open to watching subtitled blockbusters from other countries, especially from English-speaking countries. 

As for all of us here in Asia, unless you really try to avoid them, I think everyone would have at least seen a few non-English blockbusters from other Asian countries due to the melting pot nature of our countries. 

Hindi films, Tamil films, Cantonese films from Hong Kong, Mandarin films from China, Japanese films, Korean films and even Thai films have long been part of our movie diet.

And even though some tendencies in our blockbuster films are similar, like our very Asian penchant for melodrama and slapstick comedy, there’s often that little strange spark of quirkiness and individuality that make these blockbusters not so exportable to the Western world; a little dash of local colour, sentiment or culture that make the films totally of the place where they come from. 

Just look at these two examples I’m about to write about, both huge hits from earlier this year in India and China respectively, that I suspect can only be made (and become hits) in their home countries.

KGF: Chapter 1

Bombastic South Indian films about super macho men who are almost like deities are a dime a dozen. 

Rajinikanth became a superstar because of films like these. So how does one stand out in a sea of macho standouts like these? 

Well, if you’re director Prashanth Neel, you make a bombastic action film starring Yash, with a huge budget (for a Kannada language film) of 80 crores (roughly US$11.5 million or RM46.9 million) and go as big as possible.

And trust me, it doesn’t get more bombastic than this; in fact I’d even call it ridiculously bombastic, as the film will always take advantage of any chance to slip in some of the most comically bombastic lines of dialogue praising the hero, Rocky.

Yes, going so far as comparing him to a hurricane, a marauding fire and even a monster! This is a story about Rocky’s rise from an orphan living in the slums all the way up until he becomes the most feared gangster in Mumbai, setting him up as some sort of hero who will help liberate a large group of people enslaved by working in a gold mine (the Kolar Gold Fields of the title).

It’s here that the film’s confusingly (and amusingly) unique flavour can be found, as it more or less glorifies a gangster who has no qualms about killing and crushing his rivals (but still very prone to acts of kindness when it comes to mothers and young kids), and it takes the viewers on a very, very entertaining (and violent) ride doing so, which has been very handsomely rewarded as it has reportedly made Rs 250 million crores (roughly US$36 million) at the box office, making it the all-time eighth highest grossing South Indian film so far. 

I chuckled quite a bit watching this, but it doesn’t mean I wasn’t entertained!

Crazy Alien

If KGF: Chapter 1 is a bit morally confusing, especially for Western audiences, then I imagine this one would totally drive them nuts. 

A Chinese New Year blockbuster during its opening weekend in China (it earned US$55 million on its first day and passed the US$100 million on its second day!), where it beat even Stephen Chow’s The New King Of Comedy and eventual CNY box-office champ The Wandering Earth.

This film about a monkey trainer who comes across an alien who fell into his house and injured his monkey, thereby giving him the bright idea of training the alien to perform his monkey’s act (very cruelly, I must add) is an indescribably unique slapstick comedy that I suspect can only be made and succeed in China.

Add to the already crazy plot the presence of a world superpower called Amanika (but very clearly based on the USA) also on the hunt for the alien, and you have more than enough ingredients for all sorts of lunacy. 

It’s quite remarkable to see a Chinese film very openly making fun of Americans and all their stereotypes, and it’s also quite painful and jarring to see the cruelty dished out to both the monkey and the alien, in what’s basically a slapstick comedy.

And to be honest I really didn’t know what to make of it, or even if the movie successfully reconciled all this, although there is a bit towards the end where the movie seems to be saying that our hero was wrong to dish out such cruelty (to be fair, the scenes where the alien got its revenge is also cruel, but most definitely hilarious!), and maybe it’s a China thing that I just don’t understand. 

But it’s always fascinating to see what makes the majority of people tick in other countries, and this movie will undoubtedly fascinate you if you decide to give it a spin.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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