Jan. 25, 2011
When pondering any prerequisites that would be necessary for one to become a superhero, excessive partying, slovenly appearance and complete obliviousness are not the first attributes that come to mind. Unless, of course, you are Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Be Kind Rewind), the director of The Green Hornet, which opened in theaters Jan. 14. In his case, these characteristics are apparently ideal in creating the title character’s persona. Gondry is known for his whimsical and dreamlike productions, though he has toned down those qualities in his latest film to create a boisterous action-comedy. Though The Green Hornet has some good moments, it mostly goes for cheap laughs and overdone car chases.
The Green Hornet was originally a radio serial, created in 1936 by George W. Trendle as a then-modern-day companion to The Lone Ranger. It did not become a comic book until the 1940s and was later adapted into several TV shows. Gondry’s reincarnation is the first to give the superhero and his sidekick Kato their own movie.
The script was written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, the duo who also collaborated in writing Superbad and Pineapple Express. Rogen plays the titular masked hero Britt Reid, an underachieving party boy who inherits his father’s Los Angeles newspaper empire. Jay Chou, a Taiwanese singer, actor, director and producer who is one of the most popular artists in Asia, plays Kato. Though he is little-known in the United States, Chou is ranked the third-most-downloaded singer in the world by Ovi, Nokia’s internet music and download service. Chou has won the World Music Award, a prize based on worldwide sales figures, four times. In the film, Chou’s character serves as Reid’s mechanic and gadgets guy, decking out three cars (known as Black Beauties) with every weapon and gizmo imaginable, including flamethrowers and guns that emerge from the cars’ hoods. Kato is also a martial arts expert and a creative genius when it comes to machinery.
In fact, as the movie progresses, it becomes more and more clear that Kato is the true superhero, while Reid is just along for the ride and the glory that comes with it. The joke is funny the first few times as the bumbling Green Hornet is saved repeatedly by his soft-spoken sidekick, but after a while, Reid’s constant self-glorification becomes grating, and the fact that Rogen, the ultimate drugged-out slacker, plays this character seems to make the Hornet’s ungratefulness more annoying. Much of the movie centers on the friendship between the two heroes. The Green Hornet is essentially a buddy comedy, but I wonder why Kato even sticks around when he is obviously the only one with any worthwhile talents.
It is rewarding to see an Asian man play the hero. Chou is the most visible Asian superhero on film in recent memory. Asians are often relegated to the villain role (and indeed, The Green Hornet is no exception in this regard, showcasing Korean gangs and sexed-up Asian hit women). As the threat of threat of the ever-growing Chinese economy continues to loom large in the minds of many Americans, this trend will no doubt continue. There have been Asian characters in many comic books before, though few have made it to big-screen adaptations. In the original radio series, Kato was initially identified as Reid’s “Japanese valet,” though after Pearl Harbor his nationality was changed to Filipino. In the later television series, Kato was identified as Korean, and in the film he remarks that he is from Shanghai, to which Reid replies, in one of his funnier lines, “Yeah, I love Japan.”
Kato emerges not only as the true hero of the story but also as the man who catches the girl’s eye. Lenore Case (Cameron Diaz) is Reid’s secretary, though she is seemingly the only woman immune to his charms (also known as: money). She shows interest in Kato, which leads to the duo’s first fight. Though Diaz is onscreen for only a short time, her interest in Kato is what makes her most likeable; other than that, she mostly yells. This is also one of the few relationships in the movie that actually makes sense, though the pair do not stay together long. I also admire Rogan and Goldberg’s decision to leave Case without a boyfriend by the end of the film, a rarity for a woman in an action movie.
Not much can be said for Rogen’s acting other than that if you’ve seen one of his movies before, you’re not in for much of a surprise. The central villain, Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz) is also a disappointment. Waltz won acclaim and an Oscar for his performance as Colonel Hans Landa in Inglorious Basterds, so the audience knows he can play a baddie for laughs as well as creepiness. But Chudnofsky accomplishes neither, falling flat as LA’s biggest crime boss who wishes to eradicate the Green Hornet. Waltz was the best part of Basterds, and The Green Hornet is his first film since he won the Academy Award. But The Green Hornet‘s writing in doesn’t compare to Quentin Tarantino’s, and Waltz couldn’t seem to create more than a one-dimensional villain. Hopefully in his next movie, Water for Elephants (which is set for release in late April) his character will be more fleshed out.
Overall, The Green Hornet is a fun, mindless piece of entertainment. Its best features are Chou as Kato, a sick soundtrack by James Newton Howard and fun gadgets, particularly the cars and Kato’s coffee machine. If you’re looking for a gritty superhero film with twisted characters, The Dark Knight this is not. But if you want 2 fluff-filled hours with Seth Rogen and explosions, then The Green Hornetis your best bet this week.