A few DVDs added to the Kung Fu shelf this week: Unleashed, Kingdom of War, and Blood and Bone (already reviewed in these pages, I just wanted my own copy).
DVDs: Due South Season 3 loses David Marciano (making his last full episode a clip show, sadly) as Ray and introduces a new Ray in the form of Callum Keith Rennie, lately better remembered as Battlestar Galactica's Leoben. Rennie more or less fills right in, but the relationship between his Ray and Mountie Benton Fraser doesn't quite turn into the former bromance. Can the show survive without the core relationship of its first two seasons? Sure, but it is the poorer for it, despite Rennie's more obvious charisma. They keep the original Ray's sister Francesca in it by making her the police station's civilian aid, which creates a welcome dynamic in that setting. While we get some more of the quirky buddy cop stuff we've come to expect from Due South, there's also a greater reliance on comedy, sometimes dipping into self-parody or absurdity (one strained example is how Fraser has to repeat his origin story in every single episode). The stand-outs this season include a truly insane spy thriller, a Rashomon detective puzzle, and the stunt-heavy two-part finale at sea based on The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. This is the boxed set that includes, absurdly, the pilot episode. It's how they got me to get the entire series in one go, but I'm not complaining.
Thematically continuing my man-crush on Paul Gross, I thought I'd watch Whale Music, a Canadian film in which he plays a small but important role. Not for the first time, mind you. I've run the VHS copy ragged. Disappointingly, the DVD version doesn't have much more to offer in terms of quality (was this even shot in widescreen?) or extras, but it's still a film dear to my heart because of its spectacular soundtrack composed and performed by my favorite band ever, the Rheostatics. Based on the novel by the same name, Whale Music is the story of a broken down rock star (brilliantly played by the great Maury Chaykin), living the life of a hermit and composing songs for whales. His routine is interrupted by a young runaway (played by Cynthia Preston) and, you can practically guess this, they find a way to heal each other. Not that it feels formulaic like I just made it sound. The dialog is prosaic, quirky and profound, and the story and music pack a real emotional punch.
Johnnie To's Exiled is an apparently improvised (according to the insightful making of featurette) crime drama like only Hong Kong cinema can make them, which at times veers into the blackest of comedies. It tells the story of old friends, one of which has been marked for death by a truly insane mob boss played by Simon Yam, those charged with killing him, and then those honor-bound to avenge him. After an incredibly tense opening, they all decide to pull one last job and at least get money for the guy's family before resolving what to do about all this. According to To, it's a film about unavoidable fates, and about making choices regardless. It's a theme that's perhaps translated even in the way the film was made and structured. Certainly, the acting is very strong, the action is violent and chaotic, but not, I think, disturbing to fainter hearts, and the soundtrack puts you in mind of a stylish western. A real winner that provides memorable characters and avoids formula through improvisation. In addition to the making of, the DVD also provides a pleasant montage of behind-the-scenes moments.
RPGs: Pucks of Fury was the first time I spread my wings and wrote my own Hong Kong Action Theater adventure scenario after using up the three scenarios from the core book. Because of work pressures, I also crafted the damn thing in less than 3 hours, right before the game itself. It wasn't like I was working from scratch though. The premise was basically Shaolin Hockey, and I used Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Dunk as a stylistic template. To get the crazy special effects moves those films feature, I house ruled some open-ended Wire Fu moves that the players could "unlock" after their comedic training sequences. Since sports movies have a very definite structure, it's hard to let the PCs win early on when they should be struggling, then lose when they should make it to the finals, so I opted for a very "New School" approach where a lot of the action was a narrated, causing games to be won or lost without benefit of rolling dice, but giving the players at least one scene in each game to use their Fu tricks, roll some dice, present a moment of failure or success according to where we were in their journey. I have to say, I don't know the last time I laughed so hard during a role-playing session, and I don't think it was just the fatigue talking. The fake studio website has the larger poster and film review.
Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
III.iii. The Confessional - Hamlet 2000
Your Daily Splash Page this week features a splash from every DC title, alphabetically, from Bat Lash to Batman Adventures.