The Awesomeness of Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt

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Let’s face it… Tom Cruise in the Mission Impossible films is awesome. While many critics argue that the actor (coming to his sixth decade on Earth) can no longer be expected to play a leading action hero, I argue that Tom Cruise is not only aware of his age and aging body, but that he has incorporated the theme of aging and corporeality into the series.  Hence allowing himself to continue to play the leading action hero in a credible and grounded manner

The post-millennial aging action hero, by allowing himself to grow older and grayer, is replacing the idea of action heroes as demi-gods to become person who perform heroic acts. Indeed, ignoring the realities of the actor’s age and the effects of aging upon the action hero invites even more criticisms. A common point of criticism amongst critics and fans alike is Roger Moore’s run as James Bond in the late seventies and eighties where his age and physical abilities makes it hard to believe that he is capable of performing the stunts and fight sequences as depicted in the films.

At the same time, the obvious age gap between the actor and his younger female co-stars saw him wisely turning down the advances of one in For Your Eyes Only (John Glen 1981). One of the more popular ways of dealing with age and aging in action cinema is to openly make fun of them. This strategy can be encapsulated by a catchphrase from the Lethal Weapon series. The “I’m getting too old for this shit!” approach in depicting aging and age of action heroes can be useful in deflecting criticism regarding the plausibility of watching middle-age men continuing to chase down bad guys whilst dodging bullets and explosions

The most effective way to deal with aging (in terms of aging actors and aging protagonists) is to emphasize the benefits of age and aging. This strategy circumvents negative connotations of aging by amplifying experience, effectiveness and efficiency. By doing so, older action actors and heroes reshape action heroes from a body of spectacle to matured and specialised bodies.

This can be seen in the development of Tom Cruise’s character in the Mission Impossible series. In the first entry of the franchise, Cruise’s character goes through many feats of physical action in order to protect the identities of unnamed agents. But in Fallout (Christopher McQuarrie 2018), the character races against time to defuse a nuclear bomb not so much because of the greater good but because the lives of his loved ones are at stake in the narrative. Instead of dominating and subordinating other bodies, the post-millennial aging hero directs his aggression towards the protection of his loved ones.

These acts of aggression and violent behaviours thus transform and channel the toxicity of masculinity into productive outcomes. Hence, these productive qualities of masculinity are prioritized above its toxic cousins.  

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The Awesomeness of Denzel Washington’s Equalizer films

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Mr. Denzel Washington is one of the most accomplished film actors of all time (not perhaps but is).  As a fan of his work, I would argue that he provides a template for many people who would kill to have his career in terms of Oscar wins and box office gold.  But like the man said in numerous interviews, he had to work hard for it.  And I believe this can be seen in terms of his film choices. 

The Infamous Stapler Gun Scene between Denzel Washington and Marton Csokas

Washington appears to be someone who has carefully crafted out a career that allows him to toggle between so-called serious and commercial films. But more importantly, I believe the toggling has allowed him to control his career.  By starring in action films, Washington adopts the “one for them and one for me” strategy of acting in commercial films to help finance more risky and personal films. 

But this does not mean that the star does not take his action persona seriously.  For many actors, the over-the-topness of action films can often be an excuse for them to not act but to solely focus on delivering the action in action sequences.  And this approach to acting in action films often ends up making the whole affair rather perfunctory and transactional. 

But Washington’s attitude to his role as Robert McCall in the Equalizer films has produced a character that is not only a “hard body” action hero but a character that is wounded and haunted by his past.  This makes his aging action hero not only grounded (realistic) but also makes the character’s achievements in “taking out” the bad guys more rewarding because the portrayal of aging naturally adds history and gravitas to the character. In other words,  the God status of action heroes is made more relatable because McCall is not perfect but is haunted by his past.  He is a flawed character and the Equalizer films made a point to dwell and develop his social and altruistic side. 

So when McCall is forced to exact vengeance and retribution on the bad guys, the pleasure of seeing good triumph over evil increases. While his character is essentially someone who is a loner, he is not alone. The films made it clear that the character has fostered close friends and confidantes.  This socialization of the aging action hero character thus adds significance to the rationale of McCall’s action to protect and avenge his friends.  And his victories are made more rewarding because of the character’s personal relationships with other characters in the films.  

The awesomeness of Denzel Washington’s Equalizer films thus lies not so much in the fight scene (although they are spectacular) but in that they are informed by the character’s overall narrative, personality, and drive. He is not necessarily motivated because of a need to kill and destroy but to protect and avenge his friends.  Instead the awesomeness of the films comes from watching a character seeking to “equalise” or avenge his friends – much as most of us would do if our friends or loved ones are threatened. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hegemonic Masculinity and Aging Action Heroes

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The aging action hero has become an important figure in post-millennial action cinema. Its significance can be seen in how the protagonists of several big-budget action film franchises are not only struggling to save the world but are also struggling to cope with the realities of their aging bodies. Indeed, the issue of aging has become a recurring theme in franchises such as The Expendables (2009 – 2013), Taken (2008 – 2012), The Fast and The Furious (2001 – 2017), Mission Impossible (1995 – 2018) and James Bond (2006 – 2015).

Indeed, the presence of the post-millennial aging action hero and aging male body is made to rehabilitate the tropes of hegemonic masculinity and the indestructible male body by emphasizing the benefits of the aging male body and where male toxicity is replaced by wisdom and maturity; egocentricity is replaced by allocentrism. But insofar as the presence of the aging action hero is due to the fact that the actors playing said characters are also aging, its presence shows the dynamism of action cinema in offering alternative visions of heroism and heroes. Continue reading Hegemonic Masculinity and Aging Action Heroes

New “Chinese” Singapore Cinema? Form, Style, and Meaning of Singapore films in the 21st century

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Is Singapore cinema becoming Chinese/Taiwanese cinema?

In recent years Singapore cinema and filmmakers have caught the attention of international film audiences and critics alike. 

These achievements – winning big film prizes at various film festivals and competitions –  function not only as cinematic milestones for the country but it also indicates Singapore’s growing cultural and cinematic clout.

Some of her filmmakers like Eric Khoo, Jack Neo, Royston Tan, Boo Junfeng, Anthony Chan and Tan Pin Pin to name a few are not only serial winners but have also quickly become critical darlings with domestic and foreign critics.

Indeed, the successes of these filmmakers had led some critics and journalists to note the re-emergence of Singapore cinema: leading some to claim that a New Singapore Cinema has emerged in the country.

But while local journalists and critics may laud this new development of Singapore cinema, they might remember that Singapore Cinema had a golden period in the decades before independence in 1965 that is perhaps more representative of the country and region than its modern incarnation. Continue reading New “Chinese” Singapore Cinema? Form, Style, and Meaning of Singapore films in the 21st century

Kryptonian Society in Singapore

Let’s not dodge the issue. Singapore is a deeply elitist and stratified society.  It has to be. The best becomes part of top leadership. And the rest follow.  This is seen in the way students are streamed in schools, the way young men are structured in doing national service, and the way in which students from national universities are given priority to top jobs.

It is only fair.  But the key is that everyone’s development is different from each other.  So the key in Singapore is that your future depends on the actions of a person before the age of 17 years old.  But that is the way it has to be.

Singapore does have a place for the unexceptional youth and that place is preconceived for them by the leaders. Now, according to one’s abilities approach to society is the best form of placing everyone in their place.  To be efficient.

Everyone has their own purpose and place in society.  That is the condition of the Kryptonian Gene in Singapore.

The Goodness of Singaporean Exceptionalism

 

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Photo by Dio Hasbi Saniskoro on Pexels.com

At the time of writing, Singapore’s GDP, national reserves and currency mark the uniqueness and exceptional character of the small island country. The film Crazy Rich Asian (2018) is a good illustration of not only the wealth but also the unique blend of history, culture and modernity of the country.

But wealth should not be the only factor that distinguish Singapore from its regional Neighbours. Instead it is the relatively stable and accommodating socio-cultural interactions and exchanges between people of different races, religions and language groups in a small pocket of land. I am not going to sugarcoat the very real and tangible socio-cultural restraints that have been strapped on every citizen in Singapore by her leaders.

Although it may appear to be draconian and authoritarian from a liberal perspective, I fully agree that political and legal restraints are necessary to maintain law, order and peace in the pursuit of economic and every day liberality.

I applaud the many dissidents and activists who have and are still arguing for a more expansive and diverse points of view to social cultural and political state of affairs in Singapore.

But while I agree that Singapore can often be a stifling place to be in, I fully agree and logically support the kind of society that Singapore has been conceived and operationalised.

We (Singaporeans) know that we are grouped into classes in the country. This is a fairly obvious structure that can be seen in three mega sorting machines. The first is education where MOE sorts students into abilities. Then this is evident by the kind of Universities one goes after compulsory education. The second is the type of housing. HDBs are for the non-exceptional people whereas Landed and Condos are for exceptional people. The third sorting machine is the kind of educational disciplines and jobs one is fitted into.

Singapore exceptionalism works because it is legalistic, logical and economical. This structure is dictated by educational disciplines: law, economics, mathematics, and engineering. And while cultural and biographical conditions do play a part in school results, the fact is academic studies (rite-learning and memory) is also largely influenced by biological makeup.

Thus it is logical to think in Singapore that if one gets good grades one is naturally smart. And even though anecdotal evidences suggest that some may claim that the success of an academically-inclined student is due to mugging and hard work and not evidence of true intelligence; biological makeup do have an influence because one needs to have concentration and naturally good memory to cram the information and details; not to mention the cognitive ability to regurgitate the correct answers to the appropriate questions.

I unfortunately am not of the elite, semi-elite or even the outer peripheral of desired individuals in the country. While outcast is too much of a dramatic statement, I would consider myself to be an oddball or anomaly of the system.

Singapore is a system that is meant for the construction of excellence. And I see nothing wrong in that. We want excellence in al things.

But excellence have been conflated with elitism (a sense of superiority) and aristocracy (natural right). Both terms are often considered in a derogatory fashion. After all they not only connote “excellence” they also connote a “natural aristocracy”. A combination that harkens back to ancient regimes of Kings and Princes. A kind of rightful place.

Well, actually I don’t really mind that such thinking still exist because I firmly believe that there will always be hierarchies. Note I say hierarchies and not one hierarchy.

That is because it makes sense to think that if we value something in this world. A book, a film, a song, political systems and social activities – we always have preferences. And preferences means we value something over others not because they are valued by others but that we have found and recognised something in that preferred something that we deem to be better or more desirable than other types of somethings.

So in Singapore, certain somethings are preferred over other somethings precisely because they are desirable and valued above others. So I suppose if one wants to be valued and desirable in a system, it is best to figure what that system want and fit one according to that.

Nietzsche writes in his analysis and uncovering of morality in his Genealogy book that such morality cannot but be present in human societies. I agree. But societies have in them structures and structures. And the utilitarian principle dictates that certain rules and regulations benefits some and not others.

From a big and broad perspective, I agree that it is important for societal rules and regulations to benefit the majority. But usually the big perspective tends to conflict with the small and individual perspective.

The question is what to do about it?

Do we abolish societal rules? Do we price individual happiness over communal happiness? Or do we make a compromise and balance both? Which usually makes both sides unhappy?

These are complex issues and should not be reduce to platitudes and simplification.

So on the individual level, what can we do?

Human life is diverse.

But in Singapore all ships must sail in the same direction.

And while I logically admit that the conditions and constraints of the country’s environment dictates the necessary structures and discipline, I think that wholesale changes are not necessary.

But then we subordinate the individual in Singapore to positions in hierarchies.

And that is where I feel liberal democracies and open societies function better than less liberal and less open – indeed less paternalistic ones. Again I don’t disagree with paternalistic and directed societies (given the conditions) but it is also good that space is opened up for diversity.

And that is what SG has done: the opening of different universities to cater to different students, the tiering of housing options, the opening of different education disciplines and sub disciplines to help people to develop their interests.

The constant adjustments means that Everyday life is managed and directed for success. That’s a good thing.

But if one does not want to be directed, what to do about it?