What I Like

I’m at the end of an extremely worthwhile week of vacation: saw my family, ate a lot better than I do when I cook for myself, and am currently waiting for Netflix to finish buffering Murder on the Orient Express, for about the fifty-first time: the wireless here is notoriously temperamental (“thanks”, Verizon), and I keep getting kicked out of the movie just as Poirot confronts one or another of the passengers. Not that I find that at all annoying.

I’ve also spent a fair amount of time reading. The local library, to which I’ve been going since I was…five? Something like that…has a really good selection: they get new books in regularly, but they also aren’t in the habit of throwing or giving away the old stuff, so they have many, many wonderful books with slightly tan paper and the hard geometric-pattern covers, which makes me happy on a weird level.

So I’ve been reading a lot, and thinking about what criteria I go for with books these days, particularly fiction. This isn’t an exclusive list of stuff I’ll read–anything from a friend’s recommendation to being stuck in a bus station can get me to go outside this particular box–nor is it at all an objective statement about what’s good or not. Hey, I eat circus peanuts: my taste is maybe not the best model to follow.

One of the things I’ve noticed is that I don’t do very well with giant one-story-over-six-books plot arcs that involve a million characters and places and subplots. I just…don’t. Picked up Peter Hamilton’s Night’s Dawn trilogy: the characters were good, the setting was cool, the ideas were interesting, but everything is all over the place, the POV is constantly jumping from Person A on one planet to Person C on another, and I have no idea what’s going on. This is not to say Hamilton’s bad. I just can’t really get into him for, probably, the same reason I forget my keys once a month: holding details in my mind for any length of time is tough.

I do, however, really like Tolkien and King, both of whom write long series full of long books and a lot of POV characters, and I think there are a couple of factors contributing to that. First of all, both authors introduce a main character or group of characters first and let us have significant time with them before everyone gets split up, if they do.  We get two books–or one really really long book–that’s ninety percent Frodo’s POV, which means we get to see the other people through his eyes and develop relationships accordingly. The first three books about Roland et al actually feature the group coming together, and nobody really goes off separately until book 6. Both these things cut way down on the amount of effort I have to put into remembering who this character is and why I should give a damn.

It also helps to have the major problem or goal of the series laid out right up front. LotR? Sauron’s a bad guy who does bad things; our heroes want to stop him. It’s simple and it works. Dark Tower? A little weirder, but Save the Keystone of Existence is, again, a pretty firm goal. It’s not vague, as you might say.  Not that there isn’t room for complexity, but I like my heroes to have a pretty good idea of their ultimate goal fairly soon in the series, even if the actual steps to get there are a little fuzzy or the goal changes along the way.

I largely prefer a gradual introduction to the world, and a plot that’s pretty tightly focused on a character or a group of characters, even if what they do ends up changing the world, or saving it, or whatever.  Not to say that those characters have to be the centers of the actual universe: I mentioned the Epic Epicness of DT and LotR, but I’m just as happy to read a slice-of-life novel about, I don’t know, being an ordinary army nurse during an alien invasion. (Cherry Ames and the Tentacular Horrors?) I just like knowing who I’m going to be riding along with, as it were, and roughly where we’re aiming to go.

I also prefer my plots…I don’t know if “simple” is the right word here, but I’m not a giant fan of plots centered around mysteries or conspiracies. I don’t mind those elements–q.v. Christie movie above, and I read ginormous amounts of Sherlock Holmes in my youth–but I find them hard to follow. Love Steven Brust for his setting and his language; will frequently finish up one of his books wondering just what happened there.  I prefer adventure or slice-of-life, or political plots a la The West Wing, where intricate scheming takes a backseat to grappling with issues.

Much to the disappointment of both parents, by the way: Mom reads a jillion mysteries, and Dad’s a spy-novel man. Oh well. I never was good at math or Latin, either. 😉

It almost goes without saying that I go for strong heroines. That doesn’t necessarily mean kicking-ass-and-taking-names, though I do like that, but rather being good at what they do, having interests that aren’t a guy, and being able to function on their own under normal, not-being-attacked-by-mind-flayers circumstances. Having friends of their own helps a lot too, although that also depends on the situation.  I want someone who might be scared of a situation, but who will at least try to deal with it anyhow; someone who won’t be a burden.

What else do I like? Oh. Sleep. I like sleep.

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Karate Kid: Part II

If I can remember my original thoughts. Not only has it been a week since I saw the movie, it’s a frillion and two degrees out: thank God for my day job, which both keeps me in Popsicles and has central air. Also? Grape flavored Popsicles are actually pretty good, as opposed to the unfiltered vileness that is artificial grape flavor for most things. This is the sort of information that passes for a PSA around here: one of these days, I’ll get a little star-and-rainbow graphic for it, too.

Anyhow, I think I broke off talking about the de-aging of the kids, and how that makes the increased level of violence all the weirder.  It also makes the main character’s relationship to his mom more prominent, and despite wishing there’d been a little more variety in the Leet Skills Through Mundane Chores scenes*, I did like that Mr. Han actually got on Dre’s case about the way he acted around the house. Especially as again, when I re-watch the original, Larusso was kind of a pill even in his pre-getting-beaten-up days: I think I whined less about moving cross-country when I was eight, and I was not one of your more stoic and graceful eight-year-olds. ** You’d think his mom would have pointed out that, since this was about her job, Danny Boy could shut his yap unless he liked the idea of eating Ramen three meals a day–and again, points to Dre’s mom for basically doing that.

The teacher is also younger in the remake: I may just be going by the actors’ appearance here, but Han seems somewhere between twenty and thirty years younger than Miyagi. He’s also much more of a post-nineties mentor figure…

…and here’s where I tangent into one of my pet theories. (Which totally makes the student loans worth it, Dad, yes.) Basically, if you look at 1980s-era underdog-kid-makes-good sports movies, the story and the conflict are about the kid, and the mentor doesn’t really get a lot of character development. Miyagi was and is my primary example. He’s a *cool* character, and he has layers, but he doesn’t have a lot of unresolved issues: before Daniel-san comes along, he seems perfectly happy chilling out, working on his bonsai and his house and his vintage cars. He gets drunk and sad every year or so about his wife and his son–about which more later–but I don’t get the impression that it’s something he needs to get past, or needs to be healed from: it happened a long time ago, he’s gone on to live his life.

In the 1990s, though, you got more of a troubled mentor archetype–q.v. The Mighty Ducks, in which the mentor starts out as an evil cynical evil guy whose heart must grow three sizes, plus has a whole angsty backstory with the rival coach, whereas Miyagi and Kreese appear to meet for the first time when Daniel starts having trouble–and that’s where Mr. Han seems to fall. Dude fixes up and then smashes a car every year, which doesn’t really indicate serenity or acceptance…and again, the age of the apprentice comes into play here, because Han gets crying-jag drunk in front of a twelve-year-old. Not intentionally, but it makes the scene quite a bit darker.

Part of the difference is likely, as I mentioned above, that Han is supposed to be a younger and more emotional man, whose loss is more recent, and whose dead son is a much more direct parallel to his apprentice…and then there’s the guilt. Miyagi’s wife and son died while he was away, and he might feel some guilt about that (or some quite understandable anger at the U.S. government because they died in an internment camp while he was serving his country***); Han was, if not totally, at least partially responsible for the accident that killed his family.

I don’t know how I feel about that, honestly. In the abstract  liked the relationship in the original film a little better: having grown up on “teacher learns from his students” and “someone’s heart grows three sizes today,” I found it a refreshing change to have Miyagi’s life be enhanced by Daniel’s presence but not incomplete without it, and to not come off like either one of them was looking for a replacement father or son. (At least, not to me. Wiki says otherwise, I guess.) Also, showing characters who are sad about something without it being a giant trauma in their current life is really rare and cool.

On the other hand, the “I hope it was important” line was heartbreaking, and the accident itself tied into the theme of self-control. Plus? There was a very nice little scriptwriting trick there, because when we get the first look at Mr. Han’s place and see the car, those of us who watched the original movie were anticipating either the wax-on-wax-off scene or at least a humorous shout-out to it. Instead, it’s a foreshadowing trick for one of the saddest moments in the film. Well played.

*I saw the original enough times at a young enough age that I’m still secretly disappointed when painting a wall or washing the floor fails to turn me into a total badass.

**Also, I was terrified of moving to California, being under the impression–via that one episode of Ducktales–that earthquakes were a constant and fatal danger there, and involved giant cracks opening up in the earth and swallowing you. Meanwhile, I lived out there for ten years and never felt a thing.

***It strikes me that there could be a lot of interesting racial and military subtext in the original Karate Kid movie, what with Miyagi’s background, the picture of Kreese in army gear, etc. (Also, as a friend of mine observed: it’s a film about karate with one Asian character. Dude.)  I’m really not qualified to analyze it at any coherent level, though.

But I Caught a Crane Kick to the Face: Overthinking the New “Karate Kid”

Spoilers and all. Not so much for the end: um, the evil guy sweeps the leg, the hero does the secret cool technique he’s been wanting to do all movie and wins the champeenship. If you don’t know that by now, well, you have my apologies and you can pass them on to the bats in the cave where you’ve clearly spent the last twenty-odd years.

Okay, so, first off, I liked it, which was a relief. I’m not opposed to remakes or reinterpretations–um, obviously–and I think that we could, as an Internet, really stand to get past the immediate hand-flapping and pearl-clutching and general OH MY GOD THEY’RE REBOOTING A FRANCHISE THE END TIMES ARE UPON US HEAD FOR THE HILLS OTAKU AND CHILDREN FIRST that goes on every single time that someone decides to put a different spin on an existing property.

And now I’ve got to tangent a bit on how really really annoying that attitude is. Seriously. For one thing, Hollywood–most prominently–has been doing this for the last, oh, fifteen years at least. Sometimes the results are damn good (Iron Man, Buffy the TV show); sometimes they’re extremely bad ( Clash of the Titans, Catwoman, I am looking at you: feel free to slink away in shame); the remake-ness doesn’t seem to be a factor. For another…people in general have been doing this for just about ever. If I have to go into the evolution of fairy tales and the Arthurian myth cycle and so forth, I will become very cranky, so, for a third thing, shut up, and also shut up.

Which isn’t to say that remakes don’t have their pitfalls: excessive dark grittification, as in Clash, or getting too wrapped up in your own arch knowing-ness about the source material and forgetting to tell the damn story already, or trying too hard to reach the Hip Phat Fresh Groovy Youth of Today, which is what I was particularly worried about in this case, because I don’t really need to see two hours of “talk to the hand” or jokes about Hannah Montana or whatever. (If that’s what kids these days do. I don’t know. I’m old.)

My cynicism was totally off-base, and this makes me happy. Karate Kid 2010 has some pop-culture references, of course–uh duh, it’s set in the real world–but it’s not blatant or self-conscious about that. Certainly it doesn’t come off any more Totally Radical than the original did in all its eighties-tasticness. It was cute, and sweet, and I actually preferred the pre-teen romance plot in this one to Larusso’s Brooding Vaguely Class-Based and Definitely Passive-Aggressively Annoying Rage in the original. Maybe once you subtract four years from your hero, you can also make him not be a pissy little stalker where romance is concerned. I rewatched the Golf ‘N’ Stuff scene for, um, research purposes just now, and I’m totally rooting for Alli’s friends and also sort of regretful that she didn’t punch Danny too. (Also: Golf ‘N’ Stuff! I saw about a thousand commercials for that in my youth. Hee.)

Actually, the gender stuff in the remake was pretty well improved overall. Still fails the Bechdel–which, in fairness, is harder not to do when the whole thing is from the tight POV of a male protagonist–but Mom is reasonably cool, there’s a quietly strong female principal, and the love interest actually has some sort of life and ambitions of her own. I would still kill for a remake with women in some of the lead roles (I know, Next Karate Kid, and it sucked, but that doesn’t mean a female student can’t work*, and a female eighty-year-old mentor would be severely badass), and though I know tournament sparring is generally separated by gender, there’s no reason why there can’t be girls among the class members or female teachers, but things in this movie are definitely better. As they should be, you know, since it’s fifteen or so years later.

The fact that the kids are, well, kids had some interesting effects too. The plotline itself didn’t change much, but, for example, the scene where Mentor Guy rescues Our Hero? In 1985, Miyagi comes in punching, there’s a few roundhouses to the gut, and someone gets kicked in what Hell Comes to Frogtown causes me to occasionally call “the government property”. 2010, Mr. Han mostly gets out of the bullies’ way, shoves them into each other, and administers the occasional joint lock–which can totally break bones, but which doesn’t have the visual impact of a punch. He starts to hit one of them, *once*: he stops himself, and it’s A Moment.

Because, well, a sixty-year-old guy going to town on a bunch of teenage punks is made of solid win. (Especially a short sixty-year-old: the visuals of the rescue scene are pretty impressive.) A forty-year-old beating on kids whose voices haven’t changed yet? Not so cool. (Not that Larusso’s voice gives the impression that the Puberty Fairy’s been really generous to him, mind. Er, sorry, Ralph Macchio….twenty-two? Seriously? Whoa.)  Jackie Chan being a lot younger than Pat Morita wouldn’t help with that, but largely…dude, they’re twelve, and the movie knows that.

Which also means that Not!Cobra Kai is now a whole lot creepier than the original was.

I mean, Original Flavor Evil Sensei–Kreese? He has a name? Thanks, Wikipedia, but I’m going to go with my nonclemature–was a bully, and an asshat, and possibly a racist (unless I’m conflating him with the drunken rednecks who get their Bud Lite sliced by Miyagi). He’s also a lot sketchier when viewed from the twenty-first century and by someone closer to his age, because you wonder why exactly dude gives so much of a damn about instilling pseudo-Nietzchean-law-of-the-jungle views in, um, high school boys, and then you start suspecting that, when not at the Cobra Kai dojo, he spends a lot of time in his basement surrounded by canned food, back issues of Soldier of Fortune, and like forty-three guns. Each of which he’s given a female name.

But, and it really does not speak well of a person when I have to type this sentence, at least he’s dealing with high school boys, and the physical brutality in the Original Flavor Cobra Kai training scene is…well, it’s a harsh takedown, but it is a takedown:  student hits the ground, Evil Sensei Guy does a finishing move, it’s done, and it was in response to a black-belt student not paying attention. Unfortunately Merciful Student just gets yelled at. (And..okay, Evil Sensei Guy’s flagrant Issues aside, and I only know from my own experience, but I was always taught that you are kind of supposed to deliver a finishing move after a throw: not full-strength, and not because you’re trying to be Manly Killer of Manliness, but because it’s sloppy otherwise.) The no-mercy thing is beyond no good, but as far as the actions go?  Not actually the worst things ever.** OFCK students are high-school juniors and seniors, they’re at least somewhat on par with the guy.

Karate Kid 2010’s Evil Sensei–who I will refer to from now on as Shang Tsung, and if you’ve seen the movie, you know why–pretty much starts his role in the movie by slapping a twelve-year-old in the face. Because the new movie combines the two scenes above, he is, in fact, slapping a twelve-year-old in the face for showing mercy to a fallen opponent. Shang Tsung disappears for a while after that, only to reappear at the tournament, where he tells Evil Student Guy to “break his leg”. Not sweep. Break. Also something about “I don’t want him beaten; I want him broken.” Given the evidence, I strongly suspect that, after his student’s ignominious defeat, this guy drowns his sorrows with a tall cold glass of baby.

Not!Cobra Kai turns the violence up to eleven in general. Not that anyone’s running around with a chainsaw or anything, but…okay, Johnny’s got a temper, he’s a bully, he goes a little psycho on Danny after the dance, and his moves against non-Danny people in the tournament seem quick and dirty enough to be just this side of legal. But he doesn’t go out of his way to hurt any of his opponents once they’re out: he wants to win, he wants to win decisively, and he’s not kind. Cheng, on the other hand, is clearly going for his Junior Psychopath Badge: guy has to be pulled off one of his fallen opponents, at which point he starts attacking the ref…and he’s twelve. Creepy.

(The reconciliation scene with him and Dre was a little off because of that. Yeah, dude, I’m glad that you’re conceding gracefully to the guy who kicked your ass and all, but what about the other ten kids who’re leaving this tournament with compound fractures thanks to you?)

And I’ve clearly rambled about this for a while. More rambling coming in Part II: Student-Teacher Interactions, Martial Arts Prowess Through Mundane Chores, and Yay Snakes!

I am sorely disappointed in one aspect, though, and that is that nobody, in a remake of the Karate Kid in which Will Smith played a major part, thought to remix “You’re The Best”. Come on, people! Must you crush my dreams?

*It might have worked *better* if they’d given her a reason for learning karate other than being Surly Emo Delinquent kid–what, girls can’t seek out training?–and not made so much of her being ZOMG A GIRL. Daniel-san gets to win a tournament and she…goes to a dance? I don’t object to dances, but…shut up, Mark Lee.

**I understand that Evil Sensei Guy begins Karate Kid II by beating up Johnny, or trying to, though. Haven’t seen the movie.