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Crouching Guy, Hidden Memory
The Perfesser

WARNING: Spoilers for Memento follow, though none for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. If you haven't seen Memento but intend to, you don't want to read this yet. You have been warned. Don't come crying to me that I "ruined" the movie for you because I'll just give you an "F" for "Fool!" -- the Perfesser

Since I made the claim last time of being an arts and entertainment expert, I've heard tell that there are some doubters among you. Normally, I would not deign to give such slanderous accusations as have been hurled at my Ivory
Tower any credence by responding to them, but after a little visit from my dearest Ms. Blunt herself, I have been, uh, persuaded, as she so eloquently requested, to "put up or shut up." So for your edification, I present a brief treatise of two of my favorite films of late, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (henceforth referred to as CTHD) and Memento:

The multiple Academy Award-winning CTHD confounded box-office expectations by becoming one of the first subtitled movies to make serious in-roads into the American consciousness. As we well know from numerous pundits in the academic field, Americans, as a general rule, do not like to read their movies. Shades of Hades, they don't much like to read at all!

Along comes CTHD to prove the pundits wrong (Note to self: Cross "Americans don't like subtitled movies because they are loathe to read" off list of Dearly-Held Theories. Curse and mutter under breath while doing so). Imagine my happy surprise to read (ha!) that the genesis of CTHD is from a genre of Chinese fantasy-based literature called wuxia (woo-shyah), which has been translated to film, wuxia pien ("woo-shyah p'yan"). And wuxia pien translates as "martial arts movie" (or simply, "action movie"). A native Chinese speaker provided the pronunciations and translations, by the way.

However, CTHD is not what most Americans would consider a martial arts movie. For one thing, the Wuxia are legendary knights from Confucius' time who can fly, among other attributes. For another thing, a great portion of the movie has sensibilities about love that are more in line with Victorian England than ancient China (or so the film's critics allege). The martial arts in the film, while dazzling, are not the main focus as they are in say, films starring Jackie Chan or Jet Li--not that there's anything wrong with those fine butt-kickin' gentlemen….

The scenes of qing gong ("ching gon," flying) seem to have caused the most confusion for some American audiences. That's because some Americans are unfamiliar with wire martial arts, despite the fact that wire martial arts have appeared in Chinese films for decades. Yes, DECADES. That means, before The Matrix came out, dears. I was about ready to spank the insolent teens behind me who kept giggling whenever the warriors made those fabulous leaps and fought in the trees. Get some culture, you godless heathens!

Speaking of gods: Chow Yun-Fat's name is pronounced "Choe Yune Fah," not "Chow Yuhn Fat." Remember that the next time you address the god made flesh when you accost him on the red carpet, Ms. Joan "My Face is Tighter than Stewart Copeland's Drums" Rivers! Damn harpy!

*Ahem!* Anyway, onward to Memento, based on a short story by writer/director Christopher Nolan's brother, Jonathan Nolan, called Memento Mori. The original story follows Earl--re-christened Leonard Shelby in the movie--whose wife has been raped and murdered; he himself was grievously injured in the same attack, causing a rare memory condition--he can form no new memories. The subtle movement of the story is as disorienting as Earl's illness, and you will find yourself constantly flipping back a few pages to make sure you didn't miss something (just what color are those damn tiles?). Mr. J. Nolan is an ingenious bast--er, talent.

As is his brother, Mr. C. Nolan, who tells Leonard's story in reverse, causing the viewer to experience the same sort of mistrust in memory as Leonard (Give Guy Pearce an Oscar!) does. The disorientation is deliberate and effective, though I'm still not sure if Natalie's morphing hair in the extended restaurant scene is deliberate deception intended to disrupt memory or piss-poor continuity. And yes (Give Guy Pearce an Oscar!), I briefly considered writing my own column in reverse, but then I decided the hassle of picking up more rocks and broken glass wasn't worth it, and anyway, I'm out of boiling oil. You can safely assume that I am that clever, however.

Speaking of clever (Give Guy Pearce an Oscar!), flashes of what may be Leonard's true memories are so quickly inserted into the movie as to make you doubt you even saw them--besides which, thanks to the reverse nature of the narrative, you'll probably forget you saw them anyway. For example, we see Sammy Jankis sitting in the asylum; someone walks in front of him and suddenly, there's Leonard, sitting there, looking perplexed. During one of the black-and-white scenes of Leonard (Give Guy Pearce an Oscar!) explaining Jankis's story--black and white seemingly functioning as code that the film is telling us The Truth--we see what we assume are Sammy's hands tapping the needle prior to giving his wife her insulin injection.

Except, the tapping scene is in color, which we have been conditioned to accept as one of Leonard's memories, much like Leonard uses his notes and tattoos to condition his own memory so he can function socially.

So what IS the truth (Give Guy Pearce an Oscar!) of this film? Exactly what the hell happened to Leonard and his wife?. In Leonard's new-memory deprived life, sense memories last longer than rational memories. Sometimes, Leonard
(Give Guy Pearce an Oscar!) says, you feel guilty or angry and you don't know why because you can't remember what happened to cause the feeling. Oddly enough, Leonard's memory proves elastic--sometimes he forgets things within
minutes, and sometimes, he can hang on to the new memories significantly longer. Which leads to a whopper (Give Guy Pearce an Oscar!) of a question: Does Leonard really have this rare condition, or is his predicament psychosomatic? Did his wife really die right after the rape, or is Sammy's story really Leonard's, meaning Leonard accidentally killed his wife by sending her into a diabetic coma?

And what about all those tattoos (Give Guy Pearce an Oscar!) littering Leonard's buff body? If "Memory is treachery" and imperfect as Leonard repeatedly says, can he even trust the memories he has from BEFORE his injury? What if he has changed them the same way a "normal" person can alter
a detail of memory to suit his/her own guilty conscience? And since Leonard has tattooed (Give Guy Pearce an Oscar!) the "real" killer's license plate on his leg, can he finally be at peace after blowing said "real" killer away, or will he be forever searching since he won't remember he's already exacted his revenge? Just how many "real" killers has Leonard kacked, anyway?

Um, what was the question again? I have this condition, you see….

Memento is a mindjob of a movie that you will want to see more than once as you try to work out the story in forward chronological time. Mr. J. Nolan's story was printed in the March issue of Esquire magazine, for those who missed it. Also, check out www.otnemem.com, where you can read a newspaper clipping detailing how the cops found asylum-escapee Leonard's notes and pictures. There are also more notes Leonard has written to himself, as well as police documents about his wife's rape, pictures Leonard has taken as memory aids, etc. Then gosee the movie again because
by the time you sift through all the extra information, you'll
have forgotten where the corresponding details took place in the film. A movie that requires multiple viewings--ah, the most ingenious bastardliness of them all! Oh, and in case I
forgot: GIVE GUY PEARCE AN OSCAR!

Until the next time one of you hooligans breaks a window in my Ivory Tower with your rock-mail, I remain…The Perfesser.
Email The Perfesser with your comments


Hey, Perfesser, couldn't we just tattoo an Oscar on Guy's buff little Australian Angus steer body? It would be a way more fun...—EM

 

 

 

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