Saturday, October 31, 2009

Worst of the Worst: #86, Pavilion of Women

So far, in the seven of these movies that I've seen, I've watched either a comedy or an action movie. The temptation every week is to watch an action movie. Bad action movies are great because they tend to be the funnier bad ones. Bad comedies are awful because they aim at being funny and miss. More than anything, I have dreaded watching the dramas on this list. I'm fairly picky when it comes to dramas and, since I hate even mediocre ones, I know the bad ones will be pure misery. In order to get through the list, I was going to have to watch one some time or another, so why not start getting them out of the way so I don't end up only having them at the end? This afternoon, I bit the bullet and watched not only a drama but a period drama, Pavilion of Women, #86 on Rotten Tomatoes' list of the worst movies of this decade.

Based on the Pearl Buck novel of the same name, Pavilion of Women deals with a family in China, right before the Japanese invasion of 1937. As the wife turns 40, she decides that her sexually-demanding husband deserves a younger woman and contracts with a matchmaker to get him a second wife. Her youngest son is itching to join the Communist Army, but she makes him study with an American priest who lives in their town. She and the second wife join in the studies and she falls in love with the priest, while the son falls in love with the second wife. As the family deals with these secrets, the Japanese attack and everything is thrown into an uproar. Good enough plot.

Since it takes place in China, you might expect that it would be in Chinese with English subtitles, right? No, it's in English. Okay, well at least they'd use Asian-American actors then. Nope, they use native Chinese speakers, a very few of whom moved to America at some point. So the actors are almost all native Chinese speakers who have to deliver their lines in English. Hello, train wreck. Let's say you know Spanish or French pretty well. Would you be able to not only speak them, but to act in them in a movie about emotions?

The answer is obvious. The acting in this movie is beyond atrocious. The line delivery is stilted and most of the characters are trying so hard to get the lines out right that they are incapable of any physical acting. So bad that it feels like the director got a bunch of people together and said, "Okay, folks, go act as poorly as you possibly can and I think this movie could actually work!" To be fair, three actors in the movie are not horrible. One is screenwriter/star Yan Luo and the other two are the only recognizable (to me) actors in the movie, John Cho and Willem Dafoe. Yan had lived in America for a bit before writing the movie, Cho moved to the US when he was six, and Dafoe is American. Amazing that the people who would actually be the most comfortable in English would be the ones who could act in the language. In fact, Dafoe is so much better than every other actor in the movie that it actually looks like he's overacting, leading to some unintentionally funny scenes. And if you think the adults were bad, there are a number of kids in the movie who either didn't know English at all or had barely learned it, because their line delivery sounded like a Hooked on Phonics tape. Accoring to IMDB, the movie was simultaneously filmed in English and Mandarin, so it's possible that there is a Chinese version that is a bit better, though it's hard to imagine Korean Cho and American Dafoe doing really well in Mandarin.

Beyond the acting, it's just sort of lame. It's very soap opera and it seems like there is a huge occurrence -- a woman dying in childbirth, a fire, a Japanese flyover, the Japanese invasion -- happening every other second. If living in this village means this much drama, they really should consider moving somewhere else. The dialogue isn't so great and the husband is shown to be a sexually-demanding pig by having him what seems like constantly forcing his wives into performing oral sex on him. In fact, I don't think anyone has any other kind of sex in the movie except for a brief (like 1 second) rape scene with the Japanese, so who knows what kind of fetish was going on there.

The movie isn't so much horrible as extremely lame. That's why it's only in the eighties in the rankings. The most enjoyable moment of the film is the last twenty or seconds. An orphan delivers a line so poorly that my dog could do it better, the main character says something that even a 90210 writer would find overwrought, the two hug, two other main characters run in, and all of the orphans surround all of them for a big group hug. The music swells and the camera pulls away and up to show the group and the surrounding land. Problem is that they obviously switched cameras from a crane over the group to a plane or helicopter flying over, and you can tell because almost immediately the shot of the group goes blurry. They screwed up the focus on higher camera and didn't get the right contrast on the close-up before pulling away. Great attention to detail. The scene was so deliciously cheesy that, after watching it, I went back to that point and paused it so that my wife could come watch just that bit and laugh at it, which she did. So maybe the Japanese raped and slaughtered the people of the village except for the few that were lucky enough to hide, but at least we had a laugh at the end. Not the worst of the eight I've now seen, but still pretty bad.

1 comment:

Betsy said...

Everything about your review really spoke to me. I want to see this movie now, but I know it can not live up to your review for it. Even had Willem Dafoe! I was just talking to a friend about all his little-known terrible movies the other day. Control, anyone?