Monday 15 July 2019

On SBS World Movies channel - Barrie Pattison checks out some of the initial offering L'EMPEREUR DE PARIS (Jean-François Richet, France, 2018) and SKY HUNTER (Chen Li, China, 2017)

Well we’ve now got the long awaited SBS 24/7 movie channel which so far is a mix of recent films that missed out on local theatrical distribution (that could be interesting) and the Studio Ghibli catalogue in their awful English language versions. 

Unless I blinked this is an outlet free from black & white  and one that doesn’t reach back further than 1979. It kind of leaves you longing for Channel 44 but Malcolm Turnbull wiped that off in lockstep with Trumpy’s closing PBS.

I’ve had a look at their 2018L'Empereur de Paris/The Emperor of Paris from the Vincent Cassel-Jean-François Richet team who did the Mesrine films. Not a good choice as it’s dim, detailed images call out for big screen presentation.

This one is another run through on Eugène-François Vidocq, the arrested criminal, and serial escaper who established himself as a law enforcer innovating many still continuing procedures and becoming the first head of the French Sureté. 

Vidocq turns up as a character in pieces by the elder Dumas, Honoré de Balzac and Edgar Allen Poe along with plays and video games. He figures in films including a pre-WW1 series with a young Harry Baur, Depardieu in the 2001 Pitof film and George Sanders in the 1946 Scandal in Paris, Douglas Sirk’s best movie, not that that’s much of a recommendation.

All this is an intimidating history for anyone to take on. L'Empereur de Paris, which starts with a character clubbing a live rat to death, has Cassel/Vidocq cautioned by fellow 1810 prison hulk prisoner August Diehl about boss Denis Lavant “He’s dangerous - like you.” Vincent spits on Lavant and is dropped overboard chained to a cannon ball from which he escapes.

The antagonism continues in Paris with Lavant, who is doing his Fagin act training kids to pick the pocket of a harlequin dummy without disturbing the bells hanging on it. Vincent convinces prefect Patrick Chesnais his insider knowledge can be used to apprehend the heavies who denounced him and a whole lot more and forms his own cut throat enforcement band. He also alternates the appealing duo of young pickpocket Freya Mavor (the new Lady in the Car With the Glasses and the Gun) and murderous Baronne Olga Kurylenko. 

The final fight with Diehl occurs in the Saint Maclou cathedral in Pontoise where Vincent attempts to drown him in the Baptismal fount. Napoleon has a walk on. Not unsurprisingly the most attention-getting character is Fabrice Luchini’s prosecutor Fouché who keeps Vidocq in suspense over his Lettre de Grace pardon. 

Handsomely mounted, there are hints of something more substantial in Cassel being locked in the cell with desperates, who his action is sending to the dreaded Toulon prison, hissing “Balance” at him though no one is game to raise a hand, or the “Do not confuse the people with the mob” exchange. However, these don’t cohere.
Also watched Chen Li’s 2017 Chinese Kong tian lie/Sky Hunter, an airborne Wolf Warriors with the fliers winging in to defeat terrorists who have taken their nationals hostage in a border state. 

In the best Billy Haines/Jimmy Cagney tradition, cocky pilot Chen Li (“I regard every second I spend on the ground as a waste of time”) ignores orders and comes onto forever glamorous Bin Bin Fan in trim uniform and mirror shades. She doesn’t have all that much to do other than revise her scornful attitude and climb into cockpits.

A retiring former ace gives a stirring speech to the trainee pilots on his mustering out day. An (English speaking, bearded) local observer is dismissive. “Your country hasn’t fought a war for 20 years.” Chen Li gets to fire off red flares in the desert, acing the manoeuvres and to talk down a wounded associate. When the locals take the hostages and make demands, he heads up the attack, despite fears that having his wingman among the captured might cloud his judgement.  

No need to fear, the combination of his dazzling aerobatics and the skill of the Chinese troops loaded into the wide belly aircraft at night, wins out.

OK shots changing into slowed movement of planes over ground level action like motor bikes jumping in the dunes and a mildly exciting shoot up finale. Polished but simpleminded.

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