Monday, May 30, 2011

Gong Li in "Operation Cougar"

"Operation Cougar" is a bad movie, something I can tell without knowing a single line of dialog. The language spoken in Mandarin and the subtitles are in Chinese but it is clear from what is on the screen that a lot of talent was wasted on this one. It is an action movie--a plane is hijacked with both the People's Republic and Chinese Taipei (or the Republic of China, if you will) involved in rescuing the hostages.

Ge You, terrorist leader:

Gong Li, flight nurse. Not sure what she has gotten herself into:

There is very little action and a lot of talk and no matter what is being said by who to whom, extremely long speeches, of which there are many in "Operation Cougar" don't belong in an action movie. Meetings in Beijing and Taipei were shown, oddly enough as a long series of still images of the participants in the meetings, generally shot from odd angles. These stills were intercut with still more stills (someone should have remembered this was a motion picture) showing daily life in the two cities, apparently indicating that decisions were being made without panicking the population.

The action itself is poorly done. The frenzied confusion in the passenger compartment when the hijackers pull their guns is shown by Coke cans and plastic glasses being dropped and trod underfoot. Most of the rest of the action happens so far from the camera that it loses any value it might have, with one shocking and cruel exception. It is noisy, at least, with hundreds of rounds of ammunition fired.

Shocking situations arise, giving our heroine a chance to look shocked:

Gong Li wasn't really wasted in her role as a nurse--this was her second movie and she looked lovely and occasionally desperate or fearful as needed. Ge You is as intense and committed as any film actor working today. There must be some reason for an artist of his great talent to act in such a turkey but it wasn't clear from watching it.

It seems that there was a point to all this, and it wasn't to make an entertaining movie. From reviews and synopsis on the web it seems that showing the possibility of friendship and comradely cooperation across the Taiwan Strait was why it was made. The maxim "If you want to send a message, call Western Union" has been credited to various early Hollywood moguls, most often Sam Goldwyn. If those responsible for "Operation Cougar" were aware of it they would have made a very different movie. One would not think that Zhang Yi-Mou, Gong Li and Ge You could combine to make a movie this bad but they did. It is the only credit listed for screenwriter Cheng Shi-Qing and it was one too many since it looks like the principals simply shot and acted what he wrote.

There are two reasons to watch this movie. One is that if you are a Gong Li completist and are committed to seeing every second of her work onscreen. The other is if you like to keep lists of continuity faults; “Operation Cougar” is a rich vein to mine. The worst (or best) example is the plane that gets hijacked--while in the air it is a high-winged propeller driven craft but after it lands it has become a regional jet airliner.

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