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Modern Chinese classic becomes better over time

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By G. Michael Dobbs Managing Editor A modern Chinese classic reborn, the death of the electric car, a spy thriller with a twist and the Hulk smashing things and people are featured in this week s DVD review. Ashes of Time Redux Chinese director and writer Wong Kar Wai has long been known from international art house successes such as Happy Together and Chungking Express, and this reissue of his 1994 film will actually satisfy the martial arts crowd as well as his core audience. Wong re-edited the film and added a new musical score and digital effects with the result being a strikingly beautiful film that requires a degree of patience from viewers. The plot unfolds slowly and at times confusingly. Leslie Cheung plays a middleman for people seeking swords for hire. The film tells the stories of several of these transactions as well as serves a meditation about love and lost chances. The film s plot does indeed make sense, but that doesn t happen completely until the last moments. Being a die-hard Chinese film fan, I was willing to be swept along by the impressive cinematography and art direction of the film as well as the martial arts scenes, which were staged and directed by the legendary Sammo Hung. Although the film can be challenging at times, I was impressed by it. The performances by Bridgette Lin and Maggie Cheung were wonderful, with Cheung s portrayal of a woman with regrets over a lost love dominating the last 10 minutes of the film. The extras include a very good making of featurette that was shot largely last summer when the newly edited film appeared at the Cannes Film Festival. Hulk Versus Although I ve been a comic book fan since childhood, the Hulk was never one of my favorite characters and I ve successfully avoided the 1980s Hulk television series and the two recent live action feature films. The format bored me -- Bruce Banner gets upset, changes into Hulk, Hulk smashes a bunch of stuff, calms down and Banner is left trying to keep his stretched out pants up. I was curious, though, about the two animated productions on this two-disc set in which the Hulk battles Wolverine -- just in time to tie into the live action feature -- and Thor. These are not feature films. The Wolverine film is 37 minutes, while the Thor movie is 45 minutes. They shouldn t even be on two discs. There s something a tad misleading about this presentation. Each film centers its set-up not on the Banner/Hulk character, but on the co-star. In the Wolverine movie, we learn about Wolverine s origins and who the villains are from his storyline. The same is true for the Thor episode. There s plenty about Asgard and Norse gods, but precious little about the Hulk. For being the star, the Hulk gets next to nothing in terms of character development and back-story. The result is two lopsided little films that won t really please Hulk fans unless all you want to see is the Hulk beat up people. Perhaps that is enough for some, but it bored the life out of me. The animation is proficient television work and the voices are fine, but I can t really recommend either production. Who Killed the Electric Car? This 2006 documentary is out now on DVD just in time for the renewed interest in green technology and the impending release of the Chevy Volt next year, Detroit s hope for the future of the American auto industry. The film details how a California mandate on emissions forced automakers to come up with cars that had zero emissions. General Motor s (GM) EV-1 did just that and impressed its drivers. Rather than expand on the success and seek a national market for the car, GM sought to overturn the regulation that forced it to develop the car in the first place. It was successful in doing so and the film brilliantly dissects the event to show how a group of events doomed the first successful American car in decades. Director and writer Chris Paine clearly has a point of view in the film, but he presents a pretty balanced picture showing there was plenty of blame to go around for the demise of the car. The irony is the EV-1 might ve been the vehicle that could have been the first generation electric car to address our energy needs and to revitalize the American auto industry. Instead it posed a threat to the status quo and represented a state government forcing a multi-national corporation to bend to its will. This film is very thought provoking and well worth watching. Our Man in Havana This Carol Reed-directed film with a script from Graham Greene is a bit of an odd duck. It s part Cold War spy comedy and part deadly serious spy film. The trouble is these two sides of the production conflict with one another and mute both the humor and the drama. Alec Guinness is a British vacuum cleaner salesman with a shop in pre-Castro Cuba who is recruited a British secret service agent played by Noel Coward. Coward is looking for a solid patriotic Brit to be his man in Havana, while Guinness is simply looking for a way to supplement his income. His teenage daughter has expensive tastes and because her mother abandoned her years before, Guinness is prone to spoil her. He doesn t know a thing about spying, though, and instead of recruiting operatives, he makes them up as well as a set of drawings of a mysterious military installation in the mountains. His reports attract the attention of upper level spies and Guinness is put in a difficult position. The film s cast includes two of my favorite performers -- Maureen O Hara and Ernie Kovacs -- and it is an interesting film, but ultimately it left me cold. When bodies start piling up, the film s humor fades.

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