R0BTRAIN's Bad Ass Cinema: The Bad Asses of '09, Part 4

So this week I’ve got a few things I’d like to get to before we finish off this list and finally say goodbye to the awesome Bad Asses of 2009.

First off, real quick I’d just like to recommend Shutter Island. I think it’s really easy to take a film-maker such as Martin Scorsese and this sort of subject matter for granted, because the movie isn’t trying to be this crime epic or lofty piece of art. Sure, on the surface the movie is just a pulp thriller, but it’s what Scorsese does with the picture that makes it worth your time. This is a movie with mood and atmosphere of the highest degree, and sequences that will be some of the most beautiful and haunting that you will get to witness all year long. Those scenes alone will probably have more artistic merit than a lot of entire movies that will be produced this year. Shutter Island isn’t a masterwork, but it is the work of a master. Getting to see a director like this isn’t something you get to do too often, so why would you ever deny yourself?

Next piece of business: I was having a little discussion with my colleague and Insidepulse Movies Editor Travis Leamons the other day, and he suggested that I add a new feature to the column. Since I enjoy my annual “Bad Asses of the Year” columns so much, why not add a similar feature each month, crowning a single ass-kicker that would go onto contention for my annual list. I absolutely love the idea, and actually really relish this sort of thing. During the summer months this will be even more fun considering the plethora of contenders. And so without further ado, here is my first entry.

Bad Ass of the Month for February 2010

Luc Deveraux, played by Jean-Claude Van Damme – Universal Soldier: Regeneration

Now, some of you may think this is cheating a bit, considering this movie didn’t even come to theaters, but I dare any action fan to watch this movie and then watch any other film that came out this month and tell me about someone more bad ass than Luc Deveraux. We’re talking about a former cybernetic soldier who is trying to be rehabilitated and then has to go in on his own to take out his biggest rival ever and then take out a newer and more vicious model. The final 25 minutes of this movie is nearly wordless except for a few lines and an incredible monologue, and the rest is Deveraux absolutely DESTROYING people.

We’ve never seen Van Damme this vicious, taking out people with machine guns, pistols, knives, and yes, karate. This isn’t the cocky Van Damme persona who loves doing splits. This is a man that has been sent in to kill, and that’s exactly what he does by cutting tendons and exploding heads. There’s a moment in this movie where Van Damme stares down a potential victim, and the look on his face may be scarier than anything in either The Wolfman or Shutter Island. A man jumps out of a window instead of facing Deveraux at one point, but it’s not a moment played for comedy, it’s just a man making the right decision. He has a better chance of defeating gravity at that point than he does at beating Van Damme’s character at that moment.

Alright, now lastly, I’d like to retroactively nominate Mel Gibson’s Thomas Craven from Edge of Darkness as January’s Bad Ass of the Month, in a close race with Denzel Washington’s title character from The Book of Eli. While I would like to talk about Craven more in depth, I do have to finish out this list and time’s a wastin‘.

Again, for those who missed this series so far…

Part 1: The Beginning
Part 2: The Return
Part 3: The Revenge

And now our Endgame,

The Bad Asses of ’09, Part 4

5. Sherlock Holmes, played by Robert Downey, Jr. – Sherlock Holmes
“First, distract target…
Then block his blind jab…
Counter with cross to left cheek…
Dazed, will attempt wild haymaker. Weaken right jaw…
Now fracture…
Break cracked ribs…
Heel kick to diaphragm…
In summary: ears ringing, jaw fractured, three ribs cracked, four broken, diaphragm hemorrhaging. Physical recovery: six weeks. Full psychological recovery: six months.”

You can say what you want about Sherlock Holmes as a movie, as I’m actually a fan of the film, but could still see someone having problems with turning Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective into a 19th century James Bond. On the other hand though, whatever your problems with the film may be, I think there’s no denying though that Downey Jr.’s performance is unstoppable. The man is an unending stream of charisma and I love this new portrayal; as smart and observant as Holmes has ever been, but now he’s a scrapper, as lethal with his hands as he is with his mind.

Sword fights and boxing matches just allow the movie to show how amazing the man is in combat, and show us exactly what this retelling of the Holmes mythos is all about. Sure, there have been great Holmes’ in the past, from Basil Rathbone to Christopher Plummer, but I love how Downey brought new wrinkles to the character and in some ways made him as formidable as he’s ever been. Criminals don’t just fear Holmes’ knowledge anymore, they have to fear his fists as well.

4.Tien , played by Tony Jaa – Ong Bak 2

“This sword is for my father!”

I tell you, if I had the time to break down the body count for each individual on this list,
Tony Jaa’s Tien would be way up there. This is actually saying something, considering that some of the individuals here have been the participants in some giant battles in films such as Avatar and John Woo’s Red Cliff. The thing is, this movie starts and Tien doesn’t seem to stop killing until the very end of the movie, whether he’s taking on crocodiles, elephants, pirates, slave traders, vampires, ninjas or evil versions of himself. This is an awe inspiring display of physicality and presence by Jaa, who I’ve written about over and over again since I saw the movie last summer.

The final battle alone, which features Tien fighting what seems to be about 200 hundred ninjas in a sequence that would make Chuck Norris proud, has Jaa showing off his skills with about every imaginable hand to hand weapon. We’re talking swords, shields, knives, whips, chains, clubs and anything else you can think of. There’s such a barrage of insanity, action and violence that it’s actually hard to process it all in one viewing. I’ve seen this movie about 10 times now, and each time I’ve seen something new and amazing that I didn’t notice before from Tony Jaa. Absolutely, Tony Jaa is one of the top two screen Martial Artists working today, and Tien from this movie may end up being his ultimate performance.

3. Black Dynamite, played by Michael Jai White – Black Dynamite

“Your knowledge of scientific biological transmogrification is only outmatched by your zest for kung-fu treachery!”

I love that a performer like Michael Jai White, who has seemingly been punished his whole career for failing in his one attempt at Hollywood stardom, came up with the idea of this character and the awesome movie around it. Equal parts the screen persona of Jim Brown, Jim Kelly, and Fred Williamson, White’s Black Dynamite is the ultimate amalgamation of what a bad ass Blaxploitation hero should be. He’s a force of nature, whether it comes to gunning down scumbags, fighting kung fu treachery or bedding the ladies. I love how a character like this is on 100% percent of the time, never letting up on just how incredible he is in any aspect of his persona.

Sure, the movie may be a spoof, but Jai White is never anything but legit in this performance. The guy wow’s us with old school kung fu whether he’s killing gangsters with his fists and feet or kicking in the doors of old ladies in order to collect a debt. Jive turkeys beware, Black Dynamite can’t return to theaters fast enough, and I can’t wait to see what Michael Jai White has up his sleeve next.

2. Colonel Miles Quaritch, played by Stephen Lang- Avatar

“This low gravity’ll make you soft. When you get soft… Pandora’ll s**t you out dead with zero warning.”

Even amongst all the battle scenes and fights with incredible creatures and robots in this movie, probably the most bad ass moment in all of Avatar is when Stephen Lang’s Colonel Quaritch realizes that an escape attempt is being made, and even though the outside world doesn’t even have oxygen he can breathe, he immediately kicks down the nearest door with reckless abandon, trying to take down all the perpetrators single-handedly. There’s just so much determination in this character, not letting anything stand in his way, even an entire world that is hostile toward him. Sure, he’s got an entire private army behind him, but you get the feeling that he really doesn’t need it.

If you feel like being impressed by Lang even more, think about past roles for the actor, such as the sleazy reporter in Michael Mann’s Manhunter or the buffoonish villain in Tombstone. Now think of the commanding presence he brought to Avatar. There’s no doubt Quaritch is in control of whatever environment he’s in, and even a vicious planet like Pandora has no hopes of containing him.

1. Ip Man, played by Donnie Yen – Ip Man

“Ip Man. Wing Chun.”

As an action star, and especially a Martial Arts action star, I’m sure you hope that along the way you end up finding that particular movie that ends up defining your career. This is the movie that ends up giving you that defining role that shines above all others. For Bruce Lee in the ‘70s, many will never forget his performances Fist of Fury and The Chinese Connection. Police Story in the ‘80s gave Jackie Chan one of his iconic moments that has helped him define a template for a lot of the roles that came after. Fist of Legend and Once Upon a Time in China were Jet Li’s ’90s benchmark. The iconic role of ’00s came from Donnie Yen, and his movie and character were simply known as Ip Man.

The story of the actual man who would go on to train Bruce Lee, Ip Man tells the tale of the man as he deals with the hardship of living in China during the occupation of Japanese forces. Cruel and unjust, the Japanese hunger for Martial Arts knowledge, staging contests between their own fighters and the Chinese Martial Artists, often killing those that stood against them. What I love about this story though, is that Ip Man tries desperately to not fight, and live in peace as much as possible to try and take care of his family. It is only when pushed too far that Ip Man must fight, and fight he does.

Now I think in the hands of a lesser actor, the role of Ip Man might have come off as too pious and perhaps a little too unbelievable when he completely dominates his opponents. In the hands of Donnie Yen though, this is a character that enters a distinct pantheon of heroes that have come before him. Yen’s Ip Man is humble and charismatic. When someone insults him, he simply reacts with courtesy, letting his actions speak for themselves. Even when the Japanese threaten his home, he is never rude or cocky, even-tempered almost to a fault.

It is only when engaged in combat that his fury reigns supreme. When pushed to the limit, Ip Man is an unequaled foe, striking down his opponents without a scratch. Yen’s performance in these moments is indicative of Bruce Lee’s early roles, a guide I’m sure he looked to when creating this character. The difference though, is that Lee was so overpowering at times it made his characters completely unidentifiable. Yen is so charismatic that this never becomes a problem, his domination is a reason to celebrate as he leads his people by example. For this, Yen’s Ip Man is a near perfect hero to believe in, in the end deserves to top this list.

Alright, next time we return to regular programming. See you guys then!

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