Monday, January 11, 2016

Star Wars Movie Review

When I first got to China, my work orientation featured a presentation by a woman who took as her theme the mantra "just go." The point was, "Get out of Beijing and explore China every chance you get."

Of course, my school only gives us the legal holidays, when everyone in China is off work and traveling is nearly impossible. And of our weekends, they typically claim a day for work about once each month. So the opportunities to "just go" are very limited.

And then the experiences you have when you "just go" are terrible. This was how we ended up spending six hours sitting on the floor of Beijing South Railway Station. We decided to "just go" to Tianjin one weekend.

What my work should have told us was, "If you don't have a Mandarin-fluent friend to sort things out for you, just stay home. Yeah, I know lots of things are in English and everywhere tends to have at least one employee with pretty good English skills, but that's not enough. You need a Mandarin-fluent friend. Oh, and the guy on staff we've hired to be that Mandarin-fluent friend feels overworked, so he's not going to do it for you."

So this was why we didn't see any movies our first year here. But last weekend I took my daughter to see the new Star Wars movie.

Remember how I've hired a student to function as my personal assistant? Well, she bought the tickets for us online to see the movie at the theater in our second-closest mall. We got an e-mail with two codes that we were supposed to present at the box office to receive our tickets. So Saturday morning, Crazy Jane and I went to the bus stop. But the signs designating which buses could be expected to stop there no longer listed the bus that used to stop there that went right to the movie theater. We had to go down the road and turn left, so we figured we'd just make it a two-bus trip and transfer at the left-hand turn. But every Chinese intersection has eight bus stops at it, and we didn't know which of the two going our direction would be correct. We saw an empty taxi sitting at the red light, so we signaled to the driver and he waved us over.

We got in and I showed him the paper with the theater's address in Chinese characters. (Our experience is that nearly everyone in China cannot understand Chinese spoken by a foreigner with even the SLIGHTEST accent, so it's pointless to try.) He wasn't wearing his glasses, so he just squinted at the paper, hoping it would feel guilty and confess the information it contained. When that didn't work, and the cars behind him kept honking since the signal had changed, he found a place to pull over and don his glasses. Then he drove off confidently in the right direction. For half a block. Then he asked for the paper back. Then he got out his phone to tell his GPS program the address.

Meanwhile, we were approaching the movie theater, so I wasn't too worried. Eventually, he let us out right where I wanted, at the mall's only door I know. We went in the mall's door and met a security guard and a crowd-control rope. The mall wasn't open yet. We showed the guy the paper with the theater's address. He started telling us very elaborate directions that involved a lot of left-hand turns. I was concerned he was going to make us walk all the way around the block, which is massive, and we'd be late, so I asked him if we had to go to Xicui Road. I might as well have saved my breath: beyond the typical problems with speaking Chinese to people, this word has a letter C in it, which is this weird sort-of-TS-sort-of-Z noise. He reiterated his directions. I told him I don't understand Chinese. He repeated himself verbatim.

His boss came over and asked what was wrong. We showed him the paper. He looked over his shoulder at the empty mall in the direction of the movie theater, but then thought better of letting us through. He made the same left-hand turn signals. We embarked on our long walk full of left-hand turns.

Eventually we ended up inside the movie theater, at the mostly-empty bank of registers. One guy took our paper, looked at it, and left. Like, full-on left, not just the employee area, but around a corner and onto an escalator. Gone. We waited. Another guy started helping people around us. We signaled to him that 15 minutes to read a paper was a little excessive. He got a walkie-talkie to call his coworker.

It turned out they just needed to get the one lady on staff who can read English. (Remember, all these people had many, many years of English classes in school.) She printed our tickets and the other guy handed them to us. We had to ask where to go from there.

Eventually, we ended up inside our theater, where we had to put on 3D glasses because movies are pretty-exclusively offered in 3D here in China. A few months ago my family went to see The Peanuts Movie and they had to pay ¥100 each ($16) to see it in 3D. To me, the 3D movie is always and everywhere a loss of utility. It becomes a distraction and makes me more aware that I'm watching a movie, not real life. But in China, it appears, it is unavoidable.

To prepare for this movie, we spent the previous evening watching the original trilogy back-to-back-to-back. So the Star Wars storyline was fresh in our minds. It appears that was unnecessary. This movie starts about 30 years later, and with little connection to the completed story arc of the original trilogy.

I liked the movie. It was enjoyable where it should have been, and it avoided all the unenjoyable parts of the second trilogy. (Poe is a great pilot, we are told, and we're asked to accept it instead of being shown 20 minutes of pod-racing to establish the fact.) Where the movie was most enjoyable was where it was original; the times it felt derivative (like blowing up a Death Star totally NOT just a Death Star, or the "I'm your father" moment on a catwalk in a seemingly-bottomless industrial space) were a little lame, but it was scattered and infrequent, so it didn't undermine the entire film or even a significant portion of it.

As a father of a 12-year-old boy and a seven-year-old boy who stayed home, I was also interested in why it was rated PG-13. As best as I can tell, it's because one storm trooper bleeds when shot, so that he can mark Finn to help the audience keep track of which one was Finn. (It's possibly also related to an unexpected death in intimate circumstances, too.) Anyway, I felt my boys could see this movie. (For comparison's sake, we've shown them the following PG-13 movies with the edits listed: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire with skipping over Wormtail cutting himself, Voldemort's naked-baby phase, and Cedric Diggory's arvada-ing; Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix with skipping over the dementors attacking Dudley and Harry's being possessed by Voldemort; Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1 with skipping over Voldemort feeding a teacher to a snake, Harry and Hermione's night of wild passion in Ron's mind, and a giant snake jumping out of the corpse of an old lady; Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2 without anything skipped, as I remember it; and Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith with skipping over Anakin killing a bunch of children and Obi-Wan dismembering Anakin.)

Crazy Jane liked the movie, too, except for the actions of Kylo Ren, so after the movie, she wanted to have her picture taken punching the statue in the lobby.

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