Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Crow

Okay, I have to admit that although I was a Bruce Lee fan and loved all of the movies he starred in, as well as his part in “The Green Hornet” television show, I didn’t know much about his personal life.  It wasn’t until I happened to watch the Dolph Lundgren vehicle, Showdown in Little Tokyo, that I discovered Bruce Lee had a son.  I remember sitting at home as this flick came on one night on Showtime or HBO and thinking that the co-star was a pretty talented fighter.  When the credits rolled and I saw that his name was Brandon Lee, I wondered to myself if he was the son of the legendary martial artist.  I don’t recall when I finally confirmed my curiosity, but I did and decided to keep an eye out for any feature he may star in again.

Not long after seeing that debacle of a film, I caught a film called Rapid Fire with Lee as the lead.  It was your typical shoot-em-up action flick from the 90s, but it was exciting and impressive.  Brandon Lee had the acting chops to play a lead action star, right up there with the caliber of Schwarzenegger or Stallone or Willis, and I became a big fan right away.

In early 1993, I’d heard Lee was to play the lead in a dark film based on a moody graphic novel called “The Crow.”  Word had gotten around that it was going to be a gothic-looking dark film about revenge, sort of a rated 'R' Batman type of film where the sets and look of the film were kind of like the Tim Burton version of Gotham, so I was sold.  But it wasn’t long before the terrible news hit the media about the tragic death of Bruce Lee’s son, Brandon…how he was accidentally killed by a faulty prop gun that fired a dummy bullet that was left inside as it fired a blank.

Let me tell you, I was crushed, although to this day I can’t describe why I felt that way.  I mean, at that time, I'd only seen him in two films, so it shouldn't have hit me so hard...but it did.  Maybe I really was that big of a fan (I know I still am a big fan of his) or maybe I felt the sorrow the family must’ve felt as both father and son were cut down in their prime, I don’t know.  But then I started to be angry that the film probably wasn’t ever going to be shown, seeing that it might’ve been morbid to see Brandon as someone gunned down and then resurrected back to life.

Yes, the plot was already known and people were really starting to look forward to this new film.

Well, as the producers and people involved with the film told the media that there was only a week or two of filming left, they announced that they would finish the film with camera tricks and body doubles.  I couldn’t help but think of Bruce Lee’s unfinished film, Game of Death,  a film that was terrible save for a few actual scenes of Bruce Lee’s best fighting scenes he’d ever filmed in a movie.  The body double in that one didn’t look or fight like him and the film was just one big confusing mess.

So, the day came…May 11th, 1994…a little over a year after Brandon Lee’s death.  I had gone to the theater with a friend, worried that the movie wouldn’t be that great, knowing I’d be able to pick out when they’d use the body double, afraid that the movie would be a total flop...and I watched it.

I was wrong on all levels.

The Crow begins with the aftermath of the murder of Eric Draven (Lee) and his fiancée, Shelly Webster (Sofia Shinas).  The scene plays out with the cop on the scene, Sergeant Albrecht (Ernie Hudson), and how he has to give the bad news to their young friend, Sarah (Rochelle Davis).  A year goes by and we see
Draven resurrected out of his grave, looking confused as he’s met by a crow that he appears to have some connection with as he sees what the crow sees.  Everything Draven touches either gives him pleasant memories or bad ones of what happened to him and his fiancée that terrible night a year before.  He then realizes he’s come back to get revenge.

I can’t believe this movie is nearly twenty years old already!  To this day, the performances and story still move me, both with satisfaction of the revenge the character gets and anger when we see what he remembers.  The film is dark and gothic which, at the time, was new and fresh, definitely the “in” thing for movies back then.

Brandon Lee as the lead character of Eric Draven, the indie rock star turned avenging angel, was fabulous!  I still can’t get over his performance and how he gave it his all.  The pain he conveyed as he was resurrected gave us the feeling he was sort of reborn, screaming as he was brought back to the living, digging his way out
of his grave…fantastic!  It seems like this part was made for him and you can understand why all the attempts to make sequels have failed.  No one can take the place of Brandon Lee in this one.

The cinematography is so well done as most of the scenes are at night, with a drab look washed of most
colors and giving it an almost black and white filmed look to it.  Balancing those scenes out are Draven's good memories which are represented in flashback scenes of rich colors.  During these parts, you feel the sadness and loss he feels.  I don't know if this was the intention all along or if there was a different plan of showing these scenes in chronological order...or maybe the filmmakers were forced to do this because of Lee's death.  Whatever the case, they definitely made the right choice because for this type of film, this is the only way it would've worked out.  The whole film was put together perfectly, in my opinion.  I especially like the scene where Draven comes out of his grave and is walking out of the cemetery with rain pouring down on him.  And you can’t help but feel his hurt and anger as he readies himself in his abandoned apartment when he makes his face up for the first time.

Although the alternative type of music might seem dated nowadays, it was perfect for the film’s theme and world the movie takes place in.  Each song seemed perfect for whichever scene was presented.  From The Cure’s “Burn” as Draven punches the mirror and puts on the make-up, to “Dead Souls” by Nine Inch nails, every song has its place in the movie and they all fit just right.

The overall look of the city this takes place in seems like such a nightmare, yet perfect for this film’s motifs, but the location is never mentioned, although there are implications that it may be in Detroit.  However, when the scape of the city is shown in wide shots, it looks like somewhere you’ve never seen, nor probably would never want to see.

There’s really nothing I can nitpick out of this film, especially understanding how they had to piece things together after Brandon Lee died, use a body double or special effects to pull off shots they couldn’t do without him there...I’ve got to say…they pulled it off nicely.  But since I’ve watched this film countless times, I can easily pick out the scenes they used a body double or used footage from other scenes or added Lee’s face digitally to the body double…but it doesn’t cheapen this movie at all.

And…my final “bit” on The Crow

If there was ever a movie to pick as your last, to be your swan song, your lasting impression to the world before your departure, this was the one for Brandon Lee.  Much like his father will be forever known, shirtless, in his loosely-worn black pants and Kung Fu shoes, Brandon Lee will forever be known for his gothic-clown make-up and tight leather outfit, with a crow perched on his shoulder.  It’s a fitting goodbye to a legend, but sad that he didn’t live long enough to see he had reached that status.

As a post “bit,” I’ve got to express how angry I still am at how cheap studios can be and how someone should’ve been thrown in jail for the neglect they showed in their treatment of Brandon Lee.  He was only 28 years old!  He would’ve been 48 today, probably as big a star as Sean Penn or Tom Cruise.  Just think of the movies he could’ve been in throughout these past 20 years!  Maybe they could've done a decent sequel with him.  How about a substantial part in Executive Decision?  Brandon Lee could've been a pretty bad-ass Ethan Hunt in Mission: Impossible!  How cool would he have been playing Neo in The Matrix?  With the comic book movie craze, maybe a leading part in the Avengers?  A villain?  Toe-to-toe with Jackie Chan or Jet Li?  Or fight along side of them as one of the testosterone-filled stars in The Expendables?!  The possibilities are endless and all we can do is speculate how big a star he would've been.

To the Lee/Caldwell family, I just want them to know that he is still missed just as much as his father.  Both great men who gave their best in everything they’ve done.

Thank you for reading and you can always tweet to me on Twitter: @CinemaBits.

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