David Mitchell's novel Cloud Atlas consists of six stories set in various periods between 1850 and a time far into Earth's post-apocalyptic future. Each segment lives on its own the previous first person account picked up and read by a character in its successor creating connective tissue between each moment in time. The various stories remain intact for Tom Tykwer's (Run Lola Run) Lana Wachowski's and Andy Wachowski's (The Matrix) film adaptation which debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival. The massive change comes from the interweaving of the book's parts into one three-hour saga — a move that elevates the material and transforms Cloud Atlas in to a work of epic proportions.
Don't be turned off by the runtime — Cloud Atlas moves at lightning pace as it cuts back and forth between its various threads: an American notary sailing the Pacific; a budding musician tasked with transcribing the hummings of an accomplished 1930's composer; a '70s-era investigatory journalist who uncovers a nefarious plot tied to the local nuclear power plant; a book publisher in 2012 who goes on the run from gangsters only to be incarcerated in a nursing home; Sonmi~451 a clone in Neo Seoul who takes on the oppressive government that enslaves her; and a primitive human from the future who teams with one of the few remaining technologically-advanced Earthlings in order to survive. Dense but so was the unfamiliar world of The Matrix. Cloud Atlas has more moving parts than the Wachowskis' seminal sci-fi flick but with additional ambition to boot. Every second is a sight to behold.
The members of the directing trio are known for their visual prowess but Cloud Atlas is a movie about juxtaposition. The art of editing is normally a seamless one — unless someone is really into the craft the cutting of a film is rarely a post-viewing talking point — but Cloud Atlas turns the editor into one of the cast members an obvious player who ties the film together with brilliant cross-cutting and overlapping dialogue. Timothy Cavendish the elderly publisher could be musing on his need to escape and the film will wander to the events of Sonmi~451 or the tortured music apprentice Robert Frobisher also feeling the impulse to run. The details of each world seep into one another but the real joy comes from watching each carefully selected scene fall into place. You never feel lost in Cloud Atlas even when Tykwer and the Wachowskis have infused three action sequences — a gritty car chase in the '70s a kinetic chase through Neo Seoul and a foot race through the forests of future millennia — into one extended set piece. This is a unified film with distinct parts echoing the themes of human interconnectivity.
The biggest treat is watching Cloud Atlas' ensemble tackle the diverse array of characters sprinkled into the stories. No film in recent memory has afforded a cast this type of opportunity yet another form of juxtaposition that wows. Within a few seconds Tom Hanks will go from near-neanderthal to British gangster to wily 19th century doctor. Halle Berry Hugh Grant Jim Sturgess Jim Broadbent Ben Whishaw Hugo Weaving and Susan Sarandon play the same game taking on roles of different sexes races and the like. (Weaving as an evil nurse returning to his Priscilla Queen of the Desert cross-dressing roots is mind-blowing.) The cast's dedication to inhabiting their roles on every level helps us quickly understand the worlds. We know it's Halle Berry behind the fair skinned wife of the lunatic composer but she's never playing Halle Berry. Even when the actors are playing variations on themselves they're glowing with the film's overall epic feel. Jim Broadbent's wickedly funny modern segment a Tykwer creation that packs a particularly German sense of humor is on a smaller scale than the rest of the film but the actor never dials it down. Every story character and scene in Cloud Atlas commits to a style. That diversity keeps the swirling maelstrom of a movie in check.
Cloud Atlas poses big questions without losing track of its human element the characters at the heart of each story. A slower moment or two may have helped the Wachowskis' and Tykwer's film to hit a powerful emotional chord but the finished product still proves mainstream movies can ask questions while laying over explosive action scenes. This year there won't be a bigger movie in terms of scope in terms of ideas and in terms of heart than Cloud Atlas.
A few years back, Jet Li’s ass-kicking dexterity was known only to a select few -- namely, geeky Far East cinephiles immersed in a world of fanzines and fringe video stores. And in two major U.S. flicks' time, the Chinese martial artist turned movie star has joined the ranks of other imported Hong Kong cinematic icons -- such as Jackie Chan and Chow Yun-Fat -- in successfully making the crossover from the niche market of Asian cinema to the cash cow of Hollywood.
And the bucks (plus the roles) don’t stop there. Daily Variety reported today that the actor has just signed with Warner Bros. to co-produce and star in another action flick titled "The First King." Based on Li’s own idea, the film is said to be an action-adventure that’s inspired by the first monarch of China who comes back to life in modern times. And word has it that Li’s also in talks to co-star in the adaptation of "The Green Hornet" and in both of "The Matrix" sequels.
Certainly, the success of "Lethal Weapon 4" and "Romeo Must Die" and the bombardment of offers easily attest to Jet Li’s career longevity in Hollywood. But the fact of the matter is, the 37-year-old actor’s been around a helluva lot longer than the recent exposure explosion would have people think.
Li made more than 25 films (all action-oriented) before landing the against-type role of the villain in 1998’s "Lethal Weapon 4." Like many actors, Li started out doing something else -- in his case, Li was a four-time Chinese Men’s All-Around National Wushu Champion in China (vocabulary lesson: "Wushu" means "martial arts" in Mandarin) in the mid-70s. He segued into martial-arts flicks in Hong Kong and China with "Shaolin Temple," an old-school kung fu period piece in 1980.
During his prolific career, Li has worked with Hong Kong new wave director Tsui Hark, chubby martial-arts star Sammo Hung (TV's "Martial Law") and directed his own film (1986’s "Born to Defense").
But what’s more, he’s got what every supercool subculture icon’s got: a massive cult following and an interminable list of films to prove it (see filmography below).
The origin of the Jet Li cult phenomenon is unclear, but it can be traced to the fervor of avid Hong Kong cinema fans and in-the-know Asian expatriates.
"[The Jet Li cult following began with] the same people who’re into Hong Kong films -- just like Chow Yun-Fat and Jackie Chan. And it spreads with words of mouth. Of course, our magazine helps a lot also," Eric Nakamura, publisher and co-editor of Asian pop culture mag Giant Robot, told Hollywood.com.
And what is Li’s specific appeal? The bona-fide kung fu and the physics-defying moves, what else?
"I think [his appeal] is just that he’s a martial artist. He looks really good, and he’s more serious [than someone such as] Jackie Chan. Jet is a lot fresher," said Nakamura.
In even more flowery prose, another longtime Jet Li fan agrees.
"I don't think anyone (whether interested in martial arts or not) could sit through one of Jets films and not appreciate his outstanding form, speed and precision. Jet moves with the fluidity and grace of a true martial-arts expert," wrote the co-creator of the online Jet Li fansite The Ultimate Jet Li Website (www.jet-li.co.uk).
Here is Li’s complete filmography, courtesy of the Jet Li HQ Web bsite (http://www.geocities.com/Hollywood/Cinema/1320/film.html ):
Shaolin Temple (1982) Shaolin Temple 2: Kids from Shaolin (1984) Shaolin Temple 3: Martial Arts of Shaolin (1986) Marvelous Kung Fu of Shaolin (aka Abbot Hai Teng of Shaolin) (1986) Born to Defence (1986) Dragons of the Orient (1988) Dragon Fight (1988) The Master (1989) Once Upon a Time in China (1990) Once Upon a Time in China 2 (1991) Once Upon a Time in China 3 (1992) Swordsman 2 (1992) Fong Sai Yuk (1993) Fong Sai Yuk 2 (1993) Last Hero in China (1993) Kung Fu Cult Master (1993) Tai Chi Master (1993) Shaolin Kung Fu (1994) New Legend of Shaolin (1994) Bodyguard from Beijing (1994) Fist of Legend (1994) My Father is a Hero (1995) High Risk (1995) Dr Wai and the Scripture without Words (1996) Black Mask (1996) Once Upon a Time in China and America (1997) The Hitman (1997) Lethal Weapon 4 (1998) Romeo Must Die (2000)