Director Alexander Payne's (Election Sideways) new film opens over sprawling landscape shots of Hawaii's scenic suburbia accompanied by George Clooney's character Matt King summing up his current predicament: "Paradise can go fuck itself." The reaction unfortunately is reasonable.
We pick up with King an ancestor of Hawaiian royalty in the middle of deliberations over a plot of land handed down through his family over generations. With every uncle aunt and cosign whispering opinions into his ear King is suddenly presented with an even greater problem: taking care of his two daughters. A boating accident leaves his wife in a coma forcing Matt to take a true parenting role with his young socially-troubled daughter Scottie (Amara Miller) and his rebellious teen Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) who was previously shipped off to boarding school. Matt awkwardly hunts for the emotional glue necessary for the mismatched bunch to become "a family " but matters are made even more complicated when Alex reveals that her mother was cheating on him before the accident. Murphy's Law is in full effect.
With The Descendants Payne continues to explore and discover the inherent humor in life's melancholic situations unfolding Matt's quest for understanding like a road movie across Hawaii's many islands. Simultaneously preparing for the end of his wife's death and searching for the identity of her lover Matt crosses paths with a number of perfectly cast side characters who act as mirrors to his best and worst qualities: his father-in-law Scott (Robert Foster) who belittles Matt for never taking care of his daughter; Hugh (Beau Bridges) an opportunistic cousin who pressures Matt to sell the land; Alexandra's dunce of a boyfriend Sid (Nick Krause) who always has the wrong thing to say; and Julie (Judy Greer) the wife of the adulterer in question. Colorful yet real Matt experiences a definitive moment with each of them yet the picture never feels sporadic or episodic.
Clooney and Woodley help gel these sequences together as they observe experience and butt heads as equals. Clooney's own magnetism stands in the way of making Matt a fully dimensional character but he shines when playing off his quick-witted daughter. His reactions are heartbreaking—but it's the moments when he has to put himself out there that never quite ring true. But the script by Nat Faxon Jim Rash and Payne gives Clooney plenty of opportunities to work his magic visualizing his struggle as opposed to vomiting it out like so many of today's talky dramas.
The Descendants is a tender cinematic experience an introspective and heartwarming film unafraid to convey its story with pleasing simplicity. Clooney stands out with a solid performance but like many of Payne's films it's the eclectic ensemble and muted backdrop that give the movie its real texture. The paradise of Descendants isn't all its cracked up to be but for movie-goers it's bliss.
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)