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A Tryst with the Russian Mafia and a Chinese Emperor

Posted by RB Kollannur on September 11, 2008

Finally, “The Dark Knight” has been toppled from the top of the box office. It was long time coming, Mummy 3 displaced it from the outside North America box office and the Ledger hype is bound to see its last. Tropic Thunder has had its controversies with Robert Downey Jr. and his blackface, but for the time being we will have to wait for a little while till we can catch it on Indian screens and make do with the other movies available.

The third Mummy movie looks to bolster the Mummy franchise, with some extra panache from the martial arts duo, Michelle Yeoh and Jet Li. Set around ten – fifteen years after the previous Mummy movie, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor features Rick O’Connell’s son discovering the tomb of an ancient Chinese Emperor, Han, in post WWII China. Going with the usual family tradition, his father brings the mummy back to life and it is bent on conquering the world. But first, the Mummy has to go to the mythical city of Shangri La and get eternal life. It is upto the O’Connell family to stop him. Aiding them is a Chinese damsel, who is more than handy with martial arts, and her mother, Zi Yuan (Michelle Yeoh), the immortal guardian of Shangri La who had the cursed the Emperor earlier to his mummified form.

There is some historical accuracy to the story of the Dragon Emperor. He is based on a late third century BCE Chinese Emperor, Qin Shi Huang, who united China under one rule after the Warring States Period. He is also credited with the main construction of the Great Wall which ,before him, were separate walls built by different states as a protection from the barbaric Xiongnu, the precursors of Huns. He is someone I’d called as Asimov’s Mule, because after his death his empire broke up, and the situation in China almost reverted to the Warring States period, undoing his life’s work, before Liu Bang and the Han came into power.

Mummy 3 fails to keep the audience interested because the Mummy franchise overshot its commercial life. It is just another Mummy movie with the Brendan Fraser going gung-ho, firing on all cylinders. Maria Bello has a weak role in the movie (after Rachel Weiss chose not to reprise her role), but then when it comes to action she isn’t exactly Mrs. Smith :). The infusion of Michelle Yeoh and Jet Li could have brought the finesse of martial arts to the fore, but it is largely unused. I had hoped for a big showdown between two of the three biggest martial arts name in Hollywood, but it was not to be. That was the biggest disappointment. It would have given the movie much needed variety, rather than being labeled just another Mummy movie.

Eastern Promises is a fascinating drama featuring Viggo Mortensen (Aragorn from LOTR) as a hitman for the Russian mafia. The movie starts in a gruesome fashion with a gory murder, but then moves on to become a slow and enchanting drama. Mortensen is as enigmatic as his LOTR character, but paints a darker role. The story is about a British midwife searching for the parents of teenager who dies at childbirth. She finds some clues that lead her to an old Russian restaurateur, who has ties with the Russian mafia. The dead teenager also leaves a diary with a tragic story to tell. The grandfatherly Russian seeks the diary for himself and so, the midwife is in mortal peril from the mafia. Mortensen is the Russian’s driver, who cleans up things for the mafia.

The movie has been unfortunately labeled as a thriller, as it does not seek to the thrill the audience. But it is an excellent showpiece for direction and acting (Mortensen got an Academy Award nomination for his role). So, if you want to see a captivating portrayal of characters, this would be a good movie to watch.

Afterthought : Maria Bello acted as Mrs. Smith in a little known TV series called Mr. & Mrs. Smith, on which the movie was loosely based. The Mule is a character in Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series.


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