Monday, February 28, 2011

The Social Network Movie Review & Insights

The Social Network was a fantastic movie, minus some suspension of disbelief. I have a more than 3 page long writeup on it that I plan to transfer here soon. Until I do that, aside from the obvious Tyler Durden's Fight Club reference, let me leave you with one interesting insight -

The movie starts with Zuckerberg's girlfriend Erica telling him that he is not a nerd, he is just an asshole. And then the movie ends with another girl telling him that he is not an asshole, he is just a nerd!

Intriguing stuff like this sprinkled all over the movie! Stay tuned, I'll be finishing up this article soon!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Jason X - Jason Voorhees meets Androids with nipples

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If Wolverine lived in our "real" world, he would probably be Jason. Wolverine would probably eat a lot - cholesterol and diabetes and stuff are non-issue for him - so, he would be a little fatter. And without Adamantium, Wolverine would most probably be carrying a machete around. Wolverine already is slightly psychopathic anyway and with that healing factor, he would probably see just how far he can go. But Wolverine is still probably better because if Jason fights Wolverine, Wolverine will simply cut Jason's limbs off in a matter of seconds - it sucks, that Jason doesn't have the Adamantium thing going on for him! Thankfully, this movie fixed that too (SPOILERS SPOILERS)!
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I was wondering what "X" stands for in "Jason X". Is it Jason number 10?
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Or is it Jason-ex, as in a previous version of Jason? Or is it like Generation X, a younger hippier Jason? Then it turned out that it's Jason in future! Still not sure what X stands for, but then I don't know a lot of things. For example, apparently after they captured Jason in 2008, they tried to electrocute, poison, hang and shoot him but nothing worked...so they decided to freeze him until they could find a way to 100% kill him for good. They did not consider immediately cremating him after a few firing squad runs because...umm....I don't know. I mean, Hindus cremate all their dead and then throw the ashes into rivers, guaranteed no coming back from that one!

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The year 2455 AD is gonna be a very interesting year by the way as far as Archeology is concerned. I mean, forget about looking for bone fragments and such, in 2455 you can look for actual dead frozen human beings and you can bring them back to life! And this is so common that school kids do it for their science projects. People will be so horny in 2455 AD that they'd spontaneously start making out with dead bodies lying next to them.

2455 AD will also going to be the first time in the entire human history when robots start asking for nipples on their breasts. But well you know, if personality challenged androids like Arnold Schwarzenegger were anatomically correct right to the balls, then why can't such a charming robot like KM-14, played by Lisa Ryder, have nipples. Hey, I don't blame her, even Batman had nipples once!
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Following the tradition of pre-X-Jasons, this Jason also begins his career in a lake. Twice. The movie starts with Jason-pre-X in Crystal Lake Research Facility where he is sort of readying to be born into the monster that he will become. By the time movie ends, Jason-post-X is again found in a lake sort of readying to be born again on Earth 2. These are the sort of references that are pretty much intentionally left in there to be picked up, so I can almost feel the scriptwriter smirking with a "look, someone finally picked them up" look!

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Have you ever wondered whether Jason likes to have sex? This movie clears that up too - No, Jason is completely devoted to his chosen trade of mass-murdering and sex is not an option. I feel for the poor guy, he is missing a lot here. I'd throw it out there that Jason actually hates sex because in one scene he actively seeks out a couple making out and kills the guy (but leaves the girl alone!). But when it comes to mass murdering, Jason is an advanced Ninjas & MacGyver hybrid. For one, you can't sneak up on this mofo and for two, you can be rest assured that he'll find the most painful way to kill you by using whatever tools are lying around! And when he feels that the enemy might be too much, he can sneak up on even the elite future soldiers tracking him as a team. I mean, this Jason can sneak up on Rambo if he wanted to! But future soldiers are definitely braver than you and me, they don't care about barricading the doors and trapping the Jason, rather they go out themselves personally looking for a psychopathic mass murderer who has already killed a few people onboard. I think it's a valiant effort, but then they also perhaps never expected an encounter with a 455 year old guy with a machete
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But it's all good, because ultimately someone realizes that instead of sending humans to fight this monster, they can send their own terminatrix with nipples - aka KM-14!

All it took was some pre-fight human-android smooching to amp her up and then KM-14 dismembered Jason within minutes and completely disabled him, takes one to know one, right! I mean how could humans, back in 2008, have known that dismembering Jason might fix the problem, back then electrocution and hanging were the only approved ways of killing mass murderers anyway.

But anyway, I was glad that someone was able to finally do this and our good guys could go back to their science expeditions, but then it turns out another machine not only revived Jason, but
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also gave him a bullet proof full body armor! Could be that the nanotech revival machine was jealous because KM-14 got nipples now? But heck, if my team member gets a raise and I don't I'm not gonna make his life easier either - Hey, if you're getting paid (in this case, paid in nipples and human smooches) more than I am, you gotta work harder than me too. It kinda makes sense when you think of it all.

All in all, it was a fun movie about robots asking for nipples, machines sabotaging other machines for equal rights, humans sabotaging other humans for no reason and the good old Jason running around looking for his machete.

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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Spider-man's web-shooters explained - Biological webbings or Artificial device?

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Vern recently raised this question - Should Spider-man have biological webbings built into his wrists or is it better if he used some artificial web-shooter devices attached to his wrist for shooting those webbings?

For those who have no idea what's going on, lemme give you some background - As we all know, Peter Parker became Spider-man after getting bitten from an irradiated spider. What if Peter Parker bites someone, by the way, I've always wondered...but anyway, in the original storyline, Peter Parker COULD NOT shoot webbings from his wrists. Instead, he had to use a device (that he invented himself, being a huge nerd and a brilliant scientist), to shoot the webs. Later on, though, he develops spinnerets or something in his wrists that allow him to shoot similar webs directly from inside his wrists.

Both of these models are popular, and even though movies have completely
excluded the transition from artificial web-shooters to organic web-shooters arc, people feel sufficiently strongly about it to the extent that some fans have taken trouble to try to create actual real life designs for those mechanical web-shooters. I guess the only missing ingredient here are the super strong, super sticky and auto-disposable webbings, that Peter Parker (or in some versions his father) was able to invent and then periodically replace because of him being a super genius high school scientist.

But what does this transition from artificial web-shooters to organic webbings tell us? I mean aside from the expected difficult to resolve plot issues like "how does he pay for the raw material for the webbings" and "why is he keeping this useful technology to create almost unbreakable strings to himself?" and as Vern observed "why is he Spider-man when he doesn't have the very basic power associated with spiders" etc....aside from these and other issues, what is the subtext here?

The real implication of using artificial web-shooters

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Before we try to understand what it means for Spider-man to use artificial devices for shooting webs, let's explore the character of Peter Parker a bit. The original Peter Parker is an over-exaggerated version of your typical nerd who spends most of his time studying sciences and doing experiments and sh-t. He is a teenager so obviously he also wants to hook up with girls, but being a huge nerd with thick glasses doesn't really help him there, so he's a little frustrated as well. Now, all of a sudden, he gains superhuman powers because of a freak accident and he decides to use those powers to enhance his self-esteem and escape the real world by playing a superhero. He spends his time doing this and not becoming the local wrestling or soccer superstar also emphasizes his debilitating nerdiness, but the fact that he goes completely out of the way to design those artificial web-shooters, drive this point home - He is still a huge nerd at heart and spends all his resources working on devices that let him shoot strings from his wrists!

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Now we notice the obvious problem with this character - It's just way too close to the sad reality! It makes nerds feel stupid and non-nerds can't relate to him. Basically, most superheroes are a nerd's dream come true - "If I had super-strength, no one could bully me" or "If I could read minds, I'd know what she thinks about me" or "If I was funny/likeable kungfu master, everyone would respect me" etc. But, with the exception of Batman who is technically a psycho, none of the other superheroes go out of their way spending time on gadgets unless they *really* need them (Ironman, for example, needs the suit for life support). But we know that your typical next door nerd can spend hours and hours playing games or hacking a computer or reading comics or any other activity that keeps him busy and away from society. And, with the introduction of artificial web-shooters, Peter Parker ends up that guy! A reader shouldn't wonder why Peter Parker is wasting his time experimenting web-shooting devices instead of going out with Mary Jane, that's something that should just go unsaid. It's too close to reality and too sad.

Enter the biological directly-from-wrist web-shooters
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How we really want the readers to relate to Peter Parker is in terms of our own daily struggle of doing what we personally want to do vs doing what society tells us to do....or doing what is fun vs doing what we need to do.....or eating a big bag of cheerios with beers and chicken wings vs eating oatmeal and salad everyday.....or simply making difficult choices doing the right thing vs slacking off and doing whatever we crave for....or however else you want to put it. This is a character that everyone can relate to because he is living the same life in the same world with the same restrictions that we do. He has superpowers but he still needs to make everyday decisions that decide where his life is going to go. Spider-man juggling his "duties/responsibilities" with his romantic life gives us comfort and strength (in a way).

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Further, we relate to him without feeling bad about ourselves because he is not an anti-social geek anymore, he doesn't waste his time working on unnecessary devices. Rather, he is so short on time dealing with "real life" that he barely manages to have fun, if any at all. Peter Parker is finally a nerd that not only makes nerds feel good about themselves, but a nerd who even non-nerds can understand. Spider-man finally feels like one of us dealing with similar life issues that we deal with, and the transition from artificial web-shooters to biological web-shooters makes it all possible!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Enter The Dragon as Good Will Hunting - Script Improvements on Kien Shih's (Han) single dimensional character

Continued from Why Enter The Dragon is Bruce Lee's worst movie...

As I explained in the last installment, Enter The Dragon is a ridiculously bad movie. In fact, it's so bad that sometimes I've watched it just to get some laughs out of it. It has all the problems of all the Kungfu movies ever made but what really irked me is the main villain Han played by Kien Shih not only because a single dimensional villain a very bad idea for any movie but also because Enter The Dragon could easily have been one of Bruce Lee's greatest movies of all times if he had just gotten Han right!

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Going back to Han's personality and the overall lack of "emotional content" issues - All we know of the villain is that he is some Shaolin outlaw turned mafia don. The only thing that separates both Bruce Lee and Kien Shih from rest of the generic James Bond-ish heroes and villains, respectively, is that they use Kungfu instead of guns; hence the need of back stories and "emotional content." We know why Bruce is doing all this but what's going inside Kien Shih? What is his story? How does he feel about Shaolin and himself? Does he have any secret regrets? Internal conflicts?

As a movie viewer, we don't really understand or relate to him, we know nothing about him, he is just another "boss" in a video game. What if we found that he is internally conflicted about leaving Shaolin? May be he was one of the smartest guys in Shaolin and figured that he could do much better outside and that the teachings of Buddhism don't make sense in the real world. But may be he is internally conflicted and now that he has gotten all the success and money that he could possibly wish for, a part of him realizes that this really hasn't made him happier in life, that he has just exchanged his home and people who cared about him with a lot of money and loneliness. May be he did not want to go this far and feels lost?

I mean, the guy is obviously wicked smart (you don't become an international crimeoverlord by
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being dumb) and brought up in a highly spiritual environment. May be he now, when he has achieved all his dreams, he has begin to understand the Shaolin teachings more deeply than ever. May be he subconsciously wants some sort of catharsis to resolve this conflict. May be he has stolen some ancient Shaolin forbidden secret Kungfu scrolls too, the stuff that even Bruce doesn't know! Hey, now THAT's the villain that I want to see! I don't care about John Saxon's and Jim Kelly's back stories, I don't even see the need for them in this movie all that much!

I don't care about Bob Wall and Bruce Lee's sister thing either, it feels like a stupid patch up. The movie could be about a brilliant Shaolin monk who just ended up somewhere he did not truly want to be but has no choice other than keep going forward, who finally gets his catharsis with the help of a younger but morally better version of himself in the form of Bruce!
Good Will Kungfu Hunting? Yeah, may be, I find that this approach adds that "emotional content" and multiple dimensions to this story that already excels in the Kungfu department. And talking about Kungfu, the climatic fight could also have improved by using the ancient-Kungfu-scrolls that Kien Shih stole, as his secret weapon that even Bruce can't handle! Bruce is pretty much invincible throughout the movie and it gets boring pretty fast, but what if we make Bruce the underdog in the boss fight? He is still the best but the villain has the upper hand because of a secret weapon, even the claws/mirrors could be part of that secret weapon!

I mean, as it is we know that the Kien Shih will put up a fight but Bruce will eventually win - boring! But if Kien Shih did have an upper hand, then we would be intrigued because we obviously want Bruce to win, but we don't know how he'll do it! We would be glued to our seats and cheer when Bruce finally figures an ingenious way to fight back. And seeing this happen, Kien Shih would get his much needed catharsis as well - To Shih, the regular Shaolin monks are just too dumb to do anything more than their pointless lives, and he certainly wouldn't listen to someone who he feels is inferior to him. But in Bruce, he has finally found someone who is at least as good in Kungfu as he was/is but also someone who is better than him morally. He has found
someone who finally shows him what he himself could have done and what he could have been. In Bruce, he could see himself back in the day doing everything right, and he would die with this catharsis and would happily pass his legacy - the ancient scrolls or money to repair Shaolin temple's plumbing or whatever - to Bruce before dying. Hey, I'd go see that movie and I think Bruce was capable of something even better than this (as I understand that my version could use fewer clich├ęs).

So, I was surprised why Bruce went with this plot, specially after doing somewhat more complex movies like Fist of Fury etc, so I looked up who else wrote this and seems Michael Allin cowrote this with Bruce. Michael Allin some other works are Flash Gordon, Truck Turner and Checkered Flag or Crash....haven't watched/read any of those, and I probably won't for a long time. But hey, who knows may be Bruce did want to go for a cheesier westernized version, or may be he would've improved the sequels with a retrospective understanding of what was lacking. Unfortunately, we will never find out...

Part I of Enter The Dragon series here

Friday, February 11, 2011

Why Enter The Dragon is Bruce Lee's worst movie

Enter The Dragon is the movie in which Bruce Lee plays James Bond with Kungfu instead of gadgets!! Dear Bruce, if you're reading this from up there somewhere, please forgive me because you're not gonna like it!

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It begins with a bunch of Shaolin monks sitting around in multi colored robes watching Bruce Lee fight Sammo Hung. I don't know why Shaolin monks were dressed in primary colors instead of the regular yellow-orange clothings, but what really made my imagination go wild was that Bruce Lee and Sammo Hung were dressed in some expensive looking  black leather lingerie and gloves! It's not everyday that you get to see Sammo Hung doing backflips dressed in black leather undies though, so I guess the novelty was kinda worth it.

Now Bruce has grandmaster level Kungfu skills and he offers lessons himself. I just wasn't sure just what the hell was he teaching the kid though when Bruce started talking about fingers pointing moons and heavenly glories or something. But the kid seemed to figure it all out right away, I guess it must've been some Shaolin Kungfu thing...

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It sounded all Taoish and sh-t so it's all good, but where I think the "confusing-Taoish-sounding-Kungfu-training" trick failed was with Bruce Lee's feedback to the kid's sparring techniques - "What was that? An exhibition? We need emotional content." - This seems to be a popular trend in movies where someone says something that reflects scriptwriter's thinking. This is useful as it gives us an insight into what the scriptwriter wants us to see, it explains the viewers what's gonna happen. Here though, it probably reflects Bruce's idea of an effective movie or an effective action sequence, or may be Bruce read the script and sent it with a note saying "What is this? An exhibition? We need emotional content", but it has nothing to do with the scene in question in a meaningful way.

The "emotional content" thing makes sense though, because ultimately, it's an Asian martial arts flick and we want the viewers to root for the characters, or else you end up with one of those "My school better than your school" type of plots where the viewers end up skipping to the fights and watch four classic Kungfu movies in fifteen minutes. Bruce Lee was obviously scared of that happening and he decided to introduce, not one not two, but three backstories explaining why he needs to leave his cozy Shaolin temple, dress up in expensive suits and play James Bond fight ex-Shaolin crimelords in some far away island fortress.


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Still, the movie somehow didn't make an attempt to explain how a Shaolin monk is able to speak flawless english, knows about drug overdoses and behaves more like a geek from modern Chinatown in NYC rather than a badass monk training for years in Shaolin temple. May be Shaolin masters finally upgraded their curriculum or something, I'm not sure. But wouldn't it be significantly better if Bruce was portrayed as a somewhat ignorant Shaolin monk (with some basic English skills) going out for a secret mission in an unfamiliar environment & culture? His other more successful movies have benefited significantly with this portrayal. Even big hits like big boss had a similar theme going on. Wouldn't it have been more fun to see how Bruce reacts to situations he is not familiar with, interacts with people from new cultures, improvises his Shaolin techniques to fight/win in radically new circumstances? May be, may be not, we'll never know. What I do know is that then it'd have added that "emotional content" in a more realistic way while effectively moving the focus away from "let's see a few guys fight" thing. 

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The movie does add some extra flavor to the "whole asian guys doing Kungfu" thing by adding two Americans to the mix, played by John Saxon and Jim Kelly. And these guys manage to show the true American entrepreneur spirit by betting on their own fixed fights. And it's actually a very brave thing to fake fights in a Mortal Kombat style fight-to-death martial arts tournament on a secluded island owned by some Asian crime overlord right under the noses of hundreds of Kungfu masters! It's even more brave to be completely honest about faking those fights - John Saxon gets easily beat up multiple times, then he nods his head to Jim Kelly and immediately wins the next bout with a single decisive blow. I mean, is everyone else blind? Even more so the guy with thick eyeglasses who is actually losing money 3-1 here! May be he missed his regular optometrist visit or something, I'm not sure.

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Robert/Bob Wall plays a major bada-s who can break bricks and stuff with his Kungfu and Bruce Lee is particularly pis-ed at him because he apparently messed with Bruce's sister once.  But poor Bob probably doesn't even know that girl was Bruce's sister and Bruce is so angry at him over something! I felt that was a little unfair to him.

In yet another case of scriptwriter converting his own personal thoughts into movie dialogues, Jim Kelly says something like "u come right out of the comic book".....this is supposed to be a joke on Kien Shih (the crimelord who arranged this whole mess) but as it turns out, Jim Kelly was just making fun of both himself and the script of the movie when he said that. I mean what was the Jim Kelly's plan? Beat 4-5 guys and then fly out of the island? This is very inconsistent as he is initially shown to be pretty damn smart, betting on fights and what not. Probably he used all the smartness on betting, or something. That particular scene does show just how dangerous Kien Shih really is when he easily takes down Jim Kelly despite his handicap (apparently he is an amputee and has to use claw like appendages instead).

But you know, who cares about Jim Kelly, I mean, Bruce Lee is supposed to be the "dragon" in Enter the Dragon, right? Bruce Lee is supposed to be the guy from Shaolin who used his ninja skills and an Asian software developer's brain to win against all odds. But then he goes berserk inside the villain's secret lair! But I suppose it's understandable that he is stuck there and has to defend himself, and this also gives us an opportunity to see him fight God knows how many armed guards.  But
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again what's Bruce Lee's plan? Keep fighting till everyone is dead? At one point a bunch of prisoners grab a bad guy and Bruce seems to get excited to see that they still have some fight left in them. And then instead of freeing them and getting some more support that way, he just runs away and gets caught himself! How about freeing the prisoners before displaying his nun-chuck skills? What is this, an exhibition (can't practice what you preach huh!)?

But hey, if that's what it takes to stage a good fight, then so be it, it's a Kungfu movie after all. Bruce Lee is just so good that he drops every single one of those hundreds of guards in single decisive blows. This was a fun trick initially in the tournament to show just how good he really is. But now, I think, it became an overkill, but then you know, I never encountered a grandmaster from Shaolin temple so I can't know for sure.
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But nothing short of a Hulk-Tony Jaa hybrid can take this Bruce Lee down! I liked the similar surrounded-by-an-army type of fight that Tony Jaa did in the Protector/Ong-Bak movie much better though. Tony Jaa actually displayed Muai Thai moves that might plausibly disable opponents within seconds in a real combat (like manipulating joints etc). Or may be it was just too late in the night and the guards were disgruntled because of low wages or something, so they decided to not put up a fight, I mean I wouldn't fight a Shaolin grandmaster for just 30cents/night, no one will! After a while though Bruce runs into some corner and is immediately trapped! The whole thing plays out as if Kien Shih has been observing the whole thing all this time and perhaps never intended to kill Bruce (or else he could just set the room on fire or something easy), which makes the whole fight scene even more pointless!

And then John Saxon bites Bolo Yeung in the calf! I don't know if this was supposed to be a sarcasm on the American way of doing things or something but the fact that John Saxon actively volunteered  to fight and then won by cheating didn't really work for me. Not one bit. I have to assume that it was Bruce Lee's way of saying - "See, this is how these Americans fight - dirty. This is what they did to me too back when I was younger."  Or may be Bolo missed the "Defensive techniques against biters 101" class in his Kungfu school. Poor guy!

Another thing that I feel could make it all more interesting is an intimidating but yet relatable villain. I mean I'm totally for wolverine claws that Kien Shih is into, but ultimately he's basically a cripple/amputee with a zero personality! I'll come back to the lack of personality thing in a bit, but first let's talk about the claws - Claws don't work like knives and swords because there is no wrist movement. Unless one has claws like Sabretooth (from Xmen), they can be countered with pretty much any medium ranged weapon. These Hanman claws seemed more like a necessity for the poor cripple! Speaking of which, Kien Shih looks more like a constipated businessman than a world class fighter and crime overlord, which is sort of true as the guy technically is running a business after all, so the movie sort of got that right! Still, I wonder how it would have looked like
, a rebel Shaolin master (which he is anyway), some mix of traditional and western, rather than jumping around in a conservative suit. As expected though, he is no match for the invincible Bruce Lee and has to flee into some crazy mirror room where Bruce gets so confused that his ears stop working and he gets slashed a few times. I'm still not sure about the original purpose of that room though. Did Kien Shih got that room constructed for the emergency when Shaolin temple decides to send their best fighter to help the prodigal son see the error of his ways? How about a room with a shotgun for this type of emergency? It was such a shame to see him die in an unprepared fight with some punka-s monk, after coming all this way to this secluded unclaimed island, building a completely self-sufficient fortress and setting up a complicated international business around locally manufactured drugs and imported women while recruiting international fighters via Kungfu tournaments as his new henchmen. Yes, such a shame!

In a nutshell, Enter the Dragon is one of those cases where the whole is smaller than the sum of its parts - Negative Synergy, if you will. Bruce did it by the book, added different scenes and back stories, story arcs and characters that make perfect sense in their own ways; it's just that they don't work together as a whole. I'd say it's a common rookie mistake and Bruce would've avoided it in the sequels, but sadly we'll never know...

That being said, I do have a simple idea that'd fix all these problems by making a simple change - by adding more complexity to the villain...I'll be covering it in the next article.

Continued - What small change would make Enter The Dragon Bruce Lee's best movie ever?