Thursday, January 29, 2009

Hot Air-bender is still Old Hollywood Gas

Scenes from "Avatar: The Last Airbender"

I always got a headache whenever I tried to watch "Avatar: The Last Airbender." I found much of the premise convoluted. I was totally confused throughout the series about which martial arts fighting style represented which element (thank goodness for Wikipedia) and who could bend what and why.

I've seen so much original anime over the years that this program always felt more derivative than original, more anime lite than anything else.

While I applaud the diverse cultural references to Asia inherent throughout the series, even these markers are either poorly emphasized in the storyline or are simply convenient tools to accelerate the story towards another goofball or fighting sequence.

At least "Avatar" was something different for the young viewer; it became a hit among the specific demographic of 6 to 17-year-olds who reveled in the adventures of Aang, Katara and Sokka.

Several months ago, I was surprised to read about ongoing negotiations with M. Night Shyamalan to write and direct a live action version of "Avatar." Why? I thought: Were the toys selling that well? Were the ratings that substantial? Did the general gaming public now know what an "avatar" was without first having to look up the word? Was the world ready for yet another "Village" or "Happening?"

Well the movie is now into pre-production. What could possibly go wrong in the politically correct, forever liberal environment that is the film business? Check out this link and find out. It's mind-boggling that in 2009 something so flagrantly stupid and insensitive could actually take place. Well, actually no: Hollywood has been wallowing in this specific form of color invisibility for decades.

White actors have been playing Asian roles since before "Broken Blossoms."

Hollywood has a long history of confusing Caucasian with Asian. Mickey Rooney played Japanese in "Breakfast at Tiffany's." Brando played Japanese in "Teahouse of the August Moon." Peter Sellers, Boris Karloff, Christopher Lee, and Warner Oland, among many others, stomped around as Fu Manchu. In fact the Swedish Oland's most famous role was Charlie Chan.

This comment from actor Jackson Rathbone, dismissing the casting controversy, probably illustrates what I'm talking about best:
"I think it's one of those things where I pull my hair up, shave the sides, and I definitely need a tan," he said of the transformation he'll go through to look more like Sokka. "It's one of those things where, hopefully, the audience will suspend disbelief a little bit."
Yeah: And Bruce Lee could play either Sara Lee or Robert E. Lee just as well, too.

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