Sunday, November 1, 2009

A Decade of Dreck #1: Prologue, and Pavilion of Women

decade-of-dreck Congratulations once again to our own Alex Boivin, who just yesterday ended his month-long quest to watch a horror movie every day in October. We hope that all of you enjoyed the series as much as we did, and we hope to be able to bring it back next year.

In the meantime, though, it’s on to bigger and better things. Well, bigger, anyway.

Film review site Rotten Tomatoes published a big retrospective list a couple of months ago, attempting to round up the 100 worst-reviewed movies of the decade – from what I can tell, they did a good job, because there’s not anything on that list that I’d argue with them about. One of us made an offhand comment about watching all of them for the blog. So here we are.

This is too big an undertaking for any one person to handle, so it’ll be a team effort – we’ll try to plow through a few of these cinematic misfits a week, with an eye toward finishing up by March 7, 2010, the date of the 82nd annual Academy Awards ceremony. It sounds like a long time from now, but you, dear readers, are not the ones with that list of movies staring you in the face.

So it begins. Today’s movie: Pavilion of Women.

pavilion_of_women_ver12001’s Pavilion of Women takes place in China in 1938, on the very cusp of World War II. Madame Wu, our female protagonist, is celebrating her 40th birthday.

The main thrust of the movie – get this – is that Madame Wu is older than she used to be, and she’s tired of her strange-looking and poorly dubbed husband’s sexual advances. Guy loves blowjobs. Loves them. He’s always trying to push people down there. It’s very uncomfortable.

Because she’s tired of dealing with her husband’s, ahem, needs, Madame Wu decides to get him a second wife (read: concubine). She runs this by her staunchly traditional mother-in-law, who is all for it. This plan goes from concept to committee to complete in the space of some ten seconds.

The concubine rolls into town, and the husband doesn’t like her very much because of her subpar blowjobs. His and Madame Wu’s son (played by John “Hikaru Sulu” Cho) sure likes her, though, and we assume that they fall in love because the movie tells us that they do. I’m not sure when they fell in love. I guess it was just a given.

Because of this (?), Willem Dafoe is a foreign priest who runs an orphanage. As a result, he comes to tutor Sulu and Madame Wu and Concubine in the ways of Western culture. Everything comes to a head when Father Andre and Madame Wu hook up in a stable during a rainstorm. Willem Dafoe rubbing his fish lips all over a sobbing Chinese woman in a barn rivals the Pearl Harbor parachute sex scene in my mind as one of the least sexy Forbidden Romantic Trysts in any movie.

The movie principally concerns itself with illustrating cultural clashes between East and West, New and Old – it does this through an elaborate series of ham-fisted, obvious metaphors. Willem Dafoe saves Madame Wu’s friend from dying in childbirth, even though men aren’t supposed to see the fun zones of women to whom they are not married. The town gets electricity, which comes on for the first time in the middle of a traditional Chinese stage performance. Sulu wants to marry for love, even though his marriage has been arranged since before he was born. It goes on, and on, and on. The most hilarious example is when the giant altar containing all of the images of the Wu family’s ancestors is blown to hell by Japanese bombers. Now that’s subtlety.

And that’s pretty much it. Its sort of odd, off-kilter story isn’t helped by its stable of unlikeable characters, its unnecessary scenes, or its strange edits (it keeps fading out over and over, like some TV movie. I’m surprised I didn’t see a star wipe somewhere in there). It’s not a great period piece or a great love story. It doesn’t even have its own Wikipedia page, which is probably more telling than anything I can say about it.

Battlefield Earth is ranked #86 on the Rotten Tomatoes Worst 100 list with 6% freshness. Its RT page can be found here.