Thursday, March 29, 2018

Film: Quick Thoughts About Black Panther

I finally saw Black Panther, weeks after seemingly every other human on the planet watched it. This late in the game, an in-depth movie review seems rather superfluous, though I will say I thoroughly enjoyed it. Instead, this post will focus on some quick thoughts and general observations about the film.

One of the reasons I was slow to see Black Panther is because I’m rather ambivalent about superhero cinema and the Marvel Cinematic Universe in particular (I think I may be one of the few people who strongly disliked Iron Man). Yet in many ways Black Panther isn’t really a superhero movie at all. It struck me as more of a science fiction/fantasy hybrid with an occasional detour into James Bond territory. (I’d love to see director Ryan Coogler tackle a Bond flick, or at the very least a Mission: Impossible.) If anything, the blend of technology, hand-to-hand fighting, mysticism, and monarchy reminded me somewhat of Frank Herbert’s masterpiece Dune, with vibranium as something of a stand-in for spice. Considering I love this sort of thing—I even liked The Chronicles of Riddick—it is no surprise I much prefer Black Panther over other superhero-based movies.

Not surprisingly, I paid quite a bit of attention to the fight scenes and weaponry. To prepare for his role as T’Challa, Chadwick Boseman worked extensively with martial artist Marrese Crump. According to Crump, T’Challa’s fighting style is a primarily a blend of Kali, Muay Thai, and Capoeira. If you know what you’re looking for, you can clearly see all these elements in the film. There’s also some prominent uses of Jujitsu.

In all due respect to the king of Wakanda, my favorite fight moves were displayed by T’Challa’s faithful spy Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o). During a scene set in a Korean casino, she pulls off a cool Kotegaeshi (I think that’s the proper name), a wrist throw from traditional Japanese Jujitsu. Later, she performs an excellent snake disarm against Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan). As a Kali practitioner, I was especially excited to see the snake disarm.

(You can see the snake disarm about 11 seconds in here. The wrist lock is about 40 seconds in here.)
The film also had some nods to Africa’s  traditional weaponry. For example, Killmonger channels the spirit of famous African monarch Shaka Zulu when he breaks the shaft of his longish spear, turning it into a Zulu iklwa. M'Baku (Winston Duke), leader of the Jabari tribe, carries a staff resembling an elongated version of a Zulu fighting stick.

I do wish the film contained more indigenous African martial arts, such as Senagese grappling (did you know wrestling is the No. 1 sport in Senegal?) or Zulu stick fighting. Thanks to my teacher Burton Richardson, I’ve dabbled a bit in Zulu stick work, and find it fun and fascinating. While there is still a tendency to immediately think of East Asia whenever martial arts are mentioned, Africa has a long, rich martial tradition that is well-worth exploring onscreen.

However, that’s a minor quibble. As great as the fight sequences were, what really made Black Panther work were the characters and their struggles. Despite the excellent special effects, design, and action scenes, the film was fundamentally about people, which is part of the reason audiences are responding to it with such passion. Yes, Black Panther is a popcorn movie, but it’s a popcorn movie with heart.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Thought of the Day, March 26, 2018: Robert Wright on Being Buddhist

“I don’t call myself a Buddhist, because traditional Buddhism has so many dimensions—of belief, of ritual—that I haven’t adopted. I don’t believe in reincarnation or related notions of karma, and I don’t bow before the statue of the Buddha upon entering the meditation hall, much less pray to him or to any Buddhist deities. Calling myself a Buddhist, it seems to me, would almost be disrespectful to the many Buddhists, in Asia and elsewhere, who inherited and sustain a rich a beautiful religious tradition.”

For my own thoughts on this matter, please see my earlier post So... Am I a Buddhist or Not?