Craig Armstrong

Ginseng Roots (2019) #3

Ginseng Roots  2019  3Okay, this issue is even better than last issue and not just because creator Craig Thompson has Black Jesus, White Yahweh, and a Chinese Holy Spirit, which is an amazing panel. Lots of amazing illustrative panels this issue, in fact, because the main plot isn’t about Thompson working on his comic or anything with his family—it’s about the history of ginseng.

Thompson starts with a creation myth straight out of The Phantom Menace and those other virgin birth stories. Except instead of doing the Jesus thing, this guy spends his life figuring out how best for folks to live off nature and to be healthy. Thompson has this absolutely glorious transition where the guy, Shennong, has to find the missing cute ginseng root, which has gotten successfully hunted because the hunter is worthy. Shennong is 28th Century BCE, so pre-Jesus, post-Anakin. Shennong then has to try to find his ginseng friend, which brings him to the twenty-first century and Thompson at a ginseng rally in Wisconsin. It’s beautifully executed. Just stunningly good work.

But then Shennong discovers the ginseng isn’t his old friend, it’s American Ginseng or whatever and how did it get there and we don’t get to find out because it’s the cliffhanger. The educational element of Ginseng Roots is the cliffhanger. It’s stunningly good. Like, if issue two was better than it seemed issue one could ever get, three’s just as much an improvement over two. It’s an exemplar comic.

There’s some great American political commentary, with Thompson managing never to come off sarcastic when he’s doing something sarcastic. A lot of it comes from Thompson’s understanding of comic book and comic strip mechanics; even the beginning treats the origin of Shennong like a sensational seventies Marvel book. Thompson’s got a lot of chops and is showing them off here.

I’m loving this book.

Kiss of the Dragon (2001, Chris Nahon)

I wonder how long it takes Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen to script their action movies. None are ever very long (or very good—for the most part) and they’re all exceptionally simple. Maybe they have some kind of fun method to it, like they get a Domino’s pizza and write one in a night, maybe even acting the scenes out while someone transcribes it all.

Kiss of the Dragon’s got some awful dialogue, mostly because they try to be serious and show how difficult life is for Bridget Fonda. She’s an American farm girl turned heroin-addicted Parisian streetwalker. It’s unclear how she made the transition… something the script touches on, then avoids because it seems too difficult.

Fonda is all right—she has the film’s worst lines. She’s never quite believable, but she’s always too good for the script.

Jet Li’s solid in the lead role (though he’s asexual as always, which severely cuts into Dragon’s realism at times). Tchéky Karyo has a great time as the villain, though Besson is sort of redoing Leon, only with a Chinese guy in Paris instead of an Italian guy in New York.

The cultural thing is a little strange—Besson and Kamen portray the French police as corrupt murderers, while the Chinese are the good guys. The Chinese government banned the film, apparently not taking the compliment.

Craig Armstrong’s score is pretty, but isn’t well-suited.

Nahon’s direction has good moments. Dragon is always watchable, even if it’s stupid.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Chris Nahon; screenplay by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen, based on a story by Jet Li; director of photography, Thierry Arbogast; edited by Marco Cavé; music by Craig Armstrong; production designer, Jacques Bufnoir; produced by Besson, Steve Chasman and Happy Walters; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Jet Li (Liu Jian), Bridget Fonda (Jessica Kamen), Tchéky Karyo (Insp. Richard), Max Ryan (Lupo), Ric Young (Mister Big), Burt Kwouk (Uncle Tai) and Laurence Ashley (Aja).


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