Reviews

Paradise Now (2005)

Cynthia Fuchs

At the start of the powerful Paradise Now, the bombers are quiet, even stunned at the news that their mission is set for tomorrow.


Paradise Now

Director: Hany Abu-Assad
Cast: Kais Nashef, Ali Suliman, Lubna Azabal, Amer Hlehel, Hiam Abbass
MPAA rating: PG-13
Studio: Warner Independent Pictures
First date: 2005
US Release Date: 2005-10-28 (Limited release)
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Tapped to commit a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv, best friends Said (Kais Nashef) and Khaled (Ali Suliman) are taken aback. Approached separately, they spend their last nights with their families, unable to speak of their futures. This is the assignment they requested years ago, the assignment they dreamed of having, and on top of this honor, they've been directed to go together, as they had requested as well.

Still, at the start of the powerful Paradise Now, they're also quiet, even stunned at the news. The paradise they've been imagining for so many years is now just hours away. Long alienated in occupied Nablus on the West Bank, Said and Khaled accept the assignment with a mixture of anticipation and anxiety. Accompanied home for dinner by his "angel," or handler Jamal (Amer Hlehel), Said tells his mother (Hiam Abbass) he's headed for a new job in the morning, having finally gotten a work permit. She's happy for him, he lies to her all night.

Said has other questions roiling inside: he's recently become interested in Suha (Lubna Azabal), daughter of a famous martyr for Palestine and customer at the auto repair shop where Said and Khaled both work. Born in a refugee camp and troubled by his own father's conviction as a collaborator with the Israelis, Said is both impressed by Suha and intimidated by her.

Ironically, Suha's legacy is the one Said covets and hopes to win for his own family, whom he believes is shamed by his father's nefariousness (this even though, as his mother tries to explain, "Whatever your father did, he did it for us"). Suha, however, feels very differently. When, the night before his mission, Said drops by her house at four a.m. to "drop off" her car keys, she brings him inside for conversation. Here he reveals something about his trouble-making, proto-radical childhood, when he and his friends burned down a cinema in Nablus. "Why?" asks Suha, "What did the cinema do to you?" "Not the cinema," he explains, "Israel." Suha pushes him, asking him to name a favorite genre of movie; in response, he asks which is the most "boring, like life."

Said's efforts to imagine his death lead him to press Suha on her feelings about her father, to hear her attest to her pride and devotion. She sees martyrdom in another way, however, and so establishes the film's anti-bomber "conscience," saying that her father left his family feeling only tragedy and unhappiness. Said can't believe this. It undercuts his very existence. "The occupation defines the resistance," he insists, naming violence the only possible response.

But Suha's protest, the alternative she embodies and the experience she represents, make Said think again about his decision. The next day, as he and Khaled prepare for their martyrdom, he keeps his mouth shut, but their separate tensions are visible -- as they're shaved and suited (the cover story is that they're on their way to a wedding in Tel Aviv), and strapped with explosive belts. They also pose for their posters (which Khaled declares he wants to be displayed prominently in the town center, to showcase his to-be-vaunted martyrdom) and record their martyr videos (in town, there's a brisk market for these as well as for collaborators' videos, a conjunction that unnerves Said). Their recording session -- posed with guns held aloft and reading from mission-exalting scripts -- goes briefly awry when the operator has to repair the camera. This means that Khaled must go through his speech twice, leading him to a bit of banality that speaks to the life he's leaving behind, shopping advice to his mother.

In this and other instances, Paradise Now underlines the absurd rituals of suicide missions, the ways that the perpetrators are induced into thinking that what they're doing is special, necessary and will, in time, help to change things. Indeed, their inspiration, local cell leader Abu-Karem (Ashraf Barhoum), promises them care for their families and everlasting respect by their community. Feeling emasculated by the occupation and immobilized by their lack of future, the young men have nothing to lose. And this, it seems is more a motivation than any specific religious zealotry. Said and Khaled see no options. They've been indoctrinated since birth to see paradise in the future they can choose, if only they believe and allow themselves to be directed.

It's these directors who provide, however briefly, the movie's most perversely compelling images. Apparently dispassionate, they make all arrangements and watch over their bombers -- closely in the hours before the deed -- to ensure smooth execution. When, at the hour of crossing over the border, something goes wrong and Said and Khaled are split up, the handlers are left to worry about their capture, and so, their own exposure. Abu-Karem is particularly cold, insinuating that if Khaled does not locate his friend soon enough, that Said will need to be "handled" with the organization's best interests in mind.

While the movie focuses its final hour on the pursuit of Said -- by his friends and his handlers -- it is, in the end, Jamal's face that haunts you. While Said and Khaled speak frequently, discussing their choices, wondering about their rightness, Jamal remains quiet, only in place to help them complete their work -- and their lives -- as his work will continue, as he works through the apprehensions felt and questions raised by future bombers. Jamal, impassive, silent, relentless, helps to convince the bombers to continue. Without him, the system could not function.

From drunken masters to rumbles in the Bronx, Jackie Chan's career is chock full of goofs and kicks. These ten films capture what makes Chan so magnetic.

Jackie Chan got his first film role way back in 1976, when a rival producer hired him for his obvious action prowess. Now, nearly 40 years later, he is more than a household name. He's a brand, a signature star with an equally recognizable onscreen persona. For many, he was their introduction into the world of Hong Kong cinema. For others, he's the goofy guy speaking broken English to Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour films.

From his grasp of physical comedy to his fearlessness in the face of certain death (until recently, Chan performed all of his own stunts) he's a one of a kind talent whose taken his abilities in directions both reasonable (charity work, political reform) and ridiculous (have your heard about his singing career?).

Now, Chan is back, bringing the latest installment in the long running Police Story franchise to Western shores (subtitled Lockdown, it's been around since 2013), and with it, a reminder of his multifaceted abilities. He's not just an actor. He's also a stunt coordinator and choreographer, a writer, a director, and most importantly, a ceaseless supporter of his country's cinema. With nearly four decades under his (black) belt, it's time to consider Chan's creative cannon. Below you will find our choices for the ten best pictures Jackie Chan's career, everything from the crazy to the classic. While he stuck to formula most of the time, no one made redundancy seem like original spectacle better than he.

Let's start with an oldie but goodie:

10. Operation Condor (Armour of God 2)

Two years after the final pre-Crystal Skull installment of the Indiana Jones films arrived in theaters, Chan was jumping on the adventurer/explorer bandwagon with this wonderful piece of movie mimicry. At the time, it was one of the most expensive Hong Kong movies ever made ($115 million, which translates to about $15 million American). Taking the character of Asian Hawk and turning him into more of a comedic figure would be the way in which Chan expanded his global reach, realizing that humor could help bring people to his otherwise over the top and carefully choreographed fight films -- and it's obviously worked.

9. Wheels on Meals

They are like the Three Stooges of Hong Kong action comedies, a combination so successful that it's amazing they never caught on around the world. Chan, along with director/writer/fight coordinator/actor Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, all met at the Peking Opera, where they studied martial arts and acrobatics. They then began making movies, including this hilarious romp involving a food truck, a mysterious woman, and lots of physical shtick. While some prefer their other collaborations (Project A, Lucky Stars), this is their most unabashedly silly and fun. Hung remains one of the most underrated directors in all of the genre.

8. Mr. Nice Guy
Sammo Hung is behind the lens again, this time dealing with Chan's genial chef and a missing mob tape. Basically, an investigative journalist films something she shouldn't, the footage gets mixed up with some of our heroes, and a collection of clever cat and mouse chases ensue. Perhaps one of the best sequences in all of Chan's career occurs in a mall, when a bunch of bad guys come calling to interrupt a cooking demonstration. Most fans have never seen the original film. When New Line picked it up for distribution, it made several editorial and creative cuts. A Japanese release contains the only unaltered version of the effort.

7. Who Am I?

Amnesia. An easy comedic concept, right? Well, leave it to our lead and collaborator Benny Chan (no relation) to take this idea and go crazy with it. The title refers to Chan's post-trauma illness, as well as the name given to him by natives who come across his confused persona. Soon, everyone is referring to our hero by the oddball moniker while major league action set pieces fly by. While Chan is clearly capable of dealing with the demands of physical comedy and slapstick, this is one of the rare occasions when the laughs come from character, not just chaos.

6. Rumble in the Bronx

For many, this was the movie that broke Chan into the US mainstream. Sure, before then, he was a favorite of film fans with access to a video store stocking his foreign titles, but this is the effort that got the attention of Joe and Jane Six Pack. Naturally, as they did with almost all his films, New Line reconfigured it for a domestic audience, and found itself with a huge hit on its hands. Chan purists prefer the original cut, including the cast voices sans dubbing. It was thanks to Rumble that Chan would go on to have a lengthy run in Tinseltown, including those annoying Rush Hour films.

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