Thursday, September 06, 2007

The Last Legion . . not really Asian but . . .


I came across something on the Internet last week which stated that the film The Last Legion had opened in the States to basically lackluster reviews and not much of a box office. I was a bit surprised to see that it had just opened since I had picked up and watched the DVD here in Asia about two weeks before reading this and had planned to make some small mention of it. The so-so reviews certainly don’t come as a surprise either as this film seems to have tried to disguise its B film pedigree with an A cast of actors. But it’s the kind of B film that I quite enjoy actually – a historical costumer taking place during the Roman Empire with a mystical sword and the destiny of “The One” at stake. I love anything to do with the Romans in film (am currently watching Rome, Season 2) – maybe it’s the togas or their omnipresent British accents – but the reason I especially looked forward to this one – and the reason I bring it up here – is due to an Indian accent – that of Aishwarya Rai.

I am not sure how she got talked into doing this film, but I am sure that with Colin Firth and Ben Kingsley involved that it looked pretty good on paper. Aish has been trying to pursue a dual acting career outside of Bollywood for a few years, but at least so far it hasn’t amounted to much. I would expect that now that she is newly married to Abhishek Bachchan that this attempt to make it in the West may cool off, but I saw on IMDB that she has two more films coming out soon – most frightening the Pink Panther 2 (she must not have seen the first) and almost as cringe worthy, a film called Singularity directed by Roland Joffee co-starring Brendan Frasier as an English officer in colonial India. The potential heated plot of that one makes me wince.

Someday I expect a Bollywood actress will successfully break into Hollywood – or perhaps not. Certainly Aish has as good a chance as anyone with her Miss Universe credentials – her unofficial labeling as the Most Beautiful Woman in the World – her perfect if accented English – and her experience and success as an Indian actress, but it is questionable if she will ever make a real breakthrough. Perhaps the skills of a Bollywood actress don’t mesh right now with acting in the West – certainly not the dancing skills nor the ability to emote high melodrama – and not even the ability to dazzle with glamour. Bollywood is about the only film industry left that still gives the audience splashy glamour – definitely not in Hollywood where this trait seems to have diminished to the likes of Julia Roberts or Nicole Kidman – will they ever have another Lana Turner, an Ava Gardner or a Rita Hayworth. I doubt it. But they still have it by the barrel full in Bollywood and Aish exemplifies it more than anyone.

Aish’s past forays into western filmmaking didn’t knock any one over. Bride and Prejudice was the most successful – a musical remake of Pride and Prejudice that had some nice moments and solid musical numbers but floundered under the poor chemistry between Aish and her Mr. Darcy (Martin Henderson). Mistress of Spices was just a horrible dud – a bad idea made into a worse film in which Aish plays this spiritual and mystical owner of a spice shop in San Francisco who can cure almost everything with her spices as long as she never leaves the shop – but of course along comes another white man (Dylan McDermott) to spoil all that and again there was practically no chemistry between the two (something in truth that Aish has been criticized for in her Bollywood films as well). Her latest film outside of India was an English production – Provoked: A True Story – about an abused Indian wife in London who sets fire to her husband. Aish got generally decent reviews but the film went nowhere. I haven’t had a chance to see it yet.

In The Last Legion, she is really quite enjoyable to watch – yes another romance with a white fellow but Colin Firth is certainly more acceptable than the other two. Here she gets to have some fun as she plays a female warrior trained in the martial arts of India and a bodyguard/assassin for the Eastern Roman Empire out of Constantinople. When the boy Roman Emperor of Rome is kidnapped by the Huns she teams up with Colin to save him and then escapes with him to England where the boy grows up to be . . . well you will see. Aish gets to do much slashing and maiming along the way. Dressed initially behind a veil and in tight black leather, the audience first sights her face while she is coming out of the water in a white near see through camisole – a pure Bollywood wet sari scene similar to one she has in Taal - and my basic reaction was yes – she is in fact the most beautiful woman in the world – at least for that minute she was. What is interesting in the film is how dark her complexion is – there was no makeup used to whiten her skin tone as they tend to do in Bollywood films and in truth she was only lovelier. Anyway, for fans of Aish, this film is worthy of a rental some day when it shows up in your friendly video store.

Here is the trailer but not a lot of Aish in it.