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Thursday, April 12, 2007

'TMNT' made me remember the days when I dressed up as a Ninja Turtle

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Back when I was 8, there was this costume performance event in my primary school where participants are supposed to dress up in costumes of their choices and perform for the Standard 6 students during their Graduation Ceremony. The numerous preliminary rounds leading up to that event remain my most vivid memories of my primary school days.

I remembered a girl dressed up as a pop star. (she had some pretty mad dancing moves)

I remembered some performing a Malay dance.

Then some performing an Indian dance (naturally, it was a huge hit).

And then, a few girls dressed in kimono, performing some traditional Japanese dance.

There was also a Korean dance, but I might have mixed it up with the Japanese dance.

And then, there was me, who dressed up as a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle.

It was 1992, the TMNT phenomenon was near its end, to most children growing up then like me, TMNT was a way of life, somehow overshadowing whatever cartoon franchises that came out during that period (I doubt the Transformers, Thundercats, He-Man and the likes were ever as huge as the turtles were in Malaysia during the late 80s to early 90s). I was a hardcore fan then, collecting anything TMNT-related. Action figures, colouring books, picture books, comics, video games (for the NES and the Game Boy).

So my mom thought, hey, what better way to leave a mark in this performance than to dress up as a Ninja Turtle? She then approached a tailor friend of hers, and they made me this really neat costume. I chose to be Raphael, since he had always been my favourite turtle. Less crazy than Michaelangelo, less nerdy than Donatello, less goody-two-shoe and overbearing than Leonardo (god, I can't stand him), Raphael was the one turtle I could relate to. Constantly angry with the system, hating orders, wanting to solve things with his own hands. So rebellious, cynical and hot-tempered!

Maybe, in some ways, he influenced how I grew up.

My performance (which involved me going onstage, swinging my weapon, which was actually Leonardo's katana, I couldn't get myself a pair of sais, and dancing to the TMNT theme song from the first movie) was a tremendous hit. For the remainder of my primary school days, there were people who called me 'Ninja Turtle'. Sometimes, being a mini-celebrity in school made me beam in pride, sometimes, it made me cringe.

In many ways, THAT was the highlight of my acting career. (this melancholic blog entry written back in 2005 chronicled in detail the numerous tragedies I encountered in my attempts to act, a must-read)

Trying to catch an episode of the old Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon series every week was an unforgettable childhood pasttime, watching the first live-action TMNT movie was a powerful experience (watching Raphael being severely injured by hordes of foot soldiers, and then being tossed through the glass ceiling, was an experience more intense than THAT Anthony Wong/ Martin Sheen scene in Infernal Affairs and The Departed). The two lesser sequels were more forgettable, but I remembered enjoying them. Vanilla Ice singing 'Go Ninja Go Ninja Go!', Casey Jones trying to teach ancient samurais ice hockey, were the two most memorable moments in the two sequels.

Growing up, I ceased paying attention to TMNT's latter incarnations since then. I never gave them a chance, believing that nothing could top the original movie or the cartoon series. Even so, I was still very intrigued by the idea of this new TMNT film when I first heard about it last year, and then watched the trailer. How is writer-director Kevin Munroe going to resurrect the Turtles for the 21st century? Can he help revive the now-grownup fans' love for the Turtles (while introducing them to new and younger audiences)?

Since the film was going to be a 3D animated film, I was excited by its possibilities and potential. Of course, it's not going to be something like a Pixar film, nor will it be something like HAPPY FEET, being more action-oriented and all.

Entering the cinema, I was eager to see whether this film could do for the Turtles what FINAL FANTASY 7: ADVENT CHILDREN did for FINAL FANTASY 7. Will it have badass action scenes as mindblowing as FF7: AC?

Sadly, no.

TMNT is quite a disappointment. And I didn't even enter with sky-high expectations. I just wanted to have some fun, have some laughs, watch some nice action scenes, then walk of the cinema with a smile, mildly content about this brief reunion with old friends, to experience this source of joy from a long-ago childhood. Was that too much to ask for?

The story happened way too quickly, with too many things happening at once, to the point where I gave up trying to follow what was going on anymore. Without any buildup and attempt to establish the settings and characters, it was impossible to feel anything at all. The story happens after the defeat of Shredder, the Turtles had seemingly lost all meaning in life. Boring Leonardo was sent off by Splinter to Central America to train his leadership skills. Donatello and Michelangelo got boring dead-end jobs (the former as tech support, the latter works birthday parties in a turtle suit, calling himself Cowabunga Carl). Badass Raphael became a masked vigilante at night called the Night Watcher to save the city from crime, kinda like Batman.

Oh, and for some odd reason, April O'Neil (voiced by Sarah Michelle Gellar) had turned into a Lara Croft-like bounty hunter who knows martial arts and stuff. Probably underwent the transformation since she started going out with Casey Jones (voiced by Chris Evans, who played the Human Torch in Fantastic Four). As for Casey Jones, his relationship with April kinda made him weaker compared to his earlier incarnations. Pussywhipped.

And then, there's also Karai (voiced by Zhang Ziyi), leader of the Foot Clan after the death of Shredder, who has some cool gestures when ordering her minions about. Oh, and there's this bald and immortal tech-industrialist Max Winters (voiced by the bald Patrick Stewart), who hired April to help him retrieve four 'Stone Generals', who were, well, powerful generals turned into stone, or something, I'm starting to get confused here. I think Max Winters resurrected his four Stone Generals to recapture thirteen monsters to do something, I don't know, lift the curse of their immortality or something.

Urgh. Headache. Maybe I'm too slow to follow the plotline of TMNT.

But basically, there are SOME good (but not great) fighting scenes, nothing near FF7: Advent Children level, not even as thrilling as THE INCREDIBLES, but serviceable.

Film picks up a little when Leonardo returns from training, only to realize that his relationship with Raphael is already strained. The latter's pissed that he could just march back after such a long absence and starts ordering everyone around. Leo, being the goody-two-shoe he is, has to keep Raphael in line. (even as a child, I hated 'leader-type' characters like Leo and X-Men's Cyclops)

The simmering tension between the two brothers erupted into a pretty nice fighting scene, with an outcome that had me, for almost the only time in the film, feel like cheering.

Other than that, there's nothing much to say about this film. See it or not, your life wouldn't be any different.

If there really will be a sequel, it better be damned good.


Oh, and I'm also pissed that we never get to hear the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles theme song.