At The Movies

Black Panthers, Asian warriors take centre stage

In Judas And The Black Messiah, Daniel Kaluuya (left, background) plays activist Fred Hampton. Mortal Kombat stars Singaporean actor Ng Chin Han (above) as evil sorcerer Shang Tsung.
In Judas And The Black Messiah, Daniel Kaluuya (labove, background) plays activist Fred Hampton. PHOTO: WARNER BROS
In Judas And The Black Messiah, Daniel Kaluuya (left, background) plays activist Fred Hampton. Mortal Kombat stars Singaporean actor Ng Chin Han (above) as evil sorcerer Shang Tsung.
Mortal Kombat stars Singaporean actor Ng Chin Han (above) as evil sorcerer Shang Tsung.PHOTO: GOLDEN VILLAGE

JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH (M18)

126 minutes, now showing exclusively at The Projector

3 stars

Too many films about the black American experience put emotional relatability above all else.

Audiences get a sense of black trauma and suffering at a personal or family level, but rarely are the systems that cause these experiences examined.

With six Oscar nods, including one for Best Picture, this biography of activist Fred Hampton looks at the white supremacist foundations of American society dead in the eye. Rightly so, because not doing so would be missing the point of his career as a leading member of the Black Panther Party during the 1960s.

As played with charismatic intensity by British actor Daniel Kaluuya (winner of a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor), Hampton lived and breathed his Maoist beliefs. Power flows from the barrel of a gun, he tells rapturous audiences, thus making him an enemy of the state.

Hampton's action-oriented approach translates to eye-catching cinema, with scenes showing him in fiery oratorical flow or commanding the Black Panthers in military formation.

Director Shaka King, who trained under famed film-maker Spike Lee in film school, gets carried away with his dark-light juxtaposition between Hampton and the Judas of the story, police informant William O'Neal (Lakeith Stanfield, who delivers a deeply sympathetic performance as the villain).

The result is a tangle that strains under the pull of its disparate threads - those of crime thriller, biography and study of a grassroots movement. King manages to hold it together, but barely.


MORTAL KOMBAT (M18)

110 minutes, now showing

2 stars

On the plus side, this reboot of the franchise that spawned two movies in the 1990s is as properly bloody as it needs to be - limbs are shredded and torsos de-spined in a way that reflects its origins in the video game of the same name.

The violence, like the tone of the film, is realistic in a way that the campy 1990s films were not. The grimness sits less than comfortably atop a story brimming with oracles and omens, of saviours foretold and premonitions etched into the flesh.

Some might take the plodding solemnity for honesty or staying respectful to the source material, but the rest of us need more than simple earnestness.

When American mixed-martial arts fighter Cole Young (Lewis Tan) discovers that his bloodline has bestowed on him a duty to fight in matches staged by evil sorcerer Shang Tsung (Singaporean actor Ng Chin Han), he baulks at leaving his wife and daughter behind. But encouraged by fellow warriors Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee), Liu Kang (Ludi Lin), Kung Lao (Max Huang) and Jax (Mehcad Brooks), he picks up the gauntlet.

The fights are well staged though uninventive, perhaps because the moves are dictated by the games. But the world-building is weak, with the film's horror-movie realism and fantastical premise working at cross purposes.


THE MAURITANIAN (NC16)

130 minutes, now showing, not reviewed

In a performance that earned her a Golden Globe win for Best Supporting Actress, Jodie Foster is lawyer Nancy Hollander. Along with associate Teri Duncan (Shailene Woodley), she fights for justice for Mohamedou Ould Slahi (Tahar Rahim, who earned Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor), a Mauritanian detained without charge for 14 years at the United States' Guantanamo Bay detention camp.

Benedict Cumberbatch plays military prosecutor Stuart Couch in this true story based on Slahi's life.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 08, 2021, with the headline 'Black Panthers, Asian warriors take centre stage'. Subscribe