French director gives 'Green Hornet' a fresh twist
French director Michel Gondry, best known for directing brainy indie movies, makes his Hollywood blockbuster debut this weekend with "The Green Hornet," an action-comedy that refuses to take its comic book hero too seriously.
The movie is the latest take on the adventures of a masked millionaire avenger and his sidekick Kato, a story line that began as a radio show in the 1930s, reached its zenith with a television show in the 1960s, then found a second life in the comic books.
The movie stars Seth Rogen, 28, the Canadian actor famous for his man-child roles in comedies like "Superbad" (2007) and "Pineapple Express" (2008).
The 108-minute, 90 million dollar production is directed by Gondry, best known for low-budget but well-reviewed movies like "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" (2004) and "Be Kind, Rewind" (2008).
"My goal was never to do movies for intellectuals," Gondry, 47, told AFP. "In fact, I have this complex that I have not read enough, so when people say I'm an intellectual director, I laugh. I'm not like that at all."
Gondry said he has always liked popular movies like "Back To The Future," "Groundhog Day," "Ghostbusters" and "48 Hours," all light-hearted character driven films.
But he says you can forget the brooding hero types. "I'm not crazy about the superhero movies when the characters are too serious or presumptuous," he said.
Gondry made a mark early in his career with music videos, using innovative techniques to film musicians such as Iceland's Bjork performing songs such as "Human Behavior" and "Army of Me" in the 1990s.
Aside from "Eternal Sunshine" -- which star Kate Winslet has said is her favorite movie -- his work includes "The Science of Sleep" (2006), another low-budget flick, starring Mexican Gael Garcia Bernal and French actress Charlotte Gainsbourg.
Big budget Hollywood blockbusters however beckoned.
"Yes, I wanted to do an action movie, but action with comedy," said Gondry.
The French director said he has been working on "The Green Hornet" screenplay for years, even as other directors, including Kevin Smith and George Clooney, were briefly considered for the project.
Gondry had not met Rogen when the star was linked to the project, so he went to see "Superbad" and "Pineapple Express," movies with a strong appeal to the under 30 crowd. Rogen wrote the script to the films, and also wrote "The Green Hornet" script.
"I saw something very engaging in these movies," he said, concluding that he would make a good match with Rogen.
In "The Green Hornet" Rogen portrays Britt Reid, a rich kid from Los Angeles and the son of a media magnate who dies in mysterious circumstances. Rogen's character, along with Kato, one of his father's trusted employees, don masks and fight crime as they unravel the mystery.
In the role of Kato, which launched martial arts legend Bruce Lee to superstardom in the 1960s TV show, is Taiwanese pop singer Jay Chou, who is largely unknown in the United States but has a loyal following in Asia.
"Yesterday he did a concert with 10,000 girls screaming at him, right here, at the Sports Arena (in Los Angeles)," Gondry said. "Sold out. He's a huge star.
"What I liked about him is that he looks boyish and unassuming... He's even older than Seth, but he looks so young that you don't even know. He had to compensate his lack of English, which I thought was endearing."
The movie's villain is Austrian actor Christoph Waltz, who won a 2010 Oscar for his role in Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds." Cameron Diaz is the love interest.
Gondry, who spends his life shuttling between Los Angeles and New York, even played drums in several parts of the movie soundtrack. "I'm not very skilled but I play music, drums, I'm making a disc album with my girlfriend right now," he said.
As for movie reviews -- "I wish I could say I don't read reviews but I do," he confessed.
"It's not necessarily pleasant. I'm always hoping that they will understand me and forgive me, and sometimes I'm hurt by the reviews, but on these movies it's such a team work that I won't feel so personal if people don't like it," he said.
© 2011 AFP