By Jana Monji, AsAmNews Arts & Culture reporter
Snake Eyes is a loud, unapologetic violent vehicle that stars two Hapa heroes: Malaysian actor Henry Golding (Crazy Rich Asians) and British actor Andrew Koji (Warrior). The casting avoids the White superiority angle of the previous GI Joe releases (more on that later) while director Robert Schwentke (The Time Traveler’s Wife in 2009 and The Divergent Series: Insurgent in 2015 and The Divergent Series: Allegiant in 2016) supplies clanging katana and banging guns at a frenetic pace.
Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins begins 20 years ago, somewhere in Washington state. A father, (Canadian who is part Chinese and Indian Steven Allerick) is taking his son (Max Archibald) to his safe house, a cabin out in the wood. Suddenly, the father, tells his son he has to leave immediately, but it is too late. He tells his son to stay put and be quiet. Exiting the front door by himself, the father finds two red lasers on his chest.
“You were almost hard to find,” the bad guy sneers as his two henchmen escort the father back in the cabin. The father has only one chance, dictated by the roll of two dice: “Win you live; lose you die.” The father rolls snake eyes. He dies and the bad guys set the cabin ablaze.
The son escapes and in the present-day becomes a cage fighter called Snake Eyes who fights until his reputation results in no takers and then he moves on. The slimy Kenta Takamura (Takehiro Hiraganas) makes him an offer: Takamura will find his father’s killer if Snake Eyes will join his organization. Kenta is running a smuggling ring in the Port of Los Angeles.
Kenta was thrown out of his ninja clan, the Arashikage, for his lack of honor and he now asks Snake Eyes to kill his cousin, Tommy Arashikage (Andrew Koji), heir to the clan. Instead, Snake Eyes helps Tommy escape as he explains to Tommy, “I’m not a murderer; I looked into your eyes and saw honor.”
Tommy now owes Snake Eyes a blood debt and takes him to Japan. His home in Japan is a spacious white castle with ninja training in session. At the castle, Snake Eyes meets the head of security, Akiko (Haruka Abe), who is neither related to Tommy nor emotionally involved with him. Romantic chemistry is there between Snake Eyes and Akiko, but she’s suspicious.
Tommy wants Snake Eyes to become part of the clan, but Snake Eyes must first pass three tests. Only 20 percent pass the first challenge which is given by the Hard Master (Indonesian actor Iwo Uwais). The second challenge is presented by the Blind Master (Ghanaian-British actor Peter Mensah) and asks Snake Eyes to view his own weaknesses and how he harms himself. The third challenge involves a pit and possible death.
The Arashikage are still battling the ambitious smuggler Kenta who has allied himself with the Baroness (Úrsula Corberó). The Arashikage aren’t alone. Besides Akiko, they have another kickass woman: American agent Scarlett (Samara Weaving).
Sides will be chosen and Snake Eyes will have to decide how far his need for revenge will take him. This origin story has some plot holes, but at least it gives us a conflicted character that Golding brings off gracefully and he plays off Koji well enough. They both waiver between good and bad, hero and anti-hero, driven by anger over real familial threats.
The original portrayal of Snake Eyes was as a blue-eyed blond White man.
In the 2009 G.I. Joe: The Rise of the Cobra, Snake Eyes was portrayed by a Scottish actor Raymond Park as a man who had taken a vow of silence. Thomas Arashikage/Storm Shadow was played by South Korean actor/singer Byung-hun Lee. Hard Master, the ninja master for both Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow was played by Japanese American Gerald Okamura.
After reading some earlier discussions about the decision to change the race of Snake Eyes, I realized some people don’t get it. The original Snake Eyes was a White men do it better proof of White supremacy. A White guy goes into an East Asian culture, takes a few comparatively brief lessons and becomes better than the masters and ultimately a superhero. In this context, the original Snake Eyes represented cultural appropriation. There are some questionable aspects of this script, but the casting of hapa Henry Golding is a step forward and, as one person pointed out, not unlike the change of Nick Fury from White to Black. That doesn’t mean this is a good story or good cinema. It’s just good to see Hasbro coming to a better solution than Marvel did with Doctor Strange or Iron Fist.
Snake Eyes was originally scheduled for release on October 23, 2020, but opens on July 23, 2021. In English with some Japanese (English subtitles).
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