Friday, April 20, 2012

Fan Film Theatre - Short Reels: "A Joker's Card" (Johnny K. Wu, 2005)


Written and Directed by Johnny K. Wu
Based on the DC Comics Characters Created by Bob Kane, Bill Finger and William Moulton Marston

Executive Produced by Johnny K. Wu

Produced by James V. Geier, Jeffrey Lubell, Christine Chapman, Annie Jones, Tom Luhtala, Wayne Orris, Andrew Schofield and Andrew Sokol

Cinematography by Bill Johns
Costume Design by Christine Chapman
Make-Up effects by Christine Chapman
Visual Effects by Tom Luhtala and Alan Tuskes
Fight Choreography by Johnny K. Wu
Editing by Johnny K. Wu
Original Motion Picture Score composed by Aryavarta Kumar

Kyle Znamenak ... Jonathan Napier
David J. Levy ... Vince Fries
David Milam ... Nick Grayson
Ellen N. Friedman ... Ellen
Dana Aritonavich ... Donna Isley
Gerry Keating ... Mr. Big
Andrew Schofield ... Dick Grayson/Nightwing
Johnny K Wu ... Ekin Tzu
James Orosz ... Patient
Chandler Chapman ... Thug #1
Jason Morris ... Thug #2
Tom Luhtala ... Thug #3
Mike Littlejohn ... Thug #4
Audese Green ... S&M Man
Wayne Orris ... Elevator Gangster
Mr. and Mrs. Bob Bennett ... Gangsters
Brett Tryda ... Gangster #1
Michael Kadlee ... Gangster #2
Jeff Rodgers ... Gangster #3
Joseph O’Brien ... Gangster #4
Eric Kutz ... Gangster #5
Joey Cremo ... Gangster #6
Keith Carr ... Gangster #7

In the not too distant future, the offspring of some of Gotham City’s most infamous crime fighters and rogues battle their imprinted destinies and vie for power, both in the criminal underworld and on the streets.


In the realm of fan film, one can find the restrictive limitations of budget and quality both tedious on part of the audience and overwhelming on behalf of the filmmaker. You know your passion for the character is there but you don’t want what vision you may have to be compromised simply because you don’t have enough to put into that vision to see is potential realized.

This in turn, presents an obvious solution to fan filmmaking.

Don’t bother with convention.

With directors like Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan setting the standard of traditional narrative involving Batman on the principle that they can afford to, the point of attempting a similar feat in the throes of modesty and no-budget guerrilla cinema not only becomes mute but non-existent.


By that reckoning, 2005’s “A Joker’s Card” stakes its claim by daring to be different and yet, in conclusion, by being exactly what a film based on an existing property, created by a fan and showcased on the Internet needed to be.

Taking place at a non-descript point beyond the prime of Batman and his crime-fighting career, our story introduces us to Jonathan Napier (Kyle Znamemak), the lowly, bullied son of none other than the Joker (who’s apparently still inspired by Nicholson’s portrayal given the heritage with using the ‘Napier’ name). Fed up with being belittled for nothing less than his own existence and namesake, Napier turns to a fellow rogue-offspring; Vince Fries (David Levy), the son of Mr. Freeze, now head of Arkham Asylum.

Together, the two men embark on a journey to claim retribution against Napier’s transgressors starting with the children of the very heroes that defeated his Clown Prince father so many times.


“A Joker’s Card” already has an interesting premise on the surface and it takes a lot of ambition for a fan film to make the decision to venture into a bold, self-imposed direction rather than fall prey to just ripping off what had come before. On the contrary, the short is inspired by various elements both of Batman and of superheroes in general, ranging from their own absurd behaviorisms to how real society thinks of them.

The film isn’t bogged down by pretentious flights of cinematic aspirations; it knows what it is, it knows what it’s not and it knows what it wants to do.

When all is said and done, “A Joker’s Card” is, at its heart, a very offbeat comedy and that’s the beauty of it. It’s not trying to convince you that it’s a grand affair but rather it’s relishing in the awfulness of its own low budget design as a means of poking fun at super hero tropes.

One of my favorite bits comes during the beginning of the final battle between Nick Grayson and Ellen (the son and daughter of Dick ‘Robin/Nightwing’ Grayson and Diana ‘Wonder Woman’ Prince respectively) and Napier’s goons.

Right out of the 60s Batman television series, we’re given the sound effect balloons and groovy music but the gag is taken a hilarious step further when one of the effects doesn’t fade away. It’s only after a few moments that Napier breaks the fourth wall of the camera, finally peeling off the sound effect and tossing it away with a roll of the eyes.


My favorite performance is Gerry Keating as Mr. Big, the last of the major crime bosses in Gotham. He’s so deliciously exaggerated that it transcends parody and cradles into the full-blown realm of satire as he lampoons big gangster stereotypes complete with a cigar so comically monstrous in size you can’t help but laugh at the sight of it.


Znamemak gives a wonderful dichotomy as the son of the Joker; the performance is informed of this legacy and you can feel the burden on his shoulders in the flashback where he arrives at Arkham to be consoled by Fries after being beat up at school. His body language and mannerisms are also well handled and very expressive, which helps sell the idea of his clown-ish origins. In direct parallel yet stark contrast, David Levy is as straight-edged as it comes and the chemistry between the two is very reminiscent of Abbott and Costello in several regards.

The action of the film is modest because, again, it’s not trying to be an action/adventure piece.


However, the battle between Ekin Tzu (the writer/director himself) and a welcome Nightwing is pretty decent. One note of interest is that this is both the first and one of the very few Batman fan films to actually incorporate wire work into its production; this was one of the strong points of the film during its shooting, gaining it some attention prior to release.

I also love some of the costume design work here; it’s just barely reminiscent of super hero/villain attire particularly with Napier, Fries and Isley with more of a fashion flare than anything.

The look of Ekin Tzu is my favorite of the whole show; that’s a wonderful costume!

A film that takes concepts of legacy and birthright and turns it on its head with farce and attitude, “A Joker’s Card” even makes a few jabs at the age-old issue of sexuality in comics, throwing it back to the notorious Senate Hearings about the studies on comic books by Dr. Frederick Wertham.

Nick Grayson is an outright homosexual and masochist, first seen in the film being dominated sexually by an S&M buddy in full garb and wielding a whip. It plays with Wertham’s claims that Batman and Robin were a metaphor for gay coupling and it’s logical to incorporate this into a parody of these characters.

There’s a lot of innuendo in the movie, but it’s harmless and mostly tongue in cheek, like when Mr. Big instructs Ekin Tzu to stalk Napier and Fries with one condition.

“Do not appear unless you see dick.”



Of course it’s a given by the end of the film that he’s referring to Nightwing but still, the gag speaks for itself.

“A Joker’s Card” is a funny interpretation of the future of the superhero landscape, acting like a complete 180 of how Frank Miller envisioned it in his “Dark Knight” series of Batman works.

An interesting watch if nothing else!


No comments:

Post a Comment