7AAM ARIVU (THE SEVENTH SENSE) Review
One of the film's great strengths is the beautifully shot and wonderfully evocative prologue. We are immediately spun back to 500 A.D. and to the life of Bodhidharma, the Tamil prince of antiquity who brought both Buddhism and, according to legend, the martial arts to China. This 20 minute sequence is astonishingly beautiful and heartfelt. Suriya as Bodhidharma is a powerful and benevolent force for pure good, even when the strangers in his new Chinese home are wary of him. This flashback also brings the first major action sequence which is among the best I've seen in Indian cinema. It is relatively brief, but the action is fast and heavy, and takes some turns you wouldn't expect. Unfortunately, once this sequence ends we spend a lot of time learning things we don't need to know.
Suriya next appears to us as a circus performer, a part of a traveling show which has found a temporary home in Chennai. He juggles, he performs on a unicycle, stuff like that. This sequence lasts for almost an hour, and we come to find out that all of this stuff is entirely unnecessary. All it does is set up an elaborate relationship between Suriya's character, Arvind, and his co-star, Shruti Hassan's Subha Srinavasan. Their relationship is complex, however, the romantic complications that are woven into the plot serve no purpose other than to pad the film and provide a romantic interest story. I have yet to see an Indian film, even a pure action film, without a romance, and I think if ever there was a need to skip it, 7aam Arivu would be a prime example. Arvind and Subha's relationship is played for cheap laughs until it goes horribly awry in a miraculously coincidental way. Needless to say, I wasn't a fan of this part of the film, and it wasn't a fault of the performers involved, it was the plotting that was just like a lead weight holding the film back.
To antagonize the not-so-happy couple, the film employs some particularly evil Chinese villains, led by Vietnamese actor Johnny Tri Nguyen as Dong Lee. Tension between India and China is always high, largely due to territorial disputes as well as India's support of the Dalai Lama. 7aum Arivu exploits that tension and creates a Chinese villainy that is cartoonishly evil. I don't mind the over-the-top nature of the villains, though, that is a staple of Indian cinema. It is the implication of the film that the nation of China is bent on the subjugation of India as a whole that seems a bit over the line. It isn't a subtle allegation, and it isn't some shadowy terrorist group making the threat, it is the government, and that seems a bit dodgy to me.
On the positive side, Nguyen's got the villain thing down pat after Tom Yum Goong, Power Kids, Cradle 2 the Grave, etc. He gets a few decent action sequences to flex his martial arts muscle, but the majority of his evil performance relies on him using his eyes to communicate his particular kind of power. It works, too, Nguyen's performance as Dong Lee is one of the highlights of the film. Apart from Suriya, Nguyen seems to be the only performer in his sequences with any kind of formal fight training. Anyone who gets in his way just becomes meat for the grinder, but not in a way that is boring, Murugadoss has written in a few neat tricks for Dong Lee, and they keep the film interesting.
One of the film's great strengths is a creative flair during its action sequences. As I mentioned above, the prologue features just such an action sequence, and it is among the finest I've seen in Indian cinema to date. There are a few more, mostly featuring Dong Lee plowing through some random jobbers on his way to Arvind, that also work really well. The action choreography was nominally done by Peter Hein, the go to guy for Indian fights, but several of the sequences look as though they probably had heavy input from Nguyen, and that's a very good thing. The film's most spectacular set piece doesn't involve any fighting at all, but as an action sequence it is breathtaking, even if there are a few less than perfect CG shots thrown in. This sequence comes in late in the film, and it involves zombified/hypnotized Tamilian civilians, flying cars, an overturned 18-wheeler, and a mysteriously strong kung fu lady fighter. Really great stuff.
As I mentioned above, the pacing of the film and the padding included seems pretty haphazard. The most blatant example comes at the end, where the film seems to attempt to wrap everything up in the last 25 minutes, when they should have cut out a lot of the fluff in the beginning and expanded on the final sequences, since they were the really interesting stuff. I would probably have had a different opinion toward the romance if it actually went anywhere, but it doesn't, it's a thread that is left untied as the credits roll, and that is a real irritant to me.
7aam Arivu is a good film with flashes of greatness. It is bogged down with commercial elements that do a grave disservice to the film we could have seen. Will I watch it again? Sure, there is plenty to like, but I was really hoping to see something exceptional all around. In that regard I was disappointed. However, I don't regret my time in the theater one bit. I saw some great action, a novel theme, and a film that at times reached for something beyond that which Tamil cinema has attempted. Now, if we can just get a better editor in there, I think they could have something really special.