Sunday, December 4, 2016

Final Reflections

Before I began learning about King Hu, I honestly knew nothing about him, nor did I ever hear of him or the films that he made.  If anything, i had no idea how much of an impact that he had on the industry, or even that the wuxia genre was actually a genre of film.  However, as I finish this course, I know a whole lot of everything about King Hu’s life, nearly all of his major productions, and most importantly, his impact on Chinese cinema and cinematography that came after his work.  Honestly speaking, now that I know how large and important of a director that he was, I am exceptionally surprised that his name made it under the radar and is generally unknown to many moviegoers, myself included.  
Out of all of King Hu’s films, I enjoyed A Touch of Zen, the Valiant Ones, and Come Drink with Me.  For A Touch of Zen, it was fast and action-filled, had beautiful cinematography, and had a gorgeous setting.  The Valiant Ones had an interesting plot, tactical warfare, amazing skills for the characters, and the cinematography really emphasized the action.  Come Drink with Me had a gracefully strong lead, interesting characters, and decent cinematography.  For me, I enjoyed these films due to the actors present in the film, the action scenes present, and the cinematography made it all stand out.
However, there were also films that I didn’t really enjoy nearly as much.  Dragon Inn, the Fate of Lee Khan, and Painted Skin are unfortunately on this list.  Dragon Inn had a dull and bare setting, a lack of color, and drolled on without much happening.  The Fate of Lee Khan had a nearly excessive amount of deaths, another colorless setting, and easily interchangeable characters.  Painted Skin’s plot was confusing and had a lot of scenes where nothing too important happened, making it feel long.  My main issue with these films in particular were that they felt as if there was a whole of of nothing going on at times, and that the plots were usually abruptly ended without a fairly satisfying ending.
King Hu’s influence is easily seen in a variety of different mediums, not just limited to the wuixa-style martial arts films, but perhaps even present in other genres as well.  I can’t help but feel that this has also influenced a bit of Japanese tokusatsu, but I am not entirely sure about that.  Some of the scenes and the floaty jumps that traverse long distances seems to stem from King Hu’s special effects, but whether or not that is truly the case, I am not positive whether or not it is true.  The fact stands that his very floaty, moon-like gravity jumping is almost a necessary action present in modern-day martial arts films, and it was popularized by him, originally experimented with in Sons of Good Earth.
On the subject of influence, his martial arts choreography is one that is present in nearly every action film, regardless of region.  King Hu himself invented the position of “martial arts choreographer,” and basically invented the martial arts that are now present on the screen today, as they did not quite exist before his creation.  On top of that, King Hu has also brought varying degrees of fame to now well-known actors and actresses, in particular, Cheng Pei-pei, as seen from the dancing, almost trancelike fight scenes that were present in films, like Come Drink with Me.
However, his influence is definitely seen in other filmmaker’s films, such as Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, as seen from the whole bamboo grove fight sequence that was originally present in A Touch of Zen.  I feel as if this sort of scene is now almost a staple in most martial arts films, and has even made its way overseas as well, as I swear that I have seen this sort of scene before.  

Now that I have finished the instruction on the director study of King Hu, I am glad that I had the experience to take the class for it.  I have learned much about the martial arts cinema and the various aspects of the history and the influences for the genres/commonly used elements, and now I hope I can spread the knowledge of King Hu and the wuxia genre of cinematography.  Though it is different than the genres present in the rest of the world, it can be just as beautiful and moving as the films released overseas, and one should respect it for what it is and what it can do.  Ultimately, I hope that more people are exposed to the works of King Hu, as it is incredibly disappointing that a director of his stature is virtually unknown to most of the public, so I hope that I, along with the others who took the class, are able to spread the word.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Painted Skin

Finally, we finish with King Hu’s final film, Painted Skin, released in 1993.  For me, out of all of his films before, Painted Skin in particular felt extremely different and distant from those that came before it, almost reminiscent of older Japanese tokusatsu series, in terms of action, special effects, and sequences as a whole.  Though it was different, it was an interesting approach to storytelling, with elements of horror that were occasionally frightening at times. It was an interesting direction than just the styles that he had experimented with previously.
I really appreciated the contrasts of color in this film, in both scenery and characters.  Everything was fairly easy to distinguish between the “villains” and the “heroes,” so I thought that was pretty interesting.  
The special effects for the film as well, talking about the smoke in particular, was also very well done, in my opinion.  It really added a mysterious, surreal feeling to the film, which really aided in the ambiance of the experience as a whole.  It was creative of him to rewind the smoke effects that were expelled from the actor’s bodies/clothes, giving the impression as if they were being possessed by spirits. That, and the color play with the villain being portrayed as red smoke was also a creative choice.

Though in the end, I feel like King Hu could’ve added more of a conclusion, as it felt pretty abrupt and was quite confusing, the first time around.  Otherwise though, it was a fairly enjoyable experience and I would recommend King Hu fans to see it at least once.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon

A change of pace from the normal King Hu films, this time we watched Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,  a film made in 2000.
After watching so many King Hu films, or rather, pre-2000 wuxia style films, seeing extremely choreographed fight scenes combined with state-of-the-art special effects made me really appreciate what the whole wuxia genre has finally become after so many years of experimentation and refining.  On top of having an interesting story and cast, the cinematography was also really beautiful and left me in awe with some of the scenery/sequences.  
With this film too, I realized that I had indadvertedly become a fan of the whole wuxia genre, if not being able to appreciate it a whole lot more.  The fight scenes in here, though some of them really did have like moon-like gravity sequences, were all really well done, and I sat in awe watching the warriors on the screen fight.  It was so well done, I could nearly mistake it to be real.  My favorite scenes were probably the chase in the castle walls and the large fight scene that came before it.  Both were really well done, and I was not able to tear my eyes away from the screen.  None can forget the unforgettable bamboo grove fight scene either, that too was amazing.
If anyone is a fan of a good story with a wuxia twist, or even someone interested into getting into the genre,  I would definitely recommend Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.  

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Raining in the Mountain

Raining in the Mountain is a film written by King Hu in 1979, a film with heavy religious undertones.  Unlike many of the films that came prior, this film in particular seemed to focus mostly on the interactions amongst the characters and the scenes with action were only sparingly sprinkled in, breaking up the large amounts of character-building.  
Though the action in comparison to his other films was noticeably less, I enjoyed the particular themes that the film portrayed.  The characters were particularly well-fleshed out, in my opinion, as their wants and needs were easily seen and understood to the audience.  It was interesting how none of the villains were traditionally “evil,” and in this film, they only had different goals and mindsets, which led them to do the things they did.  However, the fighting scenes were as good as ever, so that is always nice.  
I really enjoyed the scenery of this film as it was incredibly nice and gave the film a very specific atmosphere limited only to this film in particular.  The temple architecture and the surrounding area gave the film a very spiritual feel, highlighting the themes that were present in it.

Enjoy religious scenery and an interesting, generally narrative-based plot with elements of wuxia mixed in?  I would recommend Raining in the Mountain, if that appeals to you.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Valiant Ones

The Valiant Ones is a film done by King Hu in 1975, and as the films continue to roll out, the fight scenes get better and better.  Unlike his earlier films, King Hu seems to have experimented with many different subject matter that he didn’t use before, such as tactics in war or large armies of people.  Though it was almost unexpected, it did not feel out of place and I personally thought it was extremely entertaining to watch the protagonists outwit their enemies.
Though the final fight scene at the very end was, well, in some ways, drawn out with excessive editing, it was extremely exciting in comparison to the films that came before.  There was a large amount of enemies, creating a very unique and action-packed film, becoming closer and closer to the wuxia-style films that are released today.  Though the ending was almost disappointedly hilarious, the rest of the film was done exceptionally well. I especially enjoyed the “test” scenes that were held for the two protagonists in front of the owner of the island.  Though their feats were ultimately due to their skill, choreography, and editing, I was still wowed by the feats that they were able to accomplish.

If anyone enjoys a good wuxia-style film with amazing, nearly superhuman feats, with a dash of political strategy, the Valiant Ones is a must-watch.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Fate of Lee Khan

The Fate of Lee Khan, in my opinion had the best fight scenes out of all the King Hu films so far.  However, unlike many of its predecessors, it had a very satisfactory ending, other than the many deaths of its characters.  
The characters and the plot kept the film going and held my attention for the majority of the film.  The editing of the film, especially during the fight scenes, is what stood out to me.  It was done exceptionally well and was very smooth in transitioning from one scene to the next.  I also enjoyed the characterization of the characters, other than some of the waitresses, the characters were easily distinguishable in actions, appearance, and personality.
Though there was a nearly obscene amount of characters in the film, it was very easy to keep track of them and their differences in actions and personalities throughout it.  I do wonder why there were so many characters, however, as it sometimes almost made the film confusing when characters would be added halfway through the film, or even near the end.  
I do have to question the translated title though, as it gives the impression that Lee Khan is the main character or something to that extent, whereas in reality, he’s the main villain that manipulates the actions of many of the characters in the film.  However, that confusion is quickly cleared up, so it is not too big of a deal.

If anyone enjoys a nice wuxia-style film with the occasional humorous tidbits of dialogue and an interesting story, I would definitely recommend the Fate of Lee Khan.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

A Touch of Zen pt. 2

A Touch of Zen was probably my favorite King Hu film so far.  The beautiful cinematography combined with the interesting characters and story made it really hard to tear my eyes away from the screen, and I really do think that it deserves the praise that it gets.  The fight scenes were also always impressive and are a large step up from the films that came before it, in my opinion.  Though the second half of the latter half of the film has heavy Buddhist undertones and ended in a way that was a bit unexpected, it still did not seem as if it was completely out of place.  
My favorite parts of the film were the ambush of the East Chamber guards in the abandoned fort and the chilling aftermath with Ku, admiring his handiwork.  The scene of the ambush by “ghosts” is, so to speak, fiendishly hilarious and pitiful, as the reactions of these guards mimic those who walk through a haunted house, but only during the aftermath does both the viewer and Ku realize the weight of his actions; he slaughtered a whole army in cold blood.  The chilling scene of where he walks through the battle-torn abandoned fort and his amusement of his handiwork, laughing all the while, is a very well-made scene, as for a moment, I lost sight of the original Ku, the painter and scholar, and all I saw was an egotistical maniac, making my hair stand on end and my blood ran cold.  It was a really well-crafted scene and was extremely memorable.  

For those looking for a lengthy, yet well-done movie, beautiful cinematography plus an interesting story and cast makes for A Touch of Zen definitely worth checking out.  

Thursday, September 29, 2016

A Touch of Zen

A Touch of Zen is a 1971 King Hu film, the majority of it being filmed in beautiful Taiwan.  Interestingly, the film is split into two parts, ending up at about three hours total.  Filming began in 1968, meaning it took a full three years of production to finish.
Honestly, I’m extremely impressed at the first part of A Touch Of Zen.  It is a huge step up from Dragon Inn, in my opinion, and boasts extremely beautiful scenery, cinematography, lighting, and most of all, ambiance.  I think, out of all the King Hu films that I’ve seen so far, this one is the most interesting one and the one with the best ambiance to me.  It really is beautiful and it makes it the one that is the hardest for me to pull my eyes away from the screen.
For parts of the film, there seems to be many references to spiders in webs and the silhouettes and shadows of people with great use of chiaroscuro.  Though I’m not entirely sure what the imagery means quite yet, I’m looking forward to seeing what it could possibly mean.  

On top of that, the fight scenes seems to be the best choreographed as well, especially the bamboo fight scene.  All of them were done really well, especially in comparison to the previous films, so I enjoyed the first part of A Touch of Zen a whole lot.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Dragon Inn is a 1967 wuxia film made by King Hu.  Though it spans an impressive 111 minutes, I personally felt as if it was a lot longer than that.  Perhaps it was due to my fatigue during that day, but the film did not keep my attention as much as I would have liked it to.  
However, this is not is saying that Dragon Inn is in any way bad.  The cinematography is lovely, the fight scenes are very well choreographed, and though the plot may be a bit dense at times, it is interesting.  
I especially enjoyed the fight scenes more than anything.  Though,as a viewer, you almost always expect the protagonists of the story to win and to survive the toils put in front of them, you can't help but worry when you watch some of the situations and fights that these characters get themselves caught up in.  
However, I did feel as if many of the characters were added almost haphazardly, especially the end, and the ending was as abrupt as I’ve ever seen it. Though each character was distinct both by personality and by appearance, adding main characters in the second half/last third of the movie didn’t seem to help Dragon Inn, unfortunately.  It led up to a good ending, but I was disappointing at the abrupt climax and actual less-than-30-seconds conclusion.  

However, if one is not a stickler for heavily developed characters and concise plots, like I, and enjoy a good wuxia film, then I would highly recommend Dragon Inn.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Come Drink with Me

King Hu's Come Drink with Me is a wuxia film made in 1966.  Though it is called Come Drink with Me, the title itself is a bit misleading, as the film does not have too much to deal with drinking, save the character Fan Da-Pei, or Drunken Cat.  Though the film itself seems to portray Golden Swallow as the main hero, it ends up following the actions of Drunken Cat.  This is almost confusing and misleading, as it seemed like Golden Swallow would end up victorious, but within the last fourth or third of the film, Drunken Cat is revealed to be a very skilled practitioner of kung fu, and the film follows his actions henceforth.  It felt a bit awkward and almost forced, in my opinion, but it was not unexpected, nor was it impossible, looking at the progression of the plot.
I do think it was interesting that King Hu decided to cast Cheng Pei-Pei as Golden Swallow, due to the fact that she knew ballet, and that would show through in her fight scenes, which it did.  I think that was a very good call on King Hu’s part, as though Cheng Pei-Pei did not do “real” martial arts, her performance was almost hypnotic due to its fluidity and gracefulness; a trait not normally seen in most films featuring martial arts or wuxia.  

Though the plot itself felt as if it went a bit astray at the end, the effects, acting, and the general feel of the story was great.  I especially liked the special effects at times, even though nearly all of them would not be able to stand against the modern counterparts, but they do have a specific, almost nostalgic and quirky feeling to them.  Especially that… force-like gas/smoke/blast shot out of the hands of Drunken Cat and Abbot Liao Kung.  
Though the film does have its share of faults, the positives definitely outweigh the negatives, and anyone who enjoys a good wuxia film would most probably enjoy Come Drink with Me.

Friday, September 9, 2016

King Hu's Sons of Good Earth

Sons of Good Earth is King Hu's film, recognized by him as his "first" production, released in 1965.  Though it may come off as a nearly-cheesy wuxia-style film at first glance, it is serves as a critique against Japanese imperialism in the second World War.  It has its comedic moments, but it also knows when to lay on the various critiques of society during that time and also dramatic and sad moments as well.  
Though the story got surprisingly dark during the latter half of the film, I think I enjoyed the characters and their interactions the most out of all elements of the film.  The story was well-written, but the character interactions and personifications made the film into what it was, in my opinion.  The almost hilarious interactions between the community and those who owned the illegal operations, the almost slapstick-like relationship between the main protagonist and his roommate/friend… all of it culminated into the film as we know it.  For a film with such a dark theme, the contrast with the sometimes hilarious, yet memorable moments really made the film stand out from many other wuxia and fighting-oriented films.
The really quick shot changes and camera angles also added a lot to the pacing of the film, as the longer, calmer sequences had longer shots and wider angles, whereas the fast-paced fight sequences were generally tight in terms of angles and switched between angles a lot quicker (with a few of them being only parts of a second long), showing a large depth of knowledge of how cinematography works.  The fight scenes were especially good, as the props were exceptionally realistic and the action was always interesting in one way or another.  Though there was not a lot of wuxia-style action as one may expect in terms of hand-to-hand combat, the gunfights were surprisingly good and kept my attention to a surprising extent.  Altogether, it was really well-done and could probably stand up to some of the fight scenes present in modern-day cinema.  
In any case, though, if anyone is a fan of wartime films or Asian/Chinese historical fiction, this is a highly recommended film and worth a watch.