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.