Monday, December 12, 2016

Final blog, Reflections on King Hu

This semester has been definitely an interesting one. Having an entire course dedicated to one filmmaker is definitely interesting because usually getting a highlights from an array of filmmakers definitely makes them out to be so good, that they never seemed to hit roadblocks. By focusing on one person, one can fully understand the ups and downs of this unpredictable business. King Hu's story is admiring yet sadly frustrating at the same time. Before going into this class I had very little knowledge on who King Hu was and even less on what he had made. It was amazing to see how much his films influenced Asian cinema as well as spilling over and affecting western cinema as well. The very nature of the man is astonishing, being steadfast and stubborn when creating his visions, demanding complete control during times when things like that were probably seen as hugely disrespectful. But you have to hand it to the man, he made some fine films while he was here. His high flying, choreographed, acrobatic sequences are seen all over the place now and no doubt would not exist without him doing it first. The saddest thing about it is that when he passed it was to little fanfare and also left without making the film that was to be his hollywood debut, something he wanted very badly. Life is weird sometimes, but it's classes like this that make sure his legacy lives on and that he will not be forgotten. He will be in my memory for quite some time.

 My three most favorite King Hu Films:

 1. The Valiant Ones. This film is great showcase of what makes King Hu great. Cool characters, interesting plot, and amazing action sequences.

 2. A Touch of Zen. This film is very beautiful, the cinematography is top notch and the fight sequences are like watching a choreographed dance.

 3. Fate of Lee Khan. The ensemble of kick ass women are fun to watch as well as another film that has a bonkers ending.

 My three least favorite King Hu films:

 1. Painted skin. Overlong, confusing, and not very scary, this film was King Hu's last and most disappointing film he ever made.

 2. Legend in the Mountain. King Hu's first attempt at a horror film this film felt too long and not scary. Did have Hsu Feng though.

 3. Come Drink With Me. Three fourths of this movie is great while the ending is very stilted, uninspired, and forgettable. Golden Swallow is a great character.

Without King Hu, martial arts movies as we know it would be very different. The cliches of how martial artists can fly and run up walls would be gone as well as eloquent, almost dance like choreographed fights would not exist. Basically, The Matrix would never come to fruition. Without King Hu, the emergence of b movie kung fu flicks wouldn't exist and stars like Bruce Lee, Sammo Hung and Jackie Chan would never become known. His impact cannot be overstated because without him, many tropes of action, like wild bullet spray and explosions would never be. Even on the smaller scale, TV shows like the Power Rangers wouldn't exist without King Hu's influence on the genre. His influence can be seen in multiple filmmakers as well. Hitting home first, directors like Zhang Yimou and his movies like Hero and House of Flying Daggers and Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon wouldn't exist. Even American filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez deserve to give him credit. Kill Bill definitely wouldn't exist if Quentin hadn't seen Hu's films. Chow Yun Fat wanted to work with King Hu before his death and eventually became the main star of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon which kickstarted his American film career. Movies like Bulletproof Monk and Forbidden Kingdom are all reflections of King Hu's styles. King Hu is a pioneer and true original. A man who took risks and broke the status quo and introduced a whole new form of martial arts movie to the world. Because of him, many of the action movies we see today are as exciting as they are and for that no one should ever forget the name of King Hu.

Painted Skin

Today, we watched Painted Skin, which also, very sadly, is King Hu's last film. Also, sadly, this is honestly not his best film. It has an awesome premise but the execution seems to be lacking, especially during the second half of the film. But, to his merit, at least he was experimenting outside of his comfort zone. There have been many filmmakers that have done this to differing level of success. For example, can you tell who made this film? This is from Cape Fear, a movie by Martin Scorsese. A man known for his gangster film this was a departure from the norm into psychological thriller. This would not be the last time he experimented in different genres, making movies such as The Aviator and Hugo. Can you tell who made this film? This is from Spy Kids which was directed by Robert Rodriguez, more known for his ultra violent, hyper stylized, action films. This was the first time he departed from that but would dabble in it a few times later in his career. Filmmakers, even though finding strengths in some genres will occasionally experiment with different genres, probably out of the feeling that cornered into a niche group will restrict them from being able to make the movies they want to. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don't but one should never be discouraged if it doesn't work the first time, everything deserves practice.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is a great love letter to King Hu. This film takes so much from King Hu’s trademark style that it’s hard to deny the impact that King Hu had on many filmmakers. It is true statement that filmmakers borrow their styles from those who came before them. I think it is very interesting to see where famous filmmakers got their influences and the fact you can see them all over their movies. For example, one man that seems to be a huge King Hu fan is Quentin Tarantino. Previous stated in blogs before, Quentin himself is a film connoisseur. But there is another ode to King Hu that Quentin has made. Another filmmaker that definitely used King Hu’s style inadvertently adapted from a graphic novel by a graphic novelist that was also inspired by King Hu. Robert Rodriguez’s adaptation of Sin City by Frank Miller has King Hu all over it. One of the asian characters seems to have been ripped directly from King Hu’s work. Also this week, we got to actually meet Cheng Pei Pei, a living legend in Chinese cinema. She was sweet and super generous to give us time to ask her questions. She has led a very interesting and fascinating life and her success is extraordinary and inspiring. To be that humble and that well known is very rare nowadays and I think a lot of people can learn from her example.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Legend in the Mountain

The second film he filmed in Korea was "Raining in the Mountain." This, honestly, is his most bizarre, different but unique film he has ever made. This is a straight up ghost story. No fights, no long exposition in the beginning. Long sequences of walking, talking, fog, and falling in love.

These types of moves may seem troublesome, but I argue that a mark of a good director is one that can jump into any genre and be great at it.

Let's play a game: Here are two movies, name its director.

1. Trainspotting.
2. Slumdog Millionaire.

Answer: Danny Boyle

Here's another one:

1. The Hulk
2. Brokeback Mountain

Answer: Ang Lee

Last one:

1. Casino
2. Hugo

Answer: Martin Scorsese

Raining in the Mountain

"Raining in the Mountain" is one of two films King Hu filmed in Korea after he found renewed success after "A Touch of Zen" won a Palme D'or at the Cannes Film Festival.

This film is very different from his previous works, with an emphasis on things other than fighting. The film was split into two different parts: a heist movie and a religious movie. Two things that seemingly do not go together work very well in the hands of King Hu.

The most interesting person in the movie is the gentle giant of the film. The underdog, the misunderstood, the guy you want to win. This has been a staple of many films, which is always entertaining. One reason is that it clearly shows the prejudiced notions that many people have when they look at someone for the first time. The unnecessary redemption these people have to go through is frustrating but the feeling you get when they finally get the respect they deserve is overwhelming.

Great examples of these:

Friday, October 21, 2016

The Valiant Ones most valiant ending.

The more and more I watch King Hu movies, the more I realize just how wide his influence is. His inventive, kinetically frenzied ending fight scenes are things that need to be seen to be believed. In this latest film we watched, The Valiant Ones, showcases a fight so crazy and long that many people in the class I watched it with couldn't believe their eyes. Either because of how absurd it was or just how entertaining it turned out to be.

The funny thing is, is that, regardless of how weirdly edited or prolonged it is, entertainment has been featuring this kind of fighting for quite some time. Just because technology has gotten better, does not mean that these fights are just as ridiculous. Take this scene, from the Matrix series:

Just as epic, just as ridiculous.

Or take this example from Dragon Ball Z:

Even in cartoon form, this fight is exciting, yet ridiculous.

I guess the point I'm trying to make is, don't judge a movie because of one sequence. This movie has a lot of fighting in it, so by the end, the epic fight that happens makes that much more sense.

Friday, October 14, 2016

The Fate of Lee Khan - seeing King Hu's influences.

This week, we watched "The Fate of Lee Khan." Although it was surprising to see the decline of quality in production from his last film, "A Touch of Zen," this movie nonetheless was very entertaining. Just like his earlier films, this film takes place in an inn but there is one very cool difference.

The inn's owner and the majority of its workers are all females. I have noticed that King Hu likes to have the main character in many of his movies be very strong female leads, ones that rarely need the help of a man, which is ironically refreshing, even in 2016. And he was doing this back in the sixties and seventies. If that contributed to some of his unsuccessful films, then that is truly a sad statement on society at the time.

Regardless, it's nice to see that, especially since a lot of filmmakers like Hayao Miyazaki, Joss Whedon, and Quentin Tarantino do the same thing. We should also be looking for awesome female filmmakers as well.

One last thing, unrelated except for the fact that we are talking about King Hu influencing different genres. I realized that I was so attuned and entertained by King Hu's fight scenes mainly because I've been watching them since childhood. Check out this clip:


Friday, October 7, 2016

A Touch of Zen - the unusual end of zen.

In class, we watched the conclusion of "A Touch of Zen." After multiple exciting fight sequences, tragic deaths, and unmitigated suspense, it only makes sense that the ending to this movie would be as crazy and amazing as the rest of the film.

The ending shows a mythical abbott reaching nirvana, becoming just like Buddha. The most interesting part about this is not that he attains this status but how King Hu shot the ending sequence. It's confusing at first but then becomes very clear, yet still opens it up to interpretation.

After a prolonged final fight with the film's most dangerous villain, Hsu Yang, Abbott Yuan is fatally stabbed and proceeds to walk away. During this sequence Yuan experiences extreme hallucinations including hearing abnormal sounds, seeing spectacular colors, mistaking his own men for something else, and eventually throwing himself to his own death against his will.

Personally, I love endings like these because they create conversations and discussions about its subject matter. There are many movies that seem like they are going to have a predictable ending, but catches you off guard with an ending from left field.

Here are some examples.

Magnolia - 

2001: A Space Odyssey 

Friday, September 30, 2016

A Touch Of Zen - A touch of tone change.

The great thing about "A Touch of Zen" is just how different it feels from other King Hu films. It is always interesting to watch a filmmaker's movies in the order they made them. There is definitely a sense of progression in his movies as this is his most beautiful movie so far. The usual tropes are present, elegant fighting scenes coupled with Chinese history, but the star here is the visuals.

The most important part of a movie is its story but sometimes a look of a film can draw a viewer in and keep them interested. "The Revenant" starring Leonardo DiCaprio lends a lot of its credence to just how beautiful it looks. Emmanuel Lubezki, the movie's cinematographer has shot several beautiful movies such as "Children of Men," "Birdman," "Gravity," and "The Tree of Life." Some films known for their great stories plus having a great look.

It is also interesting to note that the cinematographer for "A Touch of Zen" also shot "Dragon Inn." Two very different looks but nonetheless an excellent job on both movies. I am excited to watch more King Hu movies and see his progression. This is a great lesson on how important the job of a cinematographer is.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Dragon Gate Inn and The Hateful Eight

This week we watched "Dragon Gate Inn," another classic King Hu film. It has all the tropes you would come to expect from his movies but with a very interesting story. The most surprising thing about this movie though is how similar it is to Quentin Tarantino's "The Hateful Eight."

I remember the first time I watched the "The Hateful Eight" and thought to myself how awesome the story was. I haven't seen a movie where the filmmaker was able to establish so much suspense and mystery in one location. The keep you guessing nature of the film is genius and makes you wonder if you can trust any of the characters.

I was pleasantly surprised that this story already existed within King Hu's universe. This made me realize that King Hu's influence not only reached Chinese filmmakers but had a huge influence on Quentin Tarantino.

Quentin loves strong female protagonists that are out for vengeance or justice. The Bride in "Kill Bill" is a lot like the Golden Swallow in "Come Drink With Me." A single lone woman taking on a bunch of thugs in a stylish and entertaining fight that comes off more like a dance than an actual fight.

It's nice to know that the more King Hu movies I watch the more I will see his influence on other filmmakers. It makes this mysterious filmmaker to me, even more relevant and exciting to watch. He is a master filmmaker.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Come Drink With Me

"Come Drink With Me" marked King Hu's last film with the Shu Brothers before he left for Taiwan. This movie is very interesting because it marks the beginning of Hu's signature style, with his fantastical martial arts as well as being notorious for having an absurd ending. Run Run Shaw, after viewing the film, was very displeased with what he saw. He was done with Hu's slow, methodical pacing to his filmmaking, which was costing him way too much money and making the film go over budget. He restrained Hu, giving him deadlines and forcing him to include things in the movie that made Hu furious. The result? The ending of the film is so different from the beginning it almost seems like a different movie altogether.

"Come Drink With Me" follows the Golden Swallow who is trying to look for her brother, who was kidnapped by a bunch of thugs led by the notorious Jade Faced Tiger. Golden Swallow, in disguise as a man, finds the gang's hideout and tries to get information from them. She meets a mysterious drunkard named Drunken Cat, who at first seems like goofy vagabond, but she soon realizes that he is more than he says he is. Together, they plan to take down this gang and save her brother.

This film's execution is great in the beginning. How Hu sets up action, to introducing characters is meticulously planned and presents their characters in meaningful ways. The action scenes are excellent to watch as they are beautifully performed. They're carefully choreographed and performed and they come off more as dance numbers than actual fights.

The actors also do a very good job. Golden Swallow is confident and strong, Drunken Cat is whimsical and funny, and Jade Faced Tiger is appropriately menacing. They play their roles to a masterful degree and are very pleasant to watch.

Now, for the last part of the movie. It is known that King Hu and the Run Run Shaw had a falling out near the end of the movie. Shaw wanted the movie finished but Hu needed time to make sure everything was perfect. Since Shaw was the boss Hu had to listen, but didn't go down fighting. The ending is rushed, the fights are sloppy, the editing is questionable, and the effects are downright hilarious. Nothing is resolved and the main bad guy gets away. It's all very confusing and might drown the film if the beginning wasn't as good as it was. To put the blame on one person would be unfair. Shaw and Hu both had their own prerogative and they intended to get their own way. The only thing that really suffered was the movie's ending, that seems like a completely different movie.

Overall, the movie is entertaining enough to watch and even more amazing to think that this is the first time Hu would implement the style that would make him ultra famous. 

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Sons of the Good Earth

This film is a fantastic introduction to King Hu. Not only is it the first film I have seen of his, this is also considered to be the first full on directorial debut of King Hu. Unfortunately, he did not get to edit the feature, but his mark on the film does show.

Most interestingly, The absence of the majestic form of martial arts Hu became known for is surprising, yet understandable. This being his first film, it's good to know that he at least was experimenting with idea. Instead, this is a much more grounded film in sense of style and tone.

"Sons of the Good Earth" is about a Chinese painter that weds a prostitute amongst the tumultuous invasion of the Japanese during World War II. Even though this may make the movie seem like it will be very serious and dark, and at times it is, there are some very light hearted moments in the film. I recalled the film "Life Is Beautiful" with its handling of dark material. And in a weird way, they both end starkly dark as well.

The three main characters, Yu Rui, He Hua, and Chang Bao Lu all play off each other perfectly. Yu Rui the reluctant hero, He Hua that kind hearted misplaced heroine, and Chang the ever present best friend. Together, their scenes are funny, charismatic and memorable. It's a perfect way to make the audience really feel for these characters and care about what will happen to them in the future.

The villains are especially good as well. The despicable criminal brothel owners always spell trouble for the heroes as they spend most of their time trying to screw with their lives, since they felt betrayed on some level. Even more terrifying are the Japanese invaders, that seem to have a more cavalier approach to their tyranny. They do not know any of these characters, so there is a sense that anything can happen to them at a moment's notice, without them feeling a single ounce of guilt.

The film is exciting and shot well. Even for a movie from the fifties the assault sequences are all high octane and relentless. The explosions and gunfire are all in high supply as the heroes try to thwart their imperialistic rulers. You can get a good sense of how King Hu really liked to choreograph and stage his fight sequences because everything on screen has purpose. Every person, location, and prop seem to have been meticulously placed on screen for some purpose.

This is a must see for anyone interested in King Hu's career. His influence on future films is definitely present in this film and it's remarkable that films with this style and action are still popular today.