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.