What, again? Yes, but it will make High Yellow even BETTER, or at least with more frequent new stuff. I’m just migrating stuff from one of my many OTHER blogs here. So you’ll see more stuff, and still the same wacky wuxia, Asian film and popular culture stuff that you have come to love. This is absolutely not a cheap attempt for me to try yet another new WordPress theme either.
Finally, I get around to a film I have been eager to see ever since I heard the stories about its production: Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen! So here we go!
In order to satisfy me, I knew the movie had to credibly enhance the story of Chen Zhen. What happened after that hail of bullets at the end of Bruce Lee’s Fist of Fury? Well, I don’t know, but Andrew Lau’s movie drops you in the middle of France, and you don’t have time to wonder how Chen Zhen got there. I have to say, I never expected that opening sequence. I thought it was GREAT! I mean, I knew Chen Zhen was BAD, but DANG! Let’s just say I never knew he was part-SUPERHERO! However, aside from that, I thought the decision to open the film mid-battle in France set a very cosmopolitan tone for the film, one that would be repeated once the setting shifts to Shanghai.
One of the critiques one can make of Lee’s Fist of Fury is that, in the process of making Chen Zhen the ultimate Angry Young Man, other aspects of 1908 Shanghai get flattened. But we have to remember, the 1970s was a very different time (that’s what I heard), especially for representations of Asian men, particularly Chinese men, in particular. Prior to Lee’s Chen Zhen, Asian men were getting the short end of the stick in terms of representations in roles where they had agency and were seen as men. So when Lee’s Chen Zhen goes to regain the honor of Chinese men at the Japanese dojo, it means something. Unfortunately, in the process, the Japanese come off as arrogant, evil, sadistic and mean, often through the use of stereotypes. I wondered when I heard about Lau’s sequel about how he was going to handle this. Can you make a sequel to Fist of Fury without the Japanese as the enemy? How would this go over in the 2000s?
I think Lau does a good job (disclaimer: I’m a Lau fan, and while he CAN do wrong (ahem, The Avenging Fist), in my eyes he rarely does (yes, I’m claiming The Duel–I LOVE that movie). I particularly liked the way he evoked a cosmopolitan 1920s Shanghai: the British businessman, the African American jazz bandleader and orchestra, the Japanese soldiers, the Chinese triad members, workers and students. All of these people are believably in Shanghai (for real! go look it up). I think this also contributes to the way he handles the characterization of the Japanese. Are they evil? Well, Japan was an imperial power and they did occupy many locations, so you kinda have to go there with that. What I find interesting is that Lau does not use stereotypes to make his point. Remember the Japanese from Fist of Fury?
In Lau’s film, the Japanese are bad guys, but their badness is not based on stereotypical representations about the Japanese. Here the characters are a little more fleshed out, more complex. Yes, you have the Japanese commander completely committed to ensuring the victory of the Japanese, and his minions, but the traitor isn’t Woo, a sniveling, groveling go-between who wears glasses. Quite the opposite: Shu Qi (thank you for not letting her dance too much, Andrew) reflects a level of inner turmoil as she infiltrates the club.
And while we’re on the subject of stereotyping, Lau also corrects the omission of the Western presence in Shanghai and their attitudes towards the Chinese. Absent from Fist of Fury were the British, who had a hand in colonial affairs in Shanghai and complicated the political situation in Shanghai in ways that affected both the Japanese and the Chinese. The use of Huang Bo’s relationship to the British guy illustrates just how complicated power relations could be.
Moreover, whoever is responsible for the costuming (Dora Ng, costume design) and sets (Eric Lam, art direction) needs an award. If Lau’s intention was to evoke a lush, glamorous Shanghai, then he was successful. I mean, look at this:
So yes, I am loving just the LOOK of this film, even though I know ultimately, we are supposed to be here for the action. Um, did you not see the cast? Two words: Donnie. Yen. YES! I believe that Donnie does justice to the multi-decade character of Chen Zhen. No longer just looking to punch someone in the face, we see a veteran Chen Zhen, who has seen good friends die in the war, and has become involved in the politics of this country as part of the resistance movement. And yet, as always, you do well not to make him mad. His anger here is far more controlled and more targeted. If Donnie did sucky action direction, it would be news, but you know the choreography is on point. Was it a little TOO slicetastic? Yeah, to a certain extent, but not too much to distract me.
And finally, one of the big critiques of Fist of Fury (at least for me) was the wimpy woman character (yes that is singular). Here this chick is in the Jing Wu martial arts school, and her kung fu is ok, but at the end of the day she comes off a little whiny and fairly passive. I guess we were lucky to get her in the film at all. However, Lau, in both principal characters and smaller roles, provides women who are in the thick of things (Shu Qi) and who are politically active (the student who protests Japanese control). Even the quite attractive women who are found close to men who have power go down swinging (check out that assassination attempt).
I dimly remember somebody telling me that I may not like this movie. So silly. I think Lau does a good job of advancing the storyline of Chen Zhen in ways that are compelling for a 21st century audience. Is it a little nationalistic? Maybe, but would it be Chen Zhen if it wasn’t?
Oh yeah, and Donnie channels Kato in the central role he should have had in The Green Hornet.
It’s not often that I say this, but you have to forgive me. I have been avoiding Won Bin like I owe him money. You know how everyone else goes on about a person, and just to be contrary, you stay far away? Yeah, that was me and Won Bin. Please forgive me. That’s the first thing.
The second thing is, I have been seeing Won Bin before, and just didn’t know it. He was looking at me the whole time. Oh, he didn’t look like he does in The Man From Nowhere, no, that would have been too easy. Won Bin is in one of my favorite Korean movies, Guns and Talks.
He is also in Mother. Maybe I was focusing too much on the mother, which, if you’ve seen the film, isn’t hard to do.
If you’ve seen either one of those, you KNOW that he’s not performing in quite the same way as he does in The Man From Nowhere. So I was very surprised to see him in this film directed by Kim Jeong Beom. Yes, it’s a story of revenge, which the Koreans do so well. And it is well shot. The action scenes are very stylish as well, very well done. What I appreciated about this film is that it just put you in the middle of the story, not really connecting the dots until well into the film. This is refreshing, because there are few things worse than knowing what is going to happen.
What I found interesting about the film, though, was Won Bin’s character (and this has nothing to do with those shots of him with no shirt on–let’s focus on his acting ability! 😉 Increasingly, I’m finding male protagonists, in so-called action dramas, being allowed to be more emotional. Cha Tae Sik isn’t a mindless killing machine. He doesn’t just snap one day. The film does a very delicate job of setting him up as an emotional man, albeit one with special ops training. And the set up isn’t as obvious as it could be. The tender object of his emotion is a little street urchin who lies and steals. But she grows on you, and on Tae Sik. He also feels responsible for her, even before the horrific events that send them spiraling into the brutal world of illegal trafficking in organs and drugs. Her presence is even more tension-filled if you’ve watched Asian films before. Kids are not off-limits; they are not safe. So when crazed guy gets a hold of her, you can’t be sure that things are going to turn out ok.
I also found the interesting weaving of themes of immigration into this film. It does matter that people are Chinese or Korean in this film, and provides another interesting layer for me. The dynamics place the Chinese as the marginalized people, on the fringes, where no one seems to notice that things are awry. They become the perfect victims in the illegal trade.
I liked this movie. I know it may not be fashionable to say so, but it was a good “first” introduction to Won Bin. 🙂
Photo Credits: 2.bp.blogspot.com
Guns & Talks Trailer, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sUTDcxQ18cM
Mother Trailer, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KPcijFQ4PpU
I admit, there is a lot of talk about wuxia on this site: wuxia dramas, wuxia films, wuxia literature. I guess I never explained the appeal of wuxia for me. Well, here goes.
It is about more than the swords (although the swords are nice!). First of all, let’s see what we’re talking about. Here is how the Almighty Wikipedia defines wuxia:
Wuxia (simplified Chinese: 武侠; traditional Chinese: 武俠; pinyin: wǔxiá[ùɕjǎ]) is a broad genre of Chinese fiction concerning the adventures of martial artists. Although wuxia is traditionally a form of literature, its popularity has caused it to spread to different art forms like Chinese opera, manhua (Chinese comics), films, television series, and video games. Wuxia is a component of popular culture for many Chinese-speaking communities worldwide.
The word “wuxia” is a compound word composed from the words wu (武), which means “martial”, “military”, or “armed” and xia (俠), meaning “honorable”, “chivalrous”, or “hero”. A martial artist (or pugilist) who follows the code of Xia is often referred to as a xiake(俠客, lit: “follower of xia”, “hiệp khách”) or youxia (游俠, “wandering xia”, “du hiệp”). In some translated works of wuxia, the pugilist is sometimes termed as a “swordsman” although he may not necessarily wield a sword.
So when you say Chinese and swords, most people think of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
Or House of the Flying Daggers.
Now, I’m not mad at Ang Lee or Zhang Yimou. I’m always up for seeing them do their thing on the big screen. But I found there is a big difference between wuxia on the big screen and wuxia on the small screen, and I think that’s where a lot of my interest falls. The television series, by their nature, allows for the development of a convoluted plot, especially with series that are based on wuxia fiction. And a result, the action is less important than the development of characters and narrative. Now, if you’ve seen those wuxia series from the 1980s, you could say that the wuxia series has too much time on its hands. 30, 40, 50 episodes require a certain amount of commitment. And there is a lot of wistful monologues where characters wax poetic about what they should or shouldn’t do. But I still love them.
My first wuxia series was Return of the Condor Heroes (1983) . While it stars a young Andy Lau, what really captured my attention was not the couple that flouts the rules, but Huang Rong. I was astounded that her claim to fame was her cleverness. To me, she stole the show. I was intrigued that she was allowed to have so many talents AND never lose her femininity. And she’s not a bad swordsperson in her own right. The only person rivalling her in the series was her FATHER!!! Dude only appears a handful of times, but his surliness is just delicious. Whatever you might think of Huang Yaoshi, he does what you want EVERY father who happens to be a martial arts master to do: teach. his. daughter. martial arts. If you are going to send her out into the world, at least makes sure she can defend herself! I was so focused on these two, I practically forgot about that other love story.
This got me thinking about masculinity and femininity in wuxia. A lot of what people focus on, especially if we take the Wikipedia tact, is that the hero is a MAN. I love the fact that there are so many women running around wuxia. And they aren’t falling down; helpless, hapless women either. They run the gamut on both sides of good and evil. They carry swords with their well-manicured hands and well-coiffed hairstyles. They are WOMEN with swords, not women pretending to be men (which is different from disguising oneself as a man for a purpose). But they are not always carrying swords, yet they figure significantly into the plots and not just as the love interest. And there are different kinds of women too! I’m trying explore what I call a female heroic tradition. Does it exist? If so, what does it look like? Is heroism itself a concept only applied to men? What defines heroism for ladies? Sure, they can be the philosophical light, but ladies can effect the beatdown too! And even without a sword, they can cause trouble as members of royalty. I’m interested because a lot of other women I know are interested. I think it is limiting to think that women can’t be heroic and bring something different to heroism.
Laughing In The Wind
I’m also interested in the men, or as like to call them, SWP: Swordsmen With Problems. These are a crazy lot: alcoholics, womanizers, depressed souls who suffer from low self-esteem, rejected by the women they love, can’t communicate with the women they love, can’t get rid of women who love them, unable to assume the obligations laid at their feet, guys who have unresolved father issues. Oh, but they are talented martial artists. So it’s an interesting combination. But not all men in wuxia wield a sword. Everyone knows that the scholars, monks, tricksters, and guys who can bring a good plan to the table are indispensable. So heroism, once again, takes on a different flavor. I’m also interested in the relationships between men, the lengths and limits of brotherhood and something I like to call male emotionality. These dudes cry. All. The. Time. And it doesn’t take away from their masculinity. What’s up with that?
The Handsome Siblings
Put them together, and you get my third interest: men and women. I’ve seen some really equitable relationships between men and women in wuxia dramas. I’ve seen both men and women deviate from their “expected’ societal roles. Of course, I’ve seen some relationships that are a hot mess, but hey, they keep in interesting. Put this against the backdrop of some Chinese history, and it is very interesting to me.
Ok, and then there are the swords, the battles, the clothes. (I couldn’t resist).
Young Warriors of the Yang Clan
So that’s why there is so much wuxia on the site. I’m working on a book that explores this, and will occaisionally use the blog to work through my ideas.
Ok, not really the first YesAsia order, but I thought it would make an interesting post to see what I’m getting and why. Also, this presents a nice change from me complaining about how Netflix has completely ruined our relationship by not having my Asian stuff!
First, let’s talk about what I’m NOT getting: the 94-episode Three Kingdoms released in 2010. Thanks, China, for not loving me. Why no subtitles in English? WHY?! Really, why make it region free (not like I care) but not have English subtitles? And I can’t do the various OTHER internet ways of accessing this (read: quasi-legal). Standards are too high when it comes to wuxia series. Can’t do parts.
So, let’s move on to what I am getting:
Reign of Assassins: You can’t be surprised by this. Michelle Yeoh and Jung Woo Sung. Co-directed by John Woo. I’ve been waiting for this, not just for the action but for the domestic story. It could be an interesting twist on the “I don’t wanna fight any more” plot, because it’s a woman saying it. Usually, we see swordsmen become beleaguered by the life of a hero. They retire to some cave, or become a monk on a mountain somewhere. Which is fine, but when it is a female lead, inevitably part of her domestic life is going to involve becoming romantically involved with a guy. Where else would the tension come from when her gang comes looking for her trying to drag her back into the life? The stakes are different for ladies, and I’m interested in how they handle this.
Shaolin: Once again, this is a given, ever since I saw the trailer for it. AND it’s not JUST because it has Andy Lau, Nicholas Tse and some guy named Jackie Chan in it. Corey Yuen does the martial arts choreography and it’s written by Benny Chan. Yeah, I know we’ve seen the destruction of the Shaolin temple many times, but I’m never opposed to revisiting it, especially if someone can bring something new. Plus, it looks like there may be some engagement with the modernization of China. At least that’s what I think of when I see cars and guns versus monks.
The Lost Bladesman: Me, absolutely giddy with delight at the prospect of seeing Donnie Yen play Guan Yu. You had me at Guan Yu. You know he’s your favorite of the Three Brothers. I want Liu Bei to be a better man than he is, and Chang Fei is just cray cray. Now, there is the potential for disappointment here, especially since it will invite comparisons to Red Cliff. You know my aim here is not to tell you what’s “good” and what’s not. I’m just telling you what I like. And I like Donnie Yen. A LOT. Plus, Guan Yu seems to have more potential for exploration as a character. I do want to see him do more than wield the blade and do that move with the beard. I’ve heard some less than stellar things about the actual plot, but hey, I’m getting it ANYWAY!
True Legend: Yes, not just because of Vincent Zhao but because of Zhao PLUS Yuen Wo Ping! Ok, I do have a thing for Zhao and it has everything to do with the emotional roller-coaster he took me on as Chu Zhaonan in the wuxia series Seven Swordsmen. STILL not over that ending! I think that he could be a viable go-to guy for action and wuxia films, but no one seems to go to him. Putting him with Yuen Wo Ping seems like it will be a treat. Yeah, I’ve heard some less than enthusiastic things about it, but hey. I’m getting it ANYWAY! I’m really looking for another treatment of the Beggar So legend than Steven Chow’s stuff.
Ok, so that seems to be a good deal of wuxia-related stuff. But that’s not all I’m getting!
Turning Point: This is has been in my saved cart for a while, and I wondered why I put it in there in the first place. Then I remembered: Michael Tse, of Young and Dangerous fame. You know how attached to Young and Dangerous I am, and I really like this guy. Plus I heard good things about the television show, EU, on which the film is based.. And it has Anthony Wong AND Francis Ng, each with crazy haircuts, which means the potential for their portrayal of off-the-chain characters is high.
Stool Pigeon: I’m always looking for a good crime drama, and given that this is directed by Dante Lam, who also directed Beast Stalker, I’m willing to give it a try. I always love to see Nick Cheung do serious roles, because the first time I saw him was as the wise-cracking security official in Andrew Lau’s The Duel. Who knew he’d go from that to things like this? Plus it looks like Nicholas Tse isn’t as pretty as he usually is in films. I’ll deal with it.
And to round it out, Don’t Go Breaking My Heart: Who doesn’t love Louis Koo? And I particularly like him when he’s being silly and romantic. Pair him up with Daniel Wu in a Johnnie To vehicle, and this could be great.
So that’s it. That’s what I’m getting. Once my shipment arrives, I will regale you with my opinions, because I know you are so looking forward to that.
Reign of Assassins, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-i4yVbYX98I
The Lost Bladesman, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sA2NETUFkc0
True Legend, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sNzRP0ZSKzw
Turning Point, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J5EMxEVFE2E
Stool Pigeon, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N-6NX_ZnCLM
Don’t Go Breaking My Heart, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yh0gGbDf6XM
I know you have heard about the “4D personality”, but what about the “3G idol”?
That’s what I call certain idols who manage to be gentlemen, gangsters and the guys next door without making you scratch your head. Some people say that all idols are the same, but the ability of certain male idols to present a variety of images makes them stand out and shows the many different ways one can be a man…….click on the link below to read more:
Published on hellokpop.com on July 2, 2011.
That’s what I saw one netizen post in response to the recent rumors of a Shinhwa comeback. For shame! While I am ecstatic about the possibility of a Shinhwa comeback, there are skeptics, and worse, those who don’t even know about Shinhwa. Let me tell you something right now: a Shinhwa comeback is an earth-shattering event that would transform the Kpop world forever…….click on the link below to read more.
Published on hellokpop.com June 22, 2011.
I would love nothing more than for all of us to hold hands and sing songs around the campfire. But that’s hard to do when some of us don’t tell the whole story. About three weeks ago, Esther Oh threw down the gauntlet, declaring Kpop’s “global domination” to be a myth in her online article, K-pop Taking Over the World? Don’t Make Me Laugh. In its wake, other writers have weighed in on the state of Kpop. Some know what they are talking about, and others, well, not so much. What bothers me about those who don’t is that they dismiss the heart of Kpop: the fans. I just think if you are going to talk about Kpop and its global reach, you have to talk about the fans…..click on the link below to read more.
Originally published on hellokpop.com on June 16, 2011.
The co-ed group in pop music is as rare as a four-leaf clover, so I’m not surprised that there are few mixed Kpop groups. However, some brave souls always attempt to stake their claim as a co-ed Kpop group. Sometimes it works well, and sometimes it doesn’t work at all…..click on the link below to read more.
Originally published on hellokpop.com on June 12, 2011.
Oh, my Netflix peeps tried to steer me wrong! I almost did not watch this Japanese movie about the major historical shifts preceding the Tokugawa era. They talked much smack about this movie: bad dubbing (Oh, I’ve heard WAY worse!), craptastic special effects, and no plot.
Are we watching the same movie? I remember reading some comments that said the effects were Sin City meets 300. Actually, the mixture of live action and CGI reminded me of Casshern, except this movie had a plot that was not sacrificed for the effects. You also just have to go with the visual mixing they do; I’ve never seen kimonos like that!
I was initially all about the ninjas, because, let’s face, it’s hard not to be. But the minute I heard his name, I knew this was no ordinary movie: Hattori Hanzo. This just got interesting…..WHAT! Tokugawa Ieyasu? OBU NOBUNAGA!! Oh this is more than just about some Japanese Robin Hood type. I would recommend it for some Saturday afternoon movie watching.
Oh, and I found myself watching one ninja in particular, Saizo. I knew I saw him somewhere else, and sure enough, he was in Hana, one of my favorite “I’m a samurai, but I don’t want to be a samurai” movies.
I can’t exactly say I like Francis Ng. But, weirdly, I do look forward to the crazy characters he plays. Need a weird, awkward, alcoholic, pathological anti-social pyschopath? Then Francis Ng is your guy! I first became aware of his unique talents in Young and Dangerous. Dude does not-right RIGHT!
So imagine my glee(?) when I heard he was teaming up with Marco Mak for Tracing Shadow, billed as a wuxia parody. To its credit, I think it is shot better than you would anticipate a dramedy of this kind to be. It’s pretty and the martial arts choreography, wire work and swordplay is better than I would have expected.
To be honest, you are not going to find anything new in this if you’ve seen even a sprinkling of wuxia films. It didn’t make me laugh out loud, but it did make me smile. It wasn’t over the top crazy like mo lau tai wuxia comedies, but it had its fair share of subtle humor and just things that didn’t go together in a weird kind of way. Like that impromptu jam between Ng’s character and the eventual object of his affection, in a brothel, to what sounds like a fusion of traditional Chinese music and hard rock. Yeah. And there THREE crazy things waiting for you in the middle, but unlike other people, I’ll let you find them for yourself. You’ll know when you see them. And THAT made me smile, that I was able to recognize what, or more accurately, WHO, they were supposed to be. See, watching all that wuxia pays off in the end! Another redeeming factor is that Jaycee Chan is actually decent in this. I’ve seen him in other things, and I don’t blame him because he’s been in roles that didn’t really fit him. But here, he is actually kinda charming. Good job!
And while I’m thinking about it, can people who write about films please stop heralding the end of Hong Kong film with EVERY film that does not meet some high expectation? Good grief. If I had a dollar for every film somebody said was killing Hong Kong film, I’d be rich. Chill out. Not every film is supposed to be super great. I’m not mad at this. I save that for things have truly no redeeming value whatsoever, and when you think about it, that’s pretty rare.
Hey, it’s not my fault. Ok, it’s a little my fault, but not mostly my fault. It’s Netflix’s fault! At first, I thought it was my imagination. I was doing other things and my film watching habits suffered a bit. But then when I really investigated, I found out the truth: Netflix has not updated its Hong Kong film list! The last film is from 2009. Let’s be real: we know there’s been films released in Hong Kong since 2009! For real, and the other Asian regions are even worse!
But that’s not all. I was in the middle of watching the Shaolin series with Sammo Hung, not even in the middle, on the first disc, and Netflix informs me that the other discs are “unavailable.” Wha?
I don’t know what has happened to Netflix. Can’t get new stuff. Can’t get old stuff. It’s putting a serious crimp in my Asian movie watching. I don’t want to get all illegal with it: those people work hard to make those films. So my Asian film watching will have to be limited to my disposable income, and legal online watching venues.
But that doesn’t mean that stuff isn’t coming down the pike. Can you say Shaolin (the movie, you know with Andy Lau and Nic Tse?)? Can you say Blades of Blood? Can you say Stool Pigeon? Netflix, you will not stop MEEEEEEEEE!