Every time I see articles about young Asian actors leaving behind their “flower boy” roles for more “manly” characters, I feel some kind of way. Such articles act like attractiveness and masculinity cannot go hand it hand. They might if their authors were watching what I watch.
This week saw the release of first images and the official trailer of RZA’s long-awaited homage to kung-fu film, Man With the Iron Fists. Not only does the film represent a new chapter in the long love-affair between African Americans and Asian culture, it reminds us how long that love affair has been.
I think some people are anticipating this more than others. In one online community, reaction was distinctly muted. Some predict that this is going to be a crappy movie. We all know that if we could really determine if a film was crappy just from an image or a trailer, most of us would have fuller wallets. Bad films can have talented people attached to them; good films can get marred by the skewed vision of a few.
I’m dismayed by such a reaction, given the trajectory of the Hong Kong film industry, a film industry that owes quite a lot to kung fu films and wuxia, two genres that are routinely characterized as “low culture.” However, the elite directors over which critics fawn routinely cite their work in and the influence of those two genres. Poshek Fu notes: “As Ang Lee recently revealed, the shaping influences of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon were the numerous Shaw Brothers costume dramas and musicals he watched as he was growing up in Taiwan in the 1950s and 1960s” (1). Let’s not forget where those Hong Kong Bruce Lee films came from.
Not only did some of the most significant Hong Kong film directors get their start in kung fu films at the studios of Golden Harvest and the Shaw Brothers, they did so in films most of us have never seen. Let’s face it: many of these films are nowhere near Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon material. But the allowed today’s talent to hone their craft, and created significant followings around the world.
One of the most significant followings is among African Americans in the United States. Sundiata Keita Cha-Jua notes that in contrast to the American audience for action film, presumed to be “young, white, working-class males,” “the black martial arts audience. . . complicates, if not transcends, the class, gender and generational limitations of action films’ traditional spectators. A broader cross-section of the black community is attracted to this film genre” (200).
Cha-Jua refers to film scholar David Desser’s explanation for the appeal: “He advances two interconnected arguments: First, besides blaxploitation, kung fu films were the only films with nonwhite heroes and heroines; second, they concerned an ‘underdog of color, often fighting against the colonialist enemies, white culture, or the Japanese'” (200).
So we can’t be surprised at the Afro-Asian connection in kung fu films. What may be surprising is what RZA has done with Man with the Iron Fists. I remember reading when he went to China to film. Not the place you expect to see a black man. Filming a movie. A kung fu movie. If you look at the cast, you see all kinds of folk involved; Russell Crowe, Lucy Liu, and Quentin Tarantino. If nothing else, this is a new chapter in that it represents, to a certain degree, African Americans articulating their own response to Asian popular culture in film.
Will this film be just another example of what some see as the rampant commercialization and low quality of contemporary Hong Kong film? Maybe. Or maybe it will take all the stuff you love about Saturday afternoon kung fu and raise to a new, ridiculously crazy level. Is it going to push some buttons about race, gender, violence and appropriation? Sure will! Have you seen the trailer?
The poster and trailer invite commentary, but let’s not pretend that any of this is new and, more importantly, not part of the legacy of kung fu films. C’mon, we all know what we are here for.
Fu, Poshek. “Introduction: The Shaw Brothers Diasporic Cinema,” China Forever: The Shaw Brothers and Diasporic Cinema (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2008). 1-26.
Cha-Jua, Sundiata Keita. “Black Audiences, Blaxploitation and Kung Fu Films, and challenges to White Celluloid Masculinity,” China Forever: The Shaw Brothers and Diasporic Cinema (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2008). 199-223.
Wu Xia, directed by Peter Chan and starring Donnie Yen, Takeshi Kaneshiro and Jimmy Wang Yu, was worth the wait, and a welcome change from some of the mediocre wuxia films I’ve been seeing.
The Warring States (2011) fails on nearly every level it can: faulty plot, underdeveloped characters and a distinct lack of key elements of narrative. I know it’s tough, but I have to be honest. This is probably the worst historical film I’ve seen, because at least Three Kingdoms: Resurrection of the Dragon had Andy Lau looking fierce even as an older Zhao Zhilong.
Felix Chong and Alan Mak’s The Lost Bladesman (2011) takes a different tact on Romance of the Three Kingdoms by focusing on the episode where Guan Yu “spends some time” with Cao Cao. I appreciate this more subtle approach to the epic tale, even as it has some parts that do not quite make sense to me.
I have been wanting to read this book for ages! This book is most excellent! There are so few scholarly sources in English about novels published by Chinese writers featuring wuxia heroes. Hamm focuses on one of the most prolific authors, Jin Yong (also known as Louis Cha). I’m drawn to it because Jin Yong’s novels are the basis for many Chinese wuxia television series, including Eagle Shooting Heroes, Return of the Condor Heroes, Book and Sword: Gratitude and Revenge, Laughing in the Wing (Smiling Proud Wanderer; also the basis for Tsui Hark’s Swordsman film series), Deer and the Cauldron, and Sword Stained with Royal Blood.
For my purposes, he does a lot of exposition of the plots of these novels, as many of them have not been translated into English. This really helps me out because it gives me an idea of where many of the wuxia series engage in creative retelling. Anyone who has committed to watching one knows that it might closely follow the novel, or it might make some…..changes. I’m less concerned about authenticity and more interested in how those changes alter the meaning of the series.
Hamm also does crucial work on locating these novels within a Chinese historical context. I’ve always thought it mattered that you had a heroic story about the Song despite their occupation by the Jin in Eagle Shooting Heroes. Hamm makes this make sense!
I have to say my favorite quote is actually a quote he takes from Wang Shuo’s essay on Jin Yong: “The only reason Wang Shuo can imagine for this stuff’s popularity is the possibility that it serves as a kind of ‘head massage’ for the overstimulated victims of modern life. Jin Yong’s fiction belongs, in sum, together with the ‘Four Heavenly Kings’ of Canto-pop music, Jacky Chan’s action films, and Qiong Yao-inspired television soap operas, as the ‘four great vulgarities’ (si da su) of our time.” (251). I love this, because he hits three of my greatest interests in Asian popular culture! Of course I don’t agree; I find the debate about whether or not these novels are literature not very interesting or productive.
Love this book!
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.
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 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.
Dear Takeshi Kaneshiro,
I feels like forever since I’ve seen you. Like I could ever forget your face:
Don’t you remember how we met? I know you may want to forget Returner, but you should fondly remember that crazy film. I saw our potential even as you worked your way through the alien time travel. Don’t remember the subsequent good times?
Red Cliff? This warrants a brief pause, because you KNOW my love of Zhuge Liang.
I even watched you in Fallen Angels and you KNOW how I feel about Wong Kar Wai. So where have you been?
While one might assume you have been up to no good, you clearly have been doing good stuff, starring in Peter Chan’s Wu Xia. Ok, let’s say it together: WU XIA! Just the name makes me giddy. And just when I think it can’t get any better, IT HAS DONNIE YEN ALSO! And just when I think my mind can’t take anymore. THEY TAKE IT OLD SCHOOL WITH JIMMY WANG!! Really?! YES, REALLY!
Don’t believe me? Look here! (I know since you are in the film you already know. I’m just telling the people).
How could I have ever doubted you? Ok, I will wait patiently for your return. The end of 2011 seems so far away. 😦
And it better be good. Just sayin’.
This is obligatory: Andy Lau is the MAN!!! Even when he’s in sucky stuff, you forgive him (at least I did for Resurrection of the Dragon), because for every bad movie he does, there is a decent one coming around the bend. He is the hardest working man in Hong Kong!
Tsui Hark: let’s be real. The man gave us Once Upon A Time in China. But he also gave us Seven Swords (the movie). He can be a little uneven, inconsistent. So in the months before the release of Detective Dee, I was nervous. Can Tsui Hark be the Tsui Hark that we love? It was all hush-hush, with really bad quality video being leaked out. But I decided that I was going to have faith in him…..
AND HE DID!! This is the Tsui Hark we know and love! He is absolutely in his element: using cracktastic special effects with an over the top Saturday matinée story that makes sense! You go!
I really liked this movie. Is it Citizen Kane? No, and it’s absolutely not meant to be. This is why people (me) fell in love with movies in the first place. The story is not terribly obvious, the special effects make sense, and he does not waste Andy Lau, Carina Lau and Tony Leung Ka Fai in this. Yayz!
Watching Overheard has put me in the mind of some old-school Lau Ching Wan! Let’s revisit the Double Lau-Lau Ching Wan and Andy Lau! All month long, post your favorite comments about Running Out of Time!
Ok, I’ve watched the movie, and it just makes me fall for Andy Lau all over again. (Yes, I’ve got a BIG heart!). I recall that this was my first Lau Ching Wan film, and instantly made me like him. It holds up well. I thought I remembered what happened, and completely forgot about the Andy in drag scene. Classic!
What I really like about watching it again is that I catch things I missed the first time, you know, because Andy Lau’s light is so bright. But it’s a really smart film. And unlike so many films these days, it doesn’t bog you down with backstory. Get with the program, and catch up! You gotta watch this film to get it. It doesn’t treat the audience like idiots.
So, watchu think?
Clearly, 2009 was Louis Koo’s year, appearing in two films that I recently watched in my own personal Louis Koo double feature, Accident and Overheard.
Let’s take Accident, or as I like to think of it, Look Both Ways Before Crossing the Street, which also stars Richie Jen. Louis Koo plays the leader of a group that stages murders to look like accidents, you know, for a fee. I think it’s a solid film, nothing spectacular, but by no means something crappy. Koo’s performance is good, if what we are going for is an emotionally detached character, which I think is the goal. Sufficient twists and everything, but I was particularly impressed with the camera work. Soi Cheang really paid attention to the use of elements and light in this urban setting.
I found Overheard to be much richer in terms of narrative, tho. Starring the trifecta of Koo, Lau Ching Wan and Daniel Wu, it took turns I did not anticipate. Again, nice camera work by Alan Mak. This film is about three surveillance cops presented with the opportunity to profit from overhearing a stock tip from a company they are investigating. What I like is the way the personal lives are interwoven into the professional lives of these men, which provides a depth to their motives, especially Koo’s character. Dang! Koo really does desperate well.
What both films share is the theme of surveillance: people who look at other people, people who think others are watching them, and the impact that has on the way people live their lives and make decisions. It seems timely, with technology invading privacy and altering the ways in which we deal with one another.
Can I just say, tho, that I’m never buying it when they try to age Koo. That man will always be forever young to me. And can we please get him some better quality glasses if he must portray characters who wear glasses? Go back at other films and look! He always wears these not-attractive glasses!
So, it may seem that I’ve abandoned my love of Chinese wuxia, having seen the bright lights of the kdrama Queen Seondeok and the sexy manly of Korean idol bands like SS501 (oh yes, a WHOLE entry devoted to them is coming)…..
Fret not, I’m still down with my wuxia! I thought people might get a little sick of me continuing to wax poetic about Zhuge Liang, because I can talk all day long about Romance of the Three Kingdoms! I teach an Asian film and lit class, and that time is rolling around again for the biannual showing of Red Cliff, Parts 1 and 2. I did watch Tsui Hark’s Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame awhile back, and was pleased, just haven’t got around to putting my thoughts down.
But the historical kdrama and the Chinese wuxia series are closely related to my interests: women you don’t want to mess with, and talented handsome men who tag along! (How many times do I gotta tell y’all about applying to be my own personal Hwarang? Then again, I have to think about what function a contemporary Hwarang would have….and do they need a health plan?). So I need a basis for comparison. Plus, the Chinese series are a little slow in coming….I’m not really interested in Chinese Paladin, and I’ve heard bad things about The Jade and the Pearl. The last ones I watched were The Master of Tai Chi (with my perennial boo, Vincent Zhao) and The Four (with, you know, those four guys). While The Master of Tai Chi had several significant women’s roles, The Four had none. Well, that’s not true, it did have one, but she’s kinda disappointing in the end. Ok, more than one, but it was still not the greatest for women. I keep meaning to hit the new versions of The Book and the Sword and Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre, but not yet.
I’ll be back in full effect once my YesAsia shipment gets here: most notably, the 95-episode treatment of Romance of the Three Kingdoms, True Legend, Reign of Assassins, Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen (DOOOONNNNIIIIEEEE!! I know, not wuxia, but it’s Donnie Yen!).
Don’t worry, I keep my eye on the wuxia world………