Posts Tagged ‘Chinese Movies’

Jackie Chan on action comedy

December 27, 2014

Via kottke.org.

Jackie Chan is one of the most entertaining performers in movies today and one of the hardest working.

My favorite Chinese movie

April 22, 2010

My favorite Chinese movie – maybe my favorite movie, period – is “The Emperor and the Assassin,” which came out in 1998.  Its subject is Ying Zheng, who made himself the first ruler of a unified China; his Chin dynasty gave China its name. It is an epic on the scale of “Ben Hur” or “Cleopatra” which took three years to produce. The recreations of ancient palaces, costumes and battles are supposed to be historically authentic. There is a cast of thousands, and the real Chinese army supposedly helped in the battle scenes.

The fascination of the movie is in the moral trajectory of the two main characters.  One is the future emperor, Ying Zheng, who begins as an idealist who wants to unify China and establish peace, and ends as a cruel remorseless tyrant; and the assassin, Jing Ke, who begins as an amoral sociopathic killer and ends as a self-sacrificial hero.

The most unforgettable scene I have seen, in this or any other movie, is the one that introduces the assassin, Jing Ke. He is given a contract to murder a family of sword-makers, which he does with ruthless efficiency.  He first cuts down the old man, then the grown sons with a few swift sword-strokes. Then he hears a sound in the next room. He enters and sees a 12- or 13-year-old girl, standing with her hands behind her back.

He perceives that the girl is blind. She says quietly, You’ve killed my family, haven’t you?  I want you to kill me. You can see I can’t survive on my own like this. Just kill me.

The assassin hesitates. The girl then pulls out a sword in her right hand, and plunges it into her stomach. He involuntarily moves forward to pull it out. She then pulls out her other sword in her left hand, and makes a stabbing motion. Unfortunately, being blind, she miscalculated his position and only stabbed thin air.

Oh, she says calmly, You’re left-handed. And she dies.  The assassin cries out in anguish, not at having killed a harmless little girl, but at witnessing the death of a spirit mightier than his own. His anguish causes him to renounce violence – for a time.

I love this scene, not because I am a sadist, but because it shows what it means to be totally committed. I have lived my own life by the principle of “moderation in all things.” That can be the key to a good life, but greatness (for good or evil) is achieved by those who stop at nothing to achieve a goal.  The movie is full of scenes like that.

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Why I like Chinese movies

April 21, 2010

I became an enthusiast for Chinese movies for a few years after attending the 1996 World Science Fiction convention.  In one suite, there was a continuous showing of Japanese animation films, and, in another, of Hong Kong action films.

The host for the Hong Kong action marathon was Ric Meyers, who wrote a column called Inside Kung Fu.  He was a fan of Hong Kong action videos at a time when they were not shown in the United States outside Chinatown neighborhoods, and the movie theater staff discouraged Westerners from attending.

Hong Kong action films were low-budget movies designed to appeal to laborers in Hong Kong.  Compared to Hollywood action films, they had more acrobatics, more surprising plot twists, more violence, a higher body count, broader comedy and more over-acting – every possible element that would lend universal appeal.

With old-time Hollywood Westerns, critics used to ask how the gunfighters could fire their six-shooters an indefinite number of times without reloading.  The Hong Kong action heroes avoid this dilemma by bringing enormous satchels full of assorted weapons to their showdowns.  When an action hero runs out of ammo fork, say, his AK-47, he throws it away and reaches into his satchel for an Uzi, or whatever.

Meyers said that a distinguishing mark of Chinese movies is that absence of a boundary between the tragic and the comic.  In the action film “The Killers,” the Chinese star Chow Yun Fatt plays a professional assassin who is doing one last job in order to retire.  In the process, he accidentally causes an innocent young girl to be blinded, and so takes on one more assignment to raise the money she needs for an operation.  He himself is blinded in the final showdown, and he and the girl crawl toward each other. Then they unknowlingly crawl past each other, because they are blind! It is funny, and awful, at the same time.

You have the same thing in the higher-end Chinese movies. In “To Live,” a young woman in childbirth is hemorrhaging and the Communists have sent the doctors to labor camps to punish them for thinking they are superior to nurses and other medical workers.  The woman’s husband, an idealistic Communist, has enough influence to pull a doctor out of the camp.  But the doctor is dazed and tottering on his feet, and the family realizes he is weak from hunger.  They quickly cook an emergency bowl of soup, and spoon it into his mouth, upon which he drops dead.  This is a horrible scene, but somehow funny; I could not keep from laughing, even though I was appalled.

Meyers said the plot of “Hamlet” would make a good Chinese action movie.  Hamlet’s motivation, to avenge the death of his father, is typical of a Chinese movie, as is the high body count and the death of the hero at the end.  In a Western action film, the hero wins the heroine or prepares to move on to his next adventure.  In a Hong Kong action film, the hero goes down impaled on a spear or riddled with bullets, knee-deep in the bodies of his enemies, having avenged the great wrong that has been done him.

The only difference, Meyers said, is that if “Hamlet” had been a Hong Kong action film, somebody in the last act would have been hit in the face with a custard pie.

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