Had my own wuxia film festival this past weekend!
On Friday night, one of the satellite channels was showing House of Flying Daggers. The first time I saw this (on DVD), I turned it off part-way through….for some reason, it just wasn’t grabbing me at all. Since that time, though, I’ve seen it three times, and I’ve really enjoyed it. Primarily, this is a love story. Naturally, given that this is also a wuxia story, the love story is bittersweet. No happy endings here….but damn if Zhang Ziyi isn’t one of the most beautiful women on the planet:
On Saturday, a bunch of folks came over and we watched several films together, ordering Chinese food and generally having a ball.
First up was Storm Riders, which is one of my favorites. Based on the Win Shing Ma comic book Tin Ha (Fung Wan), the movie features magic swords, chi blasts, magical kung-fu, and Aaron Kwok as perhaps the world’s first blue-haired Goth Wuxia. I consider this film to be the best example of the “wild” side of the wuxia spectrum — balanced against the art-house beauty of films like “House of Flying Daggers” and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.”
Then, we moved on to one I hadn’t seen before — Tsui Hark’s semi-remake, semi-sequel Zu Warriors (AKA Legend of Zu). Wow. What a pretty mess this was. The special effects were great, and there was certainly spectacle to spare…..but it was just one massive spectacle after another, with no coherent plot. I mean, fer chrissakes, I majored in East Asian Languages and Cultures, I’ve studied Chinese legend and wuxia literature, I’ve seen (and own) the first “Zu: Warriors of the Magic Mountain” film, and hell–my family lived in Hong Kong for a few years….and *I* was lost in this mess. Good lord. Some amazing images, yeah…..but it’s not a suprise that Miramax ended up scrapping the US theatrical release of this one. Way too much of a “WTF?” factor.
The last film on Saturday was another one of my favorites….and another admitted mess: Kung Fu Cult Master, starring Jet Li and a Cast of Thousands. An absolutely convoluted clusterfuck of warring kung-fu sects, secret stances, magical styles and double-and-triple-crosses, based on the Jin Yong novel (and later, comic book), “Heaven Sword and Dragon Slayer Sabre.” Well OK–the first chunk of it, at least. The film ends, Bakshi-LOTR-style, in the middle of the action…..and the follow-up film was never made. That said, we’ve got Jinx’s Palm, we’ve got Great Solar Stance…and, perhaps coolest of all, we have a fight between Jet Li and a Shaolin Monk, where Jet Li’s internal voice-over features him wondering how many Experience Points his opponent has. This is goofiness of the highest order, and I love it.
Sunday afternoon, I continued the theme on my own, by watching another film I had not yet seen: Shaolin vs. Evil Dead. Yes, like “Snakes on a Plane”, that title pretty much tells you everything you need to know. The 2004 movie features Gordon Liu (Pai Mei from “Kill Bill 2”, among many other things) as a Shaolin monk….who….well, fights the Evil Dead. Yup — demons, zombies and hopping vampires galore. The only problem with this movie (and believe me, some of the reviews are harsh) is that the director was so enamored of the two-movie structure of “Kill Bill” that he decided to go with the same thing here…..so the film ends REALLY abuptly (in the middle of an action sequence, in fact), and there are scenes from the next installment played during the end credits. Two problems here. One: The scenes from the follow-up look MUCH cooler than the movie that just ended…..and Two: this film came out in 2004, and there’s been no news of any sequel release, despite the fact that it was obviously already filmed.