Sunday, April 18, 2010

My festival of feature-length films recently left me with the feeling you get after you read a lot of short stories: you want a big novel to really sink into.  So I have found another Chinese TV series, 33 episodes based on the original Korean feature film Bi Chun Mu (which usually seems to be referenced in tandem with Musa, as "not as good as").

Oh, how I have missed the sword play by attractive young men in long robes and waist-length hair and a loose top-knot ponytail. It seems so elegant, compared to the violence of a couple of non-Chinese films from my festival of the past week or so, Al Pacino classics, Scarface and Carlito's Way.  The contemporary godfather of the American criminal and cop genre, Pacino owns those roles as the eponymous protagonists...the New York Italian playing a Cuban and a Puerto Rican. I'd sorta like to see him with a sword: "You wanna play rough? Okay. Say hello to my little friend!"  Not sure the hairstyle would work though, the eyes are all wrong, and he's too short, really. I think he might look like Yoda in a Ming-era robe.

In Bi Chun Mu (Dance with Sword), the TV series, I find all the usual wuxia elements--hidden identities, mysterious motives, common people  pitted against the nobility, secret sword techniques, bamboo forest choreography, revenge, and unrequited love -- at least at episode 8 it looks like it will be that way.  And it's a Chinese production; I thought it would be Korean as Bi Chun Mu the film was.  So, some Mandarin exercise.

And a new face to contemplate, here, the Chinese Wang Ya Nan, outstanding among the Koreans in the cast, plays a rich boy wastrel who develops a strange deep affection for the apparent commoner-orphan,  Joo Jin Mo (who comes across a little like the young Jackie Chan). Little do either know the orphan is really the prince of Korea.  The orphaned royal heir brings Ya Nan's character out of his drunken womanizing to proceed to feel real love for his new best friend's paramour. "I feel like a beast," the well connected and wealthy Ya Nan says. "I want my best friend's girl."   She wants nothing to do with him, preferring the orphan whose father, so predictably unknown, was killed by hers. (She is his daughter by a concubine.) There is a vague bisexual element in Ya Nan's performance that leaves open the possibility for another story line --he loves both his friend and his girl deeply. I doubt such modern sexual intrigue will become part of the plot.

So I'm hooked again. Not quite a Korean soap opera, but close.  I found the Tai Seng videos for a very good price at my rarely visited WalMart, purveyor of everything Chinese-made if not necessarily Chinese in character.  Don't know if you can find these things at YOUR Wal-Mart.  But they are easily found on line.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

A visit last week to my local Chinese DVD vendor (a side trip from dropping off tax forms for my preparer) yielded a couple of interesting, non-wuxia/kung fu films.  First, another quasi-propaganda piece, Confucius, with Chow Yun-Fat as the sage, who actually winds up at one point having a heart-to-heart chat with Lao Tzu.  It was a pretty movie, but left me feeling like I'd watched a Chinese version of "The Greatest Story Ever Told," with CYF in the Max Von Sydow role.

I also revisited an old video tape of Bertolucci's "Last Emperor" while I made soup from the remains of my usual solo Friday night Costco huli huli chicken.  When the Wizard's away, I cook as I may...and that usually means several meals from one pre-cooked chicken.  I'd forgotten that that was a pretty good movie, even if a lot of it is made up.  I'm thinking maybe I need to read Twilight in the Forbidden City which was used (in the film at least, along with some issues of Time Magazine, eternal source of history and truth) as evidence against Pu Yi by the re-educating Communists.

Then I put Empire of Silver, the other recent item my video vendor insisted I watch, in the laptop. Despite opening with some fabulous scenes of camel caravans in the desert, evoking Dragon Inn or Seven Swords,  it turned out to have no elements of kung fu or wuxia...but a choppy plot about filial piety (there's that Confucius thing) and...banking. I didn't know that Shanxi province was the center of banking in the Qing Dynasty. Great Wall Street. A lot of guys with queues hauling around taels of silver in the late Qing and early Republic, fighting off warlords and cleaning up after incompetent bank managers.  (Well, there was one swordfight, but a gun put an end to it.) This was strangely au courant.

And there was a romantic element that could have sustained at least 24 episodes of HK TVB: the number three son (Aaron Kwok, can't hold a candle to Vincent Zhao in the desert, or even Pierce Brosnan in Noble House), is a lazy playboy who had a serious coming-of-age affair with the woman who later becomes his father's second wife. Still, the playboy bounces back to save the banking dynasty (while fighting off wolves in the Gobi and praying for advice in the ancestral hall). Tragically, his romantic interest goes off to Mei Guo with a lady missionary (who helped her get a prophylactic hysterectomy and fake her funeral), oddly, inexplicably, played by Jennifer Tilley, not so sexy really, in a cameo role.

This film, by a Taiwanese director and produced by interests in China and Hong Kong, was featured in the 2009 Shanghai Film Festival.  I think the Great Wall Street of China has moved south from Shanxi.