Sunday, January 22, 2012

Welcome Water Dragon

The second new year festival of the year, a yin start-over, and I fail as usual to cleanse the house of evil spirits, barely taking out the trash, let alone scrubbing floors and getting rid of chipped china. (I may however eat jai and gau tomorrow.) Today I finish reading a highly entertaining and useful book about China travel and language and watch Mao's Last Dancer and Kung Fu Panda 2, stories that have a lot more in common than you might at first think..

I'd read the biography that Mao's Last Dancer is based on when it came out, and forgot about it until a couple years ago when the film was showing locally in theaters with enthusiastic reviews. But I rarely go to theaters, so it wasn't until I saw the DVD in that evil purveyor of Chinese goods, Wal-Mart, at Christmas, that I picked it up.  Good story about defection and courage and dedication to craft (although the fact that it was filmed in part in China with a Chinese cast and crew suggests that defection isn't what it used to be), and the film features a stunning dancer, Chi Cao, from China via Britain, in the lead role.
Ballet, martial arts, whatever...levitation is levitation.
On to Kung Fu Panda 2, in which a group of animated stuffed animals skilled in wu shu, voiced by greats like Gary Oldman (the evil character) and James Hong, the panda's adoptive goose father, manage to save China.  With typical, classic wuxia themes of lost orphans, buddies, revenge, and lust for power (why did that White Peacock want to run China...I forget), it was cute and even brought me to tears (well, so did Mao's Last Dancer, maybe I'm just feeling soft these days). And it ends with Po the Panda's real panda dad discovering "My son is alive," thus guaranteeing Kung Fu Panda 3.  But it lacked one element I watch kick flicks for: hot martial artists with sultry expressions and swords and kick ass kicking.  No Vincent Zhao or Song-il Guk here.  CGI pandas just don't do it for me.

At least the ballet scenes in MLD were gorgeous and featured real men, and especially the one wherein Li Cuixin's peasant father sees his son perform on stage for the first time, quite lasciviously, compared to Madame Mao's requirements, in Rite of Spring. How strange it must have been for a peasant fresh from Shandong who probably hadn't even seen Peking opera. Dad hasn't seen his son for some ten years and asks after the finale, "But why aren't you wearing any clothes?" He doesn't need to worry about that, really.  Li Cuixin has since left the dance and become a stockbroker.

But I did get a little satisfaction from The Sorcerer and the White Snake, yet another retelling, with CGI, of the white snake legend, which I have enjoyed on stage in Chinese and English and in Zhang Yimou's Disney-esque light show fantasy in Hangzhou.  Not from Jet Li, though, but the singer/actor who plays the doomed love interest of  the White Snake, Raymond Lam, familiar to me from a few Hong Kong TV series.
OK, back of Ray's head, but Eva Huang is lovely as the love interest too.
Still nothing compares to Vincent Zhao (Chiu Man-cheuk) in Green Snake, where he plays the evil monk causing trouble for everyone.  He could cause trouble for me any time.

Does he look evil to you?