Tag Archives: Tsui Hark

XL Popcorn – Once Upon a Time in China

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 816/1007Title: Wong Fei Hung (Once Upon a Time in China)
Director: Tsui Hark
Year: 1991
Country: Hong Kong

I think I am in the minority when I say that I preferred Peking Opera Blues over this film. Maybe it’s because it’s a more comedic film that tells a more localised story with some kick-ass female leads? Yes, I think that’s pretty much why I rate that higher than Once Upon a Time in China. Martial arts films really just turn out to be hit and miss for me and this is one of those where I truly admire the direction and the stunt work, but everything else leaves me a bit cold.

Probably doesn’t help that, last night, I watched From Beijing With Love and was a bit sad that Steven Chow didn’t get a film in the list. Once Upon a Time in China is the second of two films by Tsui Hark to be featured and, given how it led to a resurgence in these types of period kung-fu films in Hong Kong, I can see how this was included alongside Peking Opera Blues.

It’s just that, for me, this was a films that was trying to be too broad and epic in scope. Too many plates were in the air at the same time which, whilst it may be historically accurate, doesn’t pair well with a large number of drawn out fight sequences. This, however, is fundamentally a taste thing. I had similar issues with A Touch of Zen – a film regarded as an exemplar of the martial arts genre that ultimately left me wanting more and feeling a bit bored and frustrated.

I hope I am not the only one who also, at times, felt a bit left behind by the plot. The number of antagonists, including a probably more than fair take on Westerners being more than arseholes, made the different threads a bit hard to follow at times. Maybe, at some point in the future, I’ll find a copy of Drunken Master – which is about the same man (because Wong Fei Hung is one of those people who had a lot of films made about him) but apparently does it better… without being included on the 1001 list.

XL Popcorn – Senso / Peking Opera Blues

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Title: Senso
Director: Luchino Visconti
Year: 1954
Country: Italy

So I’m continuing my journey around the cinematic world as pain is progressing from the middle of my wrist into my elbow. After the somewhat lavish world of of an Indian music room I find myself looking at an Italian film with shots that belong on canvas rather than celluloid.

Senso is sumptuous. You have to hand it to the director, he knows how to make a film that is a cross between a renaissance painting and an opera. There’s a very good reason that the first sequence takes place in opera house for it sets the tone for what follows.

As we entered the film Venice is readying a movement to kick the Austrian occupation out of its city and become part of a free Italy. This matters for the film for we see a proud Italian countess lose everything for the sake of a manipulative Austrian lieutenant. She knows full well that she is being manipulated or she cannot help herself. Of she longs for passion and finds it in the arms of a very attractive soldier.

Much like any Greek tragedy we’re watching her fatal flaw undo her life. The performance of lead actress Alida Valli is outstanding. You see every emotion written on her face; the sheer desperation of her inevitable breakdown exists in microexpressions from nearly the very beginning.

In many ways this melodrama can feel a bit dated, but this is opera in film form. I now wish to see more films by this director. However, I’m aware that I’m on a roll and this is my fourth different country in a row. So I will hold off for a while.

pekingoperabluesTitle: Peking Opera Blues
Director: Tsui Hark
Year: 1986
Country: Hong Kong

From one world of opera to another eh? It has been too long since I saw a film from Hong Kong. Watching this has made me realise that I really should see more.

It is one of those weird mixes of slapstick comedy, musical performances and rather serious drama. The film is set in 1913 with three women as the central characters. Whilst the crux of the film is rebellion against the political order, a lot of this is actually about women going up against the patriarchy.

Sure one of them is a mercenary and is only out for the gold, but the other two have bigger goals. One of them is a woman who seeks to break into the male dominated world of theatre and the other dresses like a man for the sake of moving through society with greater ease. Surely this is a movie that would pass the Bechdel test with flying colours.

Like a lot of Hong Kong films but I’ve seen you need to suspend disbelief. Then again most of the action takes place in opera house, so you are halfway there already. The costumes as always are spectacular in the scenes. Same goes for the choreography. This is easily one of those films I would never have even heard of without the list. I’m thankful for have a chance to see this weird piece of film history.

Progress: 474/1007