Monday, September 26, 2011

Jade Tiger (1977)

Jade Tiger (1977)

September 29th, 7:00PM in Garland 104 (2441 E. Hartford)

Living in the harsh world of clan loyalties and martial solutions, a young man must investigate the murder of a close family member by tracking down the traitor who helped to engineer the death. While known in the 1960’s for his Cantonese dialect films dealing with social issues and the challenges of everyday life such as Young, Pregnant and Unmarried (1968,) Director Chor Yuen is at least as famous for his later Mandarin dialect output at the Shaw Brothers studio. Among this body of work one theme reappears again and again, that is swordplay films based upon the work of the popular writer Gu Long. Jade Tiger is the seventh such adaptation but hardly the final as this collaboration would eventually produce more than fifteen films.

The particular hallmarks of Gu Long’s fiction included a short, punchy style that continually keeps moving the reader along, as well as a love of absurdity and pop cultural conventions from Chinese and international fiction such as trap doors, vast conspiracies, alternate identities and fantastical weapons. A typical Gu Long hero tends to balk at social conventions and cares about brotherhood more than anything. As is typical of the literary swordplay genre, many stories also serve as ancient detective novels, with a mystery at the films center. Jade Tiger faithfully continues nearly all of these themes to one extent or another, but when injected into the studio system of the Shaw Brothers unusual changes begin to appear.

The first of these unique traits is the pure artificiality of the films world. That is, most films made by the studio in this era were shot primarily on indoor stages, although they also had an extensive back lot. The world of Gu Long was always a particularly unreal one, with impossible feats and an internal logic alien to the real world. This character interacts with a painted sky, fabricated trees, colored lights and strategic mists to create a similar kind of unreality that is very suitable to its subject matter. Secondly typical way in which a swordplay novel was adapted was to use one or a series of chapters, take out story elements that would tend to leave loose ends and then construct a new ending that frequently clashed with the tone of the original tale. A particularly good example of this is in the Taiwanese film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000). But the novels of Gu Long were usually very short and to the point in terms of a central narrative based around a single character. So little cutting and pasting was every necessary, but at the same time the complex narrative would become almost manic when squeezed into less than two hours of film. But it is this quality that arguably had made these films so popular and unique.
Hong Kong, Director Chor Yuen, Cast Ti Lung, Ku Feng, Lily Li, Lo Lieh and Yueh Hua, 90 minutes, in Mandarin with English subtitles.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Dariya Dil (1988)

Dariya Dil (1988)

September 22nd, 7:00PM in Garland 104 (2441 E. Hartford)

Director K. Ravi Shankar and future superstar Govinda team up in this late 80’s hit. Set in modern India, a rich family falls into turmoil and betrayal. While this film is little known in the United States, a fantasy musical sequence in which the films central characters dress as Superman and Spiderman has become a popular internet video.

India, Director K. Ravi Shankar, Cast Govinda, Kimi Katkar, Roshni and Raj Kiran, 150 minutes, in Hindi with English subtitles

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Moon Over Tao (1997)

Moon Over Tao (1997)

September 15th, 7:00PM in Garland 104 (2441 E. Hartford)

The world of director Keita Amemiya is one of high fantasy, low budgets and of the everyman. While seemingly contradictory this strange mixture has created a genuinely unique filmography that is far beyond the recognition afforded him. Working his way as a character designer in the popular Japanese masked superhero genre of live action film and television, Amemiya developed an easy familiarity with the kind of intensive special effects, model work and prosthetics that is a challenge for anyone to use convincingly. But it was his talent as a storyteller that truly helped to make his name.

Moon Over Tao has all the hallmarks of a typical Amemiya film. It takes place in a foreign environment that none the less has the look of a slightly distorted version of the real world. And it centers upon the interpersonal relationships of a group of mismatched companions as they must come to terms with their own personal histories as much as it revolves around the central story of magic and aliens in feudal Japan. But the unique aspect is that it does so in such a convincing way.

Some of the plots of other Amenmiya films include an invincible alien trapped in a shadow version of Tokyo along with two ordinary electricians and a beautiful bounty hunter in Zeiram (1991,) and an amnesiac robotic man fighting Christian cyborgs in a dystopian future in Mechanical Violator Hakaider (1995.) If these sound somewhat absurd then the power and genuine feeling of the characters and stories may come as a surprise. Moon Over Tao is another example of this. On the surface it is about a reclusive monk and a sullen swordsman’s hunt for strange swords forged from an unbreakable metal. But it quickly comes to revolve around notions of family, abandonment and loyalty to ideals and their cost.

Japan, Director Keita Amemiya, Cast Toshiyuki Nagashima, Hiroshi Abe, Y√Ľko Moriyama and Takaaki Enoki, 96 minutes, in Japanese with English subtitles