October 6th, 7:00PM in Garland 104 (2441 E. Hartford)
While a major Chinese director, He Ping has only been exposed to most American audiences through the swordplay drama Warriors of Heaven and Earth (2003,) China’s official submission for the foreign language academy award for that year. Despite not making it as a final nominee, the film with its vast prairies and bitter sweet drama found a relatively wide release on DVD. This week brings his first film as a director, another entry into the period swordplay genre, but with a very different and immensely more individualistic style then Warriors.
Swordsman in Double-Flag Town is typically categorized as a swordplay Western, and it is difficult to not to do so. In it a young man travels to a desert town in the North West to fulfill an arranged marriage. After befriending a local outlaw he finds that Double-Flag Town is a harsh place where bandits are more numerous then ideals. The esthetic of the film is full of dusty, dirty locations that attempt to bring forth the feel of a chaotic place without the glamorization normally found in swordplay cinema.
While swordplay cinema had fallen out of favor in China for most of the last century, both under the Nationalists and later PRC, it began to see a resurgence in the 1990’s. Part of this is the success of a wave of such films made in Hong Kong starting with Tsui Hark’s Swordsman in 1990. Early Chinese entries stressed a realist take on the genre, and this gritty feel in Double-Flag Town is an excellent example of this. While other films using this same approach did exist, most notably a decade before with The Enigmatic Case (1980) directed by Johnny To, arguably the first swordplay film to overtly adopt the look and feel of a American Western. As a relatively low budget film with no major stars, Double-Flag Town had the flexibility to try and create something with a very unique look and feel to it, and perhaps influence the development of Chinese swordplay cinema in the process.Mainland China, Director He Ping, Cast Zhao Ma-Na, Gao Wei, Sun Hai-Ying and Chang Jiang, 91 minutes, in Mandarin with English subtitles.