Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Tsogt Taij (1945)

Tsogt Taij (1945)

April 26th, 7:00PM in Garland 104 (2441 E. Hartford)

Choghtu Khong Tayiji is a Mongolian Prince fighting against expansionist Tibetans in the seventeenth century. The film uses this historical backdrop for a nationalist call towards Mongolian unity. In it the Tibetan forces are depicted as raging hoards, unconcerned for their own principals or the lives of anyone they come across.

Based around real events, Tsogt Taij is a call for unity in socialist Mongolia in the wake of the Second World War. Although biased along these lines, it is interesting to see a film dealing with Tibetan militarism. This is a side of the culture not generally discussed in the West but intimately linked with their history. The production values are lavish, with hundreds of people in full historical dress, giving an engrossing introduction to Mongolian history.
Mongolia, Director T. Khurlee, Cast Ts. Tsegmid, A. Tserendendev, Bato-Ochir and Jigmiddorj, 152 minutes, in Mongolian with English subtitles

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Prodigal Son (1981)

The Prodigal Son (1981)

April 19th, 7:00PM in Garland 104 (2441 E. Hartford)

The world of Chinese opera is one of tradition, superstition, dedication and perseverance. In the south, Cantonese opera has been passed down for centuries in much the same way even into modern times. Now laws prevent the kind of rigorous training of young children apprenticed to an opera master as was previously the norm. But many of the key figures in Hong Kong action cinema took this route in life, including Sammo Hung the director of The Prodigal Son (1981.) Through his long years of training, Sammo has developed a great love of Chinese martial arts, both practical and theatrical along with the history and myths surrounding them. Because of this and a string of hit films he was able to direct a series of kung fu films dealing with just these topics.

Yuen Biao plays Leung Jan, a major figure in Chinese martial arts of the nineteenth century and instrumental in the development and popularization of Wing Chun. In the film he believes himself to be an experienced martial artist, but this is far from the truth. Lam Ching-Ying plays Leung Yee-tai another historical figure. He is a performer and boatman who takes pity on Leung Jan. The Cantonese opera troupe on whose boat they both reside evokes the legends of patriotic pro-Ming rebels hiding and working for the downfall of the Manchurian Qing dynasty. Together they run afoul of a Manchu prince who also fashions himself a master fighter.

This is the second Sammo Hung film dealing with the history of Wing Chun, the first being Warriors Two (1978) looking at an even earlier time. The recent hit Ip Man (2008) is similarly concerned with the legends of Wing Chun. But what makes this film particularly important among thousands of Kung Fu films produced in Hong Kong over the years is the talent and scope of its ambitions. Firstly besides Sammo, who has a not insignificant role in the film, we have his opera brother Yuan Biao. They formed a trio of promising opera graduates along with Jackie Chan known as the three brothers. Each represented the fruits of a childhood of intensive training in acrobatics and theatrical fighting of the first order. Hailing from a rival opera school, Lam Ching-Ying is another legend in the industry. He became famous for playing female roles in opera productions, something referenced in the film. What they did together was to create a film with an extraordinary level of realism. Fighting and what it takes to win are neither glamorized nor portrayed without consequences. For those familiar with the genre, this is a very special film indeed.

Hong Kong, Director Sammo Hung, Cast Yuen Biao, Lam Ching-ying, Sammo Hung and Frankie Chan, 100 minutes, in Cantonese with English subtitles.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

DON (1978)

DON (1978)

April 12th, 7:00PM in Garland 104 (2441 E. Hartford)

Some people might recognize a lavishly constructed India tourism commercial that began airing on television about a year ago. In it a series of individuals most Americans would have no great cause to recognize without an interest in Indian popular culture or politics. Towards the end of the commercial there is an older man dressed in white. He takes a few steps forward and gives the audience a firm but benevolent gaze before stating that it is definitely a good idea to come to India. That was not a person you just encountered, that was Amitabh Bachchan.

In an age of cinema patronage to rival any era in film history, Amitabh Bachchan was an angry young man, or at least that is how crowds liked him. When faced with injustice, be it criminal or civil, he always would fight back. Or at least he would ignore the injustice initially for the sake of his old mother, or family, or even an idea that he could work within the system to restore order or even perhaps he investigating the whereabouts of the people who killed his parents and was consequently involved in a romantic drama to occupy the time. Then later he would fight back and injustice would pay. He was also in Sholay (1975.)

Amitabh Bachchan plays two roles, something he was known for at the time. A mobster and a nobody destined to collide. One of the most popular films of the hot year of 1978, Don has been remade five times to varying degrees of success, most recently in 2007 as well as its own parody film in in 1998. There is still a magic in this era of Indian filmmaking and it lingers.

India, Director Chandra Barot, Cast Amitabh Bachchan, Zeenat Aman and Iftekhar, 175 minutes, in Hindi with English subtitles