Red Heroine (1929, Wen Yimin)

Great presentation of a not-so-great movie. Nobody ever called episode six of Red Heroine the best-ever silent martial-arts serial from China, but today it is the only surviving silent martial-arts serial from China, and therefore an important fragment of popular film history. The Devil’s Music Ensemble are touring it around the country, providing much better music than it deserves. Not that it’s a particularly bad movie, it’s just a standard piece of fluff to which nobody would give a second thought if it didn’t have to stand alone to represent an entire lost genre of Chinese film. So the D.M.E. is to be highly praised for their work and for enhancing our knowledge of film history, but the movie itself, well, it is what it is.

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What it is: a 90-minute self-contained revenge drama, the prequel to the prequel to the prequel to Kill Bill. Army invades, girl’s grandmother is killed and girl is kidnapped to become the general’s wife, but before that can happen, crazy-bearded White Monkey kicks the general’s ass and rescues her. Three years later the same thing is happening (minus the dead grandmother) to a new girl, a friend of the old girl’s “brothercousin” (so sayeth the awesome intertitles). Old girl reappears flying through the air (to great applause from the packed Emory crowd) as Red Heroine. She kicks the ass of the general and his hilarious bucktoothed assistant/bodyguard, and rescues the girl whom she suggests should marry her brothercousin. There’s minimal action, all shot wide, and no definite references to the other episodes of the series (maybe White Monkey was in them?).

IMDB’s details are muddled on this film and director, so this is from Kung Fu Cinema Dot Com:

Director Wen Yimin, who can also be seen in a supporting role as a young scholar in RED HEROINE, was a Manchurian who was born in Beijing in 1890. His work for the Youlian studio, which included helming the HEROIC SONS AND DAUGHTERS series (1927-1931) and at least two of the RED HEROINE films (1929-1930), established him as one of China’s first genre directors. In 1934, he moved to the Unique studio, an early venture by the Shaw brothers, who would go on to dominate the Hong Kong film industry decades later. In 1936, Wen co-directed a film, MADAME LAI, with future mogul Shaw Run-me. Wen permanently moved to Hong Kong after the war, where he sometimes worked under the Cantonese version of his name, Man Yat-man.

He is frequently credited as an assistant director to the prolific leftist filmmaker Zhu Shilin. Another frequent collaborator was director Ren Yizhi, daughter of Shanghai pioneer Ren Pengnian. He continued to appear in supporting roles in a number of mid-century dramas and action/adventure films. In 1965, he moved to Taiwan, and worked as an actor there until his retirement. He died in 1978.

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