Rotterdance continues (concludes?) with a Locarno/Rotterdam movie.
Qiu is an apparently dead actor, demons Horsey and Ox come to collect him, we flashback to 1920 and make our way through Q’s life. He gets married in the 1940’s, their adopted daughter dies, their son is sad when his dad is declared a political criminal. Richard Brody: “The movie is filmed as theatrical tableaux, complete with blatantly contrived sets and supernatural fantasy sequences, which virtually shout at viewers not to take the depicted events as literal truth.” In the end it’s another movie about how life under communism was horrible – and it’s a misty, foggy movie, which the streaming video turned into shit soup.
Beautiful right from the start, every scene a marvel. Gorgeous lighting, precise framing, the real deal This kind of discovery is the whole point of Rotterdance… oh, did I mention that it’s Rotterdance? I started it kinda late and am writing it up even later, but we spent a week or two watching movies that played recent editions of Sundance and Rotterdam fests. The Cathedral played both after premiering in Venice, and this one came to Rotterdam after Cannes.
“A gangster on the run sacrifices everything for his family and a woman he meets while on the lam,” sure, let’s leave it at that. He’ll (probably) star in Wong’s Blossoms movie/series/whatever. The girl helping him and the cop chasing him costarred in Diao’s Black Coal, Thin Ice.
Sammo plays a thief and killer and master bullshitter. Terrific opening scene – he finds a field of dead soldiers and loots their bodies, but they were only playing dead for a military game, stand up and capture Sammo, take him back to base and humiliate him, then he blows them all up.
The point is supposed to be a train robbery, but nobody can stand still long enough to wait for the train; buildings are burned down and a bank is robbed before it even arrives. Too many characters and factions to keep track of. James Tien was in there somewhere, and Rosamund Kwan of the Once Upon a Time in China series, and Hwang Jang-Lee (the “dead” friend/villain of Game of Death II). Wong Fei-hung is in this, meets his rival Kien, both as little kids. People can’t stop jumping out of two-story buildings. Whenever the pace is less than frantic, he simply speeds up the film… this is cheating, but the result is absolutely thrilling, so I’ll allow it.
No revisionist western is complete without one of these:
The protestors and prostitutes team up against the patriarchy:
Ma Yongzhen is a tough dude working shitty jobs with his useless friend Cheng Kang-Yeh. Ma is introduced beating up a landlord, so he’s got our sympathy, though he seems to beat up pretty much everyone he comes across… this is fine, since it’s established that everyone in town’s a crook. Ma has annoyingly high standards, is poor and homeless and will accept nothing from anyone – though as principled as he seems, his dream is to ride in his own carriage with a fancy cigarette holder. He wanders into a brutal gang fight and takes on 20 guys armed with knives and hatchets, which gains him the attention of the local bosses, beginning his brief, violent career in organized crime. He’s finally ambushed in a teahouse by Boss Yang (Nan Chiang) and takes a hatchet to the torso, but doesn’t go down before killing everyone in the room. Good action scenes – I could watch about 300 more of these movies, and fortunately that’s how many they made.
Ma and his idol David Chiang (Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires):
Scar-faced Boss Fan (Yi Feng of Fist of Fury the same year) and his yes-man:
We don’t wanna sit around watching covid docs, but after her last movie, we trusted Nanfu Wang to make a good one. The initial hook is her Chinese/American family getting caught a world apart when lockdowns begin, but the family-reunion adventure-film doesn’t play out. Instead, she sends Chinese reporters into hospitals and on other missions, spends all day and night sifting through their footage and various social media posts, piercing the censorship veil to locate real stories of the virus’s initial spread, its early damage and the government’s control over the media, before flipping back to the U.S. to discuss the same kind of political spin doctoring and poor decisions here.
At first glance this is more of a straight doc than I Wish I Knew. Interviewing a handful of writers, with pillow daily-life scenes in the cities the writers are from. Soft piano or string music, when there’s any. Between chapters someone will read aloud from the previous writer’s work, followed by a repeated line from the same passage in subtitles over black screen.
Extremely fun movie, opening with a powerful monk capturing an evil old man who’d been training for 100 years to ascend to human form, and I don’t know a whole lot about Chinese mythology but supermonk (Vincent Zhao, who took over the Once Upon a Time in China series after part 3) seems kinda like the bad guy. This is confirmed towards the end when he’s singlemindedly pursuing his enemies while carelessly destroying temples and drowning monks as collateral damage.
Green and Supermonk:
Supermonk has a tentative alliance with two snake sisters. White Snake (Joey Wong, lost in the huge cast of Eagle Shooting Heroes, also in the Chinese Ghost Story trilogy) is older and more powerful, while Green Snake (Maggie Cheung, at the tail end of her period of starring in ten films per year) is more bold and curious. They seduce some local guy (Wu Hsing-Guo), who will die along with White in the climactic supermonk-caused catastrophe.
Meantime we get colorful sets, giant snake tails, ludicrous side plots, tons of flying, great staging and action.
Wu Hsing-Guo, resurrected:
Previous stories and films based on this folktale have been named White Snake, so the titular focus on the younger sister indicate Tsui’s and Farewell My Concubine writer Lillian Lee’s intention to turn tradition on its head.
“Our tolerance was a mistake.” After the poisoning death of a martial arts master, a brown-suited dude is sent to insult and challenge his disciples during the memorial service, a crass move that earns the wrath of disciple Bruce Lee. This starts out way better than The Big Boss by pitting Bruce against forty guys early on instead of waiting for the second half – “Next time I’ll make you eat the glass.”
The titular fist:
Lee’s confuse-o-vision technique:
This is Shanghai, and all the villains are Japanese. Not a master of history, I’d forgotten that the Japanese colonized parts of China throughout the 1930’s and I was amazed at their nerve. Bruce goes on a righteous rampage through the city, smashing racist Japanese in their jerk faces, then in case we’re tempted to feel bad for them, the Japanese massacre all of Bruce’s friends (including poor James Tien again). There is a love interest, just barely, and a couple of fun disguises. The big boss sports an absurd long mustache and has hired an English-speaking Russian tough who fights in a bow-tie – Bruce punches a guy’s dick off before taking them on, the action in this movie always great. Same as The Big Boss, the army closes in on Bruce post-killing-spree. Must see Lo Wei’s New Fist of Fury, a sequel starring Jackie Chan in his first major role.
love interest Nora Miao:
the big boss Chikara Hashimoto:
Portrait of a NYC clinic that sticks pins in your ears to treat stress and addiction. Through interview and archive footage it delves into the history of how Black Panthers and other associated groups studied Chinese acupuncture and brought it back to help their community, then keeps returning from the archives to the present-day clinic and its patients. The founding leader was Mutulu Shakur (below) – I’m behind on the ol’ blog, no surprise, and now we’re watching the new Adam Curtis movie, following the story of Afeni Shakur, so really covering Tupac’s roots this year. The fatal armed car robbery that gets Mutulu imprisoned for life came out of nowhere in this story, and it’s not interested in explaining much about acupuncture itself, more of a history lesson and community portrait.