A Three Kingdoms adaptation, but the third kingdom must’ve been cut for time. The Shadow is Deng Chao (star of The Mermaid), trained as a public replacement for the military commander (also Deng Chao) hidden in a Parasite basement. Their boss is Pei king Zheng Kai (The Ex-Files trilogy) and their wife is Sun Li (Chao’s real wife, the blind girl in Fearless) and it’s not always clear who’s fooling who. Anyway, the shadow starts a fight with the next city over, and before the neighbors can strike, Pei launches a sneak attack featuring their new umbrella-based weaponry.
Only a pretty good royal-intrigue movie, for the most part – too many stabbings with exaggerated SHINNNNG-SPLORT! sound effects – but with a couple of inimitable Zhang touches. The assault on the rival kingdom begins with Pei fighters skating down a hill inside twin bladed umbrellas, deflecting enemy fire and shooting crossbows from inside their spinning shields, and continues with their new dueling technique: dodging enemy blows with a feminine umbrella sway. Then there’s the visual design, with complex black and white patterns and explicit yin-yang effects.
The first time I was too blown away by how wonderful this movie is, so entranced by its beauty and mesmerized by the entirely-sung dialogue to quite believe what I was seeing and hearing. Knew I’d have to see it again soon to make sure the dream was true. Still a nearly perfect movie… even more so now that I understand the singing and the flow and the story, and can just get caught up in it.
Finally looking perfect on blu-ray – I wasn’t thrilled how some colors on the 1990’s film print restoration jittered like a Nintendo game with too many enemies onscreen. Also I’m watching this for the first time since seeing Lola, so that movie’s lead character Roland Cassard as the jeweler who marries Deneuve and his brief Lola-flashback scene are new sources of wonder.
Meeting Roland at Mr. Dubourg’s place – he’s back there quietly gazing at Geneviève.
Other things noticed: how depressed and sullen Guy is after returning from the Algerian war… the crazy wallpaper in the movie and how it clashes and blends with the brightly colored clothing… and the auto mechanic male lead, from Demy who grew up in an auto garage.
When visibly pregnant Geneviève breaks down and agrees to marry Roland: “If he refuses me as I am, it means he doesn’t have deep feelings for me. If, by some extraordinary chance, he accepts me, I’ll have no reason to doubt him, and I’d be a fool to turn him away.”
And on Guy: “I would have died for him…”
Rosalie Varda played the lovers’ daughter in the final gas station scene – I saw Rosalie again in Uncle Yanco the same day.
Didn’t expect to find a 1954 photo of Chris Marker and Alain Resnais holding a Fernand Léger print in the blu-ray extras: