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.

See, when I stay consistently five weeks behind on the blog, I lose all the details, and can only say that we watched the doc where the Chinese company reopens a closed American factory, and their different cultures and approaches to work and management and safety cause many funny and poignant moments, which is the same thing I would’ve said from the trailer or plot description. But truly, we watched this, and it was good. We were surprised that the Fuyao CEO allowed the film crew access to his visits and conversations, and to visit the Chinese factory. Reichert has been making docs for fifty years, Bognar for thirty, and now they’re oscar-nominated for filming the reopening of the same factory they were oscar-nominated for filming shutting down in late 2008.

Another Zhao Tao movie set in three distinct time periods with multiple aspect ratios, this one with an unusual synth score. Qiao is with small-time gangster Bin (Fan Liao of Black Coal, Thin Ice), and after she does five years in prison for firing a gun to save his life during an attack, Bin hides from her, leaving his new girl to explain his absence.

Also there is ballroom dancing – that’s Bin with the mustache wearing all black:

Interesting sidetrack where she spontaneously runs off with a man running a UFO tourism company. On the train he confesses he only runs a convenience store, then she abandons him while he sleeps. Back where she started a decade later, she has internalized the gangster ethos and runs a mahjong parlor, while a pathetic, stroke-crippled Bin has slinked back into her life, only to walk out again after she helps him back on his feet. The final shot of Qiao searching for him as seen through her security system has got nothing on Zhao dancing alone in the snow, but what does? I haven’t loved any of Jia’s pre-2010 films so far, but I’m glad I stuck with him, because A Touch of Sin and Mountains May Depart and Ash Is Purest White have made him one of my favorites of this decade.

James Lattimer in Cinema Scope:

Alongside settings and structural conceits, many of these moods and registers seem to have wandered in from Jia’s other works: the rapid-fire martial-arts stylings of A Touch of Sin; the backdrop of Datong familiar from Unknown Pleasures; the three-part structure and repeated pop songs from Mountains May Depart; or the exquisite melancholy of 24 City, to name just a few, while the presence of Zhao Tao, whose wonderfully understated acting style reaches new heights here, equally conjures up all the other characters she’s played over the years. Of all the references to Jia’s cinematic past, the most explicit ones come from Still Life, as Qiao takes the same ferry down the Yangtze as in the previous film, wearing the same shade of yellow and carrying the same water bottle her spiritual cousin Shen Hong did all those years ago, with the same UFO later passing overhead. Despite these similarities, though, everything is different, as what used to be the present has now become the past. This change is visible both in Zhao Tao’s face and in one of the images shared by both films, a shot of a sign on the river bank showing the projected level of the reservoir. One points to a future yet to happen, the other to a past that only exists in memory, the original now buried under so much water.

Geography: they start in Datong in Shanxi, some four hours west of the center of Beijing. After prison, she travels to Fengjie in Hubei province – this makes nearly a right angle south of Xian and east of Chengdu – crossing the Yangtze halfway there. The man on the train is headed for Karamay in Xinjiang, way the hell in the northwest.

Fengjie: