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Features Live Action Movies

The Battle At Lake Changjin (Zhang Jin Hu, 长津湖)

Directors – Chen Kaige, Dante Lam, Tsui Hark – 2021 – China – Cert. 15 – 176m

*****

Chinese war movie which has barnstormed the global box office does exactly what it says on the tin – out in cinemas on Friday, November 19th

There is a history of war films with a cast of thousands being directed by several (usually three) directors in an attempt to portray campaigns with huge military logistics on the screen. Probably the best known are The Longest Day (Ken Annakin, Andrew Marton, Bernard Wicki, 1962) about the World War Two Allied invasion of Normandy and Tora! Tora! Tora! (Richard Fleischer, Toshio Matsuda, Kinji Fukasaku, 1970) about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour. Both of those Western (and, as it happens, Twentieth Century Fox) movies presented both sides of the conflict by hiring directors from the different countries concerned.

The big difference between them and Chinese global box office phenomenon The Battle At Lake Changjin is that although the latter film deals with a conflict in which the Chinese are pitted against the Americans, all three directors are Chinese. Tsui (Zu Warriors, 1983; Once Upon A Time In China, 1991) at least has some working knowledge of America, having studied film in Texas.… Read the rest

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Animation Documentary Features Live Action Movies Music

The Sparks Brothers

Director – Edgar Wright – 2021 – UK – Cert. 15 – 140m

****

The rollercoaster career of musical duo Sparks with its successful hits and intermittent lapses into obscurity – out in cinemas on Thursday, July 29th

There’s a story about John Lennon phoning Ringo Starr to say, “you won’t believe what’s on television – Marc Bolan doing a song with Adolf Hitler.” This was Sparks’ auspicious debut on BBC music show Top Of The Pops in the early 1970s playing what is probably their best known track, This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us, a broadcast estimated to have reached some 15 million people. Everyone was talking about this the day after – that’s mentioned here, and it’s something I myself remember from my own school days: the lively energetic singer (Russell Mael) and the suited, almost motionless, keyboard player (Ron Mael) with the slicked back hair and the Hitler moustache. The Hitler appearance may not have been deliberate, but that image of the duo – the extrovert and the introvert – has become the band’s enduring media image over the years.

TOTP 1974

One gets the impression from passing moments in this film that Charlie Chaplin was an equally formative presence for Ron – and though it’s never mentioned, Chaplin made the film The Great Dictator (1940) in which he played a Hitler type despot as well as a Jewish barber unfortunate enough to look like him…but I digress.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Once Upon A Time In China (Wong Fei Hung, 黃飛鴻)

Director – Tsui Hark – 1991 – Hong Kong – Cert. 15 – 135m

****1/2

Groundbreaking, period martial arts epic features some of the most spectacular stunt sequences ever filmed, spawned five sequels and made Jet Li a star – online in the UK as part of Focus Hong Kong 2021 Easter from Wednesday, March 31st to Tuesday, April 6th

The real life Wong Fei Hung (1847-1925) was a Chinese practitioner of martial arts and medicine who lived in Foshan and has been the subject of over a hundred films. Tsui Hark’s 1991 production is one of the best known and spawned a series of six movies in total, four of them with Jet Li as Wong, arguably his most iconic role.

Militia-laden American and British and French ships anchored in the harbour put Foshan in an uneasy position and Wong is concerned, as well he might be since it turns out in the course of the narrative that the Americans under a man named Jackson (Jonathan Isgar) are not only tricking local men into debt via getting them to pay for their passage to San Francisco but also trafficking Chinese women into prostitution in the New World. The film isn’t particularly interested in these misdemeanours except as providing motivation for its villain.… Read the rest

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Animation Features Movies

Lotus Lantern (Bao Lian Den,宝莲灯)

Director – Chang Gwang Xi – 1999 – China – Cert. N/C U – 85m

*1/2

A boy must rescue his goddess mother from Heavenly wrath invoked when she fell for his father, a mortal – available to rent online in the UK & Ireland as part of the Shanghai Animation Film Studio Retro in the Chinese Cinema Season 2021 from Friday, February 12th to Wednesday, May 12th

Immortal Goddess Sanshengmu (voice: Xu Fan) falls in love with mortal man Liu Yanchang and leaves Heaven to pursue love with him on Earth. This goes down badly with her brother Yang Jian (Jiang Wen) since it’s against the Law of Heaven, so he sends an army of hounds down to earth in pursuit. She is however able to evade capture by keeping a lotus lantern close to her to make sure it’s not accidentally lit as this would give away her location.

Seven years later, while boating on a river with her young son Chenxian (Yu Pengfei), the lantern’s accidental lighting reveals her whereabouts to her brother, who promptly whisks the boy to heaven.  When she arrives to demand her son’s return, her brother instead imprisons her in a mountain. … Read the rest

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Animation Features Live Action Movies

Zu Warriors From The Magic Mountain (Shu Shan – Xin Shu shan jian ke, 新蜀山劍俠)

Director – Tsui Hark – 1983 – Hong Kong – Cert. 12 – 98m

*****

One of the greatest special effects action movies ever made, this groundbreaking epic delivers non-stop, near unbelievable, visually entrancing vistas of Chinese mythology – online in the UK as part of Focus Hong Kong 2021 from Tuesday, February 9th to Monday, February 15th and available on Blu-ray

There are films which seem almost single-handedly to define cultures. There are plenty of elements in Zu Warriors From The Magic Mountain that can be found elsewhere in Hong Kong cinema – martial arts stunts, flying wire work, period costumes, stock figures, airborne drapery – and yet the precise way this mixes these elements up then adds in others and adds in lots of 2D effects animation makes it a unique work, even by Tsui’s extraordinary standards.

With the ancient world in which he lives in a state of chaos due to constantly warring human factions, a man gets swiftly out of his depth when he sidesteps all that to follow a hero in the hope of becoming his disciple as the hero battles the forces of evil. If this sounds very highbrow… well, perhaps it is. Or perhaps it’s just an excuse to put together a series of truly extraordinary special effects action set-pieces that transport the viewer to mythological otherworlds the exact like of which have never been seen onscreen before or since.… Read the rest

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Animation Features Movies

White Snake (Baishe: Yuanqi, 白蛇:缘起)

Directors – Amp Wong, Ji Zhao – 2019 – China – 99m

****

A young man falls in love with a demon resembling alternately a woman and a giant snake, in this Chinese animated feature – now available on Amazon Prime

Conceived as a prequel to China’s White Snake legend which has spawned numerous adaptations including Green Snake / Ching se (Tsui Hark, 1993), this computer animated Chinese epic concerns demon sisters Blanca and Verta (voiced by Zhang Zhe and Tang Xiaoxi) who look to all intents and purposes like beautiful women but are actually demon snakes in disguise – a white snake and a green snake as you might guess from their names. With her power and form enhanced by her sister’s gift of a green hairpin, Blanca leaves the demon world and visits ours for a showdown with a human General trying to prove his worth to the Emperor by dabbling in occult rituals involving snakes. When the showdown doesn’t go as planned, Blanca finds herself alone and suffering a complete loss of memory as to who (and indeed what) she is.

She awakes in a small, human, rural village where the local economy is built on catching snakes for the General.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Green Snake (Ching Se)

Director – Tsui Hark – 1993 – Hong Kong – Cert. 12 – 99m

****1/2

Two sister snake spirits, the white snake and the green snake, enter our world to discover the mystery of human sexual love – from the London East Asia Film Festival (LEAFF)

China’s White Snake legend has spawned numerous adaptations including the recent, animated White Snake / Baishe: Yuanqi (Amp Wong, Ji Zhao, 2019) which boasts fast paced action and state of the art CG visuals. Tsui Hark is from another era: the legendary Hong Kong director who almost single-handedly bought Hollywood-style special effects to Hong Kong movie production in such epics as Zu Warriors From The Magic Mountain (1983) and the Once Upon A Time In China films (1991 onwards) alongside period romps like Peking Opera Blues (1986). For Green Snake, Tsui turned to Lillian Lee’s novel based on the White Snake legend which she adapted into a screenplay for him. Rather than tell the story from the perspective of the white snake as the original legend does, Lee shifts her narrative to the perspective of the younger, less experienced green snake.

In appearance, the two spirits start off as female humans down to the waist and snakes below, not dissimilar to Harryhausen’s half woman/half snake Medusa in Clash Of The Titans (producer and effects: Ray Harryhausen, 1981) but using full size puppetry/animatronic effects rather than stop frame animation.… Read the rest