Before taking this class, I knew absolutely nothing about King Hu. Not only that but I knew nothing about Chinese cinema. Going into this class was actually really intimidating after the class introduction but it was well worth it once i got into it. Through this focused course on his career, I learned that King Hu actually entered into the cinema world by accident in the 1950’s. Beginning with set design and construction, King Hu worked his way up to director for the Shaw Brothers. It was with his second directing assignment that Hu’s mastery of composition and editing became apparent. It was also the very first wuxi film. The title of that film is Come Drink With Me. Here in the states most people would categorize his films kung fu films. He was the first person to create that genre and it exploded. Sadly he himself does not get recognize enough for his creativity and originality.
My first favorite film of my top three is Come Drink With Me. The reason its one of my favorites is because there is just something about watching the first of something thats ever been done. Knowing how much influence Chinese opera had on King Hu really made the choreography more understandable. It was more beautiful and graceful. In a normal fight it would look more ruthless and uncoordinated. But King Hu really turned it into an art form that carried him through the rest of his films. The second film I choose is The Valiant ones. The real reason I choose this one is because the action sequences were so captivating and there were so many dynamic characters that you could actually see a different fighting style in each of them. You never felt like you were watching the same fight. King Hu was very articulate with each battle and to make sure that each one offered something new and exciting. My third film choice is Raining in the Mountain. This film proves that King Hu can tell captivating and intriguing stories without having to put endless fight scenes.
The first film I choose for my least three favorite films is Touch of Zen. It was way too long and way too confusing. There were way to many moving parts that I feel like King Hu couldn’t keep up with. The second film i choose is Crouching Tiger and Hidden Dragon. I thought the acting was poor and to fake. I also though it was a little all over the place and only at bits at a time could I understand part of the plot. It felt like I was playing catch up with the storyline. The third and final movie on my list would be Dragon Inn. This film was filled with scenes that were drawn out way too long. I really believe that it hindered the storytelling and the fight scenes.
Hu’s innovations ultimately invented the Kung Fu genre. You will see his work copied and adapted in recent films by Wong Kar-wai, Zhang Yimou and, especially, Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Even if you haven’t even heard of him, He has impacted so many filmmakers to go out and be bold with new innovative take on cinema. To meet the requirement of making action interesting to an audience, Hu incorporated the beat and rhythm of Beijing Opera into the action choreography. Action became a matter of choreographing the space of the tavern as well as the actors’ movements, and this was Hu’s unique way of making the action sequences a visual experience. Not only was he creative with his action sequences but he also was innovative in editing as well. He would edit almost every single one of his movies. In fact, he would almost demand to edit or he would not really consider the film created by him. His quick cuts and and speed up film was a style that really brought his films to life.
I really enjoyed this move. For this blog i was interested in researching some facts about the movie and what went on behind the scenes of this great film. Initially when casting for the film, Shu Qi was supposed to play the role of Jen. She was Lee’s original choice. But Shu Qi didn’t want to deal with the long shooting schedule and months of getting into shape and martial arts training. She thought of herself as “lazy” when talking about turning the role down. Ziyi zhang, who ended up getting the role, was stepping only into her second film at the time. The then 19 year old Ziyi got her opportunity when Qi passed on the role, and Lee found her to have “cinematic charisma.” Whats so interesting is that Lee chose her before seeing her previous movie. It worked out for him because Lee said that he was glad after he noticed she looked nervous in that performance. He probably wouldn’t of chosen if he had.
As I was researching the actors for this movie, one that caught my eye was Sylvia Chang. She truly has lived an inspiring career. She has been an actress, starting in the 70s when she was only 16, moving up to writing, Directing and producing. The films she directs tend to have a more contemporary theme. A notable feature of her films is the range of animation and special effects she puts in them. Chang once said of her films that, “I’ve always felt that animation or special effects shouldn’t just be limited to science-fiction films and their ilk. Dramas can also play around with them. I found this super interesting because of the roll she plays in the film “Legend of the Mountain.” This movie was filled with really cool effects for there time. You could see the hard work and time that went into it. I wonder if she got interested in special effects through her role in that film with King Hu.
Something I learned about the making of this film was that King Hu was truly the author of the film, being credited with the screenplay, direction, art direction and editing. And this film wasn’t a small one. Yes it was shot in one location but to take charge and to be a perfectionist of all the details must of been exhausting, and yet he was filming an entire different movie at the same time at the same place. That just goes to show you is determination and passion for the art of film. One of the coolest parts of the movie that I thought was genius was when the women warriors at the end subdue the girl thief. They used their fabric that was apart of there cloths. The way it was choreographed was amazing. It was very stimulating to the eye. The movement flowed very well. This style of fighting gave them there own unique sense of trying from wherever they came from. It was a lovely surprise. I think that is what i like most about King Hu films is that there are always small experimental surprises that make his films so unique.
This movie focuses heavily on the attack of pirates. So I decided to research the history of pirates in China. I came across the famous story of Ching Shi. She was the Pirate Who Commanded over 80,000 Outlaws. She married into the pirate life and then after her husband died at the age of 46, she manipulated her way into power and became in charge of the red flag fleet. This information was recorded by a government official that was captured and held prisoner for over a year. She kept her fleet in line by creating a code of laws. Anyone that would break them would be beheaded. This story reminded me of that scene with all the pirates at the end when the two main characters where taking turns fighting people. We got to see this lair where the pirates reside with there leader and that they all obey one person.
One thing I liked about this movie was the use of instruments. The one that pretended to have no money and was playing for his meal was the guy that caught my attention. This got me interested in the importance of music in there culture. Different types of music have been recorded in historical Chinese documents from the early periods of Chinese civilization which, provided evidence of a well developed musical culture as early as the Zhou Dynasty. One of the instruments that the man was playing was a 3 string banjo.
These were very common and where used a lot. Music in the Zhou Dynasty was thought of as a manifestation of the sound of nature. That is why a lot of times the instruments would not just be created from wood, but from parts of animals as well. In this picture you will see the head is made out of snake skin.
Watching the second half of this film, I really came to enjoy the fight sequences. I wanted to learn more about his influences in that part of his creativity. I found out that he encouraged his martial arts choreographers to draw from the alternately fluid and rhythmic movements of Chinese operas. Rather than resorting to fast or slow motion, Hu relied as much as possible on the actual skills of his performers and on the magic of editing. This made more sense when I found out that in his youth, King Hu was captivated by Beijing Opera. In interviews, Hu talked about watching the martial arts segments of operas featuring Sun Wukong and reading comic books adapted from operas and martial arts novels.The early appreciation of opera is seen in his movies. Although the films often have quite complex plots, Hu spends as little time as possible on explanation, preferring characters express through action.