Final Thoughts

Before taking this class, I was completely unaware of King Hu and his work. Most of what knew of Chinese films included Jackie Chan, Jet Li, and Bruce Lee, and that most were kung-fu based films. I’ve learned a great deal from this class, such as the difference between wuxia and kung-fu films, and many film elements he utilized that would later on inspire and influence many filmmakers today. After becoming familiar with his work, I have gained a greater understanding of Chinese cinema and the influence King Hu has had in the film industry.

The first of my favorites was Come Drink with Me, for its innovative use of the strong female lead. The second of my favorites was Dragon Inn, for its strong characters, intriguing cinematic elements, and consistent action sequences.The third of my favorites was A Touch of Zen, for its intricate choreography, complex plot, and its metaphysical elements.

My least favorites were The Valiant Ones, Legend of the Mountain, and Painted Skin. In The Valiant Ones, the plot was good, but the climax left the heroes with a greater loss than necessary. In Legend of the Mountain, the overuse of special effects and its confusing plot left a lot to be desired. And in Painted Skin, the film relied too much on star quality and left the main characters in the shadows.

Most of King Hu’s influential work consisted of everything up to The Valiant Ones. In Come Drink with Me, King Hu was one of the first to utilize strong female characters(many whom take on the lead role), an element that can be seen in his later films as well as films that would come after, such as in Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The most influential element of King Hu comes from the iconic bamboo forest scene, which has been drawn upon throughout most of his career, and another element that is seen in Crouching Tiger as well as House of Flying Daggers and Return of the One-Armed Swordsman. King Hu was also known for his use of symbolic metaphors through cinematic editing. In A Touch of Zen, he incorporates foreshadowing through shots of spiders and webs, hinting at the trap the heroes spring upon the Eastern Agency’s forces. Another technique he is famous for is the sequential editing of shots to create fantastical illusions and effects, as we see in many of his film such as Come Drink with Me, A Touch of Zen, and Dragon Inn.

Painted Skin

And here we are at the end; Painted Skin was King Hu’s final film before his passing, His second supernatural-action film, this film centers around a young ghost fleeing from a enigmatic demon, who turned her into a spirit, and is aided by a scholar, two priests, and a powerful monk(portrayed by Chinese film legend Sammo Hung). Though visually more pleasing than his previous Legends of the Mountain, it did not leave a strong impression that most of his films gave to viewers. It’s also one of the few of his works that not only has a consistent plot, but has a satisfying conclusion. However, the plot was more or less contrived; the initial protaganist(the scholar) was very passive and quick to turn away the heroine as soon as her true identity(as a spirit) was discovered. The main heroes(the two priests) also did not leave as much impact as the high monk. So it feels like much of the film was carried by star quality rather than the film’s story and cinematic elements.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of Come Drink with Me, we take a hard look at a more recent wuxia film, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Set in the Qing Dynasty, legendary warrior Li Mu Bai decides to retire and bequeaths his sword Green Destiny to a friend in Beijing. However, when a thief steals the sword, and infamous outlaw Jade Fox appears, he and his compatriot Yu Shu Lien work together to apprehend Jade Fox and recover the Green Destiny. Directed by Ang Lee, this film reflects many elements pioneered by King Hu.  The fight between Jen and the various warriors takes place in a large tavern; this is an obvious throwback to King Hu’s tavern trilogy(Come drink with Me, Dragon Inn, and The Fate of Lee Khan). Lee also takes the bamboo forest scenec782e0b4f6e69889f0c26f105d77523d.png from A Touch of Zen and takes it to the next level by having Li Mu Bai and Jen visually flying through and atop the trees, rather than editing shots to create such an illusion. Another major scene occurs with Mu Bai’s first confrontation with Jade Fox(portrayed by film legend Cheng Pei-Pei) strongly resembles that of between Golden Swallow and Jade-Faced Tiger in Come Drink with Me.

Legend of the Mountain

Legend of the Mountain, a tale of a young scholar beset by a beautiful, yet cruel spirit who schemes to steal a powerful sutra that will give her dominion over other spirits. Yet another first for King Hu as he incorporates elements of wuxia into the genre of horror/supernatural. This film is also the second time he utilizes pyrotechnics for special effects(the first being Sons of Good Earth). Another element he reuses is visual symbolism through montage. During the”sex scene” we also see scenes of insects mating and spiders catching and devouring their prey. This was also done in A Touch of Zen, where he used footage of spiders to foreshadow the entrapment of the Eastern Agency commander and his troops. Like the previous film, the plot line is very consistent and progressively engaging. However, I found the lead antagonist, Melody, to be a more complex character than the hero Ho, who is more or less a victim/bystander in all this. At first, slegend-of-the-mountain-1979-king-hu-shanzhong-chuanqi-03.jpghe is shown to be a typically modest young girl, but soon after Ho meets her, we see a glimpse of her true personality as she plays her drum with a cold and dark expression, putting Ho under her spell. She is also shown to be very manipulative and cunning. After getting Ho drunk, she tricks him into believing that they had spent the night together, and that he proposed to her; she basically  “shanghai’s” him into marriage. Though while this film was overall an engaging story, King Hu once again throws us off with the ending. After Ho defeats Melody(and consequently destroys all the other spirits, good and bad), he returns to the temple to deliver the sutra, and the scene abruptly cuts to the shot from the beginning of the film where he stands at the edge of the sea.

Raining in the Mountain

Another step outside of the wuxia genre, Raining in the Mountain takes us to a Buddhist temple, where outsiders conspire to obtain an ancient and valuable scroll; meanwhile, a young convict gains a pardon in order to enter the priesthood. Unlike previous films which were primarily action-oriented, this film focuses more on a progressive crime-drama plot that gradually escalates towards its climactic end. There are also some familiar elements from King Hu’s previous films. In this shot, White Fox and her master flee from the monks through a large forestScreen Shot 2016-10-28 at 10.56.31 AM.pngscreen-shot-2016-10-28-at-11-37-40-am; we have seen this before, in A Touch of Zen in the bamboo forest scene where Yang and Li fight against the Eastern agency. The scene in which they flee into the mountains is yet another familiar shot that we had seen in A Touch of Zen, where Yang and co. were saved by the monks. I found this film to be highly engaging and the ending satisfying, which is a surprising change of pace as most of King Hu’s films were inconsistent in terms of plot and the climax usually left us with unanswered questions.

The Valiant Ones

31012.jpgIn The Valiant Ones, King Hu brings to us another epic display of nationalism. Set during the Ming dynasy, a cunning general battles against Japanese pirates ronin and drive them out of his homeland. As I stated in last week’s blog, this film was produced alongside The Fate of Lee Khan, the latter as a commercial release for Golden Harvest, a cinematic company to whom King Hu sold the movie rights to, while he retained the rights to The Valiant Ones as his independent film. One element that King Hu reuses is the stereotyical portrayal of Japanese antagonists, depicting them very loosely as he did in Sons of Good Earth(i.e Japanese hats, two-toed socks and sandals, ronin with white face). He also begins to deviate from the wuxia genre; here his main characters are highly skilled yet mortal, whereas previously his heroes possessed near-superhuman abilities. The Chinese title(Picture of Valor) ironically denotes this direction during the climax, where a good number of the heroes are killed, taking many pirates with them.

The Fate of Lee Khan

1252435919393.jpgAt the end of his time at Union Film Company, King Hu began work on the final entry of his ‘tavern trilogy’, The Fate of Lee Khan. Set in the Yuan dynasty, a group of mostly female patriots conspire to steal back a rebel map from a Mongol warlord and assassinate him. At the same time, he opened his own production company and was working back-to-back with another film called The Valiant Ones.

fateofleekhan-helena-ma-hoi-lun--angela-mao-ying--li-lihua--hu-chin--ng-ming-tsui_7b00e0f694b26ef8eb3611c1eb28df5a.jpgBoth films exhibited King Hu’s ability to blend genre elements so seamlessly, as at the time many other filmmakers were drifting away from wuxia to focus more on the kung fu genre. This film also demonstrated Hu’s usage of strong female leads, having cast well known actresses as most of the lead heroes and one villain. Combining comedy with drama and intense action sequences, The Fate of Lee Khan is the peak of King Hu’s directorial career.

A Touch of Zen Pt. II

Continuing from last week, the film continues as Yang and co. fight against Eunuch Wei’s Eastern Agency. After leading the commander and his troops into a trap, Yang leaves Gu’s village to enter the monastery. Before he can find her, she leaves him their infant son. Later on, a new commander continues the pursuit, leading to a climax between him and Yang’s mentor Abbot Huiyuan.

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The film’s ending was intending to be freely interpreted by audiences. Where the Abbot was pointing to is unclear, whether it was to return to the world or to find sanctuary. And while there are indications of Buddhist elements, King Hu did not actually intend to depict any religious messages. He merely wanted to, to quote, “capture the flavour of the experience”. Still, I can’t say I am satisfied with how the film abruptly ended without resolving the conflict with Eunuch Wei, or leaving Gu and his child’s ultimate fate unknown.

A Touch of Zen Pt. I

acm382_4.pngStill from A Touch of Zen

A Touch of Zen is heralded as one of King Hu’s great masterpieces. Conspiracy and death abound as a naive scholar is pulled into a deadly plot involving corrupt officials, a young maiden, and badass Buddhist Monks. I recreated this scene with the abbot because it was one of the most powerful scenes in the film, especially for such a short appearance.

Dragon Inn

acm382_3.pngScene of the final showdown in Dragon Inn

Soon after parting ways with Shaw Brothers, King Hu set to work on his next great film Dragon Inn. A period piece set in the Ming Dynasty, Zhao, a corrupt eunuch, plots to eliminate the family of his rival, whom he had framed and executed. He sends out his elite assassins to lie in wait at the Dragon Gate Inn. However, many outsiders arrive soon after and fight to defend the general’s children. The above picture is a prime example of an epic showdown between warriors of justice and the overpowered, corrupt villain. It is made quite obvious in this scene that Xiao, the quiet swordsman, is chief amongst the warriors by how spaced out the others are from him. The camera angle also puts him more in the viewer’s central focus than anywhere else.