Post-war China is recovering, Communism is gaining traction and Chinese films made a lot of political statements at the time. Spring in a Small Town is the exception as it doesn’t focus on politics although it does show China’s need to recover. This lack of political side saw this film sidelined after the Communist revolution in 1949 but now - especially after the 2002 remake by Tian Zhuangzhuang - it’s getting recognition as one of the greatest Chinese films ever - something I couldn’t possibly comment on. Instead of picking a left or right side, it focuses on a story of people, one which it tells exceptionally well.
Browsing: TIFF Film Series
TIFF’s Bitter/Sweet The Joyous Cinema of Jacques Demy Review: The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) - Essential Viewing
Jacques Demy’s The Umbrellas of Cherbourg was his first colour film and musical, and marked a pivotal development in his filmmaking, in externalising his personal vision through the choreography of story, song, space, and cast. It was his third feature, following the superb black-and-white seaside missed romances Lola (1961) and Bay of Angels (1963). But The Umbrellas of Cherbourg differs from these two films only in a developmental sense because it continues their narrative ideas and situations. Abandonment, missed encounter, chance, resignation, and fate often shape the romances and relationships in Demy’s films. Lola and Bay of Angels present a mixture of potential lovers (gambling being one of them in the latter film) that never ends up coming to fruition, set in the port towns of Nantes and Nice, respectively. With The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Demy presents perhaps the most concentrated and intense look at one couple, their love, their circumstances, and how their lives evolve together and separately and involve other lovers, set in the port town of Cherbourg. It is his most concentrated and intense conception of the above-mentioned factors—and the way the port town setting further magnifies such themes of transitoriness in love and life—by virtue of its boldfaced musicality and colourisation. Through Demy in this film of young love, impulses/desires, pressures, and class difference, the musical as a visual and aural style (as opposed to a genre) has never been fleshed out with such a profound understanding for the way it accentuates and multiplies melodrama and distends narrative time.
Jacques Demy’s first film was borne more from the New Wave movements of the third world than of the spirit of the freewheeling and heartbreaking whimsy that we would come to know and love from his later work. Le saboitier du Val de Loire follows a simple man through the menial tasks that make up his unavailing life, but by framing these ingenuous actions cinematically they are immortalized and take grand importance as the documentation of a way of life that like all ways of living inevitably vanished like the innocuous wood shavings on a clod makers workshop floor. An old man walks his horse into the horizon as an automobile approaches from the opposite direction; change is the only constant as the film’s inhabitants unknowingly push forward toward the soulless efficiency of industrialization. We’ve sacrificed a sense of purpose for false promises of happiness, underestimating the value of the menial tasks that require dispassionate toil and the more fulfilling sense of satisfaction that comes from the result of hard work and dedication to mastering our craft.
36th Chamber of Shaolin begins with a kung fu trope that Lau Kar Leung helped father as Gordon Liu demonstrates various fighting forms that would used throughout the film set against theatrical monochromatic backdrops. The actions have no bearing on the plot; they are simply explorations in human form and martial arts technique that quickly and succinctly capture Lau Kar Leung’s pupil as he demonstrates a mastery of body and mind. It is in this simplicity of pared down cinematic elements that allow Liu to dominate the screen and show the impending potential of his disobedient student character and the obstacles that he will ultimately overcome as later in the film he sets out on one of the most memorable training sequences in the history of the kung fu genre. 36th Chamber is a film that requires no CGI or complicated wire choreography to be one of the most epic and masterfully realized films in kung fu and an artful film that entertains with the whimsy and colors of a Stanley Donen musical.
King Hu’s A Touch of Zen is one of the most beautiful and complex examples of Chinese cinema of any era as it uses genre elements to relate the tenets of Buddhism to the masses with fantastical glimmering swordplay, weightless heroes gliding through fields of bamboo, and a collision of Confucian and Zen Buddhist ideals that all work together to create a film that is mystical and illuminating. It is set apart from other wuxia films with its dreamlike narrative structure and gorgeous cinematography, both elements that would become staples of the genre but played much more adeptly through King Hu’s innate abilities as a filmmaker with a unique vision driven by his higher ideals. His heroes and antagonists glide through existence, choosing paths led by the Confucian ideals of the “greater man” that seeks relative tranquility through hard work and a secured station in the government with that of Zen Buddhism, its adherents finding tranquility in less corporeal realities than the armies of Eunuch Wei.
The brilliance of Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love lies in the odd space where subtlety in character and story are able to intertwine seamlessly with breathtakingly obtrusive cinematography. Wong and cinematographer Christopher Doyle use a brilliant framed language in the film, shooting through windows and doorways to suggest the intense intimacy and private nature of what we see unfold, turning the viewer into an emotional peeping tom.
Hong Kong had already re-invented the cop thriller with the likes of John Woo’s A Better Tomorrow and Hard Boiled long before Infernal Affairs arrived. But despite a poster campaign that showed drawn guns held by tough-as-nails cops, there would be no slow-motion shoot-outs in burning buildings this time around. No motorbikes careering through windows. No slickly concealed weapons. And, most important of all, there would be no redemption.
Perhaps the largest show the young TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto has undertaken, the Century of Chinese Cinema (CCC) is a film programmer’s wet dream. Artistic director Noah Cowan (kind of an interviewer’s wet dream: indulgent with time and tangential questions) appears to have achieved the impossible: a magical meld of mainstream classics drawing in the civilians and obscure masterpieces fulfilling the film nut’s completist fetish.
Golden Harvest kung fu flicks have always maintained a gritty competitive edge over most of the more elegant faire from Shaw Brothers Studios, but the ferocity of Bruce Lee gives Fist of Fury a primal quality not usually found in the genre as he unleashes his fury on every enemy in effortless atomic explosions of force. The plot is your standard kung fu revenge fare, but Lee undergoes no second act as he brutally forces his way through every enemy with ferocious ease, no lessons to learn in order to decipher and unlock an enemy’s illogical Achilles weakness; the only way that an enemy can even touch Lee’s Chen Zhen is through attrition.
Jackie Chan is a master of physical acting, long known for his incredible stunts and detailed fight choreography, but what has usually separated him from other East-Asian action stars is his skill for physical comedy. In Police Story, which Chan considers the best of his action films, Chan’s excellent sense of action and superb fight choreography is nearly undone by tasteless and ultimately unfunny humor.