Heroic Grace: The Chinese Martial Arts Film, Part II Through June 13 at Cinematheque Rating: NNNNN
We have classic kung fu at the Cinematheque until June 13, and not a moment too soon. With the tragic demise of the Royal, it's game over for Kung Fu Fridays, at least until programmer Colin Geddes can find a new home. This series fills the gap nicely.
Series closer Once Upon A Time In China (Tuesday, June 13, 8:45 pm; rating: NNNNN ) may be the best martial arts movie ever made. Tsui Hark, Hong Kong's most innovative director, single-handedly revived the genre in 1991 with this polished, spectacular rethinking of kung fu cinema's most enduring character, Wong Fei-Hung (the Jackie Chan character in Drunken Master).
Star Jet Li's peerless physical moves are seamlessly integrated into sophisticated wire work. When not fighting, he's pleasantly bashful in a comic romance that nicely illuminates a serious theme of changing China. This is the film to see if you're not already a genre fan.
Lau Kar-leung is one of the few HK directors who is an actual kung fu practitioner. He has said he makes movies to show the beauty and joy of kung fu. In Dirty Ho (Monday, June 12, 6:30 pm; rating: NNN ), joy takes the shape of a cultured gentleman who maintains a perfectly civilized veneer as he battles.
It makes for light physical comedy that lifts into the stratosphere when co-stars Wang Yu and Gordon Liu Jia-hui start moving and fighting as one person. The acrobatics are wonderful, and they're all the work of the performers. Lau shuns wire work and favours long takes that show off his actors' skills.
The evil that exists within the martial arts world always figures prominently in the heroic-swordplay genre that inspired Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Both Clans Of Intrigue (Thursday, June 8, 8:45 pm; rating: NNN ) and The Jade Tiger (Friday, June 9, 8:45 pm; rating: NNN ) offer labyrinthine plots as loaded with betrayal, scheming and anguished guilt as any John Le Carr novel, all delivered in an incredibly formalized style that treats wife-murder and a superwoman lesbian poisoner on a flower-decked swing with equal solemnity.