HEROIC GRACE: THE CHINESE MARTIAL ARTS FILM Friday (June 6) to June 18, Cinematheque Ontario, AGO's Jackman Hall. $5.25-$9.60. 416-968-FILM. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNNN
heroic grace is a short but fascinating series of films and a tantalizing introduction to a genre that has gone from being a cultish passion for some Western viewers to a style that permeates popular culture, viz. double-digit Oscar nominations for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and The Matrix and Drew Barrymore reviving Charlie's Angels as a white-bread remake of The Heroic Trio.When I was sneaking off to the local grindhouse in my university days to watch people flying through the air on wires, serious people equated these films with Bollywood musicals - which are about due for the Cinematheque treatment, come to think of it.
This series is devoted mostly to wuxia films, period tales with a lot of swordplay and romance, rather than the kung fu pictures triggered by the rise of Bruce Lee and his followers, the Jackie Chans and Jet Lis. In a film like King Hu's 1966 Come Drink With Me (Friday, June 6, 8:30 pm), you can see the direct line into a film like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, where director Ang Lee, highly aware of his film's antecedents, cast Hu's heroine, Zheng Peipei, as the villainous Jade Fox in his own film.
Some of the action in these films is limited by the constraints of the time; the wire work in a film like Come Drink With Me, for instance, is a craft in its infancy. But the fight scenes, like the two-men-against-a-small-army climax of Blood Brothers (Saturday, June 14, 8:15 pm), vivid wide-screen compositions - no gunmetal-grey dystopias for these directors - and certain bizarre psychologies are spectacular.
On this level, Intimate Confessions Of A Chinese Courtesan (Friday, June 13, 8:30 pm) is not to be missed. It is, quite frankly, insane. Josef Von Sternberg and Luis Buuel collaborating at their kinkiest couldn't have come up with anything like it.
He Lili stars as Ainu, a young woman of noble birth sold into prostitution who takes her revenge. There are gauzy sex scenes, lesbianism, wild fight scenes, dismemberment - you name it. It's the sort of film so off the scale that after seeing it you immediately want to see it again just to confirm that you haven't dreamed the whole thing.