Monday, January 15, 2007

Banquet of the Fearless Golden Flying Daggers

An interesting piece today in Variety on the Chinese film industry's seemingly insatiable appetite for lavish period martial-arts themed extravaganzas such as Zhang Yimou's Curse of the Golden Flower (above), Feng Xiaogang's The Banquet (below), Ronny Yu's Fearless, and surely many more to come. Censorship is surely a culprit in this trend, since clearly fantasies of China's distant past are much safer for producers and investors, than say, films by such directors as Jia Zhangke who offer incisive, and often quite critical portraits of contemporary China. Jia's latest, the Venice Golden Lion-winner Still Life, found it impossible to get a screen in edgewise with Golden Flower dominating the market.

Peter Ho-Sun Chan, a great director who made one of my favorite Hong Kong films, indeed, one of my favorite films period, Comrades: Almost a Love Story, as well as the haunting "Going Home," a section of the horror anthology Three, is also getting into the game, following up his musical Perhaps Love with This Violent Land, a $40 million epic to star Jet Li, Andy Lau, and Takeshi Kaneshiro.

These expensive epics, with more lushly decorated sets and star power than you could throw a million flying daggers at, certainly make for a financially robust industry, but at what cost? For me, the genre reached a nadir with Chen Kaige's laughable contribution The Promise. I do look forward to seeing both Golden Flower and The Banquet, and hope to post reviews of both these films here soon. But it is rather a shame that such filmmakers as Jia, Wang Xiaoshuai (whose Shanghai Dreams was one of the best films I saw last year), Zhu Wen (Seafood, South of the Clouds), and others who are responsible for one of the most creatively fertile periods in Chinese film history, can't get their films shown in their own country.

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