Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Martial Art Film

The Assassin (2015) is one of those Chinese period drama/martial arts/art films. It shares a lot with, for ex, Hero - a beautiful and artistic film about fighting and political intrigue. It is director Hou Hsiao-Hsien's first period film and he got Qi Shu (Journey to the West) for the title role.

It starts wit a complicated history lesson crawl, setting the story in the Weibo kingdom in the Tang dynasty. The first scenes are in black and white, with a square picture ratio. A nun gives assassin Qi Shu assignments to kill the cruel and corrupt. When she has mercy on a target who is playing with his son, she is assigned to go to her home and kill her cousin. Around here, the movie goes color and Academy ratio.

The movie is filled with:
  • Beautiful costumes and court pageantry
  • Lovely, static frames of nature with (sometimes) tiny figures moving through
  • Complicated exposition of the political situation - to the extent that I just laughed after the third one, ~20 minutes in
The obvious viewer strategy is therefore to be lulled or dazzled by the visuals and to ignore the plot. I've admitted it before - I usually can't really follow these Chinese costume dramas. They tend to be subtle and elliptical, with clues deeply hidden. They may also be based on well-known tales or histories which I've never heard of. Also, I'm not good with faces, so sometimes I get characters confused. But from the commentary on this movie, everyone else is in the same boat (except perhaps the Chinese).

But it is a very beautiful movie, with characters sliding in and out of shadows or behind silk veils. There are so many long takes, but they don't strike me the same way as, say, Uncle Boonmee. These long takes seemed to reveal something - lurking in the shadows, trekking in the distance, even a well-hidden emotion running across a character's face.

The fights are choreographed in a more-or-less traditional way, then filmed strangely - one fight is shot from far away, and moves out of sight into a forest. Another starts in the middle of the fight, then just ends and the antagonists walk away from each other.

The politics, as far as I can understand them, are interesting. They are about preferring peace to the struggle against a corrupt central power (like Hero). The end is interesting - it takes place in a village or farmyard, where the rest of the movie has been all court-oriented mansions and temples. Possibly represents a turn away from the symbolic and formal, towards vital reality.

1 comment:

DW said...

Hey Coolbev, the movie sounds great, and now I want to watch Journey to the West, but I'm actually writing on a totally different topic: cocktails made with beer.

I thought of this a long time ago (both due to the macho appeal of boilermakers and because many old American beers seemed like they'd work better as lightly flavored soda water for a tall drink), but recently it seems like real cocktailistas (or whatever the proper name is) are mentioning them. See: I made the Muddy Puddle (w/o the peanuts); it was quite good.

Several of the promising recipes have some kind of amaro or other bitter element. I have a few kinds of bitters, but no amaro. I like to use recipes as inspiration rather than instructions, though I do understand that sometimes you have to follow them precisely in order to achieve a certain result.

So here's my question: if I want to approximate these or similar cocktails, should I get some amaro as part of the basic set of ingredients, & if so, what kind should I get? And as a follow-up question, what kind would YOU get?