Tuesday, September 28, 2004

It still riles me that the Academy judged "Gladiator" to be a better film than "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." Yes, we've all known for a long time that such prize-giving institutions mean nothing, etc., but it is dismaying to see them unable to distinguish between two similarly big-budget action adventures.

Yesterday I premiered to myself the double bill of "Kill Bill, vol. 1" in the afternoon and "Hero" (I'm not sure if that's the English title) in the evening.

"Kill Bill": I guess I'll be renting vol. 2 at some point, but who cares, really.

"Hero": despite succombing to the totalitarian whims of french overdubbing because the audio and subtitles buttons on my DVD's remote had no effect (how anyone stand watching Chinese characters speak in boring MOR french voices is beyond me), a great experience. Hero goes further than CT, HD in an aspect I really enjoyed of the latter: the fight as a canvas for abstract poetic tableaux and the surreal lyricism of flowing lines.

Think of the creative barrenness of the bigger-is-better, testosterone-and-explosions-driven Western action movies. Even John Woo's "Face/Off," lauded as it was for its violent poetry, is oafish in comparaison. As in CT, HD, there is a stillness about "Hero" that periodically erupts into intricate action choreography (Li Mubai, baby). Crucially, though, the surrounding stillness is what makes the eruptions possible and meaningful. This is embodied most strongly in the conversation between No-Name and Lord Qin.

Part of the power of these films is in their formality. The fights in "The Matrix: Reloaded" were formalities and thus boring. The fights in "Hero" are imbued with a formality that is the same as the one governing the interactions between the characters. Much is left unsaid, needless camera movement or sound effects left unfilmed. This formality is also the foundation for abstraction: the rules are strong and established, yet highly flexible (like bamboo). So Snowflake and Moon, dressed in blood red robes, fight amongst swirling golden autumn leaves; No-Name and Sky pause their confrontation to ask a blind old man to continue playing his string instrument as they fight (an awesome musical moment, very Western-as-genre); No-Name and Broken Sword fight on a lake, using their swords to keep them aloft; Snowflake parries oncoming arrows with her translucent robes; hemorrages are stopped with a mere torn-off piece of cloth tied above the clothes: there is no blood there, in fact very little is seen, but when it is, it is for a reason; wiping a drop of water off of a loved one's cheek is more important and powerful than an enemy's charge. It can get cheesy, but is infinitely more satisfying than the latest gunfest.

Dry formality, yes, but no grimness: colours explode, Chinese landscapes I never even suspected the existence of before CT, HD awe. The iterative structure of the narrative exploits these resources: characters are dressed first in red, then blue and then white as we reach the truth.