The Sorcerer and the White Snake in theatres February 8

Magnet Releasing (the genre arm of Magnolia Pictures) provides a couple of exclusive theatrical engagements for this wonderful Fant-Asia film, about a monk (Jet Lie) battling a demonic White Snake (Shengyi Huang) that has assumed human form and fallen in love with a mortal herbalist (Raymond Lam). (If the plot sounds familiar, it is because this Chinese Legend previously served as the basis for producer Tsui Hark’s GREEN SNAKE [1993].)
THE SORCERER AND THE WHITE SNAKE has been available via Video on Demand since January 3, which means you can watch it here. However, the glorious production values (originally filmed in 3D) deserve to be seen on the big screen, if you are lucky enough to live near a theatre playing the film.
The Sorcerer and the White Snake U.S. posterThe film was directed by “Tony” Ching Siu-Tung (A CHINESE GHOST STORY). The cast includes Shengyi Huang, Raymond Lam, Charlene Choi, Zhang Wen, and Vivian Hsu.
Theatrical Engagements:
Febuary 8, 2013

  • Albuquerque, NM: Guild
  • Columbus, OH: Gateway Film Center 8

THE POSSESSION & FLYING SWORDS OF DRAGON GATE: CFQ Spotlight Podcast 3:35

Little Girls Should Not Be Dipping into Daddy's Humidor: Natasha Calis regrets her curiosity in THE POSSESSION.
Little Girls Should Not Be Dipping into Daddy's Humidor: Natasha Calis regrets her curiosity in THE POSSESSION.

You were at the beach. You were visiting relatives. You had friends over for one, last barbecue. You were scrubbing down the altar for the midnight sacrifice to the Great Old Ones (special for Providence only). Whatever you were doing, it was something you felt was more important than being in the theater this past Labor Day weekend.
And why not? While nowhere near a transcendent filmgoing experience, director Ole Bornedal’s dip into THE EXORCIST well, THE POSSESSION, mustered up enough atmosphere, dramatic tension, and credible performances — including Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Kyra Sedgwick as divorced parents trying to cope with a young daughter infested with an evil demon — to merit it more attention than is usually given to films shoveled into the traditional Labor Day dumping bin. Cinefantastique Online’s Steve Biodrowski and Dan Persons take a few minutes to explore the film’s assorted pleasures and discuss the elements that made it a candidate for summary dismissal. Then Dan gives his capsule opinion of Tsui Hark’s Imax 3D spectacular, FLYING SWORDS OF DRAGON GATE and runs down what’s coming the theaters next week.

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FLYING SWORDS OF DRAGON GATE Director Tsui Hark: Fantasy Film Interview Podcast

Look, Can't We Just Excange Insurance Info and Leave It at That?: Jet Li (right) faces off against Chen Kun in FLYING SWORDS OF DRAGON GATE.
Look, Can't We Just Exchange Insurance Info and Leave It at That?: Jet Li (right) faces off against Chen Kun in FLYING SWORDS OF DRAGON GATE.

FLYING SWORDS OF DRAGON GATE is the first Tsui Hark film to be shot in Imax 3D, starring Jet Li. Okay, stop salivating and sit back down, we’ve got work to do.
Granted, your enthusiasm is understandable. Hark — master of such deliriously epic action films as PEKING OPERA BLUES and ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA — came roaring back to prominence last year with DETECTIVE DEE AND THE MYSTERY OF THE PHANTOM FLAME, and now returns with an ambitious adventure that’s actually a continuation of a film series that started in 1967, about a desert inn where both the noble and the infamous rub elbows and clash swords. In addition to all the expected Hark trappings, such as inventive battle scenes, sharp comedy, and women characters who can stand their own against their male counterparts — including a mysterious swordswoman, played by Zhou Xun, and a lusty barbarian princess, played by Lunmei Kwai (because would you want any other kind?) — the increased palette of China’s first Imax 3D film gives the director a whole new way to mess with your mind. Trust me, Hark takes generous advantage of the opportunity.
This is Hark’s return to MIGHTY MOVIE PODCAST, and we’re glad to have him back; less glad that it had to be via a not-quite-Dolby-grade phone connection. We’ve done our best to smooth out the audio — hopefully you’ll find the discussion well-worth the effort.

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THE FLYING SWORDS OF DRAGON GATE in Imax 3D

Indomina Releasing partners with IMAX Theatres to provide limited exclusive IMAX 3-D engagements of this Fant-Asia fantasy film from producer-director Tsui Hark, the man behind A CHINESE GHOST STORY and so many other Asian fantasy epics. One of China’s biggest box office hits, THE FLYING SWORDS OF DRAGON GATE is a first for that country, in terms of its IMAX 3-D format, with a big chunk of change coming from the specialty theatres. The plot, based on a classic story that has already been filmed twice, has a band of marauders posing as ordinary citizens while seeking treasure in the Dragon Inn, which according to legend was built on the site of a lost city. Cast: Jet Li, Xun Zhou, Kun Chen, Lunmei Kwai, Huchun Li, Mavis Fan, Siu-Wong Fan, Chia Hui Liu.
Theatrical Release Date: Friday, August 31, 2012
Rated R for some Violence
Running time: 121 minutes
Theatres:

  • Boston: AMC Loews Boston Common 19
  • Skokie (near Chicago): AMC Showplace Village Crossing 18
  • Dallas: AMC Northpark 15
  • Houston: AMC Gulf Pointe 30
  • Arcadia: AMC Santa Anita 16
  • Burbank: AMC Burbank 16
  • Torrance: AMC Del Amo 18
  • New York: AMC Loews 34th Street 14
  • Paramus: AMC Garden State 16
  • San Diego: AMC Mission Valley 20
  • Emeryville: AMC Bay Street 16
  • Santa Clara: AMC Mercado 20
  • Seattle: Pacific Science Center
  • Tukwila: AMC Southcenter 16
  • McLean (near Washington DC): AMC Tysons Corner 16

Hero – Blu-ray Review

Zhang Yimou’s HERO (2002) is the centerpiece of Miramax’s new Ultimate Force of Four martial arts Blu-Ray box set (which also includes the American re-edit of DRUNKEN MASTER II, IRON MONKEY, and Takeshi Kitano’s remake of ZATOICHI) and is probably the best known of the films to Western audiences. The internationally acclaimed film was famously saved from the ignominy of the Weinstein’s vault by fan Quentin Tarantino, who helped secure a successful North American release of the uncut print in its original language (a fate not shared by many Hong Kong martial arts films in the States.) The historical epic (whose surreal stylization and fanciful martial arts action pushes it into Fant-Asia territory) broke box office records when it was released in China in 2002, where its none-too-thinly veiled support of a unified China (filming began only 4 years after the British handover in 1997) struck a patriotic chord with audiences.
Hero is structured around a meeting between a warrior known only as “Nameless” (Jet Li, demonstrating a vitality and strength at nearly 40 that most never see at less than half that age) and the King of the Qin territory(Daoming Chen) in the years before the birth of Christ, when modern China was composed of several large (and frequently warring) states. Nameless is being rewarded for killing several assassins from the enemy state of Zhao that have plagued the King for years. The King invites Nameless to tell him stories of how he overcame these mighty warriors, allowing the warrior to move closer to the throne with each story. Nameless first tells him of defeating Long Sky (Iron Monkey’s Donnie Chen, reunited with Li after many years) in a Weiqi parlor, then bringing the tip of his broken lance to a calligraphy school in Zhao, where he uses it as a means of driving a wedge of jealously between lovers Flying Snow (Maggie Chung, of Irma Vep and as Jackie Chan’s long suffering girlfriend May in the Police Story series) and Broken Sword (one of Hong Kong’s biggest stars, Tony Leung, from John Woo’s Hard-Boiled and Red Cliff and the Infernal Affairs series that was later remade in the US as The Departed) and tricking them into fighting each other, with Nameless ready to dispatch the loser. At this point the King interrupts Nameless’ tale and questions its validity; the King himself had once faced these warriors in battle and doesn’t believe that they would be duped so easily. Is Nameless really the heroic Qin warrior that he claims to be, or has the King allowed an assassin close enough to kill him?
It’s no surprise that Quentin Tarantino became an outspoken fan of Hero; however much his impish geek routine frays even our resolute nerves, his adoration of certain genres of film is infectious, and without his sway at Miramax, Hero might even today have been rotting in the company’s 2002 film festival swag bag. The fragmented storytelling style closely resembles Tarantino’s own, particularly when certain scenes are replayed to suit the duplicitous needs of the storyteller.
Director Yimou began his Hong Kong career as a cinematographer, and his directorial debut, 1987’s Red Sorghum made startling use of color to convey story and emotion. Hero’s palate is nothing short of spectacular, with scene after scene bathed in deep, rich primary colors. Watch closely a scene between Broken Sword, Flying Snow, and Nameless in the calligraphy school. We actually see two versions played out in the film – to explain exactly why would constitute a mean-spirited spoiler – first in a vivid red and then again in a pale blue (or green, depending on how well calibrated your monitor is) and we marvel each time we see it at how much the alteration of the color scheme changes our perception.
It’s great to see Maggie Chung and Tony Leung reunited 2 years after appearing in Wong Kar-wai’s haunting In the Mood for Love, and their character’s relationship gives this very formally structured film an emotional heart that resonates. And we loved hearing that Jet Li personally intervened with Yimou to have Donnie Yen cast in the smaller role of Long Sky; of all the main actors, Chen is likely to be least familiar with American audiences. Yen’s career recently got a huge boost with the release of Ip Man, a critical and commercial smash about the Wing Chung master who taught Bruce Lee (sadly, still no information about a North American release).
But Hero rises and falls on the presence of Jet Li, the only Hong Kong martial arts star other than Jackie Chan to cast a large shadow over the American box office. From the late ’90s onward, Li had been dividing his time between mostly forgettable US fare, including Cradle 2 the Grave and The One and a final burst of excellent Hong Kong pictures like Ronny Yu’s 2006 Fearless, likely to be Li’s last true martial arts epic. Li doesn’t have the acting chops of co-stars like Tony Leung, but his Nameless character – though nominally the protagonist – steps aside for large sections of the film, allowing his strong co-stars to take center stage. Stoic expressions aside, Li has tremendous charisma which plays off beautifully in the film’s final moments.
Hero’s martial arts sequences divide many fans of the genre; they are breathtakingly photographed and impeccably choreographed, but are heavily weighed down with digital effects. Some are subtle, as with the removal of wires (the film is heavily dependent on wire work in the action sequences – a long tradition in Hong Kong films, but a harder sell in America outside of art house darlings like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) but other large scale sequences – like the arrow attack on the calligraphy school – suffer a bit from their overuse. Fortunately, the action sequences grow organically from the story, and the occasional dodgy effects are never too troublesome.
Hero’s Blu-Ray transfer is pleasing – certainly the best the film has looked on home video – and it is currently the only HD offering of the title. Color and detail are thankfully quite strong, making their counterparts on Miramax’s standard def DVD look pale by comparison.
At the urging of Tarantino, Hero was released theatrically without the all-too typical edits and English dub track to which most Hong Kong films are subjected when they come under the corporate wing – that’s the good news. The bad news is that, on Blu-ray, the powerful lossless DTS audio is only available for the English-dubbed track; thankfully, the Mandarin audio sounds just fine, but this decision demonstrates the studio’s bewildering and habitual mishandling of these films.
All extras from the standard DVD release have been ported over, including the EPK making-of documentary Hero Defined, while the interesting Inside the Action: A Conversation with Quentin Tarantino and Jet Li is filmed in such a distractingly jittery way that even the participants don’t seem to know where to look most of the time.
New to Blu-Ray is Close-Up of a Fight Scene, which is actually culled from the same interview and behind-the-scenes footage from which the documentary is made – not worth an upgrade on its own.
All extras are in standard definition and the package also included a digital copy of the film.
Click below to read reviews of the three other films from the set at the Blood-Spattered Scribe:

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Forbidden Kingdom: Jackie and Jet Meet Expectations – DVD Review

Forbidden Kingdom DVD
Over the years, I have interviewed several screenwriters of American made martial arts films, and each has boasted how they are working on a screenplay for Jackie Chan and Jet Li, where the top two, living and still fighting on celluloid, martial arts screen legends of all time, were totally up for making the film.  For whatever reason all those scribes failed, it was the silent one, John Fusco, a true practitioner of the martial arts, where ego and boasting are not important, he is the one that won over the hearts of Jet and Jackie to finally come together to etch his name into the annals of martial arts cinematic history folk lore.
The Chinese martial arts movie dream team, the real dynamic duo of kung fu, Jet and Jackie fighting against each other and for each other, eclipses anything Hollywood could ever had hope for, which included their one time Schwarzenegger-Stallone pipe dream team, something that ego prevented and money could not buy.  Yet with Jackie and Jet, it was the spirit of the martial arts that coagulated the current blood of today’s kung fu film, to create a permanent battle scar that everyone would be proud to wear as a reminder of a true historical meeting between two great martial arts powers.  Only Bruce Lee vs. Sonny Chiba would have been comparable.
As one expects with any film these days, to finally get that DVD, at least in this case, is something more special.  To be able at a whim to watch history over and over again, to recapture a moment of time like an old episode of Mike Wallace’s TV show BIOGRAPHY, where rare footage of the subject added such dynamism to the story, THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM comes to DVD with some fantastic special features that cements this magical anticipated moment that only a Beijing opera star fighting a wu shu athlete could transcend.
The saga traces the journey of an American teen, Jason Tripitikas (Michael Angaran), who while hunting down bootleg kung fu DVDs in a Chinatown pawnshop makes an extraordinary discovery that sends him hurtling back in time to ancient China.  Upon landing, Jason is charged with a monumental task: he must free the fabled warrior the Monkey King (Li), who has been imprisoned by the powerful Jade War Lord (Collin Chou; MATRIX: RELOADED).  Joining Jason on his quest is an inebriated kung fu master Lu Yan (Chan), the stolid Silent Monk (Li again) and the fledgling Golden Sparrow (Liu Yi-fei).  But only by learning the true precepts of kung fu can Jason hope to succeed in his mission and in a very WIZARD OF OZ-like motif, find a way back home.
To listen to the commentary by screenwriter Fusco conversing with director Rob Minkoff, simply adds a new dimension and appreciation for the steps, processes and coming together of all the individual elements that made FORBIDDEN KINGDOM possible.  Like a soaring eagle capturing the vector updrafts rising from a valley, Fusco’s firm grasp of martial arts and martial arts cinema provides valuable insights and cool stories that elevates the flight of the film to peaks where only the strong birds of spirit can bring clarity and understanding.
Besides the film itself, the special features section of Disc 1 also contains several other valuable slices of FORBIDDEN KINGDOM movie marvelry and wizardry, which include:  The Kung Fu Dream Team, featuring interviews and behind the scenes footage with Jackie, Jet, Fusco, Minkoff and the old master himself, Yuen Woo-ping; Dangerous Beauty, where with interviews and more behind the scenes footage, we are introduced to the characters and actresses that played Golden Sparrow and the Bride with White Hair, Liu Yi-fei and Li Bing-bing respectively; Discovering China, a historical map showing the path trodden to finding the awe-inspiring and beautiful Chinese landscapes used in the film; Filming in Chinatown allows the audience to visit the largest movie studio lot in the world, Hengdian World Studios, where not only most of the great fights were shot, but also where Boston Chinatown found its way into China; Monkey King and the Eight Immortals, which starts off showing Fusco practicing authentic martial arts (not cinema stuff) leading into descriptive histories of who the Monkey King and the Eight Immortals were and their place in real martial lore; Blooper Reel, which features some truly funny outtakes with Jackie, the kind that do not look rehearsed like from some of his RUSH HOUR films; and Deleted Scenes, where Fusco and Minkoff describe the scenes and their setups that never made the final cut.
Audio choices include English 5.1 Dolby Digital EX or English 2.0 Dolby Digital, which can be viewed in conjunction with English or Spanish subtitles.
The Lionsgate release also includes a Disc 2, which features a digital copy of the film that can be downloaded onto either your PC or MAC, where it can subsequently be transferred to your video enabled iPod, iPhone or Apple TV.

Jackie Vs. Jet

 But the bottom line to all of this, truly comes down to what all kung fu film fans have hoped for, nay, prayed for…the time when Jackie Chan and Jet Li cross hands beyond the boundaries of Hollywood’s lack of vision and letting these living legends really demonstrate their martial arts abilities, as evident by the DVD describing that one section of one fight was had 120 takes.  It is the power of Jackie and Jet, under the scrutinizing and perfecting eye of Yuen Woo-ping.  Ultimately we must thank Fusco for having the right vision to inspire and bring together the three proverbial masters into one master film.

Hero (2002) – Fant-Asia Film Review

HERO is one of the best films of its kind and one of the most beautiful films ever made. A martial arts Fant-Asia costume epic, the film’s storyline edges closer to legend than history, and its displays of impossible fighting skill (swordsmen running on water, bouncing off treetops, floating through the air) pushes it into outright fantasy territory. The closest point of comparison for most American audiences will, of course, be Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but HERO may be an even finer achievement. Its plot may not have the same broad appeal (although it too includes a love story), but HERO director Zhang Yimou stages every scene with a grandeur and beauty beyond the relatively mild approach of Ang Lee.
Set in pre-unified China, at a time when a king’s armies have been conquering local provinces and bringing them under his rule, the story uses a RASHOMON-type narrative device of having its events narrated by a nameless hero (played by Jet Li, he is literally called “Nameless”), who is invited to the royal castle after slaying three assassins who had dedicated themselves to killing the king. For this, he is rewarded with gold, land, and the privilege of sitting within ten paces of the king. Nameless explains how he defeated the assassins Sky (Donnie Yen), Flying Snow (Maggie Cheung), and Broken Sword (Tony Leung), but the story does not add up for the king, who offers a different version: the assassins sacrificed themselves, allowing Nameless to kill them so that he would win the privilege of getting within ten paces of the king—close enough to assassinate him. The king may be correct, but Nameless hesitates to take advantage of his opportunity. Instead, he tells a third version of events, in which Broken Sword, who has attained a kind of enlightenment through years of dedication to calligraphy, advises him to assassination attempt.
Initially, the story-telling device seems like an excuse to string together several fight scenes, and Nameless polishes off the three assassins so quickly that you wonder how the filmmakers will stretch their tale to feature length. Once the alternate versions of events emerge, however, the complications serve to deepen and enrich the story. What started out looking like a simple action flick turns into a wonderful drama, with characters acting out of complex, contradictory motives. Much of the conflict emerges from the love affair between Broken Sword and Flying Snow, the latter of whom remains dedicated to revenging herself upon the king for the death of her father even after her lover has renounced the mission. This love story is not as central to the film as the one in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but it goes a long way toward investing the events with operatic-style melodramatic emotions, in keeping with the virtuoso displays of visual style.
This is a film in which every fight is layered beneath falling rain, wind-blown flower petals, or whirling curtains—a colorful feast for the eyes that should appeal even to those who do not appreciate martial arts films in general. By now, it’s become a cliché to say that Chinese actions scenes are staged like a well-choreographed ballet, but this is a film that lives up to that description and then some. Unlike the action in the KILL BILL films, the floating wire-work and slow-motion stunts are not just visceral display of action prowess; they create a hypnotic dance in which every move expresses some part of each character’s soul, revealing as much about them as any intimate dialogue ever could. This is a film that wants you to cry, not cheer, when a fatal blow is struck, and it succeeds.
If there is a flaw in the film, it is that the narrative structure, showing multiple versions of past events, grows slightly repetitious. By the time the film abandons this story-telling device and wraps up its loose threads, showing us the actual conclusion of events, the story almost feels as if it is extending itself one or two scenes too far: When we see the final battle between Broken Sword and Flying Snow, still quarreling over the mission to kill the king, it’s almost a replay of the imagined confrontations shown before—and that’s still not the end of the movie, with yet another scene detailing the fate of the film’s Nameless Hero.
Even here, however, the film manages a heartfelt, tragic conclusion that resonates deeply with the viewer, redeeming any narrative weakness. HERO is an action film, but it is much more, attaining a kind of grandeur that Troy wanted but only partially achieved. Even if you’re not interested in fancy swordplay, the bold colors and big emotions will win you over.

TRIVIA

The film created a small controversy when it was released, based on the accusations by some that it conveyed a pro-communist message. Read more here.
Yimou Zhang followed up HERO with the even better HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS.
HERO (a.k.a. Ying Xiong, 2002). Directed by Yimou Zhang. Written by Feng Li, Bin Wang, Yimou Zhang. Cast: Jet Li, Tony Leung, Chiu Wai, Maggie Cheung, Ziyi Zhang, Daoming Chen, Donnie Yen.
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