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Meredith Lewis

Great Quote No. 13

” ‘New Wave’ wirework shows us things we know to be untrue… But wires also feature in Jackie Chan’s more ‘realistic’ fights, enhancing moves which at least seem possible… One might argue that this is much more of a ‘Wicked Lie’ than Jet Li’s gravity-defying shadow kick, but, significantly, that is not an argument that is ever offered.” Leon Hunt, Kung Fu Cult Masters, p. 45

What did you do today? I spent the afternoon in the State Library of Victoria reading Hong Kong Cinema – The Extra Dimension by Stephen Teo and The Asian Influence on Hollywood Action Films by Barna William Donovan. Good times!

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Disciples of Shaolin – Opening Sequence

A common aesthetic device used in kung fu movies of the 70s and 80s was to show the opening credits of the film against footage of the main stars performing displays of martial arts in front of a plain (often boldly coloured) backdrop.* This was often used in films that had, as part of their narrative themes, an especial focus on the history, development or efficacy of a certain school or style of martial arts: it was a useful way of cluing the audience into the visual signature and movement dynamics of a particular style of martial arts that could well be an important signifier of character or plot development during the movie that followed.

Over the course of many films this device, although often used and recognisable, was nevertheless treated to many variations on its theme. Sometimes the martial arts displays were flashy and dynamic, sometimes earnest and technical, and sometimes played for laughs. The Disciples of Shaolinfeatures a solo Alexander Fu Sheng performing a Hung Gar form. The mood of this opening sequence is striking for its stark intensity, and makes this display a particularly eye catching one within the pantheon of kung fu films.

This 4 minute opening sequence begins with Fu Sheng performing a Hung Gar form called Taming the Tiger in front of a yellow backdrop, before moving onto showing him training with wooden poles in front of a white backdrop and then finishing with him training with more equipment in front of a red backdrop. There is no music during the ‘yellow section’ which lasts for 3 minutes; but the shorter ‘white’ and ‘red’ sections are accompanied by a swelling soundtrack.

I am particularly taken with the ‘yellow’ section and it is on this that the comments in this blog are centred. The martial arts choreographer / director for Disciples of Shaolinwas Liu Chia Liang(a.k.a Lau Kar Leung), who comes from a long line of, and was trained in, Hung Gar. Liu apparently found Fu Sheng to be something of a muse, and I can only assume that he took care in coaching and directing one of his favourite performers in the execution of his family’s hereditary style of martial arts. Liu and director Chang Cheh have made an apposite choice of using a display of Hung Gar to open a movie called Disciples of Shaolinas Hung Gar is known to have originated as a southern Shaolin Temple style.

But the appeal of this opening sequence goes beyond the historical appropriateness of establishing Hung Gar as Fu Sheng’s character’s signature style of martial arts. Fu executes his movements with a measured slowness, taught muscle control and intensely focused breath control that gives this sequence an intensity and drama that foreshadows the morality tale in which his character is about to participate.

As mentioned above, this sequence is accompanied by no music, and this helps to create a sense of austerity despite the bold yellow of the backdrop. The sounds that accompany the movement – the jangle of the heavy metal rings on Fu’s forearms, his breathing and moaned and sighed exhalations – are sounds that are caused by or are a response to the initiation of movement by the performer. Thus the performer’s body creates its own percussive soundtrack that marries our visual sense of the dynamic of the Hung Gar form with aural evidence as to the energetic focus of performing that form.

As well as the lack of music, another thing that strikes me about this sequence is the pace of the performance. Many of these opening sequences in the old kung fu films were performed at a brisk and breezy pace, setting up the viewer for a rollicking adventure. Fu Sheng’s execution of this form here is markedly slow in comparison. This gives the viewer time to focus on each separate shape that makes up the form, as well as the intense concentration of energy that Fu is investing in each movement.

Fu gives an uncompromising performance, letting us see and hear each grimace, each greedy inhalation and laboured exhalation of air, each deliberate placement of his body without self consciousness and with complete focus. This makes the viewing of his performance feel somehow very personal and intimate. We can feel that we know the quality of Fu’s energy as he executed the form and this takes us right into his performance. As a couch potato of long standing I will not ever know what it feels like to perform Taming the Tiger myself, so any performance that gives me an inkling as to what it feels like is an important strategy to get me as a viewer feeling more invested in the movie.

And it is important for the viewer to feel involved with Fu Sheng’s performance in this movie. In Disciples of Shaolinhis character struggles with conflicting values and temptations that are thrown up by his coming into renown as a martial artist. Many of the kung fu movies from this era, especially those of Chang Cheh, examined the responsibilities and values that are inherent for anyone functioning as a hero. It is important that at the outset of Disicples of Shaolin we connect with Fu Sheng’s performance as the particular martial artist in this narrative so that we feel the full impact of his character’s story arc.

But its use as a strategy for developing character and engaging the viewer aside, this opening sequence also stands out for pure aesthetic appeal. If it were possible to lift Fu Sheng out of a Shaw Brothers studio in the 70s, swap his plait and traditional clothes for a more modern hairstyle and pair of pants, plonk him onstage at the Melbourne Arts Centre and tell its audience they were watching a modern dance performance I doubt that they would be any the wiser (unless they were Hung Gar students, that is). As an ex-hoofer, I have long felt that the choreography and physical performance techniques on show in kung fu movies equal those in the world of contemporary dance or classical ballet for sophistication of craft. Sequences like this one are proof of that. The integrity of Fu’s performance and the pure beauty of the form stand clear and true. I can’t believe that a movement director and designer who is as inspired as Liu and, as his body of work shows, so attuned to the dramatic and aesthetic capacity of martial arts has not seized an opportunity, in his direction of this sequence, to revel in the lines of the form, the flow of its dynamics and the eliciting of such a performance from his protégé Fu. In opening Disicples of Shaolinwith this display, Liu, Chang Cheh and Fu Sheng invite us to rejoice in the joy and drama of human movement.

*Tsui Hark effectively referenced this tradition in the credit sequence of his seminal 1991 film Once Upon A Time In China.Typically of Tsui, his use of this device was on an epic scale. I love it and blogged about it, as well as the other choreography in this film, here.

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(Black) Man With The Iron Fists: RZA's Foray Into Kung Fu Film

Reblogged from High Yellow:*Click to visit the original post

Poster of RZA’s film Man With the Iron Fists

This week saw the release of first images and the official trailer of RZA’s long-awaited homage to kung-fu film, Man With the Iron Fists. Not only does the film represent a new chapter in the long love-affair between African Americans and Asian culture, it reminds us how long that love affair has been. Read more… 642 more wordsAn insightful comment on some of the reactions to publicity surrounding this upcoming film.

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Naked Lady Yakuza Fighting

As discussed in a previous blog I find that some of the Japanese action movies from the 60s and 70s offer a fascinating if distasteful viewing experience. A bizarre mixture of martial arts and exploitation, they are able to cover the gamut from the ridiculous to the sublime. I guess I am thinking of films like the Lone Wolf and Cub series* (which I actually love even though I have to forgive them for rape scenes aplenty) or the more hard core Hanzo the Razor series (which I don’t and can’t).

I have only seen a couple of pinku eiga films which, for the unitiated, are soft porn martial arts films, and I am not sure that this is the genre for me. I find all of the repeated boob shots and soft core fondling to be a bit of a bore, although, to be fair, I am not sure that I, as a middle aged woman, am representative of this genre’s intended fan demographic. The feminist in me is fairly disgusted by the exploitative use of women in these movies. But the film fan in me does, at the same time, appreciate the flair and skill with which the films are made.

There is a fight scene in Sex and Furywhich encapsulates the qualities that lead to this divided stance in me as a viewer. In this particular scene, the protagonist (played by the excellent Ike Reiko) is attacked by a gang of yakuza while she is in her bath. Naked, she leaps out and grabs a sword and then proceeds to slash her way through the entire gang, first in a tatami matted room and then in a snow filled garden. The whole scene is shot in slow motion and shows copious amounts of gore.

This is a great action scene, beautifully shot and lit, with lovely art direction and nice choreography. Ike bounds about in abandon and swings her sword with the kind of athletic motion that brings to mind an A grade baseballer. Despite the brutal effect of the fountains of blood the scene looks beautiful. Actually, the spatter adds to the aesthetic effect, as the scarlet of the blood contrasts strikingly with the white of the snow (I know how pathetic that sounds – I’m cringing as I write it – but it’s true). This is an instance where these movies repel and attract at the same time.

Is the scene exploitative? Hell yeah! Ike’s naked little body is the main focus of attention in this scene and I’m quite sure that this does things to the average hot blooded male. But, perversely, the sleaziest, nastiest and psychologically murkiest aspect of this scene – naked sexy woman enacting unspeakable violence – contributes to some of the greatest beauty. It’s all in the skill of the filming and performances. The scene is shot in slow motion, surely all the better for us to inspect Ike’s naked body from every possible angle. Plenty of time to take in every slow mo flop of her boobs or every quiver of her taut little buttocks as she leaps about. And leap about she does – there is nothing coy or affected about Ike’s physical performance. It is athletic, energetic, businesslike, ferocious screen fighting. This makes the fact that we do not so much as glimpse a single millimetre of muff as amazing, and is a signifier as to just how carefully this fight was choreographed and staged (and then edited – what ended up on the cutting room floor I wonder?), and just how precisely in control of her spontaneous looking movement Ike was. The slow motion may have been employed to allow the blokes in the audience time to drool, but it also allows us time to enjoy the genuine grace of Ike’s performance. As a female, I found myself approving of how fit she looked and of how unaffected and dynamic and vigorous her movements were. Even as her nudity invites a lecherous gaze, she looks anything but helpless and vulnerable. Exploitation or not, Ike’s screen fighting makes her look like a force to be reckoned with and I liked that as much as I disliked the prurience of the scene.

As much as Ike’s naked body is the main point of focus of this scene, and as much as I suspect that this is an exercise in sexploitation, the filmmakers have not used this as an excuse to skimp on actual content and craft; and this is what makes films like this still watchable for me. As this is an action scene the content is mainly visual and kinetic; and the craft in question pertains to film making techniques such as effectively designed mise en scene, cinematography and editing.

It is the presence of this well-crafted content that sustains the viewer’s interest after the shock value of the sight of a naked woman racing about with a sword wears off. Whoever choreographed or directed this scene mixed in a variety of different stances and movements for Ike to perform, including some nice floor work in the tatami matted room as well more free ranging movement once the fight spills out into the garden. The fight has been staged so that the space afforded by the sets is gracefully used. A notable chunk of screen time is given over to footage showing just Ike’s lower legs and feet prancing through the snow as she ploughs her way through the villains. The deft placing of Ike’s little feet in this section of the scene, and the fact that the director has chosen to focus our attention on them, is another signifier that, whatever else the motives of the scene’s creators were, they still gave priority to showing precision in movement and staging and also to serving up a variety of nicely edited shots to the viewer.

This particular section of the choreography ends with an image showing Ike’s feet on either side of a man’s face as she plunges a sword through his body, causing him to spasm as he dies. Soon after this image, the fight ends with Ike jumping astride another man in a knee and elbow pumping action that leaves no room for feminine delicacy as she dispatches him. We see her buttocks and thighs lower towards his tense and spasming torso as she drives her sword down and then we see his warm and viscous bodily fluid (in this case blood) spray across her face. These 2 images, in particular, offer a moment of extreme physical intimacy between combatants in which sex and violence conjunct. It is a squirm inducing moment, and as to whether the squirming is a manifestation of horniness, squeamishness or both is best left to the viewer to decide in the privacy of their own heads.

Accompanied by a snappy lounge music soundtrack, and performed with that straight down the barrel, un-self-conscious and non-ironic performance style that is peculiar to Asian martial arts movies of this era (and which the Kill Bill films tried to ape so clumsily and self-consciously in my opinion), this fight scene epitomises the unembarrassed mixture of exploitative material chosen for its shock value with a considered, deliberate and sophisticated approach to the craft of creating great action cinema.

*I have written a blog about one of the Lone Wolf and Cub movies here

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The Bridge Duel in Hanzo the Razor – The Snare

I find the Hanzo the Razor films to be fairly objectionable. A grouchy jowly dude with a big dick tortures people and we are expected to find this amusing and horny.

Katsu Shintaro as HanzoI can’t. Women are shown being tortured and raped, initially screaming with pain as they are penetrated by Hanzo’s huge hard penis but then melting into moaning and melting ecstasy because they have been penetrated by Hanzo’s huge hard penis. Porn disguised as rape. I hate it. Women are only able to achieve orgasm through a passive capitulation, and then only after being broken by pain and psychological domination. Utter crap and extremely misogynistic.

I have grit my teeth through 2 Hanzo films (I just can’t bear the idea of watching the third) in the interests of research. As with all Japanese jidaigeki I have seen made in this era, there is actually some good (if not great) film making craft to be found. These films can boast lyrical cinematography, art direction, gripping performances and tight direction. I love the Lone Wolf and Cub series but I will admit that the treatment of women in some of the scenes bothers me. But the films are so beautifully made and the stories are so much fun that I am willing to forgive this. I have only seen a couple of pinku eigaand they are not my cup of tea. But I have enjoyed the performances from actors such as Ike Reikoand other aspects of the film making such as the art direction and camera work are superb.

So I am quite happy to give even the sleazier Japanese action and sexploitation films from the 60s and 70s (and especially those with a historic setting) a viewing. It is a unique experience to be watching a film and feeling yourself to be consumed with righteous wrath on behalf of the sisterhood and then to be distracted from this by the sheer beauty of the way a shot has been composed and lit. Or to be hating a character for being such a male chauvinist pig while, at the same time, be admiring the actor who is playing him for carrying off such offensive guff with such focus and élan.

Thus, it was at the end of Hanzo the Razor: The Snare, while I was berating myself for having given away a couple of hours of my life to view such toxic nonsense, that I found my jaw dropping over the beauty of the very final fight scene. In this scene Hanzo is unwillingly forced to fight a ronin, whom he then kills. The choreography of this scene features the familiar rhythmic device found in samurai movie sword fights of slow drawn out preparatory stances followed by a swift blur of movement. This is then followed by more held positions as the defeated fighter slowly dies while watched by the victor. This rhythmic device allows a build-up of tension during the preparatory stances. This is necessary in a film like Hanzo, as pondering on the outcome of the fight cannot bring any feelings of tension or excitement to a viewer who has just watched a whole film dedicated to building up the image of Hanzo as an unbeatable tough guy whom we know will win. The director needs another strategy for giving his viewers a shot of adrenaline at this late stage of the movie. The long held preparatory stances give us the tension of wondering when the fighting will begin and what the actual attack will look like as opposed to what the outcome will be. The rapid fire thrusts release the tension, and the release of life of the defeated fighter mirrors a slow release of tension in the viewer.

This kind of rhythmic trope also allows us to focus on the performances of the actors playing the fighters. Good screen fighting requires performative as well as physical skill. The actor must use their faces, eyes and bodies to manifest a certain focus and intent. They need to embody a life and death moment that will make the audience hold their breath for a minute. In this scene the actors are able to communicate plenty in the few lines of dialogue and minimally elegant stances of choregraphy given to them. Hanzo is unwilling, even disgusted, at being cornered into having to fight for his honour and be the cause of the death of a man against whom he has no personal grudge. The ronin’s repetition in the lines ”Draw. Just draw. Just draw” makes for a moment of exquisite tension. The choreography of the fight and the performances of the actors have to be captured by great cinematography and served by appropriate editing. The shots in the fight scene at the end of Hanzo 2 are beautifully framed and composed, and call to mind the composition of the manga images on which the films from the Lone Wolf and Cub and Hanzo the Razor series are based*.

Most of all, I love the art direction in this fight scene. It is set on a wooden bridge being traversed by people dressed in traditional historic Japanese clothing as worn by the peasant and mercantile class. Shades of blue and light browns predominate. It is like looking at an ukiyo-e come to life.

At the beginning of the fight scene the bridge is deserted except for Hanzo, the ronin, and Hanzo’s 2 cringing cronies in the background. This gives the fight scene a quiet drama and sense of intimacy between the characters. At the end of the fight the crowds rush onto the bridge to stare at the ronin’s corpse and perhaps, I feel, to just get on with their day now that the dangerous men have finished their business with their swords. This sense of the world and life just going on, as anonymous people bustle past the ronin’s lifeless body, somehow gives a sense of poignancy to his death. The authoritative handling of this scene by cast and crew provides an unexpectedly dignified and even poetic end to a relentlessly prurient film.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jcDRXdjobXA&feature=related

*”The story is based on the manga Goyōkiba (御用牙) by Kazuo Koike, whose Lone Wolf and Cub manga was also adapted as a film series by Katsu, this time starring his brother, Tomisaburo Wakayama. “ Taken from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HanzotheRazor

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A Quick Word On Multiplexes

Reblogged from Andygeddon:*Click to visit the original post *Click to visit the original post *Click to visit the original post *Click to visit the original post

After an impromptu excursion to see Hammer’s new The Woman In Black at my local Vue cinema I was left with the crushing realisation as to why it was that I hadn’t been to said temple of gloom since almost exactly a year previously when it was the only way I could satisfy my intense and immediate desire to witness the Cohen Brother’s tremendous version of…

Read more… 1,278 more wordsI am right bang alongside what Andygeddon thinks about modern cinemas here.

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Morning Tea With The Mayor!

Reblogged from Darebin Overseas Students Association:To celebrate National Volunteer Week (14-20 May) the Darebin Information Volunteer Resource Service (DIVRS) invites you to have Morning Tea with City of Darebin Mayor, Cr. Steve Tsitas.

Share a cuppa, some treats and a chat with people who volunteer, local volunteer organisations and others.

Everyone welcome!

RSVP info@divrs.org.au or 9480 8200 by Monday May 14I was talking to the event organiser today. No RSVP is necessary. Just turn up!

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Ginji the Slasher

I recently rewatched a Japanese film, Ginji the Slasher,which is a film I like very much. It made me think about what constitutes a martial arts film, as opposed to a film that belongs to another genre and which just has a bit of martial arts in it. It tells the story of Ginji, both as a young man (played by Riki Takeuchi) who is a member of a kamikaze unit during the end of World War 2, and also as an old man (played by Natsuyagi Isao) who has been newly released from prison after serving a lengthy sentence for mass murder. The story is a sombre one, and this is reflected in the muted colours of its art direction. The themes of the film are heavy, and deal with guilt, courage, the plight of the homeless, racism, and political corruption. One one hand, the film could easily be seen as a human drama come slow burning mystery that is leavened by a few fight scenes. Director Miyasaka Takashi seems to be content to tell his story at a slow and measured pace, allowing us time to absorb and muse on the film’s themes and satisfyingly complex characters. However, I feel that the film also can be seen as a bone fide martial arts film for reasons I will discuss in this blog.

There are only 2 elements in this well-made film that jar on me. The first is Riki Takeuchi’s performance as the young Ginji. It’s dreadful. I don’t think I have ever seen such uninhibited scenery chewing in my life. Takeuchi’s crass gurning stands in direct contrast to Natsuyagi’s beautifully controlled and quietly authoritative performance as the older Ginji. The second aspect that I am unsure of is the title, which I initially found off putting and which lead me to expect a different, and more superficial, movie. Having watched the movie I now understand a little better why the film is known by this title: it is the nickname of the titular character, and refers to the crime committed by Ginji which altered the course of his life by earning him a 50 year prison sentence.

This crime takes place soon after the end of World War 2. Ginji uncovers corruption in his workplace and, spurred by moral outrage, massacres those involved in an ultimately failed attempt to assassinate the ringleaders, whom he re-encounters after he leaves prison as an old man. When we see the older Ginji after his release from prison, we see a character who is burdened by many emotions. These include perhaps a sense of guilt or even horror at the massacre he committed as a young man; perhaps a sense of a life wasted in prison and now empty of potential and meaning. He is haunted by images and memories of a beloved sister he last saw as a teenager during the war. Ginji is also haunted by death – the deaths of the criminals he massacred, the deaths of his beloved family and comrades during the war, and, most importantly, his own impending death. The possibility of suicide dogs Ginji throughout the film – we see him contemplate it in prison, attempt it as an old man in his rooming house after prison, and be interrupted in the act of committing seppuku as a young man.

It is not only the seriousness of the crime and the length of the prison sentence that are important influences in Ginji’s life, but the way in which Ginji carried out his crime. Ginji is an expert swordsman, and he uses his martial arts skills to lethal effect in the bloodbath that he instigates and which earns him the soubriquet of ‘slasher’.

This film has many more scenes of dialogue than action, and yet I feel that it qualifies as being as much of a martial arts film as it is a human drama. The action scenes are vital components to the narrative and constitute watershed moments for Ginji and other characters. Structurally and tonally, they are also important to the film, providing some lifts in pace and dynamic in what is otherwise a very subdued and serious (albeit engaging) movie.

The quality of the action and violence shown is telling in different scenes of the film. Ginji’s swordplay (nicely choreographed, shot and edited) demonstrates that he is adept. The goriness of the massacre scene doesn’t steer away from just how appalling the level of violence inflicted by young Ginji and his sword is. In the first 2 times we see the older Ginji use his martial arts skills he does so with a length of wood and a pipe respectively, and in these brief fights he is fighting to defend and ends up administering a beating to some thugs – it looks brutal but not lethal. The lack of gore, and the fact that the consequences for those on the receiving end of the blows are not so serious, allows us to focus on the spectacle of Ginji using his technique rather than the spectacle of fountains of blood. We can notice the elegance and stylishness of Ginji’s forms and the efficiency with which he moves. I have Facebook friends who are serious fans of Japanese martial arts movies, and they assure me that Natsuyagi is a veteran of the genre with performances in many seminal films to his name. His experience as a screen fighter serves Ginji the Slasherwell – he sells his action scenes with an assured physicality that conveys the character’s state of mind and quality of focus.

Structurally, the movie seems to reference martial arts films in that it features some action set pieces, including right at the beginning and end (a fairly common structural trope in martial arts movie narratives). Young Ginji’s massacre scene is a major action set piece that is shown in flashback during several instances in the course of the film. Towards the end of the film we have another major set piece during which the older Ginji, recalling his younger self, storms the headquarters of the corrupt and dispatches the film’s villains.

Although the film focuses on Yakuza activity and contemporary style action, another kind of martial arts film – the fantasy swordplay film – seems to be briefly referenced during one scene where one of Ginji’s opponents floats in the air, descending to confound and wound him before ascending. My reading of this scene is that the emotionally disorientated Ginji is hallucinating (there are other instances in the film of this) and has projected onto this character an almost supernatural level of threat. This one instance of wire assisted action neatly ties Ginji the Slasher, with its clear focus on social justice issues and contemporary urban setting, in with traditional martial arts films of yore.

Apart from the scenes featuring Ginji in action, we are shown brief scenes of violence being perpetrated by other (less trained) fighters – some yakuza thugs beat up a young homeless Korean boy, a large group of down at heel men trash a squatters camp. There is nothing stylish or elegant about the violence shown here – it is as clumsy as it is brutal, and it proves an effective contrast to the fighting style of the technically expert and more morally developed (even if he doesn’t know it) Ginji. Martial arts films often use contrasting fighting styles and movement dynamics to define character. In his book Kung Fu CultMastersLeon Hunt refers to the “martial arts tradition, which frequently makes economical, accessible and instructive use of characters with contrasting fighting styles.” (p. 178). The contrast between Ginji’s fighting style with that of other characters signifies a lot about Ginji – like his swordplay, he is a product of discipline and a code. He is a creature of intent, focus, and considered and controlled action.

The ugliness of violence is presented to us in a starkly real fashion in 2 scenes showing characters committing seppuku. The first shows the young Ginji at the cessation of the war (his second flees in horror and his superior – Kuroda – prevents him from completing it). A later scene shows Kuroda committing seppuku before being beheaded by his second, who happens to be the older Ginji. In both these scenes we are shown close ups of the faces of Ginji and Kuroda and we are left in no doubt as to how agonisingly painful seppuku is – they are shown as sweating , grimacing and grunting in agony. Ginji’s participation in both scenes – first as a potential suicide and then as a skilled second entrusted (or, the plot suggests, manipulated and burdened)with the responsibility of beheading Kuroda – links him unequivocally with the Samurai tradition. As a swordsman Ginji is not just a technician or skilled athlete. Despite being saddled with the moniker of ‘Slasher’ he is not a psychotic, blood thirsty monster either. His swordsmanship is the manifestation of Ginji’s adherence to a code of morality and way of living.

The approach to handling the action in Ginji the Slasherand the detailed and considered attention given to how this action is rendered in terms of plot structure, performative technique, cinematography and editing is a hallmark of Asian (especially Japanese and Hong Kong) cinema. Asian film makers have developed sophisticated techniques that allow them to use action to add layers of meaning to character, narrative, aesthetic appeal and theme.

The reason why the action in Ginji the Slasher,despite it occupying far less screen time than non-action scenes, cannot be dismissed as just something that gives us a break from all of the talking is that the character of Ginji is central to the film, and Ginji’s martial artistry is a central component of this character. The action in the film is designed to manifest this central component, which makes martial artistry a primary binding force for the themes and narrative of this movie. It could be argued that one of the main themes of this film, something that is explored through Ginji’s character, is what it means to be a martial artist.

Ginji is blessed with great skill as a swordsman, but this blessing is shown to be (forgive me for the weak joke) double edged. Alongside his great ability, Ginji is burdened with responsibility and other people’s expectations of him as a swordsman, and he is shown to be struggling with this during the film. Being a warrior, Ginji is asked to choose between honouring traditional codes of behaviour and honour and moderating human feeling. An example of this is his conflict between leaving his beloved sister behind when he goes to serve as a kamikaze pilot during the war. When he uncovers hypocrisy and corruption in his post war workplace, he takes it upon himself to act the vigilante even though this results in the death of many and puts his own life at risk and, in fact, is the cause of him spending most of his life in prison. After leaving prison he is haunted by memories and wishes to put his past (and his notoriety) behind him, but he then chooses to use his skills to defend a young friend from being beaten. This brings him to the attention of a Yakuza leader, who, being aware of his ‘accomplishment’ in singlehandedly killing so many men 50 years before, offers Ginji respect and patronage that Ginji absolutely doesn’t want. Finally, Ginji finds himself powerless to prevent himself from being entangled in a plot to assassinate Kuroda, and then in Kuroda’s own plot to kill himself.

Known as the Slasher, Ginji has to deal with the expectations and manoeuvring of others. He is addressed with respect by the Yakuza on one hand, but dealt with expediently on the other: he is seen as a killer, a man who has proved himself with a sword. He is someone who can be manipulated to kill others – he has the technical skills and, as someone who already has a lot of blood on his hands, the stomach for the job. Whether or not he desires to kill, or whether or not he will be able to cope with the consequences of his killing again, do not factor into the reasoning of Yakuza Omuta or Kuroda. To them Ginji is the Slasher, nothing more or less. In actual fact, Ginji struggles with the moral complexities of being a martial artist – his skill with a sword and his developed focus have afforded him the ability to impose change on a situation. He can defend the weak and vanquish bullies, he can kill the corrupt. However the consequences of doing this come at a terrible personal cost. His training in martial arts and the opportunity this has afforded him to elevate both his physical skill and quality of focus has also brought him an intimacy with death and loss, and there is a sense that the old Ginji has been almost completely overwhelmed by this.

By positioning the character of a martial artist as the titular protagonist in this movie, and through the adept use of action alongside the presence of other well executed components of film making, the makers of Ginji the Slasherhave been able to tackle some very complex themes in a movie that can lay equal claim to being a human drama as well as a martial arts movie. I am currently working on blogs about some of the movies that Jet Li made in the United States such as Romeo Must Die, The One, Cradle to the Graveand Rogue Assassin.Despite the presence of Li performing the choreography of the renowned Corey Yuen Kuei, I can never shake the sense that these films are not martial arts films at all. The action stops short at being a whiz bang diversion from the dialogue, although an honourable mention goes to The Onefor making a brave attempt to move beyond this by using martial arts styles to define the 2 characters Jet Li plays in the film. The American film makers do not seem to understand how to assimilate action set pieces and martial arts dynamics into their concerns of character definition and / or narrative structure and / or thematic content. When watching a film like Ginji the SlasherI am reminded that martial arts film making goes deeper than just featuring mere physical jerks.

The cast and crew of Ginji the Slashercan be found here.

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Chow Yun Fat on the set

In this excerpt from my transcrīption of the commentary to The Replacement Killers, director Antoine Fuqua talks about Chow Yun Fat’s attitude to his work.

You don’t always need 100 million dollars to make something exciting. You just need to be clever and you need to give the filmmakers a little more room sometimes to do it and I think that some of the crew and even some of the actors could learn from Chow Yun Fat and people like that. This is a guy that never complained on the set. He never complained about being in his trailer a little longer than he needed to be because we ran into a technical problem because he understood – things break, you know. It rains. Things happen, you know. That’s part of film making and this is a guy that was more than willing to not only to come out and help – we would have to tell him that he couldn’t because of union problems, we used to tell him ‘don’t push the dolly, don’t do that, you know, you might get hurt and there’d be a huge problem’ and he didn’t understand it. He would come to me and go ‘Antoine, how much time do we have?’ I would say ‘We’ve got 2 hours and we’ve got to get this whole thing. We haven’t much time and the sun is going down’ and he was always calm. He would pull me into his trailer. He would have candles lit and he had this calm vibe and he would just calm me down and he would say ‘OK, let’s do it like this. What if we do this?’ I was ‘No…’ ‘Well, how about this?’ and the thing that I loved about him was that he never said ‘Well, how come we’re not prepared to do it that way?’ He just said ‘What if we tried this?’ and sometimes he would be right

And, you know, he just made me realise – I said ‘Man, you don’t have to be a big star and be an asshole’. You don’t. There’s no reason, man. He said hello to everybody on the set every day.  Everybody. He remembered everybody’s name – P.A.s, craft service, you know, everybody. People were blown away. They couldn’t believe it, you know. He took us all to dinner before we shot. I’m talking hundreds of people and he paid for it so, you know, it’s like those sort of lessons we can learn from people like him – accepting foreigners, if you will, from other places, you know, and saying ‘What do you have to offer?’ Some good, some bad, but, you know, we know how to decipher. We know so I think it’s good.

I still don’t think he’s been used properly yet. Not yet. And, honestly, I hope I’m the guy that gets a chance to do that. I really do. I don’t know if I will or not just based on timing and other films I’m doing now and where he is in his life…

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Great Quote No. 11

“Jet Li’s ‘aura’ is quieter, but no less compelling – in Once Upon A Time in China‘s ladder fight, he dominates a fight scene in which he actually took little combative part. The camera gives as much as it takes away – Li positively glows in close-up. Chinese martial arts, health and performance traditions all embrace the concept of qi, a term which carries multiple meanings, including air, spirit, energy and breath. Jo Riley explains that in jingju(Chinese opera), it also means ‘presence’ – faqiis to radiate presence. A performing body is “a body which is presenced. The poses manifest or radiate presence by virtue or articulation of the body”… In jingju, the key presencing moment is the liangxiang (radiant, glowing appearance) pose – the term suggests an opening of the body to let light shine, “the moment of expressing presence… the expression of qi(force) which captivates the spectator’s gaze happens at (the) same point at which qiis returned or gathered”. “Leon Hunt, critic and Jet Li fan, Kung Fu Cult Masters, pp. 43 – 44

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Meredith Lewis

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I am quite addicted to martial arts movies, which is odd when you consider that I hate violence. But when I declaim my love for these films my offline friends s ...Read more

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