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Legend of the Disturbing Bosoms

By 2006, the “wuxia” genre has grown even hotter and expands even bigger in scale. Feng Xiao Gang, another of China’s new wave director helmed the Shakespeare’s inspired “The Banquet (2006)”. Boasting a score by Oscar-winner Tan Tun, Master Yuen Woo Ping’s choreography and now international starlet, Zhang Ziyi as the arrogant Empress Wan, it was another disappointment down the alley. At times, stage-like, at times surreal, at times bursting with energy, it was however the “who-dunnit” ending that caught viewers with surprise. Jokingly, netizens suspect it’s the carps during discussion in forums and chatrooms. One good thing did came up in the end to our surprise, our reviewer Richard Lim’s quotes for “Banquet” was immortalized on the cover of the Code one version of the DVD.

Following shortly behind was the heart-pounding “A Battle of Wits (2006)”. Director Jacob Cheung was never seen as a winner or sorts. He hasn’t had a track record for box-office success to be honest, more renowned for arthouse dramas such as “Cages (1993)”, his last feature film was in 2001 and “Wits” was his own written for the screen adaptation of a Japanese manga. Not a potential material for box-office success in the eyes of many. But Cheung nailed everything right on the spot including the cast, battle sequences, set design and most importantly the story. Ultimately, it was a sincere historical mega production as quoted by our reviewer John Li.

Zhang Yimou makes a comeback in December of that year with “The Curse of the Golden Flower”. The US$45 million budget not withstanding, the stakes are higher than his prior efforts as it was sort of a finale to his unofficial “wuxia” trilogy. Attracting a cast that includes Hollywood/HK mega star Chow Yun Fat, ex-lover Gong Li and pop prince Jay Chou, “Curse” was enveloped by a sea of well-endowed bosoms and chrysanthemum, surprisingly unable to attract the foreign judges and pitifully left out of the Oscars ending Zhang’s rumoured bid for the Golden man.

The Warlords Reigns

The year 2007 was a slow one. By then, a lot of “wuxia” tentpole projects were announced or already in the production process. The only one that was scheduled for opening was Peter Chan’s “The Warlords (2007)”. “Warlords” was initially a remake of Chang Cheh’s classic “Ci Ma (1973)” but Chan and his team of scriptwriters evolved the script into taking its own form. Heavyweights Jet Li, Andy Lau and Takeshi Kaneshiro led the all-star cast with Tony Ching on board as action director. The movie opens to rave reviews given that it was director Peter Chan first foray into the martial-arts genre. Chan who is renowned for “Comrades: Almost a Love Story (1996)” and “He’s A Woman, She’s A Man (1994)” enthralled the audience with his detailed storytelling. It was an instant hit Asian wide and recently snagged eight major awards at the Hong Kong Film Awards including Best Director and Best Actor for Jet Li.

The Empress. The Dragon. The Cliff

Nowadays, it’s no longer a cheap affair to make a “wuxia” film. Gone are the days where the only highlight of the film is where sword wielding pugilists fly from tree to tree hanging from a pitiful wire. In today’s Asian cinema, the budget has hovered to the millions, not as much as their Hollywood counterparts but increasingly affordable to hire more manpower and also drive up the production values. Now we get to see more realistic visual effects, CG doubles, breath-taking sets, exotic locations and thousands of men drabbed in golden armour ready to battle it out. If you notice, the credits now run longer for Asian titles whereas back in the old days, the credits disappear before you even attempt to wipe off the cracker bits off your shirt.

All thanks to the opening of the China market, the rich Chinese investors poured in the millions to co-produced most of the above stated titles with the Hong Kong production houses. Huayi Brothers, Studio Polybona and Hengdian Studio among others are encroaching to grab a slice of the pie. What better way to flaunt your wealth other than to go into the tantalizing world of the media?

The first quarter of 2008 alone saw two productions showing back to back. Tony Ching Siu-Tung once again took on directing duties for “An Empress and the Warriors (2008)” after coordinating countless action and “wuxia” movies over the years. Perhaps distracted by dozens of production matter on hand, the end result was embarrassingly bad. Even action-star Donnie Yen can’t do much in this faltering script.

The HK/Korea/China co-production, “Three Kingdoms: Resurrection of the Dragon (2008)” opens one week after “Empress” fares slightly better. Loosely based on the “Romance of the Three Kingdoms”, it’s a simple tale of how a common man named Zhao Zilong who rises to become an honorable general fighting for his country. Andy Lau shines in his role and this is the main reason which makes “Kingdom” watchable. Sammo Hung who had a starring role here as well turned in an absurd, disappointing choreography for the battle scenes.

The anticipation is even bigger than the pair up of Aliens versus Predator. The two iconic action heroes of Chinese cinema teamed up for the first time in this Hollywood funded “The Forbidden Kingdom”. Jackie Chan and Jet Li indulge themselves in martial-arts fantasy in a tale inspired by the Chinese classic, “Journey of the West”. While the action pieces, clunky plot and awkward dialogues is less than spectacular, “Kingdom” manages to score a US$20 million box-office opening in the states and garner SGD$1.5 million in the opening weekend in Singapore. Not bad for two self-proclaimed old men.

In summer 2008, we wait with bated breath for the long awaited John Woo’s epic, “Red Cliff” starring Tony Leung and Takeshi Kaneshiro. The Pang Brothers are also filming “Stormriders 2” as we speak for release tentatively next year. To be fair, most of the above movies stated above were never critically acclaimed but most of them manage to lure the audience to the cinemas given the attractive cast or high production values. The Chinese cinema which was once touted dead is now very much alive. On the whole, the “wuxia” genre in fact will never die, it will only wait for the right time to make its move just like a good pugilist sharpening his saber patiently awaiting his opponent.

If you happen to miss page one of this article >


The Banquet (2006)
Movie Review
DVD Review

A Battle of Wits (2006)
Movie Review
DVD Review

Curse of the Golden Flower (2006)
Movie Review
DVD Review

The Warlords (2007)
Movie Review
DVD Review

An Empress and the Warriors (2008)
Movie Review

Three Kingdoms: Resurrection of the Dragon (2008)
Movie Review

The Forbidden Kingdom (2008)
Movie Review

This article is dedicated to all "wuxia" fans and all mistakes, errors if any in this article goes to me
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