Tuesday, January 11, 2011


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *"comedy" for (1), "adventure" for the other 2*

I decided to treat this three-course meal of Asian cuisine as one entry because all of them concerned the wilder side of the martial arts domain, in contrast to my previous entry on "uncanny" kung fu.

In addition, none of the three require a lot of plot-exposition. The riotous action-comedy EAGLE SHOOTING HEROES has a lot of plot-threads unraveling in all directions, apparently because it's some sort of broad parody of a Chinese novel of that title. One hopes for the author's sake that there's as little resemblance between his novel and the film as between Ian Fleming's CASINO ROYALE and the goofy 1966 version thereof.

I like to think I'm pretty catholic in my cinematic tastes, and one indicator of this is that I even like some Hong Kong comedies, despite their generally deserved reputation for, shall we say, "unsubtle" comedy. But EAGLE SHOOTING HEROES beats me out. Around the same time writer-director Jeff Lau did ESH he also did the two-part CHINESE ODYSSEY film, which is similarly wacky but was fitfully amusing. But although ESH has almost every kind of cut-rate HK fantasy one could want-- a floating head, flying boots, fighters who can shoot "chi" from every part of their anatomies-- ESH seemed interminably longer. Every actor in it mugs outrageously, and the script seems convinced that every single joke that puts the actors into a homosexual clinch is just screamingly funny. I guess if I tried to apply Campbell to this mess I'd reference the film's parody of traditional Taoist mystical beliefs, but it's hardly worth it.

In a slightly more serious metaphysical vein Tsui Hark, one of the godfathers of 1990s HK-cinema, gave us VAMPIRE HUNTERS in 2002. It's at least a watchable action-horror film, in which four kung-fu vampire hunters go about hunting both vampires and zombies. The hunters explain the etiological differences between the two, but the plot focuses less on the monsters than on a human villain, Master Jiang. Jiang's a rich miser who's lost most of his family but keeps them preserved in his manor a la Norman Bates, except that Jiang uses wax preservatives rather than taxidermy. Jiang does raise the mythicity here a little, as he makes a good symbol of what Campbell called "the tyrant Holdfast," the father-figure who wants to take all his riches (and his widowed daughter-in-law) with him to the grave. But the main heroes are rather dull and it's said the movie suffers from severe cuts for the American market

2008's ONECHANBARA, a Japanese adaptation of a video-game of the same name, is another zombie-fighting opus, albeit set in the future, when a mad scientist has polluted the world with killer zoms. For some unvoiced reason the same scientist also intervenes in the lives of two young girls, Aya and Saki, during their martial training by their swordsman father. The scientist somehow persuades Saki to kill her father, absconds with her and unleashes his zombies, in that order. Aya, the heroine of the story, goes after the madman and her sister with her sword, which is able to blaze with fire due to her powers of *chi,* or something.

There's nothing new in ONECHABARA, especially the way it tosses plot-points at the watcher like set-ups in a video game. But at least Aya's zombie-killing orgies have some visual flair, as does her climactic fight with Saki, who for some reason runs around in a sailor-suit school-uniform. The Campbellian function here would be psychological, since the crux of the conflict is the two sisters fighting over which receives the favors of the father, but I must admit I've seen a lot of Japanese films that delve into Oedipal matters with considerably more brio than ONECHANBARA.

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