Final Thoughts

Before this class, I knew very little about kung fu movies and even less about King Hu. However, after this class I’ve learned how his meticulous attention to details and clever ways of utilizing what he had made King Hu a very skilled filmmaker. His efficient use of his settings in combination to his tracking shots created very impactful action scenes that would even best some of the present day films. He was definitely setting a standard at the time that people found inspiration in.

My top favorite films were the Valiant Ones, the Fate of Lee Khan, and Dragon Inn. I liked the clever battle techniques that were showcased in the Valiant Ones. The Fate of Lee Khan had an excellent cast of action heroines, which I appreciated. The cinematography inside the inn in Dragon Inn was very beautiful for a place in the middle of nowhere.

My least favorite films were Raining in the Mountain, Painted Skin, and A Touch of Zen pt I. There were very unnecessarily long scenes in Raining in the Mountain, the temple was beautiful yet boring. Painted Skin had an intense buildup that eventually accumulated to a short easy climax. In A Touch of Zen Pt II, there’s less of connection with the new characters so I felt unengaged.

As I mentioned before, the techniques that King Hu used in his films oftentimes felt very modern to me and thus his films would be engaging even to me, who is used to fast paced Hollywood style movies. After watching Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, which he explicitly said was influenced by King Hu, the audience can see some borrowed techniques (and technically a borrowed actress) that I’ve originally seen in King Hu films. Although it was not as extensive in King Hu’s Come Drink With Me, in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, there is a rooftop scene in which the characters would “fly” up onto the roof tops and with their martial arts skill, jump from roof to roof skillfully like rocks skipping across water.

During the bamboo scene in Zhang Yimou’s House of Flying Daggers where two characters are running away as men chased them high above at the tops of the bamboo and pelting the fleeing couple with sharp cut bamboo, I was distinctly reminded of the scene in A Touch of Zen where the leading lady faces off against the Eunuch’s men with her General. Except, in King Hu’s film, it was the good guys chasing after the bad guys. However, the use of both the tops of the bamboo and the running between them at the bottom was definitely inspired by King Hu.

In all, I really enjoyed this class and getting to learn more about King Hu. The way that he was making his films are really inspiring and stresses the importance to me in utilizing your settings and backdrops to really create impactful interactions between characters and their world.

Painted Skin

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For our final week, we watched King Hu’s last released film, Painted Skin. While the storyline had elements that I considered to be interesting such as a lost ghost, an all powerful abbot hiding out in the country in secret, and a big bad guy that everyone had to team up to defeat, the overall delivery of these elements felt like it was lacking something that his other films had. The storyline was sometimes hard to follow, such as where the characters were heading exactly although they were constantly travelling, or what happened to characters such as the scholar’s wife appearing to have died, but in reality was just rendered unconscious given she was alive at the end. I feel like he had a good selection of interesting characters to go with but focused more on action.

The fighting scenes didn’t have as much impact as his other films though. Instead of the characters interacting directly with each other, they were often shown making gestures into empty space and then it cut to an explosion. I guess this was due to the heavy implication that magic was used, but the overuse of it made the effects feel cheap after.

I did however, like the end as it was one of his more straightforward endings and cleared up any loose ends the story had.

Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon

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For this past class, we watched Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. Although it wasn’t a King Hu movie, it was interesting to see parts that were clearly influenced by King Hu movies and some key differences that made me appreciate King Hu’s style.

One of the biggest things I noticed was how Ang Lee staged his fighting scenes. For the most part, when the characters had their big showdowns, they would have them in large flat areas like an empty courtyard (where the policeman faced off against Jade Fox) or an actual training area (where Yu Shu Lien and Jen Yu fought). While this allowed for the action to not be obscured by objects, it made the space feel very desolate. Although the settings were beautiful, they also felt very flat.

Whereas King Hu seemed to love to fill his settings, from the foreground to the background. As I’ve commented on in my post for The Valiant Ones, King Hu’s technique of placing things between the camera and the characters even when they’re fighting creates a depth that actually makes the fight more exciting. It’s as if you’re really a part of the scene and you have to move to keep up with the fighting else they’ll disappear from your view.

An exception in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon was during the tavern scene with Jen Yu as she jumped from place to place in the crowded space. It almost felt like a nod to King Hu’s tavern fights in Dragon Inn, Come Drink With Me, and even The Fate of Lee Khan.

Legend of the Mountain

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In this week’s film, Legend of the Mountain, it was a lot of fun to watch King Hu experiment with more practical special effects since it was made before the use of CGI. To be honest, when the monk first disappeared with the smoke trailing behind him, for a moment I was like “How did he do that?” but I was too absorbed with following the story to really think about it until it happened a second time. That was when I was like “Oh! He just played the shot backwards!” and I couldn’t help but think how clever that was.

While some of the effects could be seen as cheesy in our present day, I thought it really helped establish the mystical setting and nature of these characters. It really helped set the almost horror story like tone to the movie in comparison to A Touch of Zen where despite the fort being supposedly haunted, it didn’t have that feel at all since it lacked any supernatural effects.

I think my favorite part was when the monk and his master tossed the stones (I think it was stones) into the air and then they came down as instruments. It was a really neat way to show how editing can be effectively utilized to carry the story.

Raining in the Mountain

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In this week’s movie, Raining in the Mountain, King Hu fully utilized the setting of the Buddhist temple. Through the use of long walking scenes, especially in the beginning, King Hu showed off the really beautiful intricate labyrinth of a set. When we first see White Fox and the Esquire first entering the temple, the audience is taken from the mountain forest, up one of the towering staircases into the temple, down a pathway lined with trees and traversed by a crowd of monks, and then through the cluster of buildings where a majority of the movie played.

Soon after in the scene where White Fox and Gold Lock navigates the tightly knitted buildings that are even at different elevations in order to find their prize, this lengthy transversal scene further emphasized the massiveness of this temple. While it was nice to see the many different areas within the temple, I was pretty lost as to where everything was in the end.

The complexity of the Buddhist temple actually added to the convoluted schemes of the General and the Esquire to plant their own monk in the role of the Abbot. In the end though, they were the two that got lost within their own plotting. The General lost his Lieutenant and the Esquire lost his own life because he foolishly wouldn’t give up the scroll.

The Valiant Ones

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This week’s movie, The Valiant Ones, is my second favorite movie so far (my first is actually last week’s movie, The Fate of Lee Khan). King Hu took elements that he experimented with in his previous movies and merged them wonderfully to produce really engaging action scenes. Instead of keeping the camera stationary while the characters moved through the planes of the setting, in The Valiant Ones, the camera panned smoothly with the action which made the fighting more dynamic while simultaneously ensuring that the audience could see all of it.

 

I remember while watching in A Touch of Zen, especially during the fights in the old fort amongst the tall grass, that I had a hard time keeping track of the fighting despite how in-depth keeping the fighters behind the grass made them. However in The Valiant Ones, King Hu maintained the depth of his scenes while still focusing on the action.

 

I immediately fell for this movie during the first fight scene at the old man’s fishing shack. I really loved the part when one of the heroes faced off with the bad guys just outside the shack. The hero would push back the bad guy along a low wooden fence. This would frame the fighters by keeping the audience’s attention above their waists and on their sword arms while also avoiding pulling in the camera too close.

Fate of Lee Khan

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In this week’s class we watched King Hu’s Fate of Lee Khan. While it was obvious from the minimalist use of the sets that his budget was a lot more limited due to him now being independent, King Hu made good use of the space available to him.

A majority of the film was shot within the inn that the four heroines worked at, which might seem similar to Dragon Inn, but I felt that it had a more claustrophobic feeling to it since the inn in Fate of Lee Khan didn’t make use of natural lighting as it had in Dragon Inn. However, in contrast to the very drab setting, the characters had a lot more colorful wardrobes and utilized the space more. The characters would often move around the tables and seats, making the space bigger and open or crowded and bustling depending on what the mood of the scene called for.

As for the characters themselves, I felt they were as lively as their attire. Since their names were not mentioned aside from Black Peony, the way that the four heroines were given individual colored uniforms made them easier to identify (and also reminded me of Power Rangers in a way.) I appreciated how the man posing as the servant felt like a callback to Drunken Cat in Come Drink With Me as he had a similiar silly introduction, but was a very skilled martial arts master.

A Touch of Zen (Pt. II)

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(The image is a shot from the opening, showing a couple victims trapped in the web)

This week we watched the finale to A Touch of Zen. While in class we went over briefly the symbolism of the spider’s web that reoccurs throughout the film and how it mainly represents how Yang and Ku lure the East Company men into their trap at the fort, I thought the spider’s web visually reflected multiple other scenes.

 

In the opening scene, we see the web reflected against the moonlight. I feel like this was a good metaphor to how Ku was inadvertently caught up in Yang’s situation. Had he chosen not to investigate further into Ouyang Ning or Yang, he would not have walked into this East Company plot and completely avoid the entire ordeal, like a fly narrowly missing the web.

 

When the spider’s web shows up again, it is right before the Easy Company enters the fort’s ghost trap, which I think was the perfect symbolism for that scene.

 

Lastly, while not an actual spider’s web, when Commander Xu was caught by the monks, the pattern of the rope that held him struck me as similar to being caught in a spider’s web. Although it would have appeared that Commander Xu was the spider who was hunting Yang and the general, Commander Xu was the one caught and unable to escape the Abbot’s punishment.

A Touch of Zen (Pt. I)

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In King Hu’s A Touch of Zen (Part I) I was really struck by his full utilization of the scene’s layout. In most shots, there would be objects in the foreground, middle ground, and background which the characters would interact with. Oftentimes characters would cross the foreground into the background or weave through obstructions in the foreground to only be seen briefly in the background. I found this technique allowed the audience to fully experience the beautiful setting that King Hu created.

One main example of the space being utilized in this way was the scene in the beginning when Ku followed Ouyang Nin from a distance. Ouyang Nin would always be in the background, while Ku would enter from the foreground to watch from a distance before chasing after the stranger, and between them would be the stalls.

Another example would be whenever the characters were in the courtyard of the “haunted” fort. The tall grass would often break the view between the audience and the characters, especially during fight scenes.

I think my favorite example was with Ku and his mother when they are seen through the window, and unfortunately I can’t remember exactly if they were leaving or entering their house, but I thought the transition of the characters directly in view of the audience to silhouettes behind screen windows was a great way to show how even the space on the other side of the wall is a part of the scene.

Dragon Inn

 

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King Hu’s Dragon Inn was the movie for our fourth week and I greatly enjoyed watching it. The two main elements of the film that made the biggest impression on me was the use of what I believed to be the implementation of Chinese opera music techniques and the mise-en-scene.

 

During the fight scenes, the tempo of the music would contrast with the pacing of the movement of the characters. There would be a steady staccato beat which would end as the characters strike. Usually I associate a clash of noise with impact, but the build up of tension through the music and the slow movements of the character when they circled each other until the climax of the strike accompanied by the sudden absence of the music made for an engaging combination. It felt like a dance.

 

As for the mise-en-scene of the film, there were certain shots where the characters were framed beautifully by the elements of the inn. Two scenes that I remember particularly was when the Eunuch’s men first approach the inn, the camera peers over a wooden frame outside the inn to watch them enter. It felt as if the viewer was almost hiding from these dangerous men. The second scene is when the second-in-command of the secret police first approaches the wandering swordsman after seeing his underling’s corpse. Behind him is the open door which lets in white light, while he’s surrounded by the dark wooden pillars of the inn. It felt a bit like while he was trying to pretend to be a good person, he was ultimately bad.