|AFS Old School Kung Fu Weekend 2013 (06.28.13 - 06.29.13, 5 movies)|
|06.28.13||The Mystery of Chess Boxing||Joseph Kuo||Lars and AFS brought out Dan Halstead from Portland to show a selection of Kung Fu movies this weekend. I decided to go for a couple reasons. 1: Kung Fu is kind of a hole in my movie knowledge. I feel like I've seen a small handful thanks to QTFests and whatnot but I've never really had a good introduction or education in them. 2: I felt like going to a movie event. The few Kung Fu movies that I have seen were not instant favorites but what the hell, the feeling of spending a few nights fidgeting in a theater seat appealed to me, and I thought it would be a fun few evenings to hang out at the Marchesa.|
I think the fundraiser for the theater is wrapping up any day now and last time I checked they had reached 99% of their goal which is great, but I have to say I love how bare bones the theater is right now. The red velvet curtains along the walls are kind of grubby and I can see the dark shiny snakes of hot glue and repair amongst the folds. The lighting rig seems to be attached to a bright orange extension cord which hangs down from the ceiling in a knotted rope like gym class. The bare screen shows the edges of the frame in all their ragged fuzzy glory. Again I know it's not the popular opinion but all that stuff fits into my romantic notion of an arthouse theater perfectly.
The crowd was comfortable but respectable at around a hundred people I think. A good turnout in my mind. Lars got up and introduced Dan and the general trend of the night was that they tag-teamed the intros although I think there was maybe a correlation between how many beers Lars had and how much he talked. At the beginning of each night Dan sort of took the lead but by the end of the night Lars was taking over with some rather choice humor sprinkled in with the intro. But anyway, Dan introduced himself and the context for the weekend with a slideshow that explained a bit about the history of Kung Fu cinema and how he came to acquire his notable print collection (If Lars is to be believed - and I think he is - Dan is the guy to talk to if you want a print of a Kung Fu movie. it doesn't matter if you're Tim League or Quentin Tarantino or RZA, you talk to Dan) which he owns but stores down here in the AGFA vault. This slideshow included shots of the derelict movie-house once owned by the Shaw brothers in Vancouver's chinatown district where he found a mother lode of 200 or so prints. At roughly 6 reels per film, that made for 8000 pounds of Kung Fu! The crowd started applauding at this snapshot of a low-ceilinged room full of dusty prints. I mean people clapped. At a picture of a bunch of film prints. I feel like if I ever get famous or whatever and Elvis Mitchell asks me what makes Austin so special to a film lover, this is the anecdote I will tell.
I might also add in that we could all hear David Strong in the back following along the presentation as if Dan was talking directly to him. You'd hear his trademark David Strong voice saying “...yeah...” or “...uh huh...” every so often. So great.
A personal aside: Dan's slideshow was short and really just showed a few pictures but I thought it was fantastic. I really wish this would become a trend. Like when Lars does his Auteur Obscure or even Chale with his Essential Cinema films might dig up some photos of the director or something and include a slideshow with their intros. I know... I'm weird and that's a lot of extra work, but I think it would be awesome. Make it a little mini-class even, what the hell.
Anyway, the first film screened was Mystery of Chess Boxing, which Dan described as basically a remake of... goddamn it I forgot, 7 Grandmasters? Well he described it as more or less a remake of some previous hit but with a stronger villain, which should resonate with any hip hop fans because the villain's name is Ghost Face Killer. I found Mystery of Chess Boxing to be a strong archetype of what I think makes up a Kung Fu movie. There's a young kid who's eager to learn Kung Fu, there's either humorous dubbing or in this case poorly-translated subtitles leading to a nearly incomprehensible plot, there's a fetishistic bordering on educational preoccupation with different Kung Fu styles, there's clearly young guys in stark white wigs and fake beards, and there's many many very very long fights with monotonous foley work and hypnotically impressive choreography. This movie had all of that. Ghost Face laughs whenever he kills anyone. At one point the eager young guy serves bowls of rice better than Ralph Macchio painted Master Myagi's house. The end fight lasts the entire last reel (something shared with every movie screened this weekend I think) and features some rock/paper/scissors logic of shifting styles to defeat Ghost Face in the last 3 seconds of the movie.
I like how these movies don't hang out any longer than they have to, although it's weird that they all still feel very long to me. When introducing the next movie Lars sort of faulted this for having a static camera for much of the fighting. I agree, but also thought that, considering the current state of fight choreography in Hollywood films, it was really refreshing to see a fight play out in medium and long shots so you can actually see what the hell is going on. While the other films this weekend may have had more advanced technique applied to the photography, I didn't dislike this film for its simplicity.
I also want to make a note about the print quality. It was fantastic. I think Dan mentioned that this may be the only known print of this movie so it's even crazier that it should be so lush. With only one or two exceptions, all the prints shown this weekend were really remarkably clean.
Oh, I almost forgot to mention the trailers. Lars and Dan showed a couple trailers before each film. Nothing crazy like some of the Alamo trailer reels, but still nice little duets of themed coming attractions. In front of this one was Five Element Ninjas and The Hammer of God.
|06.28.13||The Victim||Sammo Hung||The second half of Friday's double feature was revealed to be Sammo Hung's The Victim. Lars introduced this film as being a step up from the previous since Hung had a bit more aptitude and perhaps budget to shoot the fight scenes in a more dynamic way. He also mentioned being able to see technical shifts in the film in how it starts with a very old school execution but by the end you start to see a tiny bit of wire work and more new school of kung fu which we are saturated with now. Indeed the fight choreography here was really top notch, and I like how Sammo Hung was unabashedly fat. Not like today standards morbidly obese but for the 70s? that dude was fat. He could still move pretty damn fast though and brought a lot of silliness to his role as a guy desperately searching for a master to teach him better kung fu. He finds it in Leung Ka-Yan AKA “Beardy” as Lars called him. Lars actually went on quite a while about the quality of this guy's beard. I saw it. It was a good one. I guess by Chinese standards it could be described as amazing. Dan also told the story of the print for this movie which he warned was pretty crappy. He bought it from some guy in the UK who in turn had acquired it years ago from a guy in Taiwan then stored in his basement for years and years. Apparently when Dan got his hands on it the print was in small separate piles and he had to construct the film piece by piece.|
For this trailer reel, Dan picked a few showcasing targeted marketing toward urban markets. The first trailer was for a film called BRUCE LEE FIGHTS BACK FROM THE GRAVE and a hilarious trailer for a movie called FORCED TO FIGHT where the narrator asks “How will a man react when his baby is iced?” and the word “KUNG FU-R-R-ROCIOUS” is printed on the screen. Both trailers had the Aquarius Releasing logo on it. I feel like I've heard a tiny bit about Terry Levene and Aquarius but I'd really love a doc or book or something going into more depth. There's probably not actually much of a story there - just a businessman who owned a 42nd St. theater who played to his audience - but still.
My experience of this movie was another reason why I wanted to attend. I guess I'm a lightweight these days when it comes to movie watching, or maybe it's the hypnotic effect of the fighting with it's rhythmic pauses between attacks and repeating sound effects for each blow but I found my eyelids getting heavy about half way through this. That meant that I really have no clear perception of how long the end fight lasted. I'd kind of drift off, then come back and the guys would be in a new place still fighting, then I'd drift off again and come back to the guys sweatier with more bruise make-up on but still fighting. Always fighting. That's a really cool experience I think. Falling asleep during a movie in the theater, coming in and out, having time and space kind of fold in on itself until it's just the images on the screen and sounds in the air all synched in time and rhythm. So I'm not really sure how the movie ended but I don't mind.
|06.29.13||Eight Diagram Pole Fighter||Lau Kar-leung||Saturday night brought a slightly different crowd. I think for the most part everyone who came Friday also showed up tonight but there were also a few extra people it seems like. Lars and Dan started the night with Eight Diagram Pole Fighter, which they both cited as their personal favorite Kung Fu movie. I feel like that's saying quite a bit. They also talked a lot about director and choreographer Lau Kar-leung who just recently died. They said this first film was always at the center of their weekend programming but became even more prescient when they heard the news. Dan said that if you asked him a month ago who the greatest living director was he'd say Lau Kar-leung. Basically they hyped the shit out of this movie.|
They also told the story of how Fu Sheng was supposed to be the star of the movie but got killed in a car accident so Gordon Liu stepped in at the last minute to take over and how the movie's kind of seen as cursed (in the Rosemary's Baby/Poltergeist vein) because of it.
Trailers beforehand were themed to Lau Kar-leung and included MAD MONKEY KUNG FU and another that I don't think ever presented its title. It starred Gordon Liu and Lau Kar-leung didn't direct the movie but he did do fight choreography on it. I'm guessing it was SHAOLIN AND WU TANG but that's just a guess.
So this movie is very I guess you'd call it traditional in that almost all of it is shot on sets with kind of cheap historic costumes and high key lighting. At first glance I was kind of taken aback by it because it looked so cheap, but as the movie went on it took on more of a live theater stage play feel to me. Probably because the print was goddamn pristine. Seriously, it was like they were acting it out for me up on the screen it was so clear.
I liked this one a lot. This sounds terrible but I think a major factor in my enjoyment was the fact that during the epic last fight things actually got gory. I hadn't realized it but until now the whole weekend has just been sweaty grimaces and some bruise make-up. This is the first film of the weekend to show dudes get all the way killed. In awesome ways to boot. The monks in this movie have a fetish for de-fanging these badass wooden wolf practice dolls so when they fight humans they end up taking lots and lots of teeth out with their poles. Seriously, teeth go flying everywhere. Teeth even get stuck in a guy's head at one point. So many teeth. There's a lot of pole action too. Really some great pole and spear fighting through the entire movie but the end fight is pretty amazing. I think I saw a pole go through some guys chest. The stick knows no friends.
So yeah, this was my favorite of the weekend. Despite the cheap sets and costumes, the clarity of the print and the creativity and prowess of those fights really sets it apart.
And just one more note on the print quality. I dug out my old notebooks that I used to take to film events when I first moved to town because I didn't trust my memory to recall enough details to write these notes well. I have “pristine print” written three times for this entry. It was really remarkable.
|06.29.13||Invincible Armour||Ng See-Yuen||Next up was Invincible Armour and the first dubbed film of the weekend. Dan said the print came from a guy in the UK and that the soundtrack lifted some cues from various Italian westerns which gives it an unusual energy you don't often see in Kung Fu movies. I'm not sure if the trailer reel had a theme this time out (perhaps just dubbing), but they showed FISTS OF VENGEANCE and DRAGON DE FUEGO.|
So, at this point my notes kind of break down. Despite the dubbing I don't remember much about the plot of this one at all. I feel like there's some guy who never got laid so he has this armor Kung Fu that only has one weak pressure point and... it could be his balls. The beginning credits played like an educational video for learning the Eagle Claw, then there's a whole bunch of Eagle Claw fighting and this one guy is invincible and it turns out he spent ten years repositioning his one vulnerable pressure point and I don't remember where it ended up being but it could be his balls.
Here's an itemized list of the notes I took:
-spikeyballs on nuts
-40 year old monkey holding a knife??
-the hero has a most amazing way of exiting scenes (jumping through windows, backflip diving with double gainer and half twist)
-"Well I suppose that I am"
-Armour enhanced by celibacy
|06.29.13||Forced to Fight||Yang Sun||And finally we reach the last movie of the weekend and the only midnight screening. This also happens to be the only movie Lars programmed. He gave it a buzzed intro saying that there's no way this weekend can be complete without representation of the many many shitty Kung Fu movies out there. Up until now they've shown some really spectacular stand-outs in the genre but he thought it would be fun to screen a completely lousy entry as well. He also mentioned having kids or something and even referred to a son named Nils. This caught me as particularly funny. Nils Nilsen is a great name. Maybe the best name.|
So the movie is Forced to Fight AKA Invincible Super-Chan. We saw a trailer for it last night (How will such a man react when his baby is iced?). Lars said it was 70 minutes long and the only other things I have written down are "The Playboy", "South Asia 8 Warriors", and "Much love for dummies."
I got pretty delirious with this one. Really my only memory is that this dude who can jump incredibly high fought like a thousand guys right at the beginning of the movie and it went on for so long that I thought the movie would end when the fight finally ended but then it tried to start some kind of plot with characters and whatnot and my brain wasn't having any of it.
Eventually it ended and Lars thanked everybody for coming as we ambled out. I had a thought that I should hang back and thanks Dan and his buddy from Chicago who I already forgot his name for coming, but I also had a thought that I was pretty out of it and should probably just head home so I did.
So that's that. I can't really say that this experience has converted me into a Kung Fu superfan, but I can say that I've covered a few more bases and have a good idea of what these movies offer. More So than that I got to hang out at the Marchesa for a few nights, catch up with a few old friends, and enjoy some movies.