|Title:||The Mystery of Chess Boxing|
Other Movies Seen By This Director (0)
|06.28.13||Marchesa||This Screening is part of event: AFS Old School Kung Fu Weekend 2013|
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.