Tuesday, February 19, 2008

No genre for old men

When I was researching Chinese martial arts movies, one of my intermediate goals was tracking down and watching all the movies shown at the Hong Kong International Film Festival in their landmark retrospectives of 1980 and 1981, as memorialized in the now OP volumes A Study of the Hong Kong Martial Arts Film and A Study of the Hong Kong Swordplay Film (1845-1980). I did pretty well, too, although it took me a while to realize that the 1980 film credited to director Du Qifeng, The Enigmatic Case, was actually the first feature of the millenial autuer now known as Johnny To. (Thankfully the local cultural authorities abandoned a few years later the befuddling practice of transliterating only the Mandarin forms of Cantonese names. Bending over to vote 'Yes' on the Handover?)

With the release on DVD and VCD of many of the key Cantonese wuxia movies, such as Moslem Sacred Fire Decree and Sacred Fire, Heroic Wind, the circle is almost closed. All the major King Hu films are now available on DVD. When HK Flix gets the elusive disc back in stock I may even be able to revisit the best movie ever directed by "swingy arm" kung fu superstar Wang Yu. My guess is that those "local cultural authorities" have mixed feelings about the fact that the most distinctive products of the region's cinema are now almost universally accessible, wide-open to misinterpretation or, worse, to "kick ass" appreciation. Like academic film professionals everywhere, the HK gatekeepers are always on the lookout for uncertified intruders.

The point being that while film buffery is often seen as a young man's game, to really take the cake you have to be in it for the long haul. Way back in the early '90s one of the journalists I squired around New Orleans as the unit publicist on John Woo's Hard Target was a personable kid from San Francisco named Sam Ho. Now the director of the Hong Film Archive, Ho has based this mouth-watering new film series on an article he wrote for the HKIFF almost a decade ago. It kicks ass with go-go boots, and who could argue with that?