Happy New Year, peeps! On the 1st of the year we had a wonderful Japanese-style dinner with our friends, on the 2nd I worked, on the 3rd we played board games with another friend visiting from Seattle. But today—today we kicked off the movie year! We went to see Tsui Hark’s new movie, The Taking of Tiger Mountain.
TL;DR: It’s awesome.
This sounded like a somewhat improbable endeavour: it’s based on a piece of Cultural Revolution-era propaganda. First a book by novelist Qu Bo (a.k.a. Chu Po), Tracks in the Snowy Forest (1957), itself based on a real 1946 incident, which became the basis for a sanctioned Peking opera, Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy, that became one of the Cultural Revolution’s eight model plays.
I don’t know about you, but Maoist propaganda does not usually rise to the top of my list of things I want to watch, so I was a little wary, but hey—Tsui Hark deserves being given a chance, right? So we went to a matinee show in; we’re lucky that the Daly City Century 20 theatre shows international blockbusters, not just American ones.
The plot: in 1946 during the Chinese Civil War, a small reconnaissance force of the People’s Liberation Army (communist) fights a local gang of bandits in the northern mountains and protects the local villagers; one scout poses as a bandit to infiltrate Lord Hawk’s gang and set up the final fight.
Tsui Hark does a wonderful job of meshing the Chinese tropes of action films, traditional storytelling, and communist propaganda. There are homages and send-offs, adaptations and transpositions, and excitement throughout. The acting, photography, fight choreography, sets, and special effects are impeccable. The music combines swelling suspense movie music with corny-as-all-hell but rousing patriotic anthems.
There is not only ample bullet time but knife time, grenade time, mortar shell time, etc… So yeah, this is a violent movie and you don’t want to bring kids there. But it’s stylish violence, if you see what I mean. And the heroes are good, merciful, dutiful, and brave; there are lots of interesting support characters to follow. The villains are classic wuxia villains, over-the-top and all very distinctive.
Some reviewers have expressed surprise that Hark was doing propaganda, but I see it differently; it’s classic Hark, where duty is more important than authority, and the heroes actually fight for one another and for the people.
In case you can’t tell because I’m being too demure: I loved this movie.