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How to do laundry, by Yuen Woo Ping

I've been doing more rewatching: the Yuen Biao dvd upgrades are down to a single drawer, amazingly, though in addition to the six or seven films therein there are three and a half tv shows (the half is Jiang Shan Mei Ren, which I love but have got half to two-thirds of the way through 3 times and then stopped, mainly because I absent-mindedly started translating it and, with my Chinese at the level it is, that is a very slow process). Before the marquis returned on Saturday (I has Marquis! I has Marquis!) I watched Millenium Dragon, which was a bad as I remembered -- it's directed by Philip Kao Fei, who is one of the worst directors in the world -- and has an incoherent plot about art smuggling and a magic pearl. With helicopters and horse barbarians. Don't ask. I also finally watched the full length version of The Setting Sun (Rakuyo). That was rather frustrating, as there were no English subs and it's in a mixture of Japanese and (Mandarin) Chinese. This is the Japanese dvd, which is the full tv miniseries version, as opposed to the cut-down cinema version that I'd seen before (the HK release). I suspect it's better (and more comprehensible) in the full version, but most of it I had to guess at. This is an oddity, with Diane Lane as the Manchurian horse-warrior/cabaret singer heroine and YB as the villain (his first villain since his stunt-man days in the 70s). Plus points: he's very good in it, there's a weird cameo from Donald Sutherland, and a lot of it is sync sound. I do love to listen to YB speaking Mandarin: he has a lovely accent (Taiwanese-influenced). And I finally got round to Hero Youngster (Shao Nian Chen Zhen) which wasn't as bad as I'd feared, but led me to the interesting observation that a film can pass the Bechdel test in spades, but still be pretty poor (HY is about the early years of the Red Army and the resistance to the Japanese occupation, so there are many conversations between the women about politics and none about men, apart from the occasional maternal worry over her son). Sadly, Millenium Dragon also passes. It's still direr than dire.
So I treated myself to Dreadnaught (Young Zhe Wu Ju), YB's second lead role, directed by Yuen Woo-Ping of later Matrix fame. Around the house, this is often known as 'the laundry film'. The hero --- known as Mousy, because he's so very timid -- is a laundry boy. He has excellent laundry fu. Excellent, acrobatic, laundry fu, which turns out to be more useful than he expects. Other good things include the drunken lion dance sequence, the presence of the late Kwan Tak-Hing in his signature role of Wong Fei Hung (he created the part long before Jet Li Lian-jie) and some inventive choreography with far fewer wires and far less undercranking than usual for Yuen Woo-Ping. (This is not a Yuen Woo-Ping household. His wire-work is often unsubtle, his preferred style of humour rather heavy-handed and his plots can be flabby. This is a Yuen Kwai household.)
Meanwhile, Grass King has gone off to Nice Editor, and I am doing background reading for The Drowning Kings (because it feels safer that way. Yes, I know, writing avoidance. But the project makes me want to write footnotes, so I'm trying to settle academic brain before I let writer brain take over).

So, today... mostly on Hong Kong cinema

I am now within two chapters of finishing the revisions on Grass King. Then it gets sent out into the cold wide world. I hope someone loves it.
Today I learnt that the snake-hawk form is very rare. Only one family learns it. (Yes, I've been watching very old king fu films. That comes from Snuff Bottle Connection. which is notably mainly for the peerless Hwang Jang-Lee in his white-haired villain mode, and stunt work from a 19 year-old (or) so Yuen Biao.
There was an adorable nine week old husky puppy on the local news. I have dog envy.
I capped the day by watching my upgrade dvd of The Prodigal Son (Bai Ga Jai) (Hong Kong 1981), which is one of the great martial arts movies (it regularly makes Top Ten lists even nearly 30 years on). Yes, predictably, it stars Yuen Biao, aged 24 in his third lead role. This was the film where his acting (as opposed to martial arts/acrobatic) really came together and he shines. The joy of the film is that it has no villain, though there is an antagonist and there are characters who are not necessarily nice. The plot covers the familiar grounds of martial training and revenge, but the core of it is that those with power need to grow up and act responsibly. Both protagonist and antagonist follow that arc, learn and survive. Re-watching it made me realise how much I miss debating and discussing Hong Kong cinema. I've lost track of the last few years of HK film: the cycle of production moved out of wu-xia and action into triad films and rom-coms which I like less, and many of my favourite actors have retired or moved on elsewhere. There are newer stars whom I like a lot -- Gillian Chung Yan-Tung springs to mind, and Richie Jen Hsian-Chieh (though he's on his second wind as an actor) but even the big names of the mid to late 90s, like Ekin Chen Yi-Kin are fading now and actors take some time to settle. And while I continue to buy and enjoy the big historical epics, I do miss the 80s style action comedies -- like Paper Marriage and Shanghai Express, which are gone as a genre -- recent ones don't have that pool of opera-trained action actors.
Still, Yuen Biao is making a come-back as a major supporting actor in both tv and film, and the generation that are stars now grew up watching and admiring him, and, I suspect, want to work with him. (This is certainly the case with Nicholas Tse Ting-Fung, who is another actor who has recently gone from teen pin-up to serious lead, and has admitted being a YB fan). I can hope...

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