The glory of the great martial arts fantasies, of heroic battles that move like warrior ballets, of gymnastic moves and fighting grace, of Jackie Chan and Jet Li, it all began with Come Drink With Me.
King Hu’s 1965 Hong Kong wuxia pian (“martial chivalry” genre) classic stars Cheng Pei-Pei as the avenging Golden Swallow, on a mission to save her kidnapped brother, and Yueh Hua as an amiable beggar with a chorus of scruffy orphans, who plays guardian angel to the warrior woman, his drunken front hiding his true identity. Together they take on the pale and powdered Jade-faced Tiger and his bandit army, in wild battles with magnificent action choreography and comic flourishes. Yueh Hua make a charming rogue with a genuine modesty and easy-going quality in contrast to the cool intensity of Cheng Pei-Pei, whose control becomes a sexy fierceness in the heat of battle. The film soars on a lyrical mix of scruffy singing heroes, cross-dressing heroines, narcissistic villains, and fantastical action choreographed like dance. The film launched a new wave of Hong Kong filmmaking and you can feel its influence in everything from Bruce Lee’s martial arts thrillers of the 1970s to Jackie Chan’s Drunken Master films to the Tsui Hark-led new wave of high energy, special effects laden adventures in 1980s Hong Kong, and of course, the Oscar winning Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Ang Lee’s tribute the magical, colorful genre that King Hu reinvented with this film.
Read my review on my MSN DVD column here.
Also notable this week is the release of the complete first season of the great (or at the very least, the way-cool) cult alien invasion series of 1960s The Invaders. It’s cold war paranoias that turns the Red scare into a UFO infiltration and colonization of America, and it anticipates everything from “UFO” to “The X-Files.”
The first great blast of conspiracy TV throws a traveling architect, David Vincent (Roy Thinnes), into a nightmare when he witnesses a flying saucer and stumbles across evidence of an alien invasion (the give-away: a stiff pinky finger). Which, of course, no one will believe. Created by Larry Cohen for Quinn Martin production, it borrows the structure from the company’s own “The Fugitive” – the man searching for the truth while on the run – and throws in a UFO conspiracy and a paranoid sensibility out of the original “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” You see, they really are out to get him, and they play rough; in the second episode, they blow up an entire airplane in flight to kill another pesky witness. Handsome leading man Thinnes hardens to a steely determination by the end of the pilot, driven to find the truth as the narrator intones: “Perhaps, for David Vincent, it will never end.”
Here’s a digest of the other DVD releases featured on my MSN column:
Movies: Stallone revives his cold warrior for a pre-retirement killing spree through the corrupt armies of Burma in Rambo; Woody Allen delivers another “serious” film in his third London-set production Cassandra’s Dream; and Paul Schrader directs Woody Harrelson in The Walker:
Woody Harrelson shifts gears to play the smooth, languidly charming, proudly gay escort to the rich and powerful women in Washington D.C.’s political elite in Paul Schrader’s drama of politics and power and personal redemption. Schrader calls this the third film in the “lonely man” trilogy that began with “American Gigolo” and continued in “Light Sleeper.” The silky Carter Page (Harrelson), black sheep of a southern political dynasty, could be the spiritual son of Julian Kay from “Gigolo,” a man who moves comfortably through the social elite but is abandoned by everyone in his circle when he’s implicated in a scandal after trying to cover for a friend.
TV: Every episode of Absolutely Fabulous is collected in Absolutely Everything; the landmark mini-series Holocaust debuts on DVD; and the British TV production The Buddha of Suburbia:
A first-generation Pakistani-British youth comes of age in the seventies in this rich 1993 mini-series adapted from Hanif Kureishi’s novel by Kureishi and director Roger Michell. Naveen Andrews stars as Karim Amir, a typical British teen into Kerouac, the Stones, getting stoned and looking for sex. His father (Roshan Seth) has become minor celebrity as a trendy Buddhist guru but Karim is still looking for his identity in a world where racism simmers and culture is in such a state of flux that anything seems possible. Michell lets the cultural collision and confusion mix together in the backdrop of this lively snapshot of the decade with a unique sensibility. Brenda Blethyn and Steven Mackintosh co-star and David Bowie composed the original music.
Special Releases: Box sets of the entire Rambo series and 5 Films by Dario Argento (featuring his classics Tenebre and Phenomena) and Criterion’s new edition of Alexander Korda’s 1940 fantasy The Thief of Bagdad:
This lavish 1940 “Arabian Nights” fantasy, produced by British mogul Alexander Korda, stars Sabu as the vagabond street kid who fights the evil Grand Vizier (Conrad Veidt in high villain mode) with the help of his giant genie in the bottle (Rex Ingram, joyfully hamming it up). Romantic leads John Justin and June Duprez feel like dull afterthoughts next to the flamboyant fun had by these three. At least four directors helmed pieces of the film, including Michael Powell (this was his color film debut), which is held together by the glorious art direction by William Cameron Menzies, who creates an amazing world for the fantastical wonders of flying carpets, mechanical horses, and a fifty foot genie with a bellowing laugh.
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