Now that the dust has settled on eating, gambling and relatives descending onto our homes unannounced, we may have little more time to soak up the Chinese New Year festivities that continue to dominate the atmosphere. What better way to explore Oriental traditions than through film?
The influence of East Asian cinema can be seen today in a range of films, from comedies, action, drama and science fiction. As we welcome the Year of the Rooster, we at August Man list down some great East Asian or East Asian inspired films that are significant in introducing the genre while influencing contemporary cinema for you – Kung-Fu, romance, epic – we have it all.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Hailed as one of the greatest foreign films to be shown in the United States, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon successfully introduced the traditions of Chinese cinema to mainstream Hollywood. Taiwanese director Ang Lee was credited as having created a cinematic experience that combined romance and action amidst a spectacular setting.
The tale begins with the theft of a fabled sword, the Green Destiny, prompting the warrior Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh) to give chase, skipping gracefully across rooftops that glow in the pale moonlight as she pursued the sword.
The film was created with idea of paying tribute to the martial arts films of yesteryear. To capture this, Lee recruited the talents of Yuen Woo-ping, famed for bringing mid-air combat sequences to mainstream audiences via The Matrix. In Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, things were taken to greater heights with fight sequences featuring gravity defying leaps, executed perfectly by Yeoh and a young Zhang Ziyi.
But the action sequences would be superficial if there was no emotional weight, and that is where Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon really shines. Lee crafted a love story that is tender yet tragic, so much so that you can’t help yourself being drawn into the tale of forbidden love. Through Lee’s direction, a love scene can be brutal, and audiences embraced it wholeheartedly. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon won four Academy Awards including for Best Foreign Language Film. It also a received a Best Picture nomination.
Kill Bill – Volumes 1 & 2
Arguably one of the greatest directors of all time, Quentin Tarantino’s films are recognisable through his unique perspective told through exceptional writing and direction. Memorable characters, intensely bloody action sequences, lengthy yet intriguing dialogues are signature trademarks of a Tarantino film. And Kill Bill – Volumes 1 & 2 are no exception.
With obvious references in plain sight, Tarantino doesn’t shy away from professing his love for old school East Asian cinema in this two part feature. From the Bruce Lee inspired yellow suit that The Bride (Uma Thurman) dons during the intense fight sequence with Crazy 88, to the scenes of the Bride’s training with her master Pai Mei (Gordon Liu), a character inspired by one of the same name from the 1979 Hong Kong film, Shaolin Abbot.
What makes Kill Bill such a transcendent experience, is perhaps how masterfully Tarantino is able to blend classic martial arts fun with his trademark filmmaking style.Breath-taking action sequences are perfectly complemented by classic Tarantinian dialogue of explanation and scene-setting. The Kill Bill films went on to receive critical praise and commercial success. Tarantino is rumoured to be in the midst of developing a third Kill Bill film. If he does go on to do that, keep an eye out for any additional Asian film references that continue to shape him as a filmmaker.
Kung Fu Hustle
Stephen Chow movies have been staple Chinese New Year movie experiences for many people growing up, and for good reason. “Entertain first, make sense later”, Chow’s comedic style of film-making has made him one of the most celebrated directors in East Asia.
That being said, Kung Fu Hustle remains one of his most critically acclaimed films both as a director and an actor. Delightfully ridiculous, the over-the-top action sequences are also accompanied by occasional dance numbers. This Kung Fu parody tells the tale of a young man who ends up overthrowing the notorious criminal organisation, the “Deadly Axe Gang.”
Mesmerising action sequences along with a distinctive comedic style, Kung Fu Hustle is the second highest-grossing film in the history of Hong Kong cinema. In addition, Kung Fu Hustle was also well received in the United States, becoming the highest-grossing foreign language film in the country in 2005.
Released during the Disney Renaissance, Mulan remains a progressive outing for the studio. The tale of a Chinese legend features a butt kicking Asian woman as its lead. When her aged father (Soon-Tek Oh) is enlisted into the army to battle against the invading Huns, the tomboyish Fa Mulan (Ming-Na Wen) disguises herself as a man in order to protect her father by taking his place, and heads off to battle with the help of her dragon guardian Mushu (Eddie Murphy).
Directed by Barry Cook and Tony Bancroft, this animation classic is notable for balancing great storytelling with epic visuals effects. Mulan’s heartfelt emotional sequences are perfectly complemented by its stunning battle sequences. In addition, Mulan has a pretty kickass soundtrack too. Mulan also features a heroine that is ingenious, brave and stands out from other Disney characters. Mulan is not just great entertainment, but a movie about equality.