1. The Monkey King
|Donnie Yen? Check. Monkey? Check. Well, I'm good to go|
Remember the Monkey TV series? No? Then you're a callow child and I despise you. Take a 16th century Chinese legend, make it into a Japanese TV series, dub it into English, add Andrew Sachs, Miriam Margolyes and Burt Kwouk and you've got nine out of the ten ingredients of awesome (the last one being flying on clouds).
Do you realise that Monkey (Journey to the West) is actually one of the four great novels of Chinese literature? Or that it's (kind of) a true story? And that's it's basically the equivalent of the Bible (but way better)? Yep, by watching Monkey, you're actually taking part in a sophisticatedly religious literature cultural experience. Hell yes.
And now it's 2012 and China is making a film version (for the billionth time), but this time with Donnie fucking Yen. Oh yeah. I love Donnie Yen. I love that he's 48 years old and yet still gets film parts playing 20 year olds (eg Dragon Tiger Gate). I love that hos parents were worried about him getting into too many fights (in Boston of all places) and reckoned that sending him to Beijing to learn wushu martial arts was somehow a solution to this. I particularly love that Donnie Yen's mum is way harder than he is - every film he's in, when the bad guy comes at him, I'm always thinking "Yeah, but his mum can kick your arse".
2. The Viral Factor
Ah, Dante Lam - now here's a director who just ticks all the boxes. Hong Kong? Guns? Explosions? Check, check, check. Cop and his Triad brother facing off against each other with two pistols each? Probably - I think it's against Hong Kong law not to.
Dante (how do they choose their English names?) Lam seems to have played Call of Duty and shoved in as many modern guns as possible. There's a story involving uh, well I don't know exactly. There's something about a virus and uh.. well then there's an awful lot of shooting. Right, I'm in. Jay Chou (whom I hate) and Nicholas Tse are the weapon transportation devices - theoretically, they're actors, but we all know the real stars are the guns. Oh and there's the always excellent machine gun babe, Bai Bing playing the character of "Ice" (um, yeah...)
If this was an American film it would be dismissed as childish, overblown rubbish, but with the addition of everyone talking in Foreign, it becomes an art-house cultural event and you an intellectual film connoisseur for vegging out in front of it with a pile of alcohol.
3. Ultra Reinforcement
Last spring, a story suddenly appeared across a lot of newspapers about the Chinese government and time travel. Depending on the quality of the newspaper involved the story ranged from their government banning time travel to them banning it in films (warning: Daily Mail article). All this was bollocks of course. What the government was doing was issuing new guidance requiring film makers to not include elements such as time travel to films involving Chinese history or literature.
It had become a bit fashionable (not to mention lazy) to slap in elements such as time travel into historical epics. Imagine doing a serious biographical pic about Henry VIII and halfway through having some aliens from the future drop in to help him laser the French. Yeah, okay so that would be pretty cool, but it was getting so that almost every film was like that and the government was getting a bit tired of seeing Chinese culture getting adulterated so out went the edict and everything changed. This might seem a bit heavy handed, but consider that the other month they decided there were too many entertainment shows (of the X Factor type) and cut them by 80%. Just think about it: all the Simon Cowells gone overnight - now just how important is democracy to you?
Anyway, the result of this government tinkering with the subject matter of films has led to a bunch of original fantasy films coming out. They may take historical legends as inspiration, but they're able to go much further into insanity by ditching any semblance of reality.
So Ultra Reinforcement is the latest of this new breed of films. Not content with throwing random words at a poster in order to choose a name, the producers have taken a similar approach to the film. Take young hot actress Jing Tian (whose name hilariously also refers to the system of land distribution in 8th century China), chuck in a Taiwanese pop singer (to ensure cross-border appeal) Wallace Huo and add a veteran actor to tie it all together and make it work. Then it's just a case of fish out of water comedy by bringing characters from the distant past to modern day China and it's laughs all the way.
So you see, even middling fantasy rubbish like this can actually be a deeply educational experience. Just watching some young hottie pretending she knows how to wave around a sword can give insight into the politics of China and the immutable forces effecting Chinese cultural heritage.
Although the main reason I'll be watching this is because of veteran actor Lam Suet. How do they choose those names? Lam Suet appeared in a lot of Stephen Chow films (Kung Fu Hustle for example) and is just a delightful character actor who can turn a good film into a great one. Hopefully here, he'll be able to turn second rate shit into acceptable sub-par comedy. Hoorah!
I couldn't find a trailer and this is what YouTube suggested when I searched for "ultra reinforcement"
4. Legendary Amazons
Western history is pretty interesting and all, but it can be a bit dry. For reasons I can't fathom, Chinese history always seems to involve people just murdering shitloads of other people using spectacular weapons and awesome martial arts. History classes in Chinese schools must be cool as fuck.
Yeah, so this film is another true historical tale. I'll save you reading the eight volumes of the novel or sitting through the numerous operas about the Yang clan: big Chinese family, very loyal to the Northern Song dynasty, lots of fighting, menfolk mostly get killed or captured, chicks dig out their prettiest armour and most outlandish weapons and go batshit crazy kicking the crap out of... uh, well I never quite understood who the bad guys were when I was reading the books, but that's just not important.
5. Kung Fu Hustle 2
with Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, the brilliant Yuen Biao and Yuen Wah as the cigar-chomping bad guy
Stephen Chow. Yuen Wah. More of the same. Yipee!
6. (The Flying) Guillotines
The 1970s were a crazy time for Chinese films. Kung fu was what was most popular, thanks to people like Bruce Lee. Chinese Opera had always been more about sword fights though and so there was a series of films that tried to combine the kung fu film style with weaponry.
After a number of films of mind-blowing craziness, things came to a new high (or low, depending on your critical stance) with The Master of the Flying Guillotine. There's this guy, he's sort of blind (but he's got really massive eyebrows, so they might just be getting in the way) and he's got a mate with extendible arms and there's this bloke with one arm (Jimmy Wang Yu who seemed to always play characters with one arm), but Old Blindy has got this sort of hat on a string, but it's got teeth and it eats heads. Yeah!
Crikey. I was going to make this list about the twelve Chinese films I'm most looking forward to, but this article's already pretty long. I think I'll just stop here and carry on tomorrow with the other six.