Hong Kong movie freaks in the U.S. should be stoked that we’re finally seeing some Chinese movies that are fun, cool, and even anarchic–and not just overblown historical epics. On the heels of Tsui Hark’s Flying Swords of Dragon Gate (actually a China-HK coproduction) comes a crowd-pleasing, special effects feast starring Zhou Xun (Hollywood Hong Kong, Flying Swords of Dragon Gate) and Zhao Wei (Shaolin Soccer, Red Cliff). Not since Green Snake have two A-list actresses fully embraced such fantastically pagan roles, slithering, sauntering, and sometimes even bathing together onscreen when they aren’t kicking ass. And while the production value, action, effects, and bad guys in Painted Skin 2: The Resurrection might resemble the biggest-budget videogame ever, the plot actually has a lot going for it. The two-hour sequel is surprisingly tight and packed with gender confusion, role reversing, a shockingly endearing subplot, and even some poetry to the outcome–not to mention juicy topics of conversation. Who did the leads play in the first movie again? Why are such supremely badass and powerful women so hung up on dudes? Maybe that’s the point? Let me know what you think after November 13, when you can buy, rent, or stream the movie legally.
Meanwhile, RZA’s new riff on classic kung-fu flicks opens today on big screens everywhere. The Man with the Iron Fists reaches beyond the Golden Age of Hong Kong Cinema to the pan-and-scan glory of Shaw Bros. flicks on TV, and anyone who grew up on of Martial Arts Theatre will understand that the dialogue is delivered with tongues firmly planted in cheek in the spirit of ’70s dubs. (Except for RZA, of course, who can’t help but flow…) With guidance and possibly some editing from co-conspirators and fellow genre experts Eli Roth and Quentin Tarantino, RZA’s movie is authentically sprawling and choppy, updated with amazing gore, and full of references from Enter The Dragon to Nigger Charley (and maybe even The Jerk). But this is no boring tribute movie for film geeks. The actors, production, and even gore are all top-shelf entertaining. Augmented by state-of-the-art gore, Corey Yuen’s action direction really ramps up toward the end and is old school to the max. The Gemini Stance fight is an instant classic, and the gravity-defying melees will make you wonder, cringe, or laugh–sometimes all at once. I was lucky enough to see the movie with my friends Lisa S and Daniel Wu, who played Poison Dagger. He described to me how Yuen reverse-engineered his fight scene with Russell Crowe. Amazing! The fun-to-flaw ratio is ridiculously high, with the so-called flaws sometimes adding to the fun.
I’m a totally biased reviewer having seen the movie with a loaded crowd after RZA himself introduced it, but that’s how The Man with the Iron Fist is meant to be experienced–with a bunch of amped-up friends on the big screen. I suggest you do the same. And don’t forget Painted Skin 2 after that!