crouching_tiger

Review by Trylon volunteer Maria Gomez

Lush green backgrounds, descending waterfalls, and robust mountains provide the backdrop for Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The film stars Chow-Yun Fat in his first martial arts film as Li Mu Bai and Michelle Yeoh as Yu Shu Lien. Long time respected friends, together they must take on the challenge of attempting to avenge past wrongs, guide Jen Yu, (Ziyi Zhang) onto the righteous path, and still have time to declare their long-held feelings of love for one another. This is not an easy task with an enemy lurking around every corner.

The film begins in 1778 China with Li Mu Bai returning from a long journey declaring to Yu Shu Lien that he has plans to retire from his warrior lifestyle but before he does, he wants to give his coveted Green Destiny sword to a dear friend as a gift. Jen Yu discovers the sword and although she exhibits all the skill that is demanded of a powerful warrior, as woman she feels that she is held down by societal constraints and decides to revolt to seek out her own destiny. In her own battle within herself, Jen Yu soon discovers that her desire to be a powerful warrior becomes her greatest enemy.

In a kind of Chinese fairytale, through detailed character development, an ethereal musical score, and a backdrop of breathtaking scenery in this stunning film, we watch a beautifully told story unfold. Director Ang Lee has long had a tendency to emphasize the inner strength in his female leads and Crouching Tiger is no exception. In this film, his strong female characters are superbly coupled in contrast with the subtle hints of the social norms in late 18th century China. Yu Shu Lien is a woman who highly regards respect for her elders and teachers, honor as a warrior, and the rules of being a warrior while also trying to be true to herself as a woman. She knows her place but there is something that keeps her from declaring her true feelings for Li Mu Bai. She remains calm, controlled, and clear-headed throughout the film until the moment when her faith is challenged and she finally reaches the point when she feels that her heart can take no more.

The intensity of the love stories that Lee presents are done so with such delicacy and tenderness, that you can’t help but fall in love with these stories and how they illustrate how beautifully flawed these characters are. There exists a sense of duty, honor, and pride in both stories that prevents these characters from truly allowing themselves to be given over to love. The inner conflict that each character undergoes fuels the story just as intently as the martial arts scenes do and there is no denying the impact it has on the audience. You feel for the characters even if you do not agree with their motivation. You even find yourself having sympathy for the film’s antagonist Jade Fox, a woman who has only ever tried to become a strong warrior, an able master, and worthy opponent but all the while having the most arrogant of intentions. She never really possesses respect for the knowledge of her elders or fellow warriors and in the end, this lack of respect seals her fate.

Many of the fight scenes are perfected with a score by Dun Tan, who was reported to have completed the project for the entire film in two weeks time. If you listen closely, you can hear the flutes actually weeping during the swift poetic dances between Zhang and Chow-Yun Fat. It is something quite extraordinary to behold as they deftly dance over giant bamboo stalks and through tall blades of grass, sternly glaring at one another as they fight. The additional fight scenes between Michelle Yeoh and Ziyi Zhang are encapsulated in movie history forever as some of the most well-choreographed in cinema history. Having no formal martial arts training, Ziyi Zhang used her dancing skills to make many of the fight scenes flow naturally.

Spoken completely in Mandarin dialogue with English subtitles, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is filled with beautiful landscapes, weightless dream-like fencing sequences, enchanting love stories, and immaculately choreographed combat scenes that will carry you off into a two-hour journey you will not soon forget. –Maria Gomez

CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON screens Monday and Tuesday, July 13 and 14 at 7:00 and 9:30 at the Trylon. Advance tickets are $8.00, and you can purchase them here.

 

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In Walter Hill’s stylized and slightly surreal cult hit The Warriors, the street gangs of New York dress in matching theme outfits, as though they are all British pop groups from the 1960s. There are the Baseball Furies (heavy face paint and pinstriped uniforms); the High-Hats (mimes, basically); the Lizzies (a tastefully trashy biker chick vibe), and the relatively tweedy Warriors themselves, who rock matching sleeveless maroon leather vests.

There are hundreds of equally colorful gangs in the city, and one night each gang is invited to send nine delegates to a special conclave being held in the Bronx. It turns out that the charismatic Cyrus, leader of the highly respected Gramercy Riffs (matching leather jackets, sunglasses, bling) wants to propose an unprecedented alliance. All the city’s gangs combined, Cyrus argues, would number in the tens of thousands; they could evict the police and rule New York City.

This enticing idea seems, for a moment, as though it will unify New York’s gang culture (the assembled delegates seem to be digging it, anyway), but tragedy strikes: Cyrus is assassinated mid-speech, and in the confusion, the Warriors are wrongly accused to committing the crime. Now being hunted by 60,000 enemies, the gang must fight its way back to the safety of its home turf of Coney Island.

Based on Sol Yurick’s 1965 novel, The Warriors takes a simple premise and propels it forward with admirable speed and efficiency. While many directors would choose to make a movie of this kind look gritty and rough around the edges, Hill goes in another direction, creating a sleek dystopian New York that seems eerily depopulated, its deserted streets glistening; only the gangs seem to venture out after dark, tuning into the radio station that delivers coded messages read by Lynn Thigpen in a series of extreme close-ups (Thigpen, incongruously, also plays The Eagles).

It seems strange today that the movie generated so much controversy upon its release; there was a good deal of worry that it would incite gang violence. And in fact there were some violent incidents between rival gangs that happened to show up at the same theater to see it, causing the movie’s theatrical run to be cut short. But those concerns were clearly rooted in the anxieties of Carter-era America, not in anything you see on-screen. Because the gangs in The Warriors aren’t much tougher than the ones we saw in West Side Story, though they tend to be, on the whole, snappier dressers.

The Warriors is a lot more fun than West Side Story, though, and as a movie it works a lot better than Hill’s even more stylized retro-future fantasy Streets of Fire (1984) — Michael Popham

THE WARRIORS screens Friday and Saturday, July 10 and 11, at 7:00 and 9:00, and Sunday, July 12 at 5:00 and 7:00.  There will also be a special 10:00 am screening on Saturday, July 11 with a book club discussion of Sol Yurick’s novel The Warriors to follow at Moon Palace Books around the corner. Advance tickets are $8.00. and you can purchase them here.

 

 

 

hard-boiled

Hard Boiled was the last Asian crime drama John Woo made before he decamped to Hollywood and began turning out profitable but ultimately forgettable fare like Broken Arrow and Face Off.  Woo’s American films suffered without their distinctive Hong Kong backdrop; and also suffered for the lack of his go-to leading man, Chow-Yun Fat.

This outing has a standard-issue gangster plot and all the John Woo trimmings: hyperviolent gun fights between opponents with apparently unlimited ammunition, people flying through the air firing two pistols at once; and seemingly indestructible leading men. Police detective “Tequila” Yuen  (Chow-Yun Fat) is a tough cop who plays by his own rules, the kind of guy who can engage in a blood-soaked running battle in a teahouse and walk away without a scratch, toothpick still clenched in his granite jaw.

This particular teahouse shootout resulted in the death of Tequila’s partner. Tequila knows that the guys who killed him were engaged in gun-running, and he knows the goons were in the employ of an up-and-coming gangster named Johnny Wong. But he doesn’t know that Wong has key people in the police department on his payroll; or that Tequila’s estranged girlfriend (Teresa Mo) is unwittingly being used as a mule to deliver orders to the crooked cops in Wong’s employ.

This hyperkinetic and mesmerizing ballet of stylized violence is one of Woo’s best, sporting a legendary final action set-piece, and serves as a perfect showcase for Chow-Yun Fat’s brand of tough-guy mayhem.  –Michael Popham

 

Our engagement of HARD BOILED is made possible through the support of Asian Media Access. The film screens Monday and Tuesday, July 6 and 7 at 7:00 and 9:30 at the Trylon. Tickets are $8.00, and you can purchase them here.

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From the moment you read its title on a theater marquee, it’s clear that EARTH VERSUS THE FLYING SAUCERS is the kind of movie that means business. This economical little thriller imagines aliens from a dying solar system attempting to conquer our planet, and they are not the sort of adversaries who mess around. First they contact an Earth scientist (Hugh Marlowe) to ask for a parley; when that overture is ignored, they stage a brutal attack on global military installations. Then it’s off to Washington, D.C. to demand our unconditional surrender.  What will we do?

Well, this is America circa 1955, isn’t it? “When an armed and threatening power lands uninvited in our capitol,” one general declares crossly, “we don’t meet him with tea and cookies!”

What’s that you say? The invaders possess technology hundreds of years in advance of our own, and we don’t stand a chance? Pull yourself together, hippie!  American grit and know-how is a match for any threat — no matter where it comes from. But can we defeat the invaders before we — not to mention the most iconic monuments in the nation’s capitol — are wiped out?

This was the second of three collaborations between producer Charles Schneer and special effects master Ray Harryhausen, and while it lacked the Technicolor polish of 1953’s War of the Worlds it’s still one of the best alien invasion movies you’ll ever see. Its fast-placed plot and zeal for destroying D.C. landmarks was aped four decades later by the bigger-budget but vastly inferior Independence Day (1996).

Sure, you could head to the local megaplex this weekend to watch the new Avengers movie or the new Terminator movie or the new Fast and Furious movie. But the best action film out there this weekend is Earth Vs. the Flying Saucers. –Michael Popham

 

EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS screens Friday and Saturday, July 3 and 4 at 7:00 and 9:00, and Sunday, July 5 at 5:00 and 7:00 at the Trylon. Advance tickets are $8.00, and you can purchase them here.

 

 

hardto

In an unspecified future, a number of planets have been discovered that harbor life that closely resembles that on Earth. One of these worlds is Arkanar, muddling through a period of history that resembles Medieval Europe. 30 scientists infiltrate the population and observe the planet’s technological and sociological progress. But observation is all that’s allowed: the scientists must never, under any circumstances, interfere with the alien planet’s culture.

One of the scientists, posing as visiting nobleman Don Rumata, finds it hard to stay objective. After all, he is not witnessing ancient history, but real events. Under the regime of sinister Don Reba, the scientists and intellectuals of Arkanar are systematically tortured, terrorized and murdered. Frustrated that he has the power to act but cannot, Rumata must stand by as pogroms and purges threaten to destroy Arkanar’s future. But even if he could act, would it do any good? Doesn’t history — on any planet — always repeat itself?

Based on the 1964 novel by acclaimed Soviet science fiction writers Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, Hard To Be a God was originally written as an allegory to the anti-intellectual purges of the Stalin era. Don Reba is a thinly-disguised version of Stalin’s brutal henchman Lavrenti Beria, and the novel was written amid the fear and uncertainty of Khrushchev’s reign.

In filmmaker Aleksey German’s hands, Arkanar is brought to life as a place of visually arresting squalor that can be hard to take; I can’t recall a depiction of medieval life that was more relentlessly grim.  Arkanar is gray and rainy; mud and filth are everywhere.  The people are dirty and unwell, often gaunt, toothless, half-starved, and more than half-crazy.

German had wanted to adapt Hard To Be a God to film for decades. Shooting on this production finally began in 2000 in the Czech Republic but was shut down and restarted a number of times, for various reasons. It took 13 years for the film to wrap, and German himself died before the film’s premiere at Cannes.

Fans of German’s movies will be happy with his final work, though anyone unfamiliar with the Strugatsky brothers’ book might find it somewhat difficult to follow. Grim and unrelenting, it’s also a mesmerizing and strangely beautiful film. –Michael Popham

 

HARD TO BE A GOD screens Monday and Tuesday, June 22 and 23 at 7:00.  Tickets are $8.00, and you can purchase them here.