Rise of the Legend (Roy Chow, 2014)

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Every generation gets the Wong Fei-hung they deserve. A fin-de-siècle doctor and martial arts instructor, the real life Wong has been inspiring cinematic incarnations for most of the history of Hong Kong’s film industry. The first was in a series of productions running form the late 1940s to the mid 1960s, where Wong was played by Kwan Tak-hing as the embodiment of Confucian masculine values. Dignified, somewhat aged, even-handed and scrupulous, Kwan played Wong in an astounding 77 films (at least), between 1949’s The True Story of Wong Fei-hung: Whiplash Snuffs the Candle Flame and 1981’s Dreadnaught, which is some kind of a record. A generation of actors and stuntmen, choreographers and directors (most notably Lau Kar-leung and Yuen Woo-ping) got their starts training on the Wong Fei-hung films, which served roughly the same role for Hong Kong action cinema that Roger Corman’s exploitation films did for the New Hollywood. Lau Kar-leung put his twist on the character with Gordon Liu starring as a young student Wong in Challenge of the Masters in 1976 and as a somewhat older man striving after nonviolent resolutions to the deadly rivalries of the kung fu world in 1981’s Martial Club. Yuen Woo-ping and his father Yuen Siu-tien, who also worked on the Kwan Tak-hing series, upended the Wong Fei-hung mythos in 1978 with Drunken Master, in which a young Jackie Chan plays Wong as an impetuous, vulgar, undisciplined youth who is beaten into shape by the eponymous instructor (the elder Yuen), kicking of an era of irreverent kung fu comedy hybrids and launching Chan as a superstar. Tsui Hark revising the legend again in 1991 with his Once Upon a Time in China series, in which Jet Li played the hero with a mix of Kwan’s grace and nobility,  Chan’s youthfulness and Li’s own awkward romanticism. Now, Roy Chow gives us Rise of the Legend, with Eddie Peng playing Wong as a brooding, blood-spattered young warrior, desperately fighting against the nihilistic hell that is Guangzhou’s Pearl River Delta in the late 19th Century.

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Requiem for the American Dream (Peter Hutchison, Kelly Nyks, Jared Scott, 2016)

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Requiem for the American Dream should be required viewing on every college campus in the nation. This is not just because of the film’s concise and lucid overview of the thinking of its interview subject, American intellectual Noam Chomsky, on a critically important topic, the erosion of American democracy and the subsequent rise of income inequality and decline of individual and communal rights and freedoms. This overview is of enormous value, but the film’s other gift to its audience is a model of what political discourse can sound like. At the present moment of rage politics and deafeningly loud appeals to the lizard-brain of the American voter, Chomsky’s quiet, humane voice and deeply informed, thoughtful perspectives provide a badly needed antidote to the prevailing culture of dumbed-down, amped-up public speech. Continue reading Requiem for the American Dream (Peter Hutchison, Kelly Nyks, Jared Scott, 2016)”