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All Hail the King: The Films of King Hu from June 6 to 17

  • Date:2014-05-27

Taipei Cultural Center of TECO in New York is delighted to announce that from June 6 to 17, All Hail the King: The Films of King Hu, a 15-film tribute to the Chinese cinematic titan, will be co-presented with BAMcinématek.

Master of the martial arts movie, King Hu revolutionized the wuxia/swordplay film, introducing a refined sense of aesthetics, attention to mise-en-scène, and sense of mysticism to the genre that was borne out of his lifelong love for Chinese opera. With his unique blend of stoic, iconic heroes, realistic violence, and dance-styled fight choreography, Hu’s style influenced decades of subsequent Asian cinema, revolutionizing the wuxia in the same way that Sam Peckinpah and Sergio Leone modernized the Western. All Hail the King includes nine features by Hu alongside a globe-spanning sidebar of films that both influenced and paid homage to him.

Hu emigrated to Hong Kong as a teenager and drifted into jobs in the film industry, where he came to specialize as an actor and a set designer. For the famous Shaw Brothers studio, Hu worked as an assistant to director Han Hsiang Li on two films, including The Love Eterne (1963—Jun 7), a musical romance so popular in Southeast Asia that lines of its dialogue became catchphrases. Hu’s breakthrough film as a director, Come Drink With Me (1966—Jun 8), introduced the first of his many badass heroines: Cheng Peipei as the unforgettable Golden Swallow, first glimpsed decimating a tavern full of gangsters with her faster-than-lightning hands.

Already notorious for his meticulous, intractable attention to detail, Hu clashed with producer Run Run Shaw over Come Drink With Me and left for Taiwan to make Dragon Inn (1967—Jun 14), a Ming Dynasty revenge yarn that cemented Hu’s commanding mature style of dynamic widescreen compositions, tracking shots, and rapidly edited combat scenes. Two years in the making, A Touch of Zen (1971—Jun 6) is Hu’s magnum opus, depicting the larger-than-life battles between a female fugitive (Hsu Feng) and her pursuers from the point-of-view of a humble scholar (Shih Jun) who becomes her protector and lover. With its famously transcendental ending, A Touch of Zen literally took wuxia to another level.

Working independently and on a smaller scale after the box office failure of A Touch of Zen, Hu made the spy-vs.-spy melodrama The Fate of Lee Khan (1973—Jun 15), a claustrophobic “inn film”—Hu loved this setting, a place where people of all classes and professions would interact—that explodes into violence in the last reel. By contrast, The Valiant Ones (1975—Jun 13) is non-stop action from start to finish, as the titular heroes rout a gang of Japanese pirates along the Chinese coast.

Next Hu made two back-to-back films in sumptuous South Korean locations: the languorous supernatural epic Legend of the Mountain (1979—Jun 16) and the twisty Raining in the

Mountain (1979—Jun 17), a story of temple intrigue in which wit supplants weaponry. Legendary Taiwanese New Wave screenwriter Wu Nien-jen (The Puppetmaster) co-wrote Hu’s rarely-screened, 10th Century dark comedy All the King’s Men (1983—Jun 11), and a new generation of martial arts stars (including Sammo Hung and Joey Wong) headlined his final film, Painted Skin (1992—Jun 10), a ghost story based on the same collection of Pu Songling stories as A Touch of Zen.
Also screening are Kurosawa’s samurai classic Seven Samurai (1954—Jun 15), a major influence that Hu called “a real martial arts picture,” and Nicholas Ray’s Johnny Guitar (1954—Jun 7), whose gunslinger leading ladies (Joan Crawford and Mercedes McCambridge) are prototypes for Hu’s female combatants. Hu disciple Tsui Hark pays homage to the ending of The Valiant Ones in his sweat-and-blood-soaked The Blade (1995—Jun 13), just as the acrobatic action scenes in Ang Lee’s crossover hit Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000—Jun 9) invoke A Touch of Zen’s balletic bamboo forest fight. Goodbye, Dragon Inn (2003—Jun 14), Tsai Ming-liang’s tribute to Hu and to the twilight of cinema itself, features cameos by two of Hu’s stock company, Chun Shih and Tien Miao, in the audience for the final show of a closing Taipei movie theater—a screening of Dragon Inn.

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