08 March 2007

On martial arts movies

'Many film critics, not all of them on medication, think that Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is the acme, apex and apotheosis of the Chinese meaningful violence martial arts art movie, mainly because of the purportedly balletic beauty with which its featured personnel run up the sheer walls of the Forbidden City and along the treetops of the enchanted forest while slicing at each other with whirling swords made from fragments of a meteorite forged in the book-lined cave of a Confucian philosopher, with extra boiled rice.

Ancient Chinese swords, despite the legendary sharpness proved by their ability to puree a passing butterfly, rarely make contact with swordsmen, or swordswomen, in such a way that the victim loses a limb or even a little finger. Two opposing swordsmen or swordswomen - let's just call them swordspersons - will emerge untouched from a 15 minute stretch of virtuoso choreography, a pas de deux for interlocking whirlwinds.

If, after all that spinning, diving, somersaulting and grimacing, a sword strikes home, it makes only a small neat puncture which in no way lessens the loser's capacity to speak that special dialogue from the Orient that actually sounds more Chinese after it has been dubbed into English.

"Your skills are great," says Falling Snow.
"Your sword was quick," says Rising Cloud.
"Your quest is finished," says Passing Wind'

- Clive James, BBC column, 23 February 2007

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