Epic Chinese Cinema…The Bigger The Better


Creation Of The Gods I: Kingdom Of Storms is the first installment of Creation Of The Gods (Fengshen) Trilogy. It is a majestic action epic adapted from the classic 16th century Chinese novel Investiture Of The Gods. The film resurrects a prolonged epic battle between humans, immortals and monsters which happened more than 3,000 years ago. The first installment starts the story with the collusion of villainous King Zhou and his consort fox spirit Su Daji, which causes the wrath of heaven. The mystic sages at the Kunlun Mountain are aware of the coming chaos and send Jiang Ziya down the mountain with the “Fengshen Bang” (a list that empowers him to invest the gods of Heaven) to find the lord of the world and save its peoples. Prince Ji Fa, a diplomatic hostage trained by King Zhou from an early age, gradually discovers the true colours of King Zhou, who used to be his hero. Ji Fa decides to escape the capital Chaoge to his hometown, and plans the attack on King Zhou with the help of Jiang Ziya, leading to an epic confrontation.

RED CLIFF (2008)

There are two things that you can almost always count on in a John Woo film: doves and an indiscriminate abuse of slow-motion. Red Cliff, shot in mainland China, features the director’s most ambitious dove sequence and enough slow-motion to make every battle scene seem like a Bolshoi Ballet production…covered in blood, that is. Woo has a knack for the spectacular, and Red Cliff is certainly something to behold. The movie takes place in ancient China in 208 A.D., near the end of The Han Dynasty – which was immediately followed by the Three Kingdoms period – and depicts the “Battle Of Red Cliffs” and the events leading up to it. Even though this battle was popularised by Luo Guanzhong’s 14th century novel Romance Of The Three Kingdoms, Woo has based the film on the historical text Chronicle Of The Three Kingdoms in order to stay accurate, and only kept some of the novel’s elements to please the fans. That’s not to say that he doesn’t take a few creative liberties: the movie’s events and characters, if fundamentally correct, have an undeniable bigger-than-life quality. Red Cliff was originally released in Asia as a two-part, 280-minute epic, but was edited to 133 minutes to make it commercially viable for international audiences. This trimmed version greatly favours action over plot. That’s too bad, because no matter how visually stunning they may be, there are only so many battle sequences that one can take before a feeling of deja vu kicks in. This version definitely holds its own, but it will probably leave you hungry for the real thing – and that’s a good thing! Hernan Alcerreca 

HERO (2002)

Zhang Yimou (Raise The Red Lantern, Ju Dou) has firmly established himself as one of contemporary cinema’s most versatile and significant movie directors, whose visual storytelling is both poetic and influential. With Hero, he turns his hand to the martial arts genre, and in doing so has created a spellbinding silk-and-sword work of art, every bit as dazzling and spectacular as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Set before the reign of the first emperor in ancient China, Hero tells the story of three legendary assassins, Sky (Donnie Yen), Flying Snow (Maggie Cheung) and Broken Sword (Tony Leung), who have all been targeting the ruthless, tyrannical King of Qin (Daoming Chen). When unknown warrior Nameless (a Zen-like Jet Li) claims to have achieved the impossible task of slaying all three, he is granted an audience with the king. Here, he recounts each of his victories over the assassins (with Yimou impressively draping each story in a different colour), which may or may not be true. While action is the main attraction here, there are moments of sustained silence to saviour, along with impressively restrained performances, which contribute to the film’s uniqueness and style. The aerodynamic kung fu sequences set a new benchmark for the genre, merging spectacularly with truly breathtaking cinematography and visuals, capturing the natural splendour of the remote Chinese settings. Comparisons to Crouching Tiger are inevitable, with its mix of soaring swordplay and dramatic tones, but Hero is an achievement all of its own and deserves all the world-wide recognition and plaudits that were bestowed on Ang Lee’s own masterpiece. Mark Hanson


Another classic from director Zhang Yimou. In 2004, his above mentioned first action film, Hero, was released to worldwide acclaim. His second “wuxia” (built on swordplay, wire work and chivalry) film is so good that it almost overshadowed his first. In terms of character development, beauty and direction, House Of Flying Daggers is the work of a filmmaker who has truly hit his stride. Taking place during the decline of the Tang Dynasty, two captains plan to infiltrate a group of assassins known as The Flying Daggers. Jin (played by Takeshi Kaneshiro) and Leo (Andy Lau) suspect that a local blind dancer, Mei (played by the elfish Zhang Ziyi from Hero and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) might actually be a member of the insurgents. Jin is sent on an undercover mission to earn Mei’s trust and locate the rebel group. What ensues is a series of inventive fight scenes, as the unlikely couple cross the land. From a dark bamboo forest, to a hillside heavy with autumnal leaves, to a mountain being battered by snow – the backdrops are as dramatic as the action itself. The overall beauty is exquisite. But that’s not to say that the visuals overwhelm the film. In fact, the majesty of Yimou’s world beautifully complements the almost operatic plot – where love blooms, treachery is discovered, and no one is quite whom they seem. This is quite simply nothing short of captivating. Marise Watson

14 BLADES (2010)

Donnie Yen plays Qinglong, a member of the Jiniwei, a society of fighters trained from childhood to master the mysterious weapon called 14 Blades. When Qinglong is betrayed by members of the imperial court, he finds himself on the run and protecting the beautiful Qiao (Wei Zhao) from a range of nasty pursuers. The plot here is wafer thin, and as a result, the action comes on thick and fast. With homage to the great Shaw Brothers wu xia (swordplay) movies of the past, the characters spend the bulk of their time flying through the air in elaborate old school action sequences using fantastical weapons. Former model Kate Sui almost steals the show as Tou Tou, the incredibly beautiful but entirely deadly enemy of Yen’s Qinglong. While the film is chock full of action, it carries a niggling feeling of “been there, done that” and there is little here to set this film apart from many of its predecessors. If you are a massive Donnie Yen fan, then you won’t be disappointed, but if you are looking for a quality wu xia film, then you may be better served to go back and rifle through the existing Shaw Brothers back catalogue. Garry Seven

Creation Of The Gods 1 is released in cinemas on September 14.

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