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The most epic epic in all of epic-dom

I mean aside from the Star Wars saga... and Indiana Jones (speaking of - did you hear Indy IV has 6 titles now? Check out indianajones.com for all the sweet new video they've been adding too). I suppose the Iliad is somewhere up there as well.

No, this most epic of epics that I rant about today is from one of my other fangirl-doms, and that is the world of wuxia (which for the uninformed generally refers to Chinese fantasy/historical martial arts cinema and literature in the context it is discussed here).

In the last year or so, there were rumors followed by quasi-official proclamations that my long time hero and wushu idol, Jet Li, was to retire from "epic martial arts films". The news on this was never very credible or crystal clear, but it still brought great sorrow to my fragile but furious fangirl soul. At one point the misinformation mill churned out something about Li continuing making action films, but for American audiences and in the American style... or something to that effect. This not only brought upon tears of darkness from epic martial arts fans everywhere, but it never really quite sat right. Other stories spoke of Li giving up the violent world of wuxia film to devote his life to the study of Buddhism. I liked that version better. I guess I really wanted to hear an outright political statement from Jet that would confess that he was trying to detach from any ties to the Chinese government and movie industry (of which I still am convinced is hidden between the lines of the recent movie Fearless). I might never know the real story, but I'd love to hear it from Jet Li himself someday... perhaps on neutral soil.

Did I ever tell you about how I was going to stalk screenwriter John Fusco, who is actually local to my neck of the woods (and believe you me, that makes everybody a neighbor in these parts, and therefore fair game), and follow him to China while he researched for his next script? Um, well, something came up... I think they call it work, and I guess school too. In my mind I was going. I was all set to drop everything, find a dog... I mean wookiee sitter, and try to convince my mom that going anywhere not considered "the west" did not equal the third world and therefore the inevitable death of her daughter. I really meant to do that, because I knew what John Fusco was up to, and it was right on the heels of the wuxia underworld chatter of Jet Li's exodus.

And it didn't make sense at all, since John Fusco was developing the script for what was then dubbed the "J and J Project". Then the other news started to seep in. I don't mean news about Tarantino and Rodriguez, since that would have been called the "T and R Project", but that's the kind of movie news most people talked about. The J's of the project were none other than Jet Li and Jackie Chan, who were to join together for the first time ever on film (this is history in the making folks) to make an epic martial arts movie. W00t?

Not too long before this I had rushed to theaters to see the release of Fearless, thinking it was my last chance for Jet in a tunic and a top knot. Not that I'm disappointed in any way. In fact, knowing that Jet was going to give epic-ness another chance left my mind at ease for a bit. So much so that I kind of forgot about it for awhile and moved on to other business, like the plan to stalk my screenwriting teacher and follow him to Vancouver while he visits the set of Battlestar Galactica and the filming of it's final season. That hasn't quite happened... yet (but that rant is for another day, and another blog).

Maybe both Jet and Jackie finally realized what Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon did for their genre in the west. Only since Crouching have we really seen wuxia have an actual solid screening in mainstream theaters across the USA. Before then, and with the exception of Bruce Lee movies which were largely endorsed by western interests anyway, wuxia cinema was pretty much relegated to the likes and tastes of fanboys and girls, comic book enthusiast types, and well... you know what I'm getting at. Don't make me say it!

While wuxia isn't quite a household name in the west like Star Wars or Indy... or Megatron, most people in the west have now seen or at least heard of Crouching Tiger. Most people may not know that films like that have been produced in China for close to a century, but with other films like Hero and House of Flying Daggers making their stand in the west recently, the genre is staking it's claim as an art form rather than a more campy-culty underground geek form. Of course, production values have massively updated for this to happen, and as with anything else successful that makes it's way out of China, it somehow gains national status as part of the Chinese cultural heritage. If Jet Li hangs around just a little longer, I think it will give wuxia that much more of a welcome (by me) boost in the west.. along with more western money, and therefore prettier and prettier martial arts flicks. These are evil thoughts though. We should be trying to make prettier movies cost less money to produce, especially in the west. Right? I think on either side of the globe, extras are still living off a wage of craft services anyway :p

Fast forward then rewind to a few days ago. I often have NPR on in the background during my daily commutes, and I always try to listen to the weather report when it comes on, but my attention span always finds something else that takes precedence... like that dog hair slowly making its way toward the rim of my coffee cup. Oh, and driving. But certain keywords are so deeply embedded in my psyche that they will whip monkey mind right back to the present, and a few days ago that keyword was "Jet Li" screaming out from the monotone chatter of NPR. This was followed by a couple of other words that I was less familiar with, which were "Forbidden Kingdom" and "Hengdian Studios". "Jacki Chan" was in there somewhere too.

I felt like Jason Bourne finally remembering how it all began, but in a good way (another epic and worthy of another entry in itself of course). A title? And even more than that... large-ish scale coverage of the movie and the shooting location in China? I worried for a second that our cheerful NPR reporters might somehow vanish only to have their stories of execution in a remote Chinese prison be told years after the fact. Then I remembered that I'm waaay too American. Where had I been for the last few months since this was known merely as the elusive and not much talked about "J and J Project"? Oh right - obsessing about other stuff.

While my eyes and some part of my mind were driving, my ears eagerly ate up the story and was pleasantly surprised to find that it was the first story of a small series on NPR about the movie and Hengdian Studios with another piece to be aired the following day (which I caught completely by chance, again during my commute). All of it can be read and heard on NPR's website, along with pictures(!):

Martial-Arts Masters Meet in 'Forbidden Kingdom'

Coach Assists Chinese Actress' Hollywood Debut

Ambition and History Meet in China's Hollywood

(Check out the web resources in the right nav bar for links to Hengdian and related sites)

I guess China is now open for business.

As it turns out, Forbidden Kingdom isn't quite the wuxia film you were looking for. Being that it's partially a western endeavor, and will star a modern American teenager with a Time Bandits-esque journey to ancient China, it seems as though Kingdom is going to be a marriage of wuxia's new-found western fame and something akin to the Harry Potter fantasy genre bandwagon, which aside from superheroes and comic book characters seems to be the money making movie theme of the moment.

What else is to come you ask? Maybe you shouldn't.

A complete aside (What? Me? A tangent?)... If you've ever seen clips
(Warning - very inappropriate content!) from the Chinese translations of Star Wars, this news quip should surely make you grin.

This article was largely inspired by my mentor yo, yo, yo, yo, Yodaaah (and my uncanny ability to blog at length when there are other things that really need to be attended to)


amidalooine said...

Wow. Way too much infor there for my measley brain right now!!

Hey, if you really go to Vancouver, let me know. Hubby's company has an office there, and I might be able to finagle a trip...

:D :D :D

pitt said...

Very informative! I was not really that aware of wuxia before, although I really liked CT-HD. Also, the SW Chinese dub thing was completely insane... very funny stuff.

-"Smelly Boy"


jkthunder said...

heh heh - have we found a new nick-name for you pitt? :D :D