Sunday, August 01, 2004

Scorching Sun, Fierce Wind, Wild Fire

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 31 July 2004 at Cooldige Corner #1 (Midnight Ass-Kickings: Fu Fighting Females)

To be honest, seeing this movie last night was a bad idea. Not so much because it's an awful movie, but I was drained and in no mood to be made happy by the time I'd gotten out to Coolidge Corner for a midnight movie.

See, by the time many people read this, reaching it via the IMDB external review page or seeing it on eFilmCritic, it'll be well past 1 August 2004, and the connection with the Red Sox trading Nomar Garciaparra away for Orlando Bloody Cabrera and Doug "we've already got a good defensive first baseman" Mientkiewicz will not be immediately obvious. But that's the way it is with these one-night-only bookings; sometimes it's a choice between seeing something when your attitude is just all wrong or not seeing it at all. And something that works perfectly fine as an entry in my movie-going journal may not make much sense as a stand-alone review.

My own petty pain aside, Scorching Sun, Fierce Wind, Wild Fire doesn't make a whole lot of sense. The promo materials stated that it takes place during the Republic period of the 1920s, but it certainly plays like something set at least 40 years earlier. There is a passing reference made to the local warload considering a plan to fight the kung fu-using rebels with, well, guns, but little ever comes of it. "Warlord" is someting of a strong term to use, anyway, since it's not as though he appears to do anything terribly oppressive. Still, his daughter (Angela Mao) has taken to leading a group of rebels under the nom de guerre of "Violet", though they seem to act like bandits. There's another rebel group out there, led by a man who has just returned from the southern part of China, although his mother seems more intent on setting him up with her nurse (at least, I hope like heck it's her nurse and not her daughter, as the subtitles sometimes seem to indicate; that would just be weird). There's also a pair of escaped prisoners, and the warlord's much more clearly evil right-hand man, referred to as "Second Master", who is seeking the two halves of a treasure map.

There is an awful lot going on for a ninety minute film, which breaks roughly every twelve minutes or so for a fight scene (in my drained state, I would have preferred an even shorter window for entering dreamland). As a result, the movie winds up being all over the place, never really meshing its intrigue with its action or Saturday-serial elements. The treasure-map plotline, in fact, fails to pay off in an astoundingly flagrant way, with the chinese symbols for "The End" leaping onto the screen just as that storyline seems to reach its midway point, eliciting a rousing cry of "WHAT?" from the audience. This was reassuring for me, as it meant that I had not dozed off duirng something which connected everything.

The fights are good, though. I sometimes think, while watching these older kung-fun movies, that the directors build them up over the course of the movie not just in terms of size, but basic competence. Early on, there's a fair amount of blows that look like they may not be connecting, but by the end the martial arts is fast, painful-looking, and involves multiple people in a way that one really must admire the choreography. There's also a certain amount of absurd fun to be had at various points, like the awkward camera angles and costuming necessary for a character's entire head to be hidden behind a conical hat, or the over-the-top effectiveness of the Second Master's poisoned knives, which leave a smoking, bloody skeleton behind.

And on another night, I'd have appreciated those things more, perhaps even been moderately cheerful that there are movies like this out there. Last night just wasn't the right time for it.

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