What constitutes a genre?
There was a time when the kung fu film drifted from very obscure to semi packaged action flick for US audiences. A new foreign movie star was created. Bruce Lee was his name and he could singlehandedly take on armies of foreign invaders in quasi allegorical tales of Hong Kong versus mainland China. I was never a devotee of the genre. I did enjoy watching them once in a while; however, I'm not sure if I could remember the subtle differences between any of Bruce's movies. Bruce gave way to a new sort of kung fu star. The loosely termed kung fu ballet was dominated by Jet Li and Jackie Chan. Certainly, these two moved the genre forward to a different place. No longer were the battles all set in the mythic past. Now, the kung fu movie had become action movie, usually set in modern day. Like most action genres, I could not claim to be a follower. Surely these movies exhibited modern techniques and modern directors. Lost in version 2.0 of the kung fu movie was the kitschy comic like flow of the original kung fu movie. The new style was just Die Hard with a slightly Asian flair.
But then, the new upstarts came along. The kung fu movie was reinvented again. Ang Lee took a gigantic leap from his recent round of American films to return to his homeland to refine the kung fu movie with the help of all things digital. High wire work came together with CGI to make a kung fu film that lost nearly all of the real kung fu and substituted rough action for the choreographed ballet. It was fascinating to see this new round of fantasy. Not only were the forests ubiquitous, void of gravity (a key element of many Bruce Lee films), and full of the enigmatic gigantic bamboo; Ang Lee made sure that every shot was colour corrected and dreamy. The kung fu film was no longer an action film and no longer a strange import with bad translations. Crouching Tiger became the romance version of the kung fu movie. It was an awkward but intriguing combination of the kung fu movie, highlights from the Matrix, historic genre pic, and love story. Surprisingly, this scattered mix was a secret hit and the momentum grew.
With success comes imitation or derivation. In the US we got two films from Zhang Yimou. Hero and House of Flying Daggers are the movies. The real release dates are still a little confused. Hero was a fair film. The eventual love triangle was overwhelmed by the very focused colour palettes, hyper-sensitive microphone pick ups, bullet time camera work, and the Asian equivalent of scenes from Lawrence of Arabia. The odd thing is that The House of Flying Daggers could be described with almost no changes except for several forests replacing some of the arid mountain scenes. If there is a significant difference in the two movies, The House of Flying Daggers is probably more Lifetime Movie of the Week and Hero is the journey of a warrior.
So, the movie has plot twists and double twists. It has fabulously beautiful leads. It has innovative choreographed kung fu like scenes. It has completely unbelievable moments with plenty of suspension of belief. The real problem is that if you have seen Hero twice or have moments of Crouching Tiger burned into your head, this movie is reduced to a fairly sappy love story that is more romance novel than epic story.
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