Monday, October 1, 2007

BEEM, 4th place: Peking Opera Blues

[Best Editing in an Exploitation Movie Award]

"If I am afraid of dangerous, I'll not be an army. . . . Talk louder with bigger power."

Before he launched Jet Li's ascension from regional to global stardom with 1991's Once Upon a Time in China, before his production of former choreographer Ching Siu Tung's 1987 A Chinese Ghost Story became an international success, before he rescued floundering director John Woo from a mid-career slump by producing (and, by some reports co-directing) A Better Tomorrow (1 and 2) and The Killer, Tsui Hark directed the epitome of HK-genre cinema, Peking Opera Blues, 1986. Political intrigue, violence, melodrama, sexual innuendo, Marx Brothers-style slapstick, gravity-defying martial arts, gender-role reversal, and romantic comedy can all be found in Peking Opera Blues, but no one genre or style predominates. Although the plot is absurd in the extreme, its execution evinces none of the awkwardness, expository gaps, or gratuitous stylistic flamboyance which mar most of the great HK films.

Unlike Hard Boiled, the editing of Peking Opera Blues is not showy and obvious, it does not cry out to be praised. Nevertheless, it is this very subtlety which proves its success. Take, for example, the role of martial arts in the film. The bursts of action which demonstrate martial prowess are edited with all the flourish of the best martial arts cinema, but they are always justified by the plot and are marked by a brevity and restraint uncharacteristic of pure "martial arts" films. One protagonist, surrounded by soldiers in close quarters, his disguise about to be exposed, hurls himself into the air, landing with his back to a chair which then slides through the open door as the he fires into the crowd. The move itself is straight out of any acrobatic fighting movie, but the sequence, though constructed from several shots, takes less than a second. Only a single acrobatic move was needed, so only a single acrobatic move was used, but this move itself was given the full treatment of any action moment.

the trailer for Peking Opera Blues:

memorable editing moment: In the film's climactic scene, our heroes (revolutionaries of both sexes) are running from the local police across a rooftop at night; they (the revolutionaries) are all dressed in traditional Peking Opera garb (for extremely entertaining and bizarrely convoluted reasons). The great Bridgette Lin (most famous in the West for her role as the blond woman in Chunking Express), who for most of the film has been dressed in male military garb, is now "disguised" as a Manchu warrior prince. In an attempt to draw fire from her colleagues, she runs across the rooftops towards the local police, firing a pistol continuously in slow motion. After injuring the police chief (who, earlier, had murdered her father and tortured her viciously), she herself is wounded and, falling, smashes into the other end of the roofbeam which supports the police chief. As the chief (by a levering or see-saw effect) is propelled through the air (3 angles in quick succession), her comrade begins to slide down an adjacent roof (1 shot), Bridget falls through the roof and into the building (2 shots), her comrade slides from the roof (2 shots) and, passing through one of its windows, enters the building through which Bridgett is falling, intercepting her, and carrying her through the opposite window to safety (3 more shots) ~ much of all this in slow motion. This moment of action is exceptionally implausible, requiring a synchronistic intersection of three, distinct trajectories of humans through space; nevertheless, it expands into a brief ballet, thrilling and, strangely, convincing, through the coherence and rhythm of the editing.

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