Tuesday, August 20, 2013

This Week in Rankings

Since the last rankings update, I've recorded a new episode of They Shot Pictures on John Ford, as well as a couple episodes of The George Sanders Show (Logan's Run and WALL-E and Gun Crazy and Point Break). The Ford show should be posted any day now, while you can find the Sanders show at our website.

As part of my preparation for the Ford discussion, I wrote here about his My Darling Clementine and Sergeant Rutledge. I'm also continuing with the Summer of Sammo, but moving away from the Shaw Brothers films of the 1960s and 70s into the New Wave films of the 80s and 90s. So far I've written about Wong Kar-wai's Days of Being Wild and Patrick Tam's Nomad. I'll need to think of a new name for this series of reviews in a few weeks, as summer is coming to an end and I don't think I'll be able to wait until December rolls around and it's time for Christmas with the Shaw Brothers to rent more of these films. Any suggestions?

I've added and updated some lists over at letterboxd for Tony Leung, Maggie Cheung, John Ford, Wong Kar-wai and George Sidney. On that same page you can also find updated lists for many other directors and actors.

These are the movies I've watched and re-watched over the last few weeks, and where they place on my year-by-year rankings. Links are to my short letterboxd reviews/comments, where applicable.

Straight Shooting (John Ford) - 3, 1917
Just Pals (John Ford) - 4, 1920
The Iron Horse (John Ford) - 5, 1924
Stagecoach (John Ford) - 3, 1939
My Darling Clementine (John Ford) - 8, 1946
She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (John Ford) - 4, 1949

Wagon Master (John Ford) - 2, 1950
Gun Crazy (Joseph H. Lewis) - 5, 1950
Rio Grande (John Ford) - 14, 1950
Sergeant Rutledge (John Ford) - 7, 1960
Two Rode Together (John Ford) - 6, 1961
Hatari! (Howard Hawks) - 10, 1962

Logan's Run (Michael Anderson) - 22, 1976
Raining in the Mountain (King Hu) - 9, 1979
Return of the Sentimental Swordsman (Chor Yuen) - 27, 1981
Nomad (Patrick Tam) - 2, 1982
Ishtar (Elaine May) - 6, 1987
As Tears Go By (Wong Kar-wai) - 7, 1988

Days of Being Wild (Wong Kar-wai) - 1, 1990
Full Moon in New York (Stanley Kwan) - 16, 1990
Point Break (Kathryn Bigelow) - 19, 1991
Full Contact (Ringo Lam) - 20, 1992
WALL-E (Andrew Stanton) - 3, 2008
The Avengers (Joss Whedon) - 44, 2012

Summer of Sammo: Nomad

I've declared this the summer of 2013 to be the Summer of Sammo. Throughout these months I've been writing about films starring or directed by Sammo Hung, as well as other Hong Kong genre films of the Sammo Hung era. Here's an index.

Taking the Summer of Sammo in a new direction, I'm trying to catch up with the Hong Kong New Wave, of which Sammo Hung, Tsui Hark and such are tangentially related, but with which I'm pretty unfamiliar outside of the action genres. This Patrick Tam film defies easy genre labeling. For much of its run, its feels like a slice of life teenage film, not unlike American Graffiti or Dazed and Confused or Metropolitan, but more in the style of later Taiwanese directors like Edward Yang or Hou Hsiao-hsien (though without their rigorously distanced visual style). It follows the romantic lives of four young Hong Kongers: Louis (Leslie Cheung) and his friend (cousin?) Kathy (Pat Ha) are rich and Tomato (Cecilia Yip) and Pong (Ken Tong) are poor, but after some very funny meet cutes (Pong and Kathy at a pool, Pong and Louis fighting outside a record store (they all love David Bowie), Louis watching Tomato juggle boyfriends over a pair of telephones) they all become friends and lovers. The first hour or so of the film follows their budding romances and friendships, pitted against the peculiar environments of the city (an empty double decker bus provides a better make-out space than a tiny apartment cramped with relatives and mah jong tables).

Hints are given of the political context of the time, first in the haunting recordings Louis listens to of his mother, a classical music DJ, saying farewell to her family on air, presumably just before she's carried off by the Cultural Revolution, and later in the character of Shinsuke, an old boyfriend of Kathy's who shows up having deserted from the Japanese Red Army, a communist terrorist group (to put it simply) that is now hunting him. The film's deeply unsettling conclusion arrives as a clash between these two worlds. The kids' romantic getaway, lushly and stylishly photographed, self-concsiouly arty in contrast to the more immediate realistic style of the earlier sections of the film, is interrupted by a spasm of violence, both ultra-modern and ancient in its form and politics. Youth a romantic dream shattered by ugly reality.

It's easy to see the influence this must have had on Wong Kar-wai, the early sections evoking the mood and style of the romantic interludes of As Tears Go By and Days of Being Wild (which shares a star, Leslie Cheung, already as sad as he is lovely) while the disruptions of violence prefigure the war between genre conventions and art romance that dominate Wong's early films. Like Days, the past in Nomad is largely an unspoken thing, a gap in history that undergirds the seeming aimlessness of its characters. I can't wait to see where Tam went from here, though he doesn't seem to have a prolific career, he did work as an editor on Days of Being Wild, Ashes of Time and Johnnie To's Election.