Posts from 28th August 2004

28
Aug 04

The Legend

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The Legend

I just watched this tremendous Jet Li film again, and it has one absolutely magnificent role, that of Jet Li’s mother, played by Josephine Liao. [um, spoiler alert and all that, if it’s applicable to an old movie that’s been on TV more than once] The local ruler offers his daughter’s hand to anyone who can defeat his wife in combat. After a tough fight, our hero looks like he is about to win, but believing the daughter is hideous, he gives the fight away. His mother hears only that he has lost, and to reclaim the family honour ties her hair up and goes to fight. Not only does she win easily, but her opponent falls in love with her – at the time, this seems pretty much like the usual transvestite comedy, not so far from when Bernard Bresslaw dresses up a nurse and is fancied by some hapless bloke, but later, when the ruler’s wife is dying, held in her arms, Liao reveals herself, and the dying woman withour hesitation or shock declares that she will always love her, and the mother screams and wails as she dies, completely changing the sense of what has happened.

There are a couple of great moments in the big set-piece climax too. Jet Li is trying to save his father’s life from a guillotine, while the evil emperor’s army holds back the people. The weight is too heavy for him to hold the rope, and as it is dragging him along the ground, an old woman and a couple of children break through the cordon and grab the rope with him, inspiring the rest to revolt. It’s a moving moment, but the army are overwhelming the unarmed peasants and all is looking lost – when Li’s mother rides in with her sword and turns the tide, and the good guys win. I don’t think I’ve ever seen another maternal role anything like this – she rather overwhelms the lead (and executive producer), and Jet Li is a gorgeous man and brilliant martial artist, not at all an easy star to outshine.

This month’s Sight and Sound features a review of Takashi Miike’s new film

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This month’s Sight and Sound features a review of Takashi Miike’s new film Gozu, and tentatively calls 2001’s Visitor Q his masterpiece. The reviewer’s take on Miike’s prolific career (Visitor Q and Ichi the Killer are championed as the twin peaks of his 60-odd film oeuvre) jarred enough with my own to prompt the piece your reading now.

Now I wasn’t particularly enamoured with Visitor Q, but subsequent discussion (on ilx amongst other places) had interested me enough to wait until a second viewing; perhaps my initially hostile opinion was in need of a revision. Stopping to think about the things I’d said, I suddenly noticed a coincidence – my criticism of Visitor Q was astonishingly similar to the praise I’d lavished on his other work. Although I’d be the last person to say that he’s beyond criticism, Miike occupies a strange (and perhaps unique) position in that his champions and his detractors often use the same points. An inconsistency that can be both infuriating and exhilarating, a sense of humour that can be either sharp or broad to the point of slapstick, and a flagrant disregard for anything even approaching a notion of taste or, at his most extreme, restraint. This middleground only stretches so far; I can’t help wishing how a more controlling director would have handled the bizarre pantomime of The Happiness of the Katakuris, for example.

I’m not confident enough in my knowledge – or opinion – of Miike’s films to start throwing the word masterpiece around, but if I was held to it, my ‘twin peaks’ would be Ichi The Killer and Audition. Perhaps Audition isn’t as brave as Visitor Q. Or perhaps I just find it easier to engage with its slow-burning horror than the ultra-violent slapstick of Ichi and Visitor Q. Whatever the case, I can’t help thinking Ichi and Audition would make the most convincing argument for the man’s inconsistent, unpredictable, fascinating talents.

The Jean-Paul Sartre Cookbook

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The Jean-Paul Sartre Cookbook

We have been lucky to discover several previously lost diaries of French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre stuck in between the cushions of our office sofa. These diaries reveal a young Sartre obsessed not with the void, but with food. Apparently Sartre, before discovering philosophy, had hoped to write “a cookbook that will put to rest all notions of flavor forever.”