10 May 2006

Enter the Dragon: The New Golden Age of Asian Cinema

By Monroe Chang

For years, I had given up on modern cinema. Hollywood's creativity and great story-telling ability have been replaced by raw sex and violence in order to attract the largest and basest crowd. In fact, over the last ten years, I only went to the movies twice or thrice. I resorted to viewing old films of the thirties, fourties and fifties.

Then came the DVD revolution, and I was introduced to a new genre of films, from Asia. These Asian films tell great stories in cinematographically stunning ways. I am referring particularly to legendary Chinese director Chen Kaige's TOGETHER. Chen, who achieved international acclaim for his FAREWELL MY CONCUBINE, directed this 2002 film about a boy musical prodigy and his country bumpkin father who travel to Beijing in search of fame and fortune. The story line is Dickensonian. Father and son meet a cast of strange and loveable characters in Beijing, including an eccentric music teacher who has a penchant for collecting street cats and a fashion-crazed call-girl who has a heart of gold.

The film's ending unravels into a (literally) tearful crescendo. All elements of the film neatly and spectacularly come together in the last five minutes. It is probably the most effective ending in films I have seen in the last quarter century.

The immense appeal of these Asian films is that they tell great stories through excellent cinematography--something that contemporary Hollywood has forgotten. The use of technology to create visual shock and awe, while interesting, is in the long run self-defeating. If there's no story to tell, then the flash and loud bang seem meaningless at best.

See also the review of Kim Ki Duk's SPRING, SUMMER, FALL, WINTER AND SPRING in the March Archives.

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