WU XIA: Hong Kong’s Flying Swordsmen!

Posted: under New York Asian Film Festival.

This year, thanks to the support of the Hong Kong Economic Trade Office New York, we’re presenting a special focus on wu xia movies, one of our favorite genres. Wu xia (literally, “chivalrous hero”) films first exploded into the Western mainstream with CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON, and while lots of movies can be called “wu xia” the term has come to mean flying swordsmen, women warriors, a touch of fantasy, a heavy dose of swordplay, byzantine plotting, a flash of steel and a rustle of silk.

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The highlight of our wu xia focus is Tsui Hark coming to NYC to get a Lifetime Achievement Award, and the screening of his new wu xia film DETECTIVE DEE AND THE MYSTERY OF THE PHANTOM FLAME (which is already sold out, unfortunately). But we’re also screening a ton of classic wu xia movies and the first of them, DUEL TO THE DEATH, screened yesterday and….holy crap! Close to 200 people showed up to watch this 1983 movie that employed pretty much every ninja in Japan. It was around the time that a ninja got his head chopped off, the severed head flew through the air, got impaled on a tree branch, uttered a curse…and then EXPLODED, that the audience went totally and completely bonkers. Or maybe the moment of utter insanity overload occurred earlier when a lady ninja exploded her outfit and attacked a Shaolin monk while completely naked? Either way, it was full of “WTF!” and “Not to be Missed!”

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“I’m…not…dead…yet!”

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Here’s the trailer for the special focus:

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And here’s what we’re screening!

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ZU: WARRIORS FROM THE MAGIC MOUNTAIN – Saturday, July 9 @ 1:30pm. Along with DUEL TO THE DEATH (also released in 1983), ZU is the movie that changed everything in Hong Kong cinema. It is ground zero for modern day wu xia. Director Tsui Hark rounded up Hollywood special effects gurus and trapped them in his secret lab where he grafted them to Chinese myths and legends in unholy experiments. The final result is this ligthning fast movie, which throws “What the hell?!?” at your eyes like a chimp flinging daggers. We all fully expect that, confronted with ZU on the big screen, the heads of audience members will pop like lightbulbs. This was the direct inspiration for John Carpenter’s BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA, but going to the source gets you a true hit of heady, intense cinematic LSD. (Tsui Hark will intro the screening).

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ZU is more than just freaky monks and a full moon.

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DRAGON INN – Sunday, July 10 @ 4pm. We paid a lot of money to strike a brand new (GORGEOUS looking) print of this warrior woman action classic because it is the ultimate wu xia movie from the peak of the modern wu xia wave, representing everything that is badass about wu xia, times 1,000. The screening will be followed by a long, onstage conversation with its producer, Tsui Hark, about his career but the reason you should be here can be summed up in one sentence: Two of Hong Kong’s greatest actresses, Maggie Cheung and Brigitte Lin, star in a sword-slinging spaghetti Western that plays out like CASABLANCA with kung fu.

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Brigitte Lin offers up her death stare in DRAGON INN.

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THE BLADE

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THE BLADE – Monday, July 11 @ 6pm. If ZU is the alpha for wu xia, THE BLADE is the omega. Tsui Hark will introduce this movie which is one of his great unseen masterpieces. Taking Chang Cheh’s 1967 ONE-ARMED SWORDSMAN, he repurposes it into a highly-stylized, hardcore explosion of the wu xia genre. By the time he’s finished, he’s burned everything to the ground. This is a film that has claws and fangs and comes at your throat, screaming. It’s never gotten a good DVD release (except for a nice, but rare, French disc), there is no Hong Kong DVD, and Warner Brothers, who own the rights to the film, have decided not to rent out the print to anyone else after we screen it, due to new policies they’ve just instituted. So, basically, this might be your only chance to see one of the most important, wildest, most intense and smartest Chinese movies of the 1990’s. This is where wu xia went to die.

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Check out the exceptionally awesome trailer for THE BLADE:

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If you want to read more about Tsui Hark, here’s an essay by Subway Cinema member, Grady Hendrix, that goes on at great length about his importance. And you’ll find links to buy tickets at the individual pages for each movie over here on our festival website.

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1 Comment

  1. dbborroughs Says:

    Your right on target with the reaction about Duel to the death, it was a blast and a half on the big screen. I know I and my friends were ready to do it all over again when it ended.

    As for Blade on the big screen, it’s a must see. It’s an absolutely an amazing experience seeing it as it should be seen on the big screen- as are all the Wu Xia films.

    Any chance you guys can convince the Film Society to do a series down the road of the best martial arts epics for sometime away from the festival? If you guys program you can be damn sure people will come- especially after the reaction in the theater after Duel to the Death



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