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Surfer, Encinitas

Friday, September 8, 2017

13 Assassins

Yoshitoshi - Ghost from Maruyama Okyo's painting, from Yoshitoshi ryakuga (Yoshitoshi sketches), 1882 

I'm not going in today. Visited my doctor, Seymour, at Scripps Memorial yesterday. My bronchial condition had tuned into a case of pneumonia and I knew I wasn't getting better. A chest x-ray, a shot in both flanks, he sent me home with some scripts and the promise that one of these days soon I will be good to go. Gave me a couple freebie asthma inhalers so I won't have to beg Dixon for his oldies, they are really expensive to buy. Thanks Seymour. Same Doctor for forty years. Thanks Dixon.

I think I will watch a Chinese Kung Fu or Japanese action movie this afternoon. I was involved in martial arts when I was young and still had knees.

I was a practitioner of Hung Gar, a southern Chinese five animal system and earlier studied kempo and some other Okinawan schools.

I loved the Chinese stuff, it was so round and beautiful, like comparing the Bolshoi Ballet to hip hop popping or the frug.

But I can't say the same for Chinese cinema, especially action cinema or honestly much of the Chinese culture that at least I have been exposed to.

Honestly the Japanese approach seems much more graceful in its artistry, its verité, so much more believable.

I watched an excellent Japanese movie the other day, I believe on Netflix. It is called 13 Assassins. It is the story of a group of samurai who band together to try to kill a cruel and insane ruler. The film is set in 1844 and loosely based on the historical Lord Naritsuga. Originally filmed in 1963, I saw the 2010 remake by Takashi Miike. Now I need to see the earlier one.


If you are squeamish about limbs being lopped off and the like, you might want to skip this one. The movie definitely has its full of blood and gore, something this brilliant ancestrally Korean director is known for. Would give Reservoir Dogs a run for its money.

But the blood is not gratuitous, the people don't fly through the air with their swords like they do in Kung Fu movies, 99 % of which are terrible, and the characters in 13 Assassins are believable and human.

Cinematographically, it is a lovely film to view. One of the best of the genre I have seen. Really want to see more of his work. Sort of a Peckinpaugh feel.

Last night I watched Hero again, the 2002 Jet Li movie, which also deals with the intended assassination of a cruel ruler. I'm not a huge Jet Li fan, the color and production value of the movie is pretty but full of the supernatural conflation the Chinese are known for. I liked watching the fight choreography and it gave me a chance to see the fabulous Donnie Yen at his young best.

But it is like most of the Chinese genre, overly romanticized, fantastic, wooden and with essentially no honest character development.  Fake beards and overly flexible swords.

The aesthetic difference between the two asian cultures is stark, at least from my perspective. The money today is in Chinese antiques, because of the immense power of the current Chinese economy, the Japanese art and antique market is at its nadir, but the latter wares are, at least to my eye, far more graceful, beautiful and sublime. Chinese stuff can be gaudy, somewhat cheesy.

I hate to be overly anecdotal but hope that you will permit me to share a fairly recent experience. While photographing Walt Disney Hall, my comrades and I walked past a small Chinese tour group. While many were content to view and appreciate the lovely lines of the Frank Gehry masterpiece, one individual from the tour was focussed on extracting a large green booger from his nose with great intent.

Not only did he secure said booger, to his seeming delight, like extracting a great prize from the bottom of a box of cracker jacks, he held it aloft like a prize for several moments so that his peers and the rest of us could judge its refraction in the glittering sunlight. I can now better understand the restauranteur in Jackson Hole who recounted his love for the Japanese tour groups but shuddered at the thought of the Chinese spitting on his sidewalks and veranda and basically acting like chain smoking barbarians. If you catch me at the bar one day, ask me to tell you the French Laundry story.

Nothing like a sick guy on meds coming so close to gross racial pronouncements. And don't get me wrong, I love the Chinese, their food, history, literature, and especially their people. Their martial arts movies could be a bit better. And please hold the MSG.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

I envy your brillance and photographic talent Robert. Just out of curiosity, is it difficult to quiet your internal dialogue? You possess quite an active imagination...get some rest and feel better...

Blue Heron said...

I appreciate the compliments and concern, would say its more of an overbearing inner monologue.

Anonymous said...

Fortunately it's balanced with a good sense of humor.

Patrick said...

Careful with that pneumonia Eugene. It can be a very nasty thing.
Take your meds and get some proper rest. Px