Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Review: Red Heroine

  • Directed by Wen Yimin
  • Produced by Youlian Studio Shanghai
  • Cinematography by Yao Shiquan
  • Starring Fan Xeupeng, Shu Gohui, Wang Juqing, Wen Yimin, Sao Guanyuwith
  • Reviewed at screening on November 8, 2008, with live accompaniment by the Devils Music Ensemble at the Film House at Main Street Landing in Burlington, Vermont as part of the UVM Lane Series in collaboration with Tick Tick.
  • Rating: 5/5

Red Heroine, the sole surviving complete silent kung-fu film from China, finds its voice with live musical accompaniment by the Devils Music Ensemble. The trio has been touring with the film across the United States for the past several months, and their next to last performance was in Burlington, Vermont, playing to a sold-out audience on a chilly, rainy November night on the shores of Lake Champlain.

Imagine if Ennio Morricone had scored a Shaw Brothers film, and you have soundscape provided by the Devil's Music Ensemble for Red Heroine. There's the funky, earthy twang of the Fender Telecaster played by Brendon Wood, and spooky atmospherics from the violin, erhu and vibes by Jonah Rapino and thundering drums and percussion by Tim Nylander.

Without them, I'm not sure I could watch Red Heroine, because the film is ridiculous, with massive gaps in logic. For example, if the Red Heroine, or Yun Mei, can fly, why does she need to use a rope to descend out of a window?

Then again, this is a kung fu movie made in 1929 that I'm talking about -- leaps in logic had to be made. And the debt that all the wuxia films that followed owe a big debt to Red Heroine and the other kung fu films of the silent era.

The story, as far as I could understand, has to do with a maiden, kidnapped by a warlord in a raid on the girl's village, just as her grandmother was dying. The maiden is to be made one of the general's concubines, but is rescued by the White Monkey warrior. But the story is not over there, and it gets pretty confusing -- more complex than I could fathom through my allergy-induced delirium (I think I'm allergic to Vermont). And the horrendously translated and improperly transferred intertitles -- the left side is cut off -- didn't help. Indeed, the garbled spelling and syntax of the intertitles received the biggest laughs of the night from the university crowd.

Finally, Red Heroine descends from the sky and whups up on the bad guys.

The trailer from YouTube is embedded below.

(Thank you Durian Dave)

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