John Carpenter and the unmaking of reality.

The eighties were a golden era for John Carpenter, he began it with The Fog and ended it with They Live, in between he delivered gem after gem of genre films, but his output also showed he was also interested in more than just delivering movie thrills, you could say it started with Prince of Darkness, a smart take on the Satan returns storyline.

The film begins simply enough, with a Professor being called in to investigate the emergence of a giant tube with a mysterious green mass inside it, he brings also his students to help him, it’s also guarded by a priest who believes it’s the incarnation of Satan. The green mass starts exerting it’s will on the homeless nearby as they form an army to protect and serve this malevolent force. Once the students are exposed to the green mass, it becomes a race to prevent the green mass from unleashing an even greater evil, the anti-god.

At the time he made this Carpenter was heavily into theoretical physics and he wanted to apply it to the horror genre, so we get a scientific take on the concept of Satan. The idea of Satan has always been that of pure malevolence, an eternal evil for humanity to struggle against, he’s our most base impulses writ large. The conceit here is that Satan has no form but his influence is still felt through a recurring dream of a figure emerging from a church, the dream feels like a VHS recording, it’s a transmission, with each recurrence of the dream, more detail emerges until it’s revealed it’s a message from a possible future of apocalyptic destruction if the anti-god is released.  The film’s final image remains haunting because, although good technically triumphed over evil, it’s still there lingering in the mind, casting doubt over what’s real and what isn’t.

The idea of a transmission being beamed into the subconscious took another form with They Live, a film best described as a satirical action-thriller. The film’s protagonist, John Nada, has drifted from nowhere in particular looking for work and finds a job on a construction site and a small, homeless community of men and women. He stumbles across a box of sunglasses after a raid on a church being investigated for terrorist activities and finds out the world isn’t what he thought it was as he discovers that aliens have infiltrated earth and cloaked themselves in a veil of consumerism to enslave humanity.

The idea of alien invasions is nothing new, our paranoia has always manifested itself in various forms. Where this film differs is the method of invasion, there’s no attack, no war, the method is a simple of form of infiltration and the aliens have already won, to a certain extent, following on from Prince of Darkness, the then current state of consumerism is the perfect smokescreen for aliens to take over, giant billboards and signs hide a message of consume and obey, which is basically our daily routine, it also comes from the media, the messages of consume and obey are delivered from a television station, which the resistance fighters try to disrupt with their own equipment. Nada’s discovery this alternate reality completely shakes his faith of what’s real and what isn’t, even he attempts to convince a colleague that it’s really happening, it leads to an epic fight between the two because he refuses to believe it’s real.

John Carpenter would return to this concept of reality and unreality one last time with In The Mouth of Madness, a pure Lovecraftian Horror film which sees the protagonist John Trent see reality completely unfold before his very eyes and cause a mental collapse.

John Trent, a freelance Insurance Investigator, is a sceptic, he doesn’t believe in anything which can’t be solved via science so when he’s asked to locate an author who has gone missing on a promotional tour, his bullshit detector immediately goes off, the missing author just happens to be Sutter Cane, whose books have caused violent outbreaks in his readers, with Cane’s editor, Julia Styles, he tracks down Cane to a place called Hobbs End and then the nightmare really begins.

There’s something clearly off in the reality Trent inhabits, the feeling that something isn’t right, even as Trent has lunch with a colleague, a man wielding an axe attacks them asking if he’s read Sutter Cane, the man turns out to be Cane’s agent. We find the same thing in Hobbs End, as we get closer and closer to Cane, we see that reality is shifting and changing at whim, Trent is unable to leave, he simply get’s transported back to the centre of town when he tries to escape. Cane finally emerges to inform them that he is author of this reality and whatever he writes creates that reality but he also serves a higher evil in the form of old gods. When Trent finally escapes back into his reality, he finds the director of publishing only to be told Styles never went with him to find Cane and the manuscript he thought he’d destroyed was delivered months earlier, has been published and sold. Trent’s reality finally collapses in on itself after he enters a cinema to witness the events that he went through with Styles being projected onscreen.

All three films present the viewer with a form of reality that gradually falls apart to reveal something else entirely, you could argue Madness is the grimmest of all but that’s in line with the Lovecraft mythos, no-one get’s out alive, especially not from the reality of your own mind or what you perceive as your own mind and reality is always a slippery slope when the moorings loosen.

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His Girl Friday & the ethics of Journalism

Before he became an established screenwriter, Ben Hecht was a reporter, first as a war correspondent then as a reporter in the city of Chicago and he used his experiences as the basis for the play he conceived along with Charles MacArthur called The Front Page. By the time His Girl Friday went into production, it had already been filmed once, so this is basically a remake, it would be subsequently adapted in the future. The original play had an all-male cast but Hawks decided to give his adaptation a feminine touch (this works for and against the film) by making the protagonist a woman, Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell).  The character of Hildy is a classic example of the type of female character that existed in screwball comedies back then, she worked in a largely male environment, she dressed like a woman but thought like a man.

Being a reporter isn’t an easy gig at the best of times, and the character of Hildy makes it clear that you have to pursue the story at the expense of everything else going on at the time, when we first meet Hildy she has arrived at The Morning Post to deliver the news to her ex-husband, Editor Walter Burns (Cary Grant), that she is getting married again. Hildy knows exactly who she’s dealing with, as she attempts to explain to Walter why their marriage failed and what she wants in her life, a life of domestic bliss with an insurance agent. Walter is arrogant enough to believe the flame is still in there flickering for the next great story, despite Hildy’s assurances that she craves a life of domesticity and children so Walter does what any self-respecting ex-husband would do and manipulates her into covering one last story, the execution of convicted murderer Earl Williams (John Qualen).

Hildy joins a motley crew of other reporters killing time waiting for Earl to be hanged as they play poker and take bet’s on how long Hildy’s marriage will last. Into this den of mice and men comes Mollie Malloy, a supposed paramour of Earl, at least that’s what was published in order to sell more copies, the reporter all crack jokes at her expense until she finally let’s her emotions get the better of her and delivers a tirade against the reporters, Hildy watches the scene unfold with a certain detachment until she finally escorts her from the room as she sobs, all that’s left is a silence of guilty men just doing their jobs.

It’s not long before that silence is broken as Earl performs a jailbreak and it’s every man (and woman) for themselves as they attempt to break the story, it’s Hildy who get’s the advantage by tackling the Warden in the ensuing chaos and getting the straight story on just how Earl escaped. Walter is alternately thrilled that the old fire is reignited in Hildy again and that she has the inside scoop already. Hildy is all set to do her write-up when Earl appears holding a gun, she calms him down and convinces Earl to hide in the room while she figures out what to do, just as she’s about to close the door, in walks Mollie, who hears Earl and Hildy is forced to drag Mollie inside. Hildy hides Earl inside a rolltop desk and opens the door to the other reporters, who immediately start to get suspicious of Earl’s whereabouts, Hildy does her best to drive them off the scent but it’s not until Mollie provides the ultimate distraction and jumps out the window but not before chastising the reporters about not listening to her. As soon as they see she’s breathing, they take off after her, Hildy is the only one who shared any compassion for her, Walter, when he arrives, just wants to know where Earl is.

It’s eventually revealed that the Mayor and the Sheriff were trying to conceal a pardon for Earl in order to win the next election. Through all of this, Hildy’s husband to be, Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy) endures being arrested twice, having his wallet stolen and his mother kidnapped, finally realizing that Hildy really isn’t ready for the kind of domesticity she proclaims she wants, in a sense, Walter wins, he get’s his ace reporter back, she sends Bruce back to Albany and follows Walter out of the room, hoping things will be different this time.

Wong Kar Wai’s portraits of loneliness

In Days of Being Wild, a young man, York, strides to a cafe where a young woman works, opens a bottle of soda and proceeds to try and seduce her, it’s an act that’s performed by him over a period of time until she finally relents. Li-Zhen initially resists York’s attempts at seducing her but deep down, she welcomes the company, it doesn’t hurt he’s an attractive looking young man, and a relationship is formed but it’s framed on his terms. The moment Li-Zhen begins attaching herself to him by suggesting she move in with him, he immediately shuts down, when she asks him if he’ll marry her, he bluntly responds with no, Li-Zhen leaves and claims she’ll never come back.

This will be a pattern for York as he meets another young woman, Lulu at a local club where he’s beating another man for taking advantage of his mother, who is a courtesan. Lulu is loud and brash and she plays coy with the seduction attempts by York but like Li-Zhen, she still craves the affection or disaffection that York gives her. York’s friend Zeb is another of one of York’s devotees as he craves the attention that York receives from women but he has neither York’s attractiveness or his wealth. York was raised by a courtesan, Rebecca, who confided that he was adopted by her, yet refused to tell him who his real mother was out of a desire to keep him from leaving her.

Li-Zhen finds that letting go of York is tougher than she thought as she keeps returning to his apartment building where she is found by a Police Officer, Tide who brings York out to where Li-Zhen is waiting, she claims she has returned to get her things but that’s just an excuse. Lulu is in York’s apartment listening to the drama unfold and when Li-Zhen finally leaves, confronts York about his commitment to her but York doesn’t care, he’s distilled his entire life into not caring about anything except finding out who his real mother is. Lulu put’s up a front but she’s just as enthralled by York’s disaffection and aloofness, which is preferable to being alone.

Li-Zhen still hasn’t really got over York as she tries to stifle crying outside his apartment while Tide stands nearby trying not to look uncomfortable, Li-Zhen is forced to confess her emotional distress to Tide, her infatuation with York wasn’t so much about him but a way of stemming the tides of loneliness that swept over her since moving to HK from Macau, it was a connection that she needed, even if it resulted in pain for her, it was still a connection. It would take some more effort to finally move on from York but she found a better confidant in Tide in the process, even though their connection was brief, it was enough to allow her to accept her loneliness.

Rebecca announces to York that she’s leaving for the U.S. with her much younger lover, York finally get’s her to confess who his real mother is and leaves for the Phillipines, leaving his car with Zeb, who has become fixated with Zeb, even though she doesn’t love him. York left without saying goodbye to Lulu, which has left her bereft as she goes searching for him, even confronting Li-Zhen who tells her to get over it, after all, Li-Zhen did. Zeb’s attempts at seducing Lulu become increasingly pathetic bordering on abusive as he finally follows her in the rain, where she confronts him about his pathetic need to become York 2.0 which results in him physically assaulting her. Zeb finally realized he’ll never be like York the way he wants to be like him, sells the car and tells Lulu that if she can’t find York to come back to him.

York finally tracks down his mother but she refuses to see him which leaves him more adrift than ever, Tide, now a Sailor, discovers him lying in a gutter, drunk, and takes York back to his room to sober up. York and Tide hang out in a local hall where York is getting a passport from a local hoodlum and instead of paying, stabs the hoodlum instead forcing a confrontation between York, Tide & the hoodlum’s friends, this results in Tide shooting three men and getting slashed with a switchblade. While on the train, Tide confronts York about aloof attitude to everything, he calls him on his bullshit but York still doesn’t care. York is shot by assailant and as he dies, he realizes that he was never going to fly because he was dead from the moment he was born.

In a way this film reminds me of the Neil Young song ‘Out on the Weekend’ about disaffected young men hustling on the weekends. The film actually ends with a scene of a man preparing himself in a small room, for a night out, he could easily be someone like York but we’ll never know.

 

 

 

On Dangerous Ground

Three men are shown as they prepare for an evening shift, two of them are married, one is single, all three are policeman. As they shuffle into the precinct, their commander relays the urgency of finding the men who shot and killed one of their own, to pound the beat and shake their sources for info. Their first stop is a bar, the people inside show open contempt to the policemen, Jim Wilson (Robert Ryan) is visibly upset by his treatment and they leave the premises. Pops Daly (Charles Kemper) is suffering from a sore shoulder so Joe and the third policeman, Pete Santos (Anthony Ross) visit a local doctor to treat it. Santos comments that Wilson is a tough man to get along with, Pops makes the observation that being a cop is a tough occupation, he just takes it harder than most. While Pops is being treated, Wilson get’s a lead on a suspect involved in the murder of the policeman, he and Santos visit the apartment of a woman Myrna Bowers (Cleo Moore) who is romantically linked to their suspect.

Myrna plays coy about her relationship with the suspect, Bernie Tucker (Richard Irving) until they find a photo of them together, Jim grills her for Bernie’s whereabouts using physical intimidation, Myrna responds by asking Jim if he’ll use his big arms to squeeze the info out of her, and he does. Jim and Pete find Bernie and it’s clear he’s not going to give up info on others involved in the crime. It’s in this scene that we finally witness the coiled rage that bubbles underneath Wilson’s surface, he beats the info out of Bernie while screaming ‘Why do you make me do it? You know you’re gonna talk! I’m gonna make you talk! I always make you punks talk! Why do you do it? Why?”, Wilson’s violent methods prove successful but he’s reprimanded by his superior Capt. Brawley (Ed Begley), the man he beat is being defended by a lawyer, who accuse Wilson of police brutality.

Myrna is brutally attacked, Wilson, Santos & Pops arrive on the scene to find the attacker fleeing the scene, Wilson is enraged and brutally beats him, Pops accosts Wilson who defends his actions by stating a police officer is nothing but a garbage collector, he asks how Pops get’s through it, Pops is pragmatic about it, he leaves it all behind when he goes home, he doesn’t let it infect his home life. Wilson is upbraided again but this time, he is sent away to a small town to help with the local murder of a girl. Wilson arrives to find the police unable to cope with a crime of this magnitude. Wilson attempts to interview the sister of the murdered girl but finds her mother & father, Walter Brent (Ward Bond) unwilling to co-operate, the father is too enraged to hand over the murderer to the police, he wants vengeance.

The murderer is soon sighted and a car chase begins, Wilson & Walter chase the killer to a remote house where they find a woman, Mary Malden (Ida Lupino) living there, they interrogate her about whether she’s seen the killer, it slowly becomes evident that she couldn’t have seen anything, she’s blind. Mary is clearly hiding something though and it becomes evident she knows more than she’s letting on.

What I find interesting is how this film approaches the idea of Toxic Masculinity, 40 years before the term had been coined. Jim Wilson is a man who is unable to separate himself from the pressures of his job, the daily exposure to acts of cruelty, the contempt that’s thrown in his face, he becomes detached until he meets Mary, who appreciates Wilson’s lack of pity for her when he discovers she is blind. It’s a familiar type of love story, the wounded male healed with the love of a good woman and it’s a credit to both Robert Ryan and Ida Lupino that this love story works. Ryan has always excelled at playing characters with a seething anger at their core but maintain a stable facade and he does some of his best acting in this film. There’s a scene early in the film where he interacts with a young boy outside his apartment building, it’s a reminder that he’s capable of human interaction but it’s fleeting.

Walter Brent is a father who is willing to go to any lengths necessary to kill the man who murdered his daughter, he’s operating on blind rage, when he finally catches up with the murderer it ends in a fashion where he get’s what he wanted but not in the way he wanted it, it’s a like a fog lifts and he realises that the murderer he was chasing was a young boy, as a result that rage subsides, it’s replaced by a kind of empathy for the murderer’s sister, Mary.

The murderer in question is revealed to be a young man who is neither evil nor saintly, he’s driven by impulses that he cannot understand. Wilson begins the film with a belief that violence is the only natural weapon at his disposal but his scene with the murderer finds him attempting to solve the situation through means of communication and he very nearly succeeds until Brent bursts in still operating on blind rage and events reach their natural conclusion.

Nicholas Ray has explored the psyche of wounded men in other films such as In a Lonely Place and Rebel Without a Cause but here, he also finds the humanity within those wounded men.

The Major and The Minor

In 1941, after eight years of being a screenwriter, Billy Wilder decided to try his hand at directing again (he’d previously directed a feature back in France) and with his collaborator Charles Brackett adapted a play ‘Connie Goes Home’ and convinced producer Arthur Hornblow Jr to turn it into a movie. Wilder immediately thought of Ginger Rogers for the lead role and, as luck would have it, she was a recent Oscar winner who shared the same agent as Wilder. Wilder asked the agent to pitch Rogers on his behalf and a meeting was arranged. Rogers became enamoured of Wilder and his pitch and agreed to do the film.

When we first meet the heroine, Susan Applegate, she’s introduced walking into a building for an appointment which all the men assume she’s there for more than just business, her client Albert Osborne (Robert Benchley) immediately uses the appointment as an excuse to pathetically seduce her while his wife is away, it’s the last straw for Susan and she decides it’s time to go back to Stevenson, Iowa, to a dull existence, she has the correct fare saved up and, by god, she’s going to use it. The final kick in the pants is that the fare was raised and there’s a coach worker’s strike, leaving her stranded at the train station. Susan is undeterred though, as she immediately sees an opportunity by overhearing that children are charged a half-fare, a lightbulb goes off and she sneaks into the ladies room and emerges as a twelve year old (it’s a ludicrous concept when you think about it) and pays a stranger to pretend to be her father.

It’s not long before the ruse starts to show it’s seams as the guards asking for a ticket start to see through Susan’s obvious scam and quiz her about it, it’s only when she’s caught smoking that the jig is up and she’s chased through the train until she hides out in a compartment occupied by a man, Phillip Kirby (Ray Milland). Kirby fails to see through her disguise due to a defective eye and due to a thunderstorm and a flood, the train is forced to stop, leaving her stranded once again, until Kirby convinces her to stay at the military academy he lives and works at. The first person to see through Susan’s disguise is an adolescent with a fascination for biology Lucy (Diana Lynn). She agrees to keep her mouth shut only if Susan helps her scupper the plans of her older sister Pamela to keep her fiance, Philip Kirby, at the base permanently.

In a lesser director’s hand’s this could’ve been a disastrous film, the sexual politics alone could’ve sunk this film but Wilder & Brackett are smart filmmakers and they manage to navigate the film’s loaded premise with veritable skill. The film’s humor is largely predicated on Susan having to navigate the hormonal minefield of a boy’s military academy, as she is basically handed over to a group of boy’s who each have an allotted time to spend with her, and that time is largely used by the boys to find ways to kiss her, the most effective being Maginot line method, some succeed, some don’t. There’s a scene where Kirby attempts to instruct Su-Su about the realities of living on a base filled with boys, despite Wilder’s skill it still manages to veer very close to uncomfortable territory, especially when Kirby closes his one eye and sees how very attractive Su-Su is.

Ginger Rogers. to her credit, plays the role of both adult and child with equal verve, it’s a tough role to play as Rogers is clearly a conventionally attractive women, even when she’s dressed as a twelve year old, it’s hard to see past the fact that it’s clearly a grown women playing dress-up, especially during the ball sequence (the Veronica Lake gag is an all-timer) where she’s dressed to the nines and clearly starting to have strong feelings for Philip Kirby. She also get’s to showcase the dancing skills that made her famous during one scene but the fact that she’s trying to seduce a succession of young boys into leaving their post so she can make a long distance call just gives the scene a weird vibe.

The ending though, is another matter as Susan finally arrives home and is lazing about, presumably thinking about Kirby when she get’s a call from Kirby, who is looking for Su-Su to deliver something from Lucy. Susan portrays another ruse as she convinces her mother to let her borrow her clothes and glasses to fool Kirby into thinking that she’s Su-Su’s mother. It works but then we find Susan waiting at the train station where Kirby just happens to be waiting, it finally dawns on Kirby that Su-Su is in fact, a grown woman and after they kiss, they run off together, there’s no tacit admission of Susan pretending to be a child nor Kirby scolding her for it, just a happy Hollywood ending. Wilder always loved lacing subversive elements into his films, it’s one of his trademarks as both a writer and a director and this film is no different.

Wuxia & the blurred lines of gender.

In King Hu’s Dragon Inn, a large man and his companion, a woman clearly dressed up as a man knock on the door of an inn, after much arguing they’re allowed to stay in one of the rooms. The fact that the woman is clearly a woman dressed as a man is never commented on to any great degree, it’s just accepted, it’s a trope that has long existed in the Wuxia universe. King Hu would use a similar device in Come Drink with Me with Cheng Pei Pei, she posed as a male figure of authority until it’s revealed she’s really a woman with her own battalion of female guards. Women in Wuxia films usually fall into two categories, female warriors or demure women, throughout the sixties the Shaw Bros. were largely powered by women at the box office until the tide shifted and male leads began to dominate instead but their bread and butter was in Wu Xia films. During the late seventies, director Chu Yuan directed a number of Wu Xia films for the Shaw Bros. but it was in Clans of Intrigue that Chor introduced the concept of transgender and bisexuality into the world of cinematic Wu Xia, the film starts largely as a murder mystery as Chu Liu Xiang (Ti Lung) after having drinks with an old friend Monk Wu Hua (Yueh Hua) is confronted by a woman, Gong Nan Yan (Nora Miao) an emissary of the holy water palace, who accuses Chu of stealing some of the Holy Water from their enclave and also committing a series of murders, he negotiates to solve the mystery within a month, if not, the Mistress of the Palace will kill him.

The plot for this film isn’t high art, as Chu navigates his way towards the murderer, it also contains a subplot involving Gong and Monk Wu are carrying on an affair despite the fact that Gong and her mistress, Princess Yin Chi (Betty Pei Ti) are also intimately involved, he too is carrying on an affair with Princess Yin. It’s eventually revealed that Monk Wu was born as a girl to a half-japanese Iga Ninja, when her father was killed by four prominent members of different martial arts schools. She trained under a blind priest before mysteriously developing into a male at the age of fifteen. This newfound power allowed her to operate as both male and female within the Wu Xia world, and allowed Monk Wu to exact revenge on the men who killed her father without being traced. It’s all nonsense when you think about it, but consider how revolutionary it is, to have a transgender character in such a prominent role (I’m aware it’s an unflattering portrayal but still, it’s something).

In the early nineties, producer Tsui Hark attempted to revive the Wu Xia genre by adapting the Louis Cha novel Swordsman for Sam Hui to star in and offered it to King Hu to direct, it was a troubled production and King Hu eventually quit forcing Tsui Hark to take over directing duties, The resulting film has Sam Hui as Ling Hu Chong and his sidekick Yue Ling Shan aka Kiddo (Cecilia Yip) as they arrive to deliver a box and a message to Lin Zhen Nan, which goes disastrously wrong as Lin is attacked by a powerful eunuch Gu Jinfu (Lau Shun) and his second in command Ouyang Cheng (Jacky Cheung). A sacred scroll was stolen from the royal palace and Gu is doing damage control by killing Lin and retrieving the scroll but Lin has hidden it, he passes on the whereabouts of the scroll to Ling and to tell his son of it’s location. On the run, Ling and Kiddo encounter Qu Yang (Lam Shing-Ying) and Liu Sheng-Feng (Wu Ma) as they’re also being tracked by Zuo Lengshan (Yuen Wah) for being senior members of the Sun Moon Sect. Qu gives Ling his treasured Gu Qin before committing suicide to be with his dead friend. Ling and Kiddo run into gang of smugglers led by Ren Ying Ying (Sharla Cheung) and her second in command Blue Phoenix (Fennie Yuen). Ouyang poses as the dead son of Lin and attempts to infiltrate the Mount Hua sect where Ling finally shows up and mistakenly gives Ouyang the location of the scroll, he’s poisoned for his efforts. Kiddo is revealed to be the daughter of Mount Hua sect leader Yue Bu Quan (Lau Siu-Ming) and to be married off to Ouyang. It’s revealed Yue is also after the sacred scroll for his own purposes.

For the majority of this film, Kiddo is posing as a man largely for comedic effect until she’s finally revealed to be the daughter of a prominent sect leader, who follows the traditional path of marrying her off, much to her furious protestations. The relationship between Ren and Blue Phoenix contains subtle lesbian overtones but their relationship remains largely professional and antagonistic, Ren constantly chastises Blue for her wanton desire for men. Blue  takes advantage of a drunken Kiddo and takes her into a room planning on raping her unaware that Kiddo is actually a woman, it’s lucky that Ling shows up to engage in a fight with Blue, who is punished by Ren for her reckless behaviour. This film is largely overshadowed by it’s sequel, which is a shame because it’s just as entertaining.

Buoyed by the success of the first film, Tsui went into production with the sequel but recast the roles of Ling and Kiddo with Jet Li and Joey Yung and Ren with Rosamund Kwan. Following the events of the first film, Ling & Kiddo now roam the Jiang Hu with the rest of the Mount Hua sect where they settle on a small abandoned inn. They find dead bodies but ignore them until scouts from the imperial palace show up and they’re forced to abandon the place but not before Ling tries to rescue his horse from being taken which leads to his first encounter with Asia the Invincible (Brigitte Lin) who encounters him with a certain bemusement. Ling, Kiddo & crew re-unite with Chief Ying (Rosamund Kwan) who informs them that her Uncle Asia imprisoned her father Wu (Yen Shi-Kwan) and took over the Sun Moon Sect with the help of two Japanese refugees, Chimp (Chin Kar Lok) and Hattori Sengun (Waise Lee).

Asia’s ambitions extend much further than the Sun Moon Sect as she plans on full scale revolution against the Ming Empire with the knowledge of the sacred scroll which has made him extremely powerful. Ling attempts to infiltrate Asia’s compound and ends up running into Asia, who he still doesn’t understand who she really is and, after escaping with her and getting knocked out, ends up in prison only to discover Wu (Yen Shi-Kwan) in the jail cell opposite, he contrives a plan of escape and finds Wu chained up in his cell in a particularly brutal manner, Ling frees Wu and they both attempt to escape, Wu dispatches the guards using his essence absorbing skill which leaves Ling feeling a little disturbed. Wu reveals himself to be a more than harsh leader who wants to find Asia and exact a most painful revenge. Asia learns of Wu’s escape and sends her assassins to eliminate him and whoever is helping him while Ling goes back to Asia’s compound, who convinces her lover Shi-Shi (Candace Wu) to pose as her and make love to Ling. She agrees while Asia goes to find Wu which results in Asia killing just about everyone except for Ying, Kiddo and Wu’s Lieutenant. Wu reveals that Asia has been using the sacred scroll to make himself more powerful by castrating himself and transforming into a woman. Ling, Kiddo, Ying & Wu confront Asia at Blackhill Cliff.

In some ways this film harkens back to the Shaw Bros. era of Chu Yuan films. Asia the Invincible is one of cinema’s greatest villains thanks to the force of nature that is Brigitte Lin, she conveys a certain grace even while she’s killing people in particularly gruesome fashion. Ling & Kiddo continue their affectionate relationship in much the same manner as the first film, Kiddo pines for Ling, her attempts to maintain a more feminine presence are played for comedic effect. The love story between Asia and Ling evolves primarily from mistaken identity but it’s fascinating to watch as Asia finds herself bemused at first by Ling, although her true feelings are reserved for Shi-Shi, who recoils in horror when she discover’s Asia’s secret and finally commits suicide after making love to Ling. Asia looks genuinely hurt when Ling rejects her after discovering her true identity but plays it off, her refusal to admit whether it was her that Ling made love to is the last desperate act of a scorned woman, even though she was once a man. The relationship between Ying and Blue remains largely the same as the first film, with Blue maintaining affectionate feelings for Ying but aware that Ying loves Ling and just wants her to confess her love for him. Wu emerges as the film’s true villain as he once stakes his masculine dominance and Asia’s feminine presence, although malevolent and no less destructive is banished (she would return in the sequel ‘East is Red’ though)

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon would adopt the trope of a young woman dressing up as a young man and, in accordance with the times it was released in, make the trope an act of defiance on the part of the young woman, Jen (Zhang Zi Yi) as she flees an an arranged marriage and enters an inn, disguised as a man, and proceeds to destroy it after being challenged by a group of men, as is the customary way of the Wu Xia world. I find these movies endlessly fascinating for their approach to these things, where else would you get love triangles of men in love in with women who were once men or women dressing up as men and no-one cares.

Lawrence of Arabia & The Cult of Personality

Lawrence is a man who badly wants to be someone else, when we first meet him, it’s clear that he does not belong in the rigid confines of the military and his interactions with the rank and file just increase his desire for isolation, both mental and physical. Lawrence is finally given the chance to move beyond the confines of his station with a secondment to Prince Faisal with his mission being an assessment of Faisal and to report back. Lawrence begins his great romance with the desert, to him, it represents a certain purity that does not exist in England. Prince Faisal does not share his view of the desert, to him it’s a lonely, desolate place.

They say a man’s character is revealed through adversity so in Lawrence’s case it revealed an Iron Will to succeed. It also revealed his compassion as his decision to go back for Gassim is considered suicide by Ali but Lawrence proves them all wrong as he returns to Ali with Gassim in tow, Ali is so moved that he burns all of Lawrence’s clothes and effectively make him an honorary Arab, this is probably the worst thing he could’ve done even if it was done out of a sense of love. Lawrence’s next move once they had crossed the nefud to convince Auda Abu Tayi, leader of the Howitat to join them in securing the garrison at Aqaba. Lawrence once again succeeds by manipulating Auda by focusing on his greed and it works. The attack on Aqaba is an astonishing success, it took everyone by surprise except for Lawrence, he gambled and it paid off.

The second half of the film finds Lawrence waging a war with the Turks by destroying the supply lines with Ali and Auda as his lieutenants. Lawrence has started to believe his own hype thinking he can only be killed by a ‘golden bullet’, it’s this line of thinking that allowed his ego to overtake him completely and he formed a kind of Jesus complex, even as his men begin to resent his attitude that they should move mountains for him. Lawrence’s final act of hubris occurs as he enters Derra, a Turkish stronghold thinking that he can pass unnoticed as an Arab, it backfires horribly as Lawrence is subjected to a beating (and implied rape). The idea that he could conceivably pass for an Arab is laughable and he finds out the hard way. It’s also the turning point where he realizes that he will never be an Arab and so flees back to the British military, it’s telling that his efforts to fit in with the establishment just comes off as brown-nosing.  It’s uncertain whether Lawrence’s desire to be an Arab stems from self-loathing or his contempt for England or both but it’s clear he fetishizes the idea of Arabia and the people within it.

Lawrence’s guerilla warfare is taking a toll on him mentally, despite his best efforts to retreat to a sense of normalcy, the military brass just want the winning streak to continue so General Allenby convinces Lawrence to join them in the final push on Damascus, at this point though, Lawrence has been pushed to his breaking point, his army of followers have now been reduced to paid mercenaries. Ali remains Lawrence’s conscience up until Lawrence and his army come across a column of Turkish soldiers including their wounded, his decision to attack the column is what truly damns him. It’s a massacre, Jackson Bentley, the reporter who has been cultivating the legend of Lawrence through the newspaper is disgusted by what Lawrence has become.

As an act of redemption Lawrence and his army arrive at Damascus before Allenby. Lawrence tries to form a kind of UN with the Arab tribes but it’s pretty much a disaster as the council devolves into in-fighting and squabbling while there is no power and a fire breaks out, in the end, Lawrence is deserted by the tribes, all except Auda and Ali. Lawrence’s dream of a United Arab States had come to an end along with Lawrence’s usefulness to both Faisal & Allenby. In some ways, he got what he wanted, to be ordinary but in the end Auda is right when he said “For you, there is only the desert”.