Thursday 9 July 2015

Monk Comes Down the Mountain - Chen Kaige's new movie slips through town.

Monk Comes Down the Mountain - Chinese poster
I dont know whether anybody in the Fairfax of Murdoch press or indeed anywhere else has mentioned that Chen Kaige's new movie opened here on 3 July simultaneously with its opening throughout China. The film topped the Chinese box office chart last week but didn't make the top twenty here, which means it took less than the film at number 20, Walking the Camino, which grossed $67,000. So, not many have tracked it down in these parts. This would seem to be confirmed by the fact that for its second and no doubt last week at Event Cinemas on George St the film is playing once a day only at 10.00 am. Actually that's a good time to see a movie if your life or your weekends permit such diurnal activity.

Chen emerged in the mid-80s, one of the first band of graduates from the national film school after it reopened for business following Mao's Cultural Revolution. For a while that group of film-makers did in fact bring forth their own cultural revolution and way back in the late eighties Andrew Pike at Ronin Films brought in quite a bundle of them for a most exciting season that went round Australia, all the way to Bruce Simpson's Classic Cinema in Stanley Street East Brisbane. Bruce even arranged for the Queensland Govenment of all people to bring out Tian Zhuanzhuang to introduce his legendary and banned for awhile Horse Thief (1986). The 35mm copies of some of the most important Chinese films ever made are now lodged with the NFSA in Canberra. Chen had three films among the bundle - Yellow Earth (1984), The Big Parade (1986)  and King of the Children (1987). They were all in their ways small masterpieces and bespoke a director unafraid of taking on the shibboleths of Chinese society in its early post-Mao period. Much of Chen's early life and career were chronicled when the script of King of the Children was published in English accompanied by a long and illuminating essay by critic Tony Rayns.

I dont want to be too dogmatic but I think Chen's career peaked early, when he won the Cannes Palme D'Or and got an Oscar nomination for his Farewell My Concubine (1993). He slowly slipped from high regard, a career arc that ended near rock bottom with an attempted so called erotic thriller made in English, Killing Me Softly (2002). Since then its been a struggle and certainly after retreating back to China there's been no attempt by him to pick up the early strands and take any sort of oppositional position.

But curiosity compels you to see anything he produces so, in its dying days, a trip to Monk Comes Down the Mountain,described as "a Chinese comedy-fantasy-adventure" has to be organised asap.

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