Saturday 7 October 2023

The Current Cinema - Barrie Pattison tracks down CREATION OF THE GODS 1: KINGDOM OF STORMS (Wu Ershan, China, 2023) and JAWAN (Atlee Kumar, India, 2023)

Not so long ago we had unprecedented access to the films of China and India - and not a few more - in dedicated cinemas and video stores. Where did all that go? Well not really all that far. The multiplexes now run their product in late sessions, sometimes to empty houses and occasionally in ones sold out.

Wu Ershan’s grim new Block Buster Creation of the Gods I: Kingdom of Storms is getting a down town first run. This one offers monster budget myth as special effects piece and is being touted as the second biggest earner in the history of the Chinese film. Actually it logs in about number twenty eight but its owners are talking it up big with an eye to the overseas market - European musical scoring and script participation by James Schamus, long time collaborator with Ang Lee, including Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon.

The film opens with the usual captions on graphics explaining the descent of the Shang Dynasty from the Gods, to rule a China divided into four territories, the governor of each having to send a non heir son to the Shang court to participate in the hostage Legion of the Disinherited. It is this that the Shang ruler sends against a rebel province (where have I heard that description before?) under the command of his own son Fei Xiang who is scornful when the commanders are repulsed by a fire barrier, which their horses will not cross and sends them back with the animals blindfolded.

The now defeated governor is pursued by two of the Legion Commander sons who overtake him and his alluring daughter Narana, who they feel it would be wasteful to slaughter with her father. They bring her back to Fei Xiang for his victory celebration. Bad move guys! Her pupils narrow to those of a cat. Yes she’s a Fairy Fox in human form, who sets about bewitching the macho leader. His solution to the disturbances is to have a massive funeral pyre which - promises, promises - he will ascend to assuage the wrath of the Gods.

It’s not long before people are assassinating their children or parents as part of the royal power struggle and the concerned gods dispatch ancient sage comedian Huang Bo, in loads of make up, with the enchanted message stick, to impose control. The convoluted plot is spaced by mass action footage and, rather better, a bit of erotic by-play like the scene of the power couple bathing together naked in the milky pool with Narana’s floor length hair trailing in a circle round them. 

It looks like things get sorted but a couple of epilogues tell us that the fox demon will have it all going again for part two.

We recognise a mash up of Shakespeare, Eisenstein, John Woo and Kurosawa (the fake head in the bag is instantly Ran). Westerners would be battling to follow events or to find a focal point for their sympathies in three hours of all this violence within families. Origins in the Chinese classic “Investiture of the Gods” from sixteen hundred AD would be known to its home audience, if not from the original, then from adaptations like the Xu An’s 2016 Feng Shen Bang / League of Gods 3D, which similarly buried Bingbing Fan and Jet Li in CG effects work.

It all left me yearning for the great days of Chu Yuan and the Shaw Brothers whose fantastic costume melodramas packaged this kind of material with welcome self deprecating comedy - at considerably shorter length.

The great days of (mainly) Hong Kong movies were succeeded by the great leap forward in Twenty first Century Hindi Cinema which followed the arrival of MTV in India. Front runners were the Jash Rash productions with their imposing stars Sha Rukh Kahn and
 Amitabh Bachchan, who now make joke promotion videos about giving roles offered them to one another.

Despite the difusion of interest through Bengali, Tamil and Sanskrit regional cinemas (not however the English language product
ions), Yash Rash is still a thing and Atlee Kumar’s new Jawan is a big hit for them. It offers the old Yash Raj over production even before SRK shows up again. 

Our superhero makes a spectral looking entry as he arrives to take down the hoard of red star soldiers conducting a village massacre. It’s not long before that looks like him again running the hijack and terrorising of the commuter train with ransom demands by ‘phone to the Minister, bringing his own fake hijab casualties, like the bank bandits in Un Flic, before blending in with the crowd, like the team in the 1981 John Huston Victory - all backed by SRK's personal Charley’s Angels. While we are processing that, our hero, rendered youthful, shows as the governor of the model women’s prison sheltering all the green uniform inmates (OK digitally populated aerial shot intro) which provides a haven for arrestees who never re-offend. Confused - that’s the idea.

Throw in successive production numbers, like the one where our high stepping hero does his routine in the red shirt, the “Fly Away Little Birds” dance and becoming progressively more virtuoso till we get to the finale where a couple of him dance together while the motion capture camera. weaves around them.

As a follow up to the red star soldiers, we get Bhopal style industrialists backed with goon squad heavies and money from the Mafia (who are making a comeback as movie heavies - Equalizer 3) Our heroes out smart them by holding the countries' voting machines ransom, when it looks like the election will be bought, complete with the spectacular highway stunt action piece where the veteran biker retainers fan out to make a moving wall and truck loads of bribe money blow in the wind. It takes a super cop to battle our super heroes, so Sanjav Dutt (Munna Bhai himself) makes a late appearance - ripple of audience recognition.

Despite virtuoso touches this one is too nasty, too loud and too simple minded to recommend to the outside audience that once lapped up their industry’s Lagaan, Mohabateen and Robot - when they had the chance.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.