Cinematheque crowns King Hu as part of spotlight on Asian films
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With the coronation of King Charles at the top of the news cycle, the Dave Barber Cinematheque will be celebrating a different royal figure this weekend as part of its Asian Heritage Month series: King Hu.
The film director is considered a master of the wuxia genre — a subgenre of Chinese cinema with a focus on balletic martial arts sequences — known for a series of epics released in the 1960s and 1970s, including 1967’s Dragon Inn. According to the movie’s Criterion Collection write-up, Dragon Inn was a blockbuster that “breathed new life into a classic formula and established Hu as one of Chinese cinema’s most audacious innovators.”
Five of Hu’s films, including a 4K restoration of Dragon Inn, are screening this month at the Cinematheque, says Winnipeg Film Group executive director Leslie Supnet, who sees Asian cinema as a vast universe that audiences should consider exploring for reasons both artistic and social.
“As a Filipino from the diaspora, Asian Heritage Month is an important time to recognize Asian contributions to culture and society as well as recognize the challenges we face such as the legacies of colonialism and racism,” says Supnet, writing by email from a film festival in Germany.
Growing up, Supnet loved Phillipine cinema, including action films starring Fernando Poe Jr., dramas with Sharon Cuneta and Vilma Santos, and comedies by Dolphy.
“It’s hard for me to pick one (favourite) in particular,” she says. “I can say that I loved the intense melodrama that all these films had. These films also connected me with my heritage culturally through art and language.”
Considering the expansive nature of Asia’s cinematic output, the task of choosing which films to show was not simple. The selections will never represent the entire continent, says Supnet.
But the choices Cinematheque made give audiences the option to catch films they otherwise couldn’t watch on a big screen anywhere else in Manitoba. In addition to the five King Hu features, showing throughout May, Cinematheque is screening a pair of mid-’90s exploitation films from directors Gregg Araki (The Doom Generation) and Jon Moritsugu (Mod F*ck Explosion) each Tuesday this month.
On May 12, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, a sweeping epic from Academy Award-winning writer and director Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away, Kiki’s Delivery Service) will be screened. On May 19, viewers can strap in for 10 experimental shorts from avant-garde Japanese directors Toshio Matsumoto and Takashi Ito. Ghostly Revenants, a short work series set for May 20, explores the “entanglements between people, land, space, technologies and memory that texture understandings of our current moment.”
Between all of that, the Michelle Williams-starring Showing Up, the latest film by Kelly Reichert (First Cow), plays May 13-14. Albert Brooks’ portrait of Reagan-era malaise, Lost in America, plays on May 11 as part of Kids in the Hall alum Kevin McDonald’s “McDonald at the Movies” series.
A pair of very different French directors are on tap as well: Agnes Varda’s The Beaches of Agnes plays on May 18, while Jacques Tati’s Playtime takes over the Cinematheque on May 21.
The journey into Asian cinema isn’t a one-month affair, though. Supnet says the Cinematheque has plans to focus on more South Asian cinema later in the year.
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Ben Waldman covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.