Decades before women took center stage in the one-two punch of Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) and Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill (2003), King Hu (1932-1997; the subject of a retrospective at the HFA) put swords in the hands of a soaring heroine in Come Drink with Me (1966; March 17 @ 4:30 pm). After leaving his native Beijing, Hu had previously acted in more than 30 films and worked as a set designer in Hong Kong. Come Drink with Me was his second movie as a director — his first wuxia ("martial arts") picture — and it dazzles.
Headlined by Cheng Pei-pei, the now-legendary martial artist who also appears in Crouching Tiger, it exults in exceptional stunt-work (including some of the roof-running action Lee paid homage to) and dramatizes the theme of duplicity, since Cheng's Golden Swallow character is more than what she appears in her mission to rescue a governor's kidnapped son from bandits. Hu broke from the genre's established tropes of fantasy, magic, and melodrama and moved it into a more grounded — though often literally airborne — realm.
Hu's masterful editing and wide-screen compositions only got better in such films as Dragon Inn (1967; March 15 + March 18 @ 7 pm) — which draws swordplay inspiration from the traditions of Beijing Opera, his first love — and his 1971 epic, A Touch of Zen (March 16 + 23 @ 7 pm), Technical Grand Prize winner at 1975's Cannes Film Festival. Both are being presented in gorgeous new prints in this essential, eight-feature retrospective at the Harvard Film Archive.
KING HU AND THE ART OF WUXIA :: Harvard Film Archive :: March 15-24
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