Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Boxer Rebellion, Chang Cheh, 1976

The Boxer Rebellion, reframed as Chang Cheh body cinema.

Not the young, angry nationalists are the heroes, but a bunch of misfits - never in uniform - on the sidelines, at first at best hesitantly taking part in the fight. Only when everything is lost they start to come alive, in the film's much stronger second half,

Chang Cheh has hardly any interest in historical texture (although one might argue that, when it comes to the depiciton of colonial power, this almost turns his film into meta-critique), and no interest whatsoever in historical forces that cannot be boiled down to body images and hand to hand combat. All those self-important and clueless discussions of tactics, all those competently made but never fully realized battle scenes... The first part ends with a ritualistic celebration, in which Chang Cheh's cinema reaches its own point zero: One fighter after another steps into the open, presenting his body, his fighting techniques, in a way his whole self. Not to dedicate himself to the nation, but to become an object of cinema. In its second half the film strips away history, in order to lay bare an intimately rendered melodrama of masculine masochism. 

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