Ashes of Time [Original]
But first time with the original cut, which feels like another beast entirely; where the Redux felt as if from another world out of time, this feels rooted in a specific cultural and geographic context. What stay the same are the faces, the ruminations on memory and figures.
The Grandmaster (rewatch)
The key to The Grandmaster lies in the photos, in those moments where time comes to a total standstill. If, as Ip says, once a move – whether it be on a chessboard, in the flurry of fists, in the grand scheme of history – has been made, it cannot be taken back, then these act as the concrete points of delineation. Color fades to black-and-white, and though the participants may then leave, their trace cannot be erased. So it is with their destinies. Gong Er has no choice but to fight Ma San, her father must pass on the torch, Ip can never return to Foshan: they are defined as much by their actions, their lot in life, as by their skill in combat. All eventually reach this state of acceptance, where they become resigned to their fates; that Ip is the last one that remains vertical is no accident.
The 36th Chamber of Shaolin
Perhaps most startling, among so many of the elemental parts that combine to form The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, is Lau Kar-leung’s sense of editing, especially during the training sequences. Once Liu finishes the strength courses and moves into learning the forms of kung fu, Lau moves into almost an entirely different vein of conveying his narrative. Neither strictly montage (in the sequence definition) nor the entirely step-by-step mode in which the film had proceeded prior, the chambers flow into each other: hands into legs, legs into sword, sword into staff. These delineations are clear to the viewer, but Lau cuts so fluidly on movement that the viewer is constantly brought anew into another discipline. So it is with the rest of the film, so dedicated to laying out every step with clarity, and yet accomplishing it in a way that feels essential to not just Liu’s training, but the possibilities of the human form at large.