• THE ASSASSIN: Personal reflections from James Udden

    Monday | June 1, 2015   open printable version open printable version

    Chen 500

    The Assassin (Nie Yin Niang; Hou Hsiao-hsien, 2015).

    DB here:

    Last week there was a big Hou Hsiao-hsien event in Belgium. A seminar hosted by Tom Paulus of the University of Antwerp and the Photogénie blog featured many speakers along with Hou and his collaborator Chu Tien-Wen. (I was scheduled to go but was felled by bronchitis and couldn’t travel.) That event was followed on Wednesday by a master class with Hou, Chu, and Olivier Assayas at the Royal Film Archive of Belgium. Under the auspices of curator Nicola Mazzanti, the Cinematek, as it’s known, has embarked on restoring Hou’s oeuvre and is currently playing a retrospective. (The accompanying catalogue is here.) Wednesday evening was capped by a gala screening of The Assassin.

    One of the seminar participants, Jim Udden, is no stranger to this site. His was the first book in English on Hou’s career (No Man an Island) and he contributed an on-set visit to this site when Hou was shooting The Assassin. Over the years he has built up a strong personal relation with Hou and Chu. Here are his initial impressions after the Brussels screening.

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    Films by Hou Hsiao-hsien are usually to be experienced first, and understood only much later, and often after some effort. This premise applies with special force to The Assassin.

    It is about the most direct experience of a film I’ve ever had. I didn’t understand very much of the plot, or even the language. The subtitles were only in French, and the Chinese was – while recognizably Mandarin – so classical in nature, so foreign in syntax and rhythm compared to vernacular Chinese today that even native Mandarin speakers are going to need a subtitled translation. Even then, those who could read the French subtitles admitted that much of this eluded their comprehension.

    Yet I was curiously grateful for the linguistic barriers. I found myself resisting looking down at the subtitles for fear of missing the sheer surfeit of details. I was confronted by a string of arresting image/sound couplets that would make even a dedicated sensibilist blush. For those who seek the comforts of linear narratives, The Assassin, comprised of images and shots so ravishing, so exquisitely wrought, so overwhelming in their layered details, will smack of empty formalism. But if you’re open to the deftly poetic, or rather to defiant poetic obliqueness, and if you’re willing to follow cinema beyond the confines of narrative, you will encounter a film unlike any others–including other Hou films.

    The Assassin is not Flowers of Shanghai, the other Hou film replete with almost unfathomable beauty. The new work marks a return to the glorious landscapes of Hou’s earlier films, taken mostly on locations in mainland China. These landscapes are melded seamlessly with interior shots, erasing the divide between indoors and outdoors. The two large sets built in Taiwan that I saw back in December of 2012, when the team commenced shooting in Taipei, were not closed off from the outdoors. They were open-aired sets with only grates and panels acting as walls. This arrangement allowed maximum flexibility, so that the same two buildings could stand in for dozens of interior locations in the finished film.

    Only watching the film last Thursday did I detect a deeper purpose beyond the already demanding task of capturing historical details of the Tang Dynasty. That purpose becomes evident in a scene midway through the film where Nie Yingnaing is attempting to assassinate her cousin. Long takes are shot through diaphanous veils with a shallow depth of field that makes for an unpredictable and undulating texture. Evidently Hou and company filmed this scene only when a gentle wind could waft through those semi-opaque veils. When the veils were in front of the camera, they revealed flickering candles stirred by unseen breezes. Yet gentle winds at times opened up the veils and the image would appear with a new clarity. The interior shots are in effect landscapes themselves, albeit human ones. They doubtless owe a great deal to the remarkable assistance of Huang Wen-ying, Hou’s production designer.

    There were two opposing traditions in classical Chinese painting. The court painters favored urban settings and rendered human action in vibrant colors. Alternatively, the scholarly painters employed subdued colors or monochrome schemes to render lonely hermits engaging in Taoist retreats to Nature. Hou, working with Huang Wen-ying and Mark Lee, defies both of these.

    True, the exterior shots reveal craggy rocks, and the mists and the human forms are dwarfed by nature. And yes, Hou said he had an interest in landscapes only after he visited China and realized these landscapes were actually “realistic.” Still, just as the interiors look nothing like court paintings of the past, these exteriors are utterly unique. No Chinese landscape painting–no actual Chinese landscape for that matter–has a palette quite like these. In Hou’s earlier films the landscapes, while beautiful, were all undeniably real. But these are almost hyperreal. Do places in China actually look like this? If the tourism board on the mainland is hoping this film will boost visits to these stunning locales, this could very well backfire. Seeing these places in person could not match how they appear in these frames.

    Shu 2 400

    It is hard to know whether The Assassin is indeed a swordplay film (wuxia pian), that most venerated of Chinese genres. Aside from the brief instances of the Nie Yingniang, the female protagonist, jumping down from challenging but not impossible heights, and aside from one incident involving a sorcerer, this is indeed a film “grounded in the earth” as Hou himself described in the Master Class. If this is a historical film, this is most decidedly not the nationalist bluster of recent big-budgeted historical films coming out of Mainland China. This film does not flaunt flying errant knights, or celebrate the bombast of past Chinese historical glories. This is the grandeur of sheer, subtle, seemingly boundless beauty. It has to be seen, it has to be watched, it has to be experienced. It does not necessarily have to be understood.

    In the end, The Assassin is a film by Hou Hsiao-hsien, and yet it is unlike any film he has made before. It has the signature long takes, yet he seemingly has reinvented them. The fight scenes do have a great deal of editing, yet they remain oblique through both staging and montage, and strangely beautiful.

    This is the same Hou I encountered back in 1989, my first year in Taiwan. Long before I decided to become a film scholar, I was an unsuspecting viewer about to see a film called City of Sadness by a director I had never heard of before. A film I did not understand, but which I experienced at a very deep level. It is a film that changed my life. A film that was a beginning of a journey, even if I did not know it at the time. That journey continues with these words, written by a scholar who cannot really analyze what he has just experienced. He can only, slowly, emerge from an intense cinematic rapture.


    We hope to post more about the Antwerp event and Hou’s career over the next week or so. In the meantime, here is Hou at a press conference discussing his plans for his next film.

    Shu 500

    The Assassin (2015).

  • 最經常被人用來形容羅拔阿特曼(1925-2006)的一個字是「maverick」,一個意志堅定、不畏強權、卓爾不群的獨行者。這個字精確地勾勒出阿特曼過去半世紀裡在美國電影裡的地位,和他與荷里活的關係。

    阿特曼的電影生涯最初是從拍攝工業短片開始的。1957年,他帶著一部在家鄉肯薩斯州拍攝的低成本青春片《The Delinquents》往敲荷里活的大門,最終說服了聯美公司替他發行影片,但卻沒引起多大注意。華納公司找他拍了記錄片《占士?甸故事》(The James Dean Story,按:甸是在前一年失事死的),雖有點口碑,但荷里活對他仍不置可否。其後他轉投電視,拍攝了多齣長壽劇集(超過300小時),直到1968年始有機會再執導第二部劇情長片《登陸月球先鋒》(Countdown),但拍到一半便被華納公司中途炒掉,理由是「這笨蛋叫演員們同時說話」(大老闆積?華納語)。

    阿特曼真正的成名作,是1970年的《風流軍醫俏護士》(M.A.S.H.),那時他已45歲了(在往後的三十多年歲月裡,他一直無間斷地以各種形式進行創作,是想用努力來補償失去的時間嗎?)。《風》片「爆冷」摘下了康城影展的最佳電影金棕櫚大獎,叫好又叫座(阿特曼憑本片嬴得了『紐約客』雜誌女影評人寶蓮?姬爾 Pauline Kael的激賞;往後她對他義無反顧的支持,造就了七十年代不少影評人與電影人唇齒相依的神話式關係)。阿特曼在《風》片裡的「立足點是:戰爭是絕對荒謬的,一切人為的荒唐都無法與(之)相比,因此,影片要極盡荒唐之能事,去達致一種哭笑不分的抗議…是部神氣十足的『嬉皮』」影片,一部近於無政府主義的大兜亂活劇。」(羅卡,原載《中國學生周報》第935期。)

    不單如此,影片還奠定了很多日後「阿特曼風格」的特色:反建制、反類型;偏愛描寫人間眾生相,借嬉笑怒罵去嘲諷時弊政局、還有人性;擅即興,讓演員盡情自由發揮,由其是對白,斷斷續續、重重疊疊的對白;映像上喜用長鏡頭,不是奧遜?威爾斯或馬田?史高西斯式的延綿推軌,卻彷似是散漫的瀏覽(搖鏡),偶爾探頭張望一二(變焦距「鬆入」),而後再繼續顧盼。

    《風流軍醫俏護士》的成功,很大程度上是一次陰差陽錯的結果:找阿特曼並非霍士公司的原意,而是在多名導演請辭後始拉上去的填補。阿特曼一意孤行的創作方法–特別是處裡演員們「插白」的模式–得以「過骨」(兩名男主角,伊利略?高特與當奴?修打蘭其實一度要求更換導演),也全賴霍士公司把全部注意力都投放在同時期兩部也屬戰爭題材的大製作身上(《鐵血將軍巴頓》Patton和《虎虎虎偷襲珍珠港》Tora, Tora, Tora),而無餘暇理會《風》片。不過影片大賣,阿特曼卻名成利不就,那是因為他對記者大肆批評霍士公司,導致後者把本來答應分給他的百分之五紅利也立刻取消掉。

    阿特曼對荷里活的不妥協,表現在《風》片後的每個作品身上。這些作品,一部比一部冷門和off-beat:《空中怪客》(Brewster McCloud,1970)是一個現代的希臘神話(寫人想飛的悲劇),也是一個楞小子的綺夢;《雌雄賭徒》(McCabe & Mrs. Miller,1971)是個西部片卻配上Leonard Cohen夢囈式的現代歌謠音樂,像詩也像呢喃;《幻像》(Images,1972)帶著觀眾走進一個女人的幻覺世界,最終再也分不清現實與想像;《漫長告別》(The Long Goodbye,1973)反轉了偵探電影的公式,神探馬勞最後不但徒勞無功,而且還被老友出賣,輸得一塌糊塗焦頭爛額;《像我們這般的賊》(Thieves Like Us,1974)把三十年代的犯罪世界披上青春的外衣,但影片裡的一對年輕劫匪,卻非若《雌雄大盜》(Bonnie and Clyde,1967)中的華倫?比提(Warren Beatty) 和菲?丹娜慧(Faye Dunaway) 般英偉俏麗,而是由其貌不揚的基夫?卡拉甸(Keith Carradine)和莎莉?杜華 (Sally Duvall)扮演–青春在銀幕上鮮有這樣「騎呢」;《爛賭仔與大老千》(California Split,1974)寫的是賭,但卻沒有一場教人眉飛色舞的賭局設計,有的只是意興闌姍的嗟歎;《普世歡騰樂滿城》(Nashville,1975)雖然有歌有舞,有愛情有暗殺,但三小時的篇幅、二十四個無分主、配的人物結構,卻不是人人都吃的消的事情;《西塞英雄譜》(Buffalo Bill and the Indians,1976)替印第安人翻案,把美國歷史等同娛樂表演史:都是外表風光,內裡邋遢;《三女性》(3 Women,1977)則是另一場更曖昧更晦澀的夢–意念根本就是來自阿特曼的一個夢!…

    不妥協、不折腰、不驕、也不餒。難得的部部佳構,部部擲地有聲!

    啊,那真是一段美好的時光、黃金的年代!

    那個叫七十年代的日子。(转载)

  • 五一在丽江 - [Travel]

    2011/05/06

    我提出五一想去丽江,立马遭到很多人反对:1、五一假期人太多;2、五一假期太短,品不出味儿;3、飞机票和房价太贵……
    算逑,谁的都不听了,爷就是要去。
    世事无常,万一2012提前到来去不成怎么办?
    一切的代价都不重要,我要的就是这股气:但凡心有所想,必定身体力行。
    你还别说,这个五一真给面子,丽江还真就没多少游客,真没想到丽江的气与我的这股气不谋而合——这里竟是一个化外江湖。

    徒弟推荐我住在樊樊的家,此举被印证为无比靠谱:这位湖南岳阳的豪气美女与老公一起离开城市的喧嚣,定居丽江,终日过着遛狗搓麻、看片睡觉的闲适生活,直接将我带入最典型的丽江土著生活。很多朋友都向我打听这位美女老板的情况,皆被她老公外形绝类高仓健这一残酷事实惊得哑口无言。

    中午抵达大研古城,把东西安顿在樊樊家的住处后,便信步游玩,一路拍照打尖,吃了纳西炒饭、纳西回锅肉、鸡豆凉粉、阿安酸奶、炒耳块……无不余味三日。破落古院、寻常巷陌,四方老街,流水石桥,先将丽江声色饱览,回到住处,已近黄昏,遂倒头大睡。

    醒来时听得户外喧哗,原来是门外来了熟客——老板樊樊的邻居兼闺蜜,正在院子里的灰空间客厅看片——只见她形貌昳丽,人高马大,留毛寸,穿大氅,好一副英侠打扮。寒暄几句,方知此君名唤任飞,乃丽江本土大姐大级别的英俊人物,好喜重口味的恐怖血腥电影。几番狂侃下来,我们已经建立了深厚的影迷友谊,这就叫人不亲艺亲,艺不亲刀把子亲,刀把子不亲骷髅血浆还亲呢!

    正待此时,高仓健老板牵着和他一样帅气的阿富汗犬回来了,樊樊也回来了,免不了又是一番来回介绍。此时天色骤变,突降雷阵雨,片子也转到了《国王的演讲》,贝多芬第七交响曲真是与电影节奏合二为一,日后必为传世精品。片子看罢,与老板娘合一个伙计去下馆子吃饭,那个滋味,啧啧,那个火候,非中午的纳西炒菜能及。

    晚上是重头戏,因为酒吧时间到了。任飞姐直接将我引至气场最牛逼的“江湖”酒吧,进屋后直接享用新龙门客栈的空间感受,带夹层的土坯界面,楼上楼下,各路豪杰,粗野的领唱,暧昧的伴奏,曲间插科打诨,台下觥筹交错,好一番江湖景象。“江湖”有朋友送了一瓶酒,饮罢,随任飞又去了“回归”——一间新开的酒吧,各种演员,奇装异服的表演以及黄色或者黑色的段子,呃,还有醉人的酒……

    闲言少叙,次日天明再转古城,中午后来品尝老板亲手包的虾肉馄饨,其汤味鲜美,虾肉缤纷,黄发垂髫并饱食自乐。下午打车直奔束河,欲知后事,且听下回分解。

     


    打车从古城出发,25元20分钟即可抵达束河老办事处,不必买门票。
    坦白讲,无论大研还是束河,目前都有些过度商业化。但丽江的魅力却岿然不动。原因有二:
    1、古城的肌理并未破坏,即老城市规划的脉络还在,不论修修补补,敲敲打打,插花挂旗,丽江那坚硬的文化内核还在。虽然有些新的砖墙色和大红大紫的旗子色彩露怯,我也能勉强接受,并骂一句:浮云。
    2、以水为主脉进行的规划和建筑设计,建筑外墙皆开大窗抑或大门,外墙临水,水又临街道,街道结汇处形成广场。这样就保证了一种开放式的空间形态,室内外(含灰空间)情景交融、互动,制造了更多人与人眼神交流的可能性。人皆言丽江多艳遇,根在于此。

    我先大致在城内转了转,买了些手信。便遵照任飞的指示先去石莲寺拜佛,路上看见几户破拜的村落,还有一家土著正在办白事,道路中间的火烧铁锅中飞出的烟尘笼罩了整个巷道,民众三三两两坐在路边吸烟聊天,我不禁心中暗道:吽吗咪吗咪吽。

    石莲寺格局不大,但前院可俯瞰整个束河,我拍了张全景,便收起相机,进后院专心礼佛。登台阶,仰身躯,二目把佛祖看仔细。遂脱鞋、作揖,许愿,礼毕。

    石莲寺下来是一片精品客栈区,任飞姐自家的“马锅头别院”便在附近,走过“七分舍”便到了。这个院子与众不同的地方是,没有挂任何匾额,乍看以为是自住的房屋,门口摆了两个石狮子。进院发现别有洞天,前庭后院,庭有池塘,院连瀑布——瀑布为纯天然,因为这个院子就连住后山,后山有雨水降落自然形成小瀑布。客房共计3间,一楼1间,二楼2间,以客厅上方的二楼主卧套最为豪华。装修风格走古朴冷色调,不施粉黛,摆设中有佛像并香炉,音乐放的是佛经六字真言,藏传佛教的唱法,别具一格。和马锅头对座饮茶,谈佛,不久有客人来访,一位高僧想租下此院闭关。我告辞回避,到附近的田野旁边吃新鲜水果去了。

    在路上买了些云南小粒咖啡和披肩之类的手信,便径直去寻朋友推荐的“妈妈咪呀”,问路怎么走,回答很简单——沿着水一直走。抵达的时候,已经接近下午6点,这里依然是光线充足,俨然下午三四点的派头,我拍了些照片,点了咖啡和提拉米苏,便坐在水边发起呆来。这是我近年来最轻松惬意舒服巴适的一次发呆,不知有汉何论魏晋。

    直到服务员喊我结账为止。临走前和意大利帅气的老板合影,并在店里的留言簿上留言,下次再来可以有典故了。回到大研,已经是晚上近9点,老板一家去吃德庄了,我在花间堂读完松本清张的《兽之道》,准备回家休息。路过两家小CD店,在夜间闪着温暖的灯光,我心生情愫,遂买下侃侃的《滴答》与《六字真言》,丽江的空气,丽江的人和故事,都浓缩在这声音里了。
    这就是丽江,一个适合整理好心情再出发的地方,一个适合“一干正事就犯困”的人们混迹的江湖。

    第二天一大早,我便收拾行囊前往机场了,走到丽江一中的停车场,忍不住回头用手机拍了一张照片。
    照片里只有两排民舍,缕缕炊烟和几个吃早餐的客人,静谧的就像一个没人打扰过的古城。

  • 金色梦乡 - [师夷长技]

    2010/12/07

    日本有两部著名小说是以披头士的单曲命名的:挪威森林和金色梦乡。

    我很厌恶前者,也很厌恶村上春树,这本书自恋、矫情,致使我连村上其他的书也没兴趣看了。

    我很喜欢伊版幸太郎这哥们,有想象力,黑色幽默,玩世不恭。

    而且他和我有一个共同点,爱看电影。

    《金色梦乡》有一个很棒的结尾,在今年看过的小说里,堪与《龙纹身的女孩》媲美。

  • 春风得意马蹄疾,一日看尽长安花。
    这两句诗满足了少年时代的我对西安的全部想象。
    诗酒纵横,才子美姬,那是中国历史上最浪漫的时光。
    西安,兵马俑,大雁塔,钟鼓楼,那该是何等气派?

     

    07年底的一个雪夜,我终于来到了当代西安城。
    看见皑皑白雪压在青灰色的明城墙上,那种视觉效果让我目瞪口呆。
    吃完回民一条街,我彻底折服了。

     

    08年差不多一年都呆在西安,与创建伊始的西安公司同事为了新地城项目并肩战斗。
    碑林区政府,工地,红星美凯龙,居然之家,大明宫建材市场、天域凯莱酒店、万达广场……
    这是08年我的主要活动轨迹。
    在将无数本地资源折腾到精神分裂之后,西安公司第一个示范区立起来了。
    那是西安万科人几乎用手工打造的示范区,个中艰辛,尽在不言中。

     

    10年,我又来到了位于长安国际的西安万科。
    这次是金域曲江。
    在目睹了曲江项目部每个爷们的实力之后,我梦见了兵马俑。
    那是一支横扫天下的铁军。
    拿地后五个月开盘,两万平米示范区。
    西安同事以平山灭寨的决心和勇气创造了西安地产史和万科集团史上的奇迹。

     

    西安姑娘