Wednesday, 5 September 2007

Shanghai Triad (1995)

Zhang Yimou's directing career could be LOOSELY divided into 2 phases. The 1st phase when he MOSTLY made artsy dramas, and the 2nd part when he made MOSTLY commercially established genre movies.

This commercial genre movie was made in his 1st phase (hence the LOOSELY description).

Because of his high profile as film maker, many well established genres that are quite familiar within the Chinese community, but mostly unknown outside it would get a boost in interests or profiles in those genres. This Shanghai triad subgenre is 1 example, the other is Republican period drama that's embodied in Raise the Red Lantern. And also historical costume drama genre like Curse of the Golden Flowers, and last but not least, the wuxia genre represented by Hero. Ok, Ang Lee had beat him to that last 1 with Crouching Tiger.

This Shanghai triad subgenre of the crime drama action genre was popularised by The Bund (1983), a TV series produced by HK TVB station, starring Chow Yun-Fat, Ray Liu, et al. Everyone in HK would know the theme song, regardless if they watched the TV series.

It seems - no, it's a fact - that Mr. Zhang is going through every established Chinese commercial (sub)genres in his 2nd phase of his career. What remains to be done, in fact, begging for it, is the kungfu genre. Would he go for it? Probably. Time will tell.

Zhang's career isn't too different from Ang Lee, who also started with dramas, and then started his 2nd phase of genre commercial hopping career (sci-fi, war, wuxia, etc).

I think this progression isn't coincidental. Commercial genre requires big budgets, and big budgets requires big names. It's only after you establish your names would studios willing to bankroll you with large amount of mullah. Human dramas only require actors, and they don't even have to be big names. Human interest dramas are like garage operations of the nascent Apple and Microsoft. Making drama movies are simply stepping stones to bigger (usually, but not necessary better) things. This is also why a country (sorry, CCP, I mean, a Chinese province) like Taiwan with a tiny film industry is making ALMOST only dramas. They can't afford to make commercial genre movies.

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