Recent releases from Eureka/Masters of Cinema showcase a range of Chinese martial arts movies, from Sammo Hung’s traditional The Iron-Fisted Monk (1977) to Tsui Hark’s genre redefining Once Upon a Time in China trilogy (1991-92) to Ricky Lau’s horror-comedy Mr. Vampire (1985) and Ronny Yu’s visually ravishing fantasy The Bride With White Hair (1993).
Two recent two-disk sets released by Eureka in England provide two very different forms of popular entertainment. Two Films by John Woo contains a pair of top-notch martial arts movies from the first stage of Woo’s career, before he hit it big with the gangster films of the mid-’80s, while the three movies in their Bela Lugosi/Edgar Allen Poe set present some of the most deliriously perverse horrors of the pre-Code era. While the crown jewel is Edgar Ulmer’s expressionist masterpiece The Black Cat, the set’s revelation is the Easter egg inclusion of a “virtual director’s cut” of Robert Florey’s Murders in the Rue Morgue, which follows Tim Lucas’ suggestions, based on internal evidence, or what the film might have been before studio tampering made it a disjointed mess.
New restorations of movies from early and late in the career of King Hu reconfirm his influential position in Chinese cinema as a master of martial arts and swordplay films: action and poetry blend seamlessly in Come Drink With Me (1966), The Fate of Lee Khan (1973) and Raining in the Mountain (1979).
Although there are obviously differences from culture to culture, many Asian movies share a tendency to to ignore the kind of “realism” Western, and particularly American, movies so often feel is necessary – which is one reason so many U.S. remakes of Asian genre movies take on a pedestrian quality nowhere evident in the originals. Three recent Asian movies – from Korea, Japan and China – use different approaches to explore societies in which economic and social inequality engender violence and to some degree madness. One uses blackly comic satire, one pushes genre tropes to absurd extremes, and one pushes neorealism into the realm of nightmare.