Saturday, 13 September 2014

TIFF 2014 - A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting On Existence

How do you review or even talk about a movie that you've eagerly (very eagerly) been waiting to see for 7 years? A movie that brings deadpan to new levels of dead? A movie that packs in little bits and pieces into carefully constructed frames with long shots and no camera movement? A movie that closes a trilogy on the "human condition"? I'm not sure, but I do know that I loved it. Every single static shot, every single pasty white face, every single line delivery, every single bit of marvelous set design and every single surprising image that helps build up Roy Andersson's thesis about our species.

My affair with Andersson's set of masterpieces (I truly do not bandy that word around easily) began with his 2000 film Songs From The Second Floor which seemed to gives us a singular view of purgatory. Operatic singers on subways, constant traffic jams and people laying in wait in fields make up a world that seems disconnected from the rest of humanity. The colour has been drained away from the walls, the clothing, people's faces and life itself. No one cracks a smile, but there's plenty of humour throughout (a lot of it dark) and moments of simply glorious cinema. Andersson followed this up seven years later with 2007's You The Living - a film that almost made me burst out in tears at the simple beauty that was right in front of its characters but being missed on a daily basis. It's a movie that excoriates those who choose to complain and whine about things they don't have, pine for things they can't have and ignore what they already have. Again, the static scenes force your eyes to roam the landscape of these constructed sets and rooms and pick up on Andersson's themes while also laughing at the intrinsic head-slapping obliviousness of humanity. It's punctuated by a set of scenes near the end that moves from a funeral to a honeymoon train trip to a woman in a bathtub singing that remains one of my favourite stretches in all of film.

So what about A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting On Existence? The third and last installment follows the same style as the previous two (thou there's less pastel blues and greens this time out) while it works its way through what are essentially sketches that are loosely tied via characters - in particular a pair of entertainment gadget salesmen (the "classic" laugh bags are a popular product) who simply want to bring fun to other people even though they seem to take no joy in it whatsoever. There seems to be little fun for any of the inhabitants here though. They all seem to be chasing something with little regard for other people or wallowing in their own self-pity - instead of occasionally reflecting on their lives and the possibilities (like we presume the pigeon is doing as it pops up on the soundtrack occasionally).

Two key brilliant (and completely different) scenes cement this film for me...Firstly, a bar scene set in 1943 as the owner/bartender Limping Lotte croons a sales pitch to her customers about dollar shots to the tune of "Glory, Glory, Hallelujah". The military men at the bar sing back (using the same tune) that they would like a drink but have no money so what are they to do? This sets up a back and forth as Linda smilingly sings back that all she requires is a kiss if they are willing...And they are willing...It's such a wonderful depiction of how humans can interact, can be kind to each other and can create these moments of wonder that I grinned like an idiot throughout it. Contrast this with the section "Home Sapiens" from late in the film - it starts with a monkey receiving electro shocks from an uncaring technician and follows it with a human rotisserie for slaves that, as it roasts them inside, creates music for the pleasure of the aristocracy. It's a moment that sucked the air straight out of the audience's lungs. An almost paralyzing silence came over the crowd as we were shocked and disgusted at this ridiculous concept - while also knowing that things equally as pointless and horrific have occurred in reality.

Which is the beauty of Andersson's films - through absurdity, humour and the occasional stunning image, he brings you both the warmth and the horror of humanity. And leaves it up to you what to take away. There's nothing else like it.

TIFF 2014 - Whiplash

Whiplash ends with possibly the most bracing cinematic moment of the year. A concert, some drumming and one helluva great resolution to the battle between the film's two main characters. The music, the editing, the performances of Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons and the entire rhythm of the scene results in a glorious and almost breathless conclusion - one that made me, at scene's end, let out a pent up "Yeah!". I never do that, but simply couldn't help myself.

But I'm getting ahead of things...Damien Chazelle's Sundance jury winning film (which won the audience award too) delves into the freshman year of Andrew Neyman (Teller) as he enters the renowned Schaefer Music school to study drumming - specifically jazz drumming. Based at least somewhat on Chazelle's own personal experiences with the drive to be the best and the constant pushing by teachers and rival students, the film focuses on Andrew's unhealthy relationship with his teacher Terence Fletcher (Simmons). Andrew is desperate to please him as it would be a sign that he's the best. He dreams of one day joining the legions of jazz greats and leaving behind a legacy. Fletcher, for his part, recognizes immediately that Andrew is a talent and brings him into the main performance band, but is relentless in his verbal abuse, intimidation and belittlement. Fletcher believes this to be the proper tactic to find the gems, but the relationship starts taking its toll...

Simmons is a powerhouse here. It's a surprise to no one of course, but he is on fire in just about every scene with his eyes burning, insults spewing and his physical presence filling up the frame. Those insults thrown mostly at students have their own rhythm and almost feel like improvised drum fills with pauses and staccato punches. Teller is terrific too (he obviously has drumming talent to go with the acting chops) as he descends into obsession. The music throughout the film is tremendous and comes in fits and starts, sharp bursts and long workouts. The title tune is a standout and gets replayed several times as the band practice it and Fletcher has them redo parts over and over and over (he doesn't discriminate who he tortures). The drums drive the film forward with a distinct pulse through raucous periods, through tension filled moments and even through a few of the quieter sections. It feels like the perfect vehicle to represent the insistent drive for perfection that consumes these characters. They may never reach it, but it's possible the film itself did.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

TIFF 2014 - Nightcrawler

Dan Gilroy's Nightcrawler is essentially a perfectly crafted film. As it tells the story of naive scammer/thief Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal), the film never once seems to hit a sour note or lag its pace. Through our initial intro to Lou, some fleshing out of his character, his discovery of a new possible career path and the film's gradual shift to action and cynicism, there aren't any dead spots or moments where you might question the film's direction. It's not due to any attempt to dull the audience's senses through too many fast paced cuts or loud obnoxious songs, but simply because the damn thing is so incredibly engaging from start to finish.

Lou is a con man and thief who seems to get most of his ideas and conversation points from Internet education videos. After a few of his failed attempts at getting work (using his "selling skills"), he stumbles one night on a car accident scene and witnesses some freelance videographers taking footage of the wreckage and carnage. He learns that you can make money doing this by selling the videos to TV stations. He asks the videographer Joe (Bill Paxton) for a job and is rebuked. Being the "hard working individual" that he is, he decides to go it alone and buys himself a cheap camera (from the proceeds of a theft). Of course he makes a mess of it initially, but Lou has a unique skill - he learns from his failures and builds on them. After getting a sale with one of the stations, he starts to develop a relationship with the news producer Nina (Rene Russo) and becomes more aggressive at getting the kind of footage she wants. Knowing that "if it bleeds, it leads", he gets a police scanner, an assistant named Rick (a great and very entertaining turn by Riz Ahmed) and aims for success.

As he gets better at it and even beats Joe at his own game, the confidence begins to build and the film picks up steam. He turns Joe down flat when he's offered a partnership with him, spouts corporate platitudes to Rick (of particular note is his "performance review" to Rick which is both hysterical and depressing because of how accurate it mimics a corporate training seminar) and gets himself a bright red Mustang. When he manages to get to a crime scene at a private residence ahead of the police, he doesn't hesitate to enter the house and get fresh footage of the victims lying in their own pools of blood. He also happens to get the criminals on tape as they flee, but he holds on to that video for his own purposes and doesn't even share it with the police. One might say that his moral fibre is of the flexible variety. Things escalate at this point and the film has numerous scenes of delicious tension and one major set piece of action so perfectly created that the audience at my screening deservedly broke into spontaneous applause at its conclusion (it's so good that you don't realize you've been gripping your chair the whole ride). The film has little good to say about U.S. TV journalism, but does so in a manner that still manages to find an inciteful point of view. It's not a happy one, but what news story is these days?

TIFF 2014 - Scarlet Innocence

A common statement about Korean cinema is that its films seem to be able to change genre and tone on a dime and do it better than just about anyone else. So it shouldn't be much of a surprise when the tone of Scarlet Innocence changes dramatically somewhere around the end of the first third of it. And yet, after being lulled into what could have been a low rent melodrama with cliche situations, the turn in the film towards high rent juicy melodrama with brighter colours, sweatier lust and lots of vengeance is not only unexpected, but so very welcomed.

It's not that the opening third is dull or boring, but it seems very conventionally set up to be a straightforward drama as checkboxes start getting ticked off. The story begins with a disgraced teacher moving to a small town to begin again and a student who starts to develop a crush on him. It evolves as you might expect and does so with a slow pace and decently constructed characters. It feels like it's building into a standard soap opera - nothing overly compelling, but still enough to keep the interest level from waning. But just as you think you've properly slotted the one note tone of the film, it shifts several gears at once - pretty much stripping the transmission completely. The single scene that accomplishes this precedes a jump forward of several years and suddenly the palette is more vibrant, the score more of a presence and all the emotions seem pitched higher, louder and broader. And it becomes a great deal of fun.

Suddenly there is betrayal, scandal, gangsters, gambling houses and all manner of bad behaviour. It also stops feeding you the story and expects you to keep up, fill in the details yourself or just sit back and give the director some confidence that he'll get you caught up soon enough. If the plot elements start getting a bit sillier, it's forgiven given the new context of the film as top notch melodrama (with perhaps a bit more brutality than Sirk may have used). And all this from an ancient Korean story of a daughter's devotion to her blind father...Seriously, you just never know where Korean cinema is going to wind up.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Before They Got Big...

After being cooped up in a cottage for an entire week (not that I'm complaining), I went on a bit of a movie bender and dove into some titles from the 60s and 70s. Almost as much fun as watching these films (and I was treated to some great stuff) was spotting some future stars in very early film appearances. Here's a quick run down of a few I stumbled across...

Donald Sutherland (in "The Bedford Incident")

This fine and surprising maritime thriller had some awesome talent in it: Richard Widmark, Sidney Poitier, Martin Balsam, Wally Cox, etc. It also happened to contain one of the very first film roles for this young Canadian lad. Nothing to really indicate his future career, but he manages to get in a few smirks.

Peter Bonerz (in "What Ever Happened To Aunt Alice")

OK, so he may not be a big name nor even a very recognizable one, but Bonerz's role as dentist Dr. Jerry Robinson on The Bob Newhart Show (a major component of my childhood) is an old favourite. So it was nice to see him (even if just a scant few years before that classic sitcom started) in this entertaining and blackly comic suspense film. He looks so baby-faced.

Christopher Guest (in "Deathwish")

Speaking of baby-faced kids, you can definitely buy Christopher Guest as a rookie cop in this scene near the end of "Deathwish". Not a lot of room for improv, but I'd like to think the outtakes between him and Vincent Gardenia were gold.

Olympia Dukakis (in "Deathwish")

Though she never gets a full on view of her face in her single scene, her voice has a nice dose of attitude as she provides an update to a police detective bullpen. You could tell. You could just tell she had something...

Jeff Goldblum (in "Deathwish")

It may have been my least favourite film of this bunch, but it sure had a great ratio of future successes in its secondary cast. After witnessing his performance as "Freak #1", though, you likely would have been hard-pressed to guess that Goldblum would be one of the ones to break out.

Joan Rivers (in "The Swimmer")

Though already known as a comedienne from TV, this was her first speaking role in a film. Both she and the scene are a bit awkward, but the entire film is profoundly odd, so it worked out well.

Bruce Dern (in "Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte")

Along with Hitchcock's "Marnie" in the same year, this was Dern's first big screen appearance (after several years on TV). And look at him now...

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Blindspot - "Ride The High Country" and "Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid"

The Wild Bunch is not my favourite Sam Peckinpah film. There, I've said it. Even worse, though, is that I don't particularly like it. The stylized violence in the opening and closing battles is everything I expected and more, but it's all the stuff in between (if memory serves that is) that was thoroughly disappointing. The "characters" and their attempts at manly bonding felt forced and hurt the whole experience of the movie for me. Granted, it's been quite a while since I've seen it and I owe it a rewatch, but I found that two other views of the Old West by Peckinpah - Ride The High Country and Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid - provided much stronger and more interesting characters while still splashing the blood around a bit. But they did it in very different ways...

Ride The High Country is, for the most part, a classic Western. Told mainly via interactions between its male characters, its straightforward story reveals its themes of good, evil and redemption fairly early on and builds on them. Steve Judd (Joel McRae) and Gil Westrum (Randolph Scott) are two former partners who reconnect in their later years to help bring back a deposit of gold to the bank. With the Gold Rush winding down, many questionable characters are trying to get a final crack at a stake and the bank doesn't believe their gold will be safe without some protection. What Judd doesn't know is that his old friend Gil and his young impetuous associate (named Heck) plan to keep the gold for themselves - whether Judd wants them to or not. Along the way up to the mining town, they stop for a rest at a ranch run by a strict religious man and his daughter Elsa (an impossibly young Mariette Hartley). She's looking for a way out of the restrictive setting of the ranch she's never been allowed to leave, so she tags along with the men when they leave the next day. She's decided to go to the mining town to marry her fiancee who works there with his brothers. Somewhat predictably, all doesn't go as planned...Elsa's fiancee and his progressively creepier brothers see her presence as being useful for only so many purposes - mostly sex and cooking - and to be shared by all. On the way to the mining town, Heck and Elsa flirt a bit and Heck makes a pass at her. She rebuffs him, but he insists and she needs Judd to pull him off. Judd knocks Heck to the ground and is followed by Gil giving him the same treatment. Though it shows the goodness in these two old timers (both saving the poor "defenseless" woman), it creates an awkward follow-up scene when Elsa actually apologizes to Heck (I guess for not allowing him to fully take advantage of her) and he seems to be sulking. It is quite jarring from a modern day perspective to see Elsa do this, but it almost makes sense given the obvious hierarchy of man over woman in this early part of the 20th century and her desperation to keep moving away from her father's ranch. It also establishes firmly where Heck's morality is based and how he can only crawl up from there.

The morality in Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid is somewhat sketchier. Most of these men have done bad things, but their moral centres revolve around respect and honour to their friends and partners. Pat Garrett and Billy are old friends, but when Garrett goes to meet Billy at the beginning of the movie it is solely to give him a warning: that Garrett will be his executioner. They part on good terms and Billy considers several options for leaving the town and his gang behind. With deputies in tow, Garrett manages to capture Billy after a shootout, but Billy escapes by gunning down two of the deputies (one self-righteous fool and one honourable man caught in the wrong place at the wrong time). From here, the chase resumes until its foregone conclusion. There really isn't much more to the story than that. Given the scarcity of dialogue, some gorgeously shot scenes and an unspoken fondness for the Old West, one can easily understand why the film often gets described as being poetic, evocative and elegiac. However, the film as a whole is far too scattered and littered with half-drawn characters and scenes that it's hard to see it as a complete work. There have been a few versions of it though: the studio edited theatrical release which Peckinpah disowned, a "preview" version which TCM put together that attempted to pull together Peckinpah's vision (the version I saw) and a director's cut which theoretically comes closest to Peckinpah's intent. Along with numerous production issues, Peckinpah was in full alcoholic mode during the shooting of the film, so it ran over-budget, over-schedule and certainly caught the attention of the studio suits. And yet, for all its problems (e.g. way too many cutaway shots to Bob Dylan, an odd soundtrack, scenes left adrift, etc.), there are some absolutely glorious moments.

Many of those moments are created by the leads (James Coburn as Garrett and Kris Kristofferson as Billy) since how they say things (or more often, don't say) becomes extremely important due to the paucity of dialogue. Whether it was Peckinpah's direction or their own decisions, the actors bring these characters fully formed to the screen. Coburn's silent glares speak volumes and Kristofferson has a natural charisma that definitely surprised me. And then you have Slim Pickens...Now it's always great to see Slim in anything, but his short yet unforgettable appearance in the film is one for the ages. Even though we had just briefly met him a few minutes earlier, his death scene is both heartbreaking and beautiful. After being shot in a gun battle as another of Garrett's recruits, he stumbles to the river and sits and waits for his life to fade out like the setting sun. Most of the other famous cameos in the film, though fine, don't have any of that staying power. Perhaps Peckinpah was going for the feeling of a rich tapestry (mixing in a bit of Dylan, Jack Elam, Jason Robards, Barry Sullivan and more), but none of them are given much with which to play and instead they feel somewhat wasted. Ride The High Country, in contrast, does far more with its characters and provides enough meaty dialogue not just for its central roles (Scott and McRea), but also the supporting roles with weight (Heck, Elsa, Elsa's fiancee) and the rest of the cast (the brothers, the drunken judge, the brothel owner). Both Scott and McRea truly stand out and, like Coburn and Kristofferson, add a great deal more to their characters. They manage to create something perfect in the delivery of their lines. It's not that the line readings are particularly realistic, but just that the words seem to tumble effortlessly out of their mouths. Even when they say things like "The Lord's bounty may not be for sale but the Devil's is...if you can pay the price" (and other phrases that essentially state themes of the movie) it just sounds right coming from them.

Judd tell Westrum at one point: "All I want is to enter my house justified". By the end of the film, after Judd's consistent take on what's right and what's wrong, you feel as if he has succeeded in his quest and even tugged along Westrum and Heck while he was at it. Garrett, on the other hand, may very well have been trying to reach that same lofty goal, but by the time the opening scene replays itself at the end, you realize that he may have gone about things the wrong way. After deciding to throw in with the businessmen looking to clean up the West (in particular, to get rid of people like Billy), no amount of rationalizing his decision could make it feel right. Though we don't see his life between the killing and the years-later bookends, one gets the feeling that Garrett has struggled with trying to justify his actions and has paid a price. In High Country, there's an understanding of that grey area between good and bad: "My father says there's only right and wrong - good and evil. Nothing in between. It isn't that simple, is it?" "No it isn't. It should be, but it isn't". That seems to be a statement about how people are always in transition - becoming bad from their natural good state or trying to get back to being good through redemption. In Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid, it's more a statement of fact - everybody has some of both, so choose your actions carefully. Some have called Peckinpah's final Western a eulogy for the Old West, but it feels more like one for the films about the Old West. One that leaves you feeling quite melancholy.

If Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid didn't completely win me over with its ramshackle nature, it certainly left an impression - in particular in relation to its main characters. Ride The High Country has a much greater hit ratio (and even shows some early bits of Peckinpah's different view of violence), but also leaves its strongest impression through its two lead characters. And that's where The Wild Bunch left me cold - the characters. But both of these Westerns have left me considering Peckinpah's other films (in particular The Wild Bunch) and has made me eager to revisit them and fill in the ones I haven't seen (The Battle Of Cable Rogue and Major Dundee for example). I think that alone is pretty high praise.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Blindspot - "The 36th Chamber Of Shaolin" and "The Five Deadly Venoms"

You may notice a distinct difference in the quality of the screen caps contained within this post. 36th Chamber Of Shaolin has a proper widescreen aspect ratio and clear image (straight from the Dragon Dynasty DVD) while Five Deadly Venoms has a poorly cropped 4:3 image that was obviously recorded years ago off TV to well-worn VHS (and then transferred to YouTube where I found it). Was I desperate to catch that second film and willing to watch anything I could source? No. It was actually a bit of a design point.

Several months ago when I first mentioned this pairing of Shaw Brothers Kung Fu films for my Blindspot, it was suggested to me that I should swing on down to Chinatown and get my viewing copies there. After all, crappy, English-dubbed copies are how most people get introduced to Kung Fu in the first place. Though I completely saw the merit in the idea, I was against it for two reasons...First and foremost, I really can't handle cropped films and bad dubbing - hell, even Fellini films dubbed afterwards back into their own language (as Fellini intended) drive me a bit crazy since things like intonation never quite match up quite properly when dubbed. I've been a stickler for proper aspect ratios since realizing what they were (somewhere during the mid-point of the VHS years) and mostly seethe if I come across a film on TV or DVD in a bastardized form. Secondly, I already had that copy of 36th Chamber on DVD sitting at home on my stack of unwatched films. But the idea of watching at least one of the films in the format in which I would've seen my first taste of Kung Fu was still somewhat appealing. My knowledge of Kung Fu is not extensive (loads of Jackie Chan, the more serious Come Drink With Me, the much less serious Mad Monkey Kung Fu and all sorts of clips and scenes from Sunday afternoons long ago), but when I think of it, I do indeed think of desaturated videotape stock, people being cut out of the frame and halting English dubbed over to attempt to match with the characters on screen. Oh, and enough wooshing and whacking sounds to make a foley artist break into a sweat.

All of which can make a Kung Fu film somewhat hard to take seriously. But then I started to watch 36th Chamber Of Shaolin...Its opening sequence of Chia-Hui Liu (aka Gordon Liu) framed in different manners executing solo Kung Fu moves was enough to show that there was a great deal of artistic craft going on here. Not that I doubted there would be, but it completely settled me into being able to look upon the film as a complete entity. It also validated my decision to see this film on its full canvas - what a shame it would've been to miss the entirety of each of these opening shots. Not only the backdrops and art direction, but the perfectly sculpted body of Liu and each one of his refined moves. When the story starts, though, his character San Te is somewhat less attuned to the ways of the Shaolin monks than he is in those credits. He is a frustrated young student watching his surroundings get overrun and manhandled by the Manchus of the Qing Dynasty. His protests get him in some trouble and he manages to escape to the Shaolin monastery. He seeks to become enlightened in the ways of the masters of martial arts so that he may return and help get back ownership of his old village to its denizens. After being left to tend to menial jobs for awhile, he figures out that he can now ask to be taught Kung Fu. He discovers that it is a painstaking process and that he must focus on and master individual skills one at a time in 35 separate chambers. The film glides by quite easily as it works through a straightforward three act structure: young student in village; student at monastery working through the different chambers one at a time; monk leaving school to seek justice.

There's less straightforward about Five Deadly Venoms. The plot description is easy enough: a student of all five major disciplines of fighting (Centipede, Snake, Scorpion, Lizard, Toad) is instructed by his dying teacher to find 5 previous students. Each of the five had mastered one of the five styles and the teacher is worried that some of them may turn evil. The student knows all five styles, but has mastered none and so must team up with one of the five to ensure none of the others commit any crimes. The teacher does not know the names or faces of any of these masters, so the student is left to his own devices to find them. Like 36th Chamber, the film opens with some great montages as we see each of the five masters (in their masks) performing their specialized skills. The choreography and filming is definitely leaning to the sillier side of things (Centipede smashes plates falling from the ceiling, etc.), but it certainly sets up the rest of the film to be a battle between these five with the wildcard of the student thrown into the mix. And it is to a certain extent, but also continually falls apart into over-explanation, needless plot points and the occasional bits of goofy humour that don't work very well (at least not for me). Worst of all, there seems to be a definite lack of actual Kung Fu throughout the film. The final fight is great and helps to redeem things, but short of the little bits sprinkled here and there, it becomes somewhat tiring as we flit between Centipede/Snake and Lizard/Toad as they try to outmaneuver each other (while the student observes). Meanwhile, Scorpion is unknown to everyone.

Admittedly, I have to firmly blame the crappy quality of the video and the annoying dubbing as prime reasons for not enjoying Five Deadly Venoms as much as I likely should have. A pristine copy probably wouldn't have vaulted it above 36th Chamber, but with blurry faces continually being chopped at the edges of the frame and English sentences being chopped into odd meters, I found it hard to stay with the story and get pulled into the film. I expect it is still a few notches below 36th Chamber in terms of its action, story, pacing, cinematography, etc., but I feel I need to see it again in much better circumstances. The concept is terrific - 5 different styles of attack based on reptiles and insects held by 5 hidden masters and only one student left to find them. There are moments of real mystery as you try to figure out who is who at the same time as the student, but it never felt like a cohesive story. Only the final fight really gels as the student finally dives headlong into battle with and against the masters and we witness a variety of well planned choreography. As with 36th Chamber, there's certainly some "fantasy" in some of the moves (leaping on the sides of walls and staying there, hovering in air longer than gravity would allow, etc.), but it all fits into the reality of the worlds in the films so there's no issue. 36th Chamber's Kung Fu moments easily win out - the battles are more crisp, there are more elements in play (various weaponery for example) and even the training sections as San Te moves through the chambers are really entertaining. My favourite is probably the Head Chamber where he solely practices using his head for different Kung Fu moves (initially getting battered by having to bat heavy sandbags around with it) as well as the first time he crosses the water using only the floating pieces of wood. This is where 36th Chamber excels - in treating its slightly ridiculous set pieces with serious tones while finding the right mix of physicality from its actors and the added "effects" (e.g. editing, wires, and huge dollops of additional sound).

The foley editing of arms and weapons whooshing through the air and fists connecting with bodies is certainly overdone and can feel comical at times. It obscures and wears down Five Deadly Venoms (though with what feels like additional music, I can't say for sure how much is present in the original cut of the film), but feels just fine in The 36th Chamber Of Shaolin. I don't profess to be a Wu-Tang Clan fan (a neglected area of my musical background), but the seminal rap group was heavily influenced by 36th Chamber. It's easy to see how San Te building towards creating a new 36th chamber in order to share Kung Fu with the common man could have been inspiring to a group of diverse rap artists. One could also develop an entire philosophy simply from the words of wisdom spoken by the many monks from the different chambers. Five Deadly Venoms had much less depth, spirit and entertainment within its restricted walls, but there was still enough there to possibly draw me back for a revisit with a superior copy of the film. At the very least I could get some better screencaps from it...