Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Water Margin


(Shui hu zhuan / Cheh Chang / 1972)

The larger context of this sweeping epic is somewhat lost on me as I'm unfamiliar with the source novel and its famous characters. Yet while the film is constantly pausing to inform you of which actor is playing which role (even non speaking walk-on roles 40 minutes in) the momentum is never upset. In fact, this seems to be Chang's fertile playground, crafting elegant fight numbers emerging from complex political plotting, which is never just a MacGuffin. The film achieves a rare balance of epic scale and intimate interaction, something only a handful of filmmakers ever mastered. Personally, I prefer the smaller films with fewer elements, but a unique feeling emerges from the grandiosity of the whole piece that places the actions of individuals within a massive complex story that never truly begins or ends. The catalyst in a Chang film is never incidental, but the outcome of many cosmic strands crossing paths, all of which occur in the opening 20 minutes or so.

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