Tag Archives: Peggy Lee

The Great Magician (2011, Yee Tung-Shing)

The Great Magician is a madcap romp through rural early twentieth century China. It never says rural–Peking is mentioned a couple times–but it feels rural, where a somewhat dimwitted warlord (Lau Ching-wan) can still be powerful. The time period’s a little confusing too. Moviemaking plays a significant part in Magician and all the example films are silents, but when people are making movies, they’re making talkies.

But those confusing parts are nothing compared to the rest. Magician is a political comedy thriller with a lot of magic, some quests, a love triangle, probably some of things too. Oh, right, it’s occasionally narrated by two townspeople who break the third wall to directly address the audience.

Even though director Yee’s not much for composition–Magician’s shots are adequate, but far too reliant on CG, something Kita Nobuyasu can’t seem to shoot–he does keep the circus together. Especially after Tony Leung Chiu-Wai shows up. Until he arrives, it seems like Magician could go anywhere (and even for a little while after he does). Once the film focuses on its tone, it gets to be a lot of fun to watch.

Leung and Lau are great together. Xun Zhou’s excellent as warlord Lau’s seventh wife who he decides is the one he really wants. Paul Chun’s funny as Lau’s scheming subordinate.

There are some great comedy interchanges; most end up being completely unpredictable.

Leon Ko’s excellent music is another big plus.

Magician is a strange, fun picture.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Yee Tung-Shing; screenplay by Chun Tin Nam, Lau Ho Leung and Yee, based on the novel by Zhang Haifan; director of photography, Kita Nobuyasu; edited by Kwong Chi-Leung; music by Leon Ko; production designer, Yee Chung Man; produced by Peggy Lee and Mandy Law-Huang; released by Emperor Motion Pictures.

Starring Tony Leung Chiu Wai (Chang Hsien), Lau Ching-wan (Bully Lei), Zhou Xun (Liu Yin), Yan Ni (Lei’s third wife), Paul Chun (Liu Wan-Yao), Alex Fung (Chen Kuo), Lam Suet (Li Fengjen), Daniel Wu (Captain Tasi) and Kenya Sawada (Mitearai).


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Lady and the Tramp (1955, Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson and Hamilton Luske)

Lady and the Tramp was Disney’s first CinemaScope film. Amusingly, though an academy ratio version was produced at the same time, the modern home video unit created a pan and scan version for DVD, instead of just using that full frame version. Nice of them. We watched the CinemaScope version this time (the fiancée occasionally informs me we’re having Disney festivals). Though Disney’s finest visual achievement, Sleeping Beauty, was a few years later, Lady and the Tramp in CinemaScope is a breaking of the motion picture. The modern visual language of cinema grew from these films, owing everything to these early widescreen Disney pictures. Film–even with special effects–simply couldn’t do what Lady and the Tramp does… there’s no worry about focus in the frame, no worry camera movements… it’s incredibly free. Of course, as special effects and cameras have become able to duplicate Tramp’s achievements, no one has used them as well.

Unfortunately, the other inspiration from these Disney films is the damn set-piece. In Lady and the Tramp, it’s the songs. There’s an incredibly useless song in the middle of an incredibly useless scene (Lady in the pound), one only used to bring in the song. Without the scene, the film would move smoother… all it does is bring in new characters. These CinemaScope Disney films inspired George Lucas quite a bit and he one-ups Walt on these superfluous characters–Lucas made action figures out of them after all. That scene, along with the ending, foul up the otherwise pleasant experience. The ending, however, owes a lot more to old Hollywood–with the romantic leads taking backseat to the eccentric supporting casts.

Before that first, fiancée-induced Disney film festival in 2003, I never thought I’d see these films again (I saw them, of course, as a child, undoubtedly at the wrong aspect ratio). Today, after recently sitting through history get a big dis in grad school, I’m even more appreciative of acknowledging their influence than usual. I tend to just say Sleeping Beauty and let that film be it, but there’s something magical about Lady and the Tramp. It’s not supposed to be real life–a quality live action film had lost by the 1950s (it’s never recovered from the loss)–and Lady and the Tramp is better for that condition. It’s an utterly commercial venture, but it’s still filled with pleasing awe… Whether its creators were excited about making the film (I’m not sure when Walt Disney had fully drained the life from his employees), it certainly seems as though they were and it carries over to the viewer.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson and Hamilton Luske; screenplay by Erdman Penner, Joe Rinaldi, Ralph Wright and Don DaGradi, based on a story by Ward Greene; edited by Donald Halliday; music by Oliver Wallace; released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Starring Peggy Lee (Darling), Barbara Luddy (Lady), Larry Roberts (Tramp), Bill Thompson (Jock), Bill Baucom (Trusty), Stan Freberg (Beaver) and Verna Felton (Aunt Sarah).


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