Saturday, July 30, 2011
Also, the first review of Master of Devils has lit up at Paizo, and the poster (xellos) knows the source material behind my source material. While I wrote the book with those unfamiliar with Chinese fantasy in mind, I couldn't have asked for a better-informed first notice, nor a more enthusiastic one.
Another interview goes up tomorrow, and another on Monday. Stay tuned.
Friday, July 29, 2011
The Paizo Booth is #302 in the exhibit hall, just inside entrance J.
Writers' Symposium events are in rooms 244 & 245, just above the exhibit hall.
The Pathfinder Tales Seminar takes place in the Santa Fe room at the Marriott.
noon- 2:00 pm .......... Signing @ Paizo Booth
3:00-5:00 pm .......... Signing @ Paizo Booth
5:00-6:00 pm .......... Writers' Symposium: Reading
11:00 am-noon .......... Writers' Symposium: Villains as Heroes
12:00-2:00 pm .......... Signing @ Paizo Booth
2:00-3:00 pm .......... Writers' Symposium: Shared Worlds and Work for Hire
4:00-6:00 pm .......... Signing @ Paizo Booth
11:00-12:30 pm .......... Signing @ Paizo Booth
1:00-2:00 pm .......... Writers' Symposium: Tension and Conflict
2:00-3:00 pm .......... Paizo Fiction/Pathfinder Tales Seminar
4:00-6:00 pm .......... Signing @ Paizo Booth
11:00-12:30 pm .......... Signing @ Paizo Booth
2:00-4:00 pm .......... Signing @ Paizo Booth
Monday, July 25, 2011
What I’ve been calling “kung fu” movies consist of a wide variety of films from high fantasy to historical action dramas. Even within the narrower realm of what we think of as martial arts movies, individual pictures range from relatively realistic depictions of hand-to-hand combat to wuxia romances in which the heroes fly like superheroes.
Many fans love some of these films but not others. Martial-arts purists draw the line at wire work, in which heroes can leap over the heads of their opponents or run along a wall—effects many North American fans encountered for the first time in films like The Matrix. Others find the gravity-bound choreography less exciting and prefer CGI-laden fables like the art-house wuxia of Zhang Yimou (Hero, House of Flying Daggers, and Curse of the Golden Flower). For many the sweet spot is in the middle, with films like Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or many of the classic Shaw Brothers Studios pictures of the 70s and 80s.
Me, I love it all, as long as the movie is fun. I’m as keen on a great superhero movie as I am on a moving historical romance, so Chinese films have a lot to offer me. Of course, the first few times I saw some films that mixed wire-work with wacky comedy and revenge drama, it blew my mind. But once I saw how this mixing of genres and tones works, a whole new world of entertainment opened up for me.
Recently I’ve recommended films that folks depending on Netflix or other rental outfits have had trouble finding. For the next few weeks, I’ll focus on movies that are easier to find. If you check them out, please comment here, encouraging me to do more of these in the weeks and months following the release of Master of Devils.
You’ve probably heard the title of The 36th Chamber of Shaolin even if you’ve never seen the movie. Or perhaps you’ve seen the English-dubbed version entitled The Master Killer, a grindhouse sensation in the late 70s. Whether you prefer the subtitled original (as I do) or the dubbed version doesn’t matter. This is the film that made a star of Gordon Liu (aka Lau Kar-fai) and etched the kung fu training sequence into the psyche of North American audiences.
The story is simple and familiar: The young scholar San Te (Liu) witnesses the death of his family at the hands of the Manchu. He flees to Shaolin temple, where the monks initially refuse to train him because they know he has revenge in his heart. Gradually he learns the lessons of the monastery in a series of often-funny lessons described as the 35 Chambers. (There’s some comic relief in San Te’s training, but not so much as to make the movie a comedy. For that you will want to watch Return to the 36th Chamber, also starring Liu, this time as a different character.) In the end, San Te returns to the world outside the temple and gains his revenge, afterward establishing the 36th Chamber: bringing martial arts to the people.
While San Te is based loosely on an historical character, this story is almost 100% fiction. Even so, it deals with the real friction between the Chinese people and the corrupt Manchu government, so its message of righteous revenge resonates with virtually any audience. The iconic fight scenes come courtesy of Lau Kar-leung, the star’s adopted brother and one of the foremost directors and choreographers of kung fu movies.
The 36th Chamber of Shaolin was the principal inspiration for Dragon Temple and its training regimen, although perhaps the film’s most obvious influence on Master of Devils is the oxymoron of a peaceful monastery training students in martial arts. The film offers plenty of rich material for GMs looking to put their players through a demanding—and sometimes humiliating—training sequence. Also, no player should be allowed to give his character a three-section staff until after seeing this film.
Monday, July 18, 2011
Maggie Cheung stars as the eponymous younger spirit. Joey Wang (A Chinese Ghost Story) plays her elder sister, known as Madame White Snake in the story by Lilian Lee (Farewell, My Concubine), which in turn is based on an oft-adapted folk tale. The sisters enjoy the mortal pleasures of romance, but when White Snake falls in love with a young scholar, Xu Xian (Wu Hsing-kuo), all hell breaks loose in the form of an uncompromising Buddhist monk (Vincent Zhao) who believes humans and spirits must never mix. When the monk confines Xu Xian to a sort of spiritual reeducation program, White Snake fights to free her lover.
Romance and physical comedy are the high points of the film. The undisciplined Green Snake can’t master the art of walking on two legs, and when she’s flustered her form reverts to that of an enormous serpent. Disguising her true nature is a key joke of the plot.
While the playful heart of the film includes some startlingly sexy scenes, bookending the antics is a lesson about the folly of moral absolutism. There’s a fair amount of wuxia action and a campaign’s worth of ideas for gamers thinking of setting an adventure in an Asian-influenced fantasy setting like Tian Xia.
Green Snake was a direct influence on the outline of Master of Devils, although later I decided against using snake spirits and instead devised a pair of sisters who deploy snake-like bolts of silk cloth as part of their martial arts repertoire.
Thursday, July 14, 2011
Monday, July 11, 2011
The framing story concerns a search for a list of names of members of the Red Flower Society, dedicated to overthrowing the Ching dynasty. The imperial agent (Vincent Zhao, aka Chiu Man-cheuk, who later replaces Jet Li for two of the Wong Fei Hung films) demonstrates such cool brutality that there’s no question he’s a Very Bad Guy. Yet after his brief introduction, Zhao vanishes for over an hour while the film shifts back to action comedy.
The dubiously reformed thug Tiger Liu schemes to win over public opinion by marrying off his daughter, Ting Ting (Michelle Reis), to the man who defeats Liu’s wife (Sibelle Hu) in single combat. Liu’s wife is an excellent fighter, swiftly dispatching the local hopefuls. While he does not know the identity of Liu’s daughter, Sai Yuk has already met the irresistible Ting Ting at a local athletic competition, but he throws the match upon mistaking a homely servant for the bride. Upon learning of Sai Yuk’s disgraceful loss, his mother (Josephine Siau) disguises herself as brother “Tai Yuk” to redeem the Fong family honor. Wacky gender-confused hijinks ensue.
One of the film's most enjoyable relationships is that between Sai Yuk and his mother, who defend each other against Sai Yuk's authoritarian father. While the father's corporal punishment of son and wife alike should paint him as a brute, Madame Fong’s helpless passion for her husband’s poetry—and the fact that she’s a powerful fighter while he is a helpless noncombatant—takes the edge off of a dynamic that would otherwise seem like unforgivable domestic abuse.
Even when the imperial agent returns in search of Sai Yuk's father, who turns out to be an important member of the Red Flower Society, the action remains madcap until the first mortal casualties. Only then does the tone darken for a final act full of revenge and rescue. Director Corey Yuen provides plenty of breathless wire-assisted action while somehow marrying the humor and violence into a seamless whole.
Some action fans prefer the less tonally varied sequel, especially Jet Li’s insane blindfolded-with-eight-katanas fight scene, but I love this screwball original slightly more.
While I can't think of any direct lifts of character types, The Legend of Fong Sai Yuk is one of many films that encouraged me to include both a few scenes of broad comedy as well as several powerful female fighters in Master of Devils. Now that I think about it, Josephine Siau and Sibelle Hu would be perfect as the Silk Sisters from Chapter Eleven.
Monday, July 4, 2011
Not to be mistaken for the CGI-muddled 2001 remake, this action-comedy-horror-romance-satire introduced wuxia fantasy to many of us western fans. If you aren’t braced for its breakneck speed and everything-including-the-kitchen-sink approach, it can seem overwhelming with its quick shifts in tone and genre. But if you’re in the right mood, preferably late at night with a group of friends and a case of cold beer, Zu is hard to beat for sheer fun.
In response to American blockbusters like Star Wars, Hark fills the screen with special effects. Only instead of laser beams, his characters shoot bolts of magic energy or entangle their foes with long, prehensile eyebrows. The effects include a rough approximation of lightsabers and Sith lightning, for what it’s worth, but it’s when Zu doesn’t resemble its American influence that it’s the most fun.
You needn’t know anything about Chinese history to understand the satire of war in the brief first act. Acrobatic Blue Army scout Ti (Yuen Biao) flees a death sentence for agreeing with both of his generals because they disagree with each other. He blunders into a Red Army soldier (Sammo Hung), but they soon find themselves allied against forces of four more armies: Orange, Green, Yellow, and Teal. Ti cries, “What a colorful war!”
Escaping the fray, Ti falls down a cliff that turns out to be the proverbial rabbit hole. He enters the world of the Magic Mountain. There he encounters a swordsman who wields black and white magic swords, whom he begs to accept him as an apprentice to fight the evil in the world. They soon meet a mystical monk and his young apprentice. The proud and jaded veterans squabble, leaving the altruistic young men to form the friendship that allows them to cooperate against a powerful Blood Demon. Only the moon mirror of a venerable warrior known as Longbrows (also Sammo Hung) can hold the monster at bay, and that only for 49 days. Before that time is up, the heroes must find another pair of magic swords (green and purple this time), the only weapons that can slay the Blood Demon.
Along with the haunted jars containing black-flag ghosts, evil cultists, cymbal-wielding monks, and animated skulls, our heroes face slow-acting poison, shape-changing adversaries, flying statues, and deadly blood crows. What follows is just about the closest thing to a fantasy roleplaying campaign you’ll ever see on screen, but be prepared for me to say similar things about other movies I'll recommend soon. Much of the story takes place in what can only be described as a vast dungeon complex, leaving only when the group must seek magical healing from the beauteous Countess (Brigitte Lin) in her temple among the clouds. Naturally, one of the Countess’s beautiful acolytes joins the smitten young men for the third act, which culminates in a day-glow spectacle of matte effects worthy of a 1970s Saturday-morning children’s TV program.
Despite the sometimes silly visuals and the confused deus ex machina of the finale, the fun up to that point is more than worth the journey as long as you can withstand the whiplash of a wild ride.
While I can't think of a specific scene that informed a chapter of Master of Devils, Zu's "everything all the time" approach absolutely influenced my choice of showing different tones of adventure through the eyes of three different point-of-view characters, including moments of horror, romance, humor, and in virtually every chapter a heaping dose of action. Even so, after screening Zu again, how I wish I'd made room for Longbrows!