Last week I watched a plethora of films, including some (what I consider to be) old gems. It’s been a while since Ive had such a film session, and getting back to the basics of just watching and enjoying was rather special. Going to university and studying film, ironically, means in your spare time you don’t watch a lot of films (this makes no sense, I’m aware). But, I’m taking advantage of the summer holiday I’m currently on to re-watch some of my favorite oldies, which helped spark my love for anything film related. The three films which this post is going to be all about couldn’t be further apart if they tried, but each has their own merits and fit comfortably in high regards with most film critics, and fans, around the world. Its important to remember before reading, that what i consider ‘oldies’ some of you may not! But, for the sake of this post, lets say anything older then eight years is allowed to be considered!
I started the week off with a scorcher of the horror genre, and a film that encapsulates being British, and how British people would handle such a disaster; 28 Days Later. If you aren’t that clued up on the film, here’s a summery of its credentials:
Written by Alex Garland (author of cult classic The Beach) and directed by Danny Boyle (now famed for Slumdog Millionaire, a film which couldn’t be further removed from this early effort) in 2002, 28 Days Later charts the survival of a group of Brits as they deal with, and come to terms with a zombie-like disease known as rage which has all but devastated Britain and caused an apocalypse of sorts. Now famous for its images of a deserted London, 28 Days Later is a tense character piece which uses the backdrop of a disease to make a social commentary on early 2000’s Britain. Filmed using a combination of DV and traditional cameras, Boyle managed to create a stark vision of an abandoned London, which 12 years on still manages to successfully get under the skin. Combining stunning cinematography, including images of fields left to bloom (which of course would happen, with no one to tend for them) and brutal themes of violence and death, Boyle created a zombie horror film like never before. The Juxtaposition of images in A production that contains some of the foulest language and most in-your-face violence you might see in British cinema, means 28 Days Later is leaps and bounds above the rest. Using a yellow colour palette, and recruiting John Murphy to compose the score, Boyle takes you on a visceral ride which quite simply studies humanity in a time of terror. In the House – In a Heartbeat wont leave you for a while after you finish this classic piece of cinema, that’s for sure.
Later on the week I sat down, with my mum this time, to have a bit of a giggle with another maverick of Brit film-making; Guy Ritchie. No, not Lock, Stock like you might expect but Snatch. A film with so many one-liners, you’re never sure which one to quote. Snatch boasts a multitude of characters who’s stories eventually collide, when the hunt for a diamond “the size of a fist”, as Vinny (Robbie Gee) simply puts it bring them together in a bloody climax. The strength of this film lies with the cast, and the utter cool that Ritchie has cleverly allowed it to exude. Released in 2000, now 14 years old, it could of been made just last year, with its still-funny jokes and urban east-end London setting. The ensemble male cast is one you may of dreamed of happening, and Ritchie manages to turn those dreams into reality with Brad Pitt as an Irish gypsy, Benecio Del Toro as a man with four fingers and a gambling addiction, Jason Statham as an in-too-deep boxing promoter and Mike Reid as a diamond expert. Adding in a handful of other colourful characters, you are left with a hilarious portrayal of the underground world of illegal boxing, dodgy caravans and people you wouldn’t want to meet down an empty alley way. There hasn’t been a successful interpretation of this kind of cinema in Britain since, not even with Ritchie’s own Rock ‘N’ Rolla. So see Snatch, for the sheer silliness of it. Oh, and everyone loves a bit of slow-mo boxing, don’t they?
Finally, we have House of Flying Daggers. A film that made me realise the power of cinema. Never had I seen a more beautiful peice of film-making (thank you Zhao Xiaoding for giving us over-whelming cinematography), that then, and still now, is basically perfect in my eyes. Often compared to Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, House of Flying Daggers is the newest of the three films mentioned here having been released in 2004. Directed by Zhang Yimou and starring the breathtakingly beautiful Zhang Ziyi, Flying Daggers is A heart-breaking tale of love and betrayal set against the backdrop of a rebel war between the films title group of bandits and the Tang Dynasty. Being known for the ‘Echo game’, which must be seen if you are an avid film-lover, and use of martial arts that leave your jaw quite literally on the floor, Yimou’s efforts to create a film which would be well received in the West didn’t go un-noticed. Flying Daggers is one of three films that are often mentioned by audiences’, who previously may not of given Chinese cinema a try (the other two being Hidden Dragon and, a film which is over-rated in my eyes, Hero). Yimou’s masterpiece is an emotional ride, with a setting so stunning you cant quite believe what you are seeing is real (one scene even looks like a painting, it has to be seen to be believed). Despite containing some strong battle violence, House of Flying Daggers is a delicate film, with a simple story. It is easy to engage with, and if you allow yourself to be swept away into the magic of it then come the time Kathleen Battle’s Lovers chimes away you’ll be needing a few tissues and another film just like this to sweep you up all over again. There hasn’t been a film that has combined the beauty, yet unforgiving nature of Yimou’s Flying Daggers since, and I don’t think there will be. If you are waiting for a film to introduce you to foreign cinema, let it be this one.
There’s my three gems, recently re-watched and experienced all over again.