Red Heroine 1929

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Red Heroine 1929

Unread post by Damfino » Sun Sep 21, 2008 10:23 pm

RED HEROINE (China, 1929) is the only surviving episode of a 13-part serial, and apparently the earliest complete martial-arts film. The Devil Music Ensemble is taking it round the country with live accompaniment - it's not available on DVD (yet). The projection is from a DVD transfer - unfortunately the side and bottom of the image are cut off, which results in some lost words. The original print is, of course, quite battered, and offers dual Chinese/English titles.
Artistically, the movie is junk - but it's quite an entertaining melodrama. The sets are cheap (check out those 'stone walls') - the direction minimal - the acting quite unsubtle (the bucktoothed bodyguard wins the award here) - and the humor broad. There's not much fighting, and it's brief and basic - nonetheless, there's much fascination in seeing one of the ancestors of the martial-arts film - the ingredients remain basically unchanged.

I don't know when it's supposed to be set; to western eyes it looks like a medieval fantasy. Armies are passing through a village; naturally, the villagers are fleeing - but our timid heroine gets captured by a warlord who's rounding up concubines. He already has a faithful harem of girls in bikinis (revealing that the flat-chested look was favored). He chooses her as his evening's entertainment and makes her strip, as the prelude to untold barbarities. Fortunately, just then an elderly kung fu-fightin' hermit is passing by and rescues her from the general's clutches. When she finds that her grandmother has been killed by the invaders, she wants revenge; so the hermit offers to train her in his skills.
Years pass, and the village is still occupied. One man is arrested for treason, but the general makes a bargain with his family: he'll free the father if his daughter offers herself to him. Full of filial piety, she goes - only to find that the treacherous general will execute her father anyway. But at the last moment, as he's being tied to the wall and the girl is about to be ravished, the red heroine arrives to the rescue, flying through the air, waving her sword, and magically appearing out of puffs of smoke. She and the hermit make short work of the general and his henchmen - the rescued family thanks her, and she flies off to other adventures.

The music accompaniment (mostly guitar/violin/drums) is pretty loud - no staying quietly in the background for this band! With the drums & violin piercing eardrums, it's a little hard to focus on the film....not necessarily a complaint though, the musical themes are interesting.

A trailer for the film, and more info about the band, here:

A bit more info on the film here:

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Unread post by Helen » Mon Sep 22, 2008 9:21 am

This is playing this Wednesday (9/24) in LA at the Silent Movie Theater in the theater's regular Wed night silent timeslot. As a huge fan of silents AND of HK martial arts fantasies I am very excited to see it!

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Unread post by misspickford9 » Thu Sep 25, 2008 2:40 am

I liked it! However WHY cant they fix the title cards? Ugh the Engrish made me cringe (well...when I could READ it...damn screen!)

That being said it was a great score! Those guys are awesome...might have to see their other works now :D

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silent wuxia - woohoo!

Unread post by Helen » Thu Sep 25, 2008 12:56 pm

Red Heroine has the feel of a routine martial arts genre film. It may not be essential to be a genre fan to enjoy it, but I'm sure it helps. The film is entertaining as a genre exercise, and is fascinating as an almost singular opportunity to see a film from the genre's first decade. Many of the conventions are already in place, including the primacy of the revenge plot, the characteristic sifu (master) and student relationship, and the noble swords(wo)man who lives as a rolling stone due to a mix of circumstances and inclination. Red Heroine is even shown flying in an interesting precursor to wirework.

It's being touted as the earliest extant kung fu film, but it's actually a wuxia film. Both fall under the martial arts genre umbrella, but the distinction is more than a semantic quibble when it comes to the staging and choreography of the action. Wuxia draws on Chinese opera, dance, and wrestling and employs actors trained in Chinese opera or regular actors who can handle athletic stunt work. (Kung fu (a post-war development) uses traditional Chinese martial arts and casts actors with martial arts training.) So when the White Monkey - Red Heroine's sifu - looks like he's using wrestling throws, it's because he is, and when Red Heroine makes dance-like movements with her two swords, it's because the choreography is based on Chinese opera. Think Zhang Ziyi, not Jet Li.

In a surprising bit of continuity, the original title cards included parallel Chinese and English text. Chinese people who speak English poorly speak it poorly then and now; the titles pose no problem to the experienced martial arts movie (and tv series) fan adept at instant mental re-translation of subtitles into standard English. If there is a DVD release (and I hope there is and with The Devil Music Ensemble's score), I'd like to see newly translated English titles. Just because I can make sense of ungrammatical, unidiomatic, full of misspellings, and sometimes obviously just plain wrong subtitles doesn't mean I wouldn't rather read good ones!

As to the question of when the film is set, I'd say it's near-contemporary to the production. The fantasy/folk-tale elements in the martial artists' abilities and costuming are standard in wuxia and don't necessarily place the film in the far past. Of course, the genre's filmmakers and their audience may well have had an implicit understanding about the degree of contemporaneity and realism of a picture like this that's not readily accessible to today's viewer.

The story is completely self-contained. Presumably the series it is part of is a "continuing adventures of" akin to a 1940s Hollywood series detective. However, it's also possible the films in the series are not really connected at all except by genre. Hong Kong film series are sometimes series like we think of them, and sometimes unrelated films with similar plotlines, original and remake, or multiple films starring the same actor (not necessarily playing the same character!), and can even be original and parody.

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Re: Red Heroine 1929

Unread post by WaverBoy » Sun May 13, 2018 3:42 pm

Has this turned up on DVD yet? I'd love to see it.

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