June 13, 2009

A Random Thought: The 36th Chamber of Shaolin

It fascinates me how movies of this particular genus are simultaneously crude - rough, unpolished, simple - dramatically (i.e. in terms of performance, narrative, thematics), and absolutely sophisticated in terms of technique. It goes without saying that the fight choreography is first rate, but what really caught me off guard was the cinematography, particularly the way director Chia-Liang Liu and dp Yeh-tai Huang move the camera around the action. There is a brutal, fluid elegance to the camerawork. The raw kineticism of the fights is breathtaking. The camera covers the carnage at intelligible distances for long stretches at a time, and Liu knows exactly when to cut. Over 30 years later, it's a wonder that the modern action film still hasn't learned.