Everyone's going wild about Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Phil finds out why at the GFT.
The film opens. A mist hangs in the air above a distant valley, a mystical early Chinese valley of unspecified era; fertile green, early-morning lit. As the mist stands in the air above the ground, it turns and spreads slightly, slowly, until we realise that it is in fact the earth that is turning below the mist, rotating on its axis. All frictionless, the mist owes nothing to the ground that in- directly caused it, and lets it turn.
This is a kingdom of magic we are in. The magic is one step away from us and even open to us every now and then. The people fly, fight and talk at upper extremes of possibility and metaphor. They do many, many things in a row that maybe we could achieve one of. The fight scenes have twenty, thirty blows between each edit: faat faat faat schwip schwip fa chug chug chug fa schwiiip schwip fra faat fraafaat tadook tadook tadook faat faat ching. Cut.
Instead of: ka ka ching cha ka. Cut.
Here a director of romance and western epics has forgone the ego to out-create anything Jean Dam Von Claude films have the time for. There is the reluctant genius of battle and the impossibly beautiful slenderness of his non-adversarial counterpart. There is the delicate setting of the scenes, the semi- strict following of the patterns of understood format and formality. Then they run and fight and fly and here, in the sex of these fights, in the funky moves way too fast for any musical accompaniment, it all begins and ends
The people are flying around on wires in courtyards, on the roof tiles, up and down the walls, like being royal tennis balls or skaters without the boards. The wires are there and they are never thought of. They are impressively double invisible: first they are there - they must be — yet they are hidden because the actors never look like they are dangling from them. It's as if they are propelled by mystical hip-level propulsion. They're not like Peter Pans in panto harness trying to look like they have any control whatsoever in front of us - as they get a wedgey from God, as they hang powerless in that way only people tethered and tractionless or in space have - when we know that they have no control, that it's all theatre and this immortal boy is a faintly authoritarian fully sexual
4 THE “ST 1—15 Feb 2001
The people fly, fight and talk at upper extremes of possibility and metaphor. They do many, many things in a row that maybe we could achieve one of.
woman in a mini-smock suffering a front-row-visible pubendis anyhow. No, there are no wires twice, because the wires are also hidden with digital hidings.
These folk are flying beyond Pan or Copperfield on too much coke. They are flying beyond a bungee jump from a crane in a tropical tornado-storm when the remorseless heartbroken crane operator has ingested PCP, lowballs of vodka and milk of magnesia and a trio of large Macallan injections into his temples. When they fly it is like a full body sneeze, and as good as you can’t imagine.
They dance over the rooftops in a way that makes folk giggle. The giggle hangs in the air above the audience that indirectly produced it. It begins like other giggles: one exhibiting an inner expression of 'this is too silly for me to accept, and I am exhaling sharply through nostrils and would like very much if others took the opportunity to hear me and agree with me about this'. It hangs and disperses quicker than a Chinese fog. In the instantaneous nextness of the proceeding moment, there are no owners of this giggle as people realise that they don't laugh at all pretend stuff in films and that all stuff done seriously is intended to be received as well done and not necessarily agreed with on a rational plane.
This is a different way of telling a story than we are used to. The giggle is balanced by a beige hole of regret. Then it dawns on me: how exactly do you think it looks when people run across the tree tops, skipping from bendy branch to bendy branch? Yoi as they say in Jewish.
It looks like you realise you would imagine.
This film is in part the unfolding of the unfolding of a story. It is quite brave to deal with this, then I thought about how lots of stories rely on us accepting everything from incredible castles, troubled royalty, curses that work, flying, unbelievable archery skills and the General Covering Of Enormous Distances with surprisingly few meals, all the way to Buffy. And we accept them because we simply do not want to inhibit the absolute pace, the actual telling of the story. Not because we understand or necessarily agree with the Tower/Hair or teenage tongue-in-cheek, stake-in- heart type scenario.
Witness this film and, as you do, you will come out wanting to fly and leap and buy a small crane and notice, as the film opens, a mist hangs in the air above a distant valley . . .
Famespotting Special Creative Scotland Winners
Roderick Buchanan is charmed to be in the money
Why so many cheery artists around these days? Ah, that’ll be the Creative Scotland awards
What are they? Fourteen £2 5,000 prizes dished Out on Burns' Night by the Scottish Arts Council from its National Lottery fund.
So who got them? Roderick Buchanan, John Burnside, Angus Peter Campbell, Nathan Coley, Lyle Cresswell, Graham Eatough, Amy Hardie, Matt Hulse, Kathleen Jamie, KeVin lvlacKenzie, Tom McGrath, Elizabeth OgiIVie, Sav0urna Stevenson and lvlarissa Zanotti.
And how do we know they're a good thing? Just listen to Alice Thompson.
Who she? An ex-editor of The List, since you ask, and also one of last year's wrnners Her award allowed her to complete a novel, Pharos. ’lt transformed my life,’ she says. ‘lt enabled me to give up Journalism and concentrate on writing. It’s got more depth because I had more time to look at all the layers'
And are this year’s winners similarly delighted? Oh yes. ‘It means a lot,’ says Graham Eatough, artistic director of Suspect Culture theatre company, who’s gomg to carry out research into opera, 'The award gives you time to be away from the pressures and find out about different ways of working,’
Anyone else? Composer Lyle Cresswell will create a piece of musrc theatre based on interViews With eXiles liVing in Scotland ’It’s more than Just a chance to do a big work,’ he says ’I'll have to rethink my whole musical language.’
Any visual artists? Roderick Buchanan plans to uncover the JOUmey taken by 18th century reformer Thomas Moir from Scotland to Rio de Janeiro and beyond, creating a film about political and physical landscape in the process ’lt’s charming to be given the opportunity to make work on that kind of scale,’ he says ‘lt’s a good step in terms of financial status for production values.’
And a final word? Playwright Tom McGrath wrll develop his interest in other artforms when he creates a multi-media study of the 19th century painter Sir David Wilkie. ’It’ll help me to get away from playwrrtmg,’ he says. ‘lt’ll free me.'