Life and Times of Wu Zhong Xian, The
Hong Kong 2004
Directed by Evans Chan.

An adaptation of a stage play by Mok Chiu Yu, who also stars. Basically, this is a taped performance of the play, a one-man show, and not so much a show as a lecture. Mok Chiu Yu is sort of like a more performance based Noam Chomsky, telling a tale of leftist hero Wu Zhong Xian. His story is interspersed with some footage of Hong Kong in the 60s and 70s. Mostly, Mok Chiu Yu stands on his set, a glittery green wall surrounded by plastic and with CLUB 64 painted on a glowing panel by the door. He changes costume, and delivers the narrative of Wu Zhong Xian's life. Wu was a radical who started a student union in Hong Kong, then his own magazine, "70s Biweekly" which agitated to make Chinese an official language of Hong Kong. Among the many writers and editors of the magazine was Mok himself, and a little known director at the time by the name of John Woo.

Mok introduces the editors and writers by placing different pieces of fruit in front of him on a counter. When he gets to Woo, he pulls out a banana. When he mentions Woo made an experimental art film that exposes his ass, Mok peels the banana. This is high drama. But then suddenly we cut to John Woo's experimental film "Deadknot" in the flesh -- an excert, at least, I'm not sure how long it runs. It's about "Forbiddened Fruit", or so a title card says, and in the film two boys whip one another, touch each other's scars, and generally stand about naked.

I've heard about John Woo's experimental film, but this is the first time I've seen any of it. It's extremely well made. I couldn't help but remember when watching it an extra that was on the RUSH HOUR 2 DVD, of a student film by Brett Ratner. It was a stupid, silly little production of no relevance, artistry, or interest. How John Woo has come to make films with as little substance as Ratner these days is a mystery, only deepened by the footage that appears here.

Wu Zhong Xian was a misguided radical who fell into Anarchy then Trotskyism, crossed Chinese Maoists, swam through a typical far-left muddle and came out pro-democracy toward the end of his life. The movie is interesting in that it chronicles protests against colonialism and against China, beginning in the 60s and leading up to today. The movie provides context for the massive pro-democracy marches in 2003-2004 in Hong Kong. The leader of the protest marches and current legislator "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-Hung, always sporting a Che Guevara T-Shirt, suddenly makes more sense in the context of the story of Wu Zhong Xian.

An interesting production directed by independent filmmaker Evans Chan, who also adapted the play for its New York premier. Worth seeing for a different slice of Hong Kong history, for the stock footage, and for the early Woo footage. The story of Wu Zhong Xian is secondary to all this, but manages to stay relatively interesting anyway throughout.

Rating: Marginally Recommended (Marginally Recommended)

Posted by Peter Nepstad on March 01, 2005.

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