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My Not-Quite Cultural Olympiad: China

1 August, 2012

[For a quick introduction to this series, and what I’m trying to do with it, go back here.]

I’m kicking off my Not-Quite Cultural Olympiad with China, as they’re really dominating in the actual-Olympics medal rankings at the moment. I’m also, for my first post, cheating a little bit: I said I was going to pick a single piece of art/culture, but this time round I want to actually pick three.

Why three, and what are they? They’re actually three films, namely ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’, ‘Hero’ and ‘House of Flying Daggers‘. It’s a tad stereotypical to choose martial arts films for China (ok, maybe a lot stereotypical), but I have my reasons. You see, these three films, which came out in relatively quick succession, are where I can trace my interest in any culture outside my own to.

That’s a big claim to make, is it not? All three films were though, for me, a window into a world so very unlike my own. I had enjoyed action films before, but these were something else, combining stunning visual flair with strong, genuinely emotional stories. I can’t count the number of times I’ve watched these three films (‘Hero’ especially) and they continue to impress me every time, even ten years since their release.

I won’t go into a vast amount of detail about the films themselves – there’s plenty out there online, or better yet just watch them for yourself. Not usually a fan of martial arts films – or even just action films? There’s still a lot to enjoy in all three, right down to the less-than-happy endings (which I think are a given in this particular end of the genre).

Sadly, similar films in the years since have never quite matched up to the joy of these three ‘originals’ (‘The Banquet’, for example, was stunning but felt a bit hollow, whilst ‘Red Cliff’ was impressive but not quite as stylish), but that does nothing to diminish the power of ‘Crouching Tiger’, ‘Hero’ or ‘House of Flying Daggers’.

It’s fair to say that these three films changed the way I saw the world. They’re responsible not just for my specific interest in martial arts films and art in translation, but for my desire to look beyond the confines of my own culture, to see what else the world had to offer. And, as I hope to keep showing in my Not-Quite Cultural Olympiad, there was a whole lot out there for me to find.

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