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Originally published December 1, 2011 at 5:51 AM | Page modified December 1, 2011 at 5:51 AM

Scarecrow Video recommendations for 'Empire of Silver'

Filmmaking in China has boomed since the 1997 handover of Hong Kong. The HK film industry has always been one of the largest and most prolific in the world. Americans probably think primarily of martial arts films when they think of Chinese or HK cinema, but, much like Hollywood, the industry produces pretty much every conceivable kind of film. But crime films and period epics are certainly staples, sort of like westerns and cop movies are over here.

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Filmmaking in China has boomed since the 1997 handover of Hong Kong. The HK film industry has always been one of the largest and most prolific in the world. Americans probably think primarily of martial arts films when they think of Chinese or HK cinema, but, much like Hollywood, the industry produces pretty much every conceivable kind of film. But crime films and period epics are certainly staples, sort of like westerns and cop movies are over here.

This week there's a screening of one of those sweeping historical dramas, the 2009 film "Empire of Silver." It's set during the Boxer rebellion and concerns a young man (Aaron Kwok) who must reluctantly take over his clan's silver-hoarding operation.

That same period is also the setting for Nicholas Ray's 1963 film "55 Days at Peking," starring Charlton Heston and Ava Gardner as foreigners trapped during the siege of the titular city by the Boxers. This one is of interest, at least in this case, because it's tacit acceptance of some level of foreign rule in China is exactly the sort of thing modern Chinese films would never condone. These days, Heston and David Niven (who plays a soldier) would be the bad guys. This was also director Ray's final film (and the last film screened at the White House by President Kennedy!).

Or you could try "Bloody Avengers," one of my favorites about the subject, from 1976. Directed by Chang Cheh, this is a more typical historical action film from the Shaw Brothers production studio. It's about three young men, eager to fight the foreign devils, who join up with the Boxers after being tricked into thinking they will be made impervious to bullets. It's not the most historically accurate picture but it does paint a fascinating picture of what a mainstream Chinese audience would have thought of this particular period in their past.

Shaw Studios went back to this well again in 1981, with "Legendary Weapons of China." This one is about a clan leader targeted for assassination by the Boxers and the ruling Empress Dowager after he refuses to dupe his men into believing in the whole "impervious to bullets" thing that came up in Bloody Avengers. This one's notable for having a bit of a comedic side, due a goofy mistaken-identity subplot, and it also features crazy martial arts weapons like "Double Tiger Hook Swords" and "Three-section Chain Whip." Those are even cooler than they sound.

We'll be back next week!




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