Steel, Synth, and Silk: The Musical Worlds of Martial Arts Cinema

General Programming

April 11, 2017 Tuesday, 6:00pm EDT Kent Hall, Room 403, Columbia University
  • Department of East Asian Languages and Culture
  • Donald Keene Center of Japanese Culture
  • Free and open to the public
  • No registration necessary
  • First come, first seated

Giorgio Biancorosso examines the soundtracks of both the original (1994) and the redux (2008) versions of Ashes of Time (dir. Wong Kar Wai) in light of both Japanese and Chinese-language precedents as well as the recent reconfiguration of film distribution occasioned by the rise of the PRC. Treating music as 'symptom' of a modus operandi, he presents a few examples of the persistence of the legacy of jidaigeki and the Zatoichi (aka "Blind Swordsman") series, not least via the surprising mediation of Leone's spaghetti westerns. This leads to the revisiting of the 1994 version of Ashes of Time as not only partaking of the revival of martial arts in the Hong Kong of the early 1990s but also a poignant recreation of the Hong Kong of the 1960s.

The "Silk Roadesque" flavour of the 2008 version marks instead a rupture in the history of Hong Kong cinema and its cozy relationship with Japanese and Western influences. For where in the 1960s producers such as Shaw Brothers drew inspiration from global cinema, and the Wong of the early 1990s from his memories of a lifetime watching cinema and television, in 2008 it is a new, flamboyant form of pan-Chinese production that provides the impetus (think Hero or House of Flying Daggers). It is only too fitting that Wong's second major venture into the martial arts genre - his 2013 release The Grandmaster - was conceived and executed for distribution in the PRC, a move which is symptomatic of the role of Chinese producers and audiences in reshaping the cinema and with it cinema's role as a global incubator, vehicle and arbiter of musical taste.

  • Giorgio Biancorosso Associate Professor of Music University of Hong Kong