Action films

Houston’s Wuxia Festival Celebrates Chinese-Language Action Movies

Michelle Yeoh in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” Movie: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”

Picture: Allstar/Cinetext/SONY/Sony Pictures Classics 2000

“Wuxia Cinema: The Magic of Martial Arts” is a one-week free movie series for those who like their foreign movies to have both drama and kicks.

Supported by the Taiwan Academy of Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) in Houston, this collection of Chinese/Taiwanese period pieces features fantastic storylines, exquisite costumes, majestic production design and action sequences impressive and surprisingly orchestrated. It’s a genre whose influence can be seen in the work of many filmmakers, from Wong Kar-wai (who made some of his own wuxia epics) to Quentin Tarantino (his debut “Kill Bill” is practically a tribute to legendary wuxia filmmakers the Shaw Brothers) to Daniels, the duo behind the recent critical and commercial success “Everything Everywhere All at Once”, starring Hong Kong screen goddess Michelle Yeoh.

“Wuxia, as a film genre, is one of the oldest and most culturally distinct film genres,” says Karen Fang, professor and film scholar at the University of Houston, who will present several of the films in this series. . “It’s one that over the last 15 to 20 years has become really visible on a global scale.”

Things will kick off on October 14 at the Rice Cinema, Sewall Hall at Rice University. The first film in the rotation is “The Assassin,” Hou Hsiao-hsien’s 2015 film about a skilled female hitman in Tang Dynasty-era China. The following night there will be a good old double feature: 1968’s “Vengeance of the Phoenix Sisters” and 1970’s “A City Called Dragon”.

Speaking of dragons, the Asia Society Texas Center will present the program’s flagship film, “Dragon Inn,” the 1967 classic by acclaimed Chinese filmmaker King Hu (“Come Drink With Me”) on Tuesday night. A reception will take place before the screening.

The Museum of Fine Arts in Houston will play the final two screenings next weekend. On October 21, 2000 Academy Award-winning Ang Lee’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” featuring Yeoh and Chow Yun-fat frontman John Woo will play at the museum’s Brown Auditorium. On October 23, another King Hu favorite “A Touch of Zen” (originally released in Taiwan in two parts, 1970 and 1971), will wrap things up at Brown.

MFAH curator Marian Luntz said the folks at TECO contacted her last year about partnering on a series of films about the Far East. “When the Taiwan Academy approached us about a collaborative series involving screenings at all three locations,” she says, “they mentioned that the Taiwan Film and Audiovisual Institute in Taipei had previously held a retrospective of the classic wuxia genre.”

With each location deciding what movies they’ll play, says Luntz, diving into the world of wuxia has been quite an enlightening experience. “It was fascinating to learn more about the origins of the genre in classic literature and folklore, and its pervasive influence on pop culture from the 1960s onwards.”

“Wuxia Cinema: The Magic of Martial Arts”

When: Oct. 14-Oct. 23

Where: Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1001 Bissonnet; Asia Society Texas Center, 1370 Southmore; Rice University, 6100 Main.

Details: Free; cinema.rice.edu; mfah.org/movies; asiasociety.org/texas

If this program is a success, TECO staff hope to start another series of films, this time with more contemporary films by Taiwanese filmmakers. “We try to explore the different projects or subjects of Taiwanese films,” explains Sophia Chu, cultural officer of the Taiwan Academy. “For example, New Wave movies are famous all over the world. So maybe next time we will try to tell them about New Wave – like Hou Hsiao-hsien movies – and hopefully- le, find different topics and explore our Taiwanese films in the Houston area.

Craig Lindsey is a Houston-based writer.