Shi mian mai fu in Mandarin, directed by Yimou Zhang, was the second Chinese movie I’ve seen in the past week.
I watched it in Blu-Ray and the first thing that struck me was the opulence of colors. The costumes and the interiors made me think China’s old culture was every bit as decorative and beautiful as Europe’s. Maybe Chinese art has been more perishable. Everything in the tropics unless made of stone or metal deteriorates. China’s elaborate designs—dragons, chrysanthemums, peonies, clouds, all with great curling, curving lines—take getting used to. I was not a fan of European baroque either but Mexican baroque, also known as Mexican Churrigueresque, warmed me to all those garish curlicues and tiny embellishments reminiscent of beautifully crafted silver jewelry. Chinese decorative art is simpler, more often painted rather than sculpted.
The second thing that struck me was the beauty of the women. Even the men were strikingly handsome. The women though had the smoothest, whitest skin. It’s mostly makeup. I imagine living with one of those women they would not appear like the celestial beings they are on film when newly risen from bed.
The movie struck me as much by the images it portrayed although the ballet-like fighting and the amazing special effects as the plot. Daggers, swords, arrows, even women’s long sleeves zip through the air, impossibly hitting their targets a long distance away. Warriors of Heaven and Earth, according to one review, had less of the fantastical motion of fighters and a weapon so was better. Me, I like them both. I like that we in the West are now seeing Chinese culture portrayed eloquently in films.
China and America may not agree on political and human rights values but through art and the humanities we might yet see the two cultures give and take and shape each other for a better world for us all.