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Dying to belong II

May 26, 2009

“A reflexive use of frame composition and editing in the Hong Kong gangster film, initiated by John Woo, stimulates the spectator´s connection to the (Taoist – T.B.) life force of the ´perfect emptiness,´ by destroying the solidity of the seeming realism of the gangsters´s environment. As the Hong Kong gangster film makes the spectator aware that he/she is watching a movie and and that the landscape of the gangster protgonist is an illusion of cinematic technology, a very different sense of reality from that of Hollywood is created. Here, the protagonist´s wisdom offered for audience empathy and identification is never to seek his/her security in the ostensibly stable materialist real of things, but rather to arrive at a balancing act of living in the materialist world without taking it serious…

A serious examination of these landmark films (A Better Tomorrow I & II by John Woo – T.B.) will reveal the reflexivity of his freeze frames and slow motion during the most frantic excesses of violence: they suggest a gangster protagonist with a scope far beyond the limited world of physical action at the very moment that he participates fully within it. Woo´s emphasis on visible cinematic technique, during the kind of scenes in which the Hollywood spectator is normally manipulated to be lost in the transparency of the action, resists the illusion that photographic images are any kind of total reality. At the same time, Woo does not distance the spectator so drastically that there is a loss of pleasure in the action. This nuanced complexity has become an enduring feature of the Hong Kong gangster genre. As we shall see, the Young and Dangerous series augments Woo´s vacubulary with many slowed-downed and speeded-up images, images produced by reverse projection, and images that lose definition and even fade under the pressure of emotion as signals to the audience that, thought movies can indicate the fullness of reality, what they are watching is an unstable vehicle, nothing more than a technological produced image. By the time, we reach the even more inventive revisionist Triad street gangster film, for example Too many ways to be Number 1 (Wai ka-Fai, 1997), in addition to these techniques, we find the director telling his story elliptically, as a system of possibilities, rather than as a fixed train of events.”

From Dying to Belong: Gangster Movies in Hollywood and Hong Kong by Martha Nochimson,

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