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Saturday, May 08, 2010

The Warrior and the Wolf

Director Tian Dzuang-Zduang during the Shooting

Traditional Chinese, 狼災記, Simplified Chinese, 狼灾记, Pinyin transliteration, Láng Zāi Ji: well, for an American or an European that could be a bit too much, so let's use the international title, The Warrior and the Wolf.

Based on a short story by Yasushi Inoue, it is the most recent movie of Tian Zhuang-Zhuang (2009) and it is more than challenging to the viewer. I found it on youTube: there are some intertitles (in Chinese and English) that explain now and then what happens on the screen (somehow reminding you the technique from the silent era), only they give you just the basics: anyway, with or without them the spectator can be lost.

I will try then to summarize the plot (I needed to go to Wikipedia to understand decently the thing). The action takes place in some indefinite period, long, long time ago. The populations living on the borders of Chinese Empire does not recognize the central rule, an army is sent to control the situation, rebels, wolves and extremely harsh winters make soldiers' life extremely miserable. The number of casualties keeps growing, fallen fighters are replaced with peasants enrolled by force.

One of the new recruits (played by Jô Odagiri) shows initially no interest for the military and tries to escape several times; eventually he becomes a seasoned warrior and gets the attention of the general; a special bond develops between the two men. When the general must go back to report to Beijing, the young warrior remains in charge. The army camps in a village whose people live underground and appear only during nights.

The young warrior chooses one of the huts, rapes repeatedly the woman living there (the superb Maggie Q), till they fall in love (I wouldn't recommend though). It is said such a love is punished by gods, as he is an outsider, and the two lovers are cursed to become wolves.

The army has to leave, the soldiers are attacked by wolves, a snowstorm follows and kills everybody except the young warrior who returns to his love.

Jô Odagiri and Maggie Q

After some years the general comes again with a new army, two wolves appear on the way. One of the wolves looks at the general intensely, the man tries to kill the animal, the other wolf beats the general mortally.

The Final Scene

Not easy task to follow such a story without knowing the language, without subtitles, based only on some intertitles; no wonder the movie disappointed some viewers (not me: I am kind of a warrior fighting to appreciate any movie against all odds).

Actually the use of intertitles gave me the clue. The details don't matter because this movie is not a biopic! The story should be understood only in its most general lines, it is just a frame for a graphical meditation on brutality, passion, fate. No need of plot details because all that counts is found in the images. Tarkovsky comes in mind, only the Russian is more precise, more specific, in his plots. Tian is much more elemental, in the sense that his universe is built just from the basic elements: rituals, war, passion, founding myths: that's it.

He goes for his movies in extremely remote regions with extremely remote traditions, and (at least here, in The Warrior and the Wolf) in extremely remote times, just to be freed of any everyday. It was said that his preference for remote areas was motivated by the need to escape from the constraints of the censors. It is much more. Tian wants to escape from the constraints of the everyday: to be free to show what he intends to show, in all nudity. To be elemental.

I said rituals. It's not only about religious traditions. Everything is a ritual, because everything has sense. War is a ritual: people kill each other. Rape is a ritual, people control each other.

I said fate. It's about our relation with Nature. Humans trying to live in history, History dissolved by Nature, because History is a lie: what matters is Nature: people facing wolves, becoming wolves, facing snowstorms, facing death, becoming dust.

(Tian Zhuang-Zhuang)

(Yasushi Inoue)

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