(Above: Lee Khan, his sister and their entourage)
The Fate of Lee Khan was one of Hu’s first films after he broke away from studio productions. It continues his rich tradition of casting women in powerful roles, making them central to the plot and also being wuxia masters in their own right.
(The innkeeper, her waitresses and Lee Khan)
In this film we see the innkeeper, her three waitresses and Khan’s own sister, fight and throwdown with men. More often than not, they trounce their opponents. Hu’s choice to cast women in strong roles like this has always been extremely interesting to me and also extraordinary. It seems as if he was years ahead of his time in this regard. Even today we have issues with female characters often written as supporting, rather than central characters.
In addition to the numerous strong female characters, I would also would like to take a moment to talk about costume design in this film. It seems amazing to me that even though this was an independent film, the costumes are varied and eye catching. What stood out to me the most and still is perhaps the most memorable aspect of the visual language of the film is the hats. This might just be due to my own background and not being familiar enough with Chinese culture, but the hats in this film were really memorable. I’m not sure why, it seems almost funny to mention, but there you have it. In King Hu’s other wuxia films, there were definitely hats. The peasants and travelers wore a specific kind of hat to give lots of shade and the various functionaries of the nobility and the nobility themselves wore peaked almost mesh style hats.
(Example of the hats travelers have worn in Hu’s films, this is from “Dragon Gate Inn”)
(Another example, the mesh style hat of nobility and their servants, also from “Dragon Gate Inn”)
But those hats have nothing on the array of colorful and unique hats in “The Fate of Lee Khan”. I mean just look at them, you can see them on display in every frame in this post, they come in different materials, and have additional jewelry as well . I wonder if perhaps these costume choices are due to the region in which the film takes place and I plan to research more into the style of the film as a whole. I just felt the need to say that if you remember one thing about the visuals of Lee Khan, remember the hats.
(Everyone’s wearing a hat at some point in “The Fate of Lee Khan”….)