(Above, the man himself, King Hu)
Well, that’s about it. This ends my survey of King Hu’s work. I’ve learned a great deal about how King Hu’s experimentation lead to new techniques and even a new genre comprised of almost magical martial arts masters. Looking back over his work as a whole I feel I could potentially make a few claims about King Hu as a person and what he found important.
Hu seemed intensely interested in history and culture, many of his films examined corruption, political intrigue or religion as a main component of the story. There are also many scholarly characters, and wise monks throughout his filmography. I think the reason I especially enjoyed The Valiant Ones was because it drew upon actual history to tell it’s story. The decision to also explore corruption in the government and the immense power in the hands of military leaders is also one that I found engaging and interesting. In Raining in the Mountain, Hu’s exploration of Monks was also a very well done subtext. By portraying the monks as people trying to be greater than themselves, but often failing, Hu was showing that everyone struggles, no matter how holy they seem to be, or their station in life.
King Hu was also intensely interested in the new, in exploring how to make things better. In this endeavor Hu’s films broke new ground in special effects. He explored and developed many ways to create the magical reality that his wuxia masters inhabited. From playing film backwards and putting actors on wires, to adding effects and filters, or using his edits and cuts to hide or expose action, Hu was constantly trying new things. Making his films in the days before computer graphics effects, Hu managed to develop techniques for practical effects that were the best in the business.
While I have discussed my opinion that Hu’s scripts could likely be improved in previous posts, I also feel that there is something great about the way he told his stories. By letting his stories meander, and be unfocused, Hu’s films actually feel a little more real. Like life, not everything in Hu’s films is there to push the story forward. Sometimes elements, sequences or shots exist simply because that is the world the film takes place in, the world has no clear pacing, it is ambiguous and sometimes it is not clean cut the way we expect our cinema to be.
In conclusion, King Hu was a scholar and film maker whose experimental tendencies lead to many breakthroughs and ideas that pushed film making forward as a whole. Though many of his films have various problems, they were mostly due to his drive to constantly improve and experiment, as well as the huge amounts of pressure he faced from investors and studio heads. King Hu’s legacy is inspiring and I hope that if you are reading this you take a moment to try to find and watch some of his films. I’d recommend Come Drink With Me, or The Valiant Ones as an excellent intro into his work.