Li Fangfang announces two films, could be the first female director of a major wuxia film in forty years

Sword 剑来 would be the first wuxia by a female director in over forty years.

Since Ann Hui’s 1987 adaptation of The Book and the Sword, no female director has tackled the genre of wuxia for a major film (unless you count Kung Fu Panda 2). Li Fangfang, who first won the prestigious Golden Eagle Award for a script she wrote in high school, is not afraid to try.

Earlier this year, director Li Fangfang (Forever Young, Heaven Eternal Earth Everlasting) and the guiding light to my soul announced the two projects she’s currently working on – ancient drama Sage 士 and wuxia Sword 剑来 (rough English translation of titles by me). Although, given how it took six years for her last film took to screen, it might be many years before we see either film.

Based on the book of the same name by Feng Huo Xi Zhu Hou 烽火戏诸侯, Sword is set in a world of philosphical battle, where the four main groups – the Confucians, the Taoists, the Buddhists, and the yao 妖 – fight with each other to build their visions of utopian societies. Swords are but tools used to build realms based on one’s ideological pursuit, and kingdoms rise and fall based on the guiding principles of the rulers.

“Every director has a wuxia dream. … When I was reading Sword, my mind was filled with all sorts of images – about swords, about fists, about jianghu, about what it means to be a xia. These imageries may be different from traditional wuxia films, and I’m eager to depict them. ” – Li Fangfang

While Sword focuses mostly on the ideological battle between Neo-Confucians, Sage is rumored to be a rebellion against Confucianism. The film focuses on the Seven Sages Of The Bamboo Grove, a group of scholars, writers, and musicians who tried to lead free-thinking lives apart from the increasingly rigid Confucian of the Jin Dynasty, sometimes by adopting eccentric personas that mostly consists of getting high, drunk, and naked in bamboo groves away from the court. Once, a guest asked why one of them was asked was naked when greeting the guest, and he responded: “The sky is my home and the house is my clothing, why are you in my pants?” Basically Jin Dynasty hippies.

“In Forever Youth, the theme is to follow your heart, but many times we don’t know what the heart wants. In Sage 士, I want to continue to explore this topic. In an increasingly complicated society, how do we get rid of the noise and listen to the heart? When I was reading historical records, I saw how this group of people lived. Under the grand scheme of the historical backdrop, they forsook neither their friends, family, nor society, and more importantly, they found peace and joy within themselves. I want to film how they lived.” – Li Fangfang.

Fangfang has spent the past two years working on art direction for the film, which is scheduled to begin filming later this year. “In Eastern Jin, although their nations were torn with warfare, people still seek spiritual standards. As such, they have lofty aesthetic standards,” said Li Fangfang about the importance of the pre-production for the film. After all, this is the time period where people were so obsessed with attractiveness that they literally watched someone to death because he was so attractive.

I love the aesthetics and sentiments expressed in her two previous films, so I’m really excited to see how she depicts the ancient world in her two new films.

One of my favorite cut visuals from Forever Young.

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3 thoughts on “Li Fangfang announces two films, could be the first female director of a major wuxia film in forty years

  1. Re: watched to death. One version I read was that he was like an extremely popular idol who didn’t have good crowd control service. He had to push his way through a throng of fans one day while visiting a city. He overexerted himself, became ill, then died. Another version had him pull an all-nighter, fell ill then died.

    I’m under the impression that depicting recognized major religions in a significant manner in films and dramas is now a no-no. Don’t know whether simply slapping on fictitious names for these religions while maintaining recognizable concepts and practices will work.

    • I haven’t read the book but I’m under the impression that the focus is not on the more supernatural religious ideas like the afterlife, but on how one acts and governs in the present life under each of the philosophies.

      I’m not sure what the rule is about religion, but I feel like Buddhism and Taoism play pretty big roles in a lot of ancient dramas that have came out recently. All the Journey to the West spin-offs, for example.

      • I didn’t watch enough of Ever Night. I guess whatever the treatment these religions received there would be the present yardstick. Hard to say what it will be when the film is ready for release.

        Yao 妖 is especially problematic.

        An explanation of the rules that I read stated that classic supernatural/fantasy Chinese literatures were still fine as long as characters were not made more evil. If these religions were present, very little latitude would be given in the depiction of their philosophies and core concepts. This, and the historical accuracy rules, might have affected drama Faithful to Buddha, Faithful to You.

        I’ve read on Weibo many posts questioning the double/multiple standards regarding these classics vs all else having similars subject matters. Maybe the regulators’ rationale is that these classics are deeply ingrained in the culture but such ideas/concepts should be contained within them.

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