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.