Monday, December 8, 2008

Once Upon a Time in China

Once upon a Time in China: borders

Of all of the characters, Aunt 13 is most respective of representing technology and ongoing change; the camera she brings from the west seems to be malicious in that damage is dealt every time it is used. In the beginning when she takes a picture of Wong with a bird, the bird dies, during the fire in the building she grabs the fan, stops to take a picture of the building falling down, gets in the way of Wing trying to put out the fire and the fan she rescued gets partly singed. It is no wonder that by the end everyone is ducking for cover when their picture is being taken. Only two other characters come out as accepting western ideals So and Wong Fei-hung. So seems to adapt well already learning medicine from the west and trying to learn in the east but he is unable to read Chinese. Wong rejects the west outright at first shrugging off wearing a suit and wearing shades but upon hearing that everyone in America wears sunglasses 24/7 he louses them immediately and soon after we see Aunt 13 wearing them at the show. “you can’t fight guns with Kung Fu” is the equivalent “don’t bring a knife to a gunfight” Wong realizes this and adapts quickly by flinging a bullet with his fingers like a gun, this perhaps is when the trade off of him to accept the west.
Wong mentions to an official on how Chinese wheat is used to make western bread, and that increasingly more “foreigners” keep buying Chinese land. This calls back to the beginning of the film when the captain asks how Vietnamese will feel when they see the plaque “our land, our people” in that increasingly other people are closing in on china.

On another note, upon re-watching the film I discovered a unique but not so surprising discovery. I watched the dubbed English version, thinking it was the same film only in English. As it turns out this may be considered a different movie altogether. This is more apparent when watched dubbed version and original theatrical release back to back. All of the sound had seemingly been recreated. The music difference seemed more noticeable in the original while the dubbed had graded in so that it was less of a music video. All of the voice talents were good for a dubbed film it was clear or at least not obvious that there was one voice for two or more people unless there was a screaming involved. On the other hand what they said made less sense because of the editing, some things were taken out that developed character, and several lines were throne in to convince me that it was made to cater “the western audience.” The sound FX seemed like they had the original track from the first film.

As for the visual this is almost what makes it two stand alone films: Editing. The only scene left untouched (and for some reason makes me believe it is the most important one) is the measurement scene with Aunt 13 and Wong (or cousin and Wong for dubbed version). From what I can tell every piece of dialog is recreated an not as much as a single frame is missing form the picture. Some major differences happen here that in my opinion make it a lesser version but may have been cut for pacing reasons. First is the beginning, we are on a ship where solders believe they were being attached in reality. However, it was only firecrackers from the Dragon dance. This scene also establishes a painted paper fan handed down over to Wong. Later in the film there is a fire where this fan gets scorched and it is significant. However in the dubbed version the begging scene before the credits is nonexistent and when the fan is on screen Wong says that he doesn’t want the “present.” Second is Aunt 13 and her camera, in the original she takes Wong’s picture with a bird and kills the bird, in the building fire scene she sets up to take a picture of the place coming down in front of her thus for some reason the best spot to take a picture is in Wings way to put the fire out. And in the end scene it is understood why everybody avoids the camera, death seems to fallow wherever it goes. In the dubbed version, the first scene doesn’t happen, the only thing left in the burning building scene is “I have to save my camera” and so by the time we get to the end we don’t get the motivation to avoid the camera of deathly flashing. Third, there are several scenes that are trimmed down or cut out for some reason I can only justify pacing and time maybe in order to show on TV. The first two changes seem the most significant.

--Rob Witt

(Once Upon a Time in China 黃飛鴻, dir. Tsui Hark 徐克, 1991)


Anonymous said...

Thinking of Chris' entry on Cafe Lumiere, I see a striking contrast between the representation of technology in that film compared to Once Upon a Time In China. In Cafe Lumiere it is seen as a progressive instrument facilitating life for contemporary society. However, in Once Upon a Time In China, as Rob points out, technology is portrayed as a dangerous (but only because not understood), possibly imperialist, mechanism. Both camera and gun "shoot" people, and both bring injury or death. However, the camera is eventually redeemed as a positive aspect which can be appropriated by China, recording and preserving history and culture. The gun, of course, is a tool of the ignorant and ignoble, a symbol of those unwilling to negotiate change; the persevering rejection of which enlightens the irony of modernization.


Anonymous said...

I've seen the film dubbed in other languages and the quality was poor. The English dubbed version definitely has a better quality and more special effect are added.I think the reason is because it intention is for the western audiences.


Gillian Adler said...

I liked how you commented on the difference between the dubbing and subtitled versions. It displays the cultural differences between countries, wherein some countries prefer their way of watching a film, while others prefer watching the original content. Music does make a large difference in the feel of the film. Maybe that is why I didn't like it on the first view.

Anonymous said...

I'm interested in the alternate version as I wonder how the theme of modernity is represented. The differing editing also is intriguing as it seems to target the different markets it will play in.

Jon said...

I was hoping from a Kung-fu film, even one skeptical about the west, that one of the highlighted representations of the west would have been some western martial arts rather than symbolic cameras, guns and suits, all of which were contrived too blatantly.
-Jon Schmitt

Anonymous said...

To me, the most interesting part of your blog was what you noted about about the dubbed versions of the film. I have always found the process of subtitling and dubbing very interesting. On the one hand one needs to be true to the film, but word for word translations rarely convey the necessary meanings that a script carries. On the other hand,if too much has changed, you never know if you are conveying the authors original intent. Furthermore, there is always the question of conspicuousness. the dubbing/subtitling will necessarily distract from watching the film naturally. I think these questions are really interesting in discerning the nature of art and authorship in translation