Zhang Huanxun's "Pride's Deadly Fury," which screens today only as the final offering in the Nuart's Chinese Film Festival, turns out to be, of all things, an Asian "Rocky IV."
Of the many recent Chinese films to surface this year, "Pride's Deadly Fury" is one of the least sophisticated but most entertaining. Baldly political and fervently patriotic, it's an unabashedly anti-Soviet propaganda piece in the guise of a kung fu epic.
A small family of martial artists travel from one town to the next, supporting themselves with displays of their skills. It's 1916, and we are told that this family, like countless others, has suffered many hardships due to the concessions granted to foreign nations in the wake of the Boxer Rebellion of 1900. As it happens, the family comes to Tientsin just as a champion Russian wrestler, undefeated in 46 countries, is due to arrive, presumably to continue his world conquest. In between the inevitable David and Goliath match between the diminutive, wiry martial artist (Li Junfeng) and the brawny, peroxided wrestler (Ai Haiti) there are many, many plot complications of no great matter.
If the acting is as eye-rolling and lip-curling as that of a primitive silent, the martial arts displays are truly balletic. Phones: (213) 478-6379, 479-5269.
Among the films in the final weekend of the County Museum of Art's "50 Years of Film From the Museum of Modern Art" are "Duel in the Sun" (screening Friday at 8 p.m.) and "Portrait of Jennie" (Saturday at 8 p.m.), two David O. Selznick productions starring Jennifer Jones. They represent the extremes of the Selznick-Jones collaboration. "Duel in the Sun" remains one of the most lurid screen epics ever made by major screen figures, while "Portrait of Jennie" is one of the most exquisitely poetic films in Hollywood history.
In the first, Selznick's conception of what was good for Jones was as disastrous as it was daringly successful in the second. Yet, "Duel in the Sun" is just as lively, outrageous and tasteless fun as it was when it was new, nearly 40 years ago, and the Technicolor is gorgeous in its florid way. Jones is the half-breed Pearl Chavez, whose hot Indian blood draws her to her reckless, wild cousin Lewt McCanles (Gregory Peck, sexy, relaxed and wicked as he never was before or since), while her yearning to be good draws her to Lewt's decent older brother, Jesse (Joseph Cotten).
In the background are Lewt and Jesse's parents, rip-snortin' old cattle baron Lionel Barrymore in battle against the railroads and his delicate, ailing wife (Lillian Gish, always in lavender and lace, always heralded by a refrain of "Beautiful Dreamer"). Butterfly McQueen is back in a reprise of her "Gone With the Wind" role, and Walter Huston is irresistible as a phony preacher.
Directed primarily by King Vidor, who eventually quit, "Duel in the Sun" is devoid of subtlety. Jones wears such heavy makeup and so many off-the-shoulder peasant blouses and such loud colors you're reminded of Madonna. "Duel in the Sun" will be followed by a screening of John Ford's classic "My Darling Clementine."
Based on the Robert Nathan novel of the same name and directed by William Dieterle (who completed "Duel"), "Portrait of Jennie" couldn't have been more of a treacherous challenge. Jones not only plays a young woman who progresses from 10-year-old to teen-ager to adult in a very short span of time but also someone who's actually come back from the dead (to beguile painter Joseph Cotten). Jones is so radiant yet modulated and ambiguous that it all works. "Portrait" is a very handsome black-and-white film, with a wonderful supporting performance by Ethel Barrymore and a perfect Debussy score. It will be aptly followed by Max Ophuls' romantic masterpiece, "Letters From an Unknown Woman" (1948). Phone: (213) 857-6201.