Year Released: 2006
Directed by: Ronny Yu
Starring: Jet Li, Betty Sun, Dong Yong, Shidou Nakamura, Sun Li
(PG-13, 104 min.)
"Integrity is so perishable in the summer months of success." Vanessa Redgrave
The flurry of Jet Li’s fists is but a backdrop to this epic tale of overriding ambition and tragic fall from grace. The real core of this martial arts saga is the uphill path from rebirth to redemption that follows. Maybe only in conjunction with bloodied bodies and crushed bones are we allowed to muse on man’s need to develop his inner as well as his outer strength.
Such yearning toward hard won integrity and honor is certainly not given much celluloid in current Hollywood, which almost seems to glory in odes to corruption, debauchery, and decay. No wonder the paying public has for the most part shunned the big budget failures like the recent The Black Dahliaand All the King’s Men.
Jet Li gives us the life of Huo Yuanjia, a fighter whose ruthless instinct to win as not that different from that of the two ex-pugilist detectives featured in Brian De Palma’s The Black Dahlia, but director Ronny Yu allows his hero to grow and reflect. Humiliated by his father’s defeat and the bully’s beating he received after it, Huo vows to redeem the family honor, in spite of his father’s objections and his asthmatic body. So while his academically inclined friend Jinsun completes his calligraphy assignments for him, Huo practices his “Wushu” moves until he is a local celebrity, gaining an ever expanding group of disciples who are, unfortunately also dedicated to drinking him into debt at his boyhood friend’s posh restaurant.
One of these same disciples appears beaten and bloody at Huo’s door, the victim of the only master Huo has not sparred with in this province. His lust for revenge causes him to precipitate a rash battle with this rival, who reluctantly accepts the challenge and sends his birthday guests home in shocked disarray. The ensuing battle takes as much out of the Jinsun’s beautiful restaurant as it does the combatants, the lovely tapestries, carved wood, and china crashing as loudly as the ominous thunder outside. Huo’s “victory” is a final crunching deathblow, one soon avenged on the innocent members of his own family.
It is too bad the young Huo did not heed the wisdom of his mother’s words that “Wushu is not about winning. It is about discipline and restraint.” It is left to another woman to ingrain this upon him, the lovely Moon (Sun Li), who tends to Huo after her village people rescue the broken man from near death. Her red and blue cap is not unlike the crisp white ones worn by hospital nurses, and indeed, her solicitude is for his spirit as well as his body. It all begins with washing his hair, filmed as an almost baptismal rite at water’s edge, and thus the new Huo is reborn, “christened” Ox due to the propensity for sleeping he shares with the beast of burden.
The green of the simple mountain village, and the rhythm of daily tasks, such as planting the tender rice shoots, begin to work their magic along with Moon, whose lack of sight is compensated by her inner vision. It is she who tells Huo that “wushu” combines two words that mean stop war. At first, when the gentle breeze rushes through the rice fields, Huo ignores the other workers who stop, stand stock still, and Zen like, enjoy the simple sensation. The following spring he too enjoys this quiet respite, and so indeed, he is healed and ready to rejoin the world.
His newly formed Jingwu Sport Federation imbues its disciples with honor and discipline as well as skill, but that skill is soon put to a torturous test when Huo is challenged to combat four of the great fighters from all over the world. Perhaps more exciting than the actual combat, though, is the afternoon chat he shares with the Japanese champion, the two discussing the qualities of tea and warriors, and finding some common ground.
It is a meeting of the minds that will shape their ultimate combat, a dramatic tour de force almost Shakespearean in its impact and resonance.
As popular and gorgeous as his friend Jinsun’s restaurant is, it is not eating but mostly drinking and fighting that we witness there.
At the simple mountain village, Huo watches as the blind maiden Moon brews tea, fries pancakes, and roasts chicken, selecting just the right herbs and spices to go along with them.
But the most meaningful food was not eaten at all. It was the two pastries left at Huo’s daughter’s grave, little Yueci, so proud of her fighting father.
Let us celebrate the lives of these two young women, Moon and Yueci, with the traditional fare of the Chinese Autumn Festival, mooncakes. These are made with Lotus paste and are very rich, so a little goes a long way.
A chocolate mooncake is also featured through the link below.
Lotus Seed Mooncakes
The most famous legend surrounding the Moon festival concerns its possible role in Chinese history. Overrun by the Mongols in the thirteenth century, the Chinese threw off their oppressors in 1368 AD. It is said that mooncakes - which the Mongols did not eat - were the perfect vehicle for hiding and passing along plans for the rebellion. Families were instructed not to eat the mooncakes until the day of the moon festival, which is when the rebellion took place. Rhonda Parkinson
Makes 2 dozen
1 can (17-1/2 ounces) lotus seed paste
1/4 cup finely chopped walnuts
4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2-cup non-fat dried milk powder
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar 1/2 cup solid shortening, melted and cooled
1 egg yolk , lightly beaten
1. Mix lotus seed paste and walnuts together in a bowl; set aside.
2. Sift flour, milk powder, baking powder, and salt together into a bowl. In large bowl of electric mixer, beat eggs on medium speed until light and lemon colored. Add sugar; beat for 10 minutes or until mixture falls in a thick ribbon. Add melted shortening; mix lightly. With a spatula, fold in flour mixture. Turn dough out on a lightly floured board; knead for 1 minute or until smooth and satiny. Divide dough in half; roll each half into a log. Cut each log into 12 equal pieces.
3. To shape each moon cake, roll a piece of dough into a ball. Roll out on a lightly floured board to make a 4-inch circle about 1/8-inch thick. Place 1 tablespoon of lotus seed paste mixture in center of dough circle. Fold in sides of dough to completely enclose filling; press edges to seal. Lightly flour inside of moon cake press with 2-1/2 inch diameter cups. Place moon cake, seam side up, in mold; flatten dough to conform to shape of mold. Bang one end of mold lightly on work surface to dislodge moon cake. Place cake on ungreased baking sheet. Repeat to shape remaining cakes. Brush tops with egg yolk.
4. Bake in a preheated 375 degree F. oven for 30 minutes or until golden
Recipe Source: Mid Autumn Festival