The Lunar New Year has begun and it’s the Year of the Rooster, but since I don’t know many films featuring roosters (other than Warner Bros. cartoons starring Foghorn Leghorn), I took my inspiration from a New York Times piece on a Lion Dance troupe preparing for this weekend’s New Year Parade in Chinatown and decided to look at films featuring Lion Dance sequences. There have been quite a few over the decades, but I decided to focus on kung fu films that are easily accessible in my collection. Lion dances are usually performed by two people in a lion costume, one to operate the head and the lion’s forelegs, the other to carry the rear and be the lion’s hind legs. The head has moveable parts, including a mouth and eyes. It’s a form of puppetry with humans inside the puppets. In kung fu films, the Lion Dance sequence is often used to act out an ongoing rivalry between martial arts schools without resorting to bone-crunching blows, although they can be just as challenging as a kung fu battle. Some of these sequences are more elaborate than others; some are shot on location, some on studio soundstages or backlots.
I always try to watch a suitable Hong Kong film on the first day of the Lunar New Year. Since this year is the Year of the Snake (and I was born in the Year of the Snake), I chose THE SORCERER AND THE WHITE SNAKE (2011), a fairly new version of the famous Chinese folk tale of “the Legend of the White Snake” and the fifth film version of this tale in my DVD collection and the only one I hadn’t yet seen. It’s a Chinese-Hong Kong co-production and the only actors in it who were familiar to me were martial arts star Jet Li (in the role of the stern monk, Fahai) and singer-actress Charlene Choi (formerly a member of the Cantopop singing duo, the Twins), in the role of Green Snake.