Go West, Wuxia Storytellers!
I’ve been off traveling the byways of the virtual world promoting my novel, Dream of the Dragon Pool - A Daoist Quest. In those travels, I’ve met some new friends, readers, who are pitching in to help promote my work. One of them, a longtime Star Wars fan, has taken his enthusiasm for my work to his fellow-fans with the message that wuxia and the Star Wars world are very close – my blogs on “global storytelling” have pointed to those relationships. Another reader has been supporting my work among the fans of the prominent fantasy writer, Terry Brooks. All of this is deeply appreciated! Thanks for your support!
Today, I’m writing about another movie that I just saw and that deeply impressed me: “3:10 to
I’ve been writing for awhile that the Western is of a similar genre as wuxia in the nature of the hero and of the story environment. Before I write about Crowe’s Ben Wade character, I’d like to discuss James Mangold’s comments on the DVD’s featurette, “An Epic Explored.”
Mangold contends that the Western is not a period or historical film. Rather, he sees it as capturing cultural issues and putting them in a “fantastic landscape” like science fiction. He feels that this objectifies these issues and allows viewers to look at them free from their own loyalties.
One of the reasons that he feels the Western is not a period or historical film, is that, he claims, they are not historically accurate, nor do they claim to be. Rather, they have chosen an idealized setting to tell basically, a fantasy story. Since this “fantasy world” leaves the viewer without any of the familiar and comfortable likenesses/prejudices with which to draw comparisons, the viewer is forced to look at the issues and themes presented from a new perspective.
These stories are fantasies created no doubt to entertain, but also, according to Mangold, to explore real issues beyond the simplicity of good vs. bad. Christian Bale adds that the Western is asking if the hero has it in him to step up to the plate to do the right thing when the time comes. That in this relatively primitive world, people had to fend for themselves and depend upon themselves without support from others. That it is this aspect of individual strength that makes this genre still speak to us in the 21st century.
Mangold adds that this is the brilliance of the Western in that it sets mankind in a setting where they have nothing but their own strength – physical and moral – to rely on, to defend themselves and what they love. He says that in such a context, the imagination flies. Without a doubt!
When I listened to him, I couldn’t help but think of my main characters, Li Bo and Wang Ah Wu, in my novel – “nothing but their own strength – physical and moral – to rely on, to defend themselves and what they love.” The two genres, wuxia and the Western, translate so easily back and forth – as if they were mirror reflections – the meeting of East and West.
As I continue my reading of John Truby’s The Anatomy of Story, I just came across this:
The symbol web of the Western begins with the horseman. He is both the hunter and warrior, and he is the ultimate expression of the warrior culture. He also takes on certain features of the English national myth of King Arthur. He is the natural knight, a common man of pure and noble character who lives by a moral code of chivalry and right action (known as the Code of the West)…The six-gun represents mechanized force, a “sword” of justice that is highly magnified in power. (p.245)
Truby goes onto the next page giving the movie Shane as the generic example of a Western. In previous blogs, I’ve used the same example. This all goes to say, that from my wuxia perspective, we are on the same ground here. Wuxia is, without a doubt, also a fantasy that allows us to see everyday issues in a new light.
In Dream of the Dragon Pool, for example, what is one of the basic issues being considered? The role/life of an artist and the challenge of material vs. spiritual fulfillment. Actually, it is not only Li Bo, the main character, who has to make that choice. All the characters face the challenge of defining what is meaningful for them in their lives. And all the characters have to, at some point in the story, in Christian Bale’s words, “step up to the plate to do the right thing when the time comes.” As in life, some do and some don’t.
Looking at the Ben Wade character, as so aptly portrayed by Russell Crowe, he might at first seem to be totally evil. But, as in life, things are not simply black and white, but rather gray. As the story progresses, we find that many of the “good” guys in the posse taking Wade to meet the 3:10 train are not so “good.” And, gradually, a different aspect of Mr. Wade begins to emerge, yet at the same time paralleled by his seeming acts of ruthlessness. I’m not giving away any spoilers here, but by the end of the movie, perhaps, you’ll find yourself like I did very conflicted about the Ben Wade character. I like that! Don’t give me simple characters – people are never simple!
After you see “3:10 to