Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Swordsmen in My Memory
I am a certified movie addict and martial art was the blockbuster movie genre when I was young. Martial Law just been declared and I was only ten then. Golden Gate Theatre, just along Gen. Dunckel St. (now C. Liboro or was it Felix Y. Manalo Avenue?), is only a stone throw away from my grandparents’ house. I cannot help but smile everytime I remember that when I was six, while I can go to movies alone, I cannot go to school unaccompanied. And that’s why, even years have passed,- for me, seeing a movie is heaven while doing my school assignment is hell. Those were the days when our demigods onscreen were Chinese and Japanese swordsmen and nobody else.
In case it skipped your memory, Golden Gate Theatre is located at the present site of Novo General Merchandize here in San Jose, Occidental Mindoro. That particular spot in Pandurucan (my town’s erstwhile or native name), near the corner of Bonifacio and Dunckel Streets was once its recreation center. It is adjacent to Public Market, near our town’s two famous restaurants (Cora’s and Halina), surrounded by bowling lanes, grocery stores, beer houses, billiard centers,- name it, it’s all there. Places where I became street smart at an early age. And yes as a kid, Golden Gate Theatre introduced me to a wonderful world of foreign and Tagalog movies. Its darkness made me sense the outside world, outside of my home town. It was there where I encountered my childhood screen idols such as Zatoichi (or “Ichi”), the blind swordsman and Fan Gang, the one-armed swordsman. All I have to do is to save fifty centavos from my daily school allowance. Saturdays and Sunday are my “movie days”.
Ichi is a quiet, blind masseur and a roving gambler who, when innocent lives are at stake, becomes the ruthless swordsman who can cut down a dozen goons -- yakuza and samurai alike – as fast as a lightning. The character is played by Shintaro Katsu. I found out just recently from the net that Katsu is a well-known figure in Japan for he starred in all of the 26 “Zatoichi” film series from 1962 to late 80’s (second to total of 27 James Bond film series). I have seen around four of “Zatoichi” films. All from old and dusty white screen of Golden Gate Theatre.
I can still remember my blind swordsman’s good-wit, perceptive understanding of human nature, keen sense of hearing, the fast draw of his cane sword and the way he sing and play music. Things that captured well by my youthful fantasy. Specially when he is protecting the innocent and fighting injustice. Full of excitement, I am glued to the theatre’s chair every time Ichi,- surrounded by blade wielding thugs, initiates darkness or go into the dark and deliver his famous tagline, "Kurayami nara kocchi no mon da" or “Darkness is my ally” (from what I read in its English subtitle below). It’s a prelude to a gory but action-packed scene.
My other favorite is a Chinese actor named (Jimmy) Wang Yu, specially as Fan Gang in the “One-Armed Swordsman” fame. The story is about hard work and vengeance. After his right arm was cut off by the evil men, Fan Gang was trained by an old man and finally mastered the one-armed style of swordplay from a half burn kung fu manual and became even stronger than before. After finally killing all his opponents, instead of teaching kung fu, he decided to become a farmer. The end. Incidentally, Wang Yu was once the top paying martial art actor in Hong Kong before Bruce Lee came into the picture. Wang appeared in 70 films of his more than 20 years in show business.
In a film entitled “Zatoichi Meets the One Armed Swordsman” Shintaro Katsu and Wang Yu made a one-heck of a movie. A memorable flick which was actually a crossover film not only between two actors but between two countries, China and Japan. Only now did I realize how the men behind the camera ingeniously use the language barrier between the two main characters to set them up for duel to death while keeping both characters’ motives honorable. The swordplay is excellent but with a bit of the violence and a lot of blood. The film ended without giving a hint who between the blind swordsman and the one-armed swordsman won the duel. And I found my self groping in the dark even after I get out of the cinema that day. Anyway, those swordsmen of my childhood were men of character,- full of interest, enthusiasm and concern toward other people. Their characters maybe violent but they never have been indifferent. Violence is indeed bad but indifference is even worse. And that stayed in my mind until today.
Second to our home and aside from school, we learn our lessons even from most unexpected places of entertainment like movie houses…
(Photo credit : Amazon.com)