Friday, July 22, 2011

A Time to Love: Romeo and Juliet in China

A Time to Love [Qing ren jie]. Dir. Jianqi Huo. Perf. Wei Zhao and Yi Lu. 2005. DVD. N.p., 2009.

For five brain-packing weeks, the attendees of this year’s Folger Summer Institute studied under the general title “Shakespeare: From the Globe to the Global.” We intensely and deeply explored innumerable aspects of the world in Shakespeare’s day and Shakespeare in today’s world. Of particular interest to my own professional and informal writing was the time we spend on Asian Shakespeares.

A Time for Love was not one of the films we discussed, but the general apparatus we were in the process of developing increased my own understanding of the film and expanded my ability to discuss it.

To call A Time for Love a Chinese version of Romeo and Juliet does both works a disservice, belittling the later by suggesting that it can be easily and uncritically transferred into another time and culture and belittling the former by squeezing it into a box that is far too small to contain it.

The film certainly starts with the general Romeo and Juliet idea. Our Romeo analogue falls for our Juliet analogue; we learn that his mother objects to the match because of something obscure and mysterious that her father did. I’m trying to be careful not to provide spoilers in this post because the film is tremendous, and you should all see it, but the film itself leaves this point unsettled for a considerable period.

While those who are familiar with the play start to recognize elements from it in the film, the protagonists themselves start to find their own story in Romeo and Juliet. Here’s a brief scene in which we watch them watch some of the 1968 Zeffirelli Romeo and Juliet:

These Chinese characters in a Chinese film are trying to find an analogous story for their lives in a classic Western text at the same time as a Western audience is trying to find analogies in the characters' lives to the same classic Western text.

And that’s where I have to stop. The film, from that point forward, critiques the entire idea of the East turning to the West for explanations of its identity—not by discounting it out-of-hand but by questioning the wisdom of such an effort and by contemplating what is wise and what is foolish about such an endeavor.

In watching A Time for Love, I find the reverse happening. The West looks to the East for explanations of Romeo and Juliet and finds both wisdom and folly—but mostly wisdom.

Links: The Film at IMDB.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Before Gnomeo and Juliet, there was Romeo and Juliet: Sealed with a Kiss

Romeo and Juliet: Sealed with a Kiss. Dir. Phil Nibbelink. Perf. Daniel Trippett, Tricia Trippett, and Chip Albers. 2006. DVD. Indican , 2007.

I'm sure Shakespeare Geek will be among the first to point out that he mentioned this film in 2006. He's always cutting edge, and I'm always limping along behind.

All the same, I often—eventually—get there. This time, when I got there, I found seals performing a musical version of Romeo and Juliet.

Although I want to enjoy and recommend this film unreservedly, it tends to be too sentimentalized. The clip below—the balcony scene—will give some indication of that, though it will also give a slight flavor of the comic relief into which Mercutio and Benvolio have been turned. You will also notice that the usual joke—is it a joke here?—about "wherefore" meaning "where" instead of "why" is brought up twice. Mercutio says "Wherefore art thou Romeo?" while searching for Romeo, but (to give him and the scriptwriter the benefit of the doubt), he isn't necessarily using it to mean "where." He may just be quoting a line or pondering why Romeo is behaving as he is. Later, Juliet's balcony speech is paraphrased, and she says "Where are you, my Romeo?" and Romeo responds with a prompt "I'm right here!" I think I'm right in saying that this strikes right at the nerve of a pet peeve for most Shakespearians. And it's completely unnecessary in this case! If you're paraphrasing anyway, wherefore would you not have Juliet say "Why are you Romeo?"

But that's something of a digression, and the film doesn't stand or fall on that line. Indeed, a number of moments—particularly some of the comic songs—are delightful, and, as a basic introduction to the plot of the play, Romeo and Juliet: Sealed with a Kiss isn't terrible.

As promised, here's the balcony scene. I break the clip off right before the sappy song starts but right after the visual allusion to "star-crossed lovers" lights up the sky.

Links: The Film at IMDB.

Click below to purchase the film from
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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Macbeth: Something Robotic This Way Comes

CGI Macbeth. Dir. Daniel Gallagher. Perf. Kevin McLeod and LibriVox. Bright Red Productions, 2011.
The alternate title for this post is "Do Androids Dream of Daggers that They See Before Them, the Handles Toward Their Hands?" The second alternate is "I, Robot Macbeth."

A new version of Macbeth may be coming, and I owe my knowledge of it to Shakespeare Geek. The twist this time involves an all-robot cast. Shakespeare's text will be retained, though the setting will be altered to "a Cyber Scotland," according to Daniel Gallagher, its creator.

Perhaps I'm particularly interested in this because I recently spent some time on "Foul Whisperings, Strange Matters," a Macbeth-related location in Second Life—and I didn't care for it very much. CGI Macbeth will provide a more interesting, much more complete virtual Macbeth.

But it's also possible that casting the play with robots provides a commentary on the play itself. Does this provide us with a "Six Robots in Search of an Author" scenario? Or does it comment to a greater degree on the way in which the characters are bound to their fates? Although the preliminary trailer (see below) provides us with a glimpse of the witches, the way they're used isn't yet clear. What if they were portrayed as computer programmers?

The project does need funding in order to get off the ground in earnest. If you're feeling particularly philanthropic—or just pro-robotic—head to the page for the project. With as little as a ten dollar donation, you can receive a copy of the film once it reaches its completion.
Links: An article on the project. The project's funding page at

Thursday, July 14, 2011

King Lear and The Tempest in The Last Lear

The Last Lear. Dir. Rituparno Ghosh. Perf. Amitabh Bachchan, Preity Zinta, and Arjun Rampal. 2007. DVD. V One, 2008.

And the last Lear post in this brief Lear sequence is The Last Lear. The film is Indian, and it centers on the relationship between an aging actor and an aspiring director.

In the scene below, the director tries to convince the actor to play a role in his latest film:

Beautifully shot, wonderfully acted, and deeply delivered, The Last Lear is a high point of Indian engagement with Shakespeare.

Links: The Film at IMDB.

Click below to purchase the film from
(and to support Bardfilm as you do so).

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

House of Strangers as a Derivative of King Lear

House of Strangers. Dir. Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Perf. Edward G. Robinson, Susan Hayward, and Richard Conte. 1949. DVD. Twentieth Century Fox, 2006.

House of Strangers is a derivative of King Lear where three of four sons (instead of two of three daughters) take over their father's kingdom. In this film, the kingdom is a bank, and the king (Gino Monetti, the bank's director) doesn't willingly divide his kingdom. Instead, his kingdom is divided for him when he stands trial for unethical practices.

Here's a scene from early in the film where the father's authority (as well as his questionable business practices) are foregrounded:

Does it seem less horrible to have sons (rather than daughters) reject their father? Does it make a difference to set that rejection in the Italian-American community?

Links: The Film at IMDB.

Click below to purchase the film from
(and to support Bardfilm as you do so).

This is a bonus image. The Lear analogue is asking what he should do when he's thrown out of the bank. One of his sons tells him, "You're an old man. Buy peanuts."
Bardfilm is normally written as one word, though it can also be found under a search for "Bard Film Blog." Bardfilm is a Shakespeare blog (admittedly, one of many Shakespeare blogs), and it is dedicated to commentary on films (Shakespeare movies, The Shakespeare Movie, Shakespeare on television, Shakespeare at the cinema), plays, and other matter related to Shakespeare (allusions to Shakespeare in pop culture, quotes from Shakespeare in popular culture, quotations that come from Shakespeare, et cetera).

Unless otherwise indicated, quotations from Shakespeare's works are from the following edition:
Shakespeare, William. The Riverside Shakespeare. 2nd ed. Gen. ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.
All material original to this blog is copyrighted: Copyright 2008-2039 (and into perpetuity thereafter) by Keith Jones.

The very instant that I saw you did / My heart fly to your service; there resides, / To make me slave to it; and, for your sake, / Am I this patient [b]log-man.

—The Tempest