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Weeknight Diversions - "Legend Of The Drunken Master" and "Agata And The Storm"

Licia Maglietta in 'Agata And The Storm.'
Licia Maglietta in 'Agata And The Storm.'

Two pretty interesting films are being screened here in Chicago on the night of Tuesday, January 20th, and it might be worth disrupting your normal school-night schedule to sneak off and see one of them.

Legend Of The Drunken Master (醉拳二, Jui Kuen II) (Hong Kong, 1994) is actually the second Jackie Chan film concerning this unique fighting style and, working with co-director Lau Kar-Leung (who is often credited under his Mandarin name, Chia-Liang Liu), it’s one of the most successful pairings of high-speed martial arts prowess with the broadly theatrical comedy style prevalent in many of Hong Kong’s non-kung fu comedies. Lau excelled at this blend; his Dirty Ho (1976), made as part of his ongoing collaboration with the actor Gordon Liu (Chia-Hui Liu) is an hilarious and surreal film not too far removed from the philosophies behind Buster Keaton or Gene Kelly films. (Pick just about any film from Doc Films’ current survey of Lau Kar-Leung, and you’ll be astonished at how wildly entertaining they are.) Chan’s recent films with Owen Wilson and/or Chris Tucker are good big dumb fun at the movies, but his Hong Kong work from the late seventies, eighties and nineties is irreproachable for its combination of jaw-dropping precision fighting and ingeniously clever comic touches. Legend Of The Drunken Master takes pains to reinforce the moral villainy of its nonetheless cartoonishly-portrayed antagonists; British colonials, indeed, were ravenously plundering a great deal of China’s historical art and artifacts in the years before Hong Kong became independent (in 1997). With some recent Hollywood-influenced exceptions (you can avoid titles like The Tuxedo, Around The World In 80 Days, Forbidden Kingdom, The Spy Next Door and the Karate Kid remake), you really can’t go wrong checking out any Jackie Chan film. I can’t recommend his earlier work enough.

‘Legend Of The Drunken Master’ screens as part of Doc Films’ “Hong Kong Masters: The Innovative Kung Fu of Lau Kar-Leung” on Tuesday, January 21st at 7:00 p.m.

Agata And The Storm (Agata E La Tempesta) (Italy, 2004) is directed by the capable and engaging Silvio Soldini, who impressed me with 2010s’ Come Undone (Cosa Voglio Di Più). I haven’t seen his most successful film, 2000’s Bread And Tulips (Pane E Tulipani), but each of these (Agata and B&T) features a subtle undercurrent of romantic magical realism, and a featured role for the excellent Italian actress Licia Maglietta. Agatha And The Storm follows Agata (Maglietta), a middle-aged bookstore owner who is negotiating a love affair with a much younger married man (her surges of conflicted emotion literally disable light bulbs in lamps, ceiling lights, and film projectors), and her brother Gustavo (Emilio Solfrizzi), a successful architect whose life is thrown into confusion when he learns he was adopted, and whom then engages in a unique business enterprise with his newfound half-brother Romeo (Giuseppe Battiston). This lovely film, while nowhere near any kind of masterpiece, is yet another example of the kind of film Hollywood seems damned near incapable of making; a smart comedy about grown-ups who are perfectly content to be grown-ups, rather than constantly at psychological and situational war over the fact that they've been forced to grow up and leave adolescence behind. Soldini co-wrote the terrific script with longtime collaborators Doriana Leondeff and Francesco Piccolo, and his deliberately structured but colorfully antic visual style is rich and evocative without showing itself off. (His cinematographer is Arnaldo Catinari.)

The Italian Cultural Center holds these screenings about once a month, and while they occasionally feature true Italian classic films, they just as frequently showcase smaller recent Italian films that weren't widely distributed here in the U.S., and they seem to have pretty good taste. For a few hours of intelligently amusing distraction, this film beats just about anything else currently in town.

‘Agata And The Storm’ screens at the Italian Cultural Center on Tuesday, January 21st at 6:00 p.m.