The Fate of Lee Kahn (1973)
Where’s it on? Blu-ray and DVD
Here’s a film that’s been impossible to see in any kind of reputable copy for decades but emerges this week on Blu-ray and DVD in a 2k restoration that’s just eye-popping. The Masters of Cinema series is slowly inching through the catalogue of wuxia master King Hu, having already put out his Dragon Inn (1967), Legend of the Mountain (1979) and genre pinnacle A Touch of Zen (1971). Set in 13th-century China, during the Yuan dynasty, 1973’s The Fate of Lee Kahn is the final film in King’s loosely connected ‘inn trilogy’, its drama taking place almost entirely within the carved-out-of-a-cave Spring Inn. This is where a Mongol general and his sister arrive to try and obtain a tactical map revealing the Chinese rebel army’s whereabouts. In the battle of wits and (occasionally) limbs that ensues against the innkeeper and her cadre of resistance fighters, King makes brilliantly inventive use of the widescreen frame in tight spaces before the action erupts into the spare Shaanxi landscape.
Where’s it on? BBC2, Sunday, 12.10am
The licence fee payer is starved for subtitled fare, but this weekend BBC2 offers a chance to break our fast not with crumbs but with a big beast of recent Russian cinema: Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Leviathan. On the back of films such as The Return (2003) and Elena (2011), Zvyagintsev has become one of the two or three most internationally celebrated Russian directors of our time, and there’s a gripping sense of both intimate drama and state-of-the-nation grandeur to this story of a homeowner on Russia’s north-west coast battling against local politicians to resist a compulsory purchase order. There’s a moral seriousness about Zvyagintsev’s work that seems forbidding, but which becomes compulsively watchable in the moment. This is one that hopefully won’t be forgotten in the upcoming onslaught of best-of-decade lists.
Hoop Dreams (1994)
Where’s it on? Selected cinemas nationwide
Among the most acclaimed cinema documentaries of the 1990s (and number 18 in our recent countdown of the films of that decade), Hoop Dreams is back in selected cinemas around the country this week for its 25th anniversary. It’s the story of the rocky fortunes of two school boys – William Gates and Arthur Agee – from a poor black neighbourhood in Chicago whose basketball skills are spotted by a talent scout from a prestigious, nearly-all-white Illinois school. Director Steve James only intended to make a 30-minute special, but his project ballooned to nearly three hours as – in the great expectations around William and Arthur – he found a Great American Novel’s worth of detail about midwestern family and society, race and class, and the slivers of opportunity that can propel some and trip up others. Critic Roger Ebert called Hoop Dreams “one of the great moviegoing experiences of my lifetime”.
The Beach Bum (2019)
Where’s it on? Cinemas nationwide
Harmony Korine breaks a seven-year silence after 2012’s Spring Breakers with another Florida project: a free-wheeling, PBR-soaked jaunt around the Keys in the company of Matthew McConaughey’s bong-brained hedonist poet Moondog – a sort of cross between Ariel Pink and a slacker-generation version of Jeff Lebowski. Korine’s virtually plotless saga unfolds in a breezy, beachside universe peopled with the likes of Snoop Dogg, Jonah Hill, Zac Efron and Martin Lawrence, one that seems almost supernaturally removed from the buzz-harshing realities of contemporary America and where Moondog gets by fuelled by an irrepressible optimism and thirst for mayhem. It’s been called Korine’s most conventional film to date, but the split chorus of one-star and five-star reviews that The Beach Bum is receiving this week proves his work remains as divisive as ever.
Support the Girls (2018)
Where’s it on? Blu-ray, DVD and BFI Player
It’s a good week for dipping into microcosmic pockets of American life that we don’t normally see on screen. Out on DVD and for streaming, Andrew Bujalski’s Support the Girls sets us down in a Texan ‘breastaurant’ of the Hooters variety, detailing the camaraderie and everyday tribulations of Double Whammies manager Regina Hall and her team of waitresses, including Haley Lu Richardson (who broke through in 2017’s Columbus). There’s nothing leery or condescending about Bujalski’s approach here, but it’s not grindingly miserabilist either. Support the Girls offers lots to dig into in what it has to say about gender and race in the modern workplace, and worker exploitation, but it’s also a warmly humanist and frequently hilarious film, building to one of the most cathartic final scenes in recent memory.