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Oriental Masks

Oriental Masks
Photo by Jefferson Solayao, 2016

Monday, July 24, 2017

Watched Judge Dee and the Monastery Murders (based on the book The Haunted Monastery by Robert van Gulik), a DVD my sister Sylvia gave me today. She had some difficulty obtaining this; it is, indeed, a rare acquisition. This 1974 movie for TV, filmed with a square screen a la the Brother Cadfael series, co-stars a young Mako as Tao Gan and a young Miiko Taka as first wife Jade Mirror, who looks no older than she was in the 1957 movie Sayonara. The rest of the cast is Asian-American, except for one Caucasian. Asian-American, not Chinese-American. I even suspect at least one Filipino-American in the cast. It was an era, after all, when a purely Chinese-American cast would have been impossible to assemble.

I was a little put off by the casting, but only because the characters look nowhere near the illustrations of Robert van Gulik. The actor who performs the role of Judge Dee is quite paunchy and not as fit as the protagonist of van Gulik's series. Because it is an old movie, the scenes are washed out. The continuity is poor with regards to posture, lighting, and sound. A dinner scene is unconvincing--there is hardly any food in the bowls. Finally, nothing can beat that fake, wild bear. This was, nonetheless, a good attempt and quite a hard shoot: the setting had to be as complex as that described in the novel, and the first half of the movie occurs under a heavy downpour.

Searching for a Judge Dee movie is like searching for a needle in a haystack, and so I consider this DVD an exotic treasure. It is now mine, mine, mine! I did enjoy it, but I can see how a present-day audience would not.