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The Dragon Painter [Import]


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Amazon.com: 7 reviews
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
A silent film masterpiece unlike any other you will see. March 11 2008
By Steve Ramm - Published on Amazon.com
Format: DVD
This "new to home video" print of "The Dragon Painter" was fully restored in 1998 by the George Eastman House from the only known existing print which was found in France. The restoration included replacing the French "title sections" with those in English (and they remain on the screen long enough for even slow readers to fully read them).

If the word " early silent film" scares you, don't pass this one by. It's unlike any you will see elsewhere. First off, it's only 58 minutes long and the time passes very quickly. Next, though it takes place in Japan, it's a Hollywood production with the then Japanese/American movie idols Sessue Hayakawa (known mostly for his role in the 1960s film "The Bridge over The River Kwai") and the beautiful Tsuru Aoki (as his love interest). Then there is the newly composed musical score by Mark Isu. Native Japanese instruments are seamlessly woven into an almost-jazz score with hints of humor that will make you smile at critical moments in the film. (This score would make a terrific Soundtrack CD on its own.)

As with other releases from Milestone Films, there are LOTS of bonuses added to this package, including an earlier Hayakawa film - 1914's "The Wrath of God", directed by Thomas Ince - and a short, 2-minute "Screen Snapshot" silent comedy short from 1921 with Hayakawa and Fatty Arbuckle (it's SILENT, with no musical score), and lots DVD-ROM material to play on your computer (none of which I've had the opportunity to view yet.)

Classic Film lovers will definitely want this new release, but I'll also recommend it to general movie lovers, who I think will be surprised and drawn into the fantasy story of an artist (the painter) who can only fully create his best work when he fears he may lose the inspiration which drives him to paint.

Steve Ramm
"Anything Phonographic"
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
A beautiful and special oriental experience April 11 2008
By Barbara Underwood - Published on Amazon.com
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
After waiting several years for the release of this rare silent film, it was very rewarding to find that this DVD surpassed even my highest expectations, and this is not only due to the special nature of the film itself, but also the many `deluxe' bonus features. There are, in fact, two full-length films on this DVD, both starring Japanese-American actor Sessue Hayakawa, as well as in-depth material on both films, including an original screenplay for one of them. The information contained in this extra material helps to appreciate the value of "The Dragon Painter" because in an environment of general prejudice against Asians in the first decades of last century, Hayakawa managed to carve out an impressive acting career for himself in early Hollywood, producing many of his own films according to his own taste and style. It is due to this independence and self-expression that "The Dragon Painter" is such a beautiful and special film, like a traditional work of Japanese art in a visual and poetic sense, underscored by a perfectly-suited musical score with Japanese tunes and sounds, blended with some contemporary jazz-like styles for special effect. And since Sessue Hayakawa plays the role of a wild-eyed madman of the mountains who paints stunning landscape pictures, the whole film is like a tribute to Japanese artistry, style and culture.

But this is only the beginning of realizing what an outstanding talent Hayakawa must have been, because in the second feature film on this DVD he plays yet another challenging role in a much earlier, 1914 film called "The Wrath of the Gods", which was produced by one of Hollywood's filmmaking pioneers, Thomas Ince. It is always exciting to see a full-length (in this case 60 minutes) film from this early period, especially when they already show exceptionally advanced style and structure. This becomes more evident when seeing the complete script for the film, available in DVD-ROM format in the bonus material, and reading just a few paragraphs of it shows a remarkable and surprising depth of detail which many film historians apparently hadn't anticipated, such as directions to the cameraman on angle and lighting, and every minute acting gesture as well as dialogues for the actors, even though their words are not heard and only a few basic intertitles are used to explain the story. Like "the Dragon Painter", this early film is also full of Japanese flavour, with traditional costumes and themes right out of Japanese culture, religion and traditions. It also has a superb Japanese-style musical score, and the picture quality of both films is very good, although just a little hazy or scratchy at times which is easily overlooked however, due to the picturesque scenes (The Dragon Painter being partly filmed in stunning Yosemite Valley) and the elegant and exotic oriental style of both films. For a rare taste of Japanese culture made in Hollywood, or to appreciate the early work of a fine and special actor, this DVD is a special treat not to be missed.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Remarkable Sessue Hayakawa Double Bill. March 19 2008
By Chip Kaufmann - Published on Amazon.com
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
It has taken a long time for THE DRAGON PAINTER to reach home DVD. Announced well over a year ago, it had to wait for Milestone Films to find a new distributor which they did in New Yorker Films. Now we can finally see this long unavailable title and see how beautiful it is. The slight story is a variation on the woman sacrifices self for man so that he can succeed chestnut. In this case Hayakawa plays a wild mountain artist who paints dragons while searching for a princess. Once he finds her he loses the ability to paint until she takes matters into her own hands. The "princess" is played by Tsuru Aoki who was Hayakawa's wife in real life and their affection for each other shows. It's also interesting to see Edward Peil playing another oriental role. The same year (1919) he was in D.W. Griffith's BROKEN BLOSSOMS as Evil Eye. The film was beautifully photographed and looks quite good in this George Eastman House restoration of a French print.

The real treasure here though is the even rarer WRATH OF THE GODS also from George Eastman House. A major American produced film featuring Asian actors (Hayakawa, Aoki and others) in 1914 seems incredibly enlightened when you think of all the "yellow peril" parts that were just a few years down the road. The story borrows elements from MADAME BUTTERFLY and BIRD OF PARADISE and features future director Frank Borzage (SEVENTH HEAVEN) in one of his early acting roles. WRATH was produced by Thomas Ince who was one of the major players in the movie industry's early days but is remembered today only for his mysterious death involving William Randolph Hearst's yacht in 1924 and for the studio he built which would later become Cecil B. DeMille's and then David O. Selznick's. This is really a shame because as WRATH and an earlier title from 1916 (CIVILIZATION which has yet to make it to DVD) show, Ince's surviving films are very advanced for their time in their realistic portrayal of serious subjects and their no nonsense approach to quality filmmaking. Both films have been properly tinted and have atmospheric new Japanese style scores.

Once again thanks are due to Milestone Films for making important rarely seen silent movies available for home viewing. Hopefully all their distribution problems are now worked out so that we can expect to see a flurry of Milestone releases in the near future. They haven't issued a catalogue in some time nor updated their website and there were quite a few announced titles that have yet to appear on DVD. Welcome back Milestone, silent film fans have missed you.
A Vital Addition to the Canon of Hollywood's Early Asian Images April 27 2008
By Brian Taves - Published on Amazon.com
Format: DVD
Here's a worthy film that should be added to the study of early Hollywood's images of Asians. Too often discussion has been limited to Sessue Hayakawa's villain in THE CHEAT (1915), and Richard Barthelmess's tragic yellowface love for Lillian Gish in Griffith's BROKEN BLOSSOMS (1919), as representing respective polarities from fear of rape to noble sacrifice on behalf of white purity. However, the range of narrative possibilities in films at the time was far more complex than implied by the canonization of THE CHEAT and BROKEN BLOSSOMS, as the DVD release of THE DRAGON PAINTER reveals.

The bonus feature, THE WRATH OF THE GODS (1914), produced by Thomas Ince, was the first of a Japanese series in which he brought stage actors Tsuru Aoki and Hayakawa to celluloid starmaking roles, incidentally also resulting in their marriage. Unlike either THE CHEAT or BROKEN BLOSSOMS, in THE WRATH OF THE GODS, despite the volcanic eruption figuratively described by the title, the isolated Japanese woman and the shipwrecked American sailor find true love under the archway of Christianity. This is no Madame Butterfly story, but a reversal of it, although it may seem today less than progressive since Buddhism must make way for the faith of the West-although Buddhism is depicted as oppressing the principal Japanese characters.

Five years later, when he gained sufficient status, Hayakawa joined with director William Worthington to form their own company to produce Hayakawa's starring vehicles, merging the two names and calling the endeavor Haworth, to produce Hayakawa's starring vehicles. Many reviewers today have mistakenly ascribed to this commercial move some kind of modern-style reformist zeal to depict true Asian images, but the existing films of Haworth etch a more complex result.

Two other Haworth films survive at the Library of Congress, and were screened in a 2003 tribute to Hayakawa I organized. In THE TONG MAN (1919) and AN ARABIAN KNIGHT (1920), he crosses ethnic lines as a sort of generalized "other." THE TONG MAN is a stereotypical story of violence in Chinatown that aroused the resentment of Chinese groups even in its own time.

Farther afield from expectations but nonetheless still squarely within genre formula was AN ARABIAN KNIGHT, in which an Egyptologist's sister believes she is the reincarnation of an ancient princess and that a donkey tender of the street (Hayakawa) and was also involved in her life millennia ago. He rescues the family's ward from abduction by another Arab and wins her love, uniting Arab and white in a movie presaging THE SHIEK (1921). However, unlike the Valentino vehicle, there is no last-minute revelation of the hero's European lineage to assuage racial anxiety, and certainly Hayakawa's casting emphasizes racial difference. Still, rather than the intense romanticism of THE SHEIK, this faintly comedic treatment, as hinted at by the title (the story is deliberately told in the style of "the Arabian Nights") keeps AN ARABIAN KNIGHT from making a social statement on race relations.

THE DRAGON PAINTER is far more straightforward and serious than these other films, yet its simple narrative resembles a fable. Madness and unrequited love are shown as the source of artistic inspiration, which may be lost once happiness is achieved. There are familiar motifs as well that resemble Hollywood depictions of Asians; here the wife apparently commits suicide so that her beloved husband may regain the artistic power he had lost as a satisfied spouse.

Ostensibly set in Japan, the treatment does resembles a foreign production more than a domestically-made film, despite the fact that it was again directed by the American Worthington, whose versatility was demonstrated by the vastly different THE TONG MAN and AN ARABIAN KNIGHT. Yet in many ways the Japanese flavor is belied from the outset, especially by transparent use of iconic American National Park Yosemite Valley as the location for the large outdoor portion of the movie. The Park's stirring beauty does enhance the visuals, and connects with the artist's depiction of the waterfalls he sees as concealing the woman he loves.

The mix of Asian players and yellow face show the degree to which audiences accepted such casting at the time, while today it strikes us as ludicrous at the least or an indication of underlying racism at worst. Yet here Edward Peil portrays the master Japanese artist who mentors Hayakawa's artist. Peil is cast as the father of Tsuru Aoki, the eventual inspiration and romantic partner to Hayakawa. The performance styles are compatible as there is no visible sign that either the Japanese players or the whites in yellowface considered such a duality anything but typical of the challenges of acting in their day. Certainly, as co-producer, Hayakawa could have cast another player than Peil had he wished.

The real revelation of THE DRAGON PAINTER is Aoki, often subsumed under the cloak of her husband's fame although she preceded him to the screen, and recommended him to Ince. In THE DRAGON PAINTER, while Hayakawa has the luxury of a flamboyant role that ricochets between madness and contented husband, Aoki must play a woman willing to sacrifice all for his artistic gifts-and yet also to enact a deceit that forms the movie's final twist. Aoki is a performer of sensitivity who conveys an enormous range of expression in a style perfectly suited to silent cinema, but also much less dated today than Hayakawa's more heavy-handed performance. She was the foremost female Asian star of the American cinema before she chose to abandon her status in 1922, placing marriage ahead of career when her husband left the United States. Anna May Wong would inherit her status with her starring role in THE TOLL OF THE SEA (1922), but Aoki deserves to be better remembered, and not just in the shadow of her husband.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Simplistic, but good. Aug. 19 2008
By Robert Beveridge - Published on Amazon.com
Format: DVD
The Dragon Painter (William Worthington, 1918)

Short and simple, if well-acted, film from the silent days. Sessue Hayakawa (The Bridge on the River Kwai) stars as Tatsu, a slightly deranged painter who lives and works in the remote mountains. By chance, one of his paintings comes to the hand of Undobuchida (Toyo Fujita), a metropolitan painter who's looking for an apprentice to teach his tricks when he dies. Tatsu is brought to him, and agrees to the apprenticeship, but his inspiration disappears when he falls in love with Umeko (Tsuru Aoki), Undobuchida's beautiful daughter. Without inspiration, Tatsu doesn't make much of an apprentice; what are they to do?

While the plot's predictable and the story is simplistic (this is, after all, a fable), The Dragon Painter is noteworthy in that much of what was done in the silent days to convey emotion is absent here-- the constant exaggeration of expression, etc. It wouldn't seem out of place in the world of talkies, were it released with a dubbed soundtrack and the title cards removed. (Not that I would wish such a thing on any silent film.) Because of this, it feels more-- mature, perhaps?-- than many silents. Not a bad little film by any means, and with the recent DVD release, you can judge for yourself. ***

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