David Bordwell is a film academic who often writes about Asian cinema. You may have heard his audio commentary on the Criterion DVD of Ozu's AN AUTUMN AFTERNOON, read his DVD liner notes for the UK release of Johnnie To's MAD DETECTIVE or one of his many books. He puts up a lot of his writing on his own website/blog, and he recently put up this great piece on Shaw Brothers' use of the anamorphic widescreen format which they dubbed Shawscope. Below is an excerpt. Click the text to read the full piece.
Another Shaw Production: Anamorphic Adventures in Hong Kong
by David Bordwell
What did teenage viewers think when Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003) opened with the logo for Shawscope? Could they possibly have shared the frisson felt by baby-boomers who had haunted inner-city theatres thirty years before? Or by viewers who had watched “Kung-Fu Theatre” on 1980s television? Or by fanboys like Tarantino, freeze-framing cropped and trembling VHS tapes? For all those generations, the Shawscope blazon opens onto a world of one-armed swordfighters, beautiful woman warriors, and kung-fu masters with very long white eyebrows. Without denying the peculiar pleasures of these sagas, we can peer behind the logo and study this widescreen format’s place in a broader dynamic. The Shaw mystique arose out of creative innovations of the studio’s personnel, guided by the business policies of an all-powerful producer. We can as well analyze how Shaw directors forged a distinct widescreen aesthetic—one that still, as Tarantino seems to realize, has much to teach us about the ways movies can seize spectators. Hong Kong took tutorials in widescreen from its neighbors, but eventually it could offer lessons, and exhilarating ones, to the world.