Image: Jan van der Zee


The genre bore fruit beyond American cinema.

The great Akira Kurosawa of the samurai saga confessed to seeking inspiration in North American westerns – not to mention a lot of Shakespeare too, of course. The cowboy, as is well known, embodies one of the myths of the American dream: individualism, private initiative, personal exercise of violence, a simulacrum of freedom in aimless riding through the wilderness, etc.

But after the extraordinary success of Akira Kurosawa, Hollywood began to reinterpret his films, reversing influences. The first impact, caused by the seven samurai (1954), it would be enduring. There would be many films like the 47 ronin, with Keanu Reeves, and The last Samurai, with Tom Cruise, this one more peculiar piece of white that arrives there in Japan and defeats all the Japanese in the martial arts that they invented and practice…

Aside from the Japanese, the western bore fruit in Italian and Brazilian cinema. Sergio Leone, creator of spaghetti western, boosted and at the same time renewed the genre. Clint Eastwood in a poncho, chewing his cigarillos, close-ups of faces, the brim of his hat slowly rising to reveal his glittering gaze, long silences and wide empty spaces, the camera sometimes at the level of the boots that advance step by step. And everything underlined by the wonderful soundtrack by Ennio Morricone, who provided music for six of the director's seven films.

In Brazil, where the genre shows remarkable vitality, they have already been made and affectionately nicknamed northeastern about 60 of them, according to a survey by researcher Luiz Felipe Miranda. And from the heights of art, such as God and the Devil in the Land of the Sun e The dragon of evil against the holy warrior, classics by Glauber Rocha, even nonsense from Os Trapalhões. Recent cycle titled Nordestern – Brazilian-style bange-bengue, at Cinemateca de São Paulo, recognized the emphasis and permanence of the genre. A pioneering manifestation was the famous course on cangaço, attended by several budding filmmakers, taught at the Faculty of Philosophy on Rua Maria Antonia, under the auspices of the Instituto de Estudos Brasileiros (IEB-USP), in 1966.

But sometimes Westerns can creep up on Hong Kong's action cinema, famous for its kungfu films, especially those starring Bruce Lee, and other blockbusters across Asia. In Once upon a time in China and America, whose title honors Sergio Leone, there are three groups of characters in the Old West: the whites, the indigenous people and the Chinese. And, with a lot of humor, he makes a Chinese man with amnesia be adopted by the tribe and become a redskin. The good guys are the “colors”, that is, the indigenous and the Chinese, while the villains are all white, with the exception of one, who allies with the good guys. The film is a lot of fun and, as you would expect, it excels in the fight scenes, in which Chinese and whites face each other, the first taking flight and spinning in karate, the second firm in boxing.

The protagonist is an exemplary actor, Jet Li, almost as popular as Jackie Chan across Asia. Not exclusive to martial arts, Jet Li acts under the baton of award-winning directors in Cannes, Berlin and Venice, as is the case of Hero, directed by Zhang Yimou. One of the greatest filmmakers in the world, we were able to appreciate his talents on TV when he directed the spectacular opening show of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Chinese contingents came to work in the Americas between the end of the XNUMXth century. XIX and the beginning of the XX, especially in the expansion of rail networks, such as the Western pacific in the United States and Madeira-Mamoré in Brazil, but also in other countries where they left their mark, such as Peru and Cuba. This diaspora resulted in chinatowns in the metropolises of the West – less, curiously, in Brazil. We have a Japanese neighborhood in São Paulo, Liberdade, but none Chinatown. Working conditions on the railroads corresponded to those of slaves and statistics show that cules died like flies.

Guimarães Rosa did not shy away from becoming one of them, lost in the sertão, the protagonist of a beautiful short story, “Orientação” (Tutameia). Filled with humor and grace, it derives these attributes from the friction between the high civilization of the Chinese and the rusticity of his beloved countrywoman. It is worth checking.

*Walnice Nogueira Galvão Professor Emeritus at FFLCH at USP. She is the author, among other books, of Reading and rereading (Sesc\Ouro over Blue).

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