CHINESE literature is more drawn than written. In a language composed of characters, as opposed to letters, each word becomes a picture, and every sentence a montage. As Ang Lee has put it, in particular reference to the title of his new film Lust, Caution, “the shape itself means something”.
BEFORE STARTING work on His Dark Materials, a trilogy of what he called “science- fantasy” novels, Philip Pullman wrote an alternative Book Of Genesis to rival God’s own creation story. In Pullman’s version, God was nothing more or less than an angel, the first sentient being. He did not make the universe, but told the younger angels that he had, pretending to an authority that he never possessed. When the more liberal of their number rebelled against his dictatorship, they were cast out of heaven. The wisest of them – Sophia, who was not mentioned in the Bible, but later found a place in the Gnostic gospels – tempted Eve to eat the forbidden fruit purely and simply because it represented knowledge, which could never be a sin.
TWO people climb a mountain, connected by a rope. They go up together in concerted motion, taking turns to carve out a path. If one falls, so does the other. This method is known as “alpine-style” – the purest kind of mountaineering. It has the simplicity of a proverb and it loads the rope with meaning. When Simon Yates cut the cord between himself and his friend Joe Simpson during their fraught descent from the summit of Peru’s Siula Grande in 1985, he was taking the only possible, practical action. The act itself was resounding. There were only two people on the mountain, but everybody heard about it.
MAGGIE Cheung is in the Leather Room. One of the three most famous Chinese women in the world – the other two being her fellow actresses and former co-stars Gong Li and Zhang Ziyi – she sits on an ornamental armchair, surrounded by red and gold gilding, panelling and drapery, in a theatrically decorative corner of Edinburgh’s Prestonfield Hotel. Conde Nast Traveller recently described this place as “so extravagant it’s like walking on to the set of some flamboyant costume drama”. Cheung has appeared in dozens of such movies, and looks as if she belongs here. But the actress herself has never felt that she belongs anywhere, and particularly not on a film set.