FILM REVIEW: Devil Music for a film in search of sounds

Imagine a world without Jackie Chan. Without Jet Li. Without Chuck Norris. Can you?This was Earth 80 years ago, just before Shanghai came out with the Kung Fu genre.Though others were made before it, “Red Heroine” (1929) is one of the oldest Kung Fu films and the only surviving part of a thirteen-episode serial directed by Wen Yimin.Without access to the Warner Bros.’ Vitaphone sound synchronization technology in China, “Red Heroine” debuted as a silent film.Enter The Devil Music Ensemble.The three-piece group hooks up various sound-deprived movies – such as “Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde” and “Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” (both 1920) – with worthy soundtracks.On Saturday Nov. 15, they came to the Film House at Main Street Landing with an eclectic sound to match the dramatic “Red Heroine.”The event was sponsored by The Lane Series and Tic Tic,Columns of foot soldiers and cavalry prance across the silver screen, to the well-suited accompaniment of Tim Nylander’s fast drumming and gong-like percussion.The heroine, Yun Ko, and her family attempt to flee as refugees as a malevolent army wreaks havoc on their village.The tensions rise as Yun Ko’s grandmother is killed and she herself is taken hostage; facing certain rape, the caveman-looking hermit, White Monkey, mysteriously appears in the general’s chambers to save her.Under White Monkey’s tutelage, Yun Ko transforms herself into a great warrior.Appearing and disappearing in a cloud of smoke, she rescues another girl abducted by the cruel general.Though he is the perpetrator of the violence, it is difficult to take the general seriously.His self-important style and mannerisms make him appear like a Chinese version of a Victorian dandy.”Red Heroine” tells a compelling story and does so with comedic effect.The general’s aide (also desirous of his harem) has protruding front teeth that surely smell terrible up close.His antics contrast with Yun Ko’s grim situation prior to her rescue.But without the music, the film would lose its power. Devil Music did an astounding job writing the score; their array of instruments and synthesizers have allowed them to incorporate modern electronica while still producing a traditional Chinese sound.”Back then, most directors couldn’t even imagine the techniques we’re using,” violist Jonah Rapino said. To create the score, Rapino and his band mates used elements of classical and folk Chinese music, and incorporated some soundtracks from modern Kung Fu cinema.In sad moments, Rapino’s electric violin and viola mirror the film’s mood; his skillful trills and vibrato were central to his style.Brendon Wood’s creative use of the electric guitar made the notes sound crisp, clear and melodious.In times of rising tension, Nylander’s percussion dominated the show. Cymbals and drum crescendos were well-timed with scene climaxes.”We really got started when we were asked to play for the Celluloid Series at the Coolidge Corner Theater in Brookline, Mass. in 2002,” Rapino said.There, they played a soundtrack to Rene Claire’s 1925 film “Le Voyage Imaginaire.” Since then, they’ve toured all over the United States and parts of Europe, and have completed soundtracks to six additional silent films