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‘Soul on a String,’ ‘Smokey and the Bandit’ come to SF screens

“Soul on a String”: Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yang (“Shower,” “Sunflower”) has been fascinated with Tibet of late, and his new epically visual Buddhist adventure film (yes, action scenes with a spiritual sense) is an odd, interesting take on Eastern Westerns. Clocking in at two hours and 20 minutes, it’s about a hunter who has been revived from the dead by a monk to take a sacred stone, changing hands perhaps for a thousand years, to its rightful place at Palm Print Mountain, wherever that is. Eventually, he comes into the orbit of various stragglers who join him on the way. “Soul on a String” has a modern Chinese epic feel, but has a quirky individuality that harks back to a time when Chinese and Hong Kong films had their own style, and not the mass-produced feel of so many of today’s Hollywood tentpole films. Zhang is a good filmmaker; it’s good to see him back in the cinemas. Starts Friday, May 19, at the 4-Star, 2200 Clement St., S.F. (415) 666-3488.

“Smokey and the Bandit”: If you had told me back in 1977 that we would be celebrating “Smokey and the Bandit” with a national release in theaters (including two dozen in the Bay Area) and that it would be considered an American classic, if a minor one, I’d have been stunned. But now that it’s happening, I’m OK with it. Burt Reynolds, at the height of his box office powers, is a bootlegger smuggling Coors beer from Texas to Georgia (yes, Coors, which in 1977 was illegal to sell east of the Mississippi River). On his tail is Texas sheriff Buford T. Justice (Jackie Gleason); driving the load is Jerry Reed, with Reynolds’ Bo “Bandit” Darville riding ahead in his Trans Am as a “blocker,” and runaway bride Sally Field joining the ride. Yee haw! Directed by stuntman Hal Needham, the film — the second-biggest box office hit of 1977 after “Star Wars” — is filled with jaw-dropping car chases, and that’s part of its lasting allure. In an era where the obviously computer-enhanced “Fast and Furious” movies are popular, “Smokey and the Bandit” has truth: These were actual stunts, by actual stuntmen risking actual life and limb. Also ringing true is Reynolds, who could be the greatest Southern movie star ever. A man of the South (born in Georgia, raised in Florida), he starred in so many films made in the South — “Deliverance,” “Gator,” “Sharky’s Machine,” “Stick,” the “Smokey and the Bandit” films, many others — that it’s hard to think of another American major star who is so closely identified with a specific region. At 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday, May 21, and Wednesday, May 24. For theaters, tickets and information, go to

More David Lynch: With the debut of a new season of “Twin Peaks” on Showtime on Sunday, May 21, Bay Area repertory houses have been generous with all things Lynchian over the last month. Joining the fray is Landmark’s Clay Theatre (2261 Fillmore St., S.F. (415) 561-9921., which is showing Lynch’s 1992 feature-film prequel of the series, “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me” as its midnight film Friday, May 19, and Saturday, May 20. The Castro Theatre (429 Castro St., S.F. (415) 621-6120. screens 1990’s “Wild at Heart” at 7:15 p.m. Friday, May 19, as part of a double feature topped by Alan Parker’s “Angel Heart” at 9:35 p.m.

G. Allen Johnson is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: Twitter: @BRfilmsAllen

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