Thursday, 30 August 2007

Bullet in the Head (1990)

Bullet in the Head 1990This is another good example of John Woo's heroic bloodshed subgenre that sets in the Vietnam war.

I don't like the name 'heroic bloodshed', not so much because I didn't coin it, it's because I find 'modern wuxia' is a better description. One that points to its source of inspiration.

1st thing 1st, what is wuxia? 'Wu' stands for 'martial' (as in 'wushu' meaning 'martial arts'), and 'xia' is, for the lack of a better English equivalent word, 'chivalrous knight'. Someone like Zoro of the Old California, or Japanese samurai. They lived by a strict code of ethics: righteousness, brotherhood, loyalty, justice, duty and last but not least, chivalry. Brotherhood don't apply to either Zoro or samurai as they're loners. But brotherhood is 1 of the most important characteristics in the Chinese classic Water Margin where I think this whole wuxia and most of Woo's movies are based on. Guess what? Water Margin is sometimes translated to call Outlaws of the Marsh, or All Men are Brothers. This last translation is very clear what's the Chinese classic is all about.

All that could be seen in this action flick.

This isn't my most favourite of Woo's movie in the 'modern wuxia' subgenre. As if a few guns in the city of HK isn't sufficient, this movie takes them smack bang into the battlefield during of the height of Vietnam War in 1967. If you're in the camp of the more guns and pyrotechnics the merrier, then you'll love this to bits. I'm more in the less-is-more camp. But I do like this movie for the illustration of Woo's modern wuxia - they risk their lives to rescue the girl simply because it's what a xia does - rescuing damsel in distress (distraught, actually).

Perhaps, 1 can argue that 'heroic bloodshed' and the 'modern wuxia' is different, but both exist in this movie. 'Heroic bloodshed' emphasises brotherhood above all else, while 'wuxia' emphasises the chivalry aspect. Ok, I can live with that. I'm not going to be pedantic about it.

Like Deer Hunter, this movie unfairly paints the VC as some sadistic monsters who take great pleasures in torturing their POW. This is done to increase shock entertainment values, and develop the characters in the stories.

Days of Being Wild (1990)

Chinese title: True Memoirs of Ah Fei.

The Chinese name 'Ah Fei' (阿飞 or 阿飛) is very rich in meaning to Cantonese speakers (a dialect WKW, and HK locals speak).

Days of Being Wild (1990)
'Ah' (阿) is simply a Chinese intimate term of address. If your name is 'John', I'll call you Ah John to promote closeness.

'Fei' (飞) is a word loaded with meaning.

'Fei' is Cantonese slang for hoodlum or hooligan. Somebody who has little regards for social norms and rules. Punk, riff-raff. It's used in such terms as "Fei Tsai", "Lo Fei", "Fei Nu" (meaning punk, old punk, punk gal).

The 2nd meaning of 'fei' is 'to fly' or 'flying'. Perhaps this is the original derivation of the Cantonese slang for hoodlum - i.e. somebody who flies in the face of lives, somebody who's not grounded, somebody who has no roots, somebody who lives in the fast lanes (thus in flying speed). This describes 'Ah Fei' or Jack our central character very well. The metaphor of a bird with no legs - which Ah Fei describes himself - is already implied in his name. Somebody who drifts (or flies) from place to place without stopping.

The 3rd use of the word 'fei' could be found in such situation as if I dump my girl friend, I would say, I 'fei' her. That's what Ah Fei loves to do, 'flying' or 'fei-ing' girls. An equivalent English term would be 'flick' - give the girls the flicks.

The general usage of the word has the sense of leaving, rejecting, removing, or excluding something. The opposite of attachment, connection, adding, or inclusion.

All these connotations - hoodlum, flying, dumping romantic relationship, sever ties - are all captured in that Chinese title name. This is a pretty good example of something is lost in translation. With an English title like Days of Being Wild, which has absolutely no shades of meaning. Too bad. All the richness is being 'fei-ed' by translation, leaving only a dry empty husk.

In short, 'Ah Fei' lives up to his name. And the cultural study of the semantics of this title name would give a full understanding of the complex central character of this film. In short, you come up with the name, you get your central character.

English speakers needn't feel bad for the lost of translation because the word 'Fei' is very Cantonese, and colloquial. The rest of 1.3 billion Chinese (minus a sadly increasingly declining number of Cantonese speakers in Guangdong province) couldn't grasp the meaning and subtleties of the word.

This is WKW's 2nd feature after As Tears Go By made 2 years earlier. The structures of the 2 stories are similar. I.e. a life of a character living in the fringe of society is cut short at the end, and doomed romance(s) in between. But the devil is in the details embedded in the structures.

In this story, the love interests are twice as rich,. While our main protagonist York ('Ah Fei') has 2 love interests, he also has 2 mothers. The 2 lovers are polar opposites: 1 is a shy girl working in a quiet local corner store, and the other is sprightly girl working in a rowdy cabaret. The ways the 2 broken hearted girls also handle their rejections in opposite ways. One is through acceptance, and the other denial (at least in the film. Mimi is still in denial right until the very end).

Similarly, his 2 mothers - 1 biological and the other adoptive - are polar opposites in background: 1 is an aristocrat and the other prostitute (also the aristocrat is from the Philippines - big fish in small pond, and the prostitute is from Shanghai - small fish in a big pond). One rejects him, one raises him. You could say York has a noble birth, but lowly existence for the rest of his life. That unresolved psychological conflicts lead him to a life of emotional, and ultimately physical destruction (i.e. breaking hearts and taking lives). As he explains near the end of the movie, if he's a bird without legs, that bird is already dead when he's born. His life of destruction of other lives leads to his self destruction. His death wish is thus fulfilled.

There're also other parallels in terms of production. Jacky Cheung, Maggie Cheung and Andy Lau are in both movies. And Andy Lau is a gangster in the last, a cop in this film. Jacky Cheung played similar roles in both - a support role to the main characters in both movies.

There're dualities, parallels like these that one can draw comparisons and make speculations till the cow comes home. No, the actors WKW chose to play in his movies aren't coincidental. In the closing scene, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai plays a character that seems to have nothing to do with the movie. That's true. The closing scene serves as a prelude to his future film In the Mood for Love (2000), as well as his futuristic film 2046 as 3 parts of an informal trilogy.

And yes, Maggie Cheung, played the same character Su Li-Zhen in this and the 2nd part of the trilogy, In the Mood for Love.

Here's more clues WKW dropped into this movie regarding his future - or I should say futuristic - film. The hotel room Tide stays in is 204. What about the important date that has been mentioned a few times in the movie - 04/16/1960? The 4 digits that seem to appear over and over are 2, 0, 4, 6 - the title of his futuristic film. Did he plan this? Or did he simply make use of something in the past for his later films? Only he and God knows.

There's no question that WKW arts is heavily influenced by Latino culture from the music to the Philippines, and to his later film Happy Together, which takes place in Argentina.

While the story structures of his 1st 2 movies are similar, but he replaced a lot of actions and violence in his last film with artistic dialogues and situations in this one. This is the general evolving trend in WKW's movies to be 1 of the most notable and the very few art-house directors in HK film industry.

One of the many factors that made WKW films a success - critically, not commercially - is what we would call characters driven story (not that the plot sucks. But it isn't the important focus). All the characters are given a fair share to breath in their own spaces.

This WKW 2nd movie, which also begun his career long collaboration with his camera man Christopher Doyle, marks the start of his career of making almost exclusively art-house movies.

Song of the Exile (1990)

I mentioned a few times in other reviews that Ann Hui is 1 of the few HK director who makes a number of films that explore social issues, especially those where the protagonists whose lives are clearly shaped by historical contexts/events. I.e. the fates of the principal characters are intertwined with history. In this case, WW2.

This is a story about an estranged relationship between a mother (Tan Lang Jachi Tian) and daughter (Maggie Cheung). The daughter's few days trip in Japan with her mother for the 1st time is fraught with difficulty that led her to appreciate - an epiphany if you will - what her mother must have lived through all these years in an foreign land that was further alienated by her in-laws due to her Japanese nationality.

(Well, the daughter could've communicated with the local Japanese via Chinese writing. I was surprise by how much I could read Japanese Kanji based ONLY on my knowledge of Chinese writing. I knew that Japanese used a mixture of Chinese characters (kanji), hiragana, and katakana before my holiday trip to Japan. What surprised me was the percentage of kanji being used. I was able to 'talk' (made myself understood) to many Japanese by writing Chinese. This is a good tip for Chinese who wants to travel by themsevlves in Japan. Bring a pad and pen. Few Japanese speak English).

But this isn't a plot hole at all. It could also show how little she understands her mother's mother tongue, and culture. Indeed, if her relationship with her mother is good, she could very well speak Japanese with her mother.

It's also not surprising that her daughter didn't discover her mother's Japanese heritage because of how much she had turned herself into a Chinese. Interestingly, or naturally, that only when you go to a foreign land that your own cultural upbringing would be highlighted. In her case, she didn't realise that she has eventually owned a Chinese stomach (a stomach that accustoms to only hot - temperature wise - food. Chinese stomach wouldn't even like to drink cold water). Also, when the daughter was young, she remembers her mother as a silent type like a typical obedient Japanese wife as well as inability to communicate with her in-laws in Chinese. With the decades of living in Macau/HK, she has became fluent in Chinese and quite outspoken like a typical HK/Macau woman.

Not the kind of commercial fare that usually associates with HK cinema (well, strictly this is a HK - Taiwanese film. This is more of a typical Taiwanese film).

The Swordsman (1990)

Chinese title: Smiling, Proud Wanderer (笑傲江湖), the name is based on Louis Cha's novel. More literally, it should be translated as "Laughing at JiangHu". This explains the 2 laughing scenes in the movie before they die.

While the 1970s - what I like to call the Bruce Lee decade - saw the unstoppable rise of kungfu genre at the expense of wuxia. The 1990s saw a resurgence of the wuxia genre. After all, nearly 2 decades of watching kungfu flicks, enough is enough. Who's better to accomplish that than the legendary wuxia director King Hu, who had never left wuxia in the 1st place?

King Hu was the 1st director in HK film industry who introduced us to the crafty cast of secretive castrates on the silver screen in his wuxia masterpiece Dragon Gate (1967).

The Swordsman (1990)Since I'm fans of both Louis Cha and King Hu, I can't live with myself without checking out this film. 1 is the best wuxia writer ever lived, and the other the master of wuxia cinema.

As with a typical Louis Cha's (pen name Jin Yong) novel, he usually created many factions who vie for power (by getting their hands on the secret wuxia scroll in this case). In this story, the factions consist of the Eastern Factory, Western Factory, Huashan (or Hua Mountain 華山派) Sect, and Sun-Moon Holy Cult (日月神教) of the Miao ethnic minority.

Another Louis Cha's universal theme is to portray the Head of the 'righteous' orthodox martial arts school like Huashan Sect as villain and the 'evil' Sun-Moon Holy Cult as good guys. Mr. Cha constantly warned and challenged us about the ready acceptance of common held believes. Because of time constraint of a movie feature length, usually the truth of the bad guy's machination take some effort to uncover. Louis Cha's stories are thus best viewed in a TV series (of which I have seen many). In this movie, the audience are simple told about it. In keeping with this theme of irony and paradox of life, the Sunflower Manual for ultimate power is again and again mistaken for a scroll containing the score for song about the absurdity of man's quest.

I was quite surprised by the casting of Sam Hui as the main role as he never played in wuxia (for good reasons, mind you). After watching, I realised that he needed to sing the theme song. After all, who would be better suited to sing a Cantonese song than the 2nd most popular idol of Cantopop (Roman Tam, the godfather of Cantopop, rarely acted, would be much worse fit than Sam Hui for this role).

Speaking of the theme song, James Wong wrote this catchy tune (that crawled under you skin). He's very much an one-man band for writing just about all lyrics and songs in HK films for several decades. Alas, stick to the writings. Good composers don't usually make good singers (only 1 Carpenter sung, the other composed). This is a very good case in point. He sung for both characters of the senior members of the Sun-Moon Holy Cult (Wu Ma & Lam Ching-Ying) by varying his keys, and killing his own great song sharply (with B sharp).

As for King Hu's walking out of the set 1/2 way (for whatever reason), I guess this is a reasonable suspicion as King Hu had never co-directed any wuxia film before. And look at his career, he's the opposite of Chang Cheh who's anything but inflexible.

Friday, 10 August 2007

Terracotta Warrior (1990)

English title: Terracotta Warrior.

Terracotta Warrior (1990)This isn't a sequel to The Emperor and the Assassin above. Far from it. Very very very very far. BUT, chronologically, the story follows The Empror and the Assassin, where the First Emperor of China is still in the process of swallowing the remaining 2 kingdoms. In this movie, it starts with the Qin Emperor already unifies China, and set his sight on his next conquest - immortality.

Well, the chronology only applies to the 1st part of the movie. After swallowing the immortality pill, the General, played by Zhang Yimou, woke up some 2200+ years later in the Roaring 1930s. This begins the 2nd part of the movie. If you can swallow the idea of the immortality pill (no harder to suspense your disbelief than time travel), then you could get into the 2nd part of the movie just fine.

One can imagine there will be hilarious situations for an ancient man to live among the 20th century world. There're a few jokes to viewers who are familiar to wuxia or Chinese period dramas. Otherwise, you won't know what's 'that' all about. Once you get into it, it could be quite fun to watch.

Zhang Yimou directed a few dozen of movies, but appeared only in 4. For Gong Li, she had played roles from Chinese villager to Japanese geisha, but never a shanghai starlet bimbo. It's an eye opener.

If you like A Chinese Ghost Story, you're likely to like this movie too because both of these movies are produced by Hark Tsui, and directed by Ching Sui-tong. And it's about a guy falling in love with a dead woman in a different form.

It's terrible that both in the movie as well as in the IMDB summary description that the Qin dynasty occurred 3000 years ago. It's 3rd century BC. Not 3000 years ago! This is a blunder of HISTORICAL proportion.

Another thing with this and MANY wuxia movies, why do the sounds of swords have to be so loud? The sounds of swords so loud, it split my head. Half the volume would be more than adequate. Why do they have to deafen us? I think my advice would fall on the deaf ears of the sound technicians/engineers. Of course, it would. They're obviously hard of hearing (from hearing too much loud sword fights for too long).

Thursday, 9 August 2007

A Fishy Story (1989)

English title: A Fishy Story.
Chinese title: The Man Who Doesn't Take off His Socks.

A Fishy Story (1989)

This charming romcom reminds me much of the other greater romcom Comrades: An Almost Love Story (1996). Not the least is the fact that Maggie Cheung played the female lead in both competently.

In both films, she played the girl from the more humble social background who came to Hong Kong - the Harbour of Opportunity - to find herself a better material life. And in both films, the political backdrop of their times were used.

Basically, our heroine has to make a choice between love or fame and fortune.

I wouldn't be surprise if Comrades was inspired by this film.

This is where the similarities end. Unquestionably, Comrades is a far better film with richer character development and more penetrating look at the HK's society. This story took place in the turbulence late 1960's while Comrades took place in a broader sweep between 1980 and 1990 decades.

Unfortunately the ending in this film is too predictably crowd pleasing. Still, this is a delightful film to spend a lazy afternoon. Have overall nice visuals. Maggie Cheung's performance was great in both playing a flaky character.

The film received critical acclaim in HK with awards in Best Actress, Best Cinematography, and Best Arts Direction.

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Eight Taels of Gold (1989)

All 3 of our leads in the Trilogy live in NY Chinatown. But in this 1, the lead - played by Sammo Hung - returns to his village in Guangdong, China. Most of the film revolves around his encounter with his childhood sweetheart Jenny, whose got herself a fancy English name as a fashionable emigre for USA (English name is more common in HK because it's a British colony. But not so in mainland China). As she's waiting for her future husband to pick her up from America, our hero, Baliangjin ('Eight Taels of Gold') and Jenny travels deeper and deeper into the village, and their old childhood flame gradually rekindled after 16 years of separation. The truth is more likely that the flame of passion was never extinguished. I suspect our hero Baliangjin leaves his village before she could reject him.

Eight Taels of Gold (1989)In terms of cinematography, this 1 is certainly the best of the 3 with natural landscape of the countryside presents to us like a travelogue of Guangdong countryside, and the generous use of the warm golden hues.

The movie features a diaolou, which is the ancestral home of our hero. The diaolou as seen in the film is quite dramatic as a tall dark tower suddenly rises up amidst the green rice paddies, complete with European battlements, fortifications, and turrets. Many of these buildings are located in the Four Counties (四邑) in Guangdong province. The 1 features in the film is only 1 in a 1833 scattered along the Pearl River Delta in Guangdong (these official 1833 diaolou are the remains of the original 3000+).

The significance of having the diaolou in this movie is its historical link with migration. These diaolous were erected in the early 20th centuries by Chinese immigrants returned home. They brought back with them the Western architectural styles where they had migrated to. Ask any 3rd or 4th generation Chinese in the immigrant - usually English speaking - countries of Australia, Canada, USA, NZ, etc, which part of China their great grand parents came from, their most likely answer would be Guangdong province (I say 70%). And the 2nd most likely answer would be Fujian (20%). Especially from the Pearl River Delta where HK is part of, and where the village in this film is located in. And all the rivers that appear in this film are therefore most likely the branches and tributaries of the Pearl River.

So our hero and heroine are retracing the footsteps of their grandparents in the early 20th century, migrating and returning to their ancestral home. The (his)story of migration repeats in the late 20th century as it was in the early 20th century. The story of Chinese diaspora.

Some director has a way of turning action actor into dramatic actor, and Mabel Chueng did it for Sammo previously with Painted Faces, and now this movie (interestingly Ann Hui turned Chow Yun-Fat from a romantic comedic actor into an action actor).

Fans of Sammo Hung please take note, don't expect him to do any kungfu here. He suppose to climb up the roof of a house unaided, but the camera never follows him, probably because the prop department handed him the ladder to climb up. In any case, he pulls off as a solid dramatic actor in a romantic role (so can Jackie Chan).

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

People's Hero (1988)

English title: People's Hero.

People's Hero (1988)This is HK's Dog Day Afternoon minus the media circus.

Going from the poster, Ti Lung has almost the same pose as Chow Yung-Fat in A Better Tomorrow in the list just above, one may incorrectly assume that this is one of those non-stop gun play action flick. Well, it's not. It's better. The genre classification lists Drama, Action, Crime. Compare it to A Better Tomorrow, it's Action, Crime, Drama.

It's a gritty, intense drama of a bank robbery hostage situation. It's a tight thriller, but at the same time full of humour. No, it isn't those lame lowbrow wisecracks that HK writers interject forcefully into their works to make it more entertaining but usually backfires. In fact, there's no wisecracks whatsoever; only witty comedy that arises naturally out of the characters and the situation of the story. In fact, I find the whole thing rather hilarious, but in a believable way. But I think it's just me.

Almost every character is given the chance to develop, and that's the mark of a diligent and concientious writing.

HK prodduced way too many of those action packed mindless shoot-them-dead flicks. I have no problems with them, in fact, I like them but there's no shortage of that. This crime drama is a refreshing change.

This is a HK crime drama classic gem.

6 Days Travel from Datong to Pingyao and Taiyuan

6 Days Travel from Datong to Pingyao and Taiyuan

Attractions: Yungang Grottoes, Huayan Monastery, Nine Dragon Wall, Hanging Temple, Pingyao ancient town, Qiao Courtyard, Jin Ancestral Temple
Duration: 6 Days
Tour Code: TCT-Datong-03
Tour Type: Private Tour
Best Travel Time: Suitable for the whole year, best from April to November.
Price from
2-5 persons: US$ 899 P/P
6-9 persons: US$ 557 P/P
Day 1
Arrival Datong
Arrive in Datong, you will be greeted at the train station by your tour guide and transferred to hotel.
Meals: No meal
Accommodation: In Datong

Datong is situated in the northern part of Shanxi Province near the Great Wall Pass to Inner Mongolia. In ancient China, Datong was a place of strategic importance and a place where the Han people frequently conducted trade with the Mongol tribes to the North of China. Therefore this city is popular for its harmonious coexistence of religions, together with its strategic importance geographically and the beauty of its rugged terrain.
Day 2
Today, enjoy your city tour famous Buddhist sites including Yungang Grottoes, Huayan Monastery and Nine Dragon Wall.
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch
Accommodation: In Datong
Huayan MonasteryYungang Grottoes is one of the best preserved sites in China with 53 caves containing over 51,000 stone carvings of Buddha and Buddhist. The grottoes were built between 460 AD and 494 AD in the Northern Wei just before the capital city of that dynasty was moved to Luoyang to build another set of grottoes (Longmen Grottoes) afterwards. These statues range from the tallest of 17 meters to the shortest of a few centimeters high with some of them still retaining their original color. The lines of the statue face are very graceful, with a pair of bright piercing eyes. In 2001, Yungang Grottoes was included on UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List.
The complex of Huayan Monastery is located on the southwestern side of Datong City. Built during the Liao Dynasty (907 - 1125), the Huayan Monastery is the largest and best preserved monastery of the Liao Dynasty in existence in China. In the middle period of the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644), the temple was divided into two parts, the Upper Huayan Monastery and the Lower Huayan Monastery. The upper one referred to as the Grand Hall housing five large Ming Dynasty Buddhas, and the lower section referred to as the Sutra Temple containing a library of some 18,000 volumes of Buddhist writings.
Datong Nine Dragon Wall was built during the Ming Dynasty. With 426 glazed tiles fired specially in five different colors, the exquisite design of green wave at the bottom like the sea, blue background as sky and white as clouds, the glazed nine dragons on the wall vividly express their movements, rising out of the sea and chasing the mythical suns to gain the supernatural ability to control the forces of nature. The oldest and largest glazed screen in China, though it has been standing over 600 years, it is still in a perfect condition today owing to its architectural design and refined craftsmanship.

Day 3
Datong Pingyao Today, you will take a driving to the famous Hanging Temple for a visit there, and then continue your drive to Pingyao ancient town.
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch
Accommodation: In Pingyao
All buildings in the Hanging Temple were constructed below the crags on a steep cliff-face of Hengshan Mountain (75m above the ground). Built more than 1,500 years ago, this temple is unique not only for its location on a sheer precipice but also because it includes Buddhist, Taoist, and Confucian elements.

Day 4
Pingyao Ancient TownPingyao Enjoy yourselves in this ancient and relaxing town - Pingyao. Rishengchang Exchange Shop and Ming Qing Street are two main attractions in this town.
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch
Accommodation: In Pingyao
The ancient town of Pingyao had been emerged gradually along with the city wall during the Zhou Dynasty 11th century -256 BC. It is the only ancient city in China completely reserved as it was hundreds of years ago without any modern architecture, but only the narrow street flanking with Chinese shops in old style and the road plated with the original stone. Pingyao is not only famous for its antiquity, but also for being the merchant center with the nation earliest bank established in the 19th century, and furthermore it was once served as the financial center of the Qing government.

Day 5
Pingyao TaiyuanAfter breakfast, take driving to Tianyuan, on the way, you will have a visit to Qiao Courtyard, an enclosed castle style construction, which can be dated back to 1756.
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch
Accommodation: In Taiyuan
Located 20km north of Pingyao, Qiao Courtyard was built the Qing Dynasty, and developed into a grand architectural complex by the early days of the Republic of China. Covering an area of 10,642 square meters and has a floor space of 4,175 square meters, with six big yards, 20 small yards and 313 rooms, it was once the home of a powerful trading family with significant commercial influence even beyond Shanxi, as theirs was a nationwide business.

Day 6
Departure TaiyuanToday, you will have a visit to Jin Ancestral Temple, the oldest wooden structure in Taiyuan. After the tour, be transferred to the airport for your flight to next destination.
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch

Jin Ancestral Temple (Jinci) is located 25km to the southwest of Taiyuan City. Built in Northern Wei (386-535 AD), it is the oldest wooden structure in Taiyuan. It is known for the 43 statues standing inside and the most famous statues are 30 clay figures of young maids-in-waiting painted with colorful costumes, retaining perfectly.
Service Ends

Full price of this tour (per person in US$):

Group Size Using Standard Hotel
Using First Class Hotel
Using Deluxe Hotel
1 person 1622 1754 1885
2-5 persons 899 1086 965 1218 1031 1350
6-9 persons 557 692 613 802 659 895
10 persons & above 438 550 489 653 526 726

Group Size Using Standard Hotel
Using First Class Hotel
Using Deluxe Hotel
1 person 1636 1754 1885
2-5 persons 906 1100 965 1218 1031 1350
6-9 persons 564 705 613 802 659 895
10 persons & above 445 564 489 653 526 726

Group Size Using Standard Hotel
Using First Class Hotel
Using Deluxe Hotel
1 person 1636 1773 1905
2-5 persons 906 1100 975 1237 1041 1369
6-9 persons 564 705 622 822 669 915
10 persons & above 445 564 499 673 536 745

Recommended Hotels:
City Standard Hotel ★★★ First Class Hotel ★★★★ Deluxe Hotel ★★★★★
Datong Hong Qi Grand Hotel Datong Hongan International Hotel oward Johnson International Jindi Plaza Datong
Pingyao - Pingyao Yide Hotel Yunjincheng Hotel
Taiyuan Jinlin Dongfang Hotel Taiyuan Shanxi Grand Hotel Taiyuan Shanxi World Trade Hotel

1.The prices quoted here are only valid from March 1, 2012 to March 1, 2013. TCT reserves the right to adjust the prices of any portion of the tour due to the reasons beyond our control without prior notice.
2.All quotation is in US dollar (per person), and based on the exchange rate between CNY and USD in effect at the time of publishing. It is subject to change.
3.The quotation on our website is also subject to change during some Chinese festivals, national holidays, fairs or events, when hotels may levy higher rates which will be advised on a case by case basis.
4.The availabilities of rooms, flights and etc. are subject to change until the actual booking is been made.
5.Specific requests such as adjacent or connecting rooms, bedding requests, smoking or non-smoking rooms and special dietary needs should be subjected to reconfirm upon your arrival. We would put on your request to the Hotel.
Price includes:
1. Airport/railway station welcome and private transfers between airports/railway stations, hotels and sightseeing spots. Separate arrivals and departures will incur extra charges.
2. Accommodation based on two adults sharing one standard twin-bed room; solo travelers or those who want to occupy one twin-bed room of their own are required to pay additional charge of single supplement rate (S.SUPP in above price table). A single room is subject to availability based on prior request at an additional cost; if the recommended hotel is not available, it will be substituted by a similar one.
3. Driver and English-speaking guide service on normal sightseeing activities noted in the itinerary.
4. All entrance fees to scenic spots as shown in the itinerary. The final arrangement will be determined by local tour guides based on the local circumstances which are beyond the control of TopChinaTravel. TCT will adhere to the original itinerary as accurately as possible.
5. Meals as specified in the itinerary.
6. Government taxes.
Price excludes:
1.Round way International airfare or train tickets, unless otherwise noted.
2.Domestic airfare of economic class or train ticket(s) as mentioned in the itinerary.
3.Visa fee, passport application or renewal fee.
4.Any Meals not specified in the itinerary.
5.Tips for guides, escort, drives, bellman, etc.
6.Personal expenses such as excess luggage fees, laundry, postage, communications and beverages.
7.Optional meals and shows mentioned in the itinerary, which will be added up if the clients desire to take the activities.
8.Any extra cost caused by changes of natural disasters, fires, weather, governmental and local authority orders, political change, strikes, war, riots, quarantine, custom regulations, damages or injury caused by accident beyond the control of TopChinaTravel and that has incurred due to the tourist action violating the laws.
9.Any items not specified in the plan.

As Tears Go By (1988)

Chinese title: Mongkok Carmen

As Tears Go By (1988)
The 1st of Wong Kar Wai feature film. This 1 is more commercial and less artsy than his later films. Even without a magnifying glass, his fingerprints are all over this movie that developed fully later into his signatures. Nor do you need to slow down the video to study it because WKW already saved you the trouble.

This is another popular HK crime action drama subgenre focusing the lives of gangsters, which very often deal with 2 of the most important attributes for organised gang members living off the mean streets - loyalty and bravado.

This movie is a better viewing for me because I watched it when it's originally aired without any hindsight of later WKW movies get in the way (WKW was a total unknown to me) or other later gangster flicks. So I watched it without any preconceptions, and it should be judged this way (not that's possible). This movie predated Young and Dangerous franchise by nearly a decade, and in some ways surpass it. One can even go as far as saying this is the 1st major gangland flick or at least one that popularised it.

1 of the things I like about these gangster flicks is the very colourful Cantonese gangster lingo, which always put a smile on my face (burst out laughing in some cases). Hollywood's gangster flicks have similar colourful slang like 'put him on ice' or 'pump him full of lead', etc. Some of the colourful Cantonese speak could be translated using Hollywood equivalence (of course, some are untranslatable) to at least set the appropriate tone. Unfortunately all these are lost in translation in just about all the English subs I have ever came across, and make them sounded like mums and pops.

Osmanthus Alley (1988)

English title: Osmanthus Alley.

This is essentially a Republican period biographical drama. Most Republican period drama deals with the frictions caused by the clashes of the new and the old, this story focus almost exclusively on the old, and how those aspects shaped the life of our main character Ti Hong.

Her life was one that's steeped in superstition and old traditions.

Osmanthus Alley (1988)Foot binding was discouraged as far back as the 17th century when the Manchus took power in China, but the Han Chinese refused to give up the bizarre tradition. And when the Republic was founded in 1911, such practise along with men wearing queues were outlawed. Men's queue wearings disappeared overnight and were replaced with modern short hair style, but foot bindings persisted. This situation is especially true because this (true) story took place in Taiwan.

Ti Hong grew up in this Republican period, and the bulk of the story takes place during this period. Like all women at that time, she had her feet bound since childhood for a better prospect of marrying into a wealthy family. She got her wish, and was arranged to be married into a well off family, instead of marrying her childhood sweetheart, who's a poor fisherman. And the life of a fisherman isn't only poor, but fraught with risks at sea. Marriage, in those days and age, was about practical matter. Matter of the hearts has no place in the decision making.

In the final scene, in her eighties, and still wearing the traditional tunic that was in stark contrast with the women in modern dresses of the 1970s around her, she overhears that her childhood sweetheart has returned from Japan, and has become a successful and wealthy businessman. She stands there, lost in her thoughts, imagining what other life she may have led if she had chosen him instead. The life she has led is filled with loneliness, frustration and pain. We imagine that her life would be far richer and happier if she had married her childhood sweetheart. The moral of the story is clear. BUT, did she really have free choice, growing up in an environment so steeped in tradition?

Foot binding, arranged marriage, face saving, and all the old traditions that were the things that point to her destiny. While the whole society was shaken from a very foundation from social upheaval, it was still possible that in some more remote community, people live the lives the way their ancestors do.

This Republican period drama isn't so much about the conflict between the old and the new, but the antipodean existence of an old world in a modern, changing world. This is only possible because the story takes place in Taiwan, not Mainland, where maintaining her old ways would be impossible.

This is quite unlike your usual HK commercial genre film because apart from being bankrolled by Golden Harvest, this is very much a Taiwanese movie with most of cast (both artistic and technical) are Taiwanese.

Simon Yam played the childhood sweetheart, his cameo appearance is less than 5 mins in total.

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Red Sorghum (1987)

Few movies trickled out from China in the 1980s having only been opened its door recently. This was 1 of them, and turned out to be very eye-catching. 1 of its attention grabbing feature is the breaking of taboos in cinema in general, especially Chinese cinema in particular - explicit depiction of female orgasm, urination (by adult and kid), skinning of beast and man, child nudity (much more problematic in the West than in China). Of course, these things are no big deal if this is an exploitation flick (in fact, not graphic enough). As a mainstream, serious drama, this film is pushing the boundary of respectability.

Red Sorghum (1987)But I'm talking about genre boundary. Also, the cinematic boundary also depends on national boundary. What's considered "too much" in PRC isn't necessarily so in Hollywood. And what's deemed as "obscene" in Hollywood may not seen so vis-à-vis the French cinema or Scandinavian cinemas for that matter.

With this film Zhang tested the national boundary of Chinese cinema.

Of course, it wasn’t the taboo breaking that put Zhang Yimou, the so-called 5th Generation Chinese director, onto the attention of the world. There were many reasons, not the least is that many Zhang (and his temporary Chinese fellow directors) were obsessively focusing on the question of what China is via the examination of its histories, its society, cultures and issues. With 3 decades under Mao, such candid self-examination/navel-gazing/soul searching was discouraged, in fact, down right dangerous. Now the 5G Chinese directors like Zhang were going to go crazy with it, given half a chance. And at the same time the rest of the world just happened – naturally – to have a great thirst for knowledge about China after decades of their cave dwelling away from the rest of the world. Well, it isn't true that they're allowed to make any movie that candily examines China. At least, they can make it before being banned, rather than being banned to make it.

Mo Yan's Red Sorghum
Let's look at the symbolism of 'Red Sorghum',

Colour Red
Colour of the sorghum wine, China, revolution, Communism.

Sorghum Wine
The weapon against (leprous) germs, and invading Japanese army.

Sorghum Field
This is where the narrator is conceived.

This is the source of the livelihood for all the characters. When the Japanese came, the field is cleared to remove danger of hidden enemy, and thus removing their livelihood. In short, the sorghum field is life-giving, and the Japanese army takes it away.

The tall standing sorghum - literally means Tall Beam (高粱) - are being bent, cut down and flattened, this in itself is a symbol of domination.

The sorghum field is the battlefield between the Chinese and Japanese in microcosm in the final scene.

Without realising it, the audience is exposed a great deal of Shaanxi culture. The tradition of the wedding procession in this film, and the musical instruments are distinctly Shaanxi’s. In fact, Zhang put this Shaanxi music in several of his films. Not surprisingly. this is because he was born in Shaanxi, and his childhood was probably steeped in these traditions.

This is his very few masculine - some may call male chauvinist - film he made, after this most of his subsequent films could be arguably labelled feminist films, or at least has a feminist slant. This masculinity and violence are major features in Japanese samurai (and Japanese exploitation) films, perhaps this is the point of the movie - to show the Shaanxi's traditional masculine culture and the Japanese violence.

The idea of violent chauvinism here is, you want her, you take her by force. 'Her' is our heroine, or China. Mo Yan, the novellist of Red Sorghum, is cynical of male power. If in doubt read his other novel, Big Breasts & Full Hips.

We were also introduced to the fab Gong Li, Zhang's romantic interest/friend/collaborator/muse. And Jian Wen, the talented actor/director like Zhang himself.

Fun Facts:
  • Mo Yan, the writer of the novel where this movie is based, is a Nobel Laureate in Literature (won in 2012).
  • Mo Yan is a pen name for Guan Moye. Mo Yan (莫言) means "Don't Speak".

An Autumn's Tale (1987)

An Autumn's Tale (1987)It's the 2nd of the Migration Trilogy directed by Mabel Cheung. It's a romantic comedy with social commentary, especially with regards to the life of a HK migrant living in what else but NYC. Although the focus of this film is more on the romance than the migration issue (as suggested by the titles of the 2 movies).

For non Chinese, Chow Yun-Fat is probably being associated with action movie like Hard boiled and others, which I also recommend in this list. For somebody who grew up on HK films, I actually identified Chow with romantic roles BEFORE I watched many of his action films (in fact, he made this movie BEFORE ALL his John Woo's crime action flicks). He's quite good at playing comic role too. In fact, even in many of his action film his cheeky side rear its cheery head from time to time.

It's probably more enjoyable if you understand Cantonese as 50% of the jokes would be lost in translation. In fact, even if you speak Mandarin, about 30% will be lost. But it doesn't matter. Comedy isn't the important part of the movie.

Both Chow and Chung has good chemistry. It's wise on the part of the director not to turn this lovely romance into a melodrama.

It won a Best Picture award.

Monday, 6 August 2007

Righting Wrongs (1986)

Alternative English title: Above the Law.

Yuen Biao, Cynthia RothrockThis isn't the 1st (1 of the earliest), nor the last of Cynthia Rothrock's roles in HK action flicks. It's the best to date in my opinion. This is arguably aso the best in Girls-with-Guns genre. Strictly speaking, there're much more literally ass-kicking kungfu action than gun play. And quite a bit of it reminds those that made Jackie Chan famous, like using 1 pair of handcuffs to round up 4 criminals the only JC can. This is hardly surprising as Corey Yuen choreographed the action sequences in this as well as many of JC movies.

It's good to see that to see that things have come full circle. In the 1970s we had Bruce Lee the professional martial artist leaving the American shore to come to HK to do action flicks. And then we also have action actors like Jackie Chan, Jet Li, and Sammo Hung being recruited by Hollywood, and at the same time, HK film industry (Chollywood) is doing some recruiting from US of A themselves. It's good to see this 2 way traffic. Although she's not the only Caucasian action performers - male or female - who came to work in HK, but she's only 1 that won approval from the tough HK crowd. This is hardly surprising as she had quite a number of such female action artists to compare with from Kara Hui, Angela Mao to Michelle Yeoh. As seen in this movie, Rothrock could really kick with impressive brisk pace. Just to watch the fight scenes between Yuen Biao and her is well worth it. A pretty fun film to watch (once I got over Yuen Biao playing a barrister).

Rothrock wasn't the only American import to this production either. Peter Cunningham was a newcomer to the action flick, and this was only 2nd, and his only HK film he involved in.  Karen "Karate Diva" Shepherd, like Rothrock had done quite a number of films in Asia (Japan and HK). They, like Bruce Lee before them, were using Chollywood as their career launching pad for their future career prospects in Hollywood.

Fun Facts:
Fan Siu-Wong who played the kid in this movie looked like he didn't go to the gym. For his next iconic Cat III movie Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky (1991) he put on at least 10 - 15kg of muscle bulk, and was totally unrecognisable from the back.

Here's an alternative, and a more crowd pleasing ending from youtube,

A Better Tomorrow (1986)

Chinese title: True Colours of a Hero.

Alternatively, the title could be shortened to True Colours. Don't know why this title is changed to something rather mild, bland, in fact, lame? This original Chinese title seems even more apt when you consider that this movie is the Woo's 1st action flick that's termed the 'heroic bloodshed' subgenre. Woo may not have invented this genre / sub genre (I'm not going to be too hung up about distinguishing this a genre or subgenre. You get the drift), he certainly have popularised it.

Time again and again, I see many literal translations of Chinese titles would work far better than completely new English titles. A Better Tomorrow sounds like a slogan for insurance policy, or real estate for retirement homes, or drug for a cancer cure.

Heroic bloodshed subgenre deals with a lot of important strict moral codes, which lies in the heart of many wuxia stories. The codes of ethics like loyalty, brotherhood, honour, duty, justice, etc formed the backbone of Chinese classics like Water Margins. They're outlaws and they're also heroes/heroines, and many of the protagonists in Woo's heroic bloodshed flicks are hit men, thus outlaws.

I reckon this heroic bloodshed genre is simply a modern version of the wuxia genre where swords are being replaced by guns. And sword fights are substituted by stylistic gun plays. And protagonists dodge bullets with the grace and agile movements that reminiscent of wuxia. But the moral codes stay (the more things change, the more things stay the same). It's a natural evolution, or more accurately a modern adaptation of the wuxia genre. This explains its popularity - it's wuxia in modern clothing.

Immortal Story (1986)

Chinese title: Flowers on the Sea.

Immortal Story (1986), YonfanBefore Hou Hsiao-Hsien's Flowers of Shanghai (1998), there's this movie made by Yonfan. And incidentally - or may not be a coincidence at all - the 2 movies share the same Chinese title.

The beautiful Chinese euphemism for high-class call girl is 'social flower', and brothel is called 'flower house' (not another name for florist).

The Chinese title is named after the film's theme song - Jenny Yan's most representative work. This is a very evocative song that sets the mood for the movie nicely. The multi talented Sylvia Chang could have sung it, but they decided to go with the original singer.

This movie has nothing to do with the French classic The Immortal Story (1968), except that both stories take place in Macao (note that one was made in 1968, the other 1986).

The cityscape of Macao in this movie was dominated by only 1 casino - the old Lisboa. Before it was transformed into the loud and flashy Asian Las Vegas today (only much bigger in terms of revenue generated), it was still an idyllic sleepy little Portuguese colonial town that this film was set in.

Like its idyllic town, the movie moves at a leisurely pace. Beneath its glitter and luxury the story lies decadence and love triangle of a Chinese woman and a Japanese man vie for the love of a Chinese songstress turned social flower.

Like Zhang Yimou, Yonfan was also born in Mainland China and studied photography. This transfer of skills made the visuals of their films very easy on the eyes.

Sunday, 5 August 2007

The Illegal Immigrant (1985)

The Illegal Immigrant (1985)This is the 1st of Mabel Cheung's Migration Trilogy, which won her the Hong Kong Film Award for Best Director. The 2nd in the Trilogy is Autumn's Tale (1987), which won her the Hong Kong Film Award for Best Film. This 3rd is Eight Taels of Gold (1989). which was nominated for both categories, but won neither.

The Migration Trilogy were either wrote or co-wrote by her husband Alex Law (dunno if they already married back then).

The Migrant Trilogy are 3 of the 1st 4 films she made and already accumulated a number of accolades. A quick glance at her filmography shows that - like Ann Hui, another female fellow director - she's a director who tackles HK's social and political issues.

A decade or so before the British handover of HK in 1997, because of the political uncertainty, there was a large wave of migration out of HK (I befriended a number of them). The year 1997 thus was a deadline for some HK people if they wanted to leave safely.

Quite a number of films tried to deal with these jitter. Her trilogy attempts to explore the issues of the lives of HK people living abroad. As you could imagine, the whole of HK was permeated with this pre-HK-handover jitter.

It's hard for an outsider to appreciate the HK Returning to PRC jitter given the economic 'miracle' of China in the 3 decades since the Opening-Up, and Reform in 1978. What many outsiders didn't know was the flood of thousands of Mainland Chinese had been pouring down south into HK ILLEGALLY throughout the 1970 - 80 decades. Many risked their lives escaping PRC and tried to make it to HK for a better life.

But that was not all. There was also a Vietnamese refugees camp set up in HK to house the flood of Vietnamese refugees fleeing the Communist Vietnam since the mid 1970s to the 1980s. These issues were being dealt with in Ann Hui's Vietnamese Trilogy.

For HK citizens who regularly watched the news would get a very clear message: people lived under Communist countries were fleeing with their lives. On what basis could the HK citizens should not fear the handing back of HK to the Communist China? And so why wait until the handover and fled like the Chinese Mainlanders and Vietnamese refugees? Why not before the Handover?

The result was a sizable HK diaspora immigrating to the West, especially the English speaking countries (which have immigration policies).

The story here takes place in NYC. In fact, all the stories in her Trilogy take place in NYC for its symbolism of the financial centre of the world, the melting pot (ok, the salad bowl), statue of Liberty, blah blah, blah. In real life, Canada was a more preferred destination for HK immigrants, especially Toronto. But this is a movie.

Having said that about NYC, the film also paints a different picture of NYC - the reality versus the idealised image. There's no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, or cushy existence behind the Statue of Liberty.

The opening scene starts with the main character working in a sweat shop on CNY (Chinese New Year)'s Eve. The NYC train is much more dirty and unsafe than the metro in HK. And our hero spends the night in jail during CNY.

It's interesting that just when SB was winding down their business, they made more and more serious movies as supposed to escapist movies that it had done for decades. Maybe they wanted to leave a good legacy. Maybe they simply followed the lead of the rest of the industry. This is just 1 of the many examples.

Did I mention there're about 20 flaws/plot-holes in the movies one can easily poke a stick at? I'm willing to overlook them in the bigger scheme of things.

Yellow Earth (1985)

Chen Kaige is the 1st director in the circle of the 5th-Generation Chinese directors whose film came out of China since the Opening-Up in 1978. And it's also the 1st film Chen made. This group of 5G (5th Generation) also graduates of the Class of 1982 of the Beijing Film Academy.

Yellow Earth (1985)1 of the thing that defines this Class of 1982 directors is their preoccupation of defining China through their movies by examining her histories, culture, social issues, etc. This is hardly surprising for they're the product of a recent Chinese history, and are affected and burdened by these watershed events. They're trying to unravel it themselves. Like a few others in the 5G circle, they progressively made commercial films in their latter phases of their careers.

Yellow Earth is another name for China because the term refers to the loess plateau in Shaanxi, which is considered the cradle of Chinese civilisation. This is the heart of the Central Plain (中原), which is a name that often used in ancient times, and in countless times in wuxia movies.

So if Chen Kaige, the 1st 5G director wanted to explore the history of China in his 1st film, what's better place to start than the cradle of Chinese nation? Let's go to the source where China sprung up (alongside the Yellow River like the Nile to ancient Egypt). Incidentally, the 1st Emperor of China buried in Xi'an, the capital city of Shaanxi. So if there's ever going to be a place to represent China, Shaanxi is it.

Chen KaigeThis movie is so early and pioneering (as far as Chinese cinema going abroad is concerned) that Zhang Yimou hadn't directed his 1st film yet, but he was responsible for the haunting cinematography in this movie. He was still an actor cum camera man then. Less than 2 years from this film was made, the world would know his name. And so it's perfectly logical that Zhang Yimou, who helped to create Chen Kaige's directorial debut, also made his own directorial debut with a movie set in Shaanxi for the more reason that he was born a Shaanxi native.

They maybe in the same class, but their styles of directing is diametrically opposite. Zhang always put his story telling before arts while Chen is stating pretty clear that he's an arts-for-arts-sake director. His story serves to tell his arts, not the other way round. I guess this is why Zhang is so much more successful (in terms the number of awards he won, and the high IMDB rating for his films), and more popular (in term of his fan base). He's so popular, he was asked to design the Beijing Olympic Opening Ceremony.

Still, this is milestone film for being the 1st of its kind to come out of China since the paramount political event in 1978.

Mr. Vampire (1985)

Chinese title: Mr. Jiangsi.

Mr. Vampire (1985)
This comedy-horror flick will teach you more Taoist beliefs, and superstitions than your average Chinese ranging from feng shui, geomancy, witchcraft to 'vampire' slaying, and other fun and inventive nonsense. It is Ghostbusters Chinese style, so suspense your disbelief more than usual, and enjoy the hilarity.

The so called 'vampire' creature is really a cross between vampire and zombie. They're the recently deceased, but haven't been buried. In olden China, they could usually be found in temples that are catered to temporarily house these newly dead. They could be summoned to hop from place to place by Taoist maoshan or spiritual monks.

More than anything they're essentially hopping zombies. And like vampires, they're only active - or could be activated - at night.

Problem always arise when you use an English term to describe something from another culture - in this case Chinese. The creature is called 僵尸 ('jiangsi'), which literally means petrified corpse. Bodies that have just undergone rigor mortis. When I typed this Chinese word 僵尸 into Google translator, it translated as 'zombie'. Either 'zompire' or 'vambie' would be a more accurate terms, or better still, use the Chinese term 'jiangsi' (or 'gueng si' if you prefer Cantonese - HK's local dialect) to avoid all the confusion. But the term 'vampire' is more commonly used in the entertainment literature, and we stuck with it. The title of this film probably did more for the popularity of this term than anything else.

While this isn't the first jiangsi flick ever made, only very few been made before by SB. They weren't good, and so they weren't well known. This film might well be the very first jiangsi movie being made.

If it didn't make the record being the 1st of its kind, it made its name by being the first to spawn a series of the unholy jiangsi slaying subgenre in the 1980s and early 1990s. This makes this movie a classic, a game changer for this subgenre. In fact, it set up the rules on how the 'vampires' should behave (e.g. don't breath and they can't see you, they could be killed by a certain rice, etc).

It also launched Lam Ching-Ying's career as the leading figure of 'vampire' slayer, Mr. Vampire. Before this movie, Lam Ching-Ying only played supporting roles in many kungfu flicks made by Sammo Hung, never in leading roles. There's little doubt that Sammo took Lam under his wing.

This is milestone film for HK cinema in more ways than one.

Friday, 3 August 2007

Hong Kong,Hong Kong (1983)

Chinese title: Man and Woman.
English title: Hong Kong, Hong Kong.

Hong Kong Hong Kong (1983)Before the noteworthy Comrades: Almost a Love Story (1996), we have this forerunner that was made more than a decades earlier. So this is a milestone in that regard.

The Chinese title indicates that this movie is to be sold as romances with erotica. Since its sexual content is so soft especially when it's viewed by Western audience today, it thus markets to the Western audience as a film that deals HK's society, which plays the English title role.

Since the 1980s and through 1990s, HK made a bunch of such romances that based on the immigrant experience. This is the earliest attempt with such social commentary.

The most noteworthy is Mabel Cheung's Immigration Trilogy: The Illegal Immigrant (1985), An Autumn's Tale (1987), and Eight Taels of Gold (1989). All are in my list.

The 1980 and 1990s are times of uncertainty for the HK citizens. This provides fertile ground for the HK film makers, who would like to tackle social issues in their movies.

All these HK movies all deal with different immigrants themes. The Illegal Immigrant and An Autumn's Tale deal with HK migrants living abroad. And Eight Taels of Gold is about Chinese migrant returning home.

This story based on the trials and tribulations a couple of illegal immigrants in HK - one from Mainland China, and the other Thailand. For the American audience, think of our 2 leads as illegal Mexican trying to make their ways in USA.

Winners and Sinners (1983)

This is a milestone film for Jackie Chan.

This isn't JC's best movie by any yardstick, but it's the first HK film that marked his change of direction in the types of movies he made.

Strictly speaking it was the Big Brawl (1980) that marked the change. But Big Brawl wasn't a HK film in the strictest sense. And in the following movie The Cannonball Run (1981) wasn't a Jackie Chan film.

This is the first film - directed and co-written by Chan's academy buddy Sammo Hung - where JC stopped doing martial arts and started doing action flicks. By martial arts, I mean either kungfu or wuxia (or swordplay) genre.

JC only acted in wuxia for SB in bit or stunt roles. He was too young at the time. And when Bruce Lee died, Wei Lo - who directed Bruce Lee first 2 films - tried to resurrect Lee with Chan. Wei Lo made a series of Bruceploitation films, but didn't pan out well because there's only one Bruce Lee, and it's not JC's style.

JC found his true style with the success of Snake in the Eagle's Shadow (1978). And since he made a series of kungfu film. Kungfu flicks are different from just action films. It focuses squarely on every aspect of kungfu from training, and the all important sifu-student relationship, and the style or school of kungfu, and so on. Usually, but not always, the school or style of kungfu are well known, and the leads were historical figure.

This film is a turning point for JC, and he had never looked back since.

See my IMDB list for all my reviews of Chinese language films.

Thursday, 2 August 2007

Mad Mission (1982)

Alternative English Title: Aces Go Places.
Chinese title: Best of Partners (最佳拍檔).

Mad Mission (1982)This is a milestone film because it's a truly very first HK action flick. What? You say. Of course, there were action flicks in HK cinema before this movie. After all, action has always been the most popular genre in HK cinema. But not like this.

Let's do a quick recap of HK cinema before this film. Up until Bruce Lee appeared in the HK movie scene in 1971, the 1st wave of action films were invariably of the wuxia or swordplay sub-genre. Bruce lee's The Big Boss (1971) launched the 2nd wave of action flicks that popularised the kungfu or kick-boxing sub-genre. And along came Sam Hui, who started the 3rd wave of HK cinema action flicks. It was modern action genre that appealed to the wider international audience as supposed to traditional martial arts genre that appealed to the smaller circle of international cult followers.

This is James Bond type of action flick that didn't have any sword or kungfu fighting, but much more similar to the action flicks in the West, which rely on lots of gadgets, explosion, shooting, and car chases. One scene involves car action and explosions with toy cars. In short, this is boys with toys action flick. This action flick has plenty of car chases, and high wire acts. When I say high wire acts, I don't mean wire-fu, I mean just that, Sam Hui walked on tightrope between buildings. Sometimes he did other aerial stunt like sliding under it.

Even by today's standard, the actions in this film aren't too shabby. If you consider that this is the first flick involving some James Bond type actions, it's quite impressive. Of course, while these actions are quite different from martial arts actions, some of the martial arts stunts could be quite easily transferred into this film. Many of the actions - like explosions, car chases, etc - wouldn't be able to find in swordplay or kungfu movies.

So this movie broke new ground in 3 ways. One, it introduced and popularised modern crime action drama into HK cinema. Two, it pioneered some action stunts that hadn't been done before. Three, it started the whole franchise idea in HK film industry. This film gave rise to 4 sequels. With these 3 elements, this film launched a new formula for action movies that blazed a trail for action star like Jackie Chan to follow, and had never looked back since.

After Bruce Lee, it was the Hui Bros who had changed the HK cinema's landscape. Much of HK cinema's vitality were injected by the Hui Bros in the mid 1970 to mid 1980 in the aftermath of Lee's death. They were the trendsetters during this period.

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He Lives by Night (1982)

English title: He Lives by Night.

He Lives by Night (1982)This is a pastiche of the slasher genre. You could say it's a comedy disguised or dressed up as Dressed to Kill. Or a fun cross dressing between horror and comedy. It's done, nicely I might add, in the style of some Italian slasher films.

As for inspector Dragon - our mustachio well rounded main lead - is a police composite sketch of Sherlock Holm, Inspector Clouseau, and James Bond. The pipe smoking of Holm, the comedy relief of Clouseau, and the skirt chasing of Bond. He also has a sidekick - played by young Simon Yam - who tries to make his life more challenging (not unlike Kato to Inspector Clouseau), especially during his courting activity.

There's goofy jokes aplenty, but no more than The Pink Panther.

This director is no Stephen Chow, who is the HK's Master of Spoof films. What's even more importantly is that Chow derives his many burlesques from local films and cultures, not foreign imports. The source of parodies for this film, however, came straight from abroad.

It isn't a master piece of cinema, but I can't find too many faults to complain about. It's light entertainment in the similar standards as Mel Brooks or Blake Edwards franchises. But it's 1 of the early HK's attempt at such a genre before Stephen Chow took over the whole enterprise.

A pretty decent effort overall. The cinematography is great, and won an award for it. The violence is graphic, but not overly gory.

Legendary Weapons of China (1982)

Chinese title: 18 Types of Martial Skills (十八般武藝).

The Liu's "brothers" (Liu Chia-Liang, and Liu Chia-Hui) once again teamed up for another kungfu flick.

This movie is slightly unusual for the 2 sworn brothers cooperation. Usually Chia-Hui was the one who spent more time in front of the camera, while Chia-Liang doing the shooting behind the camera. In this 1, Chia-Liang was having more screen time, while Chia-Hui played an almost cameo role.

The Chinese title for this film is "18 Types of Martial Skills". These 18 martial skills associate with 18 different weapons. The final duel involves the uses of the 18 different weapons.

It isn't hard to see that the fight between Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Ziyi in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon was inspired by this movie as Michelle Yeoh pulls out different weapons from the racks as it does in this movie.

If you think Dirty Ho got some weird stuff, check this 1 out. The Taoist 'magic' are way out there. The interesting note is that the Boxer Gang was real, as are their supernatural beliefs. But as it's explained in the movie, it's nothing but staged parlour tricks.