Wednesday, 4 July 2007

Games Gamblers Play (1974)

 English title: Games Gamblers Play.

How much of a landmark movie is this? What if I say this is the 1st REAL HK movie ever made? I could hear my readers are screaming WHA? Or call me crazy, or a genius, or a moron. You would go on and point out the 20 years worth of SB movies and say, What are they? chopped liver? Nope, they aren't chopped liver, or charsiu, or siumai, or any kind of food. They're CHINESE movies, not HK movies.

1st of all, the dialogues in ALL, I repeat, ALL SB movies from the 1950s to 1970s are in Mandarin. The percentage of HK people who understood Mandarin in that period would be at best 10%. I say it's more like 3% (there would be a steady increase since 1980s, and today the number of Putonghua speakers in HK should be the highest. Could be as high as 25 - 35% of varying levels of fluency).

Why Mandarin dialogues then?

Let's look at a few key figures in SB film studio. The main man, the guy who founded SB, Run Run Shaw was born in Shanghai. Chang Cheh, the most prolific director in SB, is also being called the Godfather of HK Cinema, was also born in China, and educated in universities in China. The legendary SB director King Hu was born in Beijing and based mostly in Taiwan. Li Han-Hsaing was born in Liaoning, and Ho Meng-Ha was born in Shanghai. I think you get the drift. All the top directors are born in China. SB was pretty much an Chinese affair. Not HK. These people are all Mandarin speakers.

Did they put Putonghua dialogues in movies because the founder or the their high profiled directors are Mandarin speakers? Don't be silly. They did so because the movies were NOT made with HK audience in mind. Of course, they sell the movies to HK audience too. Hence the Chinese subtitles. Without the subtitles, the SB movies simply couldn't reach the HK audience. But the Chinese subtitles were add ons. It's an after thought. They also added the English title to reach wider markets. The audience SB targeted were mostly Mandarin speakers. No, they weren't Chinese Mainlanders. That market was closed off to SB. The SB's markets were Taiwan, and all overseas Chinese (like myself), especially those lived in SE Asia. Most of them understand Mandarin (like myself who are schooled in Mandarin. Although I'm a Cantonese speaker).

To simply put, the movies before 1970s - meaning SB movies - were made BY, OF, FOR audience OUTSIDE HK. People wrongly assumed that SB movies made in this period were HK movies because they were made in HK. Many Hollywood movies are made outside the States. Many of them are made in the Fox Studio in my hometown Sydney, Australia. Many blockbusters like The Matrix, Superman Return, etc were made there (I worked as studio extras in 4 or 5 of these). Hollywood movies made in Sydney don't make them less of an American movie, and certainly don't qualify to call them Australian movies. Same story here. Just because movies are made in HK don't make them HK movies, They are Chinese movies made in HK, not HK movies.

I talked about the BY, and the FOR of SB movies. The OF of SB movies were all about Chinese culture (martial arts, Chinese history, Huangmeixi, etc), and nothing specific to HK culture, or society. None of the SB movies before 1970s really tackled any HK local issues.

In short, SB movies were made OF, BY, and FOR Chinese audience outside HK.

Why didn't they want to target the HK audience? It's because the HK market was very small then. And what's more, the HK wasn't quite the megacity that it's today. It was both a economic and cultural backwater with a small population then. The start of the economic boom also coincided - was is really a coincidence? - with the rise of Cantonese cinema in HK.

What about Bruce Lee's movies? He's not part of SB. No, he didn't make HK movies either. In fact, not ONE of the stories of his movies take place in HK. The stories take place in Thailand, China, Italy, but not HK (I'm talking about the fictional places, not physical shooting locations). And what nationals did Bruce Lee portray in all his movies? Again, Chinese. Not HK'ers (ok, he played a HK'er in The Way of the Dragon. But it's of no consequence). This isn't surprising. Even though GH is SB's competitor, GH was simply a clone of SB at this early stage. So their original dialogues of their movies were spoken in Mandarin too.

This movie, which was made after Bruce Lee's death, was made BY, OF, FOR HK audience. Not overseas Chinese in mind. Hui's brothers were born and bred in HK. They probably can't speak Mandarin. The dialogues in their movies were delivered in Cantonese. HK made up the themes, and backdrops for their movies. In fact, this movie makes extensive social comments on the state of HK society.

After their movies, more and more HK movies follow their leads, and eventually, majority of movies made in HK are indeed HK movies. By 1980s, practically all movies made in HK were spoke in Cantonese, which was taken some getting used to, especially wuxia. It's unlikely that all the ancient Chinese spoke Cantonese. Although it's unlikely they all spoke Mandarin either. But they would speak something similar to Mandarin.

When SB winding down its studio in the 1980s, and found TVB, everything produced in TVB were in Cantonese. This meant it wasn't only cinema that went Cantonese, music industry too. Although Roman Tam is the King of Canto pop, Sam Hui played a pretty big part in that movement in the 1970s - the 1st decade of C-pop.

This feature is the mother of all HK films. The Hui Bros is called the First Family of HK Cinema for this reason.

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