Saturday, February 28, 2009

Final Photos and HKIFF

This is definitely the last of the photos for a very long time. I promise! Not only because I have nothing left but also because at this point it looks like I will be off in Asia for the next nine months and there isn't much opportunity to scan over there! I leave in about 24 hours so this may be the last post for at least a week or two. As I get older, jet lag just seems to knock me off my feet for longer periods of time. But I am taking my usual assortment of DVDs to watch - loads of Shaw Brothers, some catching up on HK films from the past year, a bunch of Japanese films from the 1960's/70's and some old and new Bollywood. Not to mention a lot of old Hollywood films and TV shows. I always take way more than I ever get around to watching.

I took a gander at the line-up for the Hong Kong International Film Festival. Geez. I hadn't really planned on going this year with money being a bit tight but then I saw that they were screening three of my absolutely favorite films ever - Shanghai Blues, Peking Opera Blues and Mambo Girl. These are part of a retro on Tsui Hark's Film Workshop company and another retro on the films of Evan Yang who wrote or directed many of the better films for Cathay in the 1950's and 60's. There are lots of other treats as well too of course - the latest from Malaysian director Yasmin Ahmad, Wong Kar-wai's Ashes of Time Redux, Sion Sono's Love Exposure and something called Sexy Killer from Spain. The only bummer is an Egyptian film called Cairo Station made in 1958 that I once read about and would love to see, but it plays at the same time as Mambo Girl. So if I can find a hotel that doesn't bankrupt me, I may have to go.

The last picture show. Some oldies. Most of these I bought in Hong Kong. There is this small lane that runs below Hollywood Road which sells all the Mao paraphernalia you could ever want - but some of the small stands also have a smattering of old usually black and white photos of stars. I also have some from some books and I think I have hijacked a few from the Internet that I wanted to give a home to. So we have a few pages devoted to Bobo Fung, Connie Chan, Ivy Ling Po, Josephine Siao, Linda Lin Dai, Lily Ho and Candice Yu. Then I have a page of miscellaneous pictures in which I didn't have enough for a page for any actor. And finally a page of magazine covers of oldies where I could not identify the actor. If anyone knows, let me know please. I should know some of these but the brain cells are not connecting. Number 13 looks kind of like Ava Gardner but perhaps it could be Diana Chang?

Connie Chan - 1, 2, 3

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

From Tony to Yvonne - Photos

Here are 84 Tony photos for Eliza. Sorry, none in his underwear. A few of Valerie who vanished from HK films much too quickly. But she is in her underwear. Two zow girls here - Veronica Yippee and Yvonne Yung Hung. Only a few of Vivian Wu who has had rather an unusual career jumping back and forth between acting in HK, China, Taiwan and the USA. I never have enough of Vivian Hsu who still looks like jail bait but she has to over 30 years old by now I would think. And finally a bunch of Vicky Zhao who has a face that shouldn't work but it does wonderfully well.

Last week I did faces, now bodies. Here I think are the top 5 voluptuous actresses in modern HK film:
1. Amy Yip (duh!)
2. Diana Pang Dan
3. Yvonne Yung Hung
4. Veronica Yip
5. Almen Wong

Now voluptuousness doesn't necessarily equate with sexy. For me these would be the five sexiest HK actresses in modern film (post 1980).

1. Chingmy Yau
2. Hsu Chi
3. Pinky Cheung
4. Christy Chung
5. Ellen Chan

Tony Leung Chiu-wai (84 picts) - 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

Valerie Chow (7 picts)

Vicky Zhao (30 picts) - 1, 2, 3

Vivian Wu (6 picts)

Vivian Hsu (7 picts)

Veronica Yip (36 picts) - 1, 2, 3

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Eric Tsang – Filmmaker in Focus

For many of us who first became familiar with Hong Kong film back in the 1990’s, the idea that one day the Hong Kong International Film Festival would honor Eric Tsang by choosing him as their “Filmmaker in Focus” in 2008 would have sounded totally bizarre; as if it was an announcement from a parallel dimension. You mean that funny looking guy with the short rotund body, the mortar sized and shaped head and an infantile laugh? To most of us, he registered only as a frantically eye popping comedic actor who appeared to be just barely on the plus side of mental retardation. This simplistic impression came from his roles in the Lucky Star series and a plethora of girl chasing Cinema City comedies.

What wasn’t so apparent to many of us is that he was already an influential force behind the camera as a director and producer. As he grew into middle age during the 1990’s he finally came into his own as an actor; getting serious roles to which he brought a surprising depth and gravitas to his characters whether they were tough triad bosses, lonely homosexuals or a down on his luck fellow listening to a prostitute tell him her life story. Looking back now one can spot certain earlier films in which Tsang displayed some of this acting talent, but they were often in small films that few of us saw such as Final Victory (1987) directed by Patrick Tam and written by Wong Kar-wai, Fatal Vacation (1990) as the courageous tour guide and Alan and Eric: Between Hello and Goodbye (1991) directed by Peter Chan.

But today while still having an active acting career, Tsang’s influence in the film industry has continued to grow and he along with a few others are all that stands between the survival of the industry or giving up the ghost. He mentors young directors, finds funding for other people’s projects, hands out advice, acts in films and just keeps going. So in fact, it is really no surprise at all that HKIFF honored him. They put out a small book on Tsang with interviews and information about his life and I thought I would dig through this and write up some pertinent facts about his career.

His father was a football coach and Eric followed in his footsteps by becoming a professional football player. To bring in some extra cash, he asked his friend Sammo Hung if he could find him some work in the film industry. Sammo brought him in as a stuntman and Tsang never looked back – he fell in love with making movies immediately. He became part of Lau Kar-leung’s team and went to Taiwan to work for the Chang Cheh Film Company. After a few years he joined Sammo’s stunt team and says “I’d been with Lau for a number of years and his style was real kung-fu while Hung was all about somersaults and rolls. Working with them was like going to two different universities.” While working as a stuntman on Karl Maka’s The Good, the Bad and the Loser in 1976 Maka advised Tsang that with his ability to tell stories he should try his hand at scriptwriting and so Tsang did.

He helped out with script duties on the classic The 36th Chamber of Shaolin for Lau and Enter the Fat Dragon for Sammo – then became the script supervisor on Sammo’s The Iron Fisted Monk in 1977 and moved up rapidly to assistant director and editor on Sammo’s Warriors Two in 1978. He acted in John Woo’s 1977 film Money Crazy and had this to say about him “He always had his collar up, a cigarette dangling from his lips and was always pretending to be a gweilo so he was called the French Gangster”.

His first director gig came about in an interesting manner. He was working on the script for Jackie Chan’s The Fearless Hyena in 1979 when Lo Wei along with Raymond Chow from Golden Harvest asked him to bring Jackie back from Taiwan to make some films – but Chan never showed up and so Tsang suggested that he direct a film in the meantime – The Deadly Challenger in which he brought on his drinking buddy David Chiang as the lead. The Loot (1980) also with Chiang was soon to follow but before long Tsang was to take his next important step in film production.

By 1980 Hong Kong cinema was beginning to go through a major transition that would lead to an astonishing fifteen years of innovative films, great charismatic actors and new dynamic directors. During the 1960’s through much of the 70’s two Mandarin film companies – the Shaw Brothers and Cathay – had dominated the market place and in doing so had practically made extinct the Cantonese film. But Cathay had gone out of business in the late 60’s (selling their property to a new company called Golden Harvest) and the Shaw Brothers were clearly running out of steam and were to close film shop by the mid-80’s. This void allowed a new group of actors/directors/producers who made Cantonese films to make their way onto the scene and who upped the energy level considerably. The first major new player on the scene in the early 70's was Golden Harvest (first with Bruce Lee but even more so later with Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung and the Hui Brothers) who began the dramatic transition from Mandarin to Cantonese language films.

In the early 1980’s another company began to make waves – a commune of filmmakers who banded together to get financing and to make a different kind of film – modern comedies for the most part that were also loaded with action. This was Cinema City that was initially formed by Karl Maka, Dean Shek and Raymond Wong but then expanded to include Tsui Hark, Nansun Shi, Teddy Kwan and Eric Tsang. Tsang says “When I first left Lo Wei’s company, there were a few options. Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung at Golden Harvest, and Yuen Woo-ping all offered. At the time my inclination was either Chan or Hung, but Chan’s company wasn’t approving my expected salary. It was only because I bumped into Maka on a flight to Taiwan and he said I should go to Cinema City. He immediately approved the $20,000 I needed to cover all car, mortgage and family expenses. We shook hands and that was that”.

The seven of them spent hours simply sitting around and throwing out ideas and building on others. They went home to change clothes and came back to trade some more thoughts. Tsang says “the best chemistry I had was with Tsui. I was also the one who understood the most of what he was saying. Everyone else would just stare at him”. Tsang’s first film as a director was Aces Go Places, an enormously fun film that starred Karl Maka, Sam Hui and Sylvia Chang and broke box office records. The success of this film forced Tsang to direct the sequel (three more came after that but were directed by others). Tsang was the first to leave Cinema City around 1985 and began working for Bo Ho, Sammo’s film company, where he helped write scripts and produce films like the Lucky Star series and Mr. Vampire (that became a cottage industry on its own) and directed the Jackie Chan film Armour of God in 1987.

By 1987 Tsang thought it was finally time to break out on his own and set up his own production company – Alan and Eric Films formed with Alan Tam and Teddy Kwan. In this film company and his next Friend Cheers, Tsang generally focused on smaller more artistic films often using new directors. Some of these titles were You’re My Destiny, Trouble Couples, The Other Half (directed by Clara Law), Women’s Prison, Golden Swallow, Fatal Vacation, The Tigers, Alan and Eric: Between Hello and Goodbye, Zodiac Killers (directed by Ann Hui) and others – but none of these really hit box office gold and the production companies all went out of business. It was to be Tsang’s next production company that made some of the best films of the 1990’s – UFO (United Filmmakers Organization).

Formed in 1993 by Tsang UFO targeted the middle class as their audience and shied away from action or fantasy films instead doing contemporary dramas and comedies with some of Hong Kong’s best talent in front of and behind the camera. Tsang’s role was primarily as the money guy – it was up to him to find financing for ideas that directors like Peter Chan, Joe Ma, Teddy Chan, Lee Chi-ngai, Benny Chan, Samson Chiu and others had. Out of this arrangement came such fine films as Yesteryou, Yesterme Yesterday (1993), Tom, Dick & Harry (1993), He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Father (1993), Twenty Something (1994), He’s a Woman, She’s a Man (1994), Lost and Found (1996) and Comrades: Almost a Love Story (that also had one of Tsang’s first great performances that was to foreshadow many more to come). But near the end UFO gambled on some big budget films – The Age of Miracles, Heaven Can Wait and Whatever Will Be, Will Be and their lack of success caused the company to largely fall apart by 1997. Their last film in co-operation with Golden Harvest was And I Hate You So in 2000.

This seems to have taken the starch out of Tsang for a few years and he went back to simply acting – some of his best though – Task Force (1997), Hold You Tight (1998), Metade Fumaca (1999), Cop on a Mission and Merry-Go-Round (2001) and Infernal Affairs (2002). But producing eventually took a hold of him again and he worked with Peter Chan to produce The Eye and Three: Going Home and with others on Golden Chicken, Men Suddenly in Black, Three . . . Extremes, Jiang Hu, The Pye-Dog and After this Our Exile. He is one of the few go to guys in Hong Kong film – someone who just won’t allow it to die.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Getting Near the End of the Photo Road

I have a bit of a cold and am too tired to write much about these folks. You should know them all - Sibelle Hu was initially marketed as a demure beauty before she found success in a number of Girls with Guns films, Simon Yam is the coolest person in HK, Stephen Chow - do another silly film like Love on Delivery please and stop feeling the need to make "important" films all the time, Takeshi Kaneshiro - he has come up greatly in my ratings compared to the new crop of male actors - used to think he was just a pretty boy and he is but he can actually act, Teresa Cheung and Kenny Bee found love in the space between her cleavage but her aborted career went bust so to speak and a few of Big Tony, maybe the most versatile actor in HK?

Sibelle Hu (10 picts)

Simon Yam (8 picts)

Stephen Chow - 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

Takeshi Kaneshiro - 1, 2

Teresa Cheung and Kenny Bee

Tony Leung Ka-fai

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Betty Lo Tih and Duel at the Supreme Gate

Duel at the Supreme Gate
Director: Yuan Quifeng
Year: 1968
Running Time: 91 minutes
Country: HK

By 1968 both Betty Lo Tih’s (Le Di) career and personal life were at a crossroad. Her glory days at Shaw were in the past and though still popular she never received her previous acclaim while with the Cathay studio. A year previously along with her brother actor Kelly Lai Chen and director Yuan Quifeng, Betty had formed the production company Golden Eagle which used Cathay as their distribution arm. Their films though were not particularly successful and Betty found herself in the uncomfortable position of having to adapt to current trends by becoming a wuxia heroine in this film and Vagabond Swordsman. It wasn’t really a good match for this actress best known for her lush romantic or mannered comic films and she announced in 1968 that she would no longer perform in these types of films and would also drop out as a shareholder in Golden Eagle and would only be a contract actress for them.

Her personal life was in flux as well. After five years of marriage and a child, she divorced fellow Cathay actor Peter Chen in 1967. His extramarital activities had become well known to her and the subject of much speculation and gossip in the media. She received another cruel blow when she lent money to an old friend and actor Kao Yuen and he absconded with it leaving her in financial distress (perhaps partially explaining her decision to sell her shares of Golden Eagle). A few months later on December 27 Betty Lo Tih was dead from an overdose of sleeping pills – whether intentional or accidental will never be known for sure.

Since her death her legend has only grown as one of Hong Kong’s most popular and beautiful actresses - nicknamed “Classic Beauty” in her very first Shaw film Magic Touch in 1958 for her genteel composure and her long oval face, prominent nose and beguiling almond shaped eyes. She was born in Shanghai in 1937 during the Japanese invasion and her father was killed in an air raid while Betty was still in her mother’s womb. Her mother died when Betty was still a child and she was brought up by her grandparents. Her grandfather owned a Chinese Opera theater and her love for show business was instilled early on. Like so many other Hong Kong stars during the 1960’s, her family moved to Hong Kong in 1949 to escape the Communist takeover. She first joined up with the Great Wall film studio in 1953 at the age of seventeen but her career at this studio never reached its potential and it wasn’t until she signed up with the Shaw Brothers in 1958 that her career really took off.

In 1960 she became a big star playing the ethereal tragic Hsiao Chien in Enchanting Shadow but it was her role in the classic Love Eterne in 1963 that cemented her legendary status. Love Eterne is simply one of Hong Kong’s most popular films ever and her pairing with Ivy Ling Po (who played the male character in this Huangmei opera) was revered by the public. But not so much by Betty who felt that Ivy was getting too much of the credit for the success of the film and that the Shaw’s were favoring her. She swore never to work with Ivy again and so in 1964 she left Shaw to work for their main Mandarin language competitor Cathay. Here she had a solid career with films like A Debt of Blood and Darling, Stay at Home but it never reached the heights of her years at Shaw Brothers. She was 31 when she died.

Duel at the Supreme Gate is a middling wuxia at best. It has a good plot but it suffers from a plodding pace and a dearth of much action until the final confrontation. She is a swordswoman in the Supreme Gate clan. One night a thief steals the Golden Sword and the Magic Mirror from the clan and when they track the thief down it turns out to be Kuan Han Pin (played with evil laughing relish by Sek Kin) who sneers at them before badly wounding their Master and doubles the insult by sneering some more afterwards. Bin (Betty) is sent to the Southern Sky clan to obtain a pill that may save the Master’s life. There she encounters Chee (a surprisingly middle aged looking Zhang Yang who was male eye candy in many Cathay films in the late 50’s) who is immediately smitten by her and follows her back to the Supreme Gate.

There Bin learns not only that the Master is dead but that she is the daughter of Kuan and so is expelled from the clan – though not before she saves their hides by fighting off Kuan’s student Tai Yong (a barely recognizable Kelly Lai Chen). She is determined to recapture her place at Supreme Gate so she pretends to join her father and steals back the Golden Sword (why this is so valuable is never revealed) and the Magic Mirror (basically a bright flashlight that temporarily blinds an opponent). But she is set upon by her father and his Icy Press strike blinds her for good. She retreats to the wilderness to live by herself but Chee follows and sets up house with her - and begins to teach her how to fight blind – she is a fast learner and soon can catch sharp objects thrown in her direction. Word eventually comes that Supreme Gate is under attack and with her cane sword in hand Bin sets out to right the wrongs in the world. As one might expect, the action in the film is a bit clumsy with non-action actors in action roles but Betty has her moments and no doubt she had some action training at Shaw Brothers.

This DVD has been released by Rarescope – a sub-label under the now defunct BCI label but this is still available at various Internet sites. But be warned – don’t expect the restoration work that we have become used to with Celestial – the print is in fairly poor condition with lots of speckles and the night scenes are nearly impenetrable. Both English and Chinese subs are burnt on.

My rating for this film: 6.0

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

And a few more

For tonight's course we have a mixed offering - some famous, most not so much. Ruby Lin who defined cute as a bug in a rug was famous mainly for being Sanney's obsession on his old HK Entertainment site - she didn't have much of a film career with China Strike Force perhaps being the biggest film she was in - curiously I just noticed that she has shown up in a 2009 Zhang Ziyi film called Perfect Life so maybe a comeback is in order - the question being a comeback from what - obscurity? Sally Yeh - yay - pictures never capture what a wonderful screwball comic actress she was - her only fault is being married to George Lam who may be the blandest actor alive. The marvelous Sammi Cheng who used to be everywhere before she did a disappearing act after Everlasting Regret in 2005 - but maybe a comeback of sorts with her doing Lady Cop and Papa Crook last year - it can't possibly be as dreadful as it sounds. Can it?

Sandra Ng is kind of the female equivalent of Eric Tsang - in her early years she got only ugly goofy friend or comic foil roles until someone gave her a chance to go serious and she blew people away with her acting skills. Sandy Lam is a great singer - not such a great actress and only appeared in a handful of films in the 1980's. Sharla Cheung Man - one of the underrated beauties of HK - wonderfully sharp features and sultry lips. Sharon Kwok is one I bet few of you have heard of but she was a delight to watch on the screen in such B fare as Outlaw Brothers, Red Fist, Dead Target and Fun and Fury made in the 80's/early 90's. Often played a dizzy babe who got caught up in trouble. I still see her in print ads and she still looks great. And finally Sherming Yiu who was kind of a minor cult star in a vast number of low budget horror films in the late 90's - Last Ghost Standing being the best - am happy to see she is in True Women for Sale (2008) which I just picked up on DVD this week.

Ruby Lin (16 picts)

Sally Yeh (10 picts)

Sammi Cheng (13 picts)

Sandra Ng (27 picts) - 1, 2

Sandy Lam (13 picts)

Sharla Cheung Man (21 picts) - 1, 2

Sharon Kwok (5 picts)

Sherming Yiu (13 picts)

Sunday, February 15, 2009


Not too surprisingly, here is another batch of photos of HK stars. Moon Lee, by far the cutest of the Girls for Guns stars - teaching dance somewhere in the USA last I heard, Michelle Reis, another one of my favorite faces* - even with the lengthy nose that Wong Kar-wai played with cinematically in Fallen Angels, a few more of Michelle Yeoh, a first time appearance by Nicola Cheung who only made it to best friend roles in a few films such as City of Glass, Twelve Nights and Magic Kitchen, also a first time showing of one of the new breed's few hopes Nicholas Tse, cutie Rain Lee who jumps back and forth between film and music and one more page of Rosamund Kwan who seems to have few fans but had an extremely long career in Hong Kong and showed up in a number of great films.

*Not that anyone asked but here would be my top 6 favorite female faces in HK film:

1. Hsu Chi
2. Joey Wong
3. Wu Chien-lien
4. Carman Lee
5. Michelle Reis
6. Athena Chu

(adjusted for my senility!)

Moon Lee (48 picts) - 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Michelle Reis (83 picts) - 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

Michelle Yeoh (11 picts)

Nicola Cheung (12 picts)

Nicholas Tse (19 picts) - 1, 2

Rain Lee (13 picts)

Rosamund Kwan (11 picts)

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Another batch

After this I should have five more batches of photos to get up and I will be done finally. Not that anyone is exactly holding their breath but I just want to do it before I head back to Asia at the end of the month. This will be a lengthy stay. Can't wait to get going but have to do those darn taxes first!

This time around I have two of my favorite actresses - almost 100 of Maggie and some of Loletta Lee. A lesser known actress is Mondi Yau Yuet Ching and I don't know a thing about her other than she showed up in some risque films in the 90's and vanished soon after (likely married a wealthy husband as did many of the HK actresses - it is sort of a retirement plan and a quick road to riches). I have thrown in a few pictures for the George Hamilton of HK movies, Louis Koo, Leon Lai who is still hard at work learning his second acting expression after all these years (glummer) and Lau Ching-wan. I wish I had a lot more from Lau but he seems to stay out of the spotlight - he was probably my favorite actor from the mid-90s on for a few years - and actually still may be though his output has generally got much less interesting these past few years - though Mad Detective was a lovely Johnny To reunion. And finally a lot of pictures of Leslie Cheung. Its been a while but looking at pictures of him still brings on a swell of sadness.

A while back I broke out of the Asian film world and made mention of a few non-Asian films that I had come upon that were of interest to me - and since I haven't watched anything Asian to write about, there are a few more below.

Leon Lai (13 picts)

Leslie Cheung (65 picts) - 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

Loletta Lee (32 picts) - 1, 2, 3

Louis Koo (7 picts)

Maggie Cheung (99 picts) - 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

Since I got back from my last trip I tried catching up on a few of the newer titles from the USA that I had missed. I admit my choices were not great and were driven by not wanting to use a major portion of my brain while viewing. I certainly succeeded in that goal.

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor - where did all the fun go from this series. A terrible idea to make the protagonist Brenden Frasier a stuffy father. Just boring from the get go though its always nice to see Michelle Yeoh picking up a nice paycheck! Her fight with Jet Li was short and almost made me want to watch Tai Chi Master again to see them in their prime together.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull - I love the Tin Tin like title but not much more - though in truth I had heard such unpleasant remarks about this film that my expectations were so low that I wasn't really disappointed. Similar to The Mummy the producers seemed intent on passing the baton on to a new generation - but was Shia LaBeouf the best they could come up with? Does that say something about the current state of the male actor in Hollywood? Seeing Indiana grow old before my eyes makes me feel old as well. I did enjoy seeing him escape a nuclear blast by hiding in a refrigerator - reminded me of the days long ago when we had to get under our desks at school to practice surviving a blast and all we did was giggle a lot. Now I understand they just practice sending out one last SMS.

Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay - good for some crude laughs but watching them smoke dope with George Bush humanized him more then he deserves. Hope this is the last one in the series as you can imagine these just getting worse and worse like Police Academy.

Wanted - this encapsulates pretty much everything I have come to hate about modern commercial movies - just awful with the soul of a safety box. Something about super assassins and father's love but the editing gave me whiplash and the story was just so astonishingly stupid with a lead actor who would be better off on daytime soaps.

The Dark Knight - have tried unsuccessfully three times to finish this. Each time at around 20-minutes I decide I would rather be doing something else. Anything else. I think I give up. The critical raves for this mystify me. I find it oppressive, dirge like and so lacking in fun that it is like watching a black hole of emotions close in on itself. When did our super heroes become glum Nietzsche Supermen. Give me Ironman over this any time. Even the new Hulk was better. What am I missing here?

And I have also watched some older films.

Mr. Wong Detective - along with Charlie Chan and Mr. Moto, this series also starred a Caucasian playing an Asian - in this case the great Boris Karloff. I expect all three of these series are from a modern perspective politically incorrect and easy red meat to condemn, but I think its important to put things in context to the times in which they were made. To me what I find intriguing about all three of these is that though society at the time generally stereotyped Asians fairly negatively the Asian protagonist is always the smartest and most honorable guy on the set showing all the white folks how stupid they are. The Wong series was six films from 1938 to 1940 (five starring Karloff and one starring Keye Luke who often played one of Charlie Chan's sons). They are real low budget and not nearly as good as many of the Chan films or any of the Mr. Moto films, but still enjoyable for what they are as they follow a basic formula - someone is murdered - the dim police captain (Grant Withers) can't figure it out and brings in Wong while the captain's girlfriend journalist (Marjorie Reynolds) keeps getting in the way. All of them run just a bit over 60 minutes and all six come in a box set from VCI.

She - produced in 1935 by Merian Cooper who also did a little film called King Kong, this is good fun - an adventure tale that might almost be a forerunner of the Indiana Jones films. A small group of men go off looking for the fountain of youth into the wilds of the Himalayas and find She - a beautiful and very ancient Queen who is looking for love again. Amazing art deco sets and a dance number that looks straight out of a Bollywood movie. The main actor was Randolph Scott who went on to a great career in the saddle making some of my favorite westerns.

Fox Horror Classics - this is a box set of three horror films all directed by John Brahm and they are terrific - the kind of old fashioned horror I like in an era of torture porn - it's all in the atmospherics and what you don't see. I'd never heard of Brahm before but I was very impressed by these films. He came over from Germany in 1937 and brought a lot of that German expressionistic style with him. The Undying Monster (1942) was a fairly basic family werewolf film but Brahm adds some nice stylish touches, dark shadows and loads of English fog. The film that blew me away was The Lodger (1944) loosely based on Jack the Ripper. Beautifully shot and wonderfully acted it is simply gripping and brilliant. It stars Laird Cregar as the serial killer and the lovely Merle Oberon as his obsession. The film was a huge hit and so Brahm had to follow this with another serial killer film - Hangover Square again starring Cregar along with Linda Darnell and George Sanders. It's not quite up to The Lodger but is worth watching just for Cregar. Cregar is astonishing in both films - bringing sympathetic vulnerable shades to his character and being able to in one camera shot show complex changing emotions. He was rather a tragic figure in Hollywood - gay at a time when the closet was deep and locked and very much wanting to be a romantic leading man. But he was a large man who could not keep the weight off and so he had an operation right after Hangover Square to sew up his stomach and he died from it. He could have been one of the great character actors of his time but he wanted more. I also caught him recently in The Black Swan (middling Tyrone Power flick) and as the devil in Heaven Can Wait (Lubitsch) and he was fine though they were much smaller roles. Lodger and Hangover Square are his two showcases.

Esther Williams - Volume 1 - the five films in this set are whimsical journeys into the past and into a film genre that doesn't exist anymore and very likely never will again. I am not sure if they had a term for them so let's just call them wet musicals and Esther Williams was the only star of them. She was a swimming champion who saw her dreams of competing in the 1940 Olympics dashed by this little thing called World War II and so eventually settled into what they called Aquatic Escapades back then. These were shows performed in the water for an audience and the leading male star was none other than Johnny Weismuller! Who apparently spent much of his time trying to grope and seduce his 16-year old co-star. What would Jane say. Someone at MGM had the idea of transferring the concept to the movies and so they hired Esther who looked fine in a bathing suit and after a couple small stints in Andy Hardy movies she had her grown-up debut (18 years old) in Bathing Beauty in 1944. Williams was to have a gigantically successful career for the next dozen years along with a few husbands and three children. After watching all five of these it's hard to argue that they are really very good - today's audience would chew them up and spit them out in kitsch contempt - but I liked them and look forward to volume 2. I get the impression that Williams wasn't much of a singer and not much of a dancer on dry land so they surround her with mounds of talent that perform many of the musical numbers - Red Skelton shows up in two of the films and is very funny at times, Jimmy Durante does two numbers in On an Island with You, Xavier Cugat the big band leader (and whose music Wong Kar-wai uses in Days of Being Wild and 2046) is in four of the films and it's really his Latin flavored songs that still sell today, Cyd Charisse dances in Island with a surprisingly fluid and graceful Ricardo Montalban - who also co-stars as a polo player in Neptune's Daughter with Betty Garrett and another great big band leader Harry James does a couple numbers in Bathing Beauty as well. The only film that they leave Esther naked of talent is Dangerous When Wet and it is by far the least interesting film in the bunch - her co-star is the uber suave Fernando Llamas who she was to marry years later. What surprised me is actually how little time Esther spends in the water - generally they save the big spectacular water number for the finale and they are great to watch - very Busby Berkely like in their geometric visuals. All the films are of course shot in that glorious MGM color. I can't say I am really totally taken by Esther - she honestly seems way to smart for her material and it keeps her a bit distant but the films are a real nostalgic trip to a time when audiences loved this kind of stuff. How far we have come I guess.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Angel or Whore

No, I am not debating the future direction of my life, but instead here is another episode in the exciting on going adventures of “Beneath the Living Room Table” where I drag out old dusty tapes and finally watch them. In this instance perhaps I should have let sleeping tapes lie.

Angel or Whore

Director: Lai Jun-git
Year: 1990
Running Time: 93 minutes

A provocative title is practically all this dreary fantasy film has going for it – other than a physical exercise that may be of some interest to the women readership out there. Its lack of energy is palpable as it drags itself to the anti-climatic finish line as if in slow motion. According to the HKMDB this was the director’s solo effort and we can at least be thankful for that. In ancient times, a certifiably loony and evil Hsia Hau Chian (played by Pai Ying for a pay check) has aspirations to conquer the world. Now we all have our own reasons for wanting to conquer the world – mine is to be spoon fed Haagan Daz Chocolate Almond ice cream on a daily basis by Maggie Cheung and Hsu Chi – but Hsia has other reasons – he was once a dragon when they ruled the earth and he wants to bring back the good old days.

He doesn’t seem to be making a lot of progress towards this goal as he lives in a cave and has two minions beneath him – and fortunately for all of us his evil machinations are thwarted by a character called 18 Fairies (the winsome Emily Chu gets this small painful role) who is able to disassemble into eighteen different fairies – sadly none of them can fight a lick and nearly all die before they finally pull Hsia into the well of death where he has to go directly to Hell without passing Go. The big concept in Hell is that you are given a pill to forget your past life so that you can be reincarnated afresh – but the clever Hsia spits it out and so comes back to earth still wanting the whole enchilada. Let’s hope they have better quality control when George Bush and Dick Cheney have their turn.

Hsia returns to earth a few hundred years later (still in ancient times) with some changes – his hair has turned gray (damn Hell for that) but he has much better digs as he appears to have moved up considerably in cave dwelling status and he now has some hotties as minions – now he is getting the point of ruling the world – but he still has the same evil laugh. Out in the real world events are taking place as well. Stonehead (Matthew Wong – who has a certain Jaycee Chan look about him – what was Jackie up to in the early 70’s I wonder?) has left his small town to find his way – this after bashing the local casino owner and pharmacist not to speak of an old lady who wanted to kill him – and wanders into a more cosmopolitan town – cosmopolitan because it has a brothel. He accidentally comes upon some comely maidens practicing a work exercise – holding a melon between their knees and when they have the strength to break it they are ready for business. When he hears that in two nights they are going to “break one in” he assumes they mean melons and shows up to help – of course they mean virgins – in this case the lovely Yuk (Sheren Tang who has been a mainstay of TVB for years but recently appeared as Dragon’s mom in Dragon Tiger Gate).

Yes, her big day has arrived – what she has been trained for all her life – putting in the long hours of study needed for that profession - but before entering her enthralling life of whoredom she goes to a fortune teller to see what destiny holds for her. You can imagine her surprise when she discovers that she isn’t even human but a fairy who has to go kill Hsia. Ouch. One minute a burgeoning career, the next a long road trip with a really irritating companion. Because of a red pimple on Stonehead’s back, he is destined to come with her and help fight evil. The drawback for him is that she has to remain a virgin. So why am I coming along I would guess he is asking himself? And the viewer is sort of asking themselves the same question – why did I stick with this film until the bitter end. To that I have no answer.

My rating for this film: 2.0

As a housekeeping note and to sound more productive than I am – I have finally gotten around to inserting some screen captures in some film reviews that I wrote while traveling. I can’t imagine why any one would care, but here they are:

From HK:

Starlets for Sale
New Kids in Town (bad video quality)
Brave Young Girls (bad video quality)
Beauty Evil Rose (really bad video quality)
Angel or Whore (bad video quality)

From Bollywood:

The Train

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Pictures and Misc.

More pictures needless to say. Almost half way through. Today children, we have photos of one of our favorite faces - Joey Wong - in fact a slew of them. Then a few of Joey Yung who I liked so much in Crazy N' the City and then oddly as far as I know she hasn't been in anything since. A smattering of Jordan Chan looking very modelish, Josie Ho looking interesting as always, sadly only a few of Kara Hui - I like her so much but have never come across many pictures of her and none from the 1970's, a whole bunch of Kathy Chow who was terribly under utilized in HK film though she has had a fine career in television, Kelly Chan who was so bad in An Empress and the Warrior but still looks so good and finally a few of Karen Mok who oddly I saw last night on TV in Black Mask. It was the English dubbed version and since I have the HK version I don't know why I stopped channel surfing and watched it, but I did. Still not a great film and one of Mok's worst roles.

Just want to mention how rotten it is that Variety Asia and thus Kaiju Shakedown have fallen victims to the economic downturn. It is hard to imagine that these cost savings were all that much - but I expect they didn't have much pull back at headquarters and so someone made the easy political choice. Everyone loved KS of course and I found VA very interesting as well. Not sure if Grady will bring back Kaiju in another reincarnation but I know lots of people hope so.

Though the news was likely mentioned all over the Internet, it was thanks to reading a post from SBK on YTSL's blog that I learned that Criterion had released Chungking Express. Yay! Finally a decent clean and crisp DVD version and with the original music back in. I used to watch this film religiously every year just to re-gain my optimism for humanity (Red has the same effect on me), but have not done so for a couple of years due to my chaotic schedule. Thus it was pure pleasure visiting old friends and scenes again last night. I have always liked the first half and loved the second half and that still holds. The ending kills me. The extras are kind of disappointing though - especially for Criterion and the price - not that I ever watch them on DVDs but I would have for this one and would have loved to have seen the actors talking about the film. I haven't listened to the Tony Rayans commentary yet. Maybe next year. A short essay from Amy Taubin makes an interesting supposition - that the break between the two stories was in fact Wong Kar-wai breaking from his gangster genre past to his future lush romances. I wonder. Certainly when I was watching the scene between Tony and Valerie Chow to the music of What a Difference a Day Makes I thought that WKW could teach Ang Lee a few things about filming love scenes.

For no good reason except to cheer myself up, I took a load of screen captures and here they are. Who can tell me what the first three captures have in common. No prizes other than knowing you are smarter than the average bear. Or the only one who reads this blog! Picts here and here.

The answer to the above comment is now in the comment section.

Joey Wong (78 picts) - 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

Joey Yung (10 picts)

Jordan Chan (14 picts)

Josie Ho (11 picts)

Kara Hui Ying-hung (7 picts)

Karen Mok (22 picts) - 1, 2

Kathy Chow (43 picts) - 1, 2, 3, 4

Kelly Chan (30 picts) - 1, 2

Thursday, February 05, 2009

A few more Pictures

Just have time to throw up a few more actors today before I rush out into the cold to look for the Criterion version of Chungking Express - more to come very soon. Gong Li - sexiest voice in cinema, Grace Yip - she came and went in the blink of an eye, Hsu Chi (I am I believe the last hold out to spell her name the old HK way) is back with a couple of films I understand and is I am sure as beautiful as ever, good old Jackie Chan - I keep meaning to go back and re-watch his movies from the 80's when he constantly amazed, Jacky Cheung who really came of age as an actor when he got older and toned down a bit and finally Joan Tong who I am sure no one knows, but she was a cutie actress in the 80's/early 90's when she appeared in comedies like Pantyhose Hero, Ghost in the House, Crazy Companies and Return of the Lucky Stars.

Gong Li (18 picts) - 1, 2

Grace Yip (10 picts)

Hsu Chi (60 picts) - 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

Jacky Chan (63 picts) - 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

Jacky Cheung (25 picts) - 1, 2

Joan Tong (5 picts)

Monday, February 02, 2009

More HK Actor Photos

Here are some more pictures from my rapidly dwindling collection that I squirreled away for years. It's nice putting up a bunch of Chow Yun Fat - along with Brigitte Lin he was the main reason I got into Hong Kong films initially. It's hard to remember now how great he was back in the 80's to the mid-90's - the God of Actors was one of his nicknames. Elizabeth Lee probably isn't known to many of you - she was for the most part stuck in B films through the 80's but she gave off a kind of sexual heat that I found very attractive in films like Gunmen, Picture of a Nymph and Widow Warriors. She was also one of the few short-haired actresses in Hong Kong. I finally found enough Eric Tsang photos to put up a page of his. Last year at the HKIFF he was the subject of a retro and a well-deserved one - a true renaissance man in HK film and I hope to do a write-up soon on him from the information I gathered from the book they published on him. It's also about time I put up a lot of Francis Ng pictures - such a great actor from when he was always stuck in bad nutty guy roles to eventually doing leading roles in films. And 47 pictures of Gloria Yip may seem like overkill to most but she was such a cutie in her short career (though she made a quick comeback some 5 years back but found few roles in the declining fortunes of HK film).

Chow Yun Fat (62 picts) - 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

Dodo Cheng (15 picts)

Ekin Cheng (11 picts)

Elizabeth Lee (20 picts) - 1, 2

Eric Tsang (11 picts)

Fiona Sit (11 picts)

Francis Ng (40 picts) - 1, 2, 3, 4

Gloria Yip (47 picts) - 1, 2, 3, 4, 5