Friday, September 13, 2013

How It All Began



Every Westerner who has become a fan of Hong Kong film has had their own path that they followed to get there. It could have been a friend who lent them a video with an admonishment that "you have to see this" or a late night martial arts movie on some TV channel or simply an interest in exploring beyond the mainstream of Hollywood. Back in the 1990's before the Internet it was a nearly impossible for people in the West to learn about Hong Kong cinema. Most people including myself had no idea that Hong Kong even had a film industry. But once I did and realized how much I loved these movies living in NYC made it much easier. There were theaters in Chinatown that showed movies all the time (now all gone) and many rental video tape stores in Chinatown as well (again all gone).



But what became an obsession for a number of years all began innocently enough walking down 12th street in Manhattan on a chilly December day when I passed Cinema Village. In the window I noticed a bright colorful breathtaking poster of an ambiguously undefined sexual character in robes glaring down at me. My curiosity was piqued and I picked up the flyer and decided to go see something. The poster was of course of Brigitte Lin in her role as Asia the Invincible in The East is Red. I was not surprisingly blown away. I had never seen anything like it before and followed that up with The Heroic Trio and Peking Opera Blues. By the end of this mini-festival I had signed up into the magical world of Hong Kong film.



Cinema Village was way ahead of their time and had a Hong Kong festival for a few years. In those days it was actually fairly easy to throw a festival together and obtain prints because there were two distributors of Hong Kong films out in California. They now are gone as well. I think it was a year or perhaps two after Super Woman of Hong Kong Cinema that they put together a festival featuring the films of Michelle Yeoh and she appeared for one night to promote Stuntwoman.



It was a fun fabulous festival with all of her action classics up to that point. I even spent the $20 to see her! But looking at the flyer now I noticed that it was the princely sum of $8 to see a double feature. The good old days. So my love for Hong Kong film began and this lead eventually to me putting up a website because at that time I was able to access HK films that few people outside of NYC could and I thought it was important to write about these amazing films. And that led in a roundabout way to me getting involved with Subway Cinema and The New York Asian Film Festival. All great things and all because I decided to turn down 12th street that day rather than go up to 14th as I usually did.







 

13 comments:

duriandave said...

Wow, what an awesome introduction to HK movies! Thanks for sharing those flyers and photos of Michelle.

If I remember correctly, my initiation in HK movies was a double feature of Hard Boiled and Tiger on the Beat. But like you, it was my subsequent encounters with the "Superwomen" that really hooked me.

Ah... the good old days...

Kingwho? said...

Ah...the good old days, indeed. Great story. Thanks for sharing!

Mu intro was on a date to see Rumble In The Bronx. Yeah. I ended up liking the movie better than my date.

It's been all uphill ever since!

Brian said...

DD - Cinema Village also had a festival devoted to Chow Yun Fat that I recall going to and seeing Hard Boiled and The Killers among others. But as much as I have always like CYF, it was the dames that did me in.

KW - wow that must have been a really bad date! Of course, if it was you that chose Rumble that may explain it! It's so long ago but wasn't Rumble Jackie's big intro to an American audience after a few earlier failed attempts?

YTSL said...

I wish that Hong Kong filmmakers would realize that there are many folks out there who miss the fighting femmes and would like to see more of their likes again... :S

The last really good Hong Kong film I've seen with a great action female character is... I think... "Woman Knight of Mirror Lake" -- and that was two years ago!

Brian said...

It's strange isn't it. Fighting femmes has been a HK tradition in films going way way back, so I wonder why it has so lost its popularity these days. I went to Chinatown today to pick up a few new dvds. How distressing. Nearly all the dvd stores are closed now. Michelle's place is now in a tiny space and her uncle told me that biz was very bad. Also prices have shot way up - now costing from $20 to $25 a dvd. What is a new dvd cost in HK these days? Any way I picked up something called Naked Soldier because on the cover it looked to have a fighting femme. Have u ever heard of it?

Glenn, kenixfan said...

This was a great post. Thanks for this. I think I saw the Incredibly Strange Film Show episode on Tsui Hark and Jackie Chan on the Discovery Channel in 1992. I thought the Tsui Hark clips looked like Sam Raimi stuff so I got a friend with VCDs of the stuff to bring them to my friend's house since his laserdisc (!) player played VCDs. It was the first time I saw a VCD too. Then I watched some John Woo on cable and hated it. Didn't get back into HK cinema until late 2000 when Crouching Tiger came out the same week I got my first DVD player. I realized it was time to go watch the real stuff. And rented Chinese Ghost Story and Peking Opera Blues on DVD from Video Vault (RIP) in Alexandria and then that kicked things off for me.

Brian said...

I've heard other people mention seeing the Incredibly Strange Film Show as one of the things that tipped them off to HL movies. I wonder if they know how many people they started on the road to Hell! Thankfully I skipped the laserdisc revolution or I would probably have hundreds of those around my apartment and be unable to get rid of them as well!

Anonymous said...

Great to see you back Brian! Did you ever frequent Music Palace at all? I only mention Music Palace because most of the other theaters had closed by the mid-90s. Also, the guy in the photos with Michele is Peter Chow, he basically did all the HK festival stuff at cinema village. A precursor to subway cinema perhaps? I've always wanted to thank Peter for giving me the opportunity to watch HK movies outside of the NYC Chinatown grindhouses. Haha, but of course, now that their gone I get all nostalgic. But still, being able to watch HK films in a smoke-free and relatively safe environment without the worry of rival gangs shooting it out was quite wonderful.

Did he ever show up to the NYAFF? Peter Chow also directed a Chinese movie that was set in NYC. It played Music Palace for a week if I recall correctly.

Brian said...

I don't think I know Peter Chow. Are you thinking perhaps of Peter Chan and his film Comrades, A Love Story? But yes, I discovered the Music Palace a little late in the game and by the time I started going it was almost all Cat 111 films often paired up with an old classic that they had sitting around. When the MP was shut down, Subway was brought in to do an inventory by the new owners of all the prints the MP had down in the basement. They literally had hundreds of old films from the 80's thru the 90's. They just didn't return prints to the distributors. Unfortunately the new owners totally screwed up on these prints and they basically vanished.

Anonymous said...

Lol, I think know the difference Peter Chow and Peter Chan. The Michelle Yeoh schedule that you have uploaded says "PCI" and I think that stood for Peter Chow International. Probably the company that Peter used to run his HK cinema festivals. Conjecture on my part but I think Peter was merely renting cinema village to do his festival. It's pretty cool and amazing that you kept the ads and fliers from those days. Certainly brings back memories! So did you watch any of those Cat III and old classic double features at the MP? I fondly recall watching To's Running Out of Time with Fist of Legend on one occasion and then The Mission with a Cat III flick. I believe that was all in 1999, and then pretty soon the MP was just doing mostly Cat III flicks on its final days right? Man, now, the only place to catch an HK flick on the big screen is at the walter reade during the NYAFF. I never realized the MPs basement was large enough to store hundreds of 35 mm prints cause those things aren't small. When I was a kid my dad took me to see 5 Element Ninja at the MP back in 82 (?) and it would've been incredible if that was one of the prints still stored at the MP.

Brian said...

I am very vaguely having some recollections of what people have told me about Peter Chow long after I went to those festivals. He definitely was just renting CV just as we did at Subway. Did he used to work at Kim's Video? The festivals stopped after a few years and he seems to have dropped off the map. I went to some of the Cat 111 films if they were doubled with something I wanted to see. I recall seeing a bunch of the Raped by an Angel films there. The MP was a strange place by then, the guy with the cats and others who I think were just sleeping with no where else to go. Ya, down in the basement they had hundreds of prints and thousands of posters and film cards. We spent days down there and all I got for our trouble was a giant poster of Eastern Condors and one of Robotrix!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for that post! Brings back some memories! And thank you for this website, too! Been using it for the last 10(?) years

Brian said...

Thanks. Lots of good memories there. Not sure how long you have been using my website but I think it's been going since the mid-90's or thereabouts. Someone was recently showing me some sort of internet archive and I entered brns.com and it had pages going way back to the 90's. Kind of cool to see it.