Sunday, April 5, 2009

Melbourne's Golden Age of Hong Kong Movies 1

I feel fortunate to have seen all my favorite Hong Kong movies from the 80's and 90's on the big screen.

There was a time in the early 90's when Melbourne was being serviced by 4 screens each week. The Capitol Cinema, a dedicated Cantonese movie palace, added an additional screen to its bow when it leased a screen from local mainstream exhibitor Greater Union.

The Chinatown, the original Melbourne home for Hong Kong cinema, leased a screen from Hoyts, another mainstream exhibitor.

It was a glorious time for the fans.

One of my favorite Hong Kong films of all time, A Fishy Story ('89) was a revelation on the cinema screen. Peter Pau, who went on to shoot The Bride With White Hair, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and The Bride of Chucky (!), delivered breathtaking images.

Richard Yuen delivered a score inspired by John Barry's Body Heat, but very much its own beast.

Sammo Hung's masterpiece, Pedicab Driver ('89), is still MIA on DVD.

It is a stunning piece of work with some of the most brutal, expertly choreographed fight scenes in all Hong Kong cinema.

The Shootout ('92) was nothing great, but I took this opportunity to see The Twin Dragons ('92) again.

Directed by Ringo Lam (great!) and Tsui Hark (always an iffy proposition), it does feature an amazing fight sequence in an auto paintshop.

I've covered this great film, A Home Too Far ('90), in a previous blog.

The theatrical version I saw contained additional war/violence footage cut from the laserdisk and DVD.

For a while back there, Chow Yun Fatt seemed to be in a new film every week.

Between '86 and '95 he appeared in close to 50 films.

I will always see anything by Ringo Lam.

Certainly not up to the quality of the original Tiger on Beat ('88), this 1990 sequel wih Danny Lee and Conan Lee did boast a great stunt sequence in which Conan falls from a streetlight onto his hip. He was hospitalized.

None of the Hong Kong exhibitor/distributors advertised in English language newspapers.

They handed these flyers out instead.

The flip side often featured next week's show.


  1. You have no idea how much I envy you having seen all these first run on the big screen. HK cinema is filled with pearls. The worst thing you can say about any film is "it's dull" and I very rarely think that while watching an HK action or genre flicks--even some of the worst are still entertaining.

    I'm elated to see Tiger on the Beat mentioned. It has all the elements that western reviewers typically criticize--the uneven slapstick, melodrama, some overacting, wacky situations, over the top violence... those criticisms are fair but aren't those the ingredients that make it great? And the best part is that for an HK film that can hardly be called taking chances!

    I agree with you about Tsui Hark but I bet you admire Don't Play With Fire as much as I do.

  2. Ahh, thanks for posting these! Certainly brings back memories. I still have the flyer from "Prison on Fire 2".

    I remember one time my girlfriend and I went to see a double bill of "A Better Tomorrow" 1+2. That afternoon we were only four people there, us and two Chinese blokes. Anyway, halfway through the film it suddenly stopped and for about 10 min nothing happened. Then one of the Chinese guys went out and spoke to the projectionist who apparently was trying to chat up the ticket girl. Anyway, he got the film fixed and it started rolling again... well, until it stopped again 10 min later. And like the first time the projectionist had left his post again. Haha.

  3. Jack J -- Hmmm. If you're referring to a caucasian projectionist, you'd be referring to "Phil", an old semibuddy of mine. That would have been him chatting up the ticket girl. It's definitely his MO to do that.

    I used to hate all the talking in the cinema. Just weird mumbling. Perhaps it was Cantonese speakers doing Mandarin translations for friends. Who the fuck knows!?

    Glad you liked the posts. You inspired me to get cracking on them because I've been meaning to do it for a while. But with my list of 400+ subjects (which I seem to add to every day), it got re-prioritized.

    Phil used to shoot out for an hour during shows. If things went out of focus, tough!!!

  4. d -- yes, DON'T PLAY WITH FIRE is an excellent Hark film.

    Some of the good films he is credited with he didn't direct -- CHINESE GHOST STORY being one example.

    I like his THE LOVERS.

    TIGER ON BEAT, to me, personifies what I love about Hong Kong films -- the mixing of genres without pretension.