Monday, January 3, 2011

The Glory Days of Hong Kong Exhibition

Hong Kong movies were exploding in the late 80's and early 90's, and Melbourne was a great place to be if you wanted to catch some of the debris.

The two key exhibitors, the Chinatown Cinema (run by Joe Siu Internationalrun by Joe Su International), and the Capitol Cinema (run by the late Raymond Wu), were screening close to a dozen new releases a month. Yes, folks, a month!

Unfortunately, they didn't market their wares in English language newspapers because they had no confidence in the English speaking market, but you could find their flyers floating around inside and outside their cinemas.

Somehow, I managed to see about four Chinese films a week back then; the main shows were always double featured with something just as interesting or rare (I caught up on stuff I'd missed from the 70's and early 80's this way). I was directing TV commercials then, so I must have driven straight from the location or edit suite to catch the later shows. I doubt I got much sleep.

I haven't seen Satin and Steel since it's '94 release, but I remember it having some good stunt work and a very sexy leading lady (Jade Leung of 'Black Cat' fame).

A new Woo and I was there on the first night, of course, with my brother. I walked away a little disappointed with its uneven tone, but, hey, it was a Woo film, and the man was hotter than hot in those days.

I'm not a big fan of Taxi Hunter now and I wasn't a fan of the film when I saw it at the Chinatown in '94, either. Admittedly, I was expecting something quite hardcore, but it didn't deliver the exploitation elements I craved and it faltered as drama, too.

Wong, however, was good. Still is. Always was.

This was one of the few monthly calendars that the Chinatown Cinema released.

A scan of the titles that were playing is proof that it was an absolute golden era for the Hong Kong film fan. I mean, seriously, take a decent gander (click on image to enlarge) at this mouth-watering line-up.

Naked Killer and Doctor Lamb were doubled up for maximum enjoyment. They've got Bullet in the Head, Erotic Ghost Story, and the relatively obscure Day Without Policeman (sic), an uncut version, playing on the same day. Who'd ever leave the fucking theater?

Further down you've got Swordman II, Peking Opera Blues, and the classic Snake in the Eagle's Shadow.

If you'd never seen a Hong Kong movie, this would have been the best opportunity to get seriously started.

Oh, yeah, Laboratory of the Devil, the unofficial "sequel" to Men Behind The Sun, was back for a second look, too. I clearly recall pestering the Chinatown manager for their only one-sheet of Laboratory. He finally gave it to me on the last night of a short season.

Because I was an obsessed nut, I was there for Simon Yam (as a gigolo) in Hong Kong Gigolo. After seeing him for the first time in Bullet in the Head, I was up for any rubbish he was in. This had lots of nudity, but was slow and moronic.

Playing a gigolo also was Alex Man, a Hong Kong actor I never liked. He was in a shitload of movies in the 80's and 90's, but I could never figure out what his appeal was. He didn't fight well, he didn't do action like Chow or Jackie did, and he was kinda unattractive. Actually, he did do some action stuff in the early 80's, but he was never too impressive.

And speak of the devil, here he is again in the bloody silly Crocodile Hunter, an '89 pile of crap.

Sure I saw it. I saw anything with rice and chopsticks back then.

Finally my beloved A Fishy Story (Bu Tuo Wa De Ren; '89), a mostly forgotten masterpiece that was produced by Jackie Chan's company.

It has nothing in common with Jackie except that it was distributed by Golden Harvest.

One of my Top 10 Hong Kong films of all time, it is unbelievably beautiful and directed with enormous skill and feeling by actor Antony Chan.

The director of photography, Peter Pau, went on to shoot a number of Hollywood movies, but nothing he's done since is as ravishing and amazing as this.

I'd like to stick my head out here and say that if someone of substance at Criterion saw this movie, they probably begin negotiations to restore it and release it on Blu-ray. It's that stunning.

I didn't see it for the first time in Melbourne. I saw it in Sydney with old friend and fellow Hong Kong-a-phile Tony Egan. Both of us were blown away by it.

I returned to Melbourne seven days later saw it five times in one week.

Naturally, because the film is so goddamned fucking amazing, it flopped in Hong Kong and did little business at global the Chinatown venues. I don't think the Chinese knew how to market something that was closer to a Carey Grant Hollywood love story (with politics!) than anything remotely like what they'd distributed before (Song of the Exile excepted).

I hope it is given the recognition it deserves one day.


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  2. I wish we saw this amount of quality HK releases nowadays!!!!

    I love HK films and have seen tonnes of them but somehow I missed A Fishy Story... I'll look into it, and see if I can find it somewhere.

  3. More Melbourne flyers! Cool! Happy new year, Mark!