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Happy Birthday, Lisa Lu: The Veteran Actress Turns 95!

19 Jan

Actress Lisa Lu turns 95 today, January 19, 2022. I’ve written about her four previous times, the last one being a celebration on her 90th birthday five years ago. It’s great to celebrate someone’s career while they’re happily still with us. Since that last post, she had a major supporting role in CRAZY RICH ASIANS (2018), marking her 60th year in the film/TV industry. In the film she played the mother of Michelle Yeoh’s character and the grandmother of the male lead played by Henry Golding, who struggles to get their approval of his marriage to a Chinese-American woman (Constance Wu) who is considered by his wealthy family to be beneath their station. Here’s what I wrote about her and Yeoh after I’d seen the film: “It’s great to see Michelle Yeoh and Lisa Lu onscreen together, but they’re so antagonistic to the poor heroine that I found it jarring. I’ve never seen them in roles like that before.”

Lisa Lu, Henry Golding in CRAZY RICH ASIANS (2018)

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“Storm Riders” – From Comic Book to Live-Action to Animation

13 Oct

“Storm Riders” tells a long and intricate tale of the intertwining destinies of two young martial artists, Wind and Cloud, in the rarefied, mythical universe of competing martial arts clans in a fanciful version of Ming Dynasty China, the kind of setting popularized in the serial narratives of Hong Kong-based authors like Louis Cha (“Legend of the Condor Heroes”). It began its existence in 1989 as a Hong Kong comic book (aka “Fung Wan,” translated as Wind and Cloud) written and drawn by Wing Shing Ma, a recognized genius at home but little-known in the U.S. The comic was adapted into a live-action Hong Kong movie, THE STORM RIDERS, in 1998 starring Ekin Cheng, Aaron Kwok, Sonny Chiba, Kristy Yang and Shu Qi. This was followed by an animated sequel in 2008, STORM RIDER: CLASH OF EVILS, that was produced in China with significant Hong Kong personnel attached. Finally, there was a live-action sequel from Hong Kong in 2009 called THE STORM WARRIORS (or STORM WARRIORS II, as sometimes listed), with Ekin Cheng and Aaron Kwok the only cast members from the 1998 film returning in their roles.

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Bruce Lee Comics (1994)

22 Sep

In looking through boxes of comic books I purchased in the 1990s, I found five issues of “Bruce Lee,” a comic series from 1994, published by Malibu Comics. I have issues #1, 2, 4, 5, and 6. I’m not sure how long the series lasted, but it’s about a character named Bruce Lee, whose similarities to the actual Lee involve getting jobs in the film industry and setting up a school to train students in jeet kune do, a martial arts philosophy Lee devised from his own synthesis of varied fighting styles and methods. The similarity pretty much ends there.

The story is set in southern California at the time it was published, 1994, and not the 1960s when the real Lee was a young aspiring actor and martial arts champion who trained select students, first in Seattle and then in Los Angeles, and took various film and TV acting and fight direction jobs before achieving a short-lived burst of international stardom in the early 1970s, ended tragically by his untimely death from cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 32 in 1973.

I wrote about Lee here in 2013 on the 40th anniversary of his death: https://briandanacamp.wordpress.com/2013/07/20/bruce-lee-40-years-ago-today/#more-1328

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50 Years in Times Square: Kurosawa and his Western Remakes

8 Apr

On April 8, 1971, 50 years ago today, I made my first trip to see a Japanese movie on the big screen. It was Akira Kurosawa’s SEVEN SAMURAI (1954) and it may have been the first time the full three-and-a-half-hour cut of the film was shown on the big screen in New York. It was also the first fully foreign-language film with English subtitles that I would see in a theater. The theater was the tiny Bijou Cinema on West 45th Street, between Broadway and 8th Avenue in Times Square in Manhattan.  Interestingly, just over two months earlier, on January 28, 1971, I’d seen John Sturges’ THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (1960), a western remake of SEVEN SAMURAI, for the first time at a theater around the corner from the Bijou, the Victoria on Broadway and 46th Street. On May 20 of that year, I would see Sergio Leone’s A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (1964), the first in the Italian director’s “Man with No Name” western trilogy starring Clint Eastwood, at the Astor Theater, adjacent to the Victoria on Broadway between 45th and 46th Streets. A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS was an Italian western remake of Kurosawa’s YOJIMBO (1961), which I would then see on July 17, 1971, at the Bijou Cinema around the corner. So I saw Kurosawa’s two greatest samurai films and their western remakes in a six-month time period on one strip of real estate in Times Square, all while I was still in high school. Where else and at what time period could that have happened? I was so lucky to be coming of age as a film buff at just that time.31337908446_1655225bc8 Continue reading

Gamera, Frankenstein, Sabata and Zatoichi: The Genre Films of 1970

30 Dec

50 years ago, in 1970, neighborhood theaters offered quite a varied landscape of cinematic fare, although it took me some time to find it all. I managed to see lots of 1970 releases in theaters in the years 1970-72. (Films sometimes took months or years to reach my local theaters.) Most of these were Hollywood films of varied genres or American independents. I would see everything from PATTON to M*A*S*H, KELLY’S HEROES to ZABRISKIE POINT, FIVE EASY PIECES to LOVE STORY and RIO LOBO to WATERMELON MAN, sometimes on double features! It would take years of TV watching, visits to revival theaters and, much later, cable TV and home video, before I caught up with all the great foreign genre films released in 1970, including England’s Hammer horror, Hong Kong’s Shaw Bros. martial arts adventures, French crime thrillers, Japanese samurai, Japanese kaiju, and Italian westerns. One of my favorites from the year is one I first saw in 2018. So there are always new ones to be discovered or rediscovered after decades.

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Happy 70th Birthday, Angela Mao–Kung Fu Diva Supreme

20 Sep

On Sept. 20, 2020, Angela Mao turns 70 years old. She remains, in my estimation, the greatest female kung fu star ever. I re-watched two of her best films for this occasion, BROKEN OATH (1977) and HAPKIDO (1972), and decided to re-post the birthday tribute I did for her four years ago, on the occasion of her 66th birthday, after seeing several of her films, including these two, in new DVD editions. The original post, which includes comments, can be found here. 

Within the last two years, some of the best Hong Kong movies starring Angela Mao Ying have come out on DVD from Shout Factory, remastered, with cleaned-up soundtracks and new subtitles. My earlier VHS and DVD copies had all sorts of problems, so I’ve been wanting to sit down and watch these new editions and thought I’d use the occasion of her 66th birthday today, September 20th, to offer a write-up on them. I watched what I consider her four best films for this piece: HAPKIDO (1972), WHEN TAEKWONDO STRIKES (1973), THE TOURNAMENT (1974), and BROKEN OATH (1977). I didn’t have time for the fifth of her top five, LADY WHIRLWIND  (1972)

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Pan Jinlian: The Notorious Femme Fatale of Chinese Literature

24 Jul

While binge-watching Hong Kong movies during the coronavirus lockdown, I reached onto my shelf of Cathay releases and pulled out the two-part movie, THE STORY OF THREE LOVES (1964), starring Grace Chang as a street singer-turned-student who is forced into marriage with a brutal warlord in 1920s Beijing. Early in the film, she is seen performing in a tavern and is called upon to sing a song about Pan Jinlian.

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THE MAGNIFICENT SCOUNDRELS: If PARASITE had been a Hong Kong movie from 1991

27 Jun

I’ve been going through my shelves and found a number of previously unseen Hong Kong movies from the 1990s on import DVDs purchased in Chinatown stores earlier this century. One of them was THE MAGNIFICENT SCOUNDRELS (1991), a comedy about small-time criminals trying to pull off a big-time scam and starring Stephen Chow, one of the biggest boxoffice stars in HK in the 1990s and early 2000s and best known in the U.S. for SHAOLIN SOCCER (2001) and KUNG FU HUSTLE (2004).

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SHAOLIN MANTIS: A Masterpiece of Acting, Design, and Choreography

11 May

I recently re-watched SHAOLIN MANTIS (1978), one of the greatest kung fu movies ever made, for the first time in seven years and I wanted to highlight three elements of the Shaw Bros. production that really strike me now as key to its success. (The film’s English-dubbed edition was known as DEADLY MANTIS when it played theaters in the U.S. and ran on American television in the 1980s. For the record, I watched the Dragon Dynasty Region 1 DVD edition, in Mandarin with English subtitles, for this review.)

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Filming Across Cultures: Cowboys, Samurai and Kung Fu Champs in the 1970s

17 May

In the 1960s and 70s, the neighborhood theater functioned as a Cinematheque of global genre films, offering Italian westerns, French crime thrillers, English horror, Soviet fantasy, Japanese samurai films and Hong Kong kung fu films, among other genres. I still marvel at the recollection of seeing such international movie icons as John Wayne, Jean Gabin and Toshiro Mifune in new movies at local theaters when I was still a teenager. I once wrote about this particular movie culture in a chapter for a proposed book on 42nd Street theaters. I’d like to share an excerpt from the chapter, after a few paragraphs of introduction.

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