Thousands of pilgrims flock to a small cemetery in a sleepy Seattle neighborhood each year. They bring flowers, proffer gifts, and bow to the god of martial arts and Hong Kong action, Bruce Lee. Introduced to the world in the 1960s... [more]
Thousands of pilgrims flock to a small cemetery in a sleepy Seattle neighborhood each year. They bring flowers, proffer gifts, and bow to the god of martial arts and Hong Kong action, Bruce Lee. Introduced to the world in the 1960s by the legendary Shaw Bros. productions, Lee and fellow actor Jackie Chan made Hong Kong synonymous with low-budget kung fu movies.
In the 1970s, a new breed of renegade directors, including John Woo and Tsui Hark, turned their hand to action, building on the legacy of Lee. While their production standards remained low compared to those of Hollywood, no one could match the demonic verve exhibited by Hong Kong's hyperkinetic auteurs. They tied the framing and breakneck pace of comic books to the elaborate choreography of a Busby Berkeley musical with homicidal impulses. This was movie making of an all-too sanguine variety, where often as not the on-screen frenzy splashed blood on the camera's lens. Car chases destroyed whole villages, climactic shoot-outs were staged in maternity wards, stunt men were expected to execute four-story falls -- starting with a mid-air collision and ending with a crashlanding through a skylight onto a banquet table whose diners were all heavily armed and rather testy.
Before its return to Chinese rule in 1997, Hong Kong provided the crucible in which this new kind of action film could be forged, one without respect for the niceties of film grammar or codified genres. Where else could a kung fu cannibal comedy ("We Will Eat You") be made, much less mask timely political satire? Where else could indigenous superstition and myth combine with fanatical scrutiny of American film (there may be no calculating the cumulative effect of Sam Raimi's "The Evil Dead" on the lexicon of Hong Kong camera movement and editing) to create "A Chinese Ghost Story," Tsui Hark's extravaganza starring martial arts monks, flying ghosts, and a vampire tree with a 400-foot tongue?
Most of Hong Kong's action directors have been triple-threat-and-beyond talents: not content with helming their self-scripted efforts, Hark, John Cheung, and others would act and produce as well. Hark eventually founded his own Film Workshop, which enabled him to produce not only his own films but also titles for directors King Hu and John Woo, generating a string of box office hits such as "Peking Opera Blues," "The Killer," and several installments of "Once Upon a Time In China."
As Hong Kong's pop art films moved beyond simple martial arts themes, they required a new kind of star. Chow Yung Fat became the new archetypal leading man in these vehicles, at once debonair and sadistic; his female counterparts were played by the fearsome Michelle Yeoh and Maggie Chung. All of these actors and many directors from Hong Kong's outrageously fecund scene have since been attracted to foreign productions, especially in the face of impending oppression by the city's new Communist landlords. Though the fate of its best talents abroad is still uncertain, there is no question that Hong Kong has raised the bar for all-stops-out entertainment over the past 30 years. [show less]