D: Tsui Hark (1983) with Yuen Biao, Brigitte Lin, Samo Hung
God of Gamblers
D: Wong Jing (1989) with Chow Yun-Fat, Andy Lau, Ng Man-Tat
Once a Thief
D: John Woo (1991) with Chow Yun-Fat, Leslie Cheung, Cherie Chung
The Chinese Feast
D: Tsui Hark (1995) with Leslie Cheung, Anita Yuen, Xiong Xin-Xin ("Clubfoot")
"Fatty, be food and follow me!"
"We're no match for him, he can shrivel his penis at will!"
The bad subtitles are the first tip-off that Hong Kong movies aren't really aimed at the general English-speaking public. Often, the subtitles are outright omitted, and the video covers don't even offer English credits or synopses. Luckily, the staff at I Luv Video, Austin's premiere source for HK movies, stick their own helpful tips and critiques on the movies. Exultant praise or raging debates may plaster a box, but most comments are succinct ("I love this movie more than my parents - Scott") and intensely personal ("Alright, forget Grand Master of Shaolin being my #3 favorite training film - Jamie").
I asked Jamie and Scott specifically what the aspiring HK connoisseur should see once they've traversed the entry-level John Woo/Jackie Chan/Ringo Lam fare. Both recommended Zu: Warriors of Magic Mountain, a seminal adventure movie with elements of Chinese mythology. It's directed by Tsui Hark, who, according to Scott, "pretty much created what the HK scene is today." Zu is a gaudy, fluidly choreographed, frantically paced tale of demons and sorcerers that may be too much for the novice. "You've got to get used to the absurdity sometime," advises Jamie. Hark's directorial talents are also on display in period films like Peking Opera Blues, the epic Once Upon a Time in China series, and The Blade, a dazzling update of the One-Armed Swordsman films.
Scott thinks that God of Gamblers, a phenomenal success throughout Asia, is a good litmus test for beginners. Super-smooth Chow Yun-Fat plays an eerily talented gambler who bangs his head and reverts to a childlike state. If you can follow this movie as it swings from brutal action to melodrama to ridiculously low comedy, you will probably appreciate the less compartmentalized nature of HK movies in general. Director Wong Jing has a deranged comic sensibility that's also on display in Holy Weapon, the adults-only Naked Killer, and New Legend of Shaolin, a "kiddie" picture that no child under 36 should be allowed to watch. John Woo paused in the midst of his triumvirate of action masterpieces (The Killer, Bullet in the Head, Hard-Boiled) to make Once a Thief, a light spoof of Jules and Jim set in a world of globe-trotting jewel thieves.
In Hong Kong, Woo was famous for Airplane!-type comedies long before he started to make brooding Heroic Bloodshed movies, and his humor is surprisingly agile here.
The Chinese Feast, a story of the three-day, 100-course Han Qing Imperial banquet, is another accessible and extremely sharp comedy from Tsui Hark. The movie culminates with rival restaurateurs competing to turn bear paw, elephant trunk, and monkey brain into the most delicious entrées the world has ever known. The stylized cooking sequences are as swift and imaginative as the best kung fu fights.
Like the acrobatic Sex and Zen, Chinese Feast shows that HK movies celebrate motion and visual wit, not simply violence. And the bad subtitles are simply for fun.
- Chris Baker
D: Wes Craven (1996)
with Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, Matthew Lillard, Rose McGowan, Skeet Ulrich, Liev Schreiber, Drew Barrymore
Wes Craven's comeback movie, a film that single-handedly revived the horror genre, the scariest movie in a decade, the soon-to-be highest-grossing picture under the Miramax banner, MTV's just-voted Movie of the Year, maybe the first movie to successfully blend true terror with comedy and farce... Scream has created so many waves since its release barely six months ago that it deserves a look if for no other reason than the above. But the film actually lives up to the hype, largely due to Kevin Williamson's brilliant genre-colliding script that serves up tongue-in-cheek humor with liberal portions of gore gore gore, all while teaching your not-so-usual bunch of hapless teens some important lessons about when and when not to run up the stairs. Already a cult classic among the teen set, it's going to be a bitch tracking down a copy at the video store. But with Scream 2 and 3 already in the works, you may just want to wait for the next one.
- Christopher Null