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Movies From the Golden Age of Hong Kong Cinema

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jannesan

Hey everyone, really liking this thread and looking forward to more movies posted here. Could anyone give me suggestions on how to watch the Mandarin-dubbed versions here in Europe? I can find the originals with subs quite easily, just no Mandarin audio. 

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StChris
On 8/23/2020 at 10:34 PM, jannesan said:

Hey everyone, really liking this thread and looking forward to more movies posted here. Could anyone give me suggestions on how to watch the Mandarin-dubbed versions here in Europe? I can find the originals with subs quite easily, just no Mandarin audio. 

 

Try searching for the names, and then add 普通话版. I just found the mandarin version of 英雄本色 on youtube by doing that, so I'm sure they are other movies on other sites. I'll (hopefully) be leaving China next month, so I might be soon facing the same issue. I have an 爱奇艺 subscription, which still seems to work even when using a VPN, so hopefully it will still work back home.

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StChris

倩女幽魂 / A Chinese Ghost Story (1987)

 

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Thanks to @Balthazar for this week's recommendation. It's difficult to pin it down to a single genre, the best I can do is say that it's a spooky love story between a man and a ghost set in ancient China, with a sizeable amount of slapstick comedy and martial arts thrown in. It rained all day in Harbin the day I watched it, which suited the film's damp, wet and dark setting pretty well.

 

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This is the third movie I've featured here so far, and also the third one starring 张国荣. While he puts in a decent performance as the clueless auditor/collector(?) who is forced to stay the night in a spooky monastery after failing to collect a debt in town, it's 王祖贤(Joey Wong) as the ghost who steals the show for me. She has a real ethereal beauty about her, and is in turns enchanting, intimidating and funny. 

 

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I quite liked the old style animation on the zombies, it made me think of the Clash of the Titans movie I loved as a kid (I think it adds a little to their overall spookiness too). The slapstick comedy is pretty will done for the most part (although a little too silly at times), and the martial arts sections are all pretty exciting (and gross in parts - in a good kind of way). The overall setting, the old clothes and buildings etc, plus the way it's shot makes it a pretty atmospheric film too. 

 

It has an impressive 8.7 rating on Douban. Here's a short youtube video summarising the plot. Highly recommended for those who enjoy simple humour, martial arts and a spooky ancient Chinese setting.

 

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abcdefg
10 hours ago, StChris said:

倩女幽魂 / A Chinese Ghost Story (1987)

 

That's a real visual treat. I've seen it half a dozen times, usually thanks to it just being a featured re-run on one or another of the movie channels on my TV in Kunming. Don't think I've ever studied the dialoge in a methodical way. 

 

10 hours ago, StChris said:

it's 王祖贤(Joey Wong) as the ghost who steals the show for me. She has a real ethereal beauty about her, and is in turns enchanting, intimidating and funny. 

 

Agree, she's a real winner!

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Flickserve

I felt the film was a bit weak in the middle with some of the fight scenes. Joey Wong and Leslie together were fantastic

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StChris
7 hours ago, abcdefg said:

Don't think I've ever studied the dialoge in a methodical way. 

 

As someone who has been alternating between films and TV, I feel that my brain gets much less of a language workout watching the former. It just seems that films have less dialogue than the average episode of any TV show. I guess that they rely more on long lingering establishing shots etc.

 

I have noticed that the (Chinese) subtitles to these Hpng Kong films and what is actually said in the dubbed dialogue is usually a little different. I don't mind this, as it gives you the chance to learn some synonyms.

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StChris

英雄本色2 / A Better Tomorrow 2 (1987)

 

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I enjoyed the original so much last week that I decided to watch the sequel this weekend. The story is very similar to the first, as it follows former triads trying to go straight, but still finding themselves inevitably dragged back into the criminal underworld.I was surprised to see 周润发/Chow Yun-fat on the title card given his character's journey in the first film, and it made me wonder how they were going to fit his character back in to the plot. I admit that I did roll my eyes a little when I found out that the writers would be going with the "Oh look, he had a long lost twin brother!" trope, but he puts in such a fun performance that I had completely forgiven it by the end.

 

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I didn't like the first half of the movie too much. It all seemed a little forced, as the writers contrived to get the old gang back together again, but the second half had such great scenes that I ended up enjoying it a lot overall. The whole last battle was amazing, with some iconic shots, but the film also showed it still had a lot of heart with the later scene in the phone booth. Oh, and I'm glad to finally find out where that "thumbs up while leaning out of a doorway eating" gif originally came from.

 

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It's 8.4 豆瓣 rating puts it just a few notches below the original, and while I agree that it's not as good, it's still well worth a watch if you enjoyed the first. Here is a youtube trailer (which contains a few scenes that weren't in the version I watched - maybe I should search out the director's cut some day), and here is a quick two minute video summarising the plot.

 

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Balthazar

@StChris I enjoy reading the reviews, keep them coming.

 

Glad you liked A Chinese Ghost Story, it's worth mentioning that it features some pretty good theme music too. Random trivia: The intro song (with a music video featuring stills from the movie) was frequently played on the public buses in Suzhou last time I visited.

 

If you're still up for recommendations I think you'd like 喋血街頭/"Bullet in the Head" (1990). It tries to do a lot of things at the same time and may not succeed in all of them, but it's a really solid if  superficial mix of gang themes, personal tragedy, and (border-spanning) politics.

 

Trailer: https://youtu.be/-kxukMuD-Y0

 

I see A Better Tomorrow III also has a Vietnam angle, so that's another option you've probably thought of already 😀

 

If you're in the mood for something of a diametrically opposite ("sweet") quality, definitely check out 甜蜜蜜/"Comrades: Almost a Love Story" (1996). Or Chungking Express, but I'm assuming you've already seen most of the Wong Kar-wai highlights.

 

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StChris

@Balthazar I liked the music in A Chinese Ghost Story a lot. I noticed while watching 英雄本色2 last night that they re-used the theme from the original, not that I'm complaining, as that song is a classic! The music in all these movies has been top notch so far.

 

I watched 甜蜜蜜 late last year and thought it was really well done (even though I'm not normally a huge fan of love stories). I'll re-watch it again later this year for sure. I was a little apprehensive about watching 英雄本色3 given the poor quality of most second sequels, but the reviews seem pretty decent (even if not as good as for the previous two entries), so I'm going to give it a try next weekend. I'm going to limit myself to one gangster/crime movie a week to avoid burnout, so I'll watch  喋血街頭 the week after that.

 

I'm in a Jackie Chan mood tonight, so am planning to watch 城市猎人. Actually, it's a re-watch, as I saw it for the first time last year but I remember enjoying it a lot. Also, I think Leslie Cheung deserves a break after starring in every film I've watched so far. He was a busy man in the 80s!

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abcdefg
14 hours ago, Balthazar said:

Or Chungking Express, but I'm assuming you've already seen most of the Wong Kar-wai highlights.

 

Definitely a classic! Watched it several times, for a couple years I searched it up before Hong Kong trips. I stayed at a Holiday Inn next door to Chungking Mansions 重庆大厦 on Nathan Road and explored from there. It was the less adventurous option, more suitable to an older single guy than to a starving student.

 

Would wander around in the warren of shops there on the first couple floors under the pretext of looking for some small item. Several times my ostensible quest was for a three-pronged HK wall plug adapter. Would buy one from a dark guy with beard and turban who spoke Cantonese but switched to fluent Mandarin at my prompting. My fantasy was that he probably spoke 7 or 8 or 9 languages. Then I would stop for noodles nearby and just take in the scene. Stop somewhere else around the corner, still within the "Mansion" complex, for pastry and a cup of earth-shatteringly strong Hong Kong milk tea 奶茶。Across the street I dodged the fake wristwatch and fake handbag guys who were thick as flies. 

 

It always felt like I needed to sprinkle a trail of bread crumbs to be able to find my way out afterwards. "Subject was last seen entering Chungking Mansions 15 days ago wearing blue jeans, a striped polo shirt and sandals. If spotted, please notify the nearest police substation." 

 

Of course the movie is much more than that. I like the smoky, dreamlike, decadent atmosphere.

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Balthazar

@abcdefg: Funny, it had a similar effect on me. It's one of the reasons I decided to do a year of studies in Hong Kong instead of Taiwan, at the beginning of which I too sought out a (one-star) hostel not far from Chungking Mansions, where I lived the first month and consumed mostly instant noodles and canned foods (though not pineapple). Good times! (I suddenly feel old...)

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StChris

应召女郎1988/ Girls Without Tomorrow (1988)

 

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The were other films I wanted to watch this week, but none of them were included as part of my 爱奇艺 TV service. I thought about re-watching 甜蜜蜜, but then came across this one while browsing. Like 甜蜜蜜, it also stars 张曼玉/Maggie Cheung so I decided to give it a try. I tend to find the titles of Chinese movies the most difficult part to understand, and typing 应召女郎 into Pleco gained me yet another Chinese synonym for the word prostitute, to go with the ten others I already know (including dated but pretty sounding ones such as 烟花女). Who says watching TV and movies doesn't improve your Chinese?

 

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Despite 应召女郎 more accurately translating as "call girl" (which to my English ears sounds quite upmarket), 张曼玉's character is the only one who really fits this description, with the other four or five prostitutes featured in the film occupying various lower rungs of the 1980s Hong Kong sex marketplace. The movie time is fairly evenly split between all characters, so I wouldn't necessarily describe 张曼玉's full-time actress/part-time high-class escort as the being the main character of the film. The rest of the cast includes a woman turning to prostitution to pay for he husband's spiralling medical bills and a free-spirited young girl from mainland China, among others. The stories of each of the women is told separately in a Tarantino-esque kind way (although without the time jumps).

 

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The first half of the film is a pretty lighthearted affair, even humorous in parts. One of the first scenes involves 张曼玉's character going on an escort call to Bangkok. The businessman she goes to service apparently doesn't feel comfortable performing unless he wears a mask with a celebrity likeness. He asks her to choose one from four 80s stars (Sly Stallone, Chow Yun-Fat, John Travolta and a fourth i don't recognise), and then proceeds to blame Sly when his performance doesn't quite meet expectations! However, things take a dark turn in the second half of the movie, with some of the dangers inherent in working in such an industry rearing their head. Lots of tragedy ensues, and the film doesn't shy away from showing the worst aspects of each situation.

 

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Although not up there with some of the classics featured so far in this thread (although a 7.0 豆瓣 score isn't too shabby), it's still an intelligent take on the subject, and the more lighthearted aspects do well to balance out the more tragic moments without detracting from their overall impact. The film must have been fairly successful, as there was a sequel a few years later called 现代应召女郎. There isn't much in terms of reviews, but I did find this "trailer" on Youtube (which I think gives away way too much of the plot - you have been warned).

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StChris

@Balthazar and @abcdefg, your little stories if Hong Kong make me want to go there again! I went for the first time a couple of years ago, but I think I would enjoy it a lot more now that I have watched all these films. Unfortunately, I'm not sure sure that Hong Kong exists anymore, for a variety of reasons. That makes these films all the more valuable in a way.

 

Does anyone have any recommendations for films featuring the Kowloon Walled City? I know it was torn down quite some time ago, so film is the only way to "visit" now. It looks like it was a fascinating place.

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Balthazar
3 hours ago, StChris said:

Unfortunately, I'm not sure sure that Hong Kong exists anymore, for a variety of reasons. That makes these films all the more valuable in a way.

 

If it's any consolation, that Hong Kong didn't really exist when I lived there either (2012-13) :mrgreen:

 

As for Kowloon Walled City, there's some films mentioned in this Wikipedia article. I haven't seen any of them myself.

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StChris

City Hunter/城市猎人 (1993)

 

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I think it's about time we covered a Jackie Chan film (our first 90s movie too). 城市猎人 (rated 7.6 on 豆瓣) is adapted from a Japanese manga/anime, and has seen numerous movie versions over the years (including this French one). I'm not sure about the tone of the original, but as you can probably already guess from the fact that this is a 成龙 film, this adaptation takes a very light-hearted and slapstick approach.

 

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The plot is pretty simple. Jackie Chan is some kind of private investigator who is hired by a Japanese magnate to track down his rebellious daughter. That eventually leads him to board a cruise ship, which is then taken over by terrorists. On board he is helped by his adopted daughter (王祖贤/Joey  Wong, who played the ghost in last month's A Chinese Ghost Story), as well as a couple of undercover spies. One of the things I like most about this film is how both the good guys and bad guys can be super cool and dangerous one minute, and super clumsy and silly the next. There are some really nice action scenes to go with the comedy, including this Street Fighter II skit:

 

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Some of my other favourite scenes include the skateboarding chase at the beginning and the scene where Joey Wong is trying to knock out one of the bad guys, but is then forced to pretend that it is some kind of S&M thing when her attacks don't have the desired effect. One of my guilty pleasures from 90s cinema is Under Siege starring Steven Seagal, which also involves terrorists taking over a cruise ship (that movie came out 1 year before this one, so maybe provided some inspiration). This version of City Hunter is like a slapstick version of that. A really fun movie!  

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Balthazar

Fun coincidence, I actually saw two Jackie Chan movies this weekend myself! Dragons Forever (1988) and Island of Fire (1990).

 

The former is the last fillm featuring Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung og Yuen Biao together. It's one of those action comedy classics that are as charming as they are banal. Jackie (which is also his name in the film) plays a lawyer that represents all sorts of seedy characters until - what else - the prospects of getting it on with a beautiful woman of higher moral standards has him questioning his choice of clients. Lots of people trying to kill him, as always. Spectacular fight scenes packed with slapstick.

 

In the latter film, he has a secondary role as an unlucky pool player that ends up in prison. It's actually a "prison film" that checks off most of the boxes for prison film cliches, but it's a pretty good watch nonetheless.

 

I've been meaning to see City Hunter ever since I saw an image from that Chun-Li-cosplay scene. :mrgreen:

 

By the way, I really recommend this short video from Every Frame a Painting, which does a really good job of explaining the genius of Jackie Chan, particularly the films of the 80s and 90s he did in Hong Kong.

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StChris
18 hours ago, Balthazar said:

By the way, I really recommend this short video from Every Frame a Painting, which does a really good job of explaining the genius of Jackie Chan, particularly the films of the 80s and 90s he did in Hong Kong.

 

Thanks, that was an interesting watch. We had a chapter in one of our Chinese textbooks dedicated to Jackie Chan, giving a brief bio and discussing how he did almost all of his own stunts etc, but City Hunter was my first film of his. I think he must be a difficult person to work with, but in the best possible way - you have to constantly be on top of your game to keep up with him. 

 

Youtube recommended me this documentary about his stunt work. I'll watch it once I have seen more of his films (I don't want to spoil any scenes of films I haven't seen yet).

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rRSxoPPL6C8

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realmayo
On 8/29/2020 at 12:37 PM, StChris said:

A Chinese Ghost Story 

 

This film - even just the opening credits with the guy wandering along as a scholar with that umbrella-style backpack (?) bring back really cosy old memories (though not all the way back to 1987...).

 

On 8/30/2020 at 3:04 PM, abcdefg said:

Or Chungking Express

 

I felt obliged to stay a few nights in a tiny windowless room in Chunking Mansions building many years ago as a result of consuming too much pre-2046 Wong Kar-wai. Until now I'd forgotten how much I loved his Ashes of Time, for me the the best of a very good bunch.

 

@StChris I don't know if you've seen Stephen Chow's two "A Chinese Odyssey" films and whether they qualify or are a little too recent (mid 90s). They seemed to be cult classics among university students 20 years ago, I thought they were fantastic.

 

And given you've kick-started some serious reminiscence, how about Farewell My Concubine and Raise the Red Lantern? Although perhaps they have too Mainland a flavour.

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Balthazar
7 minutes ago, realmayo said:

And given you've kick-started some serious reminiscence, how about Farewell My Concubine and Raise the Red Lantern? Although perhaps they have too Mainland a flavour.

 

That would break with the "Hong Kong Cinema" theme though, although they're great films. I watched Farewell My Concubine recently, had forgotten just how brutal some of the scenes in that film are.

 

Speaking of Stephen Chow, have you seen King of Comedy (the 1999 one)? I found it pretty hilarious.

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realmayo

Ah - you're right, I had a sense that they were technically HK movies somehow, but googling suggests at most it's on a very limited technicality only. Perhaps because at the time people who lent me the DVDs (actually VCDs I think) gave the impression they were mildly illicit (oh, and in the first instance, Leslie Cheung).

 

Don't think I've seen King of Comedy - sounds like I should!

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