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Movies From the Golden Age of Hong Kong Cinema


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倩女鬼魂2:人间道/A Chinese Ghost Story II (1990)




It's the Halloween season, so I decided to watch the sequel to 倩女鬼魂 to put myself into the whole spooky/horror mood (although these films are actually more humorous than scary). 




Just as 英雄本色2 felt the need to get 周润发 back into the sequel somehow despite how his character ended in the original, the makers of 倩女鬼魂2 obviously thought a sequel without 王祖贤 would be unthinkable, so she makes a welcome return, not as the ghost form the original, but this time as a rebel martial artist trying to free her father from execution by the government. 李嘉欣/Michelle Reis plays her sister, and 张学友/Jacky Cheung puts in another great performance, reminding me once again what a loss to acting his success as a singer was.




张国荣 also makes a return, and by a series of misfortunes finds himself entangled in the two sisters' fight to free their father from a false charge and imminent execution. In doing so they end up clashing with the imperial officer tasked with capturing him, played by 李子雄 (who also played the main villain from 英雄本色). However, they soon realise that the real enemy is an evil demon in the guise of the imperial high monk, who seems to have some kind plan to take over the empire (the plot was a little hard to follow in detail).




Just like the first movie, this one is a mixture of slapstick comedy and martial arts, all set in a spooky, misty atmosphere. It has a rating of 8.0 on 豆瓣, 0.8 lower than the original, which I think is fair. I prefer the more intimate setting of the first movie. There was something mysterious and creepy about the lonely temple setting which is missing from the more action-packed sequel.




For those that haven't seen either movie, I would recommend watching the original first, but for those who have already seen it this sequel is well worth your time.



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Here's a little retrospective on both 倩女鬼魂 movies:




Apparently both the director and 张国荣 weren't too impressed with the acting skills of 王祖贤 in the first movie and had to give her a lot of direction. I personally thought she was perfect for the role. She was only 19/20 years old at the time the first movie was shot, so can be forgiven for being a little inexperienced.



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  • 2 weeks later...

天若有情/A Moment of Romance (1990)




This is one of my favourites so far! I only watched it last night, but am already really tempted to watch it again today. In many ways the plot is exactly same as the 刘德华 film I watched last month, 旺角卡门 (which was released just the previous year). Just like in that movie, it involves a nice, innocent girl falling in love with 刘德华's bad boy character. One again, her love makes him consider leaving his 江湖 life behind, but in the end he can't help but get dragged back in one last time.




Although I enjoyed  旺角卡门, there is just something extra special about 若天有情. One standout aspect is definitely the soundtrack. Whether it's in the original Cantonese or Mandarin, the main song is just incredible. I've already looked up the tabs so that I can learn it for my guitar. 




Although 张曼玉 is just as charming as the female lead in this film, 吴倩莲, I think the innocent girl/bad boy relationship is just better written this time around. Whereas a modern movie would probably just have lots of corny accidental kiss scenes and 我爱你s, here it's much more subtle, and all the more intense for it. This is the rare kind of romance movie that I think will appeal as much to men as to women, so I'm not surprised at its classic status. The riding the motorbike while wearing a wedding dress scene has become justifiably iconic (although I'm pretty sure that's a stuntman on the bike in that picture rather than 刘德华 😂).




It got a well deserved 8.3 rating on 豆瓣, and this youtube review was even given the (rather awkward) title of "The most romantic Hong Kong movie in my mind! 29 years later, still cannot be surpassed!". Here is a another review full of praise. I wonder how many 90s boys decided to take up dangerous motorbike riding due to this movie (and how many girls fell in love with them)? 


Highly recommended!

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纵横四海/Once a Thief (1991)




Director of 英雄本色, 吴宇森/John Wu, once again teams up with 周润发/Chow Yun-Fat and 张国荣/Leslie Cheung in this action adventure about world-travelling art thieves. While I can't recall where I saw her before, Cherie Cheung/钟楚红, looks familiar to me, and she makes up the third person in the team.




This film was a big box office hit back in 1991, and even now commands an impressive 8.8 rating on 豆瓣, but I can't say that I enjoyed it too much. On the positive side, the first third of the movie is pretty good, as the three thieves steal paintings in various picturesque locations in France. There are plenty of fun, if silly, action scenes, as well as some nice dialogue between the three main characters. It's the later two thirds where it all falls apart for me. I think the main problem is that the main villain is just so evil in a such a silly, cartoonish way. He is actually the "father" of the three protagonists, having adopted them while they were very young orphans. He then taught them how to steal, but always acted cruel towards them, without any hint of affection. It's the three characters' relationship with him that forms the main part of the story once they return to Hong Kong from France.




The main plot is, as Chinese people like to say, very 狗血. Still, it's always good to see 周润发 and 张国荣 acting together, and this is no exception. I would personally recommend just watching the first section, when the three are stealing paintings in France, and ditching the rest. The only section in the later part that is worth watching in my opinion is the ballroom dancing scene. Below is a good review of the film:




Oh, and it also has a great Leslie Cheung ballad as part of its soundtrack:



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  • 1 month later...

流金岁月/Last Romance (1989)




After watching 纵横四海, another Cherie Chung/钟楚红 movie, called 流金岁月, came to my attention. As this one not only stars her, but also the delightful Maggie Cheung/张曼玉, I naturally thought "why not?"




The first part of the movie tells the story of the two girls meeting as high school students in Shanghai. Despite differing personalities and family backgrounds (with Maggie Cheung's character being a shy girl from a middle class family, and the more outgoing Cherie Cheung character being from a poorer family), they quickly become good friends. They also get to know a shy but handsome Japanese lad, who later becomes the third person in a love triangle.




After graduation from school, Maggie Cheung's character goes onto to university and a future as an 80s career woman, whereas the less wealthy character played by Chung, being in more immediate need of money, becomes the boyfriend to a string of older businessmen, eventually bagging a wealthy husband. They bump into the Japanese man again in Hong Kong after many years apart, and the aforementioned love triangle ensues.




If you think that all sounds pretty ordinary for a movie of its type, then you'd be right. It's got a decent, but not amazing, 7.2 on 豆瓣, which I think is a fair score. It's a nice story about growing up and female friendship, and so long as you're a fan of the two main actresses (as I am), then you'll have a good time. 


As usual, the film comes with a nice soundtrack (in Cantonese and Mandarin), and below are two reviews of the film:




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  • 2 months later...
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I am currently watching too many old Chinese 'cowboy' kung fu movies or perhaps you can call them "easterns".  A lot of these old kung fu movies resemble old Hollwerid and Italian "westerns".   You can watch them free on youtube.


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There is a really great English language Youtube channel by a Chinese immigrant to Canada/USA (I think), where he discusses various aspects of Chinese cinema. He recently posted a video called Sleazy Movies Made in Hong Kong, where he talks about all the copycat/violent/semi-pornographic that were released there in the 80s/90s/early 00s:





As he said, even some of these copycat/clone movies are still a fun way to spend 90 minutes, and I know I saw some films in the video that I want to check out in the future.

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One of the most famous actors of this era of Hong Kong movies passed away earlier this year.





Ng Man-tat / 吳孟達 was probably best known as as Staphen Chow's sidekick in numerous comedies, but as the excellent English language obituary from Accented Cinema below points out, his talents went beyond just being funny:




Here's a nice Chinese video about some of his most iconic roles:



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On 5/13/2021 at 5:26 AM, StChris said:

As he said, even some of these copycat/clone movies are still a fun way to spend 90 minutes, and I know I saw some films in the video that I want to check out in the future.


He mentions the "Bruceploitation" subgenre that grew up after the premature death of Bruce Lee in 1973. Interesting batch of films. I'd forgotten that Jackie Chan got his start in some of those, such as "New Fist of Fury" (1976) and acquired his Chinese screen name as a result. Taking the screen name 成龙 essentially marked him as wanting to become the new Bruce Lee. (成龙 = cheng long = becoming the dragon.) 


Thanks for the reminder of this time when Shaw Brothers were "cranking them out like sausages." Quick and disposable, as the narrator puts it. Plenty of glorious knock-offs. Lots of very entertaining films. Cheap thrills that have endured. Truly a golden age.   

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On 5/21/2021 at 7:45 PM, abcdefg said:

Taking the screen name 成龙 essentially marked him as wanting to become the new Bruce Lee. (成龙 = cheng long = becoming the dragon.) 


Yeah, I can't believe I never noticed that until watching the video. We has a lesson on him in one of our Chinese textbooks (an interesting lesson, that one), and he really seems to have worked his way from the bottom.


Anyone got any favourite Ng Man-tat films? These are his top 5 rated ones on 豆瓣:




There's a Mandarin version of 喜劇之王 freely available on Youtube right now, so I'll probably watch that one this weekend.

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