Heroes of the East

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    Winner Takes All (1982: Wong Jing: Hong Kong)


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    Winner Takes All (1982: Wong Jing: Hong Kong)

    Post  Masterofoneinchpunch on Mon Mar 10, 2014 1:49 pm

    "Do you think you are in a martial arts movie?" -- Fanny
    "S.O.B. Disco" and "Smoke causes cancer so take L.S.D." -- authentic graffiti found in film

    Some directors like Johnnie To seem to form a auteuristic style later in their career while some directors like Wong Jing seem to be fully formed when they first start directing. Winner Takes All, his second film as both a director and script writer, can easily be seen as a Wong Jing creation. The mahjong gambling scenes here and in his first film Challenge of the Gamesters (1981) are certainly precursors to God of Gamblers. He is an auteur in a way that Adam Sandler is or Michael Bay is. You may not like them, but there is certainly an authorial content to what they do even when they are creating populist entertainment that is not popular among critics. Wong paints his pictures in crowd-pleasing pastiche. He has been very successful.

    In the prologue we witness a jewelry heist by Yiho clan ninjas. The head ninja leaves a red rose and a white glove as a calling card trying to pin the crime on the retired Thief of Thieves the dashing Shi Ka Lok (Patrick Tse Yin) and his family whose lineage dates back to the Water Margin. The white glove being a reference to the Pink Panther series and the rose being an homage to the Hong Kong film The Black Rose (1965: Chor Yuen) which, to add another cinematic connection, Patrick Tse Yin stars in. Shi is now a security consultant and is leading a straight life.

    The Michael Hui influence is quite noticeable and there is probably a whole lot more homages than what I note below. The whole structure of the private investigators is directly out of The Private Eyes. You have a penny pinching owner (director Wong Jing) of Yeungs Private Detective agency with two assistants Kwan Yuan Cheung (Wong Yu) and Li Cha Bo (Robert Mak Tak-law) who do not like their egotistical boss and want to strike out on their own. What better way than to capture the culprit of the recent crimes.

    Enter Mr. Miyamoto (Chen Kuan-tai) who has the Baseball Mark II-- the latest in impregnable vault systems. He also has hired the three ninjas for his International Security Group to do his evil bidding. His niece (Lau Yuk-pok) is suspicious of the way he obtained the company and enlists the help of Kwan to pose as her boyfriend and infiltrate to find out the truth. But what is Miyamoto up to, why is he always wearing gloves, why does he want to frame the Shi family and just who is the famous Flying Mouse (which they answer way too soon)? The two private detectives get themselves mixed up in all of this but without giving the gag away I bet you too would sympathize with the bad guys for wanting to kill Wong's character. If you have seen this, you know what I am alluding to.

    Since Wong Yu is the star he is supposed to appear to be a better fighter than partner Robert "Dance King or Disco Bumpkins" Mak though with Mak's flexibility and ability to do forms (shapes) even in jest he looks better than Wong. Luckily Mak does get to do a dance scene in the film. However, the dual yo-yo fight scene with Wong is quite fun, if too short, and will want to be seen by martial art fans especially those who like esoteric weapons. Wong is doubled in the more difficult yo-yo scenes, but does do some of the tricks and the editing helps the illusion. The end fight scene overuses slow motion, is played serious, but at least you finally get to see Chen Kuan-tai fight with a special weapon.

    When you are watching this you may ask yourself questions such as why do the vaults look exactly alike, why are the vaults so huge, how much material can Wong actually lift from Michael Hui or are oversized sunglasses actually funny? But given this is a Wong Jing film it is best not to think too much about cohesion, comprehension, toilet jokes or making sense. I tend to like his films more for scene specific gags, homages and characters than for the whole and this film have plenty of those moments. I am not going to forget Lo Lieh's insanely large wine glass, the secret hidden nipple buttons, the yo-yo fight or the mahjong of death playing robot (the 1950's era robot was a little stupid, but I am not going to forget it.) It has one of the better Cyrano de Bergerac gags. There are references to older films, classic literature (Wong Jing's degree was in classic Chinese literature), Bruce Lee and much more. It is a fun film with many hit-and-miss gags but they are done in an entertaining way. Now only if there was a better way to connect the scenes.

    This was seen in the R3 IVL with mono Cantonese or Mandarin language track and English, Traditional Chinese subtitles. The English subtitles are good though some of the English dialog is off (yet again.) There is a new trailer for this film along with others for Hong Kong 73, A Friend From Inner Space, On The Wrong Track, Challenge Of The Gamesters. In the Movie Information section there is: Photo Gallery, Original Poster, Production Notes and Biography and Selected Filmography.

    Bruce Lee imitations, exploding darts, exploding excrement, gambling, jet packs, jewelry heist, mahjong, New World Tower, ninjas, nunchaku.

    The credit opening seems familiar. Is this a possible homage? Feel free to post any homage I have failed to mention.
    Not counting the original music where is the non-original music lifted from?
    Does anyone know the title of the book(s) Lau Yuk-pok (Liu Yu-Po) cowrote?

    Trivia Notes:
    While the subtitles do not write it correctly (Kwan Yuan Cheung and Tso Tso), the Cantonese dubbing does a Kwan Tak-hing and Sek Kin reference when the two are captured in the thieves house. I think the best use of this running cinematic gag, reminding me somewhat of the running gags between Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, has been in Aces Go Places IV (1986).
    Wong Jing was influenced early on by Norman Jewison's The Cincinnati Kid (1965) and Jewison in general.
    This film also uses stock footage. It took me awhile to remember and double check it was from The 14 Amazons (1972).

    KFC Thread: Not too much information, a couple of nice pics though.
    Far East Films Review: It seems weird to think that this film was trying to emulate Aces Go Places when that movie just came out less than a month before and the opening credits have a copyright date of 1981. I know Wong Jing is fast, but not that fast.
    5 Things to Love About Winner Takes All
    The Black Rose from The Illuminated Lantern: I would love to see this film.
    Hong Kong Cinemagic Interview (2007): Great interview of Wong Jing.
    Wong Jing Biography HKFlim.net
    Book: Planet Hong Kong 2nd Edition by David Bordwell pgs. 109-113: The link above takes some material from here.
    Brian T

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    Re: Winner Takes All (1982: Wong Jing: Hong Kong)

    Post  Brian T on Mon Mar 10, 2014 4:41 pm

    Masterofoneinchpunch wrote:Far East Films Review: It seems weird to think that this film was trying to emulate Aces Go Places when that movie just came out less than a month before and the opening credits have a copyright date of 1981. I know Wong Jing is fast, but not that fast.

    Interesting finds as always in your sources. The writer of this 'Far East Films' review unfortunately falls into the age-old naming convention trap, referring to Wong Jing beyond the first couple of mentions as "Jing", as though that were his family name. He does this three times that I count, and tosses in a "Jing-isms" for good measure. I know, it's nitpicking, but it drives me buggy, and I know he didn't do it to imply some sort of insider relationship where he knows the guy by his given name. Even casual reviewers owe it to themselves to follow a certain protocol in situations like this. I mean, if you're reviewing a David Fincher movie, you don't refer to him as "David" on nearly every subsequent mention of his name in your review ("The film is a catolog of David's dark sensibilities" or whatever), yet because Chinese names sometimes require a tiny bit more work for westerners (but seriously, how much?), well, this is what we get. And it's not just fanboys who fall prey to it; I've seen mainstream, affiliated critics stumble on the names as well. I suppose if one's not hardcore into Hong Kong cinema, the mistake's understandable, but it's also easily correctable too.

    But I digress. Great review, Shawn. Reading this and your other recent postings are making me itchy to get back to it.   Surprised

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    Re: Winner Takes All (1982: Wong Jing: Hong Kong)

    Post  Masterofoneinchpunch on Mon Mar 10, 2014 5:08 pm

    I have to be careful of that issue too. Sometimes you get too familiar with the actors/directors Very Happy. Sometimes I mix it up because I do not always like using the same type of term (like how with words I will find synonyms instead of repeating the same word.)

    The fun thing about the review is what you learn when you work on it. Wong is an homage master Very Happy. He reminds me in that way of Quentin Tarantino. But just learning that his background includes studying Chinese literature makes sense. You can see references here and there. He is also a movie brat like Tsui Hark so he uses references there (he is a little more blatent than Tsui Hark is.)

    Of course it is fun to find things that you have not read anywhere. What is funny is that the last three movies I have reviewed have no book mentions (or at least any comments about them.) This includes no mentions other than dates in the Shaw Screen book (which I finally got a few months ago.) I was surprised that this film had no mention in John Charles book.

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    Re: Winner Takes All (1982: Wong Jing: Hong Kong)

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