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    Laughing Times (1980: John Woo: Hong Kong)

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    Masterofoneinchpunch

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    Laughing Times (1980: John Woo: Hong Kong)

    Post  Masterofoneinchpunch on Mon Mar 21, 2011 2:50 pm

    Laughing Times (1980: John Woo: Hong Kong) *½/****:

    I have heard horror stories on the quality of John Woo's comedy. I figured he was like John Ford in the aspect that he can use comedy in films but would have more trouble doing a comedy. While I have not seen enough of his farce to make a superlative judgment of his comedic abilities this movie is not a healthy prognosticator of what I can expect in his other “humorous” movies.

    I am not a fan of under-cranking. Its jerky motion caused by frame manipulation makes me annoyed especially when it is overused. I do not even like it in otherwise fine films like The Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970: Sam Peckinpah). In Laughing Times it is used so much that it becomes so overbearingly irritating that if it was not for the sound you were thinking you were watching the movie on fast forward. I was debating whether this was used because silent films were projected at the wrong speed which gave them that sped-up look and John Woo wanted to replicate that or in fact that Woo wanted a Benny Hill style of humor through many of the chase scenes.

    Dean Shek Tin is sometimes derided by fans of Hong Kong cinema for his over-the-top demeanor and comedic styling that would have worked well in vaudeville, but have not always translated to later day movie goers. I am more ambivalent than some about his abilities; I have sometimes liked his goofy demeanor in such films as Drunken Master (1978) and Fearless Hyena I (1979). But never would I have thought of him as portraying Charlie Chaplin. He is gangly, he is too tall, and his humor tends to be very broad. When you think of silent movie actors he is more like an Al St. John than a Charlie Chaplin. While he does overdo his acting several times in this film, but his mannerisms are pretty close to Chaplin's (though why does it seem annoying when anyone but Charles pretends to be Charles Chaplin). But where I was surprised the most is that Shek is actually quite good at pantomime. In fact I feel that the problems behind the film are because of John Woo's story and comedic timing not because of Dean Shek though I would have picked a different actor because of Shek's difficulties with pathos. That would have been impossible to do since Dean co-owned the production company Cinema City for this film.

    Shek plays the oriental Charlie Chaplin (called that in the film), a homeless wanderer who just happens across by happenstance various articles of clothing that make him resemble Charlie Chaplin much to the amusement of a passerby who laughs at him until walking into a wall (one of the few funny gags in the film). Charlie spots a beautiful female Chu Siu-man (Wong Sau-man) singing in an eatery for her opium-smoking dad and he glides on in and catches her attention by missing his chair and falling to the floor. He later saves and befriends a little orphan (Wong Wei playing the Jackie Coogan role from The Kid (1921)) who was being chased because of stealing food from a patron.

    He later saves the hide of a drunk (Wu Ma) and then accidently destroys the liquor the drunk stole. Meanwhile the kid gets inadvertently involved with drug trafficking, gets arrested then escapes. However, the villain in charge who is also involved with child slavery (though he is faithful to his wife that he hates) Master Ting (Karl Maka whose eyebrows are the greatest thing in the film) feels he knows too much and should be dealt with appropriately. He kidnaps the kid from the help of two sunglass-wearing (yes before A Better Tomorrow (1986)) thugs who are quite incompetent like everyone else in the film. Charlie's beloved is also sold to slavery. Will Charlie be able to save them with the help of the drunk who also has a vendetta against Master Ting? Will you be able to make it this far in the film?

    This was John Woo’s first film for upstart Cinema City. He used the pseudonym Wu Hsiang-fei (apparently the middle names of two of his daughters) for the Chinese version because he was under contract with Golden Harvest at the time. It was Cinema City’s first film as well. In fact if this movie did not succeed there would have been no Cinema City which would later make its mark on Hong Kong by creating the ultra-successful and influential comedic series Aces Go Places in 1982. This is a film I really cannot recommend to anyone except those who are looking to complete John Woo’s oeuvre and those interested in the influence of silent film on Hong Kong cinema a topic that is vastly underrepresented in cinematic writings.* While there are moments that will remind you of John Woo, most obvious is the slow motion orgy of cake destruction which oddly is one of the better scenes in the movie, the movie is just not funny and some of the gags are more gross than funny like the goldfish eating/spitting of Master Ting. Its attempt at pathos throughout the movie never works.

    Its name is taken off of Modern Times (1936) though originally the English title was Laughing Time for the amount of laughs in the film. In fact there are many gags lifted or done as homage to Chaplin's work. Everything from the boxing referee gag from City Lights (1931), the mechanical gag from The Circus (1928), trying to get a job but being pushed from queue to queue gag from A Dog's Life (1918), this scene also uses a gag lifted from The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976) as well, to a somewhat funny reworking of another gag from A Dog's Life where Charlie is being the arms of a knocked out bad guy to eventually knock out the other bad buy. Some of these gags might seem fresh if you had not seem them before, but I would easily recommend the Chaplin films before watching this movie.

    The DVD I have for this is the R0 Joy Sales Legendary Collection remastered edition. While the picture is fine, the English subtitles are not good with such fun ones as “look 82 years sheet sleeper” and “She Shine, Shoe Shine Alan Delon, Come Here.” That “Alan Delon” (sp Alain) part was probably written in by John Woo who is a big fan of that actor. There are Cantonese and Mandarin audios and traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles. The original trailer comes with this and it also has a photo gallery of lobby cards which is quite cool.

    * John Charles in his excellent collection of reviews "The Hong Kong Filmography, 1977-1997" goes over a bit of this in his review on this film which is one of the few I have found on this movie. He also writes that part of the soundtrack was taken from John William's 1941 score.


    Last edited by Masterofoneinchpunch on Wed Apr 06, 2011 1:59 pm; edited 1 time in total
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    dleedlee

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    Re: Laughing Times (1980: John Woo: Hong Kong)

    Post  dleedlee on Mon Mar 21, 2011 6:01 pm

    I remember thinking that this was pretty awful, or at least have not fond memories of it. I have the old Mega Star vcd. Shocked
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    Masterofoneinchpunch

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    Re: Laughing Times (1980: John Woo: Hong Kong)

    Post  Masterofoneinchpunch on Tue Mar 22, 2011 2:40 pm

    dleedlee wrote:I remember thinking that this was pretty awful, or at least have not fond memories of it. I have the old Mega Star vcd. Shocked

    Well I hope I was able to talk you into watching it again.

    John Charles also wrote that John Woo did this movie while still under contract with Golden Harvest. I couldn't find a second source on that so I did not include it in my essay. But the time period does fit.

    I have one book on John Woo by Kenneth E. Hall (unfortunately Very Happy not much on Laughing Times; only two references and not much material), but I am probably going to buy a collection of reviews from John Woo soon. I'm not sure he will talk about this film though. I actually would have some questions for him about this movie if I ever got to interview him Very Happy.
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    Brian T

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    Re: Laughing Times (1980: John Woo: Hong Kong)

    Post  Brian T on Wed Mar 23, 2011 5:51 pm

    Masterofoneinchpunch wrote:but I am probably going to buy a collection of reviews from John Woo soon.

    I'm curious what this might be. Is there a new volume coming out soon?


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    Masterofoneinchpunch

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    Re: Laughing Times (1980: John Woo: Hong Kong)

    Post  Masterofoneinchpunch on Thu Mar 24, 2011 9:53 am

    Brian T wrote:
    Masterofoneinchpunch wrote:but I am probably going to buy a collection of reviews from John Woo soon.

    I'm curious what this might be. Is there a new volume coming out soon?


    Nothing new. I bought it yesterday though. It is John Woo: Interviews (Conversations With Filmmakers Series) from 2005 from Robert K. Elder.

    Brian, have you watched this film? I wonder if you will consider it as good as Lucky Encounter Very Happy.
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    Brian T

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    Re: Laughing Times (1980: John Woo: Hong Kong)

    Post  Brian T on Thu Mar 24, 2011 8:56 pm

    Masterofoneinchpunch wrote:Nothing new. I bought it yesterday though. It is John Woo: Interviews (Conversations With Filmmakers Series) from 2005 from Robert K. Elder.
    Looks promising. I've added it to my Amazon wishlist for now. Wink


    Masterofoneinchpunch wrote:Brian, have you watched this film? I wonder if you will consider it as good as Lucky Encounter Very Happy.
    I haven't seen it, but I do have it here. Your second comment doesn't exactly fill me with hope.Laughing

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    Masterofoneinchpunch

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    Re: Laughing Times (1980: John Woo: Hong Kong)

    Post  Masterofoneinchpunch on Tue Apr 05, 2011 4:47 pm

    Some information I had read elsewhere but was not able to find corresponding information on, until now with the John Woo interviews book, is that he did the film under the pseudonymn Wu Hsiang-fei (the English version as we know shows John Woo).

    Here is some interesting information I will work into my review later.

    "If the movie worked, then Golden Princess would support them [Cinema City], build their company. But if it didn't work, then they wouldn't support them."

    "Everybody worked on the film without pay. They came up with a story, tried to make a Hong Kong style movie. We shot it in the countryside, on a very poor budget -- but it worked and it was quite a hit."

    Hilarious the movie helped start Cinema City.
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    Brian T

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    Re: Laughing Times (1980: John Woo: Hong Kong)

    Post  Brian T on Tue Apr 05, 2011 8:34 pm

    See, that's the kind of stuff I like to see in reviews, and the kind of stuff I like to work into my own whenever possible. But if you Google reviews for LAUGHING TIMES you'll find nary a one that mentions something like this. Even what few pieces I could find that were written by pro scholars and critics didn't mention it at all, but I can usually forgive such an oversight on their part as they're bound to tease out other interesting details and connections. Most amateur reviewers of Hong Kong cinema, if they even bother with a film like this in the first place (which is unlikely), seem to perform quick once-over of its surface qualities, make the Chaplin connection (the easiest one to make, really), then be done with it. I dare say that your review, Shawn, seems to be just about the only thoughtful one out there at the moment that reflects any amount of research. (obviously, I'm sure I could comb through 15 years worth of Asian cinema internet discussion forums, but it would probably take another 15 years just to locate even a nugget about the picture). Presumably other books have addressed LAUGHING TIMES as well, but if not, it's good to see someone at least used (or will use) this book to further enhance their own work. I'll definitely have to buy it at some point, as it may be handy in augmenting some of my own reviews of Woo's pictures.

    If Woo's comments match up with the film itself, it's possible you've unearthed another alias that should be added to his entry at the HKMDB. Oh, wait a minute . . .
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    Masterofoneinchpunch

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    Re: Laughing Times (1980: John Woo: Hong Kong)

    Post  Masterofoneinchpunch on Wed Apr 06, 2011 2:17 pm

    Thank you Brian.

    Here is the paragraph I modified in the first post:

    This was John Woo’s first film for upstart Cinema City. He used the pseudonym Wu Hsiang-fei (apparently the middle names of two of his daughters) for the Chinese version because he was under contract with Golden Harvest at the time. It was Cinema City’s first film as well. In fact if this movie did not succeed there would have been no Cinema City which would later make its mark on Hong Kong by creating the ultra-successful and influential comedic series Aces Go Places in 1982. This is a film I really cannot recommend to anyone except those who are looking to complete John Woo’s oeuvre and those interested in the influence of silent film on Hong Kong cinema a topic that is vastly underrepresented in cinematic writings.* While there are moments that will remind you of John Woo, most obvious is the slow motion orgy of cake destruction which oddly is one of the better scenes in the movie, the movie is just not funny and some of the gags are more gross than funny like the goldfish eating/spitting of Master Ting. Its attempt at pathos throughout the movie never works.

    One bit of other information that I found out was that Hsiang-fei was composed of two of the middle names of Woo's daughters (well technically not Wu, but I'm not going to fix that in my writing right now Very Happy; I also modified my reviews at HKMDB and Amazon). This is mentioned in the same book (though by the editor not Woo).

    The one bit of information that I'm shocked that I haven't found elsewhere was that this film is responsible for Cinema City. I never found anyone mention it was Cinema City's first film (which I personally found important) BTW. This is a much more important film than most people realize -- crazy isn't it Very Happy.

    I just modified my IMDB review. I hate their 1000 word limit. Just wanted to say that.


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