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    Books on Hong Kong Cinema

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    Masterofoneinchpunch

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    Books on Hong Kong Cinema

    Post  Masterofoneinchpunch on Wed Apr 13, 2011 4:38 pm

    Just like at the previous forum.

    I might change some things later, but tired of looking at it.

    Hollywood East (2000) by Stefan Hammond Foreword by Michelle Yeoh

    The is Stefan Hammond's follow-up four years later to his co-written with Mike Wilkins Sex and Zen & A Bullet in the Head. While that book is dated and has an overuse of plot description and spoilers this one is an improvement in content and has previously eschewed scholastic concepts like he mentions in the Introduction about the chapters on John Woo and Jackie Chan: "... providing more analysis and insight" though it still focuses mostly on films from the 1990s. While scholarly analysis has taken over much of the Hong Kong discussion in book form these days it is fun to go back a decade and read an unabashed fan's writing as well as a collection of essays from sundry authors. Like in the first book I tend to prefer the contributed chapters and essays over the author's writing.

    A foreword by Michelle Yeoh almost makes this a must buy, but like Jackie Chan in the first book it is too short. The rest of the book is a mixture of topics ranging from Hong Kong itself, capsule oriented genre chapters, auteur and actor centered sections and sundry topics related to Hong Kong cinema.

    The first chapter's In Situ which is Hammond's has a mixture of topics in its description of Hong Kong as a cinematic city. I am sure that the places to buy VCDs and DVDs are outdated, but they do serve as an interesting description of a point in time. The aside essays "Ten Imaginary Hong Kong Dangers" and "Ten Real Hong Kong Dangers" are my favorite parts for the first chapter. While his last chapter specifically deals with Access of films with many out-of-date Internet links.

    There are several chapters written by Stefan that are capsule review oriented and are reminiscent of the first book. They will have some interesting information but ultimately not contain enough for experienced Hong Kong fans. There is the prescient chapter The Unexpected which goes over some of the oeuvre of Milkyway Image Production the company of one of my favorite directors Johnnie To Kei-fung and scriptwriter/director Wai Ka-fai. There is another chapter Cops and Rascals which goes over police and triad related topics and several films. Then there are chapters Dodge That Flying Witch's Head, Bad Eggs and Naked Killers, and Hewn and Scattered which goes over various exploitative, Category III, and notorious fare that Hammond has quite a fondness for.

    The auteur and actor centered chapters are Creative Chaos: The Disorganized World of Wong Kar-wai written by Jeremy Hansen, The Chan Canon (of course on Jackie) by Hammond and various authors, Between the Bullets: The Spiritual Cinema of John Woo by Michael Bliss and The Afterburner (on Jet Li) by Wade Major. These are good primer essays on those individuals but are now dated because each has done much more since 2000 (and many full length books have been published on the above as well).

    But wait there is more. My favorite chapter is Aiyah! That had to Hurt by Jude Poyer which is a poignant essay on Hong Kong stunts and stunt performers. Jude is a member of the Hong Kong Stuntmen's Association and British Actors' Equity. Also, there are the fan favorite "hex errors" throughout the book where he describes more of his favorite mangling of English subtitles present in Hong Kong film. There is also a 16 page color insert with a popular actor with a picture, a terse biography and a selected filmography in the middle of the book and a way too short glossary at the end. Throw in an underdeveloped chapter on Kung Fu and you have an entertaining book that is a bit slight.

    I recommend this book to those who are newer to Hong Kong cinema as well as those fans that are looking for fun fan-centered writing over a dryer dialectical approach and those that "make a hill out of mold."

    Stefan has not written any more books since this one. I wonder what he has learned about Hong Kong films since then. I wonder if his newer writings would be more analytical. He is currently (as of 2011) an editor of Computerworld Hong Kong.
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    Brian T

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    Re: Books on Hong Kong Cinema

    Post  Brian T on Tue Apr 26, 2011 11:38 pm

    Thought some of you folks might be interested in this. I ordered a "new" copy of the paperback edition of The Cinema of Hong Kong: History, Arts, Identity (edited by Poshek Fu) for just $10 on Amazon on the weekend (Amazon price $36.65, and it appears the same seller, "Global Books", must have more copies available as it's back up again for the same price:

    http://www.amazon.com/gp/offer-listing/0521776023/ref=dp_olp_new?ie=UTF8&condition=new

    Not sure why this dealer is so much cheaper than other sellers, but figured it was worth a shot. Smile
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    Masterofoneinchpunch

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    Re: Books on Hong Kong Cinema

    Post  Masterofoneinchpunch on Mon Mar 04, 2013 4:59 pm

    the following discusses two books with one on HK cinema (this editor is doing some funky things right now; hard to edit):

    I've started on a few movie books with one being Dying to Belong: Gangster Movies in Hollywood and Hong Kong and the other The Film Book: A Complete Guide to World Cinema. Both have had a foreboding start with a couple of errors that I hope are not indicative of the rest of the chapters.

    Books on cinema are full of canards. I have found many on Hong Kong cinema as well as silent cinema for some of the same reason: a lack of knowledge about what you are writing about. When you are covering a large area like The Film Book that is understandable to an extent because you are not expected to have watched everything you are writing about though you hope your editors and reviewers catch some of your mistakes. When you are covering an area like Hong Kong cinema it is sometimes an issue of only watching what is released outside of Hong Kong. For example there were so many myths on the Shaw Brothers films because they were not released officially until Celestial bought the rights and distributed them in early 2000s first via R3 releases and later with various region releases.

    The Film Book has an unfortunate statement in the title of "A Complete Guide to World Cinema". There is no way you can be a complete guide to Taiwanese cinema much less world cinema in less than 400 pages. A few minor errors I found in the silent chapter were stating that Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle's career was finished after the scandal (it was hurt tremendously but it was not over and he was even making a comeback when his heart gave out in the 1930s), the myth that L'Arrivée d'un train en gare de La Ciotat caused audience members to duck under their seats (the train goes by so quickly how could they even get there Very Happy) and one that really annoys me about John Gilbert's career being over during the sound era because of his squeaky voice. This canard has been around for quite some time but is easy to disprove if you watch the film Queen Cristina or read this blog. For the most part these are smaller errors and the book so-far is flowing well as it goes though the decades (mostly American films; it has a section on "World Films" but I'm not there yet.

    Now with Dying to Belong the author starts with a premise of his own making. What I mean is that he takes a definition of gangster and adds his own peculiarities to it to make his thesis as he splits crime films into three distinctive categories: "There are fundamental distinctions to be made among the three major categories of crime films: those structured by the point of view of an immigrant gangster protagonist - the focus of this study; those that feature the escapes of outlaws; and those fairly standard melodramas in which the gangster is the villain." One might wonder in the first of the three he adds "immigrant" to the definition (I have no problem with using these scenarios for his thesis, it is just he excludes all non-immigrant protagonists from the three definitions). But this vary definition is problematic in dealing with Hong Kong studies. He seems to think of Hong Kong as an immigrant nation without one that has his own identity. This is problematic (so far) because their is a vast divide between native Hong Kongers who are triad members and immigrants from the Mainland but also takes away from the idea that Hong Kong has its own identity.

    But there are already other issues. First is the problem of firsts: "the Chinese title of the first Hong Kong gangster film, John Woo's True Colors of a Hero (1986)." While he says that there were gangsters in earlier films, he paints this as the first (or at least as the first according to his criteria). I can think of two earlier ones Long Arm of the Law (1984) and Hong Kong Godfather (1985) so I'm sure there are even earlier ones than that taking into the account of making the gangster as the protagonist.

    I've also found a few issues such as "...the viability of democracy as a social model, and the failure of traditional limits. As a result, the Hong Kong gangster film is accordingly more violent in its beginnings than either the silent American gangsters films or the Warner Bros. gangsters sagas." This make little sense. It is not as a result of those issues. Films worldwide had been becoming more violent for decades and Hong Kong films as well with the horror films of the 70s and the increasingly violent martial art films. The films that HK saw from abroad from US and Japan were also quite violent. And this statement: "...but about fighting against the depersonalized influences of American technology and exported consumerist social patterns." Most of the technology in Hong Kong was (and is) from Japan (and now China).


    Do you get frustrated too by errata in film books?
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    Masterofoneinchpunch

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    Re: Books on Hong Kong Cinema

    Post  Masterofoneinchpunch on Fri Apr 05, 2013 4:21 pm

    And finally a full length review which I put on Amazon (I'm the only review):

    Dying to Belong: Gangster Movies in Hollywood and Hong Kong (2007) by Martha P. Nochimson

    It has been quite a while since I have been this disappointed in a book. I was looking forward to a comparison of Hong Kong and Hollywood gangster films. The Hollywood sections were decent especially with 1930s gangster cinema, but I was disappointed with the lack of knowledge of Hong Kong cinema, overuse of materialist theory and a misuse of the term immigrant especially in dealing with Hong Kong.

    In her opening chapter she makes a salient observation about distinguishing between the gangster film from the “lone outlaw/couple crime film and the caper film” and she further defines her study for inclusion that the films must “construct the narrative through the gangster protagonist point of view.” I tend to define “gangsters” as anyone belonging to a gang. She states that the first Hong Kong gangster film is A Better Tomorrow (True Colors of a Hero 1986). One always has to be careful to write about firsts especially when The Club (1981), Long Arm of the Law (1984), Hong Kong Godfather (1985) came before. It seems weird to completely ignore Long Arm of the Law which is critically popular among Hong Kong film critics making the Hong Kong Film Awards 103 Best Chinese Films list in 2005 (two years before the book.)

    It is wrong not to mention the influence of Jean Pierre Melville on both John Woo and Johnnie To especially with gangster aesthetics (though this might go against her thesis) or Chang Cheh’s influence on Woo. While she has Kenneth E. Hall’s John Woo: The Films book in the bibliography she completely ignores the book when she states “…even those that discuss John Woo have little to say about his or any gangster films.” Hall’s book, now in a second edition, is a must for those wanting to learn more about John Woo.

    I am always a bit wary of terms like “American Materialism”, “Materialism” and “Modernity” because of the relativity or overly generic usage. For example how does Japanese Materialism differ from American Materialism: more gadgets? The amount of times these terms are bandied about one does not need to know they are used more for anti-Americanism rhetoric sometimes just being plain wrong like when she stated about Hong Kong “fighting against the depersonalized influences of American technology…” when they are actually much more influenced by the latest Japanese, South Korean and now Mainland China’s technological gadgets. Also since materialism is the focus, the ideas of solidarity and brotherhood seemed glossed over.

    However, its use of the term immigrant had me more annoyed than anything. Immigrants are people who migrate to a different country and their importance in gangster cinema is well noted. However, the next generation and those after are no longer immigrants themselves. She notes this issue with a chapter on The Sopranos, but does not use it correctly on Hong Kong cinema. While she discusses the Triads as immigrants she seems to ignore the fact that many are in fact born in Hong Kong and have a Hong Kong identity not an immigrant identity. She does not mention that one group, The Big Circle Gang (Tai Huen Chai) which in Hong Kong would be considered immigrants and have made for some fascinating cinema and would fit perfectly in her book.

    The book ends on a high note with an enlightening interview with David Chase. She does note that his knowledge of Hong Kong films is quite low, but if you are a fan of his series The Sopranos you will like it as well as the previous section “Afterword: From Here to Modernity” which also focuses on the show. Her knowledge of Hollywood gangster cinema is fine but when comparing and contrasting a limited amount of Hong Kong films (though the Young and Dangerous series discussion was good to read) one feels that there is still room for a better book on the subject. For fans of John Woo I would read Kenneth E. Hall’s John Woo: The Films and for fans of Johnnie To I would Stephen Teo’s Director in Action instead.
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    Masterofoneinchpunch

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    Re: Books on Hong Kong Cinema

    Post  Masterofoneinchpunch on Wed Jul 09, 2014 4:53 pm

    I finally finished the City on Fire book. Debating on doing a proper review.

    Ultimately I have very mixed feelings about this book from Lisa Odham Stokes (author of Historical Dictionary of Hong Kong Cinema) and Michael Hoover. I like the amount of research that went into it and the amount of interviews that were specifically done for the book. The majority of the study is on films from the 1990s. I originally thought there was going to be more allusions to the 1997 handover (and there is a decent amount of them) but the amount of Marx and postmodernist quotes are what is overdone. I would not doubt that Marx is mentioned and/or quoted at least 100 times (I wish I had a pdf or other digital copy to check this.) It gives one the feeling that the authors did not project enough of their thoughts and leaned on certain social philosophers that often had nothing to do with Hong Kong cinema. It takes on an anti-capitalist stance throughout without being as hard on the PRC (People’s Republic of China) though in the last chapter “Meet the New Boss” it equates the two as the same: “Apparently, ‘the interests of the capitalist class in Hong Kong and the rulers in Beijing are the same: keeping the workers down and minimizing popular politics.’”

    This book has a strange style for commenting and sometimes strains to connect social points and often spouts truisms or tautologies. For example on Long Arm of the Law: “Britain’s much-ballyhooed ‘hands off’ approach to Hong Kong notwithstanding, as Chandra Mohanty remarks, ‘colonization almost invariably implies a structure of domination … and political suppression.’” First I am always wary of ellipses in quotations as they can dramatically alter the meaning. Second I am not sure who Chandra Mohanty is or why we should care because there is no introduction to who she is. You have to go to the notes page to find out she is an author of “Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourses.” Third the quotation comes off as a truism. Did that statement need to be there? There are hundreds of these type of quotations which are sometimes appropriate, sometimes appear out of the blue and often feel too didactic.*

    The book has a foreword from John A. Lent (who is editor of the 2014 book Southeast Asian Cartoon Art: History, Trends and Problems), twelve chapters, an epilogue “Hong Kong Calling” and quite a bit of end notes that are worth reviewing. The first chapter “Mapping the Territory” literally maps a historical account of Hong Kong. The second “Reeling in the Years” is a too short account for the history of its cinema. Chapters three through twelve take a variety of topics from John Woo to comedy, describe movie plots and often put it in a social-political bent with a Marxist and postmodern influence as well as include many allegorical usages of the 1997 handover. Chapter twelve “Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss” specifically discusses post-handover Hong Kong and some of its cinema leading up to 1999 (the publish date of the book.) The epilogue has several pages of interview quotations from a plethora of people including Tsui Hark, John Woo, Donnie Yen, Ronny Yu, Chris Doyle and Chow Yun-fat that is mostly on Hollywood, but is worth reading.

    It is not a book I would recommend for starting into HK cinema. Stephen Teo's Hong Kong Cinema (which needs a new release) and David Bordwell's second edition of Planet Hong Kong are easily more complete reads on Hong Kong movies. If you are looking for a social critique with postmodernistic and Marxist fervor on mainly the more well-known 1990s Hong Kong films then this is your book. Since there is a lot of interviews done specifically for the book interspersed throughout as well as a good amount of research was put into the making of this (with some usual canards like The Killer “did not do well in Hong Kong” and stating Kwan Tak-hing making ninety-nine Wong Fei-hung films), scholars of Hong Kong cinema will want this for their library. Others might be put off by its approach or the fact that there is a wealth of new material on Hong Kong now like the Shaw Brothers library of films and lots of newer books.

    * Another example [on Chungking Express]: “he says “Do you think I’ve change? Getting optimistic all of a sudden and things just turn beautiful. You look a lot cuter than before now. You were sort of neat and that was alright. But this goldfish look? With patches all over? Have you been fighting?’ Marx notes that “Commodities as such are indifferent to all religious, political, national and linguistic barriers.’” Doesn’t this read awkwardly? It seems like a forced attempt to thrown in a Marx quote.

    Postmodern rhetoric example: “Lefebvre suggests that the privatization of consumption means a replacement of signs by signals and of symbols by images. This condition strips individuals of their ability to connect; people cannot ‘totalize’ their experiences. Commodified objects contribute to a condition in which alienation has become ‘social practice,’ creating what he calls ‘the bureaucratic society of controlled consumption.’”

    ---------------------- some comments I have on the first couple of chapters (originally posted at Bullets and Babes)

    What I do like about the book is the interviews done for it. I am certainly highlighting quite a bit of it. Unfortunately, too much is on attacking capitalism and quoting Marx. When I first heard the complaints on the book I thought it was exagerated, but she and Hoover draw from the same well too much. I find it interesting that the main reasons Mandarin speakers came here after the war was "wishing to escape Chiang Kai-shek's censorship policies" and yet while later mentioning "A third wave of people began flowing into the colony following the establishment of the People's Republic in 1949..." yet never mentions in this section Mao by name.

    Some interesting quotes from the second chapter (yes I'm picking on a little bit, but still having fun with the book; I probably made a few mistakes here and there transcribing):
    "...commercial studios fostered possessive individualist values associated with consumer capitalism while exploiting the Chinese diaspora's curiousity about its culture and history."
    "...despite the glaring inequalities present in the colony, movie audiences continued to grow."
    "His words have a striking similarity to Marx's description of "the transformation of the laborer into a workhorse, [which] is a means of increasing captial, or speeding up the produciton of surplus value..."" [there is a block quote here that goes on for awhile.]
    "provides a disturbing visual reminder of Marx's words."
    "...whose consideration of women and sexuality not only deconstructed the ways that cinema 'naturalizes' socially constructed masculine fantasies and ideologies but also problematized essentialism of a 'heterosexual division of the universe.'"
    "As Marx noted, the methods of early captialism were 'anything but idyllic.'"
    "As Homi Bhabha points out, 'cultures are never unitary in themselves, nor simply dualistic in reltion of Self to Other.'"
    "...what Uma Magal calls the 'reverse angle' of global cinema."
    "...that Ackbar Abbas calls 'postcoloniality that precedes decolonization'"
    "...what Michel Pecheux calls 'identification'"
    "...affirm Horkheimer and Adorno's depiction of the culture industry as amusement, diversion, and distraction."

    On Chapter 3: Whose Better Tomorrow

    "What better contemporary vision to describe early capitalism than the imprimatur of John Woo's martial-arts-with-automatic-weapons movies, where competition rages among petty capitalists in the guise of Triads?"
    "...the most meanly odious,' characteristic of early capitalist expropriation."
    "Blood Brothers (1973), considered Chang's masterpiece" [now being more serious, I like this film, but this is an interesting choice to consider his "masterpiece"; Chang is tough to just pick one film it is kind of like saying Raging Bull is Scorsese's masterpiece.]
    "Financial gain and expanded profit margins are all that matters to these villains."
    "Shing will be the vampire-capitalist, who 'only lives by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labor it sucks.'" [the inner quotations are direct quotations from Marx, same goes to the previous quotations in the earlier posts]
    "Ko's ruling passions are avarice and a desire to get rich, shared by every capitalist upstart."
    "To Ko they are a 'disposable reserve army of labor ... a mass of human material always ready for exploitation.'"
    "Yet it is the expressiveness of such a scene that communicates to an audience and provides an alternative to a world currupted by capitalism."
    "...they serve to reflect the harsh social reality for the many stepped on or over in a capitalist society."
    "As Marx puts it, 'One capitalist always kills many.'"
    "Marx reminds us, and 'the birth of the latter [Modern Industry] is heralded by a great slaughter of the innocents.'"
    "Woo's gangster movies create a political and social subtext of early capitalism as a bloody battlefield."


    Last edited by Masterofoneinchpunch on Thu Jul 10, 2014 4:40 pm; edited 7 times in total
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    Brian T

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    Re: Books on Hong Kong Cinema

    Post  Brian T on Thu Jul 10, 2014 9:57 am

    Interesting analysis of City on Fire. I read it many years ago and gradually found the Marx references to be overkill, and only with merit in certain cases. I'll give Stokes and Hoover credit for sticking by their theories all the way to the end of a rather large volume of scholarship, but I've always found viewing an entire cinema through more or less a single lens like that risks pigeonholing. I remember a discussion about HK cinema books at the "old place" got at least one member's ire up at the mention of Stokes' volume, but not surprisingly he offered virtually no explanation for his derision and hatred beyond the subtle implication that she was a communist. Nice to see a much more thoughtful approach here.

    - - - - -

    Incidentally, anyone looking for a diverse, reference-grade collection of Hong Kong cinema writing from 1983 onward will be well served by Film Comment's new 100+ page "digital anthology" on the subject, which compiles pretty much every Hong Kong cinema article published in the magazine. A great buy for $2.99, and one that allows me to finally dump a few back issues into the recycling bin!
    http://filmsociety.myshopify.com/products/digital-anthology-hong-kong-cinema

    I love to see more magazines embrace this format as an additional revenue stream. For folks like us with localized interests, these can be extremely helpful.

    Incidentally, I found this edition after stumbling across an interesting Film Comment article by Grady Hendrix linked in yesterday's IMDB news feed:
    http://www.filmcomment.com/entry/kaiju-shakedown-so-much-sex
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    Masterofoneinchpunch

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    Re: Books on Hong Kong Cinema

    Post  Masterofoneinchpunch on Thu Jul 10, 2014 11:18 am

    Brian is back!!!!!!!!

    What is funny is that I tend to dislike postmodernistic blather more than Marxist blather (yes postmodernism somewhat ironically is influenced by Marx.)  But when one writer uses the same type of references over and over again without stating her and his (don't forget Michael Hoover's work on the book) own opinion it gets rather annoying.  Plus economics thought has many more contributors than Engels and Marx.  It really reads that your audience is other professors (not even film professors) and students who are apt to completely agree with you because of the Marx content.  It is like you need Marx for credence (or he lends credibility) to your material.

    But it is certainly a better book than Dying to Belong.

    At the bullets and babes site I created a thread for books (and gave a shoutout to you).  I linked to the old HKMDB thread we had on the topic (and I reread that thread).  I miss those discussions.  I hope those thread do not go away, even though we cannot add to them.  I still think that was one of the more wrong things relatively speaking to do ultimately hurting the site much more than helping it.

    NOTE: some apostrophes and quotations got stripped out of the City on Fire post.  I'm not sure why (other than I don't think it likes the no straight ones.) EDIT: I think I've fixed most of them.

    On a side note: I'm currently reading Michael Crichton and Richard Preston's Micro and one of the characters is a postmodernistic theory student who spouts out ideas and is obviously mocked in the book.
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    Masterofoneinchpunch

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    Re: Books on Hong Kong Cinema

    Post  Masterofoneinchpunch on Thu Jul 10, 2014 4:42 pm

    I have worked more on the review above (though I will have to add back in the italics).

    Brian, should I expand this section?

    master wrote:The book has a foreword from John A. Lent (who is editor of the 2014 book Southeast Asian Cartoon Art: History, Trends and Problems), twelve chapters, an epilogue “Hong Kong Calling” and quite a bit of end notes that are worth reviewing. The first chapter “Mapping the Territory” literally maps a historical account of Hong Kong. The second “Reeling in the Years” is a too short account for the history of its cinema. Chapters three through twelve take a variety of topics from John Woo to comedy, describe movie plots and often put it in a social-political bent with a Marxist and postmodern influence as well as include many allegorical usages of the 1997 handover. Chapter twelve “Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss” specifically discusses post-handover Hong Kong and some of its cinema leading up to 1999 (the publish date of the book.) The epilogue has several pages of interview quotations from a plethora of people including Tsui Hark, John Woo, Donnie Yen, Ronny Yu, Chris Doyle and Chow Yun-fat that is mostly on Hollywood, but is worth reading.

    I was thinking possibly about discussing each chapter, but I wonder if that is superfluous or would be needed?
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    Brian T

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    Re: Books on Hong Kong Cinema

    Post  Brian T on Sun Jul 13, 2014 5:30 pm

    Masterofoneinchpunch wrote:I have worked more on the review above (though I will have to add back in the italics).

    Brian, should I expand this section?

    master wrote:The book has a foreword from John A. Lent (who is editor of the 2014 book Southeast Asian Cartoon Art: History, Trends and Problems), twelve chapters, an epilogue “Hong Kong Calling” and quite a bit of end notes that are worth reviewing.  The first chapter “Mapping the Territory” literally maps a historical account of Hong Kong.  The second “Reeling in the Years” is a too short account for the history of its cinema. Chapters three through twelve take a variety of topics from John Woo to comedy, describe movie plots and often put it in a social-political bent with a Marxist and postmodern influence as well as include many allegorical usages of the 1997 handover. Chapter twelve “Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss” specifically discusses post-handover Hong Kong and some of its cinema leading up to 1999 (the publish date of the book.)  The epilogue has several pages of interview quotations from a plethora of people including Tsui Hark, John Woo, Donnie Yen, Ronny Yu, Chris Doyle and Chow Yun-fat that is mostly on Hollywood, but is worth reading.

    I was thinking possibly about discussing each chapter, but I wonder if that is superfluous or would be needed?


    Up to you. I'd certainly read any new additions. Smile Either way, though, you should consider posting a version of your critique to the book's product listing on Amazon, just for posterity. I'm sure it's long out of print, but copies still make the rounds, and Amazon's a common reference tool even when purchasing products elsewhere. Considering how liberally the Marxist filter is applied throughout the book, you have to wonder if any of the people who posted reviews there actually read it, since no one really makes reference to it.
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    Masterofoneinchpunch

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    Re: Books on Hong Kong Cinema

    Post  Masterofoneinchpunch on Wed Jan 21, 2015 2:27 pm

    Second draft (has anyone else read this?):

    Chasing Dragons: An Introduction to the Martial Arts Film (2006) by David West

    There is just too many issues with book to recommend. Those who are seasoned with martial arts movie knowledge will find the omissions as a major detriment more than the few errata that are more annoying than harmful to the overall read of this book. Though some of those mistakes can be quite annoying. For example he states that Run Run Shaw is born in 1918 when in fact in was 1907 and he stated he died in 1991 when in fact he would live several years after the printing of the book; he thinks the Hong Kong New Wave is in the 1990s; while he makes the very usual canard of Lau Kar-fei (aka Gordon Lau) being the adopted brother of Lau Kar-leung, he states that the adoption happened as an infant. But those very omissions which I discuss below and the films chosen to review is what makes the very thesis of the book “An Introduction” as somewhat erroneous.

    The book is set-up into three main sections: Japan, Hong Kong and Hollywood and the USA. Each of those sections then gets split into a specific topic like a director and then after some detail on it there are several movie reviews. For example for Gosha Hideo he reviews Three Outlaw Samurai, Sword of the Beast, Tenchu (aka Hitokiri) and Goyokin. His strongest section is the Japanese one which he refers back to throughout the book. His love of classic Japanese cinema shows through and it is my favorite section of the book. His background in martial arts, as he has written for several martial art magazines, does make his analysis worth reading on several of the films and he does use particular Japanese phrases I will appropriate in later writings. Though he does not make as much effort with the Chinese films because I do not think there is even one mention of wuxia or jianghu.

    Be warned that his reviews of the films do contain spoilers that you might want to skip if you want to be surprised for a particular film. He takes a humanistic approach to his reviews so you will find him particularly harsh on exploitation films like the Lone Wolf and Cub series and Kill Bill. I have no issue with these and in fact agree with much of what he says in that regard. However, later on his contrarian review on Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon seems misplaced. He cites the facts that since it was not popular in Hong Kong and that many western reviewers wrongly stated it was unique as a huge knock against it: “Much of the praise given to the film reflects the critics’ unfamiliarity with Hong Kong cinema, for Lee’s film is formulaic to the point of redundancy.” Now given the fact that Lee is a Taiwanese director and personally I do not consider it a Hong Kong film (though HK money was involved), he misses the salient fact that many Asian critics value the film quite highly (it made a very high listing on Golden Horse’s 100 Greatest Chinese-Language Films as well Hong Kong Film Awards The Best 100 Chinese Motion Pictures.) So his statement seems it direct contrast to those critics who are very familiar with Hong Kong cinema.

    But the omissions seems to me the most conspicuous issue with the book. For Japan he sagaciously mentions the book Hagakure. But the book was an idealized account of bushido written in a peaceful time. It is not the only book on the topic (see Bushido Shoshinshu by Taira Shigesuke) and he seems to use it like a guiding force (like a person with a hammer who sees everything as nails) much like the protagonist in one of his favorite films Ghost Dog (a film I like very much.) For Hong Kong he only has two reviews for Chang Cheh: Men From the Monastery and The Chinatown Kid. While he only gives a perfunctory description for One-Armed Swordsman, he does not even mention Five Deadly Venoms or Crippled Avengers. For Lau Kar-leung he does not even mention The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (while he does mention the third film in the series.) But what is very telling that he only has seem a small amount of Hong Kong films is where he states “Shaw Brothers films were prudish…” in comparison to Golden Harvest. Huh? Has he not seen the horror films like Black Magic, the exploitation films like Killer Snakes etc…? Also, why have a section on John Woo’s gun films and ignore so many martial art films from Hong Kong and Taiwan. For American film he starts off with Bad Day at Black Rock (1955). Not a bad choice, but one might wonder why no mention of the Jiu-jitsu in the Moto films (late 1930s) or the Judo in Blood on the Sun (1945).

    Overall an OK book, but too many issues keep me from recommending this. Too many small errors and too many omissions. While I do not know of a great book on the more abstract area of “martial arts film” there are several more concise books I can recommend like Bey Logan’s Hong Kong Action Cinema (1996), David Bordwell’s Planet Hong Kong 2nd Edition (2011) and Donald Richie’s A Hundred Years of Japanese Films (2001). It looks like there is still a good opportunity for someone to write a book that introduces a neophyte audience to the wonderful world of martial arts cinema.

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