Books in English on Hong Kong film

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Re: Books in English on Hong Kong film

Postby Masterofoneinchpunch » Fri Mar 13, 2009 10:20 pm

What I wrote on Once Upon A Time In China by Jeff Yang:

Using the title from a Tsui Hark directed movie starring Jet Li (and a plethora of sequels) Jeff Yang, author of Eastern Standard Time and coauthor of the Jackie Chan autobiography I Am Jackie Chan, attempts to pen a "… comprehensive guide to the unique cinemas of Hong Kong, Taiwan and the Mainland…". While ultimately Yang fails in his thesis he did write and collaborate with many co-writers to create a well thought out albeit terse primer on the cinema of these three cinemas (134 pages). It is followed by a Capsule Reviews section (135 pages) that gives a summary overview of pertinent films discussed in the book or, I suppose, considered important by Yang.

This book does a good job of succinctly stating the origins of Chinese Film, the important companies such as Cathay, Shaw Brothers and MP&GI, the importance of Mandarin and Cantonese cinema, TVB, Triads, important actors such as Jackie Chan, Stephen Chow (Chiau), Michael Hui and directors as Chang Cheh, Zhang Yimou, Tsai Ming-liang, Wong Kar-wai and Wong Jing and many more. In fact the book works well as a "cliff notes" version of these cinemas with a particularly strong emphasis on Hong Kong cinema. There is mention of many genres and his writing is strong enough that I wished there was more material to peruse. The essays interspersed throughout the book on specific topics such as Wong Fei Hung, The Shaolin Temple by Linn Haynes, Jin Yong by Peter Nepstad and Category III Erotica by John Charles help tremendously in keeping the book interesting as well as informative.

Unfortunately, the Capsule Reviews are probably the least important part of the book. It does not always enough detail to enlighten or enhance your viewing, misses some important HK genre pictures like Sammo Hung's Prodigal Son and Spooky Encounters and ends a lot of the reviews with "Reviewers called it…" with a particular point of view without naming any reviewers and many times being the antithesis of what many critics actually stated about the film (like the comments on The Story of Qiu Ju).

If you can find this at a good price and you are looking for a good overview of a vast cinema than this will be a good purchase. Otherwise there is a plethora of books that are more focused on Asian cinema.

For further study on Taiwan auteurs I would recommend Taiwan Film Directors: A Treasure Island by Emilie Yueh-Yu Yeh and Darrell Davis. For more in depth study on Hong Kong film I still recommend Hong Kong Cinema: The Extra Dimensions by Stephen Teo. I still have not read a good book dedicated to Mainland China cinema though.
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Re: Books in English on Hong Kong film

Postby Brian Thibodeau » Sat Mar 14, 2009 9:01 pm

Stumbled across Google Books while looking for info on an unrelated novel-to-screen adaptation, and decided to see if there was anything there related to Chinese/Hong Kong/Korean/Japanese cinema, and lo and behold found the following. Note that these books are "previews" and thus have many pages deliberately left out, but enough remain to be both a) useful in and of themselves and b) enough of a tease to upgrade to the finished product in some cases:

Chinese National Cinema By Yingjin Zhang
http://books.google.com/books?id=6WzJq0 ... ma#PPP1,M1
http://www.amazon.com/dp/041517290X/

Cinema and Urban Culture in Shanghai, 1922-1943 By Yingjin Zhang
http://books.google.com/books?id=vD6I4h ... ma#PPP1,M1
http://www.amazon.com/dp/0804735727/

The Cinema of Hong Kong: History, Arts, Identity By Poshek Fu and David Desser
http://books.google.com/books?id=sELZJ5 ... cinema&lr=
http://www.amazon.com/dp/0521776023/

Hong Kong: Culture and the Politics of Disappearance By M. Ackbar Abbas (1997)
http://books.google.com/books?id=aeMX2t ... =Hong+Kong
http://www.amazon.com/dp/0816629250/

Building a new China in cinema By Laikwan Pang
http://books.google.com/books?id=VoZK1E ... ma#PPP1,M1
http://www.amazon.com/dp/074250946X/

Chinese Cinema During the Era of Reform By Ying Zhu
http://books.google.com/books?id=2GW5EO ... cinema&lr=
http://www.amazon.com/0275979598/

New Korean Cinema by Chi-Yun Shin
http://books.google.com/books?id=s4oA19 ... r=#PPR1,M1
http://www.amazon.com/dp/0814740308/

The remasculinization of Korean cinema By Kyung Hyun Kim
http://books.google.com/books?id=Y6csOM ... r=#PPP1,M1
http://www.amazon.com/dp/0822332671/

The Cinema of Japan & Korea By Justin Bowyer
http://books.google.com/books?id=FtqUAx ... cinema&lr=
http://www.amazon.com/dp/1904764126/

Contemporary Asian Cinema By Anne Tereska Ciecko
http://books.google.com/books?id=9_Pmys ... r=#PPP1,M1
http://www.amazon.com/dp/1845202376/

East-West Encounters: Franco-Asian Cinema and Literature By Sylvie Blum-Reid
http://books.google.com/books?id=aMrQFx ... r=#PPP1,M1

Japanese Cinema By Alastair Phillips, Julian Stringer
http://books.google.com/books?id=bWUBiU ... r=#PPP1,M1
http://www.amazon.com/dp/0415328470/

Nippon Modern, Japanese CInema of the 1920s and 1930s By Mitsuyo Wada-Marciano
http://books.google.com/books?id=dIc0RB ... cinema&lr=
http://www.amazon.com/dp/082483240X/

The Warrior's camera: The Cinema of Akira Kurosawa By Stephen Prince
http://books.google.com/books?id=vdchVq ... cinema&lr=
http://www.amazon.com/dp/0691010463/

Atomic Bomb Cinema By Jerome Franklin Shapiro (covers this genre from American and Japanese perspectives)
http://books.google.com/books?id=3WGpi4 ... &dq=cinema
http://www.amazon.com/dp/0415936608/

Plus a few other titles about movies in general:
http://books.google.com/books?q=movies& ... arch+Books

Searching "Cinema" or "Movies" will bring back plenty of interesting reading.
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Re: Books in English on Hong Kong film

Postby ewaffle » Thu Mar 19, 2009 4:22 am

I picked up Hong Kong: Culture and the Politics of Disappearance By M. Ackbar Abbas (1997) after this book was cited by everyone I was reading in some of the books we have listed in various posts on this site. Not, it seems, for the general reader--or at least this general reader although it seemed to inspire a handful of scholars on Hong Kong film.
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Re: Books in English on Hong Kong film

Postby Brian Thibodeau » Fri Jul 17, 2009 7:46 pm

Stumbled across this listing for The Utlimate Guide to the Martial Arts Movies of the 1970s by Craig Reid.

http://www.amazon.com/dp/0897501845/

Reid, it turns out, appeared in many Taiwan martial arts pictures and TV shows in the 80's, although our DB only credits him with one, 1980's The Flying Tigers and the Kung Fu Kids:
http://hkmdb.com/db/people/view.mhtml?i ... ay_set=eng

A search led me to a discussion thread at Kung Fu Cinema forums (haven't visited there in years!) where Reid himself chimes in to plug the book and mentions his 5000+ collection of martial arts films from around the globe (apparently this book isn't just limited to Chinese cinema, which is probably a curse as much as a blessing). I'd imagine a collection that size would have to be spread across formats (VHS, LD, Beta?), which at leasts suggests that his book won't be burdened with examinations of print quality, frame rates, and supplemental features.

http://www.kungfucinema.com/forums/show ... 773&page=3

According to that thread, Bey Logan also has another book in the works. I'm still no fan of his, but I do think his original book is must reading for anyone getting into Hong Kong cinema (even today). This new book will apparently be his reflections on 36 classic Hong Kong martial arts films, which is interesting but entirely too niche-y for this lover of the broader Hong Kong cinema (though I'm sure the author's blurb on the cover will be much more self-important now that he's formally positioned himself as The World's Only Hong Kong Cinema Expert® with all those inferior Dragon Dynasty releases). Still, good to see any books on Asian cinema these days priced for the mass market.
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Re: Books in English on Hong Kong film

Postby Masterofoneinchpunch » Fri Jul 17, 2009 11:39 pm

I've been keeping tabs and occasionally posting at KFF. I'm looking forward to Craig Reid's book.

I really wish we had an area for errata. While I like Bey Logan's book and looking forward to the second one (I have many of the same issues with Logan that Brian has) his first book (like most books on HK from the 90s) had a few errors here and there.

Today I finished Hong Kong Babylon (another book that references this site). I'm debating on writing a review (if I do it will be next week), but ultimately a very simple book with some issues. Not bad on the facts and there is much to be learned from here, but (and a big butt) there are enough issues that are quite annoying.

The plus: The selected interviews with filmmakers.

The bad: The rushed first chapter which gleans much information from the interviews. There are way too many plot summaries. While they are decently written they occasionally put spoilers in (not as bad as some other book on HK :D) and nowdays really aren't worth that much unless you are looking for an idea of a film. These also mostly focus on 1990s film (up until the publication of this book) and do not delve that much into older movies. The book should have possibly had another title. The book is also not organized well. The Recommended Viewing section at the end with 12 critics choices could have easily been handled better and been more enlightened instead of no descriptions on many of the picks on why the critics put it in a particular category (Highly Recommended, Recommended, a few put Non Recommended etc...).
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Re: Books in English on Hong Kong film

Postby Brian Thibodeau » Sat Jul 18, 2009 6:31 am

Masterofoneinchpunch wrote:I really wish we had an area for errata. While I like Bey Logan's book and looking forward to the second one (I have many of the same issues with Logan that Brian has) his first book (like most books on HK from the 90s) had a few errors here and there.


I assume you mean an area in the forums or in the DB? It might be cool to start a thread that folks can contribute to as they find boo-boos. I doubt any book comes close to Thomas Weisser's masterwork, but I'm sure they've all got their oversights, however unintentional . . .

For the memories :lol: :
viewtopic.php?f=8&t=42494


I agree about the Critics Picks in the back of Hollywood Babylon. That section was inconsistent, as I recall, with some critics providing a rationale, and others just providing a list, as if that and their name were expected to be enough to make one race to the nearest Chinatown video store. :|
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Re: Books in English on Hong Kong film

Postby cal42 » Sat Jul 18, 2009 2:28 pm

Is Hong Kong Babylon the book where the author has a chat with a nasty Triad film producer? And the one where Leslie Cheung is interviewed saying that Chow Yun-Fat was getting too fat? I'm sure I used to have it but I haven't seen it lying around for years.
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Re: Books in English on Hong Kong film

Postby Masterofoneinchpunch » Mon Jul 20, 2009 7:35 pm

cal42 wrote:Is Hong Kong Babylon the book where the author has a chat with a nasty Triad film producer? And the one where Leslie Cheung is interviewed saying that Chow Yun-Fat was getting too fat? I'm sure I used to have it but I haven't seen it lying around for years.


Yes that is the one. Quite an interesting section talking about triads (actually too much of what is written though). The Leslie Cheung interview is great. Want me to post some of the most interesting comments from the book? Ann Hui's comment on Wong Jing is pretty interesting too :).
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Re: Books in English on Hong Kong film

Postby cal42 » Mon Jul 20, 2009 8:13 pm

I'm going to have another go at digging it out. It can't be far, but I can't remember seeing it for years :) .

That actually reminds me of a very strange question and could be something I've misunderstood (or even misremembered) all these years. I think it was this very book that had an interview with Wong Kar-Wai and it mentioned him doing prison time. I can't find mention of this ANYWHERE else, and now think I dreamt it or misread it. Does anyone have any info on this?
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Re: Books in English on Hong Kong film

Postby Brian Thibodeau » Tue Jul 21, 2009 1:33 am

Masterofoneinchpunch wrote:Ann Hui's comment on Wong Jing is pretty interesting too :).


I just read recently--probably in one of Dennis' daily news columns--that Ann Hui's latest, NIGHT AND FOG, was produced through Wong Jing's company! Seems like she avoided from working with the man as long as she could, but in the new Hong Kong cinema, I'm guessing he's pretty tough to avoid! :lol:
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Re: Books in English on Hong Kong film

Postby Masterofoneinchpunch » Tue Jul 21, 2009 6:40 pm

cal42 wrote:I'm going to have another go at digging it out. It can't be far, but I can't remember seeing it for years :) .

That actually reminds me of a very strange question and could be something I've misunderstood (or even misremembered) all these years. I think it was this very book that had an interview with Wong Kar-Wai and it mentioned him doing prison time. I can't find mention of this ANYWHERE else, and now think I dreamt it or misread it. Does anyone have any info on this?


I looked through the book last night (and I just read the whole thing last week) and I cannot find anything on Wong Kar-wai and prison time. I looked through a few more books but could not find anything on him being incarcerated. The interview in that book has nothing about jail time.
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Re: Books in English on Hong Kong film

Postby cal42 » Tue Jul 21, 2009 6:56 pm

Thought as much - I was probably reading about someone else! Thanks for checking though!
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Re: Books in English on Hong Kong film

Postby Taijikid » Fri Aug 07, 2009 12:27 pm

This morning I was reading through the latest entries in David Bordwell's cinema blog and saw that his wonderful book Planet Hong Kong has just gone out of print.

I first read the book when it was released in 2000 and repeatedly checked it out of my local library until I finally decided to save myself some trouble and buy it. I have never regretted my purchase and cannot recommend it highly enough to anyone interested in movies, especially those from Hong Kong.

The website <www.bookfinder.com> has about 75 copies listed, beginning at under $20. I would urge anyone who doesn't have access to the book in a local public library to buy it before used book dealers price it out of range or it disappears altogether.
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Re: Books in English on Hong Kong film

Postby Masterofoneinchpunch » Fri Aug 07, 2009 4:04 pm

Taijikid wrote:This morning I was reading through the latest entries in David Bordwell's cinema blog and saw that his wonderful book Planet Hong Kong has just gone out of print.

I first read the book when it was released in 2000 and repeatedly checked it out of my local library until I finally decided to save myself some trouble and buy it. I have never regretted my purchase and cannot recommend it highly enough to anyone interested in movies, especially those from Hong Kong.

The website <www.bookfinder.com> has about 75 copies listed, beginning at under $20. I would urge anyone who doesn't have access to the book in a local public library to buy it before used book dealers price it out of range or it disappears altogether.


Here is his blog: http://www.davidbordwell.net/blog
and here is his RSS feed: http://www.davidbordwell.net/blog/?feed=rss2

I was surprised to when I read this, luckily I had bought it awhile ago (though I have not read it yet). I did read his essay in At Full Speed (a book I've been reading lately on HK cinema, but I noticed that Amazon has no reviews on it).
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Re: Books in English on Hong Kong film

Postby Masterofoneinchpunch » Fri Nov 06, 2009 5:35 pm

Here is a hack job on Paul Fonoroff at Wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Fonoroff

He has published two books, Paul Fonoroff At The Hong Kong Movies, a collection of reviews, and Silver Light, a picture book of Fonoroff's extensive collection of Hong Kong movie memorabilia.[2] At the Movies was criticized for being out of date by reviewers.[1]


It then gives a link that does not work: http://www.pathfinder.com/asiaweek/99/0226/feat5.html

If I was going to critique that book I would state that he is a bit of a curmudgeon. Anyone know the reasoning behind this argument of it being out-of-date?
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Re: Books in English on Hong Kong film

Postby Brian Thibodeau » Fri Nov 06, 2009 6:51 pm

Judging from the wording of the actual Pathfinder link, the "criticism" may have appeared on the now-defunct AsiaWeek's website back in February of 1999, which might put it in line with the publication, there, of Fonoroff's book. It was published in the U.S. in November 1999. I can't say for sure, but I'm guessing that the "out-of-date" commentary may have been in reference to Fonoroff's subject matter being cut off at the Handover, nearly a year and a half prior. In that sense, the book was out of date, especially considering the HK film industry was still producing a reasonable number of pictures. I suppose Fonoroff was trying to stick to films produced while the city was under British rule, but otherwise, his reviews are all very contemporary to the times in which they were written, and as such are loaded with valuable nuggets of information. He's hardly a completist, that's for damned sure, and he's definitely a curmudgeon, but he never fails to justify his views in my opinion, even if I don't often share them.

He's also got some reviews here in the database, none of which don't appear in the book:
http://hkmdb.com/db/reviews/list.mhtml? ... 20Fonoroff
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Re: Books in English on Hong Kong film

Postby Masterofoneinchpunch » Mon Nov 09, 2009 7:54 pm

From my perspective it is hard to think of it as out-of-date since the title is At the Hong Kong Movies: 600 Reviews from 1988 Till the Handover. That seems rather specific to me. I do like the book though and love to combine this with John Charles book when looking for specific titles within a time period as well as there views, the connections of the films to other films etc... I like that it is from a specific time period. Many of the thoughts on Johnnie To you would not get from later books like To's use of kid actors.

I've now read over 100 pages from David Bordwell's Planet Hong Kong. I certainly agree with Taijikid that this is a worthwhile book. In fact along with Teo's Hong Kong Cinema it is amongst my favorites (though many books have specifics that are worth to have like Hong Kong Babylon has some interesting interviews worthy of having -- though that book has many faults including its weird use of plot summaries and its recommended section is not very organized).

FYI: Bordwell is working on an online version of this book (he stated this in his blog).
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Re: Books in English on Hong Kong film

Postby Brian Thibodeau » Mon Nov 09, 2009 10:11 pm

Masterofoneinchpunch wrote:FYI: Bordwell is working on an online version of this book (he stated this in his blog).


Interesting. Hopefully he's not giving the whole damned thing away for free. I realize the limited market for a title like that, but there's just something about having a book like that on the coffeetable (with most of the others) for reference when you're watching Hong Kong movies, rather than having to run to the computer in another room. :lol:

That said, it would be interesting if he could replace the books series of illustrative movie stills with actual clips with commentary via YouTube or some such. Considering how much Hong Kong cinema gets pirated in full there anyways, I'm sure no one would bother him for having a few excerpts for scholarly dissection. 8)
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Re: Books in English on Hong Kong film

Postby Masterofoneinchpunch » Mon Nov 09, 2009 10:28 pm

Here is an older link on the subject: http://www.davidbordwell.net/blog/?p=4858
Here's his newest essay on the Shaw Brothers and their use of the widescreen format: http://www.davidbordwell.net/essays/shaw.php

Any new favorites on HK film books Brian?
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Re: Books in English on Hong Kong film

Postby Brian Thibodeau » Mon Nov 09, 2009 11:52 pm

Masterofoneinchpunch wrote:Here is an older link on the subject: http://www.davidbordwell.net/blog/?p=4858


Thanks for that. It's VERY satisfying to know he'll still be selling the work in one form or another (barring, or course, digital book piracy and the like). When you first mentioned it, I thought perhaps he was going to rework the content into a publicly-accessible website, which I think would be a monster of a mistake. The book, like any other, will have value to someone for many generations to come, and he should simply take advantage of current technologies to best keep it in the public eye.

Print-On-Demand is absolutely amazing, and Amazon's own Lulu brand might be a good match for him at some point (or another company like it, but they're fast becoming the biggest imprint). I got an email from Lulu last week regarding the addition of over 200,000 books from mainstream publishers to their library, including a lot of "specialized" authors (like Malcolm Gladwell) whose books had reasonably outlived their saleability at the bookstore level, and popular authors (like Dan Brown) whose books saturated the market to the point where online/on-demand is the only logical outlet. Who knows if Bordwell will go that route, but if University of Michigan is anything to go on, he'd be silly not to.

If I was planning on writing the great Canadian novel right now, I'd go online/on-demand in a heartbeat (after a legit editor had gone over it, of course), rather than slog it around to the various publishers hoping for an increasingly rare and precious bite. Sure, I might not sell tens of thousands of copies that way, but I also may not have sold very many copies with a traditional publishing house anyways, with the shape they're in. Obviously, I still think there will be a market for tangible, printed books for decades to come, because not everyone like to stare at a screen to savour long-form information. They said the internet would kill books, but it didn't, nor will it. It just changed the playing field and provided more options, and to more people from all walks of life, from the likes of Bordwell to your average bored housewife with something interesting to say. ;)


Any new favorites on HK film books Brian?


Afraid not. But the Toronto Public Library has MANY of the academic books on Hong Kong cinema in its system, so eventually I hope to sign out some of those as I get more back into my Hong Kong cinema routine (which is starting to happen, as my posts in Additions & Modifications will attest :D ). Actually, some of their books are permanently in-house at this point due to their OOP status and rarity, so you can't sign them out, which means I may have to make a few "research visits" if the need ever arises! :lol:
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Re: Books in English on Hong Kong film

Postby Brian Thibodeau » Mon Dec 07, 2009 3:18 am

This should interest most of you folks.

Image

The new issue of Britain's Film International is devoted to Hong Kong cinema! 8)
http://www.scribd.com/doc/19383567/Film ... -Volume-74
(this links to a preview, but you can at least see what the magazine looks like)

Picked this up in the bookstore tonight, but most of the articles, as always, appear to be on line, including:

Editorial: Hong Kong Cinema Since 1997:
http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_7 ... ntent;col1

Hong Kong cinema since 1997: troughs and peaks:
http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_7 ... ntent;col1

Age Of Independents: New Hong Kong Film & Video:
http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_7 ... ntent;col1

From Wah Dee to CEO: Andy Lau and performing the authentic Hong Kong star:
http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_7 ... ntent;col1

Another week, another Johnnie To film: the marketing and distribution of postcolonial Hong Kong action cinema:
http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_7 ... ntent;col1
(very cool article!)

Visible secrets: Hong Kong's women film-makers:
http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_7 ... ntent;col1

Enjoy! And if you get a chance, pick up the magazine too. It's a keeper.)
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Re: Books in English on Hong Kong film

Postby AV1979 » Mon May 03, 2010 10:25 pm

Hey guys,

I helped Lisa Stokes with proofreading a copy of her Hong Kong University Press book
PETER HO-SUN CHAN'S HE'S A WOMAN, SHE'S A MAN

It is her analysis on the 1994 starring Leslie Cheung and Anita Yuen.
http://www.hkupress.org/Common/Reader/Products/ShowProduct.jsp?Pid=1&Version=0&Cid=16&Charset=iso-8859-1&page=-1&key=9789622099708

I actually got a credit in the acknowledgment section :D

Plus, my mentor, Martha P. Nochimson did a book on the gangster genre and she did an entire chapter on Hong Kong Triad films
DYING TO BELONG: GANGSTER MOVIES IN HOLLYWOOD AND HONG KONG
http://www.amazon.com/Dying-Belong-Gangster-Movies-Hollywood/dp/1405163704/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1272925471&sr=8-3

I got a credit in the acknowledgment section because she said I introduced her to Hong Kong cinema :)
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Re: Books in English on Hong Kong film

Postby Masterofoneinchpunch » Tue Sep 28, 2010 10:37 pm

Wong Kar-wai (BFI World Directors) (2005) by Stephen Teo

Imprimis: this book covers Wong's work up until 2046 including his commercial shorts; however, Teo was not able to view Wong's "The Hand" in the Eros release – a very important film in Wong’s oeuvre in my opinion. Of course My Blueberry Nights is also not included since it came after this book. The format is simple with an introductory chapter, one chapter per film and an ending chapter which covers his commercial shorts and concludes his thoughts about the summation of Wong Kar-wai’s cinema.

This is a nice monograph on Wong's work. Where Stephen Teo (author of Hong Kong Cinema: The Extra Dimensions) is strongest and most sublime in this book is associating particular literary influences on Wong's oeuvre. Teo's sums this up in the conclusion of the book where he states: “...Wong paradoxically shows a love of literature that seems far greater than his love of cinema. Literature feeds Wong's faculty of image-making. He is inspired by writers such as Puig and Cortaza, Osamu Dazai and Liu Yichang to express non-linear, illogical narratives, using the word in this own distinctive manner to combine thought and image, and heighten our senses of perception.”

Teo does a nice job in explaining some of the cinematic influences on Wong and other movie associations with Wong and his contemporaries. The pre and post handover anxiety and malaise theories and metaphors are covered nicely per film. But like all artists it is important to read a variety of sources on an auteur to understand more about him. I have read David Bordwell’s Planet Hong Kong which has a chapter on “avant pop” cinema in HK which most of that chapter is about Wong and it also contains an essay dedicated to Chungking Express. However, there are several more books dedicated to Wong which I will delve into later such as Wong Kar-wai (Contemporary Film Directors) by Peter Brunette and books from The New Hong Kong Cinema Series that deal with specific films.

Where I do have some issues is the overuse of generic terms such as “post-modern” which completely loses context as the years pass. He also perpetuates the theory of Wong as a box-office disaster and suffering artist fighting his way against the HK production companies and disinterested masses with such statements as “…his films are box-office poison in Hong Kong…”, “Hong Kong itself has proved resistant to his films, as judged on the whole by their consistently poor domestic box-office earnings”, and “It represents Wong’s faculty for survival even after the box-office fiasco of Days of Being Wild.” This is just not true and I tend to agree with Tony Rayns who has stated on the Criterion commentary for Chungking Express that Wong is not a major flop, just only marginally successful in Hong Kong. If you look at the local box office for Wong’s films you find most ranging from 7 to 9 HK million dollars (not counting the 11 HK million for As Tears Go By). While he hasn’t had the success of a Wong Jing or Johnnie To’s most successful films he also has not had the financial flops that To has had (PTU made about 3 HK million). In an interesting coincidence Stephen Teo would later pen Director in Action: Johnnie To and the Hong Kong Action Film which I feel is a must buy for fans of To.

However, there is so much information that is worth reading and returning to that I believe this as a must purchase for fans of Wong and/or scholars interested in his cinema. Teo sometimes overdoes Wong’s position as underdog and he goes into fanboy territory with such statements as “…simply by committing himself in a way that his contemporaries cannot match.” and has an annoying habit of using obscure comparisons that sometimes seem a bit forced and a bit Dennis Milleresque like “…kind that incorporates a Menippean discourse…” but his enthusiasm for the subject makes up for these faults.
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Re: Books in English on Hong Kong film

Postby Masterofoneinchpunch » Tue Nov 30, 2010 12:57 am

Sex and Zen & A Bullet In The Head (2006) by Stefan Hammond & Mike Wilkins; forward by Jackie Chan

Now that there has been a lot of solid books on Hong Kong cinema since the release of this book like David Bordwell's Planet Hong Kong (2000; which will be going online in an updated version soon) and Stephen Teo's Hong Kong Cinema: The Extra Dimensions (1997) (and many more) I think this book is of more interest to the hard core aficionado of Hong Kong film than individuals looking for a detailed discussion of this former colonies cinema or looking to start their journey. The primary focus of this book was on movies that were "less than ten years old" (1986-1996; though several older films are mentioned) that "encompass a wide range of settings, situations, and subject matter." This does lead to some discussion of films I was not that familiar with and that have not been written about a lot in other books.

You understand the essence of the book with the statement in the Introduction "over-intellectualizing film denies the primary purpose of moviegoing: entertainment." While they somewhat forgo this when reviewing several of the Wong Kar-wai films, you are not going to find anything from Ann Hui in here or even important dramatic fare like Center Stage (1992) or the Cantonese realist cinema from the 1950s. You are going to find action, cat-III, supernatural thrillers, HK film noir, martial arts and more action movies described here. You will also find specific chapters on John Woo, Tsui Hark, Jackie Chan and Ringo Lam. There is also one chapter that combines Yuen Biao, Sammo Hung and Yuen Wah together.

The biggest complaint I have read on this book is the fact that many of the summaries are plot recaps that overdo discussing possible spoiler. While the reviews do offer more discussion than that and are penned by several contributing writers including Andy Klein, Chuck Stephens and others besides the two authors, the spoiler aspect can be upsetting if you do not know it is coming (the capsule reviews tend to have less of this). The best approach to reading those is to either avoid the last couple of paragraphs on the films you have not seen and want to see or just avoid reading that review all together. But there are some other bigger issues though including one of my biggest personal vexations -- bad information.

The Shaw Brothers chapter is definitely outdated though part of that has to due with the fact Celestial bought out library and licensed them for release in 2002. But there is a lot of data that is just plain wrong like Chang Cheh is not the director of Human Lanterns that would be Sun Chung. TVB was not founded in the 80s (it was in 1967) and Run Run Shaw has his hands in that business at least since the 70s (on the official Shaw site he states he launched TVB in 1973 which contradicts what is written on TVBs site). The Shaw Brothers did not make "thousands" of films either (the real amount appears to be near a thousand). Jimmy Wang Yu does not play in Dirty Ho, which would be Wong Yu. I do feel this chapter can and should be skipped.

I did have fun with the book though. The authors and contributing writers do show a love for the cinema and it does show in their writing though sometimes they come up with hilarious statements like "There are two kinds of people in this world: those who like movies in which the with takes her head off and throws it at you, and those who don't." and "ain't no Chuck Norris-style hairy-backed sleepwalking." The hex error segments, which are hilariously corrupted translated English from various films, are particularly fun and had me reminiscing of ones I have read in the past. And there is an introduction from Jackie Chan. If the book is inexpensive, you have seen at least some of the films in the book and you are not expecting "over-intellectualizing" sagacious content then pick this up. Otherwise, well there are many other books out there to choose from.

There are two different paperback releases of this book (1996, 1997). I did my review from the 1996 version. I am not sure if there are any differences between the two.
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Re: Books in English on Hong Kong film

Postby Brian Thibodeau » Wed Dec 01, 2010 3:55 am

For it's time, this book was invaluable, and it sounds like much of the the content still holds up despite the various errors that have become apparent. I'm not surprised the Shaw section has inaccuracies. I'm sure just about any book on the subject prior to the release of those DVDs was bound to have it's fair share, not to mention the fact that the internet fanbase of the era probably gave birth to many of the errors that did exist in print at the time. I guess they can be forgiven considering what was extant to work with then, but I'm less forgiving that a lot of those same people were likely responsible--directly or indirectly--for the voluminous boo-boos we still find in the database here to this day!

Masterofoneinchpunch wrote:This does lead to some discussion of films I was not that familiar with and that have not been written about a lot in other books.


Masterofoneinchpunch wrote:You are going to find action, cat-III, supernatural thrillers, HK film noir, martial arts and more action movies described here. You will also find specific chapters on John Woo, Tsui Hark, Jackie Chan and Ringo Lam. There is also one chapter that combines Yuen Biao, Sammo Hung and Yuen Wah together.


These two comments remind me of why the book ran hot and cold for me. I think even by 1996, when I bought my copy, I was already craving information about the stuff I was unfamiliar with, the stuff that wasn't made by Woo or Tsui or Lam and didn't star Jackie or Jet or Chow Yun-fat, which turned out to be stuff a lot of people in the west (including the usual online suspects) weren't discussing very much because, frankly, they seemed to be gorging themselves on everything made by Woo and Tsui and Lam and Jackie and Jet and Chow, and further recommending mostly those pictures to newcomers. Collectively speaking it was (mostly) those filmmakers who repped the first wave of Asian talent to transition to the Hollywood system when it was the in-vogue thing to do, so that certainly made the book seem well-timed: after all, DOUBLE TEAM, MAXIMUM RISK and KNOCKOFF were just around the corner! :lol:

But it was those tantalizing whiffs of lesser-known stuff in this book that really had me salivating, especially because it was apparent that the writers had actually seen them, unlike, say, a tool like Thomas Weisser. Prior to (and for some time after) Sex & Zen's publication, I lived in a small city with no Chinatown, ordering what few Hong Kong movies I could afford via overpriced, brand new import laserdiscs from the Canadian distributor of Tai Seng products - basically John Woo, Tsui Hark, Ringo Lam, Jackie Chan movies and the like, because that's all anyone seemed to write about back then!

My visits to Toronto's Chinatown at the time -- I thought there was only one! -- were not the most rewarding in terms of purchases, though that was largely due to my own inexperience as somewhat of a yokel, rather than a lack of supply; laserdiscs and VHS tapes were everywhere, mostly for rent (so no good to an out-of-towner). But because I didn't live there and my visits were short, it was difficult to muster up the courage to ask questions and make deals. So I'd often thumb through racks of rental LDs and tapes but usually go home empty handed, or trying to remember titles in my head for future detective work. Hammond's book certainly helped in that regard, as did a Toronto's pal's fortuitous discovery of the then sparkly new Pacific Mall (in '97) at which point I truly discovered just how many movies definitely weren't in any of the books available up to that point (well, maybe Weisser's, but that wasn't a real book). Most of these were on VCD, but many of those VCDs had clearly been on the market for quite some time and yet so little was written about them, especially if they didn't fit squarely into the genres you listed from Hammond's book. What an eye-opener that period was for me, not to mention a wallet-drainer.

To this day, I still find VCDs and even some DVDs of movies for which I can't find a single word written about them either in print or online. Sad, really, but at least they're still out there for us to hunt down. :D

Interesting news about Bordwell's book going online in an updated version. I wasn't aware of that. I really need to visit his site more often! 8)
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Re: Books in English on Hong Kong film

Postby Masterofoneinchpunch » Wed Dec 01, 2010 7:39 pm

Brian Thibodeau wrote: ...To this day, I still find VCDs and even some DVDs of movies for which I can't find a single word written about them either in print or online. Sad, really, but at least they're still out there for us to hunt down. :D

Interesting news about Bordwell's book going online in an updated version. I wasn't aware of that. I really need to visit his site more often! 8)


Thanks for the comments. Always appreciate some after awhile has been spent on a review :D.

I'll also add that many times you find only a small amount of printed material on a movie as well even when you have a vast amount of books. I think that is why many times I end up going to Paul Fonoroff's At the Hong Kong Movies: 600 Reviews from 1988 Till the Handover and John Charles's Hong Kong Filmography, but still there is still not enough info. Plus many of the books tend to go over the same films (and sometimes not even with more detail).

Though it still is somewhat hilarious (in the wrong way) that there is not enough decent books (especially English) on Shaw Brothers, Johnnie To (saw THE ODD ONE DIES last night; To stated he ended up directing this BTW), Sammo Hung and a variety of other topics. Notice that Wong Kar-wai is not one of them. I like him but I truly feel that scholars sometimes miss some golden opportunities (heck even Criterion avoids Chinese films like the plague; not one Mainland film and only one Taiwanese eek).

The benefit of this is that sometimes my reviews are the most information I have seen on a film in books and on the web. I just wish I wrote more (I've been trying to write more of late and will continue this).

On a side note, finally saw what Fonoroff looked like when I saw his interview in the Center Stage DVD (I will have notes on this shortly). He has the strangest goofy smile I have ever seen.

Bordwell said it will possibly come out this month. Guess who is going to get his name in that book? :D
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Re: Books in English on Hong Kong film

Postby Brian Thibodeau » Wed Dec 01, 2010 10:40 pm

Masterofoneinchpunch wrote:I like him but I truly feel that scholars sometimes miss some golden opportunities (heck even Criterion avoids Chinese films like the plague; not one Mainland film and only one Taiwanese eek).


Boy, this could be a thread all on its own, and maybe it should be! That's my top beef about Criterion - the lack of Chinese representation, first and foremost the cinema of Hong Kong, and to a lesser extant the cinema of China. In fairness, a LOT of Hong Kong/Chinese cinema has been officially released in R1, but I'd really like to see a few more Hong Kong titles in the Criterion Collection just to lend the city's film industry the legitimacy it so richly deserves. Not to say other companies haven't done boffo DVDs, but let's face it, Criterion is just that extra dollop of icing on the cake. And were I employed in the decision making process at Criterion, the Hong Kong titles chosen for representation would not be from the likes of Wong Kar-wai, much as I swim in the luxuriousness of his work. Nor is he overly influential on the local industry itself, or its filmmakers. I've seen more spoofs of his work (usually in the form of gags or wink-wink references) than I've seen homages or works by underlings. He's just not representative of the Hong Kong cinema experience, even though many of his films are inextricably bound to the city. Few of his pictures were ever big money-makers there, and the locals always seemed more enamoured with the wild 'n woolly populist comedies, action pictures and treacly romances cranked out by the dozen year after year, many of which have since come to be regarded as "important". Thus, to me, Hong Kong's most influential and important pictures can be found amongst the populist fare for which the city should be best known, and giving such pictures the Criterion treatment is just as crucial as giving it to the various arthouse navel-gazers (great ones, mind you) that already make up much of their catalog. If they can give such treatment to the populist drive-in works of Richard and Alex Gordon in the MONSTERS & MADMEN set, of all things, then producing thoughtful packages for populist Hong Kong movies should be a no-brainer. And by thoughtful, I mean looking to someone OTHER than Bey Logan for assistance. Imagine a David Bordwell commentary . . .


Masterofoneinchpunch wrote:On a side note, finally saw what Fonoroff looked like when I saw his interview in the Center Stage DVD (I will have notes on this shortly). He has the strangest goofy smile I have ever seen.


Paul Fonoroff was actually conscripted into small-ish appearances in a few Hong Kong movies, and in each and every one of them that I've seen, that rictus grin made me think his characters were supposed to be gay, or perhaps gay caricatures. I know that's a crass assessment, especially if it turns out he's actually gay, but he tends to stick out in his cameos, and not necessarily in a good way. Of course, I'm sure he's only in those pictures in the first place because of his local celebrity/novelty value. I've often complained about the generally poor quality of non-Asian performers who turn up in Asian movies. I realize local audiences probably don't notice, or didn't notice (or care!) back when Hong Kong cinema was dominant at the domestic box office, but international audiences, where these films often reach via the diasporas, film fests, DVD, etc., very much do.


Masterofoneinchpunch wrote:Bordwell said it will possibly come out this month. Guess who is going to get his name in that book? :D


Actually, I can't guess. But if it's you, congrats! (and do give us some details)
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Re: Books in English on Hong Kong film

Postby Masterofoneinchpunch » Thu Dec 02, 2010 1:16 am

I know we have complained about it in many a threads, but dang it Criterion Hong Kong is more than Wong Kar-wai and John Woo. Part of the problem is that just do not view HK films on the same level as Japanese. But then again they are very Western Euro, US and Japanese centric first. For the longest while they were ignoring Spanish features. I think part of it has to do with the fact that professors still tend to ignore much of HK's output.

From a finance standpoint it does not necessarily make sense as well. I think they could have easily made money with several HK titles (yes including The Killer and Hard-boiled though I have no idea if they rebid for this and lost to Dragon Dynasty).

Criterion has usually ignored me on my letters to them in dealing with HK/Mainland films (They do not ignore my emails in dealing with technical matters though :D). Though they did at one point tell me another Edward Yang film was going to be released (I have a good idea on which one it is as well "A Brighter Summer Day") and of course no HK films were on the horizon. I thought when Johnnie To did a top 10 Criterion for them that was going to change, but alas no.

Bordwell appreciated me giving him the errata list for his book. While he had already fixed several things like dealing with Casino Raiders :D, I did find some things for him. He responded with a nice email.

The MONSTERS & MADMEN was originally going to be part of another label from Criterion. That idea was scrapped. The copyright dates for the interviews I believe are a few years before when it came out :D. I read this, though I'm not a 100 percent on this.
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Re: Books in English on Hong Kong film

Postby Brian Thibodeau » Thu Dec 02, 2010 4:05 am

Masterofoneinchpunch wrote:I know we have complained about it in many a threads, but dang it Criterion Hong Kong is more than Wong Kar-wai and John Woo. Part of the problem is that just do not view HK films on the same level as Japanese. But then again they are very Western Euro, US and Japanese centric first. For the longest while they were ignoring Spanish features. I think part of it has to do with the fact that professors still tend to ignore much of HK's output.

From a finance standpoint it does not necessarily make sense as well. I think they could have easily made money with several HK titles (yes including The Killer and Hard-boiled though I have no idea if they rebid for this and lost to Dragon Dynasty).


It's a bit frustrating that, outside of obvious scholars like Bordwell and company (and thank god for them!), and a handful of tireless cheerleaders on the web, most of the discourse you find online in regards to Hong Kong cinema does indeed give off the impression that it's viewed somewhere in the same neighbourhood as old B-movies and grindhouse fare -- all about the exploitable elements: horror, gun fights, kung-fu, Cat. III, and whatever other genre tags have come to all but define it to the west for the past 30+ years. And I find that leaves a lot of stuff out of the picture, at least on our shores. It's our own fault, I suppose. We latched onto the "kung fu craze" in the early 70's, and the concept of "Hong Kong cinema" hasn't expanded much beyond that ever since, and it's probably easier to pimp popular movies with those ingredients to each new generation of fans than try and entice them to seek out a wider cross section of the city's films. People ride me about it all the time, but this is where I think Bey Logan was as much a problem for the form as he was a champion of it, particularly as he deliberately positioned/marketed himself as a borderline celebrity and expert, but was in reality more of a promoter of the cinema at it's most "generic" and base. In some ways, Stefan Hammond sits in this camp as well. None of this should ignore the fact that their books were absolutely essential in their day. It's just that because those books were extremely well written, edited, designed and marketed, and were both timely and popular, the vision of Hong Kong cinema put forth in them not only reinforced 20-year old concepts about what was "important" or useful in Hong Kong cinema, but also ensured it would endure for many years to come, even as the city was producing an incredibly diverse amount of entertainment for the home crowds, just as it is now.

Criterion also released POLICE STORY 3 on Laserdisc back in the day (shorter Weinstein bastardization, with additional footage included as "deleted scenes"), but that always smacked to me of being one of those dicey studio deals that begat Criterion a title that would move more units than their usual fare, a la ARMAGEDDON or THE ROCK. As good as POLICE STORY 3 is, it's importance to both local Hong Kong cinema and international cinema in general is handily trumped by the original POLICE STORY, which was the real game-changer of its day.



Masterofoneinchpunch wrote:Criterion has usually ignored me on my letters to them in dealing with HK/Mainland films (They do not ignore my emails in dealing with technical matters though :D). Though they did at one point tell me another Edward Yang film was going to be released (I have a good idea on which one it is as well "A Brighter Summer Day") and of course no HK films were on the horizon. I thought when Johnnie To did a top 10 Criterion for them that was going to change, but alas no.


Good to know they're at least responsive to their followers on some level, though. Do Hong Kong films even get discussed much at their forums (or the other one you're on?), or do you tend to be the biggest cheerleader? I really should sign up over there. Getting kinda tired of some of the other forums I've perused over the last few years anyways, this one excepted of course! :D



Masterofoneinchpunch wrote:Bordwell appreciated me giving him the errata list for his book. While he had already fixed several things like dealing with Casino Raiders :D, I did find some things for him. He responded with a nice email.


That's pretty swell of him! I know there were a few little boo-boos in his book, but I'm guessing you noted more of them. I think the errors in any Hong Kong film book pale in comparison to those in Thomas Weisser's guide, but somehow I doubt even a friendly email pointing out the ones I've discovered so far would make much of a difference. Sadly, I hit a few bookstores during a recent scrounge around downtown Toronto and wouldn't you know Weisser's book was the only Asian cinema book on the shelves at three of them. It has the staying/returning power of a Leonard Maltin guide, albeit one written by a brain-damaged, opportunistic con man version of Leonard Maltin with no qualifications to undertake such a project. I have no great love of John Charles' book (especially as it's useless post-1997), but it's definitely a superior work, and damned if I wouldn't rather see it on the shelves instead of Asian Cult Cinema. I guess Weisser or his publisher was wise enough to know that a lightweight paperback volume would have staying power no matter how awful its contents were, versus a hefty hardcover beast with an fugly cover and an grossly inflated price (which Charles' book was until very recently).

I doubt he'd have the time, but it'd be cool if Bordwell could visit this site once in a while and chip in some expertise. I can't imagine he's not already signed up. :) Then again, with Bob out of the picture for what appears to be the next couple of decades, there certainly won't be anything to get this place hopping for awhile.



Masterofoneinchpunch wrote:The MONSTERS & MADMEN was originally going to be part of another label from Criterion. That idea was scrapped. The copyright dates for the interviews I believe are a few years before when it came out :D. I read this, though I'm not a 100 percent on this.


I have a really vague recollection of the plans for that label, but that's about it. If the Gordon films were originally designated as part of it, I can only imagine what other goodies it might have presented to the world in a welcome scholarly light. :(
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Re: Books in English on Hong Kong film

Postby Masterofoneinchpunch » Fri Dec 03, 2010 1:14 am

And when scholars finally give HK more a try you do find some nice results like Jonathan Rosenbaum considering CENTER STAGE one of his top 100 films as well as he highly thinks (of course) on Wong Kar-wai and luckily some other films like COMRADES ALMOST A LOVE STORY (which I have not seen yet). He does tend to eschew action, but all can't be perfect.

I have the same thing happen to me (and you can imagine I talk quite a bit about film to people). I lend a lot of films so sometimes that does help in increasing other cinematic acumen -- though most of the time it does cater towards their taste and I do try to stretch their tastes. I've been quite successful in getting my Dad into more non-American cinema. He has really enjoyed the Ozu and Kurosawa films I have lent him and heck he has liked the Michael Hui films (especially THE PRIVATE EYES) as well as several of the Lau Kar-leung martial art films. I will not lend too much violent fare since he doesn't like that (unless it is a war film :D).

I need to get that Criterion laserdisc of SUPERCOP don't I :D.

[quote name='Brian Thibodeau']Do Hong Kong films even get discussed much at their forums (or the other one you're on?), or do you tend to be the biggest cheerleader? I really should sign up over there.[/quote]

Well criterionforums.com is partially my forum (one of four) and yes I'm the biggest cheerleader their of HK film there as well as Johnnie To. Cal has posted a few there. I have gotten several members more into HK cinema (especially Izo). Now you will get a little discussion at both Criterionforum.org and kungfucinema.com but I have had issues with some of the members at CFORG (way too many snarks; way too much discussion on aspect ratio) and well some of the posts at KFC (though I have been posting more there and of course most of the discussion is MA though I do get frustrated with lack of in depth posts).

So if you ever have any comments with that forum remember I can do things. I'm a pretty active guy there (top poster) as well as I'm the only admin that knows SQL.

I know not to bother with Thomas Weisser.

David Bordwell does know about this site, though he still thinks Ryan Law has a lot to do with this site :D.
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