Thursday, June 9, 2011

Dangerous Encounter -- 1st Kind and post-screening Tsui Hark Q&A

Tsui Hark listens and waits to reply while
Broadway Cinematheque's Gary Mak asks a question

Dangerous Encounter -- 1st Kind (Hong Kong, 1980)
- Tsui Hark, director
- Starring Lin Chen Chi, Lo Lieh, Albert Au, Lung Tin Sang and Paul Che

Say Le French May and one generally thinks of a French performing arts show (like The Anamoly Company's Anatomy-Anomaly "new circus" production) or art exhibition (such as Hong Kong-based French photographer Matthieu Paley's An Ethereal World) taking place in the month of May. But this year, the cultural festival includes a gem-filled film noir retrospective program of Hong Kong as well as French films that has been partly curated by Johnnie To; the absolutely "must see" of which for me undoubtedly is the director's cut version of Tsui Hark's still officially-banned-from-commercial-screening-in-Hong Kong's third movie.

In a Q&A session after the screening I attended late last Saturday, Tsui Hark talked of his shock upon being told by the authorities that his admittedly ultra violent film revolving around four angry, anarchic youth had been banned on the grounds that it might encourage copycat behavior; and this particularly because his work had been inspired by a then contemporary news report of angry, anarchic youth having made and let off bombs.

More than 30 years on, it strikes me as rather absurd to think that this nihilistic offering would encourage people to emulate its anti-heroes; this not least since (*spoiler warning*) the majority of them meet such violent ends (*end spoiler*). At the same time, however, there is no hiding the intensity of the disconnect with the larger society felt by the three schoolboys (Albert Au, Lung Tin Sang and Paul Che) and recently fired female blue collar worker (Lin Chen Chi) who doesn't look that much different in age from them who are the focus of this emotional -- and yes, political -- effort that begins with a fairly harmless prank but quickly and maniacally (d)evolves into so much more.

Three schoolmates -- two living in cramped public housing, one the scion of a well-to-do family -- get together to create a small bomb and set it off inside a cinema seemingly just for the hell of it. Their exultant celebration of the success of their scheme is prematurely cut short by the realization that a young woman can ID them as the responsible parties for the incident, and that she wants to effectively blackmail them into carrying out acts even they might think is beyond the pale.

But trouble truly only comes after they have a violent encounter with an American mercenary and get their hands on a rich stash of Japanese bank drafts that he had with him -- and that the American mercenary's merciless boss badly wants back. And lest it not be clear: nothing, not even the fact that the young woman's brother (Lo Lieh) is a tough police detective, is going to stand in their way in their bid to retrieve their valuables...

At the conclusion of the film's screening, an enthusiastic round of applause broke out in the cinema hall. And if the work's director hadn't been clear that Dangerous Encounter -- 1st Kind had won many fans in that screening's audience, I'm sure he was left with little doubt of this fact by the end of the one hour Q&A he generously stayed to do -- a session that was filled with more than one voice telling him in no uncertain terms how they preferred this very sincerely-felt Hong Kong movie to his more recent works (including multiple Hong Kong Film Awards winner Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame which, incidentally, did not make my top ten Hong Kong films of 2010 list).


For the record: the Q&A session was conducted mainly in Cantonese, with Gary Mak translating both questions and answers into English. However, two people, including myself, asked questions in English -- and Tsui Hark directly responded to them in English that is far more perfect than one might expect of the maker of a film with such infamously fractured English subtitles as Peking Opera Blues.

Re the two questions I asked: the first was whether he would ever make a Hong Kong movie again (like Dangerous Encounter: First Kind clearly is and such as Detective Dee... and All About Women patently are not). Like he did all evening, Tsui Hark didn't decline to answer or anything of the sort. Instead, after telling me "That's a very good question!", he confessed that he has asked himself precisely that -- and proceeded to explain in some detail that this was due to "the market" having changed and funding for films being far harder to come by these days in Hong Kong than Mainland China.

The second query I had for the auteur, I told him, came from his mention of Shanghai Blues earlier in the Q&A (as a work in which he tried to be more optimistic in reaction to similar things and situations as those had inspired him to make Dangerous Encounter -- 1st Kind). More specifically, I wanted to know if a third Blues movie had ever been planned (to complete what would then have been a Blues trilogy) -- and if so, might this third Blues movie be Hong Kong Blues?

Tsui Hark openly confirmed that there indeed had been a third Blues movie planned. But around the time that he had started to think in earnest of making it, "the market" had changed. Consequently, he had had to put this plan on the backburner... And while he seemed left unsaid that some day, he might like to return to this project and bring it to fruition, in another part of the Q&A, he did talk about how he was trying to not only work in the current system and condition but, also, see what and how else he could do in down the road.

All in all, it was very interesting to hear Tsui Hark talk at such length -- and to find that he seems to have that mix of idealism (still) and pragmatism with regards to film making that I first encountered in conversations with Peter Chan Ho San. Almost needless to say, I came away from this experience with a renewed sense of respect for him -- and in no small part because he never condescended to the audience and, instead, treated them very much as people with a fellow deep love and care for Hong Kong cinema.

My rating for the film: 9

My rating for that evening's film experience: suffice to say that I consider it to be among the highlights of my more than four years in Hong Kong thus far! :)


A hero never dies said...

Great post YTSL, I would have loved to see the screening and the Q&A would have been the icing on the cake! Excellent questions too, did anyone else ask anything interesting?

sbk said...

Hi ytsl,

Great post of what sounds like a terrific and very special event. How fortunate you are to live in Hong Kong!!

YTSL said...

Hi "A hero never dies" --

Thanks and there were indeed lots of interesting questions -- the Q&A lasted an hour, after all! :)

The first question pertained as to where the version of the film that had been screened had come from -- as it's apparently more complete than most others. Tsui Hark's answer was to say, "yeah, I wonder too!" and state that this screening was the first time he had viewed "Dangerous Encounter..." himself in 30 years!

Whereupon Gary Mak (the Broadway Cinematheque director) talked about how there had been a print in France and they had used that and spliced together others bits of the film they had come across to make this one. So, really, it was quite the special screening indeed. :)

Hi sbk --

Thanks for reading this admittedly lengthy post and enjoying doing so. And yes, occasions like that really do remind me how very fortunate I am to live in Hong Kong. :)

Kingwho? said...

Wow! Amazing, YTSL! How special! Like A Hero Never Dies said, excellent questions. Tsui Hark is at the NYAFF this year and I hope I get to attend a Q&A with him as well. I also hope that the Q&A is as well done as the one you attended. Great post and....lucky you! =)

YTSL said...

Hi Kingwho? --

Very special indeed. Something to add: viewed the film on the same evening as I went to the candlelight vigil in Victoria Park -- so, as I told a friend, it was a truly rebellious evening.

I would like to think that a lot of the people in the cinema that evening also had been to Victoria Park earlier in the evening. At the very least, some of the comments during the Q&A showed people's sympathy to the rebels of June 4th, 1989 -- and that truly make the event all the more special for it.

ewaffle said...

A delightful evening and the kind of thing that one can have only in a world city like Hong Kong--even if culture and commerce have an uneasy relationship it is still there and Tsui Hark has no difficulty in saying that only the lack of money keeps him from extending his work from earlier.

Sounds like you had a great time. And I fully agree with your review of "Shanghai Blues". The first sentence sums up my feelings perfectly.

eliza bennet said...

Great post YTSL and thank you so much for sharing.

It must have been and interesting adn entertaining evening. I wish I were there too! :)

YTSL said...

Hi ewaffle --

Re Hong Kong being a place where culture and commerce have an uneasy relationship: well... I think it works in people's favor with regards to such as "High" culture -- because Hong Kong is the kind of place where it is not so prestigous and as a result, people go to classical music concerts and such not to be seen but to really focus on the performance.

And I wish I could take credit for that "Shanghai Blues" review but it's actually written by Brian. :)

Hi "eliza bennet" --

Thanks for reading and yeah, I think you'd have enjoyed the evening too. :)

rapfred said...

Thanks for directing me to this superb post, Yvonne. Haven't seen DANGEROUS ENCOUNTER in many a moon; now I'm itching to revisit it.

Blessed you are to be residing in Hong Kong.

Please let me know when GHOSTLY VIXEN gets the same royal treatment, followed by a Q & A with Natalis Chan. I will be winging my way to Victoria Harbour at the speed of light!

YTSL said...

Hi rapfred --

Welcome at long last to my blog -- but don't hold your breath for me to make any "Ghostly Vixen" and Nat Chan announcements any time soon! ;D

Re the Tsui Hark film: Do you have a video copy of "Dangerous Encounter"? Wonder what you'd make of the director's cut I got to see on a big screen.