Monday, April 1, 2013

Two 1976 Hong Kong movies viewed at the 2013 Hong Kong International Film Festival

The Hong Kong Film Archive was where I took in two 

I'm listening to my favorite Leslie Cheung CD as I write this blog entry, fully aware that today is the 10th anniversary of his tragic death. But even while I look forward to viewing another two movies playing as part of the Hong Kong International Film Festival this Easter Monday, I also am looking back to yesterday's viewings of two movies at the Hong Kong Film Archive -- and writing about them on this blog entry:-

The Himalayan (Hong Kong, 1976) 
- Huang Feng, director
- Starring Angela Mao, Chen Sing, Dorian Tan Tao Liang, Kwan Shan, etc.

Described as "an overlooked gem" in the HKIFF program, this 1976 kung fu movie was shot in location in Nepal and Tibet, and purports to highlight the martial art of the Mi School (which, in a prologue, is described as having similarities -- in terms of such as it being associated with a religious order -- as Shaolin kung fu).  And its opening scenes most definitely go out to emphasize the exotic (to the eyes of Hong Kong kungfu filmmakers and fans) as well as scenic settings and cultures of the Himalayas.
But before too long, it becomes apparent that The Himalayan's main cast members are all actually Hong Kong movie industry regulars -- though interestingly, the film's language is Mandarin, and  Angela Mao was born in Taiwan, Chen Sing was born in Thailand and Dorian Tan is of ethnic Chinese ancestry but born in South Korea -- and that it's story is a pretty standard kung fu movie one involving a deceitful arch villain, a gullible father looking for a groom for his only daughter and male successor to his empire, and a young woman who turns out to be more formidable than her father had realised.

Its running time of 112 minutes makes The Himalayan lengthier than many other kung fu films -- and if only that time had been put to better use.  Alternatively put: I'd love for its first billed female star to have had more screen time than the man playing the chief villain (Chen Sing).  I'd also prefer for her to be shown fighting more than, say, being put on a wooden board that's set afloat to her intended death!  Of course Angela Mao does eventually get to unleash her kung fu (including a character played by the movie's action director, Sammo Hung).  But boy, did the audience have to wait quite a bit for that to happen!

My rating for this film: 5.5

A Queen's Ransom (Hong Kong, 1976)
- From The Cinematic Matrix of Golden Harvest program
- Ting Shan Hsi, director
- Starring Jimmy Wang Yu, George Lazenby, Tanny Tien Ni, O Chun Hung, Charles Heung, Angela Mao, Dean Shek, Bolo Yeung, etc.
Look at the cast list of this Golden Harvest production released in the same year as The Himalayan and you'll get some idea of how bizarre this (then) contemporary actioner is.  And it's not just George Lazenby (and a number of other Western actors) in it but also the very idea that martial arts movie stars like Jimmy Wang Yu and Angela Mao could share the screen with sexpot actress Tanny Tien Ni, comic actor Dean Shek and (in)famous film boss Charles Heung!
Add to this a far-fetched as well as complicated storyline involving the visit of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip to Hong Kong (a real life happening which supplied lots of footage that is surreal in its own way), a plan to assassinate the British monarch, Cambodian refugees (headed by a princess -- played by Angela Mao!) who brought plenty of gold with them to Hong Kong and a Hong Kong police force stretched thin by Queen Elizabeth II's visit along with wave upon waves of refugee arrivals (including Mainland Chinese as well as those from further afield) -- and you've got the makings of... a pretty cheesy but actually pretty fun film to view!
Let me be clear: in no way is A Queen's Ransom a good film by any measure -- not least because the majority of its budget looks to have been spent on securing the cast that it has.  But there are some interesting plot twists and some (often inadvertent) guffaw-inducing moments such as a clearly dying man being offered a cigarette and a senior police officer whose love of sugar cubes is so extreme you'd think it'd be fatal!  All in all, I enjoyed this viewing movie quite a bit -- and, to judge from their reactions, so did the rest of the audience for the film yesterday afternoon (although it's also true enough that I could have done without there being so many bare breasts in this movie as there were; something I'd say about all three of the Golden Harvest productions I've viewed at this year's HKIFF, in fact!).

My rating for this film: 7.5 (based on the enjoyment factor rather than a measurement of  actual film quality!)


The Fragrant Harbour said...

Do you get sad or relieved when the HIKFF is over?

Anonymous said...

Watched "A Queen's Ransom" myself recently (it's available from Amazon on DVD), and concur completely. As nearly-incoherent messes with legendarily-bad subtitles go, it's a lot of fun. (And a great watch for anybody nostalgic for early 70s Hong Kong -- lots of now-barely-recognizable locations, particularly around TST.

YTSL said...

Hi "The Fragrant Harbour" --

Now that's really over (with my having viewed my final film of the fest earlier this evening), I have to say I feel a little sad... and hardly over-satiated despite my having ended up viewing a total of 15 movies at the fest itself (and a few more fest films elsewhere!)!

Hi Anonymous --

Good point re the locations. I was telling a friend yesterday that it's hard even to recognize some of the hills in the movie -- not least because since the 1970s, areas near some hills have gotten so built up and some other hills have been completely leveled! :O