I took just one trip to the Hong Kong Film Archive
during the 2014 Hong Kong International Film Festival
(but plan to head there a few more times later in this month)
New York Chinatown (Hong Kong, 1982)
- From the Ways of the Underworld: Hong Kong Gangster Film as a Genre program
- Siu Wing, director
- Starring: Alan Tang, Melvin Wong, Maria Chung
Hong Kong cinema is under-appreciated in its home territory. It's bad enough that the film companies have not thought to preserve a lot of products, with the results including there now reportedly being only one original print copy left of He's a Woman, She's a Man (a film made only 20 years ago, lest we forget) and no complete print copy left of New York Chinatown (though, fortunately, enough of it left to merit a rare screening at the Hong Kong Film Archive) -- but, also, that not that many people bothered to turn up to view the rare 1980s Hong Kong film that looked to have been shot entirely on location in New York.
Sure, this explosive crime actioner in which gang war breaks out in New York's Chinatown is no cinematic masterpiece -- but it stars a suave English- as well as Cantonese-speaking Alan Tang (who a webmistress of a website devoted to him labelled "The First Prince of Hong Kong") and is a pretty entertaining watch, especially for those people who've been to the Big Apple and/or are fans of that American city!
Tang portrays an honorable dai lo (which literally translates as "older brother" but in crime films, means Triad boss) whose followers include a Columbia University graduate student (and yes, New York Chinatown has scenes shot on the campus of that Ivy League university!) and a chubby cook who marries a Cantonese-speaking buxom American blonde who clearly loves him very much. Going up against him -- and bidding to wrest control of all of New York (more specifically, Manhattan) Chinatown -- is a rival played by Canadian Chinese actor Melvin Wong who's as mean, greedy and ruthless as Tang's character is generous and compassionate.
The distinct feeling I got while viewing this movie was that New York was chosen as its setting because it allowed the filmmakers to go crazy on the gun front and not just restrict themselves to fights involving bare hands and, at most, knives and choppers. Put another way: there is plenty of gunfire in this movie, including on the very streets of Chinatown that are explicitly identified -- ones like Canal Street, Mott Street and the Bowery -- though there's also a pretty cool martial arts fight that takes place between a kung fu sifu and a crooked New York cop.
On the subject of location IDs: there's unintended humor in a typo turning Jersey City into Versey City more than once in the film whose English subtitles also are the worst I've seen in years. It also almost goes without saying that the movie's plot is basic, the depictions of many of the characters are, to put it mildly, politically incorrect as well as show off some of the worst aspects of humanity, and that I'll be nice and ascribe some of the editing weaknesses to sections of the film having gone missing.
Nonetheless, there's a vibrant energy and playfulness in New York Chinatown that many contemporary Hong Kong crime and action films could benefit from. Watching this 1982 movie, I got to thinking that Hong Kong cinema may have matured in the intervening decades -- but it also shows its age by often missing that youthful verve that made so many of its earlier films fun.
My rating for this film (viewing experience): 7.5