Hong Kong Movies FAQ

version 3.42

by Neil Koch

Originally uploaded: October 25, 2001

Last updated: October 4, 2010


TABLE OF CONTENTS

1. Introduction

1a. Why this FAQ was created
1b. About the author/contact info
1c. Legal stuff
1d. Thanks
1e. Latest revisions

2. Nomenclature

2a. Why are the names "backwards"?
2b. Why do these Chinese people have "English" names?
2c. How come some people are known by multiple names?
2d. Why did Michelle Yeoh change her name from Michelle Khan?
2e. What's the deal with "weird" names like Fruit Chan?
2f. How come Ekin Cheng is called Dior Cheng or Noodle Cheng?
2g. Who are the "Five Deadly Venoms"/"Venom Clan"/"Poison Clan"?
2h. Who are the "Yuen Clan"/"Yuen Brothers"/"Seven Little Fortunes"?
2i. Who are the "three brothers"?
2j. Who are the "two Tonys"?
2k. How come some characters have the same name as the actor playing them?

3. Where to buy, rent, or steal Hong Kong movies

3a. Local (Chinatown) shops
3b. Big chain stores
3c. Internet sites
3d. Mail order
3e. Gray market
3f. Tape trading
3g. Pirating/bootlegging
3h. Soundtracks
3i. Television shows
3j. Books/magazines

4. What should I watch?

4a. Genres
4b. Actors
4c. Actresses
4d. Directors

5. Hong Kong movie rating system

5a. Explanation of ratings
5b. Category IV/pornography
5c. Are Category III/IV movies legal to watch?
5d. How many films are produced in each rating?
5e. How are the ratings determined?
5f. How are the ratings enforced?
5g. When was the rating system started?
5h. Why was the rating system started?
5i. Has the takeover of Hong Kong by the Chinese affected what movies come out?

6. Subtitles/dubbing

6a. Why are they so bad?
6b. Why is there both Chinese and English subtitles on the screen?
6c. Who does the subtitles/dubbing?
6d. Have any famous actors done dubbing work for Hong Kong movies?
6e. I got a Chinese version of a movie and it still seems to be dubbed, what's going on?
6f. How come people are still speaking English in the Chinese version of a movie?
6g. How come men are sometimes called "her/she" and women are called "him/he"?

7. DVDs

7a. Can I get Hong Kong movies on DVD?
7b. Will they work on my player?
7c. How is the picture/sound quality?
7d. How much do they cost?
7e. Where can I buy them?
7f. How can I tell which kind of subtitles are on a DVD or which picture format it is?
7g. Which company makes the best DVDs?
7h. Are there any extras on them?
7i. Why is the sound so bad on some HK-made DVDs?

8. VCDs

8a. Why would you want to buy/view movies on VCD versus VHS/DVD?
8b. What is the picture/sound quality like?
8c. How come they come on two CDs?
8d. How can I play VCDs?
8e. Are there any regions or other lock-out methods? Are VCDs copy protected?
8f. I can't figure out how to play VCDs on my computer.
8g. My computer freezes when I try to play VCDs.
8h. Can I get American movies on VCD?
8i. There are two languages playing when I watch the movie, how do I select one or the other?
8j. The picture looks cropped/squeezed, is there any way to fix this?
8k. I hear people talking about "artifacting" and "pixellation"; what do they mean?
8l. How can I tell if a VCD is a bootleg?
8m. Why should I care if the VCD I'm buying is a bootleg?
8n. Is there a site that offers reviews of VCDs?
8o. Are VCDs subtitled?
8p. How can I tell if a VCD is subtitled?
8q. Can you turn the subtitles on or off?
8r. Are there any extras on VCDs?
8s. Where can I buy VCDs? Is there any difference in prices between shops?
8t. Who makes VCDs? Is one company better than another?
8u. I've heard about censored VCDs, is this a common problem?
8v. How can I make my own VCDs?
8w. Why are VCDs so popular in Asia?

9. Internet resources

9a. History
9b. Biographies
9c. Reviews
9d. Multimedia
9e. Discussion
9f. DVD/VCD reviews
9g. Movie information (cast/crew lists, running times, etc.)
9h. Miscellaneous
9i. What was the first Hong Kong movie website?
9j. How many Hong Kong movie websites are there?
9k. What happened to the old "Stanford database"?
9l. Why is the Hong Kong Movie Database (HKMDB) down/offline a lot?
9k. Do any Hong Kong stars interact with their fans online?

10. Other resources

10a. Books
10b. Magazines/fanzines
10c. Documentaries

11. History, facts, and figures

11a. What is the most popular Hong Kong movie?
11b. How many theatres are there in Hong Kong?
11c. What is the average budget for a movie?
11d. What movie had the highest budget?
11e. How much do the top stars get paid?
11f. What was the first Hong Kong movie?
11g. How did Bruce Lee die?
11h. How did Brandon Lee die?
11i. Were there really Shaolin fighting monks?
11j. Was there really a Wong Fei-Hung?
11k. How much is a Hong Kong dollar worth?
11l. How many movies does Hong Kong produce per year?
11m. How long does it take to make a movie in Hong Kong?
11n. What is considered a box office success in Hong Kong?
11o. What are the major studios/video distributors in Hong Kong?
11p. What are the top-grossing movies in Hong Kong film history?
11q. How much do crew members make?

12. People and companies that tick the fanboys off

12a. Tai Seng
12b. Thomas Weisser/"Asian Cult Cinema"
12c. Quentin Tarantino
12d. Miramax/Dimension
12e. Xenon/Arena
12f. Godfrey Ho/Joseph Lai
12g. Paul Fonoroff
12h. Ric Meyers

13. Distribution/versions of films

13a. My copy of this film is shorter than it should be. Is it cut?
13b. Why do different countries have different versions of movies?
13c. Why are some movies split up on two tapes/discs?
13d. How come the US versions of Hong Kong movies don't have a Chinese language track on them?
13e. What's up with all those "Wu-Tang" movies from Xenon?
13f. What movies are part of the "In the Line of Duty" series?
13g. What movies are part of the "Young and Dangerous" series?
13h. Why do you hear "bleeps" on some HK movies?

14. Miscellaneous tidbits

14a. What about Triad (gangster) involvement in the Hong Kong movie industry?
14b. So what is an "action director" or "fight choreographer" anyway?
14c. Is there an uncut version of "Bullet in the Head"?
14d. What's the name of that song from "Full Contact"?
14e. Has there been any video games made from Hong Kong movies?
14f. Whatever happened to that old "Kung-Fu Theatre" show?
14g. What movies do the Wu-Tang Clan sample from?
14h. Is there something like the Oscars for Hong Kong movies?
14i. So what does "old school kung fu" really mean?
14j. How do you play those drinking games that happen in movies?
14k. Is there a sequel to Jet Li's "Kung Fu Cult Master"?
14l. What movie is that bit with people flying around doing kung fu while having sex from?
14m. What's the deal with Aunt Yee in the "Once Upon a Time in China" movies? Is she really Wong Fei-Hung's aunt?
14n. What do the profiles in "Bio-Zombie" say?
14o. What about laserdiscs (LDs)?
14p. What is "wire fu"/"computer fu" and when did it start? 14q. Why were British versions of kung fu movies censored?

15. Glossary

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1. Introduction

1a. Why this FAQ was created

I am merely a "film geek" who got tired of seeing the same questions come up again and again and not having any place to point the curious towards. I figured if crappy bands and lousy TV shows get their own FAQs, why not Hong Kong movies? Basically, this is meant to be a starting guide for newbies, reading material for the chronically bored, or flamebait for the disgruntled.This is not intended to be the "end all, be all" authority for Hong Kong movies and should not be treated as such.

1b. About the author/contact info

This FAQ was written by Neil Koch, a guy who holds no "real" credentials besides a film studies degree. I run a Hong Kong film website at http://www.hkfilm.net and can be contacted via e-mail at gweilo845@hotmail.com.

picture

The author at Bruce and Brandon Lee's gravesite in Seattle, Washington.

1c. Legal stuff

You know the drill, don't take credit for what's written here. Feel free to use any portion of it for your site, paper, etc., but please give proper credit (i.e., a link back to this page).

1d. Thanks

This is basically just a short list of the people that have helped:

Brian Naas, Ryan Law, Tim Youngs, Todd Harbour, John Charles, Leigh Melton, Ol' Battlemonkey, MC4, Bey Logan, Marla Hill, Paul Kazee, Darryl Pestilence, Carl Morano, Linn Haynes, Mike Leeder, Brian Camp, Sebastian Tse, Lars Erik Holmquist, Yves Gendron, Bruce Long, Man-Fai Wong, YTSL, Sanney Leung, Jared King, Joy Al-Sofi, Jeff Nelson, Juha Palotie

If you feel I have forgotten you, just send me an e-mail and I will correct the problem.

1e. Latest revisions

10/4/2010 -- edited some information in section 12.

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2. Nomenclature

2a. Why are the names "backwards"?

In Chinese culture, the family (last) name is given before the given (first name). So, if you were referring to Chow Yun-Fat, you would call him "Mr. Chow" and not "Mr. Yun-Fat". In order to allieviate confusion, some writers capitialize the last name (i.e., CHOW Yun-Fat).

2b. Why do these Chinese people have "English" names?

British influence during the occupation of Hong Kong led many Hong Kong Chinese to adopt an English name, which was usually given during the child's time in middle (elementary) school and would be a "ordinary" name like James. Sometimes it is a matter of faith -- people who convert to Christianity sometimes choose an English name such as Peter or Mary. Some actors adopt English names as they become more popular overseas (i.e., Lau Ching-Wan is credited as "Sean Lau" in the Canadian movie "Lunch With Charles").

2c. How come some people are known by multiple names?

There are three main reasons for this:

First, some actors simply adopt stage names at different points in their careers. For instance, Jackie Chan was known as "Sing Lung" for a time early in his career when producers were trying to make him into the next Bruce Lee ("Sing Lung" is Cantonese for "became a dragon", a play on Bruce Lee's nickname).

Secondly, an actor might go by their "full" Chinese name at one point and then later use their English name or a nickname. For example, Sammo Hung went by his Chinese name of Hung Kam-Bo early on.

Thirdly, some actors have their names changed on international prints of films, such as Moon Lee and Yukari Oshima's names being changed to "Mona Lee" and "Cynthia Luster" for the European version of "Angel".

It should be noted that some multiple names are more of a matter of semantics than anything else. Take the Chinese name of "Ng", which can also be written in English as "Woo" or "Wu" ("Ng" is the Cantonese form of that which is pronounced in Mandarin as "Woo" or "Wu").

2d. Why did Michelle Yeoh change her name from Michelle Khan?

YTSL sent in this info:

Here's the story that I've managed to piece together from several sources (including people who know Michelle, e.g., were school-mates of hers or are friends of her parents):

Michelle Yeoh is a Malaysian national who is an ethnic Hokkien Chinese. Yeoh Choo Kheng is her Hokkien name, which gets transl(iter)ated into Cantonese as Yeung Chi King. Michelle is not a name that she was born with or used as a child but, instead, seems to have been one that she either picked up as a teenager or upon going and starting a career in Hong Kong. In any case, for some reason, she got credited as Michelle Kheng -- with it seeming to have been incorrectly assumed that her last name was also her surname -- in such as the Hong Kong release of "Yes Madam!". I get the feeling that it was from this that the European distributors of her (early) films decided to go for the more easily remembered "Michelle Khan".

As to how she went back to being Michelle Yeoh: Michelle has told the story in more than one interview that one of her uncles, who had seen mention of her by this name, asked whether she had married a Pakistani or Mongol (since they are the ones who tend to have Khan as a surname -- think of Imran Khan, the famous Pakistani cricket captain, or Genghis Khan). Wanting to stop any rumors of her having re-married (this incident having taken place after her divorce from Dickson Poon), she decided once and for all to stick with Michelle Yeoh as her screen name. Interestingly, these days in her Ipoh hometown, people who know her now do refer to her Michelle (rather than, say, Choo, as used to be the case).

picture

Michelle Yeoh in "Yes Madam", one of her early hits.

2e. What's the deal with "weird" names like Fruit Chan?

Some of the younger people in Hong Kong have adopted untraditional English names to set themselves apart. As for the names in films, sometimes a literal translation is used or the nickname (as in Triad movies) just might not translate well.

2f. How come Ekin Cheng is called Dior Cheng or Noodle Cheng?

Cheng Yee-Kin's first English name that he adopted was "Dior". Cheng is the second son, or "yi gor" in his family, and when his little sister would try to call him that, it would come out as "dior" (some rumors have suggested that "Dior" was a name given to Cheng by his hairdresser). "Noodle" was his nickname for a time (Cheng's Chinese name sounds like a type of noodle). "Ekin" is an English approximation of his Chinese name Yee-Kin. To confuse matters further, Cheng has seemingly adopted another English name, "Eric", for US releases of some of his movies.

picture

Ekin Cheng and his trademark long flowing locks.

2g. Who are the "Five Deadly Venoms"/"Venom Clan"/"Poison Clan"?

This refers to the group of actors who worked on the film "The Five Deadly Venoms" and would go on to work in similar roles with director Chang Cheh. They are: Lu Feng ("Centipede"), Wei Pai ("Snake"), Sun Chien ("Scorpion"), Kuo Chui/Philip Kwok ("Lizard"), and Lo Meng ("Toad").

The term "Poison Clan" also sometimes refers to the supporting actors that appeared in Chang Cheh's movies, like Alexander Fu Sheng or Ti Lung.

2h. Who are the "Yuen Clan"/"Yuen Brothers"/"Seven Little Fortunes"?

These are actually two different groups, even though they are sometimes confused together. The "Yuen Brothers" refer to the sons of Simon Yuen (best known in the west for playing a crazy sifu [teacher] in many movies like "Drunken Master"), who became some of the most talented people in the realm of martial arts. They are: Yuen Woo-Ping, Yuen Cheng-Yan, Sunny Yuen, Brandy Yuen, and Yuen Yat-Chok.

The term "Yuen Clan" includes any two or more of the above, and can also include any regular members of the stunt team who are not blood-related to the Yuen brothers.

These two groups are sometimes confused with the "Seven Little Fortunes", the top students of Yu Jim Yuen's Chinese Opera Academy, who often took the surname of "Yuen" in honor of their teacher. Members include: Yuen Wah, Corey Yuen Kwai, Yuen Bun, Yuen Tak, Yuen Biao, Sammo Hung (Yuen Long Zhu), and Jackie Chan (Yuen Lung Chan).

(thanks to Paul Kazee for correcting the info)

2i. Who are the "three brothers"?

Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, and Yuen Biao -- so named because they trained at the same school and appeared in several popular films together, such as "Wheels on Meals".

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Yuen Biao, Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung (left to right) in "Dragons Forever", the last film all of the "three brothers" appeared in together.

2j. Who are the "two Tonys"?

Two popular actors who are sometimes mistaken for one another -- Tony Leung Ka-Fai and Tony Leung Chiu-Wai. In regards to their age and size, Ka-Fai is sometimes called "Big Tony," with Chiu-Wai being called "Little Tony". Chiu-Wai is probably the Tony most familiar to westerners, having appeared in several popular movies such as "Hard Boiled", but some people might know Ka-Fai from his work in the film adaptation of "The Lover".

picturepicture

Tony Leung Ka-Fai (left) and Tony Leung Chiu-Wai.

There are also another couple of Tony Leungs in Hong Kong movies -- an action director named Tony Leung Siu-Hung and a low-budget director named Tony Leung Hung-Wah.

2m. How come some characters have the same name as the actor playing them?

This is sometimes done so that actors can be easily identified by international audiences. Many productions have actors who don't speak the same dialect/language, and so they use the actor's real first name so that they can tell when they are being spoken to and react accordingly.

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3. Where to buy, rent, or steal Hong Kong movies

3a. Local (Chinatown) shops

Many major metropolitan areas have some kind of Asian ("Chinatown") area in them, and in them there are shops that sell Hong Kong movies. It should be noted that not all stores that sell movies are traditional "video stores"; even places like groceries, markets and hair salons sell or rent videos. Most proprietors of these shops speak some English, but may not be fluent, so your best bet may be to print out the names of movies or actors in Chinese, which can be found online at http://www.hkmdb.com/db/search/ or in the book "At Full Speed". Even if you can't find anything about the Chinese title, don't worry too much. Most Hong Kong imports have the title, stars and a plot synopsis in English on them. Despite what you may have seen in the movies, most shop owners do not haggle and have the prices marked on the product.

If you do not have any sort of Chinatown in your area, many smaller "mom-and-pop" stores usually carry a decent selection of import movies for rent. However, they usually only have one copy of a film, which can get worn out after a while, and their rental prices may be higher than other stores since they have less volume.

For a listing of Hong Kong video shops around the world, try this link: http://www.webcomm.com.hk/ryan/hkmovie/info/faq/world.html.

3b. Big chain stores

With the growing popularity of martial arts films, many larger stores are beginning to stock Hong Kong films as well. While most just stock the standard selection of Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee movies, chains like Tower, Best Buy and Suncoast/Sam Goody stock films from other genres as well. While this is a easy method to get movies, the prices are often very high (anywhere from $20-50 for a DVD) because of the import markup.

As for rental, Blockbuster and Hollywood have started to stock a limited selection of import DVDs alongside the usual dubbed US versions of movies.

3c. Internet sites

As internet commerce has grown, so have the number of sites dedicated to selling Hong Kong movies. They are basically divided into two categories: US and HK based. US based sites (like http://www.amazon.com) offer a limited selection of movies, usually at fairly high prices (over $20 for a DVD). Hong Kong sites (like http://www.dvdshelf.com, which claims that they are the "World's Largest Online Shop of Asian DVD/VCD/CD") have a bigger selection and oftentimes much lower prices (sometimes as little as $5 for a DVD), but the shipping prices can be confusing and the transit can result in a long waiting period and damaged goods (especially with Mei Ah DVDs, which are packaged in cheaper cases). There are also some sites like http://www.pokerindustries.com that are based in the US, but directly import the movies so the prices are lower.

Which one is the best? It depends on what you want. If you want the movies right away, then a US based site would be the way to go. For those who want to save money, then Hong Kong sites are your best bet. Both methods have recieved mixed reviews and opinions. For instance, Bruce Long notes about http://www.bluelaser.com (a US site): "I've been able to get stuff there that I haven't seen elsewhere, but their prices are very high."

Here is a link to a page that breaks down the shipping prices of various Hong Kong sites: http://www.dvdtalk.com/forum/showthread.php?s=&threadid=131538

Some of the bigger internet sites include:
http://www.yesasia.com
http://www.pokerindustries.com
http://www.hkflix.com/
http://secure.taiseng.com/taisengMain/
http://www.dddhouse.com
www.bluelaser.com

Lastly, if you don't want to buy movies, there are several sites that let you rent movies, such as www.netflix.com. And mention should be made of auction sites like www.ebay.com, where you can sometimes find rare items, but there is always a caveat, as there are people who try to sell damaged goods or bootlegs.

3d. Mail order

With the rise of the internet, mail order services have fallen by the wayside in terms of popularity. And, quite honestly, they seem like kind of a pain compared with the ease of internet shopping. However, there are some times when a mail order house might be preferable (i.e., you don't have a credit card or you just don't trust the internet) and there are some titles (mostly very old kung fu movies or alternate versions of movies) that are unavailable anywhere else. Here are a few shops:

Xenon Home Video
211 Arizona Ave.
Santa Monica, CA 90401
(800) 829-1913

World Video & Supply, Inc.
150 Executive Park Blvd., Suite 1600
San Francisco, CA 94134
(415) 468-6218

White Dragon Video
46 Tweedrock Crescent, West Hill
Ontario, M1E 415 Canada

Pan-Asia Video, Inc.
2630 Bayshore Blvd.
San Francisco, CA 94134
(415) 333-8888

3e. Gray market

This term refers to businesses that claim their films are "public domain" and as such they can copy and distribute them as they wish.

While this is some cases true (such as workprints or other things never formally released), most of the titles offered are actually bad quality bootlegs. They usually charge some sort of "membership fee" (which they claim gives you a "license" to obtain the tapes) on top of their outrageous charges for the movies themselves ($25 for a low-quality VHS tape with no cover). Most people would tell you to stay away from places like this -- even if you get that "hard to find" movie, chances are that the quality will be so bad it'll be unwatchable.

Probably the best known of these businesses is Video Search of Miami (http://www.vsom.com), which is run by "Asian Cult Cinema" author Tom Weisser -- and one of the reasons people don't like him very much (see 12b. below). Another major site is Beijing Video (www.beijingvideo.com), which specializes in old school kung fu tapes.

3f. Tape trading

This is the process in which two people trade copies of movies between each other. While no one is making money in the transaction, it is still technically piracy since copies of films are being distributed. Not suprisingly, there are also many reports of "bad traders" -- people who do not fufill their end of the bargain. This method of obtaining movies has become less popular over the past few years since more HK film fans are able to obtain higher quality DVDs and VHS at lower prices, but the activity is still alive, especially with the rise of high-speed internet connections, which allows traders to directly download the movies to their computers.

3g. Pirating/bootlegging

When in doubt, steal it. Piracy has long been a huge problem for Hong Kong film studios (read http://www.hkfilm.net/vcd.txt for more info) as films are available for sale often the day a movie premieres. Traditionally, the pirated copies were sold in booths in the low-rent districts of Hong Kong, or in the back of video shops in the States, but with the growth of the internet, pirates have begun to start selling their wares there as well. Obviously, this FAQ is not going to list any sites, but if you really want to find them, pirate copies are readily available. However, many of these have atrocious quality (some are actually shot inside the theatre) and if you like Hong Kong movies at all, you should do the right thing and support the industry.

3h. Soundtracks

Most Asian video shops (both on and offline) sell albums or soundtracks as well. Unlike movies, there is usually no (or very little) English on the cover, so if you don't know specifically what you are looking for, it can be a bit tough.

3i. Television shows

Unlike America, where TV is regarded as "low-class" by many movie actors, in Hong Kong many movie stars also appear on TV.

Many Asian shops also sell tapes of these series. However, they are almost never subtitled, and since Hong Kong TV series are done for limited runs (similar to British TV), many times the whole series (not just individual episodes) are sold, which can result in an expensive package.

3j. Books/magazines

Many shops (both on and offline) sell Hong Kong film-related books and magazines. Your best bet is to start from the bigger places (like www.amazon.com or Barnes & Noble) and work your way towards more independent shops. Remember that many bookstores and newsstands can place special orders for you, often for free.

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4. What should I watch?

This is one of the most-asked questions in the newsgroups. With around a hundred titles released each year, many featuring actors or directors unfamiliar to a newbie, finding a good group of movies to start with can seem like a daunting task.

To that end, I have limited the selections here somewhat -- ten selections per category, and three films per person or genre. There are, of course, a good number of films not mentioned here that are certainly worth your time, but these should provide a good start. I have also listed alternate titles/names where applicable.

4a. Genres

Name: Old-school (traditional) kung fu
Background: Probably the movies most of us got our start with. Features traditional settings and stories of revenge.
Movies: "The Five Deadly Venoms", "36th Chamber of Shaolin" (aka "Shaolin Master Killer"), "Crippled Avengers" (aka "Return of the Five Deadly Venoms", "Crippled Avengers")

Name: Wu xia (swordplay)
Background: Often adapted from novels and set in ancient times, these films feature a high degree of fantasy elements.
Movies: "Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain", "Swordsman II", "The Bride with White Hair"

Name: Heroic bloodshed (cops and robbers action/drama)
Background: A term coined by fanzine editor Rick Baker, and popularized by movies from directors like John Woo.
Movies: "A Better Tomorrow", "My Heart is That Eternal Rose", "Full Contact"

Name: Milkyway
Background: Milkyway is a studio known for its' quirky crime movies.
Movies: "The Mission", "A Hero Never Dies", "Running Out of Time"

Name: Action
Background: Action movies are the bread-and-butter of many film industries, and HK is no exception.
Movies: "Black Mask", "Police Story" (aka "Jackie Chan's Police Force"), "High Risk" (aka "Meltdown")

Name: Girls-with-guns
Background: Action with a feminine slant, these movies were very popular in the late 1980's-early 1990's.
Movies: "Angel" (aka "Midnight Angels", "Iron Angels"), "The Heroic Trio", "Enter the Eagles" (aka "And Now You Die")

Name: Martial arts
Background: Guys (and gals) beating the crap out of each other -- what fun!
Movies: "Dragons Forever", "Pedicab Driver", "Once Upon a Time in China"

Name: Wire-fu
Background: Films featuring exaggerated martial arts action accomplished through the use of wires and other tricks.
Movies: "Tai-Chi Master" (aka "Twin Warriors"), "Iron Monkey", "Duel to the Death"

Name: Exploitation
Background: Blood and boobs -- and lots of them.
Movies: "The Untold Story", "Naked Killer", "Taxi Hunter"

Name: Comedy
Background: Yes, Hong Kong movies can make you laugh, and not just from the bad subtitles.
Movies: "Bio-Zombie", "Aces Go Places", "Shaolin Soccer"

4b. Actors

Name: Jackie Chan (aka Jacky Chan, Chan Sing Lung)
Background: The clown prince of kung fu, known for doing very dangerous stunts.
Movies: "Drunken Master II" (aka "The Legend of Drunken Master"), "Police Story", "Armour of God" (aka "Operation Condor 2: The Armor of the Gods")

Name: Jet Li (aka Jet Lee, Li Lian Jie)
Background: A wushu champion by the time he was 12, and a movie star by 19, Jet is one of the world's biggest action stars after breaking into the American market with "Lethal Weapon 4".
Movies: "Once Upon a Time in China", "High Risk" (aka "Meltdown"), "The New Legend of Shaolin"

Name: Stephen Chow (aka Steven Chow, Stephen Chiau, Chow Sing-Chi)
Background: Hong Kong's reigning box office champ, Chow's "moy len tau" (nonsense comedy) might take some time to get used to.
Movies: "Shaolin Soccer", "The God of Cookery", "The King of Comedy"

Name: Sammo Hung (aka Samo Hung, Hung Kam-Bo)
Background: One of the top action directors in the business, Sammo is also formidable in front of the camera; his large size hides his quick moves.
Movies: "Pedicab Driver", "Dragons Forever", "Encounters of the Spooky Kind"

Name: Simon Yam (aka Yam Tat-Wah)
Background: One of Hong Kong's most versatile actors, who has played everything from a smooth gigolo to a deranged killer.
Movies: "Bullet in the Head", "Dr. Lamb", "Full Contact"

Name: Chow Yun-Fat (aka Adam Chow, Donald Chow)
Background: Even though he is best known for his action movies, Chow has dabbled in many genres as well and created an impressive body of work.
Movies: "The Killer", "All About Ah-Long", "The Story of Woo Viet" (aka "God of Killers")

Name: Anthony Wong (aka Wong Chau-Sang)
Background: Regarded as a rebel in Hong Kong; made waves by saying that he was going to take his Hong Kong Film Award into the toilet with him.
Movies: "The Untold Story", "Taxi Hunter", "Ebola Syndrome"

Name: Danny Lee (aka Lee Sau Yin, Li Hsiu Hsein)
Background: An actor that has played a cop so many times that he is called "Lee Sir" ("Officer Lee") by police officers.
Movies: "The Killer", "Organized Crime and Triad Bureau", "The Law With Two Phases"

Name: Francis Ng (aka Ng Chun-Yu)
Background: Has become known for playing creepy, stylized villains ala Christopher Walken.
Movies: "Young and Dangerous", "Once Upon a Time in Triad Society", "2000 A.D."

Name: Andy Lau (aka Lau Tak-Wah)
Background: An extremely popular singer and actor, Lau has been one of Hong Kong's most prolific actors since the mid-1980's.
Movies: "Saviour of the Soul", "Fulltime Killer", "Running Out of Time"

Name: Lau Ching-Wan (aka Sean Lau)
Background: Despite his unconventional looks, Lau is one of the leading men in HK, working in multiple genres.
Movies: "Big Bullet", "Lifeline", "A Hero Never Dies"

Name: Jordan Chan (aka Chan Siu-Chun)
Background: One of the best of Hong Kong's young actors and also a popular singer.
Movies: "Those Were the Days", "Comeuppance", "Bio-Zombie"

4c. Actresses

Name: Angela Mao Ying
Background: The queen of old-school kung fu movies.
Movies: "When Taekwando Strikes", "Lady Whirlwind", "Dance of Death"

Name: Brigitte Lin (aka Lin Ching-Hsia, Venus Lin)
Background: Likened many times to Greta Garbo, Lin left the HK film industry at the height of her popularity.
Movies: "Swordsman II", "Peking Opera Blues", "Dragon Inn"

Name: Amy Yip (aka Yip Ji Mei)
Background: Called "Miss Giant Boobs" for obvious reasons in exploitation films; has also done some serious dramatic work.
Movies: "Sex and Zen", "To Be Number One", "The Blue Jean Monster"

Name: Maggie Cheung (aka Cheung Man-Yuk)
Background: Cheung is cute as a button and also regarded as one of Hong Kong's best actresses.
Movies: "In the Mood for Love", "Centre Stage", "The Heroic Trio"

Name: Anita Mui (aka Mui Yim-Fong)
Background: Sometimes called the "Madonna of Asia" because of her popular songs; fortunately, she is a much better actress than the "material girl".
Movies: "The Heroic Trio", "Drunken Master II" (aka "The Legend of Drunken Master"), "Rouge"

Name: Michelle Yeoh (aka Michelle Khan, Yeoh Choo-Kheng)
Background: This former Miss Malaysia has become one of the world's biggest action stars -- with no martial arts training.
Movies: "Police Story 3: Supercop" (aka "Supercop"), "Yes! Madam" (aka "In the Line of Duty 2"), "The Heroic Trio"

Name: Chingmy Yau (aka Yau Suk-Ching)
Background: A former beauty contest winner who went from "the girl next door" to "the girl kicking your ass".
Movies: "I'm Your Birthday Cake", "City Hunter", "Naked Killer"

Name: Hsu Chi (aka Shu Kei, Shu Qi)
Background: Hsu has managed to move from softcore pornography to becoming a legitimate movie star; known for a manic acting style, which puts off some people.
Movies: "Portland Street Blues", "Viva Erotica", "Gorgeous"

Name: Yukari Oshima (aka Cynthia Luster)
Background: A hard-hitting Japanese import who puts many of her male counterparts to shame.
Movies: "Angel Terminators II", "Angel" (aka "Midnight Angels"), "The Story of Ricky" (aka "Riki-Oh")

Name: Moon Lee (aka Mona Lee, Lee Choi Fung)
Background: Her cute looks aside, Lee is one of the most stunning action heroines.
Movies: "Mr. Vampire", "Angel" (aka "Midnight Angels"), "Kickboxer's Tears"

Name: Sandra Ng (aka Ng Kwun-Yu)
Background: Ng has transformed from an "ugly duckling" to one of Hong Kong's most sought after leading ladies.
Movies: "Portland Street Blues", "God of Gamblers III: Back to Shanghai", "Jiang Hu: The Triad Zone"

Name: Diana Pang Dan
Background: Hong Kong's current reigning sexpot, Pang Dan's "mystical breats" have set many a heart a-flutter.
Movies: "The Saint of Gamblers", "The Imp", "Hong Kong Pie"

4d. Directors

Name: John Woo (aka Ng Yue Sam, John Wu)
Background: Known for kickstarting the "heroic bloodshed" genre with his ultraviolent and melodramatic movies.
Movies: "The Killer", "Bullet in the Head", "Hard Boiled"

Name: Ringo Lam (aka Lam Ling-Tung)
Background: Lam combines a gritty feel of the streets along with classic Hollywood-style techniques.
Movies: "City on Fire", "Full Alert", "Full Contact"

Name: Kirk Wong (aka Che-Kirk Wong, Wong Chi Keung)
Background: Wong's style creates an almost documentary-like feel to his films.
Movies: "Organized Crime and Triad Bureau", "Crime Story", "The Club"

Name: Wong Jing (aka Wang Jing, Wong Jang)
Background: One of the most prolific producer/directors, Wong is known for his "everything but the kitchen sink" style.
Movies: "High Risk" (aka "Meltdown"), "Last Hero in China" (aka "Deadly China Hero"), "Whatever You Want"

Name: Herman Yau (aka Yau Lai To)
Background: A director that got his start in exploitation/horror, but has moved on to more dramatic works.
Movies: "The Untold Story", "Taxi Hunter", "From the Queen to the Chief Executive"

Name: Yuen Woo-Ping (aka Yuen Wo-Ping)
Background: The master of wire-fu who gained fame in the US from his work on "The Matrix".
Movies: "Iron Monkey", "Tai-Chi Master" (aka "Twin Warriors"), "Wing Chun"

Name: Wong Kar-Wai
Background: An arthouse favorite, Wong's deliberately slow-paced films are off-putting to many.
Movies: "Chungking Express", "Ashes of Time", "In the Mood for Love"

Name: Lau Ka Leung (aka Liu Chia Liang)
Background: A skilled martial artist who was one of the top old-school directors.
Movies: "36th Chamber of Shaolin", "Drunken Master II" (aka "The Legend of Drunken Master"), "8 Diagram Pole Fighter"

Name: Chang Cheh
Background: a old-school director whose themes of brotherhood, violent action, and editing techniques became the blueprints for many other action films that followed.
Movies: "The Five Deadly Venoms", "Crippled Avengers" (aka "Return of the Five Deadly Venoms"), "Heroes Two"

Name: Ann Hui (aka Hui On-Wah)
Background: One of the few female directors in Hong Kong, Hui's movies touch on themes of loss and displacement and often feature violent or fantasy backdrops.
Movies: "The Story of Woo Viet" (aka "God of Killers"), "Visible Secret", "Zodiac Killers"

Name: Johnnie To (aka Johnny To, To Kei-Fung)
Background: A director who got his start doing more conventional action movies before moving to the more stylized films he makes now.
Movies: "The Heroic Trio", "A Hero Never Dies", "The Mission"

Name: Tsui Hark
Background: Called "the Steven Spielberg of Hong Kong" for his prestigious movies which combine classic film-making techniques (in multiple genres) with underlying themes.
Movies: "Once Upon a Time in China", "Peking Opera Blues", "Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain"

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5. Hong Kong movie rating system

5a. Explanation of ratings

"Hong Kong has a film classification system under which films are classified into one of the following categories:

Category I - represented with a circle - suitable for all ages (similar to US "G"/"PG")
Category IIA - represented with a square - not suitable for children (similar to US "PG-13")
Category IIB - represented with a square - not suitable for young persons and children (similar to US "R")
Category III - represented with a triangle - for persons aged 18 or above only (similar to US "NC-17")

picturepicturepicture

The symbols of the "category" movie ratings.

While Categories I, IIA and IIB are advisory in nature, the age restriction (18 or above) for Category III films is strictly enforced. Apart from films, packagings of Category III videotapes and laserdiscs and advertising materials of Category III films must be approved by the Film Censorship Authority (FCA) before they can be published or publicly displayed."

Note: usually "category" is shortened to "Cat" or "C" (i.e., Cat3, C3).

(above information is from the Hong Kong government website, at http://www.info.gov.hk/info/filmcnsr.htm)

Some older movies have an OAT classification. Tim Youngs explains this further: "OAT stands for the Obscene Articles Tribunal, which classifies items including videos, magazines and artworks according to the Control of Obscene and Indecent Articles Ordinance. Class I items are 'neither obscene nor indecent', Class II items are 'indecent' and Class III items are 'obscene'. These shouldn't be confused with the I, IIA, IIB and III ratings under the Film Censorship Ordinance. I'm not entirely clear on all these processes, though I assume that the OAT classification can be applied to older movies that date from before the film ordinance was first enacted in 1988 rereleased on video, such as 'The Butterfly Murders'. "

5b. Category IV/pornography

There is also another unofficial rating -- Category IV or "sai chai" -- which is used by pirate dealers to designate hardcore pornography (i.e., actual penetration). Most hardcore material actually comes from Japan, because Chinese men tend to like Japanese women more in these kinds of films, since they usually have bigger busts and are more vocal during sexual scenes. The Japanese imports are most times free of the digital "fogging" (a censoring method that obscures the genitialia of the "performers") since they are usually produced directly in Hong Kong by Triads (gangsters), who often have better equipment than many "legitimate" businesses. Most, if not all, of Hong Kong-produced sai chai is done under duress using refugees who cannot pay their "snakeheads" (smugglers) and so are used by local Triads to create a quick product.

5c. Are Category III/IV movies legal to watch?

This depends on which country you are from. Other countries in the region (most notably Malaysia) heavily censor their movies, and Cat 3/4 movies are illegal there. Most western countries are fairly lax about Cat 3 movies. However, any kind of hardcore (sai chai) movies would fall under local censorship laws. Even the most tolerant countries like America have put restrictions on the kind of films one can view. Though I have not heard about any Hong Kong product being banned, certain Japanese movies have been, since they depict rape or other sexual acts deemed "obscene".

5d. How many films are produced in each rating?

"In 2000, 1,068 films were approved for public exhibition. Of these, 196 (18%) were classified as Category I, 223 (21%) as Category IIA, 420 (39%) as Category IIB and 229 (22%) as Category III."

(from the Hong Kong government website -- these numbers also include foreign films)

5e. How are the ratings determined?

"The film classification standards are kept in line with community standards by regular surveys on community views and consultation with a statutory panel of advisers comprising 252 members drawn from a wide cross-section of the community. A survey conducted between April and May 2000 indicated that there is general community support and acceptance of the existing film classification system and the existing film classification standards are generally in line with the expectations of the community.

Films intended for public exhibition have to be submitted to the Commissioner for Television and Entertainment Licensing, who is the FCA under the Ordinance, for approval. Films approved for public exhibition are then either classified or exempted from classification. As one of the measures to improve the operation of the Ordinance and make the regulatory regime as user and business friendly as possible, the Ordinance was amended on 17 June 1999 to exempt non-commercial still films (including slides), of a cultural, educational, instructional, promotional or religious nature from the classification requirement.

The Ordinance also requires that packagings of Category III videotapes and laserdiscs and advertising materials of Category III films must be submitted to the FCA for approval before publication or public display. Advertising materials of films which have not been given a classification or have a classification other than Category III may also be submitted for approval on a voluntary basis.

The decision of the FCA can be reviewed by the Board of Review (Film Censorship) which is a statutory body established under the Ordinance. It comprises nine non-official members and the Secretary for Information Technology and Broadcasting as an ex-officio member."

(from the Hong Kong government website)

5f. How are the ratings enforced?

Unlike the US, where film ratings are not regulated by the government or local authorites, the police in Hong Kong have taken a serious stance against the sale of prohibited materials to underage persons. People caught selling or showing Cat III/IV material to minors can face fines, jail time, and the government could seize their property. It is still possible for determined youths to get their hands on these movies (through sources like pirate dealers or the internet), but on a local level, things are snapped up fairly tight.

5g. When was the rating system started?

"The Film Censorship Ordinance (the Ordinance) was enacted in 1988. Since then, a three-tier film classification system has been adopted. The Ordinance was amended in November 1995 to provide, among other things, a finer classification by dividing Category II into two sub-categories, namely Category IIA and Category IIB. This is intended to give more information to movie-goers, particularly parents, in the selection of films for themselves or their children."

(from the Hong Kong government website)

5h. Why was the rating system started?

For years, some in the government thought films were corrupting the young people by dramatizing (and in some cases glorifying) the Triad lifestyle. The proverbial "straw that broke the camel's back" came after the success of "A Better Tomorrow" in 1986. The movie was a huge hit and stores around Hong Kong sold out of Ray-Bans and trenchcoats as teenagers wanted to dress like their new hero, Mark Gor (played by Chow Yun-Fat). The film industry was receptive to the idea of a ratings system since they were facing growing competiton from foreign movies and they thought producing more "adult" movies would appeal to local audiences.

5i. Has the takeover of Hong Kong by the Chinese affected what movies come out?

Yes, it has, but not to the extent which some people feared. At their peak in the early 1990's, Cat III movies accounted for about 30-35% of the total output and now the number hovers around 20%.

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6. Subtitles/dubbing

6a. Why are they so bad?

A major reason that the subtitles might seem bad is that there is not direct English translations for many Cantonese phrases, which results in the "pidgin English" (or "Chinglish") you often see. As for why things like song lyrics, signs, newspapers, etc. are not translated, oftentimes these things are not included in the script and as the subtitles are often done around the same time as shooting, there is no time (or money) to go in afterwards and translate these things, or (in the case of songs) there is simply no English equivalent that "sounds" good.

6b. Why is there both Chinese and English subtitles on the screen?

In 1963, the British-controlled Hong Kong government, in order to control anti-colonial propaganda and other "dangerous" material, made it mandatory for all films made and exhibited in Hong Kong (even foreign movies) to have both Chinese (Mandarin) and English subtitles. The movie studios were receptive to this idea because it was easier (and cheaper) to distribute films to foreign territories with the subtitles already on them, rather than paying for new subtitles or dubbing.

The Chinese/English subtitles are called "burnt-on" becuase they are placed directly on the film print, and sometimes referred to as "white-on-white" because they tend to blend in to light-colored backgrounds.

picture

A still from "Peking Opera Blues" which shows the "burnt-on" subtitles present on many versions of Hong Kong movies.

6c. Who does the subtitles/dubbing?

The subtitles and dubbing are often not done by the same company/studio that produced the movie. Rather, they are done cheaply by companies that employ small-time actors (in the case of dubbing) or, in the case of subtitling, interns (who often do not have a full grasp of English) or other low-level workers going off a preliminary version of the script. Tim Youngs relates this bit of information: "I've been under the impression people do movie subtitling for a love of movies or experience rather than finding fortune. A former subtitler told me freelance translation to provide Chinese subtitles now gets about HK$1,500 [about US$220] per film, down significantly from the mid-'90s, but I'm wondering if that's the industry-standard figure."

6d. Have any famous actors done dubbing work for Hong Kong movies?

Well, not really famous, but a few known actors have done dubbing work. Dwight Schultz ("The A-Team") did work on "Black Mask", and Danny Trejo ("Heat") voiced Sammo Hung in "The Prisoner" (the US version of "Island of Fire"). Even though foreign films in Hong Kong are almost always subtitled, there have been a few instances of HK stars dubbing voices, such as Tony Leung Chiu-Wai and Nicholas Tse doing work on "Cats & Dogs".

6e. I got a Chinese version of a movie and it still seems to be dubbed, what's going on?

You might be seeing a Mandarin version of a movie. The dominant Chinese dialect in Hong Kong is Cantonese, and that is what most movies are produced in, but Mandarin versions are sometimes made, since more people in China (and in other Asian countries) speak that dialect. Some people have asked as to how you can tell the difference. It is hard to describe in print, but Mandarin has a very pronounced accent versus Cantonese.

Another reason a Chinese version of a Hong Kong movie might be dubbed is that it was common until a few years ago to not shoot with sync sound and then dub the actors over in post-production. Often, due to hectic schedules, actors would not dub themselves. For example, it was not until 1992's "Police Story 3: Supercop" that audiences heard Jackie Chan's voice for the first time.

6f. How come people are still speaking English in the Chinese version of a movie?

As Hong Kong was once a British colony, some English words and phrases (like "hello" and "bye bye") have come into the vernacular. English was the official language of governmental and high-level police proceedings, and so English crept into the daily lingo of these areas as well (e.g, "Yes sir!" or "roger").

Also, nothing sounds worse than poorly-spoken Cantonese, so actors (like Michael Wong) who are not fluent in the dialect are often just allowed to speak English. This also makes things easier for international (English) prints, since not all of the movie has to be dubbed over.

6g. How come men are sometimes called "her/she" and women are called "him/he"?

There are no gender-specfic pronouns in Chinese. Since the subtitlers often work without seeing the movie, they must guess as to the gender of who is being talked about.

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7. DVDs

7a. Can I get Hong Kong movies on DVD?

Yes. It is becoming the preffered medium for watching HK movies at home, since the subtitles are often easier to read and the picture and sound is most times better than VHS or VCD.

7b. Will they work on my player?

Hong Kong DVDs, for the most part, are coded Region 0 (worldwide) so they should play on a US player. Some DVDs (such as "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon") are coded Region 3 (Asia) and won't play on a US player.

7c. How is the picture/sound quality?

HK DVDs are usually not as good as their US counterparts. The picture tends to be a little soft and washed-out, and many HK discs have Dolby remixes that makes the sound (especially gunfire/explosions) sound mushy. But things have been improving; many new discs have excellent picture quality and some now sport DTS sound mixes.

7d. How much do they cost?

This varies widely depending on the title and from place to place, going anywhere from US$5-50. An average cost would be around $US10-20.

7e. Where can I buy them?

There are many stores, both on and offline, that sell HK DVDs -- see section 3 above. Right now, it is probably easier to find movies on DVD rather than VHS.

7f. How can I tell which kind of subtitles are on a DVD or which picture format it is?

Usually, the languages and subtitles will be listed on the lower part of the back cover in English. If a package lists "Chinese and English" subtitles, then they are the Chinese/English burnt-on type. The package will usually also list if it is widescreen or full frame. In the case of cheaper companies (like Xenon) this information is usually not given, so it is best to assume that the DVD will be full frame/dubbed.

picture

Usually even the cheapest HK DVD will have this on the back.

7g. Which company makes the best DVDs?

For discs produced in Hong Kong, Universe discs usually offer the best picture/sound along with a decent selection of extras. In the US, Columbia has begun producing some quality DVDs which feature the original language track. However, probably the best company is Hong Kong Legends, whose discs have stellar transfers along with some nice extras. Disappointingly, HKL DVDs are Region 2 (Europe) and will not play on US DVD players.

7h. Are there any extras on them?

This depends on which company puts them out, but for the most part, HK-produced DVDs will just have a few trailers and small "talent files" (biography/filmography) for some of the people involved.

7i. Why is the sound so bad on some HK-made DVDs?

Until a few years ago, it was not common for Hong Kong movies (aside from the occasional high-profile film from someone like Jackie Chan) to be recorded in stereo becuase it simply cost too much (Dolby remixes can easily run into the tens, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars). So when older movies are put onto DVD and given "new" Dolby 5.1 soundtracks, what most companies do is just "push" the mono sound into the various channels (instead of re-recording or re-mastering them), which usually results in a "mushy" sound mix with a lot of hiss and where things like gunshots and explosions sound muffled.

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8. VCDs

8a. Why would you want to buy/view movies on VCD versus VHS/DVD?

The main reason is cost; they usually go from around 5-15 US dollars depending where you buy them and the popularity of the movie, versus about $10-20 for a VHS tape and $15-30 for a DVD. A second reason is convenience; VCDs can be played on a variety of devices (see 8d. below) and, as their cases are the size of music CDs, they are often easier to store versus the bigger VHS/DVD cases. Lastly, there are some films or specific versions that are available on VCD and nowhere else (e.g., the VCD version of "Bullet in the Head" with John Woo's original ending).

Bruce Long says: "Two more reasons why VCDs are sometimes preferable to DVDs: (1) You can always fast forward through the copyright notices, etc., which on DVDs can hold you prisoner; (2) Some DVDs have sliced off the bottom of the screen image, which originally contained the burnt-on subtitles, in order to re-do the subtitles, but the corresponding VCD version will sometimes have the original burnt-on subtitles, thus the VCD will sometimes show more of the film image than the DVD will."

8b. What is the picture/sound quality like?

This can vary widely. Good VCDs will have picture/sound equal to a good VHS transfer.

8c. How come they come on two CDs?

CD-ROMs can only store up to about an hour (70 minutes) of video. Some VCDs use different compression methods to get the video on the disc and have the movie on just one CD, but this usually results in poor quality.

8d. How can I play VCDs?

Most newer DVD players and DVD-ROM drives will play VCDs. CD-ROM drives will also allow you to play the files in conjunction with a program such as Windows Media Player (for PCs, available at http://www.microsoft.com) or Simple VCD (for Macs, available at http://cnet.download.com). Another good VCD program for PCs is Jing's MPEG Player (available at http://www.seller-club.com/~vcdcut) which allows you to do things like turn still frames into pictures, edit MPEG files, etc. There are also stand-alone players available in Asia, and if you have a PlayStation or Sega Saturn game console, there is an adapter available from some on-line stores that lets you play VCDs (try going to http://www.haggle.com for more info). Even though the Playstation 2 can play DVDs, it cannot play VCDs. The Dreamcast can play Video CDs, but it requires modifying your system (which may damage it and voids any warranty you might have) and using illegal "boot discs" to start the movie.

8e. Are there any regions or other lock-out methods? Are VCDs copy protected?

VCDs have no region codes or any sort of copy protection, which is why they're a favorite medium for pirates.

8f. I can't figure out how to play VCDs on my computer.

While in your movie viewer program (i.e., Windows Media Player/Simple VCD), use the explorer to look on your CD-ROM drive (usually the D drive on PCs). The movie files (usually contained in the "mpeg" folder) will have a .dat extension on them (in Windows, you will have to set the explorer to show all files to see them). Select the file and the movie should run normally.

8g. My computer freezes when I try to play VCDs.

This is most likely due to a conflict with your video driver and codecs (compression programs). If you are using a PC, head to http://windowsupdate.microsoft.com and see if you have the latest codecs and Direct X. You may also want to check under "My Computer" to see if you have any conflicting codecs (it's best to keep the Microsoft ones and delete any similar entires). If this does not work, your computer may be running too slow; try closing all the other programs/windows.

8h. Can I get American movies on VCD?

Yes, stores like http://www.videocds.com sell them. Some Asian video shops sell Chinese-subtitled/dubbed versions of US movies.

8i. There are two languages playing when I watch the movie, how do I select one or the other?

If you are using a DVD player, just hit the language/audio button to switch over to one of the channels. If you are using a computer, it will vary upon which program you are using. The easiest way to do it is just to go into your computer's control panel/system settings and switch the balance.

When using Windows Media Player version 6 or below, go to the "View" menu, then down to "Settings", select "MPEG Audio Decoder", finally choose "First" or "Second" under "Channel" then hit "Apply" to finish. Newer versions of WMP are not very VCD-friendly; the only way to change the sound mix is to go into the Control Panel and switch the balance. Of course, in this case, you will only have sound coming out of one speaker; I would suggest just getting a stand-alone VCD program.

8j. The picture looks cropped/squeezed, is there any way to fix this?

This is due to the different video formats of Asia (PAL) and North America (NTSC). Try using an all-region DVD player or a computer. (Hong Kong TVs have both formats, so this is not a problem for native viewers.)

8k. I hear people talking about "artifacting" and "pixellation"; what do they mean?

These are the result of poor compression methods, basically, you will see small specks/blocks of color onscreen. This is more distracting if you watch the movies on a larger screen.

picture

Screen capture from "Cold War" which shows some pixellation.

8l. How can I tell if a VCD is a bootleg?

Usually pirates will not care how their product looks. The case will probably look poor (bad color printing), the CDs will be blank and there will sometimes be a "LD" on the cover. Cheap bootlegs will use CDRs or CDRWs, which are easily recognized since they will have different colors other than silver on the bottom. Probably the best indicator is cost -- if a VCD is very cheap (less than US$5) chances are good it's a bootleg. Official VCDs usually have some kind of holographic sticker on the case as well. If you're ever not sure, the best thing to do is just ask the dealer. Usually retailers, even street vendors, are pretty up front if their product is legit or not -- and if they try to avoid the question, there's a good chance that the product is a bootleg.

8m. Why should I care if the VCD I'm buying is a bootleg?

Piracy is dealing a major blow to the HK movie industry. Movie studios and producers are having trouble coming up with money for productions because piracy cuts so much into profits (read this article at http://www.hkfilm.net/vcd.txt for more info). Besides, most bootlegs -- which are usually shot inside a theatre using a camcorder -- have atrocious quality. If you enjoy Hong Kong movies, you should do the right thing and support the industry.

8n. Is there a site that offers reviews of VCDs?

There used to be one, but after some shenanigans by an idiot who had some personal vendetta against the webmaster, it was taken down. Some HK movie sites have VCD reviews (such as this one at http://www.hkfilm.net/vcdrev.htm); you can also try the alt.asian-movies newsgroup, Mobius Home Video Forum (http://www.mvhf.net) or the Asian DVD Guide (http://www.asiandvdguide.com) if you have questions about a particular title.

8o. Are VCDs subtitled?

Most VCDs have the Chinese/English white-on-white subtitles found on most HK VHS tapes. On some movies, the subs can be small and hard to read. Some newer VCDs have the subtitles on the lower "black bar" of the widescreen picture or electronically printed onto the frame (similar to what DVDs have), which makes them easier to read.

8p. How can I tell if a VCD is subtitled?

Most will say right on the front or back cover. Of course, this does not hold true for all discs. Sometimes, a case says the movie is subtitled when it is not (as with "Swordsman II"). Usually, most reputable shops/sites will tell you up front if a VCD is subbed or not.

8q. Can you turn the subtitles on or off?

If a VCD is subtitled, you cannot turn them on or off.

8r. Are there any extras on VCDs?

While fairly rare, if you hunt around on the discs using your computer, you can sometimes find extras like trailers or wallpapers. VCDs sometimes have trailers that play automatically before the feature, and some discs have menus that will appear on certain players and you use your remote keypad to navigate the disc.

8s. Where can I buy VCDs? Is there any difference in prices between shops?

Most Asian ("Chinatown") video shops will usually have at least a few HK VCDs in stock. Online, almost all HK video stores will also have VCDs; check my links page for a listing. As for prices, Hong Kong-based sites like YesAsia (http://www.yesasia.com) have lower prices for the VCDs but often high shipping charges, while the reverse is true for US-based sites like Poker Industries (http://www.pokerindustries.com). Physical stores in the same area usually have roughly the same prices, though individual store owners may sometimes cut a deal (i.e., if you are buying lots of VCDs at once, they may knock a few bucks off the total). Street vendors have the cheapest prices, but the quality of their product is always suspect, and there's really no way to return any defective discs.

8t. Who makes VCDs? Is one company better than another?

For Hong Kong movies, most films are put out by either Mei Ah or Universe. Both company's discs are about the same quality, but Universe's releases usually have better packaging and more colorful CDs. There are also several smaller VCD manufactuers like Winson, Deltamac and China Star.

8u. I've heard about censored VCDs, is this a common problem?

Many Malyasian releases are heavily censored for violence and language. Some companies and stores import VCDs from there, and as such the movies may be censored. Discs from Hong Kong are usually not censored from the theatrical release. If you want to find out which country a VCD is from, just look at the back at which company released it.

8v. How can I make my own VCDs?

If you want to know this to pirate movies, go break your fingers. However, if you want to make backup copies of your VCDs, a VCD of trailers, etc., it is a fairly simple operation if you have the right program. Since this is not meant to be a techincal FAQ, if you are interested, you can check out VCD Help at http://www.vcdhelp.com for more info.

8w. Why are VCDs so popular in Asia?

There are several key reasons. Southeast Asia is very humid and so VCDs will hold up better than VHS tapes. Also, they cost a lot less than tapes or DVDs. Due to the ease of copying and distributing VCDs, they quickly caught on with pirates as their favorite medium, and people quickly bought up cheap VCD copies of movies (pirate versions of movies are often available the same day -- or even before -- a movie premieres). The stand-alone players themselves are quite cheap, sometimes as low as US$60. Their smaller size fits in well with many Asian residences which are often smaller than their Western counterparts (and thus there is not as much of a need for replicating the "home theatre experience"). As for why they haven't caught on in other parts of the world, it's probably due to the confusion that would arise from them being packaged so similarly to music CDs, and the fact that most households already have a VCR and/or a DVD player (unlike in many parts in Asia, where VCRs and DVD players are still very expensive).

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9. Internet resources

Note: due to the liquid state of internet sites, it would be impossible (not to mention boring and ultimately useless) to do any sort of "complete" listing. Rather, I am going to take the "top" (most popular/frequently updated) sites and list them here. If you want more sites, I have put a pretty exhaustive page up at http://www.hkfilm.net/links.htm.

9a. History

http://victorian.fortunecity.com/durer/661/history.htm - general history of Hong Kong
http://brns.com/timeline/hktime3.htm - history of Hong Kong movies
http://www.hkfilm.net/hongkong.htm - Hong Kong history/stats

9b. Biographies

http://brns.com/hkactors/pages/intro.html - short bios for dozens of actors
http://www.hkfilm.net/bios.htm - bios for about 25 people

9c. Reviews

http://brns.com/bb2.html - 1000 reviews here
http://www.hkfilm.net/movrevs.htm - 600 reviews
http://www.kowloonside.com/ - a number of reviews of recent releases
http://www.cityonfire.com - hundreds of reviews

9d. Multimedia

http://come.to/chowyunfat - some rare stuff like TV interviews
http://www.mhvf.net/forum/asian/index.shtml - moderated message board
http://www.kfccinema.com - lively message board
http://groups.google.com/groups?oi=djq&as_ugroup=alt.asian-movies - unmoderated Usenet discussion group

9f. DVD/VCD reviews

http://www.peteramartin.com/dvdhk/index.htm - DVD reviews and release dates
http://www.asiandvdguide.com/ - detailed descriptions of different versions
http://www.hkfilm.net/vcdind.htm - VCD reviews

9g. Movie information (cast/crew lists, running times, etc.)

http://www.imdb.com - Internet Movie Database, not very accurate at times
http://www.hkmdb.com/db/search/ - more accurate but sometimes offline

9h. Miscellaneous

http://www.hkmdb.com/ - The Hong Kong Movie Database, the king of all internet sites
http://www.hkentreview.com/ - news and rumors straight from HK
http://babelfish.altavista.com/ - lets you translate webpages
http://www.boxofficemojo.com - latest box office reports from all over the world
http://www.hkfilm.net/terms.htm - a listing of terms used in HK films
http://www.hkfilm.net/alttitle.htm - a listing of alternate titles for HK movies

9i. What was the first Hong Kong movie website?

For English-language sites, Lars Erik Holmquist's "Hong Kong Movies Homepage" at http://www.jyu.fi/~tjko/hkmovie/, which originated in March 1994. The original site is no longer up, but you can find it archived at http://web.archive.org/web/19961229085254/www.jyu.fi/~tjko/hkmovie/.

Lars has also put back up the final "sign-off" page for the site at http://www.viktoria.se/~leh/hkmovie/, and you can view Lars' original alt.asian-movies announcement for the site at: http://groups.google.com/groups?hl=en&threadm=md2holle.764345104%40mdstud.chalmers.se&rnum=1&prev=/ groups%3Fhl%3Den%26selm%3Dmd2holle.764345104%2540mdstud.chalmers.se.

9j. How many Hong Kong movie websites are there?

At the time of this writing (October 2001), using the keywords "Hong Kong movies" turned up 127,000 results using Lycos (http://www.lycos.com), 165,000 results using Northern Light (http://www.northernlight.com), and 291,000 results using Google (http://www.google.com). It should be noted that these results do not, for the most part, include the growing number of web sites not in English. Even though the results indicate web pages, not sites, and have content from commercial sites (ones that just sell the movies), one can fairly safely say that there are several thousand sites at the least, and the number is growing.

9k. What happened to the old "Stanford database"?

For those of you that don't know, this was a IMDB-style site where you could look up movies and actors which was up at http://egret0.stanford.edu/hk/. According to the text on the page now, "This web site has been shut down. The person who maintained it left Stanford long ago and the resources are needed for sponsored research." Ryan Law has archived part of the site at http://www.hkmdb.com/hk/, and the HKMDB itself has a similar feature at http://www.hkmdb.com/db/search/.

9l. Why is the Hong Kong Movie Database (HKMDB) down/offline a lot?

Hong Kong has notoriously crowded servers and bandwidth (what regulates the traffic on a web site) is extremely expensive. As the HKMDB is a non-profit site, sometimes the servers become overloaded and the site is forced to shut down. Sadly, every time this happens, there seems to be at least a couple of jerks who complain about this, not taking into account that the HKMDB is basically run by one guy who also has a day job.

9k. Do any Hong Kong stars interact with their fans online?

There have not been any movie stars that have posted on public forums, but some webmasters who have sites dedicated to stars report that they have recieved e-mails from their idols. Most of the industry-related people who have posted are more behind the scenes, including Bey Logan (Media Asia executive/screenwriter/author) and various American/western (i.e., English speaking) stuntmen. One reason that stars may not post is that Hong Kong film fans tend to be very rabid -- "Martial Law" producer Lee Goldberg was verbally torn to shreds by irate fans in the alt.asian-movies who didn't like the direction the show was taking.

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10. Other resources

Note: this list is not complete -- there are a lot of junk Bruce Lee biographies and the such which are not here.

10a. Books

"Asian Trash Cinema: The Book" (re-released as "Asian Cult Cinema") - Thomas Weisser
Notes: collection of reviews from Weisser's magazine, often inaccurate

"The Encyclopedia Of Martial Arts Movies" - Edited by Bill Palmer, Karen Palmer, and Ric Meyers
Notes: notoriously inaccurate, listing unmade movies

"The Essential Guide to Hong Kong Movies" - Rick Baker & Toby Russell
Notes: nothing fancy, a good book for newbies

"The Essential Guide to Hong Kong Movies vol. 2: The Best of Eastern Heroes"
Notes: compilation of reviews/articles from "Eastern Heroes" magazine

"From Bruce Lee to the Ninjas: Martial Arts Movies" - Richard Meyers, Amy Harlib, Bill & Karen Palmer
Notes: nice coffee-table book with interesting info on the early days of kung fu movies

"Hong Kong Action Cinema" - Bey Logan
Notes: excellent book for newbies, a very easy read

"Ten Thousand Bullets: The Cinematic Journey of John Woo" - Christopher Heard
Notes: by-the-numbers bio of John Woo

"Kung Fu: Cinema of Vengeance" - Verina Glaessner
Notes: well-done, but a bit inaccurate and doesn't cover anything past the early 1970's (thanks to Joy Al-Sofi for the info)

"The Martial Arts Films" - Marilyn D. Mintz
Notes: interesting but very outdated book with an academic slant

"Sex & Zen and a Bullet in the Head: The Essential Guide to Hong Kong's Mind-Boggling Movies" - Stefan Hammond
Notes: a good read, but the prose may be a little too enthusiastic for some

"Asian Pop Cinema: From Bombay to Tokyo" - Lee Server
Notes: has a small section about HK movies and an interview with John Woo

"At Full Speed: Cinema in a Borderless World" - Edited by Esther C.M. Yau
Notes: anthology of scholarly writings

"At the Hong Kong Movies: 600 Reviews From 1988 to the Takeover" - Paul Fonoroff
Notes: good information, but many people disagree with Fonoroff's views

"City on Fire: Hong Kong Cinema" - Lisa Oldham Stokes and Michael Hoover
Notes: looks at how historical events have shaped HK movies

"Hong Kong Cinema: The Extra Dimensions" - Stephen Teo
Notes: Very scholarly (no pictures) look at the history of HK movies

"I Am Jackie Chan: My Life in Action" - Jackie Chan with Jeff Yang
Notes: Chan's autobiography

"Planet Hong Kong: Popular Cinema and the Art of Entertainment" - David Bordwell
Notes: gives some of the technical and business details of how HK movies are made

"The Hong Kong Filmography 1977-1997" - John Charles
Notes: extensive collection of over 1,000 reviews

10b. Magazines/fanzines

"Screen Power"
Notes: official magazine of the UK Jackie Chan fan club

"Jade Screen"
Notes: British HK film magazine

"Eastern Heroes"
Notes: now-defunct British HK fanzine

"Video Watchdog"
Notes: covers a variety of cult films from all over the world

"Oriental Cinema"
Notes: one of the first big US fanzines about Asian movies, no longer printed

"Asian Cult Cinema"
Notes: emphasis on Japanese "pink" movies, contains lots of nudity

"Oriental Dolls"
Notes: Cheesecake magazine dedicated to femme fatales

"Oriental Pin-Up"
Notes: Softcore porno masquerading as a film magazine

"Asian Eye"
Notes: Canadian fanzine that only had a few issues

"Cineraider"
Notes: good fanzine that has moved its' contents on-line

"Impact"
Notes: UK magazine about action movies, now defunct

10c. Documentaries

"Jackie Chan: My Story"
Notes: Jackie Chan biography

"Jackie Chan: My Stunts"
Notes: looks at how Chan creates fight/stunt sequences

"Top Fighter"
Notes: a history of martial arts movies

"Top Fighter 2: Deadly China Dolls"
Notes: profiles of several top female action stars

"Cinema of Vengeance"
Notes: a history of HK action movies, emphasis on martial arts

"The Deadliest Art: The Best of the Martial Arts Films"
Notes: mostly a best-of tape, but still has some interesting info

"Death by Misadventure"
Notes: a good look at the life and death of Bruce and Brandon Lee

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11. History, facts, and figures

11a. What is the most popular Hong Kong movie?

In terms of ticket sales, Steven Chow's "Kung Fu Hustle" is the most popular locally-produced movie, taking in about HK$61 million (about US$7.9 million) during its theatrical run. However, the number one spot goes to the US-produced "Titanic", which generated HK$105 million (US$13.5 million).

11b. How many theatres are there in Hong Kong?

84 at last count. It should be noted that most of these are one or two-screen theatres, with the largest theatre having 10 screens. Ticket prices range from HK$45-60 (US$5.75-7.70). With an approximate population of 6.5 million people, there is one theatre for every 77,380 persons. This is statistically half of the number in the US, where there is one theatre for every 38,500 people.

11c. What is the average budget for a movie?

"With the exception of Jackie Chan's projects, in the mid-1990's, a blockbuster might cost up to HK$50 million (US$ 6.4 million). At the other extreme, the cheapest break-even project would cost HK$3-5 million (US$385,000-640,000). An upscale feature might run about twice that...[with adding in various costs like promotion], the typical bottom line would be HK$9-10 million (US$1.2 million). Most American studio films cost twenty times this amount...with the 1997-98 dropoff, budgets were slashed drastically; the average film cost HK$4 million (US$500,000), and some were made for as little as HK$1.5 million (US$200,000)."

(quoted from David Bordwell's "Planet Hong Kong", p.119)

11d. What movie had the highest budget?

Jackie Chan's "The Medallion" (aka "Highbinders"), with US$41 million (HK$320 million). Chan also held the previous records with "Armour of God 2: Operation Condor", with HK$156 million (US$20 million -- one-tenth of what "Titanic", the highest-costing US movie, was produced for at US$200 million), and "Thunderbolt" at US$25 million (HK$190 million). When John Woo's "Hard Boiled" clocked in with a HK$90 million (US$11.5 million) price tag, it was called "the 'Terminator 2' of Hong Kong", since T2 cost US$90 million.

11e. How much do the top stars get paid?

The absolute top stars (Andy Lau, Chow Yun-Fat, Jackie Chan, etc.) get HK$5 million (US$640,000) per movie. Most stars earn about HK$100,000-250,000 for each role (US$12,800-32,000), which is one of the reasons Hong Kong actors appear in so many movies than their American counterparts, whose top stars (Schwarzengger, Stallone, etc.) can earn up to US$25 million per movie. To help supplement their income, many Hong Kong film actors also appear in commericals for everything from beer to "breast enhancement" pills (it should be noted that while US stars shy away from this practice in their native land, many do commercials in Europe and Asia). Some stars, such as Andy Lau and Ekin Cheng, also have healthy singing careers as well. Even after adding in the other "side jobs", top actors earn about HK$60 million per year, which is about US$7.7 million -- far less than top US stars get for even one movie.

11f. What was the first Hong Kong movie?

11g. How did Bruce Lee die?

There are many wild theories as to Lee's death, but the consensus is that he died due to an allergic reaction to pain medication given to him by actress Betty Ting Pei, in whose apartment Lee died. The allergy may have been intensified by hashish, which was in Lee's system, but the reports of an overdose on the drug are false.

11h. How did Brandon Lee die?

In movies there are two types of blanks (fake bullets): ones that produed a smaller amount of "muzzle fire" (flash) and ones that produce a smaller amount of flash but fire faster. The second type of blank (actually, only one blank in a clip) was accidentally used at too close of range (the blanks travel a short distance) during the scene in "The Crow" where Lee is shot by a group of people in Top Dollar's boardroom, and Lee was fatally shot as a result.

11i. Were there really Shaolin fighting monks?

"Considering the vast sweep of Chinese history, most Hong Kong martial arts movies are set in a relatively narrow period, located between the rise of the Ching [aka Qing] dynasty and the start of the Chinese republic. Many are set between 1723 and 1911, often focusing on the development and eventual destruction of the famed Shaolin temple in Hunan province and the subsequent dissemination of kung fu throughout southern China...this stronghold of Chinese martial arts sowed the seeds of its' own destruction when 128 warrior monks came to the aid of Emperor Kang Xi...the Shaolin priests came under suspicion from a later Emperor, Yong Zheng. In 1736, the emperor sent 3,000 soldiers to Shaolin, salying the monks and razing the building to the ground. Various versions of these events have survived in historical records and each has been the subject of cinematic interpretation..."

"...the temple was a martial arts academy with thrity-five chambers that prospective disciples worked their way through to develop their kung fu skills...a monk named San Te formed a thirty-sixth Chamber of Shaolin, as shown in the film of the same name, to teach the common poplulace martial arts, enabling them to defend themselves against their bully Ching overlords."

(quoted from Bey Logan's "Hong Kong Action Cinema", p. 48)

11j. Was there really a Wong Fei-Hung?

Wong Fei-Hung was the subject of a series of 99 films from 1949-1970, and the character has been reprised several times since, most notably in the "Drunken Master" and "Once Upon a Time in China" movies. Not much is known about the real Wong Fei-Hung, except that he was born in Canton in 1847 and was known for his Hung Gar (Chinese boxing), medical skills, and dedication to lion dancing. Wong died in 1924 and shortly thereafter, a series of "pulp" books were written about his life (with some dramatic exaggerations, no doubt) and these are what the movies have been based on.

11k. How much is a Hong Kong dollar worth?

7.80 HK dollars equal one US dollar; the rate was fixed in 1983 and will stay as such until 2047, when the Chinese government fully takes control of Hong Kong and its' economy.

11l. How many movies does Hong Kong produce per year?

At its' peak in 1993, Hong Kong (which was then the third most active film industry in the world, behind the United States and India) produced nearly 200 movies -- most of them low-budget action films. Since the decline in box office returns which started in that year, the average number has been cut by about half to around 120 per year after being down to 90 in 1998. In 2002, 92 films were made, but due to the falling economy 25 of these were produced on digital video.

11m. How long does it take to make a movie in Hong Kong?

Big budget action pictures take about 80-100 days to film, and dramatic films or comedies without elaborate action sequences take about 20-40 days to film. Low-budget movies have been made in less than two weeks. In contrast, big budget US movies can often take months to complete shooting.

11n. What is considered a box office success in Hong Kong?

Usually, the HK$10 million (US$1.3 million) mark shows a successful run. This holds true to the old formula that a film must make back two to three times the cost of its' budget to be considered profitable. Of course, for more expensive movies, they must generate more box office to be considered successful. In 2002, the total box office take was US$44 million, with the top 10 movies making about US$25 million of that.

As for box office runs, one of two weeks is considered the "break-even" point, three weeks is a hit, and anything over that (a rarity in Hong Kong) is considered a smash hit.

11o. What are the major studios/video distributors in Hong Kong?

The major video companies are Mei Ah and Universe. There are several smaller companies such as Deltamac, Winson and Golden Harvest.

11p. What are the top-grossing movies in Hong Kong film history?

Here are the top 10 highest-grossing films, courtesy of Asian Box Office (info taken from http://www.asianboxoffice.com/topten.php?yr=alltime)

1. Titanic 114,930,000
2. Jurassic Park 61,900,000
3. Kung Fu Hustle 61,280,000
4. Shaolin Soccer 60,260,000
5. Jurassic Park 2 58,230,000
6. First Strike 57,519,000
7. Rumble In The Bronx 56,911,000
8. Infernal Affairs 55,030,000
9. God of Gamblers Return 52,540,000
10. Justice My Foot 49,880,000

(Figures are in Hong Kong dollars; divide by 7.8 to get the US equivalent)

11q. How much do crew members make?

According to an email from Bey Logan, the top crew members (director, action director, cinematographer, etc.) will typically earn about five to ten percent of a film's budget. Conversely, as noted in the documentary Red Trousers, minor stuntmen might earn as little as US$25 per day, or even less.

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12. People and companies that tick the fanboys off

12a. Tai Seng

Tai Seng is the largest importer of Hong Kong films into the US. Over the years, Hong Kong film fans have decried their price gouging (up to US$80 for a VHS tape), shoddy quality (their VHS version of "High Risk" has a blue screen with "REC" in the corner at the beginning, indicating that it is at least a second-generation tape -- i.e., taken from another tape or laser disc rather than a film print), and questionable business tactics, which includes splitting movies on to two tapes to increase the price, and strongarming Chinatown shops using raids by US marshals so that they only sell Tai Seng product. It has also long been rumored that Tai Seng has ties to the Triad, which in turn affects their prices.

When pressed for explanation, Tai Seng president Frank Djeng (via the alt.asian-movies newsgroup) offered incomplete explanations, such as "Middle Eastern interests" and the like. Djeng went so far as to threaten legal action against several posters, claiming slander. Nothing came from the threats and Djeng no longer makes himself known on the internet.

In Tai Seng's defense, some of their newer products (such as "The Duel" DVD) have excellent quality, and they have also reduced the prices on many of their older titles. Bruce Long says that "their 'Martial Arts Theater' VHS/DVD series is a wonderful service, re-issuing old dubbed Ocean Shores videos (which originally cost around $40) and offering them at a very economical price [usually around US$10 for VHS, or US$15 for DVD], and some of the DVDs have a commentary track added." However, it may be a case of "too little, too late" as most long-time HK film fans have a lasting bad taste in their mouth about Tai Seng.

12b. Thomas Weisser/"Asian Cult Cinema"

Weisser is the editor of "Asian Cult Cinema" (formerly "Asian Trash Cinema") and supposedly one of the world's experts on Asian cinema, but judging by his output, that designation is questionable. For instance, in the book edition of "Asian Cult Cinema", Weisser states in his review of "Rumble in the Bronx" that Jackie Chan's girlfriend in the movie is blonde (for those that have not seen the movie, Chan's girlfriend is played by Francoise Yip, an Asian girl who has black hair). Many other reviews have similar shoddy quality, which makes people wonder if Weisser actually watched the movies.

The magazine suffers a similar fate (it stated that "Martial Law" was on FOX, not CBS) and it has a horrible layout (made even worse by its' $6 price tag) which features layouts of nude women, including one on the back cover. Going beyond nudity, the articles inside often delve into salacious discussions of "pink" (softcore pornography) films, complete with graphic pictures which tend to offer nothing besides titillation. Weisser has also used the magazine to level comments and insults against some of his internet critics without "coming into the fray" himself.

Also, Weisser runs the grey market Video Search of Miami, which just smacks of bad business practice, as he tries to get people to buy bad-quality copies of the movies he is supposedly trying to promote, instead of spending their money on legitimate products.

12c. Quentin Tarantino

Tarantino's first feature "Reservoir Dogs" was very similar thematically to Ringo Lam's "City on Fire", and he never acknowledged this in interviews (besides saying once "'City on Fire' is a cool movie...I have the poster in my place"), even though he readily identified which parts he "borrowed" from other (western) movies.

Also, even though in early interviews Tarantino stated he was a major fan of John Woo and Chow Yun-Fat (even going so far as to dress like Chow in "A Better Tomorrow"), he later blasted them on the "Howard Stern Show" saying that Chow "had no talent" and "would never succeed here [America]". The interview took place shortly after the premiere of "The Replacement Killers" (which did not do well in the US) and Tarantino seemed to be wanting to put the blame on everyone except his then-girlfriend Mira Sorvino (Chow's co-star).

Tarantino was in a deal with John Woo to produce a movie which fell through. The "enfant terrible" supposedly threw a tantrum, claiming that he was the one that got the deal to bring Woo to work in America rolling (even though it had been in place for several years, it was just a matter of Woo's own finances than anything else). Eventually, Tarantino stopped releasing Hong Kong movies (until the recent showing for "Iron Monkey") through his "Rolling Thunder" company and some people say the two events are related.

For those that are interested here are the things borrowed from "City on Fire" in "Reservoir Dogs" according to the Quentin Tarantino FAQ at http://www.godamongdirectors.com/tarantino/faq/Quentin_FAQ.txt (I have added some notes in [brackets]):

"However, 'City on Fire', a Hong Kong action movie directed by Ringo Lam in 1987 is by far the biggest influence on 'Reservoir Dogs'. Tarantino has used a number of ideas in the film and these are worth outlining:

12d. Miramax/Dimension

They are the companies that have brought out many of Jackie Chan and Jet Li's US re-releases. HK fans don't like the US editions as they are oftentimes badly dubbed, edited, re-titled, re-scored, and the home versions are often expensive ($20 or over) and don't offer any extras (the DVD for "Supercop" doesn't even offer a trailer). The bare-bones DVDs are made even worse in many people's minds because both companies are subsidiaries of Disney, one of the world's biggest companies, and even their minor animated movies seem to get much better treatment than any HK film they have released. Worse yet, Disney is now stopping North American and some Asian retailers from selling imported versions of "their" movies, so all the North American viewer will be able to see is the edited/dubbed version.

12e. Xenon/Arena

Xenon (and its subsidiary Arena) is a company known for using (and abusing) public domain copyright laws or re-editing/re-titling movies in order to bring out versions of them in the US. Their products some times have very shoddy quality, and the re-editing can make some films incomprehensible (their version of "Kung Fu Cult Master", called "Lord of the Wu Tang" cuts out an entire scene at the beginning which makes what follows hard to decipher).

12f. Godfrey Ho/Joseph Lai

These two producer/directors are known for making some of the worst films on earth. Not "so bad, they're good", but just plain bad. Their movies are often comprised of a strange mix of film from different sources, which can often make the story a big mess to follow. For example, Godfrey Ho took one movie ("Ninja Hunt") and tweaked the footage to make over a dozen films out of it.

Ho has denied in print that he does recycle footage, which is clearly not the case. One only has to look at the Cynthia Rothrock US movie "Honor and Glory" (directed under the name of "Godfrey Hall"), which Ho then reworked into another film for other territories called "Angel the Kickboxer," which splices in footage of Yukari Oshima.

12g. Paul Fonoroff

Fonoroff is a Hong Kong film scholar, having written books on the subject, and he is also the film critic for the English-language "South China Morning Post" newspaper. Many people don't like his reviews since he seems more concerned on what the movie is portraying rather than the movie itself (for example, he is very much against showing smoking in movies). However, it should be noted that many Hong Kong-based critics take this stance on reviewing films, since they feel they have a moral obligation to do so -- it's just that Fonoroff's reviews are in English rather than Chinese.

12h. Ric Meyers

Ric Meyers is a columnist for "Asian Cult Cinema" and "Inside Kung-Fu" magazines, and an author of a few martial arts books. His penchant for talking about S&M films rather than more "legitimate" movies raises the ire of some Hong Kong film fans (Meyers has starred in a couple of softcore S&M movies, and is rumored to have particpated in hardcore ones under an assumed name). The information he presents in his writing and commentaries for some DVDs is seen as inaccurate, and he has been accused of being a "shill" for Tai Seng by plugging their products.

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13. Distribution/versions of films

13a. My copy of this film is shorter than it should be. Is it cut?

"Not necesarrily. Two copies of the same film may actually be identical, even though they have different running times. Because of different projection speeds, movies in the NTSC video format (USA, Japan) run longer than exactly the same movie in PAL (Hong Kong, some of Europe).

To get the right running times you have to do some math:
PAL running time = NTSC running time * 24 / 25
NTSC running time = PAL running time * 25 / 24
The NTSC running time is the same as that of the movie when projected on film."

(above written by Lars Erik Holmquist at http://www.webcomm.com.hk/ryan/hkmovie/info/faq/faq.html)

13b. Why do different countries have different versions of movies?

"Films are altered for many different reasons. The obvious one is censorship: many countries are not as lenient about screen violence as Hong Kong, and therefore sometimes trim movies considerably. Films are also sometimes trimmed in Hong Kong to get them into the Category II [rating]. Other countries, like Malaysia, might find even the innocuous erotic contents of some Hong Kong movies too much, and trim the movie accordingly.

Furthermore, a film might premiere in one version in a country and then be altered before it reaches the next. Often, Hong Kong movies open in Taiwan several months before they open in HK, and in the meantime they can be altered quite substantially - for instance, 'The Killer' lost 25 minutes between the Taiwanese and HK versions. The reasons for shortening a film are many; often it is done to improve the films pacing, or distributors may simply want a shorter film to be able to squeeze in more showings per day. But it is not necessarily so that the longest version of a movie is the best one, or the one that most reflects the intentions of its creator; in the case of 'The Killer', for instance, the 110 minute version is the one that John Woo approves of and not the original 135 minute cut.

Many Hong Kong films are also edited to suit other the tastes of other cultures; for instance, most English dubbed versions of Jackie Chan's film contain less humour and slapstick than the orignal Hong Kong versions. Similarly, the English dubbed version of 'A Better Tomorrow' has had all Chinese music on the soundtrack replaced by bland disco-tunes - which, needless to say, ruins the picture. Alterations like these are done to make a Hong Kong movie more 'commercial' - i.e. less Chinese, and less like a Hong Kong movie.

When the films are released on video or disc, anything can happen. A distriubutor might find the film to long to fit on one tape, and cut it accordingly (this often happens in Malaysia). Another distributor might get a different version than what was shown in cinemas. And so on; the possiblities are truly endless."

(above written by Lars Erik Holmquist at http://www.webcomm.com.hk/ryan/hkmovie/info/faq/faq.html)

13c. Why are some movies split up on two tapes/discs?

"This is another trick by video companies to get more money per movie. Most movies would fit on a single tape or disc, but if it is a sure seller...a movie will be split up in two parts no matter how short it is. In the case of laserdiscs you might be hoping that this at least would result in the movie being released in CAV (since there's enough room on two discs) but don't bet on it; many two-disc releases are in CLV, and many of the CAV ones are so incompetently made that the still picture is unstable anyway."

(above written by Lars Erik Holmquist at http://www.webcomm.com.hk/ryan/hkmovie/info/faq/faq.html; CAV and CLV are two different compression methods -- a way to get the movie onto the laserdisc. CAV is higher quality but takes up more room on the disc versus CLV, and so usually bothsides of the disc are needed for a movie.)

In the case of VCDs, it is because each disc can only hold about one hour of material before the quality begins to drop.

13d. How come the US versions of Hong Kong movies don't have a Chinese language track on them?

You might think a big company like Miramax or Dimension (both owned by the Disney conglomerate) would shell out for the Chinese language track. But that is not often the case, as the companies just purchase the "English language rights". Also, the Chinese language track might not jibe with the re-editing many of these films face before their US release. Thankfully, this trend seems to be reversing; Columbia has put Chinese tracks on several of its' releases, including "Gen-X Cops" and "Once Upon a Time in China".

13e. What's up with all those "Wu-Tang" movies from Xenon?

Xenon (and its subsidiary Arena) is a company known for using (and abusing) public domain copyright laws or re-editing/re-titling movies in order to bring out versions of them in the US. Since they also have a line of "urban" (aka "blaxploitation") movies and given the history of African-American audiences being some of the most receptive to martial arts movies, many of their releases have been given names with "Wu-Tang" (a play on the name of the popular rap group Wu-Tang Clan, who often have old-school kung fu references in their lyrics) or some other kind of hip-hop slang in them. For example, Xenon's version of "Kung Fu Cult Master" is called "Lord of Wu Tang". Most of Xenon's movies have fairly neglible quality, but are priced very cheaply (under US$10 for EP versions).

There is also another company called Ground Zero who are using similar tactics, even going so far as to play off the names of members of the Wu-Tang Clan (such as "Ol' Dirty and the Bastard"). Their tapes have worse quality than Xenon's (some are extremely poor), and sometimes the covers don't accurately represent the movie contained inside.

However, both companies have been putting more effort into their products to give them better quality and they have moved their emphasis from VHS to DVD. Ground Zero, in particular, has been putting out some decent DVDs for the price.

13f. What movies are part of the "In the Line of Duty" series?

Due to the dubbing, re-editing and re-titling of the movies for international release, there is some confusion as to exactly what movies fall in the In the Line of Duty series. There are several theories about the time line, but this is the one I subscribe to:

13g. What movies are part of the "Young and Dangerous" series?

"Once Upon a Time in Triad Society" can be considered a minor part of the series, since it deals with Francis Ng and Spencer Lam's characters (Ugly Kwan and the priest) from Y&D1. However, their fates in the film do not match what happens to them in the story proper. The sequel does not deal with any Y&D characters at all.

Even though "City of Desire" features a character played by Sandra Ng named "Sister Thirteen" (the same as in the Y&D films), it is not part of the series.

The movie "Sexy and Dangerous", though obviously meant to capitalize on the series' success and featuring some of the same actors, is not related to Y&D.

Since some actors play multiple parts in the series (such as Roy Cheung, who plays three different people), I suggest looking up http://www.illuminatedlantern.com/triads/hunghing.html if you get confused as to who's who.

13h. Why do you hear "bleeps" on some HK movies?

Like US movies, Hong Kong movies take into account profanity or other "objectionable" language (references to drugs, using the real names of Triads, or saying disparaging things about specific political leaders) when setting ratings. In order to avoid getting a harsher rating, some movies simply "bleep" (censor) out the words, since often it would cost too much to re-shoot the scene or dub in new dialogue. Strangely, though, some English swear words (like the "f word") will be left in the English subtitles (or left alone if they are spoken in English) while the Cantonese equivalent will be censored.

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14. Miscellaneous tidbits

14a. What about Triad (gangster) involvement in the Hong Kong movie industry?

While it is not known exactly how deep the Triad connections run in Hong Kong movie-making, the ties do exist. Director Lo Wei used Triad thugs to try and intimidate Jackie Chan into staying with his contract (the dispute was later resolved by Jimmy Wang Yu, who used his own "friends" within the Triads). Wong Jing, a powerful producer and director, has had both good and bad dealings with Triads. Wong often works with Charles and Jimmy Heung, two big producers who also happen to be the sons of one of Hong Kong's top gangsters, and these films (such as "God of Gamblers") have often found great success. However, Wong was harshly beaten (to the point that he had to be in a wheelchair for a while) by Triads who took umbrage to Wong's harsh evaluation of an actress, who happened to be the girlfriend of a local hood.

There have been many other such stories through the years, including instances of kidnapping, rape, and on-set brawls (Triads often charge movie productions "protection fees" to film in their territories) -- things got so bad that the stars have rallied several times in order to get Triads off of sets. And without a doubt, Triads have at least some part in Hong Kong's large movie pirating operations. After the success of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon", good-looking bootleg DVD copies of the film began making their way all over the world. Local officals commented that there would be no way that such a high-quality product could be put out without Triad backing. Often, the methods are less glamorous; Triads will often pay someone to watch the movie and record it with a camera, or bribe someone within the studio to steal a copy.

14b. So what is an "action director" or "fight choreographer" anyway?

Also known as an action co-ordinator, stunt director or 2nd unit director, an action director is the person in charge of the action sequences in films (setting up the moves/stunts and cameras, making everything is rigged right, prepping or training actors, etc.). Depending on the director, the action director may actually take control over the set during the filming of the sequence (Wong Jing is almost notorious for taking a nap or listening to horse races while his action director does all the work). Good action directors (such as Sammo Hung) often become very powerful in Hong Kong film-making, moving on to producing and/or directing.

14c. Is there an uncut version of "Bullet in the Head"?

There is not one true "uncut" version of this movie, since every edition seems to have a unique edit to it.

"'Bullet' was edited for its' Hong Kong release and that version feels very incomplete. An even shorter version was created for the Cinema City LD [laserdisc] version, so the two hour disc could contain the whole movie. The Tai Seng tape was mastered from this LD. There are other versions of this film. The most complete one is a bootleg that runs two hours fifteen minutes and twenty three seconds. The bootleg appears to be recorded from the film print that was shown in the United States at various film festivals. However this version is missing at least two short scenes."

(quoted from "A Website Never Dies" at http://www.hkmdb.com/mc4/information/bullet.asp)

The Mega Star DVD was taken from the same source as the LD version (meaning the picture and sound are about the same), but it actually adds in a few snippets (most notably during the final "car joust"). The Mei Ah VCD is the only one that contains the original ending, where Tony Leung shoots Waise Lee in the boardroom instead of the car joust. The only version I have seen with the "urine drinking" scene in full (where Tony Leung and Jacky Cheung actually drink a glass) has been on the bootleg, which is only available on the gray market.

Supposedly, director John Woo likes the Mega Star DVD version most.

(Thanks to Jeff Nelson for some of the info about the DVD.)

14d. What's the name of that song from "Full Contact"?

The song that plays when Jeff (Chow Yun-Fat) is re-training his hand that also becomes the "theme" of the movie is "This World is Insane", from the 3-CD box set "Love Songs". The song that plays at the beginning is Extreme's "Get the Funk Out", from their "Pornograffitti" album.

14e. Has there been any video games made from Hong Kong movies?

The short answer is yes. Starting back in the early 1980's with the PC game "Bruce Lee", Hong Kong stars have made appearances in video games. There are a few officially licensed games, such as "Jackie Chan's Action Kung-Fu" and "Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story", but most uses in video games come from "inspirations", rather than full-on use of a personality. For example, it has almost become a cliche to use a Bruce Lee-type in fighting games; "Tekken", "Soul Blade", "Soul Calibur", "World Heroes" and "Dead or Alive" are just a few examples.

There have also been a few Hong Kong movies which have gotten some inspiration from video games. For instance, in "City Hunter", there is a sequence where Jackie Chan fights a foe by morphing into several characters from "Street Fighter II".

For more information, visit this page: http://www.hkfilm.net/vidgame.htm

14f. Whatever happened to that old "Kung-Fu Theatre" show?

It should be clarified that there was not one "Kung-Fu Theatre". Rather, individual (or small groups of) stations created their own shows after they became popular in large cities like New York and San Francisco in the early 1980's. As the popularity for old-school kung fu movies waned in the late 1980's, many stations dropped the program. With the recent success of martial arts films in the US, some stations have begun airing the program again.

14g. What movies do the Wu-Tang Clan sample from?

Wu-Tang Clan is a rap group known for the kung fu references in their stage names (such as "Master Killer") and in their songs, which sometimes use samples (sound bites) from Hong Kong movies. They have sampled from the dubbed versions of "36th Chamber of Shaolin", "The Five Deadly Venoms", "Crippled Avengers" and "The Killer".

14h. Is there something like the Oscars for Hong Kong movies?

Yes, they are called the Hong Kong Film Awards, which are held yearly in late spring. A Taiwanese equivalent called the Golden Horse are also important in Hong Kong.

14i. So what does "old school kung fu" really mean?

Brian Camp posted this answer to a query on the Mobius board which fits nicely:

"Old School kung fu dates from Jimmy Wang Yu's 'The Chinese Boxer' (1970), generally considered the first pure kung fu movie, although it draws on themes and styles first noted in Chang Cheh's 'One-Armed Swordsman' (1967), also with Jimmy Wang Yu, which was a swordplay movie, but with a greater emphasis on martial arts and training than previous swordplay movies. The Old School period lasts until about 1983 with the last great old school kung fu movie being Lau Kar Leung's '8 Diagram Pole Fighter'. The 'new wave' movies began that year with Tsui Hark's 'Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain' and Ching Siu Tung's 'Duel to the Death'. I would argue that the 'new wave' actually began a year earlier with Yuen Woo-Ping's 'Miracle Fighters'. I would suggest that the new wave had a greater emphasis on special effects, while old school had a greater emphasis on the performers' actual skills.

Old School includes kung fu movies from both Hong Kong and Taiwan; many HK productions, including a lot of Shaw Bros. films, were shot in Taiwan. Shaw Bros. was the leading HK studio in those years and dominated the kung fu genre, although they got competition from Golden Harvest and some independent producers (Joseph Kuo, Ng See Yuen, etc.), some of whom worked out of Taiwan. Shaw Bros. also made hundreds of films in other genres (melodramas, musicals, comedies, spy films, crime thrillers, etc.) but we don't see many of those these days.

Jackie Chan's early works belong in the category of Old School kung fu. At some point, he shifted over to the more stunt-filled acrobatic adventures he became more famous for, such as 'Project A' (1984). Bruce Lee's movies are definitely in the category of Old School, although they are kind of an entity unto themselves.

Old School kung fu's heyday was probably 1974-1980, the years of Fu Sheng, Gordon Liu, Chen Kuan Tai, Chang Cheh's Shaolin series, most of Lau Kar Leung's major works and the best of the Five Venoms. There were good ones produced 1970-73, but I think the best ones started showing up in 1974 with 'Shaolin Martial Arts' and 'Men fron the Monastery'. There were good ones produced in 1981-83, but I think the genre was generally winding down by then. Every year before then, especially 1976-80, had a solid list of major kung fu films."

14j. How do you play those drinking games that happen in movies?

As solitary drinkers have traditionally been looked down upon in Chinese society, innumerable finger games, number games, and word games to play while drinking have been devised so as to seem suitably convivial. The most common is called "huaquan" (or "finger game"), which is a contest where two players flash up a number with their fingers while simultaneously calling out a number. The player who calls the number closest to the sum of the flashed fingers wins. To make things even more complicated, each number flashed has a Chinese phrase (depending on the variant of huaquan being played) that must be called out when flashing their fingers; the phrase incorporates the number flashed. For example, someone flashing 2 might call out "lige liang hao", or "two good brothers", which incorporates the number two.

Usually during these games, baijiu, a grain-based spirit (literally translated as "white alcohol") with an alcohol content between 20 and 60 percent, is consumed, but most any type of alcohol can be used. Lighter drinkers might use beer, and those with more cash in their pockets might opt for a high-class liquor, such as X.O. brandy.

(some information from http://www.zingasia.com/articles/0,,5403--0-0-0-8,00.html and http://www.beijingscene.com/v06i010/ayi.html)

14k. Is there a sequel to Jet Li's "Kung Fu Cult Master"?

Because of the ending to this movie, this is an often-asked question. The ambiguous ending was intentional; there was supposed to be a sequel, but the film came at the end of a spate of wu xia (swordplay) movies and didn't do well at the box office. MC4 offers this bit of info on his site (http://www.hkmdb.com/mc4): "The movie ends with an abrupt cliffhanger. Rumor has it that some footage was shot for the second installment but was quickly dashed when the movie turned into a huge box office disappointment. A lot of money went into creating the large scale fight scenes, and Wong Jing [KFCM's producer and director] wasn't going to make the same mistake twice. The odds of ever getting to see the sequel footage, assuming it does exist, are non-existent. Anyone interested in knowing the fate of the characters should pick up Yin Jong's 'Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre', on which the movie was based. There is also a complete TV series."

Newsgroup poster Man-Fai Wong offers up some more info: "Actually, there have been 3 different TVB miniseries adaptations of Jin Yong's novel, 'Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre', since the late 70's. I believe the 1978 version with Adam Cheng in the lead role as Cheung Mo Gei is available on VCD. The 1986 version with Tony Leung Chiu-Wai in the same role might also be available. However, given that they're TVB miniseries, they are probably re-edited into shorter runs. Also, they don't seem to have English subs available. The latest version is apparently the weakest entry from 2000 and is probably available as a tape rental from Chinese rental stores. There was also a Shaw Brothers 2-part film adaptation of the novel circa 1978. I forget who played the lead role. The Shaw film (and all the TVB series) carries the original title name of the novel."

14l. What movie is that bit with people flying around doing kung fu while having sex from?

This comes up a lot when people are asking about a particular video clip that has been floating around the internet for some time. Most likely it is "A Chinese Torture Chamber Story", a 1994 film directed by Bosco Lam. Since the clip is adult in nature, I will not point you to any direct links, but it can be fairly easily found through most search engines. The film (rated Cat III for obvious reasons) itself is available through many on-line retailers on VCD, and Tai Seng sells a VHS version through their site.

There is also another movie called "The Eternal Evil of Asia" which has a similar scene.

14m. What's the deal with Aunt Yee in the "Once Upon a Time in China" movies? Is she really Wong Fei-Hung's aunt?

For those that have not seen the films, this question comes up because Rosamund Kwan's character, Aunt Yee (sometimes translated as Aunt 13, since "Yee" can be translated as 13), has a romantic relationship with Wong Fei-Hung (played by Jet Li). Man Fai-Wong in alt.asian-movies provided this simple answer: "in OUATIC 3, Wong Fei Hung's father Wong Kei-Ying mentions that Sup Sam Yee (Aunt 13/Yee) is the sister of his brother's wife when Fei Hung finally reveals the engagement between him and Yee to his father. So, she is Kei-Ying's sister-in-law (of sorts) and Fei Hung's aunt-in-law (of sorts)."

Some dubbed prints of the OUATIC films work around this cultural problem by changing Aunt Yee to Miss Yee or simply Yee. However, some prints (such as the "Outlaw" version of OUATIC5) complicate the matter a bit more by calling Yee both "aunt" and "cousin."

14n. What do the profiles in "Bio-Zombie" say?

There is a scene in this film where the characters are profiled ala a video game like "Street Fighter". Here are the translations (thanks to Sebastian Tse):

Name: Woody Invincible
Weapon: Screwdriver
Combat Power: 300
Sex Power: 170
Zodiac: Aquarius
Idol-worship: Noriko Fujiwara

Name: Rolls
Weapon: Chainsaw
Combat Power: 160
Sex Power: 100
Zodiac: Sagittarius
Idol-worship: Hello Kitty

Name: Crazy Bee
Weapon: Machete
Combat Power: 240
Sex Power: 200
Zodiac: Taurus
Idol-worship: Bruce Lee

Name: Mrs. Kui
Weapon:
Combat Power: 120
Sex Power: 180
Zodiac: Gemini
Idol-worship: Jordan Chan

Name: Bad Teeth Kui
Weapon:
Combat Power: 150
Sex Power: 75
Zodiac: Virgo
Idol-worship: Alex Man

14o. What about laserdiscs (LDs)?

This video format (which, for those that do not know, feature movies on a format roughly the size of a vinyl record) never really caught on in Asia except with some tech-heads in Japan. However, for HK film fans, there are a few rarities only available on LD, such as uncut/subtitled versions of "Drunken Master 2" and "Fist of Legend". If you're trying to track these down, an auction site like EBay is your best bet.

14p. What is "wire fu"/"computer fu" and when did it start?

"Wire fu" refers to martial arts movies that use wires and other tricks like trampolines to exaggerate the movements of fighters so much that it looks as if they have superhuman powers. Wires had been used during the "golden age" of kung fu movies, but it was not until the early 1980's with films like Ching Siu-Tung's 1983 epic "Duel to the Death" (widely cited as the beginning of the genre) where they had been used extensively for an entire movie.

"Computer fu" could be thought of as a more modern version of wire fu (in fact, it uses many of the same techniques) where computer effects are used heavily in fight sequences. Probably the first computer fu movie would be 1998's "The Storm Riders", directed by Andrew Lau. As the cost of computer effects goes down, more and more movies are falling into this genre, especially since the computers can mask (at least somewhat) the actor's lack of fighting skills.

14q. Why were British versions of kung fu movies censored?

For years, British versions of kung fu (and martial arts/action in general) films were notorious for censoring scenes that contained "objectionable" weapons, most notably nunchaku ("numchucks"), which were popularized by Bruce Lee in "Enter the Dragon". Even seemingly innocuous fare such as the live-action version of the popular comic book/cartoon "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" did not escape the government's scissors.

Even though early video versions of kung fu movies were released uncensored, in 1984 the Video Recordings Act was passed by the British government due to public outrage over "video nasties" (the British term for films with high levels of violence and sexual content) due to continued media reports that linked violent movies to street gang bloodshed. Even scenes, such as the Bruce Lee/Chuck Norris fight from "Way of the Dragon", which are considered by most audiences to be fairly tame in terms of outright violence, were trimmed due to "sadistic" content. Unfortunately, this over-zealousness (or fear of reprisal from the government) led to the outright destruction of the actual prints of many films, which can never be replaced.

In explaining the legislation, British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) member Mike Bor said "Part of the problem we have with martial arts films is that they appeal to two audiences. First there are martial arts devotees, themselves often practitioners, who appreciate the finer points of the techniques on display. It is the second audience we worry about, fearing that the level of sadism encountered in these film may reinforce violent impulses and eventually, perhaps result in further gang violence. In many martial arts epics (and we have viewed hundreds), fights do tend to develop into little more than a series of brutal beatings/killings of/by the hero/villain."

Going into further detail about why particular weapons (nunchaku in particular) were so frowned upon by the BBFC, Bor said that "The problem of the nunchaku is that when martial arts films started to appear in this country in the early 70s, it soon became apparent that the chain-sticks demonstrated in the films were being added to the arsenal of violent gangs in this country. As a result of concern by the police and judiciary it was decided that this very dangerous weapon, which has, in this country, no legal use, should be removed from violent films in order to discourage its spread."

Thankfully, in recent years, the BBFC has relaxed its' restrictions and many movies previously censored haved been allowed to be re-released in their full versions. The British home video industry has taken full advantage of this -- many of the versions of kung fu films (most notably those coming from the Hong Kong Legends label) coming out of Britain are considered the best in the world.

(quotes and information from http://www.bruceleereview.co.uk/censors.html)

picture  picture

On the left, a video cover for the censored British version of "Enter the Dragon" that changes Bruce Lee's trademark nunchakus into a staff. The unaltered artwork from an uncensored US version is on the right.

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15. Glossary

Like many things on the internet, discussion of Hong Kong movies can be confusing to the newcomer as there are many genre or culture-specific terms that are used. Listed here are some of the more commonly used; for a more complete listing, look at http://www.hkfilm.net/terms.htm.

ABC - Acronym for American Born Chinese, a person who was born in America but moves over to Asia.

ABT - Acronym for the John Woo movie "A Better Tomorrow", which kicked off the gangster movie craze in Hong Kong upon its release in 1986.

ACC - Acronym for the book/magazine "Asian Cult Cinema" (see 12b. above for more info).

alt.asian-movies - A Usenet newsgroup (message board) for the discussion of (you guessed it) Asian movies. Most ISPs (internet sevice providers) will provide some sort of newsgroup reading service, and many mail programs (like Outlook Express) do as well. If you still cannot access the newsgroups, try Google groups at http://groups.google.com/groups?oi=djq&as_ugroup=alt.asian-movies.

astronaut - Someone whose family has moved abroad (usually to Canada or Australia) to obtain passports/citizenship, but themselves stays in (or commutes to) Hong Kong, usually for monetary reasons.

auditorium version - A bootleg version of a movie that was shot with a camcorder in the theatre, usually during a premiere screening.

ATV - Acronym for Asian Television, a popular TV network known for their dramas. Once went under the name RTV (aka Rediffusion Television).

banana - An Asian person that tries to "act white" by adopting Western mannerisms or dress (yellow on the outside, white on the inside) -- Aunt Yee (Rosamund Kwan) in the "Once Upon a Time in China" series is often the recipient of this insult; also a slang term for penis.

big and small - A popular dice (gambling) game also called tai sai ("big or small") and sic bo ("treasure of the dice"). The game plays similarly to roulette as the players must bet on the numbers or combonations that will come up.

Big Brother - The leader of a gang/crime "family." The Cantonese term is dai lo.

bluescreen - A type of special effect that allows actors/objects to be placed on top of previously filmed images. Often used in Western (and to a smaller extent in Hong Kong) movies for dangerous stunts. Newer movies use a slightly different process known as greenscreen.

brother - Used to denominate a good friend, and also in Triad society to signify someone of the same "rank."

Cantonese - The Chinese dialect of Hong Kong. Sometimes used to describe traditional Chinese culture and values.

Cantopop/Cantorock - Term for Cantonese (Hong Kong) pop and rock songs. Many Hong Kong actors (such as Leslie Cheung, Alan Tam and Jacky Cheung) got their start performing this kind of music.

Category/Cat - Hong Kong movie rating sysytem; see section 5 for more info.

CCTV - Acronym for Chinese Central Television, China's official (government-controlled) network.

center framing - A cheap form of TV screen formatting that simply chops off the edges of the original movie frame and blows up the center portion. This differs from pan-and-scan (see below) in that no effort is made to capture all the action of the scene, and annoying/funny results can happen such as hearing someone talking, but not being able to see them. Hong Kong film fans also hate this format as it results in incomplete subtitles.

chicken - Slang for prostitute; sometimes chick is also used.

Chinese New Year - This is a two-week celebration that starts with the first full moon of the year. The most prestigious Chinese and Hong Kong movies usually come out during this period.

Chinese opera - Unlike western opera, Chinese opera is a combination of singing, acting, dancing, acrobatics and martial arts. The plays are usually based on folk tales, fables, or historical events. Many notable martial arts stars, such as Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung, received their training in Chinese opera.

chopper - A large knife/machete; popular weapon for Hong Kong hooligans since guns are illegal.

Chow Yun-Fat/Mark Gor style - Dressing like Chow's character, Mark Gor, in "A Better Tomorrow" -- trenchcoat, black suit and sunglasses.

chuppie - A Hong Kong yuppie (young urban professional).

CID - Acronym for the Central Intellegence Division, the arm of the law that covers high-profile crimes such as drug trafficking and murder; dramatized in many movies such as "Hard Boiled" and just about every film Danny Lee has been in.

coolie - A low-paid laborer; sometimes used as a derogatory term.

CYF - Acronym for Chow Yun-Fat, one of Asia's most popular actors.

dubtitiling - A process in which a subtitled version of a movie follows the dubbing "script", which often leads to inaccurate translations. This has been occurring more with the growing number of major DVD releases of HK movies by US companies ("Gen-X Cops", "Gorgeous").

empty hands - Combat without weapons.

face - Asian term for respect ("to give face" is to give someone respect or treat them honorably).

fai lo - Cantonese for "fatty" or "fatso"; usually the nickname of characters played by rotund actors like Kent Cheng and Sammo Hung.

feng shui - A belief where one believes that one obtains power/protection/good luck from the certain placement of a house/building and the things in it.

flower vase roles - Roles in movies given to pretty actresses where they basically act as a good-looking backdrop.

flying paper - Refers to the fairly common practice in Hong Kong film-making of making up scripts as the filming goes along; probably the most well-known practitioner of this is Wong Jing.

Four Heavenly Kings of Cantopop - Four popular singers/actors -- Aaron Kwok, Jacky Cheung, Leon Lai and Andy Lau. The term was invented by TVB during 1991/92 when the quartet's individual singing careers took off. Their popularity lasted for a long period until the last 2 years or so when it suddenly plummeted -- because of this, the term is rarely heard now. With the new group of stars popping up, there is now a group known as the Four Young Kings of Cantopop. They are Nicholas "Nic" Tse, Leo Koo, Daniel Chan and Stephen Fung.

gun-fu - Exaggerated, acrobatic, extremely choreographed gunfighting (e.g., John Woo).

golden slots - The prime movie premiere dates; late summer, Christmas, and Lunar New Year.

GoG - Acronym for the movie "God of Gamblers".

gweilo/gwailo/gwei lo - Literally, "Ghost Man" or "white devil"; a term for a white westerner (sometimes used derogatively). Used to describe a non-Asian fighter in a martial arts film, such as Richard Norton or Cynthia Rothrock.

HK - Acronym for Hong Kong.

HKer - Someone from Hong Kong.

HKFA - Acronym for the Hong Kong Film Awards, HK's equivalent of the Oscars.

HKIFF - Acronym for the Hong Kong International Film Festival, a prestigious event held yearly.

HKMDB - Acronym for the Hong Kong Movie Database, the largest internet site for Hong Kong movies. Found at http://www.hkmdb.com.

HKSAR - Acronym for Hong Kong Special Autonomous Region (what HK is called now after the handover to China); in discussion about films, this refers to ones made after the 1997 handover.

Hongkie - Someone from Hong Kong.

Hong Kong's golden age - Refers to the period between 1986 (after the release of "A Better Tomorrow") and 1993 (when "Jurassic Park" became the top-grossing film), when Hong Kong film production was at an all-time high.

Hong Kong new wave - Term used for the films made by the first "wave" of filmmakers (such as Tsui Hark) who were either trained in or drew their influence from the West. It has since been re-used to designate more "modern" films (like those of Wong Kar-Wai) that explore characterization while using slick camera techniques.

hostess club - A bar where men pay to drink with good-looking women (hostesses or PR [public relation] girls); often the transactions will lead to sexual encounters. Basically a glorified brothel, though there are some legitimate clubs where sexual contact is not allowed.

ICAC - Acronym for the Independent Commission Against Corruption, which is like Hong Kong's version of the "internal affairs" arm of a US police department.

idol - An extremely popular actor (usually with teenagers). Many times, they are pop stars as well. A couple of examples are Ekin Cheng and Andy Lau.

idol machine - The system for creating big stars by giving new actors singing contracts (or vice versa), putting them on magazine covers, getting them on talk shows, etc. Sometimes referred by the Cantonese phrase ge ying shi ("music, film, TV").

IMDB - Acronym for the Internet Movie Database, one of the biggest film sites on the web, found at http://www.imdb.com. Unfortunately, their entries for Hong Kong movies/stars are often inaccurate.

jade babe - Term used by tabloids to designate a pretty "girl next door" type of woman.

jade screen - Films produced in Asia, specifically China, Hong Kong or Japan (similar to the term "silver screen" for Hollywood films).

Kwan Gung/General Kwan - A Mainland warlord whose valiant battles have turned him into a "saint" for both criminals and cops (you can often see shrines to Kwan in movies where characters will pray to him before a big mission/job).

letterbox - A video format that shows the original theatrical ratio; also called widescreen.

Lunar New Year films - Big-budget, all-star romantic comedies/dramas that come out during Chinese New Year.

mainland - China.

mainlander - Someone who lives in China.

mamasan - The female manager (pimp) of a hostess club.

Manadrin - The dominant Chinese dialect, used over much of China. Sometimes used to describe traditional Chinese culture and values.

Manchu - The rulers of China that were overthrown by revolution in the 1910's. They exercised strict controls over the people, such as forcing them to wear the same hairstyle (a queue -- shaved in front, a long braid in back). Some martial-arts films use the Manchus as thinly-veiled symbolism for the Communist rulers of China.

midnight snack - Slang for a late-night sexual encounter, usually involving prostitutes.

MIHK - Acronym for Made in Hong Kong, a British importer of Hong Kong movies.

Milkyway - A production company known for its' quirky and unconventional crime films such as A Hero Never Dies.

mo lay tau/moy len tau - A Cantonese term for "nonsense comedies" personified by Steven Chow's films, with their fast pace,heavy use of Cantonese slang and toilet humor. The term's literal translation is "nine follows eight, but nine doesn't have anything to do with eight."

mook jung - Cantonese for "dead wood"; used to describe stupid/slow people or bad actors like Michael Wong.

mugoi/m'goi - Cantonese for "thank you."

OCTB - Acronym of Organized Crime and Triad Bureau, the wing of the HK police force that investigates (suprisingly enough) Triad activity. Dramatized in the movie "Organized Crime and Triad Bureau".

old-school - Refers to the more traditional kung-fu films of the '60's and '70's.

OUATIC - Acronym for the Jet Li film Once Upon a Time in China, which spawned 5 sequels.

P&S - Acronym for pan-and-scan. Movie screens are wider than they are tall. When they are transferred to video, the images on the screen are chopped on the side and the middle part is expanded to fit the TV screen. Most film purists hate this format as it "bastardizes" the original vision of the director, cinematographer and editor. Fans of martial arts and action films also tend to not like the format, since it makes action sequences look more cramped and chaotic.

PC - Short for police constable; a beat cop.

parallel importing - When multiple companies import the same movie into a country. For instance, World Video sells Jet Li's "Kung Fu Cult Master", while Arena Video sells a different version called "Lord of the Wu-Tang".

passport widow - Someone who stays in a foreign country to obtain citizenship while one of their family members still works in Hong Kong.

pidgin English - Poorly spoken/understood English, mostly comprised of common phrases; usually used by immigrants. As Hong Kong was a British territory, many pidgin English phrases (such as "bye bye") have come to be commonplace in the Cantonese vernacular. Sometimes called (for some reason) "pigeon English." Also referred to as chinglish ("Chinese English") or engrish ("English Chinese").

po kai - A Cantonese swear word that loosely translates to "bastard," though it can take other connotations such as "son of a bitch." Sometimes used by itself to express anger.

points - Slang for a woman's nipples. Actresses have become famous for showing (or not showing) their points (e.g., Amy Yip and Chingmy Yau).

PRC - Acronym for the People's Republic of China, the name of modern Communist China.

PTU - Acronym for Police Tactical Unit, the arm of the police force that handles crisis situations (bank robberies, hostage situations, etc.). The SWAT-type force that actually goes in and handles the dirty work in these situations are known as the Special Duties Unit, or SDU. There have been many movies that deal with these teams, specifically their training tactics, known as police procedural movies, such as "First Option".

rascal - Slang for a Triad member.

red pocket/packet - In Chinese culture it is customary to give someone a gift of money enclosed in a red envelope on important occasions (birthdays, weddings, etc.). The term is sometimes used in crime movies to describe payoffs/protection money.

roughie - Term for an ultraviolent movie; usually used to describe movies with sexual violence in them (e.g., rape, S&M).

RTHK - Acronym for Royal Television Hong Kong, a public television network that concentrates on producing programs that address social issues.

SAR - Acronym for Special Autonomous Region; what Hong Kong is now termed under Chinese rule since the handover in 1997 whereby the Chinese government agrees to let things run "as they were" for fifty years.

SCMP - The South China Morning Post, a popular newspaper in Hong Kong.

Seven Little Fortunes - A troupe consisting of the best students from of Jim Yuen's Chinese Opera Academy. Members include: Yuen Wah, Corey Yuen Kwai, Yuen Bun, Yuen Tak, Yuen Biao, Sammo Hung, and Jackie Chan.

Shaw Bros. - The Shaw Brothers Studio, who were the king of the kung-fu movie during the '60's and '70's. They were notorious for being cheap and signing their stars/directors to long-term contracts.

sifu - Chinese for "master"; usually used to describe the head of a martial arts school. The Japanese version is referred to as a sensei.

snakehead - Someone who smuggles illegal immigrants to/from Hong Kong.

stained witness - Someone who testifies against a crime boss, and is thus marked (stained) for death.

Triad - The name for Hong Kong's organized crime families. Originally they started as somewhat honorable revolutionaries in the early 1900's, but found that gun running could make them a lot of money and turned to crime after the revolution.

Triad Boyz - An offshoot of the heroic bloodshed genre started in the mid-1990's that focuses on young Triad members, usually making the Triads seem cool and hip; exemplified by the "Young and Dangerous" series. Also known as young rascals or goo wat jai movies.

true crime - A genre of films (such as "The Untold Story") that are -- sometimes loosely -- based on real events/crimes. Usually they are packed with explicit sex and/or violence.

TST - Short for Tsim Shat Sui; an area in Hong Kong known for dishonest shopkeepers; the eastern area (TSTE, or Tsim Shat Sui East) is famous for its clubs, which attract both cops and Triads.

TVB - Acronym for Television Broadcasting Limited, which is the television arm of the Shaw Bros. studio, where many prestigious Hong Kong film actors and directors got their start.

UFO - Acronym for United Filmmakers Organization, a production company known for quality films with the youth as its target audience. The films were very contemporary in nature and delved into the relationships of today's youth/yuppies in HK. The films tend to be very glossy, sleek and sophisticated with a very heavy Western influence. Some of their well-known films include "Days of Being Dumb", "Comrades: Almost a Love Story" and "He's a Woman, She's a Man".

uncle/aunt - In Chinese society, it is common to use "uncle" or "aunt" as a term of endearment/respect for those older than you (similar to how Westerners use "mister" or "sir"); used by Triads to give respect to those higher up in rank. "Aunt" is also used to designate the madam of a brothel.

undercranking - A method used during the filming of fight scenes where fewer frames are shot per second as to make the actors' movements appear faster.

wah - A Cantonese word used for surprise or a call for attention to something (i.e., "Wah! That girl is really pretty!").

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