Project A - A Classic Revisited (Documentary by Hong Kong Cinema Expert Bey Logan)
Hong Kong action cinema is the principal source of the Hong Kong film industry's global fame. It combines elements from the action film , as codified by Hollywood , with Chinese storytelling, aesthetic traditions and filmmaking techniques, to create a culturally distinctive form that nevertheless has a wide transcultural appeal. In recent years, the flow has reversed somewhat, with American and European action films being heavily influenced by Hong Kong genre conventions.
The first Hong Kong action films favoured the wuxia style, emphasizing mysticism and swordplay, but this trend was politically suppressed in the s and replaced by kung fu films that depicted more down-to-earth unarmed martial arts, often featuring folk hero Wong Fei Hung.
See a Problem?
Post-war cultural upheavals led to a second wave of wuxia films with highly acrobatic violence, followed by the emergence of the grittier kung fu films for which the Shaw Brothers studio became best known. Hong Kong action cinema peaked from the s to the s. The s saw a resurgence in kung fu films during the rise and sudden death of Bruce Lee. He was succeeded in the s by Jackie Chan —who popularized the use of comedy, dangerous stunts , and modern urban settings in action films—and Jet Li , whose authentic wushu skills appealed to both eastern and western audiences.
Hong kong action cinema bey logan pdf
The innovative work of directors and producers like Tsui Hark and John Woo introduced further variety, with genres such as heroic bloodshed and gun fu films, and themes such as triads and the supernatural.
However, an exodus by many leading figures to Hollywood in the s coincided with a downturn in the industry. The signature contribution to action cinema from the Chinese -speaking world is the martial arts film , the most famous of which were developed in Hong Kong. The genre emerged first in Chinese popular literature.
The early 20th century saw an explosion of what were called wuxia novels often translated as "martial chivalry" , generally published in serialized form in newspapers. These were tales of heroic, sword-wielding warriors, often featuring mystical or fantasy elements.
This genre was quickly seized on by early Chinese films , particularly in the movie capital of the time, Shanghai. Starting in the s, wuxia titles, often adapted from novels for example, 's The Burning of the Red Lotus Monastery and its eighteen sequels were hugely popular and the genre dominated Chinese film for several years.
The boom came to an end in the s, caused by official opposition from cultural and political elites, especially the Kuomintang government, who saw it as promoting superstition and violent anarchy. The industry continued the wuxia tradition in Cantonese B movies and serials, although the more prestigious Mandarin -language cinema generally ignored the genre.
Animation and special effects drawn directly on the film by hand were used to simulate the flying abilities and other preternatural powers of characters; later titles in the cycle included The Six-Fingered Lord of the Lute and Sacred Fire, Heroic Wind A counter-tradition to the wuxia films emerged in the kung fu movies that were also produced at this time.
These movies emphasized more "authentic", down-to-earth and unarmed combat over the swordplay and mysticism of wuxia. In the second half of the s, the era's biggest studio, Shaw Brothers , inaugurated a new generation of wuxia films, starting with Xu Zenghong's Temple of the Red Lotus , a remake of the classic.
These Mandarin productions were more lavish and in colour; their style was less fantastical and more intense, with stronger and more acrobatic violence. They were influenced by imported samurai movies from Japan and by the wave of "New School" wuxia novels by authors like Jin Yong and Liang Yusheng that started in the s.
The New School wuxia wave marked the move of male-oriented action films to the centre of Hong Kong cinema, which had long been dominated by female stars and genres aimed at female audiences, such as romances and musicals. Even so, during the s female action stars like Cheng Pei-pei and Connie Chan Po-chu were prominent alongside male stars, such as former swimming champion Jimmy Wang Yu , and they continued an old tradition of female warriors in wuxia storyte directors of the period were Chang Cheh with One-Armed Swordsman and Golden Swallow and King Hu with Come Drink with Me Hu soon left Shaw Brothers to pursue his own vision of wuxia with independent productions in Taiwan , such as the enormously successful Dragon Inn , aka Dragon Gate Inn.
Chang stayed on and remained the Shaws' prolific star director into the early s. The early s saw wuxia giving way to a new, grittier and more graphic and Mandarin -speaking iteration of the kung fu movie, which came to dominate through the decade and into the early s.
Seriously trained martial artists such as Ti Lung and Gordon Liu became some of the top stars as increasing proportions of running times were devoted to combat set-pieces.
Chinese Boxer , starring and directed by Jimmy Wang Yu, is widely credited with launching the kung fu boom. But remaining at the vanguard, at least initially, were Shaw Brothers and director Chang Cheh.
Chang's Vengeance was another of the first trendsetters and his dozens of contributions included The Boxer from Shantung , Five Deadly Venoms and Crippled Avengers Kung fu cinema was particularly influenced by Chang's concern with his vision of masculine values and male friendship;  the female warrior figures who had been prominent in late s wuxia work were sidelined, with prominent exceptions such as the popular Angela Mao.
Chang's only competitor as the genre's most influential filmmaker was his long-time action choreographer , Lau Kar Leung aka Liu Chia Liang in Mandarin. Lau began directing his own movies for the Shaw brothers in with The Spiritual Boxer , a progenitor of the kung fu comedy. In subsequent titles like Executioners from Shaolin , The 36th Chamber of Shaolin , and Legendary Weapons of China , Lau emphasized the traditions and philosophy of the martial arts and strove to give onscreen fighting greater authenticity and ever greater speed and intricacy.
The kung fu boom was partly fueled by enormous international popularity, and not just in East Asia. In the West, kung fu imports, dubbed and often recut and retitled, shown as "B" films in urban theaters and on television, made Hong Kong film widely noticed, although not widely respected, for the first time.
The popularity of these movies in North America would continue into the s when ninja movies were introduced. In popular culture, the films of this era were colloquially known as Kung Fu Theater or Black Belt Theater , names that many independent stations used for their weekly airing slot. The Brothers , a Shaw Brothers production, was a significant departure from the kung fu films the studio was known for.
The Brothers was an action crime-drama, about two brothers on opposing sides of the law. It was a remake of the Indian crime drama Deewaar , written by Salim-Javed. No single figure was more responsible for this international profile than Bruce Lee , an American-born, Hong Kong-raised martial artist and actor.
Eastern film historian Patrick Macias ascribes his success to " bringing the warrior spirit of old into the present day Furthermore, his decision at the outset to work for young, upstart studio Golden Harvest , rather than accept the Shaws' notoriously tightfisted standard contract, was a factor in Golden Harvest's meteoric rise and Shaw's eventual decline. Following Lee's untimely death, a cottage industry of faux Lee movies emerged, featuring either performers who adopted similar screen names Bruce Li, Bruce Lai, etc.
The fad did little to engender mainstream respect in the West for the relatively new phenomenon of martial arts cinema. But despite such posthumous treatment, Lee continues to cast a long shadow over Hong Kong film.
Like many kung fu performers of the day, Chan came out of training in Peking opera and started in film as a stuntman , notably in some of Lee's vehicles. The resulting blend of physical comedy and kung fu action provided Chan with his first hit and the rudiments of what would become his signature style.
Chan's follow-up movie with Yuen, Drunken Master also , and his directorial debut, The Fearless Hyena , were also giant hits and cemented his popularity. Although these films were not the first kung fu comedies, they launched a vogue that helped reinvigorate the waning kung fu genre. Especially notable in this regard were two of Chan's childhood Peking Opera School classmates, Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao , who also made careers of this specialty, sometimes co-starring with Chan.
Hung, noted for the seeming paradox of his overweight physique and physical agility, also made a name for himself as a director and action choreographer from early on, with titles like Enter the Fat Dragon Chan's clowning may have helped extend the life of the kung fu wave for several years. Nevertheless, he became a star towards the end of the boom, and would soon help move the colony towards a new type of action.
In the s, he and many colleagues would forge a slicker, more spectacular Hong Kong pop cinema that would successfully compete with the post- Star Wars summer blockbusters from America.
In , Jackie Chan began experimenting with elaborate stunt action sequences in Dragon Lord ,  which featured a pyramid fight scene that holds the record for the most takes required for a single scene, with takes,  and the final fight scene where he performs various stunts, including one where he does a back flip off a loft and falls to the lower ground.
His first film in this vein, Project A , saw the official formation of the Jackie Chan Stunt Team and added elaborate, dangerous stunts to the fights and typical slapstick humor at one point, Chan falls from the top of a clock tower through a series of fabric canopies. Chan continued to take the approach — and the budgets — to new heights in hits like Police Story Here was Chan dangling from a speeding bus, sliding down a pole covered with exploding light bulbs, and destroying large parts of a shopping centre and a hillside shantytown.
The sequel called for explosions on a scale similar to many Hollywood movies and seriously injured leading lady Maggie Cheung — an occupational risk Chan had already grown used to. Thus Jackie Chan created the template for the contemporary urban action-comedy of the s, combining cops, kung fu and all the body-breaking potential of the modern city with its glass, metal and speeding vehicles.
Chan's move towards larger-scale action films was paralleled by work coming out of Cinema City , the production company established in by comedians Raymond Wong , Karl Maka and Dean Shek. With movies like the spy spoof Aces Go Places and its sequels, Cinema City helped make modern special effects, James Bond -type gadgets and big vehicular stunts part of the industry vernacular.
Hong Kong action cinema
He led the way in replacing the rough and ready camera style of s kung fu with glossier and more sophisticated visuals and ever more furious editing. Woo's saga of cops and the triads Chinese gangsters combined fancifully choreographed and extremely violent gunplay with heightened emotional melodrama, sometimes resembling a modern-dress version of s kung fu films by Woo's mentor Chang Cheh.
The formula broke another all-time box office record. It also jump-started the faltering career of co-star Chow Yun-fat , who overnight became one of the colony's most popular idols and Woo's favorite leading man.
For the remainder of the s and into the early s, a deluge of films by Woo and others explored similar territory, often with a similar visual style and thematic bent. They were usually marked by an emphasis on the fraternal bonds of duty and affection among the criminal protagonists. The most notable other auteur of these themes was Ringo Lam , who offered a less romanticized take in such films as City on Fire , Prison on Fire both , and Full Contact , all starring Chow Yun-Fat. The genre and its creators were accused in some quarters of cravenly glorifying real-life triads, whose involvement in the film business was notorious.
As the triad films petered out in the early s, period martial arts returned as the favored action genre. But this was a new martial arts cinema that took full advantage of technical strides as well the higher budgets that came with Hong Kong's dominance of the region's screens.
These lavish productions were often adapted from the more fantastical wuxia novels, which featured flying warriors in mid-air combat.
Performers were trussed up on ultrathin wires to allow them to conduct gravity-defying action sequences, a technique known by Western fans, sometimes disparagingly, as wire fu. As so often, Tsui Hark led the way. He produced Swordsman , which reestablished the wuxia novels of Jin Yong as favorite big-screen sources television adaptations had long been ubiquitous. Both films were followed by sequels and a raft of imitations, often starring Mainland wushu champion Jet Li.
The other signature star of the subgenre was Taiwanese-born actress Brigitte Lin. She made an unlikely specialty of androgynous woman-warrior types, such as the villainous, sex-changing eunuch in The Swordsman 2 , epitomizing martial arts fantasy's often-noted fascination with gender instability.
All of these developments not only made Hong Kong the dominant cinema in East Asia , but reawakened Western interest. Building on the reduced but enduring kung fu movie subculture, Jackie Chan and films like Tsui Hark's Peking Opera Blues were already building a cult following when Woo's The Killer had a limited but successful release in the U.
In the '90s, Westerners with an eye on "alternative" culture became common sights in Chinatown video shops and theaters, and gradually the films became more available in the mainstream video market and even occasionally in mainstream theaters. Western critics and film scholars also began to take Hong Kong action cinema seriously and made many key figures and films part of their canon of world cinema.
From here, Hong Kong came to define a new vocabulary for worldwide action cinema, with the aid of a new generation of North American filmmakers.
Quentin Tarantino 's Reservoir Dogs drew inspiration from City on Fire and his two-part Kill Bill —04 was in large part a martial arts homage, borrowing Yuen Woo-Ping as fight choreographer and actor. The Wachowski brothers ' The Matrix trilogy — of science-fiction-action blockbusters borrowed from Woo and wire fu movies and also employed Yuen behind the scenes.
The heroic bloodshed genre had a considerable impact on world cinema , especially Hollywood. By the late s, Woo's style of cinema had become firmly established in Hollywood.
Hong Kong Action Cinema
Due to the new-found international awareness of Hong Kong films during the s and early s and a downturn in the industry as the s progressed, many of the leading lights of Hong Kong cinema left for Hollywood , which offered budgets and pay which could not be equalled by Hong Kong production companies. John Woo left for Hollywood after his film Hard Boiled. Since these two films, Woo has struggled to revisit his successes of the s and early s.
After over fifteen years of success in Hong Kong cinema and a couple of attempts to crack the U. Since then, he has made several highly successful films for U.
Between his films for U.