Tsui Hark, who was born in Vietnam as Man-kong Tsui in 1950 but raised in Hong Kong and educated on filmmaking in Texas,
began his career in New York but relocated to Hong Kong in 1977.
His directorial career started out with extremely violent noir films that depicted a very degnerate youth.
Despite being set in a mythical medieval age riddled with anarchy and banditry,
Die Bian/ The Butterfly Murders (1979) boasts science-fiction overtones.
The plot is erratic, irrational and incoherent; but the visuals are stunning.
A writer who has no experience and no interest in martial arts tells the
story of how, after a long period of massacres, the atmosphere among the
72 clans of martial arts became again to deteriorate. The
Tien Clan was the third most powerful of the 72.
The story begins when a man tries to sell Fong's memories to the owner of a
paper mill. The businessman refuses because he recognizes the memoirs as a fake.
He is later murdered.
A flashback shows peasants digging a
general's tomb in Butterfly Valley to steal his treasure, but
are attacked and killed by butterflies.
Tien, the boss of his clan, is summoned to the palace of Shum: the lord of
Shum is asking for help agaist the killer butterflies.
Tien mobilizes his troops and sends Big-eyed to spy.
On his way to the castle, Tien is followed by a girl who uses a rope to swing
from tree to tree: Green Shadow. She tells Tien that
killer butterflies are mentioned in Fong's Memoirs.
She accompaies him to Shum castle, that is already surronded by Tien's troops.
They enter the castle only to find out that nobody is alive. They find
Big-eyed murdered, still holding a butterfly in his fist.
Finally a person appears: it's a deaf and mute woman.
They follow her to an underground passage and find that Shum has hidden
there with his wife and Fong (the narrator of the first scene).
Fong tells Tien what happened in a flashback: how the castle was invaded by butterflies and they took shelter underground.
Shum's wife explains that she found the deaf and mute Chee and hired her as her personal maid.
Shum's father was one of the men who dug up the treasures of a general,
and years later the butterflies attacked the castle.
Fong shows Green Shadow a secret door that leads to a sort of laboratory where the poisonous butterflies are created.
Green Shadow and Fong realize that they both saw the dumb maid at the same time in different places.
The murders continue and Shum himself is murdered.
Another revelation: Shum left a will, a letter to be read to three men, who
are therefore summoned to the castle.
These are three pupils of a legendary
hermit and kungfu master: Li, Kwok and Shuen. They are collectively known as
Fong interrogates the deaf and mute maid convinced that she is not deaf and that she knows the secrets of the castle.
Finally presented with his memoirs about the killer butterflies, Fong denies that he wrote them: they are indeed a fake like the papermill owner said.
The first two thunders arrive.
An armoured man enters the underground shelter and tries to assassinate Shum's wife: everybody thinks that it must be the third thunder, Shuen.
Fong and Green Shadow find out that Shum's wife controls the butterflies and turns them into killers: she disguised herself as the mute.
The armoured man kills her but then Fong unmasks him as Shum himself,
not dead at all.
Shum admits that six years earlier the Thunders had made a plan to develop a deadly weapon and use the castle to test it.
Shum faked Fong's memoirs to spread the word about the butterflies but the papermill owner easily figured that the memoirs were a fake, and that's why Shum had him killed.
The letter was only a pretxt to attract the other Thunders and have them fight with Tien's men, hoping that they would kill each other.
Shum wants to kill Fong but Green Shadow and Tien arrive in time to save him.
Fong leaves the castle, but and the narration ends, but the movie continues.
Shum wants to kill the other thunders because he's afraid that's what they want to do to him.
Tien fights and kills Shum despite Shum's supernatural powers.
Di yu wu men/ We're Going to Eat You (1980) is a horror movie set among cannibals.
Di yi Lei Xing Wei Xian/ Dangerous Encounters of the First Kind/ Don't Play With Fire/ Hell Has No Gates (1980)
is amateurish B-movie with an implausible plot. In the first half the portrait
of the ruthless girl is interesting, but the rest is an improbable, poorly
directed, action-packed gangster movie.
It is, however, an extremely pessimistic and almost sadistic portrait of destitute beings.
A boy named Paul has figured out how to build a bomb and his two friends are
excited to try it out. The trio walks into a movie theater, sets the bomb off
and then runs away. The only one who sees them is a strange girl, who coldly
tells them that she can easily recognize them. This girl is a dangerous
person herself. She works in a print shop but gets fired when she pours a
bucket of ink on a coworker who dared complain that she hit her pile of paper.
This girl lives with her brother, who has a gun. He finds her aiming the gun
at two women who are arguing in the building across the street. He gives her
some money to buy herself a dinner at a restaurant. She takes the money and
puts on the fire where she is cooking her meal. She also keeps mice in a cage.
When a cat tries to attach the cage, she throws is from the window and the cat
dies a horrible death. Her brother is actually a cop. While he is at a car
shop, a gangster tries to rob the register. The cop coldly shoots him twice.
Back home her wild sister has convened a meeting with Paul and his two friends.
They are afraid she wants to blackmail them but instead she wants to be friend.
She tortures a mouse in front of them and, as a sign of friendship, accepts
to set off the next bomb (in a public toilet). The three boys, however,
look down on her. She takes her revenge by placing a bomb of her own where
they could be incriminated. Now she blackmails them. She asks them to do
something for her.
The police is alerted that three men have a bomb and have barricaded themselves
inside a building. It turns out to be a false alarm, but one of the men is
a friend of the cop, who even gives him money.
Meanwhile, the girl and the boys are attacking a tour bus. The three boys
get afraid and run away but she continues the act. She pulls out a bomb
and threatens to kill everybody if they don't strip naked. They do, she
ejects them from the bus, then orders the bus driver to drive away.
Then she leaves him tied to the steering wheel with the bomb hanging from
She is incredibly evil and now the three boys are terrified by her.
She finds them at school and chases them to avenge the fact that they left her
alone. She throws gasoline on their clothes and then runs after them with a
lighter. As they are fighting in the street, a car hits her. The driver
is a Westerner who has no patience for her. Now the kids ally again and all
four get into a fight with the driver. She manages to steal a gift box and
flee. When she opens it, she finds out that it contains a huge sum.
Meanwhile a Westerner murders a naked prostitute in a red-light room.
Two Westerners meet. One of the driver who lost the gift box. The other one
warns him that people who make mistakes in their line of business
(gun smuggling) get in trouble with the ring leader, Nigel, who already
beheaded someone. Paul tries to exchange the cheque at the bank
but then panics when he sees the director get on the phone.
The girl is mad at him.
Meanwhile, the Westerner who lost the gift box gets brutally killed by Nigel.
The body parts of his mutilated body gets picked up in the morning by
a street cleaner.
The police investigates the case of the murdered prostitute.
The girl's brother, the cop, found out that she got fired and has an argument with her.
She's leaving home again at night and he's worried about her.
The three boys and the girl are in fact still trying to cash the cheque.
A suit and tie businessman tries to fool them and the girl does not hesitate
to kill him with one of their handmade bombs.
The gangsters are looking for the kids. The kids, meanwhile, under the
direction of the indefatigable girl, are still trying to exchange the money.
This time they almost succeed, except that a gang attacks them in an
underground parking lot and eventually Loong, left with the money but about
to be captured by the beastly posse, throws away the purse to save his life.
The girl gets furious again and this time she decides to split with them.
They, on the other hand, have no desire for the money anymore.
Cornered by the gang, she is saved by her brother, the cop. Back home he beats her
up until she makes her bleed
to find out what she's up to, but she doesn't say a word.
Her brother ties her to the window to make sure she won't leave the apartment
In the bar where the gang congregates a drunk Westerner sees them exchanging
the cheques and recognizes them. Minutes later the gun smuggling gang is
torturing the head of the small-time gang.
They actually want the contract that the girl never picked up from the street.
Meanwhile, Paul sees on television that he is wanted by the police (the cameras
of the bank took a very good picture of him). The three boys decide to flee
The gun smugglers finally find where the girl lives. She is still tied to the
window. A shootout erupts when the brother comes home.
The Westerners are trying to take the girl downstairs, but she resists, and
eventually she is killed.
The police find the cheques in her room. Her brother is removed from the case.
The boys hide in a cemetery.
Tipped by someone who has seen the boys, the brother drives alone to the
cemetery. He thinks that the boys killed his sister, but soon the
Westerners arrive and start shooting at both the cop and the boys.
By the end only one of the boys survives: all the Westerners, the cop and two
boys (Loong and Paul) are killed. The survivor goes mad and starts shooting
in the air.
Gui ma Zhi Duo Xing/ All the Wrong Clues (1981)
San Suk San Geen Hap/ Zu Warriors from the Magic Mountain (1983), which
returns to the style and theme of Butterfly Murders,
is another spectacular film that, like its predecessor and model, relies more on visual effects than on a real story.
Hark also produced (and acted in) the science-fiction thriller Tie jia wu di Ma Li Ya/ I Love Maria (1983) about killer robots.
Search for the Gods (1983)
The farcical musical comedy Shang Hai zhi yen/ Shanghai Blues (1984),
set in the destitute postwar Shanghai,
is closely related to Hollywood's and Vienna's screwball comedies, not just
to Broadway's musicals of the Depression era.
It is indeed one of the funniest comedies of the era.
During the war of resistance against the Japanese (1937)
the Westerners are still spending their nights in the night clubs, but the
Japanese are about to attack the town. Two clowns perform in a night club
where four girls are happily singing to a carefree crowd when the bombing
begins. The younger clown,
decides to enroll in the army, the older one,
his uncle, decides to leave town.
Before leaving Gwok gives his money to a girl he just met.
They part under a bridge and swear to meet again there when the war ends.
She joins the throngs of refugees leaving the city in panic.
Eight years later the war has ended. Gwok is drafted to play the tuba
in a band to celebrate the arrival of a big shot, but he sees his old love get
off the same train and starts chasing her through the busy streets of the city.
He sees that a pickpocket steals her money, retrieves the money, loses his own
wallet to the pickpocket, resumes the chase on a rickshaw.
The girl, Aaksyu,
has got a job in the red-light district but it turns out that the store
has gone out of business.
She has no place to go and no money to pay the rickshaw.
Meanwhile, he lost her. He heads for the bridge but only finds some homeless
people, including an old blind violinist, who have not seen any girl.
Shu is an erotic dancer in one of those night clubs. She gets into
an argument and fight with a jealous rival, whose pimp then beats Shu.
Aaksyu too heads for the river and witnesses a lonely woman staring at the
water, the melancholy Shu.
Thinking she's about to commit suicide, Aaksyu runs to save her but instead
causes the woman to fall in the water. Aaksyu, still lecturing the dancer
about the value of life, dives to her rescue.
And so Shu offers a room to the homeless Aaksyu, although she comes to
regret it soon as Aaksyu is clumsy and logorrheic.
On their way to the apartment they are blocked by a young man
carrying a heavy trunk up the stairs. They can't see his face, but it is
none other than Gwokman. More chaos ensues thanks to Aaksyu's mindless
actions. In particular, she starts hating the neighbor upstairs, not knowing
that he is Gwokman.
The economy is collapsing. A
bespectacled friend comes to wake up Gwokman begging for money. Gwokman lost his
money to the pickpocket, but the friend takes Aaksyu's money.
Finally Gwokman and Aaksyu meet in person on the balcony (in another comic
incident) and Aaksyu neither recognizes him nor remembers being under that
bridge when the war started.
Later Gwokman runs into Shu and seems to recognize her voice.
At the night-club Shu saves a little girl from a pervert.
A fight ensues between his girlfriend and Shu. She is thrown into a
basin full of water and taken on stage where she improvises a song. It turns out that a rich
man in the audience falls i love with her. He sends his men to offer her money
but she throws it in the air refusing to prostitute herself.
At night Gwokman visits the homeless who live under the bridge and learns that
they sell their blood for food.
At home Aaksyu confesses to Shu that she fell in love with the neighbor,
and later flirts with him while Shu is sick in bed (a side effect of her
Aaksyu enters a contest for calendar queen without realizing it: she thought
it was a kindergarten job until they asked her to wear a revealing swimsuit.
Gwokman pesters impresario Ma to buy his song "Shanghai Blue" while Ma is
trying to sign a famous singer. The famous singer, Siusin,
sees Gwokman's score and likes it.
On the way home it starts raining and Gwokman looks for someone with an
umbrella: Shu is there and offers him her umbrella. This way they
discover that they live in the same building.
The usual pickpocket steals stole her key and she is sneezing, so Gwokman
offers her his dry clothes. But this means that now they are in their
underwear in the same place; and the pickpocket happens to be hiding there.
While the pickpocket keeps rolling around to hide, Aaksyu climbs the window
and enters the place, forcing Shu to hide in a closet,
and then the bespectacled friends comes to bring some food.
Aaksyu cries because she has no job and no money for food and
blames it on the pickpocket. Just then Gwokman spots the pickpocket who's
been hiding and overhearing everything. To save himself, the pickpocket opens
the closet where Shu is hiding and Aaksyu's jealousy explodes.
The net outcome of this hilarious scene is that Aaksyu decides to move out,
but before going she begs for money: she hasn't eaten the whole day.
The two girls soon make peace and share their problems sitting on the steps
to the house. We now learn that Shu is indeed the girl of the bridge: she
says that she's been waiting for that soldier for ten years.
Gwokman is still befriending the homeless of the bridge. In fact, he brings
them food just when they are running out of blood to sell.
Shu walks by and the homeless remark that she has been there many times,
but somehow they didn't tell Gwokman. She gets attacked by some thugs and
Gwokman saves her again, but the police arrive and kick everybody out.
Shu encourages Gwokman to be nicer to Aaksyu who is obviously very much in
love with him. Instead those two keep having big fights because she is so
Gwokman finds work as an ad boy.
While he is performing his act on the sidewalk, Gwokman sees Shu get into
the car of a rich old man who has booked four girls, one being Shu.
Shu, ashamed, jumps out of the car and breaks a leg.
Gwokman is the first on the scene to help her. Unfortunately, that also means
that he and his uncle get fired again (his uncle has been finding them job
opportunities that Gwokman always ruins for a reason or another
related to women).
Another rich old man, who has been courting him for a long time, offers her
a ring and a cabaret in Hong Kong, but Shu refuses.
At home she is nursed by Aaksyu, clumsy as usual.
Aaksyu gets lucky:
the chairman of the contest, an old woman, wants a girl who can appeal to ordinary housewives,
and picks Aaksyu's photo as calendar queen.
Throngs of journalists and fans invade the house.
A reception is organized to celebrate her and she is immediately assailed
by all the rich old men. The other people there are all the pretty young girls
who sold themselves to those men.
Someone drugs Aaksyu's drink in order to rape her, but the chairman in person
drinks it. Aaksyu gets drunk anyway and is taken to the bedroom of the dirty
old man. But the chairman too wanders drunk until she crashes in the same room.
A black out plunges the whole city into darkness.
Thanks to the darkness,
Shu chats with Gwokman on the balcony and finally they recognize each other.
Thanks to the darkness,
the rapist ends up in bed with the chairman. She wakes up when Aaksyu accidentally shoots a gun, and she's actually happy to find herself in bed with a man:
she's been a widow for too long.
Anyway, all's well that ends well: Aaksyu gets the first prize as calendar
queen. Back home she relates the events to Shu in the most confusing manner.
She's all happy that now she can marry Gwokman.
Shu cannot bear to destroy her happiness and arranges for leaving the city in
Luck finally finds Gwokman too:
Siusin turns Gwokman's song "Shanghai Blues" into a hit.
He is going to be rich too.
At night Shu takes a rickshaw that will take her to the train station
and has a friend deliver a farewell letter to Aaksyu.
Just then Gwokman runs in, all excited for his hit song, and tells Aaksyu
that he found the woman he was looking for: Shu.
Aaksyu finally realizes why Shu is leaving and tells Gwokman to rush to the
station, where a chaotic scene is taking place. She is boarding the train
with the rich man who wants to marry her and give her a cabaret.
But Gwokman arrives in time to jump on the train that is leaving and
reunite with her (standing ovation by the soldiers on the train).
A new girl has just arrived in town (played by the same actress who played
satirical comedy Da Gung Wong Dai/ Working Class (1985)
Do ma Daan/ Knife Horse Dawn/ Peking Opera Blues (1986) is a another
comedy centered on three heroines representing three layers of society:
aristocracy, bourgeoisie and street life.
It is shot in an
exuberant chromatic visual style
hysterical camera (that sometimes shows the action from the floor or from the
There is a lot of cross-dressing and hinted homosexuality.
It is a bit less successful (and less hilarious) than Shanghai Blues.
It is also more of an action movie than a mere slapstick comedy.
A pretty girl, Hung, performs for a corrupt general who boasts of already having
28 wives. He gambled and lost all the money that he was supposed to use
to pay the salaries of his soldiers. The pretty singer sneaks into the
palace, steals a box of jewels, runs out in the street, and grabs the first cart
that passes by telling the driver (or, better, pusher) to go to the train
station. The cart topples over and soldiers arrive. Another general, Tsao,
is passing by in his luxury car. His daughter Wan, who has just returned from
abroad and is dressed like a man, offers to check if the pretty singer carries
any weapon so that the male soldiers don't have to do it. Once cleared, the
pretty singer is pushed away. She takes note of the cart's owner: a troupe
of the opera theater. She needs to retrieve the box that she stole.
Unfortunately, no men are allowed inside the opera.
Even the female roles are played by men.
The impresario of the troupe has a daughter, Bai, who has been dreaming all her
life of performing in the opera, and he catches her again trying to sneak on
stage: women are not allowed, no exceptions. She almost gets arrested by the
police as a revolutionary when they find a woman backstage, where only men
Meanwhile, in the same opera house a sinister-looking young man who never smiles, comrade Ling, meets
another mysterious man who introduces him to a girl: the daughter Wan of the
general. It turns out that Wan works with the revolutionaries.
The last emperor has been deposed by the democratic revolution.
A general, Yuan, is in power and the revolutionaries found out that he is
borrowing money from the Western powers to invade the south and establish a
new monarchy. Her father has the loan documents and Wan is willing to help the
revolutionaries by stealing them, all in the name of democracy.
Wan leaves the opera house in her car (which she drives like a British
gentleman). Hung is hiding in the trunk and therefore is taken to the palace
of general Tsao. Wan walks upstairs to her room and then with male dexterity
jumps from balcony to balcony in order to witness the signature of the loan
by her father. Then she tries to steal the document from the safe, but Ling,
camouflaged as a captain, clumsily interferes and they are almost discovered.
Luckily, Hung, who is simply trying to escape from the police, distracts
the soldiers. Then Ling has to kill a few of them in the garage where he was
hiding. Ling's life is saved by
one of these soldiers, an inexperienced and shy bespectacled freshman (the same one whom
Hung hit in order to steal the jewels), who gets wounded
in the shootout. Meanwhile, Wan has found Hung and heard her story.
Wan and Hung get to the garage, Ling loads the wounded soldier who saved his
life on the car, and Wan drives them out of the palace.
They run out of gasoline because a bullet made a hole in the tank.
They knock at the door of the opera house and Bai opens the door and lets them
in. Wan coldly performs surgery on the wounded soldier while Hung keeps trying
to go backstage where the cart and therefore the box of jewels might be.
Eventually Bai kicks them out but Hung is nowhere to be found.
Wan returns to palace where she finds her father alone. He tells her how
much he loves her and it hurts her (she's betraying him with the
revolutionaries). Then she meets Ling and the wounded soldier. They need
a plan to make a duplicate of the key. The wounded soldier suggests to
feed the general something that will make him go to the toilet.
The general and his young mistress attend the next performance of the opera.
His daughter Wan is sitting next to him, dressed like a general herself.
Behind the scenes a tragedy is taking place: the evil commander, Liu, of the
counter-revolutionary guards is proposing to the main actor, Fa, who plays
a beautiful woman in the opera. Despite speaking like a gay, Fa is terrified
at the idea of having to "marry" the commander and decides to escape.
The impresario's daughter Bai helps him and even gives him the content
of the medicine box, which turns out to be the jewels. Then she takes his place
on stage, a woman playing a woman. Meanwhile, Hung is still backstage looking
for the jewels, and, in order not to be discovered, she dressed like an actor
(impersonating a woman) herself. She accidentally plunges onto stage,
Meanwhile, the conspirators have prepared food that will cause stomach ache
in the general, but the general hands the food to his concubine.
Ling is waiting on top of the toilet and she faints when she sees him.
When Liu hears that she has seen a "ghost" in the toilet, he thinks it's Fa
who is hiding there. Ling, discovered, has to fight with the police, helped
by Bai, the wounder soldier and, secretely, Wan. Hung finally finds the box of
jewels, but it is empty (Bai gave them to Fa thinking they were medicines).
Wan's father, the general, proves to be courageous, Liu proves to be a coward.
Ling manages to escape. Liu orders the impresario to close the theater, just
punishment for having women perform in an opera. Bai, who has given a terrific
performance, cries alone, hated by her father for breaking the rules of their
craft. Wan consoles her. It starts snowing. Bai is thrown out of the opera
house. The three hug and walk together, laughing at their misadventures.
They reunite with Ling and the wounded soldier and all crash together in Bai's
room. The following day the general, in love with the two female performers,
orders the theater to reopen and Bai's father has to beg her to perform and
The new plan is for Hung to seduce the general and pour a powder in his drink.
In return Wan and Ling offer her four gold ingots.
Bai sees Ling and Wan kissing.
The plan fails but Bai solves the problem by knocking the general off with
a vase. Wan gets the loan document. Hung wants more money, Wan is only
interested in the revolution: Bai has enough of both of them and leaves them
in anger. Later Wan saves Hung from a man who tries to rape her and they
find out that he works for commander Liu: the man was spying on them.
The impresario and all the actors have been arrested. Ling and the wounded
soldier take Bai with them. Fearing that she has been discovered, Wan goes
to sacrifice herself and sends Hung to deliver the documents to Ling.
The general, feeling that he is finished after losing the documents, and his
daughter Wan, whom he doesn't know is the one who stole them, are ready
to flee together. First,
Wan releases Bai's father and all the actors from jail.
Liu's men enter the palace to arrest Wan, the general refuses to believe that
his daughter is a rebel and gets shot dead by Liu.
She fights like a tiger but eventually they arrest her.
The corrupt general of the first scene is back in power.
Wan is tortured by Liu and then thrown in the same jail where
Ling and the wounded soldier have already been stored.
Bai and Hung enter the palace, Hung seduces the general and then kills him,
then the girls find Wan and free her. Then they rescue
Ling and the wounded soldier who are about to get shot.
All five drive away in Wan's car. They now only need to recover the documents
that are in the theater.
Liu has not given up though. His men storm the theater during one last
performance featuring all the girls. The five flee through roof. In a scene
reminiscent of Peckinpah's Wild Bunch, Wan charges alone against
the men dressed in black that pop up on the roof. She is wounded but
eventually the five prevail and the evil Liu is killed accidentally by his
own men. The five ride off town on horses and eventually part ways, each one
heading in a different direction.
Spirit Chaser Aisha (1986)
Hark produced John Woo's gangster movie A Better Tomorrow (1986) and
and Ching Siu-tung's period fantasy movie A Chinese Ghost Story (1987), which is
a remake of Han-hsiang Li's The Enchanting Shadow (1959).
Cheng Shi Te Jing/ The Big Heat (1988)
Long Xing Tian Xia/ The Master (1989)
Xiao ao jiang hu/ The Swordsman (1990)
Wong Fei-hung/ Once Upon a Time in China (1991) is a colossal, epic
multi-episode saga that resurrected the kungfu genre.
It is flawed because the plot is wildly implausible and ridiculous,
and certainly does not justify such a lengthy film.
The comic scenes are not funny at all except the very last one.
The crew of a ship is staging a traditional dragon dance in the harbor.
The sailors of a French ship anchored in the same harbor mislead
firecrackers for gunfire and shoot the man who is dancing with the lion
mask. Fei-hung grabs the lion mask and finishes the performance, as tradition
During the Qing dynasty the Western power are slowly invading China.
The commander of the Black Flag Army is bitter because he is being
dispatched to Vietnam to fight the French when in fact the British and
the Portuguese are occupying Chinese cities. He appoints Fei-hung to lead the
The commander hands Fei-hung a fan inscribed with the "inequal treaties" forced on
China by the Western powers.
Meanwhile in the noisy streets of the village a group of chanting Western missionaries has to contend with the noise of traditional Chinese musicians.
The town is full of foreigners.
Fei-hung's kungfu school is located in his villa, Po-chi-lam, where he lives
with his disciples Wing/"Porky", So/"Buck Teeth" and Kai. Wing and Kai are
good fighters, the shy and stuttering Buck Teeth only helps with traditional Chinese medicine. But he has been in the USA and speaks fluent English.
His uncle introduces Fei-hung to his aunt Siu-kwan/ "Aunt 13", who has come back
from the USA. They are the same age and grew up together, but formally she's
his aunt. They clearly like each other romantically but cannot express it.
His uncle asks Fei-hung to watch over her.
Aunt 13 has brought a new invention, a camera to take photographs.
Meanwhile, the aspiring actor Foon struggles to set up the stage for his show.
He sees Aunt 13 when she's taking a picture of the stage, is mesmerized by
her beauty and comically collapses from the roof in front of her.
Foon is the only actor of the troupe left: all the others have gone to the USA
to search for gold.
The Shaho Gang enters a shop and demands protection money.
Then they harass the poor Foon. Porky and other Fei-hung men come
to protect the villagers and the two gangs get into a fight.
Fei-hung is dining at a Western restaurant with Western authorities and the Qing
governor of the province, where Buck
Teeth translates (with no stuttering at all when he speaks English), and
suddenly the two gangs break into the restaurant and wreak havoc, for which
Fei-hung is reprimanded by the governor who doesn't approve of the local militia
and demands they disband.
Fei-hung is curious about the Western world and asks Aunt 13 if it is really
so rich and beautiful.
Fei-hung finds and arrests Shaho Gang's leader, but he is soon free again
because no witness can be found: they are all too scared to testify against
Meanwhile, there is a man in the village always advertising trips to the USA.
He claims that they will get rich easily by digging gold.
The Shaho thungs attack Fei-hung's palace, Po-chi-lam,
with flaming arrows, setting it on fire. There is one witness, however:
the Christian missionary, who is not scared of the thugs.
Now the governor could arrest them, but they run to the harbor and ask for
protection from Jackson, the US official who ships Chinese laborers to
California. The Shaho Gang's leader offers to provide Chinese women to Jackson to be used
as prostitutes in California. In return the leader wants Jackson to kill Fei-hung.
Jackson accepts the deal and plans to kill Fei-hung at Foon's show.
Fei-hung, Aunt 13 and the governor attend the show, which takes place despite some
screw-up by Porky who accidentally kicks out the two main actors (a snafu
which results in Porky having to volunteer to act). The opera is interrupted
when the Shaho Gang attacks Fei-hung and US troops open fire on the crowd wounding
scores of innocent bystanders. Fei-hung fights while entrusting Aunt 13 to the
Christian missionary. When Jackson orders to shoot at the woman, the Christian
missionary shields her and is killed. The governor is furious again with Fei-hung,
blaming him for provoking the foreigners, and puts him under house arrest,
while Fei-hung is tending to the wounded.
One of them tells him his harrowing story: how he paid to travel to the USA
but was then treated like a slave, and how he escaped back to China.
This is the reality behind the promises of getting rich easily with the gold
Buck Teeth wears his Western clothes and prepares to leave.
Foon meets a stranger, Yim, who shows his skills as a martial artist by
defeating the village's strong man. Foon begs Yim to take him as his disciple
so he can stop working unpaid as an actor. But Yim is starving himself and
Foon has to steal food for him.
Yim challenges Fei-hung at Po-chi-lam but is defeated (duel in the rain)
and challenges him to meet again in the street.
The governor's troops enter the compound looking for criminals.
Fei-hung surrenders but buys time so that Aunt 13, Buck Teeth and the escaped
slave can leave safely. The trio however is soon captured by the Shaho Gang,
whose leader plans to sell Aunt 13 as a whore: she is chained in the hold of
Jackson's ship with other kidnapped women. Ironically, the escaped Chinese
slave is killed by his fellow Chinese.
Yim waits in vain for Fei-hung to show up. Later he offers himself as the coach
to train the Shaho Gang.
Buck Teeth is allowed by the prison guards to tell Fei-hung that Aunt 13 has been
kidnapped. The prison guards then disobey their orders and allow Fei-hung, Porky,
Kai and their followers to escape, out of respect for the revered kungfu master.
Buck Teeth's fluent English fools the guards of Jackson's ship so that they
can board it.
Foon is upset that Yim accepted to work for the evil thugs and leaves him.
Fei-hung and Yim begin another lengthy duel.
The gang's leader is about to rape Aunt 13, who has scarred
his face trying to defend herself, but Foon comes to her rescue.
Foon is is captured by the gang and hung from the ceiling so that they can
beat him with sticks.
The British troops and the Qing governor demands to board the ship but the
US troops start shooting at them. Now finally the Qing governor realizes
who the real enemy is.
Fei-hung gets rid of Yim and launches towards the US troops. When they shoot
at him, they kill Yim instead.
Foon, Fei-hung and his men find Aunt 13 but the gang leader threatens to kill her
in a furnace. The women who have been kidnapped by his men attack him
and throw him into the furnace to burn alive. Aunt 13 is free and safe.
The governor finally understands that Jackson is a slave trader, but Jackson
takes him hostage.
Fei-hung kills Jackson and saves the governor's life.
Back in a restored Po-chi-lam,
Aunt 13 dresses Fei-hung like a Westerner. Foon asks him to accept him as a disciple.
They pose for a group photo but at the last second Foon wants to change place
and the photo is ruined.
The all-star comedy
Ho Moon Yeh Yin/ The Banquet (1991) was rushed as a benefit for
victims of a flood.
The wartime action-comedy
Cai Shu Zhi Heng Sao Qian Jun/
Coi Suk Zi Waang Sou Cin Gwan/ Uncle's Sweeping Thousands/
The Raid (1991),
co-directed with Ching Siu Tung and based on Michael Hui's comic strip "Uncle Choi" of the 1960s, is set during the Japanese occupation of Manchuria.
The King of Chess (1991), partially directed by Yim Ho (the scenes in mainland China) before Hark took over, is based on two
novels (by Chung Ah Shing and Cheung Hay Kwok).
It combines a satirical look at modern Taiwan with an indictment of Mao's communism, but it comes through as either predictable or didactic.
Once Upon a Time in China II (1992) was a worthy sequel, possibly even better than the original.
The historical setting
(a time in which China was fighting Japan while torn internally by an anti-foreigner cult and republican rebels)
helps Hark focus on the narrative, but
the kung-fu scenes remain a little tedious.
The films opens at Chaotian monastery where an elaborate ceremony welcomes
grandmaster Gau Gung, spiritual leader of Southern Heavenly Gates,
during which him and other warriors demonstrate their superhuman powers.
The sect hails the White Lotus Society that even employs demonic magic to fight foreign ideas and
then sets fire to Western objects and even to a Western dog.
A young man, Fei-hung, is on one of the first steam trains in China,
accompanied by Aunt 13, who wears Western clothes, and by his servant Foon.
The woman is the one familiar with railways and explains what is happening
on the train and how to eat with the forks and knives of the train's restaurant car to the men who are comincally inept.
Fei-hung is going to a medical conference that will be attended by many foreigners.
When they arrive in Canton,
It is 1895 at the end of the the first Sino-Japanese war and
there are protests in the streets against the peace treaty that cedes Taiwan to Japan, and the White Lotus Society is staging anti-foreigner demonstrations
around the city that attract huge crowds.
Children attack Aunt 13 who is wearing Western clothes.
She ignores that warning, follows the crowds to a
White Lotus Society demonstration, sets up her tripod and camera to take a picture and... is attacked by the sect as a foreign demon.
Foon, who is in love with her, defends her heroically but she is about to be
carried away when
Fei-hung shows up and shows his kung-fu skills, easily vanquishes them.
The conference begins in English.
When Fei-hung turn to present comes, a man named Sun Wen
(the historical Sun Yat-sen/Yi-xian)
offers to translate
his lecture on Chinese acupuncture.
The lecture is interrupted by a storm of flaming arrows shot by the White Lotus Sect that kill several foreigners.
Later the White Lotus Sect attacks and sets fire to the telegraph office, considered another western demon, and the governor orders his soldiers to defend it at all costs.
Aunt 13 has to change to Chinese clothes in order to avoid persecution by the
Fei-hung decides that she and Foon should return to their home town and he even teaches Aunt 13 a few kung-fu moves.
Meanwhile, the governor is informed that a rebellion against the emperor is
being planned by a man called Sun Wen, a physician who lectures about democracy and republican government with help from a man named Haodong Lu (also a historical figure like Sun Yat-sen).
Fei-hung is carrying Aunt 13 to the station (on his shoulders because she sprained a foot) when they see people running:
the White Lotus Society has attacked the foreign-language school.
Aunt 13, scared for the students, suddenly starts running (the sprained foot was an excuse to be carried by Foon) and Fei-hung follows her.
They arrive at the school too late: they find the place littered with the dead bodies of the teachers. Luckily the children hid adn are alive. But they come
from all over the province and it's not practical to send them back to their
Nobody wants to help them because they are afraid of retaliation from the
White Lotus Society.
Fei-hung decides to ask the government for help. In the government office
a military officer, Nap-lan Yuen-suet, is trying with acrobatic moves.
Fei-hung demonstrates his fighting skills as a way to introduce himself.
Nap-lan declines to help the children because his soldiers are deployed
on too many fronts and he could not resist an attack by the
White Lotus Society.
Luckily Aunt 13 hears Western music and finds the British consulate,
which accepts the children. Unfortunately when Foon leads
Fei-hung there, the guards refuse to let them in. A scuffle erupts and
an English-speaking Chinese intervenes to clarify the misunderstanding: he
is Haodong Lu. Western refugees arrive. Some of them wounded. The consul does not allow Fei-hung to examine them because he doesn't trust Chinese doctors.
Sun is also there: he and Lu keep checking their watches.
The White Lotus Sect lay siege to the consulate and burns crosses in front of it.
Aunt 13 faints when she sees that they are burning also an effigy of herself
with the camera.
Sun is allowed to take care of the Western wounded. When he runs out of
Western medicine, he asks for help from Fie-hung with his acupuncture.
We see Sun and Lu plotting the overthrow of the Chinese government.
Sun leaves the consulate, Lu remains.
Nap-lan, on behalf of the Chinese government, sends away the White Lotus
fanatics and enters the consulate to demand
the surrender of Sun and Lu, but the British consul refuses.
In retaliation Nap-lan orders to cut the telegraph cables to sever its ties to the world.
Then Nap-lan's soldiers, disguised as White Lotus fighters, attack the consulate.
Fei-hung and Lu help the British soldiers kill or capture all the attackers.
Just when peace has been restored,
Nap-lan enters the consulate with other soldiers under
the pretext of arresting the attackers.
The consul figures out that the whole attack was a trick but
Nap-lan personally kills him and orders to search the consulate for Lu.
Aunt 13 see it and alerts Fei-hung.
Fei-hung asks Foon to distract the Chinese soldiers while he and Lu attempt an escape and while Aunt 13 leaves the compound pretending to be just an interpreter.
Before they get separated, Aunt 13 tells Fei-hung that she loves him and, for the first time, he addresses her by her name, Siu Gwan.
Not only Fei-hung and Lu (disguised as Foon) manage to leave unharmed but Fei-hung also obtains from Nap-lan the promise to take care of the children.
In order to defeat the White Lotus Society, Fei-hung and Lu feign to join it.
During the baptism ceremony,
Fei-hung attacks the members and demands to meet their grandmaster Gau Gung in person.
They try to kill Fei-hung but, Fei-hung, despite being badly outnumbered,
resists. Eventually Lu pulls out his (very Western) pistol and points it at
the fanatics. A little girl who represents the spirit of the sect advances
unafraid of the pistol, convinced that their god will protect her.
Lu hesitates to shoot a little girl but in the confusion he shoots and she
Then finally grandmaster Gau Gung shows up, with a lot of pomp and acrobatics.
Fei-hung and Gau Gung engage in a lengthy kung-fu duel.
Gau Gung chants that he is invincible, and in fact he survives bullets
show by Lu.
But the duel ends with the gruesome death of Gau Gung.
An iron body armor falls from the lifeless body, revealing that Gau's magic
was a fraud.
While the White Lotus fanatics cry for the death of their saint,
Fei-hung and Lu run to an appointment with Foon.
Their next goal is to retrieve a book that contains the names of the conspirators allied with Sun.
Lu retrieves the book from the "Salted Shrimp Bar" but
Nap-lan and his soldiers arrive and shoot at them, wounding Lu.
Lu starts burning the book so it doesn't fall in the hands of Nap-lan.
Fei-hung engages another duel, this time with Nap-lan.
Fei-hung kills Nap-lan after another lengthy scene of fighting.
Lu dies after burning all the pages of the book and, before dying, tells Foon to deliver the cloth that wrapped the book to Sun.
Sun and Aunt 13 are anxiously waiting at the port.
Aunt 13 shows that she learned kung-fu by throwing overboard a soldier who recognizes the wanted Sun.
The ship is sailing. Foon throws the cloth to Sun. It is just a flag,
a symbol of the revolution that is about to shake China.
Twin Dragons (1992)
Once Upon a Time in China III (1993)
Ching Se/ Green Snake (1993), an adaptation of
Lilian Lee's novel "Green Snake" that, in turn,
revisits an ancient legend. The plot is a bit implausible, and seems to
center more on the love between the two sisters (and the jealousy that originates
from it) than on the metamorphosis of the snakes.
The first scene is almost psychedelic:
a young monk, Fa Hoi, watches expression-less the crowd of
monstrous peasants in a bustling village.
The film then fast-forwards to a forest where an old demon in white dress
is walking on air, chased by that young monk. Fa Hoi
captures him in a mug and buries him under a gazebo.
Fa Hoi sees a woman giving birth in the forest, somehow protected by
two sexy girls.
The film then moves
to the city, where a decadent Indian dance (with Indian dancers)
in a night-club ends with a naked girl crawling on the floor, and she
is one of those two, Green.
Nearby, students are reciting classics to prepare for the examination but one is caught by the stern instrutor writing obscene poetry, probably for one of those
two girls, who can be seen swimming naked. We also see the
two girls embracing on the roof.
On stage Green seduces the Indian singer/dancer while her "sister" White
notices one of the rich guests, the stern teacher Hsui.
A Daoist jester arrives in town, accompanied by his two child-assistants,
and immediately wreaks havoc.
The monk, still living outside the city, releases the demon.
During a festival, girls float lotus-shaped lanterns towards the men they love,
and one dares send a lantern towards Hsui but he merely shakes his head
The two girls, White and Green, are actually two snakes, and very old ones.
The two have been training for a long time (White for one thousand years)
to enter the human world.
White proceeds to seduce Hsui on a during a storm.
The "sisters" build a house overnight thanks to their magical powers.
Green enjoys her real form of snake when inside the house and hurriedly transforms into the sexy girl when someone visits.
Hsui quickly abandons his career of scholar and marries White.
Green watches and has an orgasm while White and Hsui have sex.
When a flood devastates the village, Fa Hoi is the hero who saves it by
parting the waters and creating a sort of black hole.
White and Green become doctors in the village.
Green watches jealous as White and Hsui make love.
Hsui discovers the truth about his wife when she sees her as a snake, but the whole village is grateful that she practices there, and his wife manages to
convince him that it was just an hallucination.
During the boat festival the villagers consume a drink that weakens the snakes'
magical powers. White only pretends to drink it while instead pouring it in
the pond. Alas, Green swallows it while she is swimming, and turns into a
snake in front of Hsui, who has a heart attack and falls into a comatose state.
White knows that the only cure is a magic herb only found on a mountain
protected by a superpowerful crane, but still decides to try (she has obviously
acquired human emotions): she flies away.
Green, feeling guilty that she caused the problem, follows her.
Fa Hoi notices the two flying girls and, suspecting evil, flies behind them too.
White gets the herb and returns to save the husband whom she really loves now, while Green distracts the monk and proves that his
meditation powers can be defaeted: all she has to do is swim naked in her
snake form around him. Back home Green tries to seduce Hsui and gets into an argument with her sister. That escalates into a duel of magical powers,
with the result that
White reveals that she is pregnant, cries her first tear and sends Green away.
Green cannot understand because she has no human emotion.
Fa Hoi warns
the rather dumb and clownish
Hsui that the two women are demons and gives him a necklace that
would kill them forever, but Fa Hoi throws it away and warns the two women,
who are still bickering.
Fa Hoi takes his revenge on Hsui for not using the magical beads: he erases
the house that the snakes built and kidnaps Hsui. Fa Hoi flies towards his
holy mountain holding Hsui by the hand. At the mountain sanctuary Fa Hoi and
other monks try to convert Hsui, who is kicking and screaming.
White and Green reach the mountain and challenge Fa Hoi with a flood,
while the other monks hysterically beat on their percussion instruments.
Fa Hoi lifts his temple mountain into the air, but the flood destroys the
surrounding village. As the waters rise, the two sister kiss one last time.
White begs Green to save her husband.
In the middle of the mayhem, White gives birth to a boy. Green confronts
the monks and cries her first tear. The temple collapses and the monks die,
floating in the vast lake that has been created where the temple mountain lay.
Realizing that White has become human,
Fa Hoi saves White's baby who is about to drown, while White dies.
Green liberates Hsui, but then, seeing White die, Green stabs Hsui to death
so that he can follow White into the afterlife.
Fa Hoi confesses to Green that he feels guilty because he has caused the death of others.
Green leaves him alone with the baby, standing erect on a piece of the temple
in the middle of the vast lake full of dead bodies.
Liang Zhu/ The Lovers (1994),
a remake of Han-hsiang Li's musical The Love Eterne (1963),
based on a popoular legend, is a
period comedy, bordering on fairy tale, set in ancient times in a pastoral lyrical landscape of temples and forests.
It's a lightweight film with very modest ambitions, telling a simple school-age
love story like many others with a tearful ending in the tradition of
the silliest Hollywood melodrama.
A vain man who rules over an entire town aims at marrying his daughter
into a powerful family.
He is ashamed of his awkward illiterate girl Ying-toi.
Her mother tries to teach her good manners but it is hopeless: the girl walks like a boy.
Her mother decides to send her to a boy's college, diguised as a boy.
She herself studied there when she was the girl's age.
It turns out that the headmistress remembers the mother and quickly finds out that the boy is a girl, but accepts to go along the lie for the sake of
giving the girl the education that she deserves.
The girl is treated with respect by the old male teacher because she comes
from a wealthy family. In the same class is a poor boy Shan-pak, ridiculed
by the other students, who has to work in order to stay there.
He studies and even sleeps in the library, which is where the headmistress
has allowed Ying to sleep. Therefore the two "boys" meet and become good
friends. They even sleep in the same bed, separated by a bowl of water.
They study together, and even cheat together (they almost get expelled when
the teacher catches her teaching and he trying to protect her).
They are attracted to each other but she has promised her mom not to have body contact with boys and he is afraid of becoming a gay.
She passes the examination and
they get drunk to celebrate, so that at night a few words slip out of her mouth
that could betray her.
They both get punished when he tries to help her out of trouble.
She takes the blame when other students cause Shan to break a zither.
She loses the garment she uses to hide her breast;
he finds it and returns it, puzzled.
She boils a medicine when he catches a cold.
Finally, her father dispatches a coach to pick her up because the wedding needs
to happen as soon as possible for political reasons.
She is desperate.
They hug and he is confused by his feelings for another boy.
She doesn't want to leave him and kisses him. They make love and
he learns that she is a girl.
She makes him promise to come and propose to her parents.
Shan-pak passes his examination just in time.
The wedding celebrations begin.
Shan arrives, and they decide to flee
and take shelter at the college; but
her mother overheard them.
Shan is beaten to death and she is imprisoned in a room.
His last letter to her is a scroll of blood stains.
He is buried along the route of the wedding procession so that he can see Ying one more time.
She is crying nonstop while the maids are preparing her for the wedding.
She begs her mother to let her stop by his tomb during the procession.
Her father, instead, opposes the plan and orders a new route;
but an avalanche blocks the path of the procession and they have to steer
towards the tomb.
Alerted by a loyal servant, Ying gets off the wedding sedan and runs to the
A strong wind answers her prayer and the ground swallows her.
A monk who was their friend releases two butterflies.
the farce Jin yu man Tang/ The Chinese Feast (1995)
Hua yue jia qi/ Love in the Time of Twilight (1995)
Dao/ The Blade (1995) was Hark's
loose remake of Hong Kong director Chang Cheh's kung-fu classic
The One Armed Swordsman (1967), which pretty much coined the hybrid
of Sergio Leone's spaghetti westerns and Japanese samurai films that would
remain the reference standard for the genre.
Unfortunately, the remake is too slow, predictable, stereotypical and
The hysterical camera movements do not help, creating mostly confusion.
The ending is incredibly ridiculous.
The story is told by the daughter Ling of a sword maker, who is a teenager.
Her father's foundry employs a group of strong young men, who are treated
like slaves and sons by the master. She admires two in particular,
the hot-tempered Iron Head and the calmer orphan Dingon,
and she her secret sadistic dream is that some day they should
fight over her. When she tries to pit them one against the other, instead,
they stop talking to her.
One day the two friends witness a courageous monk defend a girl who is about
to be kidnapped by some ugly bandits. The monk is later ambushed and brutally
killed by the bandits. Iron Head runs after them to avenge the murder but
Ding-on restrains him, reminding him that it is none of their business.
That is also the philosophy of their master, Ling's father, who later punishes Iron Head for
trying to organize a posse and instead promotes Dingon to official successor
to reward him for his wisdom.
Granma tells Ling that she disagrees, that the other men will now hate Dingon,
that the master made a mistake;
but she understands why the master did it:
he owes his life to Dingon's father, who was hanged upside down
after saving the master from the terrible bandit Flying Dragon.
Dingon overhears them and runs to confront the master. The master, however,
refuses to tell him anything because so he promised his dying father (the father
did not want his son to look for revenge against the invincible monster).
Dingon grabs his father's sword and rides away. The bandits, who are shown behaving like
animals, are camped nearby. Ling gets on a horse and tries to reach Dingon but
is instead captured by the bandits. Despite his back being on fire, Dingon
manages to kill many bandits,
but eventually his hand gets caught into an animal trap and Ling
witnesses as the bandits rip his arm off.
The bandits play with his severed arm, while Dingon pathetically scream that he wants his sword back, until he falls into into a steep ravine.
When Iron Head and the other friends of the foundry arrive to free the girl,
there is no trace of Dingon.
But Ding-on is not dead: he has been saved an illiterate girl nicknamed
Blacky, who lives in a farm.
When he awakes, Dingon has to face the fact that he has lost an arm and is
therefore incapable of carrying out his revenge.
Meanwhile, Iron Head and Ling set out on their own looking for him, convinced
that he must still be alive. They stop in a town where Ling finally realizes
that Iron Head has no interest in her. He is more interested in freeing
a prostitute who is treated (and behaves like) a wild animal, a fact which
involves more implausible bloody sword fighting.
bandits led by a salivating psychopath raid a village, killing and destroying
with no mercy, and eventually descend on Blacky's farm.
They hang Dingon upside down, torture and humiliate him. Before leaving,
they burn down the miserable farm of the poor girl. Among the ruins the
girl finds a kungfu book: just like Dingon, she doesn't know who her parents
were, and she hopes in vain that the book says something about her family.
Dingon slowly and patiently uses the manual to learn kungfu, finally achieving
his own technique of spinning and jumping.
Meanwhile, Ling catches Iron Head having sex with the animal prostitute and
almost kills him in a fit of jealousy. The prostitute smiles and tells her
that all men are like that. Ling, crying, argues that Dingon would not treat
her like that.
Iron Head leaves her tied to a pillar and promises to find Dingon for her.
Dingon is currently busy killing the bandits, who made the mistake to return
to the farm. His acrobatic moves decimate the gang of the salivating psycho.
A young drug addict has been watching calmly from a distance, nicknamed
Skeleton: he is the real leader of the bandits. He hires
Fei Lung, nicknamed Flying Dragon,
Dingon sets out with the illiterate savage and comic Blacky.
When masked bandits break into the room where Ling is kept prisoner by the
prostitute on Iron Head's orders, Dingon and his woman happen to be staying
downstairs. Dingon accidentally kills the prostitute but then saves
Ling who is being carried away by one of the bandits. The bandits are afraid
of the one-armed cripple. Ling recognizes Dingon but he is wearing a mask too
and refuses to respond to her. He merely
hands her to Iron Head who just arrived.
Ling swears to Iron Head that she saw Dingon, but Dingon now is hiding from them.
Blacky does not understand why he doesn't want to be seen by them.
Finally the bandits attack the foundry of Ling's father, as Skeleton asked them
to do. But the battle gets complicated by the personal feud between
Flying Dragon and Ling's father. Iron Head eventually carries a wounded master
out and they run into Dingon who has arrived to take part in the battle.
Dingon can finally confront his father's killer. During the mortal duel Fei Lung
can demonstrate his ability to jump so high as to be nicknamed Flying Dragon.
Dingon kills him and Skeleton runs away.
Dingon leaves with Blacky. Iron Head leaves too.
Once a year Dingon and Iron Head return to visit Ling.
Ling gets old and she hasn't seen them in a long time, and she's still waiting
for them in an apparently empty foundry.
She closes her eyes and dreams of the good old days.
Double Team (1997) and Knock Off (1998) were two horrible action films made in Hollywood.
Seunlau Ngaklau/ Time And Tide (2000) is a tour de force of experimental cuts, camera
angles and close-ups performed at a relentless, almost manic, pace.
Hark summarizes a century of action movie, from silent slapsticks to
Hitchcock's North By Northwest, from kungfu films
to Wong's Chungking Express, sets them against a degraded urban
background and wraps them in psychedelic colors.
The flying camera and the spastic rhythm are disorienting, to say the least.
Schizoid flashbacks show what is flashing through the protagonist's head,
while hysterical camera movements confuse even the present.
Action overload is augmented with extreme lighting contrasts
The protagonist, Tyler, a young man in Hong Kong, thinks of the Creation.
A bartender, he meets a slutty girl, Jo, who is looking for drugs. He gives her
ice instead and they argue. They challenge each other at drinking alcohol,
then, outside, they throw up.
In the morning the two are sleeping at Tyler's house. While she's in the
bathroom, Tyler looks up her wallet and finds out she's a police officer.
She is furious that they made love (although neither remembers if they
actually did or not).
The speed increases as the film goes on. The pace in the second half of the
film is simply epileptic. Scenes flash by faster and faster, often
reduced to just a stain of colors. The first part of the film was just
wandering aroung the streets of Hong Kong, while the second part has three
epic battlefields: the apartment building, the train station and the
stadium. Each one is used to maximum effect.
The last scenes are the equivalent of ten Hitchcock movies in one.
Obviously the plot is not very credible.
Tyler falls in love with the woman who slept with him without even knowing
his name and who turns out to be a police officer and even a lesbian.
Tyler and Jack risk their lives to cheat gangsters.
But the plot is only a pretext for extreme tension and fast pace.
And, in a way, even this crazy plot well represents the craziness of
Hark mixes some comedy in the action, possibly to let the viewer know that
this is just a gigantic joke.
Nine months later she's pregnant and about to have a baby. The problem is
not only the unwanted pregnancy, but also that she is a lesbian. She slept
with him only to find out about drugs. Tyler has been hit by her jealous lover,
another lesbian police officer.
To make some money,
Tyler takes a job with Uncle Ji, the head of an unofficial bodyguard service.
The first assignment is to protect a fat rich woman who probably just wants
some company and specifically asks to ride in Tyler's car. Tyler gets rid
of her by driving backwards at very high speed all the way to the airport.
At the airport he is fascinated by the brochure of an exotic place.
Tyler is working for Jo's baby: all the money he makes, he slips it under
her apartment's door. He doesn't know that the dog eats it up.
A flashback shows Tyler's previous life. He was working as a cashier for a
drug gang somewhere in Latin America. One rainy night a squad in military
uniforms came to bring some money and Tyler's gang ambushed them. In the
shootout Tyler personally killed one of the men and watched the leader
blow up on a bed of grenades.
Ji's new assignment is to protect the birthday party of a boss of the
local mafia. Ji's men, including Tyler, are spread around the elegant
hall. One of Ji's men finds a member of another gang who is obviously
planning to shoot their customer, and tortures him to learn about his
accomplice. Ji's men are using walkie-talkies to communicate. Ji is
informed that the hitman is camouflaged as a waiter and informs all the men
on the floor. Tyler thinks he found a suspicious waiter, but it turns out
to be an innocent. In the meantime, the birthday party reaches its peak,
when the old man calls his children to the stage and estranged daughter
Hui joins them. Hui has married a man from Taiwan, Jack, whom the father
does not welcome (even refuses his birthday present). Hui is also
pregnant. Ji's man in the back is still torturing his victim and sends new
instructions. It turns out Jack and Tyler know each other from the drug days
and Jack alers Tyler of the strange movements of another waiter, who is
in fact the hitman. Tyler chases him down the corridors of the building
and stops him just in time. They fight in the basement until Ji arrives
and, not believing Tyler's story, gives him a warning.
Tyler gives Jack and Hui a ride. That night Jo finds another roll of banknotes
under the door of her apartment, except this time she gagged the dog.
Tyler and Jo argue in a supermarket. She doesn't want his money and does not
want to admit the baby is his. Hui is also there and complicates things.
Tyler and Jack discuss business. They both need money for their babies.
Jack is involved in drug deals for a a psychotic gangster
with an American accent who speaks in english and calls everybody
"cockroach" (and calls Jack Juan).
The psycho asks Jack to kill his rival. Jack accepts and takes position
with a gun. Ji has been hired to protect the rival, and Tyler is with him.
After Jack shoots, a frantic chase follows in the nearby mall. Tyler catches
him and Jack/Juan hits him. Jack/Juan leaves the mall while a pack of men
are looking for him everywhere and steals the car with the money. Now a
frantic car chase begins in the multilevel parking structure, and, again,
Jack/Juan manages to escape. Eventually he simply jumps from the building
into the freeway hanging on a firehose.
The police arrest Ji and his men and suspect of Tyler, but Tyler does not
cooperate. Jo tries to bail him out. Released, Tyler is captured by Ji who
locks him in a truck's trailer and wants to hear the truth. Tyler gives him
a story and gets out of it.
Jack/Juan finds his wife at the hospital and tells her not to go back to their
apartment and to find shelter at her father's mansion.
Jack gives Hui the key to a locker in
the train station, where the bag with the money is hidden.
First thing, Tyler drops some money again at Jo's apartment, but this time
the landlord opens the door and tells him that she's in labor at the hospital.
The action moves to a vast, shabby apartment building. The psycho's men are
ready to shoot at Jack and Hui's apartment. They are just waiting for their
target (Jack betrayed them by running away with the money).
They are using high-tech devices and, again, lots of walkie-talkies.
Tyler breaks into Jack's apartment. The gangster see him and can shoot him
any time. But they miss him. He runs and is chased around the building.
He survives one fight after another. Tyler left the gas running in the
apartment. Jack/Juan comes to his rescue with his guerrilla tactic of
shoot and run. Eventually the gangsters corner Tyler into the apartment
and the apartment blows up while Tyler is hidden in the refrigerator.
Hui, getting close to her own labor, sees the explosion from a taxi and asks
to be taken to the train station.
Both Tyler and Juan manage to escape before the police arrive. So do the
gangsters who are after them. They all converge on the station, where Hui
is already opening the locker.
Tyler is the first to reach her: now he wants the money to end the shooting,
but Hui does not want to give it to him. Then she drops to the floor with
terrible pain while the gangsters are ready to shoot them. The police
evacuates the station and surrounds the building. Jack/Juan is already
inside, ready like a Rambo and agile like a kungfu hero.
Both the gangsters and the police are using walkie talkies all the time.
Tyler tells the police that Hui is having a child and the police chief
orders to save the woman, but, of course, the gangsters do not cooperate.
So Tyler has to drag Hui and the bag to the basement and hide, while
Jack/Juan engages the gangsters and the police raids the building using
tear gas. The men move like shadows in the darkness.
Jack/Juan manages to flee thanks to a train that is entering the station
by mistake, but is arrested by the police chief.
Tyler, following a tunnel, has found shelter in a room under the stadium
and is helping Hui give birth.
The gangsters arrive at the stadium. The police chief is afraid they will
hurt the crowd and gives Jack a gun so he can help. Jack finds the psycho
who eventually blows up in his own booby trap.
Tyler just got the baby out of Hui's body that a gangster attacks them.
Tyler and Hui somehow manage to get rid of the gangster and save the baby.
Now that the gangsters have all been killed or arrested,
the police chief gives Jack three minutes to run away. Jack chooses to
hug hif wife first.
Tyler, also released, visits his own baby at the hospital and thinks again
about the Creation: the most important part of the Creation was the creation
Shu shan zheng zhuan/ The Legend of Zu (2001) is his most spectacular
Vampire Hunters (2002)
In The Blue (2005)
Chat Gim/ Seven Swords (2005) is an
adaptation of Liang Yusheng's novels "Saiwai Qixia Zhuan" and "Qijian Xia Tianshan" and became a tv series.
The Warrior (2006)
Tie Saam Gok/ Triangle (2007)
Sam Hoi Tsam Yan/ Missing (2008)
Nuren bu Huai/ All About Women/ Not All Women Are Bad (2008) is another farce.
Di Renjie - Tong Tian di Guo/ Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame (2010), a smash hit in China, is a historical movie
constructed around a real character of the Tang Dynasty, Di Renjie.
Hark's fascination with popular legends reaches a
visually intense peak on a semi-colossal scale.
Thematically, one can find references to Homer, Dante and countless Chinese
legends. The film is a synthesis of many traditional motives, but it is
a bit overlong, unable to find a plausible ending to a very convoluted detective story.
The kungfu scenes to do alleviate the problem: they aggravate it.
The ambitious Wu Zetian is about to crown herself first Tang empress ever.
She commissioned master Jia the construction of a giant Buddha from which
one could admire the coronation ceremony. Jia takes a visiting Arab for a tour
of the giant statue. They take a horse-driven elevator to the top and suddenly
Jia's body catches fire. Nothing is left of his body, just ashes.
The superstitious workers have a simple explanation: Jia had removed some
amulets and forgot to put them back in their place. However, magistrate
Xue, who reports directly to the empress, scorns the superstition and believes
that someone murdered Jia. His glacial assistant Pei notices that Jia's body
burned from the inside (the shoes are intact). Xue suspects the workers'
supervisor, Shatuo, who lost an arm when he was punished for having
sided with a populist rebellion. Xue rides to the palace. The empress and
her retinue are waiting for him in the courtyear. As he approaches it, he
catches fire. The empress is saved by a loyal female guard who rides her
horse against Xue's.
The empress becomes paranoid that someone is trying to kill her. Nobody is
allowed to enter the palace without special permission. A proud feminist, she
is determined to break the rules and become the first woman to rule China.
A holy deer is brought to her. The deer can speak, and his words imply that
only Di Renjie, the leader of the revolt, can solve the mysterious incidents.
Her loyal guard Jinger warns her against releasing the dangerous enemy
Jinger leads a unit of soldiers to pick up Di from the prison where he has
spent eight years. Someone tries to kill Di and his best friend, an old blind
Jinger delivers Di in the middle of an imperial tournament. Di shows up
unshaved and wearing prison clothes. The empress defends her record: she has
done a good job of running the country. She accuses him of rebelling only
because she is a woman. He accepts to serve her again as the chief detective
of the empire. She commands Jinger to be his assistant.
Jinger watches coldly and obeys coldly. She was trained to be a warrior not
a sentimental girl. He tests her skills and they engage in some acrobatic
kungfu. Then suddenly she tries to seduce him. They are about to make love
when a hurricane of arrows falls down on them. They survive miraculously.
Outside they find the evil prince Li, who commands a
vast army of rebels and calls the empress an usurper.
The prince wants to hire Di, but Di declines the offer. Jinger thinks that he
might be behind the attempted assassinations, but Di doesn't think so: the
prince wants him alive, not dead. The empress assigns Pei to work with Di.
Pei shows no respect for Jinger, he is clearly a male chauvinist, and wants
to be left alone with Di.
Jinger cannot resist and eavesdrop from the roof.
Pei believes in the power of the amulets: both men were killed after
desecrating them. Di does not.
Pei is an ambiguous figure: he pretends to be loyal to the empress but he is
the one who gains a promotion from the death of Xue.
When they see a bird cage catch fire, Di figures out that a strange poison
triggered by the sun is the cause of self-ignitions.
Di, Pei and Jinger visit the giant Buddha, and Di recognizes his old friend
and fellow convict Shatuo. Shatuo has figure out the origin of the deadly
poison: a family of venomous beetles nicknamed "fire turtles".
These are not native so someone must have smuggled them into the city.
Di, Jinger and Pei travel to the underground city where the smugglers
live and work. A ghostly Charon-like figure with a guttural voice chariots them
to the cavern where an ogre named Donkey lives.
Donkey eats worms and pets scorpions.
Donkey does not want to cooperate.
They narrowly escape another assassination attempt.
Donkey flees, terrified.
They chase him in the underground canals
but he is killed by a superhuman android-like log-throwing being dressed in a red cape that Pei recognizes as the "imperial abbot" or "chaplain", the one who
speaks via the magic deer.
The trio loses the duel against the red monster but the chase continues
through the dark labyrintine world.
They all can make astounding jumps up and down.
Di realizes that the target is Donkey, not them: someone wants to kill a
Finally, they reach a quiet building in the middle of a forest: it is
the "Infinity Monastery" that cannot be entered without imperial permission.
The identity of the mysterious assassin is still uncertain: Pei swears it was
the chaplain, but Jinger knows him personally and swears it was not him.
Donkey's face morphs into the face of the imperial physician and we learn
why he lives underground: he used the beetles to cure the late emperor but
then realized that they contained a terrible poison and fled, abandoning them
in the Infinity Monastery.
Di now wants to talk to the chaplain, who hides in the
Infinity Monastery. Jinger reports back to the empress and the
empress relieves Jinger of her duty and decides to get rid of Di.
Pei discusses the case with Di and they can't figure out what
motive the chaplain would have had to kill Jia and Xue. Di suspects that,
by moving the amulets, they may have revealed something, something that
would be in Jia's inspection report.
Meanwhile, Li meets Di again and returns to him the imperial mace that was
taken from him when he was imprisoned. Di repeats that he
doesn't want to be involved in the power struggle between Li and the empress.
Li whispers to him that the late
emperor was killed by the chaplain on behalf of the empress.
Later Li tells his men that he doesn't want Di killed. Just then a poisoned
arrow kills him and sets his body on fire.
Di is ready to enter the Infinity Monastery but is confronted by the empress
in person. Jinger, hiding in the back with a large garrison of archers,
is ready to order him killed. The empress
swears that she didn't poison the late emperor, that she is being vilified
because she's a woman.
She forbids him to interrogate the chaplain in the Infinity Monastery because
he has a function in her coronation.
Di disappears when Pei brings the news of the prince's death.
Pei discovers that a renovation has been going on for a month in the imperail
palace. Pei finally finds Jia's inspection report and rides away in a hurry,
but he is captured by bandits.
Di enters the forbidden monastery and confronts the chaplain, a
ventreloquist that lends his voice to the magic deer.
Di has figured out who is the chaplain: Jinger herself, capable, like the
imperial physician, of morphing her face. That's why Jinger was sure that
the red figure in the underground world was not the chaplain.
Di warns her that the empress will dispose of her because she knows too many
secrets. Jinger screams and launches into a desperate attack. She is a skilled
fighter, capable of supernatural kungfu feats.
She is about to kill him when she realizes that he told her the truth: the
empress would dispose of her. She spares his life and carries him into the
forest, but is mortally wounded by a trap set by the bandits.
Di loads her on a horse that carries her back to palace, where she dies
in the empress' arms, and the empress finally shows her humane side by
hugging her like a child and crying.
Di finds Pei too late, just when his face is beginning to catch fire.
Di can only witness Pei's body burning down to a few embers.
Pei doesn't have time to reveal what he discovered in Pei's papers.
Di finds the papers in Pei's saddle: they are diagrams of the giant Buddha,
and something is very wrong about them.
Di understands that Shatuo is planning to cause an accident that
will kill the empress during her coronation.
Shatuo confesses: he wants revenge for his mutilation and his imprisonment.
Jia and Xue had to be killed because they noticed the sabotage when they moved the amulets.
Shatuo killed Li to take control of his army.
Shatuo even confesses that he is the one who tried to kill Di in the underground
And Shatuo killed the prince because the prince refused to kill Di.
Shatuo opens a trap door and dozens of beetles come out.
After a lengthy catastrophic duel inside the giant Buddha,
Di sabotages the sabotage, so that Shatuo's plan fails.
Shatuo reminds him in vain that he, Di, led a rebellion against the evil
empress: Di replies that he, Shatuo, is even more evil.
The coronation is underway. Shatuo jumps on a horse with a bottle of
deadly poison. Di catches him after a horse chase just before Shatuo can reach
the coronation ceremony,
and Shatuo dies of his own medicine, catching fire after Di spills the beetles
Just then Shatuo's man have started to blow up the Buddha statue that collapses
onto the palace. With one last fantastic jump Di grabs the empress and saves
her from the face of the Buddha that is flying towards her.
The palace is now only a mass of ruins. Both Di and the empress are covered in dust.
Di warns her that Shatuo's rebel army is marching on the palace.
Her men are dispatched to take care of it.
She now would like Di to join her court but instead he rebuffs her for having
killed officials and generals. Nonetheless, Di approves of her coronation,
because she has proven to be a valid leader; upon condition, however, that
she will eventually return power to the legitimate Tang line.
Di even exclaims: "Long live the emperor!"
Then he has to take care of himself: contaminated by the beetles, he has to
escape the sun, and the only safe place for him is the underground world
where he is escorted by the physician Donkey.
The Flying Swords of Dragon Gate (2011) is a 3D remake of
New Dragon Gate Inn (1992).
Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon (2013) is a 3D prequel to the
Detective Dee blockbuster.
Taking Tiger Mountain (2014), based on
Qu Bo's novel "Tracks in the Snowy Forest",
is a war epic that boasts delirious landscape photography and visual effects reminiscent of digital videogames.
The double ending feels a bit weird, as if the director needed to add something to make the movie more
palatable to the videogame generation.
Jimmy is at a karaoke bar with his friends. He is struck when, as a joke, his friends show him an old-fashioned
patriotic Peking opera. On a train to visit his family in the snowy north, Jimmy picks up a video documentary
or film of the post-war period, when bandits roamed the countryside after the Japanese surrender.
A batallion of the People's Liberation Army (the Chinese army) is chasing bandits in the icy countryside.
They are starving when Zirong and a nurse arrive in a locomotive carrying food.
The captain of the batallion does not trust Zirong, who is an unshaved secret agent dressed in civilian clothes.
Meanwhile, the evil Lord Hawk, carried on a palanquine and flanked by a zombie-like woman,
of the gangsters is torturing two men and letting his hawk pick them alive.
One day the soldiers capture a child who behaves like a wild animal. He screams, kicks, refuses to eat, doesn't
speak. They have to tie him with a rope for his own good.
Meanwhile the Japanese invaders are offering Lord Hawk a deal, impressed by his army and ammunitions,
although we hear that the Japanese envoy is planning to cheat Hawk in favor of another warlord, Big Stick.
They are all after the "advance map".
Hawk's fortress in the mountains, on top of an impossibly steep peak, Tiger Mountain.
The captain sends Zirong, the nurse and a couple of local soldiers to the nearby village.
The villagers are terrorized by bandits who have already stolen all the food.
There are spies in the village.
A humane spectacled soldier unties the child and the result is that they both get captured by the bandits and
captain leads the rescue mission, frees them and captures an important middleman.
At last, the child understands that the soldiers are friends. He starts eating and speaking, grateful. The nurse's
affection makes him cry. He tells her that his father has been killed and his mother kidnapped by Hawk.
The platoon now has food because it took the loot of the bandits.
The captain still does not trust the mysterious Zirong, but it is Zirong who finds a way to make the middleman talk.
It turns out that the middleman has the "advance map" and was try to sell it to the highest bidder.
The soldiers learn that there are actually three maps. The other two are the map of Hawk's ammunition depot and
and the map to warlord Zhang's treasure.
Whoever gets all the maps will control the whole region.
Zirong wants to infiltrate Hawk's hideout. Initially the captain denies him the permit to go on such a dangerous
mission but then the captain sides with him and even gives him a copy of the map so that Zirong has something
valuable to be accepted among the bandits.
Zirong has to face a tiger in the snow-covered forest, butmakes it
to the fortress atop Tiger Mountain.
After a harsh interrogation, during which he pretends to be a deserter from the Big Stick gang,
Zirong presents the gift of the advance map to Hawk and is accepted in his gang.
Hawk's zombie-like lady walks into Zirong's room to seduce him and kill him, like she has done many times
before to other visitors, but Zirong recognizes her name,
as the missing mother of the wild child.
She cries that she has been kept as a sex slave by Hawk.
Zirong, who has deployed a fellow soldier nearby, sends a message back to the captain with the map to reach the
fortress and with the news that the child's mom is alive.
The child is the natural choice to lead the soldiers to the fortress because he's familiar with the territory,
but the captain hides from him the news that his mother is alive.
The soldiers survive a massive attack by Hawk's bandits although badly outnumbered.
The good spectacled soldier, Gao, dies, the wild child heroically helps the soldiers,
but their prisoner, the middleman who had the map, manages to escape.
He reaches Hawk's fortress where he tells Hawk that Zirong is a spy, but Zirong retorts that he is the spy.
Hawk believes Zirong and condemns the middleman to be executed by Zirong himself. Zirong kills him and then rolls
his body down the mountain after having placed a message in his pocket. Zirong's fellow soldier is at the bottom
of the mountain, collects the message and brings it to the captain.
The message is to organize the storming of the fortress during Hawk's birthday celebrations.
The soldiers ski to Tiger Mountain through the forest. The nurse insists on going along.
The wild child, Knotti, is their scout.
The bandits are holding the 60th birthday party for their leader.
The captain reaches the fortress with acrobatic aerial moves.
Knotti's mother has been sentenced to die that night.
The surprise attack works. After a lengthy battle,
Zirong kills Hawk and frees Knotti's mom.
The captain now trusts Zirong and the two shake hands after having completed their mission.
Jimmy reaches his granma's home.
As he knocks at the door, we realize that he just told us the story of his family.
The old woman has prepared a big dinner for New Year's Day. She has invited all the characters of the movie,
who walk in still dressed in their military uniforms and sit around the table, with Knotti facing Jimmy:
granma is the wife of Knotti, who is therefore Jimmy's granpa.
Clearly, it is all happening in Jimmy's mind. He even imagines an alternative, Hollywood-ian ending, a
spectaculr airplane scene in which Zirong saves granma and for a few seconds is left with Hawk on the plane's
wreck stuck between two peaks. Zirong holds Hawk by the pistol over the abyss, but then Hawk falls to his death.
(Translation by/ Tradotto da xxx) |
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