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Hong Kong Films Who Will Go See Them?

3513 words - 15 pages

And who will go see them? In 1992, Hong Kong films earned $160 million at the local box office; last year that take was nearly halved, to $85 million. And though Hong Kong remains the rare free-market region whose homemade films outgrow the Hollywood invaders, the locals' share has plummeted in four years from 80% to 54%. That has led to a slashing of the typical movie budget, from nearly $3 million to about $1.5 million. In such a stringent climate, producers naturally drool when they look to the mainland. But Beijing has said it would not relax its quota system, which allows release of only 10 foreign films a year, including Hollywood big movies.Hong Kong producers see the mainland not ...view middle of the document...

It's true that, in the U.S., most of the Chinese-language hits have been art-house films from Taiwan's Ang Lee and China's Zhang Yimou and Chen Kaige. With the exception of Bruce Lee in the '70s and a couple of recent Jackie Chan comedies, Hong Kong's popular; Hollywood-style action format hasn't caught on with mainstream moviegoers. But it is a mania in specialized U.S. video stores. Hong Kong has a huge video-export market and it finds new acolytes daily.For foreign newcomers to the island's product, Hong Kong film presents a richness of perplexities. Start with the film titles: the English translations (and there may be two or three for some films) rarely have any connection with the originals. Woo's The Killer is known to the Chinese as Bloodshed of Two Heroes; Bruce Lee's breakthrough movie The Big Boss is the English rendering of Tong Mountain Big Brother; the Jackie Chan Armor of God is Dragon Elder Brother Tiger Younger Brother; Sex and Zen is really The Carnal Prayer Cushion: Almanac for Adultery. If a Westerner visits a Chinatown video store and asks for last year's coming-of-age drama Growing Up, the clerk may say, "Oh, you mean People Small Ghost Big: Three 'Peeping Tom Teenagers."'And if you were to tell him it's "a Shu Kei movie," he might ask if you mean the Taiwanese sex kitten (also known as Hsu Chi), who two weeks ago won the Best New Performer prize at the Hong Kong Film Awards, or Shu Kei, the Hong Kong critic who has directed her in two films. Clearly, the island has plenty of movie talent but not enough names to go around. The name Tony Leung is shared by two actors: Leung Ka-fei, star of the steamy French film The Lover (hence called Tony "The Lover" Leung), and Leung Chiu-wai, star of Chungking Express (hence Tony "The Other" Leung). Actor Andy Lau (God of Gamblers) is not related to director Andrew Lau (Young and Dangerous). Still, you've got to love a film industry with two directors surnamed Lam--one Ringo, the other Bosco.Foreign fans of Hong Kong cinema dearly hope that after July 1 the films will still be subtitled in English as well as Chinese, and not just so they can understand what's going on. Because subtitling is a rushed, poorly paid job, and English is a third language to most Hong Kong people, the onscreen words often have a vagrant hilarity. In the 1993 Daughter of Darkness, a demanding lover murmurs (per the titles): "I please your uterus, you kiss my toes. It's fair." One U.S. book on Hong Kong films, Sex and Zen & a Bullet in the Head by Stefan Hammond and Mike Wilkins, has hundreds of these goofs. Some suggest mystic wisdom of the East: "From your tiny eyes, I can tell you won't be lazy in bed" (Holy Weapon). Others offer a fresh way to confront an adversary: "Take my advice, or I'll spank you without pants!" (The Seventh Curse). And a few are just beyond us: "My world is to companion with calabash till drunk" (Shaolin Drunkard).If we can guess at the meaning of Hong Kong subtitles, we can't fathom...

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