The other, OTHER side of HK Film [Part One]

In Gupter Puncher/Oli Johns on October 5, 2010 at 10:44 am

Stool Pigeon (2010)


Hong Kong is not in love with film.

I know this because I live here. I’ve lived here for over four years. When I walk in and out of cinemas and cafes next to cinemas and talk to people who wear t-shirts with Klaus Kinski and Paris, Texas all I hear is the same old shallow shit. And I don’t really understand anything they say to each other, but I know it’s not about Kubrick or the Rumanian New Wave or the Secret in their Eyes. They don’t care about this kind of thing. Art, I mean.

Or they might.

I don’t know.

I guess I shouldn’t underestimate them.


Fuck it, skip forward.


I’m sitting alone in a cafe on the fourth floor of some hidden building in Mong Kok…a cafe I heard the art director of Lust Caution comes to sometimes…

Not that I’m here because of him. I came here before I knew that, for my magazine. And I like the place anyway. I think.

The food’s pretty shit, actually. And this seat’s not very comfortable.

Okay, I am here because of him. And that’s not a bad thing. Not really. I mean, an art director’s gotta be more interesting than most people you meet, and this guy worked with Ang Lee. Not that I really like Ang Lee that much. But still…

And it’s better than being one of those people who avoids a place just because someone like the art director of Lust Caution went there. Or avoids it because other people will come here for the art director of Lust Caution, and they want to pretend they’re not one of them.

Man, I’m not sure what I’m arguing. He’s not even here. What is this?

In the newspaper there’s something about the new Aaron Kwok Fu Shing film, ‘City under Siege.’

‘Aaron Kwok Fu Shing leaves the circus to follow his dream of throwing knives for a living. While searching for lost Japanese gold [??], a mysterious gas turns him and five others into preternaturally strong mutants, and all hell breaks loose in Hong Kong.’

I put down the newspaper. ‘While searching for lost Japanese gold…’

Krist, it sounds terrible.


In the local arts cinema, there’s a trailer for the new Andy Lau Tak Wah film. ‘Detective Dee and the fantasy something.’ I know this one. It showed at Venice recently. Tsui Hark directing. Can it be good?

Andy Lau floats around in a funny hat and swishes his sword. Other characters in black and navy blue do the same. Then there’s a forest, a cave, a few colours I’ve never seen before. Lau doing a somersault in a canoe?

Then it ends.



The main film plays.

Aaron Kwok searches for the Japanese gold with other characters the same size as him. Aaron Kwok is 5′ 6”. Or 5′ 2”. I’m not really sure.

Then there’s some gas…the mysterious gas? It hits them all and the others become stronger and nastier and one guy turns into a monster. I mean, he physically looks like a monster. Aaron Kwok changes too, but…he becomes fat. Huh?


Another hour and it’s done. I walk out and hear a few people say, ‘man, that was just like a Hollywood film. It’s about time they put some kind of budget behind one of these.’

Actually, they’re speaking in Cantonese, and all I heard was, ‘… … … … … … Hollywood … … … … … … … … … …’

But I stand by my translation.


There’s a cafe next to the cinema called Kubrick. I go in and find it’s like a little cut-away piece of Europe. They’ve got Dr Caligari and his Cabinets. Fitzcarraldo. Three Colours Red. I take a seat next to a guy in a Parallax View t-shirt and write some notes on the film.

‘They used the same cameras as Bourne.

Aaron Kwok = Tom Cruise

There’s no creativity in the story or the shot compositions. The camera has to stay low ‘cos Kwok’s a midget.

Where now for HK film?

Cops and triads. Period Farce. Social dramas. Is this it?

Somersault in a canoe??’


Later that night I think of Dai Lowe, that nobody Scottish artist. ‘People scorn art because it seems difficult, and they are too scared to try and understand it.’


The next day I try another film. This one’s a social drama called ‘Girl$’. What I’ve heard about it is:

‘Four girls from different backgrounds fall into compensated dating, where they are paid for dates, and the sex that inevitably follows.’

I’ve also heard: ‘Only one girl, Taiwanese actress Una Lin, is contracted for nudity.’

Meaning the rest are prudes.


It’s the midday showing and I’m pretty much alone in the cinema. Two other guys sit as far away as they can. I can’t be sure but I think they’re here for Una Lin.

I think I am too.



There are two trailers. First up is ‘The Curse of the Deserted’ with loudmouth Chinese actress Kitty Zhang. It’s a haunted house film. With pop stars.

Oh, Kitty Zhang. Krist, she’s pretty.

Krist, it looks bad.

Next is ‘Zoom Hunting’ with some actress I’ve never seen before. She’s pretty too. Of course she is. There are no Joan Cusacks in Hong Kong film. No Paul Giamattis either.

The pretty girl sits at her apartment window taking photos of her neighbours.

There’s some snooping.

Some fucking.

Some violence.

Great. The eighty-first fucking version of Rear Window.


The film starts.

The four girls hang out and talk candidly about sex. There’s no insight. They go on dates. Three of them talk in bed with other guys, the covers pulled tight over their chests. Una Lin gets fucked every which way, no cover in sight. The aim, the youngest one says, is to make enough cash to buy that new Guggi bag.


The film ends.

The two other guys leave first, satisfied, I think.


In the Kubrick Cafe I make more notes.

‘Well shot, good jump cuts, but where’s the depth?

What is depth? Didn’t I come just to see Una Lin’s tits?

This film was clearly made by a student.

Kenneth Bi…the director…what does he know of this?

He’s a rich kid. They’re all rich kids, every fucking film.

Rich kids = educated, intelligent, unenlightened.

I’m too harsh? Rich people can have something to say too, can’t they?’

I put down the pen, stand up and wander over to the Herzog section.


I’m in class the next day and one of my students tells me she loved the Aaron Kwok thing, ‘City Under Siege.’ She is thirteen years old.

In a weird way I think I liked it too. I don’t know why.

She also tells me a new film called ‘The Stool Pigeon’ is supposed to be good.

‘The Stool Pigeon’?

‘A frustrated policeman uses informants to take down gangster thieves, but finds each one killed, and his own sense of complicity in their deaths weighing him down, driving him to increasingly desperate lengths.’

I look online and she’s right, it’s supposed to be good. Very good. Even if it is cops and triads.


Back in the cinema, I’m too late for the trailers.

The film starts.

The policeman tells a frightened man he can’t give him any more cash. A few minutes later and he’s being chased and chopped in a car park. The policeman shouts at himself and his warehouse. Is that where he lives? Shit. Then he recruits a street racer, Nicholas Tse. I know him. His wife was in Shaolin Soccer. Cecilia Chung. She was in that sex scandal too.

Nicholas Tse gets in tight with a thief called Barbarian. And his girlfriend. She’s not that pretty. The policeman pushes him further. But he doesn’t threaten him. He’s just cold, like a sociopath. Is there anything else to this guy?

Wait, he likes a dance instructor. No, she’s his wife. But-…oh right, she was his wife, but he got syphilis and gave it to her and they lost their kid and then she jumped off a roof and lost her memory and-…huh?

Oh, she’s gone. Never mind.

Hong Kong looks really different in this film. Are they using a new kind of lens? I don’t know. I recognise some of these locations. That one’s Tsim Sha Tsui. There’s Yau Ma Tei. This is good fun. Wait, there’s Kwun Tong, a ten minute walk from my house. And they’re chasing Nicholas Tse with choppers. Fuck…choppers. Can’t they use guns?


Once more, I make notes.

‘It’s cops vs triads, it’s the Infernal Affairs dance again, but…not as good.

The locations…how did they film that?

Rush Hour 2 – They shot the police station in Yau Ma Tei but it was a single, framed shot. And shit.

Stool Pigeon – Continuous shooting, moving through the streets.

Beautifully shot.’



I’m at home searching for more local films.

There’s some kung fu thing opening next week. Hm, not sure. And there’s the Andy Lau thing. ‘Detective Dee and the fantasy something.’ That opens in a week. Maybe I should go and see that. It did go to Venice after all.

I think back to the trailer. The forest, the cave, the wushu.

The somersault in a canoe.

Fuck it.


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