Blackbird Singing

There is no one place where love begins and ends. It just seems to spring up, as if formed magically from nothing. So it is with movies – when you find movies that you love you want to share them with the people that are important to you. You know that not everyone will love the same movies as you, but you want to give them that chance to share the beauty of a story well-told, a life well-lived, the magical fragility of being human.

This love story has a beginning, but like any author I get to chose where we start. It seemed appropriate to start with my two favorite Chinese movies; “Peking Opera Blues” (1986) and “In The Heat Of The Sun” (1994).

Peking Opera Blues is best described as a truly “Chinese” movie (even though it is a Hong Kong movie). It has everything; drama, romance, men dressed as women, women dressed as men, slapstick, history and of course Chinese Opera. Just watching it makes me happy.

In The Heat Of The Sun is a coming-of-age story at the time of the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Just four friends sharing their days together. It is truly one of the great movies of Chinese cinema.

Some great romantic movies were also made in Hong Kong. My three favorites are: “Lost And Found” (1996), “C’est La Vie Mon Cherie” (1993) and “Comrades, Almost A Love Story” (1996)

Lost And Found is the story of Mr Worm (Takeshi Kaneshiro), the chief of a lost and found company who is hired by Lam (Kelly Chen) to find her lost lover. It is probably best described as a journey of discovery.

C’est La Vie Mon Cherie is the story of a struggling jazz musician (Liu Ching-Wan) that moves into a poor neighborhood where he meets a girl (Anita Yuen) who inspires him to write songs again.

Comrades, Almost A Love Story is the movie that made Peter Chan famous as a director. It is the story of two Chinese mainlanders that meet in Hong Kong, become great friends, fall in love and then fall victim to circumstance.

Just because I am the driver we now to get to visit France and a movie I almost feel is a companion movie to Peking Opera Blues – the French comedy “La Grande Vadrouille” (1966). This is the only movie that featured two of France’s greatest  comedians; Bourvil and Louis De Funes. A RAF bomber is shot down over Paris during World War II and the resistance tries to smuggle the airmen over the southern border to safety. It is very French and universally funny.

Coming from England I have an abiding love with English TV. Unfortunately the best of it is delayed in coming over to the US, or never appears. It seems we are two countries divided by a common language. So here are three of my favorite shows from the past year; “Motherland”, “McMafia” and “Chewing Gum”.

Motherland focuses on the joys of middle age motherhood. It is both funny and a little awkward.

McMafia is a drama about money and corruption and power. It is very compelling.

Chewing Gum is not for everyone. The life of Tracy, her boyfriend and family. It is profane and very R-rated, but funny and endearing too.

 

 

Important Movies

My journey through movies started with the Saturday morning movies. The local movie theater had a kid’s special for sixpence – cartoons (normally Looney Toons), serials (such as the Lone Ranger) and a B-movie (I actually can’t remember one title that we saw). Now if you can imagine a movie theater full of kids from age 5 to about 14 with a handful of ushers, it is easy to imagine the chaos. Kids running around, shouting, projectiles (the infamous spitballs). The older kids normally sat upstairs in the balcony – it offered greater target opportunities. One time I came home with ice-cream in my hair. I have to think it was an accident, nobody would purposefully launch an ice cream from upstairs.

Going to the movies with your parents was a rare treat, we would only go to blockbusters or Bond movies (my parents favorites). When I was 6 we went to see “Lawrence Of Arabia” and I was totally transfixed. It showed me another place and another time, it took me inside that world and made me feel, and it was in glorious wide-screen. My reaction was a 6 year old wow. I read everything I could find about Lawrence. I even became him when we played outside.

When I think about important movies, it is not about them being the best movie or most technically excellent movie. It is a movie that changed me. It could have educated me, it could have inspired me, it may even resonate with me, but they all touch me in some way. When the movie finishes it has changed me or changed my perspective on life. This is my journey through important movies in my life, I know your journey is different, but I like that too. Life is beautiful and it should be shared, we all have the power to bring beauty to each other.

Normally a journey will start at one place and weave its way through adventures until it reaches a destination, this journey starts somewhere in the middle and has many side quests, but it is my journey and I get to choose.

When you live in England in the 1960s and 1970s there is not a lot of opportunities to see Hong Kong movies, but there were a few cinemas that would show kung fu movies (when they weren’t showing soft-core porn, but that is another story). They were all badly dubbed into English or with poor English subtitles (“I will kill you until you are dead from it!”), but the kung fu was amazing. My all time favorite was “The 36th Chamber Of Shaolin”. Gordon Liu was a true kung fu star – powerful, handsome and completely unstoppable. No wire work here.  From here of course you will always end up with Jackie Chan movies – the Buster Keaton of kung fu. He just made it look easy and he was so funny. You can see why he was adored. It is impossible to pick just one Jackie Chan movie, but the movie that started it for me was “Drunken Master” and I have a soft spot for all the “Police Story” movies, especially the first one.

My love affair with Hong Kong cinema took another turn in the 1990s when the movies started to become more available on DVD, and then when I learned to love that crazy mix of drama, comedy and action that empowered HK cinema. It is sad to see the decline nowadays – there are not many great movies being made there any more.

It is really hard to understand, even for me, but my favorite, number one movie is “Peking Opera Blues”. Even now it still resonates with me. I have watched it twenty times and I could watch it another twenty times. It may be the perfect Hong Kong movie – action, drama, history, Chinese opera. Three beautiful lead actresses – Brigitte Lin, Sally Yeh and Cherie Chung. What more does a young man need!  Well, he needs the classic romantic dramas – “Comrades, Almost a Love Story”,  “Lost And Found” and “C’est La Vie, Ma Cherie”.  These movies hold a special place in my heart. I think mainly because they all have so much heart. They are not afraid to wear their heart on their sleeve, that makes them so generous and lifts us up, makes us feel.  Who can not love a movie where Takeshi Kaneshiro plays Mr Worm (Lost And Found).

My forgotten classic is “Shanghai Blues”. It actually precedes “Peking Opera Blues” by two years. Both were directed by Tsui Hark. A musical with comedy and romance (and Sally Yeh again), but almost impossible to find nowadays.

You can’t visit Hong Kong movies without a side trip to triad/gangster movies. While everybody knows the “Infernal Affairs” movies and the John Woo movies (cue the doves), there were also some great noir movies from Hong Kong. Maybe they belong in my lost gems category.

Asian Cinema

The world of Asian Cinema holds a special place in my heart. Like many people I started with the Hong Kong kung fu movies of the 1960s. The movie theaters had poorly dubbed versions (that were hilarious for the bad dubbing and bad translations). From there i wanted to see the movies in their original Cantonese with english subtitles, which became another lesson in bad translations (luckily now those days are past, and many of the classics have been remastered with good subtitles).

Nowadays the availability of Asian movies is much better, though it can still be frustrating waiting for a copy that includes english subtitles.

Though they have never met me, or even heard of me, all of the people below have shared their passion for Asian cinema, and introduced me to many great films. If there is any heavenly credit for sharing happiness they deserve special credit.

Kozo & Kevin Ma : Lovehkfilm.com

Darcey Paquet: Koreanfilm.org

Mark Schilling: Japan Times (https://www.japantimes.co.jp/tag/mark-schilling/)

Pierce Conran: Modern Korean Cinema (http://www.modernkoreancinema.com/)

Wise Kwai: Wise Kwai’s Thai Film Journal (http://thaifilmjournal.blogspot.com/)

and, not to forget:

Tiffany Yong: https://tiffanyyong.com

The Love Of Film

Our introduction to the world of film is always accidental – i will never know the reason my first movie was “Summer Holiday” starring Cliff Richard (but I suspect my mother was a fan of Cliff). I do know that in the pantheon of movies it will not be remembered kindly. But, then that is the movies – we all have individual favorites. My taste is not necessarily your taste. Many times I have recommended movies to friends, and been surprised when they didn’t enjoy them with the same passion I did.

The advent of the VCR and then DVD opened up new worlds of film to me, but like any newly born movie lover you end up overwhelmed by choice and limited by time. You may discover a few gems stumbling around, but you end up watching a lot of the unwatchable. I always loved to read and from that I always loved to write too. So I naturally navigated to the world of movie critics. I wanted to be informed, to find great movies I had missed, to understand movies that made no sense, to reaffirm what I thought was amazing. Finding your favorite movie critics is like dating, you find your favorites and learn to trust their judgement, but you are also disappointed when they love a film that you thought was terrible.

Then begins that long journey, through many genres and backwards and forwards. You find a movie you love, you watch the other movies by the same director or actor, you find what inspired them, you shift to a new country, you go from comedy to drama, you find great romances. It truly is a love of film. For all the terrible films that you see, the greatest films change you, they revisit your place in the world, how you live and see yourself. I have been moved, but I have also been shaken to my core.  But, most of all, I have learned to love film, in its many styles and cultures and genres, and like all lovers I want to share my passion with you, so I can introduce to you the films that I love. I hope it opens your eyes to different types of movies you might not have considered before. The world is an amazing place full of interesting people.