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.