Category Archives: Imaginary Hong Kong Cinema

#104 – Night of One Thousand Bastards, The

(2011, HK, 100 min) Dir Jackie Woo. Cast Nicolas Cage, Regina Ho, Mo Yun-Fang.

I know he’s had a long and a varied career but still, it’s hard to reconcile the disreputable Jackie Woo of old with the disreputable Jackie Woo who is now deemed worthy of invitation to Cannes but I guess that says a lot about the post-Grindhouse world we live in. His inaugural fest film was Bloody Dolls, an uncharacteristic convent-set revenge flick that spent the guts of it’s runtime following the actresses gazing wistfully out over the mist-shrouded countryside and not, you know, disembowelling someone. He was back to his old form with this, his third film of 2011, and not only that but he snagged Nicolas Cage too! Okay, late-period low-budget in-hock-to-the-tax man Cage but still, it’s something. So Cage is a US government hitman in mainland China, there to kill a party functionary (Yun-Fang, looking tired) holidaying in some backwater town when the titular bastards arrive – a horde of freshly dead zombies hungry for blood. The tables now turned, Cage and Yun-Fang must team up to survive. The luminous Regina Ho plays Yun-Fang’s daughter and Cage’s inappropriately young love interest who spends the whole film under a table screaming. Don’t let the chorus of boos that trailed the film from Cannes fool you – this is a fun bit of trash that doesn’t attain Woo’s manic heights of the past but will keep you going the four months until he makes another.

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#74 – Severed Tongue

(1991, HK, 105 min) Dir Jackie Woo. Cast Jackie Woo, Maxy Feng, Annabelle de Long.

While never in fear of achieving respectability Jackie Woo skirted the edges of the mainstream in the mid to late eighties and came within sniffing distance of a halfway decent budget and a recognisable cast. Something about this must have been antithetical for Woo as he followed his most conventional and popular film to date, Law Fist, with this, his most repellent feature. Cocky Triad Vin (Woo, as usual) has been sent by his boss to Indonesia to hash out a drugs deal but while there gets carried away with women and drink and ends up kidnapped by some kind of a jungle cult. He escapes but without both his tongue and penis – both having been graphically torn off/out – and makes his way back to Hong Kong only to be shunned by his former compatriots. Finding that he’s now somehow endowed with mystical powers (along with hallucinations of jungle men following him) he takes bloody revenge on his fellow Triads and do I mean bloody – one victim has his skin pulled off over the course of what seems like an eternity of tearing and screaming, one has his head popped like a zit, another his limbs wrenched from his body. According to the man himself in the 2006 documentary Jackie Woo: Bloody Vengeance, this film was catharsis after years of Triad interference but it didn’t seem to do his standing with them any harm – while only a moderate success at the box office it was so well received by the Triads they gave him an effective carte blanche for his next half-dozen features.

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#73 – Backspace

(1987, HK, 96 min) Dir Jackie Woo. Cast Jackie Woo, Phillip Ko, Rosamund Kwan.

By the standards of director Jackie Woo this is an unusually restrained techno-thriller but in saying that I have to warn potential viewers that this isn’t The Net or anything like that – it’s still a Jackie Woo film which means there are two beheadings, a disembowelling and one instance of a topless lady running around on fire. Aside from that it’s a model of restraint from the guy. Jimmy (played by Woo’s favourite actor – Woo himself) has just started working at DynoTime industries which boasts a fully automated office building, from the doors to the drinking fountains. Unfortunately for him, in a big slapstick moment involving an inappropriate use for a banana, he screws up big time on his first day and has to hide from his tyrannical boss under his desk. There he falls asleep and wakes up after hours to find the building in lock down with a very vigilant computer standing guard like HAL with whirling razor-sharp blades and before he knows it he’s fighting for his life. As if that wasn’t enough a gang of punk criminals are breaking in that same night, hence the aforementioned body count. Of course the film ends with Jimmy prevailing and being garlanded with Employee of the Year but the journey there is something else. Alternating between broad comedy, hard-core violence and misty-eyed sentimentality this is a classic Hong Kong kind of film.

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#58 – Cyborg Hamlet

(1983, HK, 105 min) Dir Jackie Woo. Cast Jackie Woo, Rosamund Kwan, Phillip Ko.

No real need for a synopsis here as it’s basically, as above, Hamlet with a cyborg. Okay, yeah, so what’s the deal, I hear you say: why’s the guy a cyborg? Fair enough, maybe it’s a bit different. Okay, so John Hamlet runs the biggest electronics company in Hong Kong and his proudest achievement is his cyborg son. Young Hamlet (director Woo) was on death’s doorstep when his father, apparently without repercussion, grafted a load of metal to him in order to save his life. Of course his father dies in mysterious circumstances, his electronics empire being taken over by the shifty Tony Claudius (Ko) who is also having his way with Hamlet’s mum, in case murdering his dad weren’t enough. Cyborg Hamlet is thus all sad in a rainy alley one night when the genuinely terrifying ghost of his father appears and demands bloody vengeance. Who is Cyborg Hamlet to decline? It all goes a bit off-piste from there – slaughtered henchmen didn’t play the biggest part in Shakespeare’s original text from what I can recall. Between crushing skulls in his metal hands there’s still time for some romance with Rosamund Kwan’s Ophelia before she goes mad (which is the bad guy’s fault too of course) and then it all comes to a bloody head at the wedding of Claudius and Hamlet’s mum which involves a massive martial arts rumble across three floors, a daring rooftop chase and someone getting a big metal pole like a javelin through the face. Great fun but no good for revision, kids!

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Twitter: @MadeUpFilms