While searching for trailers to add to my more recent blog posts, I stumbled upon this ad from a few years back. It features Stephen Chow and some of the Shaolin Soccer crew pimping the Philippines-made beer, San Miguel. The commercial is by no means new, but it made me chuckle, so I thought I’d share it. I figured that for a majority of our Western and non-HK based readership, it’d be new to them.
There hasn’t been a lot to smile about in the news lately. So, here’s 44 seconds of frivolity for you to enjoy before we return to more important concerns.
Just the other day, it occurred to me that 1990s era Stephen Chow films are a lot like eating at McDonald’s. To those of you out there who despise Ray Kroc’s ubiquitous fast food franchise, my comparison may sound like I’m criticizing the most prolific period of the famous comedian’s acting career. But I’m not. This may come as a shock to my more health-conscious, organic-only, vegetarian-meet-vegan friends, but I actually like eating at McDonald’s…on occasion. Yeah, it ain’t fine dining, and it’s certainly not good for you, but if prepared right, it sure can be really, really comforting.
Now, if you’re someone who frequents this eating establishment, then you’re aware that 99% of the time you know exactly what to expect from your order — whatever the quality, there will be no real surprises. In the hands of a particularly efficient and conscientious staff, your food will taste fantastic, complete with crisp, perfectly salted fries and an extraordinarily refreshing ice cold Coca Cola to wash ‘em down with. In the hands of a lazy, incompetent group of workers, however, you’re likely to be stuck with soggy, bland fries and some seriously watered down soft drinks. The meal is the same, but the taste can differ, depending on who’s preparing the food.
I think the same can be said of Stephen Chow’s prolific film output during the 1990s. You’ll get exactly what you’re looking for in most of his films from that era, but — depending on the filmmakers involved — the final product will vary in quality. His movies may not always be high art and some may indeed be the cinematic equivalent to “empty calories,” but when all is said and done, I think Chow’s comedy stylings amount to nothing less than comfort food for the soul.
“Creative differences” — that’s the diplomatic way in which most filmmaking break-ups are explained to the public, and that’s exactly what was said when Stephen Chow left Sony’s The Green Hornet several months after he had been tapped to not only direct the film, but co-star as the Green Hornet’s sidekick, Kato, most famously played by his idol, Bruce Lee in the 1960s TV show. Chow had been quoted as saying,”The idea of stepping into Bruce Lee’s shoes as Kato is both humbling and thrilling, and to get the chance to direct the project as my American movie debut is simply a dream come true.” As many people probably wondered, why did Chow walk away from his “dream come true”? Well, now we have a possible answer, although whether or not the source is being facetious or not remains to be seen.
In the January 14th issue of Entertainment Weekly, director Michel Gondry, the man who eventually nabbed the directing gig after Chow parted ways with the Seth Rogen-led project, explains just what those creative differences were. According to a piece written by Benjamin Svetkey, Gondry says Chow had “really, really crazy ideas that you would not dare bring to a studio […] AIDS was involved. Plastic boobs were involved, too.”‘
Produced by Wong Jing and co-directed by Vincent Kok and Stephen Chow, Forbidden City Cop (1996) is yet another delightful comedy from Hong Kong cinema’s undisputed King of Comedy; the film combines two of my personal faves — Stephen Chow and James Bond — with great results. Think of it as a 007 movie transplanted to the far-flung past of ancient China. As Stephen Chow films go, it’s also a nice companion piece to his equally amusing Bond send-up from two years earlier, From Beijing With Love.
The film gets off to a great start with hilarious Bondian pre-title sequence featuring Stephen Chow’s Ling Ling Fat (aka: 008) interrupting a famous duel between Yip Koo-Sing and Sai Mun Chiu Suet, as Luk Siu-Fung looks on. If you’re unfamiliar with that particular trio of wuxia heroes, watch the subsequently-filmed The Duel (2000) with Andy Lau, Ekin Cheng, and Nick Cheung in the above-listed roles for reference. Even if you don’t get the references, it’s still pretty amusing.
While doing a search on Wikipedia for god knows what*, I stumbled upon the following, Stephen Chow-centric entry. I had heard the term “Sing Girl” before, but I had no idea it was such a big deal to warrant a full-length article on everybody’s favorite online encyclopedia. In any event, a “Sing Girl,” according to Wikipedia, is “a nickname for actresses who starred alongside Stephen Chow, often as the main character’s romantic interest.” Such Sing Girls include Athena Chu, Cecilia Cheung, Karen Mok, and Eva Huang. Whether or not any off-screen romantic action is included or implied in this definition of a “Sing Girl,” I do not know. To be perfectly honest, gossip column material prior to the Internet age makes for a huge gap in my knowledge base of Hong Kong cinema.
Anyway, the only other comparable entry to “Sing Girls” that I can think of is one for “Bond Girls,” which basically makes Stephen Chow on par with fictional superspy, James Bond. I guess Chow’s starring role in that 007 parody From Beijing with Love was an apt one.
*Okay, I’ll admit it: after watching Chinese Odyssey 2002 for the first time in years, I was trying to see what Ms. Athena Chu was up to nowadays.
Seth Rogen as Britt Reid and Jay Chou as Kato in The Green Hornet (2011)
I’m honestly surprised that The Green Hornet has finally been made. For a while there, it looked like it’d never see the light of day. The film has had a long, tortuous production history. In the 1990s, there were vague rumors of an impending film involving George Clooney, but the most concrete development came when Kevin Smith (Clerks) wrote a screenplay in 2004. However, Smith got cold feet about helming the film himself and backed out of the director’s chair (although he did later adapt the script into a comic for Dynamite Entertainment).
Without Smith’s involvement, the project then languished in development hell until we got the surprising news that Stephen Chow would both direct and star in the new film, alongside Seth Rogen, who would play against type as Britt Reid, the titular Green Hornet. But soon enough, Chow was off the project as both actor and director due to “creative differences” and announced he would be instead pursuing a different superhero film with Jack Black (!). More delays ensued.
And then, Michel Gondry, director of The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, came aboard as director and Taiwanese actor-singer Jay Chou was cast in the role of Kato. Still more delays ensued when Sony decided to post-convert the film to 3-D, which isn’t a good sign if it’s true what people have been saying about post-converted 3-D films like Clash of the Titans and The Last Airbender (i.e. the 3-D sucked).
Compiling a top ten list of the decade’s best movies is tough work. There are a ton of great Hong Kong films out there, and some just couldn’t make the cut on so short a list. To compensate for any perceived oversights, I’ve decided to list choices #11-#25. I’m certain that some of my picks might be a little unorthodox or downright surprising, but I’m just going to have to follow my gut here, folks — critical or reader consensus against me be damned.
BEST OF THE REST
11. Time and Tide (2000) — I unabashedly love this movie, and it came very close to making the top ten.Whatever hesitancy I had in embracing Nicholas Tse as a leading man disappeared completely thanks to this movie, as his little brother/big brother chemistry with rugged rock n’ roller Wu Bai (who provides a killer soundtrack) is just part of what makes this movie so good. The other part is the action — in particular, that breathless, suspense-filled sequence that makes up a good chunk of the film’s second half. I’m hard pressed to forget that pulse-pounding tenement assault or the decidedly unconventional baby delivery sequence that caps the film. Time and Tide is an action fan’s dream, and, the last great Tsui Hark movie (so far) – and yeah, I saw Seven Swords.