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January 5th , 2004

2003: Worst Year Ever

     Back on April 1st, 2003, this site premiered its elaborate April Fool's Joke, which transformed from the site known and loathed by many into a self-parody entitled The amusement lasted all of a few hours before I was notified by e-mail that Leslie Cheung had committed suicide at the age of 46. Suddenly, the jokes weren't so funny anymore.
     Fast-forward to last week, where we wrapped up's year with a number of reviews, as well as a couple of not-so-serious but still somewhat snarky columns that featured the usual twin terrors of disdain and annoyance. It's what I usually do: take serious issues (the end of the year, the alarmingly increased bandwidth of the site) and reduce them to jokey pieces of writing designed to amuse an audience of one person: myself. Call it self-absorbed, but it's usually the most fun I have with this whole website thing.
     Suddenly, my cousin tells me that Anita Mui has passed away. Once again, something terrible has happened, and the site—which is supposedly about Hong Kong Cinema and its current state in this world—had just been updated with more frivolous writing and unnecessary sarcasm. The quality of the features is debatable; what is certain is that the irreverence contained within them was absolutely unnecessary. While other sites fill their coverage with serious news and real coverage of the issues concerning Asian Cinema (Miramax vs. Shaolin Soccer, anyone?), this site is content to make jokes about everything. We're practically evil.
     We were most definitely unfair to Anita Mui, who didn't even get an obituary or feature on the site following the sudden news. Her passing is no small matter for the Hong Kong Entertainment Circle. Not only was she a true superstar of the region, but her death was at a very young age. The loss is a great one; Mui was an exceptionally strong and dynamic woman, who possessed a true character and personality that most of today's current idols don't seem to have.
     Mui was smart and sassy, and her performances usually contained the same passion or fire she displayed so prominently in her everyday life. In her award-winning performance in Rouge, she was required to be still and somber, but the emotional depth she showed was palpable. Her action roles have been strong, but sexy and feminine, and seldom the flower-vase roles her contemporaries have too often been shoehorned into. Even when the roles were supporting ones in comedies, she usually stole the show with winning charm and brilliant comedic timing. Some of her best performances were of this variety: Wu Yen, Justice My Foot, and Drunken Master 2 show Mui at her dizzy best, and are among my personal favorite Mui films.
     Unfortunately, I could not come up with any words last week to properly pay tribute to Mui. Thankfully, Mui is getting her due from numerous online sites and news services. HK Entertainment News in Review has numerous links to online writings on Mui's life and career, and fan tributes can be found on the various Asian Cinema forums around the web. HKVPRadio is currently playing many of Mui's classic songs, and its forums are a good place to chat with the Mui faithful. There are many people out there that can better put into words what Mui meant—and still means—than I possibly ever could. She deserves every kind word she receives.
     As for why I couldn't come up with any words...well, it's been that sort of year. Truthfully, the news was so numbing to me that I've sort of entered a Hong Kong Cinema fan coma. 2003 had lots of negative news for the HK Entertainment circle. There was the death of the legendary Roman Tam to liver cancer, the annual crisis at the box office, the sudden death of Blacky Ko, Leslie Cheung's tragic suicide, and that pesky little thing called SARS. And now comes the sudden passing of Anita Mui, which managed to squeeze itself into the waning days of 2003. Plus there were the lesser stories, like the continuing saga of Shaolin Soccer, which has been dissed by Disney to the point of ridiculousness. Also, Jackie Chan made The Medallion, Jet Li did Cradle 2 the Grave, Chow Yun-Fat clocked in with Bulletproof Monk, and John Woo could only muster a movie starting Ben Affleck. Has there ever been such a lousy year for the Hong Kong entertainment faithful?
     Well, there was good news too. Infernal Affairs went insane and took over the known Asian Cinema universe, begetting an excellent prequel, a reportedly sub-par sequel, and more awards than even Tony Leung Chiu-Wai could possibly handle. There were some truly interesting—and even excellent—films being made, like Johnnie To's PTU and Running on Karma. Edmond Pang's Men Suddenly in Black was a surprisingly dark and witty little movie, and even Wong Jing made a good film with Colour of the Truth. Plus, the box office looked to rebound at the end of the year (two films each from Miriam Yeung AND Tony Leung Chiu-Wai didn't hurt much), and the future of the cinema looks exceptionally bright. More films are being produced than before, and the new agreement with the Mainland has made the film market bullish. Things actually seem to be looking up.
     But all the above is being said with fingers firmly crossed. The shadows of 2003 are long and oppressive. Not one, but two screen legends died and at incredibly young ages, and no one could have predicted this would happen last year. Really, Leslie Cheung and Anita Mui were HK Cinema royalty, and both worked steadily from the eighties Golden Age all the way to the still-under-discussion present time. Cheung was supposed to do a high-profile swordplay feature with Tsui Hark. Anita Mui was scheduled to be in Zhang Yimou's followup to Hero, another costume swordplay film called The House of Flying Daggers. The projects themselves will materialize, but with some gaping holes in their casting. It's quite sad and terribly incongrous. It just doesn't seem right for HK Cinema's future to be without either.
     For myself, I'm in the same position I was last year: trying to figure out where to go with all of this. As a fan, my enthusiasm has been dimmed by sadness, and as a webmaster it's been sapped by tedious weekly updates and trying demands from a faceless public. After a while it all just gets to you. One can only hope that 2004 will be better: that the films will improve, that the box office will go up, that the fixtures of the entertainment firmament remain hale and hearty, that the world itself can be a better place for kids of all ages, and that plane travel can once again be called "safe." And maybe I can make jokes again without the fear that something negative—besides the inevitable hate mail—will happen.
     Basically, let's all hope for a better year.

-- Kozo, 1/5/2005

  Life with Kozo

The Featured Graphic
Leslie Cheung and Anita Mui on the set of Stanley Kwan's Rouge. At the time, the two actors were young and still starting their ascent into the Hong Kong Cinema stratosphere. Since then, the two have produced numerous memorable films, award-winning performances, hit albums and colorful stories of their larger-than-life personalitites. 2003 had many notable Entertainment stories, but none outweighed the loss of these two screen icons. They will both be missed.
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