Author: Rob Larsen

August 10, 2016 / / Main Slate

There’s a scene in Sammo Hung’s Millionaires Express, a rollicking heist/western/kung fu movie from 1986 that is a go-to when I discuss the stunt-work being done in Hong Kong in the 1980s.

In it, Yuen Biao, one of the stars of the film, does a front flip off of a burning three-story building, landing on the ground below. It’s shot well back, so the whole building is in the frame throughout the shot. There’s nowhere to hide. There are no edits. No air mattresses or piles of cardboard boxes. It’s just Yuen jumping off of a burning building. It’s not the most dramatic or even the most dangerous stunt from the 1980s but it’s so honest it’s one of my favorites to talk about. It provides a clear illustration of the unique combination of skill, authenticity and institutional fearlessness that made 1980s Hong Kong stunt work unique in the history of cinema.

August 3, 2016 / / Special Pages
July 27, 2016 / / Main Slate

Back in the day the Hong Kong film industry moved quickly. If a film broke new ground with a novel take on a genre or ushered in a whole new sub-genre; the rest of the industry would rush in to cash in on the trend. Every film industry does this, of course, but Hong Kong in the 1980s and 1990s was producing so many movies, with such a high concentration of talent, the effect was mesmerizing. People were one-upping each other at every turn.

July 15, 2016 / / Main Slate

It might not look like it from the trailer or even after seeing the film, but DRUNKEN MASTER is a movie that has a surprising depth. Without context (imagine stumbling into a Chinatown theater in 1978) DRUNKEN MASTER is 90 minutes of goofy hijinks and mind-blowing martial arts action. Add in some context, however, and it also emerges as an important waypoint in the development of Hong Kong cinema. Which might be a bit of a surprise. It’s true, though. It really is. I swear.

Let’s take a look at what makes it so special.

May 11, 2016 / / Main Slate

“We have to change the negative things into positive. In today’s Japanese film industry, we always say we don’t have enough budget, that people don’t go to see the films. But we can think of it in a positive way, meaning that if audiences don’t go to the cinema we can make any movie we want. After all, no matter what kind of movie you make it’s never a hit, so we can make a really bold, daring movie. There are many talented actors and crew, but many Japanese movies aren’t interesting. Many films are made with the image of what a Japanese film should be like. Some films venture outside those expectations a little bit, but I feel we should break them.”

The above quote is from Takashi Miike. I know it because writer Warren Ellis shared it a few years back. I love it. Ellis used it in reference to Jack Kirby’s comic adaptation of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY for Marvel Comics. It was an apt reference there and I think it works for plenty of other creators who have transcended their circumstances to create work above and beyond what’s expected of them, their place in the pop culture hierarchy or their genre.