Essays and Commentary

The Tiger Killer v. The Golden Lotus, Part 3: Li Han-Hsiang
March 02, 2009
The story of Wu Song the "Tiger Killer"; and Pan Jinlian the "Golden Lotus" (because of her tiny feet), has been told and retold, again and again. Especially by director Li Han-Hsiang, who has obsessively directed no less than four films about the subject.
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The Tiger Killer v. The Golden Lotus, Part 2: The Early Movies
February 23, 2009
The tale of Wu Song the "Tiger Killer"; and Pan Jinlian the "Golden Lotus": a story of love, violence, murder, lots of sex, and an angry dwarf. It is little wonder that the story has attracted the attention of filmmakers from generation to generation. Here, then, are the earliest cinematic adaptations of the famous story.
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The Tiger Killer v. The Golden Lotus
February 16, 2009
Among all the stories of lovers, heroes, and villains that populate the great classical novels of China, how many have the distinction of appearing in more than one? Only one. The tale, told in two of the novels, which concerns Wu Song the "Tiger Killer"; and Pan Jinlian the "Golden Lotus" (because of her tiny feet), the adulterous wife of his elder brother. The story, told and retold in the novels, is repeated again frequently in film. Here, then, is the full story.
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Six Days in Hong Kong, Part 3
June 12, 2007
Part three of an essay about my visit to the 28th Hong Kong International Film Festival: Progress Marches Ever On
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Six Days in Hong Kong, Part 2
June 04, 2007
Part two of an essay about my visit to the 28th Hong Kong International Film Festival: The Future's So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades.
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Six Days in Hong Kong, Part 1
May 22, 2007
My first trip to Hong Kong, armed with a HK Film Festival Press Pass, a camera, and not quite enough changes of clothing, Part One: From Chicago to Hong Kong.
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A History of Hong Kong Production Company Logos, Part One: The Early Years
June 29, 2006
Anyone who goes to the movies knows the power of the animated, production company logos that precede them. MGM is a pale shadow of its former self, but its roaring lion logo reminds viewers of their proud dominance of the industry in days gone by. The best logos are easily remembered: along with the lion, there is the unicorn (Tri-Star), Columbia (well, Columbia), tinker bell (Disney); while others are just as easily forgotten. Here is a first look at some of these mini-movies before the movie, that heralded Hong Kong production companies of the past and present.
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The Stomping Guide to Japan: Nagoya
March 07, 2006
Only of passing interest as a modern city, Nagoya is nevertheless the fourth largest city in Japan, and is one of a handful of stops on the JR Shinkansen line, though few tourists get off here. I recommend hopping off the train for a short day trip, if you have the time. Monster visits are surprisingly common for a city without many notable attractions. Visitors include Godzilla, Gaos, and Battra, all of whom hit the major sites in a quick rampage before moving on.
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The Bollywood Conspiracy
January 24, 2006
How we've all been duped - DUPED, I tell you - into believing Bollywood movies are no good.
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Seven Other Swords
October 27, 2005
In honor of Tsui Hark's latest attempt to make a bigger name for himself, SEVEN SWORDS, I sat down with some older Hong Kong films and discovered seven other swords, each featured in their own film.
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Know your PreFab Cantopop Bands
July 27, 2005
They sound awful...but look great! Well, if you're 12 or younger, at any rate. And just imagine how they will sound once their voices change! I've tried, honestly I have, but I can't care any less about these bands and their youthful members. Only trouble is, they keep cropping up in movies. So it's time to put together a scorecard to tell your Twins from Cookies, your Boy'z from Beyond. Here is all you need to know about the prefab pop bandmembers that keep getting in the way of a good show.
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Leslie Cheung Foreshadows his own Suicide
March 16, 2005
OK, it was a little disturbing to watch INNER SENSES, which ends with Cheung standing on the edge of a building, ready to kill himself, when you know that less than a year later that is precisely what he did. But looking at his cinematic output as a whole, it seems as if his roles have almost pre-programmed him to come to such an end. I've never seen such a collection of morose, suicide-obsessed individuals as the ones he has played throughout his career.
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Guitar Wolf
March 07, 2005
At 1:00 pm last Sunday, I was driving my family to see Ella Jenkins in concert. At 1:00 am that night, I was in a crowd of leather-clad kids moshing to Guitar Wolf in concert at the Abbey Pub in Chicago, while Bass Wolf was shouting to someone in the crowd: "Hey, F***face, give me pot!!!" The life of an aging Asian Cinema fanatic is strange indeed...
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The Best of Hong Kong Cinema - 2004
February 27, 2005
The Acadamy Awards are this weekend and The Illuminated Lantern is in the spirit of honoring the best of the best in cinema this year. Forget the Hong Kong Film awards, the Golden Bauhinia Awards, and the Taiwan's Golden Horse. Right here are the only awards for Hong Kong movies not prejudiced by industry insiders scratching each other's backs, not manipulated by international politics, and not voted on by anyone but myself. Without further ado, here are the first annual Golden Lantern awards.
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Everything I need to know I learned from Asian Cinema
November 28, 2004
It's the Christmas shopping season again. And I just couldn't keep quiet any more. The day after Thanksgiving sales, according to John Woo. The first in an occasional series.
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The Black Rose
July 22, 2004
The Black Rose is a legendary heroine in Hong Kong Cinema. But why is she remembered, and other heroes left to languish, forgotten? The story of a classic Cantonese film, it's revival as postmodern comedy, and its most recent incarnation as a star vehicle for the pop group Twins.
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Blood and Despair: The Horror films of Billy Chung
May 12, 2004
Horror films have long been a staple of Hong Kong cinema, though many of the best efforts combine horror with kung fu, comedy, or both. Billy Chung, on the other hand, uses his films to plumb the depths of the human soul in the grisliest manner possible. Two words sum up his directorial output so far: Blood and despair.
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Hong Kong Convention Center
April 24, 2004
To watch Hong Kong cinema is to see the city itself, projecting its aspirations, and failures, onto the screen. When a new building goes up, filmmakers come up with ways to utilize it in their story, when one gets torn down, they do the same. In the first of a series, Peter Nepstad explores a city landmark and its representation in Hong Kong cinema.
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2003 - The Year in Review
April 01, 2004
2003 was the year that, for me, and for many fans, Hong Kong Cinema died. With the loss of Anita Mui and Leslie Cheung, two of the biggest reasons I watched Hong Kong movies disappeared. There really isn't much more to say about the year in review, and in any case I don't really feel particularly motivated to look any further. Maybe next year, things will look better. So instead of any additional commentary, find below a list of Box Office figures, and award winners from the Hong Kong Film Awards, the Golden Bauhina Awards, the Golden Horse Awards (Taiwan), and the Hong Kong Critics Society winners.
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2002 - The Year in Review
April 01, 2003
Hong Kong's economy continued to decline and pessimism dominated the mood of the city. Popular cinema reflected the mood by focusing on two topics on everyone's minds: money and suicide.
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2001 - The Year in Review
April 01, 2002
2001 saw more more movies about yuppie love than anyone should have to be subjected to, but the year was not a total loss. Rather, a lot of new developments in Hong Kong cinema, and the return of some of its leading lights, show that Hong Kong cinema is as exciting as ever.
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January 15, 2002
Chinatown: from the 1920s images of dark shadows and oriental mystery, to modern images of triad corruption and, well, oriental mystery, this article examines the history and growth of Chinatowns and their depiction in American and Asian cinema.
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Snakes and Snake Women
October 01, 2001
In American movies, snakes are pretty much used as a standard creepy-crawlie creature to get the girls to scream and the tough guy to protect them. Although they are used in this way in asian cinema as well, there is another application: snakes don't scare women: they are women. And it is the men who had better start running.
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Qin Dynasty
August 01, 2001
The First Emperor. Builder of the Great Wall, seeker of immortality. Under his rule China was united for the first time. He simplified the language and promulgated a legal code. He burned books, especially when still in the hands of burning scholars. A hero of unification, or oppresive tyrant and dictator? Or both?
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June 01, 2001
A brief attempt to sort out a sort of history of the Ninja. Beware the beat of the cloth-wrapped feet!
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March 15, 2001
The term 'Triad' was given by the Hong Kong government to Chinese secret societies based on the triangular symbol which once represented such societies. The symbol is the Chinese character 'Hung,' encased in a triangle, representing the union of heaven, earth, and man. So Triads even today are sometimes referred to as the 'Hung Society' or the 'Heaven and Earth Society.' Get it right, or you'll get beaten roughly with plastic lawn chairs, I've seen it happen. The Triads, and depictions in the movies.
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Who's Who in Hung Hing
March 15, 2001
Central to the Young and Dangerous series are the members of the Hung Hing gang. But with all of the movies, and all of the different characters, it becomes exhausting to keep track of everyone. Nothing spoils the dramatic intensity of a moment more than the words, "Wait, who was that who just died?" With that in mind, here are just a few of the central characters from the Young and Dangerous films.
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Christianity in China
January 15, 2001
From Matteo Ricci's visit in 1540 to Media Evangelism's cheap, digital video movies trumpeting the value of accepting Jesus as your personal saviour, this is the story of Christianity in China and how it made its way into Hong Kong cinema.
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Fu Manchu and the Yellow Peril
November 01, 2000
In exploring Asian cultures through cinema, we must occasionally turn away from the cinema of the region and focus instead on the explorations of Asian cultures in Western cinema. These 'western visions' of Asia are at times entertaining, at times fascinating, at times repulsive, and almost always bizarre. They reveal more about Western culture, societal mores, and xenophobia than anything even remotely Asian. The question that must be asked then, is where did these ideas come from, that are portrayed so consistently in Western cinema?
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Ghost Lovers and Fox Spirits
September 01, 2000
For as long as there has been darkness and sounds in the night people have known fear at what lay beyond the light of the campfire. For as long as there has been death, people have wondered what awaits them on the other side. Common beliefs about these things tied communities together, some of it becoming religion, evolving from primitive animism to the most refined of beliefs. Some people have experiences which may in some way confirm their belief, some may call these experiences miracles. The stories are told and re-told, and eventually come together in a great body of work which describes the supernatural beliefs of a people in great detail: where one story may leave out an element, another will certainly include it. Tales are told from one person to another, from father to son, from one village to another. Eventually some of these are written down, and remembered. Most, are forgotten to history forever.
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A Short History of Chinese Opera
July 01, 2000
In 1790, theater companies from all over China arrived in Beijing, to perform for the Qing Emperor Qianlong's birthday. Here begins the history of the various opera forms as we know them today in China...
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The Gods of Gambling
May 01, 2000
It has been said many times that the Chinese are a nation of gamblers. The stereotype is deeply embedded in not only western attitudes toward the Chinese, but in Chinese perception toward themselves. It is supposed to be because of this inclination to gambling that an entire genre of film, unique to the region, has grown around master gamblers.
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Taoist Priests and Hopping Vampires
March 01, 2000
Back in college, I studied Taoism for a while, and even went so far as to carry a translation of Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching around in my pocket as if it was an ancient version of Mao's Little Red Book. A small collection of poems which instruct on the best way to lead, and the best way to live. Only a life of deep contemplation and meditation could unlock the secrets of the Tao. I was taught that this was Taoism.
Look, and it can't be seen. Listen, and it can't be heard. Reach, and it can't be grasped.
For some reason, my college course never covered using Feng Shui and chicken blood to kick ass and repel the undead. Too bad, I might have paid more attention. As it is, Lam Ching-Ying taught me everything I need to know.
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