Film Review: Dangerous Encounters – First Kind


As Gunter said in the previous post, Golden Age Hong Kong cinema is never coming back and whilst embracing the rare gems that still make it through the studio barricades is one way of dealing with the loss, digging further and further into the archives is another. In my interminable pursuit for the next Full Contact, I came across Tsui Hark’s third feature film as a director, the appalling titled Dangerous Encounters: First Kind.

Released in a truncated form in 1980 following cuts imposed by the colonial censors, the film follows the travails of three male friends who after setting off a homemade bomb for kicks in a local cinema, are seen and blackmailed by a sociopathic girl into participating in increasingly dangerous criminal acts such as robbery and hi-jacking Japanese tourists. Ultimately they stumble onto a criminal conspiracy greater than themselves and have to attempt to escape the consequences.

The film generally comes across as a light hearted dry run for the kind of bleak urban territory that Ringo Lam would later develop to significantly darker and better effect or perhaps even an Asian version of Tim Hunter’s Over The Edge. Hark can’t help but try to inject laughs at certain points though (mainly through the sociopathic girl’s drunken police officer brother) or incorporating himself in a cameo which undermines the seriousness of his concept. The film’s tone is further diluted by the inclusion of music cues stolen from a variety of other movies and popular albums, notably 1978’s Dawn of the Dead, Jean Michael Jarre’s ‘Oxygene’ and Barry de Vorzon’s work for The Warriors which had only come out the year before. Whilst this kind of theft was de rigueur in Hong Kong films of the era, every time ‘L’alba Dei Morti Viventi’ or ‘Zombi’ hit the soundtrack (and it seemed to be quite frequently), I was taken out of the onscreen action and mentally placed in the Monroeville mall in Pittsburgh. Hark uses the introduction to Pink Floyd’s ‘Echoes’ well during a moment of tension, but completely lacks any kind of creativity when he uses the ‘Warriors Theme’ to soundtrack the main protagonists being chased by a gang of street toughs. In fact, it’s almost laughable. Particularly, as these street toughs were previously introduced bopping away in some kind of Hi-NRG club of the era, replete with Italo disco beats and a guy dressed as a mime. The real coup de grace is later seeing the same mime guy running after the main characters in time to the ‘Warriors Theme’ and not knowing whether we are meant to laugh or be fearful. I assume the former, but it’s indicative of the schizophrenic nature of a film that cannot quite consolidate its aims.

With the exception of the sociopath girl, the majority of the characters are typical Golden era stereotypes. The gruff police captain, the bumbling but well meaning brother and the meanest gang of muscled-up gweilo’s this side of the In The Line of Duty series. These guys are so tough that they have tattoos on their hands and never take off their mirrored aviator shades even when beating or following people at night…

Now if sounds like I am completely shitting on this film, I don’t mean to. At least, not entirely. This along with Johnny Mak’s Long Arm of the Law was an early Category III flick. And like Long Arm of the Law it has some kick ass bits punctuated with tedium and social commentary. There’s quite a bit of violence, loads of squibs and torture and some interesting ideas. The idea of young people being simultaneously bored and over stimulated by the urban jungle and their exposure to media that they lash out in an unplanned anarchic way is quite interesting and was also explored in a different context by Kazuhiko Hasegawa in his 1979 film The Man Who Stole The Sun in which a Tokyo science teacher creates a nuclear bomb and then does not know what to do with it. The kids in this film just sort of fall into their criminal reverie by accident, the events snowballing around them before ultimately being reconciled by a Good, the Bad and the Ugly type showdown in a large Kowloon Cemetery. This cemetery coincidently looks quite reminiscent of the one used in the opening of Enter the Dragon and again one can’t help but wonder how many cocktail napkins the script was scrawled on.

Still, this is an interesting moment in Hong Kong movie history. This film helped make Tsui Hark following two consecutive failures, was controversial and censored at the time of its release, is still notorious due to several scenes of real animal torture [Editorial note: If this is real, then this is appalling….in today’s Hong Kong the producers would be charged with a criminal offence – Gunter] and helped pave the way for future Cat III mind bombs like Dr Lamb, Untold Story and the penultimate Ebola Syndrome.

Ah, Ebola Syndrome. Now that’s a film to be seen to be believed. A review for another day.

Written and posted by Horatio Cornblower. Copyright 2013. All rights reserved.

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Film Review: Blind Detective


To state the blatantly obvious, Hong Kong cinema the way it was in the late 80s and early 90s is never, ever going to come back. Nor for that matter is the Hollywood of the Easy Riders and Raging Bulls era. That’s why I eventually just gave up on fool’s game of constantly bemoaning the current state of Hong Kong films and waiting for some kind of mythical revival. The economics of the world we live in are such that there’s not going to be a whole lot of awesome films made anywhere anymore.

But that’s exactly why going to the cinema and watching Johnnie To’s new one “Blind Detective” last weekend was such a pleasant surprise. I’m one of the world’s biggest Johnnie To fans and have dutifully tried to watch as much of his oeuvre from the last two decades as I can. Said oeuvre has of course tended towards sombre crime dramas with a relatively high dose of social realism (at least by Hong Kong standards). On the other hand, this new one is a quirky one-off which single-handedly makes you almost belive for a moment that the early 90s are back in Hong Kong cinema. Far removed from almost any other Johnnie To movie I’ve seen, it’s essentially Johnnie trying his hand at a genre-hopping farce that the likes of Wong Jing used to pump out during the golden era.  Wong Jing is of course still around himself but hasn’t made anything really interesting for a long, long time.

Apparently, the script for this film was produced by four different writers, and that does show in the schizophrenic nature of the story. Part macabre police procedural about a serial-killer bumping off heart-broken women, part cheesy rom-com pairing Andy Lau’s eponymous blind detective (hilariously named “Johnston Chong”) with Sammi Cheng’s feisty but inept policewoman, plus myriad other confusing sub-plots including one which finally ties some of it together at the end. On paper this would look like the biggest pile of ridiculous garbage ever, but on screen it works because of the sheer exuberant energy brought by the director and Andy Lau. Johnnie To sets up slapstick set-pieces based around the Cantonese love of watching people beat the crap out of each other and yell really, really loud. Meanwhile Andy absolutely relishes the chance to ham it up as the romantically frustrated blind detective, in the most comical role I’ve seen him in for a long time.  Seems like this film has got fairly mixed reviews online, with a lot of critics dismissing the genre-hoping aspect of the film as a turn-off. You absolute morons – the pursuit of great entertainment with an absolute disregard for genre was what many of the great Hong Kong films of the golden age were all about.

To sum up, a tremendously entertaining film that’s almost like a golden age Hong Kong flick with a dash of Takashi Miike added, but being a Hong Kong commercial film still bizarrely wrapping-up on a wholesome family oriented note.

Given that most of the people involved here are industry veterans, there’s no way you could really say this points to some sort of renaissance of the Hong Kong golden age (damn, I said I wasn’t going to fall into that trap). Still I doubt there will be a better Hong Kong film this year, though I’m still nursing hopes for the imminent release of Sex Duties Unit.

Posted by Gunter Sacks

Album Review: Apocalypse by Thundercat


So far this has been a kind of underwhelming year for album releases. From the stinking shit-turkeys (James Blake) to the mildly disappointing (Mount Kimbie). As for the long-awaited Young Echo album, I’m yet to get to grips with that so I won’t comment for now.

Instead, I’m going to talk about the first album this year to get me really excited: Apocalypse by Thundercat (the Keysound cd is great but it’s a compilation so doesn’t really count as a fully fledged album). Yeah, in this age of iTunes track-downloading plebs I remain the kind of refined gentleman who appreciates actual albums.

I’d been quite into Thundercat since seeing him live with Austin Peralta in 2011 and then buying his debut Golden Age of Apocalypse. The debut was a good album in itself, but apart from his “hit single” For Love I Come, there was a slight but unmistakable tendency towards noodling. Then I slowly began to lost interest in the LA/Brainfeeder/Low End Theory scenes and when Austin sadly passed on at such a young age I felt like it kind of naturally marked the end of that era in music. I still feel blessed that I’d witnessed Austin play live – if there’s ever going to be one single gig I ever bother telling my children about, it’ll be the night I witnessed Thundercat and Austin Peralta together in Hollywood. I’m convinced that before too long Austin will be in the hallowed pantheon of tragically deceased virtuosos along with Hendrix, Coltrane, Dolphy and Ayler.

But I digress. The point of this post is to say what an awesome surprise it has been to be floored by a release on Brainfeeder in 2013. Apocalypse marks a major step forward in Thundercat flexing his actual songwriting chops rather than just his noodlin’ muso chops. This is a refined modern jazz/soul album that should be embraced by every sophisticated modern casual in the same way that the 80s London lads embraced Frankie Beverley and Maze.

A lot of new fans will come to this because of “Oh Sheit It’s X”, the most disco and upbeat track on here, which makes Daft Punk’s recent “disco” efforts look like the work of soulless white amateurs. After just one week it’s already the feel-good jam of the summer for me. But while there’s nothing else as upbeat on here, it sits well in the middle of an album that flows coherently from start to finish, taking in some London broken-beat style moments and other tracks that take cues from the sound of Flying Lotus’ last album but are somehow a whole lot more interesting with the addition of Thundercat’s vocals and instrumental skills (like the beautiful opener “Tenfold”), and finishing up with the orchestral tribute “A Message for Austin”.

So album of the year so far for sure. Listen intensively, immediately.

Oh Sheit it’s X:


And just because I feel like it, some Frankie Beverley and Maze:

Posted by Gunter Sacks