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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