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The China Connection

By Henry P. Raleigh
ART TIMES November 2005

TWO OF MY daughters married Englishmen – international fellows in law and finance.  Each daughter spends a portion of her married life in faraway lands – one in Hong Kong, the other in Shanghai.  From these places have flowed back to me the history and the products of Far Eastern film and a fascinating business this is, too. We are familiar enough with those imported works as the chop-socky, martial arts films from Hong Kong, Taiwan’s “Eat Drink Man Woman” and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”, Mainland China’s “Red Sorghum” and “Raise the Red Lantern”. These are only a tiny portion of the films produced, the imports those that distributors imagine will appeal to Western audiences.

In some ways Shanghai seems to be a film buff’s paradise. Once the center of Asian filmmaking, World War II and the occupation bumped film over to Hong Kong. Shanghai has emerged however as the film pirating center of the world, Hong Kong a close second. There is little ever put on film in the East or West, past or present, that doesn’t wind up on the flourishing DVD markets of these cities. And at a mere dollar or two a pop. American first-run features are quickly followed by their DVD copies offering multiple language choices.

West-East film influences work both ways. There are the unblushingly obvious rip-offs: our low-budget teen films “Porky’s” and “Meatballs” has emerged as “Porky’s Meatballs”, “Splash” enjoys an Asian rebirth as “Mermaid Got Married”, “The Dirty Dozen” is turned into “Eastern Condors”. Even “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” spins off “Flying Dragon, Leaping Tiger” and “Roaring Dragon, Bluffing Tiger”. On the other hand, Quentin Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs” owes a good deal to “City of Fire”. Jackie Chan, trained in the Chinese opera tradition of acrobatic dancing and fighting skills sets the Western fad for Kung-Fu. Filmmaker, John Woo, in a film that gave Chan his first featured role, established the by-now de rigueur clichés of Western action films – slow motion dives accompanied by double gun, across the chest shootings, movements much favored by Bruce Willis and Antonio Banderas.

The melding of Eastern and Western tastes and styles in film can produce results that are a mixture of the bizarre and the familiar. Take these story outlines of popular films:

“The Story of Qiu Ju” (Mainland 1992). An extremely pregnant woman seeks revenge for her husband who has been kicked in his privates.

“The Hole” (Taiwan 1998). Billed as a romance, the citizens of Taipei are infected by a strange virus that makes them behave as cockroaches.

“Spaced Out” (Hong Kong 2001). A story of alienated youth, uncaring parents, brutal teachers, drugs and wild sex.

“Beijing Bastards” (Mainland 1993). Examination of the underworld of starving artists and drugged out rock stars.

“Holy Virgin vs. the Evil Dead” (Hong Kong 1991). A teacher and his five female students are attacked by a monster with neon-green eyes. The teacher escapes but his students are completely dismembered. He soon discovers the monster is worshipped by a cult whose ambition is to rule the world and tear the clothes off young girls.

“Dangerous Encounter-1st.Kind” (Hong Kong 1980). A young woman who is a sadist tires of torturing animals recruits a gang of teenagers and they embark on a career of bloody savagery.

“The River” (Taiwan 1997). A story of a dysfunctional family – mother has an affair with a porno producer, father seeks liaisons with young men, their son, employed as a corpse floating in polluted water for a film, has a chronic neck ache that nothing can cure.

“Eternal Evil of Asia” (Hong Kong 1995). Four friends vacation in Thailand, encounter a strange shaman who turns one of their heads into something unmentionable. After a few orgies, poisonings and accidental deaths the friends return to Hong Kong where two die in horrible manners – one falling off a building and becoming impaled on a light fixture, another turning cannibal and eats himself. The friend with the unmentionable head keeps it. Critics hailed the film as inspired demented sleaze.

Well sir, it’s easy to see here the value of cultural exchange and for just a few dollars anyone can own the proof – all guaranteed to be coded either Region I (for American DVD systems) or VCDs (Region code free).

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