Friday, January 29, 2010

Nostalgic Chinese Cinema Review Series: 1970s Kungfu, Bruce Lee, and Action Cinema..70年代功夫动作片当道

The 1970s brought with it along the rise of Bruce Lee and Kungfu/Action Masculine films. If the 50s and 60s were dominated by female actors, the 1970s saw the rise of male actors such as Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan.

The start of the decade witnessed a trend of explicit sexual content films with many soft-porn 'sex and violence' films produced which continued throughout the 70s and 80s. The infamous Lesbian flick 'Intimate Confessions of a Courtesan' came out in 1972 followed by a slew of similarly tiltillating sexual films such as 'Mask' in 1974 and 'Women's POW Camp' in 1973. They pushed the boundaries of Chinese/HK cinema and were the only Chinese movies allowed such daring scenes of homosexual gay love in 'Mask', lesbian torture in 'Women's POW Camp',etc which were possible under British controlled Hong Kong and would definitely have been banned in Taiwan, China, and quite likely other Chinese speaking areas such as Singapore.

Bruce Lee shot to fame in 1971 with The Big Boss/Fist of Fury. He acted in only a handful of films before dying of unknown causes.

The 1970s also saw the rise of Taiwan's melodramatic films based on Qiong Yao (a famous romance novelist) novels. These films were extremely popular amongst the youths of Taiwan and South East Asian Chinese throughout the 1970s as well as into the 1980s. They produced many famous Taiwanese moviestars such as Gui Ya Lei, Ke Jun Xiong, Jen Jen, Chin Han, Chin Hsiang Lin, Lin Feng Jiao, and the most famous of all, Brigette Lin Hsin Hsia. My mom was a fan of them, and a big reason for her decision to move to Taipei to study university apparently!

The 1970s also saw a rise of nationalist cinema in Taiwan due to the political international situation it saw itself. In 1971, Taiwan was kicked out and replaced by China in the United Nations. 1972 saw the breaking off of diplomatic relations between Japan and Taiwan and many other nations followed suit in the interminent years. Seiged by a sense of deep insecurity, Taiwan's government commissioned and encouraged many nationalistic films. A few of these involved anti-Japanese themes which were hereto discouraged due to cold war reasons. Now that Japan had switched diplomatic recognition to China, and it being the No.2 economy even then, Taiwanese cinema was in full force with a couple of very famous anti-Japanese war films. One of the most famous of these was 'Victory' (Chinese title: 梅花)by 刘家昌which was about the Taiwanese people's resistance to Japanese occupation during WW2. The theme song spread like wildfire and even went as far as Malaysia/Singapore amongst the overseas Chinese. Listening to the song kinda makes me emotional about being Chinese too as the Chinese title means 'Plum Blossom' which is the national flower of the Republic of China and amongst the backdrop of the anti-Japanese storyline, can be very emotive and evoking one's sense of pride in being Chinese.

One of Qiong Yao's Romantic Movies with full Eng subs:
'Victory' (1975) theme song:

1980s coming up...

Monday, January 25, 2010

Nostalgic Chinese Cinema Review Series: 1960s Swinging Era of Change..60年代的脱变新风潮

Above: Linda Lin.

The 1960s started conventionally enough, with many stars from the 1950s continuing to be famous well into the 1960s. The Biggest Studios of the era were no doubt Shaw Brothers, which had a huge production set and a Star Casting system mirroring the United States as well as Mp&Gi later renamed Cathay, which produced contemporary 1950s/60s family and romance films mainly.

In the 1960s, Linda Lin Dai acted in her famous 'Love Without End' (1961) and sang the theme song which has continued to be popular to this day.

Lucilla You Min also continued well into the 1960s until her marriage into a wealthy family in 1964 upon which she retired from acting. Starting from the early 1960s, she acted in a trio of HK-Japan productions in love stories involving a Japanese man and a Chinese woman. These films were similar to the Chinese-Japanese love stories mentioned in my 1940s post on Li Xiang Lan propaganda wartime romance films except that there was no longer any propaganda and there was only pure romance involved in the films.
Above: You Min in a HK-Japan co-production.

Grace Chang acted in the seminal 'Wild, Wild, Rose' (1961) and sang many famous songs in the film. I had a chance to see the entire film and it was great...
Another famous actress of this era was Betty Loh Ti. She was called the 'Classical Beauty' for having beautiful classical features and often appeared in both classical setting as well as modern contemporary setting films.
Above: Betty Loh Ti in a pink cheongsam.
Of course, mentioning Betty Loh Ti would require mentioning Ivy Ling Po whom she acted together in the infamous Huangmei Opera Style movie 'Butterfly Lovers'. This was a hit in Taiwan and South East Asia and shot Ivy Ling Po to fame. Ivy Ling cross-dressed as a man in the film which won her rav reviews. In fact, many female actresses cross-dressed as men during the 1960s which won them huge fans, ironic, given the conservative nature of the times. Another famous pair would be the Cantonese opera duo Bak Shuet Shin and Yam Kin Fai, one always dressing up as a man, and later on Brigette Lin would cross-dress very often in her films.
There were various famous stars of this era, too many for me to name...Carrie Koo, Diana Chang, Ding Hao, Lily Ho, Jenny Hu, Lydia Shum, Tse Yin, Lam Fung, Ka Ling, Josephine Siao, Connie Chan,,etc...the later two being the big names of Cantonese teen idol of the late 1960s with the rise of hippy and swing culture.
In the early 1960s, there was a trio of films dealing with the tensions and conflict between the Mandarin-speaking new immigrants to Hong Kong from the mainland and the Cantonese-speaking majority population of Hong Kong. I've seen one of these films called 'Nanbei YiJia Qing' and its extremely rare to see in a film, both Mandarin and Cantonese spoken and without dubbing into either language. I've included a link below!

By the Late 1960s, there rose a wave of teen idol Cantonese films with Cantonese stars Josephine and Connie as well as many films with sexual content, mirroring the development in the West with the sexual revolution in full swing there.

The end of the decade also saw the suicides of two of Hong Kong's top actresses. One was Linda Lin Dai in 1964 and another Betty Loh Ti in 1968. Both did not pass age 30 when they died. It seems like there was a pattern of top female stars committing suicide throughout the 1930s-1980s with Ruan Ling Yu in the 1930s, Zhou Xuan in the 1950s, Linda and Betty in the 1960s and many other actresses throughout the 60s and 70s.

Almost all reportedly either because of emotional/marriage problems or fall from the limelight.

Mandarin Cinema also started to decline in Hong Kong starting from the late 1960s and continued to decline throughout the 1970s such that by 1980, most film companies in Hong Kong no longer produced separate Cantonese and Mandarin language cinemas and simply made Cantonese films with Mandarin dubbing when necessary.

PS: As there are too many stars of the 1960s whom i haven't covered worth covering, I may do a continuing 1960s retro series of posts on 1960s movie stars later on throughout the year, but this is only tentative, dependent on my spare time..

Links: (Linda Lin Dai's 'Love Without End' 1961) (Betty's 'Dream of the Red Mansion', 1962) (Betty's 'Butterfly Lovers', 1964 based on the immortal Chinese folk romance.)
(Betty's 'Darling, Stay At Home', 1968 one of my fav films as its a moralistic feminist story on allowing women to work outside of the home and appreciating one's wife. Also one of Betty's last films before her suicide.) (Betty's 'The Dancing Millionaress' 1964 with her then husband Peter Ho whom she divorced later. This divorce is rumoured to have caused her suicide in 1968.) 1962 Cantonese-Mandarin Nanbei Yijia Qing so funny!) (An English song by Josephine Siao) (Josephine Siao 1960s movie) (Another Josephine Siao 1960s Cantonese film) (Josephine Siao at an awards ceremony in 2008.)

1970s coming up...Kungfu fighting, Rise of Masculine Cinema, and Taiwanese Qiong Yao Romances..

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Nostalgic Chinese Cinema Review Series: 1950s Hong Kong Grace+Lucilla+Linda..50年代千娇百媚...

Above: You Min and Linda on cover of 1960s/50s mag.
When the Communist took over mainland China in 1949, so did the Chinese film industry change on the mainland. For the next 4 decades, the mainland Chinese film industry became closed to outside influences and followed a socialist pattern. The mainland Chinese film industry shall thus not be the subject of my series of nostalgic cinema review post-1949 movies. In my 1950s review post, I shall be concentrating on Mandarin cinema in Hong Kong.

By the 1950s, Hong Kong cinema had recovered from the complete shutdown experienced during the Japanese occupation years when many film stars/directors escaped into the interior. By the 1950s, there were two/three movie industries operating in Hong Kong. One was the small Amoy dialect movie industry producing Hokkien language films for the Chinese diaspora in South East Asia and Taiwan. Another one was the better budgeted Cantonese language film industry producing films for Hong Kong residents and also for the overseas Chinese population. But by far the biggest budgeted and star system one was the Mandarin language film industry in Hong Kong which had the best stars, quality, and budgets. These produced movies in Mandarin but often set in contemporary 1950s hong kong giving way to a strange/ironic situation whereby the characters all speak Mandarin in overwhelmingly Cantonese Hong Kong!!!

The Mandarin industry was made up mostly of Shanghainese refugees whom had fled from Communist rule in mainland China and shanghai.

The most famous stars of the era were predominantly female and the most famous star of that era was arguably Linda Lin-Dai. She won Best Actress four times in her career span and acted in many representative films of that era, three of her most famous works being 'The Kingdom and the Beauty' (1957) , 'Bu Liao Qing' (1961), and 'The Blue and the Black' (1966). Thus, she was famous throughout the 50s and well into the 1960s until her suicide in 1964. Her last film 'The Blue and the Black' was not finished at the time of her suicide and they had to get a replacement (with plastic surgery) to finish the leftover scenes.
Grace Chang was another very famous 1950s star. She appeared in many contemporary 1950s setting films as the vivacious bright modern girl with contemporary issues always found in many of her films such as modern love, taking the aeroplane, going travelling, and buying a car, all 'modern' luxuries sought and aspired to by the middle class in Hong Kong of the 1950s.

Her films give a very good representation of what kind of life was aspired to in Hong Kong of the 1950s but definitely do not show accurately what Hong Kong residents lived like back then!

Above: Grace Chang.
And Finally, one of my favourite stars, Lucilla You Min. She was well-known for being the graceful feminine star with a pure 'Jade Girl' image. I really like her alot and she appeared in three (or four) Japanese films in the 1960s in a series of HK-Japan collaborations. More on that in my 1960s post.
Above: Lucilla You Min.
Links (Do have a look! They're priceless scenes, giving a glimpse of HK society then) :
Linda Lin: (Linda's 'Love is a Battlefield' movie) ('The Kingdom and the Beauty' full movie with Eng subs! A great opportunity for those of you to see for the first time a 1950s Chinese film!)

Grace Chang: (One of my FAV of Grace Chang in America circa 1959) (Grace Chang in 'Air Hostess' I've seen this movie, it shows priceless scenes of H.k.,Bangkok, Taipei, Singapore of the 50s in it!)

Lucilla You Min: (From the Famous 'Star, Moon, Sun' 1961)

Although i don't really enjoy watching 1930/40s Chinese movies (I've even seen the silent film 'The Goddess' by Ruan Ling Yu!) as they're way too far away in history for me to enjoy, I love 1950s/60s films as they have three attractions for me:

1) the cheongsam, where else can you see exquisite authentic ala 1950/60s style tight body hugging cheongsams on full display?!

2) the role of women in society back then and aspirations/role models

3)societal attitudes and norms back then as well as scenic scenes of Hong Kong and Asia in the 50s/60s, priceless shots!
PS: All photos come from the internet and particularly from the websites under my 'Chinese Cinema' section on the right hand bar. Do check out those websites for more indepth details!:-)
Hope you like them too!...1960s, my favourite retro decade coming on up!..stay tuned..

Friday, January 15, 2010

Nostalgic Chinese Cinema Review Series: 1940s Wartime Cinema..1940年代的日本军策电影

Above: Third from left Zhou Xuan 'Golden Voice', Li Xiang Lan, Bai Guang (second from right).

The 1940s marked the start of the heyday of Japanese Military Propaganda films in Chinese cinema. Alittle history is necessary here...Japan invaded China in 1937 at a hurricane speed spreading from Beijing to Nanjing to Wuhan, Guangzhou,etc such that by 1940, most of the populated Eastern Coastal area of China was under Japanese occupation and the majority of China's cities and population were under Japanese military control.

Shanghai was split into different areas, with the Chinese controlled parts of the city being over 70% of the city and the French and International Concession area making up the most prosperous part of the city and roughly 25% of the city area. There was also a small japanese concession area pre-war. The Chinese area of Shanghai fell to the Japanese in 1937 after three mths of heavy casualty fighting and thus many filmmakers went into the unoccupied French/International Concession area of Shanghai in hiding. This area unoccupied by Japanese Army (Japan only declared war on the Allies in 1941) was a safehaven for Chinese intellectuals,etc but its safety was always at the mercy of the Japanese Army since the surrounding areas and most of Shanghai were already under Japanese military control.

This period in history is called 'Orphan Island Shanghai' referring to the 'island oasis' parts of Shanghai unoccupied by Japan until Pearl Harbor and the subsequent moving in of Japanese troops and interning of Allied citizens of the French/International Concession area of Shanghai as well in 1941.

During the anti-Japanese war 1937-1945, as the Japanese speed of invasion was so unprecedented, there was very little facilities/equipments to make films given that almost all the cities of China were under Japanese occupation. In the occupied territories, the Japanese Army forced filmmakers and companies to collaborate by setting up Chinese film production companies nominally under Chinese control but in effect managed and censored by the Japanese occupation army. These film companies were to produce films in line with Japan's Greater East Asia War and military policy to promote the invasion/occupation of China as somehow necessary and justified. During this wartime period, one star stood out. She became the most famous actress/singer arguably during the wartime period and can be said to have become famous directly as a result of the Japanese wartime propaganda policy which sought to create the ideal 'propaganda wartime star' to pacify the Chinese resistance as well as garner support from the homefront in Japan for the war in China.

Her name was Li Xiang Lan (李香蘭). Until now, this name is still well-known amongst many Chinese ppl and her songs are still popular amongst segments of the older generation. She was part of the ManEi Film Production Company set up by the Puppet Government of Manchuria to assist Japan in its wartime propaganda. What many ppl didn't know then, and many still do not know now (besides Japanese ppl and the avid historians like me!) is that Li Xiang Lan was actually a Japanese woman born and bred in Manchuria (now, NorthEastern China). Her grandfather was a keen fan of Chinese history/studies and moved the family to Manchuria in the early 20th Century. She was born in a place called Fushun, China and grew up speaking Japanese at home, Chinese in school and socially, and also taking English lessons at a very young age.

The Japanese military felt that it would be good to 'create' an ideal wartime propaganda idol and actively promoted her as a Manchurian-born Chinese girl whom spoke fluent Japanese and Chinese and represented the goodwill of China and Japan. She appeared in many wartime propaganda movies which emphasized the positive role model of Japan and the backwards nature of China. Her characters can be read to represent 'China' and the male lead 'Japan' and the Japanese male is always shown as modern, bright, and leading whilst her Chinese character as mystical, oriental, backwards, and in need of salvation (read: China needs Japan's guidance and occupation).

After the war, she was tried for being a traitor to China for having appeared in such propaganda films but was deported to Japan after authorities realised her Japanese ethnicity and nationality. She later wrote in her memoir (i've read it, in Japanese no less! very challenging read for my Japanese skills.) how she regretted appearing in such wartime movies which were propaganda and hurt the Chinese ppl, and China, which she regards as her second home. After the war, she reverted back to her real Japanese name Yamaguchi Yoshiko and appeared in many Japanese films speaking Japanese as well as a few Mandarin language Hong Kong films in the 1950s. She even appeared in Hollywood films speaking English due to her early English classes.

Another star famous in the 1940s was Chen Yun Shang. She appeared in many films and was one of the few to participate in a Japanese-backed film in the early 1940s when many actors/actresses/directors refused to colloborate with the Japanese. After the war, she was tried for treason for having appeared in the film but it seems she was granted a pardon. The film in question was an ancient costume one and did not have any direct propaganda link with the war going on. It was more of an entertainment film produced by the Japanese.

And of cos, by the late 1940s, there was one sexy siren in Shanghai renowned for her sexy image. It was said she was the most sexy symbol at the time and her name was Bai Guang (白光). She appeared in movies as the sultry prostitute or mistress, and was the sex object of every Chinese man it seemed. One of her most famous films was made just before the takeover of Shanghai by the Communist in 1949 called 'a Loose Woman's Heart'( 荡妇心)

Links (Have a Look! These are the important bits of this series of posts):

1) (Bai Guang's a 'Loose Woman's Heart')

2) ('China Nites' 1940 One of Li Xiang Lan's Most Famous Films)

3) (Li Xiang Lan's famous song 'He Ri Jun Zai Lai')

4) Xiang Lan in US Movie 'Bamboo House' 1955)

5) (One of my fav's Li Xiang Lan's rendition of Ye Lai Xiang at her final show announcing her retirement from film.)

This is simply a summary of the films of that era, and like all posts in this series, Chinese cinema of each decade is simply too vast and rich for me to comprehensively deal with so i shall only be summarising the stars/movies which i think speak to me personally or are representative of the era...going on to 1950s in the next post...

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Nostalgic Chinese Cinema Review Series: 1930s 'Butterfly' and 'Golden Nightingale'...怀旧老电影:30年代的默片,蝴蝶和周旋

This year shall be the 'Year of China' for my blog. This is to coincide with the rapid ascension of China on the world economic and diplomatic stage as China's economy continues to rise on a bullet train speed whilst the West and Japan's economy continue to be mirred in recession and faltering from the effects of the Great Financial Crisis. It also coincides with the World Expo to be held in May in Shanghai, it's 'coming out' party so to speak, as the Olympics was to Beijing.

To start off my Year of China theme (one would realise i actually blog very little on China itself, the nation and especially on China post 1949 despite my blog name and strong Chinese interest in this blog!!), I shall do alittle review and introduction of Nostalgic Chinese film stars and movies starting from the silent film era of the early 1930s to HK, Taiwan, and China's filmstars/movies ending in the 1980s. Anything 90s I have already done a review of it (well just 1990s HK Cinema) over here:

This post shall be about the famous Stars of the 1930s and when Chinese cinema first boomed and blossomed. The early years saw Ruan Lingyu, a Canton girl who made it big in Shanghai, become the most famous star of Chinese silent film cinema. She was the divine 'Goddess of Shanghai' of the silent film era along with HuDie. She appeared in several films which were socialist and realistic for their portrayal of the time and how Chinese women had no power or say in their own lives. Her most famous work could arguably be 'The Goddess' where she depicted a prostitute who had to raise her child tirelessly and yet be the victim of societal prejudice and obstacles in 1934. Other notable works include 'New Women' and 'Three Modern Women'. She is often well known for her suicide more than just her movies. She committed suicide in 1935 at the age of 24 after rumors and unrelenting tabloid attacks on her moral character as she was in a lawsuit with her first husband and apparently in a relationship with a prominent married man. Apparently, in her suicide note left, there was the following passage which has been so famous that even now, ask any Chinese person, and they'll know this saying:人言可畏 'Rumours/Gossip can be Lethal'.
In 1992, Maggie Cheung won the Berlin Best Actress Award for her portrayal of Ruan's life in 'Centrestage'. This is also heralded as the turning point in Maggie's career and shot her to A-list status. Trailer here:

Hudie (Butterfly) was also one of the top silent film actresses of the1930s although her career spanned until the 1960s into the sound era. She was also apparently the 1st Chinese actress to have received an award overseas (in Europe) i think. She continued acting until the 1960s with her last film being in the early 60s as a mother role. She was so famous that when the Japanese invaded in 1937 she fled to Hong Kong. Later on, when the Japanese occupied Hong Kong as well in 1941, she went into hiding and with the help of Resistance forces, escaping into unoccupied China in Chungking (China's wartime capital) as the Japanese had a policy of forcing famous moviestars to collaborate with the Japanese military occupation in appearing in pro-Japanese propaganda films to brainwash the Chinese masses into accepting the Japanese occupation. Hudie, like most Chinese stars of the era, refused to colloborate and managed to escape to Chungking and the interior.

Another famous top star of the 30s/40s was Zhou Xuan, often hailed as having a 'Golden Voice' like the golden nightingale. She sang in many movies and most of her songs are very popular. She also killed herself (i think) in the 1950s after suffering from recurring bouts of depression.
Trailer of one of her most famous song in the Movie: Street Angel (1937):

Going on to the 1940s, in my next post, which shall continue the Nostalgic Chinese Cinema Review Series...

Friday, January 01, 2010

Happy 2010!!!!~~~

Above: Sydney Opera House Fireworks@12am

Above: Darling Harbour Fireworks@9pm

Happy 2010!!!! I spent it catching TWO fireworks display, one at 9pm at Darling Harbour and the second one, the main fireworks display extravaganza at the Sydney Harbour Bridge...was simply amazing!!! And my very first time celebrating the NYE at Sydney Harbour Bridge too!:-) We went very late like 8 15pm arrival at Darling Harbour for the 9pm fireworks and 10 30pm to the spot at Milsons Point for the main Midnight Fireworks but even with 10 ppl we could still get quite a good spot!! Yeah, in the end we did break up into smaller groups cos it got more and more crowded closer to the time.

Above: George Street (Main street thru Sydney CBD) closed off to traffic at nite!
More photos@online photo album.

So How did everyone else spend their NYE? Do tell me!