In addition to its important function as a repository of local film history, the Hong Kong Film Archive has also issued a series of bilingual (English/Traditional Chinese) reference books that will enrich the education of even the most devoted HK cinema buff. Here is a look at two of the publications available. Ordering information for these and the other volumes available can be found on the archive’s website.
THE MAKING OF MARTIAL ARTS FILMS – AS TOLD BY FILMMAKERS AND STARS is a series of anecdotes culled from a multimedia exhibition of the same name that took place from March 31 to April 18, 1999. The book is divided into sections with titles like "Flying Swords, Special Gadgets, and Beasts," "When Real Kung Fu Meets Comic Acrobatics," and "Sci-Fi and Technological Breakthroughs." Speakers ranging from veteran performers (including Cheng Pei-pei, Hsu Feng, Michelle Yeoh, Kwan Tak-hing, Jackie Chan, Yam Sai-kwoon) to directors (Yuen Woo-ping, Stephen Tung Wai, Lau Kar-leung, Chang Cheh, King Hu and others) offer anecdotes ranging from one to two paragraphs on various aspects of kung fu cinema. The comments are interesting, but too brief to be especially detailed and not always as connected by theme as one might like. However, the book acts as an enjoyable introduction to the subject and will be of definite interest to those just starting to explore the type of movies HK is most famous for. There are also brief essays charting how the genre evolved over the years and the volume concludes with a small section of biographical information devoted to the participants.
While Tsui Hark has been interviewed on a number of occasions, THE SWORDSMAN AND HIS JIANG HU: TSUI HARK AND HONG KONG FILM is welcome in its depth and diversity of voices. Assembled from interviews conducted between 1996 and 2001, the various sections paint a well-rounded portrait of the man behind some of HK’s greatest cinematic breakthroughs. Tsui’s reputation as a tireless visionary is well known, but the book does not shy away from presenting the less-than-flattering side of him as a capricious, overbearing producer, notorious for intimidating his directors, working his actors and crew beyond the point of exhaustion, and demanding results that cannot be adequately achieved given the time and money available. On the other hand, some of these same people feel that this pressure prompted them to attain greater creative heights than they would have thought possible. The section devoted to cinematographer Arthur Wong Ngok-tai’s reminiscences is entitled "Worse Than Hitler," but even Wong continues to work for Tsui, recognizing that he can come closer to attaining his personal credo of "Nothing is Impossible" more often with him. Longtime editor Marco Mak Chi-sin agrees, saying that editing other people’s work is not nearly as rewarding for him, hence his continued collaboration with Tsui (which commenced in 1990 with A TERRACOTTA WARRIOR).
Tsui’s position as an independent creative force in HK cinema, via his Film Workshop company (which maintained its own identity even after collaborating with majors like Cinema City and Golden Harvest), is something that likely doomed his flirtation with Hollywood from the outset. However, Tsui’s many positive achievements as both a director and producer make up the lion’s share of text here and one is gifted with a great deal of information about how he conceives and executes projects, and their journey through post-production (Mak’s discussion of how to edit fight sequences and generate emotion through appropriate cutting is particularly informative). Other notable figures heard from include composer James Wong Jim (THE LOVERS) and art director Bill Lui (GREEN SNAKE).
Supplemental materials include sketches and storyboards created for THE LEGEND OF ZU, costume tests for pictures like PEKING OPERA BLUES and SWORDSMAN, and scene treatment pages from the original ZU. There is also input from the man himself via three interviews the archive conducted with Tsui, and all of his works (even movies he only acted in) are included in a Filmography section that features ample technical credits.
The book is attractively laid out and well illustrated, with dozens of B&W photos and an 11 page color section. A few translation errors are apparent (eg. Raymond Wong Pak-ming’s Mandarin Films company is incorrectly rendered as Oriental Films and the Arthur Wong section mentions A CHINESE GHOST STORY, but the film under discussion is actually A CHINESE GHOST STORY II), but this is a very good volume overall and devotees of Tsui’s work will leave the book both enlightened and enriched.