My favourite director

Wong Jing (王晶) is my favourite writer. He is the reason why I became a novelist. From my own perspective, he is the Chinese equivalent to Stephen King. I could explain why he would be the most ideal for adapting my novels, but I will let other people do the explaining. Samuel L. Jackson had this to say about God of Gamblers (賭神): “They make the best films in Hong Kong; and this is the best of the best. It’s the kind of guy-to-guy macho film which we don’t do half as well in the U.S.

A film critic (Grant Foerster) had amazing things to say about God of Gamblers Returns in an issue of a H.K. film magazine called HKFM (circa 1995): “The film takes us through a wild, rollicking, action-packed, comic, suspenseful, goofy and even heartbreaking adventure of a year. Wong, again, provides a film that is nothing short of great crowd-pleasing fun. The comedy flows well within the narrative even as it flies off into slapstick and self-referential parody. The film is loaded with clever culturally conscious scenes and witty Cantonese dialogue which acknowledge the original film and the star culture that surrounds it. After all of its sprawling comedy, the film’s ability to convincingly relay the degree of intensity and seriousness of its final reel is a credit to director Wong.”

The movie had opened on the same day as Forrest Gump (December 15, 1994), but Jing’s movie was the bigger hit as it earned H.K.$ 52,581,796 while the Tom Hanks film had only earned H.K.$ 33,565,555 by the time that it finished screening on June 1, 1995. In 1997, another critic (a man named Shelley Kraicer) had this to say about Jing’s movie: “As a confirmed partisan of the Wong Jing is the cause of all blackest evil in the film world school of thought, even I was totally delighted by God of Gamblers Returns. It was somehow one of the most thoroughly entertaining Hong Kong films that I’ve ever seen. It was a perfect balance of goofiness, political parody and everyone’s comic energies, especially the out-sized acting talents reinforcing each other. I can exactly remember the feeling of leaving the theater, lingering in an entire lobby of people buzzing, thrilled and reluctant to come down from the high that God of Gamblers Returns managed to produce.”

Here is another 1997 quotation, except from a H.K. cinema fan named Joseph FierroWong Jing may be viewed with contempt by the snobby intelligentsia, but I consider him to be one of the most talented individuals working in film today. When he wants to, he can make some amazingly unique and well-crafted films. In fact, better than anyone in H.K., he knows how to entertain. I know of no other director in the world who can successfully combine so many different moods into a single film. The God of Gamblers series is close to his heart because he has written/directed every entry, and has obviously invested much of his creative energy. Both God of Gamblers Returns and God of Gamblers 3: The Early Stage showcase his adeptness at a wide range of styles. They have slapstick comedy, disturbing violence, tragic romance and exciting action – often in the same scene.”

Another fan, Brian Naas (the owner of a New York website called A View from the Brooklyn Bridge and a blog called Asian Cinema – On the Road) agreed: “I, too, love many Wong Jing movies and, to me, he’s reminiscent of a director like Leo McCarey, rather than the Roger Corman comparisons that are often made. Leo was more of a gag writer and concept guy. Although he wasn’t as hands-on as most directors, his contributions to the films which he were involved with were outstanding. For example, among his contributions to Duck Soup were the famous Harpo/Groucho mirror scene along with the battles between Harpo and the lemonade salesman (the best scenes). Even if most Jing productions take 20 days from concept to screen, what’s wrong with that? He also turns out some wildly entertaining “everything but the kitchen sink” star-studded productions that strangely echo elements of Jean-Luc Godard. He also scripted The Magnificent Butcher and The Prodigal Son – among my favourite Sammo Hung movies. One Jing movie that I enjoy which hasn’t been mentioned yet is Modern Romance. Let’s not forget his script for Naked Killer.”

Another Brian (surnamed Thibodeau) defended him on the Hong Kong Movie Database Forum): “Typical Wong Jing stuff is hardly limited to him in the world of Hong Kong cinema – an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink, gerry-rigged milieu if ever there was one, where plenty of filmmakers seem to understand the need to genre-jump several times within a single picture. My Name is Nobody is probably only atypical if you compare it to his other gambling pictures or the all-out crazies with which he’s often identified in spite of having done a sizeable amount of straight-laced features. In fact, compared to much of his output, My Name is Nobody is rather subtle (all things considered) although Wong doesn’t ditch the gags entirely. Did I mention that Shu Qi plays a blind Christian fashion model?”

This Brian explains why Jing is still stigmatized by Western critics after so many years: “In my early days discovering H.K. cinema, a lot of then-available resources, many of them fanzines or magazines like Asian Trash Cinema (a truly rotten moniker) seemed to have it in for Jing due to his populist aspirations and seeming fixation on the puerile or sexual. Since these publications were often all there was on the subject, newbies like myself were often dealt lower expectations with which to view these films. I used to say I never trusted the critics, and generally I still don’t, since film appreciation can often be so subjective an experience. When venturing into what was uncharted territory, and living in a medium-size city with few if any other burgeoning fans, I was left far too often to trust the instincts of people who I’d eventually come to despise for their snivelling disdain for filmmakers like Wong who actually represented the norms of H.K. cinema rather than the exceptions, and this ultimately led me to seriously revise my own preconceptions of the form.”

Brian makes a succinct summation: “Having now seen a sizable portion of Jing’s `80s and `90s work, I realize that he does indeed embody everything that one should love about that city’s unique brand of picture-making, and perhaps even its attitude toward life itself. His films often best represent the ideals inherent in both the people and the cinema of a city of six million. I’m tempted to tell people that if they don’t appreciate the Jing ethic (crank it out fast, put something in it for everyone, move on) then they’re really missing an important element of both H.K. cinema and H.K. itself. Wong’s films can act as a sort of filter through which other films then come into focus, for better or worse. It’s the only city in the world that could produce someone as prolific as Jing, and (more importantly) as prolific in the way that he is. Sure, the world beyond Asia can still enjoy Wong Kar-Wai’s latest piece of moody navel-gazing or Stanley Tong’s flashy attempts to crash international markets with hybrid casts or even the nose-up austerity of Zhang Yimou, but “back home” (so to speak), Jing’s influence and the influence of those who influenced him still reigns supreme – both in his movies and the films of many of those who are still able to find work in the business. Keep `em coming, I say. I hope when the man one day passes away, he is sitting in the director’s chair.”

Fittingly, Chang Cheh’s memoir quotes Wong Jing similarly talking about Li Han-Hsiang (all three men were Shaw Brothers directors): “He died on the battlefield.”

For those who would like to know the context of the Rambo III reference in Jing’s 2011 book, the movie was released in Taiwan on the same day as Jing’s The Crazy Companies 2 in the fall of 1988. In brackets, he refers to what the film was known as in Taiwan – First Blood: Third Episode. The release of Sylvester Stallone’s movie was restricted by the Taiwanese economy. It could only play in eight cinemas. Jing elaborates by saying that more Japanese films couldn’t be released because of the monopoly of Stallone’s movie and other movies from the States. So while there were 8 copies of Sly’s movie playing in Taiwan, there were over 200 copies of H.K. movies being played in cinemas all over Taiwan. The H.K. box office for Rambo III was H.K.$ 27,735,764. This is more than the H.K. box office for The Crazy Companies 2 ($16,876,078), hence the above shot from Gangland Odyssey (1990). As for the movie presented on the left side of Jing’s page, he claimed that Tricky Brains (1991) is one of the H.K. films that has made film enthusiasts in Taiwan go crazy.

His nickname in the H.K. press is feces and urine director, but he’s not the only director who participates in vulgar humour. In Yuen Woo-Ping’s Drunken Master, a fight scene between Jackie Chan and the king of sticks results in the latter landing face-first in a pile of “dog excrement” (wet cement). As for urine, Jackie’s Half a Loaf of Kung Fu had a public urination gag, which is interesting when you consider that his first memoir lambasted Spiritual Kung Fu for having a similar gag. Also, Jackie’s The Young Master featured a scene where he’s drinking from a river which has been contaminated by a boy who is urinating in it. Police Story saw a cop wet himself during a shootout. In Operation Condor, Jackie and his workmen must use urine as makeshift petrol. Stephen Chow could be regarded as a “vomit and snot” actor. About the former, there is a vomit-inducing vomit kiss in The Magnificent Scoundrels. As for the latter, there’s the sickeningly growing snot in The King of Comedy (a movie which Jackie had a cameo in). Jing is not so much vulgar in the visual sense as he in the verbal. Despite what some of his critics think, he has proven that he is capable of creating humour that’s not crude.

Like John Woo with his action sequences, Wong Jing knows how to take advantage of distance to get more than one camera for a scene. This method eventually developed into knowing how to film various scenes at once. It’s easy when you consider that different people are in different locations. Not only has he directed the best directorial début of H.K. cinema, he’s responsible for the funniest movies of a dozen H.K. stars – Kenny Bee (The Flying Mr. B), Andy Lau (The Romancing Star 2), Maggie Cheung (How to Pick Girls Up!), Chow Yun-Fat (God of Gamblers), Sammo Hung (Pantyhose Hero), Danny Lee (The Big Score), Lam Ching-Ying (Money Maker), Jackie Chan (City Hunter), Michelle Yeoh (Holy Weapon), Tony Leung Ka-Fai (Perfect Exchange), Stephen Chow (Sixty Million Dollar Man) and Jet Li (High Risk). Despite directing an impressive unofficial adaptation of Street Fighter (i.e. Future Cops), Jing wasn’t considered as a choice to direct JCVD in the official adaptation.

Wong Jing is Hong Kong’s ultimate action movie-maker. In that area, he has so much more diversity than anyone else, whether it be screenwriting or directing. Action movies can be divided into two sets of three categories. The first set is historical: past, present and future. About the present, he has made contemporary `80s, `90s and twenty-first century movies. The second set is gender-driven i.e. male, female and unisexual-driven. Speaking of triumvirates, he has proven to be experienced in making movies for children (Treasure Hunt), teens (My School Mate, the Barbarian) and adults e.g. I Corrupt All Cops (the initials represent a H.K. corporation which is named Independent Commission Against Corruption). As far as storytelling goes, Jing is the master of contrivance. He can find any way to make an idea work. Nobody runs the gamut in quite the way that he does. There are more extreme examples of genre mixers, but he does it more smoothly. His genre mixing is like Sammo’s ability to fluidly combine martial arts.

Wong Jing has been compared to several American film-makers such as John Waters, Quentin Tarantino, and Terry Gilliam (in regards to Kung Fu Cult Master). Richard Norton compared him to Steven Spielberg – a comparison that I would have used (and one that a German interviewer had made) regardless of Tsui Hark, but I compare him to Walter Hill because Hill is Hollywood’s most diverse action film-maker. I also compare him to John Hughes. Even John’s self-proclaimed ardent fans don’t know that he was a writer for National Lampoon magazine. What Peter Kleinman (a Lampoon art director) said about him in a documentary (Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon) also applies to Jing: “You would start reading his stuff, and it was the most sick, sexual, depraved, deviant stuff you’ve ever read.”

Although, Wong Jing never did anything as revolting as the sh!t demon in Kevin Smith’s Dogma. Jing is often compared to Roger Corman by critics who are unaware of the overall commercialism inherent in H.K. cinema. Even in terms of budgeting, the comparison is wrong. There are lower-budgeted H.K. movies which make Jing look like he’s Spielberg. Jing’s movies can only be regarded as cheap in the same way that most H.K. movies are cheap (i.e. stepping aside Jackie’s most expensive H.K. movies). Back to Corman, the most appropriate comparison to Jing is an overlooked one in that both men directed trilogies which contained quirky plots based on somewhat gruesome premises, unconventional characters who are well-sketched, fluid camera-work, fast editing and in-depth composition. In Jing’s case, this was the 1990 trilogy i.e. Pantyhose Hero, The Big Score and The Last Blood (the above photo). In Corman’s case, it was A Bucket of Blood, The Little Shop of Horrors and Creature from the Haunted Sea.

With this established, my next course of action is defending him because he has often been accused of being one of Hong Kong’s worst film-makers. He’s even been called the worst in H.K. and the world. As he, himself, has gloated, he has never made a movie which was so disappointing that he had to do reshoots. He has never been replaced by another director like Leung Po-Chi was. Ringo Lam (despite being an assistant director) replaced Leung for Espirit D’Amour. Years later, Leung was overruled by Benny Chan on Fatal Love because Benny (the producer and the studio’s presenter) was already an “executive director” for Cinema City. The pièce de résistance is that none of Jing’s movies were shelved like the following movies: Half a Loaf of Kung FuPaper Marriage, Midnight Whispers, Lady Reporter, Changing Partner, Finale in Blood, Bogus Cops, Tsui Hark’s The Master, the legally-titled Hong Kong Adam’s Family and Sherman Wong Jing-Wa’s Stooge, My Love.


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