image To be left reeling

The featured image is from the long-lost version of Eastern Condors. Hong Kong movies are comparable to newspapers in that the most significant ones are always preserved in their original state, whereas the rest are either available online or discarded. Unfortunately, the most famous of movies have reels which have been destroyed or kept by greedy collectors who treat footage like interest in a bank. For example, I would like to know about the below missing scene from Carry On Pickpocket. The most profitable of Hollywood movies are like issues of Rolling Stone. Critically acclaimed Hollywood movies are like issues of Time. As for Euro films having equivalents, they are like issues of National Geographic. As for films which don’t have accolades or mainstream appeal, they are like books i.e. many are available but just as many are out of print – no matter what library that you go to.

However, there is an American actor (a Jon Bernthal lookalike named Mark King) who doesn’t think that H.K. movies should be compared to books. He worked in H.K. and thought that those movies are comparable to comic books. To a certain degree, he is correct. Even still, comics books are treated with more respect by the publishers. I’m genuinely surprised that no-one ever thought of preserving deleted scenes for documentaries or videos. Due to the DVD and Blu-Ray era, there are regrets from former employers and employees. When it comes to movies being disposable, Hollywood is to be blamed for the sheer waste that H.K. cinema has produced i.e. what H.K. lacked in budgets, they tried to make up for in quantity of productions. Attempting to flood the market only results in the diamonds in the rough shining ever so brighter.

The second half of 1984 was when two Hollywood productions, Weird Science and Back to the Future, decided to shift gears after weeks of filming so that they can be remade with different (and more bankable) stars. Coincidentally, 1984 was when a Japanese film had the same gimmick (if not exact premise) as an American film. Typhoon Club was released on August 1985 whereas The Breakfast Club came out in February of that year. In the winter of 1984, Sammo Hung decided to scrap Winners and Sinners 2 so that it could be remade as My Lucky Stars (which Lau Kar-Wing had worked on as an assistant director as seen below). At first glance, Winners and Sinners 2 began filming a year later but it was almost two years later. The first movie began filming in the spring of 1983 whereas the sequel began filming in the winter of 1984. The former had the look and sound of a `70s U.K. sitcom but the humour of a `70s U.S. one.

By the time that Sammo scrapped the linear sequel, sweet-natured comedies were becoming passé. It’s kind of like what happened with Cheers. The first two seasons were fairly genial but the swift inclusion of Frasier Crane in the third season gave it a more dry edge. This was a couple of months before Sammo began filming his sequel. John Shum (the focal point in the below pic) was replaced with Stanley Fung (who was a member of the original Winners and Sinners) because the movie needed a snarky straight man (sort of like why The Golden Palace was less successful than The Golden Girls). Stan wasn’t in the original shoot because it wouldn’t have made sense for his character to return following the events in the predecessor. When assessing the tastes of audiences, a lot can happen in a year or two years rather (especially given how fickle the H.K. market can be).

The below still is part of a deleted scene in Project A II (1987) which was replaced by an adventurous one, where Jackie Chan is tied up in a sack and thrown into the river before being saved by a group of right wingers. In this alternate scene (which was only seen in Japan via cinemas), himself and his captured police squad were about to be executed but are then saved by the aforementioned group. The swift removal of this scene kind of points out how Jackie’s screen image went from being a part of a heroic group to being some sort of lone hero. Many fans complained about the absence of Sammo and Yuen Biao in part two. Literally casting them aside, the sequel is better since it’s a riff on the dynamics that we saw in Police Story. The literal stunt casting was also designed to remind people of Armour of God (thereby making it Jackie’s most meta movie).

Back to Eastern Condors (also released in 1987), the pre-production started in July of 1986. Hung started filming in November. Instead of filming in the Philippines, he began in Canada because the first third of the film is set in a U.S. prison. After a month of filming, he spent another month filming the basketball scene between the racially segregated prisoners. Golden Harvest wanted the maximum length to be 100 minutes, but he had already filmed 44 minutes. Something had to give. What he should have done is assemble a director’s cut to be shown at the Cannes Film Festival. This may seem like a joke to those who dismiss the movie as mere exploitation that was designed to cash in on the Vietnam film trend, but the original script was appealing enough to successfully entice Haing S. Ngor (since he was in The Killing Fields).

The original movie was a perfect balance between having plenty of action and a profusion of characterization. In January of 1987, Sammo took his H.K. cast and crew to Bangkok for a month of filming. In February, they went to the Philippines for four and a half months. Despite wrapping in the middle of June, he managed to get it edited for a release in July 9. In uneasy contrast, The Millionaire’s Express (1986) took 3 months to prepare and 5 to shoot. Eastern Condors is one of the very few `80s H.K. films which had the potential for global theatrical distribution on a mainstream level. It was less successful at the H.K. box office because, despite the darker material, the audience was deprived of the character-building scenes which permeated the first half of the film – the bonding of The Deer Hunter with the training of Full Metal Jacket.

Ironically, Sam’s military masterpiece has been marketed as a mixture of The Dirty Dozen and Rambo. It’s a sad indication as to how editing can change the overall perception of a film. Suspiciously, the truncated version foreshadows two deleted scenes of Bullet in the Head (another war epic). The first scene involves gangsters forcing a character to drink a foul liquid. The second involves Russian roulette, like The Deer Hunter, except the lives of the captives depend on Vietnamese boys pulling the trigger. To put your head around the context, the boys are working with the captors. John Woo would retaliate by adapting a scene from Pedicab Driver (1989) for the ending of The Killer (1989). To understand how this could happen, bear in mind that The Killer was released on June 6 whereas Pedicab Driver was released on February 4.

The scene that was adapted was the last moment between two lovers. 10 years later, I noticed this because I saw Pedicab Driver before The Killer when both movies were aired on one of Channel 4’s subsidiary channels (Film Four). Oliver Stone, a long-time fan of H.K. films, went as far to declare Eastern Condors as the beginning of a new wave in H.K. cinema. For this great director to compliment this movie is profound because he served in the Vietnam war (Eastern Condors takes place after the war). Eastern Condors would influence Jackie’s Operation Condor (featuring the aforementioned Mark King). The endings of both movies have an underground military facility which gets destroyed with a mountain caving into the earth. This wasn’t the first time that Chan was keen to rival Hung.

Armour of God had a vehicle chase which was obviously designed to outshine the one in Wheels on Meals; this is because The Millionaire’s Express was Hung’s attempt to outclass Project A. Also, Sammo wanted Paper Marriage to top the shopping mall finale in Police Story. Jackie was also keen to rival Pedicab Driver with Mr. Canton and Lady Rose. Both films are romantic comedy dramas that take place in the 1930s. Back to Eastern Condors, it was disappointing for many fans that the Taiwanese version didn’t contain more footage as is the norm for H.K. movies (this is like how the Japanese versions of albums have more songs). The removed scenes of Project A (a movie which had less income but more recoup) were reinstalled for a DVD edition. Like how the missing reels took 30 years to be seen (30th anniversary special), what’s left of Bruce Lee’s The Game of Death took less than that to be seen in the West where it received long-overdue fanfare.

Still, money-grubbing collectors spoiled the experience. This wasn’t the case when the original version of the teahouse fight in Drunken Master II was canned. Coarse disbelief has been expressed by Mark Houghton, who left the project after the firing of Liu Chia-Liang a.k.a. Lau Kar-Leung (the brother of Lau Kar-Wing a.k.a. Liu Chia-Yung). However, Jackie told Mike Leeder in a 1995 interview that he had to cut 4000 feet of film from the 9000 that Liu had shot. In lieu of Liu, Jackie had to reshoot instead of just merely complete the movie. Junking that much footage isn’t so hard to believe. For example, Jackie spent three months filming Dragon Lord in Korea before starting from scratch by heading over to Taiwan. In his first memoir, J.C. had described Dragon Lord as the most expensive H.K. movie of its time. He distilled the entire experience by simply saying that miles of footage was thrown into the garbage.

In general, Jackie wastes so much money on out-takes that it would actually make sense to recoup costs by having different versions of his movies feature out-takes which are usable if not perfect. In retrospect, Drunken Master II should have been directed by Sammo so that he could play the character that Liu had played. They should also have got Yuen Biao to have the role that Chin Kar-Lok had. That way, it could’ve been a three brothers movie. As a Jet Li fan, I find it disappointing that we will never see the original version of High Risk. Let’s face it – it seems weird that Wong Jing seemingly never made fun of Jackie’s singing career or outtakes montages. The above stills of deleted scenes were originally on the French Jet Li website which vanished. The stills take place in a police station where Chingmy Yau has a police sketch of Jet Li, who is awkwardly sitting next to her because of getting some dogs to go after her and her chubby cameraman.

The above still takes place some time after the men’s room scene. The insinuation is that Cheung is panicking about the size of his manhood after his encounter with the rival/robber played by Billy Chow. Conjecture time: I suspect that there were other scenes filmed such as ones making fun of the outtakes of Jackie Chan’s closing credit sequences (especially since he faked one injury during the making of Operation Condor as Ken Goodman noted) and his singing career, especially since Jacky Cheung is a popular singer in real life – one of the Four Heavenly Kings of Canto-pop i.e. alongside Leon Lai, Andy Lau and Aaron Kwok (why have a top five when you can have a top four like the big four of thrash metal: Anthrax, Megadeth, Metallica and Slayer). As for other H.K. movies which have long lost deleted scenes, there’s the explosion of a living room in Stephen Chow’s From Beijing With Love, and Yuen Biao being tied to a cross which he is facing while being mocked by Fan Mei-Sheng (who plays the leading detective) in Dreadnaught.

Another Biao movie, Knockabout, had to be reshot. As you can see below, Phillip Ko Fei played the villain with a different and more obvious wig. I tried to screen-capture the exact equivalent to the photograph but the film’s editing wouldn’t allow for it, which tells me that the following shot of Biao’s right arm swinging like a pendulum was an afterthought. Also, notice how Biao’s cheek bruise isn’t quite the same either. This suggests that the choreography was different, and perhaps more serious since Phillip wasn’t really a comedic actor in the same way that Lau Kar-Wing was. One more piece of evidence which points to reshoots is a widely known fact about the film’s original opening sequence. It was meant to be your typical Kung Fu movie intro where someone shows off what they will learn in front of a red backdrop. As for why Phillip was replaced, he was probably too busy. In 1979 (when Knockabout was released), he could be seen in 18 films. In 1978 (when Knockabout was made), he could be seen in 12 films.

In Yes Madam, Michelle Yeoh had Kung Fu duels which differed from the modern style of the movie. Looking at the clothes of the people involved, minus Michelle, as well as their surroundings; it’s difficult to imagine how the duels would have fit within the space of the plot. Chuck Norris claimed that he appeared in a few more scenes than what is shown in The Way of the Dragon. One scene involved him attacking one of the waiters. This explains why we don’t see the waiter as one of the survivors at the graveyard. In fact, there are two missing waiters – Wu Ngan’s waiter (the guy who gets kicked into a pile of boxes) is waiting in the car to drive Bruce to the airport whereas Robert Chan’s waiter is long gone. The Californian remake would definitely have involved Malisa Longo playing the hooker because Bruce had rapport with her.

In an Italian interview, she claimed that their affair lasted till September, 1972 (when The Game of Death began filming to such a degree that it deserves its own article). He ended the affair because he couldn’t risk gossip affecting his H.K. homelife, although that excuse turned out to fall flat. She agreed since she was on the verge of mainstream stardom in Italy. Despite her role in The Way of the Dragon being small, her commitment to him was three weeks because he always wanted her available. In Italy, they did cha-cha dancing at a bar and dined at a Chinese restaurant. After the movie, they would have the occasional phone call. Before he died, she signed a three picture deal with S.B. One of the movies was to star him as her partner. After he died, she received a phone call from her Chinese friend: Yeo Ban-Yee. His version of Bruce’s death was a plaguing one that left her reeling (sort of like the above deleted scene from John Woo’s Bullet in the Head).

The two stills at the bottom of the page depict scenes that were removed from the final cut of Bullet in the Head. I got this page from eBay. The magazine that it belonged to was Hong Kong Film Biweekly. More precisely, it was issue #240 (dated August 2 of 1990). This issue contains rare behind-the-scenes photos of John Woo, so I recommend that you go out of your way to purchase it. Anyway, the deleted scenes depict Ben leaving Vietnam. Played by Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, it’s a wonder that that the character survived. The still on the left fascinates me because the finished version implies that Ben’s departure wasn’t particularly traumatic, at least in comparison to what he endured during the duration of the previous reels.

As a way to make things come full circle to the first still in this article, here is a still of a deleted scene from Wheels on Meals where Sammo sleeps with the prostitute who spoke to Lola Forner before offering herself to Jackie and Yuen. It’s fascinating that Golden Harvest did not perceive Sammo as a believable lady’s man, at least in the serious sense. This still looks like it was meant to showcase a more sincere and vulnerable side to Sammo’s lonely detective. After Wheels on Meals was made, Sammo set out to prove that he could be a romantic leading man with The Owl and Dumbo – a movie that proved, if anything at least, that he didn’t need Jackie or Yuen to make a very big hit at the box office. It was almost as profitable as Wheels on Meals. At the local box office, it earned $21,313,636 in over 3 weeks (i.e. instead of $21,465,013 in almost 3 weeks).


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