The other copycat

Wong Jing gets a lot of flack for being the Hong Kong film industry’s most flagrant plagiarist, but John Woo could easily be criticized for taking credit for other people’s ideas. John has gotten away with it because he mentions in interviews about the people who he takes after, but Jing has never been blessed with an opportunity to reveal his countless intentions. Then again, he could easily argue that it’s obvious who he borrows from. Unlike Quentin Tarantino, Jing has never denied his inspirations (i.e. his origins e.g. premises) and influences (i.e. his ideas e.g. plot points). There is a double standard that a lot of film critics have when discussing the movies of Jing and others. If there is a derivative film-maker who they don’t like, he is a rip-off merchant. If there is a derivative film-maker who they do like, he has either created a parody, a tribute or a remake. In Jing’s case, High Risk is a combination of all three. Besides, Pablo Picasso said: “Good artists copy, great artists steal.”

Like Tarantino, Jing is equally derivative and original e.g. The Flying Mr. B is a mixture of Superman III (i.e. a superhero comedy), Meatballs and National Lampoon’s Animal House. Also, Pantyhose Hero is a remake of Partners but it was advertised on DVD as Cruising meets Police Academy. Speaking of which, Jackie Chan produced a H.K. version of Police Academy. The title was The Inspector Wears Skirts. Jackie essentially did his own version of Indiana Jones with Armour of God, while Jing did his version of E.T. with Magic Crystal. If Jing takes an idea, he’s criticized for plagiarism. If Jackie does it, he’s cited for creating a homage. For instance, Jackie’s best stunts in Project A and Project A II came from Buster Keaton’s twenties movies.

As for Woo, Hard-Boiled is his most accessible action movie but not as original as some may think. The gun-in-the-book gag is the figurative son of the one in Golden Queen Commando (the grandfather being a season 1 episode of Mission: Impossible titled The Confession). There is a scene where Chow Yun-Fat aims at a bullet which is lodged in a pipe, which is the metaphorical daughter of a scene from The Red Circle. The idea of hiding a shotgun in a box of roses is the symbolic foster child of the similar scenes from three classic U.S. films – The Killing, Dog Day Afternoon and Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Jing’s The New Legend of Shaolin gets criticized for being a rip-off of Lone Wolf and Cub whereas John was less criticized for imitating said Japanese film for his first modern action movie (Heroes Shed No Tears). In John’s defense, he claimed that the writer was responsible for that.

Even John’s most critically acclaimed film, The Killer, is another example of a film which isn’t as inventive as others think. The idea of using the reflection of sunglasses to see a would-be attacker was adopted from Narazumono. The scene where the cop and the killer pretend to be friends so that a blind woman doesn’t know what’s going on was inspired by Killer Constable. Speaking of which, the male lavatory assassination from the latter has been cited as an influence on Bullet in the Head. However, the scene in Mean Streets nullifies that. By ironic comparison, Jing’s God of Gamblers has been criticized because Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables had an influence on the baby rescue scene, except it takes place on an escalator instead of a stairway.

However, this type of scene was first done in a 1925 Russian film titled Battleship Potemkin. De Palma saw God of Gamblers and decided to have a similar escalator shootout in Carlito’s Way. Despite Jing’s reputation as a Nostradamus-esque populist, God of Gamblers was actually the second H.K. movie to capitalize on the success of The Untouchables. The first was Tsui Hark’s Gunmen (1988). Then, after God of Gamblers, there was First Shot (1993), The Incorruptible (1993) and Tian Di (1994). The latter was released in the U.K. as Chinese Untouchables. Although people accuse Jing of stealing the main melody of Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head by B.J. Thomas for God of Gamblers, the chorus of the theme song for A Better Tomorrow has the same chord sequence as the verse for Frank Sinatra’s Fly me to the Moon.

Many people cite Woo’s ingenuity in A Better Tomorrow, but the idea of placing a gun in a flower pot was already done in one of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple novels. The novel in question is The Murder at the Vicarage. The difference in Woo’s movie is that there were more guns and more pots. Coincidentally, the televised adaptation of Agatha’s novel was released in the same year as A Better Tomorrow but afterwards. Speaking of 1986’s cinematic releases, Cobra predated A Better Tomorrow in regards to the hero having a matchstick in his mouth while he’s wearing shades. He even wears a black trench-coat.

The idea behind someone holding two pistols at once came from a Don Siegel film titled MadiganMission: Impossible II borrows the bomb’s pool reflection gimmick from In the Line of Duty 4. Tom Cruise is a big fan of H.K. movies (it’s often been noted that Tom had about as much to do with John in terms of incorporating ideas in M:I-2), although Woo as the culprit makes sense since Yuen Woo-Ping was influenced by him for Tiger Cage 2. Although John is a huge fan of Alain Delon, Once a Thief (1991) isn’t meant to be a remake of the film with the same title. Regardless of John’s derivativeness, it’s a shame that Hollywood turned their backs on him. If they can do that then anyone else is fair game. It’s Hollywood’s loss, and China’s retrieval.

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