Category Three is the Hong Kong equivalent to NC-17 (although the rating can be given to films which contain obscene language and Triad rituals instead of lurid violence or lewd nudity). The featured image is of Yvonne Yung-Hung (翁虹) in a Category 3 movie titled A Chinese Torture Chamber Story (1994). If rarity is categorized by quality as much as obscurity then Hong Kong Superstars is the rarest of H.K. film magazines. In a 1999 issue, Diana Pang-Dan (彭丹) spoke to Mike Leeder about being in Wong Jing’s The Saint of Gamblers:
“It’s a funny movie but I prefer the action scenes, especially the one where I take on and take out all the guys in the restaurant. I’m a big fan of action films, and coming from a dance background, I can pick up the moves and the rhythm of the choreography very quickly. I want to be a sexy action star! I hope I get the chance. In Dangerous Duty, I jump from a third floor window as it explodes! I love making movies in Hong Kong but I really want to make international films.”
In 1997, there was an announced project that was initiated as a star vehicle for Steven Seagal (who was operating as the producer). It was going to be a wish fulfilment in that he always wanted to make a movie that was filmed entirely in H.K. The director would have been Steve Wang (the director of the under-released Drive). In 1998, Diana was approached to play the role of a moll (a gangster’s girlfriend) who would have action scenes as well as look pretty. Diana was courted on Valentine’s Day. The movie was initially going to be called Blood on the Moon (a better title would have been Blood-Hued Sun). It was retitled Cruise (making people think more about the sequel to Speed than Seagal’s Under Siege) because there was already a 1997 martial arts movie (that was produced by a H.K. company) with a similar title – Blood Moon. The new title was not inaccurate because the premise was a businessman tracking down a pirate gang who murdered his family on a cruise.
The production began on June, 1998. Unfortunately, a lawsuit brought things to an end. One of his former students had claimed to have shot second unit footage of Brazilian and Indian extras which was then scrapped by Seagal because he thought that the women were too fat. It’s a shame that the project wasn’t finalized because it was conceived and filmed during Steven’s final era of theatrical distribution. Diana had really come far in her career up to that point. This is how her story began:
“I was born in Mainland China, in Hunan Province; which just happens to have been the birthplace of Chairman Mao! I had a pretty normal childhood. I studied ballet and Chinese dancing from a very early age. Shortly after my eighth birthday, all the dancers in my region took part in a performance for officials from both the local and central governments. As a result of this performance, I was selected to join the Beijing Dance Academy. I studied ballet for another 4 years, and it was pretty hard work. We had Russian dance teachers who were real taskmasters. They pushed us very hard and, at that time, I hated them. But looking back now, I appreciate everything that they taught me because the stretching techniques and warm-up exercises are very useful. After I graduated from the Beijing Dance Academy, I joined the Central Ballet Academy and worked with them for the next 2 years.”
She then got invited to join the Juilliard Academy, which is based in New York. She continues:
“For 4 years, I studied drama as well as classical and modern dance along with piano. I enjoyed my time there very much, but it was such a contrast to China where the emphasis is on perfection – they expect you to train for hour after hour until every movement is perfect. They really don’t give you much room for improvisation, inspiration or individuality. In America, it was very much more relaxed. Of course, we still studied very hard but we had more time for ourselves, and were encouraged to try new directions or ideas.”
Following completion of her studies, Diana detoured into beauty competitions (an incognito version of charity dating). Numerous other actresses including Maggie Cheung (張曼玉), Christy Chung (鍾麗緹), Cherie Chung (鍾楚紅), Anita Yuen (袁詠儀) and Yvonne Yung-Hung (examples which can be counted on one hand) were also beneficiaries of pageant publicity. Jing discovered Maggie, Yvonne and Christy in that order. Kelly Hu (an American actress) won Miss Teen USA and Miss Hawaii but never won roles on the small nor big screens as a result. Ironically, Diana could have been an international star had she gone down a different road:
“My family and friends kept telling me to enter the Miss China beauty contest in the U.S.A. At first, I didn’t want to have anything to do with it but they kept hassling me and bugging me about it; so, in the end I agreed. Much to my surprise, I got through to the finals in San Francisco and then came the really big surprise – I was crowned Miss China U.S.A. 1994. When Playboy approached me to appear in their magazine, I was very surprised and very proud. It wasn’t going to be just for the Hong Kong or Far East editions, but for the American and International editions. They offered me a lot of money but I turned them down. They kept calling me and asking me to pose for them. They offered me even more money and, still, I turned them down. Then they sent me the issues with President Reagan’s daughter and the New York Policewoman in them. They kept asking me – If they can do it, why won’t or can’t you? I will admit that I did really think about it, they offered me a large amount of money several times and, at that time, I really wasn’t sure what I was going to do with my life.”
Raymond Wong and Wong Jing were hoping to sign her up for movies, but Cui Yan (a director who emigrated to Canada) turned out to be successful in signing her:
“Cui had seen in a newspaper about me turning down Playboy and thought that was quite interesting. We met and then she had cast me as one of the leads in Chinese Chocolate. I play a lesbian, but it’s very much an art film than a commercial one. It’s been screened at a few film festivals including the 1996 Berlin Film Festival, but it hasn’t had much of a mainstream release.”
This would explain why Jing never thought about casting her in LGBT-themed thrillers such as Her Name is Cat and Naked Weapon. Then again, Fennie Yuen (袁潔瑩) rejected the chance to play Baby in Naked Killer despite being bisexual. Cherie Chung was a bi actress who missed out on being in CAT III movies such as those produced by Jing (who directed her in three of his Shaw Brothers movies). It’s an irony that worked against his favour that he never thought about casting Winnie Lau (劉小慧) to play Baby. He didn’t even think about choosing Vivian Chan (陳德容) to play Princess. Both were in a II-rated lesbian drama titled The Twin Bracelets (1991).
Following on from that, Vivian was cast in three of his 1992 movies – Casino Tycoon II, Royal Tramp and Royal Tramp II. As for Winnie, she would eventually be cast in two of his 1993 movies: Legend of the Liquid Sword and Future Cops – both showcased Aaron Kwok (郭富城) in protagonistic roles. It’s also surprising that Jing did not bankroll a Cat III equivalent to Charlie’s Angels with Charlie Cho Cha-Lee (曹查理) playing Charlie, or Charlie Yeung (楊采妮) playing the female Charlie. It’s more surprising that Diana wasn’t cast in more international productions given that Chinese Chocolate won awards at the Palm Springs and Tokyo film festivals.
Upon meeting the starlet, the aforenamed Raymond tried to negotiate an exclusive contract – she would be obligated to shoot 6 movies with his Mandarin Films Ltd. company within a 2 year period. She rejected him.
“I wasn’t really sure about doing movies and I didn’t really want to be signed to any exclusive deals. Of course, there was the problem of communication. I speak Mandarin as opposed to people in Hong Kong who speak Cantonese. It’s a different dialect. Mr. Wong kept calling me and asked if I would be willing to maybe try one movie. He sent me the script for Midnight Caller, and I liked the fact that I’m not only playing the lead, but I’d also have an opportunity to show my dancing skills. I said I’d do it and flew to Hong Kong. I know that some people might feel embarrassed because so much of the film’s advertising and humour revolved around my body, but I thought it was funny. The true director was Alex Cheung Kwok-Ming, who was very nice. He would carefully explain all of my lines to me in English. Michael Wong, my co-star, was very helpful too. He’s like a big brother – very playful but a good friend.”
Alex was credited as the executive director so that Raymond could be a glory hog. She explains the film’s erotic content:
“The scenes where you see my body are very well done. I’m seen in the shower from behind. I wear some revealing costumes and there’s one very brief scene where you see me naked. It’s not like I’m just walking around naked all the time or my clothes keep falling off for no reason. The film has a story; it’s just not sex scenes strung together like some films. It’s a commercial film. Its aim is to make money, so they sold the film off my body. If that helps to get the audience to see it, great! But more significantly, there is actually something there underneath. By having a storyline, my character gets to show a lot of different emotions.”
She explores how she was exploited:
“There were a couple of incidents at the beginning of filming when the producers would try to tell me that the script had changed. As an aside, they would say – By the way, we think you should show your body in this scene. Sometimes, they would block the scene on the way to rehearsals where my nudity would be away from the camera but then we did the actual take where the camera position would have changed. I think that happens in most countries. A lot of producers will try to get more than they’ve paid for. If you’re smart enough to keep your wits about you, you can normally avoid it. I’m not ashamed of my body. I’ve worked hard to get my body to be like this, but I think you can be very sexy without taking off all of your clothes. I think I look very sexy in Another Chinese Cop, and I’m not naked in that. In Evil Instinct, they tried too hard to make me look super sexy for the whole film, and I don’t think it works well.”
She still looked good in it, though. Yvonne Yung-Hung was selected to participate in the 1989 Miss World Beauty Contest on behalf of H.K. In May of 2000 (when being interviewed by Chris Ducker for the aforestated magazine), she had this to say about what happened before and after 1989:
“I started out as a model then, in 1987, I took part in and won the Miss Asia Pacific contest which was a big surprise but a nice one. After that, people started to call me, and it all went from there. At first, it was a lot of television work (commercials mostly) then, in 1990, I starred in my first television series. With the exception of a fleeting cameo in The Iron Butterfly circa 1989, my film career really began in 1991.”
She talks about a movie which Jing had produced and discreetly written – A Chinese Torture Chamber Story (1994):
“It was a real good experience. I enjoyed working for him. I heard that he watches 5 or 6 films per day. People thought that was a little crazy but, on the set, you could see that he was a very clever man. Actually, it was relatively easy. I have to admit to being a little nervous, but I had done modelling work and a lot of beauty pageants where I had to wear swimsuits and stuff like that, so I asked to clear the set during the first time. There was just me, the guy who I was with in the scene, the camera guy and the director. We shot the scene fairly quickly and it was all over. I haven’t really done that much nudity anyway; it’s not really an issue for me.”
She discusses her music career by first explaining how she became a popular singer in Taiwan:
“Singing was always going on in my house when I was growing up, so I grew up with it. It was something that I always did. I have launched 3 albums in Taiwan, which have all been quite popular. One of my songs, Fast Love, was recorded in conjunction with L.A. Boyz. I like to do other things other than just act and model. I have also produced a cartoon book and written a book on French vegetarian cooking. My favourite male singers are George Michael and Lionel Ritchie. For the girls, it’s Madonna and Diana Ross. I also enjoy a lot of Cantonese music. In this business, I like Jacky Cheung and Anita Mui.”
She reveals her idols and where she sees herself in ten years time:
“As soon as I saw Basic Instinct, I fell in love with Sharon Stone and Michael Douglas. Other than those, I love Brad Pitt and I also think that Jodie Foster is a fantastic actress. I love to watch movies, whenever I have the time. Although my number one influential person is my mother. She has stood by me all of the way through my career, and I love her so much for that. She’s great! I’d like to think that I will still be in the industry in some way. I love singing, and hope to carry on doing that for a number of years. I’d also like to settle down relatively soon and have a family. I like the simple things in life, so this would be great.”
Given that Naked Killer (1992) is a loose remake of Basic Instinct (as was Evil Instinct), she should have been cast as Sister Cindy. Clarence Ford (霍耀良) originally wanted Cindy to be more feminine than what Kelly Yao was able to portray. He wanted Cindy to be a vixen who goes shopping and has facials. Sandra Ng is bi but she wasn’t sexy-looking enough to be portraying a femme fatale. It’s ironic that the artist formerly known as Fok Yiu-Leung didn’t cast Meg Lam (林建明). She produced, directed and starred in a 1982 drama titled Torrid Wave where she played a bisexual escort (there was a lesbian shower scene). She was also a fixture of Kung Fu movies.
As for Yvonne being a valid casting decision, she had already met Jing because he had cast her in Dances with the Dragon (1991). In 2009, she married her second husband – a gymnasium coach named Will Yiu (the joke is Will Yiu marry me? but it depends on who asked who). They have a daughter. In 2010, she had a small role in Kangding Love Song. Diana never became the sort of global star that Maggie Q surprisingly became. Yvonne didn’t either but she still had a better career than Diana. Dances with the Dragon was a critical darling at the 1992 H.K. film awards (Deannie Yip was the best supporting actress).
Asian Cult Cinema is a defunct magazine which still prints old issues on its site, so I don’t want to steal their thunder. I will only present my favourite parts of a Jade Leung interview from Number 41 (circa 2003). It was conducted by Art Black. Jade (梁琤) has symbolically been in three Cat’ 3 movies – Pink Lady (1992), Spider Woman (1995) and The Peeping Tom (1997). With the Chinese economy booming more than ever in 2016, someone should fund a Cat 3 movie. Maybe it can be called Cat III – a pornographic found footage film about a group of movie-makers making a threequel to a horror movie about an evil cat. Coincidentally, there is a Jing movie titled Evil Cat (made in 1986 and released on the first day of 1987).
If Jade had it her way, she would be known as Jay. However, she had to be known as Jade because this name was becoming more prevalent on the internet. Given that Hollywood’s silver screen monicker has found an Asian equivalent in the form of jade screen, her name is apt. Mr. Black asks her if she underwent any martial arts training for the role in Black Cat (1991). She says:
“Yes, sure. 2 weeks. Only 2 weeks. They tell me – Jade, you will know everything in 2 weeks. Sometimes boxing. Sometimes Kung Fu. Actually, I did not concentrate on a specific type of training. I think that I am a fast learner. Once I try or observe it, I will remember the specific skills. The thing that I am training right now is body flexibility. For instance, I am training to stretch my leg to my shoulders. I will eventually learn other types of martial arts.”
Art asks how else she prepared, because he genuinely cares about acting:
“I don’t know acting. When the director said action, I felt so nervous. I don’t know how to do it. I try to act the role; I want to do it very natural, but when the director said action – I feel very nervous. Because I believe that when I promise somebody to do something, it doesn’t how much difficulty that I have to go through, I have to overcome it. Since I signed the contract for the role, I have to try my best to do it.”
As to whether there was any hesitance on her behalf:
“At that time, the only thing that I was hesitant about was the sexy scenes. Not many clothes. I hate it. That is the part which I struggled with the most. When I have to wear so little clothes and act at the same time, I am afraid that I will be showing off too much while acting sexy.”
That reluctance paid off as she won an award at the 1992 H.K. film awards – Best New Performer. She wasn’t able to capitalize on her accolade in a way that would mean being cast in 1993 (which was the most prolific year for Jing as a director). She explains why there was a lull in her career because of a film company:
“D&B had some problems. They stopped the whole line of production from producing movies to showing them. They hold my contract. I can not say anything. For me, it is very hard. They pay my salary but they don’t give me any work.”
Being put on a retainer meant that she became ill-prepared as an actress, like how lack of exercise makes an athlete rusty. Fox Hunter (1995) was her most exhausting movie:
“Oh. Very hard work, this one. I lose ten pounds because I was shooting in the summer but I was wearing winter clothes and running.”
There was a 1995 movie where she almost died because of a mishap. The movie is titled Enemy Shadow. It was released one month after it was lensed. The calamity happened in September. She recounts:
“I was in a long hallway, running toward the camera, away from the explosion behind me. After the shot was over, the director decided that the explosion was not powerful enough. I agreed to have another take since the first one was safe. When they set up the second shot for the same scene on the next day, they changed the explosives expert. The problem was the first shooting was in the afternoon, and the second was at night. They did not consider the amount of wind nor the difference in daytime and night-time. As soon as they said action, I felt that the whole world changed in one second. I expected to have time to run away from the explosion behind me about 30 feet. All I saw was the red flame that covered my whole body, which was not supposed to happen. I said to myself – hopefully I am not going to die from this scene. Luckily, the explosion did not last long. I realized that the camera was still rolling, and I wanted to finish shooting the scene. I thought that if I put my arms to the position that I was told, my arm would cover my face. I put my arms higher than I was supposed to, and my arm got burned badly.”
My take on it is that the director wanted the explosion to be as dangerous as possible because it would elevate Jade to Moon Lee’s status (the latter almost got killed in an explosion during the making of Devil Hunters).
Miles Wood interviewed Hsu Chi, whose Mandarin name is Shu Qi (舒淇), for the April 1999 issue of Femme Fatales (which contained one of Dana Plato’s last interviews before her death in May). The most interesting thing about Hsu’s interview is that she claims that Derek Yee wasn’t the real director of Full Throttle (1995). One look at HKMDB and it becomes readily apparent that Law Chi-Leung was the assistant who she speaks of. Not only was he one of the writers and assistant directors, but the co-director of Derek’s Viva Erotica (1996). During the making of Viva Erotica, Leslie Cheung (張國榮) was more of an acting coach than Derek was. He must have been one Hell of an instructor because Hsu (a.k.a. Shu Kei) won Best Newcomer and Best Supporting Actress for her role in Viva Erotica.
Miles is told how she became a model before becoming an actress:
“I was working in Taipei in lots of regular jobs such as shops and coffee houses then, one day, I was stopped on the street by someone from a modeling agency. They thought I would be a good subject for a photo book. Well, it somehow made its way to Japan, and a Hong Kong reporter who was over there saw the book and wrote something about it. Wong Jing and Manfred Wong saw this, and they thought I would make a good actress.”
Miles is informed about what it was like acting in Sex & Zen II (written by Jing using a character’s name as an alias):
“It seems a long time ago. My first experience was scary because I was very nervous about stripping in front of a whole bunch of people. My mind was a complete blank. I didn’t know what to think or what to expect, but I’d already done the photo book and I thought I needed to do something different to get more recognition. Looking back, I can’t really say now whether it was right or wrong to do it. It’s done. If I didn’t take my clothes off, I may have still gotten a break but maybe not.”
Miles is told about the similarities between herself and the character that she played in Viva Erotica:
“The fact that she comes from Taiwan and comes from a poor family is indeed very similar to myself, but her inner-self is very different from mine. I’m actually not really anything like her as a person.”
Miles is given a circumspect answer about whether she will disrobe again in films:
“It would have to be a really good role, because it would feel like taking a backward step.”
She would only be stepping backwards if getting topless was for III-rated films (or III-rated movies since H.K. film-makers are such misers that they are resorting to using digital cameras instead of using film stocks). When asked about her nude photobook resurfacing under more than one title and cover, she concludes by saying that she is passed getting annoyed. Sex & Zen II was less creative (and resultingly less profitable) than the 1991 predecessor.
Out-takes from Wong Jing’s memoir…
Discovering Hsu Chi:
“The first time I saw this girl was in 1995. I was preparing Young and Dangerous and Twinkle, Twinkle, Lucky Star. I was also preparing Sex & Zen II for Golden Harvest. I was at a convenience store where I saw a photo of her in a tabloid magazine and felt that she had aptitude. She wore a crop top with her chest sticking out, but she looked solemn. This photo left a deep impression, not because of her chest but her stubborn eyes. I told Manfred Wong to find her in Taiwan and sign her. Two weeks later, she was already filming on her first day at Golden Harvest.”
His first meeting with her:
“When I saw her at the Golden Harvest studio, she looked so small and she was very quiet. She did not dare to come talk to me, so I decided to see the other girls who I was very excited about such as Loretta Lee. After speaking to Loretta for a while, I told her to talk to Shu Qi so that I could see her come out of her shell. Shu spoke quietly. I thought she was very special. I appreciated the fact that she never tried to get in my good books. She was an unassuming lady. Thankfully, her openness and obedience during shooting made me grateful that I had made the right choice.”
She was a true dark horse:
“Two years later, she won an acting award. That was extremely impressive for a performer who was basically being groomed to do porn. In the space of one year, her trajectory started with porn then progressed to a gangster movie, a romance, a comedy and a drama. To casual observers, it looked like she was impressing casting directors but all of these movies were produced by me except for Viva Erotica. This film had come out on the same day as Till Death Do Us Laugh, where people could see her in the same light as Anita Yuen and Gigi Lai. This is why her performance in Viva Erotica had received enough votes for her to win the Best Supporting Actress award.”
“In the beginning, Shu Qi in real life had dressed in plain clothes and she wore glasses. She didn’t have a star quality, so I told Manfred to develop her public image each time that an occasion had arisen to do publicity. I especially thought that it was necessary to develop her persona because it would make her iconic instead of being just another pretty face. As an actor, how you dress affects how you act, so there was that to consider as well. Each photo shoot was like an acting lesson. Nudity is not automatically debauchery, but it’s how you expose the body that defines the show.”
“We got into a lot of trouble because she look so young. We were the first film-makers to win a lawsuit in Taiwan regarding an erotic movie. We won because we had signed Shu Qi when she was eighteen. In fact, we had signed her right before she turned 19. The lawsuit made her cry because she didn’t want her mother to know what she was doing. After we won, her former manager tried to buy our contract with her so that she could appear in a gangster movie. We refused. A Taiwanese gangster attempted to call Manfred, but he ignored him. The phone rang again, and I answered it. The gangster threatened me, but I told him that I have connections too. People are always dastardly, so I’m never afraid. We received more calls, but we were offered deals that were basically to do with sex trafficking. I told him that we care more about money than sex.”
“Some people say that we ruined her by not encouraging her to audition for the role that was eventually given to Zhang Ziyi for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. I remain unconvinced by this because Ziyi was already more prestigious by simply already having worked with Zhang Yimou for The Road Home, and Derek Yee was no match for the unadulterated adulation of Yimou. Also, Ziyi had graduated from the Central Academy of Drama in Beijing. Even if Ang Lee wanted Ziyi, she would not have made as much money as she did by staying in Hong Kong, where she earned 5 million H.K. dollars – most of which she had given to support her poor family.”
After being trained by Corey Yuen Kwai for So Close, it would have made for a refreshing change of pace for Zhang Yimou to direct Shu Qi instead of Ziyi in House of Flying Daggers.