This would more likely have been the title of Wong Jing’s unofficial adaptation of Crying Freeman. In 2000, he thought about rebooting the franchise with Leon Lai. His line of fiscal thinking was that 2000 being the year of the dragon coincides with the titular character’s back having a dragon tattoo. In Hong Kong, there were already two unofficial adaptations – Killer’s Romance and The Dragon from Russia. There was an official adaptation made in and produced by the West. However, that movie didn’t get a theatrical release in the U.S. and the U.K. despite being the number one action film in France circa 1995. In Canada, screenings only took place in the Toronto and Vancouver film festivals. The latter screening in 1996 resulted in much confusion if not derision at the crying scenes.
Given the atrocious anti-African racism in Taiwanese and H.K. cinema, I wonder what Jing would’ve made of the black characters such as a female assassin named Kiche. Her name would’ve been changed for legal reasons. Kiche could easily be derided as quiche or kitsch (unnecessarily imparting a Tarantino tinge to the proceedings). As an English-speaking Chinese man who uses the internet, Jing is savvy enough about using Google Translate to come up with names. The Afrikaans setting would’ve been the perfect way for himself to get away with the appalling racist schtick that says more about the general H.K. audience than it does about himself. Kiche should be renamed Swart Kakao (Black Cocoa). H.K. cinema is unfavourably renowned for political incorrectness e.g. the leopard skin underwear of a black man in Chicken a La Queen (which was produced by the same cult director of The Dragon from Russia).
It’s more than fitting that Kiche would be depicted as drinking the Négrette brand of wine and wearing Obsidian jewels. There is another female assassin but one who is portrayed as being rural because she lives in Africa. The original name was Bugnug, but Jing would have to change it (even if he owned the rights) because it sounds contrived and laughable. A better name would’ve been Miereneter because it means anteater – this being a reference to the fact that Bugnug means anteater. As for her group of barbaric bodyguards, he may have gone for names like Spiere (Muscle) and Pisang (Banana). Only in a Chinese movie would a director get away with a black man doing the monkey style of Kung Fu, albeit this would be pushing it. One stereotype of H.K. cinema is the black man with an extreme libido. There may have been a character named Onnosel Verkragter (stupid rapist) and another character named Uitskeiding Haan (excretion cock).
Having three bodyguards enables for a scenario involving a woman’s three orifices being violated against her will, thereby affording Leon Lai the opportunity to be seen as the brave man who overcomes brutal maniacs. Because Africa tends to be sunny, I think that it’s relevant to point out that the anti-hero’s code-name means Sun Dragon (Long Tai-Yang). This is a reference to the title of a 1979 Kung Fu Western (starring Billy Chong). Kazuo Koike is a fan of H.K. films as can be seen in one issue of Crying Freeman where a recreated still of Jackie Chan in Armour of God is used to illustrate how an assassin is using the sort of special effects that are used in movies. For those who want to know what still, it’s the one where Jackie is holding a crossbow as he is perched behind a wall.
Another example of him being a fan is when Long has been requested to watch projected footage in order to understand his latest mission. The inspiration was Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon. The final example is the clone mission being inspired by The Clones of Bruce Lee. There’s never been an interview with Kazuo where he talked about being a fan of H.K. films or what he thinks of the Chinese adaptations of his comic books. Many H.K. film critics are convinced that Leon would be a poor choice to play the titular character, because he seemingly can’t cry. He surprisingly did cry in The Secret (2015). The director of The Dragon from Russia (Clarence Fok) wanted Andy Lau to play Yao Lung (the legally variated name), but Andy declined.
As for the ill-fated 2000 sequel, Jing tapped Andrew Lau to direct because he already directed two comic book adaptations – The Storm Riders (a.k.a. Fung Wan) and A Man Called Hero (a.k.a. Chinese Hero: Tales of the Blood Sword). As for the revised title of the adaptation, it would depend on what short story that Jing wanted to adapt. In any event, it should be called Wanderlust Dragon (there was already a 1978 movie titled Wandering Dragon) because of the globe-hopping that would’ve made it the true Eastern equivalent to James Bond. Legally, he could’ve got away with it being titled The Dragon from Russia II because the production company of that film (Cinema City) had cancelled sequel projects and had shut down altogether after experiencing an embarrassing ratio of box office to budget.
Since he is a friend of Clarence, he would already know that the first movie was initially going to be the first part of a trilogy. As such, he could advertise his own adaptation as being the movie that Cinema City was too cheap to make. Theoretically, unofficial adaptations don’t make that much money. City Hunter had an official adaptation in the form of a popular collaboration between Jackie and Jing – the latter regards the unofficial adaptation (Saviour of the Soul) as being more successful because it showed that you don’t have to pay for the rights as long as you change the details. He knew that The Dragon from Russia wasn’t a big hit because the studio took out as much plot as possible so that there wouldn’t be much time between the fight scenes. The title of the new Crying Freeman movie would depend on what story that Jing was going to adapt.
It would’ve been pointless to do an origin story because there had already been three movies to use this device. The first step would be to pick up where The Dragon from Russia left off (or what was left of the truncations enforced by the Cinema City executives). If you liken a comic book to a TV series, Clarence’s movie covered the first two story arcs as a pilot in a legally loose way (the official version did this). These were Mr. Yo and Falling Blossoms, Flowing Water (this story contained a moment of improvisation that reminded me of MacGyver). The next story arc is titled Hu Qing-Lan (Tiger Orchid). The anti-hero’s girlfriend, Emu Hino, joins his syndicate and marries him. Her codename is the title. To justify the title, she would need more screen time. Gigi Lai would’ve been perfect for the role. Besides sharing Leon’s surname, she had already been in seven of Jing’s productions. The last one, Fist Power, was released in January of 2000.
If Jing was to have gone about titling his movie as The Dragon from Russia II then he actually would’ve been allowed to use the legally altered names with no cease and desist letter. In Fok’s 1990 version, Emu was named May Yip whereas the bodyguard was named Teddy Wong (the surname is the Cantonese variation of Huang). As for Chimer, herself and Pearl were new characters who were devised to distinguish the rip-off from the origin. Naturally, Jing would’ve followed suit. The Hu Qing-Lan plot thread consists of a traitor, a tall and chubby woman, wanting to assume control of the 108 Dragons (inspired by the 108 soldiers in The Water Margin). The only problem is that Bai Ya-Shan (Ivory Fan) needed to be played by an actress who doesn’t exist.
She would have to be a pacifist if played by Lydia Shum (the most famous of the fat H.K. actresses). Maria Cordero has a bit of tough cookie vibe to her (as seen in Jing’s Crocodile Hunter), but the character would have to be a man since Frankie Chin Chi-Leung was the only person to pull it off. He is muscular and tall enough. He would be credible as someone who is like Negan in The Walking Dead. As for the legally revised name, it would be Gei (which means muscle in Cantonese). Hu Qing-Lan is mostly set in Macau (a hotbed of gambling). The Canidrome Club would organically present a chance for Jing to film dog racing for his first time.
Considering that Jing is a director of the gambling genre, he would’ve wanted the fight scenes to be long enough so as to appease fans but short enough that there was easily enough room for plotting. Furthermore, a final fight has more memorability and emotional impact if it’s longer than the other fights. For instance, Leon had a one minute subway fight with Jordan Chan in Jing’s prequel to God of Gamblers. The trick is to tell a story that’s so seamless that not a single deletion can be made. This is precisely why character-free establishing shots are to be avoided (e.g. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice). An ideal title for Hu Qing-Lan would’ve been Dragon Sanction or Tigress Orchid. Because of the inclusion of the dragon submarine, the movie could’ve been titled The Macau Malestrom.
Although, the novelty of seeing a submarine in a H.K. movie had already happened in First Strike. I digress. At this rate, the joke is that the final title (for any storyline) should’ve been Copyright Infringement. Nevertheless, Chen’s bodyguard is a black woman with a leopard skin blouse. The Cantonese word for death sounds similar to the one for four, so it would be symbolic for the tearful assassin to kill a Chinese man who is armed with a Magnum 44. Within the context of this particular movie, Long Tai-Yan could have a one-liner like this: “The Chinese are supposed to regard 8 as a lucky number. I think that you would have been better off killing me with an 88mm gun. You’re not feeling lucky, punk.”
Wind’s Howl, Crane’s Cry was the next series of issues which were ideal for Jing since he is the most prolific H.K. film-maker when it comes to anti-African racism (i.e. Royal Tramp, Casino Tycoon II, Sixty Million Dollar Man, Ebola Syndrome and Love Generation Hong Kong). Then again, he may have wanted to adapt a volume that would allow for a Western star (or character actor) to be used. In The Pomegranates, there is a villain named Boyd whose face was clearly modelled after Mel Gibson (although he looks like Josh Lucas from time to time). There’s also the idea of hiding an antenna in a long strip of bamboo within a restaurant. Then again, Hu Qing-Lan has the oddest gimmick in the entire series (Long has a shoe flare). It also has the best one-liner in the entire series when Long says: “This is not your castle. This is your prison.”
The most notable plot point about Wind’s Howl, Crane’s Cry is the idea of a black woman pretending to be a white woman. This would partially inspire the premise of White Chicks. The other inspiration was Don’t Give a Damn (policemen changing their ethnic appearance). Given Jing’s trend-following nature, this would’ve been enabling him to ride the bandwagon of John Woo’s Mission: Impossible 2 (whose H.K. box office tally was bigger than any of Woo’s other movies). It would also afford him the chance to poke fun at Face/Off (even if it means a jibe at the characterization instead of a jab at a character). Like Armour of God (which broke the H.K. box office record), the end fight would involve a black woman (this is serendipitous given that the 1986 classic was referenced earlier).
The legal-friendly title could’ve been Whistling Wind, Whining Wolves. The second most notable plot point is the idea of a steel swimsuit which electrocutes anyone who tries to use blades. Long’s bodyguard, Teddy Wong, is the first to fight her. If Jing wanted to, he could rename him as Freddy Wong as a reference to Jackie’s Drunken Master character losing his first fight to a high-kicking assassin. If Jordan was too busy working on the Young and Dangerous series to remind people that he played Leon’s bodyguard in God of Gamblers: The Early Stage then Roy Cheung would’ve been a truly formidable choice. Thandie Newton (who was in John Woo’s M:I-2) would’ve been the best choice to play the assassin because of her facial structure. Her ballet experience is also pertinent to the assassin’s pivoting.
Like the aforementioned First Strike, this particular Crying Freeman adaptation would facilitate an underwater fight. The difference is that undercranking would allow for a faster fight where the explanation for the speed is a case of technology versus steroids (which would help increase the believability of Leon as an on-screen fighter). Which reminds me – the swimsuit was better off being a wetsuit because it would enable the stakes to be raised for a losing battle. As pertaining to the monkey style mentioned beforehand, the Chakram narrative could’ve took place in 2004 because that was the year of the monkey (thus the title would’ve been The Year of the Monkey). This would’ve given Jing the chance to pay homage to the Africa sub-plot of Mr. Coconut (a Clifton Ko film).
The subsequent graphic novella is titled Sister. It’s about Hu Qing-Lan travelling to the highly infamous Walled City in Kowloon so that she can seek the master of a cursed sword that she owns. The problem with adapting this is that the Walled City was demolished in 1993. Even if it wasn’t, it would’ve been like filming in the Bronx. The remaining equivalent would be Alcatraz, but the story could only work if it was narrated that the United Nations and the C.I.A. agreed for the world’s most dangerous rapists to be imprisoned there. There is a scene involving bats which, under Andrew Lau’s lens, would’ve been a CGI scene. H.K. CGI wasn’t decent enough for such a scene to be convincing (unless a Hollywood company was involved). The shark scene would require animatronics.
Kôichi Sugisaki was the only Asian actor who could play Oshu – the raping wrestler who has a towering and imposing frame. He would lend credibility since he was cast in the H.K. adaptation of Riki-Oh (a.k.a. The Story of Ricky). His self-titled series of comics would be off-putting to Jing because he never wanted to do a martial arts tournament movie, which has long been a staple of U.S. martial arts movies cinema. Three of Seasonal’s seven English language movies were variations on the formula. The commercially worthwhile facet of the Oshu stories is that the tournament is about wrestling, so that would appeal to Western audiences who enjoy watching wrestlers in the ring and in the movies. This was viable enough for Tsui Hark to cast a pair of wrestlers (including Rob Van Dam) in Black Mask 2: City of Masks, which was also a comic book movie (manhua is Chinese manga).
This Into the Tiger’s Lair to Snare her Cubs would’ve been protested if it was publicized that it was to be adapted. A running sight gag involves a woman masturbating a boy so as to analyse his sperm. Then again, King of Comedy (1999) had a scene where Stephen Chow was tickling a naked boy’s penis with a leaf before he uses his hand to flick it. H.K. cinema has a strange habit of featuring naked boys. Exhibit A is Dragon’s Claws (1979). An old beggar bribes a group of boys to urinate into a pot so that the urine can cure his student. This was such a cause célèbre that it was taken out of the U.K. version. Exhibit B is High Risk (1995), which had a shot of boy urinating so as to imply that Jackie’s manhood was boyhood. In any case, the story is better off being retitled Ursine Emissary.
In The Journey to Freedom, there were characters who could easily be played by H.K. actors. One of the villains is a dead ringer for Jing’s father (Wong Tin-Lam). This was bound to have caught his attention. Such casting would’ve allowed Jing to make criticisms about the preconceived notions of his career (i.e. his success is entirely to do with nepotism). The final story of the Crying Freeman saga consists of two parts with the second part being adjourned with a subtitle that, if it became a Chinese film title, would be Shot in the Dark instead of A Beam in the Dark. Losing the A means that the title can be interpreted as plural gunfire (e.g. the men were shot in the dark by his machine gun). The beam refers to a laser that is attached to the gun (called firefly) like in The Terminator, which Jing mimicked in The Big Score.
Because there are many English language films with Shot in the Dark as a title, the English title would have to be based on the dialogue – Minstrel of the Underworld. The title refers to Choko Tateoka – a cynical poet who plays the harmonica despite being a killer for hire whose sandles have blades where the sheaths are the platforms. To blackmail a woman into killing the anti-hero, he pretends to sell harmonicas near her son’s school so that he can give him one that’s been laced with poison. Because of the musical nature of the character, it would’ve been ideal for Jing to cast Takeshi Kaneshiro – who earned the respect of H.K. martial arts movie fans when he acted alongside Yuen Biao and Yuen Wah in Corey Yuen’s Hero (1997).
Minstrel of the Underworld is a perfect title for the overall story seeing as how there is a black female assassin who (with preconceived suspension of disbelief handled by rewrites) could easily have been played by Aaliyah. It wouldn’t have been a stretch for her to be involved, given how Stanley Tong had somehow convinced Coolio to be in China Strike Force (2000). If Jing had put his head in the game then Jet Li would’ve reunited with Aaliyah after Romeo Must Die, which finished filming in July of 1999 whereas Kiss of the Dragon (co-starring Bridget Fonda) was filmed in the second half of 2000 (Aaliyah began filming Queen of the Damned in October of that year). The role that she could’ve played was written as a slender bodybuilder who eventually has sex with the anti-hero.
If the comic’s arc was anything to go by, it would probably have served the film-makers best if her character was a composite whose other half is Kyutche – the Eskimo assassin who is in league with the villains. Speaking of, Karl Maka (who was known for his mainstream movies) and Lam Suet (who was known for his indie films at the UFO studio) could’ve played the father & son team whose surname is Aido. The story would’ve been even more perfect for Jing given how it has a Russian connection and takes place in the year of the dragon. One of the villains, Mister Tsunake (who has relations with the black woman), could’ve been played by Jet’s lookalike (Ben Ng usually plays villains) or Leon’s lookalike (Ben Lam who also usually plays villains).
Steve Austin could’ve played Romanov (a power-lifting champion who is the master of Sambo). A scene involving the burning of a huge stack of dollar bills would’ve allowed Jing to surpass the iconic image in John Woo’s A Better Tomorrow. A crossdressing villain would’ve allowed Jing to reference Stephen Chow’s movies by casting the crossdresser known as Lee Kin-Yan. There’s a chilling scene that takes place in a town where seemingly ordinary people are covert assassins. Regardless of what part of the saga that Jing would’ve adapted, it could’ve still been released as part of a dragon tattoo box set (i.e. alongside God of Gamblers and A True Mob Story).
Withstanding who are friends or foes, Jing likes to sometimes name his characters after them. Perhaps the obese sidekick could’ve been named Leanne Hoi as a reference to a director named Ann Hui. Interestingly, Ji Yim-Ju (a.k.a. Pearl) in The Dragon from Russia is a variant of Jackie’s master (Yu Jim-Yuen). This is where things come full circle since Crying Freeman had a chopsticks fight like in Fearless Hyena. The Chinese name of Nina Li Chi’s character makes it obvious that Fu Fung-Ling is a younger version of Hu Feng-Ling (the old woman who is Long’s instructor). I actually think that Andrew would’ve been a humdrum choice as director because Clarence has an edgier sensibility which Cinema City forbade (their greed led to their anything but untimely demise).
It would be karmic justice if the final adaptation of Crying Freeman was to end with Yo losing his eyesight. It would be reminiscent of John Woo’s The Killer. Jing has long been an admirer of him to the extent of partaking in homages. Part of the timely process concerning being an expert about someone is that you know how they think (this is why Jean-Claude Van Damme described it as telepathy when Woo and himself talked to each other). Jing would’ve been the first to say that The Dragon from Russia could’ve been a hit had it contained a re-enactment of the clay scene in Ghost. Such a scene wouldn’t have been contrived because Yo Hinomura (the protagonist) is a potter. Doing it now would be seen as old hat, although the pottery angle allows for A Better Tomorrow to be parodied.
Samuel Hadida owned the comic’s international rights. The other producer was Brian Yuzna. The distribution rights were held by a company situated in Los Angeles. The lack of a U.S. theatrical release was because Jason Scott Lee had dropped out to stick to his Universal contract, although he didn’t do any more movies for them after Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story. Coincidentally, Mark Dacascos was considered for the role of Bruce like Al Dacascos was back in the `70s. Carl J. Stensel (art director and set designer) worked briefly on Crying Freeman, so had this to say on the 8th of August in 1997: “The film had Japanese financing, and was almost entirely European above the line. These people were inadequate movie makers, and they made an inadequate movie.”
When J.S. Lee agreed to have the starring role of Crying Freeman, the budget was set to be between 20-30 million dollars. After he left, it was reduced to 8 million. Principal photography had to take place in Vancouver instead of Japan, H.K. and San Francisco. The original concept was to showcase the worldwide aspect of the manga. In closing, Mark would’ve been one of the world’s biggest action movie stars had Crying Freeman got a cinema release in America. Had this happened, this would’ve helped Drive become a blockbuster. Regardless of the movies, Crying Freeman is the only Manga that I would rate as 10/10 because there was a rich host of worldwide characters, so there’s more depth to the dialogue.