Long gone Hong Kong

In 1989, the queen of England (Queen Elizabeth II to be precise) awarded Jackie Chan with an MBE. This came after Jonathan Ross interviewed him for an episode of The Incredibly Strange Film Show that aired on September 22 in 1989. When Jonathan met Jackie, it was in the spring of 1989 when Jackie was directing Miracles. This was round about the same time when the Golden Harvest studio were putting together a documentary, The Best of the Martial Arts Films (narrated by John Saxon), which advertised only their own movies. Jackie is even wearing the same denim outfit in the interview segments that he wore when he was interviewed by Ross. As for Miracles, filming began in 1988. Ten years later, I became a Chan fan. 1998 was the perfect year to become one. His autobiography, I Am Jackie Chan: My Life in Action, was published in August. In England, it cost £12.99.

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By this time, there was an English magazine called Hong Kong Superstars. They were also a video and VCD outlet. Speaking of magazines, I became interested in watching Jackie’s City Hunter after it was mentioned in a Playstation magazine that there was a scene where men became Street Fighter characters (the magazine feature was about computer game adaptations). When I was going through my tape collection in the summer of 1998, I happened upon a Channel 4 recording of The Seven Samurai. This didn’t exactly make me want to become a fan of Japanese cinema, so I pretty much stayed on the course of H.K. cinema. Anyway, the recording was taken from the early `90s. What was also recorded, weirdly enough, was a film class introduction where a group of nerdy university students were discussing the film with their lecturer. It was probably filmed for the benefit of other students.

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Channel 4 had also aired The Incredibly Strange Film Show. The ratings were high enough that the network agreed to have H.K. movies aired. In December 1990, Jonathan introduced a ghost story series of H.K. movies for Channel 4. These were Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain, Mr. Vampire, Rouge, Encounters of the Spooky Kind, Spiritual Love and Espirit d’amour. A December later, Channel 4 aired a season of Jackie Chan movies – Project A, Wheels on Meals (aired on Christmas Eve), Police Story (aired on Boxing Day) and Armour of God. The latter should have been replaced with Miracles. The publication of Jackie’s memoir in August of 1998 had put him in good stead since it tied in neatly with the U.S. release of Rush Hour – his Hollywood comeback. Coming off the heels of the U.K. publication in September, a new J.C. documentary directed by the man himself was released on video in October. It was titled Jackie Chan: My Story. Because of how successful that his book was in England, the video cost £12.99 when I went to a store called Our Price.

As much as Bruce Lee has been described as the martial arts Jesus Christ, Jackie Chan had the initials. In December of 1998, Channel 4 aired three Jackie Chan movies (Project A II, Police Story II and Police Story III: Supercop) to tie-in with the U.K. release of Rush Hour – his first Hollywood hit. He wasn’t the only H.K. movie star that Channel 4 gave special attention to. Because Jet Li was in Lethal Weapon 4, three of his movies were aired: Once Upon a Time in China, The Legend of Fong Sai Yuk and The Legend of Fong Sai Yuk II. The reason why so many H.K. movies were being shown on U.K. TV during this time was because many H.K. film stars and behind-the-scenes talent wanted to escape the political ramifications of staying in H.K. after it ceased being a British colony in 1997. Like America’s infatuation with Australia ended in the `90s, the H.K. invasion ended in the `00s. In early April of 1999, Channel 4 aired City on Fire after Reservoir Dogs so as to point out how Quentin Tarantino owed a debt to the 1987 film starring Chow Yun-Fat.

In March of 1999, I learned from Sky’s cable TV guide that a martial arts TV series was going to be aired on the Bravo channel. There was a photo of Sammo Hung, who I immediately recognized from Project A. It truly felt like destiny for me to have watched the movie in the previous year. To commemorate the arrival of his U.S. show, Martial Law, Bravo aired a season of Sammo movies. The first part of the season involved Jackie Chan – My Lucky Stars, Dragons Forever and Winners and Sinners. I like how they put Sammo’s name before Jackie’s so as to advertise Martial Law more effectively. After all, Sammo was Jackie’s big brother at the Peking Opera school. Bravo’s choice of movies helped to make Shanghai Noon more popular than Rush Hour in Britain by the time that it came out in 2000. In the States, the box office success was vice-versa. The second part of Bravo’s Sammo season comprised of The Victim and Skinny Tiger, Fatty Dragon.

Unlike Channel 4, Bravo had aired the English dubs because they were pandering to the working-class audience like today’s ITV 4. From the perspective of any British sociologist, the demographics of the main channels are as follows: BBC 1 is mainly geared toward the median middle-class and higher middle-class, BBC Two is mainly geared toward the higher classes, ITV is geared toward the median working-class and the higher working-class, Channel 4 is mainly geared toward the lowest middle-class, whereas Channel 5 is geared toward the lowest working-class due to the erotic movies that they were once aired. Speaking of Channel 5, August `99 was when they aired Drive the best American martial arts movie which doesn’t have fights directed by H.K. choreographers. This movie was aired because H.K. cinema was reaching its height in British popularity thanks to Yuen Woo-Ping working as a martial arts choreographer on The Matrix.

August 99 was also when a season of H.K. films were aired on Channel 4’s subsidiary channel, Film Four, in 1999. These films were The Big Boss (August 24), The Heroic Trio (August 25), Pedicab Driver (August 26), Once Upon a Time in China II (August 27), Saviour of the Soul (August 28) and Wild Search (August 28). Around this time, Channel 4 aired another Sammo Hung movie in the form of The Dead and the Deadly. BBC Two participated in the Sammo trend by airing The Prodigal Son (another Sammo movie). Meanwhile, BBC 1 aired Jackie’s Operation Condor. Ironically, given BBC’s prestige (as showcased in their Radio Times magazine), these were the English dubs. In theory, Channel 4 were more likely to have aired the dubs but they always stuck to their subtitled guns. Speaking of which, they aired John Woo’s The Killer in late March of `99 because Chow Yun-Fat’s first American movie, The Replacement Killers, had its U.K. TV premiere. It also helped that The Killer was referenced in Tarantino’s Jackie Brown (released in the U.K. circa April `98), not to mention that The Matrix was influenced by Woo’s style.

The airing of The Killer came with an unexpected introduction by Mark Kermode, a celebrated film critic who would later introduce the Tetsuo duology (amongst other films) on Film Four. Mark was already a writer for The Guardian, hence his involvement. Even the Men & Motors channel jumped on the bandwagon by showing Kung Fu movies, but none of them compared to what Bravo aired in quantity and quality. Men & Motors made the mistake of showing period movies instead of modern actioners. MTV made it officially cool for fellow networks back in 1998 by producing a show which predated Kung Faux with the concept of music artists dubbing Kung Fu movies. The movie that MTV chose was Eagle’s Claw. Amongst other dubbers, Catatonia’s Cerys Matthews dubbed Sister Koo, Ash’s Tim Wheeler dubbed Long Wang, and Wyclef Jean dubbed Master Lee. In an interview segment for a short documentary about Kung Fu movies, Kylie Minogue (who was in Jean-Claude Van Damme’s adaptation of Street Fighter) quoted a flubtitle (flawed subtitle) from Sammo’s Pedicab Driver (1989): “You, fatty, with thick face have hurt my instep!”

Additionally, Pink got involved with the MTV dubbing of The Hot, the Cool and the Vicious. With a rescored track, the redubbing featured Cher, Moby, Abz Love and Tim Westwood. It was edited down to 45 mins (including ads) and was fun. There were so many H.K. films being shown on TV that most of the films in my video collection were things that I taped instead of purchased. If anything, video sales dwindled because of TV. This changed with the advent of DVD because of the special features, namely deleted scenes and audio commentaries since TV already had production featurettes. Many British fans of H.K. cinema have questioned why U.K. TV no longer embraces the industry. My explanation is that most of the H.K. classics are available thanks to the advent of YouTube and (to a surprisingly lesser extent) NetFlix.

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