Devil’s Triangle

First things first, I found the cover from a Chinese Instagram account when I did a hashtag search for 三級片(otherwise known among Westerners as Category III). Like how films have deleted scenes, here are deleted pages from my translation of Wong Jing’s memoir. True to the name of the genre that’s based on Hong Kong’s film classification system, this article is about three Catergory III films that Jing was involved in (two of which he wrote and produced whereas he secretly produced the other one).

Raped by an Angel

Wong Jing was credited as the main director on the original H.K. DVD release, but he says that he didn’t direct this film. He didn’t want to be known as a Category III director, although he mentioned in his book that he would like to direct a romantic Category III film. Back in 1993, he appointed Andrew Lau of whom Jing had known since Andrew’s days as a grunt worker in the Shaw Brothers film studio. Raped by an Angel has no credited writer, but it’s obviously the product of Jing’s mind. Story-wise, he wanted to make a point about how the line between sex and rape can be blurred when consensual sex becomes rape after a woman refuses to give in to a man’s demands. Much to Jing’s detriment, the censors came down on him hard. As such, the Taiwanese version contained uncut rape, whereas the H.K. version contained uncut sex. The film was notorious for the violent use of a chainsaw which was inspired by Danny Lee’s Dr. Lamb (1992).

More notoriously is a scene in Raped by an Angel where the rapist forces a mentally stunted man to rape a woman. Although the English title is Raped by an Angel, the Chinese title is something else. Because of the outcry from the legal sector of Hong Kong during the film’s pre-release publicity, Jing had changed the Chinese title from Legal Rape to Super Rape. Feminist groups and even members of the H.K. press had balked at the title, so he had to settle on Rape in Hong Kong. Had Jing not changed the Chinese title, the film would have been banned. Had it been known in Chinese by its English title, there would probably have been religious groups threatening to boycott the film. This is not a joke. Five years later, Jing found himself in the middle of a bizarre controversy involving a Girl Scouts association. Raped by an Angel was released in Taiwan as essentially Naked Killer 2 – more specifically Red Lamb, Bare Sheep 2: Sex Pursuit Order.

Stepping aside the obvious reason of narrative discontinuity, the film is not even a sequel in the tonal sense since the film is a heterosexual thriller instead of a lesbian action movie. One could make a point that both films are about women punishing misogynistic men, although women go through the punishment first. The “sequel” had charted seven places underneath the “predecessor” on Taiwan’s 1993 chart for theatrically released films. Regardless, Andrew Lau’s career as a director really took off with Raped by an Angel because people (industry insiders alongside critics) had compared it to his previous efforts, and were taken aback by the shockingly stark contrast. He was now officially known as a versatile director. The film had played for little over than two weeks in H.K. cinemas (16 days) whereas it played for 20 days in Taiwanese cinemas.

Despite the number of tickets sold at the box office being smaller than Naked Killer (1992), the number of screening days was enough for Jing to justify greenlighting four follow-ups, although these were not true sequels in the narrative sense; they were just simply a way of telling the audience that each film was the same type of story with different cast members. In H.K. cinema, a sequel can also have the same cast playing different characters like a troupe. What’s peculiar about the Raped by an Angel franchise is that it took five years for Jing to produce the first sequel. In the fast-paced world of H.K. cinema, that doesn’t add up. The series officially came to an end in 2000 with Part 5, but another company released a Part 5 in 2003. The technicality which was exploited is that the Chinese title of Jing’s Part 5 is Uniform Fan 2: Underground Court (i.e. a sequel to Raped by an Angel 2: The Uniform Fan).

1941 Hong Kong on Fire

Due to Jing’s profits throughout Asia, he launched a new company called The Young Filmmakers Ltd. so as to see how audiences and critics would respond to his ideas without his name being attached to them with either writer, director or producer credits. This was in 1994, but the company failed to make it past 1998. Back to 1994, Jing’s first production was one where Andrew Lau was credited as producer because Ghost Lantern (1993), a tasteful collaboration between Jing (as writer/producer) and Chingmy Yau (actress), didn’t capture people’s imaginations in the right way. Jing couldn’t help but sort of think that Ghost Lantern would have been a hit had it not been for himself making his writing and producing contributions known. The first film for The Young Filmmakers, 1941 Hong Kong on Fire, was intended by Jing to be the first Category III film to win Best Film at the Hong Kong Film Awards. He failed, but more on that much later.

The inspiration behind Jing’s unusual ambition, well…unusual for him, was because of Jimmy Heung’s 1993 success with Flirting Scholar – this collaboration between Stephen Chow and Gong Li surprisingly became the highest-grossing Category III movie. I say surprisingly because their previous team-up, Jing’s God of Gamblers III: Back to Shanghai, only made it to the 30-something million H.K. dollar territory instead of the 40 million mark earned by the 100% period film (as opposed to Jing’s time-travel movie which was 80% period). Cherie Chan, not to be mistaken for Cherie Chung, was Jing’s choice for the role of Rosie (Chingmy’s other sister in 1941 Hong Kong on Fire). In 1992, Cherie appeared in a critically lauded Lawrence Lau film called Three Summers. It was shown at the Toronto Film Festival in 1992, and she earned a nomination for Best Newcomer at the 13th HKFA in 1993. Veronica Yip was also in this film, and Jing had sought to cast her as well so that the critics would be subliminally reminded of the film that starred Tony Leung Chiu-Wai.

By the time that 1993 came to pass, Always on my Mind had earned H.K.$ 18,739,620. Starring Michael Hui and Josephine Siao, the Jacob Cheung comedy allowed Cherie Chan to make an impact with more screen time although with less accolades. As for 1941 Hong Kong on Fire, Jing wanted to make an affecting film that exploits the real life friendship between Chingmy Yau and Yvonne Yung-Hung (who is known by the local Cantonese speakers as Weng Hong). In the spring of 1994, they had acted in a joint venture between Wong Jing’s Workshop and Win’s Entertainment Ltd. (owned by Charles Heung) for a Category III film titled Lover and the Last Empress. By the time that the summer began (when 1941 Hong Kong on Fire was due to begin filming), Jing’s lecherous fantasy of seeing how far that their friendship would go had backfired big-time because Chingmy thought that Yvonne was replacing her status as Jing’s favourite female star, especially since Yvonne was younger by four months.

Adding to the rivalry was that Jing had previously fixated on concurrently putting money into Yvonne’s 1994 star-making vehicle, A Chinese Torture Chamber Story (a Category III film), and Chingmy’s star-exploiting vehicle, Lover of the Last Empress. The latter featured Yvonne in a supporting role as opposed to a co-star role that was challenging Chingmy’s status. At Chingmy’s behest, Yvonne’s character was put through the ringer in that film. Due to the controversial subject matter of 1941 Hong Kong on Fire, which had as much probability to become a career-ending film as a career-lifting one, Chingmy demanded that Jing get rid of Yvonne. As such, Veronica Yip (one of Chingmy’s friends but less close) had ended up with the role that was meant for Yvonne. Ironically, Chingmy had more reason to fear Veronica since both actresses each made H.K.$ 10 million in 1993 when combining the salaries of their 1993 productions. By comparison, Sharla Cheung (a.k.a. Cheung Man) made 8 million whereas Gong Li made 16 million from Flirting Scholar.

Back to Chingmy, Yvonne had the last laugh since 1941 Hong Kong on Fire had only earned H.K.$ 4,986,443 after the year came to a close. Jing speculated that the film flopped because of the exhibitors refusing to screen the film unless it was cut down to Category II. In the summer of 1994, A Chinese Torture Chamber Story was a hit by earning a respectable if not impressive H.K.$ 10,404,725. Before any of these films were made, Jing never imagined in a million years that Chingmy, his easy-going and innocuous muse, would be as much of a diva as Jimmy Heung’s actress girlfriend (Sharla was equally catty with her during the making of Jing’s Kung Fu Cult Master). The above photo of Yvonne alongside Chingmy, taken in the spring of 1993, gave Jing much food for thought and impetus for his 1994 productions. The two ladies had been friends for many years, so he couldn’t help but feel guilty for wanting to test the boundaries of their chemistry…only for it to blow up in his face with them falling out.

With Veronica now gunning for the sister role at the behest of Chingmy, Jing wanted there to be a scene like in The Last House on the Left where two female friends are forced by rapists to kiss each other. Ironically, Chingmy didn’t want to kiss Veronica because she saw her as a sister. After Yvonne was jettisoned from 1941 Hong Kong on Fire, Jing compensated her by giving her a star vehicle in the form of Sex and the Emperor (1994). You see, this is one of the things that I like about him. He did the same sort of tactic during the making of Gordon Chan’s Fight Back to School (1991). That movie deviated from Barry Wong’s screenplay during filming, so Jing made it up to him by filming a completely faithful version after the making of Fight Back to School had ended. The consolation prize version, starring Alfred Cheung and directed by Jing, was titled Truant Heroes. Both consolation prize versions were considerably less profitable, but it’s the thought that counts.

Jing was embarrassed with the box office failure of 1941 Hong Kong on Fire, but he managed to do an about turn when God of Gamblers Returns (also released in December 1994) looked like it was going to be his next big hit. It was a great save for him that it became his highest-grossing film by the time that it finished its run in January. Back to 1941 Hong Kong on Fire, Jing was also embarrassed by the film’s failure to be an awards contender considering that 1994 was the tenth anniversary of a similar (albeit considerably less harrowing) film titled Hong Kong 1941. That Po-Chih Leong film, starring Chow Yun-Fat, was less of a flop since it earned H.K.$ 7,223,400. On April 13 in 1985, this critic’s darling won an award for Best Cinematography at the 4th Hong Kong Film Awards where the film earned other nominations for screenplay, editing, actor, actress, supporting actress, director and film. Jing’s 1994 horror update needed less carnage and more interviews.

Here are Jing’s final words on Yvonne Yung-Hung: “Maybe many people have a bad impression of Weng Hong but, in my eyes, she is one of the most hard-working actresses. She knows where to draw the line between humility and humiliation. Her advantage is that she will never admit defeat, but the disadvantage is that she pushes herself too hard…such is the mind-set of a seasoned dancer. She wants to show all of her qualities to others, so she talks a lot but she does it in a way that’s more to do with being an advertiser than a braggart. She was never concerned about status, which is why she managed to have a longer acting career than Chingmy and Sharla.”

As part of Jing’s award-baiting tactics, he decided to include an interview with his father during the documentary aspect of 1941 Hong Kong on Fire. Perhaps he should have used his father to talk some sense to Chingmy since Wong Tin-Lam had experience in dealing with petty rivalry between actresses (e.g. Teresa Li Li-Hua versus Linda Lin Dai). In the May 2000 issue of Hong Kong Superstars, Yvonne told Chris Ducker about working with Jing on Sex and the Emperor. He may as well have asked her about what it was like working with Jing in general, because she didn’t recall any specific anecdotes (maybe she’s repressing something). Still, she graciously relayed: “It was a real good experience. I heard that he used to watch like five or six films a day. People used to think that was a little crazy but, on set, you could see that he was a very clever man. I enjoyed working for him.”

Raped by an Angel 2: The Uniform Fan

Jing wrote and produced this film. It’s less than stellar to the extent that he didn’t want to be credited as the writer (one of the characters is named Sh!tty). Like Jing’s Challenge of the Gamesters (1981) and The Romancing Star (1987), his erotic cult classic went on to become the 9th highest-grossing H.K. film of the year. He saw it as destiny, since third time really was the charm (especially since this 1998 production was made during a downturn in the local industry’s luck). Part of the success was due to him wanting the villain to be played by an actor who resembled Jimmy Heung. Joe Ma Tak-Chung (not to be confused with director Joe Ma Wai-Ho) was the best lookalike, and the role turned his fortunes around when compared to his inactivity in 1997 (i.e. film-wise if not TV-wise).

Athena Chu Yun was disalarmed because the director, Aman Chang, had tricked her into thinking that the film would be a suspenseful love story instead of a trashy exploitation film. As for post-production, Athena’s recording sessions resulted in many bad takes because she experienced dizziness when having to record heavy breathing. By stark contrast, she had it easier during the filming of an unsettling scene – having her face licked by Joe Ma. Contrary to what you might assume, Athena claimed that the worst part of the scene was trying not to laugh: “I kept myself from laughing by thinking of scary thoughts. Luckily, the scene required only one take. After filming of the scene had ended, I immediately cleaned my face with a wipe then I rushed to see the rushes. If Joe wasn’t acting, I would have thought that he was a rapist for real.”

During the promotion of the film (which earned H.K.$ 10,237,255), Jing was gracious enough to give advice to future Category III film-makers by salaciously saying: “Having a big chest isn’t necessarily a good thing. The most important part of a woman is her legs. With a pair of beautiful legs, both male and female audiences will accept her. The trick to making an erotic film with respectable or aspiring actresses is that you need somebody else to provide the nudity. This someone doesn’t necessarily have to be a stand-in, because that ruins the effect. It’s best to have another character be naked, even if it’s an erotic actress or stripper.”

Raped by an Angel 2: The Uniform Fan was also successful due to Jing’s Production Limited being the distributor. Once Jing had tricked the censors into approving what was essentially an R-rated version, he did a bait-and-switch by distributing the Chinese equivalent to an NC-17 movie. Before 1995, Category II was essentially a combination of PG, PG-13 and R. Since 1995, the rating was divided into two. II-B is like an R whereas II-A is a combination of PG and PG-13. H.K. press writers in 1998 had missed an opportunity to write an article whose title is a pun based on William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. i.e. II-B or Not II-B. The other reason why the fake sequel with the fake rating became so successful was because that naughty publicity is better than friendly publicity. During its first week of release, there was antagonism being directed by the police because the film’s poster featured an unbuttoned policewoman whose breasts are obscured by a horizontal collage of the main stars.

Jing was also on the receiving end of feminist furore at the hands of another uniformed organization – the Hong Kong Girl Guides Association. The scene where Athena Chu is attacked while she is wearing a girl scout uniform had led to an uproar from the association who then proceeded to send a legal letter requesting a clarification and apology from the movie company. Considering what he’s occasionally like on the Weibo site, Jing responded in a polite manner: Raped by an Angel 2: The Uniform Fan absolutely did not defile, cheapen or reflect on any individual, group, or organization. Hong Kong is a free society. The year is 1998, not 1908. Any commercial activity should not be affected. The media also has a responsibility to understand the entire situation further, not just judging the situation from only the poster or photos but from watching the entire movie before deciding whether it ridiculed policewomen or girl scouts on purpose.”

Jing, even though he had tried with all of his might, could not shy away from rudeness in spite of putting on a persona of maturity. Being his typically juvenile self, he continued to say: “This movie is only rated II-B. As such, it didn’t need to have the promotional items and information approved by the film board. This doesn’t even happen in America or England, so why here? Even if my movie was a Category III movie, it wouldn’t be as salacious as a Category IV one. It’s not like a real girl scout was being assaulted. It’s very easy to take things out of context, especially when actresses play younger than their age. Imagine how people would react if I had made a rape revenge movie about a dwarf who likes to dress up as a girl scout or a schoolgirl.”

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