Ever since Hong Kong returned to China in 1997, the city has been known as the Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China. On September 27 of that year, Ming Pao Daily reported that Johnnie To prefers assuming the role of producer to a director because the pressure is lighter. However, the film that he was advertising was one where he partially directed it (albeit he didn’t want to publicize his involvement). The film has two titles in Chinese – Hidden Flower and Dark Flower, Killing Condition. In English, it is known as The Longest Nite. It amuses me when films have different titles. For example, Morgan Freeman and Bob Hoskins were in a Jet Li movie whose original title was Danny the Dog. It sounded too sensitive for the West, so it was titled Unleashed. It sounded too insensitive for the East, so it was retitled The Tiger is Out of the Cage. With Yuen Woo-Ping as the fight choreographer, it was a throwback to his Tiger Cage movies. The movie was released in H.K. on May 12, 2005. It was the first true throwback Thursday.
Back to The Longest Nite (1998): Johnnie had already worked with the two stars, Lau Ching-Wan and Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, except on TV…more to the point – a network called TVB. Johnnie mentioned that he had to hire two police officers to maintain order when filming in Macau. Whenever Triads asked for protection money, it was paid but only if it was small. If it was ridiculous (4 figures), Johnnie called the police. Although he wasn’t credited as one of the writers, Johnnie spoke like he was the creator: “Tony’s acting is already self-evident, this time he is playing a cop. Lau Ching-Wan has always been an actor of substance. This time, I created a criminal with flesh and blood, but no one will hate this thief.”
In February of 1998, Sammo Hung was almost killed in a car chase. He spent two hours in a police station while authorities checked out his friend’s car, which he rode in when his friend picked him up on Santa Monica Boulevard. He said: “Soon, I see there are 4 police cars. We cross to the side. They ask us to come out, one at a time. It was night-time. 10 or 12 police with shotguns. A chopper comes. They ask me to sit down on the road. Then they say this is a stolen car. My friend say he bought it from a dealer eight months ago, but some guy claimed after he sold the car that it was stolen so he could get insurance. So they ask me to go to the police station. I am there for 2 hours. Afterwards, I said – I’m not angry, I’m scared. I was afraid they were were going to shoot me. Police are much more powerful here than in Hong Kong.”
In late 1998, Raymond Wong Pak Ming’s Fascination Amour (a Andy Lau movie that was released in 1999) was originally going to have Christy Chung play Sandy. She was ceremoniously dumped because Raymond felt disrespected by her. What happened is that she didn’t contact him straight away upon returning to H.K. after her pregnancy. She was previously contracted to his company (Mandarin Film Ltd.) but she accepted a request to be a representative of an advertisement agency before consulting him, despite the fact that she had already fulfilled her contract. The Chinese have a strict attitude towards loyalty. While she claimed that she couldn’t afford to reject the agency, it certainly didn’t help her cause when she told Raymond that she would only sign up for him again under the condition that she gets paid more money along with other stipulations. Charlie Yeung was going to be Christy’s replacement until it was revealed that she had no desire to return to show business. Besides, she couldn’t guarantee interest from the Japanese market like Ishida Hikari.
In late November of 1998, Cynthia Yeoh (a.k.a. Yeung Lai-Ching), a former action star, released her first album in Taiwan. She sees singing as another kind of challenge to her. She also tried to write her own lyrics. Due to the impoverished climate of H.K. film, she returned to work in Taiwan. She signed a 2 year contract that consisted of a 5 record deal. She reported to the reporter: “I mainly did television series and did pretty well. I have always had an interest in recording an album, but I understood that because I was an action star, my chances would be small. Thus when Red Valley approached me, I was surprised initially, especially with the bad market. They explained that because of the bad market, they need new excitement by discovering new faces. I am not 18 or 22, it’s impossible for me to go the youth route. I will appear with a more mature image.”
When it was announced that Carmen Lee in Legend of the Wolf (the Chinese title being War Wolf Legend) was going to have a kissing scene with Donnie Yen, a reporter joked that she would cheat on the camera. Carmen responded by saying that no-one uses that trick anymore. When she is working, she never rejects kiss scenes because the kiss scene is a necessary part of the story, like herself and Tony Leung Chiu-Wai in War of the Underworld – there was no scripted kiss, but they both just naturally kissed during the scene. On August 14 in 1996, it was reported that Legend of the Wolf had been in production for over a month. By that point, it was 1/3 completed because the film was being rushed for a September release. Although it was difficult, Donnie didn’t feel tired. Still, the film was already over the budget, so he invested all of his salary into the film. With no salary to his name, he felt compensated in his director chair. Luckily, his assistant directors helped him out with many problems.
Sammo Hung spent a week to edit Mr. Nice Guy. The movie used 20,000 feet of film (222 minutes), with 14,000 feet usable (155 minutes), but it needed to be edited down to 9,000 some feet (100 minutes) for release. While filming, mother nature as well as the Australian government were quite cooperative, as not only were there only few days of rain but the roads were blocked off for the larger scenes. In Australia, when he had the free time, Sammo cooked. His weight then reached 220 lbs. After Australia, he lost 20 lbs for Martial Law. Given how that TV series ended too soon, it’s a shame that he never got asked by Golden Harvest to be the director of a project that had sort of fizzled. In March of 1999, it was formally announced that the studio wanted to make a cameo-filled movie called Soccer Kid. I say sort of, because the project was resurrected and reformatted as Shaolin Soccer.
David Beckham was approached to appear in Soccer Kid but turned it down. Eric Tsang was going to be the star, with Anita Yuen playing a reporter. Oddly enough, the director was going to be Billy Tang – but he’s more suited for dark films. In late August of 1997, it was reported that Almen Wong’s character in The Group was originally reserved for Christy Chung. The latter rejected it because she had gone on hiatus so that she could have a pregnancy in Canada. On August 24, Almen proved that she had what it took to be a decent action movie star by defeating Ken Wong in an arm wrestling contest….although she only won when he decided to make it easier on her by only using his forearm. When talking about her physical development, she said: “Earlier, I only trained with kicks. Now the focus has switch to biceps, so naturally they are more obvious now.”
On October 8 in 1997, it was reported that crew members of The Group (Chinese title: Heroic Thief Robin Hood) were arrested due to an unauthorized shoot. The film’s director, Alfred Cheung, said: “We indeed had illegal prop guns, but applying for licenses take substantial times. If the police hadn’t been lenient, we would have been slapped with another charge of convincing others to use illegal prop guns. This plan obviously arrived better late than never. Hong Kong is the Hollywood of Southeast Asia. Film culture being exposed overseas will directly generate monetary profit. I hope the government will no longer do things to slow the filmmakers down.”
From that same report, there was a list of top three incidents of the year’s unauthorized film-making cases…
September/13: Alfred was illegally filming a gun fight with crew members wearing SDU gears and carrying guns. This caused panic within the crowd and the police was contacted. Later, the police took crew members back to the police station and classified the case as illegal possession of firearms.
May/18: Ringo Lam’s Full Alert was filming an explosion without authorization in a building on Nathan Road, causing the residents to contact the police about a fire. When the firefighters and police arrived, they removed a large number of filming equipment as they began to investigate who was responsible. Another piece of trivia about this movie is that Michael Wong was asked to play Francis Ng’s part, but he didn’t get cast because of a scheduling conflict that stemmed from Jet Li dropping out of Tsui Hark’s Knock Off.
April/10: Downtown Torpedoes had a collision/explosion involving 8 cars where a shrapnel suddenly flew out and fatally struck a crew member. The designer of the explosion contacted the police and the case was still under investigation by the time that it was October.
Applications for explosion scenes take a long time. There are a limited number of prop guns. One can apply for the prop guns that resembles the ones that the police use, but only a limited number of them available and they are rather old. The related departments have no intentions to maintain or replace them. Car chase scenes require approval and have to be within the 50 kph speed limit. No abandoned cars nor fake licenses can be used. Even additional anti-crash devices within the car are illegal. If you ever wondered why there was racism towards Westerners in H.K. movies, you have to realize that there is a double-standard. Hollywood productions can be allowed to film in certain areas (such as an airport), but H.K. ones can’t – although this is more to do with money than some kind of cultural preference.
In mid-July of 1997, it was reported that Diana Pang Dan (a.k.a. Peng Tan) wasn’t happy with her first film being released in H.K. cinemas. The Canadian arthouse production was titled Chinese Chocolate. Due to the film’s limited budget, her salary wasn’t high; but she specified on her contract that if the film is released in H.K. then she would get a share since she knew that she would like to appear in H.K. movies. However, she should’ve been more concerned with local producers typecasting her as a lesbian. Earlier on in the month, she had discovered about the film’s release in a newspaper (the film was released on July 10). No-one in Canada had notified her about it. She then called the film’s female director (Yan Cui) who was in H.K. to witness the handover to China and its consequences. The director knew nothing of the matter either and expressed that she could take legal action. She then handed the matter over to Media Asia. The studio head in Canada was also clueless about it. Diana said: “This film is a non commercial film, an art film. Only being shown in a few theaters, so the share will be limited. What I am after now is the problem of standard and respect.”
In late July, it was reported that Sunny Chan Kam-Hung finished his acting duties on Stanley Kwan’s Hold Me Tight. The actor expressed that he would have to apologize to Chingmy Yau Suk-Ching because there was a scene in which Dau Dau (as she is known affectionately like Do Do for Carol Cheng) was having noodles while Sunny was speaking his lines, but for some reason – he had 30 bad takes in a row and thus inadvertently forced her to eat more than one bowl of noodles. She said that she didn’t blame him, because he didn’t do it on purpose. After many bad takes, she joked that she was still hungry and could eat more – this was her way of trying to make him feel less nervous since he broke his record of bad takes. She laughed and said: “That scene took several hours. I ate full 5 or 6 bowls of noodle. In the film, I had to pretend they were good. At first they did taste pretty good, but after the row of bad takes, my stomach was full. Later, I had to throw up in the washroom, but I couldn’t get rid of all of them. I threw up about 3 of them and still had 3 in my stomach!”