Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Let's find a scaffold and shoot a movie

There are a lot of reasons to love Hong Kong movies. Two of the best reasons are blogs that I follow every day and have mentioned here in the past. One is WEBS OF SIGNIFICANCE which covers Hong Kong life generally including the movies. There are many people who write about the Jade Screen—YTSL, who runs Webs of Significance writes the way most of us wish we could. That she is a terrific photographer with a good eye for what Hong Kong such an intriguing city where the amazing is commonplace. But what led me to her blog and kept me coming back were her well written and very well reasoned (meaning, of course that I agreed with her) reviews. An example is her discussion of one of Leslie Cheung’s best movie outings which can be found here: He's a Woman, She's a Man review. Since YTSL says that this “was at least my 20th viewing” of this film she is perfectly situated to review it. Having seen a few movies that often—Casablanca, Singing in the Rain, In the Mood for Love—I know it is may be the best way to understand everything about what is on the screen. The late Gene Siskel, who loved “Saturday Night Fever” as much as anyone could (go figure) wrote about learning more about it on the tenth viewing than he did on the first. If you follow the link View from Brooklyn Bridge you will come to her review on Brian’s invaluable blog.

Another is Soft Film: Vintage Chinese Cinema, an indispensible resource for those interested in the heyday the mighty Shaw Brothers machine. Using a combination of scans of material he owns, youtube clips and stuff sent by readers, duriandave’s blog allows one to travel back to the days of movie queens, action heroines and flower vases. A recent post which really caught my eye was this one in which Grace Chang as a super sexy Chinese Carmen singing a syncopated Habanera Grace Chang . This clip is now one of my not-in-the-least guilty pleasures. While it is probably not Grace Chang’s voice on the soundtrack—unless she has almost perfect French diction—it remains a blistering interpretation of the dazzling, delectable and doomed Gypsy enchantress. There is a lot going on in the background—the mise-en-scène is perfect and the reactions of the background players, particularly the slightly leering guys in the band, hits just the right tone of innocence and menace. Check out the drummer from about 0:36 to 1:03, for example. Cheung Yeung has the appropriate deer in the headlights look as Carmen/Grace deploys enough megawattage of sensuality to blow half the fuses in Kowloon. Here is the clip:

It is the movies themselves, not only how they are reviewed and remembered, that can make one (at least this one) enthused to the point of obsession. The way they are made and promoted, in many cases much different from what those of us raised on Hollywood product expect, makes them, if not unique then very different from expectations.

An example of this is the almost casual way that a film crew will set up on a busy street and the more than casual way that the people on the street will take not of or ignore what they are doing. Some photos from a scene of a movie with Leon Lai currently being shot show the star and a stuntman on a scaffolding, rigged for a fall, then a much wider view with the two of them circled showing just how uninterested the vast majority of people are to yet another movie. The sidewalk immediately beneath the scaffolding—where the airbag is located to break the fall—has been cordoned off but not very strictly. The wider shot shows that all the impedimenta of a shoot is there on a platform beneath the scaffolding including a big reflector that no one could have missed but most citizens simply don’t find it that compelling, as if not only movies but making movies continues to be such a part of the daily life in Hong Kong that it is just something happening in the background.

Pictures from Sina.com through Dennis Lee's not to be missed ever Hong Kong Cinema Daily News


  1. Thanks for the kind words, Ed!

    BTW, that is indeed Grace Chang's voice in that clip. She was just as renowned and loved for her singing as for her acting.

    Here are two more of her songs that I particularly love.

    "Achoo Cha Cha"

    "I Want You To Be My Baby"

  2. Wow--I know that she was known as a singer but I didn't realize her French diction was that good. She does a terrific job with some difficult combinations of words and music.

    I have probably watched that clip 15 or 20 times since you posted it--she is an amazing artist.

  3. Thanks for the kind words re my writing and photography, ewaffle. And before you say it: yes, I do count myself very lucky to be living in Hong Kong -- and that's one reason why I've written the blog entries I have since moving there! :)