Saturday, January 30, 2010

Jenny Hu in Till The End of Time

Even though Brian provided an excellent review of this film already, I'm adding my two cents since I reviewed some other Jenny Hu films last summer.

Till The End of Time opens, significantly enough, with a fairly modern feel; As we see Peter Chen play Chopin on a piano, the credits roll simply over his image and the camera pulls back to show that he is playing for a family in a modern household. No garish titles and blaring music to start the film but a naturalistic reveal instead.

An almost impossibly young-looking Lily Ho is in this scene as the fiance, I-Hua, of Chen's character. As Brian noted, she's pouty and what a pout it is! If the year of release for Till The End of Time was 1966, one can figure that they were filming this in 1965 and while the Shaw DVDs sometimes list Lily Ho's year of birth as 1953, most other sources say 1948 -- Paul Fonoroff in the interview on this disc says 1946 -- so the actress is 18 at most. Chen is 36 but he looks older so she is an odd, but voluptuous, choice for the part.

I won't belabor too much of the plot but the thing I do want to mention is the feel of the film.

By that I mean that I've seen a lot of musicals, including most of the major Shaw ones, and the film just feels different. I think it's a sense of things not being rushed. There is no manic vibe to the nightclub scenes with Jenny Hu's Hsueh Ling singing, and there's not a sense of any kind of antics with the supporting characters.

The amusement park scene unfolds with a minimum of melodrama and the transitions between moments feel very modern despite the very 1960s mix of real location-and-backlot with contract stars in the the center of every shot.

The third (?) song in the film opens as a Jenny Hu nightclub performance but then the montage becomes a scene of Jenny Hu and Peter Chen dancing in the same nightclub -- is this what the lovers are imagining? -- and then, amid scenes of starry nighttime skies and water rushing over rocks, the scene switches to an impossibly beautiful Jenny Hu in modern, simple garb reclining on the hood of a car and still singing -- is this an elaborate nightclub production? And then Peter Chen enters and talks to her as the song ends and we see that this is simply another scene of their courtship.

In one sequence, we are transported from reality -- at least the real world in the context of this film -- into imagination and then into reality again.

Without the sort of forced euphoria a lot of non-musical fans associate with film musicals, the film effortlessly integrates the music with the action; that transition is as much the story of the film as the courtship of the two characters.

The closest parallel is the feeling I got when I watched Li Ching in Susanna where the very unreality of the presentation, combined with an almost languid pace at times, made me feel more moved by the film than a simple, MGM-style musical from the 1950s.

Now, that's not to say that the film isn't terribly melodramatic in stretches; of course it is. But, rather, the way that Peter Chen is playing his part has none of his near-mugging you see in something like Guess Whose Baby is in The Classroom?.

And Jenny Hu is quite naturalistic. She's not at all like Li Ching in the melodramatic scenes and she remains almost stoic but still a warm screen presence; it's not a stretch to compare her to Grace Kelly in something like Rear Window: angelic beauty but a real down-to-earth quality shining through. Brian, I think, also compared her to Audrey Hepburn and that is there too.

If only I had watched Till The End of Time before I watched Guess Who Killed My Twelve Lovers and I might have responded differently to Jenny Hu in that film.

Later in the film, as the melodrama gathers steam, Hsueh-ling performs a song for a radio broadcast. The montage shifts from the recording studio to Peter Chen's Cho-ming listening at home and then back to Hsueh-ling, this time on a beautiful television set.

There's a strange tracking shot overhead as Hsueh-ling walks down the fake lawn past the flowers and then the camera pulls out wide to reveal the edges of the set with Jenny Hu in the center of it.

It's a marvelous image as we are seeing the fakery of the television show Hsueh-ling is the star of, while watching a very unreal 1960s musical shot on similar sets.

The viewer is just reminded that the presentation is unreal for a short second but the unreality adds meaning to the imagery in a way that a non-musical shot on a real location would not have.

The film, to me at least, is one of the masterpieces of the Shaws in the 1960s. I have now become a fan of Jenny Hu and am looking at the work of Peter Chen in a new way. There's real chemistry between the couple on screen and, if one is not distracted by the moments of high melodrama; the ending for example -- one can see a weird-but-pleasant mix of artifice and realism at work here.

I think one of the things that makes this film work -- and this is ironic given that it's a musical -- is the lack of music in key scenes. Without the typical kind of syrupy strings one associates with a Technicolor melodrama, the scenes have a natural rhythm; it's a weird mix of artificiality (sets, colors, clothes) and normality.

It comes down to this: if you removed the music, and the melodrama, the film would still be a resounding success as just the story of the courtship between Peter Chen's Cho-ming and Jenny Hu's Hsueh-ling.

That's pretty high praise coming from me; what Hollywood musical could I say that about? Sure, Singin' in the Rain might work as a minor comedy without all the musical numbers. And some of the better Deanna Durbin films would work without any of the musical trappings.

But it's a short list of musicals that work on other levels beyond the music.

Add Till The End of Time to that list simply for the performances of two of the most important Shaw stars of the 1960s.

Look for Lee Kwan as Cho-ming's newspaper reporter pal. Cheng Miu is in this as Peter Chen's father. And Ouyang Sha-Fei shows up in makeup as Hsueh-ling's beloved grandmother.

The DVD has an 21-minute interview with actress Celia Sie, and a 16-minute interview with Paul Fonoroff, as well as a 15-minute interview with film critic Po Fung.

You can order Till The End of Time on DVD here.

[Photos: YesAsia/Celestial Pictures]

Monday, January 25, 2010

Thoughts on Pavement's Best

The idea of Pavement releasing a "Best Of" compilation is still the sort of thing that makes me feel ancient.

When I finally heard "Slanted and Enchanted" in late 1993, I momentarily had second thoughts about ignoring so much great American music while I was chasing after rare tracks from The Auteurs and Suede in that era.

And one of the great regrets of my rock fandom is not ever having seen Pavement live.

(Hey, given the bands I did see and meet, I'd say I shouldn't have any regrets; I'm sure there are people that would trade seeing Pavement at their prime with me seeing The Pixies in a smallish club in 1989, right?)

So the NME unleashed the track listing for this "Best Of" and its surprisingly decent. Hell, the fact that two (!) tracks from the Watery, Domestic E.P. made it onto the "Best Of" is astounding to me! "Shoot the Singer (1 Sick Verse)" is clearly in my top 10 Pavement tunes.

The biggest omission is, clearly, "Carrot Rope". And where is "Rattled by the Rush" or any of the sublime mellow jams from 1995 parent album Wowee Zowee?

Well, to remind me of what I missed live, here is a clip of the band rocking one of their "best"!

Pavement "Trigger Cut" live, 1994

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Na Cha The Great with Alexander Fu Sheng

Alexander Fu Sheng always reminds me of David Cassidy!

That's an unfair comment to make and the actor was simply a product of his era. That said, he seems to be underplaying a bit in this otherwise fantastical tale of Chinese myth. 1974's Na Cha The Great is a fun way to spend 90 minutes for a Shaws fan.

Mortal filial son Na Cha wanders into town not knowing that two ocean demons are masquerading as mortals. He misses by a few seconds one of the demons turning into a giant and tossing some villagers around in a scene worthy of a Godzilla film.

Soon, Na Cha is arguing with his parents about his lessons and is visited by Master Taiyi from Mt. Qianyuan (Lee Wan Chung) who offers to teach the lad some skills in fighting the despotic Tsou rulers.

But first, Na Cha has a bit of an altercation with one of the demons-posing-as-humans and kills the demon/human in a fight near the river.

Now the demon's partner is out to get Na Cha who is still learning his lessons at his home.

The 2nd surviving ocean demon (Fung Hak On) has become smitten with a local village girl (17-year-old Shaw starlet Yuen Man Tzu) and -- sure enough -- Na Cha intervenes in an altercation between the demon, the girl, and her woodcutter boyfriend.

As Na Cha fights the demon-posing-as-a-human, the demon reverts to his magical form and soon Na Cha finds himself fighting a huge dragon in heaven in the clouds. The effects are not great but the overall effect -- the way the action flows -- is expertly handled and the viewer doesn't really have a moment to pause and notice the weak dragon prop.

I only stopped and noticed it because I'm watching this on DVD and I'm a modern cynical viewer; I'm sure theater-goers in 1974 were really enthralled by this sequence.

Na Cha slays the dragon and removes one of its tendons to make a belt for his father (!).

This whole sequence of events enrages the demons' father (Chang Teo) who happens to be the ruler of the ocean realm -- Aoguang of the East Sea to be exact.

Na Cha offers to sacrifice himself -- commit seppuku on the beach, really --- to appease Aoguang and, thus, spare his village from a flood and torrential rain.

Now in the heavenly realm, Na Cha is still a student, this time of spiritual matters -- look for a very young Eric Tsang in his first role (according to in this scene!

Using wheels of fire on his heels, Na Cha is now rocketing through heaven and earth, fighting oppressors.

During the last third of the film, Na Cha returns to earth as a mortal to fight the despotic Tsou officers and rulers.

There are then a lot of fights between Na Cha and armed masses of people from heaven and earth. These scenes don't feel like the typical heavyhanded Chang Cheh bloodshed which could signal the hand of action choreographer Lau Kar-Leung.

All-in-all, a somewhat confusing tale of Chinese mythology made palatable by the star presence of the young Fu Sheng and some decent set pieces.

The DVD has a 12-minute interview with Kung Do (Chang Teo) as well.

Unfortunately, according to, the DVD is out-of-print.

[Photos: YesAsia/Celestial Pictures]

Friday, January 22, 2010

Comics Cover Browser

A friend sent me this comics cover browser and I'm sure it will be an internet time waster for other geeks too.

From when I got to be a regular monthly buyer of The Avengers, during George Perez' first amazing run on the magazine...

Not only comic books but Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine covers as well!

An issue I vividly remember buying at the corner drugstore only to have my mom cut out the goriest pictures from the magazine as soon as she saw it!

I looked up this issue and it's from 1975 so I was 8 when I got this one -- I was already hooked on monster movies and now I had a place to read about them on a monthly basis.

The cover pic of Karloff from The Mummy haunts my dreams to this day!

I'm sure that the feature on Mexican horror films is probably where I first heard of Paul Naschy -- yes, I know he was born in Madrid but I'm pretty sure that the magazine would have not made that distinction in those days.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Young People with David Chiang

A 1972 look at the "gangs" of rival friends David Chiang, Chen Kuan Tai, and Ti Lung, Young People is a fun attempt from director Chang Cheh to get in touch with the kids.

Ho Tai (Chen Kuan Tai) is the martial arts enthusiast leader of one gang who has a rivalry with the gang of Lam Tat (Ti Lung). Ho Tai is also a man of few words, preferring action to expression. His girlfriend, Princess (Irene Chen), doesn't seem to mind.

Add to this mix new folksinger Agnes Chan who opens the film with a rendition of Joni Mitchell's "The Circle Game" as her audition into drummer David Chiang's gang.

Soon, Lam Tat is playing in the big basketball game. Princess has promised to kiss him if his team wins. Lam Tat gets injured and Ho Tai fixes the player's leg with some Chinese orthopedic magic. His team wins, Princess kisses him, and soon enough she is smitten with Lam Tat.

The scene where Ti Lung and his crew ride up to Irene Chen's house on a dune buggy is terribly dated. Not only does it seem like a 7-Up commercial but you've got Ti Lung in shades using a walkie-talkie to whistle at Irene Chen who is in her bedroom gazing longingly at a monstrous poster of Ti Lung and herself after the basketball game.

It's all a bit silly but, if you are like me and enjoy this sort of dated picture of a different era, it's also a bit intoxicating. The real locales and the studio lots and the clothes and the fashions and the soundtrack just all scream "early Seventies" but it's so straightforward and innocent.

After a trippy dance montage rolls as Agnes sings "You've Got A Friend", Gou (familiar Shaw heavy Wu Ma) strides in and interrupts the girl's next song after having his pride insulted by Ho Tai's martial arts club.

It's then up to Hung Wai (David Chiang) to finally reveal that he is the son of a martial arts master and set about to train his boys so they can beat Ho Tai in the kung fu competition.

More episodes like this and soon there's a fight in the street between kung fu champion Ho Tai and Lam Tat. Irene Chen runs and gets the help of David Chiang to stop the fight -- even looking still cute and stylish as she does it.

David Chiang then gets the two to be friends. Now everyone is friends and the film still has 30 minutes left!

Well, time enough for a go-kart race! Now the trio of buddies set off on their go-karts for the big race the next day!

It's like director Chang Cheh just threw everything into this film except a plot; the whole enterprise seems suspiciously like the effort of someone being told what "young people" do and not knowing otherwise.

If I am making it sound like the film is corny and dated and a bit silly and unfocused that's is! However, that's not to say that I didn't thoroughly enjoy the whole thing.

The lack of a bigger plot lets the film work as a sort of time capsule of Hong Kong in 1972 as well as what filmmakers thought the kids of Hong Kong in 1972 wanted to see.

And with 5 appealing leads, the film is a pleasure to watch. It is worth noting that any viewer who has an Irene Chen I-Ling jones like I do will be amply rewarded as the actress gets to wear quite a few different outfits in her scenes as well as play a bit of an airhead.

You can order Young People on DVD here.

[Pictures: YesAsia/Celestial Pictures]

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Li Ching in Whose Baby Is In The Classroom?

The 21-year-old Li Ching and the 40-year-old Peter Chen play 25 and 28, respectively, in this awkward comedy from 1969. Whose Baby Is In The Classroom? is Peter Chen's last film and it's not exactly a masterpiece.

In a contrived setup, Chen plays Chen Zifeng, a chemistry teacher saddled with an abandoned baby at an all girls school. As he begins his job as the first male teacher at the facility, he interacts with the uptight Helen Li (Li Ching), an old childhood sweetheart now a repressed school affairs administrator.

Ouyang Sha-Fei's school headmistress, meanwhile, is trying to fix up Helen with her son.

The film proceeds in a mix of comedy and drama; one minute a suicidal girl is confiding in Mr. Chen and the next he's taking his students to the school roof to dance and learn chemistry.

Director Inoue Umetsugu seems to be not sure what kind of film he's making: comedy or musical or drama. The whole thing was a bit more tedious than I expected it to be, given that I'm a fan of other Shaw musicals and certainly count myself a fan of Li Ching and Peter Chen Ho.

The film takes a full hour to get to the setup any viewer can see coming as soon as the film starts: the abandoned baby will be rumoured to be Helen Li's from her romance with childhood sweetheart Chen Zifeng.

The film is not a total failure; Li Ching looks supercute in glasses in her early scenes and Peter Chen expends a lot of his spindly energy in the scenes with the baby.

The scenes of Peter Chen in his laboratory reminded me of Fred MacMurray in one of those Disney Flubber movies. If you can get beyond that, and tolerate the film's 108-minute running time, there might be some moments of pleasure to be had here.

The fact that this was Peter Chen's last film before his death in 1970 adds a layer of emotion to the scenes that don't really deserve it. And Li Ching remains charming as always; the actress was so much better in modern films than period pictures and by the 1970s she'd be relegated to female roles in period pictures.

You can check out Brian's review here.

You can order Whose Baby Is In The Classroom? on DVD here.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

When The Clouds Roll By with Ching Li

I don't know why they did it but it's a good thing that the Shaw team cast Ching Li and not Li Ching in this 1968 tale of schizophrenia as When The Clouds Roll By is a mini-masterpiece thanks to Ching Li's understated lead work.

The film opens in great retro fashion: As a Ventures-like band plays on stage, Ching Li's Susu Xiong enters a nightclub in a clingy red dress. With her slightly disheveled look, she's clearly meant to appear a bit of a temptress. Things quickly go wrong when she knocks over a man on the dancefloor. And then the doctors arrive with a syringe and she's taken home as the credits sequence ends and the film proper begins.

Despite some laughably bad rear screen projection as the drivers drive their cars, the opening section of the film features a lot of great shots of 1968 Hong Kong as Susu steals her family car and speeds off. As two doctors leave the airport, the characters meet at the end of this well-edited sequence.

Dr. Li Yifei (Yang Fan) and his associate Huang Tianfu (Cheung Pooi Saan) approach the lovely-but-distraught Ching Li on a hillside overlooking the harbor -- near the Peak it looks like.

A film like this -- about mental illness -- made in the past always seemed a bit dated. However, sometimes that datedness provides a new spin for the modern viewer, allowing him or her to see things with a fresh perspective. Despite the 1960s-feel of the thing, the zooms and quick edits make the buildup scenes of the film quite effective without being laughably old fashioned. And it doesn't hurt that the young and beautiful Ching Li seems realistically distraught and vulnerable without being silly about it.

Luckily the family is friends with hospital director Qiu Dongwang (familiar Shaw heavy Wong Chung Shun) and that provides Susu's father (Cheung Miu) with a handy source of information on mental illness.

Despite a few scenes in the hospital's mental ward that make the place look like Arkham Asylum, the film treats Susu's mental despair with respect and some understatement.

As Li Yifei begins to tutor Susu in English in preparation for her upcoming trip to America, the young doctor is clearly conflicted as he starts to fall in love with his student/patient. The viewer is treated to a nice set of montages as the two young people both narrate their feelings over scenes of their lessons and romance.

Complicating matters further is director Dongwang's daughter -- also Yifei's fiance -- Binbin, played by Violet Pan from Swordswomen Three. As Yifei learns of Susu's dead fiance, Jishi, his own fiance arrives back on the scene.

Seems Susu's fiance died in a plane crash where the only survivor happens to be the copilot, now conveniently in the mental ward where Yifei works.

Despite a bit of over-the-top action near the end -- a scene that feels wildly out-of-place and unrealistic given that one of the characters is a medical doctor -- director Doe Chin wraps things up nicely with a minimum of the kind of silliness this sort of thing could easily become.

The film fades out all too quickly but I was moved at the ending. The fact that Ching Li seems to be underplaying in the film -- and the fact that she's realistically pretty and not a total starlet -- made When The Clouds Roll By a film that I enjoyed quite a bit more than I expected to.

You can order When The Clouds Roll By on DVD here.

[Photos: YesAsia/Celestial Pictures]

Friday, January 15, 2010

Close Lobsters Singles Compilation Not Slipping Through These Cracks...

Yeah, I'm stuck in the 1980s but so what?

The Close Lobsters were grossly underrated -- I knew a handful of people that enjoyed them in the mid-to-late 1980s and all of those guys formed bands or labels.

Not much in the way of liner notes but there's a new compilation collecting the band's various singles, Forever Until Victory, and it's on US iTunes and as a convenient download.

The comp. includes gems like the single below. Buy now. Buy often.

On US iTunes here...

On Amazon as a download only -- CD says discontinued -- here...

The Close Lobsters "Never Seen Before" (1987)

Sunday, January 10, 2010

A Place to Call Home with Li Ching *UPDATED*

A simplistic "weepie", 1969's A Place to Call Home is still required viewing for any fans of Li Ching. Or Irene Chen, for that matter.

Li Ching plays Ivy, the eldest daughter of a family led by father Yan Jun and mother Ouyang Sha-Fei. Add to this mix young sister Jane (Tong Jing) and conniving middle sister Irene (Margaret Hsing Hui) and the viewer is presented with one of those standard Shaw 1960s model families -- complete with a palatial estate consisting of perfect living spaces courtesy of the Shaw backlot.

The first third of this film is a lark; the film opens with Ivy competing in her school's field hockey game and that is followed up by the intoxicating sight of Irene Chen as Ivy's friend Lily driving her friends home from the game as the girls break into song like Annette Funicello's crew in an AIP beach picture.

The only drama is this section involves sister Irene trying on Ivy's dress, tearing it, and then an attempt to hide the tear from the girls' mother.

During a party, a family friend discusses the fact that eldest daughter Ivy is in fact adopted. Irene overhears this and then reveals it to Ivy.

Yes, as you can imagine, this leads to many crying scenes with Li Ching. While the film is not on the same level as Susanna, it is a similar experience and worthy of a Li Ching fan's time.

Ivy is soon determined to find her birth mother, played by future Shaw director Kao Pao Shu -- assistant director on such favorites of mine as The Twelve Gold Medallions -- and the mother is a bargirl who entertains sailors at night. Despite the mother's rundown living conditions, Ivy doesn't suspect anything and so waits patiently while her birth mother is out at work, her mother telling the girl that she is going to work at her job in a synthetic hair factory.

Shaw regular Yeung Chi Hing plays the lover of Kao Pao Shu -- essentially Ivy's new stepfather -- and immediately upon spying the young and beautiful Li Ching and he's making plans to turn her out into the bargirl life with the mom.

You can see what is coming next.

He chases Ivy around the apartment, she escapes and runs out into the rainy night to land on the doorstep of Lily (Irene Chen).

There's an attempted reconciliation with her adopted family but things are not wrapped up until the final school graduation speech by Ivy in which she reveals the importance of love and family and the viewer is now assured that Ivy has accepted her adoptive parents as her real parents.

I'd rate the film as rather standard and by-the-numbers but that's not to say that it's not enjoyable. The songs are pleasant and it's always a pleasure to see Irene Chen in even a small role.

Provided that a viewer has seen Susanna already, I'd say that A Place to Call Home is another worthy Li Ching film from the 1960s before she was underused in 1970s films.

UPDATED: I wrote this review in a vacuum and then noticed today that Brian had written an informative review of this already. Check it out for a bit more context than I can provide here.

You can order A Place to Call Home with Li Ching on DVD here.

Monday, January 4, 2010

In Which I Meet Jo Koo!

I know some of my online friends are aware of my desire to actually see a Hong Kong film celebrity in person on this, my 2nd trip to Hong Kong.

I mean, if not for the films, I would not be here. The cinema of Hong Kong is why I loved this place before I even got here; the character of the city in the films is real and even more varied in person.

That said, in a post that is sure to make some people very happy -- especially Mr. Sanney Leung -- I met Jo Koo!

Thanks to a local friend's tireless efforts, we arrived at the Tai Hang branch of Jo Koo's dessert house, Xiao Tian Gu and had an early dessert before our dinner. As my friend told the staff that I was a big fan of the actress, the staff kindly informed us that Ms. Koo would probably arrive around 11:00 PM.

Wall of fame at the Tai Hang branch, Ms. Koo with Chow Yun-Fat and her The Detective costar, Aaron Kwok, nearby -- along with Gillian Chung

Okay, so we went and got a meal and timed our return for 11:00 PM.

When we arrived, no sign of Jo Koo but the guy behind the counter handed my friend his iPhone and -- yes indeed -- it was Ms. Koo on the other end of the line.

The actress graciously said that she was at the Kennedy Town branch of her restaurant so my friend and I hopped in a taxi and rode off into the night.

I combed my hair in the backseat; I should have brought an iron for my clothes too!

We get to the Kennedy Town branch of Xiao Tian Gu and there's Jo Koo, looking so normal and nice, totally unlike the sexy police boss she portrayed in The Vampire Who Admires Me.

Miss Koo was quite nice and agreed to take a picture with my big goofy American self.

I normally keep my face hidden from my blog, but I can't resist posting a picture of me and a Hong Kong actress I like quite a bit...

My friend chatted with Jo's equally charming mother for some time.

So, not only did I meet a celebrity -- an actress I think most of my online friends also like and want to see more of -- but I got to have 2 delicious desserts in one night.

At the Tai Hang location, we had Stewed Hokkaido Milk and Egg White, served cold, and at the Kennedy Town location we had mango juice and papaya drinks as well as The Imperial Chinese Gelatin made with Sweet Gui Hua Flowers AND Cold Sago Soup Mango and Pomelo.

Ms. Koo mentioned that her next two films will be an Ann Hui film and a Pang Brothers horror film. She said that the Pang Brothers *are* indeed making another Detective film with Aaron Kwok but she will not be in it.

Xiao Tian Gu

Tai Hang: G/F, 10-11B School Street
Tai Hang, Hong Kong

Kennedy Town: G/F, 1D Davis Street
Kennedy Town, Hong Kong

That Mango Place

Since the name of this local Hong Kong chain is not written in English I have no other choice than to call it "That Mango Place". There are a few of these and they are usually crowded, especially the one I went to today at lunch-time in Causeway Bay.

The menu always reminds me of that Monty Python's Flying Circus "spam" skit as everything has mango in it -- "Do you have anything with a bit less mango in it?"

Whatever I got today. Mango, mango custard, and rice balls sauce!