Monday, October 26, 2009

Review: The Man From Hong Kong

The Man from Hong Kong
Dir. Brian Trenchard-Smith & Jimmy Wang Yu
Year: 1975
Aus Rating: R18+ (DVD: MA15+)
Running Time: 111mins

The Man from Hong Kong begins with a fist fight on top of Uluru and ends with George Lazenby being - very literally - set on fire. In between there are explosions, kung fu, abseiling, hang gliding, sword fights, grenades, sniper rifles, Chinese food, cars flying through weatherboard houses, nudity, party crashers, assassins, slapstick comedy plus "Sky High" by 1970s one-hit wonders Jigsaw as the movie's theme song! Does this not amaze you?

The plot, what litter there is to be attained in between fight sequences, is this: Some Chinese dude must come to Australia to take a drug dealer back to Hong Kong, but he then becomes involved in some sort of mission to bring down Sydney's biggest drug kingpin. Or something to that effect. It really doesn't matter, does it?

The action scenes, courtesy mostly of Jimmy Wang Yu, are what anybody watching this movie in this day and age is after and they don't disappoint. Apart from the opening scene at Uluru, there is the famous stunt wherein Yu kicks a man off of a moving motorbike and - my favourite - the knife fight in the Chinese restaurant, there are battles with a pack of kung fu experts, a car chase along a cliff and a moment that would cause PC cops today to shudder at the media attention it would receive. While making former "James Bond" George Lazenby look like a profession martial arts expert is a challenge, there are moments when the action is full on. You can tell it's real when the dirty footprints are left on the shirt of a man who has just been kicked in the gut by an agile kung fu master.

In other regards the film is not so much of a success. Acting is generally quite woeful with Yu being the worst offender and his occasional love interests - Rebecca Gilling predominantly - all register nil on a score of ten. At least George Lazenby is having fun! Or was he? At least the cinematography by future Oscar-winner Russell Boyd is lively and the score by Noel Quinlan is energetic and exciting like many scores from this period of Australian cinema. I'm surprised Quentin Tarantino hasn't used bits of the score in his films! Actually, the entire car chase that happens towards the end of the film was, surely, the inspiration for the near-identical scene that Tarantino featured in Death Proof.

One of the film's guiltiest pleasures is watching in shock and awe at how incredibly racist the film is. And while it is the Asian race that bares the brunt of it, the white people are presented as such moronic doofuses on many occasions that I can't help but feel writer/director Brian Trenchard-Smith was an equal opportunist in this department! How does one explain the scene in which Yu is kissing a girl and she mentions her surprise at how good it it, to which he responds with a joke about acupuncture! And just moments earlier the woman was making slanty-eye jokes! Or when asked "do you normally sleep with white women" he replies "Only on Tuesdays and Thursdays." I am not making this up! And then there's the barrage of comments from the white police officers such as "I find Chinese make the best servants" and "I never met a Chinese yet that didn't have a yellow streak." My personal favourite, if you can call it that, was "This is Australia, not 55 Days at Peking!" Er, if you say so, but I was sure I saw Charlton Heston sulking around in the background at one point!

Having seen Mark Hartley's Not Quite Hollywood helps, as witnessing the moments discussed in that award-winning documentary is something to behold. Watch as a car door flies perilously close to the camera after an explosion with the knowledge that it actually was that close! Watch as stunt men (or, usually, just regular actors being paid a pittance) get flung about onto cars and into rivers. Watch as George Lazenby accidentally gets set on fire, resulting in Lazenby being sent to hospital, and watch how Yu interacts with the white women in the cast, knowing now as we do that he actually despised white women and would eat bugs before having to kiss one. He was such a lovely man, I'm sure.

Truly a time capsule worth cherishing for ways that, perhaps, aren't the purest, The Man from Hong Kong is a blast of energy that is sorely lacking within the Australian film industry right now. The size and scope of the entire film is impressive - especially since it was Trenchard-Smith's first feature - and it remains mind-boggling that they were able to get away with half of this. People aren't even allowed to walk up Uluru anymore, let alone stage and elaborate fight sequence! It's a hoot and I don't care what you say! B

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