Published: 04/03/2016 11:20 - Updated: 03/03/2016 12:24

Eden Court set for a Hong Kong crime spree

Wild City, the latest film from leading Hong Kong director Ringo Lam, is part of Eden Court's Crime: Hong Kong Style season.
Wild City, the latest film from leading Hong Kong director Ringo Lam, is part of Eden Court's Crime: Hong Kong Style season.

FILM lecturer Andy Willis is the first to admit that he is not helping spread the most flattering or accurate image of Hong Kong to Highland cinema-goers.

"Having been to Hong Kong, I found it one of the safest places I have been, but it’s cinematic equivalent is quite different," he confessed.

That image, of corrupt cops and ruthless triad gangsters, explosive gun battles in teahouses and brutal martial arts street fights, is one that Willis is happy to perpetuate in Crime: Hong Kong Style.

Billed as the biggest celebration of Hong Kong cinema in the UK to date, it brings together old and new Hong Kong crime films selected by Willis, a film lecturer at the University of Salford, in conjunction with Manchester arts and cinema venue HOME.

Eden Court in Inverness is one of four venues in Scotland screening films from Willis’s choice of crime films from the former UK Crown Colony.

Willis says he was partly inspired to programme a series of crime films by the greater interest in foreign-language crime stories in the UK, largely driven by the boom in "Nordic Noir" from Sweden and Denmark.

However, the introspective protagonists of Scandinavian crime could hardly be more different from their Hong Kong counterparts, who are often quick to use a gun or their fists, whatever side of the law they are on.

"That’s one of the things I like about it," Willis admitted.

"It’s in your face. Hong Kong films generally are not renowned for their subtlety."

However, that does not mean that directors cannot find room for political or social comment amid the mayhem.

One of the best known examples of this strain of Hong Kong cinema is director Felix Chong, who is visiting some of the venues screening the Crime: Hong Kong Style season, although unfortunately not Inverness.

Chong is best known as the screenwriter of Infernal Affairs, a twisty thriller where the central characters are an undercover policeman in a triad gang and a detective planted as the triads’ own mole within the Hong Kong police.

An international hit, it was remade by Martin Scorsese as the Oscar-winning The Departed starring Leonardo DiCapro and Matt Damon as the mirror image protagonists.

Infernal Affairs, according to Andy Willis, 'epitomises everything that is good about Hong Kong crime films'.
Infernal Affairs, according to Andy Willis, 'epitomises everything that is good about Hong Kong crime films'.

"Infernal Affairs is a good example of a film from that post-handover period," Willis said.

"Society’s changing, there are lots of insecurities and nobody’s sure who is working in whose interest and that all feeds into the plot."

Almost two decades on from the return of Hong Kong to Chinese rule in 1997, Hong Kong cinema still stands out from its Mainland China counterparts in its freedom to tackle subjects censorship laws prevent their filmmakers from addressing.

Willis acknowledges it is hard to imagine Mainland China making thrillers where the main characters are themselves gangsters, such as John Woo's breakout hit A Better Tomorrow.

The difference in Hong Kong's approach was brought home to him at a recent film fair where one film on offer was a Hong Kong/Mainland Chinese co-production that focussed on the heroic and straight-laced police officers investigating a kidnapping while another was a purely Hong Kong production where the police and other officials were clearly portrayed as corrupt. 

"In Mainland China, they don’t really like to show police or anyone working in important institutions in society as corrupt," Willis said.

"Filmmakers in Hong Kong who want to work in Mainland China are having to change the way they work. A lot of the major filmmakers now make co-productions on the Mainland, but Hong Kong audiences don’t really like the Mainland films, so Hollywood has a real foothold in Hong Kong whereas in the past it would be local films topping the box office.

"But every now and again, something will come out of the Hong Kong film industry that does really well and is quite surprising, and very often because it has a subject that’s very much on the mind of Hong Kong people."

Recent protests in Hong Kong suggest residents of the territory wish to reassert an independent identity and Willis sees this reflected in the region’s own films.

"That’s the legacy of handover. A continual questioning of their identity in relation to China. Is Hong Kong still a global city as it once was, or is it simply part of China? That’s obviously a very important question for everybody from the top financial institutions to the everyday people on the streets."

The Teahouse provides a snapshot of 1970s Hong Kong.
The Teahouse provides a snapshot of 1970s Hong Kong.

The films Willis has selected for the season range in age from 1974’s The Teahouse to new releases Wild City and That Demon Within, reflecting how the Hong Kong crime film has changed as the city has.

"The 1970s movies have a lot more martial arts in them because they come from that period where kung fu films and swordplay films were popular. They are quite interesting time capsules of what Hong Kong was like," he said.

Watching period Hong Kong films can also bring on a sense of déjà vu for film fans. Hong Kong filmmakers have long inspired their American counterparts. Critics have spotted a number of similarities between Quentin Tarantino’s hit debut Reservoir Dogs and Ring Lam crime drama City on Fire and Sylvester Stallone has not been above recreating stunts previously used by his friend Jackie Chan.

Some of Hong Kong’s biggest names have also headed to Hollywood, but with not always positive results. Jackie Chan’s experience of working in the American big budget studio system was so disappointing that he returned to Hong Kong to make Police Story, one of the films being screened at Eden Court, as a showcase for his talents and it went on become one of his biggest successes and a personal favourite.

A decade later director John Woo enjoined mainstream success in Hollywood with Mission: Impossible II and Face Off, but returned to Asia after other US films proved unpopular with critics and disappointing at the box office.

"I think it’s to John Woo’s credit that survived for as long as he did in Hollywood, making those top line films," Willis suggested.

"Lots of other Hong Kong directors who went over there didn’t find it nearly so easy to make films there. I think that’s due to a combination of the style of film they made, which was lower budget for Hollywood, but one of the main things was that the styles of production were very different and they couldn’t work in the same way, so they all seemed like subdued versions of the films they made in Hong Kong.

"It’s quite ironic that Rumble in The Bronx, the film that actually broke Jackie Chan in America, was a Hong Kong picture that was re-edited to make it more palatable for an American audience. Hollywood has always been a double-edged sword."

Police Story is a personal favourite of its star, Jackie Chan.
Police Story is a personal favourite of its star, Jackie Chan.

• Eden Court will be screening the following films as part of its Crime: Hong Kong Style season:

The Teahouse (15) – Saturday March 5, 8.15pm

Director: Kuei Chih-hung. Cast: Chan Koon-tai, Karen Yeh, Lui Wu-chi

The Cheng Chi teahouse is a pivotal place within its community, providing local citizens with a respite from the encroaching criminality that increasingly seems to be all around them. As gang activities become ever more disruptive, teahouse owner Wang Chen decides enough is enough and it’s time to stand up for the ordinary person. Made in 1974, The Teahouse is a tough, sinewy, low budget film that has now become recognised as a classic of its era.      

Police Story (15) – Sunday March 13, 7.45pm 

Dir Jackie Chan/1985 HK/99 mins

Jackie Chan, Maggie Cheung, Brigitte Lin, Kwok-Hung Lam, Bill Tung, Yuen Chor, Charlie Cho

Following his disappointment with the US produced The Protector (1985), Hong Kong superstar Jackie Chan wrote and directed this crime story vehicle to showcase his wide variety of skills in front of and behind the camera. The result is a hugely influential blend of action, comedy and crime and remains perhaps one of the greatest action films ever made.

As Tears Go By marked the arrival of a bold new talent in director Wong Kar-wai.
As Tears Go By marked the arrival of a bold new talent in director Wong Kar-wai.

As Tears Go By (18) – Thursday March 17, 8.15pm

  Dir Wong Kar-wai/1988 HK/102 mins/CTBA

Andy Lau, Maggie Cheung, Jacky Cheung, Alex Man, Ronald Wong, To-Hoi Kong, Ching Wai, Kau Lam 

Award-winning director Wong Kar-wai’s debut, As Tears Go By, is a classic gangster film about loyalty, ambition and respect. It centres on Wah, a tough criminal specialising in debt collecting for the mob, who has to continually look out for his best friend Fly. When Ngor arrives in Hong Kong, her presence makes Wah question his life. With a stellar cast including Andy Lau, Jacky Cheung and Maggie Cheung, the influence of As Tears Go By can still be seen on contemporary Hong Kong crime films over two decades after its release.

Infernal Affairs (15) – Sunday March 20, 7.45pm

  Dir Andrew Lau/2002 HK/101mins/Cantonese and English with partial EngST /CTBA

Andy Lau, Tony Chiu Wai Leung, Anthony Chau-Sang Wong, Eric Tsang, Kelly Chen, Sammi Cheng, Edison Chen, Shawn Yue

Bringing together two of Asia’s biggest stars, Andy Lau and Tony Leung, Infernal Affairs became a world-wide hit upon its release and remains one of Hong Kong’s most famous and influential crime films. At its core it is a classic, edge of the seat, cop and gangster cat and mouse story. Infernal Affairs was later remade by Martin Scorsese as the award-winning The Departed.

Wild City (15+) – Sunday March 27, 7.45pm

  Dir Ringo Lam/2015 HK/120 mins/CTBA

Louis Koo, Shawn Yue, Liya Tong, Hsiao-chuan Chang, Jack Kao

Ringo Lam, the director of one of the most influential Hong Kong crime films City on Fire (1987), returns to the crime genre with this exciting and stylish neo-noir. Starring Louis Koo and Shawn Yue, Wild City offers a classic cat and mouse tale as a former cop and his wayward brother quickly get out of their depth when they take on ruthless Taiwanese gangsters.

That Demon Within (15+) – Thursday March 31, 8pm

  Dir Dante Lam/2014 HK CN/111 mins/CTBA

Daniel Wu, Nick Cheung, Sixuan Chen, Kai Chi Liu, Ka Wah Lam, Andy On, Kwok-Lun Lee

The new Hong Kong action maestro Dante Lam is behind this taut and ultimately unsettling psychological thriller. Quiet and distant cop Dave (Daniel Wu) is increasingly haunted by the violent images of a criminal gang who use traditional demon masks when committing their crimes. Truth, reality and imagination begin to blur in this stylish film with which Lam once again brings a new energy to the Hong Kong crime film.

Tickets are £5 each, or any four films for £15.
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