Sunday, September 6, 2009

Gritty Hong Kong

When people talk about Celestial's Shaw Brothers DVDs it's mostly the kung fu films they mention. But of course the Shaws made films in several other different genres; horror, comedies, musicals, a few slightly erotic flicks, and not least the gritty cop/crime movies. Some of them belong in the HK new wave genre of the early 80s (which I'm actually just learning about now, thanks Andras, Michael, etc).

A handful of the films Celestial put out a little while back is the THE CRIMINALS series. I must admit I've never paid much attention to this series as I was under the (obviously very deluded) impression that they were probably kinda crappy and dull. Well, someone mentioned the first film in the series on Dvdmaniacs yesterday and it sparked my interest but, uh, 'tis difficult to watch something you don't have and I don't have THE CRIMINALS 1 but I knew I had a couple of the later entries lying around somewhere and so I ended up watching THE CRIMINALS 3: ARSON - and like so often before I'm kicking myself in the head for having had something totally cool lying around for months without watching it!!

Was this gritty and brutal and didn't have any slapstick in it at all you ask? Well, yes, yes, and no!!! I was quite surprised I must admit! Flabbergasted you might add. xD

The film is made up of two separate stories and both were excellent. The main characters in the first one are two lowlife scumbags. We've seen that on film before but in Hollywood's polished version the crooks are often somehow cool and/or good, and at the end of the film they repent - or die after having done something really good. Not so in this one. The creeps are just creeps, however (again: in contradiction to Hollywood) we do get to see their human sides as well. Actually, with a little unfortunate deviation onto a side track we could easily become them. As horrible as it may sound.

A li'l deterioration in the moral judgement department maybe caused by an unfortunate social slide downhill - and we are suddenly them. We become them. Just as the mall zombies in DAWN OF THE DEAD are really us. Maybe not you or me but it happens all the time.

Since this is the only film out of this series' 5 films that I have watched obviously I can't talk about the other ones. Phantom of Pulp wrote about #5 here and he was quite exited about it, so check out his review. Episode 5 is partly directed by TF Mous who also made MEN BEHIND THE SUN and LOST SOULS and whom I wrote about here.

If you think you might like gritty and non schmaltzy film making then I can only urge you to seek out THE CRIMINALS 3. I think it's really good! The two episodes are directed by Hua Shan (who also among many other films directed Inframan, The Flying Guillotine Part II, and The Bloody Parrot) and Gwai Chi-Hung (who directed tons of other films; The Bamboo House of Dolls, The Killer Snakes, Big Brother Cheng, Hex, Bewitched, Corpse Mania, etc, etc, and not to forget: The Boxer's Omen!!! Phew, what a list of EXCELLENT films!).

By the way, did I forget to mention that the evil Chinamen at Celestial (all spawned by Dr. Fu Manchu) figured we didn't need DVDs for these films so they've only put them out on VCD (i.e. video-cd). Bummer, eh! I should point out there is a DVD for the first film but #2-5 are VCD only releases (there's also a VCD for film #1 if you need one to fit the other ones on the shelf, LOL). Anyway, forget what you've heard about the crappy VCD format and its "terrible" picture quality; Just like with video tapes VCDs come in many different shapes and forms. Some are extremely bad, i.e. pixelation hell, but actually the VCDs from Celestial are top of the crop. They are second to none, the picture quality is as good as it'll ever get on a VCD.

THE CRIMINALS 3 (and most likely the other ones too) is presented in the correct letterbox format and has easy to read English subtitles, and you can chose between Cantonese and Mandarin audio (Cantonese being the correct one and if you can't tell the difference it's the one in the left speaker). As I mentioned there's a DVD out for the first film but unfortunately it's getting difficult to find. When I looked for it online last night the only places I could find it stocked were at (located in Malaysia, nice people, cheap prices) and at (in HK, also nice folk and cheap too, their goods that is). You can get #2-5 from (in Hawaii, top people all the way 'round). I ordered the three films I didn't have right away. I suggest you do the same, schmendrick.


  1. Jack, you should seriously give CRIMINALS 4 a spin. Sun Chung's segment of that film is quite possibly the best piece of filmmaking the man has ever done. Granted, I haven't seen some of his dramas (some of them weren't released to disc), but his 'Queen of Temple Street' is the best tale on all the CRIMINALS movies, IMO. CRIMINALS 2 is also good. I thought part 3 was kind of lame and the fifth installment is incredibly sleazy with what looks like a pre pubescent Wei Ying Hung being stripped and violated.

    Check out Cheng Kang's classic crime film, KIDNAP (1974), it's one of the finest examples of the genre. Also, Chu Yuan's THE BIG HOLD UP (1975) with Ling Yun and Chen Kuan Tai among the big cast and also a few from Wang Chung which I mentioned to you before entitled THE MOBFIX PATROL and THE MURDERER PURSUES (both 1981) and the awesome MEN FROM THE GUTTER with a bad ass performance by Pai Piao. Lo Mang plays a hot headed policeman (yeah, a stretch for him, right?) PURSUIT OF A KILLER (1985) you might also like, but I thought it was pretty damn horrible. Pai Piao's hairstyle changes from straight to curly from scene to scene (the movie was shot over the course of a few years). The movie starts off like gangbusters but goes seriously downhill from there, IMO.

  2. Hey Brian, thanks for your suggestions and info! When you told me about MOBFIX and MURDERER I actually went out and bought them (haven't watched them yet tho) and I'll check the other ones too. So you think the 3rd one was lame. I spend half an hour talking about how rad it is and you think it's lame! Haha, but that's fine and if the case is that you find it lame COMPARED to the other ones then I've really got something to look forward to! Cheers.

  3. THE INFORMER is another one from Wang Chung, but I thought that one was pretty bad. Nothing much happens till the end and even then, it's nothing special.

    Of course, there's also THE DELINQUENT (1973) co-directed by Chang Cheh and Kuei Chi Hung. The film bears Kuei's style he would utilize in future pictures and it's easily one of the sleaziest and grimiest HK action/crime movies ever made with one helluva final scene.

    POLICE FORCE (1973) from Chang Cheh is also kinda meh, IMO. Wang Chung again stars as a young police cadet out to avenge the death of his friend played by Fu Sheng. It has some good stuff here and there, but I found it mostly forgettable.

  4. Thanks.
    I think I've actually got POLICE FORCE lying around here somewhere. :o)

  5. I dreamed about gritty hong kong movies tonite just because of this post. Everytime I closed my eyes (I wake up a lot during the night) it started again.

    Someone was debating with me in the dream if I should se the international black-and-white version or the real Hong Kong-version in color.

  6. Haha, that's funny (and not so funny for you that you can't sleep. Poor you). Yep, that's me; the demon who'll ruin people's sleep on any given night with my diabolical blog posts. LOL.

  7. Jeg bliver altid glad, når nogen nævner "Dawn."

    Så den i Saga på Vesterbrogade i 80eller 81. Et af mine første blogindlæg handlede om den oplevelse. Kan være, du husker biografen. Blev lukket engang i 80'erne. Blev vist også kendt for den famøse Wayne-film "The Green Berets."

    Men det er jo en anden historie.

  8. Nu er Kbh jo ikke det sted, jeg er kommet mest, så jeg har desværre aldrig været i Saga på Vesterbrogade (ja, det vil sige, blev det ikke til koncertvenue i midt-80'erne? Hvis ja, så var det muligvis dér jeg i '87 var til koncert med Artillery/Destruction. Hæh!).

    Kender du Biografmuseet? Well, det er en hjemmeside med billeder fra gamle danske biografer og jeg fandt det her (er det den?):

    Og ja, du har naturligvis også ret mht. DAWN! Jeg har også set den i biografen, men først i '88 og i en helt anden hovedstad. Men det er også en anden historie. :o)

  9. Kender godt museet. Linkede til det på min første blog. Billedet er ganske rigtigt af Saga, med Studio 1-4 til venstre. Ser ikke ud af meget, men biografen var oprindeligt meget stor (åbnede i 1942 med 1500 pladser).

    Historien om Saga er lige så deprimerende som historien om så mange andre store københavnske biografer i 70'erne og 80'erne, hvoraf en pæn del blev forvandlet til triste supermarkeder og lignende. Blev ombygget til tresals i 79, og endte vist nok som pornobiograf og senere koncertsted indtil 1992.

    Men min store kærlighed til zombier startede der.