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 Sensasian.com (located in Malaysia, nice people, cheap prices) and at YesAsia.com (in HK, also nice folk and cheap too, their goods that is). You can get #2-5 from Hkflix.com (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.