Sex and Zen and a Bullet in the Head: The Essential Guide to Hong Kong's Mind-Bending Films

Overview

Far from the orbit of Planet Hollywood, the new cinema of Hong Kong beckons.
Gone are the flying pigtails and contrived fist-thuds of your father's favorite chopsockies. These are punch-straight entertainers, movies juddering with the excitement that put the "motion" in motion pictures. Dodge a thousand bullets as you contemplate the heroic gangster-knights of Master Director John Woo. Watch international superstar Jackie Chan perform action-comedy on the edge of peril. Wrap ...

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Overview

Far from the orbit of Planet Hollywood, the new cinema of Hong Kong beckons.
Gone are the flying pigtails and contrived fist-thuds of your father's favorite chopsockies. These are punch-straight entertainers, movies juddering with the excitement that put the "motion" in motion pictures. Dodge a thousand bullets as you contemplate the heroic gangster-knights of Master Director John Woo. Watch international superstar Jackie Chan perform action-comedy on the edge of peril. Wrap your imagination in the fantasy of director Tsui Hark, who proffers comely ghosts floating on silk, otherworldly romance, and no-joke witches and demons. And there's much more! Fighting femme flicks featuring fatales hiking up their designer dresses and bouncing spike heels off the bad guy's forehead. Stylish tragedies rivaling the best of Hollywood noir. Brain-boiling monster weirdies to delight the grindhouse faithful. Subtitles that mangle the English language into fabulous new mutations.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
John Woo Very informative and enlightening. A must for any serious film buff.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
As Michael Weldon says in the foreword to his Psychotronic Video Guide: "Unlike other movie guides, nothing is omitted because it's in bad taste." Bad taste barely begins to cover the 3000 resolutely grade-B movies (some with grade-A aspirations and budgets) and the odd TV show included here. Weldon, who invented the word "psychotronic" and compiled The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film, includes horror (there are 15 movie titles beginning with the word "zombie"), science fiction, Blaxploitation, porn, spaghetti westerns and "anything that Roger Corman had anything to do with" in his purview. (Griffin, $27.50 672p ISBN 0-312-13149-6; July) Hong Kong is home to the world's third largest film industry after Hollywood and Bombay. The movies tend to emphasize action, and lots of it. But according to the press release, the 200 films covered in Stefan Hammond's and Mike Wilkins's Sex and Zen and a Bullet in the Head are not just chop-socky. Rather, these movies are "sexy, fast-action supernatural," not to mention historical and occasionally downright sillyeven without the awkwardly translated subtitles like "Suck the coffin mushroom now" or "I know it, he is not an idiot, he is sexual detour" that by themselves are worth the price of admission. (Fireside, $12 288p ISBN 0-684-80341-0; Aug.) The Ultimate Movie Thesaurus begins with short descriptions of 8000 movies. What makes it unique, however, is what comes next. Rather than just a handful of categories or a list of directors or movie stars, it also includes such subcategories as "In-LawsTroublesome: see also RelativesTroublesome"; "Trapped in a Hole" and "Cattle Herded by Barbara Stanwyck." Obviously, there are other, more inclusive categories, but if you're in the mood for a movie on, say, Austria, it has nearly 20 suggestions. (Holt, $19.95 704p ISBN 0-8050-3496-X; Aug.) Almost all the movies included in Laurent Bouzereau's Ultraviolent Movies come from the past 30 years. Covering films ranging from Bonnie and Clyde to A Clockwork Orange, Bad Lieutenant and Hellraiser, the book is divided into seven sections on different genres, including psycho-killers, mafiosi and revenge movies. (Citadel, $17.95 256p ISBN 0-8065-1787-5; Sept.)
Library Journal
Until very recently, Hong Kong cinema was largely ignored in the United States by all but a small, fervent minority. This has begun to change, however, and the authors intend to lure new fans with this introductory overview to the great variety of Hong Kong film. Each chapter focuses on one topic, such as type of film or individual actor or director. A glossary of terms and a listing of locations around the country where people can obtain tapes are also provided. The authors are obviously die-hard fans of these films, and, unfortunately, the intensity of their enthusiasm, though at times humorous, frequently borders on the immature. Though the book, like the films it covers, is best suited for older audiences, it is hard to tell to whom it will finally appeal. Existing fans of Hong Kong cinema will find little new of interest, and nonfans may just be intimidated. Purchase only where there is demand.Peter A. Leggieri
Library Journal
Until very recently, Hong Kong cinema was largely ignored in the United States by all but a small, fervent minority. This has begun to change, however, and the authors intend to lure new fans with this introductory overview to the great variety of Hong Kong film. Each chapter focuses on one topic, such as type of film or individual actor or director. A glossary of terms and a listing of locations around the country where people can obtain tapes are also provided. The authors are obviously die-hard fans of these films, and, unfortunately, the intensity of their enthusiasm, though at times humorous, frequently borders on the immature. Though the book, like the films it covers, is best suited for older audiences, it is hard to tell to whom it will finally appeal. Existing fans of Hong Kong cinema will find little new of interest, and nonfans may just be intimidated. Purchase only where there is demand.Peter A. Leggieri
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780684803418
  • Publisher: Touchstone
  • Publication date: 8/28/1996
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 7.37 (w) x 7.37 (h) x 0.74 (d)

Meet the Author

Authors Stefan Hammond and Mike Wilkins (co-author of The New Roadside America) met in the front row of San Francisco's now-shuttered Pagoda Palace Theater in 1987, where both had gone to watch The Ghost Snatchers. Now they share the results of their long devotion to the form. They give you their picks for which movies to rent, where to rent them in North America, what to look for once you do, and even film titles in Chinese characters. Zealously written and incredibly entertaining, Sex and Zen & A Bullet in the Head is the perfect companion to the over-the-edge mayhem of Hong Kong film.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

Ten That Rip

We start things off with ten Hong Kong films that rip. The movies in this chapter are all extremely entertaining, well-made, accessible, and like nothing you've ever seen anywhere else. They should also demonstrate once and for all mat anyone Still thinking in terms of the old chopsocky stereotypes is just plain wrong.

This is not a "Ten Best" list. Picking the ten best is a never-ending flame war best played out over coffee or on the Internet's "alt.asian-movies" newsgroup. Instead, what we have tried to do is pick a great representative movie from some of the categories that we explore in more detail later in this book. As a result, we've included only one film each from auteurs John Woo, Tsui Hark, and Jackie Chan, even though a Ten Best list might contain multiple entries from any or all of them.

Not only are these "Ten That Rip" the films that we recommend finding first, they are also among the ones that are easiest to find. Some, like A Chinese Ghost Story and Naked Killer, are staples of the growing college and art house theater circuit. Most are available on both videotape and laser disc. And all can be found subtitled.

The Bride With White Hair

1993

Starring Brigitte Lin Chin-hsia, Leslie Cheung Kwok-wing, Elaine Lui Siu-ling, Francis Ng Chun-yu, Nam Kit Ying

Directed by Ronny Yu

Psychosexual drama loaded with rich visual textures and fast, furious action. Leslie Cheung plays Yi-hang, a martial arts master condemned to self-exile atop a snowy mountaintop. In flashback, his tale reveals a childhood spent learning sword technique. Young adulthood brings with it a moshpit coif and a bright future as the heir to the Chung Yuan organization — a powerful alliance of eight clans.

But Yi-hang is not fond of the martial life, and longs for freedom from swords plunging through flesh. Into his life swirls a fierce, beautiful warrior (Brigitte Lin), who can rip people apart with her whip. They fall into thunderbolt love, consummating their obsession in a crystalline pool surrounded by stalactites — their deadly careers forgotten in giggling, washed-innocent abandon. Yi-hang finds that his new girlfriend has no name and christens her Lien Ni-chang.

Ni-chang didn't have a name because she was raised by wolves (really) and is now sponsored in her lethal activities by a cult leader named Chi Wu-shuang. Chi is a back-to-back brother/sister Siamese twin, a creature burning with malevolent intent. The male half blisters with unrequited passion for the beautiful Ni-chang, while the female half mocks her brother as an unlovely abomination.

Ni-chang wants out of the cult so she can start a new life with Yi-hang, and offers herself to the male half of the monster in exchange for her release. But she can't even pretend to get excited by his slathering advances (yeesh), and the female twin on his back shrieks with derision as she realizes that Ni-chang will never be her brother's lover in any way, misshape, or form.

As punishment, a barefoot Ni-chang is forced to walk a gauntlet over jagged shards while her rabid fellow cult members club her. She survives, but the scorned Chi Wu-shuang resorts to scorched-earth subterfuge — slaughtering the leaders of the Chung Yuan organization. This bloodletting brings him face-to-face with Yi-hang, with the issue of Trust (the highest virtue these less-than-savory characters can aspire to) at stake. Few things hath greater fury than Brigitte Lin seeking vengeance.

While The Bride With White Hair shares elements with other "legend films," like A Chinese Ghost Story, it is darker and more erotic than most. The film contains quite a bit of graphic violence, and fans of stage-blood-jetting-out-backlit won't be disappointed. Star Brigitte Lin's ferocious performance drives the film, and seldom have her features (especially her expressive eyes) been photographed to such effect. Unscrolled on the big screen (where it belongs), this epic poem will go a long way toward converting an HK film skeptic.

A Chinese Ghost Story

1987

Starring Joey Wong Jo-yin, Leslie Cheung Kwok-wing, Ng Ma, David Lam Wai

Directed by Ching Siu-tung

A Chinese Ghost Story breathes flesh and nerve as it spins a love story from a cyclone of fantastic action. An ancient Chinese legend married to Western pacing, this cinefable from producer Tsui Hark (see chapter 4) is at once earthy and unearthly, elegant and chaotic, and remains one of Hong Kong's breakthrough films.

Good-natured scholar Ning Tsai-shen (Leslie Cheung) is the most unpopular man in any village: a traveling tax collector making the rounds. Opting for a night at a deserted temple, he steps into the middle of a sharp and angry staredown between the loner misfit, Swordsman Yen (Ng Ma), and itinerant blade-for-hire, Hsiao-hou (David Lam). Ning keeps the swordsmen from carving each other up but receives a chilly welcome. The misanthropic Yen warns him there are things still skulking about "more scareful than a tiger."

We soon see what he means when Hsiao-hou meets a flirtatious, nubile ghostress bathing in a nearby stream and leaps lustfully upon her. After a shake of her belled ankle bracelet, something unseen slithers upon him, rams itself straight down his throat, and sucks out his essence, turning him into a desiccated corpse!

In the temple, Ning pricks his finger, and the basement, which houses a gaggle of these blood-sniffing corpses, stirs to life. Hollow bones crackle as they move in unison toward an oblivious Ning, who wanders off, attracted by the evocative sound of a lute and voice drifting through the window. He finds a pavilion on a serene lake, occupied by the same beautiful nymph who lured Hsiao-hou to his doom: the gorgeous Nieh Hsiao-tsing (Joey Wong). She immediately attempts to seduce him, but finds that he's different from the churls she's previously set up for drainage. Despite her beauty, he tenderly and politely turns her down.

Good move. A ghost and concubine to hell, Hsiao-tsing's job is targeting men for "yang element" absorption by her spirit-world pimp, an awful, dual-gender matron. But Hsiao-tsing gets no fulfillment from her work. Murdered a year earlier, she is now held in bondage by the creepy she-warlock, who has a witching symbiosis with the forest and sports a fifty-foot tongue that she wraps around her enemies like a python's coils. Even worse, Hsiao-tsing is betrothed to her pimp's boss, Lord Black. Given the circumstances, falling in love with the human Ning would be sheer folly. But, as Woody Allen once wrote, "The heart wants what it wants." They go for it.

Ning convinces the cantankerous-but-lovable Swordsman Yen that his new, pale sweetheart deserves a decent reincarnation. So the trio set off to recover the jar of her remains they'll need to accomplish the job.

The pissed-off matron assaults the trio with walls of tongue and other slimy effects. When these fail, she opens the portal to hell itself and drags Hsiao-tsing down. "Scholar! It seems we have to storm hell!" shouts Swordsman Yen, as the pair descend to scrap with Lord Black and his minions. Victory is hard-won, and enormously entertaining, but Ning and Hsiao-tsing's ill-fated man-ghost love doesn't survive the dawn.

Full Contact

1992

Starring Chow Yun Fat, Simon Yam Tat-wah, Bonnie Fu Yuk-ching, Ann Bridgewater, Anthony Wong Chau-sang, Frankie Chin

Directed by Ringo Lam

Drenched in feedback and octane, Full Contact revels in outrageous villains, antiheroes, and the hollow rattle of brass casings hitting the pavement. The film's multiethnic soundtrack sparks with crime glamour: psychedelic blues guitar threading together Cantorock, Yankeerock, and Thai Pop. Ace director Ringo Lam cranks up all the knobs to ten in this crime-action fuel-burner.

Full Contact opens with the robbery of an antique shop in Bangkok, Thailand. The robbers are a surreal bunch, led by Judge, an openly gay fashion plate and amateur magician whose colorful pocket-scarves conceal deadly weapons. Judge's accomplices are the gum-chomping harlot Virgin (Bonnie Fu) and her muscleheaded pro-rassler-like beau, Deano (Frankie Chin). This over-the-top trio has barely finished terrorizing the staff, shooting up the local cops, and roaring off with the swag (in a twitch-perfect 64 Fairlane), before the opening credits roll over a funk-removing interpretative striptease by Mona (Ann Bridgewater).

Meanwhile, Mona's squeeze and fellow dance club employee, Jeff (played by Hong Kong's leading leading man, Chow Yun Fat), sets off to rescue their friend Sam (Anthony Wong) from the clutches of a local loan shark and his henchmen. Steel rings as Jeff thumps the thugs, then zooms off with Sam on his Honda-Davidson motorbike.

Discharging the sharks does not discharge the debt, however, so Sam arranges a joint heist with Jeff's troops and those of his cousin, Judge. But when the Jeff gang meets the Judge mob, a squabble brings out the Freudian rods. Jeff's hog-leg 45 dwarfs Judge's nickel-plated automatic, and a tense standoff ends when Judge unabashedly tells him: "Your eyes are so charming and attractive."

Judge's frustrated sexual energy must be sublimated by evildoing when he's contracted by the humiliated loan shark to double-cross Jeff during the robbery. The job — hijacking an arms-laden truck on a crowded Bangkok bridge — starts with Virgin furiously masturbating in Jeff's speeding car and concludes with a half-hearted betrayal, when Sam shoots Jeff through the chest after Judge traps him in a house whose occupants he has just shot and burned. Escaping with fewer friends and fingers, Jeff is slowly nursed back to health by monks at a Thai temple, who are also tending a weird, bug-eyed puppy.

Meanwhile, Sam is busy rising through the criminal ranks in Hong Kong, running guns for Judge and seducing Mona (both believe Jeff was killed in the robbery). When Jeff finally returns to HK and contacts them, this tangled trio struggle with their loyalties, alternately frail and tough.

Caught in the trap of gangster pride, Sam must bite off his leg and help Jeff gain his revenge. They steal Judge's arms cache and hold it for ransom. Negotiations disintegrate, and a "bulletcam" nightclub gunfight ensues — individual shots are followed through plate glass, hands, and necks. In the finale, Jeff puts an end to Judge's incessant flirting, climbs on his iron horse, and thunders off into the distance.

Hard-Boiled

1992

Starring Chow Yun Fat, Tony Leung Chiu-wai, Teresa Mo Shun-kwan, Anthony Wong Chau-sang, Philip Chan, Kuo Chui, Bowie Lam, Bobby Ah Yuen

Directed by John Woo

Hong Kong cinema is a deck full of action aces, but John Woo's Hard-Boiled is the trump. This tale of gunrunners, double agents, and innocents caught in between showcases several action sequences that suck your jaw to the floor. Hard-Boiled is Woo's most spectacular film and an absolute must-see; it will convert anybody to the HK cause.

Hard-Boiled (like another Woo masterpiece, The Killer — see chapter 2) revolves around an intense platonic relationship between two men in a violent world. Loyalty is all, superseding both law enforcement and criminal careers. Either way, you pack a gun and use it when necessary.

Hard-Boiled plainclothesman Tequila (Chow Yun Fat) moonlights as a clarinet player in a neon lounge. Tequila and his drummer, fellow cop Lionheart (Bowie Lam), go for an early morning dim sum in the Wyndham Teahouse, a Hong Kong landmark where customers bring along their own caged birds to sing table-side. In the large, crowded teahouse, gun-smuggling mobsters hide their gats in false-bottomed birdcages. Tequila blows their cover, and a trademark John Woo gun battle steeps the teeming teahouse in flying slugs and birds. As Lionheart bites it, Tequila chases crooks by sliding sidesaddle down a banister — toothpick in mouth and automatics blazing. In the kitchen, he skids across a countertop and is powdered with flour; white-faced as a ghost, he terminates the villain with a squirting shot to the head.

As the web unfolds, we meet Tequila's apparent nemesis, Tony (played by Tony Leung, who is often called Tony "Hard Boiled" Leung because of his great performance). He's a flamboyant underworld killer working for the powerful Mr. Hoi. His trigger skills are coveted by Hoi's gunrunning rival, Johnny (Anthony Wong), who also covets Hoi's empire. Johnny's men assault Hoi's warehouse in a spectacular battle — slick, violent, and beautiful — with phalanxes of motorcycles, breathtaking tracking shots, and Johnny's top gunman Mad Dog (Kuo Chui) greasing row after row of Hoi's men. Loser Hoi dies stoically, just as lone cop Tequila rappels down from the warehouse ceiling.

More rounds are uncapped as Tequila disassembles what remains of the assembled armies. It ends with Tony and Tequila exploring their psychic bond by pointing guns at each other's heads, but the crucial chamber — for once — is empty.

As it turns out, Tony is also a cop, but he has gone so far undercover that routine hits don't mean anything to him anymore. As the two cops gradually realize they're on the same side, they uncover Johnny's arsenal, stashed in the basement of a hospital. It's in this hospital where Hard-Boiled resolves itself.

The entire third act is a half-hour action sequence that dwarfs the offerings of most action movies in their entirety. The battle against Johnny and his legion of "killable dogs" assumes epic proportions as patients are used as pawns and bullets fly like horizontal sleet. Tequila and Tony battle the entire length of a hospital corridor together, step forward as elevator doors close behind them, enjoy a few moments of calm and conference, then start over on a different floor.

And, just when you think the stakes can't get any higher, Tequila and policewoman Teresa (comedienne Teresa Mo in a Betty-and-Veronica flip wig) have to move a nursery full of babies to safety. As cops and crooks die right and left, Tequila cradles a sanguine tyke named Saliva Sammy in one arm while his free hand cradles a warm pistol. Sticking cotton balls in Sammy's ears, Tequila blasts away and prepares to escape, but accidentally catches on fire. Fortunately, the child pees and douses the fire. The underground arsenal explodes, and fireballs blow through the hospital, but the babies are saved, the bad guy croaks, and the audience settles back with a loud "Whew."

Hard-Boiled is easily available, both subtitled and dubbed, even in video chains like Blockbuster or on laser disc as part of Voyager's outstanding Criterion Collection.

It's Now or Never

1992

Starring Sharla Cheung Man, Rain Lau Yuk-tsui, Ng Man-tat, Alfred Cheung Hin-ling, Cynthia Khan

Directed by Louis Chan Kwok-hei

It's Now or Never opens in a furious blur. Roving packs of early-sixties teddygirls with big hairdos are out looking for boys and trouble. Soon you realize you're watching a shrewd black comedy whose gags are nasty enough to draw blood. Hong Kong comedies don't usually translate well, but this one, influenced by the films of John Waters, is a crackpot exception.

At a local dance, Chewing Gum (Pauline Chan) puts the moves on the boyfriend of Little Bun (martial arts diva Cynthia Khan). As distorto surf guitar rumbles, Little Bun's best pal — rose-tattooed Rose (Sharla Cheung) — brings in her she-wolves to bust heads. The rhubarb ends when the toughettes are carted off to the cop shop, where Rose finds her sister, fellow delinquent Tracy (Rain Lau), already in stir. When the girls' father, Wong Tat (Ng Man-tat), shows up to bail them out, he pulls a tearful "I try so hard with these kids" speech that has the whole station reaching for their hankies. All in a day's work for "Lady-Killer Tat," who's actually a low-rent gigolo!

The movie is a series of hilarious setups involving this dysfunctional Family Circus and their involvement in the underworld. Rose and Little Bun (who keeps bragging of her "deadly Eagle Claws," only to get her butt kicked repeatedly) get jobs at a cosmetics shop. They just want to shoplift and con the customers, but they're foiled by their police-madam nemesis. Revenge is extracted as Rose's gang rounds up a group of scummy men by promising a live nude show, then sneaks them into the policewoman's flat just as she emerges from the shower.

A bigger problem is Loan Shark Wong, who interrupts daddy Tat's for-profit tryst with a grotesque client to thump him over some unpaid debts. Rose has to enlist the services of Shing (Alfred Cheung) — a nerdy cop who's fallen for her — to combat the under-world elements, seducing him in the bargain.

What makes INON so effective is the humor the film finds in potentially repellent situations. Its warm visual style — embracing beautiful sixties elements (white vinyl skirts and red leather Beatle boots, gleaming transistor radios and Jackie O flips) — butts up against unromanticized violence. Everyone is vengeful and manipulative, except for the mama's-boy copper.

Actor Ng Man-tat is at his scenery-chewing best as he schemes and schmoozes with the typically microscopic outlook of the petty criminal, gulping down aphrodisiacs as he lectures his daughters to venerate their Pa. Rain Lau tops even her over-the-top performance in Queen of Temple Street as the shoplifting, pill-pushing schoolgirl Tracy "Big Mouth" Wong. No Chinese-speaking abilities are needed to figure out that every piece of Cantoslang foaming outta Tracy's gob is irreverent and foul! And creamy-perfect Sharla Cheung is excellent as the trash-talking, goldbricking Rose.

Mr. Vampire

1985

Starring Lam Ching Ying, Chin Siu Ho, Moon Lee Choi-fung, Ricky Hui, Pauline Wong

rdDirected by Ricky Lau

Mr. Vampire is first and foremost in a long line of Chinese vampire flicks. Our bloodsucking brothers from the East do not traipse about in capes flaunting Old World charm and seductively biting necks — although they do reside in coffins and have healthy incisors. Pale and blue? Heck yes, they're dead! Are they as stiff as boards? You bet, and since they can't walk, they hop. Well, how scary can a hopping ghost in a Ming Dynasty costume be? If you find one in your face — sniffing for your breath — you'll feel your short hairs stiffen! Funny? Absolutely. There is a fine line between horror and humor, and Mr. Vampire does everything but jump rope with it.

The film is a series of farcical vignettes involving a Taoist sifu (Lam Ching Ying) and his two well-meaning but dorkacious students, Chou and Man Choi (Chin Siu Ho and Ricky Hui). The sifu gets a gig reburying wealthy Mr. Yam's father, and must store the freshly dug coffin overnight. Unfortunately, the corpse has become rather cranky during twenty years of burial without the proper feng shui, so he busts out, ignoring sacrificial black goats in favor of Yam Junior's throat. Young Yam turns blue and nasty, then kills a few locals. The Taoist is accused of the murders by the local constable, a loathsome bumpkin, but Yam's reanimated corpse proves an effective alibi. The student Man Choi is infected, and must eat, bathe in, and dance on sticky rice to be cured of creeping ghoulification.

The most interesting subplot involves a lovelorn ghost (Pauline Wong) who appears in the forest, riding in an ectoplastic sedan chair. Her theme song is a haunting childlike rhyme with fractured subtitular lyrics: "Her piercing look/Shining bright like the stars/Sure enough to make one chokes/The lady ghost looks for a lover/Who would take a bride so shady?

Student Chou, that's who. She tempts him with wine and hickeys, then fights fiercely with the Taoist master, who attempts to intervene. After tossing her head from her shoulders and sending it flying toward the sifu, she eventually gives up when she realizes that "you two are from different worlds."

But as one goblin is vanquished, another hops onto the scene. Vampire Yam père has been lurking in a rat-infested cave, just waiting for the chance to return to his displaced coffin.

Mr. Vampire's appeal is based on its ability to place its characters in just enough danger to straddle the humor/horror balance beam. Ghouls come in various concentrations of evil. The possessed Man Choi never becomes more than a toothy nuisance while Master Vampire Yam takes no prisoners. Fortunately sifu has enough Taoist tricks up his loose yellow sleeves to take care of everybody's business.

Naked Killer

1993

Starring Chingmy Yau Suk-ching, Carrie Ng Kar-lai, Simon Yam Tat-wah, Svenwara Madoka, Kelly, Johnny Lo Hwei-kong

Directed by Clarence Ford (Fok Yiu-leung)

Naked Killer arches its back and spits at you for ninety minutes. Stylish, vaguely comprehensible, and entertaining as hell, it's the story of antiheroine Kitty (Chingmy Yau), a woman who really, really hates girlfriend-bullying cads. In fact, she grabs a pair of scissors and stabs one in the crotch (and he's her hairdresser, too)! As he screams "I lost one ball of mine!" she makes good her escape, only to be followed by police officer Tinam (Simon Yam). But his attempt to collar Kitty fails, because he vomits whenever he pulls his gun!

Plot shards pile up as Kitty first toys with the copper, then beds him, then falls for him — a bad career move for both. As Kitty explains it: "I'm a professional killer, and you're a cop...we have conflicts in our jobs."

Kitty's killer instinct is being developed by her mentor Sister Cindy (Svenwara Madoka), Hong Kong's Svengali of man-hating hitwomen. After much training, the pair takes a commission in Tokyo, which requires nightclub dancing, followed by creep decapitation by garrote.

Kitty's growing affection for Tinam not only softens her edge, but also arouses the jealous ire of Princess (Carrie Ng) — a lethal lesbian assassin with the hots for our heroine. Princess — once trained by Sister Cindy, but now operating as an independent contractor — has a flair for tossing her male victims across the room before blasting their privates to shreds. She is rent with a lust for Kitty that her own muffinbutt protégé, Baby (the vanilla-bean Japanese cutie, Kelly), cannot satisfy. Naturally, this causes friction between Princess and her former teacher — so Princess kills her.

Carrie Ng plays Princess with cigar-chomping, Harley-humpin', "Gimme-that!" focus, and it's impossible to take your eyes off her. Combat is conducted in the nostalgic format of 1960s secret-agent TV shows (especially Hong Kong's Rose Noir), with poisoned lipstick and flying ropes and darts, in masquerade masks and black spandex jumpsuits.

Beginner's Note: Top-shelf HK actresses usually refuse to shed blouse, whether the script calls for it or not, because they know that doing "Category III" (nudie) work puts them in a different category, and the stigma is nigh impossible to overcome. This fact helps explain that while there are the naked and killers in Naked Killer, the killers are not always naked. The lengths to which some killers go to disguise their nakedness is a silly and disappointing sidelight to this silly — but definitely not disappointing — movie.

The best place to enjoy NK is at a theatrical venue like San Francisco's charming Roxie Theater, soundtrack boom-booming and crowd a-howling over the way-loopy subtitles.

Pedicab Driver

1988

Starrinq Sammo Hung Kam-bo, Nina Li Chi, Sun Yueh, Benny Mok Siu-chung, Fennie Yuen Kit-yinq, John Sham, Meng Hoi, Lowell Lo, Liu Chia-liang (Lau Kar-leung)

Directed by Sammo Hung Kam-bo

Sammo Hung's magnificent Pedicab Driver is — in many ways — a metaphor for Sammo's career. Sammo is kung fu star Jackie Chan's big brother (see chapters 6 and 10), and has directed or starred in some of HK's finest output, yet he languishes in relative obscurity when compared to his larger-nosed sibling. Pedicab Driver — a love story with barbed hooks and exquisite martial action — also remains largely undiscovered, even by HK film fanatics.

Set in postwar Macau (a Portuguese colony just a short ferry ride from HK proper), PD tells the story of a quartet of working-class Joes who transport people down Macau's narrow lanes in pedal-powered rickshaws known as pedicabs. Their leader is the stalwart Lo Tung (Sammo Hung), whose chums are Malted Candy (Benny Mok), Rice Pudding (Meng Hoi), and Shan Cha Cake (Lowell Lo.)

Tung lives in a grotty little room next to the local bakery, where the baker, Fang (Sun Yueh, from City on Fire), has his eye on plainly-styled-but-stunning Ping (Nina Li). Fang's heart is in the right place, but Ping can't take him seriously as a suitor. Nonetheless, he takes her to pick out a jade bracelet in town, where she's spotted by whoremaster Yu, aka Master 5. Yu is played with apocalyptic villainy by John Sham, who's better known for his lighthearted comedic roles. Master 5's slicked-back hair, gold-capped teeth, and self-centered amorality ooze menace as he comes on to Ping.

Tung shows up and inserts his heavyset, righteous self between the terrified woman and the odious pimp. Provoked, Master 5 hops in his car and chases Tung's pedicab, Ping clinging precariously to the seat. Tung escapes by crashing into a mahjongg parlor, but must atone for his table-wrecking entrance by dueling with the proprietor (Liu Chia-liang). The fight between these two masters — accelerating from fists to poles — is breathtaking, state-of-the-razor kung fu. Tung loses, but Liu is so impressed ("Fatty, I've fought with many men, but you're the only one who has scared me") that he lets them go.

Tung and Ping drift toward each other as Tung's fellow pedaler Malted Candy falls for comely youngster Hsiao Tsui (Fennie Yuen). A meal at a local noodle stall brings Shah Cha Cake and Hsiao Tsui face-to-face in a social setting. In a moment of horror, Shan reveals Tsui's secret: not only is she a brothel worker, but he patronized her the night before! Tsui stoically departs the resultant brouhaha, but Ping — who's been quiet and passive until now — gets in the pedicab drivers' faces, reminding them that they are not the only ones exempt from life's circumstances, and that perhaps humility and compassion are more appropriate responses here. Malted Candy swallows his foolishness and makes amends.

News of Tsui's forthcoming nuptials reaches Master 5, whose apoplexy reaches a zenith upon contemplation of even a single soul escaping his grasp. He dispatches goons to chop up Malted Candy and Tsui on their wedding night. When Tung arrives — too late — he looks at his diminutive friend Rice Pudding and, without a word, they go out to seek revenge. At Master 5's opulent hideout, Tung must defeat head goon Billy Chow. The furious pedicab driver smashes most of the furniture, as well as Chow's head. When Master 5 takes that final southward elevator ride — aided by the sword-wielding Rice Pudding — the audience lets rip a hearty cheer.

Police Story 3: Supercop

1992

Starring Jackie Chan, Michelle Yeoh Chu-kheng, Maggie Cheung Man-yuk, Yuen Wah, Kenneth Tsang

Directed by Stanley Tong

Police Story 3: Supercop presents Jackie Chan at the top of his game. As a Hong Kong cop chasing drug smugglers across Southeast Asia, his action partner is the capable and stunning Michelle Yeoh, whose appearance here marked a comeback from a lengthy film hiatus. Driven by a strong narrative and making the most of its striking locations, Police Story 3: Supercop propels the viewer with a watch-spring-tight plot and Jackie Chan's trademark: an assortment of ever-escalating, heart-halting stunts.

When a pair of Royal Hong Kong Police officers need a "supercop" to take down the heinous drug czar Chaibat (Kenneth Tsang), they choose the valorous Chen Chia-chu (Jackie). Telling his girl-friend May (Maggie Cheung) that he's going to Special Training Camp, he packs his bags for Guangzhou in mainland China. Once there, he's assigned to the command of Inspector Yang from Interpol (Michelle Yeoh). Yang enlists him in a scheme to spring Chiabat's henchman Panther (Yuen Wah) from a prison labor camp, a feat he accomplishes with derring-do. Panther is impressed and, after shooting the miscreant who landed him on the work farm, gives Jackie a job on his crook-squad. Prior to sailing for HK, they pay a visit to Chen's (nonexistent) family village in Fu Shan. The undercover HK cop is desperate, but he's saved by a family setup engineered by the mainland Chinese cops, who disguise Inspector Yang in pigtails, as his kid sister! The ruse works, but a visit to a Cantonese restaurant ends in a ruckus, as the cops attack the gang with stunguns. Yang proves her mettle by outfoxing both cops and crooks, and Chen takes her along to HK.

Once in Chaibat's lair, the undercover pair realizes just what picaroons they're dealing with as the bodies start to pile up: a bikinied gwaido OD's and a double-crossing associate is forcibly drowned, in Chaibat's pool. A voyage to the Thai/Cambodian border introduces them to a Khun Sa-type druglord (Lo Lieh). But his poppy auction loses its civility when Chaibat becomes annoyed and bashes a rival's head in with a spiky durian fruit. "Shoot if you have the nerve? yells a combatant. Everyone's nervy — and heavily armed. The scene erupts in a vicious vortex of violence as competing factions unload hollow-points by the drumload, blasting each other to shreds. Yang, whose bulletproof vest is filled with explosives (another trick by the treacherous Chaibat) must stay out of harm's way; Chen assists with grenade attacks and by serving as an impromptu gun tripod.

Having proven themselves in battle again, Chaibat enlists the duo in a plot to bust his wife out of a Kuala Lumpur jail. But when the gang runs into Chen's gal-pal May — whose job as a tour guide brings her to Kuala Lumpur — she inadvertently blows his cover. Panther and crew kidnap May and force Chen and Yang to carry out the hazardous caper, which involves springing the captive from a heavily guarded police van. Chen crashes a car filled with fake poison-gas canisters, and Yang leaps on the side of the speeding van as the two factions battle over their respective hostages. The climactic battle involves stunt after hair-raising stunt: Jackie dangles from a helicopter-borne ladder as he swings netless over the exotic Moorish architecture of Kuala Lumpur. Michelle hops on a dirt bike and drives it directly on top of a speeding freight train. Stunt outtakes roll under the closing credits (a Jackie Chan tradition; see chapter 5) — the takes they didn't use are scarier than the actual stunts!

Sex & Zen

1991

Starring Lawrence Ng, Amy Yip, Kent Chung, Mari Ayukawa, Isabella Chow, Lo Lieh, Elvis Tsui Kam-kong

Directed by Michael Mak

Filmgoers expecting staid tantric conjoinings and ethereal advice on meditation from this film adaptation of the seventeenth-century erotic classic The Carnal Prayer Mat are in for a pleasant surprise. Director Michael Mak's romping Sex & Zen is pure Hong Kong hijinks, brimming with both formal, flowing period-piece atmosphere and sexual shenanigans of highly improbable postures.

Mei Yang (Lawrence Ng) is a socially prominent scholar married to a well-endowed heiress, Yuk Heung (Amy Yip). Despite the availability of the buxotic Yip (one of HK's most notorious softcore starlets), Mei Yang is not satisfied. Peeping at the athletic ruttings of the large-and-charged silkmaker Kuen and his wife (Elvis Tsui and Mari Ayukawa), he bemoans his own less-than-enormous abilities.

With a scholar's logic, Mei Yang decides to change his lot by visiting a quack who promises to cure his size-complex through surgery. Mei Yang is sequestered in a barrel — its knothole affixed with a miniature guillotine — and submits to having his most precious part replaced with that of a horse. He is locally anesthetized, the guillotine falls, and the procedure begins.

Things quickly and comically spin akimbo as the exposed scholar watches from the barrel. The horse refuses to take his anesthesia. The quack spills numbing potion all over his hands and can't grip his instruments well. The quack's dog runs off with the scholar's original equipment. A thunderstorm hits — the quack is scared of lightning! Terrified, the hapless quack flings the freshly severed horse penis into the air. The camera follows it up, twirling end-over-end, then down, where it lands — Thunk! — in the agape mouth of Mei Yang's page. With time running out, the horse penis is rescued from the gagging page and transplanted onto Mei Yang. And it works.

This outrageous sequence, which takes place during the first reel, sets a tone that is maintained throughout, as our horny scholar — equine member aloft — successfully pursues the varied objects of his lust. These interludes include a chastity-belt-busting session with Kuen's wife, who cottons quickly to Mei Yang's newfound sensitivity, and an upside-down orgy with two restaurant hostesses. Things culminate in a nightmare fantasy sequence, in which Mei Yang must confront the karmic implications of his selfish and unnatural behavior and is led away to comfort the donor horse's better half. Meanwhile, the cuckolded silkmaker schemes a menial job at Mei Yang's court. He then evens the score with a rapacious hot tub coupling with Yuk Heung.

As an inevitable result of their wickedness, all the players eventually get what's coming to them. Yip Heung loses her social standing and ends up turning tricks in a brothel. And in the final scene, a sexually dissipated Mei Yang, resigned to life in a Buddhist monastery, meets and contritely embraces his nemesis Kuen, all lust and vengeance spent and forgotten.

Despite its cornucopia of cartoon couplings, and though some of its erotic particulars — multitongued licking-wheel toys, girl-girl flute manipulations, and Yuk Heung's unusual grip on her calligraphy brush — are played for laughs, Sex & Zen retains a high titillation quotient. The women (including a couple of imported Japanese starlets) are nubile, gorgeous, and far from shy. Its high production values and deft creation of mood will impress all.

Copyright © 1996 by Stefan Hammond and Mike Wilkins

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