Action, Hong Kong Style
Action, Hong Kong Style
6 September – 8 November 2013
‘Action Hong Kong Style’ presented in partnership with Hong Kong Economic & Trade Office
Celebrating unique popular action genres, 'Action, Hong Kong Style' is a landmark retrospective of 70 films that traces the genesis of Hong Kong's highly influential action cinema. The program ranges from early wuxia swordplay films with their Chinese opera roots to the Shaw Brothers and the new kung fu cinema of the late 1960s and 1970s, to the 'bullet ballet' of the 1980s and 1990s associated with John Woo and Johnnie To, and beyond to the present day. It profiles cult films and figures such as Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Chow Yun Fat and Sammo Hung, as well as showcasing lesser known films and actors who deserve broader recognition. A special focus will be presented on Wong Fei-hung, the historical martial arts hero whose life has been more often adapted to film than any comparable figure. Recent cinematic attention to wing chun master Ip Man is also profiled through the inclusion of a number of high-impact features.
'Action, Hong Kong Style' points to the extraordinary reach of signature Hong Kong styles and stars worldwide. This in-depth curated program offers audiences a rare opportunity to appreciate spectacular action choreography and breathtaking physical feats on the big screen, and features recent digital restorations, as well as archival and distributor film prints from around the world.
Special event: ‘Action, Hong Kong Style’ discussion
Thu 24 Oct 6.00pm / Cinema A (60 mins)
Join film specialists Sam Ho (United States/Hong Kong) and Professor Mary Farquhar (Australia), together with ‘Action, Hong Kong Style’ curator Kathryn Weir, Head of International Art and the Australian Cinémathèque, in a lively discussion exploring critical approaches to Hong Kong’s unique action cinema styles. Free, no bookings required.
Tickets on sale now.
Adult $9 | 5-film pass $36
Concession $7 | 5-film pass $28
Members+ $6 | 5-film pass $24
Purchase in advance through qtix or at the GOMA Box Office from one hour prior to film screenings^* Booking fees apply ^ Subject to availability
+ Discount available to Gallery Members and Foundation Members
A 5-film pass entitles you to either 5 tickets to one film screening or a ticket to 5 different films. All 5 films must be chosen at the time of purchasing a 5-film pass.
The Gallery’s Australian Cinémathèque thanks the Hong Kong Film Archive, Hong Kong; the Chinese Taipei Film Archive, Taiwan; and National Film and Sound Archive, Australia, Canberra for providing film prints, and Sam Ho for advising of the gorilla action titles.
Southern Chinese folk hero, doctor and master of hung gar kung fu Wong Fei-hung (1847–1924) has been celebrated in over 100 films since Wu Pang’s 1949 The True Story of Wong Fei-hung introduced this larger-than-life figure into the cinema.
Kung-fu legend Wong Fei-hung up against a gorilla? Not to mention King Kong turning up in the Celestial Palace. This surprising furry flurry of gorilla action may be accounted for by the persistent popularity of the original 1933 King Kong in Asia, which would culminate — two years after Wong Fei-hung's gorilla encounter — in Toho Studios' hugely successful King Kong vs. Godzilla 1962.
From the mid 1960s, the Shaw Brothers studio was the leading producer of 'new school' Mandarin wuxia films of martial chivalry and swordplay, that moved towards realism, and away from the fantasy elements of earlier mainland 'sword and sorcery' films, as well as Hong Kong-produced Cantonese wuxia serials. They also distinguished themselves from the stagey action of the low-budget Wong Fei-hung kung-fu films.
Chang Cheh, one of the most celebrated Shaw Brothers directors in the 1960s and 1970s, is known for his yang gang staunchly masculine world of brutal violence and male bonding. John Woo, who worked with him as an assistant director on a number of films, identifies Chang as a key influence in the development of his own style of choreographic gunplay in the company of men.
King Hu is celebrated for his precisely choreographed and finely paced wuxia films which reinvigorated the xia nu, or courageous heroine, found in Chinese opera. On contract with the Shaw Brothers from the late 1950s, his first wuxia film and second film as director, Come Drink With Me 1966, brought him immediate recognition. The director left Shaw Brothers shortly afterwards and moved to Taiwan seeking greater creative freedom.
The 'kung-fu craze' of the early to mid 1970s is synonymous with Bruce Lee, the first international martial arts superstar. The emphasis was on 'real fighting' and actors who had real martial arts training, typified by Lee who first studied wing chun kung-fu as a youth with master Ip Man, and later developed his own fighting style, with spectacular kicks developed from French savate and muay thai. Lee's fast, aggressive onscreen action was unlike anything audiences had seen, and — combined with his extraordinary onscreen magnetism — turned him into a global kung-fu cinema icon.
The endlessly inventive and adaptable Lau Kar-leung began as an action director in the early 1960s, having studied hung kuen kung fu with his father, actor Lau Chan, himself a student of a disciple of Wong Fei-hung. Lau Kar-leung’s films are marked by a deep concern with authenticity.
After his success in One-Armed Swordsman 1967, Jimmy Wang Yu transitioned from swordplay in Chang Cheh’s ultra-violent Shaw Brothers wuxia films to unarmed kung-fu hero in his own directorial efforts. He transforms again to slick Bond-style supercop in the Hong Kong–Australian co-production The Man from Hong Kong.
With The Blade, Tsui Hark — a veteran of wuxia cinema — viscerally revisits a Shaw Brothers classic, Chang Cheh’s One-Armed Swordsman. In Last Hurrah for Chivalry and Ashes of Time Redux, John Woo and Wong Kar-wai — better known respectively for 'bullet ballet' triad films and stylish meditations on romantic longing — have each turned their hand to the period wuxia film with remarkable results. Wong Kar-wai returns to the wuxia genre in his latest film about wing chun master Ip Man, The Grandmaster 2013, soon to be released in Australia.
Chor Yuen moved from a successful career directing Cantonese melodramas and comedies in the 1960s to Mandarin martial arts cinema in the 1970s, when he introduced surreal and mysterious elements.
Mentored by Shaw Brothers director Chang Cheh, John Woo pioneered the Hong Kong style of visually stunning ‘bullet ballet’. Like Chang, he depicts uniquely male worlds of honour, loyalty and violence. Woo also cites influences as diverse as the French New Wave, Japanese cinema, Westerns and musicals.
Last Hurrah for Chivalry 1979 MA15+
Recognised internationally as one of the most singular voices in the action genre today, Johnnie To came to attention with his tightly constructed crime films that cite John Woo, but resist sentimentality or moralising. He exploits conventions established by his predecessors to create extreme statements characterised by a self-consciousness that sometimes leads him to the edge of parody.
A new genre of kung-fu comedy emerged in the late 1970s that demythologised the hero and parodied notions of martial virtue and loyalty. Jackie Chan's exhilarating physical slapstick was central to this development; his breakthrough film was Snake in the Eagle's Shadow 1978. The celebrated Lau Kar-leung also masterfully blended comedy and action, notably in Dirty Ho 1979, while Sammo Hung moved to comedy in the 1980s. Stephen Chow's films from the 1990s onwards have been vital to the ongoing success of this genre.
Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow 1978 Ages 15+
Dirty Ho 1979 PG
My Young Auntie 1981 M
Aces Go Places 1982 M
Drunken Master 1978 M
Drunken Master 2 1994 M
After dabbling in comedy and directing the fourth instalment of the ‘Aces Go Places’ series, Ringo Lam found his stride with City on Fire 1987, a dark police thriller which set the tone for his mature work. Lam's nihilistic vision blurs the lines between good and bad, hero and villain. Full Contact 1992 went even further, portraying a lawless, out-of-control world ruled only by violence and the quest for revenge. Lam's gritty, masterful action thrillers reached their apogee with Full Alert 1997.
Ip Man (1893–1972), a grandmaster of wing chun, has become the new action hero of Hong Kong cinema through a proliferation of recent films. After living through the Japanese occupation and civil war in China, in 1949 he fled with his family to Hong Kong where he struggled to set up a martial arts school and eventually taught Bruce Lee. His biography has since been transformed into modern epic.
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