STREET SMART

A tour­ing fes­ti­val brings Hong Kong gang­ster films to eight main­land cities, es­pe­cially for those who have only watched them on VCR, Xu Fan re­ports.

China Daily (USA) - - LIFE - Con­tact the writer at xu­fan@chi­nadaily.com.cn

From Jackie Chan and Chow Yun-fat to Tony Le­ung, many big stars have left their mark in gang­ster movies from Hong Kong, among the most in­flu­en­tial gen­res in the city’s cin­e­matic his­tory. But most main­land peo­ple born in the 1970s and 1980s watched the clas­sics only on VCR, the fore­run­ner of the CD.

Mak­ing up for that is the Hong Kong The­matic Film Fes­ti­val, now in its fifth year, run­ning in Bei­jing through Sun­day.

It will show 15 ac­claimed gang­ster films, most of which have yet to be re­leased on the main­land.

The tour­ing fes­ti­val started in Dalian in Au­gust. And af­ter Bei­jing, it will move on to the cities of Ji­nan, Shang­hai, Guangzhou, Shenyang, Chengdu and Wuhan in the fol­low­ing months.

Veteran di­rec­tors Ringo Lam and John­nie To, both known for their stylish ac­tion films, are cu­rat­ing the event to pro­mote Hong Kong’s cin­e­matic cul­ture.

The fes­ti­val shows the gang­ster movies’ in-depth ex­am­i­na­tion of ca­ma­raderie among those from low-in­come groups, the com­plex un­der­ground world and the gen­eral strug­gles of peo­ple.

High­lights of the fes­ti­val in­clude clas­sics pro­duced in the 1980s and mid-1990s — the golden era of the genre — such as Po­lice Story (1985) that stars Chan; Lau’s As

Tears Go By (1988); and Once a Thief (1991) that has Chow in the lead role.

“No other movie mar­ket in the world has dived into the genre so deep as Hong Kong,” Gary Mak, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Broad­way Cin­e­math­eque, tells China Daily.

The fes­ti­val is jointly held by Hong Kong gov­ern­ment and Broad­way Cin­e­math­eque, a cin­ema chain fi­nanced by the Hong Kong stu­dio Edko Films.

Mak says the city’s pop­u­la­tion den­sity and a com­mer­cially driven so­ci­ety has helped the genre’s de­vel­op­ment.

“Around 95 per­cent of Hong Kong res­i­dents are ur­ban dwellers,” he ex­plains. “Crime sto­ries mostly oc­cur in me­trop­o­lises.”

Some Hong Kong di­rec­tors’ early years of liv­ing in slums have pro­vided them with life ex­pe­ri­ences for their films later, es­pe­cially on how street gangs op­er­ate, says Mak.

For in­stance, di­rec­tor To, who is known for hits like

PTU, Elec­tion and Vengeance, grew up in a Kowloon slum and his child­hood ex­pe­ri­ences con­trib­ute to his movies, says Mak.

As an homage to the di­rec­tor, the fes­ti­val’s open­ing movie is his 2006 di­rec­to­rial work

Ex­iled, which phi­los­o­phizes five as­sas­sins’ die-for-friend­ship at­ti­tude.

An­other rea­son be­hind the rise of gang­ster movies in Hong Kong is that the genre is uni­ver­sal, where lin­guis­tic and cul­tural bor­ders mat­ter lit­tle.

“Hong Kong’s lo­cal mar­ket is lim­ited. To get an over­seas au­di­ence, es­pe­cially those in South­east Asia, film­mak­ers found crime sto­ries a good op­tion,” says Mak.

“The fast-paced and styl­ized sce­nar­ios even in­spired Hol­ly­wood film­mak­ers such as Mar­tin Scors­ese,” he adds.

The Amer­i­can di­rec­tor’s Os­car-win­ning thriller The

De­parted (2006) is a remake of 2002 Hong Kong gang­ster movie In­fer­nal Af­fairs.

“It ( In­fer­nal Af­fairs) once saved Hong Kong’s movie mar­ket,” says Yang Yang, a fes­ti­val or­ga­nizer.

From the late 1990s, Hong Kong’s movie in­dus­try saw a de­cline, mainly caused by an eco­nomic down­turn and stereo­typ­i­cal tales. The turn­ing point emerged in 2002.

When lo­cal screens were dom­i­nated by movies from out­side the city, In­fer­nal

Af­fairs topped the lo­cal box of­fice by beat­ing Hol­ly­wood block­buster Harry Pot­ter and the Cham­ber of Se­crets and Zhang Yi­mou’s Hero.

Along­side the fran­chise, an­other land­mark mo­ment sym­bol­iz­ing the gang­ster movies’ rise was a se­ries of hits pro­duced by Milky­way Im­age, a stu­dio founded by To and his part­ner Wai Ka-fai.

The anti-hero pro­tag­o­nists and avant-garde im­ages re­al­ized a break­through for the genre in a lack­lus­ter mar­ket in the late 1990s.

Yang says the first mo­tion pic­ture shot in HongKong fea­tured a po­lice­man and a thief, mak­ing gang­ster movies the ear­li­est genre there. Steal­ing a

Roast Duck was a silent short film fi­nanced by Amer­i­can busi­ness­man Ben­jamin Brad­sky in 1909.

Di­rec­tor Cheang Pou-soi, re­garded by many as a suc­ces­sor of To, said at the fes­ti­val open­ing ear­lier that the stu­dio al­lows him to fo­cus on his cre­ative work.

“It is like go­ing back home. You can put down all the stress and just shoot some­thing that you re­ally want to film,” says Cheang, who­has gained main­land recog­ni­tion for The Mon­key King fran­chise.

PHO­TOS PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

In­fer­nalAf­fairs, star­ring Andy Lau (left) and Tony Le­ung, is a land­mark among Hong Kong’s gang­ster movies.

Above: John­nie To’s 2006 film, Ex­iled, opened the Hong Kong The­matic Film Fes­ti­val in Bei­jing. Left: Po­liceS­tory (1985) is one of Jackie Chan’s ear­li­est films.

OnceaThief, star­ring Chow Yun-fat (left), Cherie Chung and Les­lie Che­ung.

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