Eastern Kicks Asks: "The Film that Started It All"

14 thoughts on “Eastern Kicks Asks: "The Film that Started It All"”

  1. I’m in the first part of this article, though I took his ‘one or two paragraphs’ quite literally and kept my answer as short as possible assuming there would be a few of these grouped together so shorter would be better. Now I notice most people wrote a whole essay anyway so I feel kind of bad! Anyway, I couldn’t remember either so I just picked something random I remembered really liking at the time – Time and Tide. I don’t think he included the last part when he asked me (or I just forgot about it) but I don’t really remember how that happened either, like many things it probably just seemed like a good idea at the time 🙂

    1. I didn’t realise you had a blog Hayley! (Not sure if you realise, but we’ve met at films screenings, along with Genkinahito.)
      Yeah, I thought Andrew wanted short answers too but somehow I ended up being wordy (no surprise there) and he didn’t end up cutting anything out (surprisingly!).
      You may be right, I don’t think he asked the final part of the question originally, not when he contacted me on FB I think…. It’s fun to see though that people’s answers are so different – I’m picking up recommendations for films I had never even heard about from some of the answers.

      1. Yes I was aware! 🙂 It’s quite funny that a lot of people seem to be around the same age so they’ve all found the same films around the same time 😀 I’m picking up lots of tips too.

      2. Funny, because I had seen your blog before but I just didn’t realise it was yours! You’re more perceptive than me!
        I think now the question is where / how do we get hold of some of these films? Some won’t be that easy to track down.

  2. I know for sure the film that got me: Kim Ki-duk’s “Bad Guy”. I remember being both repulsed and fascinated by it. At the time I wasn’t sure if “Asian” film was going to be the draw, but I did know I had to see more films by that director. So I watched “The Isle”. It was like a punch in the face (both films have little to no dialog in them), and that film remains one of my all time favorite films today.
    That was about a decade or more ago and the Korean Wave was in full swing so I had a LOT of great films to watch: Oasis, The Whispering Corridors, Oldboy (I liked Mr Vengeance more at the time but it was Park’s J.S.A. that blew me away). And then 2004 had three films that cemented the enterprise: “A Moment to Remember”, “Spider Forest”, and “This Charming Girl”. I thought ‘Holy Crap!’ these Koreans can do everything!
    I think at the time I was imagining that ‘all’ world cinema was going to be more interesting than Hollywood output, so I dabbled all over. Then I watched Sono Shion’s “Suicide Club”. Uh oh. Then “Noriko’s Dinner Table” which to this day battles it out with “The Isle” and … you’ll laugh, but I think I posted this info here once before … “Shakespeare in Love” for the top spot on my all time faves list.
    I discovered Koreeda. “Maborosi” and “After Life” left me speechless. And Japan turned out to be a deeper treasure trove than South Korea. I think Japan hits more out of the park than S Korea but when S.K hits one out it goes a lot farther out.
    (Mainland) China was a puzzle. I’m not a big fan of wuxia stuff, so that wasn’t a draw. They seemed to be battling a self-inflicted “Orientalism” (that I think is still in effect). It took a lot of investigating for this slice of American white bread to get a grasp on the different film cultures of Mainland, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. As well as discovering what “independent” mainland film was all about. I think the mainland film that got me was “Blind Mountain”. I also know that “Stolen Life” introduced me to my all time favorite actress: Zhou Xun.
    To this day I find very little resonance with Hong Kong films: all gangster grunting man nonsense or slapstick silliness. Taiwan is still a bit of an enigma.
    I’ve sampled films from other SE Asian countries but have little or no interest in much more. I don’t like the sound of the languages much and it doesn’t appear that anyone can act ….
    Wow, anyway, thanks for the opportunity to take a trip down memory lane.

    1. That was a very interesting trip down memory lane. Actually, I have not seen quite a few of the films you mention – those early Kim Ki-duk ones, I’m not sure I would be able to watch them without getting nightmares.
      I’m not too well-versed in Chinese (mainland, Taiwan, Hong Kong) films myself, I’ve tried a few here and there. I do get the the impression there is some very good stuff out there – a few things on this year’s London Film Festival programme look very promising and I’ve kept a list of all the films that BFI is screening as part of its “Century of Chinese Cinema” two-months season (sadly, I haven’t been in London for much of it) – Jia Zhangke, Tsai Ming-liang and Hsiao-Hsien Hou are some directors I’m particularly interested in.
      I think 90% of Hong Kong cinema is action / gangsters films. If that’s not your thing (it’s not mine either), you have to dig deep to find something different. But “other” cinema does exist – there’s Ann Hui (A Simple Life) and, of course, Wong Kar Wai (pretty much everything). Flora Lau’s Bends was excellent (need to finish my review!). Jessey Tsang is supposedly also doing something different, but I found her Big Blue Lake underwhelming, and don’t plan on watching her forthcoming Scent. I’m afraid I have to say the same for Gilitte Leung, whose Love Me Not was a bit of a mess. Herman Yau makes all sorts of films and some are very commercial (he acknowledges this – I saw him in a Q&A once and really appreciated his frankness & intelligence), others are worth it – True Women For Sale resonated with me.
      I have yet to watch much of Taiwanese films, I’ve reviewed a few which I enjoyed but the biggest name directors I have yet to explore. I’ve seen a bit of Ang Lee (Eat Drink Man Woman, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, plus some of his ‘Western’ stuff), but nothing yet of the already mentioned Tsai Ming-liang an Hsiao-Hsien Hou. Chang Tso-chi’s A Time in Quchi (yet another one I should review) showed promise. Must watch Edward Yang (at least Yi Yi). There are others too.
      I am not well versed in cinema from other parts of Asia either. I think film industries are much, much smaller in many countries, the output is low and often low-quality, and acting, indeed, terrible. I remember on a flight to Thailand last year I tried several films and just had to stop after 5 minutes because they were completely unwatchable. But there are exceptions, individual directors whose films pop up every now and then. Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Thailand) and Lav Diaz (Philippines) are on my to-watch list. I’m keeping my eye on Anthony Chen (Singapore) too, because Ilo Ilo was wonderful (should review it!). Tareque Masud was an interesting director from Bangladesh, but sadly died in an accident (I enjoyed his Runway and intend to watch his other films).
      I’ve gone on much too long!

    2. “I think Japan hits more out of the park than S Korea but when S.K hits one out it goes a lot farther out.”
      By the way, I think that’s a really interesting and spot-on comment.
      I think it may be, in part, the size of the industry again – many more Japanese filmmakers than Korean ones, but the truly Korean ones really, really go for it, no matter what. I also feel it reflects my impression of the two cultures overall. They are both (comparatively) conservative, but I (very subjectively) feel there is a lot more counter-culture in Japan, which is also seen in the greater number and diversity of arthouse/independent films/controversial & taboo topics tackled in film. In SK, it’s like we’ve got one director like Kim Ki-duk here, another like Lee Song Hee-Il (for LGBT themed films) there, but when they really go for it… oh boy.

  3. “I remember seeing Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Taiwan) and realising that it was a high-quality version of some of those terrible wuxia dramas I had glimpsed on TV as a child.”
    Interesting what you said about CTHD, because as someone who grew up on wuxia dramas, I found CTHD a pretty poor film on the whole. It rehashes themes that are pretty common across the wuxia-verse and the acting was nothing spectacular – Chang Chen was probably the only standout and not by much. Chow Yun Fatt and Michelle Yeoh were excruciating to watch. Zhang Ziyi… the less said the better.
    Re HK cinema: I do agree there are a lot of action/gangster/police films, but those when done well are very good and go beyond just the fighting. I tend to find HK has a better grip and understanding of those types of societies and people – the themes of brotherhood and loyalty, for example, and how just how dark and gritty things are – such that when I watch those from Korea or Japan, they don’t seem to go beyond the surface, the intensity and characterisation are often lacking or miss the point. Which is a pity in some ways because Japan has a yakuza culture that filmmakers should tap. An exception is probably Double Face, which I found as a pretty decent remake(?) of Infernal Affairs, while Heartless City was horribly tripped up by its own tired K-drama tropes despite taking inspiration from IA.
    Btw, this is snow from DB’s OT 🙂

    1. Haha, I knew someone was going to raise objections to that statement. I thought Heisui might, since she is a wuxia fan. I didn’t explain my statement, because I actually didn’t mean to say that wuxia dramas are terrible, but rather that it referred to some specific (and very partial) terrible memories I had of them – specifically to scenes when characters flew into the air and onto rooftops, as if not bound by gravity. In my memory (that of a child), those scenes always looked terribly fake, like the worst CGI (or whatever technique they were using in the 90s) one could in imagine. Like someone making a paper cut-out of a character and clumsily moving it across the screen. CTHD had those scenes, but they looked fluid and beautiful, like people could really fly. I don’t remember much of CTHD at all, I can’t remember too many details of the story or the acting, I don’t know whether I would not find too cliché nowadays – just that something clicked in me when I saw it – something that made it worth telling those kind of stories in that kind of suspend-your-disbelief way. Like going from a crappy, fairly low-budget daily soap opera (I have no idea which wuxia dramas I caught a glimpse of – they may well have been some of the worst of their kind) to a well-made film (even if much better examples of its genre exist). It made me go from “this is a silly thing people from culture x do on TV” to “this is just beautiful / powerful “.
      I am not much into the action/gangster/police genre. I have watched few and far between of those, and certainly the Japanese or Korean ones of that genre haven’t appealed to me any more than the HK one’s either. I’m mostly interested in the other films of Hong Kong since they seem to be such an exception to the rule.

      1. I agree with you and all your qualifications 100%. While CTHD was by no means a game changer for me, it was the first one of those kinds of movies that I enjoyed. It was fluid and lovely.
        One reason 90’s Hong Kong cinema, especially the flying people and fantasy stuff, never appealed to me is that they insisted on doing their audio in post-production. And not doing it very well–from the dialog to the sound design. It’s like they didn’t care about trying to match what one would expect the natural ambience (reverb) of the visual environment to be and just added goofy musical accompaniment to cover for it. Goofy is all I got.

      2. Wuxia has a long tradition, though. So I think it’s unfair to just base it off 90s Hong Kong cinema. Even then, the 90s had some gems – the early Wong Fei Hung and Fong Sai-yuk films with Jet Li, for example. Also, mo lei tau is as much a characteristic of HK cinema as wuxia, so inevitably you do get a large dose of “nonsensical” HK humour mixed with wuxia that a lot of people, understandably, fail to get or are put off by.
        I guess it’s a matter of taste and understanding the culture. I find wuxia best left for dramas in part because the length of the medium allows for better exploration of themes, and also because back then, a lot of the actors had some martial arts background and hand-to-hand fighting was almost the norm. Sure, there were fake props and bad CGI, but at least the classics were made with more heart and felt more genuine. And the theme songs! They were awesome and still are. These days, it seems CGI dominates almost everything in wuxia (looking at you, mainland wuxia dramas), to the extent that I cannot believe this is even passed for wuxia. But I guess that’s just the old-school wuxia fan in me talking.
        I do like some of the non-wuxia HK films, though I’ve never really warmed up to Wong Kar Wai’s stuff (the exception is In The Mood For Love… ahhh, Tony and Maggie). Since you mentioned Ann Hui, did you watch her film Summer Snow? I still remember that one fondly, very powerful performances from Josephine Siao and Roy Chiao.

      3. Sorry, taking a bit long to respond here…
        I’m sure we’ve all seen things that have a lower production value but are one hundred times more amazing than the fanciest and most perfectly made with state-of-the-art piece, no doubt about that. I’m just saying I saw something that looked bad and that I couldn’t make sense of as a whole, but then one film made me realise it’s worth taking a second glance, rather than dismissing a genre as a whole.
        That said, I’m not too big on historical dramas, I haven’t watched a Chinese one in full, but I tried several Korean ones and I always end up bored by the political machinations and often I struggle with the female characters. Recently: Joseon Gunman and Three Musketeers were two I was hoping to like but ended up dropping fairly quickly. I still think there’ll be a historical drama here or there that will hit all the right notes for me.
        I’ve only seen Hui’s A Simple Life… in the cinema, which was a mistake. I swear I cried all through the second half of the film, it was utterly exhausting! But it was nothing less than a superb film that makes me want to explore Hui’s filmography from the beginning to the end. I’ll put Summer Snow high up on that list.

  4. About 40 years ago, I saw Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon and was impressed. I loved it. Not only for the story , the camera angles coupled with the magic of black and white film.
    Previous exposure to Japanese film went even further back with King Kong vs Godzilla, (the theater manager had to turn on the lights to quell the near riot of 8 year olds who had split into warring factions cheering on their favorite monsters).
    Even further back was Matango, ( Attack of the Mushroom People) , my first Japanese Sci-fi /horror flick, shown on local TV circa 1966. Cheesy by today’s standards, but it left a big impression on a seven year old.

    1. I actually still have to watch all of those you mention, yes, even Rashomon. I had actually heard of Matango before, thanks to Jasper Sharp’s continuous effort to bring the weirdest of the weird that never screens anywhere to the UK. I can’t remember if he showed as part of the Zipangu festival or if it was a one-off screening some other time. I didn’t go see it though… always hesitant about horror. (I don’t think I can handle Sometani Shota’s most recent project Parasyte, the trailer made me think I’d definitely end up with nightmares).

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