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Tsui Hark

() Tsui Hark, born Tsui Man-Kong (徐文光) on February 15, 1950, is a New Wave film director in Hong Kong and a highly influential producer.

Biography

Early biography

Sources, and Tsui himself, differ on whether he was born in Guangdong province of China or in Vietnam. He was raised in the Chinese section (Cholon) of Saigon by his Chinese immigrant parents, in a large family with sixteen siblings. Tsui showed an early interest in show business and movies; when he was ten, he and some friends rented an 8 mm camera with which to film the magic show they put on at school. He also drew comic books, an interest that would influence his cinematic style.

He took his secondary education in Hong Kong starting in 1966. He then studied film in Texas, first at Southern Methodist University and then at the University of Texas at Austin, graduating in 1975. He claims to have told his parents he was studying to follow in his father's footsteps as a pharmacist, and that it was here he changed his given name to Hark ("overcoming") (Dannen & Long, 1997).

After graduation, Tsui moved to New York City. He worked on From Spikes to Spindles (1976), a noted documentary by Christine Choy on the history of the city's Chinatown. He also edited a Chinatown newspaper, developed a community theatre group and worked in Chinese-language cable TV. He returned to Hong Kong in 1977.

New Wave Period

Upon turning to feature filmmaking, Tsui was quickly typed as a member of the "New Wave" of young, iconoclastic directors. His debut, The Butterfly Murders/Die Bian (1979), was an eccentric and technically challenging blend of wuxia, murder mystery and science fiction/fantasy elements. His second film, We're Going to Eat You (1980), was an eccentric blend of cannibal horror, black comedy and kung fu.

But it was his third, Dangerous Encounter of the First Kind (1980), that put him beyond the pale. The thriller about delinquent youths on a bombing spree was nihilistic, grisly and pregnant with angry political subtext. Heavily censored by the British colonial government, it was released in '81 in a drastically altered version titled Dangerous Encounter - 1st Kind (or alternately, Don't Play with Fire). Unsurprisingly, it was not a financial success. But it helped make Tsui a darling of film critics who had coined the New Wave label and were hopeful for a more aesthetically daring cinema, more engaged with the realities of contemporary Hong Kong (Teo, 1997).

Turn to Blockbuster Cinema

But then Tsui's career made an unexpected turn. In 1981, he joined Cinema City, a new production company founded by comedians Raymond Wong, Karl Maka and Dean Shek, that was instrumental in codifying the slick Hong Kong blockbuster movies of the 1980s. Tsui played his part in the process with pictures like the 1981 crime farce All the Wrong Clues (for the Right Solution), his first hit, and Aces Go Places III: Our Man from Bond Street (1984), part of the studio's long-running spy spoof series.

For top studio Golden Harvest, Tsui made the wuxia fantasy Zu Warriors from the Magic Mountain (1983). He imported Hollywood technicians to help create special effects whose number and complexity were unprecedented in Chinese-language cinema. He has since made pushing back the boundaries of the industry's effects technology a continuing preoccupation.

Many former champions were disappointed by this turn to crowdpleasing pop films. He is still regarded in some quarters as a sellout and a prime example of Hong Kong film's inability to rise above vulgarity and commercialism (Bordwell, 2000; Teo, 1997).

Mogul and Trendsetter

In 1984, he formed the Film Workshop production company along with wife and sometime producer Nansun Shi, making it a home base for a tirelessly prolific roster of directing and producing projects. Here he also developed a reputation as a hands-on and even intrusive producer of other directors' work, fueled by public breaks with major filmmakers like John Woo and King Hu. His most longstanding and fruitful collaboration has probably been with Ching Siu Tung. As action choreographer and/or director on many Film Workshop productions, Ching made a major contribution to the well-known Tsui style (Hampton, 1997).

Film Workshop releases became consistent box-office hits in Hong Kong and around Asia, drawing audiences with their visual adventurousness, their broad commercial appeal, and hectic camerawork and pace. Tsui has the knack of trend-setting in film genres. He produced John Woo's A Better Tomorrow (1986), which launched a craze for the hardboiled gangster film or "Triad" movie, and Ching Siu Tung's A Chinese Ghost Story (1987), which did the same for period ghost fantasies. Zu Warriors and The Swordsman (1990) brought back the long-out-of-favor wuxia film.

In fact, Tsui's "movie brat" nostalgia is one of the main ingredients in his work (Teo, 1997). He often resurrects and revises classic films and genres: the murder mystery in The Butterfly Murders; the Shanghai musical comedy in Shanghai Blues (1985). Peking Opera Blues (1986) plays with and pays tribute to the traditions of the Peking opera that his mother took him to see as a small boy (Bordwell, 2000) and which had such a strong influence on Hong Kong action cinema. The Lovers (1994) adapts an oft-retold, crossdressing period romance, best known from Li Han-hsiang's 1963 opera film The Love Eterne. A Chinese Ghost Story remakes Li's supernatural romance The Enchanting Shadow (1959) as a special effects action movie.

The pattern is also seen in perhaps Tsui's most successful work to date, the Once Upon a Time in China film series series (1991-97). Here, he revived the martial arts folk hero Wong Fei Hung, played in the first three installments by Jet Li. This series is the clearest expression in his oeuvre of Tsui's Chinese nationalism and his passionate engagement with the upheavals of Chinese history, particularly in the face of Western power and influence (Teo, 1997).

Tsui also dabbled in acting, mostly for other directors. Notable roles include one-third of the comic relief trio in Corey Yuen's female cop/kung fu hit Yes, Madam! (1985) and a villain in Patrick Tam's darkly comic crime story Final Victory (1987), written by Wong Kar-wai.

In the face of an industry downturn in the '90s, he produced two expensive and unpopular movies that proved he could fold the caustic cynicism of his early work into his blockbuster formula. Green Snake (1993) was an erotic and darkly apocalyptic take on a favorite Chinese fairy tale. The Blade (1995) was a gory, deliberately rough-hewn and anti-heroic revision of the 1967 wuxia classic The One-Armed Swordsman.

American Films

In 1990, Tsui had already attempted a low-budget American action film, the barely released and little seen The Master, with a pre-superstardom Jet Li. In the mid-'90s, perhaps hedging his bets in the face of the industry crisis, Tsui tried Hollywood again with two films starring Jean-Claude Van Damme. They were Double Team (1997) and Knock Off (1998). Both were flops lambasted by critics, and later even by Tsui himself.

Recent Work

Tsui returned to directing at home in 2000 after not having made a local film since '96, but his golden touch is less certain in the troubled climate of today. Time and Tide (2000) and The Legend of Zu (2001) were action extravaganzas with lavish computer-generated imagery that gained cult admirers but no mass success. The comic book superhero feature Black Mask 2 (2002) went straight-to-video without theatrical release.

Tsui's projects as producer haven't born the same fruit either, despite his continuing to push technical boundaries and revise old favourites. Master Q 2001 was Hong Kong's first combination of live action and Pixar-style 3D computer animation. Era of Vampires (2002; U.S. title, "Tsui Hark's Vampire Hunters") reworked a sub-genre popular in the '80s, hybrid martial arts/supernatural horror films featuring the "hopping corpses" of Chinese folk legend. Both films made barely a ripple with critics, fans or general audiences.

2005 saw him launch the multimedia production Seven Swords with a related TV series, comic book series and online multi-player video game. The movie was relatively more successful than his other works of the new millennium and in February 2006 Tsui announced plans to begin shooting the second late in the year. As of 2008, Tsui continues to work on the script for Seven Swords 2 in between filming projects.

In August 2008, Tsui provided art direction for the direct-to-video anime feature entitled Kungfu Master aka Wong Fei Hong vs Kungfu Panda, an apparently unofficial sequel to the film Kung Fu Panda, featuring martial arts folk hero Wong Fei Hung.

Tsui's next film is the 2008 thriller Missing starring Angelica Lee.

Filmography

Director

  • Die bian (1979)
  • Diyu wu men (1980)
    • aka Hell Has No Gates
    • aka Kung Fu Cannibals
    • aka No Door to Hell
    • aka We're Going to Eat You (Hong Kong: English title)
  • Di yi lei xing wei xian (1980)
    • aka Dangerous Encounters of the First Kind
    • aka Don't Play with Fire
    • aka Playing with Fire
    • aka Ti-yi-lei-hsing wei hsien
  • Gui ma zhi duo xing (1981)
    • aka All the Wrong Clues
    • aka All the Wrong Clues for the Right Solution
    • aka Wrong Clues... Right Solution
  • Suk san: Sun Suk san geen hap (1983)
    • aka Warriors from the Magic Mountain
    • aka Zu Mountain: New Legend of the Zu Mountain Swordsmen (Hong Kong: English title: literal title)
    • aka Zu Time Warriors
    • aka Zu Warriors
    • aka Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain
    • aka Zu: Warriors of the Magic Mountain
    • aka Zuo shan: Shen Zuo shan jian ke (Hong Kong: Mandarin title)
  • Search for the Gods (1983)
  • Shanghai zhi ye (1984)
  • Zuijia paidang zhi nuhuang miling (1984)
  • King Worker (1985)
  • Da gung wong dai (1985)
    • aka Da gong huang di (China: Mandarin title)
    • aka Hit Work Emperor (literal English title)
    • aka Working Class
  • Do ma daan (1986)
    • aka Dao ma dan (China: Mandarin title)
    • aka Knife Horse Dawn (USA: literal English title)
    • aka Peking Opera Blues (USA)
  • "Liegui Aisha" (1986) TV Series
    • aka Spirit Chaser Aisha (International: English title: literal title)
  • Cheng shi te jing (1988) (uncredited)
    • aka The Big Heat (USA)
  • Long xing tian xia (1989)
  • Ying hung boon sik III (1989)
    • aka A Better Tomorrow III
    • aka A Better Tomorrow III: Love and Death in Saigon (USA)
    • aka Ying xiong ben se III xi yang zhi ge (Hong Kong: Mandarin title)
  • Xiao ao jiang hu (1990)
  • Wong Fei Hung (1991)
  • Haomen yeyan (1991)
    • aka Ho moon ye yin (Hong Kong: Cantonese title)
    • aka Party of a Wealthy Family (USA)
    • aka The Banquet
  • Cai shu zhi huang sao qian jun (1991)
    • aka The Raid
  • Kei Wong (1991) (uncredited)
    • aka The King of Chess
  • Sinnui yauwan III: Do do do (1991)
  • Xin long men ke zhan (1992) (uncredited)
  • Wong Fei Hung ji yi: Naam yi dong ji keung (1992)
  • Shuang long hui (1992)
    • aka Brother Vs. Brother
    • aka Double Dragon
    • aka Duel of Dragons
    • aka The Twin Dragons
    • aka When Dragons Collide
  • Wong Fei Hung ji saam: Si wong jaang ba (1993)
  • Ching Se (1993)
    • aka Blue Snake
    • aka Green Snake
    • aka Qing she (Hong Kong: Mandarin title)
    • aka White Snake, Green Snake
  • Wong Fei-hung zhi wu: Long cheng jian ba (1994)
  • Leung juk (1994)
    • aka Butterfly Lovers
    • aka Leung & Chuk (literal English title)
    • aka Liang zhu (China: Mandarin title)
    • aka The Lovers (Hong Kong: English title)
  • Jin yu man tang (1995)
  • Hua yue jia qi (1995)
  • Dao (1995)
    • aka The Blade (USA)
  • Da san yuan (1996)
  • Double Team (1997)
    • aka The Colony
  • A Chinese Ghost Story: The Tsui Hark Animation (1997)
  • Knock Off (1998)
  • Seunlau ngaklau (2000)
    • aka Time and Tide (Hong Kong: English title) (USA)
    • aka Shunliu niliu (Hong Kong: Mandarin title)
  • Shu shan zheng zhuan (2001)
  • Black Mask 2: City of Masks (2002)
    • aka Hak hap 2 (Hong Kong: Cantonese title)
    • aka Hei xia 2 (Hong Kong: Mandarin title)
  • Chat gim (2005)
    • aka Qi jian (Hong Kong: Mandarin title)
    • aka Seven Swords (International: English title)
  • The Warrior (2006)
  • Triangle (co-directed with Ringo Lam and Johnnie To)
  • Missing (2008)
  • Not All Women Are Bad (2008)

Producer

Cultural references

See also

References

  • Bordwell, David. Planet Hong Kong: Popular Cinema and the Art of Entertainment. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2000. ISBN 0-674-00214-8.
  • Dannen, Fredric, and Barry Long. Hong Kong Babylon: The Insider's Guide to the Hollywood of the East. New York: Miramax, 1997. ISBN 0-7868-6267-X.
  • Hampton, Howard. "Once Upon a Time in Hong Kong: Tsui Hark and Ching Siu-tung". Film Comment July–August 1997: pp. 16–19 & 24–27.
  • Morton, Lisa. The Cinema of Tsui Hark. Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Company, Inc., 2001. ISBN 0-7864-0990-8.
  • Teo, Stephen. Hong Kong Cinema: The Extra Dimensions. London: British Film Institute, 1997. ISBN 0-85170-514-6.
  • Yang, Jeff, and Dina Gan, Terry Hong and the staff of A. magazine. Eastern Standard Time: A Guide to Asian Influence on American Culture. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997. ISBN 0-395-76341-X.

Further reading

  • Ho, Sam, ed. The Swordsman and His Juang Hu: Tsui Hark and Hong Kong Film. Hong Kong University Press, 2002. ISBN 962805015X.
  • Schroeder, Andrew. Tsui Hark's Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2004. ISBN 9622096514.

External links

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