Friday, 28 February 2014

Doctor Who: A Guide To Hong Kong's Most Successful Sci-Fi Adventure Series Part Two

It's time for part of my retrospective series in which we explore the history of Hong Kong's seminal Sci-Fi television series Doctor Who. In part one we left off in 1974 with Patrick Tse departing the TARDIS looking to return to his career in film. In his final story Planet of the Spiders, The Third Doctor contracts deadly radiation poisoning is barely able to make it back to Earth. There he regenerates in front of Sarah and The Senior Colonel. His new face would be one which would go on to be the most popular face The Doctor had in the series' history up to that point.

That face belonged to Ricky Hui.

Ricky Hui played The Fourth Doctor and would be the face that would launch Doctor Who's popularity world wide.

Audiences immediately warmed to Ricky's completely bonkers but at the same time older beyond his years Fourth Doctor. With a huge smile and impractically long scarves, Ricky would become the most iconic incarnation of The Doctor. To this day whenever anyone discusses the series, Ricky's name will always come up in the conversation and his name would top literally hundreds of Best Doctor lists in mainstream media and fandom.

The heartfelt, often comedic and wonderful interplay between Ricky and Lily Li would create a dynamic that would often be imitated but never replicated. It was during this time that The Doctor's deadly enemies The Daleks would return once more. This time Genesis of the Daleks we would learn their origin in which The Doctor is sent back in time to prevent their creation and therefore sparing the universe from centuries of torment. Here we meet their creator Davros. The serial was a huge hit and is often cited among fans and critics as the best Doctor Who story ever written.

However the series was not without it's controversy. During Ricky's years on the show it would become a target from various parent and television groups for it's depiction of violence. Yet despite the series coming under fire, something would happen that would make the mysterious Time Lord from Gallifrey's appeal go global. in 1978 UK TV channel The BBC bought the broadcasting rights for the series and began airing the show starting with Ricky Hui. The show was dubbed in English and became a huge hit. Demand for more episodes was so popular the BBC aired the previous series featuring the first three Doctors.

Not long after that word about the series spread to the US and station PBS bought the US rights to the show. Up until this time in the show's history it had always stuck mostly to sci-fi adventure, with the occasional toe-dip into horror but in order to really freshen things up producers decided to go full Gothic horror. drawing inspiration from classic English literature such as Mary Shelley, Lovecraft and a little bit of Bram Stoker. The roots of horror fiction can be felt in such stories as The Brain of Morbius, The Seeds of Doom and State of Decay. 

Ricky would continue to play The Doctor on television until 1981 when he decided that he had held onto the role long enough and wished to leave. Years later Ricky himself along with several cast and crew would admit he had become increasingly difficult to work with. Re-writing his own dialogue, directing entire scenes and even openly criticizing his own co-star's acting are just some of things that caused friction between him and various colleagues. So a search his replacement went underway.

To try and freshen up the series format the producers made the decision to go with a much younger actor. Someone who could inject some youthful vigour into the character of The Doctor. After auditioning several actors the part was given to newcomer Michael Miu. Having appeared in a handful of films he jumped at the chance at being given the opportunity to play what he considered to be a hugely iconic role. He even had the approval of Ricky Hui who felt Michael was perfect to follow on from him. So in a battle with his nemesis The Master, The Fourth Doctor fell to his supposed death in a clever nod to the popular Sherlock Holmes story The Final Problem. However the fall would not kill him instead he began to regenerate.

Michael Miu played The Fifth Doctor who to this day has remained hugely supportive of the show.

After a shaky start due to audiences not quite ready to accept a new Doctor, Michael's new take on the ancient Time Lord soon found his fans. It was during this era the show became experimental. Introducing several new companions which allowed for new avenues of story telling. Some of course were more successful than others. In particular the character of Adric. A self-proclaimed mathematical genius who joined the TARDIS crew toward end of Ricky Hui's time on the series. His petulant attitude and tendency for trouble making grated with audiences. The character's only redeeming moment would sadly be his last in which to prevent the destruction of an entire planet Adric sacrifices himself to blow up a starship high-jacked by Cybermen. 

Another failure which alomost derailed Michael's time on the show came in the form of Kameleon. A shape shifting android who found his way onto The TARDIS. yet rather then putting an actor in a suit which had been original proposed. The producers commissioned the building of an animatronic puppet which would serve as the character. The prop would turn out to be one of the worst ideas in the history of the show. Numerous technical issues prevented the prop from working correctly. Movements would be extremely limited and in some cases limbs were reported to have fallen off. The character of Kameleon was quietly dropped from the show after only appearing in half a dozen episodes.

Kameleon is often referred to as one of the worst characters in Doctor Who history

Despite the mixed results in the producers experiments with the show it would stay on the air long enough to reach the show's 20th Anniversary. To celebrate such a landmark achievement the makers decided to go ahead with an idea they had been toying with since the days of Ricky Hui. So in 1983 filming began on The Five Doctors. With each of The Doctor's incarnations abducted from their respective time lines, they were brought together and forced to survive in The Death Zone. A twisted landscape on The Doctor's home planet of Gallifrey which served to punish criminals.

Getting the actors to return proved more challenging than anticipated. Ricky Hui especially proved difficult in convincing and ultimately chose not to participate, forcing the editor's to use outtakes from an incomplete story to fill in the gaps. The budget even allowed the return of several companions including the ever popular Sarah who hadn't appeared on the show in five years. The Five Doctors was a huge success and established itself as a firm favourite among fans. So much so when TVB began putting the show on DVD in 1999, The Five Doctors was the first story released on the format.

Despite being critically acclaimed by critics and viewers alike and enjoying some well written stories Michael turned down what was considered at the time a very expensive contract extension to move back into films. The Fifth Doctor's final adventure saw him on a mining planet facing a maniacal masked villain. Through a series of unfortunate events The Doctor would contract Spectrox Toxemia, a deadly form of poison. Running on borrowed time The Doctor struggles to defeat the enemy and escape the mining planet before it explodes. Sadly The Doctor is too late to save himself and succumbs the poison but not before triggering yet another regeneration.

Join me next time when things get slightly more colourful....


Sunday, 16 February 2014

Doctor Who: A Guide To Hong Kong's Most Successful Sci-Fi Adventure Series Part One

Last year saw the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who. One of the most popular and longest running Sci-fi series in television history. With it's successful blend of adventure, suspense, horror, comedy, drama and rather controversially in the eyes of fans romance. Doctor Who has created an enduring formula that has been able to move with the times and stay on our screens for 50 impressive years.

However not everyone is familiar with the show's long, storied history so I have created this basic guide for those who maybe wish to learn more about the mysterious Time Lord who can change his face when the situation calls for it.

Beginning in the early 60's, Hong Kong television station TVB were looking to create a new show aimed primarily at a young audience that would serve to educate as well as entertain. Producer Sidney Man came up with the idea of a time travelling scientist. Someone who would visit different periods of history every week and have different adventures. while shaping the concept of the series he began working with a new up and coming producer Verity Lam. Being one of the few females working as a producer at TVB she felt Doctor Who might just be the series she needed to give her career a serious kickstart.

The Doctor's craft in which he would travel through time and space would be unique in that it would change it's outward appearance to suit the environment however the production could not afford to construct specially made props for each story so the idea was conceived the craft would become stuck in the form of a British police box. The idea came from Verity Lam who had seen one on a recent trip to the city of London. The name of the craft would be The TARDIS which stood for Time & Relative Dimensions In Space. To make it even more unique the interior of the craft would be considerably larger than it's exterior which allowed for a much bigger set for the cast and crew to move around in.

The TARDIS control room in 1963. The console in the centre is what piloted the craft

Soon scripts had been written but now they faced the challenge of casting the lead role of The Doctor himself. After looking at several different actors they offered the role of Kwan Tak-Hing. Who is most famous for portraying real-life martial arts master Wong Fei-Hung in a long running series of successful theatrical films.

What could have been: Kwan Tak-Hing turned down what could have been a very successful role.

However Kwan was reluctant to play such an unusual role and felt the local Hong Kong audience would not accept him as anyone else except Master Wong. So at his own suggestion the producers offered the role to veteran actor Sek Kin, Kwan's co-star in many of his films. Sek had been looking for the chance to play a good guy role as he was growing tired of playing the bad guy so when he was offered the role of The Doctor he took it immediately.

Sek Kin started a role which would endure for the next 50 years.
Once the lead actor was locked down, they then cast Cheng Pei Pei as his grand daughter Susan and the series went in front of cameras. So, on November 23rd 1963 Doctor Who hit Hong Kong TV screens and despite a shaky start became a smash hit. It was during the early years of the show we would be introduced to The Doctor's most deadliest foe The Daleks.

The Daleks became so popular local tabloids said Hong Kong was under the grip of Dalekmania.

Sek would stay in the role up until 1966 when he had grown tired of the heavy television production schedule and had a desire to return to films which he found less strenuous also Cheng Pei Pei's departure from the show struck quite a blow to Sek as the two had a close friendship. This put the producers in a rather awkward position. They were aware a sudden change of lead character could kill the monumental success the series had enjoyed since it's debut but they felt stopping the series would be a mistake. Then they came up with one of the most bizarre ideas which ended up becoming a huge part of the series mythology.

In Sek Kin's final story as The Doctor after battling the dreaded Cyber Men, he comes under intense physical stress and ends up collapsing. He dies or so we're led to believe, suddenly a change takes place and The Doctor's body under goes what was referred to at the time as a renewal. Not only was his body healed but his appearance had entirely changed as result. Sek Kin's replacement was actor Suen Yuet.

Suen Yuet as The Second Doctor in 1973.

Despite some hesitance from the series' fans Suen Yuet brought a unique take on The Doctor which was entirely different to what Sek Kin had done previously. Equal parts clownish and deadly serious Yuet would leave an indelible mark which would be felt in future incarnations of The Doctor. It was during Suen's tenure The Doctor's past was further explored. We find out he is actually from a race of aliens known as The Time Lords who essentially watch over time and space and The Doctor had in fact stolen his TARDIS and ran away from his home planet. However much like Sek before him Yuet soon grew weary of the hectic and tiresome production schedule and left the series in 1969. The Third Doctor would come in the form of matinee idol Patrick Tse. Suen's final story found him caught by The Time Lords and punished with a forced renewal for his defiance.

Patrick Tse at the press conference announcing him as The Third Doctor.

With a new Doctor would come an entirely new style. The show was now being produced in colour and Patrick would bring a dashing exuberance to the role which critics described as "James Bond meets Albert Einstein" Patrick's Doctor was considerably more gung-ho. He would often engage enemy's in deadly martial arts show downs. Many of the action scenes were choreographed by a young Sammo Hung. Pay close attention in particular to one episode which features a young Jackie Chan being kicked in the face. His home planet was given a name: Gallifrey and The Doctor found himself exiled to Earth. Unable to use his TARDIS. Although this exile would be lifted later on.

When 1973 rolled around the show would be celebrating it's 10 year anniversary. The producers decided it would be a good idea to bring all three of The Doctors in one adventure. So the rather plainly titled The Three Doctors was aired and allowed The Third Doctor to interact with his previous selves. Tse in particular had strong chemistry with Suen Yuet with their personalities clashing in humorous ways. During Tse's time on the show we would be introduced to the United Nations Intelligence Task Force or U.N.I.T

They were led by Senior Colonel Alistair Kwan played by veteran Shaw Bros. actor Chen Koon-Tai. The character had been introduced during The Second Doctor era but producers felt the character could easily be brought back for further stories.

The character of the Senior Colonel would go on to be the most recurring one throughout the show's history.

We're also introduced to two other important characters. Firstly The Doctor's more devious adversary, a renegade Time Lord know only as The Master played wonderfully by Chang Yi. A veteran actor who had wanted a part in the series for a number of years and was pleased with being given the opportunity to play The Doctor's evil counter-part. Secondly The Doctor's most popular female companion Sarah Lin, young, determined and aspiring journalist played by Lily Li. Sarah proved so popular that when Patrick decided it was time for him to move on and leave the series, Sarah would stay on and bare witness to The Doctor's next regeneration....



Tuesday, 28 August 2012

All Blog Activity Will Be Suspended Until Further Notice

I'm sorry to tell you this but all activity on the blog is to be suspended until further notice. Something rather important has come up and it looks like I will not be able to update and make posts for a few weeks. That means all reviews and other such articles I planned on posting will have to take a backseat but rest assured I will endeavor to keep you all updated.

Thank you for understanding.

Monday, 20 August 2012

5 Things To Love About Winner Takes All

Here are five reasons why you should love Wong Jing's extremely silly 1982 comedy Winner Takes All starring Patrick Tse and Wong Yu!

Number Five: Jet Pack Kung Fu

What's better then Kung Fu? How about Kung Fu while wearing Jet Packs! Oh yes, this is just a taste of some of the wild and crazy creativity Wong Jing displays throughout the film.

Number Four: Remote Control Body Suits

Another mental scene has Wong Yu and co-star Robert Mak don remote controlled electronic body suits that make Robert mimic Wong's every move. The set up and the subsequent pay off are worth seeing if you love slapstick comedy!

Number Three: Yo-Yo Fu

It's not all goofy slapstick and silly face-pulling. Winner Takes All features a few good bursts of action including a scene which has Wong Yu in Kwan Tak-Hing style Wong Fei-Hung garb and uses a yo-yo as an offensive weapon. Oh, forgot to mention, he fights ninjas in this scene. NINJAS!

Number Two: The Coolest Mofo In The Room

Patrick Tse makes like Roger Moore and plays a sly parody of himself as a almost Bond style jewel thief. His trademark glasses and signature smirk all come into play and you can tell ol' Patrick is having a whale of a time through out!

Number One: The Gambling Robot

looking like the bastard offspring of Robbie The Robot and a Dalek this ridiculous looking contraption plays against Patrick, Wong and Nat Chan in a silly hat for a deadly game of Mahjong. Despite the film being made in the early 80's this thing seems to have been stolen from the set of a 50's B-Movie.

There you have it, 5 Things To Love About Winner Takes All!

Murderer Pursues - 踩線 (1981)

First off I would like to apologize for the lateness of this review. You see, My copy of the new open world Hong Kong set action crime video game Sleeping Dogs arrived in the post two days before it's official release date here in the UK and it ended up eating a lot of my time and this review inevitably fell by the wayside as I found myself having too much fun shoving people's faces in AC units while my character was dressed as Jackie Chan from Rumble in the Bronx. However, I have taken time out of my hectic Hong Kong gangster life to finally get on the review of Murderer Pursues!

The film starts off in a Vietnamese internment camp in Mainland China where a small group of friends manage to escape and flee to Hong Kong in hopes of adopting a new life. The leader of the group Ah Shen (Danny Lee) takes some of his friends in with him as they adopt a life of crime. Meanwhile his brother Ah Chang (Ray Lui) tracks down his Uncle Su (Kent Cheng). Quickly Chang joins the police force and becomes an undercover detective who is put on the case of Ah Shen and the rest of his group who killed a man in a botched robbery. Before long the brother of the man they killed begins hunting them down one by one in order to have his revenge.

Like Danger Has Two Faces, Murderer Pursues has a story that I actually liked. The idea of personal identity and cultural background and how you integrate yourself in a foreign land are pretty heavy subjects to tackle. Especially in an early 80's Shaw Brothers production yet director and writer and one time Shaw contract player Wong Chung keeps things neatly in place for the entire run time and creates fairly believable characters that embody the isolation of how Vietnamese refugees suddenly find themselves in a place they're not all familiar with. Wong Chung doesn't fully go with it as much as I would have liked. The history of Vietnamese refugees finding their way into China and Hong Kong due to the ongoing conflict between the US and the Viet Cong is one I've never really explored and it interests me greatly to see how this sudden influx of foreign people and the affect they had on Chinese society was addressed in the medium of film during this era.

It seems this is something Wong wanted to really tap into and I get the feeling he was talked into throwing in some criminal elements at the behest of producer Mona Fong to try and make a film that was more bankable. This is really an educated guess but I don't think I'm too far from the truth. Beside the social elements we have, as I said lots of crime going on. Ah Chang is the righteous police officer looking to do the right thing. It's mentioned he's half Chinese and half Vietnamese which is why he's able to play to both side. It's also the primary reason he's given the case of tracking down his brother Shen and the rest of group. Which is odd as something like that would normally keep a person like Chang off the case but for the sake if cinematic story telling, it works.

Ah Shen and the rest of his group aren't really portrayed in a very sympathetic way. Danny Lee's cold demeanor makes him ideal in the role and he does have a very commanding presence. Despite the fact he doesn't actually say very much throughout the film. The rest of the group all have their own distinct personalities. Lung Tin-Sang is the more twitchy of the group and has a rather important scene with Ray's character which he points out that they will always be outsiders to the people of Hong Kong while Chang has become one of the city's many people at the cost of sacrificing his Vietnamese heritage. As I said, incredibly heavy stuff but Wong plays it just right here. Lam Shung-Ching is the hot-head with a slightly anarchic streak who wants to go out there and show Hong Kong they should be afraid of them, although he does have a hidden vulnerable side which you can tell he wants to show but is afraid. Finally Packman Wong is the more reserved, cautious member of the group who tends to watch how things unfold before acting.

You mix in Ray's character long with Kent Cheng's no nonsense senior cop and you've got a good mix of characters to play off and makes the story work all the more better. Also Wong Ching plays a bespectacled killer who doesn't have a whole lot to say except give a creepy smile and kill anyone he doesn't like. His performance was very chilling at some points.

Since this a heavy crime drama with serious social undertones you'd be right in thinking there isn't much in terms of action and what there is I really wouldn't call it action. There's a few brawls but there isn't much by way of choreography except the actors throwing themselves around and throwing a few punches and a couple kicks. There's a very hard hitting fight in the beginning when our characters are in the internment camp. They end up have a set to with another group. Everyone is knocking over furniture and using whatever it is they can get their hands on the inflict pain. Even going so far as to use some sharpened steel pipes. Danny uses one of those to great effect and it gives the brawl a very sudden and very brutal stop that makes it all the more shocking, at least from the characters' perspectives.

There's not much after that. There's some foot chases. A nicely done fight between Ray and Shung-Ching but when we enter the final reel we get a very dramatic confrontation between Danny's put upon Shen and Ching's grinning killer. I loved the way this played out. For me Hong Kong film makers seemed to have this incredible knack for creating tension and Wong Chung is no exception. It all takes place on a small series of rooftops but you wouldn't know as it's all masterfully shot and edited and creates a real sense of atmosphere. If you've seen your fair share of 80's HK crime pictures then you know how it'll end but I still loved it all the same.

Murderer Pursues is a very surprising film for me. I went into it not expecting much and what I ended up with is one of the more interesting crime films of the 1980's. With it's interesting approach the the social issues at the time backed by some good acting performances and nice bursts of tension and drama it's a film that's much more deserving of the reputation it seems to have among fans of Hong Kong cinema.

Don't be afraid to pick up the DVD which is easily available through DDDhouse. You might end up liking it just as much as I did.

Join me next time when I'll be taking a look at Brothers From The Walled City.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Danger Has Two Faces - 皇家大賊 (1985)

Shawgust kicks off with a bit of a bang this week in which I'll be talking about of Leung Kar-Yan's lesser known films Danger Has Two Faces!

Written and directed by Alex Cheung, Leung Kar-Yan plays Jin. A former cop turned pet store owner who moonlights as a hitman for a local mob boss. Things turn bad when the local police start an investigation into the murders committed by Jin who is desperate to leave it all behind and start somewhere new with his son.

I think I may have bitten off more then I can chew by choosing contemporary crime as my first theme for the inaugural Shawgust Month as these films tend to be completely devoid of martial arts action. Something which I concentrate very heavily on in my reviews but I do enjoy a challenge so I hope I can at least give you as much detailed thought on this film as I can. 

First things first. I liked the story in this one. It wasn't perfect but I did like how it played out. Alex Cheung does an okay job of keeping things in check. I do have to say that there are moments when it tries to be a lot more clever then it actually is but I do give him credit for actually putting some effort in trying to tell a good story. 80's Hong Kong Cinema is not really known for it's well thought out plots and three dimensional characters. Danger Has Two faces doesn't really stand out among the crowd when compared to some of the more well known films made during this time but as it is, the film's story does what it needs to and treats the characters well enough and allows some of the actors to carve out fairly decent performances all round.

I haven't any of Cheung's other works but I think after this I might feel the need to go out and get my hands on some of them as at least I'll know the films (hopefully) will competently made.

As I said before the acting is all round decent. Beardy gets to do the whole serious brooding thing which he found himself doing quiet a lot during the 1980's, he's very intense for the most part and plays Jin with conviction and determination. Even in the scenes he shares with his son are nicely played out and do make Jin to be a character of unfortunate circumstance. Something the character does comment on during the final act of the film. He's got a fairly good supporting cast behind him too. Bei Cheung plays his best friend and police detective investigating a robbery which Jing finds himself connected to after carrying out orders to bump off one of the robbers. I liked him, he didn't over act and he had some good scenes with Kar-Yan and a number of other actors. 

The stunningly gorgeous Carroll Gordon plays his girlfriend. Like pretty much any female supporting role in this film she tends to be a little bit annoying but she does show a bit of initiative when she decides to follow one of her boyfriend's colleagues suspected of being on the take by local mobsters. The sequence was backed by an annoying mid-80's HK pop song but I did like how she played it smart when it came to actually getting photographic evidence. Even if her choice of hiding places were questionable. Paul Chu Kong plays a rather devious police lieutenant but I thought he was too friendly looking to make a convincing bad guy but I'm guessing that was Cheung's point in casting him that way it makes it more shocking for the audience. There are a few other characters but one I only really wanted to mention was Kirk Wong. That's right. The director of Crime Story and Flash Future Kung Fu has a supporting role as a sleazy and hot-headed police detective and ends up being one of the more memorable characters in the film. It amazes me that Hong Kong had directors who also appeared as actors. Even in Hollywood now that's very much a rarity.

Given this is meant to be a modern day crime thriller there isn't much in terms of martial arts action. Everyone uses guns as their method of dealing out pain. Beardy uses a high-powered pistol which is reminiscent of one used by Charles Bronson in the Death Wish series. This lends credence to the fact Beardy does play as very Bronson-like character, dealing out justice through the barrel of the gun. Each bullet hit is accompanied by lots of bright red blood and even a few exploding limbs which I really liked as it gave it that slight over the top edge which fits the tone of the film very nicely. Sadly there isn't much action in it at all except for an opening shoot out in an MTR station and nothing much else until the final act of the film which shove in as much action as it can in it's remaining run time.

What starts off as a run and gun sequence through a forest turns into a vehicle chase which features some hilariously convenient obstacles and finally a big confrontation in a petrol container yard. I loved just how fast and insane the pacing of the last twenty or so minutes was. It seemed they must have been getting close to the end of the filming schedule and needed to get everything done quickly but this breakneck attitude does help raise the excitement factor and we end up with a very entertaining final reel.

One thing I would like to comment on is the music. There's a nice opening theme which I think I might end up ripping and putting onto my iphone as it has a nice, slow, understated tune to it which I really liked. There's also a few moments of the score which seem to be drawing inspiration from the likes of John Carpenter and Barry De Vorzon. Definitely one of the more memorable scores to an 80's Hong Kong film I've heard in a long time.

Despite not being much beloved among Hong Kong Cinema fans I for one really liked Danger Has Two Faces and will happily watch it again when the mood strikes. If you can find a copy of the DVD, which is out of print but there's still some copies floating around, then make sure you don't hesitate to pick it up as you'll be in for a very enjoyable 89 minutes of 80's Shaw crime goodness.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Born Invincible Giveaway Winner!

It's time to announce the winner of my Born Invincible Shirt Giveaway

The Winner Is....


Congratulations, Fernando. Your details will be forwarded to 36 STYLES and they will send you the shirt as soon as possible!

Thanks to everyone who entered. Be sure to keep checking back as the first review for SHAWGUST MONTH will be posted soon!