Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Chinese mummies...

News over at Fangoria is that Jet Li will be playing the mummy leader of a Teracotta army in the new installation of the MUMMY franchise, this time to be directed by Rob Cohen (DRAGON: THE BRUCE LEE STORY). And rumour has it that Michelle Yeoh has also been cast. Who would have thought - mummies are the new break through roles for Asians! Why not bring over some good ole' hopping vampires?

Monday, February 19, 2007

it all comes tumbling down...

Over at The Torontoist, contrib bitefight files this report that the marquee of the Revue Cinema has tumbled down. Oh, sweet sweet irony...

The Revue served as the last home for the Kung Fu Fridays series I ran until the family that owned it closed it along with the Royal and The Kingsways. The cinema was supposed to be designated a heritage site, but often that can create a big headache for the property owners. I recall the situation was that the sign was historical and could not be altered to keep the heritage status, but at the same time it was a safety violation, as we can now see. Click over to here for more pics.

And here is the Revue in happier times, merely 7 months ago. :(

Friday, February 16, 2007

Yiddish Hamlet, Swinging Boobies and Jackie Chan

Thanks to Patrick for passing me this story relating to Toronto City Hall’s heritage department to designate the Standard Theatre at Dundas Street and Spadina Avenue as a heritage site. Originally a Yiddish cinema, the stanard later became the Victory Burlesque and lastly, was reincarnated three times as a Chinese cinema, The Golden Harvest, The Pearl and The Mandarin. Located only 3 blocks from my office where I currently write this, I began attending when it was the Pearl, catching packed Midnight shows of ARMOUR OF GOD 2: OPERATION CONDOR, HARD-BOILED, ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA, FONG SAI YUK, STORY OF RICKY and others. I would always be guaranteed a cheap double bill in a massive cinema, plus a snack bar rocking with exotic treats. I always wish that I dove into the Chinatown cinema circuit earlier and missed out on the days when Shaw Brothers films played in this city, but then again living in rural Ontario, I didn't have the opportunity. The cinema was a grand space and now, reading this story about the rescue, that was only the balcony!

I recorded an oral history of the space for the murmur project. If you walk by 285 Spadina, you will see a big sign of an ear on a lamp post with a telephone number and code. Dial that on your cell and you can hear me blabbing about the cinema. You can hear it on this page - BUT it is full of QT audio files that all start at once. Just hit pause on all of them and then listen at your liesure. I am at the bottom of the list.

When cleaning out another Chinatown cinema, I found a little album of photos from the Standard back in the day when it was the Golden Harvest and have had them scanned and stored in my computer until the day when I would do that big project on Toronto's Chinatown cinemas. Looks like this is as good an opportunity as any. I just hope that if the save the cinema, they don't deny recognizing the history of the space as a Chinatown cinema.

Here is the link to the article about the attempt to save the cinema.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

electric shadows blog

Been watching some of the classic Shaw films from 1967 onwards over at Jaman.com (come folks, ask me for an invite and I will send you one!) and just stumbled across this blog which compliments the viewings. Electric Shadows by Jean Lukitsh offers an insight in to the stars and makers of Hong Kong's classic martial arts titles. rom the blog's "Mission Statement":
Films from the early 1960s can seem light-years removed from ones made later in the decade, the ones by Chang Cheh and King Hu and Bruce Lee that were more realistic and cinematic than anything Yu So-chau or Tso Tat-wah ever starred in. But the seeds of cinematic development were being sown in the earlier films, and that period of learning, testing, experimenting, and improving by earlier generations of Hong Kong stunt performers and choreographers will be the primary subject of this blog. The early actors and actresses, their roles, the choreography, the influence of Peking and Cantonese opera, the expression of martial arts traditions, and the martial lineages in the world of filmmaking are my areas of interest. It can be argued that Hong Kong action cinema developed so rapidly and successfully precisely because these elements combined to give the local film community a kind of critical mass, a head start versus the rest of the world in devising a visual language of bodies in motion, as stylized as dance but instantly comprehensible, a metaphor of power in all forms.
Postings on the blog include:

Mr. Han, Man: The Awesome Villainy of Shek Kin, Part 1

The Early Choreography of Lau Kar-leung and Tong Kai: Jade in the Red Dust

Kung Fu Princess Connie Chan Po-chu

An Appreciation of the Screen Fighting of Yu So-chau

To up the excitement here at the KFF HQ is the announcement posted over at Kung Fu Cinema of a number of old school wuxia titles coming down the pipe!

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Invite the Shaw Brothers into your home and watch them smash your furniture...

Do titles like THE LADY HERMIT, INVINCIBLE SHAOLIN, and TEMPLE OF THE RED LOTUS get your heart beating? Sick and tired of buying dodgy VCDS and DVDS from sellers in Singapore on eBay? Looks like there is another way to satisfy your vintage kung fu habit…

I’ve been playing around a new video on-demand web service Jaman.com since the end of December, which is offering downloads of some of the Shaw Brothers films restored by Celestial. Please to report that quality is good and it is all legit. No more pixel jamming bootlegs!

I haven’t tried other video on demand sites out there, but I am not a big consumer of mainstream fare. If I plan to see PIRATES OF THE CARIBEAN, it will be in the cinema on the big screen, but with older titles you are hard pressed to find venues to that play them. And dream on if you want to see a 1967 Shaw film on the big screen, with the exception of the Heroic Grace touring series. As for bit torrents, I don’t have the time or patience to use them for feature films, especially if it might look like crap in the end.

Jaman seems to be focusing on world cinema that falls between the cracks of the distribution system. This makes sense, especially if you live where you don’t have access to specialty DVD rental stores or only have Blockbuster. Aside from over forty Shaw Brothers titles, they have Bollywood films, Spanish language films (including the horror thriller OCULTO) and North American films. I stumbled across SOFT FOR DIGGING, the slow burn but effective indie ghost story by J.T. Petty who directed S&MAN which was screened at last years Toronto International Film Festival in the Midnight Madness selection.

The picture and quality of the films are pretty decent and it certainly beats VCD. With my DVD purchasing habits, I find myself hard pressed to buy import dvds, especially if I am only going to watch it once. With Jaman I have been able to catch up on a number of Shaw Brothers classics, plus I’ve taken my Mac laptop and plugged the video output into my TV and watching them bigger than my computer screen offers.

Currently the project is in a test beta version and for the most part it is invite only. Once signed up, you download an application from Jaman onto your computer which acts as both a web browser for the site and an player to view the films.

Next, browse and pick a film. Films are divided up into world regions, so if looking for the Shaw Brothers titles, direct yourself over to “Asia”. When you pull up a page for a particular film, you get plot and details plus a trailer embedded in the page that starts playing when the page is fully loaded.

Right now since Jaman is in a trial period, the rentals are free. In the future the price will be around $1.99 and if you want to keep the file on your drive to watch any time it costs $4.99.

Once you pick a film the app downloads the file in a bit torrent type method to your computer and you have a license to access it for 7 days. After the seven days are up, you can’t open the file, but can always renew the license.

So far I have watched: THE SILVER FOX, THE CRIMSON CHARM (with a young Sammo Hung in the background of fights), THE THUNDERING SWORD, TEMPLE OF THE RED LOTUS. They also have Chang Cheh’s INVINCIBLE SHAOLIN and THE DUEL (aka DUEL OF THE IRON FISTS), and the wild and wacky double bill of RETURN OF THE BASTARD SWORDSMAN, and SHAOLIN PRINCE.

Return of the Bastard Swordsman

Another gem is one that is not out on VCD/DVD yet, the creepy and sleazy BLACK MAGIC 2 (aka REVENGE OF THE ZOMBIES) with Lo Lieh as a wizard who casts love spells and drives nails into the heads of corpses to revive them.

Lo Lieh gets the iron out in BLACK MAGIC 2

The site is aimed to be a social community encouraging user reviews and ratings of films and discussion groups. Interesting idea to unite film fans from various areas. Right now the main traffic is on the Bollywood films, but there is a Hong Kong Kung Fu group that hopefully will see some action shortly.

If you want to check out the site, I have a limited number of invites that I can send out. Send me an invite to ultra8pictures@gmail.com and I can fire off an invite for you to try it out. Keep in mind that I am going to be traveling from Feb 7 to 14, so I might not be able to answer right away.

For more info, here is a link to a piece about the sale of the Shaw Brothers titles to Jaman from Celestial that was posted over on KungFuCinema.com.