Friday, June 23, 2006

the last kung fu friday...

Guess this is the personal part of the blog... was out at a pub/bar near my apt tonight for a little do for a friend who is leaving the city for a short time and a girl on her bike stopped by the patio to say, "Hey! Aren't you the kung fu guy?" Wow. It will be the end of that shortly. Maybe replaced with, "Weren't you the kung fu guy?" Sadly she was with a boy on a bike, but that is besides the point... an event that I have been running for 10 years is coming to an end. I say the end because the announcement of the closure of the Toronto rep houses has been so sudden, I have had no time to be able to move to another venue. This is the busiest time of my year with the film fest and all that that entails. Wish I could continue, but it just doesn't seem feasible or even to have the possiblily of keeping the same spirit of what I have been trying to keep alive. 10 years. I get my Fridays back. I loved sharing these films and offering an alternative to big box cineplex fare, but in the end it has always been a hobby and one that I often lost money at. That never mattered, but maybe it is time to move on? A sign perhaps, with the darkening of the cinemas that meant so much to me? This has been a boozy entry but I end it with a thought from my cinema sifu in HK:

"It dies, slowly. Not just HK films. Or repertory cinemas. But 35 mm as a medium. See it within the largest context and it may make you feel better.

In the end, everything will be made beautiful when it becomes nostalgia. Beyond death, there will always be memory, and then nostalgia."

Sunday, June 18, 2006

pics from the vault

To compliment the newspaper article below, here is a glimpse in the basement of the Royal Cinema where I have been storing my collection. It is a sunny, hot day today here in Toronto and I am about to trek over and spend the late afternoon in the basement, cataloguing and getting the collection ready to ship off to its new home...

bava-san and domo-arigato-giallo

Always delighted by old posters and ads, I was thrilled to stumble across this link from Jason Gray to a link to a Japanese website with images of Italian horror films exhibited in Japan during the 60s/70s...

final kicks...

an article from the Toronto Star on the demise of Kung Fu Fridays...

Kicks a bit harder to find
FIGHT NIGHT Theatres' closure deals fatal blow to martial-arts movie event
Jun. 18, 2006. 09:26 AM

A typical late-spring weekend in Toronto might be spent in any number of urban outdoor pursuits: A lengthy, aimless window-shopping wander, maybe, or a stroll through the lush greenery of a downtown park.
Colin Geddes is spending his underground. In the basement of the Royal Cinema on College Street, Geddes is gently readying his personal collection of more than 250 Hong Kong films of various vintages — 500-plus reels, all told — to be moved out permanently.
They are the fruits of more than a decade of scavenging. As Chinese-language theatres closed down across the city in the late '90s, Geddes would find reels abandoned on street corners, or discarded in alleyways. "I like to describe myself as the Chinatown tomb raider," Geddes said.
Since 1996, Geddes has been presenting selections from his personal archive once a month or more at a high-speed extravaganza of martial artistry called Kung Fu Fridays, one of the city's most enduring cult cinema fascinations. But now, the tomb raider's time is done.
The owners of the Royal, the Revue Cinema on Roncesvalles, the Paradise at Bloor and Ossington, and the Kingsway, at Bloor and Old York have announced they will be shutting their theatres permanently at the end of this month.
That means this week's Kung Fu Friday, a presentation of the 1978 classic Crippled Avengers (also known as Return of the Five Venoms, or Mortal Combat), will be the last.
But the theatre closures did more than leave Kung Fu Fridays homeless. It put Geddes' collection in peril.
Not long after putting the word out, the offers began to roll in. Geddes spoke with the curator of Martin Scorsese's personal collection. He also pondered an offer from Harvard's film archive to house the collection. He's currently leaning towards a Canadian university's archive, who would accept the collection as a donation.
There's money to be made here, of course, selling them piecemeal on online auctions sites, or to through the networks of martial arts film aficionados. But Geddes, who's also a film distributor and a programmer for the Toronto International Film Festival, isn't in it for the money. "What would you rather do with your children — sell them, or make sure they go to a loving foster home?" he said.
There is no trace of irony in his voice. The passion is real. Truth to tell, Geddes has been one of the form's principal champions for longer than you might imagine. His story is the stuff of movies itself: In 1990, Geddes was a clerk at Suspect Video on Markham Street, a haven for alternative cinema aficionados.
At the same time, he was producing a zine called Asian Eye, about his cinematic fascination. It was prescient, to say the least. In his first issue, he had an interview with Hong Kong action auteur John Woo. His second issue featured an interview with Jackie Chan. Other Hong Kong stars no one in the West had heard of filled his pages: Chow Yun Fat, Michelle Yeo, Ang Lee.
"No one else was writing about them, but this was my life," Geddes said. And by the mid-'90s, Hong Kong had begun to slump. All over Toronto, Chinese-language cinemas were closing — hence the abandoned reels on the sidewalk. But the distinct Hong Kong brand of highly choreographed action sequences and mythic tales of vengeance was entering the collective consciousness.
Jackie Chan was on the verge of superstardom, opening the door for choreographers and action stars like Jet Li and Chow Yun Fat. Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon would reach a mass audience. Big-budget extravaganzas like Hero and House of Flying Daggers would follow not long after.
But before any of that that, Kung Fu Fridays was born. In 1996, at the Metro Theatre on Bloor Street — the city's longest-running, and now only, pornographic cinema — Geddes unspooled The Snake in the Eagle's Shadow, a 1978 kung fu classic that would be Chan's breakout hit in Hong Kong.
It had all the elements that Geddes had come to love: The stilted, stiff performances actors had learned at the Chinese opera (Chan was an opera grad himself), the lust for vengeance, and Chan's frantic, high-speed combat comedy.
Some DIY promotion (eg. flyers on lampposts) had scored the inaugural Kung Fu Friday a full house. The problem: The print Geddes had procured, he learned just before showtime, had no English subtitles. Geddes turned to the audience for help, not forgiveness. He mapped out the story and the characters' names, encouraging the crowd to cheer loudly as the characters came and went on-screen.
"I was able to turn it around and make it an event," he said. Ever since, Kung Fu Fridays have been boisterous affairs, with raffles for kitschy prizes, trailers for long-gone B-grade horror and action films, and of course, no limit on audience participation. The series moved from the Metro to the Royal and then, recently, on to the Revue, but the tone never changed.
"Of all the things in Toronto there are to do, Kung Fu Fridays was always one of the most unique," said Matthew Hendrickson, a 33-year-old computer consultant who is among the series' stalwart fans.
The crowd was eclectic, to say the least, he said, from hipster twentysomethings who were "clearly there for a giggle" to families with children to hard-core fans who knew every actor, director and studio by heart.
"One guy would come made up like he'd been in a kung fu fight on the way over," Hendrickson said, laughing. And there were always new faces showing up — and they all came to take part.
"People cheer the hero, or boo the villain, add their own commentary," Hendrickson said. "You don't get that kind of crowd anywhere else."
This, of course, was Geddes goal. "Kung Fu Fridays was not a multiplex-and-popcorn thing," Geddes said. "This was a real experience. If you didn't like what Hollywood was shoving down your throat that week, you could do something completely different."
For Geddes, the arc has been long and fruitful. He's gone from cult cinema curator to a programmer at one of the world's biggest film festivals, where he's able to champion his fascination — the presence of films like Kung Fu Hustle in TIFF is all Geddes — to a mass audience.
But the theatre closures caught him off guard. "It was all so sudden," he said. "It was my glorified show and tell. I worship these films. It just doesn't do them justice to watch them at home, on your TV. For me, it's about the shared experience of seeing these films with people on the big screen."
With four screens going dark for good this month, Geddes is left to wonder if they'll be shared in the same way again.

Monday, June 12, 2006

two fisted reading

Over at the fabulous Groovy Age Of Horror, Curt reads and reviews two trashy pulps, the blaxsploitation inspired BLACK SAMURAI: THE WARLOCK and the rather sleezy NINJA MASTER: SKIN SWINDLE by Wade Barker. Browse through the musty dusty archives and see what other goodies Curt has flipped through.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Jupiter Foto: taking pictures of the pictures

If you are ever at a film event in Hong Kong, you will most likely notice a nimble photographer, zipping in and out of the celebreties and bystanders alike, snapping photos from odd angles. This man is Jupiter Wong aka Jupiter Foto, a talented and dedicated documentarian of the world of HK cinema. He is truly a force of gravity for the stars around him!

When in HK for my first time I was able to buy collection of his photos that I have used as the best autograph book!

In september 2004, the HK Film Archive had an exhibit of his works called Fame Flame Frame and made a companion book for it which can be purchased online. Here is a blurb on Jupiter from the book:

"Jupiter Wong's photos not only record a film and its shooting location, but also embed Jupiter's mood at that time and space. Once he got a camera in hand, Jupiter would think of himself as a film director and his pictures are actually his own directorial creation. Be it a director, a star, a crewmember or a stunt man in his pictures, there is always something happening around his focus point. The faces captured by him - be they melancholic, passionate, worried, excited, happy or sad, there is always a story to tell."
Jupiter has his own website where you can see examples of his work on screen, off screen, and some of his snapshots. A true inspiration when I play around with my camera. And here is a picture of the man and myself in 2000. No comments on the stylin' shirt. It was HK and THE MISSION had just come out after all...

Monday, June 05, 2006

I tell ya, these ones are valiant!

So if any Kung Fu Friday disciples want to get elevated in their belt rankings, I would suggest they head out to the Cinematheque Ontario for the Monday night screening of King Hu's THE VALIANT ONES at 8:45pm. Director King Hu is a grand master of martial arts cinema, and if you don't know his name, you will know his influence... CROUCHING TIGER would never have came to be without the influence his films had on Ang Lee like COME DRINK WITH ME and A TOUCH OF ZEN. Sadly his films have never gotten the proper exposure outside of Asia (and France) that they deserve.

From the introduction that I wrote for the Toronto edition of the Heroic Grace 2 series:
King Hu represents the classical side of the genre and has the distinction of being the first Chinese director to win a major award at the Cannes film festival with TOUCH OF ZEN (1975). Considered the true "scholar" of the martial arts directors, Hu had a keen eye for detail on costumes and settings, and pioneered the rapid edit and active camera techniques that would later become the standard in Hong Kong action movies. THE VALIANT ONES (1975), choreographed by Sammo Hung, who went to Peking Opera school alongside his younger "brother," Jackie Chan, features action scenes that did not particularly require physical prowess from its performers: it was the editing that endowed them with superhuman skills. In fact, Hu admittedly filmed combat scenes more like ballets than plausible fights. Obviously, Hu's style was very influential on Tsui Hark, who produced Hu's SWORDSMAN (1990) and a remake of Hu's DRAGON INN (1967) in 1992.
For more info, check out this essay by a close friend of Kung Fu Fridays, Concordia film professor Peter Rist: A Touch of Hu: A Fan’s Notes and an Appreciation.

Here is the French poster and some enticing stills...

Arrrrrrrrrgh! It's Sammo Hung as a Japanese pirate!

Incoming fists!

Sunday, June 04, 2006

double bill part 2 - lots of guts

And the second film was BOXER FROM SHANTUNG, part of the Heroic Grace 2 series at the Cinematheque Ontario. The print was stunning, looking like it was fresh from the lab. Sadly, there was only around 30 or so people. Not too sure what was up with that, but hopefully the numbers will get better as the series progresses. And last night was KING BOXER, and equally beautiful print. We even got an extra treat as a friend of the Fu from Montreal, King Wei, brought along the original trailer for OPIUM AND KUNG FU MASTER which the projectionist lovingly threaded up. And what better reason then to share the two pics of the original posters from my collection. Enjoy.

double bill part 1 - blue peanuts

Tonight I camped out for a double bill at the Cinemathque Ontario. First up was the remastered print of David Lynch's BLUE VELVET. Never had the chance to see it projected in the past and this beautiful print made the experience worthwhile. As soon as it was done I wanted to rush out and watch WILD AT HEART and the whole TWIN PEAKS series, but I had another film at 8:45, but more on that in the next post. It was incredibly nostalgic and I can't remember the last time I watched it, but I can't remember as a teen how much of the seedy sex scenerio I really was able to absorb or understand. So in honour of the screening, I was able to find a subversive little mash up by Toronto's own, Todd Graham, the man responsible for the classic APOCALYPSE POOH... yes, I am talking about BLUE PEANUTS! And if you want to watch POOH, here is the link for the you tube posting.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

chop off your arms

Sharpen your swords and chop off your arms - TONIGHT! at CINEMATHEQUE ONTARIO! THE NEW ONE-ARMED SWORDSMAN! and in honour of the event, above and below, the poster and image from the US release poster.