When a movie copywriter in 1968 composed the immortal tagline for Bonnie and Clyde, “They’re young…they’re in love…and they kill people,” they likely had no idea they were predicting a large subgenre of crime films to follow. And with definite momentum after the release of John Huston’s Prizzi’s Honor in 1985, that subgenre got its own subgenre: assassin romance – professional men and women meeting each other on the job, whose common interests are cozy dinners, long walks, and terminating human targets with ease. And in the midst of the Bev’s unofficial Crooksmas holiday, our Grindhouse Tuesday show on December 11th offers two very-rarely screened Hong Kong entries from the ‘90s, both headlined by superstars of song and screen, and full of gunfire and gorgeous people.
A Taste of Killing and Romance from 1994 delivers truthfully on its title’s promise, as top-flight hitman “Judge” Ko Sau (Andy Lau) crosses paths with demure-looking but equally deadshot Yu Feng (Anita Yuen), both of them initially unaware they’re both punching tickets for the same organization and its hard-nosed boss Ice (Christine Ng). When their blossoming affair starts impacting their work, before you can say “Mr. & Mrs. Smith,” Ice makes their next assignment each other. And as they balk at the notion of killing each other, she sends her even more ruthless bodyguard Shooter (Mark Cheng) as her plan B. Never has choosing between love and career been more fraught.
Taste is the sole director/producer credit for Veronica Chan Ching-yee, who had previously worked as a production manager on Ronny Yu’s The Great Pretenders with Tony Leung, and Ringo Lam’s Undeclared War with Danny Lee and Olivia Hussey. Staging the action sequences is Stephen Tung Wai, who did similar duties for John Woo’s A Better Tomorrow, Wong Kar-wai’s As Tears Go By, Tsui Hark’s The Blade, and Teddy Chen’s Downtown Torpedos; the latter two movies screened in the Bev’s Spring 2015 salute to the ‘90s. Editor Li Kwong-tim has done multiple jobs in Hong Kong films; besides editing, he’s been a sound recordist, a composer, and in Ringo Lam’s Prison on Fire, which played the Bev last November, he made his acting debut.
Andy Lau Tak-Wah has amassed over 150 film credits since the ‘80s, his popularity so large that in 2005, he was recognized as the #1 grossing actor in Hong Kong for 20 years, with a combined total box office gross (in Hong Kong dollars) of $1.7 billion, surpassing Stephen Chow and Jackie Chan. His most recognized performances would include Wong Kar-wai’s As Tears Go By and Days of Being Wild, Infernal Affairs (the inspiration for Martin Scorsese’s The Departed), and Zhang Yimou’s House of Flying Daggers. Lau is also a million-selling pop singer, with a Guinness World Record for Most Awards Won by a Cantopop Artist. Anita Yuen Wing-Yee first drew notice as Miss Hong Kong 1990, which brought her to America for Miss Universe 1991. Her acting roles include two Hong Kong Academy awards for Best Actress, as a dying musician in C’est la vie, mon cheri and as a cross-dressing aspiring pop star in He’s a Woman, She’s a Man; U.S. audiences saw her in Jackie Chan’s racing drama Thunderbolt. Christine Ng Wing-Mei was also a pageant contestant, a third runner-up in 1989’s Miss Asia competiton, and also appeared with Jackie Chan in Crime Story as well as a cameo in his stateside smash Rush Hour.
In concert with the preceding feature, The Odd One Dies from 1997 is a promise made between an unusual couple brought together by a murder contract. Mo (Takeshi Kaneshiro) is a sad sack so deep in gambling debts he agrees to carry out a killing to get out from under them. And then he hits the jackpot and doesn’t need the payday anymore. Conveniently, he finds a girl (Carman Lee) in even more dire straits, and also with a history of taking life, to do the hit for him. As he advises her, and she warms to him, they venture on an odyssey of self-discovery and mutual elevation, a chance for them to transcend their bleak pasts. But can they completely leave behind their world of violence?
Odd One was one of the earliest productions from Johnnie To’s Milky Way Image production company, a firm he created in 1996 with writer/director Wai Ka-fai in the wake of concerns about Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule and of seeing many of the nation’s popular directors leaving to seek their fortunes in Hollywood. Their partnership led to initial productions like Too Many Ways to be Number One and Fulltime Killer to 2010’s Vengeance, featuring the recently departed French legend Johnny Hallyday. While director Patrick Yau Tat-chi made his feature debut on this film, as the setting and story bore many hallmarks of his own films, To has widely been regarded as an uncredited co-director on this project.
Like the aforementioned Andy Lau, with whom he co-starred in House of Flying Daggers and The Warlords, Takeshi Kaneshiro has had success as both a pop singer and an actor. He’s likely best remembered as the heartbroken Cop 223 in the first segment of Wong Kar-wai’s Chungking Express. In addition, he was the model for samurai warrior Samanosuke in Capcom’s Onimusha video game series. Co-star Carman Lee Yeuk-tung has previously appeared in the live-action adaptation of the anime Wicked City and Wai Ka-fai’s Too Many Ways to be Number One, and would later appear in Tsui Hark’s American-backed action thriller Knock Off with Jean-Claude van Damme and Rob Schneider. The lush score is by Raymond Wong Ying-wah, who has composed music for The Blade and many Stephen Chow films including Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle.
Spend a Tuesday night discovering that some people can shower their loved ones with affection at the same time as showering their quarry with bullets, and enjoy some action-packed romance with us at the New Beverly.