Her Name Is Calla – Condor and River
Favourite HK New Wave Period Action – Once Upon A Time In China
That might seem like a fairly narrow category, but if I simply try ‘favourite Hong Kong action’ the choice becomes impossible, and considering the vast amount of genres within the HKA film industry, this makes things much more simple. (Romance was easy, action was hard – way too many favourites). That being said, this comes pretty close to being my favourite film of all time (I admit to watching it over 50 times since I first saw it over 15 years ago), so perhaps the heading of this post is a little irrelevant anyway.
The theme song was a definite challenge, too, but before I get to that…
OUATIC (1991), directed by Tsui Hark and starring Jet Li, is semi-fact and fiction. It tells (part of) the story of Wong Fei Hung, who was something of a real-life Chinese folk hero. I have no idea how many films have been made about him, but let’s just say there’s a hell of a lot – Kwan Tak Hing alone starred in a total of 99 films as Master Wong.
If you watch the trailer above, you’ll hear the theme song for the film. I should note that the piece of music used for that comes from a Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) folk song called Under the General’s Orders – the adapted version is called A Man Should Better Himself. This song – and the music of it – is not just the theme of the film, but has been long-since adopted as the theme song for the man himself, and decade’s worth of films about Master Wong have used it. It is a piece of music that is instantly recognisable and immediately associated with Wong Fei Hung. Below is an instrumental version.
I actually love that piece of music, and have a version on CD with none other than Jackie Chan providing the vocals.
Before I saw OUATIC, I had seen a handfull of Jackie Chan films and thought they were pretty darn good. After I saw it…a veritable obsession with Hong Kong action cinema was born. Throughout the 90′s, I collected around 400 films on VHS, right up until the introduction of DVDs, after which the release of HK films in Australia virtually screeched to a halt (funnily enough, this happened to coincide with the 1997 handover of Hong Kong to China – a cause for a little unrest in itself within the HK film industry, but that’s a different subject entirely). The film has everything you could possibly want – beautiful cinematography, jaw-droppingly good fight choreography, despite the obvious use of wire-work (thanks to the legendary Yuen Woo-Ping, probably familiar to most others as the choreographer for the Matrix trilogy), drama, romance, tragedy… There’s pretty much nothing it doesn’t give the viewer in an exciting, dynamic, captivating and impressive way.
There’s a bunch more I’d like to say about the film and its history in general, (read: I wrote several other paragraphs and realised this was getting far too long), so on to the theme song I’ve chosen. As mentioned previosuly, this is not an attempt at giving the film itself a new theme song, but an attempt at finding a song that epitomises some other qualities – very difficult in this instance because, like everyone else, the music and film are pretty much inseperable in my head.
If you’re familiar with either, the theme song may be looking a bit odd. Along with the reason already mentioned, this was the hardest challenge so far because all of my immediate picks were themes from other films, which I wanted to avoid. What I did want, was something that I could draw certain similarities to. Condor and River, in terms of subject matter, has nothing in common with OUATIC, but it is an epic, breathtaking and thrilling piece of storytelling that is not only one of the band’s finest moments, but a masterpiece of the genre itself. Translate that to the film, and Jet Li, and it’s spot on.
Admittedly, I also wanted to avoid picking a song by someone I never shut-up about, but 4 out of 5 ain’t bad…