What do you remember from your childhood in regards to movies, television or other forms of entertainment? Seeing an old Chinese gangster movie last night made me remember some horrible stuff I saw while I was trapped in the playpen.
This weekend, the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) goddess invited me and my husband to screenings of old Chinese movies which were part of “A Century of Chinese Cinema” featuring films from Mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.
The first one we saw was Chungking Express (1994), introduced by cinematographer Christopher Doyle. He said that the apartment in the film was actually his old apartment in Hong Kong and that the movie couldn’t have been set anywhere else but Hong Kong as it paid homage to the city at the time. He was rambling a bit and perhaps slightly drunk as he laid on the carefully covered grand piano, then started dancing at the Faye Wong song during the credits. TIFF goddess sighed at the lack of professionalism; but I smiled knowingly, thinking about all the Anime North guests I had taken care of in the past who were just as difficult and had to be chased down all the time to keep their activity schedule. The ending in which two characters waited for each other for over a year made me wonder if people now would wait such time for true love even it if was uncertain? Then I remember that my Viking (this is my nickname for my husband due to his red hair & beard) and I had been separated for three years as we were in different schools for a while. It seems like a small blip of time in our relationship now that we are on year 14.
It was the music in the second movie, A Better Tomorrow (1986) which made me and much of the audience (Chinese girls/boys) feel nostalgic as we grew up listening to this music which infiltrated Hong Kong culture at the time. The movie was not really about cool gangsters (trend of the 90s) as they were on the “wrong road”, but about comradery and the Chinese title “True Colors of a Hero” explains the extent of sacrifice one would do for their friends. The long trench coats, brick cellphones, cd players, eighties hairdos and horrible subtitle translations added to the charm of the film.
The songs in the movie were mainly sung by Leslie Cheung, a super talented pop star who came out in the later years and then committed suicide due to depression. Nansun Shi was the executive producer of the movie and she had some great stories about how everyone thought that the film would fail as nonsense comedies were the trend at the time. She sounded like a super smart lady who would make a great role model; will have to learn more about her sometime. “Surely your mother would not have let you watch gangster films as a child!” the TIFF goddess lamented after I told her how the music reminded me of my childhood.
I started to recall what the days were like when trapped in the play pen/child jail. Back in the day, there were barely any Chinese video stores around, so my mother’s friends would record many movies onto VHS tapes and lend them around. It was important that the children watch Hong Kong entertainment or we would never learn the language! I remember watching happy children cartoons…which faded into static…then movies with war, monsters, ghosts, vampires and other things that were adult rated would come on as the tape kept rolling. My most vivid and frightening memory of a movie during my play pen days was one about the Vietnam war and a scene in which a prisoner was tortured in various ways before finally being hung upside down and having his throat slit. I remember crying out for my mother, but no one came. I’m sure they were busy with something at the time. Anyhow, speaking with my brother, he remembers a movie with a clown running around raping police women. The clown was caught after the police hired a prostitute to dress up as a police women as a decoy. He was scared of clowns for years and still is, perhaps.
As for me, after the horrible torture scenes, I was not bothered by aliens, monsters or any “horror” genre things after this. It might also explain how afterwards I started reading lots of Stephen King and Clive Barker to find the initial “thrill” of being shocked again. My parents assumed I was reading Jane Austin, but they didn’t really care as long as I was reading something to improve my English…My siblings and I turned out ok in the end, but I’m not sure if I would do the same to my child as I think I’m become indifferent to many things compared to my Viking. Horror movies gives him nightmares and he is not my partner when it comes to watching that type of stuff.
Japanese psychological horror movies are more interesting to me now than the American slash stuff as I have read/watched too much of it as a teenager. The most disturbing scene in the famous horror franchise Ju-On (American remake – The Grudge) for me is not the killing, but it is when the main character tries to hide under her bed sheets, but can’t, as the little boy ghost is there watching her. Similarly, in the Japanese manga Uzumaki in which people turn into snails and are trapped in a small town; the most horrible scene is when starving business men start eating the snails and saying that it tasted like sashimi. After randomly picking up that book and reading that panel, I thought with glee – wow, that is so horrible, that it’s going to be stuck in my brain forever!
But for now, I think I’ll pause and listen to this beautiful music from “A Better Tomorrow” while feeling some nostalgia. Some people tell me that childhood was their happiest time in their lives due to lack of responsibility and worries. For me, I remember being depressed and a bit suicidal starting at the age of four, perhaps due to watching so much death on film. My brain was warped early on I suppose, which explains why I’m so dark and cynical sometimes!