The Direct to Video Connoisseur

I'm a huge fan of action, horror, sci-fi, and comedy, especially of the Direct to Video variety. In this blog I review some of my favorites and not so favorites, and encourage people to comment and add to the discussion. If you click on an image, it will take you to that post's image page, which includes many more pics from the film and other goodies I couldn't fit in the actual review. For announcements and updates, don't forget to Follow us on Twitter and Like our Facebook page. If you're the director, producer, distributor, etc. of a low-budget feature length film and you'd like to send me a copy to review, you can contact me at dtvconnoisseur[at]yahoo.com. I'd love to check out what you got.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Hong Kong 97 (1994)

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This one was placed on my radar after Albert Pyun himself commented on my Spitfire post that he shot that, this, and Heatseeker all at the same time, which was why there was some overlap in the actors. I liked the Robert Patrick and Ming Na on the cover, and couldn't wait to see what Brion James and Tim Thomserson were like. If anything, it would be a fun ride with that kind of cast.

Hong Kong 97 takes place as control of Hong Kong was being transferred back to China. With that expectation and potential upheaval as the backdrop, we have Robert Patrick, a hired assassin for a major corporation based in the city. After he kills or upsets the wrong person, a large bounty is put on his head. Co-workers Thomerson and James try to help him, while he seeks refuge at the home of former flame Ming Na, who needs to get out of dodge herself with her grandfather, because he's wanted for defecting from China, and could be arrested by the army if he's not out before the transfer. Now Patrick is trying to figure out who's after him, how he can get Ming Na and her grandfather out of the city, and clear his debts, all at once.

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I liked this one. It might either be too light on the action and too heavy on the Noir for some people, or too heavy on the action and too light on the Noir for others, but it worked for me. The down times, where we either had Brion James talking in his British accent with Thomerson or Patrick, or the catching up with one another/sexual tension scenes between Ming Na and Patrick, didn't feel boring or like padding. The best element was the use of Hong Kong's transfer to add to the tension. I think the move Pyun made by setting a scene in Ming Na's place while she's packing her things to move out really added that tension the best, because maybe we can't all relate to Hong Kong moving from British to Chinese hands, but we can relate to the feeling of moving, and the time when the move is almost there, that feeling of inevitability and impending change. It pervaded every other element of the movie, and for me, tied it all together.

As I mentioned in the first paragraph, this was shot at the same time as Spitfire and Heatseeker. I think out of all three, Hong Kong 97 worked the best. The biggest cast overlap was Tim Thomerson, who appeared in all three films. Then you have Brion James, who was in the beginning of Spitfire, then had a major role in this, and Tina Cote, who had a major role in Heatseeker, then appeared in the opening credits to Spitfire. I thought I remembered Robert Patrick being in Spitfire for a second too, but I can't find any proof of that. What would've been cool is more Thom Mathews and < ahref="http://www.mattmovieguy.com/search/label/Norbert%20Weisser">Norbert Weisser, even Vincent Klyn. There should be some kind of Albert Pyun mainstay battle royale with all of these guys together-- maybe that could be the Mean Guns remake...

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You're probably wondering why I included an image of Robert Patrick nude, crouching down, and shooting a gun. I just wanted to say I was impressed with Pyun's excellent Skin-a-max style directing in this scene. He displayed a great ability to avoid showing Patrick's junk without making it look like he was purposefully obscuring that area. I wonder what Patrick thought when he saw that in the script: "sweet, I'm having sex with a hot chick, and then... I run around the hotel room buck naked, dodging bullets and firing at gunmen crashing through my window? I need to talk to my agent..."

I know a lot of the readers are big Tim Thomerson fans, so I should warn you now that he gets killed off about midway through. He's great while he's there, especially talking with Brion James, and Brion James survives, so at least you have him to make up for anything you're missing with Thomerson. Seeing Thomerson reminds me yet again that I need to get those Trancer films up, so hopefully I'll do that soon.

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You gotta love Ming Na. She was also great as Chun Li in Street Fighter, which came out the same year as this. You could see here, though, playing off Robert Patrick in their non-action scenes, where she would start the ball rolling into her better acting gigs, like ER. As far as Van Damme leading ladies go, I'd say she's in a tie with Mia Sara for best of all time.

This is only available on VHS. Amazon has it pretty cheap used, so that's a great avenue to go. I personally liked it, and it has a great cast to boot. Definitely worth giving a look.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0110052/

14 comments:

  1. Nice Review! Will check this one out. Big fans of the whole cast.

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  2. Decent Pyun flick. It's got some style, some decent low budget action and Robert Patrick is cool.

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  3. I haven't seen this one in years but a friend and I got into a good run with Robert Patrick action vehicles in the early to mid 90s and this was one of the better ones. I remember very little about HK97 but that's a stellar cast and it looks worth revisiting.

    My favorite Patrick actioner might actually be Zero Tolerance, which you reviewed a few years back. Patrick just picking off gang members one by one and chainsmoking his brains out. Decoy with Peter Weller is another decent one, if you can find it.

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  4. Hi Matt:

    Boy your reviews sure bring back memories. I really enjoyed making HK '97 and it was my first collaboration with screenwriter Randall Fontana. Later we would do Bulletface together as well as a CG animated film called "Sorcerers" which is an adaptation of the three musketeers set in a distant galaxy.

    Robert Patrick was a dream to work with and he makes a brief appearance in the opening scene of Spitfire as I thought it would be cool to have the T-1000, Brion's Replicant and Lance's Bishop all in the same scene, an homage to great mechanical beings.

    I hope to get another opportunity to work with Robert. He's a very committed actor. In the early scenes of HK '97, you can see him board a junk to ride out to the famous "Jumbo" floating Restaurant. The restuarant was triad owned and they wanted a huge sum to shoot on it.

    I suggested we just steal the shot but the local HK production company wanted nothing to do with that. Neither did the American producers of HK '97 because of the potential risks of crossing the triad. So I got together with the camera and stunt crew and Robert and we decided to attempt a shot on our off day. We rehearsed on shore and then when it came time, we all wore black and boarded two junks. As we motored toward the Jumbo, we built the camera onto a steadicam rig that would minimize the motion of the sea.

    Robert rode alone on a separate junk and it took him to the Jumbo barge where he jumped off. He walks through the restaurant and was picked up on the other side by a high speed scorpion boat.

    This scene and a few others work because of Robert's commitment and fearlessness.

    Albert Pyun
    Facebook / Albert Pyun Movies

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  5. Albert Pyun suggesting he "steals" something.

    classic

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  6. I thought that was Patrick in the opening scene of Spitfire! I never made the connection though about all the classic movie androids in one spot, that's excellent! That story about filming this movie is great too, so thank you for sharing that, and it's really cool to hear that Robert Patrick is even better off-screen than he is on it, because I love his work.

    It's also great to hear that my reviews bring a sense of nostalgia for you, because I know when I review these older films, it's both to draw attention to them for people who haven't seen them but are into similar stuff, but also bring back that similar sense of nostalgia for people like me who grew up on these movies. Hong Kong 97 might not be as iconic as Cyborg or Nemesis, but I can think back to movie nights with my friends when we were younger, picking a movie out of all the others off our local video store shelves, just because it had a familiar face like Robert Patrick on the cover.

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  7. This film I actually have no recollection of, Of course I watched this almost 20 years ago. I do remember that Pyun tried to ape John Woo's two gun shootouts. Also the film if I recall had little to do with the Hong Kong 97 handover, it just sort of served as a backdrop, Basically Robert Patrick avenges his friend and girlfriend (The one that got naked and not Ming Na)

    It was from what I remember so-so.


    By the way to the guy two posts ahead of me, explain yourself and what you mean by your comment.

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  8. The guy two posts ahead of you won's be explaining himself unless he at least uses an open ID, because I turned off the anonymous commenting function again after one that came after that one that was totally inappropriate. I gave the one you're talking about the benefit of the doubt, but I don't know, maybe I shouldn't have?

    I just decided that, overall, since I turned the anonymous comments feature back on a while back, for every one good contribution an anonymous made, I got five or six that were either inappropriate, obnoxious, or just negative for the sake of being negative. I've seen on Tumblr how bad it can get when you allow anonymous comments, so I've decided to take care of it here before it becomes an issue.

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  9. I agree with Kenner. The shoot outs cold have been better staged (aped).

    In defense of the one out in the street in daylight, we had spent several days and a big chunk of our budget rigging the house that was on the street for a big (for me) set piece but when we showed up that morning to shoot, the owner of the house refused to allow shooting unles we paid a bigger fee. So rather than lose a day's shooting, I restaged the gun battle in the street in front of the house. I think there were thousands of explosive squibs, explosive bombs and breakway walls/doors/props set into that house, a big investment. So that was disappointing.

    Albert

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  10. Do you think now with the computer technology being what it is, you could mitigate those sudden changes of plan better now than you could in 1994?

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  11. Yeah, CG gives a filmmaker far more flexibility to adjust an impossible situation into a do-able one. And I think digital imaging allows for a much better overall look for a film. As an example, is the type of sunlight near the equator has always been a problem for fast shooting films. the light has a sort of bluer spectrum and high contrast with lighter colors gets washed out because there's no time or budget to compensate with lights. so the Digital Intermediary process can adjust these flaws and achieve much better looking images than the old style color correction used back in the early 90's. As a great example of this is my Director's cut of both Tales of an Ancient Empire which completed its DI pass last week and my cut of Captain America (1990) currently undergoing digital remaster and DI-ing. Both are greatly enhanced in richness and dynamic look. albert

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  12. I never would have considered the effect of shooting near the equator on film shooting, that's really cool to know. I also think it will be great to see a director's cut of Captain America. I still can't get over your interview for IFC where you say there were plans for you to make a Spiderman film with a budget of $10 million, and now $10 million wouldn't cover the catering on a Spiderman movie!

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  13. Yeah, it was quite a challenge to figure out how to make Spider-Man on a budget. We had rooms built of gimbals so they could rotate and then needed to do actual web slinging on set and the spidey flying through the city was a big technical challenge (as the broadway spider-man has discovered). Lots of wire runs with motorized power. And we cast several aerialist and acrobats as well. It was like having a different actor/performer for every phase of spider-man's movements. CG is soooo much better.

    By the way, if you write to: ccurnanpictures@gmail.com, we can arrange to get you a Director's cut of CA as well as my cut of Tales of an Ancient Empire for review. Thank, Matt.

    Albert Pyun
    Facebook/Albert Pyun

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  14. Wow, that'll be great, thanks! I appreciate it.

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