Kuei Chih-Hung

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Kuei Chih-Hung
Chinese name 桂治洪 (traditional)
Origin Hong Kong
Born (1937-12-20)December 20, 1937
Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, China
Died October 1, 1999(1999-10-01) (aged 61)
Occupation Director, screenwriter
Children Ming Beaver Kwei

Kuei Chih-Hung (桂治洪, aka Kwei Chi Hung, Gui Zhi-Hong, Gwai Chi-hung)[1] (December 20, 1937 – October 1, 1999) was one of the most popular and daring filmmakers to work for the Hong Kong-based Shaw Brothers Studios, directing more than 40 films throughout the late '60s, '70s and early '80s.[2] Known for his bold cinematic style, innovative use of realistic, on-location shooting and often gritty, controversial subject matter, Kuei found critical and commercial success working in a variety of genres, including the hard-boiled crime drama of The Teahouse (1974) and its sequel, Big Brother Cheng (1975), wuxia classic Killer Constable (1981), and the cult horror favorites The Killer Snakes (1975) and Hex (1980). Kuei often added subtle commentary to even his most mainstream projects, depicting the poverty of the public housing, police corruption and colonial government rule with an unflinching honesty.[3]

Early life[edit]

Kuei was born in Guangzhou (in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong) on December 20, 1937. Kuei's passion for cinema began as a high school student in Hong Kong, where he would cobble together makeshift shorts from a shoebox projector and discarded film stock. After graduating from high school, he studied stage production and filmmaking at Taiwan's National School of the Arts, experimenting on several 8 mm films. After writing a few film scripts for the Taiwan film industry, Kuei joined the famous Shaw Brothers Studio in the early 1960s. Initially hired as an assistant director on two Taiwan-shot Shaw films, Lovers' Rock (1964) and Song of Orchid Island (1965), his skill quickly led to projects in Hong Kong and an apprenticeship in Japan, where Kuei continued to hone his craft.[4]

Shaw Brothers Career[edit]

At the large Shaw Brothers Studio, Kuei gained a reputation as one of the most promising assistant film directors on numerous Hong Kong productions. In 1970, at the age of 34, he finally got the opportunity to direct a feature, Love Song Over the Sea. Shot in Singapore and Malaysia, the troubled production was initially suspended after the film's star Peter Chen Ho, fell ill. The original director, Shi Mashan, left due to contractual reasons, allowing Kuei to step in. Pleased with his work on this film, the studio quickly gave him a number of directorial projects, including the musical comedy, A Time for Love and The Lady Professional (1971), both starring Lily Ho.[5]

In 1973, he joined forces with the popular Shaw Brothers filmmaker, Chang Cheh, co-directing The Delinquent, an edgy action drama about a young dishwasher who falls into a life of crime. Though collaboration between the two men, it is Kuei who is credited with the film's distinctive visual style, including the then pioneering use of on-location shoots in Hong Kong's gritty streets and public housing complexes. The film's success led to a string of early '70s hits with Kuei as the sole director, including the women-in prison exploitation flick, The Bamboo House of Dolls and the acclaimed vigilante drama, The Teahouse. He proved a versatile, imaginative filmmaker with a distinctive style that carried through a number of diverse genres including comedy (The Bod Squad, Rat Catcher) and horror (Ghost Eyes).[2]

The Teahouse, about an immigrant restaurant owner trying to protect his family from juvenile gangs, takes a scathing look at the criminal justice system in Hong Kong and is considered one of Kuei's landmark works. The film is also a strong example of Kuei's penchant for eschewing studio sets for the realistic immediacy of urban locations, vividly depicting the harsh environment of lower-class immigrant life. It was followed by a hit sequel in 1975, Big Brother Cheng, with kung fu star Kuan Tai Chen reprising the eponymous role. Kuei transcended the tired revenge tropes of many action sequels, making Big Brother Cheng a compelling and uncompromising examination of crime, juvenile delinquency and social injustice.[6]

Though Kuei's contributions to Hong Kong cinema have often been neglected in recent decades, one film in particular ensured that he would enjoy a devoted cult audience for many years to come. Reaching new extremes in graphic sex and violence, the horror movie The Killer Snakes, is still considered one of Kuei's most notorious and controversial pictures. The plot centers on a young man's special powers with venomous snakes, which allow him to take revenge on those who have wronged him. Several over-the-top scenes of S&M sex and of course lethal snake attacks earned The Killer Snakes its following as a midnight movie classic and to some degree, cemented Kuei's reputation as a maverick filmmaker. The movie is also noteworthy for actor's Kam Kwok-Leung crazily committed performance and the use of hundreds of live poisonous snakes.[6]

Kuei continued to challenge himself by directing segments for The Criminals film series, an acclaimed anthology based on actual Hong Kong cases. His episodes (across four films from 1975 to 1977) included "The Deaf Mute Killer," "The Informer" and "Arson".[7] During the late '70s, Kuei also expanded his filmography to include Cantonese-language comedies (Mr. Funnybone, Crazy Imposters, The Reckless Cricket) and kung fu (The Iron Dragon Strikes Back).[2]

The 1980s saw the versatile Kuei reinventing himself once again, this time with the popular supernatural fantasy, Hex and its two sequels, Hex vs. Witchcraft and Hex After Hex. The latter contained Kuei's signature social satire, taking on such hot-button topics as real estate development and Hong Kong's looming reunification with China. In fact, an early cut of the 1982 film featured a sequence where a character is branded on his behind with "1997" the year mainland China would resume control over Hong Kong. Deemed too politically sensitive, the scene was re-edited and the branded posterior featured "SB" (for Shaw Brothers) instead. Still, Kuei ingeniously found a way to insert a visual gag at the studio's expense.[8]

Kuei also delved into the wuxia genre for the first time with Killer Constable (1980). Though a box-office disappointment at the time of its release, today Killer Constable is considered one of Kuei's finest, most accomplished movies.

Reuniting with his Teahouse/Big Brother Cheng star, Kuan Tai Chen, Kuei's kung fu drama is set in ancient Beijing (a rare period piece for the director). Kuan plays a loyal detective investigating a burglary at the royal palace, who slowly realizes that the corruption and betrayal he is assigned to vanquish lies at the highest levels of power. The film was praised for its dark, violent tone, vivid on-location cinematography and genuine pathos.[9]

Kuei's directorial credits during the 1980s also included Corpse Mania, Bewitched and The Boxer's Omen. With the rise of Hong Kong's New Wave filmmakers, a fresh cinematic style was emerging, though Kuei did not get to participate in this movement. He made one last film, the comedy Misfire, in 1984, before immigrating to the United States, where he opened a pizza restaurant. Kuei died of liver cancer in 1999 at the age of 61.[10]

His Legacy[edit]

Though often overlooked due to his penchant for exploitation genres and his early retirement from the film industry, Kuei Chih-Hung's films have received a renewed appreciation and attention in recent years and he is often fondly referred to as the "Hong Kong Cult Meister." In 2011, the 35th Hong Kong International Film Festival paid tribute to Kuei with a nine-film retrospective, including screenings of The Teahouse, Killer Constable and the Hex series. The Hong Kong Film Archive also published a bilingual edition of Kuei Chih-Hung--The Rebel in the System, a look at his life and films.[11]

Kuei's son, Ming Beaver Kwei, also works in the film industry and produced the 2009 romantic comedy, Sophie's Revenge, starring Ziyi Zhang.[12]

Filmography[edit]

Year Film Notes
1963 The Weird Gentlemen Director/screenwriter
1964 Lover's Rock Second assistant director
1965 Song of Orchid Island Assistant director
1966 Princess Iron Fan Assistant director
1967 Inter-Pol Assistant director
Hong Kong Nocturne Assistant director
King Drummer Assistant director
1968 Don't Fall for Women
Hong Kong Rhapsody Assistant director
Summer Heat Assistant director
1969 Tropicana Interlude Assistant director
1970 Love Without End Assistant director
Whose Baby Is in the Classroom? Assistant director
The Five Million-Dollar Legacy Assistant director
Love Song Over the Sea Co-director/screenwriter
A Time for Love Also co-writer
1971 The Lady Professional Co-director
1972 The Gourd Fairy Also co-writer
Stranger in Hong Kong Co-director
Intrigue in Nylons
1973 The Delinquent Co-director
Payment in Blood
The Bamboo House of Dolls
1974 The Killer Snakes
Virgins of the Seven Seas
Supermen Against the Orient Co-director
The Teahouse
Ghost Eyes
The Rat Catcher
1975 Big Brother Cheng
Fearful Interlude
1976 Sayang Anakku Sayang
Spirit of the Raped
The Criminals 2-Homicides ("The Deaf Mute Killer" & "The Informer")
Killers on Wheels
Mr. Funnybone
1977 The Criminals 3-Arson ("Arson")
The Criminals 4-Assault ("Maniac")
The Criminals 5-The Teenager's Nightmare ("The Teenager's Nightmare")
1978 Crazy Imposters
1979 The Reckless Cricket
The Gold Connection (a.k.a. Iron Dragon Strikes Back)
1980 Killer Constable
Coward Bastard
Hex Also co-writer
Hex vs. Witchcraft
Corpse Mania Also co-writer
Bewitched
1982 Hex After Hex
Curse of Evil
Godfather From Canton
1983 The Boxer's Omen Also story credit
1984 Misfire

Notable Quotes[edit]

"I fell in love with movies in high school and had been itching to make one of my own. But I did not have the money so I made a projector out of a shoe box. I placed a light bulb in it and saved up for film. At the time, movie studios would throw away bits and pieces of used film that did not make the cut. I bought them for my shoe box projector. The film stock back then was nitrate and highly flammable. One time the bulb got overheated and the film started burning. It almost caused a fire and my father gave me a good scolding." [13]

"I am not interested in making fanciful romantic movies at all. I have always wanted to take the realism approach. But in Hong Kong, that is so hard to do. If you make a movie about the mob, you may offend the real mob. If you object to the lenient sentences for juvenile delinquents, you may be condemned as 'agitator'. And if you include provocative dialogues, you may be mistaken as being political."[14]

"A lot of people in Hong Kong tend to indulge themselves in mahjong playing and turn a blind eye to social problems. They think that as long as they do not get mugged themselves, everything is fine. I hope Big Brother Cheng can make them think again."[8]

"In a time when movie-making is considered only an industry, I feel as if I were a factory worker. My job is the director, expected to produce whatever the market demands and I have no right to question that."[15]

"The audience is hard to please. Their tastes tend to be low. The more vulgar the movie, the more likely you will make money. If you try to do something different or try to say something true to your beliefs, you might end up with a disastrous flop. To please the audience, you must resort to gimmicks. I make fantasy movies because audiences like them. But I'm not cavalier making them. I devoted a lot of thought on photography, lighting and so on."[16]

"Compared to smaller studios, there are advantages and disadvantages to working for Shaw Brothers. Perhaps things have improved now, but in the past, independent productions were always running out of funds and that affected both the quality of the movie and your own livelihood. Shaw Brothers is at least well-equipped. If you need a set for a period movie, for example, just take a look in the sculpture room of the studio and you will find Shanghainese masters who specialize in making antique furniture. It is also true that New Wave directors have raised the standard. Now I can ask my crew, 'How do we compete with them when we are complacent?'"[17]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ "Kuei Chih Hung". Hong Kong Cinemagic. Retrieved July 2011. 
  2. ^ a b c "Chih-Hung Kuei (1937–1999)". 
  3. ^ Kuei Chih-hung, the Rebel in the System. Hong Kong: Hong Kong Film Archive. 2011. p. 12. ISBN 978-962-8050-59-8. 
  4. ^ Kuei Chih-hung, the Rebel in the System. Hong Kong: Hong Kong Film Archive. 2011. pp. 12–13. ISBN 978-962-8050-59-8. 
  5. ^ Kuei Chih-hung, the Rebel in the System. Hong Kong: Hong Kong Film Archive. 2011. pp. 13–14. ISBN 978-962-8050-59-8. 
  6. ^ a b Kuei Chih-hung, the Rebel in the System. Hong Kong: Hong Kong Film Archive. 2011. pp. 14–15. ISBN 978-962-8050-59-8. 
  7. ^ Kuei Chih-hung, the Rebel in the System. Hong Kong: Hong Kong Film Archive. 2011. p. 81. ISBN 978-962-8050-59-8. 
  8. ^ a b Kuei Chih-hung, the Rebel in the System. Hong Kong: Hong Kong Film Archive. 2011. p. 15. ISBN 978-962-8050-59-8. 
  9. ^ Kuei Chih-hung, the Rebel in the System. Hong Kong: Hong Kong Film Archive. 2011. pp. 104–105. ISBN 978-962-8050-59-8. 
  10. ^ Kuei Chih-hung, the Rebel in the System. Hong Kong: Hong Kong Film Archive. 2011. p. 117. ISBN 978-962-8050-59-8. 
  11. ^ "HKIFF Celebrates Shaw Director Kuei Chih-Hung". Shaw Brothers Reloaded. 
  12. ^ "Ming Beaver Kwei". Internet Movie Database. IMDB. Retrieved July 2011. 
  13. ^ Kuei Chih-hung, the Rebel in the System. Hong Kong: Hong Kong Film Archive. 2011. p. 13. ISBN 978-962-8050-59-8. 
  14. ^ Kuei Chih-hung, the Rebel in the System. Hong Kong: Hong Kong Film Archive. 2011. p. 14. ISBN 978-962-8050-59-8. 
  15. ^ Kuei Chih-hung, the Rebel in the System. Hong Kong: Hong Kong Film Archive. 2011. pp. 15–16. ISBN 978-962-8050-59-8. 
  16. ^ Kuei Chih-hung, the Rebel in the System. Hong Kong: Hong Kong Film Archive. 2011. p. 16. ISBN 978-962-8050-59-8. 
  17. ^ Kuei Chih-hung, the Rebel in the System. Hong Kong: Hong Kong Film Archive. 2011. p. 17. ISBN 978-962-8050-59-8. 

External links[edit]