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Sex and Zen & A Bullet in the Head: The Essential Guide to Hong Kong's Mind-bending Films Paperback – August 19, 1996
"Neverworld Wake" by Marisha Pessl
Read the absorbing new psychological suspense thriller from acclaimed New York Times bestselling author Marisha Pessl. Learn more
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From Publishers Weekly
Hong Kong is home to the world's third largest film industry after Hollywood and Bombay. The movies tend to emphasize action, and lots of it. But according to the press release, the 200 films covered in Stefan Hammond's and Mike Wilkins's Sex and Zen and a Bullet in the Head are not just chop-socky. Rather, these movies are "sexy, fast-action supernatural," not to mention historical and occasionally downright silly?even without the awkwardly translated subtitles like "Suck the coffin mushroom now" or "I know it, he is not an idiot, he is sexual detour" that by themselves are worth the price of admission.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
Until very recently, Hong Kong cinema was largely ignored in the United States by all but a small, fervent minority. This has begun to change, however, and the authors intend to lure new fans with this introductory overview to the great variety of Hong Kong film. Each chapter focuses on one topic, such as type of film or individual actor or director. A glossary of terms and a listing of locations around the country where people can obtain tapes are also provided. The authors are obviously die-hard fans of these films, and, unfortunately, the intensity of their enthusiasm, though at times humorous, frequently borders on the immature. Though the book, like the films it covers, is best suited for older audiences, it is hard to tell to whom it will finally appeal. Existing fans of Hong Kong cinema will find little new of interest, and nonfans may just be intimidated. Purchase only where there is demand.?Peter A. Leggieri, "Library Journal"
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Top customer reviews
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Read, enjoy, learn, then start trying to track down these films that range from classic to trashy.
You understand the essence of the book with the statement in the Introduction "...over-intellectualizing film denies the primary purpose of moviegoing: entertainment." While they somewhat forgo this when reviewing several of the Wong Kar-wai films, you are not going to find anything from Ann Hui in here or even important dramatic fare like Center Stage (1992) or the Cantonese realist cinema from the 1950s. You are going to find action, cat-III, supernatural thrillers, HK film noir, martial arts and more action movies described here. You will also find specific chapters on John Woo, Tsui Hark, Jackie Chan and Ringo Lam. There is also one chapter that combines Yuen Biao, Sammo Hung and Yuen Wah together.
The biggest complaint I have read on this book is the fact that many of the summaries are plot recaps that overdo discussing possible spoiler. While the reviews do offer more discussion than that and are penned by several contributing writers including Andy Klein, Chuck Stephens and others besides the two authors, the spoiler aspect can be upsetting if you do not know it is coming (the capsule reviews tend to have less of this). The best approach to reading those is to either avoid the last couple of paragraphs on the films you have not seen and want to see or just avoid reading that review all together. But there are some other bigger issues though including one of my biggest personal vexations - bad information.
The Shaw Brothers chapter is definitely outdated though part of that has to due with the fact Celestial bought out library and licensed them for release in 2002. But there is a lot of data that is just plain wrong like Chang Cheh is not the director of Human Lanterns that would be Sun Chung. TVB was not founded in the 80s (it was in 1967) and Run Run Shaw has his hands in that business at least since the 70s (on the official Shaw site he states he launched TVB in 1973 which contradicts what is written on TVBs site). The Shaw Brothers did not make "thousands" of films either (the real amount appears to be near a thousand). Jimmy Wang Yu does not play in Dirty Ho, which would be Wong Yu. I do feel this chapter can and should be skipped.
I did have fun with the book though. The authors and contributing writers do show a love for the cinema and it does show in their writing though sometimes they come up with hilarious statements like "There are two kinds of people in this world: those who like movies in which the with takes her head off and throws it at you, and those who don't." and "...ain't no Chuck Norris-style hairy-backed sleepwalking." The hex error segments, which are hilariously corrupted translated English from various films, are particularly fun and had me reminiscing of ones I have read in the past. And there is an introduction from Jackie Chan. If the book is inexpensive, you have seen at least some of the films in the book and you are not expecting "over-intellectualizing" sagacious content then pick this up. Otherwise, well there are many other books out there to choose from.
There are two different paperback releases of this book (1996, 1997). I did my review from the 1996 version. I am not sure if there are any differences between the two.
I love this book. It's not meant to be an HK film encyclopedia, just a feet-wetting introduction to an unjustly overlooked body of work. As that, it's nearly perfect.
Sex and Zen & A Bullet in the Head is instead an unapologetic, unabashed celebration of Hong Kong cinema that waggles its tongue at the conventions of political correctness. The authors have also packed in fun trivia and interesting tidbits all fans ought to appreciate. (The sections on poorly translated subtitles floored me with laughter!) This is the book you want to purchase if you want a guided tour into the amazing world of Hong Kong cinema.
And to address the criticism of a previous reviewer, yes, this work does contain plot breakdowns and spoilers, but if you use a bit of discretion, this ceases to be a problem. In fact, in many cases this isn't a problem to begin with. The Jackie Chan-type films in particular aren't known for plot; you're riveted by the action, definitely not the melodrama. As any HK film fanatic can tell you, descriptions utterly fail to convey the overwhelming cinematic wonders these films possess.