The good, the bad & the printed

  • The Essential Guide to Hong Kong Movies – (Rick Baker/Toby Russell – Eastern Heroes, £11.99, pp315) – EH
  • Asian Trash Cinema – The Book – (Thomas Weisser, Asian Trash Cinema Publications, $19.95, pp187) – ATC

Typical, wait ages for a book on HK films, then two come along at once. No problem: with an empty field, two books are scarcely going to saturate the market. So, getting to the conclusion first, both are unquestionably worth buying, and are indispensable sources of information.

Having said this, which is “better”? This is to some extent an unfair question for what are basically collections of reviews, but technically, they have different strengths and weaknesses. For ease of use, ATC wins out. Want a film, look it up, alphabetical order, no problem. EH is divided into separate sections such as Modern Day Action, Heroic Bloodshed or the ubiquitous Fantasy/Erotic/Horror; to find any given movie, you first have to guess which part it’s in, which increases the search time.

This problem is exacerbated by the lack of an overall index, each section has one, but this is useful only for hunting alternate titles. I yearn for a comprehensive list cross-referencing people to films, though appreciate the effort that would involved. ATC makes some effort with a directorial index, but otherwise, they’re fine only for finding films by name.

Both are reasonably comprehensive; EH wins out for kung fu movies, while ATC does well in the fantasy genre. However, neither contain ‘The Magic Crystal’, an excellent movie released here by VPD, or ‘License to Steal’, a battling-babe film whose omission in EH is doubly surprising as Rick Baker has sold it to me, both on tape and laser-disc! In the picture department, EH is the undoubted winner, with lots of great photos, and a useful section at the back which puts faces to names for a lot of the main stars. It also has more extensive credit listings than ATC, which is terse in the extreme.

The reviews themselves are obviously not comparable; it’s all opinion. However, of 500+ movies in EH, only a handful rate under two stars. This over-enthusiasm is especially apparent under ‘Heroic Bloodshed’. no films are less than ‘ok’, and the relentless superlatives – one sequence has nine straight rated ‘top-notch’ or better – make it seem like a sales catalogue. While I know it is written by fans, more detachment would have helped. The problem with the ATC reviews is more one of familiarity: the book is an expansion of issue 1 of ‘Asian Trash Cinema’, which was itself a revision of an issue of “Naked! Screaming! Terror!”. Those who bought earlier versions may be justifiably peeved at paying again for the same text.

You’ve already got the conclusion. Neither of these two are perfect by a long way, but they’re both solid pieces of work. Readers with a fondness for flowery similes may care to think of them as like two search-lights probing into the pitch-black night sky. Till dawn breaks, we need all the help we can get…

The Crime Studio (Steve Aylett, Serif, £7.99, pp156)

This drifted into TC Towers with no enclosures save a telephone number on the inside cover. Never got round to calling it: didn’t see much point before, and afterwards…well, much of the book had a rather too cheery psychotic edge to it. I got the feeling the author had seen one too many John Woo movies, or Tom and Jerry cartoons. Mind you, the same could be said of me.

It’s a slim volume – more on which later – of tales about Beerlight, a neo-apocalyptic urban jungle populated by larger-than­-life characters with larger-than-life weapons (wasn’t sure whether to review it, or pass it to TC’s gun correspondent, Jim Swallow). There are many cracking lines, guaranteed to have you snorting into your angel dust i.e. “Aggie Swan had perfected the ‘wasted angel’ look to such a pitch that people shielded their eyes against the expected atomic blast of her ascension”. Nice. The only complaint is that they may be too good: some stories seem written expressly to let Aylett use a really cool turn of phrase he’d just thought up. However, as none of them are of ‘War & Peace’ duration – or even ‘W’ duration – this is entirely bearable, in the same way that few TV adverts are actively worth zapping (except the American Express one with bloody Anita Roddick).

This is, above all, cool. However, should a book barely thicker than TC (and with less nice illos) cost eight quid? I know how much we pay for printing, and someone, somewhere is making a healthy profit from ‘The Crime Studio’. I hope it’s Mr. Aylett. So, shoplift it. Or, in the spirit of the book, drive a tank into the bookshop, massacre the entire staff, and then shoplift it.

Invasion! (Darren Jones et al, £7.00, pp208)

Shunted from the ‘zine section to the books comes this quadruple issue of ‘Invasion of the Sad Man-Eating Mushrooms’. 15 months in the making, and with a price to match, this benefits from a lot of good writing, but is a tad let down by the presentation; some early copies rapidly converted into a loose-leaf format, though I’m informed this has now been rectified.

If you’ve seen the ‘zine, you know what to expect, brash and cheerful, covering a wide range of exploitation material from porn to Euro-horror to the ‘joys’ of getting raided. This last piece was as fascinating as a road accident, though left important questions unanswered, starting as it did with the police arriving. There’re also interviews with people such as David Warbeck & Stephen Laws.

It’s hard to fault the writing, a generally nice, relaxed style that I enjoy. However, there were a couple of reviews, such the ‘Tower of Evil’ review which goes on about breasts a lot, where I’m unsure whether the writer is being post-ironic, or very sad. A downside is the physical appearance. Things like the photo reproduction would be fine for a fanzine, but when you’re paying book prices, you expect something a little better. It may or may not be a problem, depending on your demands.

This thick creature represents a growing trend for fanzines to become larger but less frequent (cf Shock Xpress, and this humble creature). The effort involved is known: Jones and his colleagues certainly deserve a pat on the back for this solid hunk of pleasurable reading.