Monday, August 27, 2012

Peking Opera Blues: Pure Delirium

Going to the cinema is always a risk.
One that millions of us gladly take with little regard. We enter those darkened rooms full of hope that the film will at least be a pleasant experience for a couple of hours. And we hope all the best parts weren’t spoiled in the trailer. Yet, far too often it’s a waste of both time and money and we walk out feeling disappointed. Unenlightened.

But still we go. Because we know there’s a chance it can be a transcending experience with effects that last long beyond its running time. Whether it’s influencing your childhood fantasy playtime, as was the case after millions saw the original Star Wars for the first time, or scaring you from swimming in the ocean which happened to many who witnessed Jaws.

And yes, there remains that rare occasion, when it’s possible for a film to truly change the course of your life. 
This is that story. 
This is what happened to me.

Through a series of chance events I happened to catch Washington Post film critic Hal Hinson’s October 14, 1988 review of a Hong Kong film currently playing at the Biograph Theatre in Georgetown (Washington, D.C.). His opening line accompanied by a black and white photo of actress Cherie Chung caught my eye: “Watching Peking Opera Blues is like flipping through the most explosive, most exhilarating comic book ever made.” He went on: Peking Opera Blues makes you feel as if you're seated on the nose of a bullet.” Okaaay… tell me more. “The shootout on the rooftops that serves as the film's climax is an explosion of talent. Your mouth drops open at the sight of it.” Ok done. Sold. I’m there.
So I went. Not really knowing what to expect. Never having really seen a proper Hong Kong movie before. Maybe I caught a few poorly dubbed chopsocky flicks on late night TV. But certainly not in a theater. And not one like this. I was ill prepared for what came next. Or the new direction my life would take.

Directed and co-produced by Vietnam-born/Texas educated Tsui Hark, the film was originally released in Asian markets in September of 1986 during the height of Hong Kong’s hugely productive post-new wave golden age. The film took a couple of years to finally reach our unsuspecting shores. Originally playing in Chinatown cinemas and then later in so-called art-house theaters which mostly showed subtitled films, re-issues of older classics and animation festival collections. Peking Opera Blues fit the bill perfectly. It's subtitled, a modern classic and plays out much like a frantic cartoon. 

It stars three dynamic, beautiful and accomplished actresses who are totally suited for their roles. The revolutionary disobeying her father and heart-set on political change for the good of country: Tsao Wan played with earnest by Brigitte Lin (aka Lin Ching Hsia). The theatre owner's daughter who dreams of finally performing onstage for the adoration of the crowds (she must break with custom and disobey her father too): Pat Neil portrayed by the multi-talented Sally Yeh (aka Yip Sin-Man). And the gold-digger who's only concerned with herself and seems oblivious to the larger struggles: Sheung Hung performed with doe-eyes by the glamorous Cherie Chung (aka Chung Chor-hung). Three archetypes whose paths cross and interweave in spectacular fashion. On the surface the film is a hodge podge mix of genres, a period picture set in a time and place not that familiar to most Americans. It’s part political drama with intrigue and deception, part broad comedy with scenes straight out of a French bedroom farce, part martial arts actioner with high-flying gravity-defying acrobatics, and part subtle social commentary, all wrapped in colorful dress, bathed it romantic light and filmed through a soft gauze filter. Sugar-coated or not, it's a big pill to swallow. It’s shouldn’t work. On paper no studio in their right mind would approve this production. 
Tsui Hark

But Tsui Hark, bless him, is not and most likely never has been in his right mind. It took a mad genius to mix all these ingredients into one soup and make it delicious. And delicious it is. Despite Western audiences’ near complete lack of knowledge of the intricacies of Chinese Opera. In spite of the famously poor English subtitles. It works. It all seems so… foreign. So alien. So beautifully artificial. Yet the infectious joy of spending 104 minutes in the world of the film is undeniable. It plays as a sheer celebration of life and energy and all our mad human pursuits. Our own lives seem so dull by comparison. When the lights come up at the end there's an audible moan of "Oh. Right. Damn. Back to real life now." 

And yet, after all the energy is spent onscreen, it has the audacity to question if it really got us anywhere at all. A final point the film makes with gusto in conclusion, with a "masked" character literally laughing in our face at the futility of it all. Indeed we all play our roles, but are the characters we inhabit doomed from the start? Is the play of life cyclical by nature? Do we always end where we began regardless of our actions? Perhaps. Humans tend to repeat history time and time again. So then is it all about how we spend our own 104 minutes. Perhaps. Perhaps not.  But it's a good question to ponder. Maybe this is an art film hiding under sheep's clothing.

The coast is clear... I think.
The Crescendo: One last strut on the stage before they all break character. And make a break for it.
Their only escape... seems unlikely.
Customarily, as was the practice during Shakespeare's time and on into the early twentieth century, women did not perform on a public stage. It simply was not the place for a lady. So female characters in plays were always portrayed by men. Sometimes effeminate men, but still men. The Chinese title for Peking Opera Blues is Do Ma Dan which is what the warrior women characters were called in Peking Opera. This style of performance incorporated flamboyant costumes, martial arts, dance, singing, live music and dramatic themes. It bares little comparison to the somewhat more staid, but no less tragic, European opera. The title is an obvious metaphor for the strong female characters portrayed in the film performing on and off the stage. The three leads are the "do ma dons" of the film, as each pursues their own goals regardless of the difficulty or what's expected of them, and for a brief time, those pursuits coincide with each other and they choose to work together. To this end the whole cinematic production has the atmosphere of a stage play. The rooms are deliberately "set-like" in their design, the drama and comedy overly melodramatic and the action highly stylized and posed. It becomes this unexpectedly giddy hybrid of a movie of a play within a film that itself feels like a filmed play. Where does the stage end? Not until the last shot of the film, does it truly feel like the characters are outside. As if they've finally broken free from the stage. And they all part ways, just as the audience must too.
No need to cut away to reaction shots, everyone involved in this scene is in this ONE SHOT. And you can see all their faces. Brilliant.
Although not a mega blockbuster, the film was a solid hit at box offices across Asia. While the film's apparent mainstream commercial appeal at home may have hurt its cache with high-brow HK cinema critics, foreign reviewers (such as those in the U.S and Europe) immediately were struck by the film's daring themes of female empowerment. This was not so common in the mid-1980's. The U.S. had The Bionic Woman, Wonder Woman (both canceled television programs from the 1970s) and perhaps the character of Ripley from the two Alien films released at that point. Other than a few old exploitation titles on VHS, audiences stateside did not see many strong dominant females on film. But in Hong Kong, the Girls With Guns phenominon was a popular thriving subgenre all it's own. Thanks to the likes of action powerhouses Moon Lee, Michelle Yeoh/Khan, Yukari Oshima, Cynthia Khan, and others such as Sibelle Hu. In fact P.O.B. leads Brigitte Lin and Sally Yeh had twice before starred together in high-octane Taiwanese female actioners from the Seven Samurai/Dirty Dozen mold. (Golden Queens Commandos/Commando Amazons, and its sequel Pink Force Commandos) Note: Lin also went on to do a third film in the series called Fantasy Mission Force with Jackie Chan. 

Also interesting is that gay/lesbian groups immediately voiced their support of Lin's gender-crossed attire, appearance and mannerisms. Finding a lead character in a mainstream film they could finally identify with (although it’s never stated in the film that she is in fact homosexual).   
There were even published comments of admiration for the atmospheric, almost sensual way the torture sequence was presented in the film by those who have a particular interest in those matters.

Other audiences were simply blown away by the combination of immensely colorful pageantry, high flying physicality, gorgeous stars, and breathless pace of it all. Theatergoers would exit with their head spinning, mumbling “I dunno what I just saw but it was something. When can I see it again?”

When I left the first screening I knew I had seen something too. Something unlike anything I'd seen before.  And it left me wanting more. For instance there are clips of a scene that plays under the closing credits that was cut from the film, and it angered me because I wanted to see that part too

Of course now It's impossible to see this film through 1986 eyes (or even 1988 eyes) to truly understand it's impact. So much has come since. Just as one can still enjoy 1933's King Kong for what it is, but we can never experience the same impact it had on that 1933 audience. For me the nostalgia factor of my first screening is always and forever attached, so the film is now lodged firmly into my psyche. So if you are to go watch this film for the first time now after reading all the hype, you're bound to be somewhat disappointed. All I can say is, don't let that stop you. Enjoy it for what it is.  

So yes I liked the film... but how did it change my life?

At the time I was 19 years old and had been developing a keen interest in Asian cultures. (Particularly Chinese and Japanese) The beauty of the arts. The music. The culture, customs, beliefs. The history. The architecture. The language (I took night courses in Mandarin). It all fascinated me and the deeper I dug the more interesting it became. Like peeling an onion. (Only with less tears.) So Peking Opera Blues was like one gigantic chocolate cream-filled candy bar for a hungry sugar junky. I gladly ate it up. And went to every showing. Then I finally got the courage to invite my friends. “You have to see this thing,” I’d tell them. “Even if you’ve never watched a subtitled movie before. You don’t wanna miss this.”

Three months later in January 1989, the nearby Kennedy Center had a retrospective of the films of Taiwanese actress Brigitte Lin (Lin Ching Hsia). This of course included a couple screenings of P.O.B. among some of her other films. AND… she would be there IN PERSON. How cool is that?

So I took some friends, even dragged my conservative parents out there for a screening. Brigitte Lin came out for some Q&A and then (long story sorta short) I got to meet her, chat awkwardly and get an autograph. She was very accommodating, beautiful and seemed genuinely surprised that she had “gweilo” (Caucasian) fans here in the States. It was like she stepped off the screen for just a brief moment, and just as quickly, slipped into a car and was whisked away again. Seemingly back to the world of the silver screen where she lived. Like she would melt if she stayed in our world too long.

During this time I also discovered the American Theatre (which despite its name, only showed Hong Kong movies) located deep underneath L’Enfant Plaza. For six dollars you got a HK double feature and enough trailers in-between to make you feel as if you’d seen about 8 movies that night. HK trailers are notoriously long and show you everything. Like a 4-minute condensed version of the whole movie. And they offered dried cuttlefish at the snack bar instead of popcorn. That was my Sunday evening ritual. Just me, and a whole new world of cinema to discover. Apparently my friends just didn't "get it". That's okay. It was something I was happy to do alone. In fact the theater was nearly empty except for a bum or two who'd come in from the rain to get dry or sleep. There might be 2 or 3 Asian teens in attendance, but they would always sit in the back row in the dark.

My love for Hong Kong cinema grew with each Sunday. But by June, the American Theatre closed it's doors for what they called "renovation". But as I had feared, it was indeed a permanent closure. Other than the occasional art house showing, the video shops and Chinese-language movie magazines (such as Cinemart and Milky Way) were my best connection to the "scene". So this lead to searching for more Asian video rental shops, which tended to be hidden away in little alleys and dusty out-dated strip malls. I found several good ones but they were a bit of a drive to get to. And sometimes in shady parts of town. Jackie Chan was seven years away from successfully (and accidentally) breaking back into the US market, so there really weren't many of us gweilos visiting these shops. And HK movie titles were not yet common at US video shops. The best place I found was Video City located in Rockville, Maryland. It happened to be the farthest away, but well worth the commute.
Tsao Wan introduces her friends to a globe... and "western" eveningwear. Ms. Yeh's gift for comedy is evident throughout the film.
The film's story is very much told silently in a series of "forceful looks and knowing glances".
Now is the time for the players to rewrite their play.
Over time I spent more and more time at Video City. The video tapes were not organized into genres or categories like you'd find at a typical US video shop. I felt doing that might help customers (especially non-Chinese) more easily find what they were looking for. And since I had seen so many of the movies and was familiar with them, I offered my services to help reorganize the store inventory for the owner. She didn't seem too eager to do it herself so she agreed to my assistance. Since I was an artist and was studying Mandarin, I also volunteered to hand-make new illustrated bilingual signage for the shelves. It was a pleasure for me. And customers responded favorably. Even more gweilos streamed in.

Pretty soon I quit going to the other videos stores and Video City became my homebase. The owner eventually stopped charging me for rentals because I was always there, like a non-paid employee, suggesting titles to customers or helping them find a title they wanted. Sometimes we would get a bite to eat after closing up shop. Perhaps you can now foresee where this is leading. 
Sally Yeh was nominated for Best Actress for her performance in the film.
Yep. We got married, bought a house, sold the store and have been together ever since. Over twenty years now. So if it wasn't for Peking Opera Blues and the new direction it pointed me, I would not literally be where I am today. Or with who I am with. That movie changed the second half of my life. I had absolutely no idea when I entered the Biograph Theatre in October of 1988 that my life was about to be altered. A new destiny set in motion. But the simplest thing can do that. I can honestly attest to that. Even the flicker of light on a blank screen. 

Also of note: through another series of events related to Peking Opera Blues I became friends with actress-singer Sally Yeh and her collaborator husband actor/singer/songwriter George Lam. They are wonderfully down-to-earth and extremely open and kind people. Very cool. And yep, she's every bit as stunning and energetic in person as she is on screen and stage. And still active in the music industry even today. (Her big September, 2012 Hong Kong Concert series is approaching.) 

So for me this film, perhaps above all others, holds a very special place in my heart. It's brought me years of joy. Thrills. Fun. Dreams. Friendships. And most importantly... love. Not bad for the price of admission.
With her friends injured, Wan takes charge during the rooftop finale.
Racing across the rooftops in a scene the critics said "out-Spielbergs Spielberg".
In a bit of brevity, the recipient of this bullet feels the need to proclaim "Nice shot" as he falls.
Shamefully no proper home video version currently exists on DVD or Blu-ray. Sure, several distributors have released DVDs over the years and Fortune Star put out a Blu-ray in 2011. But all these seem to be struck from a print which removed the burned-in opening and closing onscreen subtitles. And sadly that text was never added back as a digital overlay. So the opening of the film on DVD and Blu-ray now has nothing to "set the stage" and the ending is simply an odd freeze frame with no historical context or climactic coda to the story. Furthermore no US DVD has ever been released, though the distribution rights are held. Why buy the rights to release a film and then just sit on it? All that does is anger the fans and force them to import the HK DVD. Currently the best home video version is the Fortune Star/CMS Blu-ray Disc. Although the picture quality could and should look a lot sharper and the colors be more vibrant. The film normally has a bit of grain and that is retained here, but the transfer is too soft and washed-out. The Fortune Star/Joy Sales remastered DVD looks nearly as good as the Blu-ray and adds several bonus features to the Blu-ray's only bonus theatrical trailer. The DVD also includes a photo gallery/slide show, newly edited and original trailer, and an interview with the late composer James Wong and another with the still-beautiful Sally Yeh. Both in Cantonese but with optional English subtitles. The film's subtitles have been cleaned up a bit for both these releases but are still not perfect.

Below is the opening and closing subtitles present on the VHS, VCD and LD releases, but (so far) absent from the DVD and Blu-ray Disc versions.
Original opening subtitles, missing from  DVD and Blu-ray.

Original closing subtitles, missing from DVD and Blu-ray.

I know it’s JUST A MOVIE. I keep telling myself that.
But for some reason … I don’t listen. It never sinks in.
Peking Opera Blues has always been more to me than just flickering light on a blank screen.
More than just rolls of celluloid. 
It’s this magical place I wish existed.
A destination I could visit.
And if I use my imagination… I can. 
It's art... that moved me to action.

Perhaps this reviewer said it best:

"The finest moment in the careers of Brigitte Lin, Cherie Chung, Sally Yeh and Tsui Hark, PEKING OPERA BLUES may also be the finest moment for cinema, period. Representing the best of everything that movies can be, PEKING OPERA BLUES is one hundred years of filmmaking captured in 104 minutes of celluloid. A women's movie, a comedy, a serial cliffhanger, a romance, a musical, and a tender whiff of nostalgia as the present forever turns into the past, PEKING OPERA BLUES fulfills all the promises the movies ever made to you. It's a kiss to make it better for all the times you've bought a ticket in good faith and left the theater with the taste of ashes in your mouth. Its makings are obvious. Tsui Hark rolled all the movies he ever saw into a giant joint, hunched over in the corner away from the other kids, huffed and puffed, and then, eyes streaming, hair crazed, heart pounding double time, high on the fumes of the movies he loved, he directed the most sustained burst of cinematic inspiration ever put on film. By the time this movie is over you expect the entire planet to turn out the lights and call it a day."

Annnd… scene.

Don't worry. I gotcha.

Click HERE to view a higher quality version of the HK theatrical trailer 



Hong Kong Lobby Cards (15 unique cards in a set)
Norwegian Poster
Brigitte Lin (VCD packaging)
"Can't Hide Away"(Peking Opera Blues Theme Song) 2 Track EP from Israel (text in Hebrew)
German Press Sheet
Image used as a subway teaser poster in HK in August 1986
Luminous Leading Ladies: (L-R) Sally Yeh, Brigitte Lin, and Cherie Chung
Sally smiles
Japanese Laser Disc cover (This LD features a Cantonese interview with Tsui Hark as a bonus)
Set Design Sketches
Cherie Chung (VCD packaging)
Hong Kong Poster
Brigitte, Cherie and Sally
Sally Yeh's 1986 LP and CD featuring "Can't Hide Away" (Peking Opera Blues Theme Song)   
Various DVDs, VCD and Blu-Ray
Very hard-to-find UK DVD from the now defunct Hong Kong Legends 
Photos from the German Press Kit
Hong Kong Lobby Card
Promotional photo
Cherie joins the charade
Malaysian VCD (Rare 'Picture Disc' Version)

German poster
Fresh-faced Brigitte posing in front of the Hong Kong P.O.B. Poster
The three leads pose for a photo
Brigitte Lin in Action!
Hong Kong Laser Disc cover
Sharing a laugh during a promotional photo shoot
Taiwanese Poster
Still frame from a deleted action sequence
Sally Yeh Commands the Stage!
Moments in time
Tsao Wan gets serious
Hong Kong Postcard
Thai Poster
Sally commands the stage
Tsao Wan illustration by UK artist Stephen Elford

Brigitte, Sally and Cherie wait between takes
P.O.B. inspired T-Shirt from Shelf Life Clothing

Rare Poster

Sally Yeh
Lin Ching Hsia (or as she's known in Cantonese: Lam Ching Ha)
VHS Tape cover (Mandarin version)
Colors Fly

Brigitte quiets Cherie

Lobby Cards -15 to a set. (The German versions simply removed the Chinese text)

Cover of UK Hong Kong Legends special magazine profiling P.O.B. (which was included on DVD)

UK Hong Kong Legends magazine (page 1)

Korean VHS Tape Cover

Brigitte Lin, Cherie Chung and Sally Yeh

Add caption

Director Hark with his cast

VHS Tape from North America
The cast share a laugh

The German press kit.
The film received substantial marketing in Germany with it's own press kit, lobby cards, poster and even German-dubbed DVD release.

The limited edition German DVD, housed in book-like clam shell packaging, was German-dubbed but does feature a voice-over of the missing epilogue during the freeze-frame at the end.

Original Hong Kong Trailer (suffers from "speed-up")


  1. Hi Darren --

    Thank you for this. "Peking Opera Blues" is my favorite film of all time -- and it changed my life too. :)

    1. Glad you liked this post.

      Other than a few reviews, it's difficult to find much "inside" information about POB. Sally told me she jumped off the balcony and into cardboard boxes for 14 hours to get the required shots for the Opera stage sequence which was cut from the film. The deleted footage rolls under the closing credits (and is glimpsed in the trailer) and looks complete as a sequence of shots. So perhaps Hark felt it made her too much of an action heroine and lessened audience sympathy for her character so he cut it. Sally's Pat Neil doesn't cut loose and fight like that elsewhere in the film, so it may have been "out of character" for her.

      I had read there was originally a longer Taiwanese cut that ran over 2 hours. At the time theaters wanted to keep the films under 120 minutes to cram in more daily showings so there was pressure to cut it down. Tragically, I don't believe any of the cut footage was saved. That's disposable Hong Kong cinema for ya. As it stands now at 104 minutes, it breezes along at a breathless pace.

      I'd LOVE to art direct a "Making Of" book about Peking Opera Blues. There really SHOULD be one and there isn't.

      By the way, Sally Yeh just held a concert last weekend at the Hong Kong Collosium and GUESS WHO were guests in attendance? Cherie Chung and Brigitte Lin!!
      As they say... "we're getting the band back together". I wish. The film is ripe for a sequel and it's a shame it hasn't happened. I know Tsui Hark considered it. I still hold out a tiny bit of hope. Considering the time that has passed since the first film, I guess it would be set against a background of the "Long March" or the Second Sino-Japanese War. Tsui Hark, if you are listening, NOW is the time to make your epic, "PEKING OPERA REVOLUTION"!

    2. Hi again (after so many years) --

      Are you familiar with Akiko Tetsuya's "The Last Star of the East: Brigitte Lin Ching Hsia and Her Films" and Lisa Morton's "The Cinema of Tsui Hark"? The former book has comments by Brigitte Lin and Tsui Hark on "Peking Opera Blues" while the latter book as more comments by Tsui on the film. (Among Tsui's comments are that Sally Yeh wasn't very comfortable with doing some of the action scenes she had originally been asked to do, so they were cut from the story/film.)

    3. Yes I have both books. They are very good in fact. I used to communicate with Akiko quite a bit many years ago. Around the time of her publishing. And I did ask Sally Yeh about her deleted action sequence glimpsed under the closing credits. She said Tsui had her jump into cardboard boxes for 14 hours(!). And it was exhausting. But looking at the footage of the sequence, it actually seems complete and finished, albeit brief, but complete. So it could have been removed for reasons that it made her character too "powerful" and less sympathetic. Or perhaps there were other scenes needing to complete that story arc in the film that were subsequently abandoned and the plot reworked around their omission to make her less of an "action heroine" type. Anyway it works well as it is. It's just nice to see her in action as well. Similarly, much of Sally's action scenes in Tsui's production of I LOVE MARIA (aka ROBOFORCE) were deleted in the shortened Cantonese print, and only survive in the extended Taiwanese Mandarin version. I've searched out many different versions of PEKING OPERA BLUES in the hopes of finding an uncut version with more footage but so far none have surfaced. Hark has said in interviews he thinks all that extra footage was trashed years ago. I think I read in an interview in FILM COMMENT that the first edit was over 2 hours long and the film was cut down so exhibitors could get more showings in per day. So perhaps no so-called "uncut" versions ever were sent out to theaters. Still looking though. Maybe one day someone will find the footage in the back of a Chinese restaurant somewhere. It's happened before.

  2. Great review and story.

    Thanks to you, I was able to finish my Custom Bluray for the film.
    I used the Hong Kong Legends UK DVD subtitles (best translation for the film by the way), and added it to the Kam and Ronson Bluray, and I even added the opening and closing parts that have been missing from the DVD/BD's of the film.

    1. That's very cool. Yes the UK DVD has probably the best English subtitles. The remastered HK DVDs, although slightly improved from the original film-print subs, still suffer from odd (and often unintentionally humorous) translations. Plus that DVD provides subtitles for the on-screen text as well, which is helpful. Even when Cherie crawls through the "doggy door" in the palace wall. I still remember the howls of laughter in the theater when the guard approaches Sally Yeh with a metal chain (as a weapon) and is ordered to "knock her up". Not exactly the same connotation in the West, although we knew what they meant from the situation. Sounds like you've got the ultimate home video version now.

  3. really like the essay.

    It's always nice to read about Peking Opera Blues written by someone who loves the movie as much as I do.

    I'm not sure it changed my life in the same way - although I've developed a huge crush on Brigitte Lin - but it sure opened my eyes to non-Western movies - as Crouching Tiger never quite did. Especially the humor in POB: the performance toward the end is like classical Chinese opera as staged by the Marx Brothers.

    The genre-jumping in the movie, through and through, is one of the best things about it.
    Then there's subtle eroticism - not even counting the sexual caricatures of the dirty old men generals.

    Your stills are a treat - any picture with Brigitte Lin in it is to be treasured. -)

    thanks for a great post.


    1. Thank you for your kind words. The appreciation for P.O.B. seems to be stronger among fans in the West than in Hong Kong where it was made and targeted. They liked it, but quickly moved on. Whereas westerners, such as myself and others, seem to hold it in such extremely high regard to this day. It certainly wasn't anything like the films that filled our theaters in 1986 and perhaps for that it stood out a bit more. But it's qualities mentioned above are what it's remembered for today. And why it's still fun to experience it now. It's the cinematic equivalent to an energy drink.

    2. My two cents: while you're right that "Peking Opera Blues" doesn't have the critical acclaim/respect in Hong Kong that it does in the West (relative to, say, "Shanghai Blues"), I think there is quite a bit of love for it. Just this past Sunday, there was a full house screening of it at the Hong Kong Film Archive -- and I was really happy to be in the audience composed of mainly locals, some old, others young. :)

    3. Great to hear. Wish I could've been there at the screening. And speaking on Shanghai Blues, I've only seen a Japanese DVD and a French DVD of that film. That's criminal. That's waaay too good a film to be lost to history. And NO, YouTube does not count. The comedic performances, especially Sally Yeh, as simply fantastic.

    4. Re "Shanghai Blues": it seems to get screened every couple of years or so here in Hong Kong -- at the Film Archive, for a HKIFF event, etc. "Peking Opera Blues", on the other hand, I saw screenings of more when I was living in the US than in the time that I've been here in Hong Kong (nine years and counting!)!

    5. The Freer / Sackler Gallery (Asian Art Gallery of the Smithsonian) had a screening about 12 years ago in Washington DC. And the Kennedy Center screened in January of 1989 during a festival of Brigitte Lin's films (She came down from NY for some Q&A after the showing of Dream Lovers and I got to meet her). The long-gone Biograph theatre located in Georgetown (in DC) also showed it in 1988 and possibly again right before they shuttered for good in the mid 1990s (they had a HK Film festival). I'd have to check my program to see if they showed it then for certain, memories get fuzzy.

  4. Darren!! Long time no talk! I stumbled across this somehow...I love it!! Great write-up. What POB fan can't relate? Hope you're well, see you around! Felix

    1. Hey Felix! Long time. Holding down the fort. That eBay guy is still asking $400 for that Israeli P.O.B. single. Years later. Not sure if he understands that things only sell for market value. Not just any "fantasy price". Whatever. Hope things are cool on your end. Darren

  5. Hi there,

    wow, impressive story! and something i can relate to, although my way to the pleasures and delights of hk cinema in the late 80s/early 90s didn't end with a marriage :-)

    i was made aware of this page by flipping through the extras of the excellent new 'peking opera blues'-blu ray from hk rescue.

    enjoyed for the nth time every minute of the movie (especially in this excellent version) and all the extras.....

    sooo, you seem as craz... uh passionate about these movies as me....... for me it was a mediocre vhs copy of 'chinese ghost story' that started the ball rolling, back in '89.... and it never stopped.

    in the aftermath i went to hk several times and bought me my share (or tons of) hk vhs tapes & laserdiscs, and nowadays of course it's mainly dvds and blu rays...

    but what i could never properly get ahold of, are some fitting cds with the mostly memorable and excellent scores (from the likes of james wong) for these movies....... only have the ost-cd for 'green snake' and the digipak-version for 'ashes of time'.

    so here's one question - as you're befriended with sally yeh personally (wow!) you probably would know.

    is there one (or two...) cd which contains all the main hits or title songs for her movies, like 'shanghai blues', 'peking opera blues', 'the killer' .... ???

    my chinese isn't that good (or, to be honest...non-existent) to be able to read chinese letters.

    looking forward to your reply

    thanks in advance and greetings from germoney!


  6. Hey Wolfgang,
    Thanks for the compliment. I have the same two soundtrack CDs as well. That original ASHES OF TIMES score is very Merricone-esque. If that's a word. Yes, Sally Yeh does have a compilation CD of most of her soundtrack songs on it. It's called "TV FILM GOLDEN SONGS" (in Chinese). The cover is of her face close up on the left side looking to the right, with a dark purple background. The text is silver. I think it's out of print but can be found on ebay from time to time. Good luck tracking it down. Darren

  7. Wolfgang,
    Hey I just found it for ya:
    Not a bad price at all either.

  8. Darren,

    thanks so much for your quick reply and help........ just checked with ebay: found it, saw it and bought it :-)
    Excellent start in the weekend.......

    Any ideas where i can get hold of some other ost-cds? for years i asked dealers (from whom i am mainly purchasing dvds and blu rays...) but no one seems to be able to help.

    I especially liked the scores for the classic 80s/early 90s movies, like 'a chinese ghost story', 'swordsman' (especially the 2nd one), 'better tomorrow'-trilogy, 'golden swallow' (the end title song is a fave of mine and yeah, i already saw the main title song being included on the 'peking opera blues'-blu ray in the extras-section), 'bullet in the head'- is there a similar cd with the title and theme songs from leslie cheung?!

    And what about a good source for getting movie posters? or other hk cinema-related memorabilia and merch? t-shirts?

    Back then i got only ahold of posters for original release of 'the killer' and 'bullet in the head'.... i'd like to have some for 'peking opera blues' and 'shanghai blues' too......?!

    Btw, now i know why i thought that name had a familiar uh ring to it?! flipped through my latest blu ray-purchases, and saw that you actually did all the art for some the eureka-releases too ('mr. vampire', 'zu: warriors from the magic mountain' etc....)

    Excellent stuff, keep up the good work.............

    Btw, any idea on any eventual future releases (you already might work upon) :-) ?

    Thanks again, hope i'm not stealing too much of your precious time......have a nice weekend


  9. Wooh, well written.

    Early today I was watching the newly (in 2020) released extras in a 2-disc BD and was shocked by your 18'25 story with Peking Opera Blues. At the end of it, I found the link to your blog. What an amazing thing from watching BD extras.

    I'm a big fan of Sally. Around 1990's, Sally's songs were extremely popular in China. 潇洒走一回……

    As a huge fan of Hongkong traditional movies, I mastered Cantonese 20+ year ago so that I could watch the genuine version.

    Is there any community for folks like us? Especially, I watched every movies from Shaw Brothers I could find. Some of them, many times...

    1. Sam,

      Thanks for the compliment!
      You might try these forums:

      Have a great day!

    2. Wonderful, thank you for the info.

      Again, I'd like to echo, it's great to travel to Hongkong and have dinner with Sally in person. When I heard you saying so, I thought you are a true fan of Sally. Of course, afterwards, you gave the audience a tour to your collections, wallpapers. Wooh, you are really passionate in that. 👍👍👍