Thursday, June 30, 2022

Warrior Son

My client decided to release these two martial art films co-starring Sammo Hung as a double bill due to them both sharing a character. Real life pioneer of Wing Chun, Leung Jan, was portrayed in WARRIORS TWO (1978) as an old master by Bryan “Beardy” Leung in old-age make-up. While Yuen Biao portrays a younger, scrappy version of the character in THE PROGIAL SON (1981).

The WARRIORS TWO design is below.

To streamline the release, both discs were housed in a flipper case with a limited edition booklet and o-card slipcover. I was asked to create cover and booklet artwork for each film, as well as a combined version for the o-card. By this point I was also handling all design and layout duties for these releases which means I got to maintain visual continuity throughout, as well as cram in as many rare photos as I could.

In keeping with the same visual style I had started with ONE ARMED BOXER, these sport a main accent color for each film and a consistent lighting theme on the characters. Yellow rim light from the left and blue from the right. In doing a photo collage in Photoshop, it’s often difficult to get the appearance of a common light source on all your figures as they usually were not originally photographed that way. So when combined together they often look strange, as if they don’t occupy the same physical space. Luckily in illustration, that can be easily remedied. I just draw the lighting however I choose.

The accompanying booklet cover features the same established minimalistic visual style. This time, highlighting a Wing Chun wooden practice dummy. 

For THE PRODIGAL SON, I went with a mid-tone blue, spotlighting a determined Yuen Biao. Although not his first starring role, many fans cite this (along with KNOCKABOUT) as his first break-out role. These two films proved Biao had what it took to be a future super star, and not just a side kick.

The booklet cover features Biao is bold Peking Opera face paint.

Then came the o-card. There's many different ways to present multiple films in a single image. Simple side-by-side posters squeezed to fit the new shape. New illustrations with a clear dividing line. Down the middle, angled or contained in some shape. For the ISHIRO HONDA set I tried to blend the two "half" images to create a third new "combined" image. Therefore not drawing visual attention to the actual divider.

But for this one I decided to just let the background colors be the natural separator. With characters and text reconfigured to fit equal triangles of space.

Given the opportunity to do it again, I might try a different approach. And, in fact, I did with the ANGEL MAO double feature. But that's a story for another time.

One cannot progress without trying something new, and I'm trying to progress.

Next up... the kicks continue!

Saturday, June 25, 2022

Variations on a Theme


When my client graciously presented me with their slate of upcoming releases for the next 12 months, it afforded me the rare opportunity to plan the cover designs well ahead. I could see where certain movie titles, particularly 1970s and early 80s period martial arts films, would work well grouped as a loose series. As a fan of physical media, I appreciate how items look when collected and displayed on a shelf. It's a big part of the fun of collecting. So considering that, I set about creating a cover for the first title, 1971’s kung fu classic ONE ARMED BOXER starring Jimmy Wang Yu, with an eye toward making the layout style modular. Certain elements could be retained for the next film, connecting it visually to a “series”, while other visual elements would be unique to this release. This plays into my own "collector" mentality as I have to get them all

I chose red as the thematic color of this release. A key plot point, halfway through the film, is the protagonist getting his arm literally torn off during a skirmish. (It’s obviously important, as the film takes its title from this.) Throughout the film, audiences are treated to overly bright, gushing streams of crimson. So, naturally, the cover displays a gash of bold scarlet splattered across an aged paper texture. Along with the font styling, yellowish color treatment of secondary characters, this grungy background would become a fundamental element of the base template for all these films.

I knew going in, with a film title like that, I was definitely NOT going to represent Wang Yu with TWO arms. Much like my previously designed THE BRIDE WITH WHITE HAIR, I wanted the cover image to match the title, even if the character doesn't look that way until the last half of the movie. Let's be honest. You come to this film to watch a guy fight with ONE arm, so THAT'S the draw of the film. So THAT makes the cover.

But, where appropriate, I do like to have fun with the interplay of positive and negative space. So if you look closely, the bottom edge of the red slash becomes the top edge of the jagged cliff seen in the finale. With the villains silhouetted against a blood red sky, leering down on our raging hero. With scores of defeated foes scattered across the background landscape.

For the included booklet cover I decided to go minimal. Designing simple iconographs that function to obviously represent a Hong Kong movie is difficult. It CAN be done. Some bird cages with hand guns perhaps. HARD-BOILED I guess. But it hardly represents the full excitement of that film.

However it's much easier to do this for American films. A DeLorean. You know right away. BACK TO THE FUTRE. A fedora and whip? INDIANA JONES. A t-rex head. JURASSIC PARK. Even a fin in the water. JAWS. (Spielberg likes to keep his marketing clean and simple. Smart.)

But for HK movies I usually have to rely on images of the actors coiled for battle. It's always more interesting if they are JUST ABOUT TO make contact. That second BEFORE impact holds more tension. I call that the "Frazetta Factor". His paintings make you want to see what happens NEXT.

Anyway I digress.

Since this is a design for a booklet enclosed INSIDE the package and doesn't have to convey the excitement of the film across a crowded point-of-sale display. I felt I could take a risk and go simple. So for ONE ARMED BOXER, I reduced it down to Yu's lost right arm. Again the theme is followed by using only the theme color (red), black and the aged paper color. With a pop of overlaid yellow text.

For the next release, 1983's wuxia pian classic DUEL TO THE DEATH, the color of the day was violet, pulled mostly from Damian Lau's costume and the foggy ocean mist of the final duel. Sometimes an artist has to answer odd questions like "what color does this movie make you feel?"

Anyway, below was the result.

And below is my design for the minimalistic booklet cover. Chinese and Japanese swords clashing in their decennial conflict.

Next up... the series continues.