Tsui Hark

Tsui Hark (Template:Zh-cpw) (born Tsui Man-kong on January 2, 1951) is a New Wave film director in Hong Kong who is also a highly influential producer, often likened to Steven Spielberg for a similar galvanizing effect on his country's cinematic scene.


1 Notable works
2 References
3 See also

Early biography

Sources, and Tsui himself, differ on whether he was born in Canton (Guangzhou) province of China or in Vietnam. He was raised in Saigon by his Chinese emigre parents, in a large family with sixteen siblings. Tsui showed an early interest in show business and movies; when he was ten, he and some friends rented an 8mm camera with which to film the magic show they put on at school. He also drew comic books, an interest that would influence his cinematic style.

He took his secondary education in Hong Kong starting in 1966. He then studied film in Texas, first at Southern Methodist University and then at the University of Texas at Austin, graduating in 1975. He claims to have told his parents he was studying to follow in his father's footsteps as a pharmacist, and that it was here he changed his given name to Hark ("overcoming") (Dannen & Long, 1997).

After graduation, Tsui moved to New York City. He worked on From Spikes to Spindles (1976), a noted documentary by Christine Choy on the history of the city's Chinatown. He also edited a Chinatown newspaper, developed a community theatre group and worked in Chinese-language cable TV. He returned to Hong Kong in 1977.

Television career

Tsui immediately found work directing in television along with a number of his future New Wave compatriots, first at pioneering station TVB and then at CTV. His 1978 series for CTV, The Gold Dagger Romance, was the start of Tsui's long association with the time-honored genre of wuxia, or martial arts swordplay. It is still considered a groundbreaking classic for the unusual energy and cinematic sensibility it brought to TV drama.

New Wave period

Upon turning to feature filmmaking, Tsui was quickly typed as a member of the "New Wave" of young, iconoclastic directors. His debut, The Butterfly Murders/Die Bian (1979), was an eccentric and technically challenging blend of wuxia, murder mystery and science fiction/fantasy elements. His second film, We're Going to Eat You (1980), was an eccentric blend of cannibal horror, black comedy and kung fu.

But it was his third, Dangerous Encounter of the First Kind (1980), that put him beyond the pale. The thriller about delinquent youths on a bombing spree was nihilistic, grisly and pregnant with angry political subtext. Heavily censored by the British colonial government, it was released in '81 in a drastically altered version titled Dangerous Encounter - 1st Kind (or alternately, Don't Play with Fire). Unsurprisingly, it was not a financial success. But it helped make Tsui a darling of film critics who had coined the New Wave label and were hopeful for a more aesthetically daring cinema, more engaged with the realities of contemporary Hong Kong (Teo, 1997).

Turn to blockbuster cinema

But then Tsui's career made an unexpected turn. In 1981, he joined Cinema City, a new production company founded by comedians Raymond Wong, Karl Maka and Dean Shek, that was instrumental in codifying the slick Hong Kong blockbuster movies of the '80s. Tsui played his part in the process with pictures like the 1981 crime farce All the Wrong Clues (for the Right Solution), his first hit, and Aces Go Places III: Our Man from Bond Street (1984), part of the studio's long-running spy spoof series.

For top studio Golden Harvest, Tsui made the wuxia fantasy Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain (1983). He imported Hollywood technicians to help create special effects whose number and complexity were unprecedented in Chinese-language cinema. He has since made pushing back the boundaries of the industry's effects technology a continuing preoccupation.

Many former champions were disappointed by this turn to crowdpleasing pop films. He is still regarded in some quarters as a sellout and a prime example of Hong Kong film's inability to rise above vulgarity and commercialism (Bordwell, 2000; Teo, 1997).

Mogul and trendsetter

In 1984, he formed the Film Workshop production company along with wife and sometime producer Nansun Shi, making it home base for a tirelessly prolific roster of directing and producing projects. Here he also developed a reputation as a hands-on and even intrusive producer of other directors' work, fueled by public breaks with major filmmakers like John Woo and King Hu. His most longstanding and fruitful collaboration has probably been with Ching Siu Tung. As action choreographer and/or director on many Film Workshop productions, Ching made a major contribution to the well-known Tsui style (Hampton, 1997).

Film Workshop releases became consistent box-office hits in Hong Kong and around Asia, drawing audiences with their visual adventurousness, their broad commercial appeal, and hectic camerawork and pace. Tsui has the knack of trend-setting in film genres. He produced John Woo's A Better Tomorrow (1986), which launched a craze for the hardboiled gangster film or "Triad" movie, and Ching Siu Tung's A Chinese Ghost Story (1987), which did the same for period ghost fantasies. Zu Warriors and The Swordsman (1990) brought back the long-out-of-favor wuxia film.

In fact, Tsui's "movie brat" nostalgia is one of the main ingredients in his work (Teo, 1997). He often resurrects and revises classic films and genres: the murder mystery in The Butterfly Murders; the Shanghai musical comedy in Shanghai Blues (1985). Peking Opera Blues (1986) plays with and pays tribute to the traditions of the Peking opera that his mother took him to see as a small boy (Bordwell, 2000) and which had such a strong influence on Hong Kong action cinema. The Lovers (1994) adapts an oft-retold, crossdressing period romance, best known from Li Han-hsiang's 1963 opera film The Love Eterne. Chinese Ghost Story remakes Li's supernatural romance The Enchanting Shadow (1959) as a special effects action movie.

The pattern is also seen in perhaps Tsui's most successful work to date, the Once Upon a Time in China series (1991-97). Here he revived the martial arts folk hero Wong Fei Hung, played in the first three installments by Jet Li. This series is the clearest expression in his oeuvre of Tsui's Chinese nationalism and his passionate engagement with the upheavals of Chinese history, particularly in the face of Western power and influence (Teo, 1997).

Tsui also dabbled in acting, mostly for other directors. Notable roles include one-third of the comic relief trio in Corey Yuen's female cop/kung fu hit Yes, Madam (1985) and a villain in Patrick Tam's darkly comic crime story Final Victory (1987), written by Wong Kar Wai.

In the face of an industry downturn in the '90s, he produced two expensive and unpopular movies that proved he could fold the caustic cynicism of his early work into his blockbuster formula. Green Snake (1993) was an erotic and darkly apocalyptic take on a favorite Chinese fairy tale. The Blade (1995) was a gory, deliberately rough-hewn and anti-heroic revision of the 1967 wuxia classic The One-Armed Swordsman.

American films

In 1990, Tsui had already attempted a low-budget American action movie, the barely released and little seen The Master, with a pre-superstardom Jet Li. In the mid-'90s, perhaps hedging his bets in the face of the industry crisis, Tsui tried Hollywood again with two films starring Jean-Claude Van Damme. They were Double Team (1997) and Knock Off (1998). Both were flops lambasted by critics, and later even by Tsui himself.

Recent work

Tsui returned to directing at home in 2000 after an atypically long break, but his golden touch is less certain in the troubled climate of today. Time and Tide (2000) and The Legend of Zu (2001) were action extravaganzas with lavish computer-generated imagery that gained cult admirers but no mass success.

Tsui's projects as producer haven't borne the same fruit, either, despite his continuing to push technical boundaries and revise old favorites. Master Q 2001 adapted a classic comic book and was Hong Kong's first combination of live action and 3D computer animation. Era of Vampires (2002; U.S. title, Tsui Hark's Vampire Hunters) reworked a subgenre popular in the '80s, hybrid martial arts/supernatural horror films featuring the "hopping corpses" of Chinese folk legend. Both films made barely a ripple with critics, fans or general audiences.

Nevertheless, Tsui is currently at work on an ambitious, multimedia project based on the work of wuxia novelist Liang Yusheng. It will include the feature Seven Swords, directed by Tsui for 2005 release, as well as a related TV series and comic book series.

Notable works


  • Bordwell, David. Planet Hong Kong: Popular Cinema and the Art of Entertainment. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000. ISBN 0-674-00214-8
  • Dannen, Fredric, and Barry Long. Hong Kong Babylon: The Insider's Guide to the Hollywood of the East. New York: Miramax, 1997. ISBN 0-7868-6267-X
  • Hampton, Howard. "Once Upon a Time in Hong Kong: Tsui Hark and Ching Siu-tung." Film Comment July-August 1997: pp. 16-19 & 24-27.
  • Teo, Stephen. Hong Kong Cinema: The Extra Dimensions. London: British Film Institute, 1997. ISBN 0-85170-514-6
  • Yang, Jeff, and Dina Gan, Terry Hong and the staff of A. magazine. Eastern Standard Time: A Guide to Asian Influence on American Culture. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997. ISBN 0-935-76341-X

See also

fr:Tsui Hark pl:Hark Tsui zh:徐克


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