Hong Kong Double Bills

ABC Cinema, Reading Tuesday Nights (approx 1991 to 1994)

The cinema was hired by the local Chinese community to show popular films from Hong Kong. This usually took place in the months just after Chinese New Year. Door opened at 11pm, after the regular films had finished.

Films Shown

  • Barefoot Kid
  • Demi Gods, Semi Devils
  • First Shot
  • Fong Sai Yuk 2
  • Love on Delivery
  • Moon Warriors
  • Once Upon a Time in China
  • Once Upon a Time in China 2
  • Once Upon a Time in China 3
  • Once Upon a Time in China 4
  • Once Upon a Time in China 5
  • Tai Chi Master

Arthur's Review of Hong Kong Double Bills

These double bills aren't really film festivals at all but Arthur is including them here as he doesn't have anywhere better to write about them.

Shortly after Arthur first really got into Hong Kong cinema he noticed that his local ABC cinema which usually only screened the likes of Crododile Dundee and Batman, occasionally had small posters on its front door advertising showings of Chinese films. These showings were double bills and were late at night on Tuesdays. They occurred once every fortnight for a period of around 2 months during the spring (Arthur later realised this was becuase they were showing all the new films that had been released during the busy Chinese new year) and at irregular times during the rest of the year.

With an estimated end time of around 3am, Arthur organised for some time off work the following morning (so he could catch up on his sleep ) and went to his first double bill with his friend Rich who also enjoyed such films. He can't remember exactly what was showing but Arthur feels sure it was probably one of the Once Upon a Time in China films.

The actual cinema itself wasn't that great, at least not by todays standards. It had once been a big old cinema with a balcony but that had long been partioitioned off to form a second screen. This left a large auditorium downstairs, although it was very long and thin and the screen wasn't that big as the entire cinema wasn't very wide. The sound system wasn't the best either and it was often played far too quiet, so Arthur tended to sit a bit nearer the front than he usually would. On the plus side though, it was a lovely old cinema with a fantastic original art deco front. Sadly this cinema has now been bulldozed to make way for a bland glass and brick monster hotel, but that rant will probably be the subject of a whole new website...

Arthur had earlier double checked with the cinema that the films being shown were subtitled and they assured him they were even though they themsleves were not responsible for the films; The cinema was essentially being privately hired out by someone in the local Chinese community and they were then selling tickets to the films that they had organised to show. The Chinese staff on the door looked at Arthur and Rich a bit strangely when they bought tickets and checked if they realised the films were in Chinese. At this point Arthur also double checked that the films had subtitles and explained that he had seen a number of such films before, which took the organisers a little by surprise.

Settling down in the cinema, Arthur and Rich soon realised that they were the only English people there and were getting a few strange looks from the ever increasing number of Chinese people filling the cinema. By the time the films began, the cinema was probably two thirds full, which must have been around 200 to 300 people all of whom were Chinese except for Arthur and his friend!

Watching such films with a Chinese audience was a different kind of experience than watching with a film festival audience. They often laughed at some joke that obviously hadn't been translated as a joke in the subtitles. And sometimes Arthur and Rich laughed out loud at a funny subtitle (probably because it was badly translated) but nobody else in the cinema laughed and 300 pairs of Chinese eyes all turned to glare at the 2 English people to see what they had found so amusing.

The double bill was very enjoyable and both Arthur and Rich returned on many more occasions. Arthur got other friends to come along as well including Ben who had accompanied him to the Chow Yun Fat film festival. After several visits the strange Enlgish people amongst the sea of Chinese became a regualr feature and some Chinese people would chat to Arthur and his friends about how they became interested in Chinese films. They were all really shocked and jealous wehen Arthur told them he had met Chow Yun Fat!

All the films Arthur saw over the years were subtitled although occasionally the projection would be a bit off and the subtitles would disappear off the bottom of the picture (they all reappeared afetr a few minutes though).

The best experience Arthur had at one these double bills was the time he saw Love on Delivery. It was playing after a screening of another film Arthur had really wanted to see (A Jet Li film though Arthur can't recall which one). Arthur didn't know anything about Love on Delivery but as he had essentially paid for it (the ticket was for both films, you couldn't pay just for one) he decided to watch it anyway. The cinema had been filled to about two thirds capacity as usual for the first film, but during the break between films, something strange started to happen. The cinema began to fill up as more and more people arrived. And what's more, Arthur noticed these new arrivals covered the entire range of the family from old people right down to young children (remember this was around 1am in the morning when most ordinary people. let alone 8 year olds, should be in bed!). Soon the cinema was full (even the seats right next to the 2 weird Engligh people in the audience were taken!) and still people were turning up. Children were shuffled to sit on the laps of parents and some just took to sitting it the aisles or standing at the back (fire regulations obviously weren't that important back in the early 90's). The place was totally packed (the air coinditional had a hard time keeping things cool) and Arthur and Rich just couldn't work out what was going on.

When the film started it soon became obvious though. Even with the laguage barrier, this was quite possibly the funniest film Arthur has ever had the pleasure of seeing. It was the story of a down in his luck delivery boy trying to learn martial arts to impress a girl at his local gym. The film worked for both Eastern and Western (all 2 of them) audience members and the fun filled atmosphere in the cinema was incredible. Arthur later discovered it was the biggest grossing Hong Kong film of its time and starred Stephen Chow who would later go on to direct and star in several other biggest grossing films of their time, Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle. It was a brilliant cinema viewing experience and is second only in Arthur's list of best cinema memories to the screening of Miracle Mile at Black Sunday a few years earlier.