Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Criminals (1976)

The Criminals (1976)

February 10th, 7:00PM in Garland 104 (2441 E. Hartford)

The Criminals is an unusual film, both for the studio that produced it and its tone in relation to changing cultural standards of what is acceptable in the media. For the people of Hong Kong, television was late in coming compared to some other regions. While there had been limited ownership in the 1950's and 60's, it was not until the start of the 70's that a majority of the population had this convenience. This changed the way in which popular culture and the news was presented and there is perhaps no better example of this then the love affair with true crime dramatizations.

Television allowed many events to be broadcast live to a mass audience, this included several high profile crimes including a bank robbery. The interest in these events was so great that TV and film producers smelled a surefire profit and begun creating films and TV shows that to borrow a popular phrase, were ripped from the headlines.
This example was created by the Shaw Brothers Studio and offers an experience not at all like the majority of their previous films. Firstly, the film relied upon a series of hooks. Its three stories were each directed by a different prominent director and so varied in tone. Each story was based upon a real crime and was filmed largely on the actual locations. The Shaw Brothers had released a handful of seedy exploitation films, although they were frequently set in the past, such as many of their soft core erotica films known as fengyue.
What is unusual is the people and locations the film centers upon were rarely seen in previous Hong Kong films. The Shaw Brothers had a habit of focusing upon the affluent or a kind of idealized version of the poor whenever their films had a contemporary Hong Kong setting. The characters in The Criminals are a mixture from the middle of society instead of its two ends. One setting is a mine workings in the New Territories, one of the first times such a location is used in Hong Kong film. Then in a self reflexive act, the last of the stories is set in the Shaw studio itself and deals with criminal gangs among their stuntmen, which was a major problem of the era. The films popularity helped to spawn four sequels and more importantly would foreshadow certain directions that the Hong Kong new wave would take in films like Cops and Robbers (1979)
Hong Kong, Directors Hua Shan, Cheng Kang and Ho Meng-Hua, Cast Chiang Yang, Terry Liu, Shih Szu, Szu Wei and Tanny Tien Ni, 92 minutes, in Cantonese with English subtitles

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