Books, Film reference, Hong Kong, Reviews

Sex and Zen & A Bullet in the Head

A solid, fun introduction to the mad world of Hong Kong cinema…

There’s an air of ladism about Sex and Zen. A definite readiness to discuss topics such as the size of Amy Yip’s yams. Dig a little deeper, and you often find a far more sensitive side, well aware of cultural background. That there are more than 10 contibuting writers to this publication goes a long way to explaining it’s schizophrenia.

Written in 1996, author/editors Stefan Hammond and Mike Wilkins centre on the ‘golden age’ of Hong Kong cinema, when it really came into it’s own. The decade between 1983 and 1993, when John Woo, Ringo Lam, Tsui Hark and Jackie Chan truly came to prominence. It even has separate chapters devoted to the above stars, and tries very hard to break up movie reviews into chapters by genre – not always the best idea with Hong Kong films. There’s also a chapter devoted to the Shaw Brothers.

By no means a comprehensive guide – the prolific output from Hong Kong, third largest in the world after Hollywood and Bombay, would make that impossible – it gives a sizable, informative lowdown on many of the major films you should know about. Highlighting a few that often slip through the net, such as the brilliant Rouge and rollercoaster ride of The Seventh Curse. It also intercedes an amusing feature on ‘hex errors’, or rather bad, baffling, subtitles. As well as outlining several of the filmmakers and actors along the way. Making this a solid first port of call to anyone looking to explore Asian movies further.

There are weaknesses, for instance some glaring omissions are made. Such as Ching Sui-ting’s Duel To The Death, in many respects just as important to the development of Hong Kong cinema in the early eighties as Tsui Hark’s Zu: Warriors From Magic Mountain. Nor does the book deliberately limit itself to the eighties and nineties. It just happens to have been the majority of what the authors have been exposed to, being far more widely available than earlier examples (such as those by King Hu, who is only mentioned once in discussing the remake of his Dragon Inn). This is a flaw not only here, but with nearly all books dealing with Hong Kong cinema. Few (outside of Hong Kong itself) give any proper overview of cinema before the mid 70s, therefore missing out on much of the influences behind movies. Such as the abundance of wuxia, Crouching Tiger genre films in the 60s.

That aside this is a good starting point for anyone beginning to get interested in Asian movies.

About the author

Andrew Heskins
Founder of, which he's been running since 2002. And it's all thanks to Monkey, Water Margin and those damn fantastic 80s Hong Kong action movies! Andy works as a graphic designer in London... More »
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