Thursday, February 12, 2015

Jumping Ash (Tiaohui, 1976)

What goes on fight film fans?!! Hai! Karate returns with one of the more critical films of the genre for you today! That film? Jumping Ash, starring martial arts legends like Josephine Siao, Chan Sing and Michael Chan Wai Man! We'll get more into the meat of why this film was so important in a few...

Jumping Ash begins with a shot overlooking the city of Amsterdam, on a clear morning late in the spring. A news-like blurb tells us that there's been several deaths that have taken place within the Chinatown district. We see Smiling Tiger(Sing)and a cohort travel in a car speaking briefly about it before pulling up to a windmill house. Because, Amsterdam. The next scenes introduce us to a mysterious dude(Chan Wai Man)who gets off a boat, hops the fence and gets a lift on a tandem bike from a dude who greets him in code. After their scenic ride through the streets of Amsterdam(complete with the 'killer' haggling with a prostitute in a window), we see the dude meet up with Smiling Tiger in a gambling parlor looking for someone. When he finds who he's looking for, that person winds up hanging from the windmill.(Gotta wonder how that went over with the tourist board.)

We then cut back to Kowloon and see Detective Callan Leone(Ga Lun) out conducting a drug raid. When the raid doesn't go well, he takes a breather to hit a local nightspot and see his girlfriend, Pui Shan(Siao Siao)sing. But he's not the only one checking for her - the killer is stalking her as well. Leong then gets called into the precinct to take care of both a homicide and to verify if it is linked to a teeming war between two drug lords - Smiling Tiger and Tung(Nick Kam Wai-Fei). The ensuing drama boils to a fever pitch on the streets of Hong Kong with one veritable conclusion...

Jumping Ash is significant because it is the embodiment of a couple of 'firsts'. For one, this is not only the first film for director Po-Chi Leung, but it's also the first(and only) film that the great Josephine Siao directed. She also co-wrote the film, which was a bit of a remarkable thing in Hong Kong cinema at this stage because of the more chauvinistic elements still at play. Their combined efforts make the film a real gripping dramatic piece. There's a good mood set by the cinematography, with some shots done to really bring home the tense scenes (the bathroom scene above being one of them.) It's more sleek than previous crime drama efforts. The Amsterdam setting isn't new; a few Hong Kong pictures would take place in the Dutch city before, attesting to the cultural impact they had in the West. It's actually a good place-setting move to begin there and center all action within Hong Kong. There's a nice balance of drama and comedy throughout to keep things entertaining. Okay. I know you want to know, what about the action? Well, Chan Wai Man does well as a cold killer in this picture. So much so that there will be a few spots where he just gets eerie. In contrast, Chan Sing as Smiling Tiger is ruthless, but with a bit more charm. Surprising since the dude is literally jumping all over the place all swollen, slashing and generally beating the brakes off cats. You forget that he's a villain as well. Josephine Siao has a bit role here, but she makes the most of her scenes. Ga Lun as the tough-minded cop is decent here. He's more of an anchor figure, charismatic enough so that things don't get TOO far off course.

However, that doesn't mean there's not any kooky elements at work here. For one, there's a reason Smiling Tiger walks around with a gigantic stuffed teddy bear. I had to admit, when I saw the balding pate of Chan Sing carrying that around I was like, 'what the hell?' Also, when Detective Leong does make an interesting ally later on in the picture, the ruse to get that person to safety is rather... offbeat. Also, it's wild that they never really bothered to give Chan Wai Man's character a name.

Jumping Ash wound up being the third highest grossing film in Hong Kong - not bad for a film directed by one of their most prominent actresses & a TV director. (Side note: another actor who'd go on to prominence, Phillip Chan, also worked on the script.) The movie would be hailed for introducing a new look for films done in the area, and break open the doors for others looking to make pictures in that style. John Woo being a prime example. Jumping Ash would also bolster Josephine Siao's transition into a more multi-dimensional figure in Asian cinema; her 'Plain Jane' character would be born the following year and heighten her fame. Jumping Ash is a cool film to check out, and worth the time for any fan of the genre.