An Interview with Bey Logan – Hong Kong Cinema Maestro
The first time I heard Bey was on the special edition DVD for Ichi the Killer (Tartan). and then quickly followed by the extended Project A (Hong Kong Legends) edition. It was in fact Bey Logan’s commentaries that gave me an appreciation on how to correctly do a DVD commentary – before this I felt DVD commentaries were little more than lengthy sales pitches with no real value or weigh. Yet with a Bey Logan commentary you get it all, insight, history, knowledge and real understanding of the inter-workings of the films. So thank you Bey for turning the film commentary into a true art form!
But Bey Logan is more than just a cinema commentary guru.Since first putting pen to paper as an editor on the UK based Martial Arts Magazine ‘Combat’, Bey as been involved and founded many projects. Be it as a screenwriter, film producer or author Bey is arguably the single greatest mind when it comes to all things Asian Cinema and we are honoured to have him here with us today.
How did you get involved in Asian cinema? Where did it all start for you?
I’m getting so old; it’s hard to remember that far back! Seriously, I don’t recall not being absolutely fascinated by both Asian martial arts (and culture) and the moving image (in all its manifestations), and I somehow made it my life’s journey to combine these two passions! I was lucky in that I tended to be in the right place at the right whenever there was a paradigm shift in the martial arts movie world,
I met Jackie Chan when I was 19, put Van Damme on his first British magazine cover, befriended Donnie Yen long before he was the superstar he is now, saw Tony Jaa’s stunt reel back when I was making The Medallion
… I worked hard and I guess I have some ability, but there is also a measure of luck and timing involved. I’m fortunate in that I now get to bring all that experience to bear on the different projects we are engaged in at my own company, B&E Productions.
Hong Kong Cinema is much more than Crime and Martial Arts Movies, or movies simply defined by the territory where they are produced - What is Hong Kong Cinema to you?
The best Hong Kong movies exist perfectly balanced on the border between east and west.
They have the story structure and emotional content of a great Hollywood film and also a unique eastern aesthetic, a luminous glow and fluid movement of the image. It’s a cinema that could only have been produced in the western colony of an eastern nation.
Most of the indigenous Asian cinema genres (say Bollywood) are too removed from the global experience to find a wide audience, but the finest Hong Kong movies, more than any other eastern cinema form, transcend the cultural divide and manage to appeal to both west and east.
You have been involved in commentary on many DVDs in the past but is there any one in particular that looking back gives you the most pleasure to have been involved in ?
For my solo work, I’d say the Hong Kong Legends release of ‘Hong Kong 1941’. Even its producer, John Shum, agreed with me that it was a challenging film, and we really had to work hard to bring it to the widest possible audience. Empire magazine said that the commentary was the best thing on the disc, so I was very proud of that! In terms of two handers, it was so much fun to be in the booth with old friends like Donnie Yen (for Iron Monkey and Flashpoint), Maggie Q (for ‘Naked Weapon’) and Gordon Chan (for ‘Beast Cops’).
My favourite kung fu movie of all time is ‘Prodigal Son’, so of course it was great to record a commentary for that. I am still doing commentaries, just did ‘Shaolin’ for Cine Asia and ‘Gallants’ for Media Blasters. I would do more, but they each take a lot of time!
And what is your favourite Hong Kong Movie of all time as well as your favourite Hong Kong film of the last 10 years and of course why ?
We asked you to pick from two periods as for many, Hong Kong cinema as changed greatly since the early 90s, some call it natural evolution of the art and of course technology whilst others believe that western movie influences are becoming too closely integrated with Hong Kong cinema.
As mentioned above, ‘Prodigal Son’ is my all-time favourite Hong Kong film, because it’s a great story, has great performances, great kung fu and is the finest work of my idol, Sammo Hung. It’s the film I used to show ‘regular’ people in the bad old days, when ‘kung fu movies’ were dismissed as junk.
I used to argue that, as with any genre, be it Westerns or science fiction, there were good or bad examples, though, unfortunately, it tended to be the worse, cheaper Hong Kong actioners that got the widest international release in the early days of video! ‘Prodigal Son’ also has a special place in my heart, given that I visited the set at Golden Harvest studios when I was but a boy of 19!
My favourite over the last few years is ‘Ip Man’. Again, there’s a personal connection, in that it was the film that finally turned my old friend Donnie Yen into the superstar he always deserved to be. And again, behind the camera, there was my hero, the great Sammo Hung. This was a film with great characters, great story, and real kung fu, not the over reliance on wires and CGI we’ve seen in too many recent Chinese actioners. I guess Wing Chun must be the most film friendly style, as both ‘Prodigal Son’ and ‘Ip Man’ focus on this style of kung fu!
How do you personally believe Hong Kong cinema as changed between the early 90s and today ?
In some ways it’s changed, and in some ways it hasn’t changed enough! In terms of action films, the obvious change is the focus on wires and FX, whereas the older movies were more the ‘real deal’. The opening of the huge China market has led to the production of dozens of ‘Chinese’ films driven largely by Hong Kong talent (directors, action directors, leading men). Budgets and production values are higher now, but whether these films are, overall, better than the Hong Kong cinema of the 80s and 90s is debatable. The industry definitely hasn’t changed enough in terms of the infusion of ‘new blood’. The main male stars and directors are all the same as they were when I first came into the business, whereas Hollywood has seen two generations come and go! I was delighted to see ‘Gallants’ win Best Film at the Hong kong awards, as it was helmed by two relative newcomers.
Do you think technology is playing too big a role in recent Hong Kong Movies ?
In 2010 the first 3D Hong Kong martial arts movie was released (True Legend) as well as the first 3D adult movie – Sex and Zen 3D. This year also sees Jet Li in another 3D martial arts adventure Flying Swords of Dragon Gate (along with The Sorcerer and the White Snake). Rather than helping to carry a story production companies seem to these days be using technology to BE THE STORY.
I agree with you about the story being paramount. With restaurants, its location, location, location and with films its script, script, script. Avatar would still have been great in 2D and Inception would still have been great in 3D. Clash of the Titans or Prince of Persia would have sucked in any format known to man… Sex and Zen 3D became a bona fide phenomenon, which you will always get once in a while, but I don’t think the film itself stands up and I think the market will only bear so much 3D Category 3! Regarding kung fu movies, if there’s anyone who has always seen the world in 3D (or even 4D!) its Tsui Hark, so I think his ‘Flying Swords of Dragon Gate’ will be interesting.
In short, 3D is just another colour on the palette of Chinese film-makers, just like wires and CGI.
On the subject of production companies, You not too long ago helped start up B&E Productions. Can you tell us more about B&E and what type of projects we can we look forward to seeing in the future?
Thank you for asking…! Well, we’re currently in production on my directorial debut Snowblade, which is a very dark, bloody, sexy period swordplay film starring our new and wonderful discovery Sable Yu. This is being sold internationally by our friend and partner Ko Mori at Eleven Arts, and the film got quite some buzz during Cannes, which is great. Our first year productions, Shadowguard and Beach Spike, are screening now, on DVD and in theatres respectively, and were very happy and proud to have five different films with five different companies at Cannes! It’s quite a work rate for a new company such as ours. In our upcoming slate, we have Red Dawn Rising, on which we will have some exciting casting news soon!, and also a remake of a classic Hong Kong title. We are also launching the first official Hong Kong movie memorabilia site, Reel East, which will offer fans the chance to buy genuine promotional materials (posters, lobbycards) from the golden era of Golden Harvest, Cinema City and D and B Films. You can get updates on all our activities at www.bxe-productions.com.
What next for Bey Logan and equally important what next for Hong Kong Cinema? Where do you see Hong Kong Cinema in 10 years time?
First and foremost in my life now are my children. What matters most to me is that I work to provide them with a proper legacy, in terms of myself as a person, my work and its revenues and, to the small extent that I can have an effect!, the world we leave to them.
I just became involved in an environmentally themed documentary, Plastic Oceans, thanks to my friends Craig Leeson and Howard Lack, which is a new kind of venture for me! I’m working on a new semi-autobiographical Hong Kong cinema book entitled ‘My Life in 36 Chambers’, which I hope to publish at the end of this year.
Its taken longer than anticipated. I will also write more novels (my first, ‘The Blood Bond’, is available to order from Vicki@bxe-productions.com). On the film front, I’ve mentioned our slate, and I hope there will be more to come. I’m still training in kung fu. I hope I can stay healthy and focused, and continue to make some contribution to both my inner and outer circles!
Regarding Hong Kong cinema, I think it is still redefining itself in terms of what the Chinese theatrical market means. I believe that, over time, the restrictions regarding content will loosen and we’ll see a broader range of productions shot in China by Hong Kong (and Mainland Chinese) talents. I think genre film-making will continue to thrive and that’s great, because those are the films I love. Peter Chan’s new film, ‘Wu Xia’, is a great example of what can be done in China using international talent. I also think China has been under utilized as a cost effective production base for international films, and I hope to be part of the process of developing that.
Finally, I am very optimistic about Hong Kong/Chinese cinema, and my part in it! Thanks to all our fans and friends around the world for their support. I can be reached at email@example.com, and, of course, like everyone, I’m on Facebook!