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Hong Kong Favorites : Old and new Chinese cinema combine during a week of double features at Nuart festival.

September 11, 1997|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Nuart's fifth annual "Festival Hong Kong" presents a week of double features old and new through Sept. 18. A number of the films have played Los Angeles previously, but, excepting the local Chinese-language theaters, they have had only limited exposure. Consequently, the festival gives fans of films from the former British Crown Colony a chance to catch up on a number of pictures they have either missed or would like to see again. Among them is the ever-delightful "Peking Opera Blues" (screening Sept. 18). Unfortunately, Rim Films, distributor of the pictures featured at the festival, has chosen not to make available most of the newer titles for preview.

Ringo Lam's ultra-hard-action 1992 thriller "Full Contact" (Saturday at 1:35, 5:35 and 9:35 p.m.) stars John Woo favorite and major Hong Kong star Chow Yun-Fat. Chow plays a bouncer in a Bangkok nightclub who loyally agrees to help his buddy (Anthony Wong), who is in big trouble with a loan shark, to hijack a truck loaded with smuggled ammunition. Die-hard fans of Hong Kong martial arts movies won't be disappointed by the high-energy "Full Contact," but the high body count and the near-nonstop brutality can become a turnoff for the rest of us.

Although Ching Siu-Tung's 1992 "Swordsman II" (Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.) is lively and stylish fun, it lacks the coherence of Ching's "A Chinese Ghost Story" and becomes clear only in the last reel. In essence, it's a cautionary tale about absolute power corrupting absolutely. As the hard-drinking Swordsman, Jet Li plays the leader of the Wah Mountain Students and is eager to take up the monastic life with the Sun Moon Sect of Chinese Highlanders. But the sect's magical sacred scrolls have been stolen by the ambitious sect member Fong the Invincible.

The lively 1992 comedy-adventure "The Legend of Fong Sai-Yuk" (Tuesday at 5:20 and 9:40 p.m.) is deliriously, hilariously outrageous. There's plenty of fun and adventure for our hero, the young kung fu wiz Fong Sai-Yuk (Jet Li), whose mother (the wonderful comedian Josephine Siao) is no slouch in the martial arts department herself. Directed by Corey Yuen with zaniness and an uninhibited imagination, the film moves effortlessly from knockabout slapstick as broad as an Abbott and Costello comedy to surprising pathos as its people evolve from burlesque figures to actual human beings, at once strong and vulnerable.

Yuen Woo-Ping's outstanding 1994 "The Tai-Chi Master" (Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.) is a lively yet reflective martial arts epic, a mythical rendering of the evolution of the bold tai-chi style of combat in which two lifelong friends (Jet Li, Chin Siu-Ho) trained by Shaolin Temple monks take radically diverse paths as adults. Michelle Khan co-stars.

Wong Jing's 1996 "The Legend of the God of the Gamblers" (Wednesday at 5:30 and 9:35 p.m.) is a prequel to Wong's 1989 "God of the Gamblers," which starred Chow Yun-Fat in the title role as the wizardly Ko Chun. It's an OK diversion, complicated and not a little contrived, in which we watch Ko Chun (played by likable Leon Lai) coached to become a cardsharp champ by his godfather only to be betrayed by him.

Tsui Hark's 1986 "Peking Opera Blues" (Sept. 18 at 7:30 p.m.) has by now become a Hong Kong classic. It's a giddy period comedy, loaded with action and more slamming doors and hit-and-miss encounters than a Feydeau farce. It's also surprisingly poignant and bursting with a witty feminist spirit.

The time is 1911, in the chaotic wake of China's first democratic revolution. The film centers on the adventures of three beautiful, high-spirited young women (Brigitte Lin, Sally Yeh and Cherie Chung) of very different backgrounds but similar cravings for liberation. "Peking Opera Blues" has the formidable coordination and energy of a complicated Chinese acrobatic act. Yet the film is by no means all action, with Tsui Hark deftly playing genuine, even delicate, emotion against the mayhem within a plot that is all artifice.

Ching Siu Tung and Johnny To's "The Heroic Trio" (Sept. 18 at 5:40 and 9:40 p.m.) is the kind of martial arts fantasy only the Hong Kong film industry could pull off. Made with terrific verve and imagination, it stars three of Hong Kong's most gorgeous and accomplished actresses--Anita Mui as the black-caped, metal-masked Wonder Woman (a big boon to her policeman husband, who doesn't know his wife's secret identity); Maggie Cheung as a sexy motorcycle-riding do-gooder; and Michelle Khan, who's in the thrall of an androgynous monster of supernatural powers who wants to revive the monarchy in China as some kind of crazed way of eventually controlling the entire world. It's just too fast and too much fun to care about how silly it is. However, its comic-book violence is strong enough to rule it out for small children.

Not available for preview are "Young & Dangerous," a gangster picture about two school dropouts, and "Fist of Legend," a Jet Li martial arts movie (Friday); "The Big Heat," a highly praised action film (Saturday); "The Stunt Woman," starring Michelle Yeoh (formerly Khan) in the title role, and "Wonder Seven," a martial arts movie also starring Yeoh (Sunday); and "Comrades, a Love Story," with Maggie Cheung and Leon Lai, and "A Queer Story," about a gay relationship and starring George Lam and Jordan Chan (Monday). (310) 473-6379.

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