Tuesday, July 13, 2010

My dinner with Bruce, rev. ed.

fig. a: now THAT'S what I call a business card

Some offers you just can’t pass up. And this was definitely one of them.

Get this: The phone rings. You pick it up and it’s your good friend M. He says to you, “Have I got an invitation for you.” And then he proposes the following list of activities:

1. attend the premiere of Gallants, a Hong Kong chop-socky flick that’s playing at the 2010 edition of Montreal’s Fantasia festival (!)
2. bask in the glow of kung-fu great Bruce Leung, who not only stars in the film, but will be in attendance to introduce the film and address his legions of fans (!!)
3. then, finally, attend a banquet in Leung’s honour at La Maison Kam Fung (!!!), a popular Chinatown cantonese restaurant and dim sum house


An hour and a half later, there we were, sitting in Concordia University’s Hall Theatre, listening to Bruce Leung--the one and only Bruce Leung--introduce Gallants to a rabid audience.

We couldn’t quite figure out why someone had decided to give this highly entertaining and tender-hearted martial arts film the awkward English title Gallants instead of countless other more appropriate and more alluring titles, but there’s a reason the film was a co-winner of an Audience Award at this year’s New York Asian Film Festival--the film’s plenty appealing, and Bruce Leung, as “Tiger,” and Teddy Robin, as “Master Law,” steal the show.

Now, I wouldn’t exactly call Gallants a “food film,” but much of the action revolves around a traditional Cantonese teahouse--its bamboo steamers constantly steaming away--and a preserved duck does play a central role.

Anyway, after the film, Bruce came back out and charmed the audience all over again, and if that wasn’t enough, he was also awarded a Kung Fu Star Award for his contribution to martial arts filmmaking and Asian filmmaking more generally.

By 9:30 we’d made our way to a special banquet room at La Maison Kam Fung, where there were four tables set up, with seating for about 40. M. and I chose two seats entirely arbitrarily at Table #2, and the next thing I knew Bruce Leung himself was sitting next to me (!!!!). I’m sure he could have found himself a dining mate with a knowledge of Hong Kong’s long history of martial arts filmmaking that was more encyclopedic, but Bruce and I hit it off famously, and what ensued was a two-hour lesson in grace and wisdom, peppered with some impressive feats of martial arts prowess.

The food was a nearly endless banquet of Cantonese and Cantonese-Canadian classics (salt chicken, batter-fried lobster, cashew shrimp, etc.), and, served by the hands of a kung-fu legend, it tasted even better than usual. But, more than anything, what I’ll remember is that sly smile, those impressive callouses,* and his knack for making his translator blush with an off-color joke. Talk about a master...

My most cherished souvenir? Bruce's wicked business card, which you can see pictured above.


Fantasia 2010 continues through July 28, and in addition to the usual entertaining assortment of fantasy, gore, sex, and ultraviolence, this year’s line-up features a couple honest-to-goodness food films. And I’m not talking about the flesh-eating variety, either.

Tonight, July the 13th, you get your one and only opportunity to check out Baek Dong-hoon's Le Grand Chef 2: Kimchi Battle, a South Korean battle-of-the-sexes/food flick that’s sure to make you want to get your galbi and banchan on. And on July the 14th and July the 16th you’ll get a chance to check out yet another South Korean food film, Hong Ji-young’s The Naked Kitchen, a film that, as the title suggests, is more “sex” than “battle-of-the-sexes.” Here, “poetic” and “breathtakingly beautiful” shots of the elaborate rituals that make up the preparing and serving of food “serve as the backdrop to a steamy love triangle,” according to Robert Guillemette.

The Housemaid fig. b: look psycho? she is!

Finally, on July 24th, late in the afternoon, you get your final chance to see Kim Ki-young's truly mind-altering The Housemaid. This is one hell of a family melodrama--literally. And it features some of the wickedest plot twists in the history of film. Plus, no less an authority than Martin Scorsese had the following to say about the film: "...The Housemaid is one of the true classics of South Korean cinema, and when I finally had the opportunity to see the picture, I was startled. That this intensely, even passionately claustrophobic film is known only to the most devoted film lovers in the west is one of the great accidents of film history." What, exactly, are we talking about? Take one part Sirkian family melodrama, add one part Polanski's Repulsion, and a touch of Jean Genet's The Maids, set it in South Korea, at the very beginning of the post-Korean War economic miracle, and voilà. Yes, but is it a food film? Well, not exactly, but food does figure prominently--most of it poisoned.

Le Grand Chef: Kimchi Battle, July 13, 19:20, Hall Theatre, Concordia University (1455 de Maisonneuve Boul. W.)

The Naked Kitchen, July 14, 18:30, la Cinémathèque québécoise (335 de Maisonneuve Boul. E.), and July 16, 14:45, Salle de Sève, Concordia University (1455 de Maisonneuve Boul. W.)

The Housemaid, July 24, 17:10, J.A. De Seve Theater, Concordia University (1400 de Maisonneuve Boul. W.)

And for a complete rundown of this year’s Fantasia festival, check out their website.


* Bruce is in his 60s now. He began practicing martial arts well over 50 years ago, and started out as a stuntman in martial arts films not long after that. Not surprisingly, his knuckles are hugely calloused.


S Lloyd said...

Great article. I was a bit nostalgic while reading your article: reminded me of my childhood bathed in everything about Bruce Lee and Kung Fu.

sam said...

I wish I got phone calls like that! Sounds awesome.

Leigh said...

You're right- quite possibly the best business card I've ever seen!