Monday June 14, 2021
My Taiwan Movie
You know those company ice-breakers where you‘re supposed to go around the room and tell colleagues something about yourself they don’t know? I usually go with this one: “I was in a 1988 Taiwanese kung-fu comedy. It was called ‘Wan nung yuandong yuen’ and I played a hui waiguoren, or bad foreigner. In a bar fight, I get a bottle broken over my head by Hu Gua, the Johnny Carson of Taiwan TV.”
With a good crowd, it usually gets follow-ups:
- No, I don't know kung fu or any martial art. I'm almost defenseless, really.
- My Chinese is so-so. It was better then.
- The bottle was a breakaway, not a real one, but yes it hurt a little.
- No, the movie wasn't a big hit. Most Taiwanese probably haven't heard of it. Most Taiwanese at the time probably never heard of it.
As for how I got involved? I had a lot of foreign friends—meaning western friends—at National Taiwan Normal University, or Shi Da, and someone at the school was contacted by someone at the movie studio, asking for foreigners, and I was invited along for the ride. I think we did all the filming over two nights, 9 PM to 5 AM or something. We had a few westerners—or maybe just one?—who knew martial arts, but he injured his foot during filming. As for why I had the honor of getting the bottle broken over my head by Hu Gua? Earlier, I was asked to do a scene where I got punched and I was supposed to fall backwards and I went all in, slamming myself against the ground. So much so they were momentarily worried about me. After that, they probably thought, “This idiot would probably be good for the bottle-breaking scene.”
Basic premise: An international sports competition takes place in 1920s China, and we‘re the pushy foreign athletes who invade a local bar one night. I show up about 18 seconds in on the left side of the screen. Hu Gua is the guy in the Boy Scout outfit who tries to keep the two sides from fighting by, among other things, quoting Confucius: <<有朋自远方来， 不亦乐乎?>> Translation: “When friends come from far away, it is indeed a pleasure.” I heard that quote a lot, actually. The Chinese were always saying it to make sure you never picked up a check.
When I returned from Tawain in 1988, I brought a VHS copy of the film to show family and friends. A few years ago, along with some other analog items, I brought it to a digital transfer station in Queen Anne so they could make a DVD of it. Then I posted that scene to YouTube.
Yeah, the subtitles needed work.
For some reason, IMDb calls the film “Kung Fu Kids Part V” but it's definitely not No. 5 of anything. Its Chinese title translates to “Almighty Athletes” or literally: “10,000 Able to Do Exercises People.” No five anywhere.
Oh, and the Chinese misfits won the international sports competition. 當然。
Here are some photos from back in the day.
I vaguely remember waiting outside Shi Da with the others and being driven (in a van?) to the movie studio on the outskirts of Taipei at about 11 PM. The above—an older period piece, a western—was being filmed as we arrived. There was no “Quiet on the set!” because they shot without sound and dubbed later.
The young Chinese guy tries to hit on the western girls until the big guy on the right objects. His name is Bobby, to which the Chinese guy says “Bo pi? Wo ye yo.” “Foreskin? I also have.” It was that kind of “Benny Hill” humor.
Here's the western kid who knew his stuff. He looks morose because he'd just injured his foot. The career that got sidetracked.
The peace sign is a gesture Chinese girls often made. It didn't mean peace; it was just something cute to do.
Getting the run-through for my 15 seconds of fame.
Here's the grainy video version before the bottle is broken. We had to do it twice because the first time the bottle didn't break properly on the first swing. So Hu Gua actually hit me in the head with a bottle three times.
Hu Gua clowning around on set. Nice to hear he's still doing well.
A common sight: western soft drinks being sold with images of western stars. Wonder who the western stars would be today? Probably K-Pop stars.
Near the end of a long night.
I have such a vivid memory of this: Being dropped off on the streets of Taipei at about 5 AM as everything was waking up. These were outside a store waiting to be brought in.
And here it is. The guy with the elongated arms, Bong Cha Cha, was my favorite. He had a Joe E. Brown quality to him.
I miss all that. I miss not knowing where life is going to take you.