Stephen Chow retrospective set for NYC

Updated: 2014-09-30 06:49

By AMY HE in New York(China Daily USA)

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Stephen Chow retrospective set for NYC

Stephen Chow in a still from his movie Shaolin Soccer, which will be filmed as part of an eight-film retrospective on his career at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York. [Provided to China Daily]

Hong Kong director and actor Stephen Chow, synonymous with the Cantonese genre of mo lei tau films — humor with lots of pun, wordplay, and slapstick — will have his first major film retrospective in the United States next month.

BAMcinématek, part of the New York multi-arts center Brooklyn Academy of Music, will present eight of Chow's most iconic works from Oct 6 to Oct 12 to showcase the "endlessly inventive" director, actor and comedian.

Chow, 52, is most famously known to American audiences for his kung fu comediesShaolin SoccerandKung Fu Hustle, which were released at the turn of the 21st century, but BAMcinématek's programmers felt that audiences also would enjoy some of Chow's older works.

"We love his work and we thought his films are very accessible to a large and diverse audience, and we have a very young audience here at BAM," David Reilly, BAM's programmer, told China Daily. "A lot of people are familiar withKung Fu HustleandShaolin Soccer, but for an American audience, they're less familiar with some of his earlier works, so we think that people would be interested to see the rarer films playing in the series."

The retrospective,Stephen Chow: The King of Comedy, will featureJustice, My Foot!,A Chinese Odyssey: Parts One and Two,The God of Cookery,King of Comedy,Shaolin Soccer,Kung Fu Hustle, andJourney to the West. The series is co-presented by BAM and the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in New York.

Though mo lei tau humor predates Chow, he is the one who has become the face of the genre, using slang catchphrases and rapid-fire banter to define Cantonese humor in Hong Kong films. The phrasemo lei tauis generally used to describe something that doesn't make sense or is illogical and has been used to describe a Hong Kong cultural phenomenon since the 1970s.

Because so many of Chow's works rely on heavy wordplay with very specific Chinese references, there was a worry that the films might be difficult for western audiences to consume, said Andrew Chan, marketing manager at BAM who co-programmed the series with Reilly.

"Chow really entered the US market in the early 2000s withShaolin Soccerand thenKung Fu Hustleand he definitely made a conscious effort to make his films more accessible to an international audience. Before those, there was a lot of talk about how his films — because they're mo lei tau, which is a very specific form of Cantonese comedy — were based around verbal wordplay and puns that sometimes doesn't travel very well," he said.

"Those particular films —Kung Fu HustleandShaolin Soccer— sort of emerged at a time when people started to be interested in kung fu films, with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Zhang Yimou's Hero. So those won him attention, but his earlier comedies have been less-well circulated. They have a fan base among people who have a particular interest in Asian genre cinema, but with this series, we sort of hoped to broaden the exposure for films likeGod of Cookery, which is such a brilliant and culturally-specific representation of Hong Kong's obsession with food."

Chan and Reilly said that they see the series appealing to lovers of Asian cinema in general and that although the wordplay might not translate as well at times, Chow's work as a physical comedian should carry the movies.

"I think it's going to appeal to people who might not know anything about Asian cinema — anyone who's interested in screwball comedy of the 30s and 40s, or Jerry Louis. I think there's a lot of common elements and just the virtuosity of his performances comes through even if some of the linguistic elements don't translate so easily," Chan said.