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Sex and Zen and a Bullet in the Head, by Stefan Hammond and Mike Wilkins

Hong Kong Babylon, by Frederic Dannen and Barry Long

Review by Jeffrey M. Anderson

Buy Sex and Zen and a Bullet in the Head, by Stefan Hammond and Mike Wilkins

Buy Hong Kong Babylon, by Frederic Dannen and Barry Long

These two books together make a decent reference guide to the exciting Hong Kong film industry of the 1970's through the early 1990's. Fortunately for the books, but unfortunately for the films, they were both published during the industry's decline. When ownership of Hong Kong reverted from the British back to Communism, many filmmakers fled, fearing for their creative freedom. Among others, John Woo, Jackie Chan, Ringo Lam, Tsui Hark, and Ronny Yu have come to America to make films, and the films made in Hong Kong since have only been a pale shadow the glory days covered in these books. Sex and Zen and a Bullet in the Head is written from a fan's point of view. It's divided into chapters on Woo, Chan, and Tsui, genres like women's action and film noir, and a chapter devoted to the legendary Shaw Brothers. There are long reviews with detailed plot synopses of several key movies, and a guide with titles written out in Cantonese to help with shopping for videos in Chinatown. Hong Kong Babylon is more academic, providing analyses of key directors and stars, and a comprehensive plot synopsis section for just about every major Hong Kong movie of the period. There are also "personal" sections in which intelligent critics such as Dave Kehr and Chuck Stephens choose their favorites, and a comprehensive list of the best of the best. (John Woo's Bullet in the Head ranks #1, followed by Stanley Kwan's Actress and Wong Kar-wai's Chungking Express.) Since most normal video guides still don't list many of these movies, these books are indispensable.

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