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King Kong

King Kong (photo)

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Not since the arrival of Bruce Lee during the ’70s has a generation of Americans been so widely exposed to Chinese culture through film, and Billy Kong has been behind much of it. The CEO of Hong Kong’s Edko Films, Kong is the producer responsible for “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” as well as “House of Flying Daggers” and “Hero.” For all his influence, Kong’s a modest man, and exceptionally nostalgic, even while on the cutting edge of Hong Kong cinema. Right now, he has a film in post-production called “True Legend” by director Yuen Wo-ping (the legendary martial arts choreographer behind everything from “The Matrix” to “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”) that stars Michelle Yeoh and the late David Carradine, and another in theaters — French helmer Chris Nahon’s “Blood: The Last Vampire,” a genre-melding action/vampire flick based on an anime feature of the same name. I spoke to Kong by phone from Hong Kong about the film, the future of HK cinema and risking his house to make movies.

Let me start with “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” It wasn’t just a huge success, but an influential one, and something that you risked your own money to make. What made you take that risk, and was there ever a point where you thought it wouldn’t pay off?

No. I’ve been in the business as a distributor and an exhibitor for a while. We were looking for a financier, for an investor to co-invest with us, but we couldn’t find any. Making the film was so difficult, but at the same time so enjoyable — we had such a great team of people there. So we never thought, “Oh, what if we lost a lot of money?” The level of success was a real surprise, but I never thought, what would happen if I lose my house? We are always under this risk management. We understand the downfall, you know? I never thought of what would happen if I lost, but I never expected it would go to be that level of success.

I remember thinking how “Crouching Tiger” would introduce a generation of Americans to Chinese culture, one they probably knew little about, and perhaps help to positively shape their perceptions of China, in a time when many were negative. What do you think about film playing the role of ambassador between peoples?

I think that it certainly played that role very successfully. That film opened the eyes and minds of people around the world. Even today, it’s still a favorite [on] TV — it still gets good ratings around the world. We still see overages from the TV rights of the film, so people are still watching. I’ve gone back to shoot movies at the same locations of “Crouching Tiger” and they’ve become tourist sites, so, I think certain movies do act as great ambassadors for cultures.

What do you think Hong Kong filmmakers can teach Hollywood filmmakers?

Nothing anymore. [laughs] I’m afraid we can’t. We used to have great filmmakers like John Woo, who we’ve already exported to Hollywood, so at this moment, Hong Kong movies don’t have much to offer. [laughs] But in the old days, during the ’80s and ’90s, we had a whole bunch of great filmmakers.

07202009_CrouchingTiger.jpgAmerican audiences have already fully embraced the Hong Kong action style of fighting, and the wired choreography you guys have been doing for decades, it’s permeated our culture.

Yes, yes. We also exported Jet Li, Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee. I think it was all started by Bruce Lee. Of course, we still have great masters like Yuen Wo-ping, and they are still trying very hard to come up with something to surprise the audience, but I’m afraid a lot of them, like John Woo, have gone on to Hollywood.

Audiences tend to be fickle; do you think Americans are more fickle than Chinese audiences?

I think audiences around the world are like that. Every few years we have a new generation of filmmakers coming out, and [a new] audience. And every generation behaves differently. 20 years ago, we sold a lot of foreign language films to America — “Raise the Red Lantern,” all these great Chinese movies were shown in theaters in America… Kurosawa from Japan. But today, the new generation of moviegoers are much less patient with foreign language film. They don’t like watching subtitles. It’s not just America. [Everywhere] in the world, audiences are like that. Information and the Internet have changed the world, so as a filmmaker, I think we have to learn to cope with that. We can’t blame [the audience]: “How come we have all the right elements and the audience doesn’t buy it?” We have to ride the wave, too.


Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.


Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:


The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.


They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!


Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.


Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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GIFs via Giphy

Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.