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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.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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