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CHINATOWN LOST: Celestial Pictures *versues* Southgate Entertainment
Back in late 2002, Celestial Pictures began to release remastered prints of the Shaw Brothers Library. This was the beginning of a new era for many fans for their beloved films of yesteryear were to experience a renaissance of wide-screen perfection. Unfortunately the concept of paradise varies from one person to the next and some individuals began to find faults with these releases. Granted some were what many might consider trivial (second or two of shaved footage) to moderate concern (reworked music tracks) to outrage - which brings us to the topic of this article.
The Chinatown Kid has remained a popular film since its premier over a quarter-century ago. Not only did it feature one of Shaws' most talented, Alexander Fu-Sheng, but was also the first film to feature all 5 Venoms (sorry Wei Pai fans); eight months before the film of the same name branded them such. However when the Celestial copies hit the street, dumbfounded viewers saw an abbreviated 86 minute film that was not the movie they had grown to love. Not only was it nearly a half-hour shorter than the Southgate version (circa 1990) but the finale was completely different.
While some were quick to arms and cried foul, the official response from Celestial was CK wasn't an edited version but merely the only print that was supplied to them by Shaw Brothers. (To further understand this concept of Shaw, Celestial and cut/ variant versions, Linn Haynes has written a rather articulate post on this topic.) The next question raised is why Shaw provided Celestial with this (rather forgotten) version? Had the version many are familiar with disintegrated into celluloid dust? Was it destroyed in the [ahem] Great Shaw Fire? (You'll have to ask Ric Meyers about that one - haha). Will the extended version ever see the light of day? These questions may never be answered however one thing is certain....
Celestial Pictures is a business and a business cannot survive without satisfied customers. They have invested $80 million (US) for the restoration of these films. As this article shows, the "remastering" process is not necessarily being handled by the "masters." If you feel this version of The Chinatown Kid is unacceptable, contact Celestial and express your viewpoints. While your input may have no bearing on this film, it may help avoid further disappointments down the road. (Contact information at bottom of page).
What follows is a comparison of the two versions of this film. While Celestial's running time is only 75% of the Southgate version, there are new scenes not present in the SG print. Perhaps a combination of these [new] scenes with the SG version might equal the 121 minute Cantonese print, that was once used in US theaters, creating the definitive version of this film.
Chapter One (based on the 12 chapters in the Celestial version)
Lo Mang as Green Tiger Boss
Any good screenwriting book will tell you that the beginning and ending should tie in together. A perfect example of this would be "Citizen Kane." The opening scene shows a dying Orson Wells lamenting about "Rosebud." The closing shot depicts a sled burning in a gigantic incinerator; wording on the sled, "Rosebud," as the flames devour it.
With the Celestial version of The Chinatown Kid, we now have a switch of focus on the main character. The opening and ending shots are now of Ah Wen (Sun Chien) - where he has been and where he is going. In the Southgate version, the opening sequence features Tan Tung (Fu Sheng) with aging grandfather followed by Ah Wen's intro. While this flip-flopping of the two main character introductions might seen superficial, the story's focus is now more on Ah Wen as "new" scenes are featured; whereas scenes involving Tan Tung are no longer.
CELESTIAL: A jarring "jumpcut" occurs after Ah Wen is shot by the two children. However, this version contains dialogue between the children and Ah Wen; not in SG version.
Yue Wing as Cousin Xiang
Xiang (Yue Wing) and company are eating in a restaurant when he notices Tan Tung's Granddad (Wong Ching Ho). He asks "his uncle" to join them but declines telling him that his grandson is in town. [ Note: In the SG version, Xiang is not considered a relation to Tan Tung. Perhaps the word uncle is simply a term of endearment? More on this later. ]
SOUTHGATE: The jumpcut (above) isn't present as Ah Wen gets up and laughs with the boys. Then, it cuts to his father's home where he's wrestling with the children.
Tan Tung and Granddad are dining out in the evening when Tung promises he'll someday buy him a new pair of glasses. They head back to their rooming house where Tung takes his bath. [ Note: In the Celestial version, this scene is present but its a continuation of Tung's intro sequence. In the SG version, its broken into two scenes (cut occurring when they enter the building). The SG version makes more sense because (in the C version) Tung appears to be going to bed during the day. In the SG version, we have a time lapse and see that its actually nighttime. ]
CELESTIAL: More focus on Ah Wen. Here we see him working overtime, chatting with a co-worker and then (later) helping a young boy with his studies.
Johnny Wang Lung Wei as Chu Ho
SOUTHGATE: We see Ah Wen working at a desk (but very briefly). There is no dialogue between co-worker nor do we see the homework scene.
Extended scene: During the intro of Chu Ho (Johnny Wang Lung Wei). After the police have scattered the street vendors, Ho's partner comments about Granddad, "Old bastard needs fixing." Ho is more impressed with Tung though, stating he would like to hire him.
This is where we see the first major variations between the two versions.
CELESTIAL: Ah Wen and his father go shopping for school clothes before Ah Wen's trip to the US.
Chu Ho (in brown outfit) beats up and threatens Granddad. Nephew Xiang appears and takes him to a hospital (off-screen). Several scenes later, Tung and Granddad are at Xiang's home. Xiang discusses how he will get Tung into the USA. (Scene is in both versions however it varies - see below).
SOUTHGATE: During Tan Tung and Chu Ho's fight sequence, Chu Ho pulls out a knife. This is not in the Celestial version.
Kara Hui Ying-Hung
After the fight, Cho Ho's car companion (Ha Ping) offers to buy Tung a new watch if he'll do her a favor. The favor is to rescue her "cousin" from some thugs. They drive to where the girl is being held but its night, so they decide to return in the morning. The next day, Tung busts up the gang of thugs and tries to rescue the girl. Kara Hui Ying-Hung is the young hostage but explains she isn't the woman's cousin but a whore who was imprisoned by her. Tung decides to take her back to her home and the two evade a waiting Cho Ho and company.
Back at her home, Xiang attempts to give Tung a reward but he declines. He then tells Tung if he could get an ID card, he could join him in the merchant marines. Next scene (back at the rooming house), Granddad lectures Tung not to fight anymore. [ Note: This sequence of events runs around four minutes. Granted, Tung has only been in Hong Kong for a short time and its possible he wouldn't know his own cousin (or his daughter) however, here nor later, there isn't any reference that Tung and Xiang are related. The reason behind him helping Tung to America is to repay his debt for saving Kara Hui Ying-Hung. ]
Tan Tung picks up a box of fruit and purchases a pair of glasses from a street vendor. Several armed thugs surround him and a street battle erupts. "You bust my boxes, now don't bust my glasses," Tung argues. When one of the thugs smashes them with his foot, it infuriates Tung. He stabs one the thugs in the buttocks before the police arrive and they all scatter.
We go back to Xiang's place briefly where Granddad is present. Later, Cho Ho (dressed in the white outfit he had on in the disco) and company threaten Granddad. Ho's demand is that "he wants his girl back." Several scenes later, we are once again back at Xiang's home where it is decided Tung will go to America when he sails. [ Note: Whereas Xiang's home is shown in the Celestial cut (in one scene), it is broken into three scenes here. Again no mention of relations - only that Xiang wants to help Tung and his Granddad because the trouble they are in for saving his daughter from Chu Ho's clan. ]
Shirley Yu and Yeung Chi Hing
CELESTIAL: Ah Wen and family have a farewell dinner before he leaves for the States. The airport scene when Ah Wen leaves is also slightly longer.
SOUTHGATE: The only noticeable difference here is the scene where Tan Tung and Xiang enter the restaurant. Its obviously a different take (as opposed to an edit). After Lina (Shirley Yu) says good-bye to her father, Chen (Yeung Chi Hing), Tan Tung questions Xiang why she would call her "dad" a "dog." Its obviously a translation problem but the two go back and forth; reminiscent of an Abbott and Costello skit. Even after all is said and done, Tung (Costello in this scenario) still doesn't get it. Fairly short but nonetheless a funny situation. The exclusion of this bit (in the Celestial version) takes away from Fu Sheng's natural comedic abilities which were apparent in several aspects of this film.
No noticeable differences.
CELESTIAL: Clumsy edit here. Two Green Tiger members enter the Laundromat and when owner Lee (Chiang Nan) approaches, Tan Tung has got one in a hand-lock. Huh? Where did that come from? More on this below....
SOUTHGATE: Extended scene: Chu Ho visits the Green Tiger Club. He chats with Tiger Boss (Lo Mang) who in turn introduces him to Lina and two members (one is Chiang Sheng).
Introduction of a major character that is not present in the Celestial version: Mr. Wan played by Choi Wang. After several shots of Chinatown at night (with the Pink Floyd-esque music) we cut to a street scene where a car pulls up to the hot dog eatery. A man exits, purchases a beer and hands it Wan who is seated in the car. Down a nearby alley a hit occurs in which Wan's right-hand man (Wang Li) uses his belt knife to slay someone. He joins Wan in the car and they depart.
Choi Wang as Mr. Wan
Chu Ho and Tiger Boss visit the same hot dog eatery. They order a few beers and discuss how they can take over Chinatown. Later, they pass by the White Dragon Club where they are engaged by a few of the club's members.
The Laundromat scene: Green Tiger members arrive outside in which two enter the establishment. They demand extortion money from owner Lee and Tan Tung intervenes. This is where the clumsy edit (in the above-mentioned Celestial cut) takes place.
Alexander Fu Sheng as Tan Tung
CELESTIAL: During Tan Tung's street fight outside the Laundromat, one of the observers is the White Dragon Boss; So Fai Lung (Kuo Choi). This is his first appearance in the film.
SOUTHGATE: During Tan Tung's street fight, Dragon Boss is not present. Instead (cue Pink Floyd music), Wan and his right-hand man appear to watch the battle. After the cops arrive, Wan is briefly questioned by the police. His reply to what's going on: "This is Chinatown. I wouldn't know."
Extended scene: Tiger Boss and thugs extort money from restaurant owner Chen. The noticeable difference here is Chen is a bit more obstinate about paying extra. In the Celestial version, he just seems to give up the money without question.
CELESTIAL: Dragon Boss is seated in his office when he is informed that the Green Tigers will soon be receiving a new shipment. He realizes that in order for him to take control of Chinatown he'll need the aid of Tan Tung. He orders his crew to begin their search for him.
Kuo Choi as White Dragon Boss
SOUTHGATE: Wan's car pulls up to the White Dragon Club. He enters (again, cue Pink Floyd music) and meets with Dragon Boss (first appearance). Lina wishes to join their discussion but Wan is not pleased with a woman present during business. She leaves and the two discuss a possible truce between the two rival gangs. Dragon Boss is not interested in a truce so Wan then comes up with the idea of recruiting this young fighter (Tung) whom he saw fighting the Green Tigers. Dragon Boss says that he *heard* of this fight. (Obviously he wasn't present -- unlike the Celestial version. This sequence of events runs around six minutes).
Chu Ho and Tiger Boss also discuss the recent street fight. When Tan Tung's name is mentioned, Ho realizes that this is the same man who beat him back in Hong Kong.
Extended scene: When the two bosses meet in the street, they first exchange verbal jabs. Dragon Boss quips: "What’s wrong with your nose? Cold?"
Jenny Tseng as Evonne
Extended scene: When Tan Tung and Dragon Boss return to the club, the Boss enters his office first. This is obviously a different take because in the Celestial version, it is Tung who first enters through the office door. The scene here is extended as the two sit and watch Lina exiting from her bath. She joins the Boss on the bed and the two men discuss Tung's future with the White Dragons. They then proceed over to the Green Tiger Club where both gangs clash. (We see an abbreviated version of this fight in the next chapter of the Celestial version).
The gang war sequence lasts for 7:30 (approx.) in which this version shows more kung-fu carnage. Dragon Boss toys with Tiger Boss by firing several intended missed shots (making him dance) before he slays him. After the brawl, Tan Tung laments over killing Chu Ho but Dragon Boss rationalizes the whole situation. The two then go upstairs in which Tung is given Sin Wa (Siu Yam Yam ) as a victory prize.
Montage of scenes creating an elapse of time: (1) White Dragon members celebrate their victory over their rivals. (2) Tan Tung, Boss and crew shoot up a restaurant with machine guns. (3) Tan Tung drives reckless in his new Mercedes (with galpal Sin Wa) in which he nearly hits a pedestrian.
The Laundromat scene varies between the two versions.
CELESTIAL: Tan Tung accidentally scares Laundromat owner Lee, who is working behind some dry-cleaning, thinking it is his daughter; Evonne / Lee Wa Fung (Jenny Tseng). Tung attempts to hand Lee a wad of cash, asking him to have Evonne mail it to his Granddad in Hong Kong. Lee refuses and then chides him on his corrupt career.
Tan Tung, upset by what Lee has said, confronts Dragon Boss about the type of business they are involved in. Boss skirts the issue and talks Tung into helping him expel the real problem in Chinatown - the Green Tigers.
"Let's go tonight!" is where the "jumpcut from hell" occurs in which we see Tan Tung and the Dragons kick in the Green Tiger Club's door -- and half the battle is already over! (This is the battle which appeared in full in the SG version as mentioned above). This abbreviated sequence of events ends as Chu Ho’s body plummets to the street.
SOUTHGATE: Tan Tung has a high-rise bed built which allows him to touch the ceiling. He berates his girl, Sin Wa, about using slang and then gives one of the Dragon members a package to be mailed. Next scene is set back in Hong Kong where his Granddad opens the package to reveal over a dozen pair of new glasses. Another fellow comments about how much the air-mail postage cost and how he (Tan Tung) appears to have made it (as a success in America).
Tung scolds Sin Wa (Siu Yam Yam)
Later, we have the Laundromat scene but Evonne is present and Tan Tung hands her the money to be mailed. The father then gives his speech about Tung's dirty money and how his Granddad would be ashamed of him if he knew how he was making it.
CELESTIAL: Tan Tung questions Dragon Boss about the continued presence of drugs in Chinatown despite their ousting of the Green Tigers. Tung threatens the Boss stating he'll clean up Chinatown and anyone selling drugs will have their legs broken.
Granddad (Wong Ching Ho) receives new glasses
SOUTHGATE: Tan Tung sits in his new bed questioning his own morals and the choices he has made. Sin Wa enters but quickly exits after Tung yells at her. Later, Tung talks to two gang members and tells them that he wants Chinatown cleaned up; no more drugs.
Wan questions Dragon Boss about why business is slowing down. Boss blames Tan Tung and even mentions how he gave them all a lecture on morals. Wan is not happy and tells Boss that he needs to do something about this problem or else. Boss agrees.
CELESTIAL: Tan Tung revisits Ah Wen who is studying in his room above the restaurant's kitchen. He attempts to get Ah Wen to understand the path he has taken and asks if he had any other options. Ah Wen belittles him, calling him a big hero and the two get into a fist fight. Tung smashes the doorway entrance (piece of wood they're always hitting their heads on) and exits.
Dragon Boss is given a report that Tan Tung broke up a drug deal of theirs. He becomes infuriated and smashes his wine glass. He then makes a phone call to set Tung up (the great Mercedes switcharoo).
SOUTHGATE: Wan and Dragon Boss realize [their] Mercedes entrapment scheme didn't work and they decide to hunt down Tan Tung. Later, Tung returns to the club and engages several members; including Wan who he kills. Tung then approaches the fallen body of Wan's right-hand man (who is faking his death) and stabs Tung in the stomach. Tung shoots him with a discarded shotgun and then buttons up his coat to hide the blood (and blade which remains in him - this is important later).
CELESTIAL: The final battle between Tan Tung/ Ah Wen and the White Dragons has a different outcome than the SG version. Here, after Ah Wen has Dragon Boss in a choke hold, the police enter and arrest everyone; except Ah Wen. As the officer is handcuffing Tan Tung, he tells Ah Wen that he enjoyed the materialistic life and deserved this. He offers his digital watch to him and Ah Wen watches the police escort them off. [ Note Tung's suit is bloody in the beginning of this fight and then (when the police arrest him) the blood is gone. Has the suit been magically cleaned? Hmm, ancient Chinese secret, no doubt. Also, when the White Dragons first return and see their club smashed up, note the three dead bodies. The first is that of Wan and the third is his right-hand man. While they never appear in this version, this is the one scene where they can be seen. ]
Tan Tung (I) and Ah Wen (r) finish off the Dragon Boss (c)
Ah Wen writes home that he will be transferring to Harvard University. Back in HK: His father reads the letter, then moves to a window where he watches a procession of children as they cross several streets towards school.
SOUTHGATE: Tan Tung and Ah Wen engage in a deadly battle with the Dragons. When Ah Wen gets Dragon Boss in a choke hold, Tung extracts the belt knife from his gut and mortally stabs Boss (with Ah Wen’s help). Victory at hand, Tung collapses from his wound but first asks Ah Wen to take his digital watch. Ah Wen removes the watch from the now lifeless body and exits.
The death of Tan Tung
If you are familiar with Chang Cheh's work, you would recognize this ending is more to the norm in which a bloody climax occurs. The focus in the Celestial version is more on Sun Chien's character as he moves on with his life. The final images of the school children further ingrain in the mind of the viewer that an education must begin at an early age and that it will pay off in the end. And hey, if that school thing doesn't pan out, you can always set up a street cart operation squeezing juice or selling dog-meat sausages.
© Terrence J. Brady
THIRD MILLENNIUM entertainment
If you're a fan of "The Chinatown Kid," or for that matter any Alexander Fu Sheng, Chang Cheh, or Shaw Brothers in general film, please click on the following link for my book, Alexander Fu Sheng: Biography of the Chinatown Kid, which was released in October 2018 and available for purchase on Amazon.