Pop Culture is Cumulative

About a week ago I was pleasantly surprised to come across this post about legendary Hong Kong film comedian Stephen Chow over on Edwin Mak’s Faster Than Instant Noodles, which is one of the more entertaining blogs I’ve discovered recently. Just to give you an idea of his unique take on Chinese film, this particular post is part of a recurring series on, um… noodlemania, but features two clips from Wong Jing’s madcap God of Gamblers II and its equally zany sequel God of Gamblers III: Back to Shanghai. Aside from a ridiculous time travel plot, a cell phone that can place calls from 1937 Shanghai to present-day Hong Kong and the seeming stunt-casting of Gong Li as twin sisters (one of whom possesses the mental faculties of a 5 year-old), GoG III features the joyfully absurd musical number above, extolling the virtues of cha siu bao, or steamed pork buns. It was fun to watch this clip again as it’s been a while since I popped it in the DVD player, and it’s a great example of Chow at the absolute height of the mo lei tau period of his career.

I was even more pleasantly surprised when I came across this post on Durian Dave’s Soft Film: Vintage Chinese Cinema blog, which is where I learned that the steamed pork bun song was actually adapted from a version originally sung by Diana Chang Chung-wen in her 1957 film debut Three Sisters. Keep in mind my supposedly encyclopedic knowledge of Hong Kong cinema is woefully inadequate when it comes to names and titles prior to the sixties, so I had no idea that Stephen Chow’s song was itself a reference to an earlier work that would be well known to local audiences. Further proof that great comedy operates on multiple levels, so enjoyment is not dependent on getting every single element.

If you want to go even further down the rabbit hole, the Diana Chang version is itself a reworked version of the Rosemary Clooney song “Mambo Italiano,” which composer Bob Merrill supposedly adapted from an Italian folk song, etc etc etc… but I’m sure you have other things to do.


7 Responses to “Pop Culture is Cumulative”

  1. February 17, 2009 at 6:21 am

    Thanks for the link to the Rosemary Clooney clip! I love the way that pop culture shamelessly propagates itself across space and time. And I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who runs down rabbit holes!

  2. February 17, 2009 at 10:36 pm

    Wow, Durian Dave’s blog is AWESOME from what I’ve seen so far. Thanks for the link Jason.

    And on another weird note: I just watched Big Night for the first time all the way through last night (yes, great film, I missed it before) and Mambo Italiano features prominently, acting as a kind of commentary on the watered down Italian cooking that the brothers are competing against with the food served in their restaurant.

    How did Gong Li go from Zhang Yimou films to a silly pre-God of Cookery Chow Sing film anyway?

  3. February 18, 2009 at 12:09 am

    Thanks Jason, and its good to see “Cha Siu Bao” receiving the love and treatment it deserves!

  4. February 18, 2009 at 3:10 am

    Thanks for the kind words, Glenn!

    Speaking of Gong Li and Stephen Chow, have you seen Flirting Scholar? Freaking hilarious! And it also features a wonderful appearance by Cheng Pei Pei.

  5. February 19, 2009 at 9:08 pm

    Yes, I’ve seen Flirting Scholar (I’m sure Jason has as well, right Jason?).

    I was barely “into” Hong Kong cinema at the time and just watching stuff based on the stars, in this case, Gong Li.

    So I was a little overwhelmed by what I was watching.

    Later, when I saw God of Cookery and King of Comedy, I got into Stephen Chow a bit more.

  6. February 19, 2009 at 9:54 pm

    As a Gong Li fan, you must have been shocked to see her at the receiving end of Stephen Chow’s “Beauty Fist” I know I was!

  7. February 24, 2009 at 12:27 am

    @duraindave: Who knows, maybe someone will riff on Stephen Chow’s parody of Diana Chang’s reimagining of Rosemary’s Clooney’s reinterpretaion? Flirting Scholar is a real treat (Chow weeping over the body of the dead cockroach gets me every time. “Siu Keung!!!”) and don’t forget it also features my all-time favorite Gordon Liu!

    @Glenn: Yes, I thought you might like Dave’s blog! Search back a few pages and see if you can find a clip of Li Lin-lin go-go dancing at a pool party, it’s an awesome number. Chow has seemed to have even more of a predilection for mainland beauties in recent years, from Zhao Wei and Huang Sheng Yi to Kitty Zhang, though none of them came with the dramatic pedigree of Li. Speaking of highly acclaimed actresses, I’ll just say one more time how much I would love to see Maggie Cheung back in a comedy with Chow. She’s even expressed the same desire herself in an interview a while back, but we’ll see…

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