Monday, June 10, 2013

Dangerous Encounters Of The First Kind

Dangerous Encounters Of The First Kind (Don't Play With Fire) Directed By Tsui Hark (1980)
Warning this film has real cat torture and cruelty to animals so if this offends you don't watch it! This is an early Category III that's unique from the other titles in that there's hardly any sex at all, just animal cruelty and excessive youth violence! 
   I hate when directors hurt animals to convey a message of non violence (it's a contradiction) and like Max Renn said, why do it for real, it's easier to fake it! The scene when the dog was eaten in Rene Cardona Jr.'s Cyclone, really upset me and directors who choose the animal cruelty route, I tend to lose respect for (Sergio "Monkey Javelin" Martino and Ruggero "turtle guts" Deodato spring to mind). 
   This is a different case all together, because Tsui Hark is someone I immensely respect as a film maker, "1st Kind" came out right after Were Going To Eat You, in that film, they killed a lot of chickens, but I'm not ALF and I don't eat cats, so I was disturbed. 

Hark's early work cannot be denied as a juggernaut of hong kong cinema, combining slapstick humor with lightning fast action and insane special effects! His film  Zu Warriors Of Magic Mountain (1983) would influence John Carpenter's Big Trouble In Little China and Chinese Ghost Story would poke out your eyeballs with sorcery and influence countless other copy-cats! Hark acted in Roboforce (an early, but tamer Robotrix style effort). Almost anything he produced or directed is in the Deep Red catalog and worth seeking out. It would all come crashing down with his Western effort, the Van Damme/ Dennis Rodman embarrassment Double Team!
   Although he is not the first Asian director to succumb to the dark wraith of the Hollywood system and many others were crushed in its wake, their dignity and integrity in question (in the hearts and minds of hardcore fans, at least)!   
   So what's with the Spielberg-ian title? Is this an Asian prequel to Close Encounters? is there mashed potato abuse? alien abduction, Carl Sagan? It's completely unrelated! The original title is Don't Play With Fire and was co-written by Cheuk-Hon Szeto (Righting Wrongs, Mr. Vampire). It involves punk terrorism in the ghetto and senseless scenes of animal violence that add nothing to the storyline or characters. A brief warning describes the title, a new breed of youth culture, think punks armed with pipe bombs! The urban youth terrorism angle is something fresh in my mind (after the Boston homemade crackpot shrapnel bombs were set off) and that's what makes this film sort of timeless and sickeningly effective. There are many scenes of media violence and even Looney Tunes is at fault for causing real violence and brutality. The mood is nihilistic and purely existential.
Blame Cartoons!
   The film deals with three pals who make Anarchist Cookbook style weapons and unleash them onto the public. Hark likes to steal from Goblin, but does a great job of using snippets, not entire muffled shitty sounding tracks (I'm starring right at you Bruno Mattei)! In this early effort he also uses a Jean Michel Jarre album "Oxygene" and some Lalo Schifrin "Amityville" stings.
Geekshow bullshit and music ganking are long traditions in the Chinese film world and its fun to hear what they recycle.My favorite music theft moment is Rocky 3 used in Centipede Horror! Tarantino does the same cut and paste music style now in his work.
   The three nerdy school uniformed terrorist pals set off a detonator in a movie theater while a war movie is going on. The lost reinserted film stock goes from muddy to crystal clear (rounding out this complete uncut version). According to Lisa Morton's book on "The Cinema Of Tsui Hark", Hark mentions that he felt very primal when writing the characters in this film and found Chen Chi-Lin, a Shaw Bros actress who plays Pearl to have a cat-like appearance and bizarre eyes. 
Psycho Pearl
   She works in a comic shop and after dumping ink on a co-workers head, she gets fired. Lieh Lo (Five Fingers Of Death, Black Magic), another Shaw Brothers actor plays her brother the cop. Pearl is a sadist who's hobbies include chucking cats onto barbed wire fences and pointing a loaded gun at unsuspecting neighbors heads. 
   She refers to thrill killing and sticking pins in the brains of defenseless mice as "doing funny things". This is the worst kind of next door neighbor girl to get involved with, these kids should run in terror, but they are all guilty of shedding their animosity with senseless violence and are somehow a perfect fit. 
Nerd Alert!
   The extra muddy scenes with characters and subtitles add some padding and interrupt the flow of the story alittle. Pearl joins up with the terrorist nerds (think an Asian Big Bang Theory with an homemade bomb kit). Every teenager in this flick is hellbent on thrill killing and sadism and none of them are likable. She dares them to commit crimes and preys on their psychotic tendencies. Lieh Lo is out looking with a bombsquad for the perpetrators in all the wrong places (as Dawn Of The Dead Goblin songs play). In We're Going To Eat You, Hark used their music again. Psycho Pearl and her geek squad rob a bus full of tourists with a makeshift grenade.
The puppets can see you naked!
    Later on a prostitute killing Australian maniac named Bruce, hits Pearl with his car and in retaliation the punks smash up his windshield with rocks. Dangerous Encounters is filled with the worst scumbags, each more cutthroat then the next. Bruce the foreigner is a psychotic arms dealer, who after arguing with his boss, gets iced real good and turns into street garbage. The team ineptly tries to exchange the foreign money they stole from the bus all around town. The kids show up at a mime disco (Yes, I was bewildered as well)!! to make a trade with a street punks gang leader Hak, who is also a DJ. The characters go to all these incredible lengths to get this check cashed, it propels the story along, but is kind of ridiculous! 
Welcome to your nightmare
     Hak takes them to this fat greasy accountant who rips them off! Now stuck in an office building warehouse with pools of flaming gasoline, they get chased by a menacing Guitar Wolf looking gang armed with bats and knives, led by one of the mimes from the disco! Pearl's brother smacks his sister around like an Asian Burt Young and earlier barfed in her face, but saves her from certain death at the hands of the gang. The nerd's friendship starts to unravel in a hillside cemetery with rows of headstones closely packed next to each other. It's followed by an incredible gun battle between white drug runners and the punks.
Switchblade or cream pie in the face?
     According to Pete Tombs book "Mondo Macabro", the authorities banned the film for fear that it would inspire teens to copy it. This makes "1st Kind" ahead of its time certainly for 1980 and there's always a new scapegoat for parents to blame youth aggression on (Cartoons, Heavy Metal, Punk, etc….).
   I know what I'm in for usually with Asian and Italian Animal torture Geekery! (see my reviews for snake massacres like Calamity Of Snakes and Killer Snakes) It's fucked up to kill real animals in general. Whenever I do research I find some chuckleheads on the IMDB message board dreaming up bullshit about how the cat in Men Behind the Sun wasn't eaten to death by rats, it's usually the Asian films that are excused for cruelty to animals for some reason. At any rate, if you took the animal violence out, it wouldn't effect the pacing at all, if anything it's a random cruel act, that thankfully would not ever make a return in Tsui Hark's career again. Other than the animal cruelty, not as shocking as proclaimed, but still worth seeking out!  


  1. I saw this for the first time a few years back and it absolutely blew me away. Completely agree with the idea the idea that the real onscreen violence to the animals is completely unnecessary.

  2. I wonder if that's the reason it's very difficult to find, you never know it could have been a John Waters type situation, where they bought already dead cats!


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