In my book about Shaw Brothers Studios – Ask for the Moon – I used the English language advertising taglines from the old Shaw Brothers movie trailers as subtitles within the chapters.
“Gripping Drama Packed Into Just One Day!”
I used them because I enjoy them. I feel that they capture the flavour of the films – their declamatory language conveys an energy imbued in these dynamic movies that is much beloved by their fans.
The old trailers – and their taglines – date from the 60s and 70s mostly and come across as a bit dated and hokey now. So often when viewing pop culture from other eras it is too easy to be dismissive – James Bond movies, spaghetti westerns, Hollywood musicals, and chopsocky are readily viewed with what film scholar Leon Hunt calls a “camp gaze” *. Modern viewers can tend to look at these artefacts in order to see something cute, or funny, or bizarre, and reactions can range from patronising to contemptuous.
“Action Every Minute! Tension Every Hour!”
I do find the old Shaw Brothers trailers to be a wee bit mad. And there are elements of the films – the bad wigs, the (at times) bizarre soundtracks – that strike me as tiny bit strange too, if I’m to be honest. But it’s not this that draws me to these films.
Behind some of the dated effects lies entertainment that is still compelling. And the filmmakers at Shaws were often audaciously creative, managing to embed imaginative flourishes into the Shaw Brothers’ stylistic template that they were constrained to follow to mark their individual style; some (such as Lau Kar Leung or Chor Yuen) managed to go even further and create artistic innovations.
“A Pageant of Kung Fu Spectaculars!”
Sir Run Run Shaw, in his running of Shaw Brothers Studios, had the firm goal of making big profits from his movies, but he also loved film (his first job was as a cinematographer) and he was proud of the Chinese culture made manifest in Shaw Brothers movies. He hired top talent to work in front of and behind the camera and, although contracted to an assembly line approach to churning out product at a regular clip, these filmmakers were serious professionals who set out to make the best movies they could. Sir Run Run developed a production process that was geared towards making product and selling it quickly, but he also made sure that his productions were the best resourced in Asia at the time and, as a result, neatly conjoined the goals of quality control and assurance, cost effectiveness, and high standards in art production.
“An Abrupt Ending!”
I used the old trailer taglines as subtitles because they suggested the over the top energy of the films, but also testified to something more. They are expressions of pride and exultation. They are bold and unapologetic exclamations of the films’ intended importance and impact – to the studio, to culture, and as benchmarks in filmmaking standards of the time.
*Leon Hunt, Kung Fu Cult Master, (London: Wallflower Press, 2003), p. 12