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Red Trousers: The Life Of The Hong Kong Stuntman

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It was a beautiful spring weekend here in the Southwest part of the USA. The sky was blue,temperatures warm,sun shining and all that stuff. So I did what anyone would do. I locked myself inside with the A/C going nice and cold, only venturing outside once to go the movies to see this: Red Trousers – The Life Of The Hong Kong Stuntman.

Red Trousers is a fascinating though at times confusing and very self-indulgent movie. Directed by former Hong Kong stuntman turned action star Robin Shou, (Mortal Kombat) it’s a look into the lives of several HK stuntmen and women. Being a huge fan of the Chop Socky genre and being much more interested in the behind the scenes action involved in the actual film making process, (I’m a stagehand it goes with the turf) this was a flick I’ve looked forward to for some time.

The movie takes its name from the red pants traditionally worn by the highly trained and disciplined acrobats at the Opera School in Beijing. Rigorous training may be an understatement. Example: Students there would typically start the day by doing a 1 & 1/2 hour headstand. Any breech of posture merits a beating from the teacher. Sounds like fun eh?

Many Asian stunt people started their careers as acrobats, tumblers, dancers and stage fighters. Add to this mix the omniprescence and physicality of Martial Arts culture and you have a good background of where these brave souls are coming from.

In many Kung Fu movies if it looks like the actor took a hit he most likely did. Of course, wires are used for many of the demanding scenes but you have to know how to stop yourself when hitting the ground and flying into a brick wall as well. Most American stuntmen would not even try many of these stunts.

Being thrown off roofs, balconies and out of third floor plate glass windows is all in a day’s work for Hong Kong stunt people. To balk at doing a dangerous stunt is a loss of face amongst one’s peers. It also means that you may never work again in the tightly controlled industry. Injuries are a norm in the biz. Actor Jackie Chan referenced often and reverently here, has had more injuries to himself than your average NFL team combined.

Rest assured gentle reader, that when you see a man or woman kicked off of a balcony from 3 or 4 floors up then landing on a moving truck, jumping off onto the ground and dodging various forms of Kung Fu, Gun Fu, Car Fu, Sword Fu and whatnot, you have seen the real thing done without the benefit of safety straps, harnesses or air bags.

The high points for me were the interviews with Hong Kong stunt greats Sammo Hung, Yuen Wo-Ping and Lau Kei-Leung. Low points were when the flick goes into a movie within a movie bit. This segment called “Lost Time” is used to illustrate how stunts are realized by combining behind the scenes action with the finished goods. However, the narrative gets so convoluted and confusing that it quickly becomes tiresome.

All in all this a fascinating film. The danger inherent to these stunts is explained by many of the people interviewed with a smile and a shrug of the shoulders. Just a days work, a days work that sometimes only pays $25, a sum that many Americans wouldn’t even get out of bed for. Like director Robin Shou, many of the stunt people involved with the Hong Kong film colony go on to direct other Chop Socky films themselves.

If you have any interest in these kind of films, this an engrossing tour de force and expose of the Hong Kong stunt scene. Given the cracked skulls, broken ribs, and shattered bones these guys and gals endure to bring you classics such as these you owe it to them and yourselves to check this movie out.

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