Sunday, January 09, 2011


The movie 'Prison on Fire' with Chow Yun-fat isn't the greatest movie in the world. But it's a pretty darn good movie, and as excellent a representative of mr. Chow's oeuvre as any.
That alone should make it worth borrowing from the local library.

[Prison on Fire: (gaam yuk fung wan 監獄風雲) made in 1987, directed by Ringo Lam. The movie features three stellar performances: Chou Yun-fat as Ching, the inmate of rather common antecedents, who befriends Yiu, played by Tony Leung Ka-fai, both of them versus Roy Cheung as the sadistic prison guard. It's a buddy flick, but one that speaks to the Cantonese welt-anshauung, and especially the sense of loyalty to ones friends in the hardest of times. In one sense, it's about chivalry - being gallant and righteous from the very fabric of one's character. In quite another sense, it's also about biting the ear off of a sadistic prison guard.
So there's something satisfying there for everyone.
Ringo Lam: 林嶺東 born 1955, director of many exciting action movies, many of which have an undercurrent of elements familiar to any aficionado of Cantonese operas and Gong-wu (江湖) novels. Chow Yun-fat: 周潤發 born 1955, Hong Kong actor of Hakka origin. If you haven't heard of him, you may have been living in a cave for the past twenty years. Tony Leung Ka-fei: 梁家輝 also known as 'big Tony', to distinguish him from someone else. Very good in roles that require a polished or scholarly image. Voted 'man you would really like to see in a tuxedo' by this blog. Roy Cheung: 張耀揚 often cast as a villain or sadist, partly due to his psychotic performance in Prison of Fire. Can be described as intense, even obsessed, in many of his roles.]


But what really anchors the movie in the viewers mind is the song 'yau-yi ji gwong' (友誼之光).

In this link, scenes from the movie are the background to the recording.

The brassy female whose voice starts singing the song as counter point at the fifty second mark is Maria Cordero - also known as 'Fat Momma Maria' (肥媽瑪俐亞) - the Macanese songwriter and singer who wrote the lyrics.

Sut yau man lei san, gak-jo leung tei yiew;
Pat seui kien-min, sam-tsong ya chi-hiew;
Yau-yi goi pat liew!

For a cool video with the lyrics superimposed, so that you can sing along, see this;

No, I don't know why this video shows famous European sights (including Keukenhof and the Arc de Triomf). The visuals are entirely baffling, and decontextual. That's common with karaoke numbers, but more often than not they'll feature some almond-eyed cutie-pie ambling along a tropical beach, with birds, water, palm trees, and icecream shakes.
Or something equally inane and stirring.

Yan-sang yu sai seung, yau gei ko chi kei ?
To-sieu yau-yi nang cheung-chyun?
Kam-yat bit-lei gung ney seung-seung leung ak sau,
Yau-yi seung tsoi ney ngoh sam leui!

In the span of a life how much mutual recognition? How many friendships will long survive? Part today warmly shaking hands, With friendship that remains strong within both of us.

Kam-tien che yiu jaam-biet,
Ta-chiew ya deng nang jeui-sau;
Jung-si pat nang woei-min,
Chi-chung ya si pang-yau.

Today we mark this moment, Another time we shall meet once more; If we're never again face-to-face, From beginning to end we'll stay friends.

說有萬里山 隔阻兩地遙
Sut yau man lei san, gak-jo leung tei yiew;
不需見面 心中也知曉
Pat seui kien-min, sam-tsong ya chi-hiew;
Yau-yi goi pat liew.

Myriad mountains, and obstacles beyond measure; No need to actually meet, the heart still deeply knows; this a bond which shall indeed not change.

Like all song lyrics, the cohesion it has in its own language is lost in translation. Forgive me for not being adequate to the task, I cannot do it justice.
Go ahead and watch the movie. Let yourself sink into a Cantonese-hued world for a while, in which universal values will resonate in slightly less familiar ways than you know.
Friendships made in adverse times are annealed by hardship, made stronger by the flames.

NOTE: Previously I have mentioned this song in relation to some other matters - that post provides more framework in which to comprehend it.

This post:

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All correspondence will be kept in confidence.

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