Death comes home

Death occurs so frequently on screen in so many Hong Kong movies that I feared I was becoming desensitized to movie violence. Combine that with the “real life” deaths of Leslie Cheung (evidently by his own volition, as dictated by a melancholy so severe it’s difficult to comprehend), Anita Mui (cut down too young by disease), and other notables, and a general numbing can occur.

Then you get a call like I got last night, telling me that my own father had passed away, and things snap into perspective. All the cinematic deaths pale into insignificance, and even the deaths of dramatic artists who have touched my life through their art…well, let’s face it, it’s not the same.

I remember watching KNOCKABOUT one afternoon, and my father watched it for a little while — it was the final fight sequence, the one that lasts about 20 minutes — and he got up. “All they’re doing is fighting! I used to do that, and it’s not that interesting to watch.”

OK, my father was never a martial artist, but decades ago he did fight — in bars and on the streets. Though he left that life behind, he knew what he liked and what he didn’t. So even though our taste in movies was not the same, there was some overlap, and he watched dozens of movies with me over the past couple of years, even when his eyesight was too poor to read the subtitles. (His favorite refrain when I was watching a foreign-language movie: “I can’t understand what they’re saying!”) Perhaps it’s from him that I picked up my critical disdain for certain types of films.

He was a good person and a good movie-watching companion. That’s all I can ask from anybody.

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