19 June 2003 | FilmFlaneur
A must for Shaw fans others may be less impressed
Flawed yet fascinating, Passing Flickers' main selling point will be to those who enjoy all those big colourful Shawscope productions of the 70's, a studio with huge success, notably in costume drama and kung fu epics, and with an as-distinctive house style as Hammer's. Despite optimistic comparisons on the DVD box to Fellini's 8 ½ and Truffaut's Day for Night, it is probably closer in spirit to a 'Carry on Filming'. That's not to say that there's a lot to enjoy here, but high art it is not. Supposedly based on the anecdotal reminiscences of an actor turned film critic, (brief extracts of his career in black and white movies appear at the start), Li's work betrays its origins by being rather a scrappy film, put together rather carelessly, and which finishes all too abruptly. The main characters - the arrogant, harassed director (who predictably has a personal assistant, just to place his chair), the sexy starlet (secretly gawped at by stage hands as she strips for make up), or naïve actors (unable to remember lines, duped into making fools of themselves on set) are familiar enough stereotypes. Along the way however, there is some fun to be had as more humorous incidents occur on the sound stage, together with dashes of nudity. Some of the events are presumably inspired by real life experiences, others have a distinct air of wishful fabrication. The over-the-top Kung Fu star, deserted by director and crew as he goes through his pointless extended routine, for instance. Or the action heroes, sweating in furs while they dutifully munch through their meal scene, 'snow' falling outside in studio land. Most impressive of all is the raucous mounting of a full lightning, wind and rain sequence on the sound stage, a forceful reminder of how rich in the art department contemporary productions could be.
In scenes like these, Passing Flickers gives a tantalising flavour of the times and allows us to glimpse the unique atmosphere of a great studio. Seeing behind the wire work and trampoline work utilised in a fight scenes, how lightning is made (with special arc lamps) or exploring the rich sets so characteristic of the Shaw Brothers output, make the weaknesses elsewhere worth sitting through. Undoubtedly, those who have seen the most productions of the period will be the quickest to spot the parodies on offer. Even so, one can't help sighing that, with a bit more thought in the script, as well as the tightening up of some of the weaker gags, this film would have been so much better. Newly re-mastered for DVD as part of the gradual reissue of the entire Shaw Brothers back catalogue (over 700 films!) Passing Flickers is worth contemplating, and a must for those who still run to the world of Sir Run Run.