View Full Version: Brian Naas' BRNS is back

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Title: Brian Naas' BRNS is back
Description: HK film fans rejoice!

Yi Lee - December 20, 2011 07:08 PM (GMT)

Don't know when it came back exactly but an old friend has stepped in from the cold:

This was an indispensable resource when I went to college back in the late 1990s/early 2000s. Before LoveHKFilm or Hong Kong Cinemagic, HK films--and many mainstream, non-art Asian films for that matter--were the obscure provenance of zine newsletters (remember those?) and import/bootleg sections at independent brick and mortar video stores/vinyl record shops (remember those?) As someone who grew up with a Chinatown connection, the films weren't that particularly novel or exotic to me but it was damn near impossible getting friends and dates to sit down for a movie when tapes were labeled with squiggly lines with perhaps the letters "A" and "B" demarcating the newest releases, which back in the day, were released split in two as to generate additional revenue (and that included laserdisc releases!)

Besides the Tai Seng tape catalog (which was free if you requested one by mail), it was impossible to have anything written in English about HK films unless you had access to someone putting together a zine or something on "cult" cinema. Anyway, BRNS was there so you pull up a handy English-language review essay in your non-tabbed Netscape browser so your non-Chinese friends could be assuaged they weren't about to watch some underground snuff film from "the Orient" or whatever else they perceived those strange Chinatown dupe tapes to be ("Hey look, this gweilo dude thinks this stuff is great--it's not like you're getting this from Uncle Weng, right?--and he's vouching for the movies... look more pictures of Maggie Cheung!") Also, Brian would post all the lobby cards and tabloid pictorials you didn't have the disposable income at the time to purchase (they're now all on line as dennis lee's site so carefully culls in continuation of Sanny Leung's idol news goodness.)

Also, with new content by Michael Wells now that folks like Yvonne Teh and Tim Youngs no longer post in a non-professional capacity. BRNS, good to have you back on-line. If you're reading this Brian Naas, all you need to do is put the Ng Man-tat for President page back up. Many thanks for resurrecting the site and safe travels ahead.

Brian Camp - December 20, 2011 08:26 PM (GMT)
He's the only one I know of besides me reviewing Hibari Misora films, so I give the site a solid "two thumbs up!"

Yvonne Teh - December 20, 2011 09:09 PM (GMT)
Er... was ever gone? Thought it had been around all this time -- just not updated for years, especially after Brian started his blog ( -- which is linked to in's What's New section)!*

Also, YTSL (hehe) is (occasionally) posting in a non-professional capacity. E.g., the following are links to her reviews of A SIMPLE LIFE and WU XIA:-

*Yi Lee, if you can prove me wrong, please share the info. I'd definitely be happy to read more (new) reviews by Brian! :P

Yi Lee - December 21, 2011 01:47 AM (GMT)
Hey Yvonne (and everybody else),

You'd have to ask Naas the specifics, but I'm pretty sure the domain fell out of use just before Brian started his trek of Asia during the start of the first(!) global financial collapse back in '08. Or perhaps being inside the Great Firewall prevented me from accessing the page--God only knows why a HK/pan-Asia movie review site would be blocked by the Chinese government, though. I do periodic checks for BRNS and this is the first time in a long while that I've been able to access it (BTW, I've not been in China for the past two years.) This and the Ng Man-tat page are two of the sites I periodically look out for.

(To everybody): The site's real charm was all the high quality uploads of lobby cards, tabloid pictorials, and boxed set ephemera that Brian would scan and host for fellow fans. I know of no other fan bloggers who currently do this to the extent that Brian did back in the day--and dennis lee's HKMDB Daily News gets his pictures mostly from Chinese-language web sources (which is a real service for those who don't read or type Chinese, BTW.) With the exception of HK Cinemagic's extensive head shot galleries that link film credits to faces, few fansites were so graphically rich in their heyday. Maybe "Durian" dave wells' two (now defunct) retro sites on Connie Chan and vintage Chinese entertainment? They're all on my shortlist for English-language bright spots out there in the ether.

Perhaps I'm just a really superficial bloke but I like pictures, graphs, maps, and illustrations in my reading material and Brian's site was one of the best providing glossy images that no one else was putting up. That and his reviews--along with guest reviewers like Yvonne--were pretty funny to this Chinatown kid.

Michael Wells - December 23, 2011 04:20 AM (GMT)
Thumbs up to your enthusiasm and infectious nostalgia, YL. But I have to echo Yvonne's post - it's always been there, at least from my browser - I've dipped into it occasionally for information. Still hasn't been updated in years. Even my own little review section is several years old at this point.

But Brian certainly deserves all the credit we can give him for the service he provided over the years, as well-described by you.

Your descriptions of the frequent difficulties of getting non-initiates to give HK film a chance is pretty hilarious. I can sympathize. I remember a houseguest in the apartment I shared with a couple friends back in the late '90s, asking what movies I had to watch. He looked increasingly bemused as he examined the labels on my HK VHS tapes and heard my pitches for some of them, finally asking, "But do you have anything... y'know, good?" And we're not talking about a philistine "I don't read no movies" mouthbreather stereotype, either, but an educated and relatively cultured person. (That said, he gave CHINESE GHOST STORY a chance, but it left him cold.)

Yi Lee - December 23, 2011 08:54 AM (GMT)

It's Christmas time in America so I've got a little spare time to post and do things I don't normally do. I personally haven't seen BRNS for years--overly aggressive firewall use on my part?--but it seems Yvonne and Micheal are right. To miss something that's always been right in front of your nose....

Micheal's post made me think of something. At my church we have something called "Christmas memories" during the holiday when someone in the congregation stands up and tells the church about a Christmas memory. It takes place sometime during the praise time/prayer request time before the start of communal worship. There's no set schedule so it could be one or two people recollecting or it could be, theoretically, the whole church service taken up with talk about Christmas memories.

Anyway, let me share my Hong Kong film memory that Michael's post brought up. I did my undergrad in the US and at one time was involved with film programming for the student cinema on campus. This was in the late 90s when there was money to blow and we were encouraged to aggressively program in spite of obvious opportunities to lose money. It was not uncommon to lose tens of thousands of dollars per semester hiring out exquisite restored 35mm prints with only maybe a half dozen people turning up to buy tickets at $2 or $3 a pop. For awhile I was part of the team that set the all-time loss: we hired out a brand spanking new print of Quentin Tarantino presents Wong Kar-wai's (in a really tiny font) "Chungking Express," which cost about $2000. I think we had maybe--and this is being generous--twelve people show up. I remember tearing tickets and ushering for three of the four shows (and seeing the movie back-to-back-to-back thrice!) because nobody else on the student committee wanted to tear the afternoon shows.

The next semester I programmed "The Bride with White Hair" followed by "Green Snake" later on the schedule. I think "Chinese Feast" was the last Hong Kong film on the calendar. I was slowly becoming that guy in the student union known for losing cash--and really pissing off the kids who hired the musical acts for homecoming and whatnot. I was putting the student theater so far in the red that my uni's administration stepped up to cut out Tsui Hark's (who?) "The Blade" (the hell?) from the line up. I was sort of tolerated, however, because if they needed someone to speak to a booking agent for, say, a Zhang Yimou prestige pic, they'd call me over to the student center and allow me to start speaking gibbersih to the guy on the other end of the line.

Despite all this, it was totally worth it. I didn't notice it at the time but some middle-aged white lady had come to one of the afternoon screenings of "The Bride with White Hair." And apparently brought her whole family back for the night screening. Whilst ushering "Green Snake" and bemoaning how the student union forced me to exclude both "A Chinese Ghost Story" and "Swordsman III: the East is Red" from the schedule (in addition to the aforementioned "The Blade"--wait, no Wesley Snipes, WTH?!), she walked over and kindly thanked us. Thanked us for showing "Bride"--had never seen anything like it but was completely entranced--and told me after seeing "Snake," she was planning on bringing back her entire family that evening like before.

I don't know who that woman is. Have never met and will likely never meet her family. But the fact that maybe one of her kids is backpacking through Asia right now or working out there as an ESL teacher because their mom showed them these weird but cool movies growing up, well, long live fandom. Yup, love live fandom.

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