Category Archives: Crime fiction and film from China

Pulp Friday: spy pulp part 2, Assignment Asia

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of James Bond, last week’s Pulp Friday was a selection of spy themed pulp covers.

This week’s post takes us to one of the main battlegrounds for pulp spies in the sixties and seventies – Asia.

The Cold War was in full swing and those Reds were getting up to all kinds of nefarious activity behind the bamboo curtain, everything from kidnapping, sabotaging America’s space program, developing bubonic plague, drug running, to assassination.

And secret agents like Mark Hood (The Bamboo Bomb) Butler (Chinese Roulette) Death Merchant (Chinese Conspiracy), Joe Gall (The Star Ruby Contract) and Drake (“The man with nobody’s face” in Operation Checkmate), Nick Carter (The Defector) and Sam Durell (the Assignment series, over 48 of which were written), were in the thick of it.

They usually committed a lot of violence, had a lot of sex, and travelled to exotic locations. The books below are set in China, Singapore, Hawaii, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand, Japan and Sri Lanka.

And, of course, there were some great covers. My favourite is the Robert Mcginnis illustration for Scott S Stone’s The Dragon’s Eye. But I’m also rather taken with the sleazy eighties feel of the photograph on the cover of Assignment Bangkok.… Read more

The Shanghai Gesture

Melbourne Cinematheque is currently screening a series of films by the legendary Viennese-born auteur Joseph von Sternberg. It’s as good an opportunity as any to post this great review of one of the strangest and most powerful film noirs I have seen, von Sternberg’s 1941 classic, The Shanghai Gesture, starring Gene Tierney, Victor Mature and Walter Huston.

Unfortunately, this is not one of the films being shown by Melbourne Cinematheque, although it’s not hard to get on DVD and it’s definitely worth it. I won’t spoil what follows by saying any more. This review originally appeared as Back Alley Noir’s Film Noir of the Week in September 2010. It was written Sheila O’Malley, whose excellent blog The Shelia Variations is well worth checking out. Thanks to Sheila for permission to reprint her work.

Josef von Sternberg’s The Shanghai Gesture, his last major picture, is characterized as a noir, but this is a film noir staggering through a cloud of opium smoke with fresh bruises on its hipbones. The film’s focus on an investigation into a nighttime world of corruption is one of the reasons for its noir status, not to mention the strong spider-woman in the lead, but in many respects the film eludes classification.

Based on a play by John Colton, the script of The Shanghai Gesture was problematic from the start, and von Sternberg was forced to make extensive cuts.… Read more

Great crime reads set in Asia

Okay, I’ve sat patiently through the hype about Scandinavian crime fiction, which shows no sign of ending, only to read recently that the next big thing in crime fiction is central Europe.

I keep thinking people will eventually discover Asia as a fascinating place to set crime fiction, but it looks like I’ll have to keep on waiting on that score.

Not that there aren’t some great crime reads set in the region. A few weeks ago I wrote the following post on some of my favourites for the site, Crime Fiction Lover. One book I could’ve included but didn’t was David Peace’s Tokyo Year Zero. One CFL reader suggested the books of Seicho Matsumoto. I’d live to hear other suggestions as I’m sure there are heaps more.

Jade Lady Burning – Martin Limon

Low profile crime writer Martin Limon has so far written six books featuring Sueno and Bascom, officers in the Criminal Intelligence Division of the US military based in South Korea, and a seventh is on the way.

Jade Lady Burning was the first of the series, written in 1992, and for my money it’s still one of the best. Sueno and Bascom are assigned to investigate the brutal murder of a local prostitute which turns into something much more sinister.… Read more

Book review: Death of a Red Heroine

Several months ago, I did a post (which you can view here) on why so little indigenous crime fiction comes out of China.

One of the authors I mentioned, probably the best known Chinese crime writer in the West, is the Chinese born US-based Qui Xiaolong. His character, a poetry-sprouting cop called Chen Cao based in Shanghai, has featured in several novels.

When Karen Chisholm, one of the reviewers of the excellent site Australian Crime Fiction, mentioned she was reviewing one of Xiaolong’s books, Death of a Red Heroine, published in 2000, I was keen to cross post it. Her review is below.

Book synopsis:

Shanghai in the mid-1990s is a city caught between reverence for the past and fascination with a tantalizing, market-driven present. When the body of a young “national model worker,” revered for her adherence to the principles of the Communist Party, turns up in a canal, Chen is thrown into the midst of these opposing forces. As he struggles to unravel the hidden threads of this paragon’s life, he finds himself challenging the very political forces that have guided his life since birth. With party-line-spouting superiors above him and detectives who resent his quick promotion beneath him, Chen finds himself wondering whether justice is a concept at all meaningful in late-20th-century China.… Read more

In China, crime fiction and social harmony do not mix

Something was confirmed for me over the last couple of days that I’ve long suspected: crime fiction and authoritarian governments do not mix.

But before I explore this further, a little background is required.

On Friday night, I and over a thousand other people crammed into the Melbourne Town Hall for the Gala Night of Story Telling 2011: Voices from Elsewhere, organised by the Wheeler Centre.

Of the eight writers who spoke, my favourite story was Chinese writer Murong Xuecun’s parable about the power of traumatic historical events, in this case Mao’s Cultural Revolution, to distort the individual psyche, even long after they are over.

Murong was 28 and working as a sales manager for a car company in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province and China’s fifth most populous city, when he started posting his first novel on the Internet.

The book, originally titled Chengdu Please Forget Me Tonight, focuses on three young men in newly capitalist Chengdu, their dead-end jobs, and relationships, their drinking, gambling and whoring.

It became a cult sensation among young middle class Chinese. It also landed him in a lot of trouble, especially when Murong refused to join the Chinese Writers Society, the state sponsored writers organisation.

In addition to selling through the roof in China, the book has been translated into English as Leave Me Alone: A Novel of Chengdu.… Read more