Jackie Kong: The Queen of Camp
Seeing as how we are counting down the last few days of February, I’m going to take this opportunity to celebrate one more woman who has recently popped back into the zeitgeist, cult film extraordinaire, Jackie Kong. At this point the difficulties women face in Hollywood have been more than expressed, but as an Asian American woman making sleazy horror comedies in the 1980’s, writer/director Jackie Kong sure as hell had her work cut out for her. Despite her relatively few directorial ventures, she quickly established a signature style all of her own.
Born in 1957, in Southern California, Jackie Kong grew up around film. Her mother was an actress and all around cinephile, so she was exposed to cinema early on. In a recent interview on the podcast, Shock Waves, Kong recalls receiving her first 16mm film camera from her mother’s good friend Marlon Brando for her 18th birthday, after seeing several of her short films. However, Brando often tried to talk her out of her chosen field and was well known for being openly contemptuous of Hollywood and all that it represents. Despite this very reluctant support from Brando and her parents, she chose to enter into the filmmaking world. She made her first film The Being, a creature feature starring Martin Landau, at only 23 years old. Despite being lost in distribution hell, leading to somewhat of a commercial failure, The Being continues to find new audiences today. The film not only had strong direction, but had a distinct voice, a very impressive accomplishment for someone so young. Not to mention an especially cool monster design. Unfortunately, the poor performance of a first film is generally a death knell for someone in her position, even by today’s standards. However, if Jackie Kong is too stubborn for Brando, she is way too stubborn for Hollywood and she wasn’t going out that easily.
On her next film, Night Patrol, she decided to switch gears slightly and tackle the world of off-color comedy. Working with a modest budget, Night Patrol, starring The Exorcist’s Linda Blair, was shot entirely on weekends and was completed mostly on favors called in by Kong. Upon it’s release in 1984, Night Patrol became an over surprise hit. After Night Patrol’s success, Vestron Pictures tapped Kong for a three- picture deal through their low budget division, Lightening Pictures. The first of these films was her crown jewel, Blood Diner. When Kong was originally given the script, it was intended to be a more serious venture, but she quickly gave it a makeover.
Released in 1987, Blood Diner was the film in which Jackie Kong perfected irreverence as an art form. Channeling filmmakers such as John Waters, and more so Herschell Gordon Lewis, Blood Diner was pulpy, wacky and above all subversive. It was even intended to originally be a sequel to the H.G Lewis hit, Blood Feast. It encapsulates the excessive nature of 80’s culture while simultaneously creating interesting and idiosyncratic characters. For example, the Tutman brothers are very good looking, despite their sinister nature. Also, the design of the evil goddess Sheetar is both beautiful and terrifying, complete with yonic imagery, definitely the biggest clue that the film had a feminine influence. The film was shot in a brisk three-week span, which proved to be quite the feat since the film had such a wide range of special effects. After it’s release, the film built momentum throughout the years, launching effectively into cult film status.
Unfortunately, Jackie Kong was only able to complete two of her three-picture deal, following up Blood Diner with the comedy The Underachievers, before Vestron went out of business. In the decades since, she has worked as a speaker and guest of several film festivals and became the Executive Director of a non-profit organization called Asian American Media Development. She has recently resurfaced and has plans to get back into the directing game.
So why exactly do Jackie Kong’s films still hold up? Nostalgia does play a significant role and is a popular market many distribution companies are taking full advantage of. Blood Diner itself was recently liberated from “Discount Horror Collection” purgatory and got the fully remastered Blu Ray treatment by Lionsgate, as part of their Vestron Collector’s Series. As for Jackie Kong herself, she is taking the film on tour. The 2017 tour will be along the West Coast this spring, ending in Los Angeles with a party in Hollywood where the film was originally shot. It will feature a Q&A with Jackie Kong and an “Undead Party” following. To see if the tour is coming to a city near you, visit Facebook.com/findingsheetar for more information. You can also visit her website Here for more information about her other upcoming projects.
As Women in Horror Month comes to a close I just wanted to bring it back around and leave you with a quote from the lovely Debra Hill:
"I hope some day there won't be a need for Women in Film. That it will be People in Film. That it will be equal pay, equal rights and equal job opportunities for everybody."