Games we play: Hong Kong Action Movie homebrew

Ich beginne schön langsam, den Inhalt meiner alten Homepage hier auf mein Blog zu übertragen. Mit internationalem Sendungsbewusstsein gesegnet, ist die komplett in Englisch. Deshalb…

Welcome to Norbert Matausch’s new old roleplaying homepage.
This page focuses on several things, all thematically connected to improvisational theater, drama roleplaying, freeform narration games — shortly, on a pasttime that has been called „bullshit“ by some, but what’s known as storytelling and acting since a long time.
This here lil page covers some aspects of several roleplaying games.

Hong Kong Action Movies
We’re playing an eclectic mix of Everway and Theatrix to get our movies going. For your information, these are not our rules, but the product of the genius brain of Masen Ma.

1) Pick one of the five actor archetypes described below. Your actor will play in several movies of different genres; the role he will play will also define what skill set he has. The movie director is responsible for providing roles that suit every actor’s tastes.
2) Describe in normal, written language, how good or bad your actor is at or in Drama, Comedy, Action and Romance. These are your actor’s attributes. I think, they’re pretty much self-explaining,
3) Jot down a short backstory of your actor. Couple of sentences is enough.
4) The director will offer to the actors a set of roles before the shooting begins. If more than one actor wants to play a role, the actors bid for the role, using their Star Points (see below).

My players have each created an actor based on some common actor archetypes we’ve seen in HK film. Each actor is rated in four categories
of acting ability: Drama, Comedy, Action, and Romance. The ratings are
based loosely on the skill ratings in Theatrix, but the numbers
themselves are unimportant, all that matters are the relative strengths
and weaknesses of the actors in each category.

Each actor has a pool of Star Points (SPs), a term borrowed from HKAT! that are used in a similar way but probably share more in common with Theatrix’s Plot Points. SPs are a measure of the actor’s popularity and resulting influence on the film-making process.

In game terms players can spend their SPs to
* activate special schticks their actors have,
* ask for script re-writes (re-do a particular scene a player wasn’t happy with),
* call for additional scenes for their character to be written into the film,
* or any other way that alters the game to the benefit of the actor and
their role.

Directors can remove SPs if
* actors get too big for their boots and ask for too much,
* as a penalty for attrocious acting.

At the end of any major scene the Director (GM) stops play for a moment
and decides if any SPs should be awarded to any actors. I’m using the
following as a guideline, but I guess Director discretion is always
* Incredibly bad/disruptive acting : lose 1 SP
* Mediocre acting (collecting pay cheque) : no award
* Solid acting or a cool moment in a scene : gain 1 SP
* Great acting or a jaw-dropping moment : gain 2 SP

So if actors burn an SP they’ll have to do something good with it to
keep their SP pool from dropping. An additional SP is awarded to the
actor who was the coolest/most heroic/funniest/most memorable in that
scene. The Acting Category ratings and the role the character is
playing are taken into account when deciding rewards. So a character
with a high Action rating will be more likely to dominate action scenes
and get the additional SP.


(eg Jet Li)

A real martial artist from China using his incredible physical skills
and talents to forge a career in the HK film industry. Unfortunately
period martial arts films are on the decline, and he has been forced to
try his hand at contemporary action films as well. His acting abilities
and comic timing are…well lacking, but luckily that’s not why the
audience is there to see him. As he often does his own stunts he gets
to have a hand in the action choreography.


Genuine Martial Artist: No fancy editing with stunt doubles here. Will
probably dominate any scene involving martial arts.

Humourless: That rigourous martial arts training has its toll. Will have
difficulty dominating any comedic scene, doesn’t prevent him from being
the butt of other people’s jokes.

Unromantic: No time for women with all of that Shaolin training. Will
have zero chemistry with female leads (unless she’s a martial artist too)
and will have difficulty dominating romantic scenes.

Action Choreography: Can spend an SP to call for a cool big stunt during
an action scene. Player gets to narrate action for as long as the
Director is happy to run with it.

Stereotype: No gunslinger. Will perform better in martial
arts movies. In contemporary films his role will usually be re-written
so as to have martial arts.

Mainlander: Coming from China and being fluent in Mandarin, he will often
end up with roles that have backgrounds involving Mainland China or Taiwan.

(eg Jackie Chan)

Like his earnest counterpart, the Stoic Martial Artist, the clown uses his incredible physical skills and talents to forge a career in the HK film industry. His forte lies in funny movies, regardless of genre. His comic timing is really good. As he often does his own stunts he gets to have a hand in the action choreography.


Genuine Martial Artist: No fancy editing with stunt doubles here. Will
probably dominate any scene involving martial arts.

Laughin’ Sack: He can do ridiculously difficult action scenes and still combine them with hilarious over-the-top comedy. He will most probably dominate comedy scenes, but will have difficulty dominating earnest or romantic scenes.

Death-defying Daredevil: Can spend an SP to call for an incredibly cool mega stunt during an action scene. Player gets to narrate action for as long as the Director is happy to run with it.

Stereotype: No gunslinger. Will perform better in martial
arts movies. In contemporary films his role will usually be re-written
so as to have martial arts.

(eg Andy Lau, Aaron Kwok, Jacky Cheung, Leon Lai etc)

The music and movie industries in Hong Kong are intertwined, and the
Canto-pop idol is an all too common result – an entertainment machine for
the masses – churning out half a dozen movies and recording as many
albums every year until he burns out. A star because of his good looks,
his huge fan base ensures solid box office no matter how bad the movie.
It doesn’t matter that he can’t really act or he needs stunt doubles and
wires in his fight scenes – he’s popular and can belt out a hit song or
two for the soundtrack.


Canto-pop: When he’s not making movies he’s recording albums and giving concerts. Makes sense to throw a couple of hit songs on the movie sound track. Player may spend an SP to score an appropriate scene (usually romantic or tragic) with his canto-pop ballad, thus helping to dominate a scene.

Pretty-boy: He’s good looking. The girls love him, the guys are jealous.
He usually gets the girl at the end of the film. As a downside he has no
dramatic credibility, everyone criticizes him of making it on looks alone.
Will have difficulty dominating any dramatic scenes (unless scored by

Popular: The audience love him. His roles are usually spared the typically
tragic and messy ends of many HK heroes (so they can make sequels). This IS HK film though…so don’t always expect a happy ending…

Stunt-double: „My agent won’t let me do THAT, I have a concert next week and can’t afford to mess up my face.“ Can spend an SP to call for a stunt double during an action scene, the player then gets to narrate a very dangerous stunt that makes the audience wince. However at the next shot the actor gets up off the ground and brushes himself off – ‚piece of cake‘. Depending on the Director’s discretion this can either help to dominate an action scene, or make matters worse…“obvious stunt double use“.

Stereotype: Young Triad Rebel. Gets to play lots of young rebellious triad
types or will have a role re-written to mirror such traits, and exploit
the audience’s identification with this popular image.

(eg Simon Yam)

He turns up in every second movie released, or so it seems – he’s every-
where – the Michael Caine of HK film. Heroic bloodshed actioners, period
fu flicks, romantic comedies, category III erotic thrillers…any film
that offers him a pay cheque he’ll do it. Despite his good looks, and
obvious talent he’s never really made it as the heroic lead, always being
cast in the secondary role. Still, that doesn’t stop him from having his
fun, mugging and hamming it up in front of the camera and attempting to
steal every scene that he’s in.


Scene-Stealer: There’s no doubt about it he has screen presence to spare, but it’s usually wasted in the roles he ends up with. The Player may spend an SP during any scene and attempt to dominate it. This must be followed up with some solid roleplaying appropriate to the scene, or the Director will call „CUT“ and redo the scene and the SP wasted.

Versatile: He’s played just about every kind of role out there – cops,
triad hitmen, martial artists, psycopathic killers, cab drivers, priests,
ghosts, gigolos, reporters… and through his sheer volume of work has
developed an ability to slip into any kind of role offered him. After
being assigned a role for a new movie the player may choose one of the
acting categories to concentrate on, receiving a temporary boost in the
category for the duration of the film.

Dubious Film History: Having appeared in a LOT of films, he’s also been in
a fair share of turkeys and rather exploitative Category III flicks. As a
result he lacks the influence one would associate with an actor of his
considerable film experience. The Director should feel free to ignore the
occasional requests for re-writes, new scenes etc.

Secondary Lead: Probably another side-effect of not being too choosy with his parts, directors never perceive him as leading man material for any major film. He always plays second fiddle to more bankable stars.

Cutting Room Floor: Has a tendency to mug for the camera and ham it up.
While appropriate in certain roles, often the Director finds it tiresome
and ends up cutting some of the worst excesses out of the film. This often
results any subplots he’s involved in left dangling with no resolution.

(eg Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Chow Yun-Fat)

He’s an actor, not some cantopop pretty boy or voiced-over martial artist,
he’s a genuine actor. He’s not concerned with any egotistical concerns like
screen time or popularity, he only wants to deliver his best performance,
to make his given role believable – be it comedy, action, romance or drama.
He’s as comfortable in a John Woo bullet melodrama, a Wong Jing gambling comedy, or a Wong Kar Wai arthouse film. While always popular with the directors and critics, a lot of the subtlety in his performances is
unfortunately lost on the mainstream audience. He recently experienced
huge success with a tragic role in a triad melodrama, and has suffered from subsequent stereotyping.


Versatile: He’s a very talented actor, able to get the most out of any kind
of role in any kind of genre. The player chooses one Acting category to
concentrate on for the duration of a film, thus temporarily boosting that

Restrained: He’ll never mug for the camera (unless it’s appropriate). He’ll
always play a role so as to benefit the film, never as a vehicle for his own
ego. While others may choose to attempt to dominate any scenes they’re in, he will always stay true to his role, only dominating a scene if it’s
dramatically appropriate.

Emotional Depth: He particularly shines in dramatic roles which require the angstful expression of deep conflict within the character. Will usually
dominate any appropriately dramatic scenes.

Stereotype: Tragic Hero – A spinoff of his ability to do really good „angst“,
is that he often finds himself cast in roles that have rather tragic ends
either for themselves or for their friends/loved ones.

Soliloquy of the Damned: Towards the end of a film, before the big tragic
finish, the player may spend an SP to call for a pause in the action – while
everyone reloads, regathers their chi etc – he can give a stirring speech on the tragedy of the human condition, or the cruelty of fate, or the choices that men must face etc etc. This pretty much condemns the role to a bloody but heroically melodramatic death. If this happens the director will award as many bonus SPs as is fitting.

Educated in Canada: He’s spent several years in Canada learning his acting craft before returning to HK and entering its movie industry. His english is very good, and his roles are often re-written to exploit this.

Modern Hong Kong movie settings — Definitions

(aka, Gunplay, Bullet Ballet, Copsocky)
Definition: Heroic Bloodshed movies are basically swordsplay films with guns instead of blades. Often, they have similar plots and character motivations. Many of them show cops and gangsters in their struggle to survive. Examples: The Killer, A Better Tomorrow, Organized Crime & Triad Bureau

Definition: If it’s Heroic Bloodshed without the cops and gangsters, it’s action. This (admittedly very fuzzy) genre also includes comedy action a la Chackie Chan. Examples: Black Mask, Police Story, Tiger On The Beat

(aka, Fighting Females)
Definition: These are movies that feature female stars in a modern setting. Thus, a film can be a Fighting Female (Heroic Bloodshed) movie. Examples: The Heroic Trio, Angel, And Now You Are Dead

(aka, Period Martial Arts or Modern Martial Arts)
Definition: These movies show fights without firearms. Depending on the time the movie is set in, it is either a Period Martial Arts film (historical, ancient), or Modern Martial Arts (today). Really bad martial arts flicks from the Sixties and Seventies are sometimes called chopsocky films. Examples: Drunken Master, Once Upon A Time In China, Rumble In The Bronx

Definition: Sometimes, HK action cinema is very earnest filmmaking. Suspense scenes replace battles and the oftentimes manic pace. Examples: God Of Gamblers, A Hero Never Dies, Bullet In The Head

Definition: Hopping Vampires, Ghouls, Evil Ghosts. Need I say more?

Definition: Outright spoofery and often senseless humor. Weird, over-the-top fun to watch. Examples: Aces Go Places, The God Of Cookery

Ancient Hong Kong movie settings — Definitions

(aka, Swordsplay)
Definition: This genre is set in ancient China, a China that existed only in fantasy. Flying warriors and sorcerers battle for the Good side. Wuxia is the archetypical wire fu genre. Wuxia means roughly “knight errant”, though many people still think it means “flying men” — because this is the most prominent characteristic of wuxia flicks. Examples: The Bride With The White Hair, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and Zu: Warriors From The Magic Mountain.


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