Original founder of HKFlix.com speaks out

The end of an era.

The end of an era.

The following letter represents the author’s personal views and not necessarily those of anyone else associated with HKFlix or this website.

Dear HKFlix Customers:

In the wake of HKFlix.com being shut down last week, and in light of some of the feedback I have heard from customers in recent months, I am writing this letter in the hopes of explaining some of what happened to HKFlix and offering you the apology that I feel you deserve.

I was one of the original founders of HKFlix, and an owner until October, 2009, when we sold the business after ten memorable years of operation. HKFlix began (as HKFlicks) in an apartment in Honolulu, HI. It eventually grew to an apartment in Berkeley, CA; a garage in Berkeley, CA; a funky little converted storefront in Oakland, CA; and finally a proper warehouse in San Leandro, CA. We began the business when we were in our early 20’s and learned as we went—often the hard way.

I know HKFlix has always had its critics, but please believe me when I say that it was always run by a very small group of people who sincerely cared about the films we sold, the customers we serviced, and the way we did business. Our goal was to offer collectors the best possible selection, pricing, and shopping experience, while also providing an exceptional work environment and a living wage to our employees.

We took great pride in our network of affiliates—independent, film-related web sites that collected a generous commission for sending more customers our way. We were always eager to help them succeed, above and beyond simply promoting HKFlix—whether that meant offering programming help and advice, free review copies of DVDs, plugging them in our newsletters, or just someone to chat with.

Beyond that, we always invested as much money as possible back into the company to continue to expand our catalog and our quality of service.

No one got rich working at HKFlix—believe me, when you’re working up to 90 hours a week, you’re well beyond the realm of monetary compensation!—but we all took pride in our work, looked out for each other, and took great delight in the positive feedback we regularly received from our customers—who were, by and large, the most loyal any business could ever hope for.

There is a very vocal segment that loves to talk about “bootlegs”, and as that is a conversation that could go on forever, I’ll just address the issue as briefly as possible. The fact of the matter is that HKFlix was always between a rock and a hard place there. What people need to understand is that questions of copyrights on many of these obscure films are often 1) in dispute, or cloudy at best, 2) beyond the means or purview of a small retailer to disentangle, and 3) dictated by what the rest of the industry is doing. Which is to say that if four different companies are claiming a copyright on the same film (or claiming there is none), if the film in question itself contains copyright-infringed material, if other major retailers and distributors are selling a product and our customers demand it, if our distributor claims they have a right to sell the film to us, and if the (alleged) copyright holders are unable/unwilling to enforce their copyrights through proper legal channels (or even reply to our proactive inquiries); then we’re really at the mercy of circumstance to navigate the proper course. None of us at HKFlix liked inferior products from ANY supplier (PanMedia products were often referred to as PanShittia in our warehouse), and we always strove to identify and publicly denounce inferior products on our web site, calling attention to any and all flaws we knew about. Furthermore, we all didn’t agree on this subject. We had plenty of internal disputes about these products. Sure, we made some mistakes along the way, but it does seem HKFlix was held to a higher standard than any of our competitors, which I suppose is both flattering and frustrating.

All of this brings us to October, 2009, when we sold HKFlix. We did our best to find a buyer whom we hoped and expected would honor the traditions of HKFlix and grow the company. I stayed on for some time to aid in the transition, but eventually left the business for the new owner to run. I cannot speak to how the business operated after that, but I was saddened to see that HKFlix.com was shut down last week.

It was very painful to watch the company we had built disappear, to read accounts online of HKFlix customers who had abandoned the site and said their emails and calls were not being answered. I know it might not mean much at this late date, coming from someone whose involvement in the site ended long ago, but please allow me to say this: I AM SO SORRY. I’m sorry if your emails went unanswered. And I’m sorry that one of your favorite film resources has disappeared. Lastly, I’m sorry that I am not in a position to change it. All of you who used HKFlix as a resource over the years during which I operated the business were, and continue to be, important and valued members of a wonderful community.

When HKFlix.com disappeared, a wealth of valuable content went with it. In addition to thousands of customer and professional reviews, there was ten years’ worth of my own personal effort building the world’s largest database of martial arts films, complete with manually-verified technical details the likes of which have never been collected elsewhere. I’ve seen a few scattered comments here and there from people who would like to see that content resurrected in some kind of non-commercial/informational context. I have backups of all the data up to the sale of the business, and rights to it, and would welcome any ideas anyone has about how best to accomplish this (see contact link below). I built the HKFlix web site from the ground up (using nothing but Notepad!) and would be more than willing to do a good deal of technical legwork. But the biggest issue is the hosting costs. HKFlix was a fairly complex site running on Microsoft SQL Server (dedicated) and IIS, which unfortunately makes it very expensive to host. I’m open to hearing your ideas. But please do include some viable means of covering those costs.

In closing, thank you once again for ten years of supporting HKFlix. By doing so you gave good jobs to good people, supported independent films and local businesses, and hopefully got yourself some fantastic films in the process. All of us from the original HKFlix are deeply indebted to you and hope you will continue to search for deserving, independent businesses (and films!) to support in the future. The Amazons, Netflixes, and multiplexes all have their place, but please don’t let them bulldoze over the entire market, at least not without a fight.

Mhat Bernstein

You can reach me using the contact form on this site:

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28 Responses to Original founder of HKFlix.com speaks out

  1. Pingback: The end of HKFlix.com | easternkicks.com

  2. Gerard Iribe says:

    This is unfortunate. I hate when companies that were in it for the craft get swallowed up by a bigger fish that don’t care about the craft and only focus on the $$$. Yes, it’s business, but in this industry it benefits all those around to know the craft.

    I knew something was up when HK Flix stopped selling hardware products a couple of years ago. I bought my Momitsu BDP-899 from HK Flix.

    This apology letter is greatly appreciated.

  3. Ossi says:

    HKFlix was a great resource and store. Thank you for your message.

  4. Donald says:

    Damn It! I had a wish list from hell that i was slowly but surely widdling away. I have much love for the old school karate flix and HK Flix was a dream come true! What and why did this happen?!

    • JJ Hatfield says:

      I will tell you the facts. If you read the letter at the top you will see it is from Mhat, one of the original founders of HKFlix. For ten years everyone I knew bought great old school films as well as the latest flicks from them with rarely a problem. If a problem did arise they made it as good as or better. Customer service, through all the employees was the best on the net and I tried to let them know. One of the reasons I became a reviewer was to help create what became an enormous database of reviews. I did it because I wanted to share my viewpoint, not because I had nothing else to do. And I was hardly alone. Everything was cool.

      In late 2009 things began to happen that were unacceptable. It wasn’t too bad at first but it didn’t seem normal…well for one thing the HKflix.com address was different..and with other things it became painfully obvious the original owners had all gone insane, died or even worse sold the company. No one wanted to believe me when I said it’s gone…..

      Why did it happen?

      The “new” (2010) owners were greedy, incompetent cowards. They paid themselves before the bills. They started selling crap merchandise that wouldn’t work. Orders not showing up or the wrong ones. Refusal to answer emails and even phone calls.
      Censorship of the forums and refusal to post any reviews after late December 2010.
      In short they “killed” HKflix.com within a year.

      There is much more I could say but it really serves no point. I was in a bit of a different situation with them (I was never an employee). And as I said earlier I was not the only one really fucked over by them, but I speak for myself. I do have proof of the facts I list including the phone bills showing my calls to St. Louis, Missouri.

      Mhat and the original crew are in no way to blame for anything that has happened. They certainly had the right to sell the company. They were great to deal with and it was a sad day for the site users. Some changes were expected naturally but not what we got.

      I don’t mind speaking out. One thing I try to present in all my work is the truth.

      The truth is the “new” owners harmed a lot of people. The site was removed by Go.Daddy sometime in March 2010 for non payment.

      • JJ Hatfield says:

        My mistake….that should be March 2011.

      • Bob says:

        Man, I know my comment is way late to the party, but I just finished reading the post to which this is a reply and your comment about censoring the forums really stands out for me. First let me say, and I am not doing this to brag, but I own hundreds and hundreds and hundred (it was over 540 at my last count)of “old school” Kung Fu movies. I have no way of knowing this for certain, but I am fairly sure I was one of HKFlix.com’s best customers, as I spent at least $4000 on movies from that site, having purchased around 300 DVDs from them. Furthermore, every year when Christmas rolled around, I would always ask my father to purchase me films from HKFLIX, and he got me at least ten movies every Christmas.

        Why do I mention those facts? Well this brings us back to forum censorship. I posted a lot of reviews on that site, commented on at least 200 reviews posted by other people and participated in the forum discussions for quite a long time. My forum post stating that “Executioners from Shaolin” is one of the worst, most overrated movies of all-time had over 700 views the last time I checked. However, there came a certain point in time when I began to notice a change in how the forums and reviews were handled. At first the changes were minor. For instance, I noticed that any obscenities included in reviews were removed, which is really not that big of deal. Then I started to notice that an increasing number of my postings resulted in a “This post must be reviewed prior to posting online” message. I then received an email message stating that I was being placed on probation, with any and all of my postings being reviewed prior to being put up on the site. Yes, my reviews and forum postings were a bit caustic at times, but placing me on probation was a tad silly, but I lived with it because I did a lot of business with HKFLIX. Then they went a bit too far. I got into a war of words with a particular reviewer on that site over how dreadfully boring Wong Kar Wai’s movies are. Both of our posts were peppered with insults, however HKFLIX only removed my posts from the site. To make matters worse they allowed the other poster to continue to insult me on the forums, yet whenever I would reply they would block it from posting. I let this go as well. But the last straw came not much after that. I commented negatively on two films that another reviewer was ecstatic over and, needless to say, the person didn’t like it. In response he demanded I tell him which movies I like. When I didn’t respond immediately, he posted another message on the forums further demanding I oblige his request regarding my movie tastes. I responded to such demands in a sarcastic tone and that was when the fun began. The geniuses at HKFLIX proceeded to remove the bulk of my forum postings. One of the owners himself insulted me in the forum section. I kid you not. Not surprisingly, I was not allowed to respond in my defense. I even received multiple e-mails from them discussing how I had hurt someone’s feelings with my reviews. When I mentioned it probably wasn’t a good idea to ban one of their best customers from the forums(this is the reason I mentioned how much I had spent on the site) they responded , and no this is not a joke, by asking me which forum posts by the person I was feuding with they should take down in order to appease me. My first thought was “how pathetic”. After that I went from buying at least 5-6 movies a month to never visiting their site again.

        • Ip Man says:

          Sounds like you used to the forum to do little else but be argumentative. I can’t say I blame them for banning you.

          • Bob says:

            And since you don’t know me, know virtually nothing about the circumstances and likely saw absolutely none of the posts I made, I frankly don’t care what you think.

  5. Donald says:

    BTW I was looking for the website tonight so I could research some movies and actors, but got this slap in the face, gut punch, tiger crane style chop saki kick in the face news!

  6. JJ Hatfield says:

    It is a shock I know. I do encourage you to check out City on Fire. I do write reviews but I also use the site to keep up to date on breaking film – related news. I don’t have the time to check out all the different sources and ningen does a fantastic job keeping the news section updated sometimes several times a day. Mighty Peking Man helps out a bit sometimes too. I’m being sarcastic here, MPM is the owner and founder of the site
    and a really nice guy but don’t tell him I said that. They let me post when the reviewer in me needs an outlet.

    Check out the search engine and the news and reviews If you don’t find the information you are looking for here I’ll find it for you it if exists. Make that team of movie experts will find it for you as I make that statement with certainty one or more of the team will no doubt have some of those answers already. Look around first though, it really is a cool site with a ton of information.

    Many people were deeply affected by the whole thing. It will get better with time but your feelings are legitimate and shared by many.

    • T. J. Gushiniere says:

      Amen my friend! A truly wonderful review of facts for the demise of a web site, that many people truly loved. COF is truly amazing and the people involved work really hard for everyone out there!!

      • JJ Hatfield says:

        Thanks T. J. Gushiniere. I appreciate your support!

        I’m glad you share your precious little free time doing reviews and comments. Especially when you could be watching “8 Diagram Pole Fighter” or “Disciples of the 36th Chamber”

        You are right, many people did have very strong emotional ties to the “originals” at hkflix. Even more than I realized. People often describe feeling like they were kicked in the stomach or other physical trauma.
        I think for most people it is a matter of trust shattered.

        You are part of the team too….and you have so much knowledge and experience! It’s definitely a dedicated good group here at COF!

  7. Tony says:

    Hi there,

    boy after reading all of the message and comments from LOYAL fans and employees alike just makes me sadden that this site is no longer around to fulfill the collections of thousands of dedicated fans. Which takes me to my next question….does anybody have any info on where to find more online kung fu sites with a decent rep. I started my collection using HK Flix back in 2004 to 07 and always used them as a reference for my next orders but that will never happen again. So if anyone can help me out that would be most appreciated.


    PS. RIP Hkflix we miss you and will always remember you.

  8. HKFanatic says:

    I miss HKFlix too. I actually have an all-region blu-ray player from them but, sadly, support stopped for it once the site changed hands. The thing’s kinda turned into a brick since I can’t get any firmware updates for it now.

    I’m going to make the transition to using YesAsia.com, since I’ve heard good things about them over the years and they make it very clear which discs can be played in which regions, etc. I ordered a movie from them this week. I’ll report back on how it plays and such if anyone is interested.

  9. JJ Hatfield says:

    HKFanatic please do let us know of your experiences with purchases. I’ve been putting together a personal list of possible online stores and will share what I know when it is completed.I think this will be a group effort since there are so many smaller stores online. Under “Links” MPM has posted several movie sources.

    I’m a bit… No I am extremely concerned about making a movie purchase. No more scratched defective DVD’s that skip, freeze longer than the Ice Age and just won’t play. I have heard good and bad about many places so it is difficult to know who to trust with giving you what they say they are selling

    I haven’t ordered from some stores in quite awhile. The only problem with YesAsia.com was shipping took forever, always longer than it should have. Amazon is not a bad deal for some films. You can buy a used really cheap version of a film to decide if you want to buy a better more expensive version. Or buy used and decide how much you are willing to pay. Watch s&h though. An $ .89 movie may not be a bargain with $ 2.98 shipping. They are adding to their stock of other regions, and have more available as people trade or sell them. If you do decide to order from Amazon make sure to use one of the links at COF as the site makes a teensy bit if something is purchased.

  10. Thank you for the letter. It opened up facts and answered a lot of questions. I had a nice wish list and there and I regret not shrinking it sooner. First Poker Industries and now HK-Flix. Where are all the amazing Asian cinema shopping sites going? I will admit that I wasn’t aware of HK-Flix for a while mainly because of either: Poker Industries, YesAsia and just simply going to Chinatown. I hope that somehow HK-Flix will rise again…

  11. MJ says:

    Well, I will say this –
    Under the old ownership, I was treated quite badly by HKFlix customer service. Hence, I have not purchased anything from them since about 2008. I did, however, continue to get offers in the mail, some pretty good ones too, but I ignored them for a very long time. I wrote one of the managers asking that I be removed from their mailing list as I would no longer support their business. I had purchased a lot of kung fu videos from them before this time (as well as referred many people to their site), and during one email exchange, a customer service rep became very rude with me and when I challenged him, HKFLIX deactivated my account without even telling me. I found out when I went to log in to submit a movie review.

    I contacted a manager, who essentially said that after speaking with the CSR, he concluded that he handle the case well. Perhaps well for a 13 year old would might not have known better! I stopped giving them my business, but when the new manager told me that they were under new management, I considered purchasing from them, but just could not bring myself to give this company my money again.

    After more than three years away, I decided to check out their site tonight to see what they have going on. I am surprised to see that they are closed, because if there is one thing I can say about the company is that they certainly did offer a great selection of kung fu DVDs. If the site is resurrected under the old management, I would not buy anything from them.

    I had referred many customers to their site – and while I usually found their CS to be good – that last incident left a bad taste in my mouth for this company! Still, for the sake of all kung fu movie fans out there who did benefit from HK Flix – I do hope they come back.

  12. I am sorry that this business has been terminated. I saw it listed as a source of Hong Kong movies at some websites about Chinese movies and martial arts movies. Now, we use YesAsia in Hong Kong that is costlier than KKFlix was.

  13. raymond chin says:

    I was a customer of the original HKFlix.com I must have over 60 films over a few years. I loved this website very much. I went online two weeks ago to purchase more classic martial arts films only to find out that my favorite website was out of business. This really sucks and I want it back. I cannot think of any other company that resources that the original hkflix had

  14. I’ ve been looking for u to email u what a wonderful company u and michael scott have had these past years i have been long time customer and very please dealing with the long time business and very greatful times of collecting all kinds of movies not only martial arts but others as well. Man u guys had great deals of discounts and etc. I am so sadly to hear guys closing i will be waiting again too be open. please forward me any info on it. Signing OUt Long time Customer

  15. NegativeCreep says:

    I’ve never seen a business go from great all the way to complete sewer shittified crap. I’d would of rather seen them close down, rather than go down hill the way HKFLIX did. If you write something it should be published, if it upsets somebody so what. You can read the fucking news and it will upset people. It doesn’t mean they are forced too read it. If someone has a strong opinion than they should be able to express it, this is the USA and there is freedom of speech here. Another forum that went to complete shit is Kung Fu cinema. There used to be freedom of speech there, but the girls kept crying to the moderators and the mods started censoring everything to suit there thoughts. They started targeting me, deleting all my threads and posts. The moderator Teako is a bully, he sent me private message threats. I paid money to Mark Pollard to support his site, and he deleted my whole account. So I give a big middle finger to Kung Fu Cinema, HkFlix, Mark Pollard, Teako, for being 2-faced traitors and I will never click on there website ever again.

  16. Sean Robinson says:

    I miss you guys. HKflix was like home.

  17. dj_shamrock says:

    I too had a great “Wishlist” on HKflix, there is no place to buy my amazing DVDs any more : /

  18. vertigo173 says:

    I just now heard the news. 🙁 It sucks that HKflix is gone. I spent a ton of money on foreign movies that I couldn’t find in the US. Thousands!

  19. pingu305 says:

    dddhouse is a good replacement.I highly recomended thanks you guys.

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