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Archive for the ‘Movie Reviews’ Category

2009 Hong Kong Movies that I didn’t review - Part 2

In the last installment of this two-entry catch-up of 2009 movies, I wrote about 4 films that Kevin Ma reviewed and I didn’t. Here are 5 more movies that I didn’t review, written up here in glorious, snarky and completely unprofessional blog review format. Try to contain your excitement and/or anger. Eason Chan didn’t, and look what happened to him:

eason
“As soon as my nose stops bleeding,
your website is going down
!”

Onward and upwards:

TURNING POINT

turning point
“You do NOT make fun of my hair! Got that?!?”

Viva TVB! Hong Kong’s leading entertainment monopoly threw their hat back into the movie arena with this “prequel” to their hit drama E.U., which tells the backstory of Michael Tse’s undercover cop/gangster character Laughing Gor. Laughing Gor was apparently so popular on E.U. that when he died midway through the drama, it created an outpouring of support. Laughing Gor must be pretty kickass.

Well, Laughing Gor might have been hot stuff in E.U. but in TURNING POINT he takes a backseat to the scene-stealing antics of Anthony Wong and Francis Ng. Both overact, but deceptively. Wong does so via his bizarre wardrobe and completely unnecessary character tics, whereas Ng does it via a blustery triad character who turns out to be pretty damn awesome. When people discuss who Hong Kong’s best actor is, it’s fair to throw both Anthony Wong and Francis Ng’s hats into the ring. This time Ng emerges victorious, with both he and Wong earning a decisive victory over the comparatively uninteresting Michael Tse.

The film itself? Entertaining despite being over plotted and full of egregious product placement. Considering its TVB backing, TURNING POINT is fun, above-average stuff that more-or-less earned its status as one of the year’s highest-grossing locals films. Herman Yau isn’t the flashiest director around, but he knows when and where to take control of his films. With TURNING POINT, he goes smartly commercial. That, and the super-packed cast (Including Yuen Biao. Yuen Biao!), make this one of the year’s better diversions.

I give this 7 out of 10 sticks of Anthony Wong-endorsed lip gloss.

Kevin Ma’s review

VENGEANCE

Vengeance
“Aim for the fat guy in the third row.”

Johnnie To, we love you, but when you get too self-referential it can get a bit trying. VENGEANCE earned some critical disapproval because it pretty much tread on Johnnie To’s old territory, recycling themes of brotherhood, honor, and the age-old “I’m losing my memory” trope that seems to appear in at least one Hong Kong film per year. Not one to tire of a good thing, To and co-conspirator Wai Ka-Fai revisit the quirky, ironic hitman genre with VENGEANCE.

The generic elements aren’t hard to catch. VENGEANCE involves a French chef (Johnny Hallyday) who was once a FULLTIME KILLER, but now he seeks FINAL JUSTICE against the EXECUTIONERS who put his daughter (Sylvie Testud) in the hospital and her family in the morgue. A HEROIC TRIO of gangland assassins (Anthony Wong, Lam Suet, Gordon Lam) offers to HELP him with his MISSION while risking being EXILED by their over-the-top triad boss (Simon Yam). However, the chef is RUNNING OUT OF TIME thanks to a BULLET IN THE HEAD that may result in a SCARRED MEMORY. Yes, Johnnie To was not involved in all those films. Sorry for stretching this joke out.

VENGEANCE is actually better than the disappointment that its enlarged expectations might engender. Its action sequences are somewhat ridiculous, the storyline lathered in Johnnie To and Wai Ka-Fai’s trademark irony, and there are glaring errors in continuity and logic. Also, some touches are just flat-out cheese. At the same time, VENGEANCE is stylish, creative and more fun than it really should be. This is Johnnie To in EXILED mode, i.e. delivering something for the fans, with the two films containing a similar amount of self-amused, postmodern action movie touches. It is pretty much a retread from To, but a fairly acceptable one.

Let’s look at it this way: would people prefer a mix of RUNNING OUT OF TIME and EXILED, or do they want another LINGER? I’d actually go for another NEEDING YOU, but I’m sure many people in Europe and North America would prefer my fiery death before Johnnie To stooped to that. So yeah, VENGEANCE is good enough for Milkyway fans. For now. And hey, Gordon Lam and Lam Suet are dubbed by Terence Yin and Conroy Chan. The film also introduces a fine solution to dirty dishes: skeet shooting! Just for those touches, VENGEANCE is the very definition of awesome.

I give this 6 out of 10 bullet-riddled jackets.

Kevin Ma’s review

THE FOUNDING OF A REPUBLIC

Founding Republic
“You appeared in SNIPER? What the hell were you thinking?”

As good as a movie about the founding of the Chinese Communist Party could possibly be, and I say that with all sincerity. FOUNDING OF A REPUBLIC is a commercial for Mao Tse-Tung (Or is it Mao Zedong? Someone tell me before I’m arrested.), but it’s interesting and even a little surprising, actually making both Mao Tse-Tung and Chiang Kai-Shek into sympathetic, likable guys. Chiang Kai-Shek is actually more compelling than Mao Tse-Tung here, a very unexpected move from the filmmakers. Many of the other characters are merely names or ciphers, but since they’re played by a who’s who of Chinese cinema actors, any star-gazing audience should not complain.

Ultimately, the whole thing turns out to be a whole lot better than the “our way or the highway” film that FOUNDING OF A REPUBLIC threatened to be. There’s a lot that’s flawed - needless roles, pointless “moments” and some ill-placed humor - but overall, this is a decent historical panorama that can intrigue uninitiated audiences. That is, if those audiences are prepared for a 150 minute epic about a bunch of meetings. Really, that’s what this film is: lots of people talking, talking, before moving elsewhere to talk some more. Sometimes there’s some tension, but usually it’s resolved by someone talking to someone else. If you can handle that, then this movie delivers more than a bunch of babbling. It’s well made, has oodles of pretty (and not so pretty) faces, and provides some human drama beneath the political maneuvering and pontificating.

For an even easier recommendation, ask yourself this: do you like China? Or do you loathe China? FOUNDING OF A REPUBLIC will not change the mind of either side, so if you adhere to one opinion staunchly then you’re already halfway to liking or hating the film. The other half of the equation? Whether or not lots of dialogue puts you to sleep.

My rating: 7 out of 10 quick cat naps in the the cinema.

Kevin Ma’s review

KJ

KJ
Wong Ka-Jeng at the 10th Anniversary
screening of PARA PARA SAKURA 

KJ contains the best character in any film this year - he just happens to be a real person. Music prodigy Wong Ka-Jeng (or KJ) is a real piece of work, and a guy that you can like while simultaneously being annoyed with. It’s easy to appreciate his musical talent and drive for perfection - though that appreciation is tempered by the amusement or apprehension gleamed from the self-righteous emotions and possible twisted personality that he displays. A charismatic, self-absorbed iconoclast, KJ would be a great movie character. However, this documentary pretty much reveals why movie characters only work in the movies - because in real life, those people would be hell to hang around with.

There are some choices made in Cheung King-Wai’s documentary that earn a raised eyebrow. Cheung manipulates information and audience knowledge, revealing some should-be-known information in near-narrative fashion. Such technique is not always kosher in the supposedly impartial world of documentary, but KJ is a strong and very moving film, and ably conveys the complexities and even tragedies associated with being a talented, mercurial human being. KJ is about a talented, self-centered, insufferable jerk and it makes you care, sympathize and even admire him - and that’s a real accomplishment. The crying at my screening rivaled the bawling I witnessed at DEPARTURES.

FYI, I was not among the crying. The only movie I’ve ever cried at was THE WESLEY’S MYSTERIOUS FILE, because someone I knew saw me there. I killed him afterwards.

I give this 9 crying violinists out of 10. And I’m probably being mean.

Kevin Ma’s review

BODYGUARDS AND ASSASSINS

Bodyguards
“Nic, it’s just Edison! You don’t have to kill him! He’s not worth it, man.”

This is the tale of two movies. The first movie: a rousing political thriller about a conspiracy to take down Sun Yat-Sen, and the brave, sometimes average individuals who band together to protect him from death - which, by the way, will destroy more than just one man. IT WILL END THE FUTURE OF AN ENTIRE NATION. Wow, that’s drama, and it’s especially potent with a fat rearview mirror telling us that Sun Yat-Sen was a successful rabble rouser. He who writes history decides what matters. This first movie is intriguing and involving, despite some odd casting choices and a somewhat overwrought nationalism.

The second movie? A balls-to-the-wall action epic about some kickass martial arts masters who somehow can take down armies of Chinese people in finely-tailored western suits while also bravely facing their own deaths - all because they know that what they do will decide the fate of a nation. Once again, a rearview mirror is fully in effect, but who cares when the action includes NBA giant Mengke Bateer (3.4 ppg, 2.5 rpg) dunking melons on some bad guy’s head, while China popstar Li Yuchun (0 ppg, 0 mpg) whales away with fetching tomboy ferocity. There’s also a man called Donnie, who kicks so much ass that it’s shameful. One major action sequence involves super wirework and a battle cry from Donnie Yen that he stole from one of his earlier movies. BODYGUARDS AND ASSASSINS also introduces us to a matchup for the ages: Donnie Yen vs. Horse. It doesn’t matter who loses - the audience wins either way.

The bad news: neither of these halves really fits together comfortably, because the whole thing is told with such overwrought self-importance that it misplaces its historical relevance. At the same time, the film engages and entertains enough that it can easily get some audiences to do their own research on what was true and what was not. Those who aren’t interested in history at least get Nicholas Tse, who better win something for his affecting turn as a simpleton rickshaw driver who volunteers to have his ass kicked by Hu Jun because IT WILL SAVE A COUNTRY. I really didn’t care if the bodyguards saved Sun Yat-Sen, but I cared a hell of a lot whether or not Nic Tse would make it to the end. And I cared about Leon Lai because he stole Ekin Cheng’s hair and moves from A MAN CALLED HERO. BODYGUARDS AND ASSASSINS does enough well to earn a thumbs up.

Long story short: BODYGUARDS AND ASSASSINS is a modern, overwrought equivalent of a ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA movie. This is an action-packed epic that plays fast-and-loose with history in order to impress, educate and entertain. Does it do so evenly? Not at all. Convincingly? Sure - if you want a tense historical drama that transforms into an emotionally-charged action movie AND if you’re perfectly cool with Donnie Yen trying to heist the whole thing when the third act rolls around. BODYGUARDS AND ASSASSINS won’t make my Top 5 of 2009, but Top 10? It may squeeze in.

I give BODYGUARDS AND ASSASSIN 8 out of 10 unfortunate CGI horses.

Kevin Ma’s review

That’s it for this catch-up entry! After this, it’s back to the overwritten, boring and stodgy reviews at the main LoveHKFilm.com site. You know, the part of this website that fewer people read.

2009 Hong Kong Movies that I didn’t review - Part 1

This past year Kevin Ma helped me a lot by reviewing new Hong Kong movies for LoveHKFilm.com. He reviewed 7-8 major Hong Kong or China releases, freeing me up to write about important stuff like FIT LOVER and HAPPILY EVER AFTER. Someone somewhere must be happy.

Karena Lam, star of FIT LOVER, approves:

Karena
In turn, we approve of Karena Lam’s dress.

It’s great that Kevin helped out because he has a burgeoning career as a freelance writer to tend to, and yet he’ll still take the time to help out a rapidly-becoming-irrelevant website like this one. His loyalty and/or pity is appreciated.

However, I still have an opinion about those 7 or 8 films that he reviewed, and for the 5-6 people who wonder what I actually thought I’ll write about them here in glorious, informal blog-speak. Normally when I write reviews I try to maintain a consistent tone that’s aimed towards the reader, but here I’m free to be the self-serving, arrogant and annoying jerk that I am in person. If you’ve met me, you know what I’m talking about.

1_painted.jpg
“Damn that Kozo! Why does he have to review our movies!”

So, starting at the beginning of the year:

LOOK FOR A STAR

8_look_for_a_star.jpg
“This ring takes care of last night, correct?”

If this film didn’t exist, POKER KING would be the official cinema tourism ad for Macau, but since it does, POKER KING should slink away in embarrassment. LOOK FOR THE STAR is the glossy story of how Andy Lau knows a bunch of people who are rich or poor and also in love. Sadly, they’ve also lost love, so they appear on a cringeworthy game show and admit their love to the one who got away, all in front of a national audience. Making matters worse, the show is hosted by Cheung Tat-Ming.

One of the people who’s pining for love is played by Zhang Hanyu, who possesses more integrity than any actor EVER. The one he pines for is played by Denise “HOCC” Ho, and their rich girl-poor guy romance is actually quite enjoyable, compensating for the rather perfunctory one involving Lam Ka-Wah. Overall, nothing that happens here is noteworthy, and the stars, aside from Zhang “I could play Obama” Hanyu, possess much less charisma than the people who populated the nineties variants on these types of Lunar New Year flicks.

But, those films didn’t have Andy Lau. Here, Lau basically plays himself as a super billionaire who falls in love with lower class dancer Shu Qi, but their uneven incomes cause a potential rift in the fabric of reality. Everything is, of course, resolved predictably and happily, and with an amount of suspense comparable to a game of marbles. Andrew Lau directed LOOK FOR A STAR, meaning it looks absolutely fabulous and possesses glib, easily-digestible emotions.

The saving grace for this thing: Shu Qi, who’s shockingly good while acting in a genre that usually doesn’t call for or even deserve good acting. Too bad about the ending, which is interminable and a real drag. Thanks to that, I give LOOK FOR A STAR 4 out of 10 smarmy Andy Laus.

Apologies to Heroic Cinema for stealing their rating system.

Kevin Ma’s review

LOVE CONNECTED

Love Connected
“We’re in another Patrick Kong film?
Our careers are f*cked! Just shoot me now.”

I probably would have reviewed this local romance way back in early 2009 if not for the fact that I fell asleep during the crucial plot twist that revealed that A) someone is really a cheating bastard when they appeared not to be, B) someone appeared to be a cheating bastard but really wasn’t, or C) Stephy Tang really wasn’t deaf, and instead pretended to be to hide from the numerous suitors who think she resembles a Japanese AV star. To find out which of the three twists actually does occur, see the movie.

As Patrick Kong-directed films go, LOVE CONNECTED is not among his worst (FORGIVE AND FORGET) or his best (L FOR LOVE, L FOR LIES), but it resembles them enough that one would be hard-pressed not to call it a successful endeavor for what it is. The film has loads of barely-known popstars (including the first appearance of chipmunk-cheeked teen singer G.E.M) and is very much geared towards locals, in that it plays to its Hong Kong demographics fears and concerns. Also, the film takes place at Tsuen Wan’s fab “green” shopping mall City Walk - which must mean something to somebody.

Is it a good film? Absolutely not, and Patrick Kong’s inability to put something professional-looking together is still a major problem. His films may be cheap, but do they always have to look so terrible? Still, the trailer for LOVE CONNECTED, which parodies Benny Chan’s CONNECTED and features DJ Sammy as Louis Koo, is totally awesome. I give LOVE CONNECTED 3 out of 10 deaf Stephys.

Kevin Ma’s review.

A VERY SHORT LIFE

Very Short Life
“We’re going to make you watch MURDERER if it’s the last thing we do.”

When this came out in Hong Kong Cinemas, my mother was visiting and I didn’t think it would be appropriate to take her to a Category III chiller about child abuse starring Samuel Pang. At the same time, the film was directed by property developer Dennis Law, meaning it should not be ignored, lest my housing estate collapse mysteriously. I rolled the dice and skipped it anyway, choosing to take Mom to see that dreamy Takeshi Kaneshiro in K-20. I think I made the right choice. In other news, my housing estate fell apart last week.

Flash forward to the end of 2009 and I still haven’t seen A VERY SHORT LIFE. The DVD has been sitting around waiting for me to get to it, but I’ve promised myself to watch the Christian film TEAM OF MIRACLE first, not to mention all those still not-seen TACTICAL UNIT films. As I still haven’t seen those either, I can only conclude that I’ve failed miserably at keeping up with my DVDs, and should hereby be fired from the Official Coaltion of Cool Internet Film Reviewers, which I don’t belong to anyway after they rejected my application for membership back in 2003.

My grade for A VERY SHORT LIFE: incomplete. Personally, I give myself 0 out of 10 abusive Samuel Pangs.

Kevin Ma’s review

I CORRUPT ALL COPS

I Corrupt All Cops
“I do know how to make films, really! No, not the probe!”

Wong Jing says he held onto this script for years because he wanted to get it done the right way. Points to the big man for eyeing quality, but if he really wanted the best for his screenplay, why didn’t he get someone else to direct it?

Wong’s limitations as a filmmaker are readily apparent in I CORRUPT FOR COPS, e.g. inconsistent acting, lousy staging, poor plot development and transparent dialogue. For example, when one character meets another, the dialogue goes something like this:

CHARACTER A
Hey, who’s that guy?

CHARACTER B
Oh, that’s [Character Name].
He’s been a cop on the force for 10 years.
He’s loyal and trustworthy, but kind of weak.
He’s in his mid-thirties and of medium height and build.
His wife is played by Kate Tsui. Think of a Eason Chan-type.

CHARACTER A
(looks directly at camera)
Hmm, thanks. I hope other people can
now understand this person as I do.

Okay, maybe it’s not that bad, but it’s very nearly there. These debits help mar what’s otherwise an entertaining and meaty, if not sometimes exaggerated crime drama. There’s lots to enjoy in I CORRUPT ALL COPS, from the cool period detail to the minor characters and key plot twists. It’s just not Best Picture material, and could have been a hell of a lot more had someone more detailed and considerate of theme and character been at the helm.

Still, Wong Jing is a businessman and that’s what he does here: business. The film ends with a salute to the Handover and how corruption afterwards is nonexistent. Sure, like that’s really true. Regardless, I’m sure that reference — along with the visual image of the Hong Kong-under-China flag flying proudly in the wind — made some people out there happy. More specifically, the people up north.

My rating for I CORRUPT ALL COPS: 6 out of 10 overacting Tony Leungs.

Kevin Ma’s review

Coming up in Part 2 of this mini-review feature: TURNING POINT, VENGEANCE, FOUNDING OF A REPUBLIC and BODYGUARDS AND ASSASSINS.

Damn You, Koh So! Reviews of IP MAN and THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE WEIRD, plus some mumbling about LOVE CONNECTED.

Man, times are tough:

Need Money No Need Stock
Action figures for only US$2

Actually, I have no idea if that’s really the deal at the above store because I have yet to walk in and shop. I should, though, because nothing makes a person feel better in times of economic crisis than adding more useless crap to your apartment. Either way, the sign and its superb Engrish kicks ass.

If you’re paying attention, you’ll notice that we’ve just added a new blog, Ronin on Empty from longtime site reviewer Sanjuro. Now that his blog is here, I’ll let him handle all the personal stories and tangential topics, while I use my blog to cover official site business, e.g. dish on the LoveHKFilm Awards, plus installments of Kozo’s Mailbag and even some minor film-reviewing - some of it from writers who are not me.

This week, I’m featuring two reviews from some guy named Koh So who writes for YesAsia.com. You can find his work on YumCha!, YesAsia.com’s content platform. It’s a place where reviews, news, and other assorted Asian Entertainment goodies can be collected for use by people who use the fancy Internets. Koh So is impossibly more upbeat than I am, so whenever he reviews something, he spins it positive.

(more…)

 
 
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