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Archive for the ‘Ann Hui On-Wah’ Category

Thoughts On LoveHKFilm’s The Best Hong Kong Movies Ever Reader Vote

With just days left to go in voting for LoveHKFilm’s Best Hong Kong Movies Ever Reader Vote, it’s time to awake from my slumber and arise from my sleep to get back out on the hustings and campaign for two films that I strongly believe deserve consideration for your votes.  Also, on the off chance that any of you may care, I’ll share my vote for the “Best Hong Kong Movie Ever”.

The Best Hong Kong Movie Ever

As I am a raging megalomaniac, I’m going to start by revealing my pick for “Best Hong Kong Movie” ever.  I don’t know about you but I found the prospect of picking the Best! Hong Kong! Movie! Ever! a daunting prospect.  Sure, I’ve seen hundreds of Hong Kong films but thousands have been made so I feel sheepish about being an Arbiter of Best Moviedom.

To help me get a hold of such an unwieldy topic, I decided to fall back onto a situation that I’ve found myself in many times over the years: If you had to recommend just one Hong Kong movie to a complete neophyte, which one would you pick?  It’s an important decision because the stakes are high.  If the neophyte likes your pick, then you may be opening the door to a lifetime of an enjoyment of the wonder of Hong Kong film.  If the neophyte hates your pick, then you have squandered an opportunity to recruit one more fan to the ailing art.  For me, then, the vote boils down to if I only had one shot, one opportunity to capture the imagination of a Hong Kong movie neophyte, which movie would I recommend?

After much deliberation, I settled on three movies for final consideration.  In alphabetical order they are: A BETTER TOMORROW, KUNG FU HUSTLE and POLICE STORY.  It’s a daunting decision so my palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy, there’s vomit on my sweater already, Mom’s spaghetti … My choice for the Best Hong Kong Movie Ever is … {drum roll} … KUNG FU HUSTLE.

Stephen Chow in KUNG FU HUSTLE

The choice came down to KUNG FU HUSTLE and A BETTER TOMORROW.  POLICE STORY was a strong candidate but it is more of a Jackie Chan showcase than a Hong Kong Cinema showcase.  As I have written before, A BETTER TOMORROW is a cinematic masterpiece but KUNG FU HUSTLE edges it out narrowly because it features the signature staple of Hong Kong cinema, kung fu, and because it is a more comprehensive movie. Like A BETTER TOMORROW, KUNG FU HUSTLE has brilliant action sequences and themes of heroism and sacrifice but what makes KUNG FU HUSTLE just that little bit better is that it has a sense of whimsy that is found in many a Hong Kong film from the good (CHUNGKING EXPRESS) to the bad (ON FIRE) to the ugly (THE ETERNAL EVIL OF ASIA).  The way KUNG FU HUSTLE manages to tell a classic “good versus bad” story set in the milieu of Pigsty Alley yet include elements like mystical kung fu, a dance number and Bugs Bunny-type animation represents the best of Hong Kong cinema and that is why it’s my choice for the title of Best Hong Kong Movie Ever.

For your consideration …

To those of you who are still compiling your lists for the Reader vote, I ask, nay, beseech you to consider putting two relatively unheralded but patently deserving films on your list:  Ann Hui On-Wah’s THE WAY WE ARE and Johnnie To Kei-Fung’s EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED.

Though works like SUMMER SNOW and A SIMPLE LIFE have received more acclaim, the low-key THE WAY WE ARE is Ann Hui’s best film.  It’s easy to cull drama from situations like the travails of a caregiver to an Alzheimer’s patent or the way the ravages of time takes a toll on the body and the soul.  It’s not as easy to cull drama from mundane every day situations like grocery shopping and cooking supper yet Hui manages to do just that, with great affect, in THE WAY WE ARE.

Chan Lai-Wun in THE WAY WE ARE

The opening sequence of the film which shows an old lady (played by HKFA Supporting Actress winner Chan Lai-Wan) shopping for groceries then cooking and eating dinner alone gives more insight into old age than any individual sequence found in A SIMPLE LIFE.  Similarly, there’s a scene set in, of all places, a Wellcome supermarket that says more about down-to-earth, working-class decency than you can find in any news report, documentary, essay or newspaper/magazine article.

Earlier this year, I saw the documentary, JIRO DREAMS OF SUSHI, about an 85 year-old man who has spent a lifetime mastering the art of making sushi.  In the end, the key to his success was the relentless pursuit of simplicity in the complex matrix of variables that go into making a piece of sushi.  With THE WAY WE ARE, Ann Hui shows that she has mastered the art of complex simplicity, a feat worthy of your consideration for a place on your list of the Best Hong Kong Films Ever.

Like Ann Hui, Johnnie To Kei-Fung is known more for films like ELECTION and LIFE WITHOUT PRINCIPLE but I believe one of his best movies is the early Milkyway Image production EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED.  On the surface, EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED is a routine police procedural filled with the usual tropes:  the by-the-book squad leader, the laid-back, loose-cannon cop and the cop just looking to get by until he retires.  For good measure, To throws in a love triangle and a tale of unrequited love.  The familiar elements, however, are all just part of a brilliant plan to lull viewers into a false sense of security that serves to emphasize and heighten the message of the film:  Life is fragile because violence can erupt unexpectedly from the ordinary.

Simon Yam in EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED

Since the film was released in 1998, there have been two real-life examples of how unspeakable tragedy lies just below the surface of the routine rhythms of life: a sunny Tuesday in New York City in September of 2001 and a peaceful Boxing Day 2004 down in the area of the Indian Ocean.  EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED has an unforgettable ending and, if you saw you it, you should not forget about it when you are putting together your ballot.

NOTE: I am aware that Patrick Yau Tat-Chi is listed as the director of EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED but it is widely-accepted that Johnnie To did the heavy lifting.  To has said as much himself.  Also, as Bill Parcells famously noted: “you are what your record says you are.”  Since EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED, Johnnie To has continued to build a prolific filmography.  Patrick Yau, not so much.

Image credits:  Sony Pictures Classics (Stephen Chow), Class Limited (Chan Lai-Wun), Milkyway Image (Simon Yam)

Three Views On Chinese Movies In The 2000s: Part II

Before continuing with the look back at the movies of the 2000s, a few thoughts on some news tidbits that have emerged lately:

1. Hong Kong Film Awards Nominations

I said it the day after last year’s awards and I still believe it to be true in spite of the buzz for Wang Xueqi’s work in BODYGUARDS AND ASSASSINS:  Simon Yam will win a Best Acting award at the HKFAs this year.  It may be a “lifetime achievement” type deal but I think he’s due.  He got two nominations in the Best Actor category this year for NIGHT AND FOG and for ECHOES OF THE RAINBOW so here’s hoping …

More thoughts on the HKFA nominations:

- Nice to see Zhang Jingchu get nominated for her solid performance in the grim tale that was NIGHT AND FOG.

- As a fan of schlocky HK comedies of the 1980s and early-1980s, it’s great to see Stanley Fung Shui-Fan get a Supporting Actor nomination for ACCIDENT.

- Biggest snub: Why no Supporting Actor love for Michael “Stone” Wong’s work in OVERHEARD?  He made that movie 25% better with his channeling of Stallone’s Rocky Balboa Italian twang in his introductory scene and his cheese-tastic delivery of “I got my own car!” at the end. :lol:

Michael Wong Man-Tak in OVERHEARD

2. 2010: The Year of EDC

This is probably only amusing to me because I have the mind of a randy teenager but I couldn’t help but chuckle when I read the following on Edison Chen’s blog:

2010 promises to be a big year for ya boi EDC
i am going to be coming back HARDER than ever

Talk about unintentional comedy.  The capper is that he capitalized “harder”.  Does anyone NOT think of those infamous photos after reading that?

3. Edison Chen: “Why was I the bad guy?”

In an interview in the Chinese version of GQ, Edison Chen said that he still doesn’t understand why he was the bad guy in the Sexy Photos Gate scandal.  He said: “… was I really a bad person? I wasn’t. People just needed a scapegoat”.

He’s right.  He was a victim of a crime.  However, he presented himself as a hip-hop, bad-boy type which plays well to his target demographic but not so well to the broader, more conservative, mainstream Chinese audience.  So it’s not surprising at all that the general public turned against him.  Put it this way, it’s wrong to hit someone in the head with a steel chair but people cheer anyway when a heel character in pro-wrestling gets nailed with one because it happened to somebody who presented himself as a “bad guy”.

It’ll be interesting to see if 2010 will be remembered for a Chen resurgence or if it ends up being more like the Summer of George.

4. Gilllian Chung’s comeback continues

Gillian Chung continues on the comeback trail with an EP, a movie and a Mainland television series coming down the pipe.  Yet, it feels like she’s still fighting border skirmishes rather than making any serious assault on the capital.  Sorry, THE FOUNDING OF A REPUBLIC remains on the brain.  An EP isn’t exactly the same as a full album and a concert series.  The movie isn’t exactly a high-profile project slated for a big holiday release and the Mainland television series is a Mainland television series.

When you read her interviews, it’s clear that the comeback narrative her handlers at EEG have settled upon is “more mature, tough, resilient, plucky girl who is holding her head up high and refusing to let the scandal keep her down”.  It’s puzzling, then, that they are allowing her to hang on to that “naïve and innocent” schtick.  In articles that popped up last month about her new movie with William Chan Wai-Ting, she talks about being “embarrassed” because she had to do a kissing scene with Chan.  Is that the kind of talk you hear from tough, resilient girls?

Trying to do “tough and resilient” while hanging on to “cute and innocent” won’t work.  If Ah Gil wants substantial success on the comeback trail, she’s going to have to go full-bore on “tough and resilient” and drop the innocent act.  Besides, the “cute and innocent” road is still littered with the skeletons of Sexy Photos Gate like the Highway of Death was littered with the carnage of the First Gulf War.  All she’s doing when she plays “cute and innocent” is reminding people why she is on the comeback trail in the first place.

Now, fans of Ah Gil are probably thinking: “What are you talking about?  EEG is re-uniting her with Charlene Choi and Twins have a concert series and a new album coming out.  Isn’t that an indication that EEG thinks the comeback is going strong?”

EEG may, in fact, feel that way but I believe the re-unification of Twins is more about seeing if there’s any milk left in that cash cow and less about restored faith in Gillian Chung’s star power.  I think EEG is re-uniting Twins in spite of Gillian Chung’s situation rather than because of it.  It would, after all, be nutty to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of Twins in their 11th year.  I’d wager EEG is looking at a boost in Ah Gil’s profile as a possible collateral benefit of the Twins reunion rather than as the main impetus for it.

5. Jackie Chan in THE SPY NEXT DOOR

I was all ready to beat my chest in mourning for Jackie Chan’s career after reviews came out uniformly crushing THE SPY NEXT DOOR (it currently sits at 8% on Rotten Tomatoes).  Then, a week later, The Rock came out with THE TOOTH FAIRY and it occurred to me that the villain in this story shouldn’t be Jackie Chan for cashing in and taking the paycheque.  Only a naïve and innocent fool would refuse to sell a tiny fraction of their dignity for a multi-million dollar payday.  The culprits are movie studios that have failed to realize that it’s been twenty years since KINDERGARTEN COP made US$91.4 million and that it did well because it was more a “cops and robbers” film than a kids’ movie.

Here’s hoping we don’t see Bruce Willis in MY GRANDFATHER IS A HERO or Jason Statham in a remake of MR. NANNY.

6. Skynet/Cylons one step closer to taking over humanity

With the unveiling of a life-sized sex robot named Roxxy at the Adult Entertainment Expo in Las Vegas in January, can the Cyberdyne Systems Model 101 or the Cylon Centurion be that far away?

Roxxxy The Sex Robot

RANDOM NONSENSE:

After seeing Simon Yam’s performances in ELECTION and NIGHT AND FOG, I think the HK Movie Gods should decree that if you want to show a character is a bad guy, just show him fishing.  After what Yam’s characters did in those two movies, “Fishing = Evil” is now the equivalent of Blofeld stroking a white cat in Bond movies, the Snidely Whiplash moustache and Spock with a goatee in “Mirror, Mirror”.  If perpetual movie good guy Jackie Chan ever has occasion to play a villain, all the director has to do is show a goateed Big Brother fishing while playing with a white cat.

Enough ado, let’s get on to the without further … my list of the “Best Films of the 2000s”.

Previously: Three Views On Chinese Movies In The 2000s: Part I

6. RIDING THE TIGER

Writer/director Herman Yau Lai-To brings his deft, low-key touch to the high octane Sexy Photos Gate scandal in this “ripped from the headlines” film.  By eschewing the sex part of the scandal and focusing on the fame part, Yau offers a contemplative look at the nature of celebrity and how it really is like “riding a tiger into battle”.  It’s great when the tiger is with you and you’re able to easily do what you want on the battlefield.  It’s not so good when the tiger turns against you and you have no control over what happens.

OK, OK that film never happened. I just wanted to throw some appreciation towards Herman Yau.  While he doesn’t blow you away with his films like Wong Kar-Wai or Johnnie To, he does offer up solid work and is, in many ways, the “quintessential” Hong Kong director.  He makes movies, like TRUE WOMAN FOR SALE, that tell Hong Kong stories.  He also works in genres that are entirely “of Hong Kong”.  Movies like GONG TAU and SPLIT SECOND MURDERS are unique to the HK movie industry, they can’t be made anywhere else.

Yau started off the 2000s strong with the Buddy Film Creative Workshop films KILLING END and NIGHTMARES IN PRECINCT 7.  He had a bit of a lull in the middle of the decade with ASTONISHING and DATING DEATH but he bounced back with a solid run that began with ON THE EDGE.  If you’re not familiar with the work of Herman Yau, get yourself to the local Chinese video store and pick up a few of his films.

5. KUNG FU HUSTLE

In the 2000s, Stephen Chow made three of the top-10 grossing HK movies of all-time: KUNG FU HUSTLE (HK$61.2 million currently number one), SHAOLIN SOCCER (HK$60.7 million, currently number two) and CJ7 (HK$51.4 million, currently number seven).  So, you have to figure that one of Chow’s films has to be on the list.  Sitting at number one and number two, it’s basically a coin flip between KUNG FU HUSTLE and SHAOLIN SOCCER.  Like any good comrade — just checking if you’re reading Mainland censors — I side with the people and KUNG FU HUSTLE.

While SHAOLIN SOCCER had the bigger laughs and more significance as a milestone of Stephen Chow’s career, KUNG FU HUSTLE is the more accomplished film because it had a higher degree of difficulty.  SHAOLIN SOCCER could hang its comedy bits on the backbone of a conventional “underdog sports team” plotline.  KUNG FU HUSTLE was built entirely on film craftsmanship intangibles like charisma, tone and rhythm.  It could have easily all gone wrong but, instead, it all went right.  Look at some of the elements of the film: a dance number introducing the villains, a protagonist who disappears for a large chunk of the movie and sequences that belong more in a Looney Tunes cartoon than a smash kung fu flick.  Usually, those elements congeal into a lame and cheesy mess but Stephen Chow somehow combined them into a mesmerizing classic that thoroughly engages the audience.

4. ELECTION

Continuing what he started with Milkway Image in the late-1990s, Johnnie To had a prolific 2000s with commercial successes like NEEDING YOU, personal projects like THROWDOWN and SPARROW and philosophical pieces like RUNNING ON KARMA.  Three to five of his films could legitimately be placed on any “Best of the Decade” list of HK films but I chose to put ELECTION on this one because - twenty, thirty, fifty years from now - ELECTION is going to be the one most HK film fans will recall.

 Cecilia Cheung and Lau Ching-Wan in LOST IN TIME

3. (tie) LOST IN TIME / THE WAY WE ARE

The two best “Hong Kong stories” films of the 2000s.  One conventional, the other unconventional, both provide a fascinating glimpse into the day-to-day rhythms of Hong Kong life.  They show that Hong Kong isn’t just about gangsters that struggle for power or cops chasing bad guys, it’s also about normal people just trying to get through the day the best they can.  They show that Hong Kong isn’t teeming with playboys, golddiggers, gu wat jai (古或仔), psychopaths, super cops and mad detectives.  Instead, it’s filled with normal, decent people like the minibus driver who helps out a overburdened woman burning the candle at both ends, the fruit lady from the supermarket who recognizes that her neighbour is lonely and the father who seems hard-hearted but, in actually, just can’t admit how much his daughter means to him.

The movies also contain two brilliant “show, don’t tell” sequences that are enshrined in my pantheon of all-time great HK movie scenes.  In LOST IN TIME, there’s a sequence that shows Cecilia Cheung’s character going through her day balancing her job as a minibus driver and her role as the caregiver to her dead fiancée’s son.  In THE WAY WE ARE, the compelling scene showing Chan Lai-Wun’s character cooking dinner is the embodiment of Bruce Lee’s notion of “emotional content”.  Both are simple segments yet they express many complex ideas and sentiments.

2. INFERNAL AFFAIRS

If there was a “Hong Kong Division” for my “Most Valuable Film of the 2000s” blog post, the choice would clearly have been INFERNAL AFFAIRS.  With HK$55 million in box office earnings, the movie currently ranks fifth in the list of top 10 highest grossing HK films of all-time.  It spawned a prequel and a sequel and it acted as a defibrillator to the ailing heartbeat of Hong Kong cinema.  From Kozo’s review of the film:

Cries of “Box Office Miracle” were trumpeted by Hong Kong’s so-called fourth estate, which advanced the opinion that Hong Kong Cinema was revived.

It put Alan Mak and Felix Chong on the map which led to movies like INITIAL D, MOONLIGHT IN TOKYO, CONFESSION OF PAIN, LADY COP AND PAPA CROOK and OVERHEARD.

Like CROUCHING TIGER HIDDEN DRAGON, my pick for “Most Valuable Film of the 2000s”, INFERNAL AFFAIRS also had influence internationally:  A Hollywood remake, THE DEPARTED, finally earned Martin Scorsese a long-deserved Best Director Oscar.

1. (tie) IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE / LUST, CAUTION

Through exquisite film craftsmanship and outstanding acting, IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE and LUST, CAUTION are two movies that offer insightful looks into the nature of love and human connection.  I made them co-number ones because a couple of things keep me from picking one over the other.  First, LUST, CAUTION isn’t a “pure” Hong Kong film.  Second, IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE feels like a 1990s movie to me.  I actually did a double take when I looked up its release date and saw that it was September 29th, 2000.  I could have sworn it was released in 1999.  I probably feel this way because, back when I had my own site, I was translating articles about the production at least two years before it was released.

Moreover, as much as it pains my inner Vulcan to admit, 2046 sullied my affection for IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE.  While they are two separate movies and I shouldn’t let one affect my view of the other, I just can’t like IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE as much after seeing 2046.  What seemed exciting and stylistically cool in 2000 seemed tired and tedious just four short years later with the release of 2046.

Going off on a tangent, if you take anything from away from those films, it has to be to have a carpe diem attitude towards love and prospective mates.  If you like somebody and there seems to be a good chance that they like you, take a shot and do something about it.  Otherwise, you may end up whispering your regrets to a hole in the wall at Angkor Wat or, even worse, facing a firing squad.

Tony Leung Chiu-Wai in IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE

Going off on another tangent, there has been a decade long debate about what to name the 2000s.  Some have suggested the “Naughts”, others have said it should be the Oughts.  Then there are the “Zeroes”, the “Double Zeroes”, the “Os” and the “Twenty-Ohs”.  If you take a look at my list of the decade’s best HK films, you’ll see that my cousin Tony stars in the top three movies.  Call me biased but I think the decade should be called “The Leung Dynasty”.

Next time: The part I had the most fun writing: “Personal Favourites of the 2000s, uh, The Leung Dynasty.”

Image credits: Film Unlimited (Michael Wong), 69adget.com (Roxxy the Sex Robot), China Star Entertainment (Cecilia Cheung, Lau Ching-Wan), Jet Tone Productions (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai)

28th Hong Kong Film Awards Preview: More Picks

Previously:

Let’s finish previewing the remaining major categories beginning with the nominees for Best Supporting Actor.  They are:

MY VOTE GOES TO: Zhang Fengyi (RED CLIFF)

I would have voted for Zhang Fengyi solely because he was able to do those “I’m waging war because I’m in love with Xiao Qiao” scenes without rolling his eyes at the nonsense he was being forced to portray. :-)

Zhang Fengyi in RED CLIFF

In all seriousness, I’m picking Zhang because, with the possible exception of Stephen Chow’s character in CJ7, his character figured most prominently in the story of the respective films.  Without the smug and arrogant presence of Cao Cao, the audience isn’t rooting as hard for that “loser Liu Bei” and that “young, inexperienced twerp” Sun Quan.  They’d be like: “oh well, survival of the fittest, the strong conquers the weak”.

I think that this category is a three horse race between Zhang, Stephen Chow and Liu Kai-Chi.  I’d be surprised if Gordon Lam won and I’d be very, very surprised if Louis Fan took home the statue.  Nothing against Fan, I enjoyed his performances in TVB dramas of the 1990s, but his character in IP MAN is about as one-dimensional as you can get.

* * * * *

The nominees for Best Supporting Actress are:

MY VOTE GOES TO: Chan Lai-Wun (THE WAY WE ARE)

Like the Best Actress category, my head and my heart had a mighty struggle over who I should throw my vote behind.  I really, really wanted to pick Race Wong here but, like her castmate Prudence Lau, there are times during her performance where she’s a bit off and she loses control of her character.  Sometimes she overacts and sometimes her Mainland accent slips.  It’s a laudable effort but it’s no match for the performance that Chan Lai-Wun turned in for THE WAY WE ARE.

Similar to the way Cao Cao was integral to RED CLIFF, Chan’s Granny character is a key part of THE WAY WE ARE.  Her stirring portrait of a lonely senior powers the low-key emotion and drama of the film.  Without it, THE WAY WE ARE truly would be a boring film that isn’t about anything.

Chan Lai-Wun in THE WAY WE ARE

I agree with Kozo that the award is going to go to Chan or Nora Miao from RUN PAPA RUN.  I hope Chan wins because any number of actresses could have played Miao’s part in RUN PAPA RUN.  Susan Shaw, last year’s winner, probably could have done just as good a job as Miao.  I don’t think, however, that Miao or Shaw could have pulled off the bit in THE WAY WE ARE where Chan’s character cooks herself a meal.  The sequence was simple, she was just cooking dinner for herself but it was filled with so much pathos, I believe Bruce Lee rose from his grave, applauded, and said: “That, my friends, is emotional content.”

* * * * *

The nominees for Best New Artist are:

MY VOTE GOES TO: Kitty Zhang Yuqi (ALL ABOUT WOMEN)

Kitty Zhang in ALL ABOUT WOMEN

Contrary to previous years where acting giants like Baby Matthew Medvedev (26th HKFA) and Edison Chen (20th HKFA) were nominated, there’s no filler in the category this year as I could make legitimate cases for all five of the nominees to win.  Ultimately, I settled on Kitty Zhang because she shows the most potential.  She oozes screen charisma in her dynamite performance as a female “Master of the Universe”.  The depth and confidence she displays in ALL ABOUT WOMEN is in marked contrast to her “flower vase” debut in CJ7 and her “just look cute and adorable” role in SHAOLIN GIRL.  Maybe she set the bar low with those earlier performances but I was somewhat surprised by how mature and polished she seemed in the mess of a film by Tsui Hark.  If a bookie would take action on it, I’d bet that she ends up with the longest and most accomplished movie career out of all of this year’s new artist nominees.

* * * * *

The nominees for Best Screenplay are:

MY VOTE GOES TO:  Lui Yau-Wah (THE WAY WE ARE)

This pick comes with a caveat as I haven’t seen CLAUSTROPHOBIA yet (the release date for the DVD is April 30th).  However, if Kozo’s review is any indication, I think it’s safe to say that it would not have affected my decision to go with Lui Yau-Wah’s screenplay.  I’m picking it to win for the same reason I picked THE WAY WE ARE for Best Film:  it’s an exceptional Hong Kong film that’s about Hong Kong people and Hong Kong concerns.

Besides, all the other nominated screenplays have issues.  The “one stone, many ripples” theme of THE BEAST STALKER comes off as very contrived.  The writers of PAINTED SKIN got a huge assist from Pu Songling and it would be blasphemous to the notion of art to reward the RUN PAPA RUN screenplay for that silly ending.

* * * * *

The nominees for Best Director are:

MY VOTE GOES TO: Ann Hui On-Wah (THE WAY WE ARE)

Take this pick with a grain of salt because I understand the technical aspects of film directing about as well as I understand the techincal aspects of a Formula 1 car.   That said, the choice for me was between Johnnie To and Ann Hui.  I don’t believe John Woo, Wilson Yip or Benny Chan added to their repertoire or did anything extraordinary with their films.  Johnnie To, on the other hand, explored new territory by successfully making a skillful tribute to French cinema.  I would have voted for his work in SPARROW had it not been for Ann Hui’s remarkable work in THE WAY WE ARE.

Regular readers of this blog will recall that I had my issues last year with Hui’s THE POSTMODERN LIFE OF MY AUNT.  Rather than being an award-worthy film, I felt that the movie highlighted Hui’s tendency to sometimes lay things on a bit too thick.  The piling on of tragedy after tragedy on Ye Rutang was so depressing, any message Hui was trying to convey was lost.

The goofy moon shot from THE POSTMODERN LIFE OF MY AUNT

In sharp contrast, Hui shows great discipline in THE WAY WE ARE.  There aren’t any false notes.  There are no goofy shots of the Moon.  Everything is finely-tuned from the acting to the choice of music to the pace of the narrative.  With great skill, Ann Hui shows the audience the way most Hong Kong people are and, for that, she should win this year’s Best Director HKFA.

Image credits: Lion Rock Productions (Zhang Fengyi), Class Limited (Chan Lai-Wun), Film Workshop (Kitty Zhang), Beijing Poly-bona Film Publishing Co. Ltd. (Still from THE POSTMODERN LIFE OF MY AUNT)

The Teahouse: 27th Hong Kong Film Awards Edition

Just as there’s a time gap between the LOST island and the freighter, there’s a time gap between the House Where Words Gather and real time. This is why you’re seeing a post about the Hong Kong Film Awards in May.

Not buying it? OK, OK. I’ll come clean. I’ve been busy preparing to be cross-examined for my Joyce Tang Lai-Ming stalker Jo Koocase. I’ve got to come up with answers to questions like: “Why do I have information from Joyce Tang’s Octopus card on my hard drive?”

I’m just kidding. I mention Joyce Tang because I think “Deroyce” — her couple name with rumoured boyfriend Derek Kwok Jing-Hung — sounds too much like “divorce” to be propitious for a Chinese couple. Besides, everyone knows that if I was going to stalk an actress, it’d be Jo Koo (left). By the way, my lawyer wants me to include the following statement:

“Mr. Leung is merely posing a hypothetical situation for humourous effect. It is, in no manner, an admission of wrongdoing or an admission of conspiring to commit any wrongdoing.”

Enough with the shenanigans, on to the business of the day:

First things first: announcing the winner of the 27th Hong Kong Film Awards Predictions Contest. It was a close race that came down to two contestants: Eliza Bennet of Istanbul, Turkey and Jason Fong of Gaithersburg, Maryland, USA. Both Ms. Bennet and Mr. Fong got 7 out of 8 picks correct.

 

Eliza Bennet

Jason Fong

Best Film

THE WARLORDS

THE WARLORDS

Best Director

Peter Chan Ho-Sun
(THE WARLORDS)

Peter Chan Ho-Sun
(THE WARLORDS)

Best Screenplay

Wai Ka-Fai, Au Kin-Yee
(THE MAD DETECTIVE)

Li Qiang
(THE POSTMODERN LIFE OF MY AUNT)

Best Actor

Jet Li
(THE WARLORDS)

Jet Li
(THE WARLORDS)

Best Actress

Siqin Gaowa
(THE POSTMODERN LIFE OF MY AUNT)

Siqin Gaowa
(THE POSTMODERN LIFE OF MY AUNT)

Best Supporting Actor

Nick Cheung Ka-Fai
(EXODUS)

Andy Lau Tak-Wah
(PROTEGE)

Best Supporting Actress

Susan Shaw
(THE PYE-DOG)

Susan Shaw
(THE PYE-DOG)

Best New Performer

Kate Tsui Tsz-Shan
(EYE IN THE SKY)

Kate Tsui Tsz-Shan
(EYE IN THE SKY)

As a result, the tiebreaker question — PROTEGE is nominated for 15 awards. How many awards will it win? — was used. Ms. Bennet predicted five while Mr. Fong predicted three. PROTEGE ended up winning two awards so the winner of the 27th Hong Kong Film Awards Predictions contest is Jason Fong of Gaithersburg, Maryland, USA. Congratulations!

For his prize, Mr. Fong selected a HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS movie poster autographed by Andy Lau Tak-Wah, Takeshi Kaneshiro and Zhang Ziyi.

Timo Karp of Germany and Jason Li from Parts Unknown tied for third. Both got 6 out of 8 picks correct.

As for myself, I tied for 17th place with Agata from Parts Unknown, longtime reader Hard Boiled Mark from Chicago, Nero from Fremont, California and Thomas from Toronto. We each predicted 3 out of 8 categories correctly.

My Triumphs, My Mistakes: In the lead up to the ceremony, there didn’t seem to be much buzz for PROTEGE, MAD DETECTIVE or EYE IN THE SKY so I figured that it would either be a sweep for THE POSTMODERN LIFE OF MY AUNT or THE WARLORDS. While working on the HKFA preview blog post series, I spent weeks convincing myself that THE POSTMODERN LIFE OF MY AUNT was better than I initially thought it was so I ended up ignoring the signs for THE WARLORDS and picked a sweep for the Ann Hui film:

Best Film: THE POSTMODERN LIFE OF MY AUNT
Best Director: Ann Hui On-Wah (THE POSTMODERN LIFE OF MY AUNT)
Best Screenplay: Li Qiang (THE POSTMODERN LIFE OF MY AUNT)

Best Actor: Jet Li (THE WARLORDS)
Best Actress: Siqin Gaowa (THE POSTMODERN LIFE OF MY AUNT)
Best Supporting Actor: Ronald Cheng Chung-Gei (MR. CINEMA)
Best Supporting Actress: Karen Mok Man-Wai (MR. CINEMA)

Best New Perfomer: Kate Tsui Tsz-Shan (EYE IN THE SKY)

TIE-BREAKER QUESTION:
PROTEGE is nominated for 15 awards. How many awards will it win? 2

mpf_hkfatea.jpgInstead of being clouded by my self-generated THE POSTMODERN LIFE OF MY AUNT buzz, I should have recalled the example of ORDINARY HEROES (another listless Ann Hui On-Wah film). Along with RUNNING OUT OF TIME and TEMPTING HEART, ORDINARY HEROES led the way in number of nominations for the 19th Hong Kong Film Awards. It ended up winning just one award. This just goes to show you that if you look at something long enough and hard enough, you can convince yourself of almost anything … sort of like how people convinced themselves that a regular truck and trailer was a “mobile production facility”. :-)

On the bright side, I properly pegged that PROTEGE wouldn’t be a big winner despite its fifteen nominations. I’m also Jet Li sings in KIDS FROM SHAOLINGhappy that the “hot door” (熱門) buzz for Jet Li came through and he won the Best Actor award. I’ve known since SHAOLIN TEMPLE 2: KIDS FROM SHAOLIN that Jet Li was more than just an action hero. One of the selections in the House Where Words Gather Film Pantheon, KIDS FROM SHAOLIN is the ultimate Jet Li showcase. Not only does he show off his excellent wushu skills, he does drama, comedy, romance, a scene in drag and even busts out in song during a musical number. He does it all in this film so, if you haven’t seen it yet and you are a Jet Li fan, you really need to check out KIDS FROM SHAOLIN.

Other than that, I’m a little disappointed with myself for not seeing the Susan Shaw win in the Best Supporting Actress category. I think this is something I would have picked up on in the good ol’ days when I read the entertainment sections in six papers.

Reader Interaction: Let’s put the nail on the coffin of 27th HKFA talk with replies to reader comments from the past few posts.

m writes: ” … By the way Sanney, you said you would comment on the ending of Protégé. So, what do you think, did he or didn’t he? I must be a pessimist because my first reaction was that he did.”

Well, I must be an optimist then because I think the kid stops Daniel Wu’s character from shooting up.

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From the post on Stephen Hunter’s obituary for Charlton Heston, Glenn writes: I live in the D.C. area and read Hunter’s reviews usually every week.

I resented tremendously his piece on the Va. Tech shooting mainly because he tried to make a connection to Old Boy and other films but then backed away from it for fear of offending anyone.

Either prove the point or do not. Hunter’s insinuations served no one.

Personally, I am sick of people trying to blame films for lone acts of obviously mentally ill people; if Old Boy was the problem then there would be thousands of shooters, right?

I’m sick of it too but I understand the sentiment behind it. People want to make sense of a senseless act so they look for simple explanations like the influence of movies and video games.

Going on a tangent, the thing that really bugs me these days is people blaming McDonald’s and other fast food joints for childhood obesity when the blame should really rest with parents and schools.

Speaking of the D.C. area, what ever happened with the case of the lawyer who sued a mom and pop dry cleaners for US$65 million (or something outrageous like that) over a pair of missing pants? As a person who was raised from the proceeds of a mom and pop operation, I really felt bad for the owners who had to waste time and money dealing with a litigious zealot.

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Buma writes: Andy sent you a get-well message?

That’s the coolest thing I ever heard.

Do you know the circumstances leading to that ? I’m guessing you have a friend/reader who knows Andy personally. I don’t think he speaks English well enough to read your old website.

Here’s the story, as it was told to me: Andy Lau was in San Francisco for a screening of HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS. Jennifer Young, a reader of my old website, approached him and asked him to write something to me. Andy Lau graciously agreed and that’s how I got my note.

By the way, I was asked in an e-mail what the card says. It reads: “Hang on! We are all behind you! Hope you get well soon!”

Pretty cool. This is why I feel pangs of guilt for thinking that he doesn’t really deserve that Best Supporting Actor award for PROTEGE and that his latest film, THREE KINGDOMS: RESURRECTION OF THE DRAGON, is terrible.

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Glenn writes: Andy is still a god; anyone who jumps off a concert stage to fight his own security guards is pretty bad ass in my book. Your get well card is an awesome gift. Did you get any from Pinky Cheung maybe?

Pinky CheungI wish I got something from Pinky Cheung (right). She’s got class like a ‘57 Cadillac, got all the drive with a whole lot of boom in back …

Speaking of Pinky Cheung, she and Jan/Jay Lau Kam-Ling are the only reasons I’m flirting with the idea of picking up FATAL MOVE. Not Sammo Hung, not Danny Lee Sau-Yin and not Simon Yam Tat-Wah. Kozo thinks it stinks so dropping $15 to $20 just for babeage may be too steep a price but still …

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MW writes: I thought THE WARLORDS was very average. Just another ancient brotherhood tale but with better cinematography and production values. Aside from that, I left the theatre disappointed after all the hype I had about it. Good director, international stars, potentially interesting and unique story backdrop ended up being a very bland movie. Basically the sum did not equal the parts and all the acclaim it’s getting is due to its reputation. But even I think it’s unfair to compare it to the horrible SPIDER-MAN 3.

I drew the comparison to SPIDER-MAN 3 because I got the same cinematic experience from both films. Both were big budget films that were slickly produced and highly-anticipated. Both were plagued by poor storytelling that leaves you feeling disappointed. If I had a ratings systems, I’d give the same rating to both films.

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Glenn writes: Sanney, why the quote from The Kinks’ Come Dancing? Took this 41-year-old rocker a minute to recognize that quote on your masthead from one of my favorite bands.

Simple explanation: “Come Dancing” was playing on the radio when I was updating the blog. For a while now, I’ve been resisting the urge to abandon Top 40 radio and listen mostly to “oldies” radio. The thought first crept into my mind last summer when the Top 40 station in my market seemed to only play “Hey There Delilah”, “Big Girls Don’t Cry” by Fergie and “Before He Cheats” on an continuous loop. I finally gave in a few weeks ago when I heard Mariah Carey’s “Touch My Body”. I used to love Mariah Carey’s songs back in the 1990s when she had hits like: “Someday”, “Emotions” and “Fantasy”. Now, her music is overproduced and nonsensical. All I can make out from “Touch My Body” is something about a “secret rendezvous”, something about “YouTube” and something about how she’s going to “hunt you down”.

When I was updating the blog that night, not only did I hear “Come Dancing”, I heard “God Only Knows” by The Beach Boys, “Little Lies” by Fleetwood Mac and “Take It Easy” by The Eagles. All personal favourites. Even though it’ll make me feel incredibly old, I may not be going back to Top 40 radio.

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Will writes: Sanney, do you mind if I ask you a personal question? Just how much TV do you watch? You referenced Rome, American Idol, Sarah Connor Chronicles, Iron Chef and Law & Order: SVU in this post. In your old posts, I’ve seen references to Curb Your Enthusiasm, 30 Rock, Law & Order, One Tree Hill, etc. That’s a lot of TV.

Yeah, I’ll admit I watch a lot of TV. It was even worse when I watched TVB series in addition to what was on TV here. Sleep? Who needs sleep? I’m a lot better now though. The TVB rental place here went out of business when I sick but even before then I stopped watching TVB series. The last one I rented was IN THE REALM OF SUCCESS — five or six years ago. I miss it though and, if there was a TVB place here, I probably would have checked out LA FEMME DESPERADO, TRIMMING SUCCESS and other twenty-episode light dramas. I used to prefer the short comedy/drama series over the long, overwrought “grand productions” like AT THE THRESHOLD OF AN ERA or, more recently, THE DRIVE OF LIFE.

As for Western TV, I don’t watch all the TV shows I’ve mentioned. I have friends who watch TV (no pretentious “books only” people in our crowd) so I pick things up by osmosis. For example, I don’t watch AMERICAN IDOL but I know of Randy Jackson’s “yo dawg” and “pitchy” schtick because my friends talk about it. Thanks to the whole cancer ordeal, I’ve developed a “life’s too short” mentality so I’m abandoning ship on shows more readily than I used to. I gave up on LOST after “Meet Kevin Johnson”. For a while now, probably around the time of that awful Bai Ling episode, I’ve felt that the show has been jerking me around with forty minutes of filler, eighteen minutes of commercials and just two minutes of actual plot development. The straw that broke the camel’s back was when there ended up being virtually no payoff for years of “Rousseau and her long, lost daughter” build-up. Besides, the only character I cared about anymore was Desmond. Jack, Locke, Kate and company all somehow became insufferable to me.

Boy, I’ve gone far, far afield. Let’s close the show with a topic that’s actually relevant to the entertainment circle …

From the post about THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM, Roper writes: How can you put Gong Li (who does NOT do martial arts) in the same sentence with those other actresses? No comparison.

I put Gong Li in the same sentence with Zhang Ziyi and the other actresses not because they are martial arts heroines but because they are stars in Hollywood films hoping to get roles in other Hollywood films. I think that’s a valid basis for comparison.

Glenn writes: So what is with the apparent references in the film to bootlegs?

Kind of ironic in a Weinstein product considering that only a few years ago they were making it increasingly difficult for geeks like me to get legal non-US DVDs of Hero even while they left it on the shelf for 2 years.

I hate bootlegs too so I didn’t appreciate them trying to lump all imports under the bootleg umbrella.

You sort of answered your own question. The “bootlegs” that the kid shops for in the pawn shop are simply imports.

Mike Mai writes: Li Bingbing stole my heart in this film. She’s extremely beautiful!!!!

I agree. Li Bingbing is certainly more eye-catching than Crystal Liu in THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM. I focused on Crystal Liu because she has aspirations for a Hollywood career. I don’t think Li Bingbing has similar ambitions.

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In the meantime and in between time, that’s it, another edition of The Teahouse. If you made it this far, thanks for slogging through all the stuff about music and TV. A big thanks also to Lester Mak for designing the spreadsheet for the HKFA Predictions contest. There wouldn’t have been a contest without his help so let’s all give Lester some dap.

Next time: In keeping with the timeliness of this blog, I’ll be doing a post on celebrity relief efforts for the earthquake … in Taiwan … on September 21st, 1999.

Just kidding but, in all seriousness, if you haven’t done so and if you have the means, please consider making a donation to the earthquake relief effort through your local chapter of the Red Cross.

Image credits: ecboyboy.com (Jo Koo), United States Government (Moblie Production Facility graphic), Chung Yuen Motion Picture Company (Jet Li), NextMedia (Pinky Cheung)

27th Hong Kong Film Awards Preview: Best Director and Best Screenplay

Previously:

Coming down the home stretch of the HKFA blog post series, it’s time to preview the Best Director and Best Screenplay categories. The nominees for Best Director are:

Peter Chan Ho-Sun (THE WARLORDS)
Derek Yee Tung-Sing (PROTEGE)
Ann Hui On-Wah (THE POSTMODERN LIFE OF MY AUNT)
Johnnie To Kei-Fung, Wai Ka-Fai (MAD DETECTIVE)
Yau Nai-Hoi (EYE IN THE SKY)

My understanding of the technical aspects of movie direction is very limited so I will defer to my contact “Martin” in this preview of the Best Director category. Martin, a pseudonym, actually makes a living in the Hong Kong film industry so he is keeping his identity a secret because he wants to express his honest opinions without having to worry that he is offending any past or potential colleagues.

Martin thinks that the front runners for the award are: Ann Hui, Derek Yee and Peter Chan. He believes Yau Nai-Hoi is a lock for the Best New Director award so Yau will not be a contender for Best Director. As for Johnnie To and Wai Ka-Fai, Martin contends that if you watch THE MAD DETECTIVE closely, you’ll notice that the film does not flow smoothly. He argues that To and Wai have done better work.

Handicapping the race between Derek Yee, Ann Hui and Peter Chan, Martin thinks that any one of the three directors could win because each demonstrate adept craftsmanship in their respective films. Derek Yee uses a variety of directorial techniques to shore up a mediocre screenplay while Peter Chan deftly manages a film that has an epic scope. If he had to pick a winner, however, it would be Ann Hui. Martin thinks that THE POSTMODERN LIFE OF MY AUNT is the most intricate film amongst the three front runners in that it shifts smartly and seamlessly through many layers and tones.

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The nominees for Best Screenplay are:

Xu Lan, Chun Tin-Nam, Aubrey Lam Oi-Wah, Huang Jianxin, Ho Kei-Ping, Kwok Jun-Lap, Jojo Hui Yuet-Chun, James Yuen Sai-Sun (THE WARLORDS)
Derek Yee Tung-Sing, Chun Tin-Nam, Lung Man-Hung, Go Sun (PROTEGE)
Li Qiang (THE POSTMODERN LIFE OF MY AUNT)
Wai Ka-Fai, Au Kin-Yee (MAD DETECTIVE)
Yau Nai-Hoi, Au Kin-Yee (EYE IN THE SKY)

5. Xu Lan, Chun Tin-Nam, Aubrey Lam Oi-Wah, Huang Jianxin, Ho Kei-Ping, Kwok Jun-Lap, Jojo Hui Yuet-Chun, James Yuen Sai-Sun (THE WARLORDS)

As I stated in the preview of the Best Film category, THE WARLORDS suffers from significant storytelling problems. The fact that the film had an eight-person writing team practically screams “too many cooks spoil the broth”. This manifests itself in the way historical details were tossed into the screenplay but not explained or explored. The details were probably included to add extra gravitas to the film but they just ended up confusing viewers.

4. Yau Nai-Hoi, Au Kin-Yee (EYE IN THE SKY)

I’ve said it before and I will say it again, the first two-thirds of EYE IN THE SKY is absolutely riveting. The last third, however, relies too much on coincidence and keeps the screenplay for the film from serious consideration in this category. Moreover, the scope of the story is not as broad or as ambitious as the following three screenplays.

3. Wai Ka-Fai, Au Kin-Yee (MAD DETECTIVE)

The plot for MAD DETECTIVE offers a fascinating character (the titular mad detective) and an intriguing premise (the mad detective’s ability to see “inner personalities”). However, it doesn’t seem to fully capitalize on these ideas and fails to deliver a sensational conclusion to match the sensational opening. As a result, viewers are left, in the end, not with a feeling of sublime satisfaction but a feeling that an opportunity has been missed.

2. Derek Yee Tung-Sing, Chun Tin-Nam, Lung Man-Hung, Go Sun (PROTEGE)

For the most part, PROTEGE does an effective job of showing the Hong Kong drug trade from multiple perspectives. However, the resolution to the plot thread for Louis Koo’s character is a glaring miscue. It’s like that small stain on a white shirt. The shirt is still wearable and it may still look good but, once you’re aware of the stain, you can’t help but focus on it.

1. Li Qiang (THE POSTMODERN LIFE OF MY AUNT)

Though the movie doesn’t quite work, I think the screenplay for THE POSTMODERN LIFE OF MY AUNT is the most ambitious and wide-ranging of the nominees in this category. It touches on multiple themes and explores human nature from multiple angles. It didn’t translate effectively from page to screen but the high degree of difficulty is a mitigating consideration. The fact that the scope of the story was broader than any of the other nominees gives this screenplay a slight edge over the screenplay for PROTEGE.

I will end this preview of the 27th Hong Kong Film Awards as I began it by saying that, if it had qualified, LUST, CAUTION would probably have swept both the Best Director and Best Screenplay awards.

 
 
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