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… On this day, I see clearly, everything has come to life.

Note: This blog expresses only the opinions of the blog owner,
and does not represent the opinion of any organization or blog
that is associated with 聚言莊﹕The House Where Words Gather.

Archive for the ‘Donnie Yen Chi-Tan’ Category

Kozo Entertainment Group Presents: LOVE FOR HIRE

A little business to conduct before we get to the holiday festivities:  My 12-year “artistes” contract with the Kozo Entertainment Group obligates me to remind you that voting is underway for the “Top Hong Kong Films of the 1990s”.  Go here for details.

With Lunar New Year and Valentine’s Day falling on the same day, it’s the perfect time to release the Kozo Entertainment Group’s first feature film.  It’s a holiday release called LOVE FOR HIRE.  I got the idea for the movie after reading news articles about demographically-challenged Mainland males “renting” girlfriends to bring back home for Lunar New Year gatherings.  Being a fan of LAW & ORDER for close to twenty years, ripping a story from the headlines came naturally.  After running it up the flagpole to my superiors at the KEG, we got some funding from The Feinstein Company and the China Pajama-Producers Co-operative.  Consider this our “red packet”/valentine to you …

* * * * *

LOVE FOR HIRE:

A romantic comedy/drama about the lives and loves of people who work at an agency that provides fake girlfriends to guys who need someone on their arm for a social occasion.  The movie has two main plots:

Chrissie Chau

MAIN PLOT A:  Normal but shy guy hires a girl to practice social situations with (asking her out, going on dates, etc.) because he’s in love with a hot girl in his office.

Normal/shy Guy: Jaycee Chan (Fong Cho-Ming)
Girl For Hire: Charlene Choi Cheuk-Yin
Hot Office Girl: Chrissie Chau Sau-Na

Due to his shyness, Jaycee has never dated a girl before so he wants to work out all the kinks of dating with Charlene before asking Chrissie out.  Naturally, over the course of a few practice dates, Jaycee falls in love with Charlene but, because she’s only doing this to make a few dollars for a plane ticket to see her boyfriend who’s studying in Australia, he doesn’t want to admit his love — even though it’s clear she loves him back.  He ends up going through with asking Chrissie out.

On his date with Chrissie, Jaycee realizes that he has to profess his love for Charlene so he races to the airport to stop her from getting on the plane to see her boyfriend for the Lunar New Year holiday. (Thus satisfying the romantic movie commandment of always having a scene where one of the main characters is racing somewhere to declare their love for someone.)

MAIN PLOT B:  Widower needs to hire a fake girlfriend because his parents are flying in from Canada to visit him and his cute kid for the Lunar New Year holiday.

Widower: Andy Lau Tak-Wah
Agency Owner: Michelle Reis

As Andy’s wife has been dead for four years, his parents have been on his back to get a new woman in his life and the life of their grandchild.  He wants to get them off of his back so he goes to the agency to hire a woman for a Lunar New Year “performance”.  He has a specific type of woman in mind so he asks to meet directly with the agency owner to pick out the right girl to play the part.

Andy and the agency owner end up meeting several times because they can’t agree on the right girl for the job.  During these meetings, Andy begins to admire Michelle for her work ethic and professionalism while Michelle begins to admire Andy for his dedication to his kid, his parents and, most touchingly, his late wife (ie. I’m still in love with her, I’m not ready to find another woman).

Since Michelle knows exactly what Andy is looking for, she decides to take the job herself and, during their “show” for Andy’s parents, Andy and Michelle end up falling in love.

Besides the two main plots, the film also has three mini-plots that fill out the movie:

MINI-PLOT A:  The Assistants

Agency Owner’s Assistant: Stephy Tang Lai-Yan
Tycoon’s Assistant: Ronald Cheng Chung-Gei
Obnoxious Tycoon: Jim Chim Sui-Man

Stephy has been working with Ronald because Ronald’s boss (Jim Chim) is an obnoxious jerk of a tycoon who has been hiring arm candy to get photographed with in the tabloids.  As the tycoon has been doing this for months, Stephy and Ronald have been talking to each other over the phone for a while.  Through casual bits of conversation between making arrangements for the tycoon, Ronald starts to wonder what it’d be like to date Stephy while Stephy begins to imagine what it would be like to have Ronald as a boyfriend.  Obviously, there’s mutual interest but, since they just have a professional phone relationship, neither has acted on it.  One day, they happen to be in the same Starbucks and when they hear each other order, they realize who the other is and it’s the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

Donnie Yen

MINI-PLOT B: Husbands and Wives

Husband: Eric Kot Man-Fai
Wife: Miriam Yeung Chin-Wah
Businessman: Donnie Yen (looking to show his skillz in a non-action role)
Businessman’s wife: Lynn Xiong (because she’s Mrs. Ip Man)

A businessman (Donnie Yen) needs to hire a companion to sit in with him for business meetings.  He wants to avoid all-night negotiation sessions that are actually just excuses for the other business guys to do heavy drinking.  So, he hires a “wife” (Miriam Yeung) as an excuse to get business done quickly or to bail out of booze-soaked all-nighters.  Sometimes Miriam goes with Donnie to the meetings, sometimes she calls on the phone to interrupt, sometimes she shows up to interrupt.

Donnie has been working with Miriam for months and everything is strictly platonic.  However, Miriam’s husband (Eric Kot) is jealous that she’s spending all this time with Donnie.  Things come to a head when Donnie invites Miriam over to his flat for Lunar New Year dinner.  Eric is blind with jealousy and goes to the dinner with a chip on his shoulder.  When they arrive at Donnie’s place, both Miriam and Eric are surprised to find that Donnie has a wife and two young daughters.  When Donnie’s wife (Lynn Xiong), thanks Miriam for helping Donnie come home at night to be with his kids, Eric realizes the foolishness of his jealousy.

MINI-PLOT C: The Ex-Con

The Ex-Con: Nick Cheung Ka-Fai
The “Mainland” Girl: Vicki Zhao Wei

A guy (Nick Cheung) hires a “Mainland” girlfriend to bring home to his parents for Lunar New Year.  He’s been telling his parents that he’s been away “on business” in the Mainland for the past three years but, in actually, he’s been rotting in jail after being framed by a former friend for a crime he did not commit.

Vicki Zhao misses her own family back in China so she feels kind of sad to see this sham of a Lunar New Year gathering.  Nick Cheung feels the emptiness as well.  After the dinner, Vicki Zhao tells Nick Cheung to be straight with his parents, she points out that they may be more understanding than Nick Cheung thinks.  This story ends with Nick Cheung coming clean and truly reconciling with his family.

* * * * *

I think that’s enough plot for a 90 to 120 minute movie.  What do you think?  Even with stiff competition from 72 TENANTS OF PROSPERITY and ALL’S WELL THAT END’S WELL 2010,  this makes HK$10 million - no?

Now, as the late-Michael Jackson said repeatedly in THIS IS IT, I wrote this story out of “love” for the readers who have been reading my nonsense over the years.  As I said earlier, it was my “red packet”/valentine to the readers.  It’ll be upsetting if some knock off, possibly called LOVE FOR RENT, pops up in the Lunar New Year 2011 movie slate.  It’ll be especially upsetting if the knock off includes stories about a shy guy, a widower, a jealous husband, an obnoxious tycoon, assistants and an ex-con.  Not only will it upset me, it’ll upset the mighty KEG, the Feinstein Company and the China Pajama-Producers Co-operative.  Most people know better than to upset the CPC - especially in China. ;-)

To avoid all the nastiness, get in touch with me.  My demands may be as simple as a cameo role as one of the business guys at a Donnie Yen business meeting or the barista who hands Stephy Tang her latte at Starbucks.

All right … time for the traditional House Where Words Gather Lunar New Year greeting.  As you can tell from years past (Ox, Rat), my wishes for all of you are less grandiose than unimaginable wealth.  Sticking with that tradition, I’m going to channel Dan Rather and Al Pacino by wishing you:

Greeting for the Year of the Tiger

I’m hoping that the Year of the Tiger gives you courage to make improvements in your life.  May you find the courage to inch your way towards greater happiness be it finding the guts to ask that cute girl out, the courage to find a better job or the cojones to change an unhappy circumstance in your life.

And, as always, 身體健康!  Happy Year of the Tiger!

News and Notes: May 14th, 2009

Time to clear out some of the items that I’ve been keeping in my little notebook:

BOX OFFICE NOTES:

I CORRUPT ALL COPS made HK$2.14 million last week to boost its total to HK$4.60 million from 11 days in theatres. The Mainland epic CITY OF LIFE AND DEATH (aka NANKING! NANKING!) opened with a take of HK$1.24 million over the weekend while TRAIL OF THE PANDA made HK$725,123.

IP MAN 2:

IP MAN director Wilson Yip Wai-Shun gave an interview to the Beijing Times earlier this week in which he revealed details about IP MAN 2.  Yip denied rumours that Andy Lau Tak-Wah will be joining the cast as Ip Man’s rival.  Sammo Hung Kam-Bo, rather, will do double duty as action director and the main opponent.  While Yip expects the cast from IP MAN to reprise their roles in the sequel, they will not be continuing the Japanese resistance storyline.  Instead, the sequel will be set in the 1950s and focus on Ip Man’s struggle to open a kung fu school in Hong Kong.  According to Yip, the sequel’s storyline will be driven by the conflict Ip Man generates when he upsets the balance of power in the Hong Kong kung fu school jiang wu by opening his own school.

Asked if a Bruce Lee character would appear in IP MAN 2, Yip replied: “Only briefly.  The movie is set in the 1950s and Bruce Lee is still only a child so he won’t have a big part in the film.  Besides this movie is called IP MAN 2 not BRUCE LEE.”

Yip is currently scouting locations around Shanghai for the sequel.  Shooting is slated to being in August.

IP MAN recently took home the Best Film prize at the Hong Kong Film Awards.  Commenting on the victory, Yip said: “Before the Best Film award was presented, our film only had Big Brother Sammo Hung win for Best Action Design.  No one else from the IP MAN team won an award.  It was impossible for me to imagine that an outstanding film like IP MAN would win just one award.  Although I really liked THE WAY WE ARE, if we didn’t win Best Film that night, I would have stormed out of the room right away.”

TANG WEI:

The latest issue of Sudden Weekly (Issue #719) includes an article on rising star Tang Wei.  According to the article, Tang met with Harvey Weinstein, boss of The Weinstein Group, and Vice President of Asian Acquisitions & Co-Productions Bey Logan on April 12th at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Central.  While there are rumours that Tang, who reportedly speaks fluent English, is already considering five or six Hollywood projects, Bey Logan told the magazine: “That day, it was just a simple, preliminary meeting where we got to know one another.  We just wanted to learn a little bit more about her.  She is a very special talent who can work in Cantonese, Mandarin or English.  If we have a suitable role, we would definitely consider her for it.”

RELATED LINKS:

BRIGITTE LIN:

In recent weeks, there has been a lot of smoke but no fire yet surrounding a comeback by Brigitte Lin (Lam Ching-Ha).  Rumours have connected the retired actress to Tsui Hark’s DETECTIVE DEE and future projects with Jackie Chan and Sylvia Chang.  Two weeks ago, Ip Chun, the son of Ip Man, linked Lin to Wong Kar-Wai’s THE GRAND MASTER — Wong’s long-planned bio-pic of the legendary Wing Chun master.

Appearing on a Hunan Satellite TV talk show on April 28th, Ip claimed that Lin has agreed to play the headmistress of a kung fu school in Wong’s film.  Asked by reporters to confirm Ip’s claim, a spokesperson for Wong Kar-Wai’s Jet Tone Studios refused to comment.

In the interview, Ip went on to say that he has been helping Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, who has been cast by Wong to play Ip Man, prepare by teaching him Wing Chun.  Ip: “When he first started learning it, he didn’t feel much affinity for Wing Chun but now that he’s been working on it, I think he’s become more and more interested.  When he’s at home, he’ll ask Carina Lau (Leung’s wife) to practice ’sticky hands’ with him.  He’ll also ask me to test his skills once in a while.”

On the set of DETECTIVE DEE, Tsui Hark was asked to comment about the rumour.  Reporters wondered if Tsui felt snubbed by Lin.  Tsui: “I’ve been busy working on my new film so I haven’t heard anything about that.  Ching-Ha is my friend of many years, as long as she thinks it is the right decision, I’ll support her.”

LOUIS KOO:

With an amazing pedigree that includes Derek Yee Tung-Sing and Henry Fong Ping as its producers and Alan Mak Siu-Fai and Felix Chong Man-Keung as its co-directors, OVERHEARD (竊聽風雲) is one of the most anticipated films of the summer.  Starring Lau Ching-Wan, Louis Koo Tin-Lok and Daniel Wu, the movie tells the story of a HK Police surveillance squad investigating a case in the world of corporate finance.

As he plays Lau Ching-Wan’s mentor in the film, Louis Koo had to gain 30 pounds to make himself look older than Lau.  Asked if he was pulling a “DeNiro” and making a bid for a Hong Kong Film Award next year, Koo replied: “Robert DeNiro gained 60 pounds for RAGING BULL so comparing me to him is like comparing a little fish to a big fish.  Gaining a little weight is nothing.  I’m just doing my part for the role.”

Principal photography of the film has been completed.  It is currently in post-production.

RELATED LINKS: 1, 2

Along with Big S Barbie Hsu, Louis Koo was on location in Beijing a couple of weeks ago shooting palace scenes for the new Wong Jing comedy FORBIDDEN CITY COP: SMART DOG.   In the film, Koo plays a royal cop who falls in love with a lady hero played by Big S.  Koo’s character doesn’t know kung fu so he has to rely on his brains to get out of sticky situations.  Speaking to the media during a break in shooting, director Wong praised the talents of his lead actress by remarking: “Big S is a very versatile actress.  She can do everything.  The way she played a mother (in CONNECTED) shows the depth of her skills.  This is a time of great opportunity for her.  With Shu Qi being selective about what she’s doing, she’s throwing away one or two good scripts each year that Big S can pick up and do.”

Yesterday, work continued on the film at the Hengdian Studios in Zhejiang.  Wrapped in an elaborate costume for more than 12 hours a day, one would think that the biggest complaint supporting actress Sandra Ng Kwan-Yu has is the 30°C+ temperature on the lot.  It was not.  Ng: “It’s been seven days since I’ve seen my daughter.   Luckily, we’re going to be finished here in a couple of days.”

Louis Fan Siu-Wong, Tong Dawei (Vicki Zhao’s playmate in RED CLIFF 2), Lee Kin-Yan (the cross-dressing nosepicker from various Stephen Chow movies) and Liu Yiwei (a Mainland television personality) also star in the film.  Newlywed Law Kar-Ying plays a character based on Marco Polo.

FORBIDDEN CITY COP: SMART DOG is scheduled to hit Hong Kong theatres on August 4th.  If the movie is successful, Wong hopes to make sequels with Louis Koo as the star.

RELATED LINKS:

28th Hong Kong Film Awards Preview: Best Actor and Best Actress

The signs are all here.  The sweet showers of April have pierced the drought of March.  The Ram has run half its course through the Zodiac and Zephirus, with his sweet breath, has breathed life into the tender crops.  It’s mid-April and time to preview the Hong Kong Film Awards.

These aren’t my predictions for the awards, rather they reflect what my votes would have been if, by some fortuitous machination of the Universe, I ended up getting a ballot.

Let’s start with the Best Actor and Best Actress categories …

* * * * *

The nominees for Best Actor are:

MY VOTE GOES TO:  Nick Cheung Ka-Fai (THE BEAST STALKER)

Nick Cheung in THE BEAST STALKER

Of the five nominated performances, the one by Nick Cheung shows the most range and the most depth.   Moreover, of the five, his job is the most difficult.  On one hand, he has to create enough tension as a villain to move the story forward. On the other — for the “one stone, many ripples” theme of the movie to work — he has to generate enough sympathy from the audience so that they care about the story behind his relentless Terminator-like menace.   Cheung pulls off both tasks with great aplomb.   If he does not win the award on Sunday night, it will be a major injustice.

Why?  My cousin Tony, Simon Yam and Louis Koo all turn in fine performances but their roles were not challenging as they’ve all given similar performances before.  In HERO, Tony Leung portrayed a man of strategy and action in a historical epic.  Over his long career, Simon Yam has played so many suave and sophisticated criminals, he could probably do it in his sleep.  As for Louis Koo, Kozo summed it up best in his review of RUN PAPA RUN:

… Koo has yet to become a truly accomplished actor, but he has cornered the market on certain character types.  Among them are the weak macho hero, the hen-pecked playboy, and other variations on the comically emasculated drop-dead gorgeous male.  What makes Koo so special at the above roles is he can play them while retaining audience identification and sympathy, making him a likable lout that’s less than a caricature and more than a simpering loser.  Basically, if you need an actor to play a character like Lee Tin-Yun, Louis Koo is your go-to guy, as he can wring comedy and even some affecting emotions from potentially weak, easily-assailed men.

Last but not least, Donnie Yen is a different kettle of fish.  He successfully reins in his natural “preening schmoe” tendencies but his portrayal of Ip Man is more like Jean Claude Van Damme playing Frank Dux in BLOODSPORT than it is Philip Seymour Hoffman winning an Oscar for his portrayal of Truman Capote in CAPOTE.  I can’t say this with 100% certainty but I’m 99% sure that Yen’s portrayal of Ip Man bears very little resemblance to the real-life Ip Man.  As I said when I shared my thoughts on the film, Yen wasn’t playing Ip Man, he was playing a Chinese superhero fighting against the evil Japanese.

* * * * *

The nominees for Best Actress are:

MY VOTE GOES TO: Barbie Hsu (CONNECTED)

Barbie Hsu in CONNECTED

This category presents a real head-versus-heart dilemma for me.  My head says that Bau Hei-Jing, daughter of all-time great Bau FongBau Fonggave the best performance but, in my heart of hearts, I think I would toss my vote to Barbie Hsu.  Objectively, CONNECTED is merely a well-made popcorn movie and Barbie Hsu’s performance isn’t overwhelmingly superior to that of Bau or the other nominees.  However, it stuck with me.  About a month after I watched CONNECTED, I sat down to watch THE BEAST STALKER.  Whenever Zhang Jingchu popped up on the screen as the “mother with a child in peril”, I couldn’t help thinking: “Zhang Jingchu is really doing a nice job here but she isn’t even coming close to matching Barbie Hsu in CONNECTED.”  It’s a purely idiosyncratic reason to vote for Hsu but hers is the performance I liked the most in this category.

Another reason my heart beats out my head is that something about Bau Hei-Jing’s performance in THE WAY WE ARE bothers me.  After the film, Bau’s Mrs. Cheung remains opaque.  The audience doesn’t learn much about her beyond the fact that she’s a hard-working, magnaminous, straight-arrow.  We don’t know why she avoids visiting her mother in the hospital and, apart from one brief snippet, she doesn’t show any emotion.  Granted, many people don’t show much emotion in real life but you’d think there would be a shade here or a shade there to give the audience some insight into what makes Mrs. Cheung tick.  The screenplay may be more at fault here than Bau Hei-Jing but the nagging inscrutability of the Mrs. Cheung character helps tip my vote over to Big S Barbie Hsu.

Bau Hei-Jing in THE WAY WE ARE

As for the rest of the field, Prudence Lau delivers a striking performance as a drug-addicted prostitute in TRUE WOMAN FOR SALE.  However, at various points throughout the film, she lays it on a bit too thick so that puts her performance in the “good, really good, but not great” category.  Zhou Xun shows some allure while playing a heart-eating demon in PAINTED SKIN but it’s a role that doesn’t have award-winning gravitas.  I suppose you could say that the same thing applies to Barbie Hsu and, you know what, I wouldn’t argue with you but what can I say besides Hsu’s performance really connected with me.  In any case, the prevailing winds seem to be blowing towards Bau Hei-Jing for the win.

Now, you’ll notice that I haven’t mentioned Karena Lam or her work in CLAUSTROPHOBIA.  Well, that’s because it doesn’t come out on DVD until April 30th so I won’t be able to see it until well after Sunday’s ceremony.  To get some insight on how Lam fits into this puzzle, let’s call our old pal Kozo on the Neway Karaoke LoveHKFilm.com hotline:

Phone ringing … and ringing … and ringing … and ringing …

KOZO: Hello.

SANNEY:  Hi.  Sorry to bother you on a busy work day but I’m putting together my annual HKFA preview posts and I’ve run into a bit of trouble because I won’t be able to see CLAUSTROPHOBIA until after the awards ceremony.  I was wondering if you’d give everyone a little insight into how Karena Lam stacks up against the rest of the field in the Best Actress category.  But first, I was wondering if you’d like to talk about those pictures of you that got floated out on the Internet …

KOZO:  That’s in the past, I want to talk about the future.  I’m marrying my secret girlfriend of 20 years later this month …

Speaking of my secret girlfriend, I really enjoyed Karena Lam’s performance in CLAUSTROPHOBIA.  The film can be frustrating thanks to Ivy Ho’s opaque storytelling, which requires the viewer to “read between the lines” far more than most films starring popstars do.  Lam’s performance is subtle yet compelling, and Lam pulls it off without big speeches or regular outbursts of emotion.  CLAUSTROPHOBIA asks its actors to create characters far beyond what’s on the scripted page, and Lam does that for both her character AND Ekin Cheng’s.  If acting assists were an actual statistic, then Lam would get one here.

As for her chances come Sunday, Karena Lam’s are small.  I doubt she’ll pull out a win for CLAUSTROPHOBIA as it’s a movie that people respect rather than really like. I think the award is Bau Hei-Jing’s to lose, with Prudence Lau being the only one who can upset her. In a related prediction, either Nora Miao or Chan Lai-Wun will win for Best Supporting Actress. Call it the “Susan Shaw factor”.

Image credits: Emperor Motion Pictures (Nick Cheung, Barbie Hsu), TVB (Bau Fong), Class Limited (Bau Hei-Jing)

Thoughts on THE POSTMODERN LIFE OF MY AUNT and SPL

Apologies, again, for the long delay between posts. I’m still struggling with finding my writing mojo. For the past week, I have been working on a post about CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER but it isn’t ready yet for publication. I’m unhappy with the tone of a section in it about Zhang Yimou because it reads like I have a grudge against him. It feels like I could have easily started off the section with: “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”

I certainly don’t have a grudge against Zhang and I definitely don’t want to come off like I do so the post is parked in my Blogger draft folder awaiting further work. I hope to have it ready to go before the Chrysanthemum Festival.

In the meantime, here are some thoughts on a couple of movies I watched this past holiday long weekend here in Canada: THE POSTMODERN LIFE OF MY AUNT and SPL.

THE POSTMODERN LIFE OF MY AUNT
姨媽的後現代生活

Official Website: http://www.postmodernlifeofmyaunt.com/
Director: Ann Hui On-Wah
Cast: Siqin Gaowa (Ye Rutang), Chow Yun-Fat (Pan Zhichang), Lisa Lu (Mrs. Shui), Vicki Zhao Wei (Liu Daifan)

PRE-CONCEIVED NOTIONS: None. Apart from some early reports in 2005 that Chow Yun-Fat was “coming back” to star in an Ann Hui On-Wah movie, I missed all the media coverage about this film. I picked up this title mostly to see Fat-Gor in something other than a Hollywood film or a “Chinese epic made for the international market” and because, at eight dollars, the Mainland DVD was conveniently priced for the Leung treasury.

I only developed a pre-conceived notion when I got the DVD. Looking at its cover (right) and reading the little blurb on the back, I came away with the impression that I was in store for a light comedy-drama. The movie description suggests a “late-in-life romance” between a quirky, divorced senior and a “mysterious stranger” who meet in a park. The romance is then jeopardized because the “stranger” may or may not be a con-man. Coupled with the cover image featuring a comically-harried Siqin Gaowa, a charming-looking Chow Yun-Fat, Vicki Zhao Wei [still known mostly for playing the bubbly Little Swallow in (MY FAIR PRINCESS a.k.a. PRINCESS RETURNING PEARL, 還珠格格)] and a collection of background characters who look like they are the Shanghai equivalents of the townies from GILMORE GIRLS, most people would be inclined to expect something like AS GOOD AS IT GETS but from Chinese and female perspectives.

AFTER THE MOVIE: Numbed by the unyielding melancholy of the final third of the film, the only thing I was thinking when I pressed the stop button on my remote was that the phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover” can easily be extended to DVDs. Instead of a quirky, heart-warming comedy-drama, viewers are treated to the sad tale of a vibrant, independent woman transformed by circumstance into a lifeless, defeated automaton.


The “bait-and-switch” type trick that the DVD cover perpetrates will undoubtedly gall unsuspecting viewers who were conned into watching the movie. However, I suspect that those who come into the film with eyes wide open will also be disappointed.

There are many movies out there where, going in, you know that things are not going to end well. LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA, the German film DOWNFALL (about the last days of Adolph Hitler) and the HBO movie WIT (starring Emma Thompson as a professor who learns that she has terminal cancer) come to mind. There’s a poignancy to those films where, even though the subject matter is depressing, you walk away feeling re-assured about the human condition. This is not the case with THE POSTMODERN LIFE OF MY AUNT. From about the halfway point on, the movie is unrelenting in its sadness as its protagonist, Ye Rutang, has her emotional, financial and physical well-being stripped away. In films of this ilk, there is usually some point, some nuance to the downward sprial that gives the film some insight but in THE POSTMODERN LIFE OF MY AUNT, the point appears to be missing.

There are elements that suggest that there is a method in the sadness. The two “harvest moon” scenes and the relationship between Ye Rutang and her young nephew Kuan Kuan (the only time Ye Rutang perks up in the last half of the movie is in her scenes with Kuan Kuan) hint at something. However, the hints are too faint and make no impact. Ultimately, the only message the viewer gets is “life sucks sometimes” — a message that most people likely already understand without having to pay for and sit through an 111 minute movie.


Other things that don’t really work in the film:

  • The plot point that Ye Rutang abandoned her young family to start her life in Shanghai is touched upon but never explored. You would think that a revelation of that magnitude would lead somewhere but it doesn’t.
  • Similarly, Vicki Zhao Wei’s character has a scene or two that seems to be conveying something but, again, the resonance is too faint and there is no pay off. In fact, the scene where she is taking a smoke break during work feels like a tacked on “let’s get Vicki Zhao a Golden Horse nomination” moment. Actually, that whole “Vicki Zhao at work” sequence seems to me to be entirely superfluous to the movie.
  • Chow Yun-Fat’s character, Pan Zhichang, is somewhat inconsistent. Alternately charming and buffoonish, the character screams “fictional creation” rather than “credibly-rendered human being”. There are moments where Chow’s broad acting would elicit chuckles or contemptuous eye-rolling were it not for the fact that it was the legendary Chow Yun-Fat hamming it up on the screen.

Leaving aside room for the possibility that those immersed in Mainland culture may pick up on meaningful nuances that those of us outside of the Mainland cannot, I am hesitant to condemn THE POSTMODERN LIFE OF MY AUNT with “not recommended” status. However, I can safely say that it is probably for devoted arthouse fans and Chow Yun-Fat, Vicki Zhao Wei or Ann Hui On-Wah completists only. Casual fans aren’t missing anything by passing up on this movie.

MISCELLANEA:

  • Another sign of the inexorable nature of time: Chow Yun-Fat is now old enough to play an “old man”. The first time I saw him, he was playing an idealistic Beijing University student forced into the Shanghai criminal underworld. Now, he’s playing an 阿伯 (”Ah Bak”, “old man”). Hard to believe that the thirtieth anniversary of SHANGHAI BEACH (上海灘) is only two years and change away.
  • There’s a “FACE Audio and Video” logo that pops up intermittently on the top left-hand corner of the screen throughout the movie. What’s up with that? Did I somehow end up with a well-made pirated DVD or does this sort of thing happen often with Mainland DVDs? This is the first Mainland DVD that I’ve watched. I usually get the Hong Kong versions.

SPL (SHA PO LANG)
殺破狼

North American title: KILL ZONE
Official Website: http://www.shapolangthemovie.com/
Director: Wilson Yip Wai-Shun
Cast: Simon Yam Tat-Wah (Inspector Chan Kwok-Chung), Sammo Hung Kam-Bo (Wong Po), Donnie Yen Chi-Tan (Inspector Ma Kwan), Wu Jing (Jack), Liu Kai-Chi (Wah), Danny Summer (Sum), Ken Chang (Lok)

PRE-CONCEIVED NOTIONS: SPL was released before I was diagnosed so I was around for all the media hype surrounding the film. The publicity machine made it sound like it was a return to the mid-1980s/early-1990s Hong Kong action movie heyday (no CGI, no cameo appearances by EEG pop idols, no mercy sir!). Todd over at Twitch called the film: “… one of the finest films to emerge from Hong Kong ever. Period.”

On the other hand, I remember the film getting killed by some posters at its Mov3.com discussion board. I also remember that SPL didn’t break the benchmark HK$10 million mark at the HK box office so the ol’ Sanney-sense started tingling and I suspected that the film would likely fall somewhere in between the high praise and the pessimistic murmurs from the crowd over at Mov3.

Despite the tempered expectations, I held high hopes for the film due to the fact that I’ve been a longtime fan of both Simon Yam Tat-Wah (even during his GIGOLO AND WHORE, DON’T STOP MY CRAZY LOVE FOR YOU period) and Sammo Hung Kam-Bo. Also, I’ve had a soft spot for Wilson Yip ever since he had that great streak of BIO-ZOMBIE, BULLETS OVER SUMMER and JULIET IN LOVE from 1998 to 2000. Sadly, Leon Lai Ming and an orangutan stopped the run cold with SKYLINE CRUISERS (official site). If you haven’t seen them yet, BIO-ZOMBIE, BULLETS OVER SUMMER and JULIET IN LOVE are three of the better “diamond in the rough” type films from the post-Handover era. Of the three, I liked BULLETS OVER THE SUMMER most but BIO-ZOMBIE is a whole lot of goofy fun.


AFTER THE MOVIE: Sad to say but I think I fall more on the side of the fickle folks over at Mov3 than I do with Todd from Twitch. I would rate SPL somewhere in between mediocre and good rather than good or great — a C+, maybe a B- but definitely not an A and certainly not “… one of the finest films to emerge from Hong Kong ever. Period.”

SPL is an amalgam of three Hong Kong movie sub-genres: the one fateful day/night genre (think ONE NITE IN MONGKOK or THE LONGEST NITE), the heroic bloodshed/honour among men genre (think John Woo movies from the mid-1980s/early-1990s) and the well-tread cops-and-robbers genre. Movies from those genres like ONE NITE IN MONGKOK, A BETTER TOMORROW, HARD-BOILED, EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED and THE LONGEST NITE are the “Rolexes” of Hong Kong cinema. SPL is a “Lolex”, a finely-crafted imitation but one that doesn’t stand up to closer inspection.

The critical difference between the “Rolexes” and SPL is pacing. The credibility of the story-telling in SPL is reminiscent of the credibility issues and plot holes found in HARD-BOILED and THE LONGEST NITE. However, those films had the energy and pacing to keep you engrossed and exhilarated until the end. It was only after the movie that you begin to think: “hmmm, wasn’t it a little ridiculous that Tony Leung Chiu-Wai’s character survived that shotgun blast to the chest?”. SPL, by contrast, has energy-sapping sections that plod along giving you the opportunity to wonder about things like:

  • The unit headed by Simon Yam’s Inspector Chan have footage of Wong Po (Sammo Hung) beating the undercover cop before someone else shoots him. Isn’t that sufficient evidence to show that, even though Wong Po didn’t pull the trigger, he was complicit in the crime? I’m not exactly sure about the details of the criminal justice system in Hong Kong but it seems to me that Wong Po would have been eligible for some jail time on the basis of the tape even before Chan and his boys decided to doctor it. Who cares what charge you get him on just as long as you do get him — right? Isn’t this a clear-cut “Eliot Ness nails Al Capone for tax evasion” situation?

  • At least twice in the movie, Wong Po is shown to have a legion of henchmen just hanging around on the street in front of his high-rise crime headquarters. Yet, when Inspector Ma (Donnie Yen) arrives after phoning and telling Wong Po that he is coming only ONE guy, Jet (Wu Jing), is there to stop him. Was there no time for a sequence where Donnie Yen effortlessly dispatches anonymous low-level associates before moving on to the sub-boss and then, ultimately, the boss? Wasn’t that how the narrative arc went in the classic Bruce Lee action movies? Didn’t anyone involved with SPL remember the scene in THE BIG BOSS where Bruce Lee says: “Just keep away. Go on. It’s not your fight. Beat it or I’ll kill ya’ …”? How hard would it have been to shoot a brief sequence like that? Seems to me that a film that purports to be “an action classic” should have a detail like that covered.

  • Don’t get me started on the whole “Inspector Chan has brain cancer” sub-plot. We’d be here for days.

The pacing flaw in SPL reminds me of a great boxer whose skills have been diminished by age. No longer able to dominate and dictate the action for the entire fight, he lays back and relies on occasional flurries of punches to try to “steal” rounds by impressing the judges with furious, flashy spurts of action. Similarly, SPL is punctuated by some great action sequences but, for the most part, plods along flat-footed. Like the great boxer who has devolved into just a good boxer, SPL is not “great” just merely OK. It is a decent time at the movies and certainly worth a watch but it does not deserve to be placed in the pantheon of great Hong Kong action films.

MISCELLANEA:

  • (Spoiler warning, skip this point if you haven’t seen the film.) Was anyone surprised that Wong Po (Sammo Hung) wasn’t dead after Inspector Ma (Donnie Yen) suplexed him onto the table? As soon as the camera moved in for a tight shot of Donnie Yen and stayed there, I’m sure 90% of viewers realized that Wong Po was going to sit up like The Undertaker and start fighting again.

  • To get a sense of where I fell on the SPL opinion spectrum, I read a bunch of reviews and, to my surprise, discovered that Donnie Yen has a bit of a reputation for being a “preening schmoe”. More than one of my fellows web writers mocked Yen’s “pretty boy” acting abilities. Where does this reputation come from? I’ve seen Yen in a bunch of films from ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA II and DRAGON INN through to HERO and SEVEN SWORDS and, while he’s never going to give you Tony Leung Chiu-Wai level acting, he’s not the worst offender when it comes to on screen preening. Heck, back when I had a thing for Kitty Lai Mei-Han and Margie Tsang Wah-Sin (two of Tony Leung Chiu-Wai’s ex-girlfriends) I even watched Yen’s TVB series A NEW LIFE (命運迷宮). He ain’t that bad. At least he’s a “legitimate bad ass” when it comes to fight scenes and action sequences — unlike some other “pretty boys” I could mention.
  • I don’t buy the argument that a CAT-III rating prevented SPL from breaking the HK$10 million mark at the Hong Kong box office (it ended up with a HK$7.5 million take). A CAT-III rating certainly wasn’t an impediment for ELECTION (HK$15.5 million). In spite of the problems with piracy, illegal downloads, the regrettable prejudice amongst HKers against Hong Kong films and plain ol’ general indifference, good movies tend to find a paying audience. SPL just wasn’t that good.
  • Should I give Wilson Yip’s DRAGON TIGER GATE a go? The promotional pictures over at Mov3 scream “stupid and over-produced” but it’s another Wilson Yip/Donnie Yen collaboration. It also has the always entertaining Yuen Wah in it. I’m on the fence. Anyone care to tip me over to one side or the other?

Image credits: Beijing Poly-bona Film Publishing Co. Ltd. (THE POSTMODERN LIFE OF MY AUNT), Golden Harvest (SKYLINE CRUISERS, THE BIG BOSS), Abba Movies Co. Ltd. (SPL)

 
 
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