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Archive for the ‘Edmond Pang Ho-Cheung’ Category

Out With The Old, Part II

It’s time.

It’s definitely time.

It’s time for me to come in from nude sunbathing out on the beach and get to work on my first post for 2009 — a post about my “mosts” of 2008.

Before I begin, a caveat:  If my picks for the “mosts” of 2008 seem a bit vanilla, a bit uninspired and a bit dated, it’s because torrents and illegal downloads have killed my local Chinese video store so I now have to order in HK films.  As a result, I’ve been limited to the major releases (like RED CLIFF) or films that I have an interest in seeing (like Tissot Presents CONNECTED: A Motorola Film Presentation).  I’ve had to pass on films with negative reviews (like AN EMPRESS AND THE WARRIORS) and the marginal titles (like those Wong Jing productions: MY WIFE IS A GAMBLING MAESTRO and THE FORBIDDEN LEGEND: SEX & CHOPSTICKS).  Ah, who’s kidding who?  I’m going to be seeing SEX & CHOPSTICKS at some point in my life …

In the past, I would have seen everything but having to pay fifteen to twenty bucks to see a film is a much different steaming tray of cha siu bao than having to pay four bucks to see a film.  I need to save some money for hookers and blow … OK, OK, the truth … Doritos and porn.  ;-)

Brendan Gleeson (left) and Colin Farrell in IN BRUGESI saw 24 Hong Kong films in 2008 (yeah, I keep movie-viewing stats … a side effect of being a sports geek) but a number of those were catch-up titles from 2007. Consequently, some older titles will be in my “mosts” selections.  I’m also not going to be able to offer any “diamond in the rough” suggestions like CLEAN MY NAME, MR. CORONER.  The closest I can come to making a recommendation of that ilk is the Martin McDonagh film IN BRUGES.  It tells the tale of two hitmen who are forced to cool their heels in the Belgian city of Bruges and has some definite Hong Kong movie DNA in it.  In fact, it reminded me a lot of EXILED.  So, if you like Johnnie To films and the “honour among thieves” genre, I think you’ll enjoy giving IN BRUGES a look.

On to my “mosts” of 2008:

Most Enjoyable Film Experience: RED CLIFF

Since the phenomenal success of CROUCHING TIGER HIDDEN DRAGON, movie fans have been left looking in dismay over an immense wasteland filled with the carcasses of ambitious but fatally flawed “costume epics made for the international market”.  Look over there!  It’s the empty shell that used to be known as THE BANQUET.  And here, we have the corpse of THE PROMISE.  What’s that smell?  It’s the rotting flesh of SEVEN SWORDS.

Finally, after eight long years, a big-budget, star-studded production has come along and delivered on its promise.  Unlike some of its predecessors, it doesn’t leave viewers feeling disappointed (I’m looking at you THE BANQUET), puzzled (SEVEN SWORDS) or laughing derisively at the unintentional comedy (THE PROMISE). While RED CLIFF VOL. 1 (volume 2 comes out later this month) isn’t a pantheon-worthy masterpiece, it is solid entertainment and thoroughly enjoyable.  It’s well-made with the familiar Woo style, doesn’t indulge in over-production, tells a coherent story that satisfies and, while the comedy can be a bit corny, viewers are likely to laugh with it instead of laugh at it.Some of you may be thinking that RED CLIFF was OK but it wasn’t the most enjoyable film experience of 2008.  Well, it was the most fun I had watching a movie from the three Chinas (Mainland, HK, Taiwan).  For the record, the most fun I had at the movies in 2008 was IRON MAN.

Two factors enhanced my enjoyment of the film:

One, I’m a ROMANCE OF THE THREE KINGDOMS geek.  I own the book.  I own the original KOEI PC game when everything fit on one 5 1/4″ inch diskette and used less memory than a Lin Chi-Ling JPEG.  Even though they are all essentially the same game, I own the PS2 versions of DYNASTY WARRIORS 3, DYNASTY WARRIORS 4 and DYNASTY WARRIORS 5.  By the way, my high score at the Battle of Chi Bi is 1383 KOs with Zhao Yun.  Yes, I am a true hero of the Three Kingdoms. :-)

Hulk HoganTwo, I’m a John Woo fan.  A BETTER TOMORROW and HARD-BOILED are enshrined in the Republic of Sanneyistan movie pantheon.  Coupled with the fact that John Woo had not directed a Chinese film since 1992, I was all geeked up for RED CLIFF and the familiar John Woo flourishes: the bromance, the notion of honour between men, the slow motion shots and, of course, the pigeons.  It’s sort of like how WWE fans go insane whenever Hulk Hogan appears.  It doesn’t matter that he’s well into his 50s and that he has the agility of a hippopotamus.  People still go nuts whenever “Real American” starts blasting on the loudspeaker and he does the familiar posedown, the waving at the fans to cheer and the leg drop. Whatcha gonna do when John Woo unleashes a bromantic action drama on you?  Sit back and enjoy it, that’s what.

One more thought about RED CLIFF:  Before I saw her performance in the film, the prevailing image I had in my mind of Taiwanese Lin Chi-Ling dancing with Terry Guosupermodel Lin Chi-Ling was of her dancing with business magnate Terry Guo.  Apparently, back in February 2007, she was paid to make an appearance at a business dinner thrown by Guo and somehow ended up dancing with him.  It caused a minor brouhaha when director Tsai Ming-Liang spoke out against her by saying that making such appearances was “cheap” and “disgusting”.  The incident sticks out in my mind not because I worship at the Temple of Righteous Propriety with director Tsai but because I saw the pictures and thought to myself: “whoa, Lin Chi-Ling is kinda hot.”

I know, I know, you’re probably thinking:  “Lin Chi-Ling is hot.  What a revelation.  What’s Sanney going to discover next?  The sky is blue and snow is cold.  Is he going to kiss a girl and like it?”  In response, let me just say that I see gorgeous beauty every day when I look in the mirror so it takes a lot for me to recognize beauty in others.  :-)

Basically, I wasn’t expecting much from Lin Chi-Ling beyond the usual “flower vase” routine.  To my surprise, Lin turned in a decent performance and held her own opposite my cousin Tony, Takeshi Kaneshiro and that scene-stealing but peculiarly-clean newborn foal.  I wouldn’t put it in the same league as some outstanding debut model-actress performances — like Qi Qi (aka Mrs. Simon Yam Tat-Wah) in the criminally underappreciated THE KID and Yoyo Mung Ka-Wai in EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED –  but it isn’t bad for a rookie.

Most Disappointing Moment: Sexy Photos Gate

No, no, no.  I’m not going to be like the Hong Kong Performing Artistes Guild and descend from Sanctimony Peak to deliver a lecture on how Sexy Photos Gate was a tragedy for society and a tragedy for members of the entertainment industry.  Yes, having very personal photos exposed for all the world to see is beyond the pale and very traumatic and very mortifying for those involved.  However, if you create an interest in yourself so that you can profit from that interest, you can’t really complain when that interest turns on you in ways you can’t control.  If you live by the sword, you can’t complain if you end up dying by the sword.

Nope, my “disappointment” with Sexy Photos Gate is actually more of a lament.  For the past few years, news about the health of the Hong Kong movie industry has been grim (read Tim Youngs’ article in Time Magazine about the issue for a good overview).  However, I’ve always believed that the industry would survive because I’ve seen what the ingenuity and grit of Hong Kong people can do.  I was confident that the industry would find some way to keep going.  It’s like what the Jeff Goldblum character said in JURASSIC PARK: “Because the history of evolution is that life escapes all barriers.  Life breaks free.  Life expands to new territories.  Painfully, perhaps even dangerously.  But life finds a way.”  I was sure the industry would find a way.

Athena Chu Yan and Monica Chan Fat-Yung in THE LOVE AND SEX OF THE EASTERN HOLLYWOODNow, I’m not so sure.  Why?  Because no quickie “ripped from the headlines” movie about Sexy Photos Gate has popped up.  During the Asian Economic Crisis of the late-1990s, the industry still managed to produce THE LOVE AND SEX OF THE EASTERN HOLLYWOOD — a movie based on rumours that swirled around Maggie Cheung Man-Yuk, Sandra Ng Kwun-Yu and Veronica Yip Yuk-Hing among others.  After the tech bubble burst, not one but two movies about an infamous murder case turned up: THERE IS A SECRET IN MY SOUP and HUMAN PORK CHOP.  Mere weeks after the Melody Chu Mei-Fang sex scandal broke, the HK movie industry offered THE PEEPING.  Yet, almost a year after the first photos surfaced, no “ripped from the headlines” exploitation flick based on Sexy Photos Gate has been released.

Perhaps there is some reluctance to produce a movie because of the rumoured triad connections involved but you would think that the money a Sexy Photos Gate film could generate would be too enticing to pass up.  Maybe the physical and fiscal risk outweighed any potential reward.  Maybe the industry is too weak for a movie on the biggest scandal of this decade to generate any significant profit.  Whatever the case may be, it is another sign that the health of the Hong Kong movie industry isn’t as robust as it used to be.

Most Shameful Moment: Watching CJ7

If I lived on Sanctimony Peak with the Hong Kong Performing Artistes Guild, I’d go on a self-serving pious rant about how my most shameful moment as a HK entertainment fan came when I was looking at those Sexy Photos Gate pictures.  Alas, I’m a ham sup lo so I had no compunction about looking at the photos.  I’m not condoning the actions of those who were rabidly waiting for the latest pictures or those who were obsessed with collecting every last image.  I’m just saying that the natural reaction of any normal fan would be to look at the pictures so — despite the whines and moans about the destruction of society — no one should feel shame for looking at the photos.

Kitty Zhang in CJ7

No, my most shameful moment came while I was watching Stephen Chow’s CJ7.  Here I was watching a warm-hearted family movie about the relationship between father and son yet I was constantly distracted by salacious thoughts about Kitty Zhang.  I kept thinking how different my life would have been if I stayed in Hong Kong and was schooled by hot women wearing tight-fitting cheongsam instead of the likes of the stern Father Ernie and dour Sister Olga here in Canada.  One thing’s for sure, if I never underwent the tutelage of Father Ernie and Sister Olga, I’d be feeling no shame over, uh, admiring Kitty Zhang. ;-)

On a side note, anyone out there see Kitty Zhang in SHAOLIN GIRL?  Kozo killed the film in his review so I’ve stayed away but is it enjoyable on a “turn off your brain and look at the pretty pictures” level or is it, as Kozo contends, so bad that I’d get more enjoyment lighting the $16 the DVD costs on fire and watching the money burn?

Most Egregious Use Of CGI: KIDNAP

SPOILER WARNING!  SKIP THIS SECTION IF YOU DO NOT WANT TO BE SPOILED ABOUT THE ENDING OF KIDNAP.

Bugs BunnyIf you’ve seen KIDNAP then you probably know precisely what I’m going to write about: the scene where Karena Lam Ka-Yan’s character gets nailed by a car.  The effect was so cartoonish and so out-of-place for the taut thriller that director Law Chi-Leung had going, I half-expected Bugs Bunny to poke his head through the pavement and say: “… I knew I shoulda taken that left turn at Albuquerque … {sees the body of Karena Lam’s character} … oooh, that’s gotta hoit.”

Instead of using that ridiculous CGI, it might have been more effective (and cheaper) to do it old school — the way they did it in Shaw Brothers movies and TVB dramas before the advent of computers — stick a bad wig on a stuntman and do the stunt for real.

Most Memorable Scene: The Stephanie Cheng Yung - Edison Chen Kwoon-Hei scene from TRIVIAL MATTERS

Stephanie Cheng Yung and Edison Chen Kwoon-Hei in TRIVIAL MATTERS

I wish I could say that the scene sticks in my mind because of the cute as a button Stephanie Cheng Yung.  Sadly, no.  The scene sticks in my mind because of the warped notion of “good citizenship” espoused by Edison Chen.  The stupid scene stuck in my mind like an ear worm every time I visited a public toilet in 2008.  It didn’t matter where I was: a pay toilet near the famous Piazza San Marco in Venice, a washroom in a pub just off of Leicester Square or the downstairs facilities in the Columbia Icefields Visitors’ Centre, I couldn’t help but think of Edison Chen’s idea of “public service”.   Thank you Edison Chen.  Thank you Pang Ho-Cheung.

I suppose that I must now make the obligatory comment about how it’s ironic (or at least prescient) that the scene involved a certain part of the male anatomy that Chen would, months later, go down in history and become synonymous with due to Sexy Photos Gate.

Most Memorable Moment Of Bad Acting: Gigi Leung Wing-Kei in WONDER WOMEN

I don’t mean to single out Gigi Leung as a “bad actress” with this selection.  On an absolute scale, her acting skills are fairly decent and I saw many, many poorer performances in 2008.  However, her work in WONDER WOMEN is the bad performance I remember most out of all the ones I saw last year.  Overall, Leung’s effort in WONDER WOMEN is pretty good, it’s just that in key moments she’ll use an exaggerated expression or an exaggerated gesture that belongs more in a TVB drama than a sweeping epic about Hong Kong since the Handover.

Kevin Cheng Ka-Wing (left) and Gigi Leung Wing-Kei (right) in WONDER WOMEN

The moment that sticks in my mind is early in the film shortly after she discovers that her trusted “uncle” (played by Hui Siu-Hung) is conning her with a real estate scam.  Instead of attempting to portray genuine emotion, she uses one of those melodramatic TVB “hrrmph” expressions that’s so jarring it kills the narrative momentum of the film.  Sure, an argument can be made that the entire production is plauged by such inconsistency but a really good actress should have the ability to rise above bad directing and bad production (Karena Lam, for instance, has delivered the goods in many questionable movies).   It’s this lack of acting chops that kept Leung from progressing beyond the “It Girl” level earlier in her career.

Most Memorable Moment of Good Acting: Eddie Cheung Siu-Fai in KIDNAP

Eddie Cheung Siu-FaiThere wasn’t any particular instance of great acting that prompted me to pick Eddie Cheung for this section.  It’s just that while I was watching him in KIDNAP, it dawned on me that Cheung is an outstanding actor.  I never really noticed it before because he started his career playing thankless roles in TVB series.  From the late-1980s to early this decade, Cheung spent his time at TVB playing villains, dorks or the third wheel in romantic triangles.  Consequently, you never really paid attention to him because the focus was always on the leading man and the leading lady.

Since leaving TVB, Cheung has put together a nice string of supporting roles in some notable movies (from RUNNING ON KARMA to THROWDOWN to MAD DETECTIVE).  In the past couple of years alone, he’s played a supremely competent badass cop in KIDNAP, a sympathetic hardass cop in DOG BITE DOG, a jerkass police superintendent in CONNECTED and an explosively violent personality in MAD DETECTIVE.  Here’s hoping that his talent, his skill and his range are recognized someday with a Hong Kong Film Award.  Hong Kong Movie Gods, I beseech you, please make it so.

Looking Ahead To 2009: Growing a Lamstache

George Lam Chi-CheungNow that I’ve finally put 2008 to rest, here’s what I plan to do in 2009: grow a George Lam Chi-Cheung style moustache.  Why?  In real life, the guy is married to Sally Yeh.  In his last two movies, his characters were married to ones played by Gigi Leung Wing-Kei and Loletta Lee Lai-Chun.  In addition to having such good luck with the ladies, he played a badass gangster in THE PYE-DOG.  Surely, the secret to his success is the ’stache. :-)

OK, OK, maybe I’ll take a pass on the idea of the Lamstache.  What I will do in 2009 is wait for the Hong Kong Film Awards nominations to come out and see all the nominated movies and performances.  I have a feeling that means I’ll be seeing films like RUN PAPA RUN and THE WAY WE ARE.  Of course, I’ll be seeing RED CLIFF 2.  In fact, if I was a crazy rich guy, I would hop a flight to Hong Kong just so I could see the movie instead of waiting for it to come out on DVD.  Alas, I’m not rich, just crazy.

Do any of you have suggestions on movies from 2008 that I should see?  Does the accumulated babeage in LA LINGERIE make it worth a look?  How about NOBODY’S PERFECT?  Is there enough Jo Koo in THE VAMPIRE WHO ADMIRES ME to justify a purchase?  If there’s a film that you saw in 2008 that tickled your fancy, let me know.  It doesn’t matter if it’s good or bad.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I enjoy the fartsy just as much as the artsy.

* * * * *

Be seeing you, Patrick McGoohan.

Image credits: Blueprint Pictures (IN BRUGES still), WWE (Hulk Hogan), Wenhui Xinmin United Press Group (Lin Chi-Ling/Terry Guo), Mei Ah Entertainment (THE LOVE AND SEX OF THE EASTERN HOLLYWOOD still), Star Overseas (Kitty Zhang), Bugs Bunny (Warner Bros.), Not Brothers (TRIVIAL MATTERS still), Mandarin Films (WONDER WOMEN still), George Lam’s Official Website (George Lam)

Thoughts on Isabella: The Movie, The Dog and The Girl

Though they have improved since I last mentioned them back in December, my mind-grapes are still not yet producing any sweet wines. My attempts at a formal review of ISABELLA all turned out to read like they were written by the guys who write CAT-III movies for Sophie Ngan Chin-Man and Grace Lam Nga-Si rather than the refined prose of Cicero. I have to hand it to Kozo, Tim Youngs and Kenneth Brorsson up in Scandinavia for consistently churning out review after review of Hong Kong movies. (I should also mention the crew from Hong Kong Cinema: View from the Brooklyn Bridge: Big Brian and YTSL.) After starting and stopping a few attempts at an ISABELLA review, I developed a deepened respect for those who can express their opinions without giving away what happens in the movie.

Abandoning the formal review, I have decided to go with the new-fangled, 21st Century, “running diary” format. A few words of warning: The running diary contains spoilers (so click here if you want to get to the non-spoiler part) and my “observations” are only slightly more insightful than Paris Hilton saying “that’s hot”. Instead of offering penetrating analysis, I’m hoping to create the sense that you are sitting on the couch watching the movie with me — a pot of Ti Kuan Yin tea on the coffee table in front of us. I would offer you some potato chips, nachos, pretzels, popcorn and wasabi-flavoured rice crackers but, these days, I don’t have enough saliva to lick a stamp so I don’t keep that stuff around any more. There is, however, some strawberry ice cream in the freezer.

On with the show (timings are approximate):

isabella_1.jpg

0:00:36: The “Not Brothers” logo is so big, I thought for a second that I put the wrong movie in the DVD player. Speaking of production company logos, I’ve always thought the one for One Hundred Years of Film is pretty cool — with the spikes and the picture of Guan Yu.

isabella_6.jpg

0:02:45: See, the “Isabella” title card is 1/3 the size of the “Not Brothers” logo.

0:02:57: Who’s that creepy glasses-wearing guy hitting on Isabella Leong Lok-Si? Shawn Yue Man-Lok? Man, those “I usually don’t like these places” and “give up the forest for a tree” pick-up lines are so lame. What’s next? “If your right leg was Christmas and your left leg was Easter, would you let me spend some time up between the holidays?”

“There’s a quiet cafe in Taipa” … but by “cafe” I mean my bedroom and “Taipa” I mean my flat.

0:06:04: Look at all those bottles of Carlsberg beer on the table. I wonder if they are sponsors.

0:07:21: Is that Isabella Leong lying naked next to Chapman To Man-Chat? Ewww … she’s 18, 19 years old so she’s of age, but still, ewww …

0:08:08: Wow, look at that gut on Chapman To. You can tell this isn’t one of those disposable “idol” films, no idol would let themselves look unflattering on screen unless it was for a serious film or they were going for an acting award.

0:09:48: An intertitle advancing the plot by using history. Edmond Pang Ho-Cheung used history and intertitles in AV as well. I wonder if this is going to become a part of the Edmond Pang movie drinking game, joining such Pang staples as the main characters smoking like a chimney and brief shots of the back of Tim Youngs’ head.

0:10:42: Watching Anthony Wong Chau-Sang eat is making me hungry for hotpot. This scene between Wong and To is an interesting way to fill-in plot though.

0:12:59: Isabella Leong’s character isn’t 18 yet. Great, statutory rape. Are we supposed to like Chapman To’s character? If we are, then this isn’t the way to make him sympathetic.

Ordering her to deny ever sleeping with him? What a gentleman.

0:14:07: Hmm … she’s his daughter and her name is Cheung Bik-Yan. Hmm …

0:15:08: That looks like one of the Boy’z — Stephen Cheung Chi-Hang. I wonder how Boy’z are doing. If I recall correctly, Kenny Kwan Chi-Ban left and EEG got a new guy to work with Stephen Cheung. Boy bands, the kind that are pre-fabricated by music studios and not the ones that start up organically in a garage band or something, are so hard to get going. After all, you just have to go see the definition for “boy band” in the Urban Dictionary to get a sense of how most people see them. I wonder if Boy’z are still riding Twins’ coattail. Things to add to the “got to Google” list after the film.

0:16:37: Now Isabella Leong is making me hungry for spaghetti.

0:16:47: Did Cheung Bik-Yan just admit to having sex with someone she knew was her father? Incest. I haven’t been this grossed out since Octavia went down on Octavian.

0:17:36: Now we have a shot of Chapman To smoking next to a slot machine. This is one of the things that bug me about Edmond Pang films — a lot of smoking. I think the characters in AV did this too. I’m with Paul Fonoroff on this one — it’s neither sexy nor cool.

isabella_2.jpg

0:17:47: Hmm… simplified Chinese on the slot machine buttons. I thought traditional Chinese was used in Macau? Oh well, another sign of simplified’s growing encroachment on the territory of traditional. The only time I was in Macau, 1987, I was too young to be allowed into casinos so I can’t say for sure that they haven’t always been simplified. I seem to recall that there were slot machines on the ferry to Macau as well but, again, I was too young to be allowed in the roped-off section. Another thing to Google after the film.

0:18:23: For a guy who just found out he slept with his daughter, Shing (Chapman To) is taking it pretty calmly. If it was me, I’d be all nauseous and looking desperately for the memory-wiping service from ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND.

0:19:18: Ah, so Shing didn’t sleep with Isabella, er, Bik-Yan. It was a hooker. He’s already a crooked cop who fathered a kid when he was a teenager. Incest would have made the character completely unsympathetic and virtually irredeemable.

0:21:54: Isabella Leong’s doing a pretty good job of acting. I don’t think she has a huge screen presence though. Her “screen magnetism” isn’t leading lady level screen magnetism. Your eyes aren’t immediately drawn to her when she’s on screen. Nevertheless, she’s pretty good. A pleasant surprise because with the EEG and pop idol baggage, you sort of expect something different than what you are getting here.

0:22:25: Hey, it’s Jim “you f–kin’ stupid generation” Chim Sui-Man playing the landlord. The “Jim Chim appearance” is another addition for the drinking game.

Still waiting for the Tim Youngs appearance.

0:23:03: Maybe I’ve watched too many years of LAW & ORDER and NYPD BLUE but I can’t believe the Jim Chim character let Shing up into Bik-Yan’s apartment because it was “police business”. Let’s see, Shing has got a bandage on his forehead and blood on his shirt. How many cops do you see walking around like that? You’d think as cantankerous as that landlord was, he’d tell Shing to come back with a search warrant instead of caving in to Shing’s demands.

0:25:25: Isabella Leong is yelling out “Isabella” without a “Chinglish” accent. I’m guessing this means she didn’t grow up in Hong Kong.

0:28:12: The “Missing Dog” poster is written in traditional Chinese so I guess that Macau doesn’t use simplified after all. Then again, this is a movie so who knows? I’m still going to have to hit Google after the show.

0:28:21: Seeing all those “Missing Dog” posters on the wall just gave me a flashback to the scene in CRAZY N’ THE CITY where Eason Chan Yik-Shun and Joey Yung Tso-Yi are taking down posters as Francis Ng Chun-Yu is putting them up. Good times. Do yourself a favour, if you haven’t seen CRAZY N’ THE CITY yet, look for it. Time well spent.

0:29:25: Shing shows that he’s willing to let Bik-Yan stay with him by just handing her a pillow and a blanket.

Communicating without talking. They’re already a normal Chinese family!

isabella_3.jpg

0:31:06: Is that Josie Ho Chiu-Yi? She looks so different here than from what I’ve seen of her before. Then again, I haven’t really seen her in anything but the papers since TVB’s A ROAD AND A WILL (香港人在廣州) and that was, gosh, ten years ago.

0:33:00: Here’s Anthony Wong eating again. Now, I’m hungry for noodles. I’m not sure if moving the story along using intertitles and these Anthony Wong scenes is such a good idea. It’s making the movie a bit nebulous.

Looking at the photo of Isabella, Bik-Yan and Bik-Yan’s mom in the “Missing Dog” poster, Anthony Wong’s character says: “Which one am I looking for?”

Anthony Wong kills me.

0:35:29: Shing: Condoms? I don’t use them.

Bik-Yan: I know, or else I wouldn’t be here. I don’t want a sister.

Burn!

0:36:32: Here’s Shing buying a gun. Are the Gods of Foreshadowing making an appearance? Introducing a gun in the story … this can’t be a good development for Shing.

0:38:11: Carlsberg beer again. They’ve definitely got to be a sponsor.

isabella_4.jpg

0:38:55: Nice symbolism with Bik-Yan and Shing lugging her bags, in unison, down the street. Father-daughter starting to click and get in rhythm.

0:40:00: Derek Tsang Kwok-Cheung as a nerdy-looking student. He also looks off enough to whack Shing. Another appearance by the Gods of Foreshadowing?

0:40:09: Bik-Yan is ironing her school uniform.

Does this mean we’re going to get a shot of her wearing it? You know, for the uniform fetishists out there?

0:40:39: There’s the gun again. The Gods of Foreshadowing are starting to rumble …

0:40:47: … and here’s the uniform shot for the fetishists. The way Bik-Yan is referring to Shing as “her man” is a little creepy.

0:47:28: Bik-Yan: “I won’t say anything until my lawyer arrives.”

Nice.

isabella_5.jpg

0:48:18: This is a nice little scene with Isabella Leong singing along to Anita Mui Yim-Fong’s 夢伴 (Dream Companion). The lyrics, about not being able to recapture the past, matches up quite nicely with the plot points of the movie.

Is anyone else having a flashback to the scene where Natalie Portman sings to Jean Reno in LEON (aka THE PROFESSIONAL)?

0:51:58: More father-daughter bonding … more Carlsberg bottles.

0:52:56: Shing helps a drunk Bik-Yan to bed.

Nice parallel to the stumbling-to-bed scene at the beginning of movie.

0:56:53: Bik-Yan is singing “Dream Companion” again. “Mom loved this song.”

Not surprising since it dovetails perfectly to the situation Bik-Yan’s mother found herself in. Ugh, this is making me feel old. I remember getting the cassette — back in the ancient times before CDs and mp3s — that “Dream Companion” is on — 壞女孩 (Bad Girl). I was at the HK Coliseum for one of the then record-setting 28 concerts Anita Mui held in late 1987. I can’t remember if she performed “Dream Companion” but I remember she did “Bad Girl” and “Why, Why, Tell Me Why?”. I also remember her “Arabian princess” look and Grasshopper making an appearance. Man, this means that I may be old enough to be Bik-Yan’s father. Sigh …

1:05:17: I know Bik-Yan is trying to drive all the other women away but acting like Shing is her lover is creepy.

This “Bik-Yan and Shing’s women” sequence is going on too long. I just paused the DVD to see who’s winning the curling game at the Tournament of Hearts between Team Prince Edward Island and Team Manitoba. Jennifer Jones of Manitoba is leading Suzanne Gaudet of PEI by a score of 8 to 2. It’s the seventh end so it’s pretty much over for PEI. OK, back to the movie …

isabella_8.jpg

1:08:16: Carlsberg has definitely got to be a sponsor. A girl wearing a Carlsberg shirt has just shown up at the door carrying a bag filled, naturally, with bottles of Carlsberg beer.

isabella_7.jpg

Actually, the Carlsberg product integration isn’t that bad. It’s fairly subtle in this movie. It’s not a DRINK DRANK DRUNK situation. In that movie, you had signs for Prime Credit Limited in the background and billboards CGI-ed into the movie. The only way it could have been more noticeable is if the following exchange happened:

Michel (Daniel Wu): Can I have some cash? I need money to buy supplies for the restaurant.

Siu-Man (Miriam Yeung): I just spent our last $1000 on fixtures.

Michel: But how can a restaurant function without food?

Siu-Man: I know, we can get a small business line-of-credit from Prime Credit Limited — a subsidiary of Standard Chartered PLC. I hear they offer low-interest loans geared toward entrepreneurs like us, one of their many innovative financial products and services aimed at delivering tailor-made and flexible solutions to customers.

Michel: Do you think we qualify?

Siu-Man: We should. I’ll check their website, PrimeCredit.com.hk, for details. Or I could talk to some of their friendly and courteous staff at one of the 31 branches they have in Hong Kong, Kowloon and the New Territories.

Michel: Excellent. It would be great if we could get financing from Prime Credit Limited.

1:09:18: That’s some fake-looking vomit. Sadly, I know because I became intimately acquainted with vomiting last year.

1:10:30: A lingering shot of Isabella Leong’s legs. She’s also wearing a school uniform. Am I supposed to be turned on? Because I’m not. Is it because I’m not in the demographic that would find Isabella Leong sexy or is it because Isabella Leong doesn’t burn up the screen? I think it’s the latter because a shot of Crystal Liu Yifei in a similar situation would probably seize my attention.

1:11:03: The Gods of Foreshadowing smile as “Portuguese food” (a.k.a the gun) makes another appearance.

1:11:50: This lighthouse sequence is supposed to signify something but I’m too dim to see it. Can someone out there enlighten me?

1:17:09: The Gods of Ominousness have taken over from the Gods of Foreshadowing as some bad guys deliver a message to Shing. I fear we’re headed for a tragic ending. When it comes to dramas, Hong Kong Cinema is the Lucius Vorenus of cinemas — given a choice between a happy outcome and a miserable outcome, always pick the miserable outcome.

1:20:59: More creepy talk, from Bik-Yan, of Shing as her lover rather than her father. Derek Tsang is a pretty decent actor. He’s completely different here than he was in AV. Finally, a “son of …” actor that makes you forget he’s a “son of …” actor. By the way, if you didn’t know, Derek Tsang is Eric Tsang Chi-Wai’s son.

1:21:52: “As long as it is presentable, it’ll do.”

Nice callback to the 拜神 (worshipping spirits) scene at 0:59:00.

1:25:08: Hey, it’s Vincent Wan Yeung-Ming! Miu Yan-Fung (苗人鳳) from TVB’s crappy 1999 remake of FLYING FOX OF THE SNOWY MOUNTAIN. So Shing isn’t Bik-Yan’s father. Interesting.

1:27:20: Ella, Bik-Yan’s mother, comes out from the abortion clinic not seeing young Shing.

I thought for sure we’d see Young Shing hiding behind a wall or something as the camera pulled away. It’d make his seem like less of a jerk and further his redemption arc.

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1:29:21: Bik-Yan starts crying and says, “don’t leave me”, to Shing after revealing that she found Isabella.

Perhaps the cisplatin has eaten away the sentimentality cells in my heart because this scene is leaving me cold. I know it’s supposed to be a moment of great emotion but I’m just hitting here with my eyebrow cocked like a Vulcan saying: “fascinating”. Again, maybe it’s because I’m dim, but the Isabella the Dog symbolism isn’t doing anything for me.

1:32:05: Shing tosses the gun away into the reservoir.

I guess we aren’t going to get a tragic ending after all.

1:32:55: Derek Tsang’s character, the nerdy school guy, confronts Shing in an alley.

Maybe I spoke too soon. This looks like a “I’m going to save Bik-Yan by knifing her evil boyfriend in the gut” situation.

1:33:50: Ah, so it wasn’t a tragic knife scene but an Oprah “Moment of Enlightenment”™ scene.

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1:35:12: Dinner sequence between Bik-Yan and Shing.

This whole sequence is filed with symbols of change — from the story behind the Rolex to the home-cooked meal (instead of the take-out that they ate at the beginning). It’s a nice scene but it would have been more powerful if the Rolex was introduced earlier in the film. You know, if Shing told one of his lady friends not to touch his Rolex or something. Here, the Rolex bit sort of feels tacked on.

1:36:20: “Promise me, when I get out, let’s quit smoking.”

So the smoking is a symbol too. OK, but it was still a bit annoying to see on screen — especially since Bik-Yan’s mother died from lung cancer. You’d think watching a loved one die of lung cancer would be a powerful deterrent against smoking.

1:43:30: Bik-Yan sobs as she holds Isabella.

This dog thing still isn’t doing anything for me. Why isn’t it working? I’ve got two eyes and a heart.

1:44:35: Bik-Yan is still creepily referring to Shing as her man. What’s that about?

Credits: Pauline Yeung was the “tea lady” for this film. It’s not the kind of credit you’d see in a Hollywood film. One of the things you have to love about Hong Kong.

Tim Youngs shows up in the “producers would like to acknowledge” section. Does this qualify as a Tim Youngs appearance for the Edmond Pang movie drinking game? Yes, I think it does.

By the way, in case you were hanging on the edge of your seat, the Jennifer Jones rink won 9-4.

CLOSING THOUGHTS: With ISABELLA, Edmond Pang Ho-Cheung continues his climb to the top ranks of Hong Kong movie directordom. It is, without question, a well-made film. The music, the lush cinematography and the acting are all first-rate. However, the storytelling left me cold. The father-daughter plot and Shing’s arc of redemption were supposed to be emotionally moving but somehow ended up feeling empty and shallow. My brain registered all the tugs at my heart strings and sent the appropriate messages to my heart telling it to feel something at the end of the film but, somewhere along the way, there was a malfunction at the junction and all my heart felt was that I should watch WHERE A GOOD MAN GOES — another bad man-turns-good movie set in Macau — again someday. I think the problem lies in the writing for the Bik-Yan character. She doesn’t feel authentic. She seems more like a vehicle for the film’s agenda than a credible, actual person and — in a film like ISABELLA that relies heavily on mood and atmosphere — it disrupts the rhythm and flow of the movie.

Nevertheless, watching ISABELLA is an enjoyable experience. You don’t go away feeling resentful about having wasted your time. A sentiment, sadly, that I’ve felt all too often after watching a HK film. Moreover, the scene where Bik-Yan sings “Dream Companion” to Shing is being enshrined in my pantheon of “Memorable Hong Kong Movie Scenes” alongside scenes like: the standoff between Tony Leung Chiu-Wai and Mad Dog in HARD-BOILED, Chow Yun-Fat and Ti Lung looking down at Hong Kong’s night-time skyline in A BETTER TOMORROW, Anthony Wong Chau-Sang hitting the top of the car in INFERNAL AFFAIRS, the climactic shootouts in EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED and PTU, the almost rape scene in WHERE A GOOD MAN GOES, the scene where Yuen Qiu and Yuen Wah reveal themselves to be masters in KUNG FU HUSTLE and Faye Wong breaking into Tony Leung Chiu-Wai’s apartment in CHUNGKING EXPRESS.

As for Isabella Leong Lok-Si, it’s too early in her career for anyone to crown her or condemn her. She gave a good performance in this film but I wonder if it’s a case of underpromise and overdeliver. With ISABELLA, you have a situation where a widely-hyped prospect that EEG has been grooming for years (I remember translating articles about Isabella Leong way back in 2002 when she was a mere 14 years-old) coming off the commercial crapfest that was BUG ME NOT! starring in a movie with the cutie-title ISABELLA. Naturally, you go in thinking that this film is going to stink like previous pop idol movies. Imagine Mariah Carey’s GLITTER being called MARIAH or Britney Spears’ CROSSROADS being called BRITNEY. But then, against expectations, you get a serious film with a serious performance and you end up thinking to yourself: “wow, this girl has got game.” I wonder, though, if this perspective is making people overestimate Isabella Leong’s abilities. It’s sort of like how a football team follows-up a 2-14 season with an 8-8 season. An 8-8 record is still mediocre but, compared to 2-14, it’s pretty good.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to be a “crow-mouth” (烏鴉口) caw-cawing and pooh-poohing Isabella Leong. She’s part of the Leung/Leong/Liang clan so I’m rooting for her and hoping she does well. I’m just saying let’s hold off on anointing her as the next Maggie Cheung Man-Yuk or the next “Box Office Queen”. First, as I said during the running diary, I don’t think she has leading lady type screen charisma. She doesn’t command your attention like Zhang Ziyi or Shu Qi or Cecilia Cheung Pak-Chi. Second, I think her singing is more Robin Sparkles “Let’s Go To The Mall” than Anita Mui “Debts of the Heart” (心債). Third, I don’t think she’s as popular as she appears. EEG “froze” her back in October for “temper tantrums”. If she was popular and, more important, profitable, EEG wouldn’t have suspended her. Using another sports analogy, if the star player on a team gets arrested for a DUI, management usually says: “oh, we can’t cut him, ‘innocent until proven guilty’, ‘we have to let due process play out’ and all that”. However, if a back-up player finds himself in trouble with the law, it’s usually: “he’s a cancer on the team, we have to cut him immediately”. The fact that EEG thought they could afford to freeze her means that she probably isn’t raking in Twins money or Joey Yung money. She’s since been reinstated, however, so maybe her clout is growing. EEG initially announced that her suspension was to last a year but it ended up being only three months.

In any event, there is no doubt that Isabella Leong has great potential. Here’s hoping that her management makes judicious decisions that allow her to maximize her potential both artistically and commercially. Here’s hoping that she doesn’t succumb to the “too much, too soon” syndrome and end up finding herself in a Lindsay Lohan situation. So say we all … at least all of us Leungs.

Reader Feedback Time: What did you guys think of the running diary format? Too inane?

I’d love it if someone would share their opinion and enlighten me on the lighthouse scene and the whole dog allegory thing.

Do you think Isabella Leong has high-wattage screen charisma?

Plus, if you were moved by ISABELLA and think that I’m a cold-hearted bastard for not feeling anything, maybe you could help melt my icy heart by telling me how this film got to you.

Image credits: Media Asia (ISABELLA), Long Shong Entertainment Group (DRINK DRANK DRUNK)

 
 
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