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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 ‘Jet Li’ Category

Say Goodbye To Hollywood

I was going to do a post about watching my first TVB series in many, many years but, for once, I thought I’d be timely and share a few thoughts on THE MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR.

THE MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR
Official Site: http://www.themummy.com/
Director: Rob Cohen
Cast: Brendan Fraser (Rick O’Connell), Jet Li (Emperor Han), Maria Bello (Evelyn O’Connell), Michelle Yeoh (Zi Juan), Luke Ford (Alex O’Connell), Isabella Leong (Lin), Russell Wong (General Ming), Anthony Wong Chau-Sang (General Yang)

Synopsis (from Yahoo! Movies): Explorer Rick O’Connell to combat the resurrected Han Emperor in an epic that races from the catacombs of ancient China high into the frigid Himalayas. Rick is joined in this all-new adventure by son Alex, wife Evelyn and her brother, Jonathan. And this time, the O’Connells must stop a mummy awoken from a 2,000-year-old curse who threatens to plunge the world into his merciless, unending service. Doomed by a double-crossing sorceress to spend eternity in suspended animation, China’s ruthless Dragon Emperor and his 10,000 warriors have laid forgotten for eons, entombed in clay as a vast, silent terra cotta army. But when dashing adventurer Alex O’Connell is tricked into awakening the ruler from eternal slumber, the reckless young archaeologist must seek the help of the only people who know more than he does about taking down the undead: his parents. As the monarch roars back to life, our heroes find his quest for world domination has only intensified over the millennia. Striding the Far East with unimaginable supernatural powers, the Emperor Mummy will rouse his legion as an unstoppable, otherworldly force… unless the O’Connells can stop him first.

Craig from THE MOLEPRE-CONCEIVED NOTIONS: Due to a “life’s too short” situation, I haven’t seen the first two Mummy movies. I’ve always intended to see them as I like goofy action movies and Rachel Weisz but I’ve always had other things to do or other things I wanted to see. Quite simply, I just haven’t gotten around to watching the movies. Case in point, in anticipation of the August 1st release of THE MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR, I borrowed the DVDs for THE MUMMY and THE MUMMY RETURNS from my friend Roger. However, I got caught up watching episodes of THE MOLE that I recorded while I was away in Europe. (By the way, I think Craig is the mole.) As a result, I went into THE MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR completely cold — I had no idea about the back story of the O’Connells or the whole Mummy saga. I’m going to the movie mostly to check out the Hollywood debut of Isabella Leong and the work of Jet Li and Michelle Yeoh. Before I went to the theatre, the movie was sitting on a 9% rating over at Rotten Tomatoes so I was not expecting much.

AFTER THE MOVIE: Unlike the majority of the critics at Rotten Tomatoes, I don’t think the movie stinks. It’s not as bad as the 9% rating suggests but I wouldn’t go much higher than 49%. It’s a pleasant diversion that’s definitely not worth theatre money or even new release video rental money. It’s the type of movie you wait to watch on TV or save for when you need a movie to complete a “four for $10″ bundle deal at the video store. The action scenes are competent but uninspired and the comedy reminded me of some of the slapstick and wordplay that Jack Tripper did on THREE’S COMPANY — good for a small chuckle or slight smile but not much more.

MORE THOUGHTS: Before I get to my thoughts on Isabella Leong’s performance, I have to say that the one thing that really bothered me about the film was its depiction of 1940s Shanghai. I think the glamorous Shanghai shown in the movie died around 1937 after the Battle of Shanghai between the Japanese and the Kuomintang. If I recall my Chinese history correctly, by the 1940s, ballrooms and nightclubs were turned into places where people were being interrogated, tortured and killed. I don’t mean to be a Debbie Downer, I’m just saying that if you know your Chinese history, this is something that might stick in your craw during the movie — that and the notion of Brendan Fraser and Maria Bello being old enough to have a son that looks like Luke Ford.

Michelle Yeoh and Isabella Leong in THE MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR

Now, for the centrepiece of today’s post, how did Isabella Leong fare in her Hollywood debut? As a fan of HK entertainment, I always hope that an entertainment circle talent makes it big in Hollywood because, in a rising tide floats all boats sort of way, it invariably brings attention and exposure back to the HK entertainment industry. Therefore, it saddens me to say that Isabella Leong’s performance in THE MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR was unimpressive and, barring a huge stroke of fortune or favour, it’s unlikely she’ll develop a solid Hollywood career.

To make any sort of splash in Hollywood, a “foreign” actress has to give an outstanding performance that makes people run to their computers, go to IMDB or Google, and look up every thing they can find about her. I think this happened with Michelle Yeoh when POLICE STORY 3: SUPERCOP was released in North America and certainly when TOMORROW NEVER DIES came out. It definitely happened with Zhang Ziyi after CROUCHING TIGER HIDDEN DRAGON and, to a lesser extent, with Shu Qi and THE TRANSPORTER. The only thing that is distinctive about Isabella Leong’s work in THE MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR is that it is distinctly unremarkable. I don’t think Jessey Mengtoo many people will be doing computer searches trying to find out who played “Michelle Yeoh’s daughter”. In fact, if there was a bookie who took action on this sort of thing, I’d bet that Jessey Meng (the actress who plays the dedicated girlfriend of Anthony Wong Chau-Sang’s General Yang) gets more Google/IMDB hits out of this movie than Isabella Leong.

I think the movie highlights the major flaw in Isabella Leong’s game: she has low screen charisma. She doesn’t have that intangible quality that makes viewers sit back and take notice. Her lack of screen magnetism is something I sensed in ISABELLA and I don’t think it improved with SPIDER LILIES even though a lesbian tattoo artist should have been a charismatic, attention-grabbing role. When she popped up for her cameo in SIMPLY ACTORS, it took me a couple of seconds to recognize her. It’s still early in her career but, if this was an election, the NBC News Decision Desk would be getting ready to declare that Isabella Leong has no screen presence.

With the exception of THE EYE 10 and MISSING, I believe I’ve seen all of Isabella Leong’s work and I can’t think of an instance where her screen chi pierces the screen, commands your attention and demands that you fixate your eyes on her. Most great actresses have at least one of those moments during their careers. I think I can safely say that Isabella Leong hasn’t had one yet. I’d be happy to be proven wrong about this so if anyone out there in HK entertainment nation can point out a moment that Isabella Leong captivates the viewer’s attention, I’d love to hear about it.

MISCELLANEA:

- If you are at all familiar with some of the intense work that Anthony Wong Chau-Sang has done in HK, it’s hard to accept him as a villain in THE MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR. Something in the way he delivers his lines in English robs him of his menace. I don’t know if you’d notice it if you haven’t seen his HK movies but, if you have, it’s quite noticeable. When he spoke for the first time in the movie, the three Chinese guys sitting two rows behind me laughed out loud. I knew what they were feeling because I was having a flashback to Wong’s goofy “all the world’s a stage” bit in SIMPLY ACTORS.

- There isn’t much to be said about Jet Li’s performance in the movie. To say that he “mailed it in” isn’t exactly accurate. I’d call it a “living off the fat of the land” situation. Over the past ten years, he’s established a reputation, a brand over here in the West and THE MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR is a case where he is harvesting the crop he first sowed back in 1998 with his work in LETHAL WEAPON 4. You can’t fault a guy for reaping the benefits of past hard work.

I will say I’m happy to see that, like the final fight scene in LETHAL WEAPON 4, it still takes more than one good guy to overpower a villainous Jet Li.

Michelle Yeoh in THE MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR

- Michelle Yeoh continues to show why she is the class of entertainment circle actresses working in Hollywood. In the hands of a lesser talent, the scene where she calls on the dead to rise up and fight would have seemed cheesy. Michelle Yeoh actually makes it seems kind of cool.

Also, going back to the Isabella Leong has no screen charisma discussion, the opening scenes for Michelle Yeoh in THE MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR define screen presence. Isabella Leong does not have that kind of screen magnetism and that’s why I don’t think she’ll make it in Hollywood.

Image credits: ABC (Craig from THE MOLE), Universal Pictures (Michelle Yeoh and Isabella Leong), MGM (Jessey Meng)

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.

* * * * *

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.

* * * * *

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.

* * * * *

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 …

* * * * *

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.

* * * * *

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.

* * * * *

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.

* * * * *

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)

Thoughts on THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM

Some thoughts on THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM, but first, a couple of housekeeping notes:

Apologies for the gap in between posts, I overextended myself a little bit with the HKFA preview blog post series. Plus, I’m a lazy, lazy man.

Apologies also to the HKFA Prediction Contest entrants. I’m sorry that it’s taken almost as long to announce a winner as it has for Zimbabwe to announce the winner of its presidential election. Without further ado, the winner of the contest is:

Robert Mugabe of Harare, Zimbabwe

For his prize, Mr. Mugabe selected a TWINS EFFECT lanyard from the House Where Words Gather prize vault … Just kidding. The winner be announced in the next blog post.

… And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming …

THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM
Official Site: http://www.forbiddenkingdommovie.com/
Director: Rob Minkoff
Cast: Jackie Chan (Lu Yan/Old Hop), Jet Li (The Silent Monk/The Monkey King), Michael Angarano (Jason Tripitikas), Crystal Liu Yifei (Golden Sparrow), Collin Chou (The Jade Warlord), Li Bingbing (Ni Chang)

Synopsis (from the official site): A 21st Century American teenager takes a spellbinding, dangerous journey into martial arts legend in the new action/adventure epic FORBIDDEN KINGDOM. Shot on location in China, THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM marks the historic first-ever onscreen pairing of martial arts superstars Jackie Chan (RUSH HOUR, DRUNKEN MASTER) and Jet Li (FEARLESS, ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA), and features the awe-inspiring action choreography of Yuen Wo Ping (THE MATRIX, CROUCHING TIGER HIDDEN DRAGON). While hunting down bootleg kung-fu DVDs in a Chinatown pawnshop, Jason (played by Michael Angarano - “24″, “Will and Grace”, LORDS OF DOGTOWN, SEABISCUIT) makes an extraordinary discovery that sends him hurtling back in time to ancient China. There, Jason is charged with a monumental task: he must free the fabled warrior the Monkey King, who has been imprisoned by the evil Jade Warlord. Jason is joined in his quest by wise kung fu master Lu Yan (Jackie Chan) and a band of misfit warriors including Silent Monk (Jet Li). But only by learning the true precepts of kung fu can Jason hope to succeed - and find a way to get back home.

PRE-CONCEIVED NOTIONS: I hate to admit this but beyond loyalty to my people and a slight fascination with Crystal Liu Yifei, there weren’t too many compelling reasons for me to plop down $11 to see THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM. Yes, it is the first major collaboration between Jackie Chan and Jet Li but the plot synopsis brought flashbacks of that awful THUNDERBIRDS movie from a few years back — where a cool idea was turned into a steaming pile of poo by corporate thinking concerned more with making a marketable commercial product than a good movie.

forgetting_sarah_marshall_poster.jpgIn fact, had I gone to the theatre on opening weekend, I probably would have seen FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL instead of THE FORGOTTEN KINGDOM. FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL got a glowing review on AT THE MOVIES WITH EBERT & ROEPER and SUPERBAD was the most fun I had at the movies in 2007. However, snow and freezing rain kept me from the theatre and — in the days that passed — my interest in seeing FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL waned as tepid feedback emerged from opening weekend moviegoers. Moreover, I figured that going to THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM was something I could do with the Old Man (my Dad, not Bill Adama) that didn’t involve some form of dim sum.

AFTER THE MOVIE: When a movie combines bending of the space-time continuum with a “rat teaches the art of the ninja to four turtles” type premise, the only way you can measure it effectively is to ask: Is it enjoyable? Fortunately, for the cause of Chinese talent in Hollywood, the answer is mostly yes as Jackie Chan and Jet Li deliver likeable performances that generate enough affection and goodwill to overcome the clumsy plot, clunky dialogue and two cheesy modern-day segments that bookend the film.

Fans of Big Brother Jackie and Jet Li should come away satisfied but kung fu cinema aficionados may feel a twinge of disappointment as they leave the theatre. A kung fu film collaboration between Jackie Chan and Jet Li should have been better than THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM. It shouldn’t have been saddled with the goofy “teenager from Boston has to save ancient China from a despot” story. It’s sort of like Al Pacino and Robert De Niro finally agreeing to collaborate on a mafia film only to see them end up playing crime bosses who settle their differences after becoming friends while coaching their respective daughters through some Lamaze classes. THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM is well-produced, pleasant, mildly enjoyable entertainment but you can’t help but wonder what might have been.

MORE THOUGHTS (WARNING: contains minor spoilers): A film of THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM’s ilk doesn’t lend itself to penetrating analysis so I’ll simply share some of the things I liked about the film and some of the things I didn’t like about it. I liked:

jackie_jet_kingdom.jpg- The way Jackie Chan and Jet Li were billed equally. Kudos to the person who came up with the idea.

- The opening title sequence — which featured poster images of kung fu film icons like Bruce Lee, Gordon Liu, Chen Kuan-Tai, Lau Kar-Leung, Cheng Pei-Pei and the “Five Venoms” among others. Not only is it a nice tribute, I think it serves as a signal to kung fu film fans that the filmmakers recognize the rich heritage of kung fu cinema.

- The affable performances by Jackie Chan and Jet Li. Taking on the divergent dual roles of The Monkey King and The Silent Monk, Jet Li shows flashes of his HKFA Best Actor skills by being playfully puckish while as The Monkey King and stern but warm-hearted while as The Silent Monk. Jackie Chan, meanwhile, gives an energetic effort that brings back fond memories of his Lunar New Year film glory days and serves to highlight how lethargic his performance was in RUSH HOUR 3.

Things I didn’t like include:

William Zabka- The modern-day South Boston segments that bookend the film. Since I am a sap, the only thing I liked about it was the appearance of 21st Century Golden Sparrow. The rest of the modern-day stuff was painfully cheesy. The street gang — complete with horribly-done Southie accents — is so cliche, the guys in WEST SIDE STORY snapping their fingers and singing “when you’re a Jet, you’re a Jet all the way” end up having more “street cred”. To make matters worse, the gang leader (played by Morgan Benoit) is so over-the-top, it’s hard to take anything that happens seriously. I’m not sure if the fault lies with Mr. Benoit or with production. If I had to pick one, I’d go with the latter because even 1980s movie bully William Zabka in his prime would have looked bad in the cornball modern-day sequences.

- The way the film had Lu Yan do the basal exposition. Lu Yan, Jackie Chan’s character, is given the responsibility of explaining the situation in ancient China to Jason (the Boston teenager created to expand the marketable demographics) and, by extension, the audience. As is widely known from the DVD extras of past Jackie Chan films, Big Brother Jackie learns most of his lines phonetically so his delivery is shaky at best. Combined with the clunky “the naughty Monkey King thrice repelled the Jade Warlord” type dialogue, some audience members may have difficultly getting into an already far-fetched story.

MISCELLANEA:

- For the sake of my fellow ham sup lo, I feel obligated to say a few words about twenty-one year-old Crystal Liu Yifei. Known primarily to Chinese audiences as a TV actress, Liu spent part of her childhood in New York City before returning to China to study at the Bejing Film Academy in 2002. She burst onto the scene in 2003 with a captivating performance as Wong Yu-Yin (王語嫣) in HEAVEN DRAGON THE EIGHTH EPISODE (CCTV’s adaptation of Louis Cha’s DEMI-GODS AND SEMI-DEVILS). In 2006, she cemented her status as a rising star after she received much acclaim for taking on the Crystal Liu in THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOMrole of “Little Dragon Girl” (小龍女) in THE RETURN OF THE CONDOR HEROES (another CCTV adaptation of a Louis Cha novel). Both series received high ratings and allowed her to expand her career with opportunities in music and film.

Playing Golden Sparrow, Liu gives a solid performance in THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM but prospects for further opportunities in Hollywood appear doubtful. While it was the top earner in North America on its opening weekend, THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM did not catch fire like CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON. In addition, there’s been very little buzz about Liu. When he reviewed THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM for AT THE MOVIES WITH EBERT AND ROEPER, Richard Roeper did not fawn over Liu or co-star Li Bingbing like he does normally with the likes of Gong Li and Zhang Ziyi. Instead, he referred to them generically by praising them for their “fabulous kung fu babe-ery”.

Liu, however, does have the ability to be a crossover talent. She has screen presence and she speaks English adequately (there’s even a slight hint of “Valley Girl” in her English). It will be interesting to see if Liu or Isabella Leong Lok-Si (who has a role in the upcoming THE MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR) make a dent in Hollywood. My guess is that neither will make a significant splash but it will be something to track over the next few years.

Crystal Liu in HEAVEN DRAGON THE EIGHTH EPISODETo those who’ve seen Liu in both HEAVEN DRAGON THE EIGHTH EPISODE and THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM, is it my imagination or does Liu seem younger in THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM even though she is five years older? I remember being intrigued then horrified after watching Liu in the CCTV drama. Intrigued because she looked fabulous as Wong Yu-Yin then horrified when I learned she was only 15 when she shot the show. To this day, just making eye contact with her stills from HEAVEN DRAGON THE EIGHTH EPISODE makes me feel like a pedophile. Now that I’ve seen THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM, I can reassure myself by rationalizing that her costuming in the TV drama made her look like she was in her early-20s. Isn’t that right? Please, somebody, agree with me. :-)

- Tired of getting hassled by bullies while on your way home from a DVD run to the local Chinatown video store? Avoid the perilous journey and shop online at YesAsia where you can get DVDs of titles from A-1 HEADLINES to ZU: WARRIORS FROM THE MAGIC MOUNTAIN. They even offer free shipping to anywhere in the world! YesAsia — providing refuge to bullied film geeks since 1998. :-)

Image credits: Universal Pictures (FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL poster), The Weinstein Company (THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM poster, Crystal Liu), Columbia Pictures (William Zabka), CCTV (Crystal Liu)

 

27th Hong Kong Film Awards Preview: Best Actor

Previously: Best Film

Like the situation in the Best Film category, if LUST, CAUTION had qualified for this year’s HKFAs, there is little doubt that Tony Leung Chiu-Wai would be well on his way to winning a sixth HKFA Best Actor title. Leung’s performance in the film is outstanding. Without the benefit of big scenes or big speeches, Leung impressively conveys his character’s thoughts and feelings with small gestures and small expressions. He even manages to fill the film’s infamous sex scenes with so much emotion and tension that it’s impossible to argue that the scenes were included just to draw a box office crowd with the promise of some titillation.

The nominees, minus Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, are:

Aaron Kwok Fu-Sing (THE DETECTIVE)
Andy Lau Tak-Wah (THE WARLORDS)
Simon Yam Tat-Wah (EYE IN THE SKY)
Jet Li (THE WARLORDS)
Lau Ching-Wan (THE MAD DETECTIVE)

5. Andy Lau Tak-Wah (THE WARLORDS)

Back when I was getting treatment for cancer — sometime in between round five and round six of chemotherapy — I got a delightful gift basket and a wonderful package of cards and letters from people I met over the years while running my old website. There were get-well messages from, among others, YTSL (Yvonne Teh of bc Magazine), Paul Fox (who used to run Cantonkid.com), Tim Youngs (of Another Hong Kong Movie Page and cameos in Pang Ho-Cheung films), my pal John Charles, Jennifer and Laura from San Francisco and, of course, our beloved Kozo (the Lord and Master of LoveHKFilm). Since I lost all of my Eudora inboxes and address books in the Great Hard Drive Crash of ‘07 (but mostly because I’m a terrible person and a lazy, lazy man), I haven’t properly thanked many of the people who wished me well. If anyone out there sent me a get-well message but didn’t receive a personal note of acknowledgement and thanks from me, please accept my apologies. My bad manners belie the fact that your cards, letters and e-mail messages really helped pull me through a difficult time. It was really great to know that I was loved and appreciated.

What does this have to do with Andy Lau and his Best Actor nomination? Well, included in the package of cards and letters was a get-well message from the Heavenly King himself! I was stunned — though, based on stories of Andy Lau’s many good deeds, I shouldn’t have been surprised — that a big star like him would take the time to write little ol’ me a note of Get-well note from Andy Lauencouragement. Needless to say, it was a huge shot in the arm so even if a future edition of Next Magazine publishes photos of Andy Lau eating “rejuvenation” dumplings made from baby flesh, I’d still have something good to say about him. That said, he shouldn’t have been nominated for his performance in THE WARLORDS.

Lau’s performance can, at best, be described as workmanlike. At worst, an argument can be made that Lau was unconvincing and ineffective. The main problem is that Lau is badly miscast for the role of Cao Er-Hu. The real-life Cao was, as I understand it, chivalrous and loyal but quick-tempered with a rough-hewn disposition that helped drive his wife into the arms of the more refined Ma Xin-Yi. Lau naturally projects a suave and sophisticated image so when the story calls for him to behave brusquely, he has to strain to make it convincing. An intense Anthony Wong Chau-Sang, Tony Leung Ka-Fai or Francis Ng Chun-Yu type of actor should have been cast for this role not a “cool as a cucumber” Andy Lau or Simon Yam Tat-Wah type.

Speaking of whom …

4. Simon Yam Tat-Wah (EYE IN THE SKY)

Had he been nominated for his intricate performance in EXODUS, Simon Yam would rank higher on this list. Unfortunately, it’s hard to consider him a serious contender for the Best Actor award based on his performance as Surveillance Unit leader Dog Head. The problem does not lie in the quality of Yam’s work, it lies in the quality of the Dog Head character. There is little depth to the role beyond the “grizzled veteran who takes a newcomer under his wing” that audiences have seen in countless movies. The performance is fine but the role has a very low degree of difficulty. Besides, it wasn’t even the best acting performance in the film — that would belong to the work done by Tony Leung Ka-Fai as meticulous gang leader Shan.

3. Jet Li (THE WARLORDS)

Jet Li in THE WARLORDSBuilding upon his commendable performance in FEARLESS, Jet Li continues to evolve as an actor with his work in THE WARLORDS. Instead of playing his usual seemingly invincible fighting hero, Li does a creditable job portraying a flawed late-Qing era army general. It’s a solid individual achievement but it doesn’t rise to the level required of an award winner. It would have been interesting if the powers-that-be behind THE WARLORDS didn’t play it safe and unleashed Li to play a duplicitous, greedy schemer who stabs his sworn brother in the back for personal gain instead of the conflicted nobleman who compromises his morals for “the sake of the people”. Regrettably, no one will know if Li would have been able to meet the challenge.

2. Lau Ching-Wan (THE MAD DETECTIVE)

On an objective scale, Lau Ching-Wan should rank higher on this list. Inspector Bun, Lau’s character, is one of the tent poles of THE MAD DETECTIVE and if he doesn’t get the audience to buy that he is a detective with a “special ability” then the high-concept film has no chance of working. While he succeeds in convincing the audience, subjective factors put him in the second spot on this ranking. First, the other shoe never drops with his character. Inspector Bun is a brilliant cop whose gift is as much of a curse as it is a blessing but that’s where the character development ends. Nothing else really happens with him after his ability to see “inner personalities” is revealed. Second, the Inspector Bun character is just another variation of the kind of quirky, offbeat personality that viewers have seen Lau play many times before. THE MAD DETECTIVE provokes and challenges audiences but it certainly doesn’t challenge Lau Ching-Wan’s acting abilities. Third, Lau won last year so it feels like it’s someone else’s turn to win the top prize. Namely …

1. Aaron Kwok Fu-Sing (THE DETECTIVE)

Last year, Aaron Kwok was the heavy favourite to win in this category for his role as a deadbeat dad in AFTER THIS OUR EXILE. As a result, it was a pleasant surprise when Lau Ching-Wan won because he was sentimental favourite — the “entertainment circle veteran who deserved to win a Best Actor HKFA at some point in his career” (a mantle that he has since handed to Simon Yam). However, if one gives it a little thought, Lau’s victory wasn’t the HKFA equivalent to Martin Aaron Kwok in concert February 2008Scorsese winning a Best Director Oscar for THE DEPARTED. Lau truly deserved to win because he played his character in MY NAME IS FAME so well, it’s impossible to imagine any other actor in the role. By contrast, several actors could easily do a comparable job to Kwok in AFTER THIS OUR EXILE.

This year, the shoe is on the other foot. While Lau gives a flashier performance in THE MAD DETECTIVE, Kwok deserves to win because he absolutely owns his “loser private detective” character. From the first shot of him waking up to the catchy “Me Panda” to the last shot of him finding satisfaction in solving his case, flamboyant Heavenly King Aaron Kwok totally disappears behind a rumpled, sad-sack facade. Like Lau and his character in MY NAME IS FAME, it’s difficult to picture anyone other than Kwok playing C+ Detective Tam. While THE DETECTIVE and the Tam character don’t have the typical award winner gravitas, it’s a worthy substitute in a year where the best performance didn’t qualify.

Image credits: Applause Pictures (Jet Li); Xinhua (Aaron Kwok)

 
 
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