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

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Archive for the ‘Movie Reviews’ Category

Thoughts on A BETTER TOMORROW 2010

After some time away, I’ve decided to take the remaining shards of my talents back to the Kozo Entertainment Group.  Where have I been these past few months? Well, let’s just say I was, like Sung Chi-Ho in A BETTER TOMORROW, “in Taiwan … on business”.

abt2010_01.jpg

With hopes for a better tomorrow in mind, let’s start this iteration of the House Where Words Gather on a propitious note by talking about “a better tomorrow”.  Namely, A BETTER TOMORROW (2010) aka MUJEOGJA (trans. INVINCIBLE) -  the South Korean remake of John Woo’s Hong Kong classic.

Directed by Song Hae-Seong (who some may remember as the director of the 2001 film FAILAN starring Cecilia Cheung Pak-Chi  and OLDBOY lead Choi Min-Sik), A BETTER TOMORROW 2010 is a serviceable action melodrama whose greatest service is to remind movie fans of the brilliance of John Woo.  For the remake, Song changes the setting from Hong Kong to Busan and the criminal enterprise of the main characters from counterfeiting to gun running.  In addition, the rift between brothers doesn’t stem from one being a cop and the other a thief.  Instead, it’s because one abandoned the other while escaping North Korea for the South.

While there are changes in setting and characters, the remake keeps the narrative structure of the original largely intact.  Like the original, the film begins with a nightmare sequence and ends with a shootout on a pier.  Because the storytelling adheres so closely to that of the original, sequence after sequence is the same and one can’t help but notice how flat and watered-down the remake is compared to the original.  All the counterparts to the iconic scenes in the 1986 film — from the Mark character losing his leg while getting revenge to him dying in a hail of bullets — pale in comparison as Song does not have the skill nor the flair of John Woo.

abt2010_02.jpg

There is, perhaps, no better demonstration of Woo’s mastery of craft than the Wong Tai Sin Childrens’ Choir scene in A BETTER TOMORROW. With the choir singing 明天會更好 (trans. Tomorrow Will Be Better) in the background, Sung Chi-Ho (Ti Lung) bids farewell to Jackie (Emily Chu Bo-Yee) while handing her some evidence. He then glances at the children singing before turning into a dark hallway to head for the decisive showdown with Shing (Waise Lee Chi-Hung).  The scene takes less than a minute but in that short period of time, Woo moves the plot along while showing, with great artistry, Sung wistfully abandoning his desire for a life of sweetness and light because he is being forced back into a dark life of bullets and blood. No scene in the remake comes anywhere close to matching that level of exquisite depth and complexity. As a result, A BETTER TOMORROW 2010 suffers by comparison.

Taken on its own, A BETTER TOMORROW 2010 remains a thoroughly average film that’s competent but uninspiring.  It’s mildly entertaining though some may be turned off near the end when events take a melodramatic turn and tough guys become crybabies.   The film is worth a watch if you are a fan of cross-cultural remakes.  Otherwise, don’t bother turning the jet boat around.

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MISCELLANEA:

 abt2010_04.jpg

- Song Seung-Heon is given the thankless task of playing the Mark 哥 role. Much like his director in relation to John Woo, Song suffers from the comparison to Chow Yun-Fat because he cannot match Chow in charisma and intensity. He puts forth a solid effort but, in the end, falls short.

- Song did, however, show some flashes of Stephen Chow Sing-Chi. Maybe it was the hair or maybe it was the sunglasses but some mannerisms felt familiar. Any South Korean re-make of SHAOLIN SOCCER or KUNG FU HUSTLE in the offing?|

- The music/soundtrack for A BETTER TOMORROW 2010 is also underwhelming when compared to the original. Many musical cues from the 1986 film - especially the ones for Kit at the shooting range, the shootout at the restaurant and Mark’s death - are embedded in memory. The music from the remake is entirely forgettable.

abt2010_05.jpg

- A BETTER TOMORROW 2010 is superior to the original in one aspect: A great performance by Jo Han-Seon as the turncoat villain helps flesh out a comparatively thin plot thread from the original. Unlike the 1986 movie, we actually get to see the how and why of the heel turn in the remake.

- Also better: The Emily Chu flower vase/comic relief girlfriend character is replaced by a gruff yet caring auntie. No goofy scenes involving cellos, flowers or headphones in the 2010 version.

- Egads! A BETTER TOMORROW was released in Hong Kong on February 8th, 1986. It’s now a little over 25 years old! Twenty-five years! Egads! Eeeeeegads!

BLOG POST EXTRA:

The 30th Hong Kong Film Awards are being presented tomorrow evening.  Putting my finger to the wind, I’m feeling a favourable breeze for IP MAN 2 walking away with the Best Film prize.  If I had a vote, I would have marked GALLANTS on my ballot as it was the most “Hong Kong” of this year’s nominees.  That said, if I was the General Secretary / Paramount Leader of HK films, I would appoint the title of Best Film to LOVE IN A PUFF.  There was no better film about Hong Kong than LOVE IN A PUFF in 2010.

Image credits: Cinema City (A BETTER TOMORROW); Formula Entertainment (A BETTER TOMORROW 2010)

A Morning At The Movies

South Keys Cinemas

It was a gorgeous morning last Sunday here in the capital of Canada.  Under glorious sunshine, it was a pleasant 18°C.  So, naturally, I spent it inside, in the dark, at the South Keys Cinemas taking in THE KARATE KID (2010) with my new Mainland pal Jerry and his 8 year-old kid Alex.

James The Red Engine Stink FaceRegular readers will know that the James The Red Engine stink face pretty much sums up my attitude going into the movie.  To combat my prejudices, I brought along Jerry, who brings a fresh set of eyes because he has not seen the original, and Alex, who is in one of the film’s target demographics.  Alex was the reason we were at the theatre at 10:45 in the morning.  He had a soccer game at 3 pm and, with the movie clocking in at two hours and twenty minutes, the 8:10 evening show would have encroached on his bedtime.

After the show we went to lunch at Harvey’s where, thanks to my lavish Kozo Entertainment Group expense account, Grilled chicken sandwich with onion ringswe all had fries with our burgers.  Actually, KEG bean counters be damned, I passed on the fries and went straight for the added extravagance of onion rings along with the most expensive item on the menu: the grilled chicken sandwich.

In between bites, I asked Jerry and Alex for their opinions of the movie.  Alex gave it a “thumbs up” but he complained that it was boring at times.  Indeed, Alex was noticeably restless during the Qixi Festival sequence and the Jackie Chan “Look At Me, I’m Doing Serious Acting” sequence.  He also flinched during the two scenes where Dre (Jaden Smith) got beat up by the bully and his henchmen.  For a movie that is somewhat geared towards kids, it’s hard to fathom why director Harald Zwart opted to show such surprisingly brutal fight scenes.

Unlike his son, Jerry gave THE KARATE KID (2010) a “thumbs down”.  Based on my description of the original, he said that he expected the movie to be “like ROCKY” - moving and inspirational.  Instead, he thought the film was flat and superficial.  A resident of Beijing for four years while he studied chemistry — or was it chemical engineering — at one of the city’s universities, he was bothered by the local inconsistencies that he noticed throughout the film.   Referring to the sequence where Dre and his young lady friend Meiying (the delightful Han Wenwen) have a day out in Beijing, Jerry said: “I don’t think the general public is allowed in some of those places”.

The Wudang Mountain sequence also bothered him. Jerry: “You can’t get there and back (to Beijing) in one day!”

In addition, he was irked by the fact that the Qixi Festival usually takes place in August yet, later in the film, Mr. Han (Jackie Chan) marks a significant anniversary on June 8th.

While I’m confident that the incongruities Jerry noticed will not be an issue for most viewers, I do agree that THE KARATE KID (2010) does not pack the same emotional wallop as the original.  I’ll admit that I got a little verklempt during some of the Dre-Meiying scenes (What can I say? I’m a sap.), but other “emotional crescendo” moments left me cold.  The problem is that there isn’t enough setup for the payoffs so when the big moments happen (like Dre winning the tournament or Mr. Han reconciling himself with the past) they fall flat because they haven’t been earned.

Imagine a comedian who just reels off punch lines without any set up.  “No soup for you“, “not that there’s anything wrong with that” or “master of your domain” are meaningless bereft of context.  Without revealing any spoilers, there are many moments in the remake that are supposed to stir the emotions of the audience but end up leaving them bewildered because they haven’t been established properly.  I suspect that the powers-that-be were relying on people having seen the original because many of the “big moments” are call backs.  I think viewers were supposed to think “ah, this is like when Daniel-san found out about Miyagi’s wife and son” or “ah, this is like when Mr. Miyagi helped Daniel-san woo Ali”.  As a result, for people like Jerry who haven’t seen the original, the scenes do not resonate as much and the emotions seem shallow.

Han Wenwen and Jaden Smith

Having said that, I’ll cast my lot with 8 year-old Alex and give THE KARATE KID (2010) a “thumbs up”.  It’s a good time at the movies.  Two hours and twenty minutes breezes by as Jaden Smith and Han Wenwen deliver very likeable performances.  Also, the Wudang Mountain sequence yields some spectacular shots.  I still firmly believe that the remake was unnecessary but like the Russian Premier in that other 1980s classic, ROCKY IV, I stand up and applaud because I can appreciate the effort.

I’ll be back next week with some spoiler-filled thoughts on the film.  In the meantime, I have to file an expense report with the KEG bean counters.  I can picture the conversation now: “You have just the one rear end and the one set of eyes, why did you need THREE tickets?”

Thoughts on THE BEAST STALKER

Having completed the arduous task of sorting all of my pills according to colour, I’m ready to share some thoughts on THE BEAST STALKER.

THE BEAST STALKER
証人

Official Site: http://thebeaststalker.emp.hk/en_main.html
Director: Dante Lam Chiu-Yin
Cast: Nicholas Tse Ting-Fung (Sergeant Tong Fei), Nick Cheung Ka-Fai (Hung Kin), Zhang Jingchu (Ann Gao), Liu Kai-Chi (Sun), Miao Pu (Hung’s wife), Derek Kwok Jing-Hung (Michael)

Synopsis (from Yahoo! Movies): A traffic accident brings together the lives of a wanted criminal, a police sergeant, a public prosecutor and her daughter.

PRE-CONCEIVED NOTIONS: Kozo gave this movie a positive review and YTSL from Webs of Significance recommended it to me so I’m expecting to see a good film.  I’m also watching it as part of my quest to see all of the Hong Kong Film Awards nominees (Nick Cheung is nominated for Best Actor, Liu Kai-Chi for Best Supporting Actor plus the film nabbed a Best Screenplay nomination).  In addition, I’m curious to see the continuing evolution of the Crown Prince of the HK entertainment circle Nic Tse.

AFTER THE MOVIE: An enthralling film that held my attention from the moment the Emperor Motion Pictures logo dissolved to the moment the credits began to roll.  It reminded me a lot of PROTEGE in that a handful of off key moments tainted what was otherwise a fine film.  That said, it’s a better, more compelling film than PROTEGE and an eminently satisfying Hong Kong movie experience.

MORE THOUGHTS: Two aspects of THE BEAST STALKER keep it just a shade under the “great movie” category.  The first is the flashback ending that detracts rather than enhances what happened in the rest of the movie.  The second is a couple of instances of overacting by Nic Tse.

When I rated the HKFA nominated best films last year, I put Johnnie To’s EYE IN THE SKY at the top.  Other HK movie buffs derided the movie and rated it lower because they felt it was too contrived and relied too much on coincidence to move its plot forward.  Well, the contrivances in EYE IN THE SKY pale in comparison to the contrivance at the end of THE BEAST STALKER.  The “needle in a haystack” contrivance at the end of EYE IN THE SKY is easier to swallow than the “one stone, many ripples” contrivance at the end of THE BEAST STALKER.  Sure, the flashback in the closing minutes of THE BEAST STALKER ties a bow on the package.  Unfortunately, it’s an ugly-looking bow that distracts from an otherwise neatly-wrapped package.  In fact, the film probably would not have been hurt one bit if the characters weren’t bound together by a strange twist of fate.

law_order_2009.jpgMaybe my perspective has been skewed by watching 16 out of the 19 seasons of LAW & ORDER (I didn’t start watching until the third season and I missed one season because of cancer treatments) but there’s no way in real life that the Secretary of Justice would let Ann Gao continue with the prosecution of chief bad guy Cheung Yat-Tung.  Having conducted all of my criminal enterprises here in the West, I’m not intimately familiar with the Hong Kong legal system but letting Ann Gao prosecute a man who was involved in the death of her daughter screams “conflict of interest”.  Also, one of the reasons the Secretary of Justice lets Ann Gao continue is because it’s a cut-and-dried “slam dunk” case.  Well, wouldn’t that be a good reason to let another prosecutor handle the case?  If it’s such an “open and shut” case, couldn’t any semi-competent prosecutor take over?  Just another contrivance that bugs about the film.

Promotional image for TVB’s AIMING HIGH

Before I begin slamming Nic Tse’s performance, I want to make it clear that I think he’s come a long, long way from the first time I saw him in a major production: the 1998 TVB series AIMING HIGH (撻出愛火花).  He’s matured quite a bit and has added an air of gravitas to his screen charisma.  Back when I ran my old site — especially during the weeks I did daily translations of the coverage from his perversion of justice case — I pegged him to be just another pretty-boy idol who’d get a longer run than he deserved because of his pedigree.  After watching his work in THE BEAST STALKER, I’m convinced that he can, if he wants, have a long career as a respected actor.  However …

… there are moments in THE BEAST STALKER where his acting is so over-the-top, it’s unintentionally funny.  The first instance happens early in the film when he chews out a subordinate for screwing up during a raid.  Tse’s sergeant-in-charge-of-a-squad is supposed to command respect because he’s a good cop but the way Tse does the screaming scene makes him seem like the type of boss that underlings roll their eyes at instead of one they respect.  I actually started laughing during that scene because it reminded me of the comic-relief angry superiors that were staples in ’80s era cop movies like BEVERLY HILLS COP and LETHAL WEAPON.

The second instance happens near the end of the film when Tse’s character is weeping and we learn that he’s suicidal.  Tse gets the physical mechanics of crying right but it feels empty — there isn’t, as Bruce Lee would say, “emotional content” in the weeping.  I watched the movie with my friend Steve (I supplied the DVD, he supplied a bacon, cheese and mushroom pizza and a vegetarian pizza).  Halfway through Tse’s weeping scene, Steve starts laughing and doing the Nancy Kerrigan “Why? Why?” bit.  A more accomplished actor like my cousin Tony or my other cousin Tony would have found the right register for the scene and kept the momentum going instead of derailing it by going over-the-top.

Nic Tse in THE BEAST STALKER (left), Nancy Kerrigan (right)

I’m not saying Tse is a bad actor.  I think he just needs more experience to fine tune his acting abilities.  Actors like Chow Yun-Fat, Simon Yam Tat-Wah and my cousin Tony perfected their skills by doing hundreds of hours of acting in TVB dramas before they made the transition to the big screen.  Tse doesn’t have that depth of experience yet and it showed in those two scenes.  He’s well on his way, however, to being a top actor.  As Kozo pointed out in his review, Nic Tse is aging well.  I don’t think Nic Tse circa 2004 pulls off the “I’m sorry” scene with Derek Kwok Jing-Ying.

Derek Kwok (centre) and Nic Tse (right) in THE BEAST STALKER

MISCELLANEA: 

In my review of the BANGKOK DANGEROUS remake, I squeezed my friend Keri’s shoes for being annoyed by Charlie Yeung Choi-Lei’s visible panty line.  Now, the shoe is on the other foot as I was annoyed by Miao Pu’s pristinely manicured fingers.  They just seemed so out-of-place for Miao’s character.  How does a woman in her condition end up with such well-maintained finger nails?  It’s not like she can do it herself and it’s not like her almost blind husband is going to do it for her.  I suppose that Nick Cheung’s character could have hired a manicurist to come over and do it but that seems unlikely since he was keeping his wife in a hidden room and hostages in another part of the flat.

beast_stalker_1.jpg

- Speaking of Nick Cheung, he’s the leader in the clubhouse for my Best Actor pick.  I haven’t seen Donnie Yen in IP MAN or Louis Koo in RUN PAPA RUN yet (DVDs are in the mail) but I think Cheung’s work in THE BEAST STALKER is superior to my cousin Tony’s performance in RED CLIFF and Simon Yam’s performance in SPARROW.  Not only did Cheung show touching and compassionate sides in the way he dealt with his wife and his little kid hostage, he easily transformed, with his cloudy eye and marked up face, into a relentlessly menacing Terminator-like presence.  An excellent, taut performance that demonstrated Cheung’s diverse skill and great range.

Nick Cheung in THE BEAST STALKER

- As for Liu Kai-Chi’s prospects in the Best Supporting Actor category, I think he’s in tough going up against the likes of Stephen Chow in CJ7 and Zhang Fengyi’s Cao Cao in RED CLIFF.

- Flaws and all, I think THE BEAST STALKER could have easily taken CJ7’s place in the Best Film category.  PROTEGE got nominated last year and it has more holes and bad moments than THE BEAST STALKER.

Image credits: NBC Universal (LAW & ORDER graphic), TVB (AIMING HIGH graphic), ABC (Nancy Kerrigan), Emperor Motion Pictures (THE BEAST STALKER screen grabs)

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)

On The Axis Of Global Film Financing

A scouting report on the Hong Kong entertainment circle content in the new Oliver Stone film W. for those of you who are interested but not interested enough to fight through the crowd going to HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL 3 then sit through an 131 minute biopic about George W. Bush.

W.
Official Site: http://www.wthefilm.com/
Director: Oliver Stone
Cast: Josh Brolin (George W. Bush), Elizabeth Banks (Laura Bush), James Cromwell (George H. W. Bush), Richard Dreyfuss (Dick Cheney), Thandie Newton (Condoleezza Rice), Jeffrey Wright (Colin Powell), Teresa Cheung Siu-Wai (Reporter/”Miss China”), Maria Chen Chai-Ping (Military Aide)

Synopsis (from the official site): Whether you love him or hate him, there is no question that George W. Bush is one of the most controversial public figures in recent memory. In an unprecedented undertaking, acclaimed director Oliver Stone is bringing the life of our 43rd President to the big screen as only he can. W. takes viewers through Bush’s eventful life — his struggles and triumphs, how he found both his wife and his faith, and of course the critical days leading up to Bush’s decision to invade Iraq.

Movie Poster for W.PRE-CONCEIVED NOTIONS: When I first heard about this film late last year, my inclination was to skip it.  I follow the news and, like Sarah Palin, I read all the papers so I’ve had my fill of George W. Bush and the American political scene with its 32-month long presidential election process.  But then, I read on Kenixfan’s blog, A Pessimist Is Never Disappointed, that Gillian Chung Yan-Tung had a small role in the film as an exotic dancer.  Now, I definitely had to see the movie.

After a little research, I learned that Gillian Chung wasn’t going to be the only HK personality in the movie.  Teresa Cheung (aka Teresa Chiang Siu-Wai, the former Mrs. Kenny Bee) has a small role as a reporter while Elena Kong Mei-Yi (江美儀) and Maria Chen (陳霽平 aka Maria Chan Chai-Ping) also, according to Chinese media reports, have bit parts.  Chung likely owed her part to the fact that Albert Yeung Sau-Sing’s Emperor Multimedia Group is one of the financial backers of W. and is credited with being one of its executive producers.  Likewise, Teresa Cheung, Kong and Chen probably have parts through their involvement with Global Entertainment Group — another of the film’s financial backers.

Armed with this information, bookmakers in the Republic of Sanneyistan set the over/under for “number of lines that Gillian Chung has in the movie” at 0.5.  I’m betting 50 Sanneyistan dollars on the under.  If a real bookmaker had that line, I have a feeling I’d make a killing on that bet.  What would I do with the winnings?  I’d head directly for Casey’s Sandwich and Ice Cream Emporium where I’d buy more of their delicious, but seasonal, pumpkin ice cream.  It’s really, really good but, alas, really, really expensive.  Honestly, I think it’d be cheaper to develop a crack cocaine habit.

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AFTER THE MOVIE: No more beating around the bush.  Let’s get directly to the only thing most of you care about: Gillian Chung’s role in the movie.  Just one problem, Gillian Chung’s part did not make the final theatrical cut so fans of Ah Gil will have to wait to see if she makes the extras on the DVD.  However, she did film scenes as an exotic dancer for the film.  In the first week of July, Chung did fly to Shreveport, Louisiana to shoot her part.  If you want photographic evidence, Twins fan Twins Evolution posted clippings from a July edition of a HK magazine showing Chung in her costume (left, click on picture for larger image).  He also posted a “stalkin’ the stars” photo essay of Chung and her EEG handler spending two hours at a Shreveport Wal-Mart.  Related photos:

The back of Gillian Chung’s costume

Gillian Chung in Shreveport with her handlers

Gillian Chung texting while in a Shreveport Wal-Mart

Gillian Chung shopping at Wal-Mart

Chung has yet to speak publicly about being left out of W. but Charlene Choi Cheuk-Yin, Chung’s Twins bandmate turned media surrogate, downplayed the omission.  At a promotional event for Moov on October 15th, Choi responded to questions about Chung and W. by saying: “It doesn’t really matter because the most important thing is the valuable experience she got just from working on the movie.” ¹

As for the other HK personalities who had parts in the movie:

- Teresa Cheung (who doubled as an executive producer of the film): Has a couple of lines in an appearance as a reporter at a White House press conference towards the end of the movie.  Wanting to take her question but not knowing her name, Bush refers to Cheung’s character as “Miss China”.

- Maria Chen (aka Chan Chai-Ping, a contestant in the Miss HK 1995 Paegant won by Winnie Yeung Yuen-Yee): Appears as a military aide in a scene near the end of the film.  She has no lines as she stands behind Bush while he visits injured soldiers at a veterans’ hospital.

- Elena Kong Mei-Yi: Filmed a scene as an “Asian reporter” but, like Gillian Chung, did not make the theatrical cut.

ABOUT THE MOVIE: W. is an Oliver Stone film so, technically speaking, it’s very well made.  Even though the subject matter doesn’t lend itself to flashy filmmaking, there are, nonetheless, some very cool-looking shots and transitions.  The acting is first-rate but uneven.  Josh Brolin captures not only George W. Bush’s mannerisms but the force of his personality as well.  Buried under a wig and makeup, Thandie Newton is unrecognizable as she takes on a thankless role as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.  On the other hand, James Cromwell and Scott Glenn make no attempt to mimic the real George H. W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld respectively.  Glenn’s Rumsfeld is especially disconcerting.  It’s hard to connect Glenn, who stands over six feet tall, to the diminutive 5′ 6″/5′ 7″ Rumsfeld familiar to everyone through years of news coverage.

Backed by the work of investigative reporters like Bob Woodward, James Risen, Ron Susskind and Jane Mayer among others², W. does not offer revisionist history like Stone’s previous presidential films JFK and Nixon.  Instead, it offers a mostly straightforward depiction of George W. Bush’s rise from legacy kid fratboy to the 43rd President of the United States.

The only questionable part of the portrayal is the film’s contention that the primary motivation behind Bush’s political decisions (be it running for political office or the invasion of Iraq) was to get approval from a cold and aloof father.  More time has to pass and more insight has to be gained before an argument like that can be made.  It’s one thing to show information gleaned about closed door meetings from tell-all books, it’s quite another to show supposition about what’s in a man’s mind and heart.  Perspective from the passage of time and insights from biographies have to emerge for the argument to become credible.  Otherwise, it’s just speculation.  Still, the “daddy issues” aspects of W. aren’t as preposterous as conjecture found in other historical dramas.  Take, for example, Borte going to a Tangut outpost to rescue Temudjin from slavery in MONGOL or Cao Cao going to war in RED CLIFF because he has the hots for Xiao Qiao.

Lin Chi-Ling as Xiao Qiao in RED CLIFF

Whether you’re for W. or against W. will depend largely on your interest in American politics, if you find the subject fascinating then there’s enough in W. to keep you engaged.  If you’re thawed towards American politics, this movie isn’t going to unthaw you.  You’d probably be better off spending your money on expensive but delicious artisan ice cream made with in-season ingredients.

¹ Sina.com article “蔡卓妍丟行李險淚灑機場 力挺鍾欣桐好萊塢新戲” from October 17th 2008

² Simon Houpt, “Walking in Dubya’s shoes” from The Globe and Mail, October 20th 2008

Image credits: Ixtlan Corporation (W. movie poster), Lion Rock Productions (Lin Chi-Ling)

 
 
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