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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 ‘Movie Reviews’ Category

27th Hong Kong Film Awards Preview: Best Film

With the 27th Hong Kong Film Awards a little less than two weeks away, it’s time to start a series of blog posts breaking down the nominees in eight categories: Best Film, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress and Best New Actor. My knowledge of the “nuts and bolts” of filmmaking can be charitably described as perfunctory so I won’t be doing the technical categories.

Rather than save the top category for last, let’s start the proceedings with a bang by looking at the Best Film category. The nominees are:

THE WARLORDS
PROTEGE
THE POSTMODERN LIFE OF MY AUNT
THE MAD DETECTIVE
EYE IN THE SKY

Before ranking the five nominees, it bears mentioning that, had it qualified, Ang Lee’s LUST, CAUTION would be the prohibitive favourite. It outpaces all of the nominated films in production, acting and storytelling. While some would argue that LUST, CAUTION has its flaws, they are relatively minor compared to each of the nominees which are all notably flawed in some form or another.

5. THE POSTMODERN LIFE OF MY AUNT

Regular readers of this blog will know that I don’t have great affection for this film and was dismayed when it was named Best Film by the Hong Kong Film Critics Society. In preparation for this post, I watched the movie again to see if I could see what its supporters are seeing in the film. While I gained a new appreciation for its fine technical craftsmanship and can Bruce Lee and Stephen Tung Wai in ENTER THE DRAGONunderstand what the HKFCS was talking about when it lauded Ann Hui On-Wah’s “exquisite brushwork”, I still believe that the film lacks “emotional content”. It’s an skillful exhibition of acting and filmmaking but it leaves most viewers looking at the finger pointing to Moon instead of showing them the heavenly glory.

A comparison to last year’s HKFA Best Film, AFTER THIS OUR EXILE, is telling. Both offer a depressing narrative of a downward spiral but while AFTER THIS OUR EXILE paints an emotionally impactful portrait of the relationship between a father and son, THE POSTMODERN LIFE OF MY AUNT leaves most viewers cold. Minds register the cruelties of life that Ye Rutang endures but hearts are not touched. As a result, most viewers will look at the negative world-view of THE POSTMODERN LIFE OF MY AUNT and say: “Yeah, so?”

Definitely not the response that an award-winning film should elicit.

4. THE WARLORDS

Like THE POSTMODERN LIFE OF MY AUNT, THE WARLORDS features accomplished film technique but it has significant storytelling problems that keep it from serious consideration for the Best Film title. In its depiction of a fictionalized account of the August 22nd, 1870 assassination of provincial governor Ma Xin-Yi (馬新眙), the film needlessly complicates an oft-told tale that has customarily been presented as a simple wuxia fable about the nature of honour, brotherhood and betrayal. I may, for a future post, open a House Where Words Gather investigation on the history behind THE WARLORDS and get a copy of 《江湖奇俠傳》 (”Astonishing Tales of Jiangwu Heroes”) by Ping Jiang Bu Xiao Sheng (平江不肖生) — the early 20th Century book which details the story of the Ma Assassination. For now, I’ll just say that it’s my understanding that Ma was in government for personal fortune rather than the public good and that he obtained his high position by exploiting and betraying his “brothers” rather than through heroic military feats.

It is, then, puzzling that Peter Chan Ho-Sun and company chose to confuse viewers by introducing but not adequately explaining extraneous plot elements like the Taiping Rebellion, the role of Christianity in the conflict, the various political factions of the Qing government and the treachery of the Kui army. The film would have been much more effective had it concentrated on the relationship between the three sworn brothers and the familiar 偽君子 (ngai gwan ji or “false gentleman”) narrative of the Ma Xin-Yi based character. A story focused on honour and betrayal would have resonated deeply with viewers. Most people understand brotherhood, loyalty and duplicity. Very few people understand, or care about, the decline of the Qing Dynasty in the late-19th Century or the significance of Suzhou and Nanjing during the Taiping Rebellion.

Perhaps Peter Chan and his writers felt that they needed to add historical gravitas to justify the film’s billing as a “lavish epic made for multiple markets”. Perhaps they added the “I’m doing this for the good of the people” plot thread because they didn’t want Jet Li to play a full-on corrupt scumbag. Whatever the reason, award-winning films do not have the muddled storytelling found in THE WARLORDS.

3. THE MAD DETECTIVE

I think that it’s appropriate for me to step aside here and let three of my “inner personalities” speak about the film:

Marcus Tullius Cicero from ROME: Immortals. Immortals, I say. In the years since Milkway Image was formed in 1997, Johnnie To David Bamber as Marcus Tullius Cicero from ROMEKei-Fung and Wai Ka-Fai have carved their names deep in the eternal stone of Hong Kong culture. By delivering a stylish, fresh perspective on the crime genre in efforts like TOO MANY WAYS TO BE NO. 1 and THE ODD ONE DIES, they were a beacon of light during the creative darkness around the time of the Handover. They persevered through the Asian economic crisis and put out a series of enthralling little gems like THE LONGEST NITE, EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED and WHERE A GOOD MAN GOES. They earned well-deserved commercial success with popular works like RUNNING OUT OF TIME and NEEDING YOU. Since then, be it working together or working apart, they have sustained a level of excellence and have continued to provoke and entertain audiences with titles like RUNNING ON KARMA and ELECTION. THE MAD DETECTIVE is no exception. Once again, To and Wai continue to innovate by using a standard crime drama platform as a springboard to give insight into human nature. The Muses themselves could not have inspired a finer premise. Johnnie To and Wai Ka-Fai truly are heroes of Hong Kong Cinema.

Summer Glau as Cameron the Terminator from TERMINATOR: THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLESCameron the Terminator from TERMINATOR: THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES: I can’t say that this movie is tight. I processed the film through my human psychology subroutine and it predicts that audience interest level will be high initially but will decrease considerably as the film progresses. I do not detect much substance in the premise beyond the “inner personality” concept and later events do not mesh cohesively with earlier events. I calculate that most humans will feel disappointment after watching the film because the expectations raised in the first part of the movie are not met in the second part.

Tamio Kageyama, deceased Japanese novelist and IRON CHEF judge: The film got my attention from the very first Tamio Kageyamasequence when Lau Ching-Wan’s Inspector Bun solves a crime by having himself zipped inside a suitcase and kicked down a flight of stairs. A marvelous opening. I was intrigued further when it was revealed that Inspector Bun could see “inner personalities”. A very provocative idea. From that point on, I feel that the film didn’t take full advantage of these two creative constructs. The best of the Milkyway films have a well-developed foundation that builds to an explosive climax. Recall the gunfights at the ends of PTU and EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED, the tragedy at the end of RUNNING ON KARMA or the revelation at the end of ELECTION 2. By contrast, the concepts in THE MAD DETECTIVE feel under-developed. There is little depth to the Inspector Bun character beyond his eccentricity and the “inner personality” idea leads to an ending that goes “pop, pop, pop” like a string of Lunar New Year firecrackers rather than the “boom” of the better Milkyway titles. THE MAD DETECTIVE is a decent film with a remarkable premise but it doesn’t measure up to the standard of excellence that defines award-winning films.

2. PROTEGE

When I was considering what to write about PROTEGE, I couldn’t help thinking of AMERICAN IDOL judge Randy JacksonAMERICAN IDOL judge Randy Jackson because my general opinion of the film mirrors his standard line of criticism for the Idol contestants: “Yo dawg … I didn’t agree with some of the choices the film made but it was a’ight … kinda pitchy though … some parts of it were ‘off’ … but it was a’ight”.

Leading the way with 15 nominations, PROTEGE takes a sweeping look at the drug trade in Hong Kong. The film admirably details everything from the way the drug kingpin manages his operation to the efforts of the police to stop the illicit activity to the toll it takes on junkies and their loved ones. Unlike THE POSTMODERN LIFE OF MY AUNT, it also gets viewers to care about its characters be it the lonely undercover cop played by Daniel Wu or the ailing drug lord played by Andy Lau Tak-Wah. Some may argue that a pervasive anti-drug message taints the film but having seen my share of ham-fisted “very special episodes” of LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT, I didn’t find the “don’t do drugs” message cloying or intrusive.

The problem with the film is that it’s “pitchy”. It hits several notes that are off key. Leading the way is the Louis Koo character and his story arc. Koo’s junkie is more of a caricature than a character and his fate rings strikingly false in a film that is otherwise infused with realistic detail. Furthermore, one of PROTEGE’s dramatic crescendos — a police raid on a drug processing facility — is marred by two instances of unintentional comedy: the Wile E. Coyote-like downfall of one of the drug workers and Liu Kai-Chi breaking out his TVB physical comedy mannerisms at an inopportune time.

A “best film of the year” should be note perfect. It should move viewers with well-orchestrated rhythm and impeccably-controlled pitch and tone. PROTEGE is a commendable effort but it falls short.

1. EYE IN THE SKY

In an earlier post, I wrote that EYE IN THE SKY was a solid film that had a thoroughly captivating first sixty minutes but a flawed, though not fatally so, final thirty minutes. Two months later, I stand by that assessment and, having compared it to its fellow nominees, feel that it should win the HKFA for Best Film. Admittedly, the ending relies too much upon coincidence but that’s a relatively small flaw when you consider the problems with the other Best Film nominees. I don’t think it is the best of the 2007 crop of films but it is the best in the group of the five nominated films.

I think EYE IN THE SKY has only an outside shot of winning the award. I suspect some voters may believe that it is too slight to be worthy of the best film title. I have a feeling that THE POSTMODERN LIFE OF MY AUNT will come away as the winner.

If this were the Republic of Sanneyistan Film Awards, then LUST, CAUTION would be declared Best Film of 2007 and HOOKED ON YOU and MR. CINEMA would get nominations instead of THE POSTMODERN LIFE OF MY AUNT and THE WARLORDS. Frankly, I’m surprised that two films celebrating HONG KONG didn’t get any attention in this category for the HONG KONG Film Awards. I can understand how some may feel that MR. CINEMA does not deserve consideration because of the way it totally sidestepped the events of June 4, 1989 but, surely, solid arguments can be made that it and HOOKED ON YOU were better films than THE WARLORDS. To me, the nomination for THE WARLORDS is based mostly on reputation and the billing of the film as a grand epic rather than actual merit. It’s like when a 38 year-old veteran gets selected to be play in an all-star game even though he hasn’t performed at an all-star level in years. THE WARLORDS is fine as entertainment but it doesn’t come close to being worthy of a best film nomination. I think a Western equivalent would be if the Academy nominated SPIDER-MAN 3 for the Best Film Oscar this past year. I put SPIDER-MAN 3 and THE WARLORDS in the same boat. They were both surrounded by a tremendous amount of buzz. They look great and sound great but both have storytelling problems and lack any real charm.

IMAGE CREDITS: Warner Brothers (ENTER THE DRAGON screen grab), HBO (ROME promotional graphic), Fox Broadcasting Company (Summer Glau, Randy Jackson), Fuji TV (Tamio Kageyama)

Question About The Ending of PROTEGE

SPOILER WARNING: This post talks about the ending of Derek Yee Tung-Sing’s film PROTEGE. If you haven’t seen it yet and don’t want the ending spoiled, you know what you have to do …

caution_spoilers.gif

I’m wondering what people think happened with Daniel Wu’s character in the closing scene. Did the little kid stop Daniel Wu from shooting up or was it a callback to the beginning of the movie when she picked up the needle and threw it in
the trash after her mother shot up? I zaprudered the scene and it looks like she arrives just as he’s about to shoot up but it’s hard to tell.

protege_1.jpg

What’s your opinion? Did Daniel Wu’s character realize that the little girl gave his life meaning or was he on the road to becoming a junkie like the girl’s mother?

I’ll share my thoughts about the movie later this month when I break down the Best Film category for the upcoming Hong Kong Film Awards. Right now, I’ll just say that — for a “best film of the year” candidate — it has a lot of problems.

IMAGE CREDIT: Film Unlimited (PROTEGE screen grab)

Thoughts on EYE IN THE SKY

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Back from buying a giant cage at the pet store, I’m ready to share some thoughts on EYE IN THE SKY.

EYE IN THE SKY
跟蹤

Cantonese: Gun chung
Mandarin: Gen zong
English: Following The Tracks
Official Site: http://www.eyeinthesky.com.hk/
Director: Yau Nai-Hoi
Cast: Simon Yam Tat-Wah (Dog Head), Tony Leung Ka-Fai (Shan), Kate Tsui Tsz-Shan (Piggy), Lam Suet (Fatman), Maggie Shiu Mei-Kei (SU Chief)

Synopsis (from Yahoo! Movies Singapore): Surveillance Unit (”SU”) is one of the most secretive branches of Hong Kong Police. Its field agents use unassuming appearance and covert operations to conduct surveillance on targets like an “eye-in-the-sky”. What they watch becomes crucial intelligence leading to the arrest of criminals. SU unit leader Dog Head (Simon Yam) receives an order to seek out suspects of a highly publicized jewelry heist. Rookie agent Piggy (Kate Tsui) and her teammates conduct extensive stakeout looking for the elusive target. What they don’t know is heist mastermind Shan (Tony Leung) knows too well to shake off the police. On the busy streets of Hong Kong, a game of hide-and-seek ensues…

PRE-CONCEIVED NOTIONS: Not too many since the film didn’t even pop up on my radar until November 2007 when I started the process of rehabilitating my HK entertainment database. Even then, the words “eye in the sky” didn’t make me think about Milkyway, Simon Yam and Tony Leung Ka-Fai, it made me think: “I am the eye in the sky, lookin’ at yoooouuu, I can read your mind …”. In fact, I actually went through some boxes looking for a mix tape I had from the early-1980s that had “Eye in The Sky” on it. This gave me a chance to relive childhood memories since the tape also contained — in glorious monaural sound — such ’80s era oldies as: “Love is a Battlefield”, “Cum On Feel The Noize”, “99 Red Balloons” (both English and German versions), “Gloria”, “Hold Me Now”, “Abracadara” and “Who Can It Be Now?”. Man, I’m old. ;-)

Miss Hong Kong 2004 Kate Tsui Tsz-ShanReminiscences of days past aside, EYE IN THE SKY is a Milkyway production starring two veteran actors so I’m anticipating a good movie. The only wild card is Kate Tsui Tsz-Shan. When I saw her name in the cast list for the film, my initial reaction was “one of the Cookies/Mini-Cookies is in a Milkyway film?”. Then, I remembered that she was the winner of the second last Miss Hong Kong Pageant, 2004, I covered on my old site. All I recall from that year was that Kate Tsui was sort of an unexpected winner and that Devily Leung Lai-Yan (contestant #11) had a cool English name. After doing some research on the Internet, I’m not expecting much out of Miss Tsui. The prevailing opinion on her acting out there in the discussion forums — both English and Chinese — goes like this: “She is not that pretty and her acting is soooo fake. I don’t know if she can improve. I don’t even know how she won Miss HK.” Ouch.

AFTER THE MOVIE: Despite a couple of dubious plot points and one cheestastic scene near the end of the movie, EYE IN THE SKY is solid entertainment and another quality addition to the renowned Milkyway body of work. Some may argue that the flaws in the last thirty minutes of the film tarnishes what happens in the thoroughly engrossing first sixty minutes but the flaws are not fatal. Moreover, by the time the questionable sequences appear, the film has built enough momentum to carry through to the end the suspension of disbelief for most viewers.

MORE THOUGHTS (WARNING: contains spoilers): On the grand scale of far fetched movie contrivances, the convergence of the Shan plot line and the gambling debt guy plot line tends toward the “it could happen” end of the scale rather than the “totally preposterous” end. After all, Hong Kong crams seven million people into an area of only 1,104 square kilometres — that works out to 6,420 people per square kilometre. By comparison, Los Angeles has a population density of 3,077 people per square kilometre. Therefore, it’s not totally inconceivable that Piggy could spot Shan while on the trail of the gambling debt guy turned kidnapper.

Besides, the momentum and goodwill generated by the finely-tuned and captivating storytelling in the first two-thirds of the movie should earn it enough slack to sustain its “cinematic illusion” for all but the most nitpicky of viewers. Never underestimate the power of momentum and goodwill. It can even carry through from movie to movie. The goodwill generated by Wong Kar-Wai in CHUNGKING EXPRESS and IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE sustained me through the messy ASHES OF TIME and the ostentatious 2046 respectively. The momentum of A BETTER TOMORROW not only got me to buy that Mark had a twin brother named Ken in A BETTER TOMORROW II, it even got me to swallow that goofy “eat my rice” sequence.

Chow Yun-Fat as Ken in A BETTER TOMORROW II

While the plot contrivances pose no great obstacle to EYE IN THE SKY’s momentum, there is one cheesy scene near the end that may provoke momentum-killing groans from some viewers. The sequence starts at around 1:19:00. Dog Head has his carotid artery slashed by Shan and everyone back at SU headquarters is exhorting him to tell a story because they don’t want him to fade out and die. When Dog Head falls silent, Piggy loses track of Shan, starts crying and collapses on the street in the pouring rain. Then, Dog Head suddenly resumes his story, the rain stops, the sky clears, Piggy gets up from off her knees and spots Shan just ahead. The sequence — complete with twangy music signaling poignancy à la FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS (the movie not the television series) — is so heavy-handed and corny the only way it could be more cheesy is if everything went into slow-motion and Jimmy Cliff started singing: “I can see clearly now, the rain is gone …”.

eye_in_the_sky_1.jpg

Not only is the sequence wildly melodramatic, it isn’t true to the logic of the film. Are you telling me that Shan — heretofore shown to be careful, precise and a little paranoid — was steps ahead of Piggy but did not notice her fall to her knees and cry “TAAAALK!!!” into her microphone like William Shatner yelled “KHAAAAAN!!!” in STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN?

William Shatner in STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN

Shatneresque-level of cheese notwithstanding, the rest of EYE IN THE SKY has laid a solid foundation that is strong enough to withstand the blow from the kitschy scene. The way it shows the nuts-and-bolts operation of the Surveillance Unit and its cat-and-mouse pursuit of Shan and his henchmen is riveting. Like Spock in STAR TREK II, I will invoke logic and say that the good of the many scenes in the first two-thirds of EYE IN THE SKY outweighs the bad of the few plot contrivances in the last third and the one cheesy climactic scene.

MISCELLANEA:

-It may be because my expectations were lowered by the drubbing she takes on the discussion boards but I was very impressed with Kate Tsui’s performance. In stark contrast to all the chatter about how she overacts, I found Tsui very measured and very restrained. She hits the right notes in the right spots be it inexperience, fatigue or controlled fear. Her performance as an inexperienced rookie is so convincing, I was a bit taken aback by how sophisticated and cool she appeared in the “piggy has been become a hunting doggy” scene at the end. Since there seem to be no babies to nominate this year, I fully expect Kate Tsui to get a Best New Artist nomination for the upcoming 27th Annual Hong Kong Film Awards.

- If my local Chinese video store hadn’t gone out of business while I was ill, I would have run out and rented LA FEMME DESPERADO or STEPS to see if the criticism Kate Tsui receives for her TVB work is justified. As it is, I have to settle for the DVD of CONTRACT LOVER to see how she handles herself in a different genre.

- Kate Tsui’s performance also got me thinking about past actresses from the “Miss Hong Kong School” (香港小姐派) and wondering if any one else who emerged from the Miss Hong Kong Pageant could have done as well in EYE THE SKY. Specifically, I’m trying to think if any other beauty contestant-turned-actress could have given a similar or better performance two years or so into their careers. This rules out anyone from the 2005, 2006 and 2007 pageants since it’s too early to tell about them. I don’t think any of Sonija Kwok Sin-Lei (1999), Myolie Wu Hung-Yi (1999), Anne Heung Hoi-Lan (1998), Bernice Liu Bik-Yi (Miss Chinese International 2001), Michelle Ye (Miss Chinese International 1997) or Charmaine Sheh Si-Man (1997) could have done this at a similar point in their careers so we have to go back to pre-1995.

Kenix Kwok Ho-Ying (1993)? Maggie Cheung Ho-Yee (1994)? As much as it pains me to say, I don’t think either of these ladies could have been convincing as an inexperienced rookie.

Valerie Chow Ka-Ling (1991)? Anita Yuen Wing-Yi (1990)? Maybe. I hate to admit this but my memory is so fuzzy on Anita Yuen’s early career, I can’t say if she had any real skills around the 1992/1993 period.

Ada Choi Siu-Fan (1991)? Michelle Reis (Lee Ka-Yan, 1988)? Elizabeth Lee Mei-Fung (1987)? Too hot to be believable as a dopey, inexperienced “piggy”.

Chingmy Yau Suk-Ching (1987)? Uh, no. Maybe EROTIC EYE IN THE SKY …

Maggie Cheung Man-Yuk (1984)? With all due respect to the actress she has become, she was doing nothing but “flower vase” roles in her early film career and her work in the first POLICE CADET was raw so I’m not sure she could have pulled it off. Although, you never know. Different time, different era so it’s hard to say.

Barbara Yung Mei-Ling (1982)? After watching the first twenty episodes of LEGEND OF THE CONDOR HEROES (1983), I don’t think she had the chops for a precise, dramatic performance.

Olivia Cheng Man-Nga (1979)? Angie Chiu Nga-Chi (1973)? Maybe. I remember being impressed by their work when I saw their TV series as a kid but what does someone who just learned the multiplication table know about acting? Anyway, as with Maggie Cheung Man-Yuk — different time, different era so hard to say.

Good God, I went all the way back to 1973. I feel like the HK entertainment circle equivalent of Dr. Z — talking about 70s era actresses in a review of a 2007 film is exactly like talking about Weeb Ewbank and Joe Namath in the era of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. Man, I’m old.

- Speaking of being old, I was going to go on an Abe Simpson-like old guy rant on the absurdity of Kate Tsui being forced to apologize for talking about sex on a public radio information programme. However, this post is already too long so I’ll close the Kate Tsui portion with this thought: Is it just me or, in the picture below, does Kate Tsui have a look on her face that suggests: “Give me any guff and I’ll turn this sceptre into a suppository”?

kate_tsui_sceptre.jpg

- I was disappointed but not surprised to learn that EYE IN THE SKY did poorly at the HK box office (earning just a little over HK$4 million during its run). In many ways, it reminds me of the early Milkyway films like WHERE A GOOD MAN GOES and EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED. If I recall correctly, those movies did not fare well at the box office either. Instead, they found their audience on home video and, I suspect, this is where most people will discover EYE IN THE SKY. I used to keep a spreadsheet of HK box office figures going back to when I started doing translations in the late-1990s so I would have backed up this argument with hard numbers. Alas, I lost the file in the Great Hard Drive Crash of 2007. I’m confident, however, that Milkway’s first box office hit was RUNNING OUT OF TIME and that all its movies before then didn’t break HK$10 million. If any one has the old numbers, it’d be great if I could find out whether or not my memory is faulty.

Public Service Announcement Time: Kids, always back up your data on a regular basis. You never know when a hard drive failure will occur.

- I think EYE IN THE SKY is a good candidate for a Hollywood remake. The material should translate to Western audiences better than THE MISSION or EXILED. I’m just not sure if any American city has the density of camera surveillance or octopus card technology to support the plot. Maybe it’d have to be set in London. Anyway, the advantage an EYE IN THE SKY remake will have is that you can draw an audience by casting a compelling hot babe to play Piggy. There’s no compelling hot babe role in either THE MISSION or EXILED.

- I was heartened to see that Maggie Siu Mei-Kei (aka Maggie Shiu) got a Golden Horse nomination for her role as the SU head. She always does so much with the smallest of roles be it a foul-mouthed superior in this film, a triad wife in ELECTION or a nervous PTU cop in PTU. It’s a shame that some casual HK entertainment fans still think of her as “the girl Ekin Cheng Yi-Kin dumped for Gigi Leung Wing-Kei”.

- Maybe he’s just too good-looking but the twenty pounds Simon Yam gained to play “wolf in schlub’s clothing” Dog Head didn’t make him convincing as a schlub. The bad fat-pack they strapped to his gut didn’t help much either. They should have gone with the body-suit technology used in LOVE ON A DIET or RUNNING ON KARMA or, better yet, abandon the whole fat idea and just gone with wardrobe and Simon Yam’s acting. The way it ended up being done is very distracting.

TANGENTIALLY SPEAKING: While we’re on the subject of films that had a questionable ending but a great opening Takashi Shimura (left) as Kambei Shimada and Daisuke Kato (right) as Shichiroji in SEVEN SAMURAIand middle, I saw NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN recently and came away disappointed. What the heck kind of ending was that? It’s like if SEVEN SAMURAI kept the buildup and the opening skirmishes between the reinforced village and the bandits but then skipped to Kambei Shimada and Shichiroji talking about how the farmers won and the samurai lost. Wholly unsatisfying. People I’ve spoken to who claim to like the ending always seem to have talked themselves into liking it. I have yet to hear from anyone who viscerally liked that ending when the credits started rolling. It’s always “well I thought about it for a bit and …”.

HAPPY, HAPPY: Happy 32nd birthday, tomorrow, to my ex-entertainment circle girlfriend Ruby Lin (Lam Sum-Yu). I wonder what she’s up to these days. Also, happy 37th birthday to Fann Wong.

IMAGE CREDITS: TVB (Kate Tsui), Cinema City Film Productions (Chow Yun-Fat in A BETTER TOMORROW II), Milky Way Image Company (EYE IN THE SKY screen grabs), Paramount Pictures (William Shatner in STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN), TVB by way of Miss HK Beauty (Kate Tsui), Toho Company (SEVEN SAMURAI screen grab)

Thoughts on HOOKED ON YOU

hooked_1.jpg

I’m ready to share some thoughts on HOOKED ON YOU now that I’m back home after a trip to the St. Annie Cake Shop where I redeemed my cake coupons before the store went out of business.

HOOKED ON YOU
每當變幻時

Official Site: http://www.hookedonyouthemovie.com/
Director: Law Wing-Cheong
Cast: Miriam Yeung Chin-Wah (Miu), Eason Chan Yik-Shun (Fishman), Stanley Fung Tsui-Fan (Miu’s Father)

Synopsis (from Yahoo! Movies Singapore): Miu (Miriam Yeung) works as a fishmonger at the Fortune Market to pay off the debts of her father (Stanley Fung). She gives herself three years to settle her father’s debts, leave the wet market and find a man worthy of her. At the market, however, she finds herself at loggerheads with Fishman (Eason Chan) in the neighbouring stall. A fierce battle ensues but the two are forced to work together when a new supermarket threatens their business at the Fortune Market. Will Miu find her Mr Right, or is he a figment of her imagination?

PRE-CONCEIVED NOTIONS: I can’t imagine myself disliking this movie. The always reliable Johnnie To is the producer and it stars Miriam Yeung and Eason Chan — two very affable personalities that I’ve liked for years. It’s not an elaborate martial-arts costume epic engineered for the international market or an art film designed to appeal only to film sophisticates. There’s no way this film can turn out to be a stinker — right? The probability of Athena Chu Yan showing up at my front door in a short skirt and a long jacket has got to be higher than the probability of me sitting on my couch disappointed and angry after watching this movie.

AFTER THE MOVIE: As I hoped, HOOKED ON YOU did not disappoint. While a few cheesy elements and some overplayed scenes keep it from being a masterpiece, the movie is thoroughly entertaining and exquisitely captures the bittersweet sentiments of the 1970s classic Cantopop song (”When Change Occurs”) that it bases its Chinese title upon (see below). For the most part, it manages to maintain the delicate balance between being entertaining and being thought-provoking. As a result, it should please both the “artsy” crowd looking for insight and the “fartsy” crowd who just want a good time at the movies.

MORE THOUGHTS (WARNING: Contains spoilers): To me, the most remarkable aspect of HOOKED ON YOU is that it takes what is basically the setup for a disposable light-comedy TVB drama and manages to subtly deliver astute observations about the bittersweet nature of life. The effective incorporation of benchmark events from the ten years of Hong Kong history since the Handover help to highlight the theme that time passes, changes occur, there will be ups, there will be downs, you’ll win some and you’ll lose some so all you can do is move forward and not dwell too much on the past, just cherish the good times and remember the bad times. I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised by this result because I was expecting a regular, good-ol’ romantic comedy — a well-made one — but routine nonetheless. I envisioned myself sitting on the couch and going “awww, what a nice love story” as I was switched off my DVD player. I was not expecting to be dazzled by philosophical insight.

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I’m certain that the “when changes occur” message refers not just to an individual’s life but extends to Hong Kong as well. Clearly, Fortune Market is a metaphor for the Fragrant Harbour. As I don’t live there anymore, I don’t have any sort of feel for day-to-day life in Hong Kong. Therefore, I’m not going to embarrass myself by attempting to explain how the film’s message applies to Hong Kong. I do recognize that it’s there and I’m sure that it resonates somehow with the local audience.

While its philosophical accomplishments are impressive, there are flaws in HOOKED ON YOU that make it just miss the mark of being a pantheon Hong Kong film. The TVB-style setup at the beginning robs the film of a bit of the gravitas required for pantheon status. The Fishman character starts out as a caricature. Miu’s character, and her hard-luck story, come straight out of the TVB drama writer’s handbook. You also have the loveable but irresponsible parent and the local dai lo. I’m not knocking TVB and its dramas. Of the three major forms of HK entertainment: movies, TV serials and Cantopop, TV serials — especially the ones by TVB — are my favourite. If I was an emperor, then TV serials would be my empress while movies and Cantopop would be consorts that I occasionally hang around with. I’m just saying that the low-brow setup and thin characterizations rob HOOKED ON YOU of some credibility preventing it, just barely, from being thought of as a great film. It’s very good and I’ll remember it fondly but I wouldn’t categorize it as a classic.

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Speaking of TVB, I’m sure that a graduate student in sociology can find plenty of material for a thesis if they look at TVB and Hong Kong society. While jotting down a few thoughts for this post after I put the DVD away, I couldn’t help thinking of HOPE FOR SALE (街市的童話) — a 2001 TVB drama starring Gallen Lo Ka-Leung, Christine Ng Wing-Mei and Melissa Ng Mei-Hang. In the series, Gallen Lo plays a vegetable-seller who enjoys his simple life working at the wet market while Melissa Ng plays his materialistic wife. She pushes him to “better” himself and leave the market.

If HOOKED ON YOU was a TVB drama, it would have had a much different outcome. Fishman and the way he clutches to the wet market lifestyle would be seen as virtuous while Miu’s quest to leave the wet market would be vilified as materialistic and vain. HOOKED ON YOU’s nuanced message would be replaced by the standard message from TVB dramas: 平凡是福 (ping faan si fuk or “a common life is a blessing”). As TVB is in the ratings business, it has to make product that appeals to its audience so, clearly, something about the “common life is a blessing” theme appeals to Hong Kong society. Like I said, there’s a thesis in there somewhere.

MISCELLANEA:

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- I’m not a PETA supporter but I definitely felt bad for the eel that Miriam Yeung chops up at the beginning of the movie. Having watched Hiroyuki Sakai and Masaharu Moritomo slice up eels in IRON CHEF episodes, I thought I was de-sensitized to live eel killing but it looked to me that Miriam Yeung didn’t chop her eel all the way through. It must have been in agony as Yeung slid it into that plastic bag. Poor eel.

Jo Koo in VISIBLE SECRET 2- Jo Koo, where are you? Right now, if I could have an entertainment circle girlfriend, I think that it’d be Jo Koo (Kuk Tso-Lam). So, it pains me to say that I was surprised when I saw her name in the credits because I didn’t spot her in the movie. Does anyone know who she played?

Yes, if I could have an entertainment circle girlfriend it’d be Jo Koo and if I were a rich man, ya ha deedle deedle, bubba bubba deedle deedle dum. All day long I’d biddy biddy bum. If I were a wealthy man.

- Hey, it’s interesting to me! Scanning the credits, I was intrigued by the name Marie Zhuge (諸葛梓岐). Having probably spent months of my life playing various video and computer games based on ROMANCE OF THE THREE KINGDOMS, I wonder if Marie Zhuge is a descendant of the legendary Zhuge Liang (諸葛亮). A Google search yields no pictures but reveals that she is a Canadian (Yeah! Fellow Canadian!) and that she belongs to the same modeling agency as Kathy Chow Man-Kei and Qi Qi. I figure she must be Fishman’s favourite prostitute, Fishman’s wife or the girl who bugs Miu about her age. Anyone know?

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- Speaking of the girl who bugs Miu about her age, I liked the way the film used her to help mark the passage of time and advance Miu’s storyline. She started as a young woman cooking dinner for the first time for her boyfriend and ended up as a married woman with child. Anyone know who plays girl who buys Miu about her age?

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- Funny, but the last definition of “miss” — the courtesy title before the name of an unmarried woman or a girl — never occurred to me until I read the intertitle. Perhaps it would have had my “mind voice” pronounced it HK-style: “misseee”. ;-)

Cover art from a Fanny Greatest Hits albumABOUT THE SONG: HOOKED ON YOU gets its Chinese title from 每當變幻時 (”When Changes Occur”), the hit Cantopop song from 1977 sung by Fanny (薰妮 aka Fun Nei aka Fanny Wong). As you can tell from the following translation of the song lyrics, the movie does a good job of capturing the bittersweet sentiments of the song.

A quick disclaimer, I am not an English major so pardon me if my rudimentary translation does not do proper justice to the Chinese lyrics of Jim Lo Kwok-Tsim (盧國沾). Nevertheless, I think you can get a sense of how well the movie plays upon the song’s message. For your information, the song starts playing at around 1:32:20 of the film.

Lyrics for 每當變幻時

Thanks to a box of tapes that belonged to my late Uncle Kwok-Hung and a mp3 file from my cousin, I was able to listen to both the Fanny version and the Miriam Yeung version of the song. With all due respect to Miriam Yeung, I think the Fanny version is better. The arrangement and the vocal inflections of the 1977 version suit the wistful nature of the lyrics better than that of the 2007 version.

By the way, does anyone know why it’s virtually impossible to buy Cantopop songs on iTunes? I suspect that it probably has something to do with Hong Kong music companies not being able to adapt to the times. Don’t they realize that if they make things easy and cheap for consumers, most people will take the path of least resistance and buy the songs from a legal source like iTunes rather than waste time searching for illegal downloads on the Internet?

IMAGE CREDITS: Media Asia (HOOKED ON YOU screen captures, Jo Koo), Wing Hang CD Ltd. (Fanny Wong)

The Comeback Post

 

Roast Suckling PigWelcome to the new home of The House Where Words Gather. I’ll explain my four and a half month absence in a minute but, first things first, let’s start off properly by appeasing the Internet Gods and Computing Spirits with an opening blog ceremony — complete with burning joss sticks and roasted suckling pig.

Since it’s still just me and my staff of ten fingers, no celebrities are around for this shindig. However, if I were to have celebrities, I think I’d go for the 千金小姐 (chin kam siu je, Thousand Pieces of Gold Girls) or the “Briefcase Models” from the Hong Kong version of DEAL OR NO DEAL. I bet that you could get all the models to come to your opening festivities for the price of one Joey Yung Tso-Yi. While having the Briefcase Models is not as awe-inspiring as having a big Cantopop star, being surrounded by a sea of legs and cleavage still presents a formidable image:

Michael Hui Koon-Man and HK’s DEAL OR NO DEAL Briefcase Models

Enough of the hijinks … When I last left you, I was having an angel versus devil debate over buying the LEGEND OF THE CONDOR HEROES 1983 DVD set. Well, the devil won and I ended up getting it. Little did I know that this was a gateway victory for my mind devil that led to a summer where it beat down my mind angel like the New England Patriots have been routing its competition this season in the NFL:

Me: Gee, it’s been two weeks since I’ve posted on the blog. Maybe I should put something together?

Mind Devil: Nah, you don’t want to that. It’s a nice evening, why don’t you enjoy the weather, take in the sunset and go out for a walk?

Me: Boy, it’s been a month since I’ve posted on the blog. I really should put something up.

Mind Devil: But didn’t you want to see KNOCKED UP? It’s 36°C today. Why sit and sweat next to a computer when you can enjoy the air-conditioned comforts of a movie theatre?

And so it went. In my defense, the Summer of 2006 wasn’t the most pleasant of times for me so it may have contributed to my going overboard in enjoying the Summer of 2007. Also, I had a surprising number of family and friends decide to spend part of their vacations visiting me so many days were filled with catching up and reminiscing over old times. Nevertheless, I should have been more disciplined. Looking at the comments that have accumulated on the blog in my absence, some of you were worried that my silence meant that I suffered a setback healthwise. I’m touched by the concern and feel doubly bad for my laziness and irresponsibility. Please accept my apologies.

Britney Spears at the 2007 MTV VMAsNow that I’ve explained myself, I’m going to pull a “Britney Spears” by stumbling and bumbling my way through the rest of the post with some thoughts that are marginally-related to the entertainment circle. My Summer of Sloth means that the HK entertainment circle database in my brain is even more badly out of date than it was earlier this year so don’t expect any piercing insight. I am, however, studying up on burning issues like: Who is Fala Chen and why should I care what she’s up to? In short order, I expect to be able to crack bad jokes about notable, and not so notable, entertainment circle happenings. Until then, these thoughts will have to do:

- In spite of the lukewarm reviews, I went to see RUSH HOUR 3. Initially, I thought it was an OK time at the movies but then, during my walk from the movie theatre to the parking lot, I started feeling a bit sad as I remembered the way I felt during the same walk after RUSH HOUR 2 in August of 2001 and RUSH HOUR in September of 1998.

After RUSH HOUR, I felt incredibly proud of Jackie Chan for finally breaking through in Hollywood. After RUSH HOUR 2, I left exhilarated — excited by the action scene flurry during the finale at the Red Dragon Hotel and Casino. By stark contrast, after RUSH HOUR 3, my feelings of indifference were quickly replaced by a wave of melancholy as I realized that the RUSH HOUR franchise is getting old and tired, Jackie Chan is getting old and tired, Chris Tucker is getting old and tired and I am getting old and tired. ;-)

Chris Tucker seemed, to me, like he was just going through the motions. Jackie Chan has clearly lost a step. In the opening sequence where Chan chases Hiroyuki Sanada’s character into an alleyway, it’s obvious that a stuntman leaped over the dumpster not Big Brother Jackie. I’m not trying to slight Jackie Chan here. The guy is in his 50s and you can only push your body so far. It’s the inexorable course of nature. I’m just saying that it was little things like this that made me feel like the whole RUSH HOUR milieu is old and tired.

What did you guys think?

One last thing about RUSH HOUR 3. In one scene, Jackie Chan’s character is looking at a photograph while pining for his ex-girlfriend Isabella. The first thing that came to my mind was: “When I get home, I got to see if there’s rumours between Jackie Chan and Isabella Leong Lok-Si.”

Then I realized that “Isabella” was Roselyn Sanchez’s character from RUSH HOUR 2. Funny how my mind went straight to rumour and innuendo even though I haven’t been doing a HK entertainment news site for a year and a half.

Maggie Q in LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD- I was pleasantly surprised by Maggie Q’s performance in LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD. She was impressively “bad ass” in the movie. It almost — almost — makes me want to rent MI:3 and check out her work in that film. Sadly, when I see Tom Cruise these days, all I can think of is him jumping up and down on Oprah’s couch and him lecturing Matt Lauer about psychology. As an admirer of Vulcan philosophy, I should be able to overcome such feelings. Alas, I am human so I cannot. ;-)

Anyone out there seen MI:3? Is it worth a rental? Does Maggie Q have more than three lines in the movie?

- When I read that Nicholas Tse Ting-Fung and Cecilia Cheung Pak-Chi named their baby boy Lucas, my first thought wasn’t “I wonder if they named him after Geroge Lucas.” Nope, my first thought was: “When Lucas is sixteen years-old and ready to sign a multi-million dollar contract with EEG, his half-brother Nathan is going to suddenly show up and stir up trouble.”

My second thought was: “I used to watch too much bad TV.”

My third thought was: “I can’t believe it took me a season and a half to dump ONE TREE HILL from my TV viewing schedule.”

Bai Ling (left) and Tila Tequlia (right)- Speaking of bad TV, three Sundays ago, I was flipping between three football games when I stumbled across some sort of dating show starring an Asian-looking woman. Not only was she choosing between guys, she appeared to be choosing among women as well. At first glance, I thought this woman was Bai Ling. It turned out to be a woman of Vietnamese-descent who calls herself Tila Tequila. Prior to the dating show (A SHOT A LOVE WITH TILA TEQUILA), her claim to fame was having a lot of friends on her Myspace page. Not to sound like an old fart but it’s amazing how little you have to do to be famous these days. Once you get beyond the initial titillation of the bisexual factor, Tila Tequila and the contestants don’t have enough charisma to hold your attention. I’d definitely be watching the show if crazy, nutty Bai Ling was the one looking for love amongst a pool of male and female prospects. Tila Tequila? I’d rather waste my time watching something else … like MY SUPER SWEET 16. ;-)

Sonija Kwok and Eric Tsang (left); Kwok and Carlo Ng Ka-Lok (right)

LOOKIN’ GOOD: Sonija Kwok Sin-Lei turned some heads on Halloween Night at the Intercontinental Hotel as she did a little song, a little dance and put a little seltzer in some pants during a 43-table fundraising banquet for the Hong Kong Performing Artistes Guild. Kwok, Miss Hong Kong 1999, is currently under contract with TVB and was associated, earlier this year, with rumours that she was the “third party” behind the marriage breakup of fellow TVB actor Michael Tao Dai-Yu and his wife.

Related images: 1, 2 (courtesy The Sun); 3 (courtesy Xinhua)

Michelle Yeoh and Jean Todt

LOOKIN’ GOOD, PART II: As you can probably tell, I didn’t follow the HK scene too much this summer but, every two weeks or so, I would catch a glimpse of Michelle Yeoh during Formula 1 race telecasts. Yeoh is currently involved with Ferrari head man Jean Todt. I’ve got to rent SUNSHINE one day and check out Michelle Yeoh’s work. Any one seen it? Is it any good?

IMAGE CREDITS: Apple Daily (Michael Hui and DEAL OR NO DEAL briefcase girls), Associated Press (Britney Spears), 20th Century Fox (Maggie Q), Asiance Magazine (Bai Ling), Tila Tequila (Tila Tequila), Wen Wei Po (Sonija Kwok and Eric Tsang), The Sun (Sonija Kwok and Carlo Ng), Formula One Administration/TSN (Michelle Yeoh and Jean Todt)

 
 
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