Tuesday, February 9th, 2010
Before continuing with the look back at the movies of the 2000s, a few thoughts on some news tidbits that have emerged lately:
1. Hong Kong Film Awards Nominations
I said it the day after last year’s awards and I still believe it to be true in spite of the buzz for Wang Xueqi’s work in BODYGUARDS AND ASSASSINS: Simon Yam will win a Best Acting award at the HKFAs this year. It may be a “lifetime achievement” type deal but I think he’s due. He got two nominations in the Best Actor category this year for NIGHT AND FOG and for ECHOES OF THE RAINBOW so here’s hoping …
More thoughts on the HKFA nominations:
- Nice to see Zhang Jingchu get nominated for her solid performance in the grim tale that was NIGHT AND FOG.
- Biggest snub: Why no Supporting Actor love for Michael “Stone” Wong’s work in OVERHEARD? He made that movie 25% better with his channeling of Stallone’s Rocky Balboa Italian twang in his introductory scene and his cheese-tastic delivery of “I got my own car!” at the end.
2. 2010: The Year of EDC
This is probably only amusing to me because I have the mind of a randy teenager but I couldn’t help but chuckle when I read the following on Edison Chen’s blog:
2010 promises to be a big year for ya boi EDC
i am going to be coming back HARDER than ever
Talk about unintentional comedy. The capper is that he capitalized “harder”. Does anyone NOT think of those infamous photos after reading that?
In an interview in the Chinese version of GQ, Edison Chen said that he still doesn’t understand why he was the bad guy in the Sexy Photos Gate scandal. He said: “… was I really a bad person? I wasn’t. People just needed a scapegoat”.
He’s right. He was a victim of a crime. However, he presented himself as a hip-hop, bad-boy type which plays well to his target demographic but not so well to the broader, more conservative, mainstream Chinese audience. So it’s not surprising at all that the general public turned against him. Put it this way, it’s wrong to hit someone in the head with a steel chair but people cheer anyway when a heel character in pro-wrestling gets nailed with one because it happened to somebody who presented himself as a “bad guy”.
It’ll be interesting to see if 2010 will be remembered for a Chen resurgence or if it ends up being more like the Summer of George.
4. Gilllian Chung’s comeback continues
Gillian Chung continues on the comeback trail with an EP, a movie and a Mainland television series coming down the pipe. Yet, it feels like she’s still fighting border skirmishes rather than making any serious assault on the capital. Sorry, THE FOUNDING OF A REPUBLIC remains on the brain. An EP isn’t exactly the same as a full album and a concert series. The movie isn’t exactly a high-profile project slated for a big holiday release and the Mainland television series is a Mainland television series.
When you read her interviews, it’s clear that the comeback narrative her handlers at EEG have settled upon is “more mature, tough, resilient, plucky girl who is holding her head up high and refusing to let the scandal keep her down”. It’s puzzling, then, that they are allowing her to hang on to that “naïve and innocent” schtick. In articles that popped up last month about her new movie with William Chan Wai-Ting, she talks about being “embarrassed” because she had to do a kissing scene with Chan. Is that the kind of talk you hear from tough, resilient girls?
Trying to do “tough and resilient” while hanging on to “cute and innocent” won’t work. If Ah Gil wants substantial success on the comeback trail, she’s going to have to go full-bore on “tough and resilient” and drop the innocent act. Besides, the “cute and innocent” road is still littered with the skeletons of Sexy Photos Gate like the Highway of Death was littered with the carnage of the First Gulf War. All she’s doing when she plays “cute and innocent” is reminding people why she is on the comeback trail in the first place.
Now, fans of Ah Gil are probably thinking: “What are you talking about? EEG is re-uniting her with Charlene Choi and Twins have a concert series and a new album coming out. Isn’t that an indication that EEG thinks the comeback is going strong?”
EEG may, in fact, feel that way but I believe the re-unification of Twins is more about seeing if there’s any milk left in that cash cow and less about restored faith in Gillian Chung’s star power. I think EEG is re-uniting Twins in spite of Gillian Chung’s situation rather than because of it. It would, after all, be nutty to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of Twins in their 11th year. I’d wager EEG is looking at a boost in Ah Gil’s profile as a possible collateral benefit of the Twins reunion rather than as the main impetus for it.
5. Jackie Chan in THE SPY NEXT DOOR
I was all ready to beat my chest in mourning for Jackie Chan’s career after reviews came out uniformly crushing THE SPY NEXT DOOR (it currently sits at 8% on Rotten Tomatoes). Then, a week later, The Rock came out with THE TOOTH FAIRY and it occurred to me that the villain in this story shouldn’t be Jackie Chan for cashing in and taking the paycheque. Only a naïve and innocent fool would refuse to sell a tiny fraction of their dignity for a multi-million dollar payday. The culprits are movie studios that have failed to realize that it’s been twenty years since KINDERGARTEN COP made US$91.4 million and that it did well because it was more a “cops and robbers” film than a kids’ movie.
Here’s hoping we don’t see Bruce Willis in MY GRANDFATHER IS A HERO or Jason Statham in a remake of MR. NANNY.
With the unveiling of a life-sized sex robot named Roxxy at the Adult Entertainment Expo in Las Vegas in January, can the Cyberdyne Systems Model 101 or the Cylon Centurion be that far away?
After seeing Simon Yam’s performances in ELECTION and NIGHT AND FOG, I think the HK Movie Gods should decree that if you want to show a character is a bad guy, just show him fishing. After what Yam’s characters did in those two movies, “Fishing = Evil” is now the equivalent of Blofeld stroking a white cat in Bond movies, the Snidely Whiplash moustache and Spock with a goatee in “Mirror, Mirror”. If perpetual movie good guy Jackie Chan ever has occasion to play a villain, all the director has to do is show a goateed Big Brother fishing while playing with a white cat.
Enough ado, let’s get on to the without further … my list of the “Best Films of the 2000s”.
6. RIDING THE TIGER
Writer/director Herman Yau Lai-To brings his deft, low-key touch to the high octane Sexy Photos Gate scandal in this “ripped from the headlines” film. By eschewing the sex part of the scandal and focusing on the fame part, Yau offers a contemplative look at the nature of celebrity and how it really is like “riding a tiger into battle”. It’s great when the tiger is with you and you’re able to easily do what you want on the battlefield. It’s not so good when the tiger turns against you and you have no control over what happens.
OK, OK that film never happened. I just wanted to throw some appreciation towards Herman Yau. While he doesn’t blow you away with his films like Wong Kar-Wai or Johnnie To, he does offer up solid work and is, in many ways, the “quintessential” Hong Kong director. He makes movies, like TRUE WOMAN FOR SALE, that tell Hong Kong stories. He also works in genres that are entirely “of Hong Kong”. Movies like GONG TAU and SPLIT SECOND MURDERS are unique to the HK movie industry, they can’t be made anywhere else.
Yau started off the 2000s strong with the Buddy Film Creative Workshop films KILLING END and NIGHTMARES IN PRECINCT 7. He had a bit of a lull in the middle of the decade with ASTONISHING and DATING DEATH but he bounced back with a solid run that began with ON THE EDGE. If you’re not familiar with the work of Herman Yau, get yourself to the local Chinese video store and pick up a few of his films.
In the 2000s, Stephen Chow made three of the top-10 grossing HK movies of all-time: KUNG FU HUSTLE (HK$61.2 million currently number one), SHAOLIN SOCCER (HK$60.7 million, currently number two) and CJ7 (HK$51.4 million, currently number seven). So, you have to figure that one of Chow’s films has to be on the list. Sitting at number one and number two, it’s basically a coin flip between KUNG FU HUSTLE and SHAOLIN SOCCER. Like any good comrade — just checking if you’re reading Mainland censors — I side with the people and KUNG FU HUSTLE.
While SHAOLIN SOCCER had the bigger laughs and more significance as a milestone of Stephen Chow’s career, KUNG FU HUSTLE is the more accomplished film because it had a higher degree of difficulty. SHAOLIN SOCCER could hang its comedy bits on the backbone of a conventional “underdog sports team” plotline. KUNG FU HUSTLE was built entirely on film craftsmanship intangibles like charisma, tone and rhythm. It could have easily all gone wrong but, instead, it all went right. Look at some of the elements of the film: a dance number introducing the villains, a protagonist who disappears for a large chunk of the movie and sequences that belong more in a Looney Tunes cartoon than a smash kung fu flick. Usually, those elements congeal into a lame and cheesy mess but Stephen Chow somehow combined them into a mesmerizing classic that thoroughly engages the audience.
Continuing what he started with Milkway Image in the late-1990s, Johnnie To had a prolific 2000s with commercial successes like NEEDING YOU, personal projects like THROWDOWN and SPARROW and philosophical pieces like RUNNING ON KARMA. Three to five of his films could legitimately be placed on any “Best of the Decade” list of HK films but I chose to put ELECTION on this one because - twenty, thirty, fifty years from now - ELECTION is going to be the one most HK film fans will recall.
The two best “Hong Kong stories” films of the 2000s. One conventional, the other unconventional, both provide a fascinating glimpse into the day-to-day rhythms of Hong Kong life. They show that Hong Kong isn’t just about gangsters that struggle for power or cops chasing bad guys, it’s also about normal people just trying to get through the day the best they can. They show that Hong Kong isn’t teeming with playboys, golddiggers, gu wat jai (古或仔), psychopaths, super cops and mad detectives. Instead, it’s filled with normal, decent people like the minibus driver who helps out a overburdened woman burning the candle at both ends, the fruit lady from the supermarket who recognizes that her neighbour is lonely and the father who seems hard-hearted but, in actually, just can’t admit how much his daughter means to him.
The movies also contain two brilliant “show, don’t tell” sequences that are enshrined in my pantheon of all-time great HK movie scenes. In LOST IN TIME, there’s a sequence that shows Cecilia Cheung’s character going through her day balancing her job as a minibus driver and her role as the caregiver to her dead fiancée’s son. In THE WAY WE ARE, the compelling scene showing Chan Lai-Wun’s character cooking dinner is the embodiment of Bruce Lee’s notion of “emotional content”. Both are simple segments yet they express many complex ideas and sentiments.
If there was a “Hong Kong Division” for my “Most Valuable Film of the 2000s” blog post, the choice would clearly have been INFERNAL AFFAIRS. With HK$55 million in box office earnings, the movie currently ranks fifth in the list of top 10 highest grossing HK films of all-time. It spawned a prequel and a sequel and it acted as a defibrillator to the ailing heartbeat of Hong Kong cinema. From Kozo’s review of the film:
Cries of “Box Office Miracle” were trumpeted by Hong Kong’s so-called fourth estate, which advanced the opinion that Hong Kong Cinema was revived.
It put Alan Mak and Felix Chong on the map which led to movies like INITIAL D, MOONLIGHT IN TOKYO, CONFESSION OF PAIN, LADY COP AND PAPA CROOK and OVERHEARD.
Like CROUCHING TIGER HIDDEN DRAGON, my pick for “Most Valuable Film of the 2000s”, INFERNAL AFFAIRS also had influence internationally: A Hollywood remake, THE DEPARTED, finally earned Martin Scorsese a long-deserved Best Director Oscar.
Through exquisite film craftsmanship and outstanding acting, IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE and LUST, CAUTION are two movies that offer insightful looks into the nature of love and human connection. I made them co-number ones because a couple of things keep me from picking one over the other. First, LUST, CAUTION isn’t a “pure” Hong Kong film. Second, IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE feels like a 1990s movie to me. I actually did a double take when I looked up its release date and saw that it was September 29th, 2000. I could have sworn it was released in 1999. I probably feel this way because, back when I had my own site, I was translating articles about the production at least two years before it was released.
Moreover, as much as it pains my inner Vulcan to admit, 2046 sullied my affection for IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE. While they are two separate movies and I shouldn’t let one affect my view of the other, I just can’t like IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE as much after seeing 2046. What seemed exciting and stylistically cool in 2000 seemed tired and tedious just four short years later with the release of 2046.
Going off on a tangent, if you take anything from away from those films, it has to be to have a carpe diem attitude towards love and prospective mates. If you like somebody and there seems to be a good chance that they like you, take a shot and do something about it. Otherwise, you may end up whispering your regrets to a hole in the wall at Angkor Wat or, even worse, facing a firing squad.
Going off on another tangent, there has been a decade long debate about what to name the 2000s. Some have suggested the “Naughts”, others have said it should be the Oughts. Then there are the “Zeroes”, the “Double Zeroes”, the “Os” and the “Twenty-Ohs”. If you take a look at my list of the decade’s best HK films, you’ll see that my cousin Tony stars in the top three movies. Call me biased but I think the decade should be called “The Leung Dynasty”.
Next time: The part I had the most fun writing: “Personal Favourites of the 2000s, uh, The Leung Dynasty.”
Image credits: Film Unlimited (Michael Wong), 69adget.com (Roxxy the Sex Robot), China Star Entertainment (Cecilia Cheung, Lau Ching-Wan), Jet Tone Productions (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai)