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Archive for the ‘Tony Leung Chiu-Wai’ Category

Three Views On Chinese Movies In The 2000s: Part II

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.

- As a fan of schlocky HK comedies of the 1980s and early-1980s, it’s great to see Stanley Fung Shui-Fan get a Supporting Actor nomination for ACCIDENT.

- 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. :lol:

Michael Wong Man-Tak in OVERHEARD

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?

3. Edison Chen: “Why was I the bad guy?”

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.

6. Skynet/Cylons one step closer to taking over humanity

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?

Roxxxy The Sex Robot

RANDOM NONSENSE:

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”.

Previously: Three Views On Chinese Movies In The 2000s: Part I

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.

5. KUNG FU HUSTLE

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.

4. ELECTION

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.

 Cecilia Cheung and Lau Ching-Wan in LOST IN TIME

3. (tie) LOST IN TIME / THE WAY WE ARE

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.

2. INFERNAL AFFAIRS

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.

1. (tie) IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE / LUST, CAUTION

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.

Tony Leung Chiu-Wai in IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE

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)

News and Notes: Fête Nationale 2009

Joyeuese Fête Nationale à tout le monde!

Or is it Joyeux Fête Nationale?  Also, do I need the à or can I just go with “Joyeuese Fête Nationale tout le monde!”  Apologies to all of the francophone readers out there, it’s been a long time since I took high school French and even longer since I watched late-night movies on CBC French.  Hey, when you’re a 13 year-old boy, Fanny Ardant films can be quite, uh, intriguing even if you can barely understand what’s going on.  These days, of course, I’m sure 13 year-old boys have the ability to cast a wider net when it comes to that sort of thing.  Back in my day, the Sea of Titillation was not as vast and definitely not as bountiful.

What was I saying before I got distracted by remembrances of things past?  Oh right, Joyeuese Fête Nationale or, for the rest of us non-francophones, Happy Bastille Day!  On this day, 220 years ago, the French people stormed the Bastille and kick-started the process of turning France from a monarchy to a republic.

Let’s celebrate with some box office news and a few links.  But first, congratulations Kelly Chen:

FEATURES:

Simon Abrams interviews WRITTEN BY director Wai Ka-Fai

Electric New Paper on Michael Hui Kwoon-Man: ‘It’s like your chicken rice’

Carol “DoDo” Cheng Yu-Ling: Too much plastic surgery

PRODUCTION NEWS:

Chan Ho-Nam and Chicken together again, sort of:  ‘Affairs’ team to become ‘Gangsters’

Stephen Chow:

Jackie Chan, Jaden Smith start filming ‘Kid’

MY COUSIN TONY:

A Tale Of Two Tonys: The National (Abu Dhabi) on Tony Leung Chiu-Wai

My cousin Tony breaks his arm:

WEDDING NEWS:

Gigi Leung to wed?

RELATED: Xinhua article featuring photo of Gigi Leung with her man

Zhang Ziyi:

STEFANIE SUN:

Stef’s head-over (clumsy)-heels in love

Stef Sun, Singapore’s Anita Mui

A more confident and self-assured Stefanie Sun returns to S’pore

Sun’s comeback concert

Stefanie Sun wows fans

Shiny style, subdued Sun

ASIAN FILMS IN NEW YORK CITY:

Ang Lee Heading To Lincoln Center

Asian Film Fireworks for the Fourth: Richard Corliss on the New York Asian Film Festival

BOX OFFICE RESULTS:

Weekend box office figures aren’t available yet but here are the numbers from Friday:

MURDERER, 36 screens, 2 days, HK$1.01 million total

WRITTEN BY, 32 screens, 2 days, HK$301,000 total

SHORT OF LOVE, 14 screens, 15 days, HK$3.62 million total

MURDERER is off to a fast start but it should fizzle out quickly as it’s getting killed here on LoveHKFilm (Kozo’s review, The Golden Rock blog post) and on Chinese-language discussion boards.  I’m always dispirited when I hear that a highly-hyped film looks like it’s a dud.  I believe that it’s these types of films that are killing the industry more than anything else as the casual HK film fan who only sees a handful of movies a year will pick up on the hype, watch the movie then have the notion that “HK films suck” reinforced in their minds.

In other box office news, reader Mark Shaver wrote in to report that Johnnie To’s VENGEANCE is hitting Hong Kong screens on August 20th.  It hasn’t popped up yet in the “Coming Soon” sections of various movie ticket buying sites but I’m sure it’ll show up in the near future.  In the meantime, you can console yourself with the news that THE TWILIGHT SAGA: NEW MOON is coming to Hong Kong on December 17th, 2009 — just in time for the holidays!

芝麻綠豆 (SESAME SEEDS AND MUNG BEANS): 

Finally watched the Michael Jackson Memorial (hey, with my need for ten hours of beauty sleep and my two-hour, three-martini lunches, I can only devote 12 hours a day to watching TV).   A few thoughts:

  • You’d have to have a very cynical mind and a very cold heart to think that the Paris Jackson speech was staged to launch a show business career.
  • It’s normal to heap praise on someone upon their death but I think it went a little too far with the King of Pop.  The notion that without Michael Jackson, there would be no Tiger Woods, no Oprah Winfrey and no Barack Obama is giving Michael Jackson way too much credit.  I think Tiger’s skill has more to do with Tiger being a global icon than Michael Jackson paving the way.  I think Oprah Winfrey’s drive has more to do with her success than Michael Jackson and I think Barack Obama’s vision and ambition had more to do with his becoming President of the United States than Michael Jackson making “blacks” acceptable in the eyes of “whites”.
  • It could be because I’m a big sports fan but when anyone says MJ to me, my first thought is always Michael Jordan not Michael Jackson.
  • Ten to fifteen years from now — if I have the good fortune to find a lovely bride or if I finally save enough for a mail-order bride — when my kid asks me why people thought Michael Jackson was an all-time great, I think I’ll answer by playing “I Want You Back”.  Even now, forty-years after the song became a hit, it’s hard to believe that a ten year-old gave that performance.

News Links: May 30th, 2009

A belated Happy Tuen Ng Festival to all!  Hope no one stuffed themselves silly with 糭子 (rice wraps).

In case you missed it, earlier today: News Links: Sexy Photos Gate May 2009 Update

LINK OF THE WEEK:

Ronald Cheng suspected to be patron of prostitute

I could make all manner of jokes about this but most of them are tasteless and inappropriate for polite company so let’s just leave it at I’m compiling this post in front of a photo of S.  :-)

FEATURES:

China changes Hong Kong film biz

Aaron Kwok: I’m in the golden period of my career

Yan Geling: ’My Novels Are Not My Babies’

IN PRODUCTION:

Producer: Lin Ching-hsia to play Ip Man’s wife

Ziyi Gives Lowdown on Her Landmark Role

Deleted scenes? Nothing to be inglorious of, says Maggie Cheung 

Arclight looks to ‘Future X-Cops’ from Wong Jing and Andy Lau

More from Cannes:

Production Photos:

MOVIE REVIEWS:

New Straits Times reviews I CORRUPT ALL COPS

San Francisco Chronicle reviews THE BEAST STALKER

GENERAL NEWS:

Hong Kong stars linked to June 4 escape plot

I can’t believe that next week brings the twentieth (20th!) anniversary of Tiananmen 6/4.  Time flies.

In light of recent controversies, I bet Jackie Chan makes himself scarce for the next few days.  At least that’s what I’d advise him to do if I was his PR guy.  If he pops up next week and flaps his yap about Tiananmen then you’ll know that he’s either really full of himself or he doesn’t have anyone around him to tell him no.

Shu Qi jaded to sex and violence

Zhang Ziyi unaffected by beach photo scandal

TV tops media in HK as Nielsen turns 40

‘If You Are the One’, the Most Bankable One

More Chinese Box Office:  China shows its strength

MacDowell, Lau and Im join Shanghai juries

Wedding bells ring for Christopher and Fann

Zoe Tay: Her assets are a liability

Jolin Tsai:

More Taiwan:

Kelly Clarkson belts out signature songs during her visit to Hong Kong

AROUND TOWN:

Ekin Cheng Yi-Kin

In his capacity as their celebrity spokesperson, Ekin Cheng attended a Dragon Boat Festival related charity event for The Neighbourhood Advice-Action Council.

The First Lady of the Kozo Entertainment Group

At Causeway Bay’s Times Square on May 27th, Karena Lam Ka-Yan was a celebrity awards presenter at the finals of the “Be A Little Teacher Campaign 2009″ Competition.  Speaking to reporters about childhood education, Lam revealed that when she worked as a tutor for two years, she learned as much from her students as they did from her.  Lam: “The direct way children express themselves is something that we adults should emulate.”

When reporters noticed the joy Karena Lam showed from being around the children at the event, Lam revealed: “I grew up with three sisters so our home was always very lively.   Because of that, I’d like to have lots of kids.”

Asked further about her plans for motherhood, Lam replied: “I have to wait until I get married first.”

Yoyo Mung Ka-Wai, Roger Kwok Jun-On

Promoting their new TVB series THE THRESHOLD OF A PERSONA (ID 精英), Roger Kwok Jun-On, Yoyo Mung Ka-Wai, Patrick Tang Kin-Wang, Natalie Tong Si-Wing, Sherming Yiu Lok-Yi and Toby Leung Jing-Kei went to Shatin from a Dragon Boat racing event.  THE THRESHOLD OF A PERSONA debuts on TVB Jade on Monday June 1st.

Shu Qi, Simon Yam Tat-Wah, his wife Qi Qi, Michelle Yeoh and Lynn Xiong were among the celebrities who attended the gala opening of The Golden Age of Couture: Paris and London 1947-1957.  The exhibit, which runs until September 28th, showcases a collection of designer fashions borrowed from London’s Victoria and Albert Museum.  Related links:

Liza Wang, Law Kar-Ying

Earlier this month, Liza Wang and Law Kar-Ying married in Las Vegas.  On the evening of May 26th, the newlyweds held a banquet at the Manning House’s Kiangsu And Chekiang Residents (H.K.) Association restaurant.  Among the attendees were: Carol Cheng Yu-Ling, Teresa Mo Shun-Kwan, Margie Tsang Wah-Sin, Nancy Sit Ka-Yin, Alvina Kong Yan-Yin and Eileen Cha.

STALKIN’ THE STARS:

My cousin Tony and his lovely bride Carina Lau

Tony Leung Chiu-Wai and Carina Lau Ka-Ling hosted a dinner for family and friends on May 24th at Amigo Restaurant in Happy Valley.

Kenix Kwok Ho-Ying

Recently, Kenix Kwok took a break from working on TVB’s BORN RICH by doing a little browsing at a Causeway Bay fashion store.  TVB’s “grand production” for 2009, BORN RICH tells the story of a family feud set in the corporate world.  It boasts an all-star cast that features Kwok, Ray Lui Leung-Wai, Gallen Lo Ka-Leung, Anita Yuen Wing-Yi, Crystal Tin Yui-Lei, Nancy Sit Ka-Yin and Jamie Chik Mei-Chun among others.

PHOTO GALLERIES:

Lin Chi-Ling

Many, many, many photos of Lin Chi-Ling and Lin Chi-Ling’s legs “workin’ it” while promoting the OSIM uSqueeze Foot Massager.  Thanks to 軟體動物先生 (Mr. Mollusk?) for sending along the link.

Aaron Kwok promotes Longines watches

Lynn Xiong

Lynn Xiong, a bikini and blue screen technology combine to form an ad for a brand of body essence.

Lynn Xiong promotes Dior at their Fall Fashion Show

Kelly Chen Wai-Lam

Five months pregnant, Kelly Chen shoots an ad for DHC skin care products.

Eva Huang Shengyi does a cosmetics ad

BECAUSE I’M NOT ON TWITTER:

SUMMER HOURS, the new film from Olivier Assayas (the former Mr. Maggie Cheung Man-Yuk) sounds very intriguing.  Related links:

Off to see if the Cleveland LeBrons can stave off elimination against the Orlando Magic.  I hate to say it but I think it could be curtains for the Cavaliers’ season tonight.

28th Hong Kong Film Awards Preview: Best Actor and Best Actress

The signs are all here.  The sweet showers of April have pierced the drought of March.  The Ram has run half its course through the Zodiac and Zephirus, with his sweet breath, has breathed life into the tender crops.  It’s mid-April and time to preview the Hong Kong Film Awards.

These aren’t my predictions for the awards, rather they reflect what my votes would have been if, by some fortuitous machination of the Universe, I ended up getting a ballot.

Let’s start with the Best Actor and Best Actress categories …

* * * * *

The nominees for Best Actor are:

MY VOTE GOES TO:  Nick Cheung Ka-Fai (THE BEAST STALKER)

Nick Cheung in THE BEAST STALKER

Of the five nominated performances, the one by Nick Cheung shows the most range and the most depth.   Moreover, of the five, his job is the most difficult.  On one hand, he has to create enough tension as a villain to move the story forward. On the other — for the “one stone, many ripples” theme of the movie to work — he has to generate enough sympathy from the audience so that they care about the story behind his relentless Terminator-like menace.   Cheung pulls off both tasks with great aplomb.   If he does not win the award on Sunday night, it will be a major injustice.

Why?  My cousin Tony, Simon Yam and Louis Koo all turn in fine performances but their roles were not challenging as they’ve all given similar performances before.  In HERO, Tony Leung portrayed a man of strategy and action in a historical epic.  Over his long career, Simon Yam has played so many suave and sophisticated criminals, he could probably do it in his sleep.  As for Louis Koo, Kozo summed it up best in his review of RUN PAPA RUN:

… Koo has yet to become a truly accomplished actor, but he has cornered the market on certain character types.  Among them are the weak macho hero, the hen-pecked playboy, and other variations on the comically emasculated drop-dead gorgeous male.  What makes Koo so special at the above roles is he can play them while retaining audience identification and sympathy, making him a likable lout that’s less than a caricature and more than a simpering loser.  Basically, if you need an actor to play a character like Lee Tin-Yun, Louis Koo is your go-to guy, as he can wring comedy and even some affecting emotions from potentially weak, easily-assailed men.

Last but not least, Donnie Yen is a different kettle of fish.  He successfully reins in his natural “preening schmoe” tendencies but his portrayal of Ip Man is more like Jean Claude Van Damme playing Frank Dux in BLOODSPORT than it is Philip Seymour Hoffman winning an Oscar for his portrayal of Truman Capote in CAPOTE.  I can’t say this with 100% certainty but I’m 99% sure that Yen’s portrayal of Ip Man bears very little resemblance to the real-life Ip Man.  As I said when I shared my thoughts on the film, Yen wasn’t playing Ip Man, he was playing a Chinese superhero fighting against the evil Japanese.

* * * * *

The nominees for Best Actress are:

MY VOTE GOES TO: Barbie Hsu (CONNECTED)

Barbie Hsu in CONNECTED

This category presents a real head-versus-heart dilemma for me.  My head says that Bau Hei-Jing, daughter of all-time great Bau FongBau Fonggave the best performance but, in my heart of hearts, I think I would toss my vote to Barbie Hsu.  Objectively, CONNECTED is merely a well-made popcorn movie and Barbie Hsu’s performance isn’t overwhelmingly superior to that of Bau or the other nominees.  However, it stuck with me.  About a month after I watched CONNECTED, I sat down to watch THE BEAST STALKER.  Whenever Zhang Jingchu popped up on the screen as the “mother with a child in peril”, I couldn’t help thinking: “Zhang Jingchu is really doing a nice job here but she isn’t even coming close to matching Barbie Hsu in CONNECTED.”  It’s a purely idiosyncratic reason to vote for Hsu but hers is the performance I liked the most in this category.

Another reason my heart beats out my head is that something about Bau Hei-Jing’s performance in THE WAY WE ARE bothers me.  After the film, Bau’s Mrs. Cheung remains opaque.  The audience doesn’t learn much about her beyond the fact that she’s a hard-working, magnaminous, straight-arrow.  We don’t know why she avoids visiting her mother in the hospital and, apart from one brief snippet, she doesn’t show any emotion.  Granted, many people don’t show much emotion in real life but you’d think there would be a shade here or a shade there to give the audience some insight into what makes Mrs. Cheung tick.  The screenplay may be more at fault here than Bau Hei-Jing but the nagging inscrutability of the Mrs. Cheung character helps tip my vote over to Big S Barbie Hsu.

Bau Hei-Jing in THE WAY WE ARE

As for the rest of the field, Prudence Lau delivers a striking performance as a drug-addicted prostitute in TRUE WOMAN FOR SALE.  However, at various points throughout the film, she lays it on a bit too thick so that puts her performance in the “good, really good, but not great” category.  Zhou Xun shows some allure while playing a heart-eating demon in PAINTED SKIN but it’s a role that doesn’t have award-winning gravitas.  I suppose you could say that the same thing applies to Barbie Hsu and, you know what, I wouldn’t argue with you but what can I say besides Hsu’s performance really connected with me.  In any case, the prevailing winds seem to be blowing towards Bau Hei-Jing for the win.

Now, you’ll notice that I haven’t mentioned Karena Lam or her work in CLAUSTROPHOBIA.  Well, that’s because it doesn’t come out on DVD until April 30th so I won’t be able to see it until well after Sunday’s ceremony.  To get some insight on how Lam fits into this puzzle, let’s call our old pal Kozo on the Neway Karaoke LoveHKFilm.com hotline:

Phone ringing … and ringing … and ringing … and ringing …

KOZO: Hello.

SANNEY:  Hi.  Sorry to bother you on a busy work day but I’m putting together my annual HKFA preview posts and I’ve run into a bit of trouble because I won’t be able to see CLAUSTROPHOBIA until after the awards ceremony.  I was wondering if you’d give everyone a little insight into how Karena Lam stacks up against the rest of the field in the Best Actress category.  But first, I was wondering if you’d like to talk about those pictures of you that got floated out on the Internet …

KOZO:  That’s in the past, I want to talk about the future.  I’m marrying my secret girlfriend of 20 years later this month …

Speaking of my secret girlfriend, I really enjoyed Karena Lam’s performance in CLAUSTROPHOBIA.  The film can be frustrating thanks to Ivy Ho’s opaque storytelling, which requires the viewer to “read between the lines” far more than most films starring popstars do.  Lam’s performance is subtle yet compelling, and Lam pulls it off without big speeches or regular outbursts of emotion.  CLAUSTROPHOBIA asks its actors to create characters far beyond what’s on the scripted page, and Lam does that for both her character AND Ekin Cheng’s.  If acting assists were an actual statistic, then Lam would get one here.

As for her chances come Sunday, Karena Lam’s are small.  I doubt she’ll pull out a win for CLAUSTROPHOBIA as it’s a movie that people respect rather than really like. I think the award is Bau Hei-Jing’s to lose, with Prudence Lau being the only one who can upset her. In a related prediction, either Nora Miao or Chan Lai-Wun will win for Best Supporting Actress. Call it the “Susan Shaw factor”.

Image credits: Emperor Motion Pictures (Nick Cheung, Barbie Hsu), TVB (Bau Fong), Class Limited (Bau Hei-Jing)

27th Hong Kong Film Awards Preview: Best Actor

Previously: Best Film

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

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

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

5. Andy Lau Tak-Wah (THE WARLORDS)

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

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

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

Speaking of whom …

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

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

3. Jet Li (THE WARLORDS)

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

2. Lau Ching-Wan (THE MAD DETECTIVE)

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

1. Aaron Kwok Fu-Sing (THE DETECTIVE)

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

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

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

 
 
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