Today, news outlets like The Hollywood Reporter, NPR, and ABC News are carrying an Associated Press story that discusses Johnnie To’s many upcoming film projects. According to journalist Min Jin’s article, To has made a calculated decision to shoot light romances geared specifically toward the China market rather than make the kind of films he’s become more famous for — those slick urban crime thrillers that have earned him not just critical praise, but a cult following of fanboys and girls internationally.
In addition to 2011’s Don’t Go Breaking My Heart, To is currently working on High Altitude Romance II, a film which stars Louis Koo, Sammi Cheng, Huang Yi, Gao Yuanyuan, and Wang Baoqiang. Although the title is alleged to be a direct translation of the Chinese title, that doesn’t really explain what happened to the seemingly non-existent High Altitude Romance I.
In any event, the bigger news (at least to me) was the revelation that To will be reuniting his Needing You/Love on a Diet/Yesterday Once More co-stars Andy Lau and Sammi Cheng for a comedy geared for Mainland Chinese audiences. Rounding out To’s projects is a brief mention of a third film in the Milky Way Image pipeline, a project tentatively titled Lethal Gold, which is set to star Lau Ching-Wan and Richie Ren — that is, if certain scheduling issues can be resolved.
However, central concern of this AP article isn’t so much the number of projects, but To’s reasoning for doing two, possibly three romantic comedies in a row. In a totally pragmatic, but no less depressing statement, To explains the change:
“This is intentional. We need to cultivate that market. It’s difficult to do that with the kind of movies we typically make. In order to avoid problems and excessive edits with the censors, we are making softer movies like love stories and comedies,” To told reporters. “If we make a crime movie or one of our more personal films, there will be more obstacles.”
Unlike some Hong Kong cinema fans, I don’t necessarily need The Mission Part VII from Johnnie To and Wai Ka-Fei, but it’s sad to see that serious concerns over censorship are preventing him from making more personal films. I sincerely hope that this strategic attempt to a) avoid getting their films cut to shreds by censors and b) make some dough back for their investors doesn’t result in largely impersonal, soulless crap.
I guess we’ll get our first glimpse on March 31st when Don’t Go Breaking My Heart is released to theaters. The film stars Louis Koo, Daniel Wu, Gao Yuanyuan, Lam Suet, and J.J. Jia. If you’d like to see a trailer for the film or perhaps read Media Asia’s unnecessarily excessive and spoiler-filled plot synopsis, click on the link below.
Louis Koo and Lau Ching-Wan square off in Poker King
Two of Hong Kong’s top-rated actors — Louis Koo and Lau Ching-Wan — face off in Poker King, a 2009 film from co-directors Chang Hing-Ka and Janet Chun, the team behind 2008’s La Lingerieand 2010’s La Comedie Humaine. However, whatever promise was held in the casting of these two likable, fairly frequent co-stars nearly gets squandered in the opening act of the film. I would imagine that the first ten to twenty minutes of Poker King would test the patience of even the most die-hard Hong Kong cinema fan. As the film wore on, I was starting to seriously question why either of these guys agreed to do this movie in the first place. Characters are saddled with childish and annoying personalities, the plot seems to have zero forward momentum, and everything just oozes with the stench of lowbrow HK comedy cheese. Luckily for both the film and its prospective viewers, the film gets better, although I’m not sure it makes a whole lot of sense.
Overheardstarts out so deceptively low key that I was just about ready to write off this 2009 Alan Mak/Felix Chong film within the first fifteen minutes. Sure, the stars are in place early on — Lau Ching-Wan, Louis Koo, and Daniel Wu — but none of their onscreen actions really resonate in any palpable way. The film just seems so damn cold and clinical. But then, things start to evolve slowly and meticulously, as you find yourself gradually involved in each characters’ personal dramas — ranging from petty to life-changing to dire. And that’s when the plot kicks into motion.
In the film, Lau Ching-Wan, Louis Koo, and Daniel Wu play cops who do high tech surveillance work for the Commercial Crime Bureau. One day, Gene (Koo) and Max (Wu) capitalize on an illegal insider stock tip they overhear during a night of eavesdropping. Max erases the tape, but their team leader Johnny (Lau) figures their plan out and tries to bust them. But through a series of events, Johnny is pulled into their little gambit, which eventually pays off lucrative dividends. Unfortunately, the three of them are going to have to outwit both the cops and the crooks if their going to make out with their sizable little “heist.” Somehow, a delightfully out-of-place Michael Wong figures into the story as a nefarious gangster/businessman/philanthropist (!).
The film is engaging from the moment the protagonists make their move on the insider stock tip right up until the last ten minutes of the film when the unthinkable happens. How can this possibly proceed as a Michael Wong film? Well, it does, amounting to a largely satisfying conclusion.
I’m not going to pretend that I understood even half of the stock market jargon in the film, but it’s a credit to filmmakers Mak and Chong for making me feel like it doesn’t really matter. The film moves at a swift pace once the ball starts rolling plot-wise, and it has a lot of interesting things to say about the law, surveillance, and trust.
In baseball parlance, Overheard isn’t an out-of-the-park home run, but it’s a solid double. For a more detailed critique, take a look at Kozo’s review on the main site.
What if there are no accidents in life? No, I’m not trying to sell you some baloney about “interconnectedness,” “destiny,” or “fate,” but instead using that oft-heard question as a means to articulate the central premise of Soi Cheang’s 2009 thriller, Accident.* If this film is to be believed, there are hitmen out there who rely on some very elaborate, unconventional methods to get the job done. Rather than plugging their intended victims from a great distance using a sniper rifle or tossing them in the nearest body of water, these assassins — led by Louis Koo’s Ho Kwok-Fai, aka “The Brain” — kill people in the most intricate, labyrinthine way imaginable . Their method involves setting up a domino effect in which the victim gets killed in a manner that makes ordinary citizens and the authorities alike think it was just horribly tragic accident, rather than a case of premeditated murder. Clearly, Ho Kwok-Fai and his team are the best there is at what they do. And what they do isn’t very nice.
As professional as they are, even assassins are prone to accidents. Case in point: during the latest routine job, one of Kwok-Fai’s men (Stanley Fung) leaves behind a key piece of evidence that could tie the entire team to the man’s death. What results from this simple accident is a series of events that plunge Kwok-Fai headfirst into a sea of paranoia, as he discovers that he may not be able to trust any of his teammates anymore. Even worse, there may be another “Fixer” on Kwok-Fai’s trail who’s looking to plan a little accident of his own — this time involving Kwok-Fai himself. That enigmatic man in the shadows is played by Richie Ren, who comes across as a slick-dressed urban professional, albeit one who always seems to be nearby. Is his constant presence a coincidence — a so-called “happy accident,” as the saying goes? Or is this guy a cold-blooded assassin, too?
Occasionally, reminiscent of both Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation and Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, Soi Cheang’s Accident isn’t quite in the same league, although it is an undeniably well-made, largely absorbing thriller in its own right. For me, the events that make up the majority of the film play out in such a cool, unassuming manner that it made the incredibly over-the-top, completely unconvincing “accidents” a little hard to swallow. If even one little thing goes wrong in the great chain of certain death, then the entire operation must be aborted. While I suppose the same could be true for any “hit,” the sheer amount of time, preparation, and labor that goes into planning and executing these murders seem a tad more involved than a simple bullet to the head would be.
To some degree, I could suspend my disbelief on that matter; however, the real problem I had with the film is the fact that Accident doesn’t quite nail the ending. What happens is telegraphed so early on that I was surprised that the filmmakers actually decided to go on with it. Perhaps if the film had made Koo’s character more convincing and relatable, then the finale would have resonated as a real “Oh no!” moment. Instead, my reaction was more like, “Really? You’re really going to end it like that?”
For those of you who’ve seen Shutter Island (and I won’t spoil it, for those of you who haven’t), you know that the film ends on a somewhat controversial twist. Although I personally didn’t care for it, what was admittedly good about that choice was that it was tonally consistent, explained curious behaviors and acting choices throughout the film, and made it instantly rewatchable (for the willing, anyway). While Accident’s ending is tonally consistent, it’s not nearly as interesting. I know the old adage, “It’s the journey, not the destination,” but for me, the place Accident finally takes you spoils the whole damn trip.
* I keep wanting to call this movie The Accident. Really, it should be called Accidents or even better, Sorry, My Bad! — especially in light of the ending.