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Musings from the Edge of Forever

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 RONIN ON EMPTY.

Archive for the ‘Hong Kong cinema’ Category

2011 Preview: Summer Films to Watch

 

LoveSummer

Were you disappointed by All’s Well That’s Ends Well 2011? Or underwhelmed by Mr. and Mrs. Incredible? Or maybe you just weren’t feeling the love for I Love Hong Kong? Well, if you weren’t too enthused by the latest crop of Lunar New Year comedies released in 2011, Hong Kong studio heads are ready to make it up to you this summer with a batch of buzzworthy, big budget blockbusters sure to do boffo box office! Say that three times fast! And after you’re through digesting inane E! channel-speak, check out my top summer picks after the break…

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Princess Deeeeelightful

Princess D

Daniel Wu and Angelica Lee in Princess D

Before I proceed with an in-depth discussion of Princess D, a 2002 film directed by Sylvia Chang and Alan Yuen, I need to mention a far less entertaining American film I recently viewed. For reasons too boring to explain, I had the distinct displeasure of watching Did You Hear About the Morgans?, a 2009 romantic comedy starring Sarah Jessica Parker and Hugh Grant.  The film was impossibly bad, as the two actors seemed to be operating solely on auto-pilot — with SJP (as I’m told she’s called) channeling an only slightly modified version of her Sex and the City character and Hugh Grant recycling that stammering, excessively blinking English gent character he’s been using since the early 1990s. Not only did the two actors possess zero chemistry, but they were unable to convey in any way, shape, or form that their characters did love, do love, or even will love each other by the time the end credits rolled.

My purpose of this extended digression is merely to emphasize just how vital chemistry is to the success of a romantic film. Casting popular actors with toothy grins and throwing them in a few comic situations cannot make up one iota for the lack of genuine sparks between characters. Princess D does not suffer from this same problem, although it’s far from a perfect film. It is by no means one of the Great Films of Hong Kong cinema, but it’s not a total disaster either despite tanking at the HK box office. Instead, I find it to be both an effective and affecting romantic drama, despite its flaws.

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Chow Down with 1990s Era Stephen Chow

Hail the Judge

Just the other day, it occurred to me that 1990s era Stephen Chow films are a lot like eating at McDonald’s. To those of you out there who despise Ray Kroc’s ubiquitous fast food franchise, my comparison may sound like I’m criticizing the most prolific period of the famous comedian’s acting career. But I’m not. This may come as a shock to my more health-conscious, organic-only, vegetarian-meet-vegan friends, but I actually like eating at McDonald’s…on occasion. Yeah, it ain’t  fine dining, and it’s certainly not good for you, but if prepared right, it sure can be really, really comforting.

Now, if you’re someone who frequents this eating establishment, then you’re aware that 99% of the time you know exactly what to expect from your order — whatever the quality, there will be no real surprises. In the hands of a particularly efficient and conscientious staff, your food will taste fantastic, complete with crisp, perfectly salted fries and an extraordinarily refreshing ice cold Coca Cola to wash ‘em down with. In the hands of a lazy, incompetent group of workers, however, you’re likely to be stuck with soggy, bland fries and some seriously watered down soft drinks. The meal is the same, but the taste can differ, depending on who’s preparing the food.

I think the same can be said of Stephen Chow’s prolific film output during the 1990s. You’ll get exactly what you’re looking for in most of his films from that era, but — depending on the filmmakers involved — the final product will vary in quality. His movies may not always be high art and some may indeed be the cinematic equivalent to “empty calories,” but when all is said and done, I think Chow’s comedy stylings amount to nothing less than comfort food for the soul.

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Retro Review — BRUCE LEE: A WARRIOR’S JOURNEY (2000)

A Warrior’s Journey

“To me, ultimately martial arts means honestly expressing yourself.”

So says Bruce Lee in archival footage shown in John Little’s documentary film Bruce Lee: A Warrior’s Journey. And if anything, A Warrior’s Journey is an honest, heartfelt expression of love for the legendary martial artist. Aside from the narrator’s awkward pronunciation of “gung fu” and the less than inspired dubbing performances by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Ji Han Jae for the reassembled Game of Death footage, the dedication put forth by the filmmakers really shines through.

Skip the fictionalized bio Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, and instead take a look at this John Little documentary. While you’re at it, don’t bother watching Game of Death anymore either. This film contains 41 minutes of lost footage showing the master in action, edited together based on Bruce Lee’s own notes. You can read my full review of the film here.

Retro Review — BRUCE LEE: THE LEGEND (1984)

Bruce Lee Period CostumeSince Bruce Lee: The Legend is included as the bonus fifth disc in 20th Century Fox’s now out-of-print “Master Collection” boxset, the film must be worth at least a look, right? Generally speaking, the movie does a good job of tracing Bruce Lee’s life, mainly in the form of career highlights that showcase his early stints on American television shows (in The Green Hornet and Longstreet) on up to his eventual ascension to cross-cultural superstardom through his Hong Kong movies in the early 1970s.

Overall, I found this American version* of the Golden Harvest-produced bio Bruce Lee: The Legend to be a decent, occasionally daring biography of the man nicknamed “Little Dragon.” You can read my LoveHKFilm.com review of this documentary here. Under the cut, check out the opening minutes of the film, which includes footage of Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain with Brigitte Lin!

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Retro Review: THE KID (1950)

The Kid

Leaping from the pages of the comic strip by Yuen Wo-Pan comes The Kid, a 1950 Hong Kong film featuring a ten-year-old Bruce Lee in a starring role. Although The Big Boss was Lee’s first breakout motion picture as an adult, in truth, the now legendary icon starred in about twenty Hong Kong-made films as a youth before eventually relocating to the United States at the age of eighteen. In this, his fifth movie (aka Kid Cheung, Little Cheung, and My Son A-Chang), Lee plays Ah Cheung, the title character. For my full review of the film, click here. To see a short clip of the spunky little guy in action, check out a scene from the film embedded just under the cut.

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Retro Review: GAME OF DEATH (1978)

Game of Death

Before CGI face replacement technology, there was the revolutionary “let’s paste a cut-out of the deceased actor’s head on a mirror” technique. 

After Way of the Dragon, Bruce Lee began filming the ending battle sequence for a film he planned to call Game of Death. But Hollywood came calling so Lee shut down production on the film to begin Robert Clouse’s Enter the Dragon instead. After completing the American film, Lee had hoped to finish the postponed Game of Death, but sadly it was not to be — two weeks before Enter the Dragon’s premiere, the “Little Dragon” abruptly died of a cerebral edema.

Enter Raymond Chow, the famous Golden Harvest producer who owned the rights to the rare footage. Wanting to make a tribute to Lee (and make a little money in the process), Chow persuaded a reluctant Robert Clouse to reshoot the film with doubles and create an entirely different script from Lee’s original idea. As good as the filmmakers’ intentions may have been, in hindsight Game of Death comes off less like a fitting tribute to the master and more like a crass, shockingly amateurish disaster. Though Game of Death features Bruce Lee in his final onscreen appearance and even sports a rousing final act, the majority of the film can only really be deemed entertaining in a cheesy Mystery Science Theater 3000/Ed Wood kind of way.

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