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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 ‘Leon Lai’ Category

The Occasionally Magnificent Seven

Seven Swords Leon Lai

Despite my professed love for Hong Kong cinema, sometimes a movie slips through the cracks. For some odd reason, I never got around to watching Tsui Hark’s 2005 wuxia epic, Seven Swords, even though I’ve owned the movie since it was first released on DVD quite a few years ago. I gave the movie a try one weekend when I lived in Hawaii, but I seem to remember being somehow vaguely put off by the look of the film (or, more likely, the running time of 2.5 hours when I had a master’s project to finish) and moved on to other Hong Kong movies that had captured my interest in a way Seven Swords didn’t.

Recently, I had a chance to finally watch Seven Swords, and in retrospect, I wish I hadn’t waited so long, as Hark delivers a mostly entertaining, if overstuffed swordplay epic. It’s not one of Tsui’s best, but it’s a film that’s rousing in small passages, coasting on a handful of intriguing characters and some stellar wuxia iconography that it never quite capitalizes upon.

You can read Kozo’s full critique of the film here, while I share my thoughts below.


We Fight, We Cry, We Die

B&A 01

This is the coolest I’ve ever been!

Is Bodyguards and Assassins a great film? The folks who voted for Best Picture at the 29th Annual Hong Kong Film Awards seemed to think so, awarding Teddy Chan’s flick not only the top prize, but a slew of other trophies including Best Director and Best Supporting Actor, among others. Despite receiving some notice from the Hong Kong Film Critics Society and the Golden Horse Awards, the voters for these respective entities had other ideas about who deserved Best Picture, as did the folks at the Awards, who didn’t even nominate Bodyguards and Assassins in its top choices. Although I haven’t seen every film of 2009, I think I understand the omission.

In terms of pure filmmaking craft, Bodyguards and Assassins ranks as an impressive feat, overcoming a decade-long, intensely troubled production to deliver a top quality product, full of drama, political intrigue, action, and some top-tier actors to boot. But is Bodyguards and Assassins a “great film”? I don’t think so. The film spends a lot of time with its multiple protagonists, attempting to get us involved in their various subplots and sympathize with their individual plights. It works — to a degree — but the sheer number of characters that make up this ragtag group of misfits is so overwhelming that it’s hard to feel anything for them beyond a superficial level — that is, save Nicholas Tse’s excellent turn as a simpleminded rickshaw driver. Plenty of films ask you to care about multiple characters — The Lord of the Rings trilogy, for instance — but I think Bodyguards and Assassins only gives you the bare minimum to become invested in these characters. For some, it will be more than enough. For me, it was only adequate.


Fire of Conscience, Spark of Interest


Leon Lai calls to check on Norelco products at his local Walgreens in Fire of Conscience

Judged solely on the basis of its action sequences, Fire of Conscience is, to my mind, an overwhelming success. From the restaurant shootout to the human bomb showdown to the flaming garage of doom finale, this Dante Lam-directed film contains the kind of tense, teeth-clenching action scenes that make you flinch, groan, and maybe even cheer with every act of violence shown onscreen. While the martial arts choreography of something like Ip Man 2 might be more athletically impressive, the thrills and spills of Fire of Conscience are far more involving.

It’s just too bad the rest of the movie isn’t quite as compelling.


My Top Hong Kong Films of the 1990s — Tian Mi Mi


Maggie Cheung — McDonald’s Employee of the Decade

Comrades, Almost a Love Story is my favorite Hong Kong romance of all-time.* I love this movie more than Needing You, Chungking Express, and In the Mood for Love, and I’m extremely fond of all three. This Peter Chan-directed film garnered numerous prizes at the 16th Annual Hong Kong Film Awards, and with good reason, it’s a wonderful film. Comrades tells the story of Xiao-Jun, a dopey, goodhearted Mainland Chinese immigrant played by Leon Lai, who arrives in Hong Kong looking to make a few bucks to send back home as well as save up for his eventual wedding to his hometown sweetheart (Kristy Yeung). As fate would have it, our hero befriends a tough, street savvy “local” girl named Chiao (Maggie Cheung). The two make an unlikely pair; they certainly don’t seem all that compatible on the surface, but as you might expect, sparks start to fly. What happens next is a decade long “romance” that takes us from the streets of Hong Kong all the way to New York City.

Who doesn’t love that bicycle scene? Or the way that Teresa Teng’s music is deftly interwoven into the fabric of the story as a kind of thematic parallel? This is, by far, my favorite Maggie Cheung performance of all-time, and this movie definitely made me see Leon Lai in a completely different light.  The most surprising performance in the film is Eric Tsang’s;  he is flat-out is great in this movie. Tsang’s role as Maggie Cheung’s possible love interest may seem absurd on paper (see Wo Hu for a similar Eric Tsang romance that stretches the limits of believability), but he really makes it work. Initially, you think his character is going to be just another menacing gangster cliche, but Tsang (and the scriptwriters, one assumes) give the character a wise, “seen-it-all” maturity that makes him incredibly endearing, even if you’re rooting for a Chiao/Xiao-Jun romance to take flight. His “exit” from the from the movie isn’t just a case of removing a second suitor from the proceedings — you actually care what happens to him and mourn his loss. Speaking of heartbreaking, how about Kristy Yeung’s character, Xiao Ting? A more stereotypical romance would have given her a fatal flaw to make her character much more easily dispensable — except she isn’t; she’s the sweetest character in the whole movie. And that’s one of the things I really like about this film — there are no bad guys. Nobody is a lout. Love happens when you least expect it, but not without a few hearts getting broken in the process.


My Top Hong Kong Films of the 1990s


With the official reader poll on the Top Hong Kong Films of the 1990s now complete, I thought I might as well share my own top choices with everyone. The moment this poll was announced, I scribbled down what amounted to about  twenty-five or so 90s era Hong Kong films that I absolutely loved or really, really liked. After consulting our archive and recommendation lists to make sure a really wonderful movie hadn’t completely slipped my mind, I whittled the list down to twenty choices and sent them in to Kozo. Of course, there are so many films to choose from, so even personal faves like Lost and Found and Rave Fever got cut out in the process. Before I begin, let me be clear about one thing, I had ZERO desire to create a list that would be considered as “representative” of the decade. That’s a tactic  we often see in random magazine and website top ten lists (I’m looking at you, Entertainment Weekly), as a few “respectable choices” are mindlessly tacked on to add some air of legitimacy. Well, NONE of my choices were made because I thought I should fulfill somebody else’s expectations of what a top ten (or twenty in my case) list should look like. I went with my head, my heart, and my gut.

The last time I composed a top ten list, I chose to do a countdown. I did so for at least three reasons: 1) I was modeling it after current AICN and former critic, Jeremy “Mr. Beaks” Smith’s ambitious Top 100 Films of the Decade countdown, 2) a’s reader’s poll countdown was already under way, and I thought that readers might be interested to know if my picks coincided with their own, in anticipation of the final ten, and 3) it seemed like writing and posting about my choices in piecemeal fashion made a lot more sense than crafting an overlong and unwieldy blog post that nobody would want to read. Sounds logical enough, right?

Well, this time around, I’m going to do things a little differently. Not only is the 90s readers’ poll long over, but I just really don’t have a desire to write about every movie that I chose with the same level of depth. Instead of a countdown, I’m gonna just lay it all out here and then talk about some of the films in separate blog posts.


It’s a Nice Day for a White Wedding


H1N1? Nah, we’re Michael Jackson fans. Hee-hee!

Well, a lot of Hong Kong-related news has gone down during my visit in Singapore. The big story hitting the papers recently is the fact that Andy Lau is married. Apparently, he’s been dating Carol Chu secretly for 24(!) years, but it turns out they actually got hitched in Las Vegas on June 23, 2008. I guess it’s a big deal because of the very looooooooooooong engagement, plus the fact that Andy promised his fans he’d announce his marriage as soon as it happened.

After being publicly revealed as a married man, Andy’s been apologetic on that front, while the media has continued to froth at the mouth, trying to out Andy’s “secret kids” (apparently, they’re just relatives) and putting forth various theories as to a) why it took so long for Andy Lau to get married and b) why he kept it a secret at all. As someone who’s no stranger to celebrity weddings, I’ll offer my two cents on the various “theories” that were initially making the rounds:

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