Sunday, June 27th, 2010
It’s been a slow news week, and a time-deficient week as well, so I will be using offering two short reviews to the HK films I’ve seen recently, at least one of which has already been (or will be) talked about on the latest episode of East Screen/West Screen:
BREAK UP CLUB (Hong Kong, 2010, Dir.: Barbara Wong):
Love can suck, and Barbara Wong wants you to know that she wants you to think that. This mix of mockumentary and cinema verite stars two of Hong Kong tabloid’s favorite young threesome - Jaycee Chan and Fiona Sit - as an on-again, off-again couple that keeps coming back because Jaycee found a magical website that would bring back Fiona if he breaks up a couple by putting their names in the website. But even a magical website can’t keep his lovely girlfriend around, because he’s a terrible boyfriend who likes to waste time and confuses the lack of a real job as having testicles. So when a talented, well-traveled, and most likely well-off graffiti artist comes to town to sweep his girlfriend away, who else does he have to blame?
Of course, Fiona Sit’s character also has her flaws, particular her typical Hong Kong girl princess-y attitude and how she deals with the newfound relationship with the graffiti artist, but at least Sit gives off an appeal that explains why she would appeal to Jaycee (and the audience) so much. Wong and co-writer Lawrence Cheng, on the other hand, forgot to give nearly as many redeeming qualities for Jaycee, who had the misfortune of trying to make his character appealing by acting halfway into stupid. The filmmakers succeed mostly into making Jaycee a convincing loser, but forgot to remind the audience why Fiona Sit would want anything to do with him and lets the magical website do the dirty work for them instead.
Nevertheless, the two main actors are good together, especially considering the fact that they improvised their dialogue together. It’s obvious that they’re at least good friends, and they’re quite natural onscreen. This makes it easier to pinpoint who should be blamed for the way the film turned out: Writer-director Barbara Wong. Not only did she start out with a halfhearted attempt to insert herself into the film as herself trying to make a film with “true” stories, she essentially makes herself the main character for the final 15 minutes of the film that doesn’t actually change anything about the plot. Instead, her little cameo only marks a rather unconvincing attempt to undo the flaws in her “mockumentary” style, and to show how clever she is with her little unnecessary foreshadowing tricks. It’s truly annoying in its self-indulgence, and it alienates the audiences that she has touched in the first 90 minutes - at least the ones that don’t think these two miserable young people deserve each other.
As I said in the podcast review: Turn off the movie after 95 minutes, you would’ve seen a passable - albeit flawed - romantic comedy. If you choose to approach the last 15 minutes for closure, do so at your own risk.
THE LEGEND IS BORN - IP MAN (China/Hong Kong, 2010, Dir.: Herman Yau)
THE LEGEND IS BORN follows the formula of how to shamelessly cash in on a phenomenon to the t: Take character from hit film, find the actors from original hit film who only care more about the paycheck than the character overlap, pack as much as what made the original films popular as possible, find a director who can shoot fast, cheap, and efficient, then connect it to the original films even when no one asked them to. THE LEGEND IS BORN is the (probably completely)fictional take on the Wing Chun master’s life that not only shows its commercial trappings with blatant reverse racism, but also by casting actors only based on their fighting ability and/or whether they were in the Donnie Yen IP MAN films or not.
Herman Yau is obviously such a director-for-hire in this case that he lets Dennis To, who apparently did something in the IP MAN franchise, leads the film with absolutely zero leading man charisma and very little acting ability. He’s a fine martial artist, but I have an inkling that he’s only the choice for leading man over Louis Fan, who actually ACTS in the film, because Fan played a bad guy in the first film. Yau moves the camera well enough and moves the film at a smooth pace, which pretty much makes him the right man for the job.
Instead, it’s obvious that it was the producers (including financial mogul/Wing Chun enthusiast Chuckley Sin) who demanded the film be filled with 1) foreigners who insult the young Ip Man for being Chinese, 2) Japanese villains who are very Japanese and hate people who are very Chinese. These forms of reverse racism are committed so casually that you’d think the film might be made in the 80s, and I’m embarrassed to be from the culture that actually encourages this kind of crap.
As generic as the rest of the film is, the fighting is good, and that’s about all I have to say that’s good about THE LEGEND IS BORN.
There’s also another Chinese-language film that I watched within the last week, but I’m saving that for a full-length review on the site.