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The Golden Rock - July 9, 2011 Edition (a.k.a. Crossing the Border, part 2)

 I promise I will open up comments when I’m done cleaning out the spam comments that have built up. Trust me, there’s a lot of them.

Just returned from a trip up to Shenzhen to catch two films. That will be today’s focus:

Crossing the border: A personal guide to cross-border movie watching in Hong Kong and China

As China gets more films before Hong Kong, I found myself having the desire to cross the border to Shenzhen to take advantage of the nice, new multiplexes that have popped up thanks to the burgeoning film industry. The main reason I can do this is because a new multiplex’s online ticketing system allowed me to simply book my seats and pay when I get to the box office. I first took advantage of that with the IMAX version of KUNG FU PANDA 2, which worked wonderfully. Today, I tried it again with two new releases, and I’ll chronicle a bit of the journey here.

Today’s films were REST ON YOUR SHOULDER by Jacob Cheung (CAGEMAN, A BATTLE OF WITS) at 10:25 am and WUXIA by Peter Chan Ho-Sun at 2:55pm, which meant I had to make my way to Shenzhen bright and early at 8 am.

It was eerily coincidental (and totally appropriate) that this song would play on my Pandora Radio on the way up:

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90 minutes later, I arrived at Grand Theatre Station and KKMall, where the movie is supposed to be. Just about on time to pick up my tickets, right?

Problem is, the mall didn’t open until 10. So I had to sit outside in the humid summer sun as I waited.

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Lucky for me, I walked around the mall from the entrance closest from the subway station to the other side, because I found a Starbucks. No, I didn’t get a cup of coffee, I got something better: free wi-fi. Of course, the problem was that I was behind China’s Great Firewall, which means no twitter, no facebook, and not much use for the iPhone.

I have a VPN set up on my phone because I like to listen to Pandora, and I was able to access my VPN via Starbuck’s free wi-fi, which means I beat the Great Firewall. I consider that my biggest victory against China all year.

The mall opened at 10 am sharp, as people looking to get to the theater and/or out of the heat and into a shop rushed into the mall. I walked up to the theater box office, sure that my reservation had gone to waste. However, the staff nonchalantly collected my money and gave me my tickets. That’s because there were only a grand total of six people in REST ON YOUR SHOULDER. By the way, I actually got the tickets I bought, without any handwriting. Yay, me.

UA KKmall is a new-ish multiplex that opened last year. In addition to the IMAX, it has 6 regular auditoriums and one VIP auditorium. The biggest regular auditorium is only 180 seats (which is where I watched WUXIA), but the screen was nice, big, and wall to wall. Ticket prices are pretty steep if you’re not watching a morning show at RMB70 a piece (that’s about HK$84) for regular and RMB 140 for IMAX, so make sure you’re watching something you REALLY want to watch. That means I am not watching THE DEVIL BESIDE ME with Kelly Lin or TO LOVE OR NOT with Alex Fong, Li Shaoran, and a bathtub.

FYI: tickets are cheaper at the Golden Harvest Shenzhen Cinemas on the other side of the same subway station. It’s also one of the highest-grossing cinemas in China, so you’ll really have to book your tickets early there.  After their site renovation, they now have the same ticketing system as UA KKMall.

Couple of things to watch for when you watch movies in Shenzhen, though:

SUBTITLES: I’ve now watched four Chinese-language films in China, and none of them has English subtitles. Naturally, they’d be in simplified Chinese, so work on your Mandarin comprehension before you go.

GUANGDONG PROVINCE FTW: Even though the government demands films be in standard Mandarin, they have made an exception for Cantonese-speaking regions and allow Cantonese versions of films to play in cinemas there. Be sure to double-check your language version before you buy if you’re dealing with a HK-China co-production.

AUDIENCE: Let’s face it, people in general are getting less and less courteous in the cinema. China is no different. In REST ON YOUR SHOULDER, three people had their cell phones out during the film. Two of them were trying repeatedly to take pictures of Gigi Leung on screen. The other guy answered his phone twice. People will talk to each other, talk back at the movie, and talk to other people on the phone. It can get bad in Hong Kong, but at least you can shush people. There’s no use shushing people in China, because they will talk louder than you shush. That’s the way it is, and you can only hope the government will start making propaganda videos about cinema manners.

And now, the movies. I will only touch on them briefly because they will be reviewed for LoveHKFilm sooner or later (preferably sooner).

REST ON YOUR SHOULDER (Dir: Jacob Cheung, 2011)

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REST ON YOUR SHOULDER seemed like it had it all: A pretty cast, a solid director, a score by Joe Hisaishi (spelled Job Hisashi in the credits. No kidding), plenty of special effects (including talking insects), and even a distributor that succumbed to artistic integrity and gave the director his final cut. Problem is REST ON YOUR SHOULDER at its current length is too slow for kids and too whimsical for adults. At 120 minutes, it didn’t have enough magic to make its fantasy elements work, nor was the drama interesting enough to justify its length. It’s ambitious, but it was buried by its own self-importance.

I will cover more later in my review, so now we move on to the star of the show:

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WU XIA (Director: Peter Chan, 2011)

It has secret societies, dangerous assassins and signature stances….yes, definitely a wuxia film. Like I tweeted, I loved Peter Chan’s latest film. It is his third China film, and it is the most simple in terms of story and character motivations, but yet the most satisfying. There is action, but over 60% of it is a period crime procedural not unlike CSI (except we know who did it). There are ultimately only three action set pieces, but they all serve the story, not the audience.

More in the review, but I want to cover some issues that I will not be covering in the review:

CANTONESE VS MANDARIN: One of the big selling points in China is Kaneshiro Takeshi’s eccentric performance as the nerdy detective, especially the fact that he is speaking in Sichuanese for the entire film. Problem with that is that anyone in Hong Kong and abroad won’t get why that’s amusing (I laughed, but I didn’t know why, either). Also, Donnie and Kara Hui were obviously speaking Cantonese on set (both are dubbed by others in Mandarin), and Kaneshiro seemed to have dubbed himself in Cantonese, if the HK trailer is any indication. So, you will have to make your choice there.

DIFFERENT CUTS: Hollywood Reporter review states that the Cannes version of the film is 110 minutes long. Variety says 116. Film Business Asia says 111. The version I saw is 117. Peter Chan said in interviews that he added more non-action (drama?) scenes in the film and took out some of the CSI computer imagery. Obviously, I’ve never seen the Cannes cut, but Maggie Lee’s criticism of the CGI anatomy stuff getting in the way of the action is all gone, as they only appeared twice in the final fight scene at pivotal moments. The current China version also lacks an explicit shot of ear slicing (shown here in the 8-minute trailer twice), and does run a little slow since Chan said the Cannes cut is paced faster to fit foreign taste. There’s also at least two scenes where Chinese folk songs are used in a humorous way, and I could imagine those playing only in the China cut as well. Apparently the cut playing in Australia now is 116 minutes. Not sure what cut we’ll get in Hong Kong.

I said I was going to keep gushing over this film in the blog, but I think I’ll wait until I get to the review to spill all. Don’t expect another WARLORDS, it’s a fun genre piece, and keeping expectations there will guarantee a good time. I can’t wait to watch it again when it comes out in Hong Kong

That’s it for this one-topic entry.  We’ll get back to our usual news stuff, with Chinese digital distribution, a follow-up on box office gouging, and whatever we can dig up.

Until then, I leave you with this wonderful ad I saw in the cinema today.  Trust me, this got as much laughs as WU XIA’s ending.

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