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Astonishing
Year: 2004 "The director said 'cut', right? I can stop acting? Anyone?"
Christy Chung and Alex Fong
Director: Herman Yau Lai-To
Cast: Christy Chung Lai-Tai, Alex Fong Chung-Sun, Sasha Hou Sa-Sa, Kwok Bun-Nei, Sammo Hung Kam-Bo, Uncle Ba, William So Wing-Hong, Timmy Hung Tin-Ming, Carlo Ng Ka-Lok, Lai Yiu-Cheung, Lam Wai, Jason Chu Wing-Tong, Alex Fong Lik-Sun, Rain Li Choi-Wah, Yuen Kit-Yi, Nelson Cheung Hok-Yun, Au Man-Sze, Tse Wai-Hing, Ng Yip-Kwong, Glen Lee Lam-Yun, Or Wai-Kwong
The Skinny: Intriguing but totally ridiculous and inconclusive. Director Herman Yau manages to create some tension with his storyline, but the ultimate twists are less than convincing.
Review
by Kozo:
     Mandy (Christy Chung) has issues. Not only is she emotionally fragile and dependent on her husband Kenny (Alex Fong), but it seems a mysterious quack named Dr. Lo may be after her. One evening he shows up on Mandy's television via DVD, and proceeds to tell her she's going to lose her husband, her current lifestyle, and indeed her very identity. Mandy freaks, but nobody else seems to notice anything out of the sort. The DVD is nowhere to be found, and some people—including Kenny—suggest that she should see a shrink.
      Mandy does go see a shrink, but nothing really comes of it. Then one evening she and Kenny get into an auto accident. Three weeks later Mandy wakes up, and the world has gone topsy-turvy. Kenny's assistant Fiona (Sasha Hou) has usurped her identity as Mandy, and everyone and their brother is recognizing Mandy as Fiona. Even Kenny has no recollection of their life together, which drives Mandy into further despair. Is she mad? Or is there some glitch in the Matrix? And will Mandy at least take a break to get a better haircut?
      Director Herman Yau brings Hitchcockian potential to Astonishing and proceeds to throw it out the window. The mystery of Mandy's life switcheroo comes with only minor setup, and for the most part the audience is right there with Mandy as she slowly descends into near-madness. As Mandy begins to realize that nobody knows who she is, Yau notches up the tension with near-gripping results. Unfortunately, an overdone soundtrack telegraphs everything, and the main storyline is largely easy to predict. Things start in an intriguing fashion, but after a while there can only be one likely reason that all this is happening. Even worse, that reason seems silly, ridiculous, and just plain unbelievable.
     The tension that Yau creates in Astonishing feels appropriate for an existential mystery, and other films have been successful at executing similar storylines. Unfortunately, Astonishing loses its grip on the audience early, and eventually gives off a "come on...this can't be happening" feeling that grows more annoying by the minute. Mandy experiences some seriously trying events, but the ultimate twists seem so unlikely that anyone who's seen more than three movies will probably not be moved. Basically IT ALL GOES TO HELL, but the most likely audience reaction could be bemused puzzlement or worse, complete indifference. Also, Astonishing ends a total of three times, which is great for a "Choose Your Own Adventure" book, but bad for an actual motion picture. The fact that the endings don't really jibe with one another is simply the icing on the cake.
     With all the above going against it, Astonishing is at best a minor diversion, and at worst a total waste of time. On the positive end, there are numerous cameos by familiar Hong Kong Cinema faces, including William So, Rain Li, and Alex Fong Lik-Sun. Plus, Sammo Hung makes a cameo, which is cause for celebration because it's a rare Sammo Hung sighting. Unfortunately, his appearance adds nothing to the film, and neither Christy Chung nor Alex Fong can do much with what they're given. Chung emotes gamely in numerous unflattering close-ups, but her character doesn't truly engage the audience—which is probably enough to kill the movie right there. Alex Fong is a solid actor behind his handsome face, but no amount of emotionally-wrought expressions can compensate for the script's lack of coherent believability. Director Herman Yau works best when his material is satirical or darkly funny. Astonishing has absolutely no sense of humor...well, not an intentional one, anyway. Thanks to the too-serious script, acting and soundtrack, some viewers might find the film's intensity to be more than a little overdone. You may laugh at what goes on in Astonishing, but it's probably not what the filmmakers intended. (Kozo 2004)
Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Mei Ah Entertainment
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Removable English and Chinese subtitles

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