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… On this day, I see clearly, everything has come to life.

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 聚言莊﹕The House Where Words Gather.

Out With The Old, Part II

It’s time.

It’s definitely time.

It’s time for me to come in from nude sunbathing out on the beach and get to work on my first post for 2009 — a post about my “mosts” of 2008.

Before I begin, a caveat:  If my picks for the “mosts” of 2008 seem a bit vanilla, a bit uninspired and a bit dated, it’s because torrents and illegal downloads have killed my local Chinese video store so I now have to order in HK films.  As a result, I’ve been limited to the major releases (like RED CLIFF) or films that I have an interest in seeing (like Tissot Presents CONNECTED: A Motorola Film Presentation).  I’ve had to pass on films with negative reviews (like AN EMPRESS AND THE WARRIORS) and the marginal titles (like those Wong Jing productions: MY WIFE IS A GAMBLING MAESTRO and THE FORBIDDEN LEGEND: SEX & CHOPSTICKS).  Ah, who’s kidding who?  I’m going to be seeing SEX & CHOPSTICKS at some point in my life …

In the past, I would have seen everything but having to pay fifteen to twenty bucks to see a film is a much different steaming tray of cha siu bao than having to pay four bucks to see a film.  I need to save some money for hookers and blow … OK, OK, the truth … Doritos and porn.  ;-)

Brendan Gleeson (left) and Colin Farrell in IN BRUGESI saw 24 Hong Kong films in 2008 (yeah, I keep movie-viewing stats … a side effect of being a sports geek) but a number of those were catch-up titles from 2007. Consequently, some older titles will be in my “mosts” selections.  I’m also not going to be able to offer any “diamond in the rough” suggestions like CLEAN MY NAME, MR. CORONER.  The closest I can come to making a recommendation of that ilk is the Martin McDonagh film IN BRUGES.  It tells the tale of two hitmen who are forced to cool their heels in the Belgian city of Bruges and has some definite Hong Kong movie DNA in it.  In fact, it reminded me a lot of EXILED.  So, if you like Johnnie To films and the “honour among thieves” genre, I think you’ll enjoy giving IN BRUGES a look.

On to my “mosts” of 2008:

Most Enjoyable Film Experience: RED CLIFF

Since the phenomenal success of CROUCHING TIGER HIDDEN DRAGON, movie fans have been left looking in dismay over an immense wasteland filled with the carcasses of ambitious but fatally flawed “costume epics made for the international market”.  Look over there!  It’s the empty shell that used to be known as THE BANQUET.  And here, we have the corpse of THE PROMISE.  What’s that smell?  It’s the rotting flesh of SEVEN SWORDS.

Finally, after eight long years, a big-budget, star-studded production has come along and delivered on its promise.  Unlike some of its predecessors, it doesn’t leave viewers feeling disappointed (I’m looking at you THE BANQUET), puzzled (SEVEN SWORDS) or laughing derisively at the unintentional comedy (THE PROMISE). While RED CLIFF VOL. 1 (volume 2 comes out later this month) isn’t a pantheon-worthy masterpiece, it is solid entertainment and thoroughly enjoyable.  It’s well-made with the familiar Woo style, doesn’t indulge in over-production, tells a coherent story that satisfies and, while the comedy can be a bit corny, viewers are likely to laugh with it instead of laugh at it.Some of you may be thinking that RED CLIFF was OK but it wasn’t the most enjoyable film experience of 2008.  Well, it was the most fun I had watching a movie from the three Chinas (Mainland, HK, Taiwan).  For the record, the most fun I had at the movies in 2008 was IRON MAN.

Two factors enhanced my enjoyment of the film:

One, I’m a ROMANCE OF THE THREE KINGDOMS geek.  I own the book.  I own the original KOEI PC game when everything fit on one 5 1/4″ inch diskette and used less memory than a Lin Chi-Ling JPEG.  Even though they are all essentially the same game, I own the PS2 versions of DYNASTY WARRIORS 3, DYNASTY WARRIORS 4 and DYNASTY WARRIORS 5.  By the way, my high score at the Battle of Chi Bi is 1383 KOs with Zhao Yun.  Yes, I am a true hero of the Three Kingdoms. :-)

Hulk HoganTwo, I’m a John Woo fan.  A BETTER TOMORROW and HARD-BOILED are enshrined in the Republic of Sanneyistan movie pantheon.  Coupled with the fact that John Woo had not directed a Chinese film since 1992, I was all geeked up for RED CLIFF and the familiar John Woo flourishes: the bromance, the notion of honour between men, the slow motion shots and, of course, the pigeons.  It’s sort of like how WWE fans go insane whenever Hulk Hogan appears.  It doesn’t matter that he’s well into his 50s and that he has the agility of a hippopotamus.  People still go nuts whenever “Real American” starts blasting on the loudspeaker and he does the familiar posedown, the waving at the fans to cheer and the leg drop. Whatcha gonna do when John Woo unleashes a bromantic action drama on you?  Sit back and enjoy it, that’s what.

One more thought about RED CLIFF:  Before I saw her performance in the film, the prevailing image I had in my mind of Taiwanese Lin Chi-Ling dancing with Terry Guosupermodel Lin Chi-Ling was of her dancing with business magnate Terry Guo.  Apparently, back in February 2007, she was paid to make an appearance at a business dinner thrown by Guo and somehow ended up dancing with him.  It caused a minor brouhaha when director Tsai Ming-Liang spoke out against her by saying that making such appearances was “cheap” and “disgusting”.  The incident sticks out in my mind not because I worship at the Temple of Righteous Propriety with director Tsai but because I saw the pictures and thought to myself: “whoa, Lin Chi-Ling is kinda hot.”

I know, I know, you’re probably thinking:  “Lin Chi-Ling is hot.  What a revelation.  What’s Sanney going to discover next?  The sky is blue and snow is cold.  Is he going to kiss a girl and like it?”  In response, let me just say that I see gorgeous beauty every day when I look in the mirror so it takes a lot for me to recognize beauty in others.  :-)

Basically, I wasn’t expecting much from Lin Chi-Ling beyond the usual “flower vase” routine.  To my surprise, Lin turned in a decent performance and held her own opposite my cousin Tony, Takeshi Kaneshiro and that scene-stealing but peculiarly-clean newborn foal.  I wouldn’t put it in the same league as some outstanding debut model-actress performances — like Qi Qi (aka Mrs. Simon Yam Tat-Wah) in the criminally underappreciated THE KID and Yoyo Mung Ka-Wai in EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED –  but it isn’t bad for a rookie.

Most Disappointing Moment: Sexy Photos Gate

No, no, no.  I’m not going to be like the Hong Kong Performing Artistes Guild and descend from Sanctimony Peak to deliver a lecture on how Sexy Photos Gate was a tragedy for society and a tragedy for members of the entertainment industry.  Yes, having very personal photos exposed for all the world to see is beyond the pale and very traumatic and very mortifying for those involved.  However, if you create an interest in yourself so that you can profit from that interest, you can’t really complain when that interest turns on you in ways you can’t control.  If you live by the sword, you can’t complain if you end up dying by the sword.

Nope, my “disappointment” with Sexy Photos Gate is actually more of a lament.  For the past few years, news about the health of the Hong Kong movie industry has been grim (read Tim Youngs’ article in Time Magazine about the issue for a good overview).  However, I’ve always believed that the industry would survive because I’ve seen what the ingenuity and grit of Hong Kong people can do.  I was confident that the industry would find some way to keep going.  It’s like what the Jeff Goldblum character said in JURASSIC PARK: “Because the history of evolution is that life escapes all barriers.  Life breaks free.  Life expands to new territories.  Painfully, perhaps even dangerously.  But life finds a way.”  I was sure the industry would find a way.

Athena Chu Yan and Monica Chan Fat-Yung in THE LOVE AND SEX OF THE EASTERN HOLLYWOODNow, I’m not so sure.  Why?  Because no quickie “ripped from the headlines” movie about Sexy Photos Gate has popped up.  During the Asian Economic Crisis of the late-1990s, the industry still managed to produce THE LOVE AND SEX OF THE EASTERN HOLLYWOOD — a movie based on rumours that swirled around Maggie Cheung Man-Yuk, Sandra Ng Kwun-Yu and Veronica Yip Yuk-Hing among others.  After the tech bubble burst, not one but two movies about an infamous murder case turned up: THERE IS A SECRET IN MY SOUP and HUMAN PORK CHOP.  Mere weeks after the Melody Chu Mei-Fang sex scandal broke, the HK movie industry offered THE PEEPING.  Yet, almost a year after the first photos surfaced, no “ripped from the headlines” exploitation flick based on Sexy Photos Gate has been released.

Perhaps there is some reluctance to produce a movie because of the rumoured triad connections involved but you would think that the money a Sexy Photos Gate film could generate would be too enticing to pass up.  Maybe the physical and fiscal risk outweighed any potential reward.  Maybe the industry is too weak for a movie on the biggest scandal of this decade to generate any significant profit.  Whatever the case may be, it is another sign that the health of the Hong Kong movie industry isn’t as robust as it used to be.

Most Shameful Moment: Watching CJ7

If I lived on Sanctimony Peak with the Hong Kong Performing Artistes Guild, I’d go on a self-serving pious rant about how my most shameful moment as a HK entertainment fan came when I was looking at those Sexy Photos Gate pictures.  Alas, I’m a ham sup lo so I had no compunction about looking at the photos.  I’m not condoning the actions of those who were rabidly waiting for the latest pictures or those who were obsessed with collecting every last image.  I’m just saying that the natural reaction of any normal fan would be to look at the pictures so — despite the whines and moans about the destruction of society — no one should feel shame for looking at the photos.

Kitty Zhang in CJ7

No, my most shameful moment came while I was watching Stephen Chow’s CJ7.  Here I was watching a warm-hearted family movie about the relationship between father and son yet I was constantly distracted by salacious thoughts about Kitty Zhang.  I kept thinking how different my life would have been if I stayed in Hong Kong and was schooled by hot women wearing tight-fitting cheongsam instead of the likes of the stern Father Ernie and dour Sister Olga here in Canada.  One thing’s for sure, if I never underwent the tutelage of Father Ernie and Sister Olga, I’d be feeling no shame over, uh, admiring Kitty Zhang. ;-)

On a side note, anyone out there see Kitty Zhang in SHAOLIN GIRL?  Kozo killed the film in his review so I’ve stayed away but is it enjoyable on a “turn off your brain and look at the pretty pictures” level or is it, as Kozo contends, so bad that I’d get more enjoyment lighting the $16 the DVD costs on fire and watching the money burn?

Most Egregious Use Of CGI: KIDNAP

SPOILER WARNING!  SKIP THIS SECTION IF YOU DO NOT WANT TO BE SPOILED ABOUT THE ENDING OF KIDNAP.

Bugs BunnyIf you’ve seen KIDNAP then you probably know precisely what I’m going to write about: the scene where Karena Lam Ka-Yan’s character gets nailed by a car.  The effect was so cartoonish and so out-of-place for the taut thriller that director Law Chi-Leung had going, I half-expected Bugs Bunny to poke his head through the pavement and say: “… I knew I shoulda taken that left turn at Albuquerque … {sees the body of Karena Lam’s character} … oooh, that’s gotta hoit.”

Instead of using that ridiculous CGI, it might have been more effective (and cheaper) to do it old school — the way they did it in Shaw Brothers movies and TVB dramas before the advent of computers — stick a bad wig on a stuntman and do the stunt for real.

Most Memorable Scene: The Stephanie Cheng Yung - Edison Chen Kwoon-Hei scene from TRIVIAL MATTERS

Stephanie Cheng Yung and Edison Chen Kwoon-Hei in TRIVIAL MATTERS

I wish I could say that the scene sticks in my mind because of the cute as a button Stephanie Cheng Yung.  Sadly, no.  The scene sticks in my mind because of the warped notion of “good citizenship” espoused by Edison Chen.  The stupid scene stuck in my mind like an ear worm every time I visited a public toilet in 2008.  It didn’t matter where I was: a pay toilet near the famous Piazza San Marco in Venice, a washroom in a pub just off of Leicester Square or the downstairs facilities in the Columbia Icefields Visitors’ Centre, I couldn’t help but think of Edison Chen’s idea of “public service”.   Thank you Edison Chen.  Thank you Pang Ho-Cheung.

I suppose that I must now make the obligatory comment about how it’s ironic (or at least prescient) that the scene involved a certain part of the male anatomy that Chen would, months later, go down in history and become synonymous with due to Sexy Photos Gate.

Most Memorable Moment Of Bad Acting: Gigi Leung Wing-Kei in WONDER WOMEN

I don’t mean to single out Gigi Leung as a “bad actress” with this selection.  On an absolute scale, her acting skills are fairly decent and I saw many, many poorer performances in 2008.  However, her work in WONDER WOMEN is the bad performance I remember most out of all the ones I saw last year.  Overall, Leung’s effort in WONDER WOMEN is pretty good, it’s just that in key moments she’ll use an exaggerated expression or an exaggerated gesture that belongs more in a TVB drama than a sweeping epic about Hong Kong since the Handover.

Kevin Cheng Ka-Wing (left) and Gigi Leung Wing-Kei (right) in WONDER WOMEN

The moment that sticks in my mind is early in the film shortly after she discovers that her trusted “uncle” (played by Hui Siu-Hung) is conning her with a real estate scam.  Instead of attempting to portray genuine emotion, she uses one of those melodramatic TVB “hrrmph” expressions that’s so jarring it kills the narrative momentum of the film.  Sure, an argument can be made that the entire production is plauged by such inconsistency but a really good actress should have the ability to rise above bad directing and bad production (Karena Lam, for instance, has delivered the goods in many questionable movies).   It’s this lack of acting chops that kept Leung from progressing beyond the “It Girl” level earlier in her career.

Most Memorable Moment of Good Acting: Eddie Cheung Siu-Fai in KIDNAP

Eddie Cheung Siu-FaiThere wasn’t any particular instance of great acting that prompted me to pick Eddie Cheung for this section.  It’s just that while I was watching him in KIDNAP, it dawned on me that Cheung is an outstanding actor.  I never really noticed it before because he started his career playing thankless roles in TVB series.  From the late-1980s to early this decade, Cheung spent his time at TVB playing villains, dorks or the third wheel in romantic triangles.  Consequently, you never really paid attention to him because the focus was always on the leading man and the leading lady.

Since leaving TVB, Cheung has put together a nice string of supporting roles in some notable movies (from RUNNING ON KARMA to THROWDOWN to MAD DETECTIVE).  In the past couple of years alone, he’s played a supremely competent badass cop in KIDNAP, a sympathetic hardass cop in DOG BITE DOG, a jerkass police superintendent in CONNECTED and an explosively violent personality in MAD DETECTIVE.  Here’s hoping that his talent, his skill and his range are recognized someday with a Hong Kong Film Award.  Hong Kong Movie Gods, I beseech you, please make it so.

Looking Ahead To 2009: Growing a Lamstache

George Lam Chi-CheungNow that I’ve finally put 2008 to rest, here’s what I plan to do in 2009: grow a George Lam Chi-Cheung style moustache.  Why?  In real life, the guy is married to Sally Yeh.  In his last two movies, his characters were married to ones played by Gigi Leung Wing-Kei and Loletta Lee Lai-Chun.  In addition to having such good luck with the ladies, he played a badass gangster in THE PYE-DOG.  Surely, the secret to his success is the ’stache. :-)

OK, OK, maybe I’ll take a pass on the idea of the Lamstache.  What I will do in 2009 is wait for the Hong Kong Film Awards nominations to come out and see all the nominated movies and performances.  I have a feeling that means I’ll be seeing films like RUN PAPA RUN and THE WAY WE ARE.  Of course, I’ll be seeing RED CLIFF 2.  In fact, if I was a crazy rich guy, I would hop a flight to Hong Kong just so I could see the movie instead of waiting for it to come out on DVD.  Alas, I’m not rich, just crazy.

Do any of you have suggestions on movies from 2008 that I should see?  Does the accumulated babeage in LA LINGERIE make it worth a look?  How about NOBODY’S PERFECT?  Is there enough Jo Koo in THE VAMPIRE WHO ADMIRES ME to justify a purchase?  If there’s a film that you saw in 2008 that tickled your fancy, let me know.  It doesn’t matter if it’s good or bad.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I enjoy the fartsy just as much as the artsy.

* * * * *

Be seeing you, Patrick McGoohan.

Image credits: Blueprint Pictures (IN BRUGES still), WWE (Hulk Hogan), Wenhui Xinmin United Press Group (Lin Chi-Ling/Terry Guo), Mei Ah Entertainment (THE LOVE AND SEX OF THE EASTERN HOLLYWOOD still), Star Overseas (Kitty Zhang), Bugs Bunny (Warner Bros.), Not Brothers (TRIVIAL MATTERS still), Mandarin Films (WONDER WOMEN still), George Lam’s Official Website (George Lam)

8 Responses to “Out With The Old, Part II”

  1. glenn Says:

    Jo Koo is in Vampire? I have to watch that right away. Jo Koo as the glasses-wearing secretary in Beauty and the 7 Beasts was the ONLY thing that made that film a keeper for me.

    I think you’ll like The Way We Are. I just watched it last night.

    And I agree wholeheartedly about the lack of a quickie sexy photos gate knock-off film.

  2. Gabriel Says:

    As Kozo, unlike you, lives in HK, have you asked him whether he’s “schooled by hot women wearing tight-fitting cheongsam”?

    “Hard-Boiled”, yesssss. My favourite movie ever, from the moment I saw in 1993.

  3. Alex L. Says:

    Shaolin Girl is watchable if you have Japanese sensibilities. There’s a laugh or two but not much else. Kozo is on the money with his review. You probably are better off just watching your $16 burn.

    I just watched In Bruges on the weekend. I agree that it’s a lot like a HK movie.

  4. Munin Says:

    I love Eddie Cheung in Exiled.

    Second Place for “most overlooked actor ever” aka “you know, that guy from” should go to Liu Kai Chi.

  5. Jeff Hsieh Says:

    I saw Red Cliff 2 last night. If you didn’t like Cao Cao being in love with Xiao Qiao in the first one, you’re not going to like what happens in this one.

    I also have to say I thought the film was underwhelming. It started off strong but got weaker as it went on.

  6. YTSL Says:

    Hi Sanney –

    Before anything else: happy Chinese new year of the ox to you! :)

    Now to answering your query re “Shaolin Girl”: Yes, I’ve seen it and yes, it’s a lame movie for the most part. OTOH, if you like Kitty Zhang, she’s got more of a role there than in “CJ7″ — though it’s still pretty laughable.

    My review from when I was working at bc magazine:-
    http://www.bcmagazine.net/hk.bcmagazine.issues/bcmagazine_webissue258/23-shaolin.html

    As for 2008 movie suggestions: THE WAY WE ARE really is the best Hong Kong film of 2008 as far as I’m concerned. 2nd’s BEAST STALKER. Don’t miss those. And LA LINGERIE is actually quite good — not in those two other movies’ class but a movie that has both heart and humor. Another movie I’d like to recommend: TRUE WOMEN FOR SALE.

  7. Dr. Mike Says:

    I concur with YTSL, The Way We Are is the best HK film of 2008. I also agree that Beast Stalker is a good film.

    If you like Kitty Zhang, I recommend All About Women.

  8. Darren Says:

    you’ll enjoy vampire who admires me, jo koo’s in it quite a bit and shes in a tight tank top the whole time lol

    i was in hk during christmas and got to catch ip man, thats easily my favorite movie in 2008

    la lingirie and nobodys perfect are both terrible and overlong but there are a couple laughs to be had in each.

    i really enjoyed the way we are and beast stalker as well.

 
 
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