Archive for December, 2008

three more francis ng movies

Best to worst

The White Dragon, dir. Wilson Yip, 2004

Francis plays a blind swordsman opposite spoiled and vain rich girl Cecilia Cheung in this 21st century martial arts redux. Full of jokey anachronisms and mo le tau humor, the film is nonetheless affecting due to the charisma and chemistry of the two leads. Francis channels Zatoichi with a twist–he’s a sensitive and noble, lovelorn guy.

Francis with bangs, The White Dragon, 2005

Francis with bangs, The White Dragon, 2005

He also battles a very bad haircut but miraculously manages to become more and more attractive, even though he spends half the film with his eyes rolled up in his head. The scene where he discovers that Cecilia thinks he’s handsome is classic–charming, funny and convincing. Kudos to Cecilia Cheung (who won Best Actress at the HK Film Awards) for keeping her bratty character light and appealing. Wilson Yip continues his schizophrenic directing career, combining wuxia, comedy, romance and satire in classic HK style.

Dancing Lion, dir. Marco Mak & Francis Ng, 2007

Kinda dumb, unfortunately. Sitcom-style humor about a dysfunctional family that starts a lion dancing business and becomes a HK phenomenom. Francis co-directs and stars as a forty-year-old hip hop wannabe dope.

Francis and bling, Dancing Lion, 2007

Francis and bling, Dancing Lion, 2007

Anthony Wong is amazing as a 72-year-old lion dance master–he’s very fun to watch in an otherwise dippy film.

Francis & Anthony in furry pants, Dancing Lion, 2005

Francis & Anthony in furry pants, Dancing Lion, 2007

Himalaya Singh, dir. Wai Kar-Fei, 2005

“Hey, you ever been to India?” “No, why?” “Wanna make a movie there?” “Well, what’s there?” “I dunno, elephants, cobras, yoga.” “Okay, sounds great. Think Francis & Lau Ching Wan will want to go?” “Yeah, and maybe Cecilia.” “Okay, let’s do it.” “And we need to find some Indian guys who can speak Cantonese.”

Cultural insensitivity, HK style, Himalaya Singh, 2006

Cultural insensitivity, HK style, Himalaya Singh, 2005

December 24, 2008 at 9:17 pm 1 comment

The Gory Details: 26 Francis Ng 吳鎮宇 Movies in 4 Weeks

infernal-affairs2

Francis Ng as a naughty triad boss, Infernal Affairs II

In response to some of you who have asked me to elaborate on the 26 Francis Ng movies I watched in four weeks, here are some bullet reviews of them. As a bit of background, many of you know that I’ve got a thing for Hong Kong films and that in 1997 I made an experimental documentary called Beyond Asiaphilia that outlined my love for Chow Yun-Fat, Jet Li and other HK movie kings. At that time I was seeing about 3-4 HK movies a week, almost all in Bay Area movie theaters such as the Great Star, the World, the 4-Star and the UC Theater. All of those but the 4-Star have since shut down and, since the 1997 handover and economic crisis, the HK movie industry is a shadow of its former self. Hong Kong used to produce upwards of 300 films per year–today its output is around 50-100 films.

Francis Ng swaggers into the Golden Horse Awards, 2006

Francis Ng swaggers into the Golden Horse Awards, 2006

Because of this, and because my first daughter was born in 2000, my HK movie viewing declined steeply. I still managed to keep up with the latest Johnny To and Wong Kar-Wai films but most of the HK film scene passed me by.
Hence I was unaware of the rise of Francis Ng as a leading man, which started to take place around 1999 when he won several Best Actor awards for films such as The Mission, Bullets Over Summer, and 2000 AD.

When I was watching HK movies in the mid-nineties, I knew Francis Ng mostly for his quirky character work in movies like Young & Dangerous. Seeing his body of work this month, from films made after 2000, made me realize that he has grown far beyond those roles as an actor and as a movie star.

But apparently what pushed Francis into HK idol stardom was his role in the hit HK television drama Triumph In The Skies, where he played an upstanding, straitlaced airline pilot.

I’m not sure exactly what spurred this past month’s obsessive viewing of so many Francis Ng movies but he’s so good and watchable in almost everything he’s in, and he’s made so many movies, that it wasn’t hard to find several of them to watch.

Wacky Francis and bra, Crazy 'n' the City, 2005

Wacky Francis and bra, Crazy ‘n’ the City, 2005

He’s also grown into his face in the past 10 years and, depending on the movie and the hairstyle, can be ridiculously good-looking or insanely strange.

He’s blessed with a fine, photogenic bone structure, and has a mobile, expressive face and an agile grace that makes him a perfect screen performer.

Cross-eyed Francis, Juliet In Love, 1999

Cross-eyed Francis, Juliet In Love, 1999

His eyes are also just slightly crossed, which adds an odd, somewhat feline quality to his looks.

Viewing note: Some of these films are available on Netflix; many others you can get from the San Francisco Public Library. You can also stream several of them on youtube or on crunchyroll, though the image quality is compromised. Several more are available on Chinese-language streaming sites, but without English subs. You can also find torrent streams galore if that’s your thing.
Statistics: Out of 26 movies viewed
Number of times Francis plays a triad: 13
Number of times Francis plays a cop: 2
Number of movies in which Francis dies: 14
Number of times Francis gets the girl: 10
The best–watch these first.
  1. The Mission–Francis in feral, intense mode. Great movie which also stars Anthony Wong, Roy Cheung, & Lam Suet as hard-guy bodyguards to a timid mob boss.
  2. Exiled–Francis as one of a group of cool hired guns. Reunites most of the cast from The Mission with brilliant director Johnny To.
  3. Infernal Affairs 2–Prequel to Infernal Affairs. One of the best movies I’ve seen in a long time, especially Francis’s amazing, low-key performance as a reluctant Triad boss. Compare this to The Mission and some of Francis’s other OTT performances and you’ll see his fantastic range & versatility.
  4. Juliet In Love–my favorite. A wonderful, emotional, sad and beautiful story. Francis plays a none-too-bright, aimless hoodlum who finds love and redemption from an unlikely source.
  5. Full Alert–Francis as a complex bad guy in a cat & mouse game with Lau Ching Wan. Intense and haunting Ringo Lam movie.

Good:

  1. Too Many Ways To Be #1–weird but fun alternative timeline triad movie.
  2. Shiver–great, naturalistic Francis performance but he’s got terrible orange hair and a pathetic mustache
  3. Bullets Over Summer–Francis as a lonely cop in a subtle and emotional performance. Same director, Wilson Yip, as Juliet In Love.
  4. On The Edge–Francis in a supporting role as a sympathetic triad boss. He could’ve sleepwalked through it but actually puts in a worthy effort
  5. Wo Hu–another Triad boss supporting role–funny & complex
  6. Colour of the Truth–Francis is only in the first ten minutes or so, yet again as Triad boss, but makes a great impression. His scene with Anthony Wong & Lau Ching Wan is a textbook example of incredible ensemble acting.
  7. Love Trilogy–Charming romantic comedy with Francis and Anita Yuen as a bickering married couple. One of the few movies where he doesn’t die horribly.
  8. Fantasia–hilarious HK comedy, with Lau Ching Wan, Jordan Chan, Louis Koo, the Twins, Cecilia Chung & many others. Ridiculous and funny.
  9. Crazy ‘n’ The City–Francis shows his range again as a mentally ill man who falls in love. Bad hair day for him, though.
  10. Young and Dangerous–Ugly Kwan! So funny, especially the growly voice, the bangs, the goatee, and the orange clothes. And so much more fun to watch than the wooden Ekin Cheng. No wonder Kwan got his own spinoff series (Once Upon A Time In Triad Society 1 & 2).

Bad:

  1. Curse of Lola–Francis channels Tony Leung Chi-Wai, but even he can’t save the dreadful & pretentious script.
  2. The Closet–WTF? Wannabe Ring & Ju-On clone. Francis does some neat magic tricks & bonds with a cute kid.
  3. Shamo–another supporting part, this time in an ultraviolent manga adaptation. Francis is cool but the movie is pretty unwatchable. Thank god for fast forward.
  4. Karmic Mah Jong–the only movie I couldn’t finish it was so bad. Pointless & obtuse, and Francis has an especially unflattering haircut in it.

Indifferent:

  1. One Last Dance–A cool Francis performance in a muddled movie. Might be better the second time around. Classic scene with hostages, plastic wrap, scotch tape and a fork.
  2. Bullet & Brain–very dumb Wong Jing movie with funny & cool performances by Francis & Anthony Wong. Watching Francis strut and pose is of course lots of fun (bonus points for also looking very hot doing it). Just fast forward over anything without him or Anthony in it.
  3. Legal Innocence–really really creepy & disturbing Category 3 movie about a gruesome true-crime HK murder involving a love triangle and a body decomposed in acid. Francis is great but unsettling. Cecilia Yip  & Anthony Wong also turn in good performances.
  4. Beauty and the Breast–actually a pretty funny and entertaining movie, if you’re not too demanding. Francis is hilarious as the office lothario who gets his commuppance (hint: it involves prosthetic mammaries). Just try to imagine Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt taking a part like this & you’ll understand what makes HK films special.
  5. Gen-X Cops–Ridiculous film starring popstar prettyboys as undercover cops. Francis lights up the screen as yet another Triad–unfortunately he buys the farm (again) by the middle of the movie, but not before delivering a profane and hilarious final speech, in English, though he obviously didn’t speak the language well at the time. Despite this, he makes it one of the highlights of an otherwise predictable and idiotic movie.
  6. A Man Called Hero–Francis plays a Japanese swordmaster bent on world domination. He has a CGI duel Anthony Wong as a Chinese martial arts sage and as well as a climactic battle with wooden man Ekin Cheng atop the Statue of Liberty (don’t ask).
  7. Deadly Delicious–Francis plays a philandering husband who suffers a horrible revenge from his pissed-off wife. Involves lethal doses of shrimp and other Chinese delicacies.

Yet to see:
A War Named Desire
Bakery Amour
Once Upon A Time in Triad Society 1 & 2
HK Triad
The White Dragon
Dancing Lion

December 19, 2008 at 2:50 am 14 comments

the birthday present

It’s my birthday today so I’ve decided to start a blog as a place to store my random thoughts about life, art, film and the world. Hope it’s fun!

December 19, 2008 at 2:45 am 3 comments


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