Posts filed under ‘hong kong’

Between Love & Hate: Love In The Buff and Marrying Mr. Perfect film reviews

Cherie & Jimmy living it up, Love In The Buff, 2012

Two romantic comedies that I saw on my trip to Hong Kong radically demonstrate two different aspects of popular Hong Kong movies today, and are possible indicators of the fate of the local film scene. Although once upon a time loyal Hong Kong audiences ardently supported local film productions, in the past ten or fifteen years interlopers first from Hollywood and now mainland China have been chipping away at the once indomitable Hong Kong film industry.

Pang Ho-Cheung’s Love in the Buff, the sequel to his 2010 film Love in a Puff, is a funny, smart flick that picks up shortly after the first film ends. The first film perfectly captured the irreverent lifestyle and language of young adults in Hong Kong and the sequel continues in the same vein. Instead of locating itself smack dab in the middle of Hong Kong’s young urban professional milieu, the film is set both in Hong Kong and Beijing, probably due co-production regulations as well as an attempt to appeal to the massive mainland Chinese audience. Yet despite the change in locale, the movie retains the kicky, profane humor that was so fun in the original. This is due in part to strong performances throughout the film as well as Pang’s clever script and sharp eye for the sleek yet realistic urban landscapes of the two cities.

Luv 'n' hate, with watermelon, Love In The Buff, 2012

In the sequel, protagonists Jimmy and Cherie face more difficulties in their romantic relationship, as they split up at the beginning of the movie (no spoiler here as it happens pretty early on). Both individually end up in Beijing as they follow their jobs to China’s capital city, and both begin new relationships there, but despite their best efforts they can’t seem to keep away from each other. Pang’s script arranges for a few key supporting Hong Kong characters to travel there with them so that the salty vernacular and attitude of the first movie remains intact. Miriam Yeung as Cherie is particularly outstanding as the foul-mouthed city girl stuck on Shawn Yue’s childlike Jimmy. There are also some extremely funny cameos that cannot be revealed without spoiling the fun but suffice to say that they’re cleverly utilized. One in particular resolves the storyline of ugly duckling Brenda (June Lam Siu-Ha) from Love In A Puff in an especially hilarious yet surprisingly heartwarming way.

Pang does a great job capturing the passionate and illogical attraction between Jimmy and Cherie, and places his main characters in a groovy contemporary milieu, surrounding them with fun and interesting supporting characters. It’s no wonder the movie has been going like gangbusters at the local box office, as its portrayal of contemporary Hong Kongers is flattering and appealing. In its opening weekend in Hong Kong Love In The Buff has grossed more than HK$5 million, making it a bona fide hit, and it opened here in the U.S. this weekend to positive reviews across the board.

Awwwww! Ronald Cheng & Gigi Leung, Marrying Mr. Perfect, 2012

On the flipside, while I was in Hong Kong I saw Wong Jing’s latest comic effort, Marrying Mr. Perfect, which stars Ronald Cheng, Gigi Leung, Chapman To, Eric Tsang, and Sandra Ng. With a cast like that it seems like the movie couldn’t help but be pretty funny but alas it was a fairly tepid and formulaic affair, with mistaken identities, catty office politics, and other contrivances making up most of the dumb storyline. All of the above actors have comic chops to spare but here they have to strain for laughs against the idiotic and derivative script. Apparently Wong Jing has lined up some hefty mainland China co-production financing for his next film projects, but if this is the future of Hong Kong filmmaking then things are looking pretty bleak.

I saw Marrying Mr. Perfect at a Sunday afternoon show with a bunch of local Hong Kong movie fans including bloggers and podcasters Paul Fox, Sean Tierney and Glenn Griffith, Ross (Kozo) Chen and Kevin Ma from lovehkfilm.com, and film programmer and writer Tim Youngs, on one of their weekly jaunts to see the latest Hong Kong releases. Afterwards we all spent teatime at the downmarket food court in the otherwise ultra-posh Elements mall and commiserated about the sorry state of Hong Kong films that this picture represented. Besides the seven of us there were about five other people in the small theater and the posters and trailers in the cinema were all for Hollywood movies like The Avengers (except for a trailer for another HK product, Love Lifting, which features Elanne Kong as a heartbroken Olympic weightlifter. Despite its sappy-looking premise the film actually made some money at the HK box office last week).

Chapman To working it, Marrying Mr. Perfect, 2012

This group of HK film aficionados echoed what other friends told me while I was in the SAR; to wit, no one in Hong Kong goes to Hong Kong movies any more. My buddy Jay had never heard of either Love In A Puff or its sequel, although he’s a pretty media-savvy guy, and another friend confessed that he only goes to see Hollywood product. If cheesy goods like Marrying Mr. Perfect are all that the Hong Kong film industry had to offer then it’s not surprising that local films can’t draw a local audience. But Ann Hui’s A Simple Life has been selling out theaters since its release a few weeks ago, and Love In The Buff  is also making some bank, so maybe it’s just a case of Hong Kong moviegoers no longer tolerating crappy local products like they used to.

Pretty people, Love In The Buff, 2012

It’s sad that there’s little brand loyalty for the indigenous film scene, but Hong Kong audiences have probably gotten accustomed to the high-gloss commercial fare from around the world that makes its way to local theaters. Last year two of the biggest films in HK were Aamir Khan’s Bollywood hit 3 Idiots and Giddens Ko’s Taiwan youth flick You Are The Apple Of My Eye, and of course most Hollywood blockbusters show up in HK cinemas as well. Interestingly enough, the films with more local flavor, including A Simple Life, Clement Chang’s Gallants, and Alex Law’s Echoes of the Rainbow, have successfully struck a chord with local audiences, so maybe the local film industry isn’t completely dead. With the restrictive requirements of mainland China co-productions threatening to further choke off the Hong Kong movie scene it will be interesting to see in the next few years whether an unadulterated Hong Kong movie aesthetic can survive.

Love In  The Buff now playing:

 AMC Metreon 16

101 Fourth St. San Francisco, CA 94103

AMC Cupertino Square 16

10123 North Wolfe Road, Cupertino, California

March 31, 2012 at 6:34 am 5 comments

Slippin’ Into Darkness: Agneepath and The Viral Factor film reviews

Hrithik Roshan, tattered, Agneepath, 2012

A funny thing happened on the way to the multiplex last week—both of the number one movies in China and in India were playing simultaneously at Bay Area theaters. The Viral Factor, director Dante Lam’s latest actioner, and Agneepath, a remake of a classic 1990s Bollywood revenge drama, both made their way to the U.S. with day-and-date releases in the U.S. and their respective countries of origin.

Agneepath, starring the remarkably hot and handsome Bollywood star Hrithik Roshan, set a record for highest opening day grosses in India and is on its was to joining the 100 crores club, along with blockbusters like Aamir Khan’s Three Idiots and Ghajini, Shahrukh Khan’s Ra.One and Don 2, and Salman Khan’s Bodyguard and Dabangg.

The flick is an old-school vengeance story with new-school stars, including the aforementioned Hrithik, pouty-lipped former Miss World Priyanka Chopra, and hulking villain Sanjay Dutt. It also features an item number with another rising star, Katrina Kaif, who shows off her amazing articulated torso in a fast-paced dance sequence.

The original Agneepath is a cult classic in India and stars OG bad boy Amitabh Bachchan. Both the original and the remake take their title from a well-known poem written by Bachchan’s father, Harivansh Rai Bachchan, and it’s featured prominently in both films. Agneepath roughly translates as “the path of fire,” referring to persevering in the face of great struggle.

Sanjay Dutt, evil, Agneepath, 2012

In the new Agneepath the intensity is turned to up eleven for the duration as first-time director Karan Malhotra brings the high melodrama on a grand scale, including child slavery, beatings and hangings, tattooed villains both bald and hairy, machete-wielding transvestites, and a bride who gets gunned down on her wedding day. Not to mention Hrithik Roshan’s smoldering green eyes simmering with rage throughout the movie. At the plex where I watched the show with a mixed crowd of both desi and non-desi audience members, the stoned teenager in the projection booth had jacked up the theater’s volume to “deafening,” but this only suited the movie’s thundering score and accentuated the general more-ness of the storyline.

In contrast to the theatrics of the plot, Hrithik turns in a subtle, intense performance as the tortured hero bent on avenging his father’s wrongful death. Despite being astoundingly hot, as always Hrithik’s on-screen persona is fairly low-key, downplaying his tousled hair and perfect profile. He’s the dreamboat with a heart of gold who is incredibly handsome, cut and toned, yet remarkably unassuming. At the show I attended, Roshan’s first appearance thirty minutes into the movie was greeted by an elated fan calling out, “I love you, baby!” Her sentiment was quickly echoed by a happy murmur from most of the female viewers in the audience.

Producer Karan Johar’s Sirkian aesthetic is all over this one, thought it’s nominally directed by Karan Malhotra. The film’s emotional palette is completely saturated, with every scene staged for maximum dramatic effect. Yet despite the overall fever pitch, some sequences manage to stand out, including a harrowing lynching that sets the dark and violent tone of the film, and a gorgeous orange-toned set piece that takes place during the Ganesh Chaturthi festival. Malhotra makes excellent use of the festival’s spectacle, skillfully intercutting the riotously colorful celebration with a cat-and-mouse assassination attempt. The film’s sleek production values, its gorgeous and charismatic leading man, and its bloody tale of violent retribution make it a good candidate for crossover success in the U.S. and worldwide.

Nic Tse, misunderstood, The Viral Factor, 2012

The Viral Factor, China’s number one movie last week, is a horse of a slightly different color. Part intense and violent actioner, part family melodrama, and part reunification allegory, the film boasts an amazing amount of property and vehicle destruction, and copious quantities of flying bullets, sheared-off limbs, and characters leaping from high ledges. In other words, it’s a typical Dante Lam movie.

The story concerns a pair of estranged brothers, one raised in Hong Kong by his father, and one raised in China by his mother, who of course end up on opposite sides of the law. Fai, the cop, stiffly played by Taiwanese pop superstar Jay Chou, and Yeung, the thief, more energetically rendered by Hong Kong pop superstar Nicholas Tse, meet cute after Yeung busts out of police custody in Malaysia. Intertwined with their nascent reunion is a plot involving a mutant smallpox virus, corrupt cops, and a sleek English-speaking gangster clumsily played by Andy On (here billed as Andy Tien).

Jay Chou, cornered, The Viral Factor, 2012

Director Lam keeps the pace cracking throughout, starting with a blistering car chase and shootout in the streets of Jordan—clearly someone’s been watching The Hurt Locker. Yet in true Hong Kong style the action sequences, smartly choreographed by Chin Kar-lok, are interspersed with a melodramatic family subplot. The hoary cop-criminal brothers theme has a long and venerable history in Hong Kong action movies, perhaps most notably essayed by Chow Yun-Fat and Leslie Cheung in A Better Tomorrow. Here the conflict is much less dramatically rendered, in part because neither Jay Chou nor Nic Tse possess the passion, chops, or sheer charisma of either Chow or Cheung, and as such the brotherly relationship is more friendly than fraught. Tse manages to be convincing as the hotheaded criminal, despite his slight and wiry stature, but Chou doesn’t bring a lot to his role as the cop. Without much fraternal tension the familial dynamics don’t possess a huge amount of urgency, so the storyline’s resolution ultimately lacks impact.

But the action sequences more than make up for this dramatic slackness, and veteran director Lam makes excellent use of enclosed spaces full of whizzing bullets, hand grenades, and sharp objects. As with his two previous films, The Beast Stalker and The Stool Pigeon (both of which also star Nic Tse), all of the lead characters suffer grievous bodily harm from car wrecks, gunfire, blunt force, and other physical trauma, with each eventually sporting the facial scars that have lately become Lam’s signature. Although he handles the fancier set pieces effectively, including a helicopter chase that weaves through a dense jungle of skyscrapers, Lam seems most at home down in the mean streets of Kuala Lumpur. It’s there that the film really gains some traction, with corrupt cops and scraggly gangsters populating neon-lit outdoor food stalls not unlike those found in Lam’s native Hong Kong. Along with Herman Yau, Lam is one of the few directors in the former Crown Colony still making streetwise commercial cinema, and the success of The Viral Factor both at home and abroad will hopefully enable him to find future financing for his gritty, kinetic Hong Kong-style movies.

Bonus beats: Here’s a clip of Chikni Chameli from Agneepath with Katrina Kaif and her amazingly flexible abs. Props for lighting a match on her forearm. Also includes nice cutaways of Hrithik brooding prettily and Sanjay Dutt getting his mean on.

February 3, 2012 at 8:39 am 4 comments

Today, Every Year: Francis Ng Turns 50

The birthday boy on his half-centennial

Just a quick fangirl shout-out to Francis Ng Chun-Yu, whose fiftieth birthday is this week. Francis has had a remarkably long and vigorous career that spans four decades (!), from his humble beginnings as a bit player at TVB back in the 1980s through various villainous and supporting roles in the early 90s to his current status as one of Hong Kong’s most popular and well-known actors. He’s part of an amazing generation of male Hong Kong acting talent that came of age in the 1990s, many of whom are also turning fifty this year or in the next few years. Andy Lau Tak-Wah and Anthony Wong Chau-Sang were also both born in 1961—soon to follow are Tony Leung Chiu-Wai (b. 1962), Stephen Chow Sing-Chi (b. 1962), Jet Li (b. 1963) and Lau Ching-Wan (b. 1964). Tony Leung Kar-Fai and Simon Yam each turned fifty a few years ago. All of these actors are still working today, although some of their output has decreased since the heyday of Hong Kong cinema back in the 1990s, and all of them are at the top of their game in terms of skill, talent, charisma, and screen presence.

Francis in naugahyde, Laughing Gor 2 premiere, Dec. 20, 2011

What’s perhaps less evident from this list is the dearth of similar talent in the generation of Hong Kong actors following them. The decline in Hong Kong film production in the past fifteen years since the 1997 handover has mightily impacted the development of stars of note, as indicated by the diminishing talent pool among younger actors. Of Hong Kong movie stars in their forties only Louis Koo Tin-Lok is a legitimate leading man, and his acting chops are nowhere near as masterful as the aforementioned group. Of actors in their thirties Daniel Wu and Nicholas Tse Ting-Fung ably fill the movie star niche, but their range and output have yet to reach the scale and impact of the class of 1961-64.

What’s also notable is that, although all of the abovementioned fiftyish movie kings are actively working today, only a handful of their female counterparts are likewise gainfully employed. Most female Hong Kong stars of the same generation have either retired (Brigitte Lin Ching-Hsia; Joey Wang; Chingmy Yau), or moved to television (Anita Yuen; Cheung Man). Anita Mui Yim-Fong died of cervical cancer in 2003. Of those female stars who came of age in the 1990s only Maggie Cheung Man-Yuk, Carina Lau Ka-Ling, Sandra Ng Kwan-Yu, and Michelle Yeoh are still working, although Maggie hasn’t really starred in a film since 2004.

Micheal Tse & Francis Ng meet the press, Laughing Gor 2 premiere, Dec. 20, 2011

So hats off to Francis on the anniversary of his solstice birth—show business is a cruel mistress and it’s a testament to his talent, determination, and savvy that he’s survived so long as a top star. Fingers crossed that he’s on the silver screen for at least four more decades to come.

UPDATE: Okay, I just realized that I accidentally left off Donnie Yen (b. 1963) in my above list. I’m not a huge Donnie fan but he is a big deal now so he’s gotta be included. But it also points out the glaring hole in the martial arts movie world–who will follow Donnie? Wu Jing? Andy On? Collin Chou, for god’s sake? Slim pickin’s–

December 22, 2011 at 8:47 am 6 comments

Too Much Heaven, Part Two: City of Life and Death and Detective Dee reviews

Andy Lau, sleuthing, Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame, 2010

Two more Chinese-language films have their theatrical releases in San Francisco, and, although they are completely different in subject, tone, and treatment, both are testaments to the vitality of the new Chinese cinema.

City of Life & Death, dir. Lu Chuan, 2010

My head was spinning when I walked out of the screening for City of Life and Death, Lu Chuan’s devastating and uncompromising look at the Rape of Nanking (or Nanjing).  City of Life and Death is an unflinching look at the infamous Japanese occupation and destruction of the Chinese capital in 1938–the film is a stellar example of the ways in which cinema can both explicate and elevate events from real life. Lu masterfully utilizes wide-screen, black and white, mostly hand-held cinematography, subtle and emotional performances, and a story structure that precludes simplistic nationalism.

Civilians, City of Life and Death, 2010

At the very start in the first hour of the film Lu kills off one of the main characters, forcefully undermining any pretense of a conventionally told story and serving notice that the film will be merciless in the treatment of its characters. As in the real-life occupation of Nanjing, no one is safe and no one will be spared from the casual brutality of wartime and the mentality it fosters. The film also refuses to focus on acts of heroism, although though there are brave and unselfish acts throughout the film’s 2.5 hour running time. No single character is a savior, nor are there any simple answers to the inhuman violence that was perpetrated upon the citizens of Nanjing.

As a Chinese filmmaker Lu makes the unusual choice of presenting the well-known story, which has been used in China to demonize Japan, in part through the eyes of Kadokawa, a Japanese soldier. The opening shot of the film is a close-up of the wide-eyed and impressionable Kadokawa’s terrified face as he and his fellow Japanese soldiers prepare to storm the walls of Nanjing. Kadokawa’s horrified responses to the violence surrounding him as well as the pivotal choices he makes at the end of the film belie any condemnation of the Japanese as inherently bestial or subhuman, The film refuses to lay the blame for the events in Nanjing on inborn flaws in the Japanese national character, instead placing responsibility on the insanity of militarism itself.

Atrocities, City of Life and Death, 2010

Viewers shouldn’t be deterred by the grim subject matter as this is filmmaking of the finest order. The wide screen black and white cinematography underscores the huge scope of the atrocities, and director Lu Chuan understands the value of a long, long take in creating an almost unbearable tension. The performances are also uniformly outstanding. Liu Ye is excellent in his brief but significant role as a pragmatic Chinese officer, utilizing his sensitive, evocative face to great effect. Wei Fan is also very effective as a bureaucrat working for the Germans who realizes too late that his position does not grant him immunity from the horrors around him.

A scene near the end of the film where the Japanese soldiers perform a celebratory dance underscores the violent group psychosis of war. While taiko drummers beat out a mournful cadence, the crouched-over soldiers move through the rubble-filled streets with blankly fierce expressions on their youthful faces. After the screen carnage of the past two hours their procession seems like an exercise in group insanity as the men move in hypnotic lockstep, driven by a rhythm dictated to them and with little will of their own. The scene becomes a grim and surreal commentary on the collective madness of war and the indoctrination that makes young men such as Kadokawa into unfeeling, obedient machines of destruction. This image and many others in City of Life and Death make the film absolutely essential viewing, The film’s current theatrical release makes it possible to experience it on the big screen, where its vast and detailed rendering can completely engulf the viewer and magnify its cataclysmic impact.

Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame, dir. Tsui Hark, 2010

Andy Lau investigates, Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame, 2010

A film epic of a completely different sort than City of Life and Death, Tsui Hark’s extravagantly fun and fantastic movie is another example of the outstanding product coming out of China and Hong Kong. Like Benny Chan’s Shaolin, Detective Dee is a brilliant blending of traditional Hong Kong moviemaking with the super-high production values of recent mainland films.

Detective Dee is very loosely based on the exploits of real-life historical figure Di Ren-jie, also known as Judge Dee, who has been the subject of several Hong Kong and Chinese films, books, and television series. Here Dee is played by the ageless Andy Lau, as an implacable sleuth assigned to determine the cause of a spate of spontaneous human combustion.

Carina Lau plays another historical figure, Wu Zetian, who was the only woman to ascend to the Chinese imperial throne. Both Andy and Carina, who started their careers at TVB long ago in the 1980s, are excellent as the titular sleuth and the Empress who may or may not be his adversary. Carina Lau holds the distinction of being one of the only actresses of her generation (along with Maggie Cheung and Michelle Yeoh) who is still working, and she brings a presence and authority to her role. Andy Lau has turned into an excellent screen actor and his ability to convey thoughtfulness and depth (despite his incredible good looks) is a result of his experience in more than a hundred films. He’s not afraid to take roles that emphasize his maturity, as seen here and in Shaolin, which is a nice testament to his graceful aging.

Phatasmagoria, Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame, 2010

As expected from a Hong Kong fantasy film, Detective Dee includes a surfeit of cleverly staged action set pieces, underscored by director Tsui’s fantasmagoric set designs and kinetic camerawork. But Detective Dee moves beyond earlier Hong Kong films’ visual realizations with its excellent use of extensive digital effects. The world of digital effects has finally caught up to Tsui’s gloriously saturated cinematic vision and in Detective Dee he makes the most of them. Whereas Tsui’s 1990s fantasy classics such as Green Snake featured charmingly unconvincing rubber prosthetics and matte paintings, Detective Dee has the advantage of a full slate of DFX, here outsourced to a well-known Korean effects house. Tsui utilizes this to full effect in realizing his lavishly imaginative vision, which includes transmogrifying faces, a herd of talking (and fighting) deer, characters convincingly immolating from the inside out, and a skyscraper-sized statue of a female bodhisattva.

At the same time Tsui doesn’t let the digital madness take precedence over plot or characterization. The film’s story is a clever and well-developed mystery, and Andy Lau, Carina Lau and Li Bing Bing portray intriguing and complex characters. Tony Leung Kar-Fei is excellent as a revolutionary with a long grudge against the empress. In fine Hong Kong movie tradition, Li and Andy Lau court and spark as conflicted would-be lovers separated by duty and circumstance. As is his wont, Tsui also throws a bit of political commentary into the mix in his critique of the corruption of power.

Detective Dee won Best Director and Best Actress statues at the most recent Hong Kong Film Awards and represents a comeback of sorts for longtime auteur Tsui. Although it was financed by mainland Chinese money and performed in Mandarin, Detective Dee is still a Hong Kong movie through and through, and is an outstanding example of what might come from the integration of mainland and Hong Kong commercial cinema.

City of Life & Death

opens Fri. Sept. 23, 2011

Landmark Opera Plaza Cinema

601 Van Ness Ave.

San Francisco, CA 94102

(415) 267-4893

Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame

now showing

Landmark Embarcadero Cinema

One Embarcadero Center, Promenade Level
San Francisco, CA 94111
(415) 267-4893

Landmark Shattuck Cinema

2230 Shattuck Avenue
Berkeley, CA 94704
(510) 464-5980

September 19, 2011 at 9:59 pm 3 comments

My Ever-Changing Moods: Francis Ng 2010 In Review

Wind Blast goes graphic

2010 was a busy year for Francis Ng. Just out of the gate on New Year’s Day, Francis made headlines across Asia when he and his Singaporean wife got into a tiff with another customer at a Hong Kong bakery. Apparently Francis’ wife complained when a worker sweeping the floor started getting dust on the baked goods. She and the worker got into it, then another patron jumped into the fray, mouthing off to the missus and possibly pushing her to the floor. Francis, who had been waiting in the car with his 1-year-old kid, heard the commotion, charged into the bakery, and allegedly grabbed the offending customer by the neck and slapped him upside the head. Photos from the scene showed the guy with a bloodied ear and Francis’ wife clutching her damaged hipbone. Francis went to the police station, everyone else went to the hospital, and the Asian press had a field day.

Francis was charged with assault, although he claimed he was only trying to protect his wife. No doubt the best thing about the incident was that it was re-enacted in one of Next Media’s renowned computer animation sequences for Apple Daily News in Taiwan, with Francis joining Tiger Woods, Lindsey Lohan, and other disgraced luminaries in CGI-rendered infamy.

Netizens were fairly divided on the topic, with some giving props to Francis for chivalrously supporting his wife and others chiding him for his straight-up thuggin’. His Hong Kong movie pals also leapt to his defense, with Michael “Laughing Gor” Tse claiming, “It is a man’s duty to protect his girl. I would have stepped up as well.”

Naughty professor

The case dragged on until April when Francis pled guilty to “wounding” and was fined HK $10,000. At his final court appearance Francis looked particularly unhappy, dressed in a brown suit and wearing unflattering black glasses that made him look like a vaguely sinister high school chemistry teacher.

For better or worse, Francis laid low for a while, avoiding appearing in public in Hong Kong. Professionally he kept busy, shooting three films (Wind Blast, Midnight Beating, and The Warring States) in quick succession in mainland China.

But by fall the beatdown incident was mostly forgotten and Francis enjoyed a resurgence of popularity.

Fashion plate

Wind Blast was released at the end of October and was the number one film in China for three weeks running, knocking Tsui Hark’s Detective Dee and the Phantom Flame out of the top spot and earning in excess of RMB 68 million.

The hybridized gangster flick/Western set in the Gobi Desert featured elaborate action sequences including a dusty chase scene involving a Jeep Cherokee, a couple horses, and a gigantic yellow dump truck. Francis in particular was lauded for his portrayal of a world-weary, conflicted bounty hunter and he stole the show from a cast of mainland movie stars including Wu Jing, Duan Yihong, and Ni Dahong. His character’s distinctive red leather jacket briefly became a icon and Francis modeled variations on the theme in a couple high-fashion photo shoots.

Anthony does Francis

Francis also landed on the cover of the Chinese fashion magazine Mr. Mode, sporting a black double-breasted trench coat and a little moue that his good buddy Anthony Wong then ruthlessly parodied for a Chinese newspaper.

Happy in plaid

Francis later was photographed in Beijing shopping for presents for his kid’s second birthday, which further ingratiated him to the public in China and Hong Kong. He made guest appearances on Chinese television showing off his improving putonghua skills and modeled his natty b-boy wardrobe and continually changing hairstyles in the Chinese press. He also appeared at an event for Jet Li’s One Foundation charity that benefitted autistic children,which further rehabilitated his public rep.

But Francis made the news one more time at the very end of the year. In early December several pictures showed up on the interwebs of what appeared to be Francis getting busy with an unnamed young woman, harkening back to the infamous “sexy photogate” scandal that sank Edison Chen’s career.

News agencies across China gleefully flashed the pix around the ‘net and it seemed like Francis had again been caught with his pants down (see Ellen Chen karaoke oopsie). However, upon closer examination it was apparent that the photos were stills from Midnight Beating, Francis’ upcoming low-budget horror flick (also starring Simon Yam and a quartet of Chinese starlets) and that the woman in question was in fact Francis’ co-star. Cheap publicity stunt or honest mistake?

Faux photogate

At any rate, Midnight Beating was released on Christmas Eve and even up against heavy-hitters like Jiang Wen’s Let The Bullets Fly and Feng Xiaomeng’s If You Are The One 2, the cheapie screamfest made a respectable showing at the box office (before it showed up a couple weeks later on the torrent streams, of course).

Francis has subsequently finished shooting Love Island (also starring Simon Yam, Chang Cheh, and Joan Chen, among many others) and Traffic (with this year’s Golden Horse Best Actress Lu Li-ping, and Wind Blast’s Ni Dahong), and he’s on board for A Land Without Boundaries in 2011. Due out in April is The Warring States, Francis’ first period costume film, and its publicity machine is already revving up. The film promises to be a flashy extravaganza, with Francis and co-star Sun Honglei duking it out for the title of most badass.

Back in the saddle

All in all it’s been an eventful year for our boy Francis, who’s shown an uncanny ability to bounce back from public brawling, internet scorn, bad hair, and myriad other obstacles. Like a cat, Francis just keeps landing on his feet.

January 29, 2011 at 6:37 am 6 comments

HK/HP: If Hong Kong Movie Actors Starred In Harry Potter Films

A double-dose of geekdom here–went to see the latest Harry Potter (Deathly Hallows, part 1) on opening day and had my fangirl jones satisfied. Dan, Rupert, & Emma have grown up and learned to act, the special effects were par excellence, and the stellar supporting cast has grown to include the lucky Bill Nighy (who said “For a while, I thought I would be the only English actor of a certain age who wasn’t in a ‘Harry Potter’ film.”)

After wallowing in the 2.5 hour HP movie my consciousness was full of all things Potter. The other movie of note that I’d seen that week was Francis Ng’s new Chinese Western, Wind Blast, so both were vying for space in my backbrain. Then when my buddy and fellow Hong Kong movie otaku Erika, aka Huckle, suggested that Francis would make a great Sirius Black, the game was on. So herewith follows my dream cast for the hypothetical Hong Kong remake of Harry Potter.

NOTE: It was easy to pick the adult actors. The teens were a bit more difficult, since I’m not as tuned into the Hong Kong idol scene as I could be. Any suggestions for the younger cast members, as well as any others, are more than welcome in the comments section.

Anthony Wong Chau-Sang, half-blood extraordinaire

Severus Snape: Anthony Wong. The Half-Blood Prince personified, Anthony has both the swagger and the sneer required to play Severus.

Voldemort: Tony Leung Chiu-Wai. Although Little Tony usually plays the good guy, he proved in Lust, Caution that he can do creepy and evil too.

Nick Cheung, half-man, half-beast

Remus Lupin: Nick Cheung. Moody, dark, and a little feral (see Election), Nick is totally believable as a werewolf.

Peter Pettigrew: Louis Koo. Probably a bit too square-jawed to play Wormtail, but he’s got the paranoid nervousness down pat. No one in Hong Kong sweats and twitches as well as Louis Koo.

Francis Ng with his hair up

Sirius Black: Francis Ng. Ah, the angst! The fancy frock coats! The insane gleam in his eye! Who else but Francis to play Sirius Black?

Albus Dumbledore: Lau Kar-Leung. The grandmaster of Hong Kong martial arts movies, he can also choreograph his own action scenes.

The glorious Simon Yam

Lucius Malfoy: Simon Yam. A slimy, smirky, ruthless & amoral bad guy? Paging Simon Yam!

Mad-Eye Moody: Lau Ching-Wan: LCW really deserves a bigger role but he’s got the chops to make this part his own. He was also plenty weird in Mad Detective and Himalaya Singh so we know he doesn’t shy away from the offbeat.

Carina Lau, red carpet queen

Narcisa Malfoy: Carina Lau. Because no one does haughty and high-class better than Carina.

Dolores Umbridge: Sandra Ng. The queen of Hong Kong comedy, she’d make a wackier Umbridge. However, she’s got some skilz so I have no doubt that she’d bring the sinister as well.

Eric Tsang & eyebrows

Horace Slughorn: Eric Tsang. He’s got the smarmy gladhanding dialed in.

Andy being Andy

Gilderoy Lockhart: Andy Lau. Handsome, flashy, ultrafamous, and a bit vacuous spells Andy to a T.

Rubeus Hagrid: Ng Man-Tat. Uncle Tat in elevator shoes and in a big furry beard? Hellz yeah!

Helena Law Lan in Troublesome Night 3,245

Minerva McGonagal: Helena Law Lan. The queen ofTroublesome Night, Law Lan has the supernatural down pat.

Vernon Dursley: Lam Suet. Blustery, blubbery, and a little bit malevolent is Lam Suet all over.

Petunia Dursley: Karen Mok. Maybe a bit too glam for Petunia, but she can certainly do the midcentury costumes.

Roy Cheung, wicked

Fenrir Greyback: Roy Cheung. Who’s more qualified than Roy Cheung to tear out people’s throats with his bare hands?

Rita Skeeter: Cecilia Cheung. Glamourous, self-centered & entitled, with a hint of sleaziness–Ceci anyone?

Zhou Xun in red

Nymphadora Tonks: Zhou Xun. The twinkly-eyed Xun is our token mainland star, if only because she’s the best actress of her generation. Plus she’s probably more than willing to do purple hair, as evidenced by her off-kilter turns in All About Women and Ming Ming.

Sybill Trelawny: Sammi Cheng. Especially since Sammi’s been having a bad hair day for about two years now.

Maggie Cheung with blowout

Bellatrix LeStrange: Maggie Cheung. Because Maggie’s been rocking the frizzy hair look lately and because she can do sexy and dangerous in her sleep.

Harry Potter: Lam Yiu-Sing, who played the angsty teen in Heiward Mak’s High Noon. Better him than Jing Boran any day.

Smart girl Evelyn Choi

Hermione Granger: Evelyn Choi Wing Yan. Played Aarif Lee’s geeky girl love interest in Echoes of the Rainbow. Not a lot of competition for this part.

Ron Weasley: If only Chapman To were twenty years younger this would be his role. Still searching for the right teen actor to play Harry’s wingman. NOTE: see update below

Aarif Lee brings it

Cedric Diggory: Aarif Lee. Now in theaters playing a young Bruce Lee, he’s certainly pretty enough to play the part that launched Robert Pattinson’s career.

Nic Tse broods

Draco Malfoy: Nicholas Tse (ten years younger). Have to put Nic in a time machine for this one since he’s perfect for the part of the privileged, conflicted scion of a shady family.

UPDATE: angryasianman.com has a link to an Asian Harry Potter lookalike who showed up on the Conan O’Brian show last week. Maybe this is an idea whose time has come–

Jing Boran does quirky, with Angelbaby

UPDATE 2: Okay, I take it back what I said about Jing Boran. After seeing Hot Summer Nights and Love In Space I realize that he would be perfect for the part of Ron Weasley. I humbly apologize for slandering the former M-Pop star.

November 22, 2010 at 9:44 pm 10 comments

A Fool Such As I: 36 More Francis Ng movies

Saluting Francis

Since my Francis Ng movie-watching marathon 18 months ago I’ve been scouring the universe trying to see every possible Francis movie I can find. Herein follows another 33 films and 3 dramas that I was able to locate, with bullet reviews of each flick. Although I’m still less than 50% through his 120 movies, my viewing pace has slowed down quite a bit, since the remainder of his films are either out-of-press or only available unsubbed on Chinese-language streaming sites. Luckily our dear Francis is still actively making new movies and he’s got a couple due out this year, Fierce West Wind and The Warring States, which are both big budget Mainland Chinese productions, so I’ve got something to look forward to. Here’s hoping for 120 more Francis movies in the future.

The best

1. Once Upon A Time In Triad Society 1: Francis shows off his acting chops in this clever and original sendup of triad movies, reprising his career-making role of Ugly Kwan from Young & Dangerous. He won the first of three Best Actor awards in a row from the Hong Kong Film Critics Society for this role.

2. Once Upon A Time In Triad Society 2: The story and characters are unrelated to the first film but it’s also an original and energetic take on gangster life. This time Francis plays a cowardly triad more interested in mahjong than brawling. Smokin’ hot Roy Cheung plays a zealous hing dai.

3. Bakery Amour: Offbeat romantic comedy with Francis as a fish-out-of-water country boy navigating Hong Kong. He falls for his gorgeous neighbor Michelle Reis but plot and circumstance endeavor to keep them apart. Will the two mismatched lovers find one another in the end?

4. A Gambler’s Story: A loopy black comedy about a down & out, hapless gambler, played with mournful determination by Francis. In no way resembles God of Gamblers or any other escapist HK poker movie.

5. Banana Spirit: Francis plays a coroner’s assistant whose job is putting makeup on corpses. He falls for a beautiful ghost living in a banana tree and along the way encounters Taoist exorcists, gangsters, and Tommy Wong as a fire demon. Great stuff–

6. A War Named Desire: Francis as a hard-ass but righteous triad in Thailand who gets tangled up in a gang war. Awesome heroic bloodshed movie with an outstanding turn by Gigi Leung as a sharpshooting gun moll.

Stern Francis, Turning Point: Laughing Gor, 2009

7.  Turning Point: Laughing Gor: Gritty actioner based on the popular TVB character played by Michael Tse. Francis & Anthony Wong steal the show as dueling triad bosses who battle it out for the most outlandish hair and costumes. Not bad for a low-budget quickie, this film was the second-highest grossing HK movie of 2009.

8. ‘Til Death Do Us Part: Anita Yuen plays a childlike woman destroyed by her husband’s two-timing. Francis is great in a supporting role as a sympathetic divorce lawyer who tries to save her sanity.

9. Big Bullet: Fast-paced and thrilling cop actioner with Francis as a righteous detective whose best friend is fellow police officer Lau Ching-Wan. Anthony Wong as a very bad guy and, in a change of pace, Jordan Chan as an upstanding cop.

The rest—in rough chronological order

10. In The Lap Of God: a very young yet fully formed Francis in a small supporting role as the boyfriend of big-haired 80s dream girl Irene Wan, who throws him over for hotshot cop Roy Cheung (!). Filmed mostly in the jungles of Thailand.

11. Handsome Siblings: Early Francis wuxia, with A-listers Andy Lau & Brigitte Lin battling Francis’ evil transgendered villain. Francis was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for this one, launching his movie career and freeing him from the clutches of TVB.

Co-joined Francis, The Bride With White Hair, 1993

12. The Bride With White Hair: Leslie Cheung & Brigitte Lin as gorgeous star-crossed lovers in this classic wuxia pian. Francis is a lovelorn Siamese twin demon in glittery eye makeup who is surprising sympathetic and fleshed-out.

13. Sexy & Dangerous: Silly knockoff of the Young & Dangerous movies, with four hot babes instead of Ekin & Jordan. Francis plays a dumb, low-level triad with orange hair who courts one of the chickies. Excellent turn by Karen Mok in the Jordan Chan role.

Ginger Francis, Sexy & Dangerous, 1996

14. 24-Hour Ghost Story: Something about a haunted convenience store and the four clueless people who run it. Francis sees ghosts.

15. Wicked Ghost: Don’t remember much about this cheapie horror flick except that Francis wears glasses and plays a professor

16. 9413: Francis directed this quirky tale about an emotionally damaged cop who seeks redemption from his guilt and ennui. Not bad for a freshman directorial attempt, Francis was no doubt much assisted by cinematographer Herman Yau.

17. A Queer Story: Francis turns in a beautiful and subtle supporting role as the younger lover of a man who dies of AIDS. The film fully exploits his astonishing hotness—who wouldn’t fall for him, male or female?

Pretty Francis, A Queer Story, 1997

18. What Makes A Good Teacher? Weird little school drama directed by Francis, who also stars as a former mental patient who ends up teaching a bunch of teenagers in Hong Kong. Amusing cameos by Anthony Wong, Cheung Tat-Ming, Dayo Wong and other friends-of-Francis.

19. The Group: Convoluted action movie about a group of adopted siblings who avenge the death of their priest-father (I think). Francis is the leader of the pack. I think he dances on a table in this one but I can’t remember.

20. Chinese Midnight Express 2: Very cheap prison flick with Francis as a righteous attorney at odds with a corrupt warden. This one has every prison film cliché in the book, done in typical HK low-budget style—not necessarily a bad thing, if you ask me.

Cop Francis, The HK Triad, 1999

21. The HK Triad: Francis & Lau Ching Wan in the 1960s and 70s as lifelong buddies on opposite sides of the law. Tawdry Wong Jing nonsense with senseless torture, gratuitous necking and Athena Chu as a sexy bad girl.

22. 2000 AD: Sleek thriller starring a hapless Aaron Kwok as a computer programmer inadvertently caught up in international espionage. Francis won several Best Actor awards for playing a middle-aged detective who shows Aaron the ropes.

23. Horror Hotline: Big-Headed Baby: Weird Soi Cheang thriller involving an urban legend about a deformed infant. Blair Witchesque ending. Francis smokes a lot in this one.

24. Magnificent Team: Goofy cop adventure comedy that feels like the 80s even though it was made in 1996. Francis leads a bunch of misfit cops through a series of mishandled investigations and gets to court and spark with serious-as-a-heart-attack Amanda Lee from Full Alert.

25. Clean My Name, Mr. Coroner: Francis as a fussy coroner in a bow tie who saves rogue cop Nick Cheung’s bacon. Kinda fun and a good change of pace.

Psycho Francis, Never Compromise, 1999

26. Never Compromise: The ne plus ultra of Evil!Francis, here a heartless mass murderer who casually strangles prostitutes and shoots down entire families. Not really a good movie, but Francis is fascinating as the ultimate sociopathic loser. Great noodle-slurping scene after offing a cop with a hand grenade.

27. Heroic Duo: Francis plays a psychopathic, flashy bad guy and completely overshadows the nominal leads, the bland and boring Ekin Cheng and Leon Lai.

28. Fall For You: Pretty awful rom-com set in Paris, but it’s nice to see Francis as a romantic lead. He charmingly plays a free-spirited artist in the City of Lights who falls for Kristy Yeung, who looks disturbingly like a female Leslie Cheung (although not as charismatic).

29. Women From Mars: did I watch this movie?

30. Hands In The Hair: Francis in a supporting role as the husband of a neurotic and self-centered woman played by Rosamund Kwan. Francis nails it as the mild-mannered cuckolded husband while Rosamund proves again that she really can’t act.

31. McDull, the Alumni: Very cute sequel to My Life As McDull, the surprisingly charming animated kids’ movie. This one mixes live action and animation and has about three dozen cameos by Hong Kong’s biggest stars. Francis very briefly appears as a be-wigged judge in a hot-pot restaurant in a very funny scene with Cheung Tat-Ming and the incomparably entertaining Sandra Ng.

Dissolute Francis, Buttonman, 2009

32. Buttonman: A bloody mess, this extremely violent and nihilistic Taiwanese gangland thriller lacks narrative structure, logical character development, or any kind of directorial guidance. A melancholy Francis sports a James Caan perm and plays a burned-out triad who cleans up after mobster murders.

33. Tracing Shadow: Francis’ latest directorial effort kinda sucks, but some might like it for its excellent swordplay scenes. The dippy comedy falls flat, imho.

34. Triumph In The Skies (drama): Super-popular drama that made Francis a heartthrob in HK, this one focuses on the lives and romances of several airplane pilots. Francis is excellent as the upstanding pilot Sam Tong, whose thwarted love affair with Flora Chan consumes much of the thirty-plus episodes.

Pilot Francis, Triumph In The Skies, 2003

35. The Great Adventurer (drama): Long and languidly paced Mainland Chinese drama about the rise of a business tycoon and his best friend, played by Francis and Dayo Wong. TVB drama queen Flora Chan gets in the way as the scheming woman who comes between them. Surprisingly tepid, although a nattily dressed Francis gets to romance four different women in this one.

36. Healing Souls (drama): Francis as a brain surgeon (!) in a typical hospital soap opera. Much blood, bedside drama, and infectious diseases. Francis unfortunately has orange hair in this one.

May 8, 2010 at 6:15 am 11 comments

Little Dragon Redux: Mike Lai at Southern Exposure Gallery

Fist atcha, The Legendary Lions vs. the Fists of Fury, Mike Lai, 2010, Southern Exposure Gallery, San Francisco

Just closed out my Chinese New Year celebration last Friday by attending Mike Lai’s wacky and inspired performance, The Legendary Lions vs. The Fists Of Fury. Staged one night only at Southern Exposure gallery in San Franciso’s Mission District, the performance was a face-off between two traditional Chinese lion dance troupes and the Fists of Fury, Lai’s goofy take on that venerable martial arts/dance/acrobatic form that featured two gigantic paper mache fists trailing yellow-and-black tails.

Nails of fury, Bruce Lee Manicurist/ Golden Dragon Massacre, Mike Lai, Queen’s Nails Annex, 2007

The performance continued Lai’s obsession/fascination with all things Bruce Lee and included yellow-and-black custom-made M & M’s emblazoned with Lai’s face in a Little Dragon bob. Mike Lai is heavy into Bruce and several of his past performances have referenced Siu Lung and his films. He’s especially fond of Bruce’s signature yellow-and-black tracksuit from Game of Death and has used that motif a bunch of times, including at an excellent event at the Queen’s Nails Annex Gallery where he painted tiny yellow-and-black designs on the nails of lucky manicurees.

Leung’s White Crane tears it up, Southern Exposure, 2010

For the first couple rounds last Friday at Southern Exposure the battle was pretty well-balanced between the lion dancers and Lai’s nouveau-dance Fists, but it was all over when the second lion dance troupe took the stage. Leung’s White Crane is one of the top lion dance crews in the world and they’ve performed in oodles of international competitions—the very next night following the SoEx battle they carried the gigantic dragon puppet at San Francisco’s Chinese New Year parade. So though Lai’s Fists put up a valiant fight, they were no match for the mad skillz of Leung’s veteran troupe.

Mike & the Fists, 2010, Southern Exposure Gallery, San Francisco

Although the event was a bit too oppositional for my acculturist tastes (does it really have to be trad vs. modern?) it was a fun and furious, hella loud experience. The night ended with an impromptu confetti fight between myself, my younger daughter (staying up late to watch performance art with her mama), and Chi-Hui Yang, director and curator of the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival, which is about to start in exactly two weeks. Chi-Hui informed me that Mike and the Fists will reprise their performance at the Film Fest’s big all-day Festival Forum event on Sat. Mar. 13 at 6pm in Japantown’s Peace Plaza. So check it out—it will be brilliant.

Just for kicks, here’s a video of Leung’s White Crane performing atop ten-foot high poles at the 2008 Genting World Lion Dance Championships in Malaysia.

March 4, 2010 at 7:00 am 3 comments

Masculin/Feminin: Shinjuku Incident + Retro Drag Revue at Marlena’s

Jackie Chan & hing dai get their game face on, Shinjuku Incident, 2009

When we arrived at the multiplex, the ticket booth marquee listed Shinjuku Incident merely as “Jackie Chan.” But when is a Jackie Chan movie not a Jackie Chan movie? When it’s directed by Derek Yee, the veteran Hong Kong filmmaker who’s known for both his hard-edged crime thrillers (Protégé; One Nite In Mongkok) as well as his sensitive melodramas (C’est La Vie, Mon Cherie; Lost In Time).

Yee’s one of the best commercial filmmakers currently working in the former Crown Colony and his films are known for an attention to character development, an intensity of emotion, and an affinity for the lives of ordinary, downtrodden people. Shinjuku Incident, which Jackie Chan produced as well as starred in, is no exception, with extreme violence alternating with sympathetic and realistic glimpses into the quotidian existences of its various characters. Although nominally a Jackie Chan vehicle it’s really a Derek Yee movie that happens to star the martial arts superstar, and both Yee and Chan do a good job sublimating Chan’s matinee idol persona in favor of a more serious dramatic characterization.

Jackie Chan plays Steelhead, a Chinese illegal immigrant living in Tokyo’s heavily Chinese Shinjuku district. He’s there to search for an old flame but falls in with other down-on-their luck Chinese, eventually getting involved with petty crimes and tangling with the Tokyo underworld. Shinjuku Incident is definitely not your typical Jackie Chan movie—there are no outrageous stunts or choreographed fight scenes and the film hews pretty closely to a gritty and realistic mis en scene. Steelhead is a real character, not just a variation on the Jackie Chan persona, although occasionally he succumbs to movie star vanity. For instance, although Chan looks every bit his fiftysomething age, both of his love interests (including anime-girl come to life Fan Bing Bing) are women in their late twenties. Probably a perk of executive producing the film, I suppose.

Droogie Daniel, Shinjuku Incident, 2009

But for the most part Chan suppresses his star status and blends seamlessly into the narrative. He’s aided by a strong supporting cast, with veterans such as Chin Kar-Lok (Young and Dangerous; Full Alert), Lam Suet (from the Johnnie To stable), and Jack Gao (Taiwanese heavy extraordinaire) adding gravitas to the proceedings. The East Bay’s own Daniel Wu is also good as Steelhead’s ill-fated buddy Jie, although the poor schmuck gets his third severe beatdown in as many Derek Yee movies. Wu transforms effectively from a timid pretty boy into coke-sniffing clockwork orangey punk who channels Heath Ledger’s Joker, complete with facial scars and smeared lipstick, as well as a crazy silver fright wig.

Unlike most pre-1997 Hong Kong productions, Shinjuku Incident doesn’t focus narrowly on the city of Hong Kong and the provincial interests of its denizens. Instead, like Johnnie To’s Exiled and Fulltime Killer, the film looks beyond Hong Kong’s narrow confines and considers the lives and existence of the Chinese diaspora that Hong Kong residents have only started to realize they belong to.

In a departure from the typical Hong Kong film, the Chinese characters in Shinjaku Incident are not the top dogs but are relegated to second-class status. Although set in Japan and directed and financed by as well as starring mostly Hong Kong natives, the film’s main characters are from the PRC, not Hong Kong, and the dialog is primarily in Mandarin, with smatterings of, Cantonese, Taiwanese and yakuza-style guttural Japanese. Even native HK performers like Jackie Chan and Lam Suet play Mainlanders and speak in putonghua.

ShinjukuIncident3

Signifier, Shinjuku Incident, 2009

This might be indicative of the general angst that many HK residents have been feeling in the decade or so since 1997’s reunification with China, which is succinctly reflected in not one but two different scenes featuring a severed hand. Talk about castration anxiety—

Postscript: As an interesting contrast to the hypermasculinity on display in Shinjuku Incident, afterwards we stopped by Marlena’s to catch its fabulously retro drag show, The Hayes Valley Follies, hosted by Empress Galilea–the revue included awesome performances by drag queens including Chablis, Chenelle, and Anna Mae Cox. Old-school touches included lip-syncing to disco classics old and new (including Lady Gaga, Whitney Houston and, yes, Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive), impossibly arched eyebrows, lots of sequins and fringe, and expert tucking. It was as if the Popstitutes’ smart-ass postmodern punk rock drag never existed and we were time-warped straight back to 1975. Not that I’m complaining, of course—

UPDATE: Shinjuku Incident has just been nominated for Best Picture and Derek Yee for Best Director at this year’s Hong Kong Film Awards, to be announced on April 18.

Bonus beats: Empress Galilea tears it up at Marlena’s

February 10, 2010 at 5:15 am 4 comments

Sweet Dreams Are Made Of This: Top 10 Hong Kong Movies of the Decade

The Hong Kong Spice Boys, Exiled, 2007

This week I’ve been letting my geek flags fly, as I’ve been closely following the countdown of lovehkfilm.com’s Top 50 Hong Kong films of the decade. Webmaster Kozo, Hong Kong film aficionado extraordinaire, has been revealing ten films a day on his blog, Damn You, Kozo, with much commentary from the fanperson peanut gallery. Although Hong Kong films are not the ne plus ultra of film fandom that they were, say, fifteen years ago, more than 150 dedicated otaku responded to lovehkfilm’s poll, which was a completely unscientific open vote of anyone who wanted to send a ranked list of their favorite HK flicks of the past ten years. Being a dutiful HK cinema fangirl I compiled a draft of my top ten and, not surprisingly, the majority of the films on the list starred my personal favorite Francis Ng. Herein follows my list, with reviews of each film. Please note that the list is not a reflection on whether the films are cinematically or historically significant, but based purely on the amount of pleasure that I got while watching them. Which is really how it should be sometimes.

In reverse order:

10. Beauty and the Breast, dir.  Raymond Yip, 2003

Wacky comedy starring Francis Ng as an office lothario who bets he can seduce bespectacled smart-girl Michelle Reis. Luckily her dad is an herbalist and kung-fu master who sees through the ruse, setting up Francis and his accomplice, the hapless Daniel Wu, with an appropriate punishment.  Unlike most Hollywood actors, Francis Ng sees no need to safeguard his masculine image, which leads to an excellent use of prosthetic mammaries. Favorite scene: A conflicted Francis Ng manifests Good Francis (dressed in white with angel wings) and Bad Francis (in red with a tail and horns), who advise him on his quest to bed Michelle Reis.

9. A Gambler’s Story, dir. Marco Mak, 2000

A weird and loopy, stylized look at a down-on-his-luck gambler, played by Francis Ng, who tries to escape his miserable lot in life. Director Marco Mak mixes slapstick, violence, and pathos as only a Hong Kong director can do in this quirky and bizarre movie. Favorite scene: Francis and Suki Kwan win, then compulsively gamble away a fortune in a Macao casino.

Cecilia Cheung and Lau Ching-Wan show how it's done, Lost In Time, 2003

8. Lost In Time, dir. Derek Yee, 2003

A tearjerker par excellence, by Derek Yee, who also directed the 1993 classic Hong Kong weepy C’est La Vie, Mon Cherie. Lau Ching-Wan and Cecilia Cheung put on an acting clinic as ordinary people coming to grips with personal tragedy. Really one of the best melodramas ever made. Favorite scene: Orphanage scene!

7. PTU: Into The Perilous Night, dir. Johnnie To, 2006

Johnnie To’s dreamlike, surreal travel through nocturnal Hong Kong, with Simon Yam, Lam Suet, and Maggie Siu in search of a lost gun.  Possibly the closest To has come to directing an art film, with its poetic use of empty space and expressionistic framing. Favorite scene: Triad musical chairs in a late-night hot pot restaurant.

6. Shaolin Soccer, dir. Stephen Chow, 2001

Though not as brilliant as Stephen Chow’s 1990s mo le tau comedies, Shaolin Soccer still captures Sing Jai’s absurd and wacky persona, with the added bonus of crazy CGI that perfectly meshes with Chow’s insane worldview. Plus it’s a totally fun sports movie. One of the most pleasurable films on the planet, imho. Favorite scene: Stephen Chow demonstrates his kung fu parking skills.

Gigi Leung & Francis Ng a deux, A War Named Desire, 2000

5. A War Named Desire, dir. Alan Mak, 2000

An early film by Alan Mak, one half of the Infernal Affairs team, this intense thriller follows the fate of a pair of estranged brothers who find themselves on the run from triads in Thailand. Francis plays the older brother, a no-nonsense gangster who must choose between duty and honor. Gigi Leung is outstanding as a gun moll whose sharpshooting matches Francis’ shot-for-shot. Favorite scene: Gigi Leung methodically stalks her prey during a chaotic, cacophonous Thai New Year celebration.

Cecilia Cheung and Francis Ng mix it up, The White Dragon, 2003

4. The White Dragon, dir. Wilson Yip, 2003

Fun, frolic, and wuxia, with Francis Ng playing a blind swordsman who falls for bratty and spoiled, vain rich girl Cecilia Cheung. Although the action and comedy scenes are energetic and clever, the best part of the movie lies in the center section of the film, where erstwhile adversaries Francis and Cecilia court and spark. Favorite scene: Cecilia informs the blind, unaware Francis that girls would fall for him since he’s handsome and has straight teeth and a “tall” nose.

Stare-off of the century, Francis Ng and Anthony Wong, Infernal Affairs 2, 2003

3.  Infernal Affairs 2, dir. Andrew Lau & Alan Mak, 2003

The prequel to Infernal Affairs, which Martin Scorsese remade as The Departed, Infernal Affairs 2 is a magnificent gangster opus that operatically follows the fate of its many characters. Anthony Wong, Francis Ng, Carina Lau, and Eric Tsang are among the stellar cast. Francis in particular is outstanding as the soft-spoken yet ruthless Triad boss bent on avenging his father’s murder. Favorite scene:  Francis mournfully toasts his late father at an outdoor noodle stand, with a cadre of equally somber triads echoing his gesture.

Francis Ng & Sandra Ng try to figure it out, Juliet In Love, 2000

2. Juliet In Love, dir. Wilson Yip, 2000

One of the saddest and most heartfelt genre films ever to reach the screen, with Francis Ng and Sandra Ng as star-crossed lovers who find unexpected solace with each other. Francis plays a low-level triad caught up in a net of fateful events. Sandra is a lonely restaurant hostess who befriends him. Favorite scene: Simon Yam as a mobster boss who indifferently slurps down hot pot while Francis stoically bleeds from a head wound in the corner of the restaurant.

Nick Cheung Ka-Fei shows 'em what for, Exiled, 2007

1. Exiled, dir. Johnnie To, 2007

The ultimate fanperson heroic bloodshed film of the decade, featuring an ensemble cast of hard-guy triad film stars. Anthony Wong, Francis Ng, Lam Suet, Roy Cheung, and Nick Cheung shoot ‘em up on the eve of the 1998 return of Macao to China’s rule. An allegory for the ennui and anomie of Hong Kong and Macao residents during that time, with beautiful cinematography, a haunting soundtrack, and brilliant, tough-as-nails characterizations by the veteran cast, plus five, count ‘em, five amazing shootouts. Favorite scene: the prelude to the awesome opening shootout, in which Anthony Wong and Francis Ng remove ammo from their automatic pistols in order to have the same amount of bullets as Nick Cheung’s six-shooter.

Honorable mentions: Mad Detective; After This Our Exile; Election 1; The Warlords; Sparrow; Turning Point: Laughing Gor; Fantasia; Initial D; Wo Hu; On The Edge

January 1, 2010 at 9:53 pm 11 comments

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