Posts filed under ‘nick cheung ka-fai’

Mean As Hell: That Demon Within movie review

 

Badness, That Demon Within, 2014

Badness, That Demon Within, 2014

That Demon Within, which had a day-and-date opening in Hong Kong and the U.S. last weekend, is the latest in a series of overwrought and intense thrillers from director Dante Lam (Unbeatable; The Viral Factor; The Beast Stalker), The movie starts off with a bang with a bloody firefight in the streets of Hong Kong as a masked gang of jewel thieves shoots up the cityscape. Hon (Nick Cheung), the gang’s ringleader, ends up in the emergency room where Dave (played by the East Bay’s own Daniel Wu), the beat cop on duty at the hospital, volunteers to donate blood to the not-yet-recognized criminal. The transfusion saves Hon’s life and Dave is subsequently wracked with guilt and berated by his superiors for resuscitating the ruthless crook. The film follows Dave’s tribulations as the repercussions of his impulsively charitable act catalyze his increasingly disturbed responses.

True to director Lam’s recent output, TDW includes fraught family issues, extreme car accidents, and graphic violence with guns, clubs, blunt objects, pointed objects and other nastiness. Lam also ruthlessly exploits Chinese taboos about death as the ring of jewel thieves operate out of a mortuary and wear Chinese demon masks while perpetrating their heists. Lam makes good use of this creepy morbidness, pushing his primary audience’s superstitious buttons to heighten the film’s dark and fatalistic mood.

Two of a kind, That Demon Within, 2014

Two of a kind, That Demon Within, 2014

Lam also shows off his trademark grittiness, making good use of his mostly nocturnal Hong Kong locations and effectively utilizing his supporting cast of unglamourous character actors, as well as making the usually suave and pretty Daniel Wu look psychotically unbalanced. However, Lam’s recent box office successes and perhaps greater creative leeway have also brought his more melodramatic and overwrought tendencies to the fore, as this film’s storyline and direction at times veer far into Grand Guignol excess, with an overall sense of visceral unpleasantness resulting from Lam’s generous use of bloody violence including immolations, shootings, rape, beatings, and stabbings.

What makes the film more than a mindless shoot-em-up is Lam’s examination of a fatefully linked pair of antagonists, the guilt-ridden cop Dave and the smirking gangster Hon. Lam is known for his action set pieces but he also specializes in wounded souls who bear the collateral damage of the wreckage of their lives, such as Nick Cheung in Unbeatable tending to a traumatized mother mourning her lost child, or Cheung lamenting his lost wife The Stool Pigeon. In TDW Daniel Wu is a similarly troubled soul, looking disturbingly haggard and gaunt as he carries on the tradition started by Cheung in Unbeatable of extreme physical transformation as a badge of honor in Dante Lam films. Wu’s emblematic opacity here serves him well as his character has quite a few secrets to hide. However, it strains credulity that Dave would ever be accepted into the Hong Kong police force in the first place since it seems unlikely he’d pass the psych screening. But then we wouldn’t have a movie, I suppose.

In TDW Lam reunites with his current favorite actor, Nick Cheung, who’s fresh from winning this year’s Hong Kong Film Awards Best Actor statue for his outstanding turn in Lam’s popular MMA flick Unbeatable. Here Cheung plays a supporting role but he delivers another solid performance, as usual doing a good job as the evil gangster haunting Daniel Wu’s cop character.

Bloodies, That Demon Within, 2014

Bloodied, That Demon Within, 2014

Lam’s been one of Hong Kong’s most bankable directors of late and his recent successes have granted him a lot of leeway in his stylistic tics. In TDW Lam indulges himself quite a bit, at times to the point of caricature, with the film’s narrative detours and winding plot twists wandering through hypnotherapy, Chinese burial rituals, Jungian analysis, and other meandering explanations for the protagonist’s erratic behavior. However, TDW has an undeniable intensity that works more often than not and makes it eminently watchable. Hopefully it will find an audience in its U.S. theatrical release so that more Hong Kong product makes its way to the big screen in this country in the future.

That Demon Within

now playing

AMC Metreon

San Francisco CA

 

and at selected theaters in the U.S. and Hong Kong

 

April 22, 2014 at 6:42 am 1 comment

Glorious Days: Hong Kong Cinema at the San Francisco Film Society

Andy Lau shoots without seeing, Blind Detective, 2012

Andy Lau shoots without seeing, Blind Detective, 2012

This year’s edition of Hong Kong Cinema at the San Francisco Film Society is chock full of star power, with new movies from some of the biggest movie kings and queens in Hong Kong. The opening night film, Bends, starring the glorious Carina Lau as a wealthy woman and the beautiful Aloys Chen Kun as her driver, looks at class divisions in contemporary Hong Kong. Cantopop also shows up in the festival, with Sky King Jacky Cheung appearing in A Complicated Story, and singing groups Grasshopper and Softhard featured in the documentary The Great War: Director’s Cut.

Gordon Liu works it, 36th Chamber of Shaolin, 1977

Gordon Liu works it, 36th Chamber of Shaolin, 1977

The festival also features a mini-retrospective of work by the late Lau Kar-Leung, the legendary martial arts director who died earlier this year, with rare big-screen presentations of 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1977) and The Eight Diagram Pole Fighter (1984), both starring the great Gordon Liu.

Also on tap is Johnnie To’s Blind Detective, starring another Sky King, Andy Lau, and his rom-com soulmate Sammi Cheng, together on screen for the first time since 2004’s Yesterday Once More. The premise is similar to To’s earlier film Mad Detective, in which the main character, here with the added characteristic of vision impairment, re-enacts past crime scenes in order to glean clues about the crime. The sight-challenged detective, played by Andy Lau, teams up with Ho (Sammi Cheng), a cop searching for a missing childhood friend.

The movie will probably be a rude shock for anyone expecting a Johnnie To movie like, say, Drug War or Exiled, as it’s pretty much a slapstick comedy with a few action elements sprinkled in. The film definitely leans toward the comic as the cast performs at a fever pitch, mugging and shouting at each other at the top of their lungs—at one point you can actually see the spittle flying from Sammi’s mouth as she bellows away. It’s a crazy farce that probably isn’t for everyone, but I had a great time watching Andy and Sammi go at it in the best screwball comedy tradition. Everyone seems to be enjoying themselves and a wacky good time is had by all, with the genial Andy Lau not afraid to look like an idiot talking with his mouth full and director To framing his stars against huge adverts for tea cakes.

Andy-Sammi, Blind Detective, 2012

Andy-Sammi, Blind Detective, 2012

Quite a few of To’s most deadly serious gangster flicks still have little timeouts for a spot of off-kilter humor, such as Nick Cheung eating a porcelain spoon in Election, or badass bodyguards playing paper-ball football in The Mission, or Anthony Wong, Francis Ng, Lam Suet, and Roy Cheung in Exiled fixing up Nick Cheung’s shot-up flat like the triad edition of This Old House, and some of To’s movies, like Too Many Ways to Be Number One or Mad Detective, are one big comic goof. It’s one of the little quirky things that make Milkyway Image films so fun and such a departure from your standard crime movie, since they ride the spectrum from brutal violence to comic relief so rapidly and unexpectedly. So it’s not surprising to find To indulging in his zany side in Blind Detective. It’s a pretty silly movie and there’s a lot of extraneous nonsense, but it’s great to see Andy and Sammi, co-stars of seminal Milkyway rom-coms like Needing You and Love On A Diet, together again and playing off of each other comfortably and naturally. Even if Blind Detective isn’t as brilliantly bleak as Drug War or Election, the movie is confidently executed since, not unlike the titular hero, To can make these movies with his eyes closed.

More Hong Kong movie royalty make an appearance in The Last Tycoon, starring the legendary trio of Chow Yun-Fat, Sammo Hung, and Francis Ng, along with mainland star Huang Xioaming. The movie is a remake of The Bund, the 1980s Hong Kong drama that made CYF a household name as a righteous gangster rising through the ranks in 1930s Shanghai. The series was remade a few years ago with HXM in the same role that CYF played back in the day and, in a bit a stunt casting, in The Last Tycoon they reprise that role, with HXM playing the younger version and CYF the older version. The two also swapped dubbing chores for each other, with HXM voicing the character in the Mandarin dub and CYF working the Cantonese dub.

Francis-CYF, The Last Tycoon, 2012

Francis-CYF, The Last Tycoon, 2012

The film also features CYF and Francis Ng on the big screen together for the first time, despite both having long and storied careers in the Hong Kong film industry. Both performers rely heavily on body language and facial expressions in their acting technique, with Chow the king of the sorrowful gaze who lets his evocative eyes tell the story. Chow’s held up remarkably well for a man in his late fifties and now possesses the regal bearing suitable for this role. He’s also still quite handsome so it was entirely plausible that he would be a babe magnet involved in a love triangle with Monica Mok and Yolanda Yuen.

Francis Ng’s character isn’t a stretch for him as it’s his typical sinister bad guy role, but through his gestures and mannerisms he imbues the character with menace and unctuousness, and the intensity of his posture and the threatening way he smokes a cigarette attest to his skill and talent in bringing to life even the most banal character. Sammo Hung swaggers through the film as a corrupt cop but alas doesn’t get to show off much of his martial arts chops, but the real gangsta role goes to Hu Gao as CYF’s no-nonsense, butterfly-knife wielding bodyguard. The movie has an expensive look and feel to it (producer Andrew Lau may have also had a hand in the gorgeous cinematography) but director Wong Jing doesn’t quite have enough of a handle on the pacing or action to make the movie really move. With all that on-screen talent the movie should’ve been a knockout, but it’s more of an expensive misfire.

Nick-wig-Aaron, Conspirators, 2012

Nick-wig-Aaron, Conspirators, 2012

The festival closes with two more big-time Hong Kong movie stars, Nick Cheung and the third out of four Sky Kings, Aaron Kwok (what, no Leon Lai?) in Conspirators, but I can’t really recommend this Oxide Pang-directed thriller. The movie follow Kwok as a traumatized detective searching for clues to his parent’s murder some thirty years prior who hires a private eye (Cheung) to assist him. Set in Malaysia, the movie feels like a cheap 1970s Asian action film, and not in a good way. Nick Cheung is solid as Zheng, the Malaysian private eye, but due to an extraneous twin brother plot device he’s burdened with a bad wig for most of the movie. Despite the fact that he proved he could act in After This Our Exile, Aaron Kwok doesn’t add a lot of life to his characterization of Tam, the detective with a past. Oxide Pang’s direction mixes cheesy, uncompelling fight scenes (Zheng knows kung fu!), implausible and opaque plot points, and filtered lighting that’s supposed to add grit and texture to the film but mostly makes it look like it was shot on the cheap in a back lot in Kuala Lumpur, which it probably was.

I’m out of town this weekend so I’ll sadly miss all that heavenly big screen Hong Kong movie glory. No one else has any excuse–

Hong Kong Cinema

October 4–6, 2013
Vogue Theatre

San Francisco

October 4, 2013 at 10:14 pm Leave a comment

I Want Candy: Hong Kong Cinema & the 3rd I South Asian Film Festival

Lau Ching-Wan, badass, The Longest Nite, 1997

This weekend the Bay’s got another embarrassment of filmi riches from a pair of dueling Asian film festivals. This year’s editions of Hong Kong Cinema, and the 3rd I South Asian Film Festival both offer a ton of tasty movie treats.

The 3rd I festival, which starts Sept. 18, runs six days and features over 20 films from 9 different countries including India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, The Maldives, Canada, South Africa, UK and USA. Among the highlights is Jaagte Raho (Stay Awake), from 1956, starring my new favorite actor Raj Kapoor and co-directed by Amit Maitra and famous Bengali theater artist Sombhu Mitra. Jaagte Raho’s story follows Kapoor as a thirsty man from the country that arrives in the city longing for a drink of water. He ends up trapped in an apartment block where he’s mistaken for a thief, spending a long, sleepless night being relentlessly chased by the misguided tenants. As he hides out in various apartments he discovers the corruption and deceit amongst the residents, with adultery, gambling, drunkenness, counterfeiting, greed, and theft among their unsavory traits.

Raj Kapoor, sacrificial lamb, Jaagte Raho, 1956

Although his earlier films featured him as an angsty young romantic lead, in Jaagte Raho Raj Kapoor iterates his naïf-in-the-big-city persona that he repeated many times in his later years. Here he’s all wide eyes and pleading gestures as the country bumpkin, a stark contrast to the duplicitous, licentious lot pursuing him.

Raj and Motilal, tippling, Jaagte Raho, 1956

This is great stuff, sly and satirical, that cleverly exposes the hypocrisy of the corrupt tenants. It’s shot in shimmering black and white with a crack soundtrack with lyrics by Shailendra and music by Salil Choudhary, including the rollicking drunken ramble Zindagi Khwaab Hai. The legendary Motilal is outstanding as an inebriated bourgeois who takes in the destitute Kapoor, in an homage of sorts to City Lights—however, Jaagte Raho’s booze-driven hospitality has a much more twisted outcome than does the Chaplin film. The film concludes with a lovely cameo by Nargis, once again representing the moral center of the movie. This was the final film to star Kapoor and Nargis and coincided with the breakup of their long-time offscreen affair as well, so it’s especially bittersweet to see the famous lovers together for the last time. Jaagte Raho was a box office flop when it was first released, but it’s since been recognized as a classic. Interestingly enough, along with Meer Nam Joker, which also bombed when it first came out, Kapoor cites this as his personal favorite film.

Also of note at the 3rd I festival: Decoding Deepak, a revealing look at the modern-day guru that’s directed by Chopra’s son Gotham; Runaway (Udhao), Amit Ashraf’s slick and stylish indictment of the link between politics and the underworld; Sket, which looks at a vengeful girl gang in an East London slum; the experimental documentaries Okul Nodi (Endless River) and I am Micro; this year’s Bollywood-at-the-Castro rom-com Cocktail; and the short film program Sikh I Am: Voices on Identity.

This year’s edition of Hong Kong Cinema, the San Francisco Film Society’s annual showcase of movies from the former Crown Colony, has a bunch of outstanding product. The program includes a three-film retrospective commemorating the 1997 handover: Peter Chan Ho-sun’s Comrades: Almost A Love Story, which stars Leon Lai and Maggie Cheung as friends almost with benefits from two different sides of the HK/China border; Made In Hong Kong, Fruit Chan’s debut that’s a redux of the venerable Hong Kong gangster movie and which stars the young and skinny Sam Lee in his first role; and The Longest Nite, one of Johnny To’s nastiest crime dramas, with impeccable performances by Lau Ching-Wan and Tony Leung Chiu-Wai as (of course) an immoral cop and a vicious criminal.

These three classics are hard acts to follow but several of the other films on the docket manage to hold their own. Both Pang Ho-Cheung’s Love In The Buff, an excellent romantic dramedy with Miriam Yeung and Shawn Yue as the make-up-to-break-up lovers (full review here) and Ann Hui’s most recent feature, A Simple Life, starring Andy Lau and Deanie Ip as a man and his amah, (full review here) had extended runs in San Francisco earlier this year so this may be the last chance to see then on the big screen in the Bay Area.

Sammi & Louis, bantering, Romancing In This Air, 2012

Also good is Johnny To’s new romantic comedy Romancing In Thin Air, which To co-wrote with longtime creative partner Wai Ka-Fai and the Milkyway Image team. Set mostly at a vacation lodge in an idyllic high-altitude locale in China, the story concerns two romantically wounded individuals grappling with the peculiarities of their damaged relationships. Sammi Cheng is her usual charming self as the female lead, but although he’s likeable enough, Louis Koo as a Hong Kong movie star (!) is a bit lacking in charisma and doesn’t bring a bigger-than-life sensibility or the self-effacing humor that Andy Lau or a more engaging performer might have done.

Although the plot is seems at first to be fairly straightforward, the film gradually reveals Milkyway’s trademark weirdness. The story of Sammi’s missing husband, lost in the dense high-country woods for seven years, is a bit creepy, though I do like that when the husband courts Sammi he turns into a clumsy doofus. The film also includes a very meta movie-within-a-movie conceit and makes several sly jabs at the Hong Kong film business.

Utterly illogical, Nightfall, 2012

Less good are Derek Yee’s The Great Magician, a rambling and messy movie that’s a criminal waste of Lau Ching-Wan, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, and Zhou Xun (full review here), and Roy Chow’s Nightfall, a turgid and ridiculous film that similarly wastes good performances by Simon Yam and Nick Cheung. I really wanted to like this movie, a wannabee intense and serious thriller, not least for its slick and attractive cinematography. But despite a gripping and violent opening scene the movie has some great gaping holes in logic and alternates between chatty exposition and absurd set pieces. Still, Nick Cheung is very good as a haunted convict with anger management issues, though Simon Yam is somewhat less good as the cop unraveling the mystery. Yam doesn’t have quite the emotional depth of Francis Ng or Lau Ching-Wan and so the payoff at the end of the film is weaker than it might have been. Michael Wong is quite bad as an abusive father, with a shrill, one-note performance and his annoying habit of speaking English at the most illogical moments. I kept imagining what Anthony Wong might have done with this part. The violence is a notch more gruesome than most mainstream Hong Kong films, especially in the opening fight sequence—looks like someone’s been watching Korean movies for tips on emulating their gory tendencies.

All in all, San Francisco Asian film fans are going to have to make some hard choices this weekend—not that that’s a bad thing by any means.

3rd i’s South Asian Film Festival

September 19-23, 2012, Roxie and Castro Theaters, San Francisco
September 30, 2012, Camera12, San Jose

Hong Kong Cinema

September 21–23, 2012
New People Cinema, San Francisco

September 19, 2012 at 6:14 am 2 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

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

Have You Heard The News? Recent Updates

Nick Cheung Ka-Fei shoots straight, The Beast Stalker, 2009

A few quick updates to some previous posts. Nick Cheung Ka-Fei has just won another Best Actor statue (along with co-winner Huang Bo) for his role in The Beast Stalker, this time at Taiwan’s Golden Horse Awards, which is the fancy-schmancy Chinese-language equivalent of the Oscars. Nick’s been cleaning up lately, award-wise, and can add his latest accolade to the Best Actor trophies he garnered at the 2009 Hong Kong Film Awards and the Hong Kong Film Critics’ Society Awards, as well as nods at a bunch of film festivals.

Nick Cheung & Huang Bo, co-Best Actors, Golden Horse Awards, 2009

Nick is a long-time Hong Kong movie vet who started out as a Stephen Chow Sing-Chi wannabe back in the 90s and who has since evolved into an intense and serious actor, most notably in Johnnie To’s crime dramas Exiled and Election 1 & 2. An interesting sidenote: Nick’s been very up front about his struggle with clinical depression, which is kinda cool in the ultra-image-conscious world of Hong Kong cinema.

Pahole Sookkasikon, Mr. Hyphen 2009

As of a couple weeks ago, my homeboy Pahole Sookkasikon is the newly crowned Mr. Hyphen 2009. Sponsored by Hyphen Magazine, the Asian American publication and website, the competition is more than just a beauty pageant—judges look at the entrants’ commitment to community service and dedication to la causa. However, the contest also includes a talent portion and a sleepwear competition, so it’s not only about righteous public service. Pahole left the opposition in the dust with his awesome talent presentation, a mind-blowing Muy Thai/disco diva mashup. He also nailed the Q&A section, giving props to the Asian American sistas who have inspired him as an Asian American male.

In addition to being an activist and artist, Pahole’s a grad student (and my former TA) in SF State’s Asian American Studies Department. This year’s first runner-up, Tony Douangviseth, is also a former SFSU AAS student, so AAS now has official bragging rights to the two smartest, slickest, most dedicated Asian American males in the Bay Area.

Detail of large poster

Detail of text overlay on poster (concept), Lord, It’s The Samurai, 2009

And asiansart.org, the collective responsible for this summer’s smash hit intervention, Lord, It’s The Samurai, had a little dustup at the deYoung Museum last Friday when they attempted to show artifacts from the project at the museum’s latest Friday night event. Apparently after the group spent most of the afternoon installing its exhibit, at the last minute functionaries from the deYoung severely censored asiansart’s presentation. This took place while the deYoung people were in phone consultation with their counterparts at the Asian Art Museum, which was the hapless target of the original intervention this summer. More details to be found here on their blog, but it sounds like the cabal of museum administrators protected their own interests at the expense of freedom of expression. Not a pretty thing to do to working Asian American artists, especially by an institution that mounted last year’s outstanding show, Asian/American/Modern Art: Shifting Currents. Shame on the deYoung for caving to peer pressure at the expense of provocative and important art—I expected better.

Francis Ng’s jawline, with gun, Fierce West Wind

And once again, just because I can, here’s a picture of Francis Ng looking coy, from his upcoming new cowboy flick, Fierce West Wind (aka Four Fantastic Detectives), directed by Gao Qunshu, which is expected to hit screens all over Asia in spring 2010. Gao’s last effort, The Message, was the box office champ over the National Day weekend in China this past October, and one of its stars, Li Bing Bing, took home the Best Actress crown at this weekend’s Golden Horse Awards. An intense little slice of World War II espionage, The Message features patriotism, backstabbing, intrigue, and a healthy dollop of psychosexual torture, including a couple of excruciating scenes of forceful coercion with a smiling and sinister acupuncturist named Mr. Six. It also introduced me to a new favorite actor, the smoking hot Zhang Hanyu, who plays a soldier turned spy. Looking forward to seeing his award-winning turn in Assembly, which should arrive on my doorstep any day now.

Zhang Hanyu burns it up

UPDATE: Pahole Sookkasikon has gone viral in an interview published by the Associated Press about Mr. Hyphen, community service, and Asian American masculinity. Go Pahi!



UPDATE 2: Here’s a video of Pahole’s talent presentation at Mr. Hyphen, which combines Thai martial arts, disco disco, and The Real Housewives of Atlanta. To see Pahole’s amusing introduction go here.

November 29, 2009 at 7:36 am 7 comments

Kinda Like A Big Deal: The Beast Stalker, Full Alert and Greatness in Hong Kong Movies

Nick Cheung with wonky eye, The Beast Stalker, 2009

Nick Cheung and wonky eye, The Beast Stalker, 2008

Just saw The Beast Stalker (Dante Lam, 2008) at the San Francisco International Film Festival and, although it held up pretty well and wasn’t an embarrassment, it wasn’t quite all that. Introduced by the Film Festival as “perhaps the best Hong Kong action film since Johnnie To’s Election,” this gritty thriller demonstrates that the former Crown Colony can still crank out hard-ass crime dramas. But the field has been mighty thin in Hong Kong of late and in other, more fruitful years, The Beast Stalker might’ve been just one of the crowd.

Former teen heartthrob Nicolas Tse plays a tough cop (!) haunted by the death of a child hostage he accidentally kills in a chaotic shootout/car crash involving malevolent gangsters, innocent bystanders and much shattered glass. Nick Cheung plays a kidnapper-for-hire in charge of snatching the dead girl’s twin sister whose lawyer mother is involved in prosecuting the crime. Their meshing stories play out in a dizzying spiral of guilt, honor, fate and obligation.

The Beast Stalker has several full-on child-in-extreme-danger moments and the cast realistically sports facial scars and other mementos of mortal peril, but somehow the film falls short of greatness. Nic Tse, further distancing himself from his youthful idol years, shrieks angrily at his subordinates, but he still can’t nail the crying scenes. Likewise, Nick Cheung, who won Best Actor statues from both the Hong Kong Film Critics’ Association and the Hong Kong Film Awards for this role, glowers menacingly but doesn’t quite bring the extra layer of pathos and complexity that might have deepened his portrayal. As my pal Laura, aka redbean, aka longtime Hong Kong movie fanatic, noted, “Anthony Wong would’ve eaten this role alive.” Unfortunately Anthony wasn’t cast and in this case Nick Cheung only makes a so-so substitute.

Lau Ching-Wan shoots straight, Full Alert, 1997

Lau Ching-Wan shoots straight, Full Alert, 1997

I recently purchased a copy of Ringo Lam’s brilliant crime thriller Full Alert (1997), which bears some similarities to The Beast Stalker in its depiction of the complex relationship between a cop and a criminal. But Full Alert has the inestimable actors Lau Ching-Wan and Francis Ng in the lead roles and their sublime skills breathe life into their stock characters and make the film’s cat-and-mouse story vibrant and believable. Francis brilliantly creates a strangely sympathetic yet reprehensible character and Lau Ching-Wan’s finely tuned fits of anger and frustration show a cop dangerously on the edge of sanity. The final confrontation between these two driven characters beautifully brings their fraught relationship to a stunning conclusion. On the other hand, The Beast Stalker’s antagonistic pair never fully reach the heights suggested by their intertwined destinies and their anticipated showdown is merely a tease.

Nick & Nic mix it up, The Beast Stalker, 2008

Nick & Nic mix it up, The Beast Stalker, 2008

Full Alert and The Beast Stalker both have magnificent car chases as their centerpieces, the work of car-choreography specialist Bruce Law. The action direction in The Beast Stalker, however, unfortunately succumbs to the closeups and nausea-inducing jerky camerawork now in fashion, whereas Ringo Lam understood the need for distance and framing in an action sequence. Attesting to its greatness, Full Alert more than stands the test of repeated viewings, even more than a decade after its release. The Beast Stalker is a exciting, smartly-made movie but if, as several critics have suggested, this is one of the best of recent Hong Kong films, then the bar has been seriously lowered.

Dante Lam will soon have another chance to make a great Hong Kong movie. His next project, Most Wanted Terrorist, has just announced its cast, which includes the dream team of Lau Ching-Wan, Anthony Wong and Francis Ng, along with Nick Cheung. Hopefully Nick Cheung can keep pace with his illustrious co-stars, as they’re widely held to be among the best actors of their generation. He did just fine opposite Anthony and Francis in Exiled, and even in The Beast Stalker he showed glimmers of potential. but if he’s not careful the rest of the cast is going to blow him out of the water.

Interestingly, Dante Lam has indicated that he will forgo any Mainland Chinese financing for Most Wanted Terrorist in order to preserve a Hong Kong sensibility in the film. Several recent HK/China co-productions, including Sammi Cheng’s recent Lady Cop and Papa Crook, have suffered from the restrictions of Mainland film censors, so Lam’s decision to avoid PRC money is an interesting one. With Hong Kong film financing languishing due to the economic recession it’s a bold and risky move, but Lam is determined to retain his artistic freedom without having to answer to the Mainland government.

Let’s hope Most Wanted Terrorist gives everyone involved the chance to strut their stuff to their fullest capabilities. With its killer cast and seasoned director, if all goes well, we could once again see greatness in Hong Kong films next year.

The Beast Stalker opens Friday, May 15 at one of the last places in the Bay Area to see Hong Kong movies on the big screen, the 4-Star Theater, 23rd Avenue and Clement Street, San Francisco.

May 15, 2009 at 5:40 am 2 comments

All For The Winner: 28th Hong Kong Film Awards

Xu Jiao wins Best New Performer for her crossdressing role in CJ7

Crocodile tears? Xu Jiao wins Best New Performer for CJ7

Just a quick note about this year’s Hong Kong Film Awards, which took place this Saturday. Wilson Yip’s biopic Ip Man, about the martial arts legend, took Best Picture, with Ann Hui winning Best Director for The Way We Are, her docudrama about the New Territories town of Tin Shui Wai.  The Way We Are, with its mostly non-professional cast, also won three other awards including Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Screenplay. Nick Cheung (The Beast Stalker) nabbed his first Best Actor statue, adding it to his award from the Hong Kong Film Critics’ Society. Cute little girl Xu Jiao won Best New Performer for her crossdressing turn as Stephen Chow Sing-Chi’s son in Chow’s sci-fi blockbuster CJ7. Unfortunately, according to the Golden Rock’s liveblog she gave a horribly fake acceptance speech that included fake crying. I guess child stars are the same all over the world.

Carina Lau & Tony Leung burn up the red carpet, HKFA 2009

Carina Lau & Tony Leung burn up the red carpet, HKFA 2009

Interestingly, in a repeat of the Golden Horse Awards last year, John Woo’s lavish epic Red Cliff was shut out of the major acting and directing awards (including Tony Leung Chi-Wai’s failure to win his sixth Best Actor award). Red Cliff did clean up in several creative categories such as Best Art Direction and Best Visual Effects, winning five awards. Apparently this year’s nominations were only for Red Cliff 1Red Cliff 2 will be eligible again next year so maybe then it will make out a little better in the major awards. Ironically, Red Cliff is probably the only film among the award winners that will receive international distribution.

Simon Yam in black and brown satin, Hong Kong Film Awards, 2009

Simon Yam in brown satin, Hong Kong Film Awards, 2009

Poor Simon Yam, nominated for Best Actor for Johnnie To’s Sparrow, went home empty-handed again. But he got to wear a natty two-toned sharkskin suit, white spats, and a spider-motif tie, and looked way too dashing for a man in his fifties. Sadly, Sparrow also lost (to Red Cliff) for Best Film Score, which just goes to show that not everyone appreciated its awesome Martin Denny/Michel Legrand/Henry Mancini homage.

For a full listing of the awards go here.

For lots more pix of celebrity finery go here.

For a great liveblog of the event go here.

And here’s the trailer for Sparrow, for a sample of its excellent soundtrack:

April 20, 2009 at 7:12 pm 4 comments


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