Posts filed under ‘pang ho-cheung’

Lovesexy: Vulgaria film review

DaDa Chen gives it her all, Vulgaria, 2012

A couple days ago I had the good fortune to run across one of my favorite movies on youtube, Once Upon A Time In Triad Society, released in 1995 and starring the inimitable Francis Ng. An outstanding black comedy that savagely skewers any romanticized notions of triad honor among thieves, it’s also an excellent example of the kind of deliriously high-energy cinema that Hong Kong used to put out on a regular basis back in the day. After watching it again I lamented to myself the current shortage of truly insane and invigorating HK movies these days, most of which have been replaced by tame and decorous, high-tone product from Mainland China (see The Bullet Vanishes).

But my faith in Hong Kong cinema has been restored with Pang Ho-Cheung’s newest release, Vulgaria, which is a throwback to the glory days of Hong Kong movies, with its mostly improvised, who-gives-a-fuck attitude, and its willingness to be loud, tasteless, and offensive. But this is no dumb and dumber—the movie is a spot-on look at the ailing Hong Kong film industry and the depths that HK moviemakers need to go to in order make a living these days, including producing tacky Category III movies, sucking up to insane Mainland financers/gangsters, and running low-rent mahjong dens complete with childcare and takeout meals.

Ronald Cheng in sequins, Vulgaria, 2012

Candy-assisted blowjobs, bestiality, crazy cursing, deep-fried field mice—Vulgaria goes there and it works. The movie’s cast includes some of Hong Kong’s best comic actors,  some of whom appeared in the Wong Jing stinker Marrying Mr. Perfect. In that movie they floundered, but here they’re brilliant. Chapman To rocks as a hapless film producer trying to stay afloat by any means necessary, even if it includes the possibility of interspecies sex. There’s a line that he won’t cross, however, which adds a certain poignancy to the character’s plight and which leavens the unbridled cursing, sex talk, and casual coupling that makes up the bulk of the proceedings. DaDa Chen is also great as the good-natured, well-endowed Popping Candy, so named for the particular type of fellatio she blithely practices in order to get movie roles. Ronald Cheng in spangled clothes is outstanding as the metrosexual gang leader Tyrannosaurus, and the banquet scene with himself, Lam Suet, Chapman, and Simon Lui is one of the funniest things I’ve witnessed in many a movie.

Pang’s a whip-smart director and even in this quickie, low-budget flick he effectively manipulates the cinematic lexicon, with the film’s storyline effortlessly flashing back and forward in time. Another great thing about Pang’s films is their focus on the profane joys of the Cantonese language and Vulgaria is no exception. In this one the actors seems to be especially gleeful in utilizing as many creative obscenities as possible and there’s a particularly funny running gag involving the limited Cantonese-language skills of Chapman To’s Chinese American assistant.

Chapman To, Simon Lui and mules prepare to meet their fate, Vulgaria, 2012

All in all Vulgaria is one of the most enjoyable movies I’ve seen in a long time—-it’s got life, energy, and cojones to spare. Not only is it a smart commentary on the state of Hong Kong cinema today, it’s way more creative, vigorous and fun than most of the bloated, predictable product out there. Now if only more Hong Kong movies could follow suit, it would be like 1995 all over again.

UPDATE: Vulgaria has just scooped up a trio of nominations for the Golden Horse Awards-–Chapman To for Best Actor, Dada Chen for Best Supporting Actress, and Ronald Cheng for Best Supporting Actor. No nomination for screenplay, directing, or profanities this time. Awards announced November 24.

UPDATE 2: Ronald Cheng just won the Golden Horse for Best Supporting Actor–truly well deserved, IMHO. Not many people can convincingly play a man in love with a mule and Ronald did it with style and panache. Go Vulgaria!

Vulgaria

opens Sept. 28

AMC Metreon 16

101 Fourth Street

San Francisco, CA

September 28, 2012 at 6:24 am 3 comments

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

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


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