Posts tagged ‘吳鎮宇’

Life Like A Song: Triumph In The Skies 2 drama review

triumph F&F

Fala and Francis, reclining, Triumph In The Skies 2, 2013

I almost never watch American television, though I occasionally look at reality shows like Project Runway or Chopped when my daughters are streaming it on my computer, but I really can’t remember the last time I watched a U.S. drama on a regular basis. I have a hard time paying attention to anything more than 90 minutes long unless it includes singing and dancing in Hindi, so investing weeks and weeks in a TV show, no matter how good, is just too much commitment for me. Also, as an unreconstructed experimental film geek I’m very visually oriented, so I prefer my media to be less dialog and character-driven than is most television.

I’m not one for Asian dramas, either—again, the weeks and weeks of watching are just too much for me to do, and I find plastic surgery and eyeliner on boys a little distracting. That said, this past year I’ve watched two Asian dramas, but only because they starred two of my favorite actors, Lee Byung-Hun and Francis Ng. Last spring I watched IRIS (아이리스, 2009), the South Korean espionage thriller that stars the insanely hot Lee Byung-Hun as a special ops agent involved in various crazy political plots. Although much of the story strains credulity, LBH is quite good in it and the ample explosions, gunfights, assassinations, betrayals, and love triangles keep the show movie along briskly. I felt like I’d eaten too much deep-fried food after sitting through its 40+ episodes but it was fun to spend all that time watching LBH do his thing.

Francis Ng, Ron Ng, Myolie Wu, aligned, Triumph In The Skies 2, 2013

Ron Ng, Francis Ng, Myolie Wu, aligned, Triumph In The Skies 2, 2013

More recently, I’ve been wallowing in Triumph In The Skies 2, the sequel to the hit Hong Kong drama that aired in 2003 on TVB that followed the lives and romances of a clutch of HK airline pilots. I watched TITS 1 on DVD long after it first came out, but with the advent of online streaming I’ve been able to see episodes of TITS 2 with English subtitles on a day-and-date schedule with its airing in Hong Kong. Like its prequel, the series has been quite a sensation since its premiere at the beginning of August, drawing high ratings and inspiring a wave of pilot-mania among Hong Kong’s citizenry. It was great to be able to watch Francis Ng as the lead character, Sam Tong, an upstanding and heroic airline pilot who is a much beloved character in Hong Kong. The show is nowhere near as hyperkinetic as IRIS, depending on romantic entanglements and other interpersonal relationships for its dramatic tension, but Francis, along with co-star Julian Cheng Chilam, made the show watchable. A bonus to watching it online is that I could fast-forward through the extraneous side-stories and go straight to the Francis plotlines. The drama is no great shakes and in fact is pretty mundane, with vast swaths of filler focusing on minor characters, flagrant product placement, and way too many subplots that are transparently designed to showcase TVB’s up-and-coming starlets. But TITS is one of TVB’s premium franchises and the station threw a lot of money at it, by Hong Kong television standards. There are many cute young guys looking suave in cadet pilot uniforms, including the sweet and dreamy Him Law, nice scenery in London, Taiwan, and Paris, and upscale Hong Kong characters with huge fantasy apartments and luxury cars.

Ingenues, Triumph In The Skies 2, 2013

Ingenues, Triumph In The Skies 2, 2013

However, although it was a high-end, much-hyped TVB series, the drama exhibited sloppy plotting and dialog, pacing and editing problems, sketchy and uneven acting, and way too many extraneous characters and storylines. There were huge, illogical jumps in the timeline (to accommodate a pregnant character) and one of the main characters, Captain Jayden Koo (Julian Cheung Chilam) inexplicably disappeared from the narrative for many episodes. Of course television dramas are built around people behaving stupidly and making poor life decisions and this show is no different, with characters displaying irritating obstinacy, irrational stubbornness, and poor communication skills, and making bad, impulsive decisions. I suppose their dramatic idiocy is meant to make the viewer feel better about their own lives, but there’s a limit to how much illogical behavior is plausible. TITS 2 also suffered by comparison to TITS 1. If a love triangle or two worked in TITS 1, why not three or four in TITS 2? How about a weirdly obsessive, terminally ill ingénue chasing after a reluctant mate? TITS 1 had the deliciously agonizing dilemma of Francis Ng’s character, Sam Tong, in love with his best friend’s wife, so that the love triangle was truly triangular, with the relationship between all three characters holding significance. In TITS 2, the Sam/Jayden/Holiday triangle had much less piquancy because there was no deep relationship between Sam and Jayden, unlike Sam and Vincent’s friendship in the original series. It didn’t help that Fala Chen’s acting as Holiday, the fulcrum of the love triangle, was wildly inconsistent, though by the end of the series she had settled down a bit.

Francis emotes, Triumph In The Skies 2, 2013

Francis emotes, Triumph In The Skies 2, 2013

For me, the main draw of course was Francis Ng, and he didn’t disappoint. Although TITS 2 was by no means high art (or even competent storytelling), as an opportunity to watch hours of Francis Ng every night for six weeks it was a quite a lovely indulgence and despite the drama’s general silliness, Francis absolutely killed in this show. Francis is an outstanding big-screen actor but he’s also an excellent small-screen actor, due to his mobile and subtly expressive face and his huge repertoire of physical expressions. The way he stands, the position of his arms, and his confident rolling swagger when he’s walking around the airport in his pilot drag like he owns the place all add up to a very satisfying viewing experience. His character was by turns depressed, repressed, anal retentive, or controlling, but Francis managed to make him sympathetic with just a well-placed flick of his eyebrows or a meaningful sigh, and he is the king of the single tear sliding down the cheek. In one scene, where he recalls his remorse at disappointing Zoe, his late wife, the range of emotions crossing his face was pretty amazing, demonstrating his impeccable mastery of non-verbal acting. Francis also gets bonus points for flaunting an array of beautifully cut Vivianne Westwood menswear (including a $250 hoodie with hand-painted stars on the sleeves and a gorgeous black velvet tux with a satin shawl collar) and looking ridiculously fit and charming for a man in his early fifties. Depending on the lighting and the skill of the makeup artists, Francis alternately looked pretty good for his age or like a star somewhat past his sell date. Some netizens were less than kind about Francis’ fifty-plus years, and it didn’t help that his main love interest was a woman in her early thirties, which often accentuated Francis’ age to his detriment. But the man can wear a tailored suit like nobody’s business and his signature “airplane head” pompadour was impeccably groomed throughout the entire series—there was literally not a hair out of place and the sculpted fade of his sideburns was immaculately trimmed to the exact same length for the entire show. Way to go, continuity department!

Julian Cheung Chilam, windblown, Triumph In The Skies 2, 2013

Julian Cheung Chilam, windblown, Triumph In The Skies 2, 2013

Julian Cheung’s new character, Jayden Koo, instantly became a fan favorite in the sequel, though to me the character was a narcissistic bore who thought he was the schiznit. In the first few eps Jayden’s popularity far outstripped that of Sam Tong, making the proposed Sam/Jayden/Holiday love triangle a non-starter. In order to appease the disgruntled Sam/Zoe shippers and to level the playing field for Sam vs. Jayden, Julian Cheung’s part was ruthlessly trimmed down in the middle episodes of the series and Francis and Fala’s budding romance instead took center stage. When Jayden finally reappeared some weeks down the line, after the show’s editing had tilted the audience in F&F’s favor, he seemed more like an obsessive stalker than a viable love interest. My conspiracy theory is that the producers realized that the audience wasn’t down with Francis + Fala and had to fatten up their relationship in order to make the love triangle plausible, at the expense of Julian Cheung’s screentime. That and the fact that the show’s ending had been spoiled even before the series aired took a lot of the dramatic tension out of the storyline. Through the magic of google chrome’s instantaneous (if garbled) web translations, it was also fun to follow the media frenzy in Hong Kong as the show aired. Apparently Sam/Zoe is one of the most revered pairings in TVB history and the way that Zoe was ruthlessly killed off between TITS 1 and TITS 2 (appearing only in flashbacks in TITS 2) really rankled the viewership. After the Sam/Zoe storyline was resolved in episode 23 some viewers swore off the show, though their defections didn’t seem to affect the ratings as TITS 2 ended up the highest rated show of the year as well as racking up many hundreds of millions of online views in Hong Kong and China.

Perfect fade, Francis Ng, Triumph In The Skies 2, 2013

Perfect fade, Francis Ng, Triumph In The Skies 2, 2013

It was also pretty humorous to observe the stars’ various spats with each other via the media. Early press reports stated that Francis Ng and Fala Chen didn’t get along, but as the series progressed the purported tensions were denied, with Fala Chen at one point claiming “(Francis) just looks really fierce because when he furrows his brow, he looks very serious.” It was also funny to note is that many online commentators had very little sense of Francis Ng’s work outside of Hong Kong television, apparently not realizing the fact that he’s won several Best Actor awards for his film work, or that he’s known outside of Hong Kong primarily for playing badass gangsters, not lovelorn pilots, or that, as he says, “the majority of my fans have tattoos.” Despite all of its shortcomings the drama was a huge hit, with excellent broadcast ratings in Hong Kong. There’s talk of a feature film version of the show and all involved are scrambling to capitalize on its popularity. Julian Cheung has taken advantage of his increased profile by changing agents, recording a cover of the theme song from the original series, and buying a new Mercedes. Francis Ng has inexplicably signed an agreement to produce a cooking show for TVB. And Fala Chen is being touted by Eric Tsang as “the new Maggie Cheung,” although she has none of Cheung Man-yuk acting skills, charisma, or talent. Considering how meteorically fortunes can rise and fall in Hong Kong show biz, it will be interesting to see the lasting effects, if any, of the recent success of TITS 2. Related Francis Ng news: It was just announced that Francis Ng is attached to Sha Po Lang 2, the sequel to the 2005 Wilson Yip-directed Donnie Yen action/MMA film revered by many Hong Kong movie fanboys. Yip had wanted Francis to star in the original SPL (the part eventually went to Simon Yam) but scheduling conflicts prevented this happening, so it’s great that Francis will be joining the cast for this one. This installment will be directed by Soi Cheang (Motorway; Accident), who most recently worked with Francis on the film adaptation of the the ultraviolent Japanese manga Shamo (2007).  It will be nice to see Francis in a real Hong Kong crime film once again, as opposed to the soapy melodrama of TITS or the dreadful mainland shlock he’s been putting out lately. Can’t wait–

UPDATE: Although google is mangling the translation of this article, I think that it says that Francis Ng, Chilam Cheung, and Louis Koo are now confirmed for the movie version of the drama and that, due to her clashes with Francis and other cast members as well as her Marilyn Monroe-esque behavior on set (i.e., being late and not knowing her lines), Fala Chen has been dumped from said movie and replaced by Taiwanese star Lin Chi-Ling. What’s more interesting is that Benny Chan is now attached to direct and that the film supposedly will be an “action” movie. Chan is fresh from one of the top-grossing Hong Kong films of last year, The White Storm, which was a manly crime film starring Lau Ching-Wan, Louis Koo, and Nick Cheung. Having just watched Big Bullet again recently, I can only hope that news of Chan’s involvement is true and that the brave and handsome flight crew will face terrorists, bombs, and mayhem on the streets and in the skies of Hong Kong. I’d pay to see that–

UPDATE 2: After many casting and directing changes the movie version of Triumph In The Skies is about to be released, just in time for the Chinese New Year’s holiday on Feb. 20, 2015 with a day-and-date release in North America. The publicity machine has been in full force and the film is one of the favorites in the New Year’s slate, although it’s going up against a new Sandra Ng sex comedy, 12 Golden Ducks, and Chow Yun-Fat’s latest gambling movie, From Vegas To Macau 2, which also stars A-listers Nick Cheung, Carina Lau, and Shawn Yue. The new TITS movie, directed by Matt Chow and Wilson Yip, focuses on romance and relationships, as well as nice scenery and tailored clothes, with Francis Ng paired with Sammi Cheng, Louis Koo paired with Charmaine Sheh, and Chilam Cheung paired with Amber Kuo. Could be great, could be sucky, but I’m watching it either way.

September 14, 2013 at 5:47 am 3 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

Constant Sorrow: Tracing Shadow film review

Francis Ng contemplates filmmaking, Tracing Shadow, 2009

Francis Ng contemplates filmmaking, Tracing Shadow, 2009

Dear Francis,

Just wanted to let you know that I saw your new movie, Tracing Shadow, and I’m sorry to say that I didn’t really like it very much. Although it had some killer martial arts sequences, the art direction was divine, and you yourself looked quite lovely in your braided hair extensions and little mustache, the movie as a whole really stank. Unfortunately, since you’re the director as well as the star of the film, there’s no one else to blame for the slipshod pacing, unimaginative blocking and framing, egregious mugging and overacting (Xie Na being the absolute worst offender on that account), and aggravating, abrupt shifts in tone and mood throughout the movie. You yourself put in a less-than-thrilling performance, which I didn’t think you were capable of doing. And both you and your love interest, Pace Wu, have really nice cheekbones, but there isn’t a whole lot of chemistry between the two of you otherwise.

Pace Wu and bone structure, Tracing Shadow, 2009

Pace Wu and bone structure, Tracing Shadow, 2009

Ever since it was announced several months ago I’ve been looking forward to this film, since you’re my favorite actor and your last wuxia movie, The White Dragon, is a great little flick. But somewhere along the way something went terribly wrong. It’s a shame, since the movie has the bones of a much better film. The storyline is classically drawn, with martial-arts masters converging on a village in search of a lost treasure map. But the film’s execution is so off-kilter and confused that it feels bad regional theater. At times it seemed like two or three different pictures competing for screen time—the slapstick comedy, the martial-arts action film, the dramatic mystery—with none given enough time or attention to cohere successfully. I felt myself wishing that you’d stuck to a straight-ahead dramatic treatment of the material, ala the film’s supposed inspiration, King Hu’s classic Dragon Inn, instead of using the story for laughs.

Your past directorial efforts, although flawed, showed flashes of brilliance and promise. But all three of your other movies were small-scale affairs rather than big-budget extravaganzas like Tracing Shadow. 9413 was an intense crime drama that showed a feel for mood and intensity as well as some cinematic chops. What Is A Good Teacher brought out some good, quirky moments from its youthful cast. Dancing Lion had some great improvisational set pieces. But all of those also had top-drawer actors, yourself included, to move things along, whereas the cast of Tracing Shadow–a TV show hostess, a model, and the son of a famous man–is, to put it delicately, pretty weak.

Xie Na and Jaycee Chan mug for the camera, Tracing Shadow, 2009

Xie Na and Jaycee Chan mug for the camera, Tracing Shadow, 2009

I’m truly sorry that the film turned out so badly. I really wanted you to achieve your dream of directing a successful movie. I don’t know exactly why things went so wrong–I’m not sure if it was the strain of holding together a big-budget costume picture, the complexity of mixing so many genres, or the pressure of living up to the hype of a high-profile project. I wonder if there was pressure from your financial backers (Huayi Brothers) to make the film as accessible, i.e., lowbrow, as possible, too, or if that decision was yours. At any rate, I hope that you get another chance to direct a film and that you’re more successful next time. This time I’m afraid you lost your way.

Sincerely,

your biggest fan

Anthony Wong & Francis Ng in happier times, Laughing Gor: Turning Point, 2009

Anthony Wong with Francis Ng in happier times, Laughing Gor: Turning Point, 2009

PS: Congratulations on Laughing Gor: Turning Point—I’ve heard that it’s really good and that it’s doing great box office, too, which hopefully takes some of the sting out of Tracing Shadow’s disappointing ticket sales.

UPDATE: Go here for a much nicer, more positive review of the movie.

September 14, 2009 at 6:14 am 15 comments

10,000 maniacs + gratuitous Francis Ng pix

Walking softly and carrying a big sword, Francis Ng, Chasing Shadows, 2009

Walking softly and carrying a big sword, Francis Ng, Chasing Shadows, 2009

Hey! This blog just got it’s ten-thousandth hit (thanks, Edison) so in honor of reaching that milestone I’m posting some gratuitous pictures of the reason I started blogging in the first place. So here’s a recent publicity still from Chasing Shadows, Francis Ng’s upcoming wuxia movie which is now in postproduction. Note the excellent updo that Francis is sporting, which suggests a touch of goth in the art-direction mix.

Going out for snacks, Francis Ng & friend

Going out for snacks, Francis Ng & friend

Francis has been getting into some extracurricular trouble lately with “production assistants” and “music consultants” while editing Chasing Shadows in Beijing. He’s been spied wandering around late at night with women who are not his wife (who just gave birth back in October), supposedly walking with his arm around one of them and suspiciously playing loud music in his apartment at all hours of the night. It’s all conjecture and speculation, of course, but it makes for good tawdry unsubstantiated gossip so the Chinese press is all over it. Look out for those telephoto lenses, Francis, the next time you visit the 7/11 at midnight!

Francis gets caught with his hand in the cookie jar, 2007

Francis gets caught with his hand in the cookie jar, 2007

Francis is apparently getting a rep for being a playa in Hong Kong entertainment circles. A couple years ago he was caught on video canoodling in a karaoke bar (video below) with Ellen Chen, who played a sexy prostitute alongside Francis in Exiled. At first he denied it but when confronted with the videotaped evidence he ‘fessed up. Luckily he managed to get his wife to publicly forgive him.

Last year he attempted some damage control by releasing a series of pictures of said wife, then pregnant, and himself in marital bliss, with Francis dutifully following her around Hong Kong while she window-shopped. It was also noted that he cooked special soup for her during her pregnancy.

orange-kid

Two of a kind, Francis & Feynman Ng, 2009

Some other conveniently shot pictures from this February showed Francis, wife, and infant son Feynman (named for the physicist) tooling around Hong Kong, with father and son in matching orange outfits.

Method acting, Francis & co-star

Method acting, Francis & co-star

But Francis’ attempts to salvage his rep have taken a hit these past couple weeks with the gossip about his purported shenanigans in Beijing. Reports also mention his close personal relationship with starlet Jiang Yi-Yan, who played his mistress in Deadly Delicious. Apparently the two prepped for their make-out scenes by drinking together, which lead to some pretty convincing love scenes.

It’s none of my business what celebrities do in their personal lives but I’m always surprised when they get caught on film or video messing where they shouldn’t be messing. It should be patently obvious that when you’re a movie star, you’re living in a fishbowl and you should be on guard at all times against sneaky papparrazi with hidden cameras. There have been rumors for a long time that a couple of the Heavenly Kings are gay (you get to guess which ones) but there has never been a scrap of supporting evidence to prove it, even with Hong Kong’s notorious media machine constantly on the prowl. So there are three probable scenarios at work here:

1. Francis Ng has really poor judgment.

2. Francis Ng has really lax handlers.

3. Francis Ng has nothing to be guilty about and he just likes having business meetings with his production staff in the middle of the night in his private apartment.

You make the call.

Note: Thanks to dleedlee for the translation help and advice. You rock.

UPDATE: Thanks to the hkmdb for more Francis Ng damage control. How many times can he trot out his wife & kid to show he’s a happily married man? Sorry for the cynicism but it seems awfully calculated to me. That said, I do hope it works because one of the greatest pleasures in my life is watching Francis Ng act on the screen and I’d hate to see his career flounder, for whatever reason. Luckily Edison Chen is providing a much better distraction for the HK press & public so hopefully Francis will get a pass.

Bonus video: Francis Ng & Ellen Chen get busy. Canoodling starts around :46. Warning: bad karaoke singing.

UPDATE 2: Francis has been cast in a couple new Hong Kong flicks, Laughing Gor, which is based on the popular Michael Tse television character, and Most Wanted Terrorist, Dante Lam’s follow-up to Beast Stalker. There’s also the upcoming summer release of Tracing Shadow, which Francis stars in and co-directed, so I guess his peccadillos haven’t hurt his career too badly. Edison Chen should probably get a special award for running interference for everyone these days in Hong Kong.

April 3, 2009 at 7:36 am 9 comments

Triumph In The Skies: A Different Kind of Tension

Francis Ng gazes soulfully, Triumph In The Skies, 2003

Francis Ng gazes soulfully, Triumph In The Skies, 2003

Gotta say that, despite myself, I really liked this series. It’s one of the most popular dramas ever made in Hong Kong and it made stars out of several of its younger cast members (notably the Solar 4 or S4—Bosco Wong, Sammul Chan, Ron Ng and Kenneth Ma) when it was first aired back in 2003. But it also made Francis Ng into a major idol, which, although he’d won acting awards and starred in many HK movies, he’d never been before in his home territory. His role as Sam Tong, the principled and upstanding pilot of the fictional Solar Airways, was a killer star vehicle for him and allowed him to showcase his great dramatic range to a hometown audience who had been mostly “meh” to the idea of him as a heroic figure.

The show is pretty expensive by TVB standards, with location shoots in Italy, Japan, and Australia, and has a huge and fairly decent cast including TVB queen Flora Chan as well as Francis as star-crossed lovers. Cinematography, art direction, lighting, and direction are all solid and the storyline isn’t too cringeful, although of course there are classic melodramatic moments including several hospital and near-death scenes, many love triangles, and various other common soapy contrivances. But a lot of the show concentrates on the professional training of airline pilots, which is presented in a surprisingly gripping manner and is deftly interwoven with the crisscrossing romantic storylines.

Fly me, Triumph In The Skies, 2003

Fly me, Triumph In The Skies, 2003

The plot revolves around the lives of various people working for Solar Airways in Hong Kong’s International Airport, including pilots, flight attendants, and ground crews. Sam (Francis Ng) and Belle (Flora Chan), the main characters, meet by chance in Rome and, after chasing through the city in a series of coincidental meetings, hook up and have hot (off-screen) sex. But a plot contrivance drives them apart and the next time they see each other Belle is dating Sam’s best friend and fellow pilot Vincent (Joe Ma). The rest of the series pretty much follows Sam and Belle’s attempts to resolve the mess of their relationship and their unrequited desire for each other.

Francis & Flora get jiggy, Triumph In The Skies, 2003

Flora & Francis get friendly, Triumph In The Skies, 2003

Francis Ng puts in an amazingly disciplined performance—he sustains his character over the course of 40 one-hour episodes and actually shows a believable growth and change, while remaining true to the character’s organic persona. He also proves that he can convincingly play a romantic lead and it’s difficult to imagine that this is the same performer who tore up the scenery playing hard-ass killers in movies like The Mission, Exiled, and Young And Dangerous. The character of Sam could have been an insufferable, controlling bore but Francis makes him intriguing, sympathetic and ultimately loveable despite his restrained personality. This is most evident in Sam’s relationship with Zoe, the younger woman who chases after him and eventually wins his affections. In the hands of a less skillful actor this May-December relationship could have gone horribly wrong but Francis convincingly moves from a reluctant target of Zoe’s affection to gradually becoming a willing partner in the relationship. The show also directly addresses the fifteen-year age difference between the two characters, with running commentary throughout the series on the difficulties of this seemingly mismatched pair finding harmony.

Francis makes Myolie into a decent actor, Triumph In The Skies, 2003

Francis makes Myolie into a decent actor, Triumph In The Skies, 2003

At some point the series basically becomes The Francis Ng Show, with long stretches of the plot devoted to his character’s activities. But it’s a credit to the screenwriters that when the focus shifts to other characters and their storylines the show remains engaging. Francis is clearly the best actor in the program but for the most part the rest of the cast holds up pretty well to his star-power and acting chops. He has an uncanny knack for intently listening to and playing off of his fellow actors, elevating and enhancing their performances by his subtle and effective responses. This almost seems to make the other actors get better as the show progresses, as they rise to the occasion of working with a truly talented performer. Ron Ng, one of the young turks who became a star after appearing in this show, starts out the series as a stilted and wooden performer. By the end of the series he’s learned some skills and exudes a decent amount of on-screen presence. Likewise, Myolie Wu as Zoe, one of Francis Ng’s love interests, begins the show by ceaselessly mugging and overacting her ingénue role–by the series’ end she’s become a much more nuanced and affecting performer. Her concluding scenes with Francis are fairly moving and I can’t help but think that she learned something by working with him. Francis gets to cry a few times, too, which he does with absolute conviction.

There is also an absolutely fabulous cameo by veteran HK actress Helen Law Lan, who was so great in Bullets Over Summer, as a complaining customer of Solar Airways. She and Francis have a couple divine scenes together which showcase their sublime comic timing and acting skills. Young and Dangerous fans will also spot Jerry Lamb, aka Piggy, who is very good in a supporting role.

Little Francis happy at last, Triumph In The Skies, 2003

Little Francis happy at last, Triumph In The Skies, 2003

SPOILER: Francis also gets the opportunity to be happy at the end of this show, and his joyous smiles at the program’s climax made me realize a couple things: a.) he’s got a really nice smile, and b.) I really can’t think of any movies I’ve seen him in where he gets to be genuinely joyful. I’ve seen at least fifty Francis Ng flicks by now and most of them are dark, violent crime dramas where he comes to a bad end. Even the ones where he doesn’t die don’t necessarily end happily (see The Mission; A War Named Desire; A Gambler’s Story). His comedies are a different story, but even so, being in a funny movie doesn’t necessarily mean that you get to be happy. I’m actually getting a little tired of seeing Francis die or be tormented at the end of movies and I definitely don’t want to watch any more movies where he’s the bad guy. Thankfully, he seems to be through with playing villains, though I suspect he’ll die in a few more of his films in the future. So it was great in TITS when he not only survives but lives happily ever after, and he gets to flash his beautiful, happy smile. END OF SPOILER

Follow your destiny, Triumph In The Skies, 2003

Follow your destiny, Triumph In The Skies, 2003

Strangely enough, the show also addresses, in a soap-opera fashion, the tensions between destiny and free will, delivering a surprisingly cogent and deeply felt commentary on the subject. It was interesting to find thoughtful observations on fatalism versus self-determination in a pop culture production but this was one of the strongest themes running through the show. One of the show’s characters, Belle, believes that life and love are preordained, but it is only through her attempts to take control of her life that she can save herself from despair. Another character, Zoe, feels that she can wrest control of her destiny through the sheer force of her will, but she has to give up control and surrender to her fate before her ultimate triumph. Sam, the character caught between them, is agnostic and rational but he too learns to balance between steering his own life’s path and giving in to forces beyond his control. Not only that but the show also has no real villain to speak of. Instead the characters struggle against their own inner demons and conflicts, and in the end most of them make choices that show honor and growth. This is a refreshing change of pace and, along with the show’s examination of fate and destiny, adds another level of pleasure to the viewing of the program that elevates it beyond the typical television drama.

Apparently audiences throughout Asia felt similarly enthusiastic about Triumph In The Skies. In its first broadcast in Hong Kong in 2003 it had more than a 35% share throughout the run of the series, meaning that more than one-third of all households watching television at the time were tuned in to it when it aired. During its rebroadcast last year in a late-night slot it gained almost a 10% share, nearly unheard of for such a time slot. In most polls it’s consistently rated as the favorite show of Hong Kong television audiences and rumors of a sequel (nixed by most of the cast, including Francis Ng) continue to swirl six years after its debut. It also finally made Francis Ng into a romantic leading man.

Francis and curry puff hairdo, Triumph In The Skies, 2003

Francis and curry puff hairdo, Triumph In The Skies, 2003

NOTE: Francis Ng has a hella weird hairstyle in this show, kind of an asymmetrical pompadour that looks like a throwback to the 1950s crossed with a poodle. It gets a little less absurd and more toned-down as the show progresses but it’s definitely funny to see, especially in contrast to the ultrahip shaggy and dyed-out coifs of the rest of the cast. Of course Francis makes the retro hairdo work, and ultimately it becomes an unspoken commentary on the character’s somewhat anachronistic sense of honor and the way that he’s out of step with many of the other characters in the show. Not surprisingly, Francis purportedly designed the hairstyle himself–

UPDATE: Apparently back in December 2008 TVB put both Ron Ng & Myolie Wu on what they call the “retrenchment” list, which means they’ve moved back from lead to supporting roles. I’m not sure about the specifics but it looks like their fifteen minutes are over. Hasta la vista, baby–

UPDATE 2: For my comments and review of Triumph In The Skies 2 go here.

February 13, 2009 at 9:05 am 4 comments

Quickie fangirl post: teaser trailer for new Francis Ng 吳鎮宇wuxia movie Tracing Shadow 追影

First stills for Chasing Shadow!

Francis Ng & deadly chopsticks, Tracing Shadow 追影, 2009

Just wanted to fire off a fast post about the appearance of a new, very brief teaser trailer (see below) for the upcoming Francis Ng wuxia pic Chasing Shadows. Looks like the movie will be full of the old-school 1990s style wire-fu & special effects that I cut my teeth on back in the day.

The very first Hong Kong movie that I saw long ago at the Roxie Theater in San Francisco was A Chinese Ghost Story, with its amazing action choreography by the great Ching Siu-Tung. His trademark style includes lots of beautiful night photography, swirling fog, gravity-defying synchronized stunt performers, flowing robes, and flying people bounding over rooftops and through forests. He’s the action director for classics including Swordsman 2, New Dragon Inn, and House of Flying Daggers, among many more.

Chasing Shadows, in which Francis Ng not only stars but codirects, with Marco Mak, looks like a throwback to those glorious movies. According to news sources,

“As a form of tribute to past wuxia films, not only does the film contain various well-worn wuxia elements, but it also has the protagonist, his nemesis, and the four exponents named directly, onomatopoeically, metaphorically, in part or combination after the famed wuxia directors: Chang Cheh, Li Han Hsiang, Tsui Hark, Chor Yuen, Sammo Hung, Liu Chia Liang, Tong Gai and King Hu, possibly with some of them doing cameos.”

The movie also stars Jackie Chan’s son Jaycee Chan and Pace Wu. Ching Siu-Tung’s protege, Ma Yuk Sing, is the action choreographer for Chasing Shadows and Ching’s influence is pretty clear in the trailer.

First stills for Chasing Shadow!

The lady in red, Tracing Shadow 追影, 2009

Needless to say, my anticipation meter is off the charts with this one.

UPDATE: According to Twitch, as of late March the film’s title has been altered to “Tracing Shadow 追影,” which I’m not sure I like more than the original. “Chasing” seems a bit more active and dynamic than “tracing,” but I’m not the marketing expert so who am I to say? Looking forward to it at any rate & hoping it rocks.

Here’s the teaser trailer for your viewing pleasure. There’s a very short subliminal of Francis at the very end of the clip fyi.

UPDATE 2: New trailer for Tracing Shadow 追影 below, which lists a July 2009 release date. It’s mostly in Mandarin, except for one cryptic English intertitle that states “kung fu all star,” and seems to be living up to previous reports that the film will be a martial arts comedy. Francis Ng appears briefly about halfway through, getting water thrown in his face, striding across the screen, and later comically twitching his eyebrow. The rest of the trailer heavily features clips of Jaycee Chan, backed by a raucous electric guitar riff, no doubt aiming straight for the lucrative youth market. I’m sure I’m missing lots of other significant information due to my lack of Chinese-language skills–if anyone else wants to fill in the blanks it would be much appreciated.

Director Ng & cast at Tracing Shadow press conference, June 16, 2009

Director Ng & cast at Tracing Shadow 追影 press conference, June 16, 2009

There’s also a lot of information in the Chinese press this week about the launching of the film’s website but the translation I got through google translate gives me a headache so I can offer little insight. But here’s a picture from the press conference. Francis has his hair in the little topknot he seems to have adopted for his role in Laughing Gor, which he’s shooting at the moment.

UPDATE 3: English translation about the press conference here, plus another view of Francis’ topknot.

Happy Francis Ng with topknot, Tracing Shadow press conference, June 2009

Happy Francis with topknot, Tracing Shadow 追影 press conference, June 2009

UPDATE 4: Go here for The Making Of Tracing Shadow 追影. Caveat: it’s on youku.com, the Chinese streaming site, which sometimes loads awfully slow, and the video is all in Mandarin. But it’s got nice behind-the-scenes footage of the movie shoot, with interviews with all of the stars including Francis, Jaycee Chan, and Pace Wu. With the movie being released in just a couple weeks the hype is becoming deafening. Huayi Brothers are obviously banking on this to be a big summer hit and every other day there are more movie stills, interviews, and other fluff about the movie all over the Chinese press. It will be interesting to see the actual box office once the movie’s out.

Tracing Shadow movie poster, July 2009

Tracing Shadow 追影 movie poster, July 2009

UPDATE 5: Here’s the latest Tracing Shadow 追影 poster, and here’s the official website. Navigation is in English, though the movie clips, synopsis and other info are in Chinese. The gallery has tons of stills that showcase the movie’s fancy costumes and art direction, featuring lots of animal furs, elaborate upswept hairdos, and saturated blacks and reds.

twitchfilm.net also has the first English-language review of the film and it’s pretty favorable.

And here’s the cool little music video from the movie—it takes several scenes from the film and incorporates them into a comic-book style layout. The song is Zhui Ying 追影 and the singer is Cong Haonan 丛浩楠.

Francis Ng drowns his sorrows at Laughing Gor: Turning Point premiere

Francis Ng drowns his sorrows at Laughing Gor: Turning Point premiere

UPDATE 6: Alas, despite the massive hype, it looks like Tracing Shadow has tanked at the box office in mainland China. Apparently it went head-to-head with Wong Jing’s latest inane comedy, On His Majesty’s Secret Service, and lost big time–according to NetEase Enterntainment, OHMSS earned over $100 million yuan at the box office, while Tracing Shadow took in a measly $13 million. Not only that, but Wong Jing apparently claimed in an interview that he wasn’t afraid of duking it out with Tracing Shadow because Francis Ng’s earlier directorial efforts (9413; What Is A Good Teacher; and Dancing Lion) also tanked at the box office. Way to rub salt in the wound, dude! It’s especially painful because earlier Francis had predicted that Tracing Shadow would easily take in at least $100 million. No wonder Francis Ng looked so tweaky at the Laughing Gor: Turning Point premiere. He had probably just heard the bad news about ticket sales for Tracing Shadow.

The film opened today (Sept. 2) in Hong Kong to much less fanfare. Wonder if HK audiences will give their homeboy some support or if the movie will die a slow death in the Special Administrative Region as well.

UPDATE 7: Tracing Shadow just hit the torrent streams so that probably spells an end to any theatrical box office. Some commentators on twitter were less than charitable about the film.

tracing shadow is a very indiscriminate mess

tracing shadow is a lousy movie. i’m sad that I spent more than half an hour to get to this conclusion.

watched the film tracing shadow online, download a waste of time, a waste of computer hard-disk space

You know it’s bad when people who watch the movie for free are dissing it.

But Francis might take some comfort in the fact that On His Majesty’s Secret Service also got reamed by the tweeters:

this is really a rare year of lousy movies—tracing shadow and OHMSS are tied.

Strangely enough, Huayi Brothers might not be too fussed about Tracing Shadows less-than-stellar performance. The film presold to several Asian territories, so chances are that HB got its investment back even before it was released.

January 25, 2009 at 11:02 pm 2 comments

The end of the world as we know it: crunchyroll deletes user-uploaded files.

crunchyrollThe new year brought an unwelcome surprise to the 4.8 million people who belong to the on-line video streaming site crunchyroll.com, sometimes referred to as the Asian youtube (though it was founded by UC Berkeley undergrads and it’s based in San Francisco). Since its launch in 2006 until Jan. 1, 2009 the site had hosted music and games as well as literally thousands of films, anime, and Asian dramas. Almost all of its content was illegally uploaded by members, meaning that anyone could stream from a huge selection of material at absolutely no cost. As expected from such a massive, unrestricted site, depending on the source material and the skill of the uploader, image quality ranged from good to crappy.

For example, due to the ineptitude of the member who posted it, the site’s version of Exiled had Mandarin and Cantonese audio tracks running

Gratuitous Francis Ng pic, Exiled, 2007

Gratuitous Francis Ng pic, Exiled, 2006

simultaneously, which led to a surreal viewing experience to say the least. Other movies had serious sync problems or were uploaded from vcds, but almost all of the material had English subs and the streaming was fast and reliable, so it was a great place to indulge in a lot of no-cost Asian movie watching. (In contrast, watching a non-subbed movie on youku.com, the Chinese-language streaming site, is slow torture. Aside from the language barrier, the site streams like cold molasses and a ninety-minute movie can take twice that to get through.)

Free is always a good price and I can attest to crunchyroll’s addictive quality–it enabled my Francis Ng binge from last month and I was able to watch at least a dozen of his movies, including a couple not yet available in the US on dvd such as Shamo and One Last Dance. I was also able to wallow in all 35 episodes of one of Francis’s turgid HK melodramas, The Great Adventurer, wasting a week of my life wending through its labyrinthine storyline.

Crunchyroll’s dilemma began when the site started offering higher quality streams for members who “donated” six dollars per month. Because of its legal murkiness, this opened the site to potential licensing lawsuits, as it began profiting from copyrighted materials it didn’t own. Suddenly it wasn’t one big happy filesharing family—with nearly 5 million members someone was making some coin, and the site recently made moves to correct this possible legal sinkhole. No doubt realizing the thin ice such flagrant copyright violations implied, at the start of 2009 crunchyroll purged its entire stock of non-licensed programming and began to host only legally licensed shows. Gone were all of the Korean, Hong Kong, and Japanese soap operas, the extensive library of films and anime, and everything else that made the site imperative for obsessive Asian media-watchers. As expected, most of the membership let out a collective shriek, but in order to further cover its ass legally, the site will likely not add back those titles. It’s instead instituted a subscription system that, in cooperation with anime distributors, will allow paying customers to selectively view whatever shows the site can license.

As for those of us who gorged on free movies and dramas, the ride is over. Of course it was too good to last—I’m glad I was able to enjoy it while I could. Here’s hoping another similar site crops up soon.

UPDATE: Oops, busted! Looks like Huayi Bros, the big-time Chinese film producer and distributor, is going after several Chinese-language sites for illegally hosting the brand new Mainland China film, If You Are The One, which was released on Dec. 18 and has already hit the intertubes. Named in the lawsuit are Sina.com, Sohu.com, Youku.com, Tudou.com and VOC. Maybe crunchyroll pulled out of the illegal filesharing game just in time.

UPDATE 2: Interesting analysis here about how China’s latest crackdown on Internet smut may be a harbinger of larger things to come. Good discussion of the issue in relation to the recession, politics and the social compact of China’s economic boom.

January 6, 2009 at 7:24 am 6 comments

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