Posts tagged ‘anthony wong’
Hong Kong star Nicholas Tse’s latest vehicle, Cook Up A Storm (CUAS) opens in North America in very very limited release this weekend. As both an Asian film scholar and a CNBLUE fanperson (the film co-stars CNBLUE leader Jung Yonghwa) I had a keen interest in this movie so I made a special effort to see it while it was still playing theatrically near me, thought that involved a 45-minute drive to Cupertino.
The plot is simple: Developers sponsor Paul Ahn (Jung Yonghwa), a French-trained Michelin-starred chef, in opening Stellar, a fancy-ass restaurant directly opposite Seven, a local joint run by Sky Ko (Nicholas Tse) that features down-home Chinese dishes. Of course conflict ensues between the Western-trained Paul and the self-taught traditionalist Sky. Adding to the mix is Sky’s angst over his messed-up relationship with his dad Mountain (the majestic Anthony Wong Chau-sang) and some behind-the-scenes maneuvering by Paul’s girlfriend/assistant (Michelle Bai Bing).
CUAS is paced like a Hong Kong movie, which means in and out in ninety minutes, and in this case this feels really fast. I used to really love the fevered pace of Hong Kong cinema but now that I’ve gotten used to the more leisurely running times of two-hour Korean and Chinese films, or the epic three-hour slogs from Bollywood, this seems almost too rapid.
Because of the bang-bang pace of the film things feel like they’re being told in shorthand, with character development and relationships rapidly sketched out. You almost have to be psychic to realize that Paul is dating Mayo, which is indicated in a few incredibly brief shots of them holding hands and some lingering glances (apparently the steamier scenes between them ended up on the cutting room floor). The relationship between Sky and his dad fares slightly better, but only because as one of the film’s main conflicts it gets a fair amount of screen time.
The showdowns between Sky and Paul are likewise quite rapid, with the most effective one taking place in Paul’s gorgeously appointed high-tech restaurant kitchen. Here the characters are allowed to play off of each other a bit more and the scenario has a chance to breathe a bit, unlike some of the rapid-fire sequences that take place elsewhere in the film. It helps that Nic Tse and Yonghwa have a good onscreen rapport, with Yonghwa in particular doing a great job fleshing out his character with a minimum of dialog.
In some ways the film seems to struggle between wanting to be an out-and-out Hong Kong movie and needing to court the huge PRC market. Aspects of the film that hearken back to Hong Kong films of yore include the wacky costuming of some of the supporting characters, including a pair of dudes with dyed yellow fringes and the oversized glasses and frizzy hair on Tiffany Tang, as well as a subtext about gentrication and the loss of local culture to Western capital. But some key characters are underdeveloped, including Bai Bing’s Mayo, who needs to be more overtly sinister than she actually ends up being. Here a bit more of Hong Kong cinema’s over-the-top aesthetic might have served better, as Mayo is flat and one-dimensional instead of truly venal or vicious.
Anthony Wong’s Mountain Ko is similarly underwritten but King Anthony makes it work by sheer dint of his monumental acting skilz. Likewise veteran Chinese actor Ge You makes a good impression, though his part is also only briefly defined. The two old hands have a great throwaway moment in a pool hall where they clearly delineate their competitive brotherhood through just a few subtle gestures, which goes to show how acting chops can elevate a movie beyond superficiality. Alas, these moments are hard to find in the rest of the movie.
Still, as a food-porn movie the film does a good job. The food photography is quite beautiful and in particular the scenes where we follow both Paul and Sky creating their signature dishes are a lot of fun to watch. This may be due to the fact that Nic Tse is a foodie chef in real life and he prepped most of the food himself, so he seems to have a true appreciation for the way that cooking actually works. Yonghwa also acquits himself well in the cooking sequences since he looks like he knows his way around all of the high-tech gear that Paul uses. I especially enjoyed watching Paul create a fancy foie gras dish that illuminated the process as well as the product. At one point Paul adds a bit of sorbet onto the top of a dish and we see him warming the spoon slightly in order to get the frozen scoop to release cleanly, a small detail that nonetheless adds an interesting touch of realism to the proceedings.
Nic Tse wears the same grimy plaid shirt and greasy bandana through most of the film, telegraphing Sky’s realness and street cred. In contrast, Yonghwa’s flawless face and impeccable chef’s uniform add to the impression of the all-around slickness of Stellar. Yonghwa is confident and believable as a high-end chef in a fancy upscale restaurant–he knows he’s good and he’s not afraid to show it. As the leader of CNBLUE Yonghwa has a lot of swagger and he brings that swag to his portrayal of Paul, though not so much that he becomes obnoxious or overbearing. More significantly, as Paul gradually comes to appreciate the joys of Sky’s simpler cooking aesthetic, Yonghwa communicates this transformation through subtle facial expressions and physical gestures. Even though Yonghwa speaks no Chinese he succeeds in imparting Paul’s intentions non-verbally, effectively playing off of his co-stars despite the language barrier.
The whole thing is very beautiful and fun to experience but ultimately a bit superficial. I wonder if a slightly less frenetic pace might have aided the film’s exposition, but director Raymond Yip, a Hong Kong movie stalwart, seems to want to breeze through as many plot points as possible in the film’s ninety-minute running time. The result is a fun romp that could have benefitted from slowing down and adding a few more details and more character development to the proceedings. Still, it’s a good-natured and pleasant timepass. To use a sports metaphor for a food movie, the film didn’t knock it out of the park, but it didn’t strike out either.
NOTE: Originally meant for release in China during the Spring Festival/Lunar New Year holiday, CUAS was pushed back a couple weeks to avoid direct competition with Journey to the West: The Demons Strike Back (JTTW2), Kung Fu Yoga, and a slew of other films that came out during that time. This was smart in some ways because JTTW2 has become one of the highest grossing films of all time in China, but it also means that CUAS didn’t have the no-Hollywood movies ban protecting it, in which China keeps Western films out of theaters during Spring Festival in order make room for local productions. As a result CUAS directly faced the release of the slick Hollywood production xXx: The Return of Xander Cage, which features popular Chinese stars Kris Wu and Donnie Yen. Because of this, as well as so-so word of mouth and the fact that most Chinese were back at work and not going to movies once the film came out, box office for CUAS in China was thus reduced somewhat. Nonetheless CUAS managed to break the RMB100 million mark and its gross in China now stands at around RMB114 million, or around USD16 million. But unfortunately the production costs of the film were around USD34 million, so unless it does phenomenally well in other territories the film won’t make back its original budget.
Another round of international flights, this time on the much more updated Singapore Airlines. Not only does Singapore have a full 1000-plus slate of movies on demand but they have an entire Indian food menu to go with their Chinese and “Western” selections. Since they were out of the chicken mushroom rice noodles by the time they got to my seat, I ordered the chana daal, which came with lime pickle, some outstanding curried vegetables, a rather dry roti, and raita, which beats most U.S. airlines’ food service any day. Alas, they did not have the cup noodles featured on Cathay Pacific flights so my middle-of-the-flight hunger pangs had to be assuaged by a mediocre cold cheese sandwich. But lots of movies on tap!
This 2013 release was a sensation in China last year for all the wrong reasons as it was rated one of the worst movies ever on China’s online discussion forums, douban and baidu. The movie paradoxically was also one of the highest grossing films of the year in China, due to very bad word of mouth, and it indeed lives up to its negative hype. Truly unique and fascinatingly bad, it’s an astoundingly shoddy cinematic construction that plays like a bunch of fancy and expensive set pieces only tentatively linked together by a narrative structure. Genial superstar Andy Lau Tak-Wah portrays a super-spy assigned to crack the case of an arcane art heist involving two halves of a lengendary scroll painting. Along the way the film throws in a quartet of girl assassins on roller skates in clear plastic miniskirts, an obligatory psycho Japanese villain, and many gratuitous Andy-lounging-on-the-beach-in-Dubai shots, as well as fancy aerial shots of a car flying through the air dangling from a helicoptor attached to a magnetic grappler, a surfeit of swordfighting, explosives, and incendiaries, and many, many costume changes. The movie is full of technology fetishism at its best, and Andy Lau gets to be a combination of James Bond and a low-rent Tony Stark, complete with transparent floating holographic computer readouts and ridiculous gadgets. With its illogical leaps in time and space, the movie is great if you think of it either as one long dream sequence or as one long Andy Lau watch commercial.
Red 2 (Lee Byung-Hyun parts only)
Because I was fortunate enough to watch this on a plane I could skip over all but the scenes involving Lee Byung-Hyun, which absolutely elevated my viewing experience. In this one LBH demonstrates his much improved English diction and gets to play out a greatest-hits of Asian male action tropes. In his introductory scene he appears buffed out and naked, back and front, then goes on to assassinate someone with origami while wearing a kimono. Along the way he also brandishes two guns at time in a shootout, displays some high-kicking hung fu, and, in a pretty fun car-chase/shootout, practices a bit of Tokyo-drifting with a gun-toting Helen Mirren. As per usual LBH looks sharp in a tailored suit and holds his own as he grimaces and swaggers with John Malkovich and Bruce Willis. Somehow the audio on my seat-back monitor got switched to Japanese in the last five minutes of the movie so I missed out on all of the banter in the denouement, but I’m sure it was awesome and clever, and it was actually kinda fun seeing Helen Mirren dubbed in Japanese. In my fangirl dreams she and LBH have a thing for each other—spinoff sequel?
I LOVED THIS MOVIE. The best thing I’ve seen in a long time, English Vinglish is a lovely family dramedy anchored by Sridevi’s charming performance as a woman trying to balance between duty and self-worth. Sridevi is brilliant as a beleagured Mumbai mom and housewife who comes into her own on an overseas trip to New York City by herself. I probably also liked it since the main character is a mother on a long trip away from her family, which, seeing as I was on a long trip away from my family, made me feel all sympathetic and stuff. Also, Sridevi wears some of the most excellent floral-print saris I’ve ever seen.
Another winner and another example of the resurgence of commercial Hindi-language cinema (aka Bollywood), Fukrey (“slacker”) is a bit like The Hangover, B’wood-stylee. The plot involves a quartet of Dehli townies who long to attend the local college despite their apparent lack of intellectual gifts. Among those aspiring students are Coocha and Hunny, a pair of cheerful losers who earn their living as dancers in costumed street productions of religious Hindu mythologicals, and who apparently have a foolproof way of predicting winning lottery numbers that involves arcane dream interpretation. Their interplay in particular includes some extremely funny comic moments and the two riff off of each other as deftly as Martin and Lewis. Dreamy musician Zafar is stuck in a rut—three years after graduating college he’s still fruitlessly pursuing his musical aspirations, which causes his sensible and levelheaded girlfriend, who also teaches at said college, no end to angst. Lali works at his dad’s popular restaurant and sweet shop and also aspires to attend the local college, though he currently can only take correspondence courses. Somehow the four protagonists get caught up in an increasingly tangled morass of financial woe, eventually ending up in debt to the tune of 2.5 million rupees to the local drug boss, a toughie named Biphal (the excellent Richa Chadda from Gangs of Wasseypur 1 & 2) who has “Sinderella” tattooed on the back of her neck. The plot twists and turns ala its spiritual predeccesor, the equally clever and irreverent Delhi Belly, making great use of that city’s crowded, dusty locale to accentuate the characters’ sticky situation. The comedy is deft and skillful and, despite many chances for overdoing it, director Mrighdeep Singh Lamba directs with a fairly understated hand. The characters are somewhat broadly drawn at first but become complex and sympathetic and Lamba has excellent and economic visual storytelling skills—his narrative structure and editing cleverly tie together all of the loose ends of the wide-ranging story. This is the best kind of movie to watch on a long plane flight, with a nice long running time that eats up hours, a fun, lighthearted romp of a story, and amusing and likeable characters. Throw in a few quick episodes of song and dance and you have a winner. Great stuff—
An outstanding Tamil-language spy film written and directed by and starring the amazing Kamal Hasan. This is only the second Tamil film I’ve seen (the first having been Puddhupettai, starring the wonderful Danoush,) but it definitely won’t be my last. The film starts off in New York City as an upwardly mobile NRI woman (Pooja Kumar) describes her marital issues to her sympathetic psychologist. Somehow, through a series of complicated and indescribable narrative turns, the film ends up in the middle of an Al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan, where the plot takes a lengthy digression. The story then wends its way back to New York to further explicate links between Al-Quada terrorists, uranium, an oncology lab, and radioactive pigeons. A bomb scare and much frenetic action follows. Lead actor and director Hasan, who gets to show off his hand-to-hand martial arts chops as well as his classical Indian dancing skilz, among many other talents, anchors the film with his charismatic performance as the super-spy with a complicated personal life who wryly notes, “I have a lot of emotional baggage.” The movie’s production values are top-notch, the songs by Shankar, Ehsaan and Loy are outstanding, and the war scenes pull no punches, with men, women and children blown up, shot, strafed, and otherwise becoming collateral damage in the vicious guerilla fighting. The only weak link is Kumar as the clueless wife—she’s not quite able to pull of her character with much conviction, though admittedly she’s not given a lot of to work with.
Ip Man: The Final Fight
I only got to watch the first five minutes of the latest installment in the ongoing Ip Man saga before the in-flight movie system on the plane was shut off. This chapter, directed by stalwart Hong Kong director Herman Lau, chronologically follows the unrelated Donnie Yen pair of Ip Man movies as well as the unrelated Wong Kar-Wai version, The Grandmaster. Yau did direct Ip Man: The Legend Is Born, the prequel starring Dennis To as baby Ip Man, so there might be some thematic continuity there but for the most part the Ips are all running in parallel universes. Since the flight attendants had already confiscated the headphones by the time I started watching the movie it was a silent viewing experience for me, but I did get to see a very nicely staged encounter in which Ip Man challenges an eager young disciple to a battle to knock the grandmaster off of a square of newspaper laid on a kitchen floor. I watched the rest of the movie a few weeks later after I got back home and it didn’t disappoint, as a fun little slice of bygone Hong Kong ala Echoes of the Rainbow. Anthony Wong is great as the middle-aged Ip Man, carrying himself with dignity, grace, and the inimitable Wong Chau-sang swagga. The movie also includes familiar Hong Kong cinema faces including Anita Yuen as Mrs. Ip, Eric Tsang as a rival martial arts master (who has an outstanding duel with Ip Man that’s a marvel of cinematic fight choreography in the way that it makes two non-martial artists look incredibly suave and skilled), and Jordan Chan and Gillian Chung (yes, that Gillian Chung) as a couple of Ip Man’s disciples. In the face of the continued encroachment of China’s commercial film industry on the Hong Kong moviemaking world, it’s nice to see a genuine HK film with actual Cantonese dialogue (albeit with Ip Man and Mrs. Ip feigning broad Foshan accents). Bonus points for Anthony Wong not being afraid to play an old, albeit very cool, dude.
2010 was a busy year for Francis Ng. Just out of the gate on New Year’s Day, Francis made headlines across Asia when he and his Singaporean wife got into a tiff with another customer at a Hong Kong bakery. Apparently Francis’ wife complained when a worker sweeping the floor started getting dust on the baked goods. She and the worker got into it, then another patron jumped into the fray, mouthing off to the missus and possibly pushing her to the floor. Francis, who had been waiting in the car with his 1-year-old kid, heard the commotion, charged into the bakery, and allegedly grabbed the offending customer by the neck and slapped him upside the head. Photos from the scene showed the guy with a bloodied ear and Francis’ wife clutching her damaged hipbone. Francis went to the police station, everyone else went to the hospital, and the Asian press had a field day.
Francis was charged with assault, although he claimed he was only trying to protect his wife. No doubt the best thing about the incident was that it was re-enacted in one of Next Media’s renowned computer animation sequences for Apple Daily News in Taiwan, with Francis joining Tiger Woods, Lindsey Lohan, and other disgraced luminaries in CGI-rendered infamy.
Netizens were fairly divided on the topic, with some giving props to Francis for chivalrously supporting his wife and others chiding him for his straight-up thuggin’. His Hong Kong movie pals also leapt to his defense, with Michael “Laughing Gor” Tse claiming, “It is a man’s duty to protect his girl. I would have stepped up as well.”
The case dragged on until April when Francis pled guilty to “wounding” and was fined HK $10,000. At his final court appearance Francis looked particularly unhappy, dressed in a brown suit and wearing unflattering black glasses that made him look like a vaguely sinister high school chemistry teacher.
For better or worse, Francis laid low for a while, avoiding appearing in public in Hong Kong. Professionally he kept busy, shooting three films (Wind Blast, Midnight Beating, and The Warring States) in quick succession in mainland China.
But by fall the beatdown incident was mostly forgotten and Francis enjoyed a resurgence of popularity.
Wind Blast was released at the end of October and was the number one film in China for three weeks running, knocking Tsui Hark’s Detective Dee and the Phantom Flame out of the top spot and earning in excess of RMB 68 million.
The hybridized gangster flick/Western set in the Gobi Desert featured elaborate action sequences including a dusty chase scene involving a Jeep Cherokee, a couple horses, and a gigantic yellow dump truck. Francis in particular was lauded for his portrayal of a world-weary, conflicted bounty hunter and he stole the show from a cast of mainland movie stars including Wu Jing, Duan Yihong, and Ni Dahong. His character’s distinctive red leather jacket briefly became a icon and Francis modeled variations on the theme in a couple high-fashion photo shoots.
Francis also landed on the cover of the Chinese fashion magazine Mr. Mode, sporting a black double-breasted trench coat and a little moue that his good buddy Anthony Wong then ruthlessly parodied for a Chinese newspaper.
Francis later was photographed in Beijing shopping for presents for his kid’s second birthday, which further ingratiated him to the public in China and Hong Kong. He made guest appearances on Chinese television showing off his improving putonghua skills and modeled his natty b-boy wardrobe and continually changing hairstyles in the Chinese press. He also appeared at an event for Jet Li’s One Foundation charity that benefitted autistic children,which further rehabilitated his public rep.
But Francis made the news one more time at the very end of the year. In early December several pictures showed up on the interwebs of what appeared to be Francis getting busy with an unnamed young woman, harkening back to the infamous “sexy photogate” scandal that sank Edison Chen’s career.
News agencies across China gleefully flashed the pix around the ‘net and it seemed like Francis had again been caught with his pants down (see Ellen Chen karaoke oopsie). However, upon closer examination it was apparent that the photos were stills from Midnight Beating, Francis’ upcoming low-budget horror flick (also starring Simon Yam and a quartet of Chinese starlets) and that the woman in question was in fact Francis’ co-star. Cheap publicity stunt or honest mistake?
At any rate, Midnight Beating was released on Christmas Eve and even up against heavy-hitters like Jiang Wen’s Let The Bullets Fly and Feng Xiaomeng’s If You Are The One 2, the cheapie screamfest made a respectable showing at the box office (before it showed up a couple weeks later on the torrent streams, of course).
Francis has subsequently finished shooting Love Island (also starring Simon Yam, Chang Cheh, and Joan Chen, among many others) and Traffic (with this year’s Golden Horse Best Actress Lu Li-ping, and Wind Blast’s Ni Dahong), and he’s on board for A Land Without Boundaries in 2011. Due out in April is The Warring States, Francis’ first period costume film, and its publicity machine is already revving up. The film promises to be a flashy extravaganza, with Francis and co-star Sun Honglei duking it out for the title of most badass.
All in all it’s been an eventful year for our boy Francis, who’s shown an uncanny ability to bounce back from public brawling, internet scorn, bad hair, and myriad other obstacles. Like a cat, Francis just keeps landing on his feet.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Horace Slughorn: Eric Tsang. He’s got the smarmy gladhanding dialed in.
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!
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.
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?
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.
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.
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
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.
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–
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
After several months of quiescence, the Edison Chen sex photo scandal has reared its salacious head again. I’ve resisted writing about it because God knows you can get plenty of information about it elsewhere, but recently this blog has been slammed with hits from people searching “edison chen sex photos” and related terms, even though a previous post only briefly mentioned our boy Edison. It’s probably not significant traffic but it shows that the the subject is still one of the hottest ones on the internets even a year after the whole scandal broke in January 2008. Last year in China Edison Chen was most-searched subject on google and yahoo, ahead of the Beijing Olympics, facebook and iphone. Suffice to say that the Hong Kong public and the media were pretty overexcited by the whole event since it involved pop stars, nudity, adultery, and sex.
Now that Edison’s in a Vancouver court starting to spill the beans about the incident, his fellow erstwhile naked Hong Kong celebrities Gillian Chung and Cecilia Cheung have also started to surface and blab about the whole thing again. Full details as well as hundreds of images from the scandal can be easily found elsewhere but needless to say that last winter the Hong Kong media had a field day when naked sex pictures of several of their beloved idols flooded the internet, all from the misappropriated laptop of rising pretty-boy actor Edison Chen. After about a monthlong firestorm during which a seemingly endless number of the amateur-porny pictures popped up on the web, the whole incident climaxed (sorry) with a grim-faced Chen announcing his retirement from Hong Kong entertainment in order to devote time to “charity work” in Canada. Not to mention fleeing the pissed-off Hong Kong triad members who wanted to chop off one of his hands for killing the careers of several of golden-egg layers like Gillian and Cecilia.
Gillian, aka Ah Gil, aka one half of the phenomenally popular Cantopop girl group The Twins, is now testing the waters for a comeback after last year’s sleazy & unflattering pictures of her and little Edison in flagrante delicto annihilated her image as a squeaky clean Jade Girl. At a recent fashion shoot several smart-ass Hong Kong truck drivers heckled her as she left the photo studio, calling her “naïve Gil.” Maybe she needs to wait a bit longer until things die down some more.
Meanwhile, Cecilia Cheung, aka 2003 Hong Kong Film Awards Best Actress, aka wife of fellow superstar Nic Tse, has come out of hiding with a high-profile interview on Hong Kong television in which she calls Edison a fake, a hypocrite and a liar. Hey, Cece, what do you really think about him?
For his part, Edison has claimed that he would do “anything” to protect “the ladies” involved, though exactly what that might entail is sketchy. In the meantime he’s publically named five of his partners in the pictures for the first time and claimed that several of the photos were actually taken by the women in question. Way to blame the victim, dude.
He’s also been quietly trying to revive his acting career–his 2008 movie The Sniper, which was delayed after last year’s naughty pictures surfaced, is playing at the Hong Kong International Film Festival next month and he recently made an appearance at a Singapore Carl’s Jr., though of course he’ll be donating all proceeds “to charity.” Edison’s mom has also spoken up in support of her boy, saying that Edison would rather go to jail to protect “the girls.” Huh, no kidding.
Anyways, I doubt that a media ho like Edison will be able to resist the spotlight for long. We’ll see how the Hong Kong public responds and if fans forgive and forget, or if they continue to excoriate poor Edison and his compatriots. Either way I guarantee the Hong Kong media will be all over this story until we’re all heartily sick of it.
More on this as it develops, or not, depending on how intense and tedious the media hype becomes.
UPDATE: A quick shout-out to the venerable Hong Kong Movie Database Daily News forum, which provided most of the links and images in this posting. Thanks for being you.
UPDATE 2: Okay, a quick update after a flurry of useless overreporting. Some killjoy has sent Edison Chen a bullet via the US Mail accompanied by a death threat stating, “We hope Edison Chen will take this warning seriously, otherwise his personal safety will be threatened,” and goes on to make more unfriendly remarks about Edison and his well-being. The ever-sensible Anthony Wong Chau-Sang, who is Edison’s godfather, commented, “This time they send a bullet, next time they send a bomb?… When I meet Edison for a meal he will have to wear a bullet-proof vest and helmet!” Anthony had previously warned Edison to stay out of Hong Kong or he’d kick his ass. Tough love from the Bunman.