Posts tagged ‘francis ng’

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

The Hong Kong Spice Boys, Exiled, 2007

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

In reverse order:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. Shaolin Soccer, dir. Stephen Chow, 2001

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Exiled, dir. Johnnie To, 2007

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

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

January 1, 2010 at 9:53 pm 11 comments

Have You Heard The News? Recent Updates

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

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

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

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

Pahole Sookkasikon, Mr. Hyphen 2009

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

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

Detail of large poster

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

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

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

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

Zhang Hanyu burns it up

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



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

November 29, 2009 at 7:36 am 7 comments

What We All Want: Milestones, Smut, and Shahrukh Khan

Best-Actor-Shahrukh-Khan-1

SRK forgets to wear a shirt

Holy cow! After less than a year of existence this blog reached  100,000 hits this week. Coincidentally, this week also marked Shahrukh Khan’s 44th birthday, which is only significant because SRK is one of the main reasons for the healthy traffic on this site. Along with fellow semi-naked movie star Edison Chen, SRK’s posts have received fully one-quarter of the total visits to this blog. Nothing like a little celebrity skin to draw an audience–

Interestingly enough, the next-most-popular posts are about the Star Trek reboot and the Tiananmen Square tank man, so it’s not just thrill-seekers stopping by. Other popular search topics are fairly diverse, including Kinatay, Brillante Mendoza’s controversial new flick, asiansartmuseum’s parody website Lord, It’s The Samurai, the late Pinoy poet Al Robles, and President Obama’s brother-in-law Konrad Ng.

bobo-chan-edison-chen-pics

Good friends Edison Chen & Bobo Chun, naked, 2007

But the double-barreled combination of a starkers Badshaah of Bollywood and Edison Chen’s sexual escapades are the all-time hit kings here on this site. Considering the popularity of on-line porn, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that people would be so fascinated with looking at their favorite actors in the altogether. When I started blogging it wasn’t my intention to be a way station for pictures of bare-assed Asian movie stars, and I don’t think I’ve catered to that need too flagrantly, but I’ll take the traffic however it comes.

Probably only a fraction of the flesh-seekers explore the site any further but I’d like to think that I’ve lured a couple unwary readers into my clutches with promises of semi-nude celebrities, then pried open their brains and poured in some radical knowledge. For me one of the great joys of blogging is throwing my random thoughts up on the web, without knowing how they’ll be received or who’s going to come across them, then seeing how they play out. I have to say that I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.

west wind francis ng

There's a new sheriff in town, Francis Ng, Fierce West Wind, 2010

PS: Just because I can, here’s a nice picture of Francis Ng in his upcoming movie Fierce West Wind. He plays a bounty hunter in what looks like a classic Eastern Western. Cowboy Francis! Be still, my heart–

November 6, 2009 at 1:26 am 6 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

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

Nick Cheung with wonky eye, The Beast Stalker, 2009

Nick Cheung and wonky eye, The Beast Stalker, 2008

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

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

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

Lau Ching-Wan shoots straight, Full Alert, 1997

Lau Ching-Wan shoots straight, Full Alert, 1997

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 15, 2009 at 5:40 am 2 comments

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

A God And A King: Chow Yun-Fat and Shah Rukh Khan

Chow Yun-Fat sparks it up, A Better Tomorrow, 1986

Chow Yun-Fat sparks it up, A Better Tomorrow, 1986

After viewing Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi, my first Shah Rukh Khan film, at this year’s San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival, I’ve been happily watching as many of his films as I can get my hands on. Since I’ve been living under a rock since my first daughter was born in 2000 I’d never had the pleasure of viewing one of Khan’s movies, though I’d heard of him before. His dominance in the Hindi-language film market reminds me of the heyday of Chow Yun-Fat, another flamboyant and charismatic actor who in his prime ruled supreme over his film industry and who in the 1980s and 90s was the undisputed lord of Chinese-language cinema. However, Shah Rukh Khan’s fate may be very different than Chow’s, as he’s so far chosen a different career trajectory than his suave Chinese counterpart.

The King of Bollywood looking suave, 2009

King Khan looking suave, 2009

Khan, also know as SRK or King Khan to his fans, is the reigning monarch of Bollywood, India’s Hindi-language commercial film business that turns out movie musical extravaganzas by the hundreds every year and that’s one of the biggest film industries in the world. Khan is by nature an exuberant, flashy actor who’s also able to turn in more subtle performances as befits the role he’s playing. Like most Bollywood stars he’s also an excellent dancer and he’s got great comic timing as well. Not to mention dramatically arched eyebrows, dimples to die for and a recently buffed-out bod featuring a killer six-pack. Shah Rukh Khan’s first name literally translates as “face of the king” so it’s fitting that he’s the top actor in Bollywood. The 43-year-old performer has appeared in over sixty films since breaking into the scene in 1992, including Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, which has been running continuously in Mumbai theaters for a record-breaking 700 weeks since its release in 1995. Khan’s won seven Filmfare Best Actor statues as well as many other Indian film awards and his name is a virtual guarantee of box-office success throughout the subcontinent and beyond.

CYF in his prime, The Killer, 1987

CYF in his prime, The Killer, 1989

Similarly, from 1976-1995 Chow Yun-Fat appeared in more than 70 films in his native territory of Hong Kong and he was the standard-bearer for the heyday of Hong Kong cinema in the 1980s and 90s. His easy charm and screen presence, graceful athleticism and overall hotness garnered him huge critical and popular acclaim in classics like A Better Tomorrow, Hard-Boiled, and The Killer (all directed by John Woo), as well as City On Fire, Prison On Fire, and Full Contact (Ringo Lam), God of Gamblers and God of Gamblers Returns (Wong Jing), and An Autumn’s Tale (Mabel Cheung) and All About Ah-Long (Johnnie To). He was nominated ten times for Best Actor at the Hong Kong Film Awards, with three wins, for A Better Tomorrow (1986), City On Fire (1987), and All About Ah-Long (1989). Like Shah Rukh Khan, his name on the bill meant surefire ticket sales, not only in Hong Kong but throughout most of Asia. At that time the native film industries of Korea, Thailand, Vietnam and other Asian territories had not yet fully developed and audiences depended on Hong Kong imports for much of their cinematic fare. Chow was Asia’s biggest movie star and was commonly known as the “God of Actors.”

Thai Chow, Anna and the King, 1999

Thai Chow, Anna and the King, 1999

In 1997, Chow decided to try his luck in Hollywood, hoping to parlay his huge popularity in Asia into a successful career in the West. Things initially looked promising, with the Los Angeles Times declaring him “the coolest actor in the world,” before he had even appeared in a Hollywood movie. But his first U.S. films, including The Replacement Killers, The Corruptor, and Anna and the King, were less than successful and since then the roles he’s gotten have been a mixed bag. Hollywood has never really figured out what to do with Chow, as evidenced by his relatively paltry output of only nine movies in the twelve years since his trek across the Pacific (compared to his starring in ten films in Hong Kong in both 1986 and 1987 each). He’s been in a few successful films, including Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but his highest-grossing Hollywood film to date has been Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World’s End, where he played a sinister Fu Manchu-type character that was such a stereotypical caricature that the Chinese government trimmed ten minutes of his performance “for vilifying and defacing the Chinese” before allowing the film to screen in China.

Chow Hawai'ian, Dragonball: Evolution, 2009

Chow Hawai'ian, Dragonball: Evolution, 2009

CYF’s most recent film, Dragonball: Evolution, is a supporting, Mr. Miyagi-type role that’s a far cry from the towering heroes of his prime. Chow is obviously cognizant of his disappointing travails in Hollywood. In a recent tour of Asia in support of Dragonball: Evolution, he noted, “American audiences know only Chinese kung-fu movies and nothing else about us, and I am not a kung-fu actor. We (Asian actors) don’t get any non-kung-fu or non-gangster/fighting offers. We only get Asian-specific roles. They don’t offer anything non-ethnic to us, not like they would do for Denzel Washington or Will Smith.”  Chow has recently returned to Hong Kong cinema, appearing in Ann Hui’s The Postmodern Life of My Aunt (2006). His next role is the lead in the Chinese biopic of Confucius, the seminal Chinese philosopher and scholar, which began shooting this week.

Buff, toned and cut Shah Rukh Khan, Om Shanti Om, 2008

Buff, toned and cut Shah Rukh Khan, Om Shanti Om, 2008

At 43 years old Shah Rukh Khan is now about the same age as was Chow Yun-Fat when he left Hong Kong in 1997 to try to conquer Hollywood. Khan is at the top of his game both as an actor and as a producer, with his Red Chillies Entertainment putting out hit movies like 2008’s Om Shanti Om, which is the second-highest grossing Bollywood film of all time. In 2008 Newsweek named him one of the 50 most influential people in the world (Barack Obama topped the list).

With his fluent English and charisma to burn it might seem like SRK could be a crossover performer, yet when asked if he’s likely to try his hand breaking into Hollywood, Khan is philosophical, noting, “It’s not like Steven Spielberg is waiting with a script for me. I don’t think I’ll ever be offered a great international film in my lifetime, so I’d rather be a king here.”  However, SRK fans spotted him paired as a presenter with Slumdog Millionaire star Freida Pinto at the last Golden Globe Awards and in front of an international television audience he came off like a champ.

Khan may also be approaching Hollywood from a different angle, as a mogul rather than as a performer. At one point there were reports that Walt Disney Productions planned to invest $30 million in Khan’s Red Chillies production house. This might ultimately give him more creative control over any roles he might take in Hollywood, since money talks in Tinseltown.

I can’t help but think that SRK has learned something by observing Chow Yun-Fat’s frustrating attempts to break into the top ranks of Hollywood. Other Hong Kong actors also seem to have been watching Chow’s painful efforts and are either approaching Hollywood with caution or are sidestepping it altogether. Comedy superstar Stephen Chow Sing-Chi so far has simply re-packaged his HK product for the U.S. market (Shaolin Soccer; Kung Fu Hustle), though at one point he was slated to star in and direct the big-screen version of The Green Hornet. Instead of braving Hollywood, Francis Ng has polished up his Mandarin and is mostly taking roles in Mainland China productions. And the numbers of Asian American actors who have had to flee from the U.S. to Asia to find success are legion, including Daniel Wu, Daniel Henney, and of course Bruce Lee. Although times are changing and Slumdog Millionaire won Oscar’s Best Picture this year, roles for Asian lead actors are still non-existent in Hollywood (sorry, John Cho). If Chow Yun-Fat, God of Actors, with his mind-blowing charisma, talent, and good looks, has had to struggle to make it in the U.S. and is relegated to crappy films like Bulletproof Monk, why should lesser mortals expect any better?

NOTE: Thanks to my colleague Marlon Hom for the Chow Yun-Fat interview translation.

UPDATE: Rumor alert! I just heard that Chow Yun-Fat is possibly slated to portray Sun Yat-Sen in the new Peter Chan-produced HK blockbuster, Bodyguards & Assassins. No link yet–will update when confirmed.

UPDATE 2: Alas, rumors about CYF playing Sun Yat-Sen were inaccurate. He decided to take the part in Confucius instead. Though I’m sure he would’ve been great as both Chinese icons. Now Leon Lai Ming is rumored to be Sun Yat-Sen, which would probably suck, since Lai Ming is boring, can’t act and has no charisma. But he’s tall, so maybe that’s all that matters.

UPDATE 3: Maybe SRK is heeding Hollywood’s siren song after all. Reports state that he’s angling to meet “serious” film director Deepa Mehta in hopes of landing a role in one of her arthouse flicks, the better to possibly attract the attention of Oscar voters in the near future. If this is indeed true, let’s hope that King Khan fares better than CYF in his dalliance with Hollywood.

UPDATE 4: Go here to read about my night with Shah Rukh Khan, as an extra on his latest film, My Name Is Khan.

Here are a couple Shah Rukh Khan musical numbers for your viewing pleasure.

Dard E Disco (Pain of Disco), from Om Shanti Om:

Suraj Hua Maddham, from Kabhi Kushi Kabhie Gham, with Kajol:

April 1, 2009 at 5:39 am 25 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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