Posts tagged ‘pang ho-cheung’

New Power Generation: Jia Zhangke and Lunar New Year films 2019

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Jiang hu, Ash Is Purest White, 2018

This has been an interesting few weeks in Chinese-language cinema screenings here in the Bay. This is due in part to the recent Lunar New Year/Spring Festival holiday in China and related territories, during which a whole slew of new movies were released to capitalize on the extended vacays of most people during that time. Because of the glut in product and the large Chinese-speaking population in the Bay Area, a select few of those releases made it across the Pacific to San Francisco movie houses. Coupled with an extended series of films by one of China’s premier arthouse directors, this meant that I managed to catch many Sinophone films in the month of February.

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Cameos, Missbehavior, 2019

I started my Lunar New Year viewings with Pang Ho-Cheung’s Missbehavior, one of two Hong Kong films that made it to San Francisco in February. (Sadly, I missed the other one, Felix Chong’s action thriller Integrity, due to scheduling conflicts). Pang is Hong Kong’s 21st century bad-boy auteur who’s racked up a number of well-received hits including Isabella, Vulgaria, Aberdeen, and his Love In A Puff series that stars Miriam Cheung and Shawn Yue. Miss Behavior is a low-budget quickie that carries on in the best tradition of New Year’s films, with a big cast with many famous people making cameos, a lighthearted comic tone, and a lowbrow sensibility including an extended sequence of the glamorous Dada Chen discussing her bowel movements. Though it’s not one of Pang’s deepest or most thoughtful films (the setup involves a group of friends frantically trying to locate a bottle of breast milk) the narrative  is actually very well-constructed and it moves along at a good clip, briskly shuffling its many characters in and out and climaxing with a free-for-all in a big ol’ shopping mall after hours.

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Spectacular, The Wandering Earth, 2019

On the other end of the production-values spectrum is China’s very first foray into the big-budget science fiction genre, The Wandering Earth (Frant Gwo). Based on a short story by well-known Chinese author Liu Cixin, the movie is a big, spectacular piece of moviemaking that rivals anything that Hollywood has put out lately. Although there are no aliens, the film does include huge vistas of spinning planets, individuals at peril in space and planetside, spaceships and other hardware exploding, random science-babble, and other markers of every sci-fi movie of recent vintage. The production design is also on point, portraying an Earth of the near future as dark, chaotic, and polluted (not unlike modern-day Beijing).

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Collectivism, The Wandering Earth, 2019

But at heart it’s a Chinese production, emphasizing collectivism over individuality and the importance of very long-range goals. Also of note is the absence of almost any US presence to speak of—in China’s futuristic vision everyone speaks Mandarin, Russian, French or Japanese, and most of the planetside action takes place in China or other Asian countries. A massive box office hit in China, the film grossed more than US$300 million in its first weekend of release and has gone on to an impressive haul of more than US$650 million worldwide in just under four weeks.

And on a different tip entirely was the Jia Zhangke series at SFMOMA and BAM/PFA that included Jia himself in person at two of the screenings (a delayed plane flight prevented him making a scheduled third appearance at a show earlier in the series). The series included every one of Jia’s feature films (documentaries and narratives both), as well as films by other directors that have had some direct influence on his work.

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Underbelly, Unknown Pleasures, 2002

Some of the pairings worked really well together such as the double-bill including Jia’s Unknown Pleasures (2002) and Hou Hsiao-hsien’s The Boys From Fengkuei (1983), both of which looked at aimless young people wandering through life. Jia’s film explores the seamy side of China, with Jia using the under-construction highway between Datong & Beijing as a visual metaphor for the rough underbelly of China’s economic miracle. A prequel of sorts to Jia’s latest film, Ash Is Purest White (2018), it follows an emo pretty boy in love triangle with the chanteuse Qiao Qiao (played by Jia’s wife and frequent collaborator Zhao Tao) and her boyfriend, a low-rent loan shark mobster.

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Ennui, The Boys From Fengkuei, 1983

In contrast, Hou’s film is quiet and still compared to the barely restrained chaos of Jia’s movie. As opposed to the undercurrent of grinding industrial cacophony in Unknown Pleasures, the sound of lapping waves is an aural backdrop to most of the action in a small seaside town where group of young dudes hang out and try to find meaning in their lives. They eventually end up in Kaohshiung, the closest city to their tiny coastal burg, where more ennui and confusion awaits.

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Rivers and lakes, Ash Is Purest White, 2018

Other film matchups at SFMOMA were more loosely connected—for instance, according to the programmers Tokyo Story (Yasujiro Ozu, 1953) was paired with 24 City (Jia Zhangke, 2009) for the sole reason that both films are about cities. Similarly, the programmers grouped I Wish I Knew (Jia Zhangke, 2010), Spring In A Small Town (Fei Mu, 1948), and Flowers of Shanghai (Hou Hsiao-hsien, 1998), three wildly disparate movies, because they are all set in Shanghai. But the smart pairing of Johnny To’s Election (2005) and Jia’s Ash Is Purest White cleverly focused on the jiang hu, the criminal underworld in both Hong Kong and China.

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Chinatown new wave, Chan Is Missing, 1982

The series also matched up Jia films with non-Asian movies, such as Robert Bresson’s Pickpocket with Jia’s Xiao Wu (a show that Jia introduced himself at SFMOMA). And props for including Chinese American director Wayne Wang’s Chan Is Missing (1982), which evokes the nouvelle vague by way of San Francisco’s Chinatown.

I’m happy that I was able to squeeze in a bunch of screenings in the mini-hiatus from editing my film, Love Boat: Taiwan, because the next four weeks or so will be solely dedicated to finishing up the movie for its world premiere in early May. More info soon on this, but please go here if you want to find out about Love Boat: Taiwan and how you can support it .

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Ash Is Purest White opens theatrically on March 15 at Landmark’s Embarcadero Center Cinema in San Francisco and Landmark’s Shattuck Cinema in Berkeley, and on March 22 at AMC Mercado in Santa Clara, CNMK Fremont 8 in East Bay, and CNMK Milpitas 20 in San Jose.

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March 3, 2019 at 4:14 am Leave a comment

Lovesexy: Vulgaria film review

DaDa Chen gives it her all, Vulgaria, 2012

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

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

Ronald Cheng in sequins, Vulgaria, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vulgaria

opens Sept. 28

AMC Metreon 16

101 Fourth Street

San Francisco, CA

September 28, 2012 at 6:24 am 3 comments

Between Love & Hate: Love In The Buff and Marrying Mr. Perfect film reviews

Cherie & Jimmy living it up, Love In The Buff, 2012

Two romantic comedies that I saw on my trip to Hong Kong radically demonstrate two different aspects of popular Hong Kong movies today, and are possible indicators of the fate of the local film scene. Although once upon a time loyal Hong Kong audiences ardently supported local film productions, in the past ten or fifteen years interlopers first from Hollywood and now mainland China have been chipping away at the once indomitable Hong Kong film industry.

Pang Ho-Cheung’s Love in the Buff, the sequel to his 2010 film Love in a Puff, is a funny, smart flick that picks up shortly after the first film ends. The first film perfectly captured the irreverent lifestyle and language of young adults in Hong Kong and the sequel continues in the same vein. Instead of locating itself smack dab in the middle of Hong Kong’s young urban professional milieu, the film is set both in Hong Kong and Beijing, probably due co-production regulations as well as an attempt to appeal to the massive mainland Chinese audience. Yet despite the change in locale, the movie retains the kicky, profane humor that was so fun in the original. This is due in part to strong performances throughout the film as well as Pang’s clever script and sharp eye for the sleek yet realistic urban landscapes of the two cities.

Luv 'n' hate, with watermelon, Love In The Buff, 2012

In the sequel, protagonists Jimmy and Cherie face more difficulties in their romantic relationship, as they split up at the beginning of the movie (no spoiler here as it happens pretty early on). Both individually end up in Beijing as they follow their jobs to China’s capital city, and both begin new relationships there, but despite their best efforts they can’t seem to keep away from each other. Pang’s script arranges for a few key supporting Hong Kong characters to travel there with them so that the salty vernacular and attitude of the first movie remains intact. Miriam Yeung as Cherie is particularly outstanding as the foul-mouthed city girl stuck on Shawn Yue’s childlike Jimmy. There are also some extremely funny cameos that cannot be revealed without spoiling the fun but suffice to say that they’re cleverly utilized. One in particular resolves the storyline of ugly duckling Brenda (June Lam Siu-Ha) from Love In A Puff in an especially hilarious yet surprisingly heartwarming way.

Pang does a great job capturing the passionate and illogical attraction between Jimmy and Cherie, and places his main characters in a groovy contemporary milieu, surrounding them with fun and interesting supporting characters. It’s no wonder the movie has been going like gangbusters at the local box office, as its portrayal of contemporary Hong Kongers is flattering and appealing. In its opening weekend in Hong Kong Love In The Buff has grossed more than HK$5 million, making it a bona fide hit, and it opened here in the U.S. this weekend to positive reviews across the board.

Awwwww! Ronald Cheng & Gigi Leung, Marrying Mr. Perfect, 2012

On the flipside, while I was in Hong Kong I saw Wong Jing’s latest comic effort, Marrying Mr. Perfect, which stars Ronald Cheng, Gigi Leung, Chapman To, Eric Tsang, and Sandra Ng. With a cast like that it seems like the movie couldn’t help but be pretty funny but alas it was a fairly tepid and formulaic affair, with mistaken identities, catty office politics, and other contrivances making up most of the dumb storyline. All of the above actors have comic chops to spare but here they have to strain for laughs against the idiotic and derivative script. Apparently Wong Jing has lined up some hefty mainland China co-production financing for his next film projects, but if this is the future of Hong Kong filmmaking then things are looking pretty bleak.

I saw Marrying Mr. Perfect at a Sunday afternoon show with a bunch of local Hong Kong movie fans including bloggers and podcasters Paul Fox, Sean Tierney and Glenn Griffith, Ross (Kozo) Chen and Kevin Ma from lovehkfilm.com, and film programmer and writer Tim Youngs, on one of their weekly jaunts to see the latest Hong Kong releases. Afterwards we all spent teatime at the downmarket food court in the otherwise ultra-posh Elements mall and commiserated about the sorry state of Hong Kong films that this picture represented. Besides the seven of us there were about five other people in the small theater and the posters and trailers in the cinema were all for Hollywood movies like The Avengers (except for a trailer for another HK product, Love Lifting, which features Elanne Kong as a heartbroken Olympic weightlifter. Despite its sappy-looking premise the film actually made some money at the HK box office last week).

Chapman To working it, Marrying Mr. Perfect, 2012

This group of HK film aficionados echoed what other friends told me while I was in the SAR; to wit, no one in Hong Kong goes to Hong Kong movies any more. My buddy Jay had never heard of either Love In A Puff or its sequel, although he’s a pretty media-savvy guy, and another friend confessed that he only goes to see Hollywood product. If cheesy goods like Marrying Mr. Perfect are all that the Hong Kong film industry had to offer then it’s not surprising that local films can’t draw a local audience. But Ann Hui’s A Simple Life has been selling out theaters since its release a few weeks ago, and Love In The Buff  is also making some bank, so maybe it’s just a case of Hong Kong moviegoers no longer tolerating crappy local products like they used to.

Pretty people, Love In The Buff, 2012

It’s sad that there’s little brand loyalty for the indigenous film scene, but Hong Kong audiences have probably gotten accustomed to the high-gloss commercial fare from around the world that makes its way to local theaters. Last year two of the biggest films in HK were Aamir Khan’s Bollywood hit 3 Idiots and Giddens Ko’s Taiwan youth flick You Are The Apple Of My Eye, and of course most Hollywood blockbusters show up in HK cinemas as well. Interestingly enough, the films with more local flavor, including A Simple Life, Clement Chang’s Gallants, and Alex Law’s Echoes of the Rainbow, have successfully struck a chord with local audiences, so maybe the local film industry isn’t completely dead. With the restrictive requirements of mainland China co-productions threatening to further choke off the Hong Kong movie scene it will be interesting to see in the next few years whether an unadulterated Hong Kong movie aesthetic can survive.

Love In  The Buff now playing:

 AMC Metreon 16

101 Fourth St. San Francisco, CA 94103

AMC Cupertino Square 16

10123 North Wolfe Road, Cupertino, California

March 31, 2012 at 6:34 am 5 comments


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