Posts tagged ‘stephen chow sing-chi’
The Spring Festival (aka Lunar New Year) holiday just passed in China and as a result some of the biggest films of the year have been released in the past two weeks. Jackie Chan’s newest, Kung Fu Yoga, which reteams him with director Stanley Tong (Rumble In The Bronx; Police Story 3 & 4) for the first time in many years, opened during Spring Festival, as did comedian Wang Baoqiang’s directorial debut, Buddies in India, and the two films earned US$44 million and US$38.5 respectively in the opening weekend of the holiday. But the box office champ from that period, Journey to the West: The Demons Strike Back (aka JTTW2) dwarfed those figures, bringing in $85 million and setting a record in China for a local film’s first day grosses by earning $52.5 million. Directed by Tsui Hark from a script by Stephen Chow, JTTW2 also opened with a day-and-date release in North America.
Although its take in the US was much smaller, grossing only $605,049 in it first week of release, JTTW2 averaged a respectable $9,000 per screen, which put it in the top five in that ranking (I Am Not Your Negro was number one). So Stephen Chow and Tsui Hark still have some pull in the Chinese American market, a niche that is still being mined by distributors such as China Lion, Wellgo, and Magnum Films, which handled JTTW2.
Some reviewers have panned the film but as evidenced by its record-breaking box office the Chinese filmgoing populace disagreed, and I also quite enjoyed its funhouse ride. The sequel to Stephen Chow’s 2013 blockbuster Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons, this one follows the further adventures of Monk Tang as he travels with Sun Wukong, aka the Monkey King, and his bestial buddies Pigsy and Sandy. A crazed romp through the CGI-enhanced mind of Tsui Hark, JTTW2 works just fine if you free yourself of any expectations and let the film’s madness sweep over you.
For example, Director Tsui throws in a dash of Indiaphilia in the film’s brief intro set in a tiny city on the subcontinent as well as snippets of what sounds like a remix of the soundtrack to his 1993 classic Green Snake on the audio track. He also confounds expectations by including several white people as extras in the imaginary Indian city as well as in the kingdom of Biqiu, a clever mindtwister that exemplifies Tsui’s sideways-thinking moviemaking.
Whereas the last installment in the rival Journey To The West franchise, The Monkey King, was cheaply designed and instantly forgettable, in JTTW2 the art direction by Yoshihito Akatsuka is gorgeous and goes on for miles. Among the jaw-dropping images cramming the film frame are huge floating paper-mache creatures, a man-fish shapeshifter who spends a large part of the film in his pescatorean manifestation, and elaborate, multi-textured set designs that recall the best of Hieronymus Bosch. Female characters take on a particularly hallucinogenic appearance, with elaborate coifs, fancy eyebrows, and visages that morph from the beautiful to the grotesque in a flash as when several femme fatales suddenly become huge arachnid demons.
I really liked Lin Gengxin’s take on the Monkey King, who he plays with a gangsta swagger instead of the customary simian tics. Ex-EXO member Kris Wu is fine as Monk Tang but his characterization is missing the guileless sweetness that Wen Zhang brought to the role in the previous film. The ne plus ultra evil female villain (played by Yao Chen) harkens back to Carina Lau’s formidable take as the Empress in Hark’s Detective Dee series but without Lau’s majestic imperiousness. Jelly Lin (who debuted in Stephen Chow’s 2016 blockbuster The Mermaid) as Monk Tang’s love interest Felicity is pretty and charming, but when juxtaposed with Shu Qi’s much more feisty character from the last film she seems as filmy and slight as her gauzy costume.
Tsui does a great job using IMAX 3D to immerse the viewer in the film’s universe. I’m the kind of person who went to see Inception twice just to see the stereoscopic teardrops floating through space, so I’m a sucker for the overloaded visual experience that JTTW2 delivers in spades. But if you’re hoping for character development, a coherent narrative, or emotionally connected interpersonal relationships you’re probably shopping at the wrong store. Still, it’s a lot more fun that most Hollywood CGI fests due to Tsui Hark’s unique and vivid cinematic imagination. If you’re looking for a couple hours of maniacal visual stimulation leavened with Stephen Chow’s twisted sense of humor then JTTW2 is your movie.
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 a quick note about this year’s Hong Kong Film Awards, which took place this Saturday. Wilson Yip’s biopic Ip Man, about the martial arts legend, took Best Picture, with Ann Hui winning Best Director for The Way We Are, her docudrama about the New Territories town of Tin Shui Wai. The Way We Are, with its mostly non-professional cast, also won three other awards including Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Screenplay. Nick Cheung (The Beast Stalker) nabbed his first Best Actor statue, adding it to his award from the Hong Kong Film Critics’ Society. Cute little girl Xu Jiao won Best New Performer for her crossdressing turn as Stephen Chow Sing-Chi’s son in Chow’s sci-fi blockbuster CJ7. Unfortunately, according to the Golden Rock’s liveblog she gave a horribly fake acceptance speech that included fake crying. I guess child stars are the same all over the world.
Interestingly, in a repeat of the Golden Horse Awards last year, John Woo’s lavish epic Red Cliff was shut out of the major acting and directing awards (including Tony Leung Chi-Wai’s failure to win his sixth Best Actor award). Red Cliff did clean up in several creative categories such as Best Art Direction and Best Visual Effects, winning five awards. Apparently this year’s nominations were only for Red Cliff 1—Red Cliff 2 will be eligible again next year so maybe then it will make out a little better in the major awards. Ironically, Red Cliff is probably the only film among the award winners that will receive international distribution.
Poor Simon Yam, nominated for Best Actor for Johnnie To’s Sparrow, went home empty-handed again. But he got to wear a natty two-toned sharkskin suit, white spats, and a spider-motif tie, and looked way too dashing for a man in his fifties. Sadly, Sparrow also lost (to Red Cliff) for Best Film Score, which just goes to show that not everyone appreciated its awesome Martin Denny/Michel Legrand/Henry Mancini homage.
For a full listing of the awards go here.
For lots more pix of celebrity finery go here.
For a great liveblog of the event go here.
And here’s the trailer for Sparrow, for a sample of its excellent soundtrack:
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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: