Friday, January 30, 2009
For fans of Hong Kong cinema Triangle was truly an event in the making, three of the top directors coming together to attempt a "pass the torch" like film. For those who may not have known Triangle was made in three parts by each director, starting with Hark, each one of them took over production and created roughly 30-35 minutes of the film(as I said Hark first, followed by Lam, and concluding with To) Each one literally taking over from where the other left off. Unfortunately this approach would come with its share of drawbacks
The story begins with three down on their luck men being approached in a local bar by a strange man who gives them a peace of gold and a business card with a website on it. After very little research the men realize he was pointing them in the direction of buried treasure underneath a legislative building. With little debate the three men decide to take on the task of retreating this so called treasure. This is where the film first disappoints, there is a great build up to the actual heist, but to the viewers surprise its a simple walk in take it and leave scenario which leaves them with little resistance. However they do happen to have a cop on their trail, who also happens top be sleeping with Simon Yams characters wife. The first act could be enough to turn anyone off the film, there is far too much going on at one time, including at least two subplots. One of which would not only completely disappear as we enter the second act, but it would also cause one of the films big plot holes.
Once they get the treasure home we are now introduced(in no way but a drastic change in style)to a new director and a far better film. One which becomes far more bearable as the story starts to make better sense. It appears that there was indeed a treasure and a big one at that. At this point one of the subplots are more developed, and we have that pesky cop played by Lam Ka-tung on their tail and after the treasure himself, and from here we are taken for quite a ride in pure Ringo Lam flair. However it would be the third act when taken over by Johnnie To that like a flick of a switch we enter a truly brilliant film! Through events better left untold to avoid spoilers our three men find themselves stranded in the rural new territories and held up at a small waterside restaurant. The final 30 minutes are nothing short of spectacular and treats us to a fine cameo from long time Johnnie To regular Lam Suet.
Great credit must be given to Tsui Hark for getting this project on the go, its just a shame his portion is so much weaker then what would follow. You can't blame him entirely. It appears that he had an much different idea in mind for the film. This would explain the drastic change in some of the characters, especially Simon Yam who at first is shown as a dark character who may be plotting to murder his wife. However apparently by means of flat out dropping this assumption he is cleared of all suspicion. It also doesn't help that Johnnie To's segment is just so bloody good, and makes one wonder just how this film could have been if it were entirely a Johnnie To production. However through careful editing and polish, and fantastic acting performances all around, the final product is a decent and watchable affair. However it may take some patience to get past the first act with out giving up entirely, however final 30 minutes make it all worth while!
A Film by Tsui Hark, Ringo Lam & Johnnie To
Thursday, January 29, 2009
When Protégé was first announced, it was apparently a remake of the 2000 Steven Soderbergh film Traffic. Now that is has finally come around it is quite clear that it’s not at all a remake. Traffic is however an obvious inspiration behind the clear anti-drug theme in Protégé. There is a far more straight forward story being told in this film. It stars Daniel Wu as an undercover narcotics officer named Nick, who had made his way, not only into the world of a notorious heroin dealer Lin Quin (Andy Lau), but he has gained his trust so much that he has earned his way up the ranks and into position as Quins Protégé. Where Traffic had a much larger scale to its plot, with many different characters and perspectives, Protégé is told in a traditional flashback style. The film opens with Wu’s character lying on couch, in a Police Uniform, asking himself why people use drugs. Then we are taken right into the story.
It appears as though the idea of being involved in the world of drug trafficking does not affect Nick at all. He does not use them himself, but even though he is involved for the right reasons, he has still been forced to have a hand in much of the work Quins crew has undertaken during his time. That is until he meets his neighbour Jane (Zhang) and her young daughter. Jane is a serious heroin addict who claims she started using drugs to show her Junkie husband (Louis Koo) that it’s easy to drop the habit. Unfortunately she was not aware of the seriousness of using heroin.Now she is just as much a Junkie, and is hardly able to even feed her poor daughter, and to make things worse her husband has returned into her life. Now Nick can see firsthand how drugs can truly shatter someone’s life.
Protégé has a lot going for it, including a very strong cast of characters. Daniel Wu is on top of his game, outdoing even his brilliant work in One Nite in Mongkok. Andy Lau is his usual self; he just cannot look bad on screen. Even if he looks 15 years older them he is. Louis Koo’s character does take some time to get use to. He comes off almost clown-like and goofy at first, and almost appears that he might be bringing some comic relief to the film. From the way he talks, and the disgusting gingivitis plagued mouth of his. To the way he walks, and the fact he is carrying a guitar case that is actually filled with his various drug paraphernalia. However, the comical aspect wears off quite fast as we learn just how evil and dangerous he really is, as he would go to shocking lengths to support his habits.
As I stated earlier the plot is pretty straight forward. It usually helps when a film is told though one characters perspective. It’s just a simple story, with a few fairly complex characters with problems of their own. All of which play a key role in Nicks story. In the end it is evident that Protégé is not a Remake of Traffic, in fact is has very little to do with the 2000 film. It stands up on its own feet quite well. Perhaps the hype of being a Traffic remake helped it? None the less it’s a phenomenal film, one with something to say. One we all should listen to.
A Film by Derek Yee
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Its 1974, Mark (Chow) travels to Saigon to retrieve his cousin Mun (Leung) and uncle to bring them back to Hong Kong. While there, Mark meets a beautiful gang leader named Kit (Mui), first at the airport where she uses her influence to help him out of a tangle with Customs. Then later through one of Mun’s illegal dealings gone wrong. When the dust settles, Kit helps the two cousins and Mun’s sickly father escape back to Hong Kong.
During these events we see a love triangle start to unfold. Boy likes girl, girl likes other boy, other boy kinda likes girl but does not realize. The usual. However when they return to Hong Kong the love triangle becomes a complete square when Kits past lover enters the picture. A lover who happens to be a powerful Triad Boss (it’s a popular occupation).
Probably the biggest weakness for A Better Tomorrow III would be its name. Its not a bad movie per say, however it really feels like an unnecessary addition to the “A Better Tomorrow” series. Apparently there was a fall out between John Woo and Tsui Hark. Explaining why Woo was not involved in this film, and Tsui Hark took on the job as director. And he is not by any means a bad director, but simply said this should have been a John Woo film, produced and written by Tsui Hark. Without Woo they should have done one of two things; either keep the story but change Chow's character name, as well as the few little tidbits that suggest this has anything to do with A Better Tomorrow. Or, the second option would have been to. . .get John Woo back. But he didn’t come back, and we got what we got.
As I said earlier on in this review, A Better Tomorrow III is not a bad film. In fact I liked it. Aside from the fact it really had nothing to do with A Better Tomorrow, it still held its own. It had a fairly decent story, a good cast, and wonderful chemistry between Chow and Mui. There was some decent action scenes that did have some Woo-Esq moments, and lots of big explosions. However Chow Yun Fat didn’t have a whole lot to do action wise till quite a while in. In fact, this actually leads to one of the more interesting points of the film. When it starts, Mark is not the Mark we all know and love. He cannot fire a weapon at all. The marksman in this picture, who dual wields her pistols on a few occasions is Anita Mui. And she does it with a lot of conviction. Her character actually teaches Mark how to use a gun. Another one of those tidbits I mentioned that refers to the original film is when Anita Mui gives Mark a gift, what is that gift? A Long Black Coat. We also see him purchase a nice set of dark sunglasses. So by about two thirds of the way into the film, we see the old(but younger!)Mark.
So if you like the first two films, its worth giving this a shot. It does not have the same feel as the original did, and it could be at least as good as the second, if there was some Woo in there. The bottom line is this “A Better Tomorrow” without John Woo is like a Big Mac without the special sauce. It may look the same, but when you bite into it you definitely notice that something is missing.7.5
A Film by Tsui Hark
Yuen Biao plays an unhappy Hong Kong cop who approaches his wife, who has split with him, to ask her to help him use their marriage to immigrate to the US. Soon after their encounter, his wife, who also happens to be a narcotics officer, is killed by a professional hit-woman (Pat Ha). Yuen Biao immediately hunts down his wifes killer, but before he can take her in, he finds himself an equal target. The man who ordered the hit on his wife is also CID (Charlie Chin in a fantastic villain role), who happened to be sleeping with the woman he just ordered dead for discovering that he and his unit (Yuen Wah, Philip Ko, Lo Lieh) are running drugs.
Now wanted by the entire HK Police force, Biao must join forces with his wifes killer and try to find safe passage for him and his young daughter out of Hong Kong.
On the Run is about as HK Noir as you can get, dark, violent, and full of unexpected shocks. It is also a showcase for Yuen Biao as an actor, not a martial artist. Some Hong Kong fans may be surprised to learn that even though the film stars Yuen Biao and Yuen Wah on opposite sides, there is no martial arts action at all. There are some brutal violence, and a lot of painful bullet wounds, but no real fighting. As I said, this is probably the best example of Yuen Biaos acting talent. He is fantastic in this rare dramatic role. However the real star of the film is our hit-woman played wonderfully by Pat Ha. She plays a very odd kind of professional killer, she is cold blooded killer with a bull’s-eye shot, who is also pure of heart.
This is probably one of the best Yuen Biao films to come out of the 80's, despite the lack of action it still manages to keep you, I hate to say it, “on the edge of your seat”! It also contains some truly shocking moments that I can guarantee you will not see coming!
A Film by Alfred Cheung
Young Goon has been traumatized after being forced to witness her grandmother, who happens to think she is a rabbit . . .and only eats radishes, be dragged away by the “White Coats” and taken to a mental hospital. And she is convinced that her grandmother was trying to tell her the meaning of existence as she was being trucked away. On top of that she forgot her dentures which she needs to eat her radishes. This obviously did some psychological damage to Young Goon, because she is now convinced that she is in fact a Cyborg, and stops eating because if she does the food will damage her inner mechanics. Instead she licks batteries in an attempt to recharge herself.(her toes light up when fully charged).
The last straw is drawn when she cuts her wrists open and almost kills herself by inserting live electrical wire into the slit wrists in an attempt to recharge. So her mother sends her off to a sanitarium. Now with her grandmother’s dentures by her side, which she must wear in order to communicate with the vending machines, telephones, and grandfather clock, she is on a mission. She must find her grandmother, kill the doctors holding her captive, return the dentures, and discover the purpose of her existence. But this is becoming increasingly difficult as her attempts to recharge are not successful. . .
While in the hospital she meets up with Il-sun, a kleptomaniac who is known throughout the hospital for stealing everyone’s personalities. Il-sun is possibly the best character in the film, being played by South Korean pop star Rain. He is not entirely insane as he had him self committed to avoid going to jail. He is at least sane enough to notice that Young Goon is killing herself by not eating, but at the same time he does not agree with the hospitals force feeding tactics. So he decides to find a way to get her eating, without damaging her circuits. It’s the relationship between the two that can put the film into the category of a romantic comedy, but being a Park film their relation ship is deliciously decorated by his incredible visuals and imagination.
Often we are lifted from the reality of the film and taken away to Young-goons hallucinations. Including a memorable and forgiving scene where she arms herself with apparently build in finger guns and starts hunting down and slaughtering all the doctors in the hospital in a very brutal fashion, meanwhile all the inmates go about their regular activities without notice. Now what would a Park film be without such a violent scene? But despite the grim depiction, it’s actually quite humorous and fun to watch because you know she is just standing their pointing all her fingers at the doctors, who are just looking back in confusion. Okay so perhaps you have to be a bit sick to enjoy that, but who didn’t enjoy the mentally disabled man in Mr. Vengeance?
The film also has a wonderful cast of very colorful characters throughout the hospital. Including a memorable appearance by Park Chan-wook regular Oh Dal-su playing a patient who thinks everything is his fault! Then there is a woman who is a compulsive liar, and in fact early in the film she is walking Young-goon throughout the hospital introducing all the characters who we will see throughout the film, and telling their stories. This is usually the easiest way to introduce so many characters at once in a film; of course in this case we soon learn none of its true!
I’m a Cyborg might not appeal to everyone, especially long time Park fans. It’s nothing close to the violent revenge stories told prior. But it is very much worth a look. Unfortunately it will not be a surprise if this is not picked up for US, or UK releases, but it really should So it might have to stay an import. It’s a beautiful film, with a very sweet story when you look past all the outer madness of the characters. It’s nice to see directors try something different, and I think Park has done well in his attempt at something lighter. Its still has his imaginative visual flair. Maybe it’s not his best film, but that’s okay!