Month: April 2012

Dummy Mommy Without a Baby (玉女添丁)

There must be a Discovery Health show about women who fake pregnancies, and I imagine reactions would include generous doses of condemnation, anger, and betrayal. Sympathy in these cases is best left for another series. But in Hong Kong, one can make an entire movie out of this deception with the end goal of championing the swindler, even – or especially – if that person happens to be Miriam Yeung.

In this unconventional underdog story, Fong Lai-Kuen (not to be confused with Yeung’s character of the same name in the Love Undercover series) feigns her pregnancy after getting the pink slip at her advertising firm. According to a curious Hong Kong law, a pregnant employee cannot be fired for a period of 10 months, so Kuen milks her new status for all it’s worth and enlists her good friend and colleague Dina (Niki Chow) to aid in the cover-up. The two try to use this stunt to get back at their villainous boss Monica (Pauline Yam), though most people would probably see Monica as a reasonably demanding superior with exceptional standards. Kuen is redeemed and the mean boss is put in her place when an actual expectant mother and athletic wear company owner Mrs. Ho (Eileen Cha) selects Kuen’s ad campaign for the Beijing Olympics. Mrs. Ho also chooses Kuen as the spokesperson because hey, moms-to-be buy basketball jerseys too. Their partnership leads to some close calls that we will call comedy, such as one involving a poolside ultrasound. Similar cheap and predictable laughs follow.

Amidst this set of hijinks is a chaste three way between Kuen, Dina, and Ming (Edison Chen), the big boss’s son. Edison is as inoffensive as possible here, thus making Ming a palatable, even compassionate, character. It also helps that Ming wants to be a pastry chef instead of an ad exec. Swoon. When he learns of Kuen’s impending single motherhood, he immediately offers her free room and board at his mansion, which she shamelessly accepts. Their relationship is purely platonic, however, which means Dina can chase Ming and preserve her friendship with Kuen.

But at some point, this caper is bound to implode, and when even Edison is put off by your bad behavior, you know you’ve crossed the line. The exuberance of Miss Yeung and Miss Chow is not enough to compensate for their characters’ misdeeds. As witness to their trail of manipulation, fraud, and assault, I found myself cheering more for these ladies to land in Stanley than to cleverly claw their way out of their own mess. If the filmmakers were aiming for a cynical yet humorous critique on Hong Kong’s working conditions, then Miriam Yeung, at this stage in her career, was not the most convincing casting choice.

Prod: Joe Ma Wai-Ho 馬偉豪; Ivy Kong Yuk-Yee 江玉儀
Dir: Joe Ma Wai-Ho 馬偉豪; Albert Mak Kai-Kwong 麥啟光
Writer: Joe Ma Wai-Ho 馬偉豪; Taures Chow Yin-Han 周燕嫻; Sunny Chan Wing-Sun 陳詠燊; Law Yiu-Fai 羅耀輝; So Bo-Ling 蘇寶玲
Cast: Miriam Yeung Chin-Wah 楊千嬅; Edison Chen Koon-Hei 陳冠希; Niki Chow Lai-Kei 周麗琪; Pauline Yam Bo-Lam 任葆琳; Eileen Cha Siu-Yan 查小欣; Wyman Wong Wai-Man 黃偉文; Sammy Leung 森美; Hui Siu-Hung 許紹雄; Cheung Tat-Ming 張達明; Moses Chan Ho 陳豪
Time: 90 min
Lang: Cantonese
Reviewed: 2012

Marriage with a Liar (婚前試愛)

Some movies exist to shed light on the nature of young love and marriage. This movie exists so that Chrissie Chau, Carol Yeung, Him Law and Z.O. can shed their clothes. And that’s really all there is. No need to pretend otherwise as the first thing you see when the end credits roll is a giant thank you to Playboy condoms. Of course perceptive viewers may find a vague plot involving an impending wedding between Kiki (Chau) and Jerry (Lau); the liars and the lying, meanwhile, are easier to spot.

It didn’t have to be this way though. Young people have affairs, sometimes right before their wedding day, so the story warrants its celluloid treatment. In this movie, Kiki and Jerry both get comfortable with a passing stranger. Kiki beds Jack (Z.O.), who saves her from a bumbling bar assault, while police officer Jerry seemingly violates some ethics code by sleeping with Bobo (Yeung), whom he meets on duty after accidentally swapping phones. But director Patrick Kong strays in the execution, and the result is a patchy, hollow glimpse at what happens when marriage partners are unfaithful.

One of his big missteps is the misuse of flashbacks, which he employs throughout the film. The shifts in time help to layer the deceit and expose the anatomy of an affair, but they are poorly edited. When the tale returns to real time, the gaps in storytelling become even more apparent. This problem is especially acute after Jerry and Bobo part ways. One intertitle later, it is wedding night. Since the cheating right before marriage dilemma is a primary issue in this movie, it would seem that the absence of three days is a significant omission.

The flashbacks also keep the two leads separated for a good 65 minutes of the movie. (Jerry does not even make an appearance until the 20 minute mark.) This leaves only brief phone interactions with which to reconstruct the pair’s relationship and obscures Kiki and Jerry’s motivations for cheating. Better actors may have aided the otherwise absent character development, but Chau, Law, et al. are varying degrees of incompetent. When she is not framed for the looking, Ms. Chau spends the better part of her screen time barking and more than lives up to the controlling, insecure stereotype that the media has led to believe constitutes most of Hong Kong women. Law fares slightly better, if only because one feels sorry for Jerry for putting up with the nagging Kiki.

With the audience little invested in the characters or the progression/regression of the couple’s relationship, the ample IIB raciness should provide generous distractions. Kong capitalizes on the assets of his lead quartet in ways he couldn’t with the waifish and schoolgirlish Stephy Tang, his usual muse. For some, that’s worth the price of admission.

Prod: Wong Jing 王晶
Dir: Patrick Kong Pak-Leung 葉念琛
Writer: Patrick Kong Pak-Leung 葉念琛
Cast: Chrissie Chau Sau-Na 周秀娜; Him Law Chung-Him 羅仲謙; Z.O. Shen Zhi Ming 沈志明; Carol Yeung Tsz-Yiu 楊梓瑤; Jacquelin Ch’ng Si-Man 莊思敏; Timmy Hung Tin-Ming 洪天明; Charmaine Fong Hiu-Man 方皓玟; King Kong 金剛; Evergreen Mak Cheung-Ching 麥長青; Anjayliya Chan Ka-Bo 陳嘉寶; Dada Lo Chung-Chi 盧頌之; Gill Mohindepaul Singh 喬寶寶; Eddie Law Tin-Chi 羅天池
Time: 85 min
Lang: Cantonese and Mandarin
Reviewed: 2012

Kung Fu Hip Hop 2 (精舞门2)

My excuse for watching Kung Fu Hip Hop 2 is that I was scammed into a 30 month cable contract and now have a buffet of bland movies at my fingertips. This gem happened to be on and I didn’t feel like going out. Wrong decision – much like this movie is a series of misguided choices. Let’s start with the title, which implies some type of martial arts action. Quash that notion now though as there are only fleeting moments of anything resembling kung fu. There is also the suggestion that this is a sequel; it is not. Jordan Chan and Fan Bing Bing of the original Kung Fu Hip Hop have turned elsewhere. As with the first movie, however, this is a Mainland China production that aims to net a pan-Asian audience by bringing in “stars” from the greater China region. It may also be an attempt to show the Chinese moviegoing public that street dancing and hip hop are art forms and viable outlets for personal expression. Bold, if this is actually the case, but the filmmaking fails to support this cause.

The elements are in place for a passable hip hop dance movie though, a genre that operates by some simple conventions. Wealthy Mianmian (China’s Miss Maxim 2008 Zhou Qiqi) enjoys a tame relationship with her surprisingly affluent Latin dance instructor Ranqiu (Hong Kong TVB actor Michael Tse). They are preparing for an international competition and want to add a few hip hop elements. Why? Because the story must move forward. She enlists the cuddly Letian (Taiwanese actor Chen Bolin) to help out but is put off by what she sees as his lack of form and respect for “proper” dance. The posh princess starts to soften though as Letian b-boys his way into her heart. Love triangle, set. Add to this a mix of warring crews – Letian’s Encore versus the ominous Gambler China, some intense battles, preferably in an abandoned warehouse – see the first 10 minutes, and a nasty character who wants to come between our heroes and their love of dance – a boxy, cigar chomping scoundrel.

There isn’t much of a formula beyond this, so why does this movie fall flat? Simply, there is no passion for hip hop, which is a philosophy well beyond the assemblage of icons and images presented here. Hip hop, specifically expressed through dance, cannot be constructed with trucker caps, baggy clothes, graffiti, and the token black guy. Nor is the ethos effectively conveyed through epileptic camerawork and throbbing bass. In fact, the glaring absence of an actual soundtrack suggests that this film is a facade, its filmmakers more invested in the appearance of an American art form and its associations than the music itself. At one point, Ranqiu “battles” Letian and company in a half-choreographed clap-off that baffles more than it inspires. Then in the climactic scene, which takes place in one of China’s sleek pantheons to modernity, the dancers are buffered by a ring of polite fangirls waving blinking signs.

Authenticity can translate across cultures, but the value(s) must remain the same. Respectable dance movies require a certain intensity, a sense of laying everything on the line. Other iterations of this story work because the characters are pushed to the limit and are left with only dance and music. Take the Hong Kong movie Give Them a Chance, which featured far more mediocre dancing (I mean, Andy Hui, seriously?), as an example. Those kids needed hip hop; it wasn’t just a pasttime or even a fervent hobby. In this movie, Wangzi (um, portrayed by…Wangzi), a member of Letian’s crew, sells his moves in order to earn money for his sick mother. He offers a faint taste of that desperation, but Letian dismisses his friend and simply lets him be. This forces the movie back to the maudlin romance and weakens the tension needed for a powerful final battle.

This inadequate attempt at mimicry could have been helped by a stronger cast, but anchor Chen Bolin, who reminds me of a bloated, cartoonish Takeshi Kaneshiro, merely brought cuteness, not chemistry, to his character. Having come fresh off a Laughing Gor marathon, I was also looking forward to seeing Mr. Tse in a different role, especially since he has actual dance training. But he often gets dwarfed on the big screen and thus did nothing to impress on the film’s dynamics. Finally the social critic in me sees a squandered opportunity for a fresh look at the genre. This could have been a Step Up (or Street Dance, Honey, Save the Last Dance, or [insert dance movie here]) with Chinese characteristics. Mianmian is one loaded lady, and her status among the nouveau riche contrasts sharply with Wangzi’s struggles. The fleeting intersection of these disparate classes hardly exposes the tender divide that is increasingly a concern for the party and national stability, however. Maybe we’ll just have to wait for Kung Fu Hip Hop 3.

HK Title:
Dir: Bowie Lau Bo-Yin 劉寶賢
Cast: Berlin Chen Bolin 陳柏霖; Michael Tse Tin-Wah 謝天華; Zhou Qiqi 周奇奇; Wangzi 王子; Shi Tianqi 石天琦; Cheng Yi 程伊; Lin Zhenghao 林正豪; Lu Xiner 鲁昕儿; Chen Jia陈加; Blackston James
Time: 89 min
Lang: Mandarin
Reviewed: 2012