Month: September 2014

Fighting for Love (同居蜜友)

fighting for love

These are two emotionally stunted would-be lovers in Joe Ma’s Fighting for Love. Tung Choi (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai) and Deborah (Sammi Cheng) bark, claw, and kick at anyone who stands in their way, and they even have a go at each other in the first few minutes. Their mutual disregard for the rules of the road ends in a 999 call, and it’s not the last time they meet.

Of the two, Deborah is more churlish, the coworker who turns the room to ice the second she steps in. Spitting abuse left and right, she leaves a wake of shattered self-confidence as she strides into her office. Deborah’s home life doesn’t fare much better. Her older sister tolerates her while her dad, with whom she lives, only speaks to her when he wants her to walk the dog.

Tung Choi has a warmer relationship with his family, by which I mean they often engage in heated arguments that involve screaming and throwing things. They have the brassy edge of the nouveau riche; not only do they own a successful chain of tripe restaurants (where they serve “2000 bowls of cooked bull organs a day”) but their father also won the lottery, twice. Tung Choi’s harpy family might explain why he’s also pretty insufferable. Though his insults are not as calculated, he can be surly and snappy on a turn.

In short, the two perfect for each other. But rather than teasing out their combative flirtation, the movie takes a poorly planned shortcut. Deborah’s determination to get compensated for the fender bender leads to an early confrontation in a karaoke room. The tension is quickly defused when Tung Choi shows up drunk, and before you know it, they’re snuggling and smoking in bed.

Their one night fling isn’t surprising, but Deborah’s inexplicably sweet demeanor afterwards is. She’s suddenly calling her former foe and teasing three certain words out of him. Tung Choi, also a little confused as to whether she’s in earnest, plays it off but finds himself falling for Deborah’s frankness and fortitude. That makes more sense because she’s a contrast to his manipulative television personality girlfriend, Mindy (Niki Chow), who gradually proves herself to be more of a pill than her rival.

Cheng is incredible to watch and harnesses the power of playing against type. Even as the script pulls her in several directions, Deborah comes off as a real and understandable character. She may not be entirely likable by film’s end, but she doesn’t make excuses and she takes advantage of chances to redeem herself. Tung Choi runs into her after she’s gotten fired and kicked out of the house and ends up sleeping on a hospital room floor. Cheng is full of pathetic bluntness as Deborah explains what’s happened, her face filled with recognition of her own failings rather than with self-pity.

Even with a similarly nuanced performance by Leung, however, this movie never finds its groove. It echoes of a talky, comedy-drama independent. The film is fronted by two people who don’t really know how to have relationships but are prepared to acknowledge that and try anyway. It’s a sometimes clever and funny script that aims for realism of life and love, but ultimately, it can’t overcome its lack of narrative discipline and ends up being a disjointed star vehicle.

“Doctors and Me” (醫生與我) – theme song by Sammi Cheng:

“That Day, Were You Happy” (那天你愉快嗎) by Sammi Cheng:

“Keeping Watch Over Our Love” (守望相愛) by Sammi Cheng

Released: 2001
Prod: Cheung Shing-Sheung 張承勷
Dir: Joe Ma 馬偉豪
Writer: Taures Chow 周燕嫻; Joe Ma 馬偉豪; Aubrey Lam 林愛華
Cast: Tony Leung Chiu-Wai 梁朝偉; Sammi Cheng 鄭秀文; Niki Chow 周麗琪; Joe Lee 李耀明; Ha Ping 夏萍; Lee Fung 李楓; Sammy Leung 森美; Chan Man-Lei 陳萬雷; Winston Yeh 葉景文; Hyper BB 茜利妹
Time: 97 min
Lang: Cantonese
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewed: 2014

Crazy N’ the City (神經俠侶)

crazy n the city

Chris, a seasoned beat officer, explains to his new partner on her first day, “Wanchai is a chaotic district. There’s lots of traffic, lots of people, and lots of mentally ill.” Somewhat taken aback, she says that it would be dangerous if they all went crazy, to which he replies, “When I get mad it will be even more dangerous. I can pull out my gun and shoot everyone.”

Lest anyone think that Hong Kong police officers are trigger happy, hypothetical talk about firing a weapon generally stays that way. That’s not always the case when it comes to Hong Kong movies where bullet ballets are a staple. Crazy N’ the City is a vast departure from the dark and highly stylized gangs and guns mayhem though and much of the pedestrian action takes place under sunny skies.

The natural light illuminates the city and characters in a way that softens their harsh edges. Chris (Eason Chan) has grown dejected over the years and is skeptical when rookie Tak Nam (Joey Yung), or Manly, bursts into the department with the enthusiasm a superhero’s sidekick. She attacks her first case, a suspected cat poisoning, with gusto but as the day wears on, finds that her partner has a more apathetic approach to the job.

The movie has a similar unhurried feel, and the camera lingers around the two as they encounter the ordinary and uneventful. Manly helps an old lady push her trolley full of cardboard up a hill guarded by a kid with a water gun. A shop owner suspects a man (Lam Suet) of stealing milk formula. Two teenage girls witness someone exposing himself on the bus. A mentally ill man, Shing (Francis Ng), raids a bra shop. A young woman from the Mainland (Zhang Meng) opens a small massage parlor.

Director James Yuen allows his film to unfold organically. His characters swim in and out of the picture, leaving little splashes and sometimes crashing waves across the narrow streets of Wanchai. It’s a far richer portrait of Hong Kong than we’re used to seeing, and that’s what makes this little film so gratifying. There is a tenderness to the way each character is crafted, the way this tiny square of the city is painted to life. Yuen’s camera shows a closeness that is intimate without being claustrophobic.

People and places brush up against each other, sometimes leaving callouses and sometimes adding polish. Over the course of the movie, Chris blunts Manly’s idealism but in a way that helps her to become a better officer. “We’re policemen not supermen,” he explains. Meanwhile, her dedication gives him license to become more invested in his job. He also gets some help from a serial killer subplot that has a bit of an artificial ring to it, shifting the movie into conventional crime thriller territory.

But Ng, whose character Shing figures prominently in that storyline, gives an emotionally charged performance that makes the generic diversion worth it. He also earns points for sensitively drawing attention to mental illness. His costars, both of whom hold Ph.Ds in histrionics, are affecting as well, giving nuanced, unpretentious portrayals. Yung shows she can act when she’s not trying to blast her way through a scene and handles Manly’s conflicting emotions with well earned sympathy. But Chan is the film’s greatest asset, capturing Chris’s mix of idealism, disappointment, and insecurity from scene one. He is exceptional to watch and betrays his character’s thoughts with the slightest physical details. Hong Kong film would do well with more of this Eason Chan and this kind of movie.

Released: 2005
Prod: Derek Yee 爾冬陞; Henry Fong 方平
Dir: James Yuen 阮世生
Writer: James Yuen 阮世生; Law Yiu-Fai 羅耀輝; Jessica Fong 方晴
Cast: Eason Chan 陳奕迅; Joey Yung 容祖兒; Francis Ng 吳鎮宇; Zhang Meng 張萌; Kara Hui 惠英紅; Ng Yat-Yin 吳日言; Hui Siu-Hung 許紹雄; Waise Lee 李子雄; Chloe Chiu 趙雪妃; Sam Lee 李燦森; Alex Fong Chung-Sun 方中信; Chin Kar-Lok 錢嘉樂; Ella Koon 官恩娜; Lam Suet 林雪; Crystal Tin 田蕊妮; Liu Kai-Chi 廖啟智; Elena Kong 江美儀; Henry Fong 方平; Harashima Daichi 原島大地
Time: 102 min
Lang: Cantonese, some English
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewed: 2014

Mismatched Couples (情逢敵手)

mismatched couples

If you buy the Mismatched Couples DVD, you’ll find that distributer Fortune Star markets it under its “Legendary Collection,” which is only fitting because this is a true Hong Kong classic. For what it’s worth, which isn’t much, this is my favorite Donnie Yen movie. His second acting credit bears little resemblance to the severe no-nonsense ass-kicker most people think about when they see his name. Instead, his character in this movie, Eddie, is a mild-mannered college student who wears guyliner and just wants to break dance.

And who knew Yen was a dancing machine? I lament the light comedies that were not made in favor of Iron Monkey and Once Upon a Time in China II, spectacular as those films are. Yen along with costar and director Yuen Woo-Ping start the party off right and never really let up. The first few scenes feature nearly back-to-back acrobatics, making use of both their prodigious martial arts talent. Eddie has probably one of the best wake-up routines on screen and Mini, Yuen’s character, springs to life by waving around a bunch of sugar cane.

Their flexibility opens up a wide range of physical comedy. After Mini loses his job as a street vendor, Eddie invites him home where he lives with his uptight and single older sister Ah Ying (Wong Wan-Si) and cousin Stella (May Lo). Ah Ying doesn’t approve, and this leads to another memorable sequence in which Eddie and Stella try to hide their new friend in their tiny flat.

She reluctantly gives in, and the mismatched coupling storyline begins to take shape. Ah Ying tries to keep her affections for Mini hidden beneath her harsh demeanor while Stella is a little more forward with her feelings for Eddie. He, however, prefers Anna, maybe because she’s rich and can really rock a cherry leotard.

Most of the enjoyment doesn’t come from the plot though, which is pretty generic even if the actors inhabit their roles well. Both Wong and Lo bring out their characters’ personality and temperament in ways that make them more appealing than they are on paper. The real fun in this movie comes from Yen’s boundless energy, resulting in one goofy dance episode after another. Yuen and his action director/brother, Brandy Yuen, end up with something like a long narrative music video, replete with high tops, tracksuits, boomboxes, and sometimes tracksuits with a built-in boombox.

It isn’t until the end that the act gets a little tiresome, with a superfluous fight scene featuring a more familiar Donnie Yen. The only other issue I had was the characterization of Lynn (Chan Wai-Lin), a female body builder who’s used as comic relief and whose own romantic intentions are deemed laughable. Otherwise, this is one not to miss.

Donnie Yen being all kinds of awesome:

Released: 1985
Prod: Brandy Yuen 袁振洋
Dir: Yuen Woo-Ping 袁和平
Writer: Peace Group 和平小組; Cheng Man-Wah 鄭文華; Chui Jing-Hong 徐正康
Cast: Donnie Yen 甄子丹; Yuen Woo-Ping 袁和平; May Lo 羅美薇; Wong Wan-Si 黃韻詩; Kamiyama Anna 上山安娜; Dick Wei 狄威; Mandy Chan 陳志文; Kenny Perez; Chan Wai-Lin 陳蕙蓮
Time: 88 min
Lang: Cantonese, some English
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewed: 2014

The Days of Being Dumb (亞飛與亞基)

days of being dumb

Tony Leung Chiu-Wai and Jacky Cheung prove their acting mettle by playing the lousiest gangsters ever in the comedy The Days of Being Dumb – not at all to be confused with Wong Kar-Wai’s Very Serious Drama The Days of Being Wild, which also featured both actors. In a massive gang fight, childhood buds Fred (Leung) and Keith (Cheung) are the ones who end up defending themselves with a steak knife and a can opener. Besides the fact that they talk a bigger game than they play, they also have the lousy habit of accidentally getting their their bosses killed. It’s not long before word gets around that these guys are poison, and no one wants to take them under.

Their never-say-die attitude doesn’t stop this pair from trying, however. “There are more triad gangs than cinemas,” Fred reasons. Eventually, Gold-Teeth Shing (Billy Ching) sets them up with a legitimate business, which seems the safest option for Hong Kong’s gangland. They think they are running a modeling company but soon discover that they’re just overseeing a pipeline of prostitutes. Lesbian Jane (Anita Yuen, in an award winning role) is their first, and only, charge and later becomes victim to Hong Kong’s tendency to gay away onscreen homosexuality when she begins to develop feelings for Fred.

Thankfully Boss Kwan (Ken Tong) rescues them from the lurid business and initiates them into his gang. Facing trouble from the authorities as well as the underworld, he takes this gutsy step in an attempt to defy fate and prove that he fears no one if he does not fear death. Kwan dangles his milk-drinking gangsters around like a good luck charm, and it seems the boys have finally found their place in life – until they go and screw things up again.

The hilarious script is rubber stamped with trademark Hong Kong inanity and offers a countermeasure to the puffed up triads who usually grace the screens. Fred and Keith – the most innocuous names for a pair of gangsters – mimic the bluster of their cinematic counterparts with amusing results. Their efforts work especially well thanks to Leung and Cheung, who give their picaresque heroes a tender and affable quality. The characters aren’t stand-up citizens, but they have a conscience and a strong sense of friendship behind their juvenile eagerness to be a part of something greater.

“Crushing on You” (暗戀你) by Jacky Cheung:

Released: 1992
Prod: Peter Chan 陳可辛
Dir: Blacky Ko 柯受良
Writer: Joe Ma 馬偉豪; James Yuen 阮世生; Cheung Chi-Sing 張志成
Cast: Tony Leung Chiu-Wai 梁朝偉; Jacky Cheung 張學友; Kent Tong 湯鎮業; Eric Tsang 曾志偉; Anita Yuen 袁詠儀; Luk Kim-Ming 陸劍明; Chan Chi-Fai 陳志輝; Billy Ching 程守一
Time: 92 min
Lang: Cantonese, some English
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewed: 2014

My Lucky Star (行運超人)

my lucky star

Somewhere, a fung shui master is thousands of dollars richer after conning the makers of My Lucky Star into going ahead with this project. The movie feels twice as long as its 100 minutes, and not even stars Tony Leung Chiu-Wai and Miriam Yeung can add much life to it. Of course, this might be expected when the entire story rests on the minutiae of fung shui and people’s obsession with avoiding bad luck or, as some see it, reality.

The Chinese New Year comedy tries to capitalize on the audience’s appetite for anything auspicious, and the transformation of one of Hong Kong’s unluckiest residents seems like a good start. Yip Koo-Hung (Yeung) can’t get a break in any area of her life. She’s on the brink of being fired, she can’t leave the house without tripping over herself, and she’s been held up multiple times. It’s a case for top fung shui master Lai Liu-Po (Leung), except he refuses to see anyone surnamed Yip owing to some fung shui cock up generations back.

She sneaks by anyhow, and Liu-Po agrees to help her because that’s what the story requires. It also demands that they fall in love, though the romance pops out of nowhere. Hung literally jumps into the screen and, armed with nothing more a crayon map of her house, a cute smile, and a lot of chutzpah, the two have the makings of a beautiful friendship.

They hit a few road bumps, but then the movie shuffles to the second major conflict involving a scheming stepmother (Teresa Carpio), a spoiled pop star (Chapman To), and a rival fung shui master (Ronald Cheng). With their powers combined, they conspire to make Hung’s life miserable where fate will not. There’s a message somewhere in this about kindness and karma, but it’s not beaten into the audience the same way it’s been with recent holiday films.

My Lucky Star is also missing the other elements that make New Year’s movies fun, if not intellectually demanding. It’s so cluttered with fung shui references that anyone who isn’t an avowed fan or practitioner will have a hard time relating to the characters. And though the film has a few funny moments regarding Hong Kong’s state of affairs, it is mostly short on comedy.

Besides an unamusing script, Hung and Liu-Po don’t really click as a couple. While the ever suave Leung delivers his dialogue with crisp, rapid fire precision, Yeung’s interpretation of Hung rests on scrunching up her face and throwing fits like a seven year old who’s grounded from Chuck E Cheese. She had proven herself a capable comedienne with hits like Love Undercover, but at this point in her career, Yeung was a better fit for the Daniel Wus of the world.

“Hold On at All Costs” (有愛錯無放過) theme song by Tony Leung and Miriam Yeung:

Released: 2003
Prod: Vincent Kok 谷德昭; David Chan 陳錫康
Dir: Vinent Kok 谷德昭
Writer: Vincent Kok 谷德昭; Patrick Kong 葉念琛
Cast: Tony Leung Chiu-Wai 梁朝偉; Miriam Yeung 楊千嬅; Ronald Cheng 鄭中基; Chapman To 杜汶澤; Vincent Kok 谷德昭; Teresa Caprio 杜麗莎; Alex Fong Chung-Sun 方中信; Mark Lui 雷頌德; Anya 安雅; Ken Wong 王合喜; Ken Cheung 張智堯; Sammy Leung 森美; Kitty Yuen 阮小儀; Josie Ho 何超儀; William So 蘇永康; Patrick Tang 鄧健泓; Alex Fong Lik-Sun 方力申; Peter So 蘇民峰; Steven Fung 馮勉恆; various celebrities
Time: 99 min
Lang: Cantonese, some English
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewed: 2014