Month: October 2014

McDull: Me and My Mum (麥兜‧我和我媽媽)

McDull Me and My Mum 3

Hong Kong’s favorite little porker looks a bit different this time around. In his latest film, the lovable but low-IQ McDull appears in the guise of Mak, Bobby Mak. Now grown up and sporting some serious sideburns, he is a world renowned private detective whose services are much sought after by Scotland Yard and the FBI.

The intellectual awakening of the dim piglet may surprise longtime fans who never expected the kid who couldn’t figure out the lunch menu to be out-Sherlocking Sherlock. But Detective Mak’s latest case, the murder and robbery of a tycoon, isn’t the focus of this movie. As the police and suspects, a group of preschool partygoers, bide their time and await the cause of death to reveal itself, Bobby entertains the budding gumshoes with stories about how his mother helped him become a top sleuth.

Like some of the other films in the franchise, McDull: Me and My Mum weaves together seemingly random episodes that crescendo to some profound awareness about life; in this case, it is McDull’s abiding love for his self-sacrificing mother. The stories are readily accessible to children, who will delight in the liberal amount of toilet humor. Mrs. Mak, down on her luck again, tries her hand at drawing lottery numbers, but when every ticket is a bust, McDull blames his shitty number-picking fingers for their misfortune.

There are more hygiene-friendly stories. Ever the resourceful mother, Mrs. Mak teaches her boy survival skills using nothing but a wire hanger. In one of the more poignant scenes, McDull spends a few days in the wide open countryside with his “uncle,” someone his mom trusts to take care of him but whom she never mentions and who he never sees again.

McDull films are generally strongest when they sharpen their lenses on Hong Kong, and in this area, McDull: Me and My Mum comes up a little short. The loss of community is acutely felt by the Mak family, and this often causes Mrs. Mak to shuffle from one job to another. Meanwhile, McDull, always a dependable eater, is sad to see the local hot pot restaurant torn down only to be replaced by fancy high rises. The changes, while readily identifiable to people in Hong Kong, are not visually rooted in the city. This film lacks the cozy feel of familiar streets and landmarks, and even a small shift in animation techniques – stronger brushstrokes, an homage to Monet’s Water Lilies – gives it a more wordly aesthetic. I couldn’t help but feel a growing loss of local ownership, probably another commentary in itself.

Still, the film retains a good amount of Cantonese humor and Sandra Ng’s vivacious personality comes through as McDull’s exasperated but devoted mom. After years of holding up the back end of her son’s films, Mrs. Mak finally gets the attention she deserves. The movie is unashamed of its sentimentality, but it’s packaged so adorably that no one will blame you for shedding a tear or two.

McDull Me and My Mum 2

“I want chicken chicken chicken chicken.”

“Yum Yum Cha Cha” by BabyJohn:

McDull Me and My Mum 1

Released: 2014
Prod: Peter Chan 陳可辛; Jojo Hui 許月珍; Brian Tse 謝立文
Dir: Samson Chiu 趙良駿
Writer: Brian Tse 謝立文
Cast: Sandra Ng 吳君如; Anthony Wong 黃秋生; BabyJohn 蔡瀚億; Li Yundi 李雲迪; The Pancakes; Zhang Zheng Zhong 張正中
Time: 80 min
Lang: Cantonese
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewed: 2014


Give Them a Chance (給他們一個機會)

give them a chance

Give Them a Chance is bookeded by megastar Andy Lau. The opening sets up the Heavenly King of Cantopop as a benevolent Hong Kong entertainment deity who, grateful for all the opportunities and behind-the-scenes support through the years, wishes to bestow the same to others so that they can find success in the industry. Fast forward 95 minutes and there’s Andy, living out his dream of helping people make it big. The credits roll to footage from his 2001 concert featuring a group of background dancers shaking it like there’s no tomorrow. And they are the real stars of this movie.

The film gets an A for effort, not for Andy Lau’s altruism. It suffices as the feel good, based on a true story movie of the week, and though it occasionally tries to push those boundaries a little too far, it succeeds in corralling its audience’s sympathy towards the talented lower class teens who want a little more out of the life they’re dealt.

Despite their break dancing ambitions, the kids face one dead end after another. They’re hardly ace students, and the one healthy interest they have gets thwarted by adults who think they’re up to no good. Even the city won’t give them a break. During an outdoor performance, a cop tells them in the politest terms to shove off because wealthy tourists at a nearby hotel have complained about the noise, and we know who takes priority there.

Luckily there are some people who see potential in Hong Kong’s youth, including aspiring dancer turned action director Sam (Andy Hui) and injured former dancer Jack (Osman Hung), a pair of quarrelling brothers who try to put aside their grudges for the greater good and build a practice studio. Their story threads together the patchwork of teens who flock to the new dance haven. Brothers Durian and Kenny, each with his own medical issue, vie for the attention of longtime friend Money, who develops feelings for Jim, who is also on shaky terms with his older brother.

The amount of teen angst can be a little overpowering and is not helped by some of the actors, particularly Andy Lau’s goddaughter Ellis Tang who babbles like a preschooler. Howard Kwok, on the other hand, is very affecting as Kenny despite not saying anything. This could also have been a more inspiring and artistically successful film with stronger dance sequences and better music, but this was never supposed to be Step Up. Instead, the movie works from ground up and, like the kids, doesn’t have the package or polish of other commercial films. This doesn’t necessarily make it better but it does make it more satisfying to watch.

Released: 2003
Prod: Sam Wong 黃明昇, Ng Kin-Hung 伍健雄
Dir: Herman Yau 邱禮濤
Writer: Yeung Yee-Shan 楊漪珊; Herman Yau 邱禮濤
Cast: Andy Hui 許志安; Ellis Tang 鄧肇欣; Johnathan Cheung 張穎康; Walter Wong 黃家倫; Howard Kwok 郭浩東; Osman Hung 洪智傑; Eddie Pang 彭懷安; Anna Yau 丘凱敏; Jason Wong 黃益平; Joe Cheung 張同祖; Liu Kai-Chi 廖啟智; Anthony Wong 黃秋生; Mark Lui 雷頌德; Alex Fong Lik-Sun 方力申; Ronald Cheng 鄭中基; Stephanie Che 車婉婉; Wayne Lai 黎耀祥; Amanda Lee 李蕙敏; Andy Lau 劉德華
Time: 98 min
Lang: Cantonese
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewed: 2014

Blind Romance (偷偷愛你)

blind romance

Wing (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai) finds out the hard way who his real friends are, and it turns out he doesn’t have any. When he and his wealthy father get in a devastating car accident that leaves Wing blinded, his half-brother (Johnny Tang) and step-mother take the opportunity to seize control of the family assets. Suddenly he is left without any cash and without his money-grubbing starlet girlfriend Chi-Sum (Lau Gam-Ling), who promptly leaves him for his brother.

You would think that someone as cool and genial as Tony Leung, or a character played by him, would have no shortage of pals to the rescue, but Wing seems to lack social aptitude, and the only people who stick by him are his uncle (Joe Junior) and Chi-Sum’s fawning assistant Tung Tung (Chingmy Yau). Except that Wing mistakes her for his private nurse Man Man, a somewhat manipulative situation that she’s okay with.

Tung Tung is actually the main character of the movie, and because she’s played by Yau, it’s easy to believe that she’s the charming girl next door who does everything right, including taking care of her brother (Eric Kot) and grandfather (Roy Chiao). But when it comes to Wing, Tony Leung he is so dazzling that she just can’t keep her shit together. Until she discovers that he cannot see, and suddenly the prospect of getting close to him seems realistic.

The movie tries to take the question of whether true love is blind to its literal conclusion, which is not as crafty a gimmick as it supposes. There is one moment of high romance (at about the 1’07” mark) that caught me unawares and set my heart alight, but mostly it’s slow burning embers. The romance between Tung Tung and Wing moves quickly and only makes up part of the film’s thesis. I’d rather it draw out that relationship and plant a few more bumps along their path. I’d also rather the movie not equivocate blindness with stupidity. But this movie is what it sets out to be – a tidy romantic comedy.

“Secretly Loving You” (偷偷愛你) by Tony Leung:

Released: 1996
Prod: Wong Jing 王晶
Dir: Victor Tam 譚朗昌
Writer: Not a Woman 不是女人
Cast: Tony Leung Chiu-Wai 梁朝偉; Chingmy Yau 邱淑貞; Eric Kot 葛民輝; Jay Lau 劉錦玲; Roy Chiao 喬宏; Johnny Tang 鄧兆尊; Dennis Chan 陳國新; Ha Ping 夏萍; Joe Junior; Pak Yan 白茵
Time: 99 min
Lang: Cantonese
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewed: 2014

Dear Frankie

dear frankie

The plot of Dear Frankie sounds like something scribbled onto the margins of a soap opera script. Nine year old Frankie (Jack McElhone, voiced by Jonathan Pender), who is deaf, and his mother Lizzie (Emily Mortimer) are on the move again in order to escape Lizzie’s abusive ex-husband. They end up in an idyllic coastal town in the west of Scotland where chip shop owners are your best friend, or at least they’re willing to offer you a part time job after meeting you once. Lizzie has convinced Frankie that his dad is sailing with the merchant marines aboard a ship called the Accra and that scheduling problems have kept them apart all these years. Frankie stays in touch by writing letters, which his mother dutifully responds to after collecting them from a post office box.

It’s a grand plan if you don’t think your kid is ever going to grow up or if you live in a landlocked city where sailors don’t frequent. This isn’t the case for Lizzie, and soon after settling down, Frankie bursts in with news that the Accra will be docking. She scrambles to find someone who can play dad for the day, and, because this is just that sort of town, she meets a stranger (Gerard Butler) at the last minute who fits the bill.

The cynic would rail against her latest short-sighted decision, which carries with it some long-term consequences, but this isn’t a cynic’s movie. The story depends on a bit of suspended reality and is carefully calculated to make a potentially reckless situation seem innocent and tender. Though the threat of Lizzie’s husband looms in the background, danger gets put on pause. The biggest menace is a bully in Frankie’s class who mildly provokes his new classmate over his absent father.

The rest of the film accompanies the makeshift family over the few days that the stranger is in town, and though it drags at times, a calm settles the story and allows the characters to unwind. Mortimer coils Lizzie into a nervous ball, a woman who recognizes the absurdity of her plans but who acts out of the deepest love for her son. She feels Frankie drifting away and doesn’t know how to draw him closer. The actress has you believing that you too would go to any lengths if you were similarly situated. It’s also a wonder what a mellow and restrained Butler does to absorb the tension. He sheds the brawny hero, and instead, his nameless stranger brings a few moments of gentleness into the lives of Lizzie and Frankie, enough to help them see things with renewed clarity.

The cinematography makes a surprising supporting player. The golden sunsets evoke the edges of a dream, or at least a place where the messy parts of life come to get sorted. The visuals provide the characters physical and mental space, but silence is an important factor in this film as well. This movie’s aural canvas reflects Frankie’s deafness, and I appreciated that it didn’t have to clang and clatter to make a point. There are times when the quiet is suffocating, especially for Lizzie, but it also becomes liberating.

McElhone is probably the biggest factor that keeps this film from tiptoeing towards a barrel of sap. He’s a wide-eyed wonder whose expressive face captures all the unfiltered feelings and observations of a child. Like everyone else in town, you want to see Frankie finally attached to this man who has always been just out of reach. The kid deserves it, and the movie delivers.

Released: 2004
Prod: Caroline Wood
Dir: Shona Auerbach
Writer: Andrea Gibb
Cast: Emily Mortimer, Gerard Butler, Jack McElhone, Sharon Small, Mary Riggans, Cal Macaninch, Jayd Johnson, Jonathan Pender, Sean Brown
Time: 105 min
Lang: English, British Sign Language
Country: United Kingdom
Reviewed: 2014

Not Going Out S01

not going out s01

Binging on British panel shows will get scripted series like Not Going Out added to your YouTube ‘recommended’ list. Starring Lee Mack, a regular of shows including Would I Lie To You and Duck Quacks Don’t Echo, this run-of-the-mill sitcom about a periodically employed layabout lacks the bite of his other comedy appearances. It banks on the comedian’s rapid-fire wit, but the succession of one-liners that fuels the dialogue comes off as forced and desperate more often than clever and humorous.

I would blame the writers, but in this case, Mack’s fingerprints are all over the script as creator and co-writer, with Andrew Collins. Try as he might, he can’t really replicate the chemistry he shares with someone like David Mitchell when they go head to head on WILTY. Too often, Not Going Out feels like a one-man show with Mack delivering the bulk of the jokes like he’s ticking off a list in a stand-up routine.

His main foil in the first series is Kate (Megan Dodds), an American who fills multiple roles as his landlady, his flatmate, and his best friend’s ex. She’s smart and a little sassy, but there’s too much reserve in the way Dodds portrays her character. Kate can take Lee’s (Mack) antics but there’s little fire to help the audience warm to her. This makes the ‘will they, won’t they’ relationship that runs through the six short episodes fizzle early.

Kate’s ex Tim (Tim Vine) is Lee’s other comic adversary. A disproportionate amount of abuse is leveled on Tim for his fling with a 23 year old, who his friends assert was far younger. The feckless accountant is the grownup between the two, but he’s no match for Lee’s wit, which makes him a bit dull for viewing as well despite the characters’ supposedly strong friendship.

Without someone who can balance out Lee’s humor and sarcasm, the show never really gets off the ground. It’s at its best when the one-liners ease and it doesn’t seem to be trying too hard. The last two episodes of the series are the strongest because they provide some serious moments that end up increasing the potency of the funny ones. In ‘Kid’, Lee reluctantly shares the flat with a moody teen who turns out to enjoy the uptight Tim’s company more than his. Later, in ‘Caretaker’, he must finally decide what he wants in life and who he wants to share it with when he gets a new job. These episodes generate the most satisfying laughs, which I’m sad to say, this show is pretty short on.

Clip from Episode 4 ‘Stress’, featuring Miranda Hart:

Released: 2006
Prod: Avalon Television Arlo
Dir: Alex Hardcastle, Nick Wood
Writer: Lee Mack, Andrew Collins
Cast: Lee Mack, Megan Dodds, Tim Vine, Miranda Hart
Time: 30 min x 6
Lang: English
Country: United Kingdom
Network: BBC One
Reviewed: 2014