Month: November 2014

Summer Breeze of Love (這個夏天有異性)

summer breeze of love

Summer Breeze of Love unwinds like the dying hours of a hot summer’s night. It’s not always comfortable, but there’s something strangely comforting about it. Maybe it’s the movie’s unhurried pace or its meandering plot. Perhaps it’s the orange-gold palette that casts a nostalgic glow over the whole picture. Quite possibly it’s the dewy presence of the Twins’ Charlene Choi and Gillian Chung.

Against my better judgment, I found myself falling for this film, which never aspires to be more than a wistful portrait of teenage love. And while there are faults aplenty, the movie pretty much achieves its goal. Two friends spend the summer looking for romance and learn a little something about life and love along the way. The absence of a driving storyline allows the pair of ingenues to stumble awkwardly towards love, or adulthood.

One of the girls, Kiki (Charlene Choi), develops a crush on basketball player and resident stud Ah Fung (Tsui Tin-Yau), who is never far from his entourage of admirers. She finds herself in an enviable position when he starts paying special attention to her. Could it be love? Is that why he wants to borrow her mobile? And shower at her flat? Her friend’s brother Chung Lok-Hoi (Roy Chow) doesn’t think so, but being an inarticulate video game addict and little else, he’s not in a great position to compete for her affections.

Hoi’s sister, Kammy (Gillian Chung), however, has no difficulties professing her love for the much older Danny (Dave Wong), a divorced man who has not yet figured how to squirm his way out from under his mother’s thumb. Rather than taking her up on the relationship, and thus turning this movie into a different one entirely, he hems and haws. On the one hand, Danny sees Kammy as a way of (very) belated rebellion and a chance to finally get a life; on the other, he recognizes what everyone else already knows – it’s a kinda creepy for him to be seen with a teenage bra shop assistant.

The filmmakers ask a little too much from the audience here, and pairing Chung and Wong (ostensibly due to some EEG arrangement) is too far-fetched for their story to take root. Kammy’s declarations lack the substance to make her pursuit a tender if ill-begotten infatuation, and Danny ends up being the more interesting character.

Thankfully, Kiki’s romance hews closer to that of reality. When Choi refrains from gleeful, slapdash mugging, she’s a wonderfully open actress and expressive in ways that haven’t been roughened by experience and cynicism. Her performance recalls a similarly refreshing one in My Wife is 18, and Summer Breeze has wisps of another Twins effort also released the same year, Just One Look. The latter film holds up best, this one still pleases with simplicity and sweetness.

“Red Eyes” (眼紅紅) by Twins:

Released: 2002
Prod: Ivy Kong 江玉儀; Leung Bo-Tung 梁寶桐
Dir: Joe Ma 馬偉豪
Writer: Joe Ma 馬偉豪; Sunny Chan 陳詠燊; Ivy Kong 江玉儀
Cast: Charlene Choi 蔡卓妍; Gillian Chung 鍾欣桐; Dave Wong 王傑; Roy Chow 周永恆; Tsui Tin-Yau 徐天佑; Wong Yau-Nam 黃又南; Hui Siu-Hung 許紹雄; Monica Lo 盧淑儀; Andrea Choi 蔡安蕎; Matt Chow 鄒凱光; Lee Fung 李楓
Time: 107 min
Lang: Cantonese
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewed: 2014

Lady Cop and Papa Crook (大搜查之女)

lady cop and papa crook

Alan Mak and Felix Chong (Infernal Affairs trilogy) join forces again to create a true mystery that will have audiences wondering what the hell is going on in their film Lady Cop and Papa Crook. ‘Tis anyone’s guess because it doesn’t seem like the writing and directing team have a handle on it either. The movie sounds good in theory – so many do – but ultimately suffers from numerous inconsistencies and general dullness of character and plot.

The story pairs Sammi Cheng as lady cop Maureen Szeto and Eason Chan as papa crook John Fok. Maureen is a detective who, when she’s not taking down criminals, worries that she is frittering her life away with her artist boyfriend (Conroy Chan) of ten years. She crosses paths with John when she leads the investigation into his son’s kidnapping, which is complicated and/or caused by the fact that he runs an illegal diesel operation.

Mak and Chong wanted to explore the dramatic tension generated when cops and robbers are thrown together in a confined space, so Wikipedia tells me, and the story has potential to match their darker dramatic efforts, but with Cheng in the lead, the film could have also veered towards the comedic. Instead of settling on one or attempting a coherent balance, however, the filmmakers use all the tools in the box and send the movie’s tone ricocheting from one end to the other. In the space of five minutes, John’s associates commit a brutal murder that feels like something out of Election only for Maureen to crawl into the screen on all fours à la Love Undercover a few scenes later.

It’s hard to know what to take seriously, and it doesn’t help that the two leads don’t seem to be acting together. When Cheng and Chan share screen time, it’s as if they’re drawing from two different scripts, and both leave the scene looking a little helpless. Thankfully, the story avoids pairing the two characters in a romantic relationship, though both actors still lack chemistry with their onscreen partners.

Others try to fill in the gaps; Patrick Tam delivers a particularly juicy cameo as a competing triad boss, and Liu Kai-Chi also makes the most of his memorable role as a fiery member of John’s inner circle. But even as performers flare up individual scenes, the fire quickly fades, and the sum of their performances never adds to the tension and urgency of what should be a heart-pounding thriller.

Some might blame the film’s mediocrity on Mainland censors, which sliced six minutes from the original cut. I’m guessing this was due to a subplot involving the death of an officer’s wife and child, thus causing him to act in a vengeful and not entirely upstanding manner. Since I watched the director’s version and didn’t feel like sitting through the theatrical release, I don’t know how many holes were punctured in the plot. But we can probably agree that the censors don’t tend to improve on a film.

If the film does earn any points, it should be for featuring a relatively competent woman as a lead investigator of a major crime. Cheng still dips into her screwball comedy tricks bag and acts unprofessionally on several occasions, which the filmmakers decide to blame on female issues like pregnancy and a cheating boyfriend. (A fellow male officer asks, “You have shit for brains or PMS?”) However, Maureen is clever and gets the job done despite being a bit flighty. The movie also goes above and beyond, by Hong Kong standards, and features Michelle Lo in a visible supporting part as another member of the investigation. It’s too bad Michelle Ye, who plays John’s pregnant wife, doesn’t do much except get really emotional. Girl, I feel you.

“Hide and Seek” (捉迷藏) – theme song by Sammi Cheng:

Released: 2008
Prod: John Chong 莊澄
Dir: Alan Mak 麥兆輝; Felix Chong 莊文強
Writer: Alan Mak 麥兆輝; Felix Chong 莊文強
Cast: Sammi Cheng 鄭秀文; Eason Chan 陳奕迅; Gordon Cheung 張國立; Dong Yong 董勇; Chapman To 杜汶澤; Michelle Ye 葉璇; Kate Tsui 徐子珊; Wilfred Lau 劉浩龍; Conroy Chan 陳子聰; Patrick Tam 譚耀文; Kenny Wong 黃德斌; Buzz Chung 鍾紹圖; Stephanie Che 車婉婉; Jo Kuk 谷祖琳; Michelle Lo 盧覓雪; Richie Ren 任賢齊
Time: 97 min (91 min, Director’s Cut)
Lang: Cantonese, Mandarin
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewed: 2014

The Pirate Fairy

pirate fairy

I’m past the age of watching animated movies about fairies, but thanks to some savvy casting decisions by Disneytoon, I saddled up for this direct-to-video production with only the expectation of topping up my Tom Hiddleston fangirl credentials. I didn’t think I’d actually enjoy it, but leave it up to the Disney fairies to cast a few magical spells.

While this film isn’t exceptionally strong in the animation department and carries some questionable assumptions about girls’ intelligence, it’s an engaging adventure that’s enjoyable for kids and amusing for non-cynical adults. The Pirate Fairy is part of a series featuring a band of fairies led by Tinker Bell (Mae Whitman), though in this installment, a feisty worker named Zarina (Christina Hendricks) gets the guest starring role.

She is a pixie dust keeper in the land of Pixie Hollow and, from the looks of it, the only one who delights in her job. And who can blame her for finding such wonder in little specks of glitter that have magical powers, including the power to fly? Unfortunately, everyone else finds her constant curiosity a bit of a chore. “Well, that’s just how pixie dust works,” someone says without ever bothering to answer her questions. This prompts Zarina to do what scientists have always done – conduct experiments. She throws together ingredients with an amateur baker’s abandon, and before she knows it, she’s crafted a colorful palette of dust, each with its own unique powers. One misstep, however, leaves Pixie Hollow in ruins and forces her to seek out a place more appreciative of her talents.

That place turns out to be a pirate ship, and when Tinker Bell and her friends see Zarina a year later, the inquisitive fairy has found a new calling as a pixie dust conjuring pirate captain. At her command is a rowdy crowd of seafaring plunderers, including a more genteel mate by the name of James Hook (Tom Hiddleston). Together, they aim to make enough dust to turn their ship into a flying schooner, which logic says makes a better getaway vehicle.

The Pirate Fairy works well as a prequel to Peter Pan. Hiddleston, who’s proven himself to be a damn good rogue, does a deft job playing a chirpy, eager to please cabin boy who may or may not show hints of becoming a big, bad captain. Hook’s reptilian nemesis also makes an appearance as a truly adorable and saucer-eyed croc-let. Hendricks, meanwhile, makes her character a memorable one, balancing Zarina’s enthusiasm and rejection, even though she doesn’t figure in the classic.

The action never sags and the story follows the strict trajectory of a fantasy adventure. The landscape adds to the effect, and there are some detailed animations of Pixie Hollow. The roaring sea also comes to life, more so if you’re watching in 3D. However, the film fails to take full advantage of its fairytale setting and lacks some of the fun and creativity you’d expect in a movie about magical pixie dust.

More unappealing though is the simplistic plot contrivance that pushes Zarina away. There are many cases of wronged geniuses, but for a movie presumably aimed at girls, the depiction of Zarina’s befuddled, unquestioning coworkers is off-putting. Pixie Hollow seems to be a place where inquisitive fairies are an aberration, where the pursuit of knowledge will get you ostracized if you’re lucky and fired if you’re not. At least Tinker Bell and company balance things out with their quick thinking and resourcefulness, which the young audience will recognize as cool traits rather than weird ones.

“The Frigate That Flies”

“Who I Am” by Natasha Bedingfield:

Released: 2014
Prod: Jenni Magee-Cook
Dir: Peggy Holmes
Writer: Jeffrey M. Howard, Kate Kondell
Cast: Mae Whitman, Christina Hendricks, Tom Hiddleston, Lucy Liu, Raven-Symone, Megan Hilty, Pamela Adlon, Angela Bartys, Jim Cummings, Carlos Ponce, Jeff Bennett, Angelica Huston
Time: 78 min
Lang: English
CountryUnited States
Reviewed: 2014

Truth or Dare: 6th Floor Rear Flat (六樓后座)

truth or dare

Truth or Dare: 6th Floor Rear Flat doesn’t seem like it should be relevant or revealing. Six twentysomethings played by aspiring A-listers to solid D-listers share a dingy flat and spend the year trying to fulfill their goals. They also throw lots of parties, during which raucous games of Truth or Dare figure prominently. The film nevertheless proves to be a refreshing portrayal of Hong Kong youth and has more honesty than any number of its glossier counterparts.

Things really get cracking for the new residents of the eponymous flat when a round of Truth or Dare goes awry. They agree to accomplish something “new” and “challenging” by the end of their one year lease – or else eat shit, literally. It’s a pretty serious consequence for a pretty vague dare, but accepting goes without question.

Director and co-writer Barbara Wong proceeds to peel away the rough exterior of each character. Rather than capitalizing on the distasteful challenge as lesser films would, she allows the hopes and insecurities of her characters to be the focus. And despite a full six personalities, Wong somehow manages to maximize their screentimes and give a satisfying sketch of each one.

Still, a few parts get a little more attention than others. The even-tempered writer Karena (Karena Lam) puts aside her good sense when she develops feelings for her publisher, a married man she’s never seen. Lam is great in this role, allowing her character to be headstrong while leaving herself emotionally vulnerable. Meanwhile, Karena’s best friend Candy (Candy Lo), a shiftless tarot card reader, has the opposite problem when two police officers (William So and Edwin Siu) compete for her attention. The three actors form an odd and not entirely believable love triangle, but Lo eventually makes good on a flighty character who keeps her feelings well hidden.

Though he’s the least flashy of all his flatmates, Leo (Roy Chow) turns out to be one of the most affecting characters. Chow gives a sensitive performance as the quiet, gawky friend who secretly holds a flame for Karena. There’s something of an injured bird in the way he moves, his lanky frame filled with an overabundance of unrequited love. At the opposite end of the spectrum are Sammy Leung, who plays a depressed clown nursing bitter feelings towards his childhood love, and Patrick Tang, who spends his time scheming to make more money. If you are familiar with their acting, you know that they tend to blast their way through every movie, and their performances here again lack the subtlety to be truly moving.

My favorite character was Wing (Lawrence Chou). The son of wealthy parents, he is on hiatus from medical school in America when he decides to slum it with his friends and try to pursue a music career. He has an antagonistic relationship with his mother (Teresa Carpio, in an inspired cameo), whom he blames for interfering with his dreams.

His story, like the others in the movie, sounds hackneyed, but Wong largely saves her picture from melodrama because she doesn’t go out of her way to deliver searing truths about youth. In most cases, the moral would be to stick it to the parents and go after what your heart desires. But Wing and his friends show themselves to be far more attuned to reality than films usually give young people credit for. They might be a randy, aimless, and sometimes irresponsible bunch, but they are also thoughtful, loyal, and motivated.

Hastily edited trailer doesn’t do the film justice:

“6th Floor Rear Flat” (六樓后座) theme song by Karena Lam:

Teresa Carpio steals the show with a fitting cover of Beyond’s “Boundless Sea and Sky” (海闊天空)

Released: 2003
Prod: Lawrence Cheng 鄭丹瑞; Arthur Wong 黃岳泰
Dir: Barbara Wong 黃真真
Writer: Lawrence Cheng 鄭丹瑞; Barbara Wong 黃真真
Cast: Karena Lam 林嘉欣; Candy Lo 盧巧音; Lawrence Chou 周俊偉; Roy Chow 周永恆; Patrick Tang 鄧健泓; Sammy Leung 森美; William So 蘇永康; Edwin Siu 蕭正楠; Hau Woon-Ling 侯煥玲; Carlo Ng 吳家樂; Barbara Wong 黃真真; Siu Yam-Yam 邵音音; May Law 羅冠蘭; Kitty Yuen 阮小儀; Teresa Carpio 杜麗莎; Richie Ren 任賢齊; Juno Mak 麥浚龍; Lawrence Cheng 鄭丹瑞
Time: 103 min
Lang: Cantonese
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewed: 2014

Tiramisu (戀愛行星)

tiramisu

There’s a good movie lurking beneath the surface in Tiramisu, which plays with the ideas of fate and the afterlife. Jane (Karena Lam) and Fung (Nicholas Tse) are two strangers on a train who catch each others’ eyes and cross paths several times over the course of one day. Any hope of a romance is cut short though when Jane is killed in a traffic accident. By the grace of who or whatever governs the afterlife, however, she is given a chance to fulfill some last wishes before permanently retreating to the hereafter.

The two become linked in some extra-worldly friendship because they were thinking of each other the exact moment she died. It’s a useful twist that allows Jane to help out her grieving dance company who had been preparing for an important show. Not wanting them to abandon the effort on her account, she encourages her friends by way of Fung, who relays messages and unwittingly proffers his body for her soul to inhabit. He also gets something out of it as a deaf postal worker who regains his sense of hearing.

No matter what you think of the hackneyed plot, Lam and Tse are a joy to watch. Both actors were the vanguard of their generation when this film was released in 2002, and Tiramisu shows why. They deliver sensitive performances that largely avoid the manipulation the story suggests. Lam makes it easy to believe that her whole world would be grieving her loss and that nothing short of one final, magical goodbye would help her loved ones soldier through. Her performance is bolstered by Candy Lo, who is effective as Jane’s best friend.

Tse, meanwhile, leaves a strong impression as a somewhat reserved character who finds himself plunged into a noisy world, one that he finds rather energizing. Unfortunately, he doesn’t get the benefit of a good second, and a preening Eason Chan fills in as Fung’s brash flatmate. Still, Lam and Tse share a chemistry that helps their characters move seamlessly between Jane’s privileged and creative life and Fung’s solitary working class existence.

If the story stopped there, Tiramisu might be remembered as a bittersweet reflection on how people’s lives can intersect in small ways with large and lasting consequences. But like a child’s madlibs, the plot is muddled by the addition of ghost cops who are out to claim Jane for what looks to be a pretty scary afterlife. This sends the movie’s tone crashing from one end of the emotional spectrum to the other, and the feelings don’t really work in harmony. The subplot also needlessly complicates things with nonsensical rules about when and where one can see and be seen. The genre-mixing is a bold experiment, but it doesn’t work here.

“Meditation” (冥想) theme song by Nicholas Tse:

Released: 2002
Prod: Daneil Lam 林小明; Dante Lam 林超賢
Dir: Dante Lam 林超賢
Writer: Chan Man-Yau 陳旻佑; Ross Lee 李洛驊
Cast: Nicholas Tse 謝霆鋒; Karena Lam 林嘉欣; Candy Lo 盧巧音; Eason Chan 陳奕迅; Chan Git-Leung 陳潔靈; Vincent Kok 谷德昭; Kitty Yuen 阮小儀; Lawrence Chou 周俊偉
Time: 111 min
Lang: Cantonese
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewed: 2014