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