Month: November 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

Love Lifting (高舉‧愛)

love lifting

Love Lifting is the sort of movie you’d expect to end up in the bargain bin or on Lifetime’s afternoon lineup. It’s a feel good sports picture about a female weightlifter, played by former teen star Elanne Kong, who tries to make it to the top while raising her young family and overcoming illness. It screams sap rather than success, and yet the film is quietly affecting without giving itself over to melodrama.

A lot of credit goes to Kong, who wouldn’t be a casting director’s first choice for the role of a sturdy weightlifter. Somehow though, she manages to be a credible athlete, if on the thinner side, vying for Olympic glory. Her character Li Li makes an early exit from the sporting life after she finds out she has diabetes. But she doesn’t let the news weigh her down and instead focuses her energy on enjoying life and helping others. Kong is tremendously appealing in this role; Li Li has such an abundance of kindness that you only want good things to happen to her. At the same time, there’s nothing showy about her good nature, and the humility with which she expresses her feelings makes her even more likable.

Chapman To also does a fine job as Yung, Li Li’s devoted husband. Yung is one of those rare men in Hong Kong cinema, a stay-at-home dad who willingly puts his wife’s career first. He quietly bears the frustrations of being a single parent and the criticisms of those who mock his decision, knowing that everything he does is done out of love. Like his character, To has a strong presence without stealing the limelight, and he proves that for a chronic overactor, less can be a lot more.

I’m hard pressed to find drawbacks, but one might be a general lack of urgency in the film. For a sports movie, there isn’t really a major antagonist, which somewhat dampens the thrill of victory. Life, however, seems to be a fair enough obstacle for Li Li, and the movie chronicles a string of difficulties – financial, emotional, bureaucratic – she faces to get back in the game. Some might find the story low-key enough to dismiss entirely, but considering the bombast and inanity that usually graces the city’s screens, Love Lifting shows what a quality Hong Kong film can look like.

Trailer contains important spoiler that happens late in the movie.

“You Give Me Strength” (你給我力量) theme song by Elanne Kong:

Released: 2012
Prod: Alvin Lam 林小強; Zhang Zhao 張昭; Ng Kin-Hung 伍健雄
Dir: Herman Yau 邱禮濤
Writer: Herman Yau 邱禮濤; Yeung Yee-Shan 楊漪珊; Wang Ya-Wen 王亞文
Cast: Elanne Kong 江若琳; Chapman To 杜汶澤; Tien Niu 恬妞; Jeremy Xu 徐正希; Feng Haoxu 馮昊旭; Zhang Songwen 張頌文; Huang Jianxin 黃建新; Jun Kung 恭碩良; Bob Lam 林盛斌; Terence Tsui 小肥
Time: 92 min
Lang: Cantonese, some Mandarin
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewed: 2014