Month: April 2015

Run Fatboy Run

run fatboy run

I’m not sure why anyone would run away from Thandie Newton, but that’s exactly what Dennis (Simon Pegg) does on his wedding day. Five years after leaving the pregnant Libby (Newton) at the altar, he’s still treading water as a security guard at a women’s clothing store. Meanwhile, she’s let him back into her life, mostly because of their son Jake (Matthew Fenton), but she hasn’t quite forgiven him. Still, things are looking better for her; she owns a successful boutique bakery and is spending more time with her new boyfriend, Whit (Hank Azaria).

His intrusion into their lives jerks Dennis from complacency as he realizes he is in danger of losing Libby again. An everyday schlub who’s mediocre at best when it comes to his job, and life, he knows he doesn’t measure up to Libby’s new man. Whit, by contrast, is one of those guys with a cushy office in the Gherkin and who goes to spin class during his lunch break. Or as Libby points out, he’s a good man because he runs marathons for charity. Realizing that his pride and the woman he loves are at stake, Dennis decides to enter a marathon and prove that he’s a changed man. If he can’t win back Libby, at least he can win back her respect.

There’s nothing extraordinary about this run-of-the-mill romcom script from Michael Ian Black and Pegg, and those expecting the sharp humor of Pegg’s Cornetto trilogy (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and The World’s End) will be left wanting. Most of the jokes can be spotted a mile or two away as the narrative jogs steadily towards its predictable finish. Dennis’s hefty landlord (Harish Patel) and his best friend (Dylan Moran), who is also Libby’s gambling, pants-less cousin, cheer from the sidelines and offer some comic relief while Whit passively aggressively emasculates Dennis at every turn.

The acting ensemble gives the tired script a strong push though and makes the film pleasant if average. Pegg, always a welcome presence, gives heart to even his wackiest roles with his uncanny ability to get serious. He does the same here, showing that behind Dennis’s sluggish, irresponsible persona, there is much love and regret. Azaria also attacks his part with smug gusto, making Whit’s comeuppance all the more satisfying. Caught in the middle, Newton has less to work with but is radiant nonetheless. It’s no wonder she’s got two guys going the distance for her.

Released: 2007
Prod: Sarah Curtis, Robert Jones
Dir: David Schwimmer
Writer: Michael Ian Black, Simon Pegg
Cast: Simon Pegg, Thandie Newton, Hank Azaria, Dylan Moran, Harish Patel, India de Beaufort, Matthew Fenton, Simon Day, Ruth Sheen, Peter Serafinowitz, Stephen Merchant, David Walliams
Time: 100 min
Lang: English
Country: United Kingdom
Reviewed: 2015

All About Women (女人不壞)

all about women

All About Women is one wacky, overlong explosion of feminist, romance, fantasy weirdness that you’re either going to appreciate for its eccentricity or hate for its incoherence or, in some cases, both. The brainchild of Tsui Hark and cowriter Kwak Jae-Yong (My Sassy Girl), this two-hour film about three women and the pursuit of love is badly in need of an editor no matter how you approach it. But it also tries to hack out a new course for traditional romcoms, and such vision gets some credit given the recycled junkyard that is Hong Kong cinema these days.

In order to begin to appreciate what Tsui is doing though, you need to plow through the first hour, and this is where the film will lose most of its audience. The three main characters are introduced in a disjointed opening, beginning with scientist Fanfan (Zhou Xun), who suffers from selective sclerosis. This makes her freeze in awkward positions at awkward moments, but it’s the least of her problems. Conforming to stereotypes of socially inept scientists, Fanfan needs serious help when it comes to guys and is working on pheromone stickers that will take the clumsiness out of love. Tanglu (Kitty Zhang), meanwhile, is her opposite. Also embracing a familiar archetype, this sexy, power dressing she-devil renders men useless whenever she marches down the corridor. She closes deals but worries that her beauty is bad for business and that she is not being taken seriously. Last up is Tieling (Guey Lun-Mei), the scrappy, emo rock-chick-poet-boxer of the group. She also has a long-term imaginary relationship with model X (Godfrey Gao) because a) it makes sense later on, and b) who wouldn’t?

It’s a madhouse as these eccentric personalities scramble around their professional and love lives. Increasingly, their paths intersect. Fanfan sets her eyes on a moody rocker (Stephen Fung) whose backside resembles the last subject of her infatuation. He happens to work with Tieling, while she has caught the attention of Tanglu’s meek assistant, Qiyan (Eddie Peng). It isn’t until some of these characters literally crash into each other that the story seems to gain momentum. A mix-up involving Fanfan’s pheromone stickers results in some Midsummer’s Night-like consequences that have the three women questioning what they want out of a partner and of love.

The characters that Tsui and Kwak craft don’t exactly pass the Bechdel test, but they end up being more than the sum of their quirks. This is due in part to the strength of the writing and directing, which eventually move beyond sheer absurdities. The film’s latter half is a lot more challenging than the usual “will they or won’t they” scenario precisely because the love matches have been manipulated by Fanfan’s patches. Each character in her own way is trying to distill love into one formula, whether it be in chemical form or as a romanticized ideal. However, they find that the heart can’t be simplified.

There’s a fair amount of offbeat humor in this, and the actresses get a lot of credit for adding a sympathetic dimension to their parts that is not found in the script. Despite her character’s robotic nature, Zhou is surprisingly funny and at ease with her eccentric role. I was also impressed by Zhang’s ability to turn Tanglu into more than a shrill maneater, and Guey similarly made Tieling’s romantic fantasy seem endearing rather than obsessive.

Considering the movie is called All About Women, it might be expected that the love stories suffer. The male characters get a bit of space to pine or sulk – or in the cases of Gao and Alex Fong Chung-Sun, look flawless and unattainable, but the overall chemistry between the sexes is hit and miss. Much like the rest of the film. Demanding audiences may be more appreciative of the effort and more willing to dig to find the characters, but it retains the feel of an experimental piece, albeit a fresh and fun one, that needs more workshopping.

Released: 2008
Prod: Tsui Hark 徐克; Huang Jianxin 黃建新; Nansun Shi 施南生; Elvis Lee 李程
Dir: Tsui Hark 徐克
Writer: Tsui Hark 徐克; Kwak Jae-Yong 곽재용
Cast: Zhou Xun 周迅; Kitty Zhang 張雨綺; Guey Lun-Mei 桂綸鎂; Alex Fong Chung-Sun 方中信; Stephen Fung 馮德倫; Godfrey Gao 高以翔; Shen Chang 沈暢; Eddie Peng 彭于晏
Time: 120 min
Lang: Mandarin
Country: Hong Kong/Mainland China
Reviewed: 2015

Mr. and Mrs. Incredible (神奇俠侶)

mr and mrs incredible

Whether you’re looking for a Chinese New Year pick-me-up or some superhero fisticuffs, Mr. and Mrs. Incredible is not the movie for you. Never funny enough to lighten the holiday mood or action-packed enough to power through the other days of the year, this Vincent Kok project is a mixed and deflated bag of tired tricks.

Most of the film follows a pair of retired superheroes who are doing their best to live a normal, married life. Ten years after foiling the Pest Four Robbery and saving village women from abusive husbands, Gazer Warrior (Louis Koo) and Aroma Woman (Sandra Ng) have sworn off their superpowers. Instead, they take up identities as Flint, head of the town’s security, and Rouge, owner of a local bun shop.

The couple succeeds in blending in and living a normal life, but as superheroes would do, they are too good at it. They start to feel bored by their mundane existence and decide a child might give their lives renewed purpose. However, a visit to the local doctor reveals that conceiving will not be so easy and suggests that a little more excitement in their lives will help the situation. As if on cue, news arrives that a martial arts competition will be held in the village. At first, Rouge worries that some of the competitors will uncover their identities, but soon she discovers a bigger problem in the form of a young woman named Phoenix (Li Qin).

Ng has made a living in some fabulously over-the-top comedic roles, but sensing a deeper story about love and commitment, she tones down her performance and delivers some emotional honesty not often found in these movies. The actress digs in more than the script calls for and shows a woman who knows her place – and that’s not standing idle next to a philandering husband. She’s a superhero, dammit. While Koo doesn’t attempt as much soul searching with his character, he gamely dresses up and plays the fool when asked. Unfortunately, the film lacks the social criticism and rapid-fire in-jokes that have become a hallmark in recent New Year hits, and the script simply doesn’t serve Koo’s campy comedic skills as well as it could.

With that in mind, writer-director Vincent Kok attempts a third act rescue that depends on a bizarre solar eclipse spell and a power hungry Grandmaster Blanc (played with vein-popping, eye-bulging craziness by Edison Wang). Despite the promise of a martial arts competition, the real showdown doesn’t happen until the last 15 minutes or so. Some of the action ends up in a flurry of close-ups but most of it is channeled a wispy blur of colorful but cheap CGI. Not very incredible at all.

Released: 2011
Prod: Peter Chan; David Chan; Peter Tsi; Chan Po-Chun
Dir: Vincent Kok
Writer: Steven Fung; Vincent Kok; Chan Po-Chun
Cast: Louis Koo; Sandra Ng; Edison Wang; Li Qin; Li Jing; He Yunwei; Wen Zhang
Time: 100 min
Lang: Cantonese
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewed: 2015