Alex Fong Chung-Sun

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

Crazy N’ the City (神經俠侶)

crazy n the city

Chris, a seasoned beat officer, explains to his new partner on her first day, “Wanchai is a chaotic district. There’s lots of traffic, lots of people, and lots of mentally ill.” Somewhat taken aback, she says that it would be dangerous if they all went crazy, to which he replies, “When I get mad it will be even more dangerous. I can pull out my gun and shoot everyone.”

Lest anyone think that Hong Kong police officers are trigger happy, hypothetical talk about firing a weapon generally stays that way. That’s not always the case when it comes to Hong Kong movies where bullet ballets are a staple. Crazy N’ the City is a vast departure from the dark and highly stylized gangs and guns mayhem though and much of the pedestrian action takes place under sunny skies.

The natural light illuminates the city and characters in a way that softens their harsh edges. Chris (Eason Chan) has grown dejected over the years and is skeptical when rookie Tak Nam (Joey Yung), or Manly, bursts into the department with the enthusiasm a superhero’s sidekick. She attacks her first case, a suspected cat poisoning, with gusto but as the day wears on, finds that her partner has a more apathetic approach to the job.

The movie has a similar unhurried feel, and the camera lingers around the two as they encounter the ordinary and uneventful. Manly helps an old lady push her trolley full of cardboard up a hill guarded by a kid with a water gun. A shop owner suspects a man (Lam Suet) of stealing milk formula. Two teenage girls witness someone exposing himself on the bus. A mentally ill man, Shing (Francis Ng), raids a bra shop. A young woman from the Mainland (Zhang Meng) opens a small massage parlor.

Director James Yuen allows his film to unfold organically. His characters swim in and out of the picture, leaving little splashes and sometimes crashing waves across the narrow streets of Wanchai. It’s a far richer portrait of Hong Kong than we’re used to seeing, and that’s what makes this little film so gratifying. There is a tenderness to the way each character is crafted, the way this tiny square of the city is painted to life. Yuen’s camera shows a closeness that is intimate without being claustrophobic.

People and places brush up against each other, sometimes leaving callouses and sometimes adding polish. Over the course of the movie, Chris blunts Manly’s idealism but in a way that helps her to become a better officer. “We’re policemen not supermen,” he explains. Meanwhile, her dedication gives him license to become more invested in his job. He also gets some help from a serial killer subplot that has a bit of an artificial ring to it, shifting the movie into conventional crime thriller territory.

But Ng, whose character Shing figures prominently in that storyline, gives an emotionally charged performance that makes the generic diversion worth it. He also earns points for sensitively drawing attention to mental illness. His costars, both of whom hold Ph.Ds in histrionics, are affecting as well, giving nuanced, unpretentious portrayals. Yung shows she can act when she’s not trying to blast her way through a scene and handles Manly’s conflicting emotions with well earned sympathy. But Chan is the film’s greatest asset, capturing Chris’s mix of idealism, disappointment, and insecurity from scene one. He is exceptional to watch and betrays his character’s thoughts with the slightest physical details. Hong Kong film would do well with more of this Eason Chan and this kind of movie.

Released: 2005
Prod: Derek Yee 爾冬陞; Henry Fong 方平
Dir: James Yuen 阮世生
Writer: James Yuen 阮世生; Law Yiu-Fai 羅耀輝; Jessica Fong 方晴
Cast: Eason Chan 陳奕迅; Joey Yung 容祖兒; Francis Ng 吳鎮宇; Zhang Meng 張萌; Kara Hui 惠英紅; Ng Yat-Yin 吳日言; Hui Siu-Hung 許紹雄; Waise Lee 李子雄; Chloe Chiu 趙雪妃; Sam Lee 李燦森; Alex Fong Chung-Sun 方中信; Chin Kar-Lok 錢嘉樂; Ella Koon 官恩娜; Lam Suet 林雪; Crystal Tin 田蕊妮; Liu Kai-Chi 廖啟智; Elena Kong 江美儀; Henry Fong 方平; Harashima Daichi 原島大地
Time: 102 min
Lang: Cantonese, some English
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewed: 2014

My Lucky Star (行運超人)

my lucky star

Somewhere, a fung shui master is thousands of dollars richer after conning the makers of My Lucky Star into going ahead with this project. The movie feels twice as long as its 100 minutes, and not even stars Tony Leung Chiu-Wai and Miriam Yeung can add much life to it. Of course, this might be expected when the entire story rests on the minutiae of fung shui and people’s obsession with avoiding bad luck or, as some see it, reality.

The Chinese New Year comedy tries to capitalize on the audience’s appetite for anything auspicious, and the transformation of one of Hong Kong’s unluckiest residents seems like a good start. Yip Koo-Hung (Yeung) can’t get a break in any area of her life. She’s on the brink of being fired, she can’t leave the house without tripping over herself, and she’s been held up multiple times. It’s a case for top fung shui master Lai Liu-Po (Leung), except he refuses to see anyone surnamed Yip owing to some fung shui cock up generations back.

She sneaks by anyhow, and Liu-Po agrees to help her because that’s what the story requires. It also demands that they fall in love, though the romance pops out of nowhere. Hung literally jumps into the screen and, armed with nothing more a crayon map of her house, a cute smile, and a lot of chutzpah, the two have the makings of a beautiful friendship.

They hit a few road bumps, but then the movie shuffles to the second major conflict involving a scheming stepmother (Teresa Carpio), a spoiled pop star (Chapman To), and a rival fung shui master (Ronald Cheng). With their powers combined, they conspire to make Hung’s life miserable where fate will not. There’s a message somewhere in this about kindness and karma, but it’s not beaten into the audience the same way it’s been with recent holiday films.

My Lucky Star is also missing the other elements that make New Year’s movies fun, if not intellectually demanding. It’s so cluttered with fung shui references that anyone who isn’t an avowed fan or practitioner will have a hard time relating to the characters. And though the film has a few funny moments regarding Hong Kong’s state of affairs, it is mostly short on comedy.

Besides an unamusing script, Hung and Liu-Po don’t really click as a couple. While the ever suave Leung delivers his dialogue with crisp, rapid fire precision, Yeung’s interpretation of Hung rests on scrunching up her face and throwing fits like a seven year old who’s grounded from Chuck E Cheese. She had proven herself a capable comedienne with hits like Love Undercover, but at this point in her career, Yeung was a better fit for the Daniel Wus of the world.

“Hold On at All Costs” (有愛錯無放過) theme song by Tony Leung and Miriam Yeung:

Released: 2003
Prod: Vincent Kok 谷德昭; David Chan 陳錫康
Dir: Vinent Kok 谷德昭
Writer: Vincent Kok 谷德昭; Patrick Kong 葉念琛
Cast: Tony Leung Chiu-Wai 梁朝偉; Miriam Yeung 楊千嬅; Ronald Cheng 鄭中基; Chapman To 杜汶澤; Vincent Kok 谷德昭; Teresa Caprio 杜麗莎; Alex Fong Chung-Sun 方中信; Mark Lui 雷頌德; Anya 安雅; Ken Wong 王合喜; Ken Cheung 張智堯; Sammy Leung 森美; Kitty Yuen 阮小儀; Josie Ho 何超儀; William So 蘇永康; Patrick Tang 鄧健泓; Alex Fong Lik-Sun 方力申; Peter So 蘇民峰; Steven Fung 馮勉恆; various celebrities
Time: 99 min
Lang: Cantonese, some English
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewed: 2014