Andy Lau Tak-Wah

Golden Chicken (金雞)

golden chicken

It’s not an ideal time to discover your walls are paper-thin when Sandra Ng, the titular golden chicken – or prostitute in common parlance, breaks out into yet another ecstatic and ostensibly faked moan. I felt it was my neighborly duty to have the mute button on ready in case things got a little too heated, or loud, though in honesty, I should have expected those shrill cries of ecstasy. Still, it’s not quite the Category III sex romp you might be picturing, and Golden Chicken falls on the funny side of the world’s oldest profession. It throws up a few cheap thrills to get the holiday audience laughing but also tries to find its dramatic footing as the film wears on.

The story begins in the present day, which is the tail end of 2002 and just before SARS hitteth the fan. When a power outage traps a broke Kam (Ng) (the Kam or Golden of the title) in an ATM booth with a would-be robber (Eric Tsang), she decides to pass the time by recounting her glorious exploits, and some of the not-so-glorious ones. What follows is a retrospective on twenty odd years of Hong Kong history through the eyes of an unprivileged observer.

A self-described ugly duckling who entered the industry at fifteen, Kam isn’t like the other prostitutes who rely on various physical assets to beguile the customers. Her trick is a spot-on imitation of Jackie Chan’s drunken fist kungfu, which she performs in a sparkling, bodice-hugging dress. As she rides the political and economic changes of the 1980s and 90s, her fortunes rise, then fall, with those of her financially well endowed clients. At one point Kam makes enough money to buy a flat that can accommodate a king sized bed, which is more than I can ever hope for.

But she also remarks on shifts in her line of her work that hint at greater social transformations – the advent of mobile phones and karaoke and more importantly the arrival of Mainland prostitutes. These observations don’t generally serve as a broader social critique; however, the film does slip in some commentary on the indomitable Hong Kong spirit. Ever resourceful Kam never gives up – and never moves up – but keeps on trucking despite the hard times, of which there are many.

Most of her disappointments are in personal relationships, not just with the people she is around but also in their absence. The film is strongest when Kam gets the chance to develop something more lasting than a quick sexual encounter. It’s funny when a bespectacled Eason Chan, the first in a strong line of cameos, shows up as a timid loner and asks Kam to service him in the manner of his ex-girlfriend, but that encounter is more for the novelty of seeing the two actors get frisky in the shower.

The better interactions occur later on, between Kam and nice guy Richard (Felix Wong) and then moody gangster Yeh (Hu Jun). These give both Kam and the story more weight. At one point, she is burdened with an unwanted pregnancy and later, she simply feels like a worn woman. Unfortunately, every time the film begins to settle down, it always recalibrates, bouncing to the next client and/or period in history. It’s easy to lose interest, as I did, when there’s little except the force of Ng’s personality to tie Kam’s life together. The overarching narrative seems to be Kam’s quest to secure her next paycheck, and hopefully a big one. For better, the film doesn’t try to excuse her chosen profession but it also doesn’t do much to explore it, thus lessening the impact of its more emotional moments.

Released: 2002
Prod: Peter Chan 陳可辛; Jojo Hui 許月珍
Dir: Samson Chiu 趙良駿
Writer: Matt Chow 鄒凱光; Samson Chiu 趙良駿
Cast: Sandra Ng 吳君如; Eric Tsang 曾志偉, Andy Lau 劉德華; Tony Leung Ka-Fai 梁家輝; Hu Jun 胡軍; Eason Chan 陳奕迅; Alfred Cheung 張堅庭; Chapman To 杜汶澤; Felix Wong 黃日華; Tiffany Lee 李蘢怡; Crystal Tin 田蕊妮
Time: 106 min
Lang: Cantonese, some Mandarin
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewed: 2015

All About Love (再説一次我愛你)

all about love

I would have been satisfied with a Return to Me remake. The 2000 American romantic comedy is about a woman with a heart transplant who begins dating her donor’s husband. It’s a stretch but believable within its own narrative boundaries. All About Love has the slight beginnings of a similar story. Dr. Ko (Andy Lau) and Tze-Ching (Charlene Choi) are happily married, though he doesn’t spend as much time as he should with her owing to his work. She dies within the first five minutes of the film, and Sam (Charlie Yeung) receives Tze-Ching’s heart. After her husband abandons her, she begins seeing Dr. Ko.

Except it’s not so simple and not nearly as romantic. In fact, large chunks of the movie don’t make sense and are downright creepy. For one, you have to believe that Andy Lau and Charlene Choi are a loving couple, despite their Woody Allen-esque age gap. Everything stems from the fact that this doctor is mad for his barely out of uni wife who whines and can’t enunciate (see every Twins-era Choi film).

If you buy that, you still have to accept that six years later Dr. Ko, now a forlorn paramedic, happens to attend to Sam when she gets in a car accident and somehow senses that she is the recipient of his wife’s heart. How does he know this? Probably super-psychic powers; he performs magic tricks after all. He confirms this with her doctor (Anthony Wong), thereby breaking all sorts of patient confidentiality codes. Due to his connection with Sam/Tze-Ching/Tze-Ching’s heart, he essentially stalks her as a way of reconnecting with his wife. He even goes so far as to break into her house and thumb through her diary.

The most bizarre element of this story though is that Sam’s husband Derek is a dead ringer for Dr. Ko. In other words, two Andy Laus for the price of one. Like Dr. Ko, Derek is successful at his job in the modeling industry and also doesn’t have much time to spare for his wife. Unlike Dr. Ko, however, Derek has a temper and may not be a committed husband; he also sports sleazy facial hair. His actions quite literally cause Sam heartache. The good doctor sees a chance to atone for his past and passes himself off as Derek, a move that has fueled many a serial killer film.

I hesitate to laugh at or so roundly trounce a story that is this committed to loss and grief. Dr. Ko is punishing in his solitude, refusing to take any pleasure in life, even after Tze-Ching’s parents (Hui Siu-Hung and Gigi Wong) have moved on. But in addition to the improbabilities of the script, the direction is just too heavy handed to nurture any genuine feelings. Lau treats the movie like an extended music video and carries his character on the intensity of his sad, distant stares. Choi’s youthful effervescence adds some joy, but that is offset by Yeung, who limps around like a perpetually wronged and helpless woman.

The directors don’t give their characters much chance to open up and instead weigh them down with oppressive camerawork. They keep the lens moving with excessive pans, but images crawl numbingly across the screen, often accompanied by mawkish piano strains. The narrative is also interrupted by shots that don’t mean anything (mostly of water dripping in slow motion and Lau’s latest edition CYMA timepiece) except poor attempts to add visual flair. All About Love should be used as an example of how overwhelming and ineffective a film can be when every frame is seared with pain and regret. Sometimes a lighter touch can be far more profound.

“Say You Love Me Once More” (再説一次我愛你) by Andy Lau:

Released: 2005
Prod: Daniel Yu 余偉國; Yan Min-Jun 閻敏軍
Dir: Daniel Yu 余偉國; Lee Kung-Lok 李公樂
Writer: Daniel Yu 余偉國; Lee Kung-Lok 李公樂
Cast: Andy Lau 劉德華; Charlie Yeung 楊采妮; Charlene Choi 蔡卓妍; Allen Lin 林依輪; Anthony Wong 黃秋生; Hui Siu-Hung 許紹雄; Gigi Wong 黃淑儀; Lam Suet 林雪; Amber Xu 胥力文; Sasha Hou 侯莎莎
Time: 87 min
Lang: Cantonese, some Mandarin
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewed: 2015

Look for a Star (游龍戲鳳)

look for a star

There are three improbable relationships at work in Look for a Star, all of which cross some social boundaries of class, gender, wealth, age, or education and none of which are engaging enough on their own. Three definitely makes a crowd though as this picture struggles to accommodate each couple.

The bulk of the story falls on Andy Lau and Shu Qi. Lau plays Sam Ching, a thrice divorced millionaire and property developer who’s been snatching up land all through Macau. Milan, played by Shu Qi, holds a pretty low opinion of Mr. Ching for turning her city into an overdeveloped playground, but there’s not much she can do as a baccarat dealer and nightclub club dancer. After a sequence of events not fully made clear by the narrative, the two start dating, except Sam withholds his true identity. Anyone can see this isn’t a wise decision, but filmmakers deem it necessary to progress to a second act.

Sam’s second-in-command, Jo (Denise Ho), also gets some action with the help of her boss, but when the initial set-up doesn’t go as planned, she finds herself on the receiving end of some unwanted attention from a polite but clingy migrant worker Jiu (Zhang Hanyu). Chauffeur Tim (Dominic Lam) tries his luck in love as well. Sam arranges for him to go on a date with Shannon (Zhang Xinyi), who seems a perfect match except that she is also a single mother, thus failing to tick off all the right boxes on his list.

It’s an ambitious slate and you get the sense that the filmmakers want to go somewhere deeper with their material. The third act is a blustery show of commentaries on love and compatibility and comes in the form of an incredulous matchmaking program hosted by Cheung Tat-Ming. He (cruelly) highlights the extreme social divide that separates each pair of lovers, and it’s an attempt to expose what some see as the superficial barriers that thwart true love. At the same time, Milan gives an honest but brief perspective on the reality of relationships characterized by such differences.

I’m not a great admirer of Shu Qi’s work, and some of her earlier scenes – dancing by herself in an elevator, performing a kittenish can can – seem to be inserted to up her coquettish appeal. But she really captures her character’s dignity and humiliation after becoming tabloid fodder and the subject of scrutiny by Sam’s company. Zhang Hanyu also commands attention in his small role. He has a quiet but intense magnetism that makes his character understandably appealing.

It’s too bad then that Jiu’s relationship with Jo wasn’t given greater focus. Their pairing is touching but, like most of the emotions in this movie, not lasting. Look for a Star is weighed down by chatty conversations that want to take on more importance than they actually do, leaving the film to start a discussion that stalls shortly thereafter.

“I Do” by Andy Lau and Shu Qi:

Released: 2009
Prod: Andrew Lau 劉偉強
Dir: Andrew Lau 劉偉強
Writer: Theresa Tang 鄧潔明; James Yuen 阮世生
Cast: Andy Lau 劉德華; Shu Qi 舒淇; Denise Ho 何韻詩; Zhang Hanyu 張涵予; Dominic Lam 林嘉華; Zhang Xinyi 張歆藝; Cheung Tat-Ming 張達明; David Chiang 姜大衛; Maria Cordero 瑪利亞; George Lam 林子祥; Raymond Cho 曹永廉; Monie Tung 董敏莉; Rebecca Pan 潘迪華; Ella Koon 官恩娜; Terence Yin 尹子維; Tony Ho 何華超
Time: 117 min
Lang: Cantonese, Mandarin, and some English
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewed: 2015