Gillian Chung Yan-Tung

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

The Fantastic Water Babes (出水芙蓉)

fantab water babes

I usually wouldn’t enjoy a film with a title like this, unless it was a biopic about Gertrude Ederle or a documentary about competitive female swimmers and body image. It’s neither, so I’m surprised that I found the movie palatable.

Praise needs qualifying though, lots of it. For starters, no one’s watching this movie for plot. The eponymous water babes, Gill (Chung) and Mei Mei (Ma) – and their attendants (Chau and Huang), are at odds because Gill’s boyfriend is cheating on her with Mei Mei. Gill tries to drown herself but comes to her senses when she spies the sea deity Guanyin (Olympic diver cum actor Tian).

This may not stop the average Hong Konger from ending his or her life, but Gill is from Cheung Chau, an idyllic island most notable for its annual Bun Festival, and maybe its pirate cave. Here, legend has it that you will be granted superpowers if you see the god/goddess underwater. In order to prevent her from trying to take her own life again, Gill’s friends and all the eccentric islanders trick her into thinking she can do the impossible. This is supposedly done in an endearing and not at all exploitative sort of way.

With revenge still on her mind, Gill finds herself at the launch of a “water babes” swim competition, which is being endorsed by celebrity swimmer Chi-Yuen (actual celebrity and Olympic swimmer Fong). She spots Mei Mei and agrees to enter, with Chi-Yuen’s help. Rather than being a charming heartthrob though, he turns out to be a right ass, prompting Gill to kidnap him and force him to train her and her friends.

Alex Fong makes an amusing cad, and it’s refreshing to see pop stars attempting roles that don’t align with their public image. He gets the meatiest part as a self-absorbed cityslicker who grows to appreciate the sincerity of others. Gillian Chung, meanwhile, has greater difficulty balancing an innocent girl-next-door character with her actual character. I am only partly alluding to the Edison Chen photo scandal that delayed this movie’s release for two years. More relevant is the fact that Chung was 27 when she filmed Water Babes and should not have been presented as a chirpy ingenue. There are fleeting moments of exaggerated teen rom-com convention that poke fun at the genre and actors but not enough to confuse this movie with satire.

This leaves the real star of the movie, Cheung Chau. The delicious cinematography and art direction paint a quiet village, rich in tradition and populated with generous if quirky folks (including a delusional Stephen Fung character who thinks the loan sharks are after him). The wistful images of hidden Hong Kong reminded me of an early Chung film, Just One Look (一碌蔗), also set in Cheung Chau. That movie is far superior, but both capitalize on the scenic island and its history and play like a love letter to rural Hong Kong. If the writers had just excised the swimming competition, The Fantastic Water Babes would have been, well, fantastic.

Gillian Chung and Alex Fong’s “For Life” (一生一世).

Released: 2010
Prod: Jeff Lau 劉鎮偉
Dir: Jeff Lau 劉鎮偉
Writer: Jeff Lau 劉鎮偉
Cast: Gillian Chung 鍾欣桐; Alex Fong 方力申; Eva Huang 黃聖依; Hyper BB 茜利妹; Chu Fun 朱薰; Simon Lui; Stephen Fung 馮德倫; Tian Liang 田亮; Natalie Tong 唐詩詠; Ma Yue 馬閱; Chrissie Chau 周秀娜; Patrick Dunn 鄧梓峰; Jacqueline Law 羅慧娟; Calvin Sun 孫祖楊; Bianca Liu 廖羽翹
Time: 89 min
Lang: Cantonese
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewed: 2013

If U Care… (賤精先生)

if u care

Gino Cheung (Chan) is one of those people who will be reincarnated as a cockroach. He is a vile, selfish human who has no compassion for anyone. He terrorizes and humiliates his subordinates and denigrates his superiors. He can’t even be bothered to donate a few cents for flag sales (Saturday morning street corner charity drives).

Gino, however, won’t be reincarnated because, surprise, this is a Christian movie (from writer-director Adrian Kwan who also gifted Hong Kong with Sometimes, Miracles Do Happen [天使之城], The Miracle Box [天作之盒], and Team of Miracle [流浪漢世界盃]). And because this movie is predictably about redemption and second chances. Will Gino see the light and amend his ways? Will others forgive him for his many transgressions? Of course; the important questions for this movie are how and why.

The answers lie in one of the wackier plot devices you’ll come across but one that is unexpectedly used to good effect. He gets in a car accident that sends his hand flying through the windshield. When he recovers, he finds that it is possessed with supernatural abilities; when he touches someone else, he can hear their thoughts and experience their emotions. For the first time in a long while, Gino begins to feel empathy for others.

His change of heart is helped by a few encounters with his childhood friend, Gillian (…played by Gillian). She has fulfilled Gino’s wish of becoming a firefighter so that she can help others. Yes, that’s right. Gillian Chung is a firefighter, right up there with notable cinematic firemen Lau Ching-Wan and Alex Fong Chung-Sun. Besides her penchant for rescuing people, she also motivates him to reform by being the kindest, most compassionate person ever.

Alas, Gillian, both the character and the actress, is perfect to the point of dullness, though that matters little because she is mostly a conduit for Gino’s redemption. Chan’s portrayal is harder to tolerate. He spends a good half of his screen time in an epileptic fit, which the audience is supposed to take as some humorous Jim Carrey-esque homage. He is more effective when he tones down his antics, revealing an adult who doesn’t like what he’s become but who still struggles to be a gentler person. The non-denominational message rings clear as (church) bells in the end, and don’t feel guilty if you’re a bit more hopeful as the credits roll.

“This Time, Next Year” (明年今日) by Eason Chan

Released: 2002
Prod: Benny Chan 陳木勝
Dir: Adrian Kwan 關信輝
Writer: Adrian Kwan 關信輝, Chit Ka-Kei 戚家基; Wai Mei 惠美
Cast: Eason Chan 陳奕迅; Gillian Chung 鍾欣桐; Candy Lo 盧巧音; Rain Li 李彩樺; Eric Kot 葛民輝; Hui Siu-Hung 許紹雄; Patrick Tang 鄧健泓; Lam Suet 林雪; Tats Lau 劉以達; Yoyo Yiu 姚詠雯; Bonnie Wong 黃文慧; Lawrence Chou 周俊偉; Willie Wai 韋家雄; Winston Yeh 葉景文; Ching Long 程朗
Time: 106 min
Lang: Cantonese
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewed: 2013