Hui Siu-Hung

Yesterday Once More (龍鳳鬥)

yesterday once more

Third time should be a charm for director Johnnie To and actors Andy Lau and Sammi Cheng, who turned out critical and commercial hits with the romantic comedies Needing You and Love on a Diet. But their collaboration in Yesterday Once More falls short of their earlier efforts and lacks both the wit and chemistry that made those movies so enjoyable. This film has a promising start and tells the story of married thieves who break up, go head-to-head, and may still be in love, but the narrative never picks up and it plods along until a surprise final act jolts the picture from its tedium.

Much of the fault lies in the characterization; it’s hard to warm to a movie in which both protagonists are selfish, materialistic criminals. Lau and Cheng have played unpleasant people in the past, but Mr. and Mrs. To have very little to recommend themselves. The pair care more about amassing stolen jewels than they do about preserving their own marriage, which causes them to head for splitsville within the opening scene.

Two years later, Mrs. To is in a relationship with Steven (Carl Ng), a rich young man still clinging to his mother’s apron strings. It’s patently obvious that Mrs. To is only in it for the family heirlooms, but daft Steven can’t figure it out. Luckily for him, mom (Shaw Brothers’ lead Jenny Hu) isn’t so easily fooled since she herself is in the thieving business. A prenup and marriage are agreed to, and Mrs. To gets a pricey diamond necklace, but not before Mr. To reappears and snatches it.

This is where the story should pick up. There’s potential for some clever cat and mouse chases underscored by the couple’s simmering sexual tension, and this push and pull is where the previous films were strongest. Mr. and Mrs. To don’t interact in any way that adds to their relationship, however. Their steady flirtation isn’t enough to sustain the action or cultivate empathy for them. A subplot involving an insurance surveyor (Gordan Lam) adds a bit of intrigue but Hu, returning to the Hong Kong screen after a decades-long absence, seems to not have warmed up quite enough, and it’s not enough to pique slagging interest.

Lau and Cheng finally get to show off in the curveball third act, which scrambles the rules of romantic comedy a bit. But in doing so, Mr. and Mrs. To are challenged to confront their priorities and feelings for each other. The actors get a lot more material to work with, and a less vapid relationship starts to take form. It all comes a little too late in the game for a resuscitation though, and this is one better left on its own.

“If Trouble Comes” (如果我有事) theme song by Andy Lau:

“For the Last Time” (最後一次) by Sammi Cheng:

Released: 2004
Prod: Johnnie To 杜琪峰
Dir: Johnnie To 杜琪峰
Action Dir: Yuen Bun 元彬
Writer: Au Kin-Yee 歐健兒; The Hermit 隱士
Cast: Andy Lau 劉德華; Sammi Cheng 鄭秀文; Jenny Hu 胡燕妮; Gordon Lam 林家棟; Carl Ng 吳嘉龍; Chun Wong 秦煌; Hui Siu-Hung 許紹雄; Lin Wai-Kin 連偉健
Time: 98 min
Lang: Cantonese
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

2 Become 1 (天生一對)

2 become 1

2 Become 1’s greatest value is as a public service announcement for breast cancer awareness. And inasmuch as I favor helping women recognize the importance of regular checkups and anything that lessens the stigma of breast cancer, I heartily endorse this movie. It shouldn’t feel as bold as it does, but it’s a rarity in a Hong Kong film landscape that tends to skirt around such concrete issues, especially those facing women. So kudos to this film for not only including a female character with breast cancer but for making it, and not a daffy romance, the central issue.

That’s not to say love isn’t in the air, or that the movie isn’t daffy. 2 Become 1 still qualifies as a romance, and it’s through this angle that Bingo (Miriam Yeung), an uptight marketer, finds out she has the disease. She and Vincent (Richie Ren) spot each other twice in one night and promptly end up in bed together, but just long enough for him to feel her up and discover a lump. She doesn’t know he’s a doctor, however, and assumes he’s a pervert. Nevertheless, she heeds his warning and gets herself checked out.

When her tests come back positive, Bingo goes through various stages of grief, though not always in the prescribed order. At various points, she accepts her diagnosis with a positive attitude, tries to reason her way to better health, and decides she’d rather just end it all. Yeung captures Bingo’s conflicted emotions at critical moments – when she first learns she has cancer and then finds Vincent hanging around in the waiting room, when she tries to tell her boss so that she can take sick leave, when she reconnects with a lost love under trying circumstances. But she’s not skilled enough of an actress to stitch her dramatic scenes with her comedic ones, and Bingo ends up being an inconsistent and not always empathetic character. A relationship she handles relatively well is the one Bingo has with her family, where there’s plenty of talking but little communication, and Yeung does a better job balancing her comedic tendencies with the subject matter.

Unfortunately, the movie takes an unnecessary turn south with Ren’s character. Not content to leave him in a supporting role, Vincent gets a ridiculous subplot that trivializes Bingo’s story. His initial experience with her left him so traumatized, on level with 9/11 and the Indian Ocean tsunami survivors, that he’s gone flaccid. He inserts himself back into Bingo’s life not out of concern for her so much as he believes that dating her will help him overcome his erectile dysfunction.

That is clearly done for laughs, as is a scene where Bingo’s fey friend helps her do a self-exam. The humor doesn’t stand out but has its uses in a society that isn’t comfortable talking so openly about breast cancer. It helps also that Yeung and Ren tackle the subject without reservation. Still, I probably would have enjoyed the movie more if attempted to treat the story in a more personal manner. Too often the script reads like a public health department info sheet and checklist, and if that’s what they’re aiming for, I might as well have watched an actual PSA. At least that’s shorter.

“Fated” (天生注定) by Miriam Yeung and Richie Ren:

“You’ll Shine Again” by Justin Lo:

“A Song a Day” by Justin Lo, and my favorite part of the movie:

Released: 2006
Prod: Johnnie To 杜琪峰
Dir: Law Wing-Cheong 羅永昌
Writer: Andrew Fung 馮志強
Cast: Miriam Yeung 楊千嬅; Richie Ren 任賢齊; Jo Kuk 谷祖琳; Guo Tao 郭濤; Victoria Wu 鄔玉君; Justin Lo 側田; Maggie Siu 邵美琪; Chun Wong 秦煌; Lily Li 李麗麗; Ai Wai 艾威; Florence Kwok 郭少芸; Gordon Lam 林家棟; Fung Hak-On 馮克安; Eddie Cheung 張兆輝; Hui Siu-Hung 許紹雄
Time: 97 min
Lang: Cantonese
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewed: 2015