Jo Kuk Cho-Lam

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

Lady Cop and Papa Crook (大搜查之女)

lady cop and papa crook

Alan Mak and Felix Chong (Infernal Affairs trilogy) join forces again to create a true mystery that will have audiences wondering what the hell is going on in their film Lady Cop and Papa Crook. ‘Tis anyone’s guess because it doesn’t seem like the writing and directing team have a handle on it either. The movie sounds good in theory – so many do – but ultimately suffers from numerous inconsistencies and general dullness of character and plot.

The story pairs Sammi Cheng as lady cop Maureen Szeto and Eason Chan as papa crook John Fok. Maureen is a detective who, when she’s not taking down criminals, worries that she is frittering her life away with her artist boyfriend (Conroy Chan) of ten years. She crosses paths with John when she leads the investigation into his son’s kidnapping, which is complicated and/or caused by the fact that he runs an illegal diesel operation.

Mak and Chong wanted to explore the dramatic tension generated when cops and robbers are thrown together in a confined space, so Wikipedia tells me, and the story has potential to match their darker dramatic efforts, but with Cheng in the lead, the film could have also veered towards the comedic. Instead of settling on one or attempting a coherent balance, however, the filmmakers use all the tools in the box and send the movie’s tone ricocheting from one end to the other. In the space of five minutes, John’s associates commit a brutal murder that feels like something out of Election only for Maureen to crawl into the screen on all fours à la Love Undercover a few scenes later.

It’s hard to know what to take seriously, and it doesn’t help that the two leads don’t seem to be acting together. When Cheng and Chan share screen time, it’s as if they’re drawing from two different scripts, and both leave the scene looking a little helpless. Thankfully, the story avoids pairing the two characters in a romantic relationship, though both actors still lack chemistry with their onscreen partners.

Others try to fill in the gaps; Patrick Tam delivers a particularly juicy cameo as a competing triad boss, and Liu Kai-Chi also makes the most of his memorable role as a fiery member of John’s inner circle. But even as performers flare up individual scenes, the fire quickly fades, and the sum of their performances never adds to the tension and urgency of what should be a heart-pounding thriller.

Some might blame the film’s mediocrity on Mainland censors, which sliced six minutes from the original cut. I’m guessing this was due to a subplot involving the death of an officer’s wife and child, thus causing him to act in a vengeful and not entirely upstanding manner. Since I watched the director’s version and didn’t feel like sitting through the theatrical release, I don’t know how many holes were punctured in the plot. But we can probably agree that the censors don’t tend to improve on a film.

If the film does earn any points, it should be for featuring a relatively competent woman as a lead investigator of a major crime. Cheng still dips into her screwball comedy tricks bag and acts unprofessionally on several occasions, which the filmmakers decide to blame on female issues like pregnancy and a cheating boyfriend. (A fellow male officer asks, “You have shit for brains or PMS?”) However, Maureen is clever and gets the job done despite being a bit flighty. The movie also goes above and beyond, by Hong Kong standards, and features Michelle Lo in a visible supporting part as another member of the investigation. It’s too bad Michelle Ye, who plays John’s pregnant wife, doesn’t do much except get really emotional. Girl, I feel you.

“Hide and Seek” (捉迷藏) – theme song by Sammi Cheng:

Released: 2008
Prod: John Chong 莊澄
Dir: Alan Mak 麥兆輝; Felix Chong 莊文強
Writer: Alan Mak 麥兆輝; Felix Chong 莊文強
Cast: Sammi Cheng 鄭秀文; Eason Chan 陳奕迅; Gordon Cheung 張國立; Dong Yong 董勇; Chapman To 杜汶澤; Michelle Ye 葉璇; Kate Tsui 徐子珊; Wilfred Lau 劉浩龍; Conroy Chan 陳子聰; Patrick Tam 譚耀文; Kenny Wong 黃德斌; Buzz Chung 鍾紹圖; Stephanie Che 車婉婉; Jo Kuk 谷祖琳; Michelle Lo 盧覓雪; Richie Ren 任賢齊
Time: 97 min (91 min, Director’s Cut)
Lang: Cantonese, Mandarin
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewed: 2014