Joey Yung Cho-Yi

Hot Summer Days (全城熱戀熱辣辣)

hot summer days

There’s a heat wave in the Pearl River Delta, and it’s pushing folks to the limit. The TV station’s frying eggs on car hoods, Mister Softee’s auctioning off ice cream cones, and there’s a lottery just to claim a spot on the beach. But crazy things happen when the temperature hits 48° (that’s 118°F), and one side effect is a lot of really sweaty people. Which may be why the movie features ten, give or take a few, beautiful stars in all their skin-glistening glory. The film is not so much about the summer heat as it is about heat of romance, but it still offers plenty of opportunities to showcase its actors basting in the South China humidity. If you’re watching on a boiling June day, it may be some comfort to know that you aren’t the only one soaking through your undergarments.

Hot Summer Days gets things off to a fiery start with a Latin-infused intro that could easily be mistaken for a Supernatural-era Carlos Santana music video. The pulsating beats eventually cool down but not the temperature, and the omnibus film’s many protagonists suffer under the scorching sun. A pianist (Rene Liu) and a chauffeur (Jacky Cheung) both end up in the hospital after passing out from heat stroke and then begin a text message romance. A young man (Jing Boran) pursues a factory girl (Angelababy) who agrees to go out with him if he waits for her at noon for the next 100 days. A food writer (Vivian Hsu) and a sushi chef (Daniel Wu) try to rekindle an old romance, and a fashion photographer (Duan Yihong) acts like a diva towards his model (Michelle Wai) and assistant (Fu Xinbo) and ends up going blind. About the only one who seems to welcome the heat wave is an air conditioner repairman (Nicholas Tse), but he has problems with his father (Gordon Liu) and has a run-in with a mysterious motorcyclist (Barbie Hsu).

Not content to stop there, writers Wing Shya and Tony Chan also include a pair of talking fish because this is just that sort of overstuffed movie. It tries to cover all the romantic bases, but like these kinds of ensemble films, weak storylines are made more obvious by good ones. Besides the CGI fish, it wouldn’t hurt to excise the somber sushi lovers or the remorseful cameraman. Vivian Hsu is bright but Wu fails to register much emotion even in her cheerful presence. Duan also seems to be overcompensating for his costars and doesn’t get much help from Wai or Fu in his character’s road to redemption.

The remaining stories do register, however, and the film’s ruminations on love are acutely felt. Though Hot Summer Days is too much of a patchwork to leave a cohesive message or even sentiment, there are some fine performances and tender moments to savor. Nicholas Tse, for all his personal distractions, is shaping up to be one of Hong Kong’s finest actors, certainly the bonafide star of his generation. His character is irreverent, resentful, and arrogant but faced with his own shortcomings, is gentle, vulnerable, and deeply changed. Some of the film’s most honest scenes are when he looks wordlessly on at his estranged father and his strong-willed companion. Gordon Liu and Barbie Hsu are able partners to Tse, and the trio turns out an effective vignette.

Jacky Cheung and Rene Liu are another couple that shows strength in measures. Both characters pretend to be a little more in text than they are in life and end up trying to balance disappointment with the hope of love. Their story is neither depressing nor over idealistic, and they capture a mature relationship in its promising, nascent stage. Perhaps at the opposite end of the spectrum is the story of persistence and young love. It has a silly start, and I half-expected Jing to plant himself outside the factory windows with a large boombox thrust triumphantly, or defiantly, in the air. That didn’t happen, and instead both his and Angelababy’s characters experience a quieter revolution, one that leaves them less innocent than they were at the start of the summer. Just like this movie, their love, however brief, ultimately satisfies.

“Hot” (熱辣辣) – theme song by Jacky Cheung

Released: 2010
Prod: Fruit Chan 陳果; Paul Cheng 鄭振邦
Dir: Tony Chan 陳國輝; Wing Shya 夏永康
Writer: Tony Chan 陳國輝; Lucretia Ho 何敏文
Cast: Nicholas Tse 謝霆鋒; Jacky Cheung 張學友; Rene Liu 劉若英; Vivian Hsu 徐若瑄; Angelababy 楊穎; Barbie Hsu 徐熙媛; Duan Yihong 段奕宏; Fu Xinbo 付辛博; Jing Boran 井柏然; Daniel Wu 吳彥祖; Michelle Wai 詩雅; Shawn Yue 余文樂; Gordon Liu 劉家輝; Conroy Chan 陳子聰; Maggie Cheung Man-Yuk 張曼玉; Joey Yung 容祖兒; Jan Lamb 林海峰
Time: 93 min
Lang: Cantonese and Mandarin
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewed: 2015

DIVA (DIVA 華麗之後)

diva

When crystal-voiced singing recruit Red (Mag Lam) steps into manager Man’s (Chapman To) office, she compares it, favorably, to a deluxe karaoke room. “Well, today’s Hong Kong singers sing like karaoke amateurs,” he responds. Point. Which is why entertainment conglomerate EEG’s involvement in this project might seem a little curious. At a glance, DIVA is a movie that peels back the glittery façade of Hong Kong’s music industry. That makes the label that most successfully packages fresh-faced teens of dubious talent (see Twins, Boyz, William Chan, Edison Chen, et al) the unlikeliest candidate to turn the cameras on itself.

But lest you think EEG has entered a new era of transparency, it has too much vested in the project to make a meaningful statement on the industry. Besides relative newcomer Lam, the film features Joey Yung, the brightest star in EEG’s galaxy, essentially doubling as herself. Yung plays J, Hong Kong’s top singer who’s suffocating under her overmanaged life. When she gets the chance to go off radar during a performance in the Mainland, she happily slips away. J finds refuge in the arms of a blind masseuse (Hu Ge) and warms up to life beyond the frenzy of superstardom.

In contrast, Red willingly climbs into the rabbit hole when Man plucks her from a dead-end string of nightclub stints and kids’ costume parties. Lam, who’s had her own ups and downs in her short career, thankfully avoids playing her character as the wide-eyed ingenue. Red knows that her powerhouse voice is meant for something bigger and is willing to give the entertainment industry a try, but her boyfriend (Carlos Chan) resents the demands her newfound fame places on their relationship.

It’s something the young couple might have had a serious talk about beforehand, but this movie doesn’t trust its characters enough to work through the fussy details. As a result, conflicts in DIVA end up feeling manufactured in order to make a broader comment on entertainment’s dark side, in that there is one. Passing references to sexual exploitation, for example, get brushed aside once the point has been made (maybe to sidestep EEG’s own allegations of abuse).

And where the movie lacks in script, it fails to make up for with acting. Yung is more charismatic in her concert making-of videos than she is here. Though the film takes pains to present J as a normal person, the actress translates her character’s natural fears and frustrations into a series of disinterested gazes. Her story takes up much of the screen time but never seems to be the film’s focus. Meanwhile, Lam’s part may be less emotionally taxing, but she manages to do more with it. To’s morally loose manager breathes the most life into the film. Despite Man’s many manipulations, the actor still generates good will by the the sheer effectiveness with which Man slides through his schemes and demands.

Absent great depth of character, however, the more unseemly aspects of the industry lack the weight to make this movie an industry exposé, which is probably not what EEG was counting on anyway. There are hints that this might be a graduated version of Diva…Ah Hey!, a 2003 production that also starred EEG hitmakers and commented on the appearance of talent. In the end, that might be what Hong Kong entertainment does best these days. After all, the most memorable part of this film are the excellent visuals. The camera catwalks through the scenes, and this is a movie clearly shot by people who know how to make stars look good.

“Chasing Kites” (追風箏的風箏) by Joey Yung and Mag Lam:

“Are U Okay” by Mag Lam:

“Like Love Songs” (如情歌) by Mag Lam:

Released: 2012
Prod: Chapman To 杜汶澤
Dir: Heiward Mak 麥曦茵
Writer: Heiward Mak 麥曦茵
Cast: Joey Yung 容祖兒; Mag Lam 林欣彤; Chapman To 杜汶澤; Hu Ge 胡歌; Carlos Chan 陳家樂; Bonnie Sin 冼色麗; Fiona Sit 薛凱琪; Wilfred Lau 劉浩龍; William So 蘇永康; Kara Hui惠英紅; Matt Chow 鄒凱光; Venus Wong 王敏奕
Time: 102 min
Lang: Cantonese, Mandarin
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewed: 2014

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