Liu Kai-Chi

Funeral March (常在我心)

funeral march

Funeral March does death well, better than it does terminal illness, and the movie surprises with its unshrinking approach. There are some overly sentimental moments and the mood music swells a little too heavily at times, but it’s a restrained and affecting film that also showcases Eason Chan as a worthy dramatic actor.

Chan stars as Duan, a funeral director who’s lending a hand to the family business. It’s a quiet role for the singer-actor, who is better known for playing hyperactive characters that explode all over the screen, a sort of yapping jack-in-the-box can’t be stuffed back inside. He takes the opposite approach here, and though the central story revolves around Yee (Charlene Choi), Duan is the one who grounds the film and gives most meaning to life and death.

He is skilled at his job, a sincere mediator of grief who dispenses words of sympathy to the bereaved without making them ding like empty baubles. When Yee, a terminal cancer patient, comes in requesting that he plan her funeral, his instinct is to politely refuse and encourage her to seek a more optimistic course of action. Yee’s inquiry is a sensible one to the Western imagination but a bit jarring for the average Hong Konger. Duan agrees anyway, on the condition that she make some last ditch attempts to get cured. The medicine is not great here, and it’s assumed that a few pills and a round of surgery will do the trick.

Eliding the pitiable suffering parts works in the film’s favor though and puts the focus on Yee and Duan as she tries to repair relationships, mostly with her stepmother (Pauline Yam) and distant father (Kenneth Tsang), and he provides much needed guidance. As their companionship shifts to something deeper, they are again challenged by illness, because cancer is kind of a bitch.

Choi has a heavy burden of portraying a young woman who prematurely faces her own mortality. She elicits some sympathy but hadn’t matured enough as an actress by this point to give Yee the emotional depth she deserves. Yee looks forlorn as she waits for Duan at the death certificate issuing office, but Choi doesn’t invite greater introspection and doesn’t betray any more feelings of anger, confusion, disappointment, or whatever else might be going through her mind.

Chan, by contrast, earns a great deal of empathy by emoting very little. Loner Duan flashes a tortured smile or a pained but compassionate gaze and instantly exposes something of himself that perhaps he’d rather keep hidden. Persistent over-actor Liu Kai-Chi as Duan’s friend similarly holds back and proves twice as effective. The pair, especially in the film’s final act, add to the funereal stillness that permeates the picture. Their performances along with an unshowy death scene help this picture stand out.

“Live Well” (活著多好) by Eason Chan:

“Sleepless World” (全世界失眠) by Eason Chan:

Released: 2001
Prod: Gordon Chan 陳嘉上; Joe Ma 馬偉豪
Dir: Joe Ma 馬偉豪
Writer: Joe Ma 馬偉豪; Chan Kam-Kuen 陳敢權; Sunny Chan 陳詠燊
Cast: Eason Chan 陳奕迅; Charlene Choi 蔡卓妍; Liu Kai-Chi 廖啟智; Kenneth Tsang 曾江; Pauline Yam 任葆琳; Sheila Chan 陳淑蘭; Yu Sai-Tang 余世騰; Candy Lo 盧巧音; Marco Lok 駱力煒
Time: 97 min
Lang: Cantonese
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewed: 2015

The Sniper (神鎗手)

the sniper

If we learn anything from The Sniper, it’s that Hong Kong’s crack shooters are beefy, bare-chested men. They wear tanks on occasion, but clothing, as a general rule, distracts. And it goes without saying, no girls allowed. This is a boys club, whose elite members include Richie Ren, Bowie Lam, Huang Xiaoming, and photo scandal era Edison Chen. I mention the latter because Chen’s dalliances had a direct and significant impact on the film, delaying its release for a year and forcing major revisions to minimize his role. The resulting picture may be more pleasant to watch without Chen’s mugging but also leaves some narrative loose ends.

In the movie’s opening frames, OJ (Chen) proves himself to be a talented sharpshooter. He is recruited to the elite sniper team where he quickly rises to the top of his class. Hartman (Ren), his commanding officer, is impressed but also sees much arrogance in his young padawan. He is reminded of a former classmate and colleague, Lincoln (Huang), who showed similar skill and scorn before leaving the force under a cloud. In this much edited version, OJ is not the protagonist so much as he is a mirror to Lincoln, and he’s not a character one misses when he’s off screen. Chen seems to possess one expression in his acting repertoire, and it’s lazy smugness, making OJ seem more like a cocky kid than someone you want on your side of a hostage situation.

The film is better when it focuses on Hartman and Lincoln’s rivalry, and there is plenty of tension between the two to sustain the 90 minute running time. Ren’s steely commander barks, squints, and sweats a lot just to drive home his toughness, but he’s also motivated by the need to prove his abilities, if only to himself. It turns out that he may have contributed to Lincoln’s dismissal and imprisonment after a standoff with the criminal Tao (Jack Kao) resulted in the death of a hostage. In the subsequent investigation, no one on his team corroborated Lincoln’s testimony, and Hartman’s silence proved especially damning.

Upon his release four years later, Lincoln is thirsting for revenge. He lures Hartman to a shootout in Central where the latter witnesses a violent prison transfer escape and is largely helpless to assist his fellow officers. Lincoln, now aligned with Tao and his men, including Big Head (Liu Kai-Chi), uses his superior sniper skills to bring down his rival.

There’s a lot of ego getting in the way of good judgment here. The only one who makes sound, non-adrenaline-induced decisions is Shane (Bowie Lam), Hartman’s second and the only officer who reaches out to Lincoln. The increasingly antagonistic relationships stem from everyone’s unwillingness to even hint at apology, which doesn’t bode well for teamwork. Hartman’s jealousy is really the source of his pride, and Lincoln thinks his abilities justify his aloofness. The clashing egos create some real fireworks in the final shootout, a scene lifted from a video game and a showcase of slow-motion heroics.

The movie is not all style though and does touch on the psychological implications of being a top sniper. But even more interesting is the fallout of the inquiry that sent Lincoln to prison. The filmmakers hold back a little too much and only really explore its effect on both Hartman and Lincoln in the final act, leaving a lot of the earlier action to be little more than frenzied chases. The film benefits most from Huang’s performance. He plays an appropriately tortured soul but the script does too good a job of reigning in his turmoil to give a more lasting impact. Ren similarly dances around the issue of guilt and again the writers exert more energy on the guessing game than on conscience.

Released: 2009
Prod: Candy Leung 梁鳳英; Cheung Hong-Tat 張康達
Dir: Dante Lam 林超賢
Writer: Jack Ng 吳煒倫
Action Director: Yuen Tak 元德
Cast: Richie Ren 任賢齊; Huang Xiaoming 黃曉明; Edison Chen 陳冠希; Bowie Lam 林保怡; Liu Kai-Chi 廖啟智; Jack Kao 高捷; Mango Wong 王秀琳; Michelle Ye 葉璇; Wilfred Lau 劉浩龍; Lam Chi-Tai 林至泰
Time: 87 min
Lang: Cantonese, some Mandarin
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewed: 2015

Give Them a Chance (給他們一個機會)

give them a chance

Give Them a Chance is bookeded by megastar Andy Lau. The opening sets up the Heavenly King of Cantopop as a benevolent Hong Kong entertainment deity who, grateful for all the opportunities and behind-the-scenes support through the years, wishes to bestow the same to others so that they can find success in the industry. Fast forward 95 minutes and there’s Andy, living out his dream of helping people make it big. The credits roll to footage from his 2001 concert featuring a group of background dancers shaking it like there’s no tomorrow. And they are the real stars of this movie.

The film gets an A for effort, not for Andy Lau’s altruism. It suffices as the feel good, based on a true story movie of the week, and though it occasionally tries to push those boundaries a little too far, it succeeds in corralling its audience’s sympathy towards the talented lower class teens who want a little more out of the life they’re dealt.

Despite their break dancing ambitions, the kids face one dead end after another. They’re hardly ace students, and the one healthy interest they have gets thwarted by adults who think they’re up to no good. Even the city won’t give them a break. During an outdoor performance, a cop tells them in the politest terms to shove off because wealthy tourists at a nearby hotel have complained about the noise, and we know who takes priority there.

Luckily there are some people who see potential in Hong Kong’s youth, including aspiring dancer turned action director Sam (Andy Hui) and injured former dancer Jack (Osman Hung), a pair of quarrelling brothers who try to put aside their grudges for the greater good and build a practice studio. Their story threads together the patchwork of teens who flock to the new dance haven. Brothers Durian and Kenny, each with his own medical issue, vie for the attention of longtime friend Money, who develops feelings for Jim, who is also on shaky terms with his older brother.

The amount of teen angst can be a little overpowering and is not helped by some of the actors, particularly Andy Lau’s goddaughter Ellis Tang who babbles like a preschooler. Howard Kwok, on the other hand, is very affecting as Kenny despite not saying anything. This could also have been a more inspiring and artistically successful film with stronger dance sequences and better music, but this was never supposed to be Step Up. Instead, the movie works from ground up and, like the kids, doesn’t have the package or polish of other commercial films. This doesn’t necessarily make it better but it does make it more satisfying to watch.

Released: 2003
Prod: Sam Wong 黃明昇, Ng Kin-Hung 伍健雄
Dir: Herman Yau 邱禮濤
Writer: Yeung Yee-Shan 楊漪珊; Herman Yau 邱禮濤
Cast: Andy Hui 許志安; Ellis Tang 鄧肇欣; Johnathan Cheung 張穎康; Walter Wong 黃家倫; Howard Kwok 郭浩東; Osman Hung 洪智傑; Eddie Pang 彭懷安; Anna Yau 丘凱敏; Jason Wong 黃益平; Joe Cheung 張同祖; Liu Kai-Chi 廖啟智; Anthony Wong 黃秋生; Mark Lui 雷頌德; Alex Fong Lik-Sun 方力申; Ronald Cheng 鄭中基; Stephanie Che 車婉婉; Wayne Lai 黎耀祥; Amanda Lee 李蕙敏; Andy Lau 劉德華
Time: 98 min
Lang: Cantonese
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewed: 2014