Sam Lee

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

Osaka Wrestling Restaurant (大阪撻一餐)

osaka wrestling restaurant

This movie turns out to be a satisfying treat for weary Hong Kong filmgoers. The industry offers far tastier morsels, but this one is made with lots of heart and that should count for something these days. Timmy Hung and Wayne Lai team up as brothers who cook up an idea for a novelty restaurant after their father, a respected chef, dies and leaves them a large inheritance.

Ricky (Hung) starts out as a glorified kitchen boy at Dragon’s (Law Kar-Ying) restaurant. Everyone heaps on the abuse, and when he gets the chance, he escapes to find his brother, Mike (Lai), who has been working as a chef in Osaka. Despite Mike’s bravado, Ricky can see that things aren’t going so well for his big brother. He gets chased out of his flat when some people come to settle a score, and his estranged wife wants to remarry and relocate their son to Canada.

Since Mike is a fan of Japanese wrestling, he decides to open a themed restaurant in Hong Kong staffed with wrestlers who will serve as waiters and dine-in entertainment. Presumably no one will object to a little sweat sprinkled onto their food. He ends up with a small gang of oddities including a sumo wrestler and someone named Louis Koo. They also hire Kyoko (Ueno Miku), a Japanese reporter stranded in Hong Kong after being fired when someone pushed her into the sea. That someone turns out to be a remorseful Ricky, who dons his wrestling mask to hide his identity. Something about that masked avenger look makes him attractive to Kyoko and sets the couple up for a doomed romance.

Hung isn’t particularly charismatic onscreen, but he has the pleading face of someone whom you’re willing to give a second chance. Lai brings more weight to his role and minimizes the overacting, revealing some touching moments beneath Mike’s boisterous façade. Both do their best to balance sincerity with the movie’s daffy humor, of which there is a lot. Besides bouncing, iridescent clothed wrestlers, Dragon dreams up some low budget schemes to sabotage the restaurant, which is located across the street from his. It’s all a bit of unpretentious fun, akin to a cinematic tea time snack.

Released: 2004
Prod: Sam Leong 梁德森; Yoshida Haruhiko; Matsuyama Hiroshi
Dir: Tommy Law 羅惠德
Writer: Hasegawa Takashi; Ko Cheng-Teng 高井聽; Kamei Noboru; Suzuki Rikako
Cast: Timmy Hung 洪天明; Wayne Lai 黎耀祥; Ueno Miko; Law Kar-Ying 羅家英; Sammo Hung 洪金寶; Tats Lau 劉以達; Chin Ka-Lok 錢嘉樂; Gloria Yip 葉蘊儀; Sam Lee 李燦森; Carlo Ng 吳嘉樂
Time: 92 min
Lang: Cantonese, Japanese
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewed: 2014

Gen-Y Cops (特警新人類2)

gen y cops

I don’t know where to begin with this one. The movie is embarrassing on so many levels. As far as bad sequels go, this is one of the worst. Helmsman Benny Chan takes everything entertaining about Gen-X Cops and proceeds not to use it. Gone is the snarky humor, the playful camaraderie, the enthusiasm of youthful rebellion, the emotionally wrought bad guy and, come to think of it, the emotionally wrought good guy. Instead we get cartoonish villains and buffoonish heroes, a static plot (for an action movie), pitiful acting, and abominable English. Truly, you are better off watching an episode of Power Rangers. At least it’s shorter.

One of the highlights in the original was the characters, and the actors who portrayed them. While the leading trio played to type – Jack (Nicholas Tse) as the brooding hero, Match (Stephen Fung) as the smarmy playboy, and Alien (Sam Lee) as the eccentric goofball – they all had a touch of vulnerability that made them easy to sympathize with. They didn’t care about bending and breaking rules, but, against their better logic, they cared about doing the right thing. Unfortunately, this movie jettisons Jack in favor of one preening and cocksure Edison (Edison Chen). The latter also flouts his devil may care attitude, but he – Edison the character and the actor – does so with the smugness of the cool kid struttin’ down a high school hallway. Even his conflicted attempts to reconcile his friendship with a sinister inventor with his duties as a police officer seem put on. For the returning characters Match and Alien, absent their friend, they regress into hyperactive Gen-Yers who seem more at home leaping around a bouncy castle than doing the difficult and thankless task of taking down criminals.

It’s hard to blame them for their lack of seriousness though. Whereas Inspector Chan provided some much needed mentoring in the first movie, there are no responsible adults in this house. Christy Chung turns in a baffling performance as a police inspector who liaises with visiting FBI officers. I don’t know what Western, colonial playworld the writers imagined for her character, but she’s part kittenish Asian babe and part kowtowing bootlicker. It’s as frustrating for the audience as it is for Match and Alien that they are relegated to secondary characters and that they are wasted as errand boys for their fawning superior.

All because the brash Americans, led by Agent Ian Curtis (Paul Rudd, who must have been one paycheck away from the poor house), are in town to safeguard the RS-1, a high tech automaton that shoots lasers and things and can pick up a jiggly block of tofu. Agent Curtis is a grade A jerk in a way that many people probably imagine American government officials are. Rudd abandons his cuddly persona and snarls his way through the movie. In the interests of balanced filmmaking, Maggie Q plays a more sympathetic Agent Jane Quigley, but her primary task is to look gorgeous, which she succeeds in doing.

When the robot is promptly stolen by its inventor Kurt (Richard Sun), everyone gives chase not realizing that he is one very angry kid. The filmmakers could have done something here – maybe given him a few moments of introspection, maybe play him off a villainous mentor, maybe found a better actor. He is all worked up because his designs were stolen by the U.S. government and his friend Edison tries to talk him out of crazy, but Kurt isn’t having any of that. Wronged and unwise to the disappointments of adult life, he is out to cause some metal mayhem (the movie’s subtitle)! He directs his creature to mow down everything, unleashing a wave of terror and, more regrettably, a torrent of really awful English onto the streets of Hong Kong. The action sequences feel more perfunctory than inspired but there are robots, so I suppose that’s an added bonus. Some people may prefer the techy effects in this movie to the traditional shoot ‘em up in the first one, though I do not. What no one wants, however, is the scandalous abuse of language. Sun and Chen are the worst offenders with a painful need to emphasize every curse word so they seem gangsta. “Shiiiiit, man,” that – and this movie – are so unnecessary.

“Heroes” (要來便來) – theme song by Edison Chen, if you’re feeling dangerous:

Alternate Title: Metal Mayhem; Gen-X Cops 2
Prod: John Chong 莊澄; Solon So 蘇志鴻; Benny Chan 陳木勝
Dir: Benny Chan 陳木勝
Writer: Chan Kiu-Ying 陳翹英; Felix Chong 莊文強; Bey Logan 龍比意
Cast: Edison Chen 陳冠希; Stephen Fung 馮德倫; Sam Lee 李燦森; Richard Sun 孫國豪; Maggie Q 李美琪; Paul Rudd; Mark Hicks; Christy Chung 鍾麗緹; Vincent Kok 谷德昭; Cheung Tat-Ming 張達明; Anthony Wong 黃秋生; Eric Kot 葛民輝; Rachel Ngan 顏穎思; Hyper BB 茜利妹
Time: 120 min
Lang: Cantonese, really shitty English
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewed: 2014