Wednesday, November 24, 2010

2010 Chinese American Film Festival Recap

I saw 7 films at the 2010 Chinese American Film Festival at the 4 Star Theater.

For the third year in a row, they screened a Chinese language film without English subtitles. This year, they screened Ip Man 2 without English subtitles. Fortunately (or sadly), my enjoyment of the film was not adversely affected by the language barrier. I've discovered that the only Chinese language word I know is sifu which is a term of respect which martial arts students use when addressing their masters.

The seven films I saw were:

Ip Man 2 starring Donnie Yen & Sammo Hung; with Simon Yam; directed by Wilson Yip; Cantonese without subtitles; (2010) - Official Website
Confucius starring Chow Yun-Fat; Mandarin with subtitles; (2010)
Cool Young; Mandarin with subtitles;
The Treasure Hunter starring Jay Chou; Mandarin with subtitles; (2009)
My Father and I starring Jinglei Xu and Daying Ye; directed by Jinglei Xu; (2003)
Go Lala Go starring Jinglei Xu and Stanley Huang; with Karen Mok; directed by Jinglei Xu; Mandarin with subtitles; (2010)
The Star and the Sea; Mandarin with subtitles; (2009)


Ip Man 2 continues the saga of indomitable and eponymous kung fu master as portrayed by Donnie Yen. In this installment, Ip Man has relocated to Hong Kong after WWII. No longer wealthy, he lives in a tenement and teaches martial arts on the roof of building amongst drying laundry. His students run afoul of the local triads and Ip discovers the gangs run the martial arts schools in HK. Furthermore, he must defeat them to open his own school. That leads to the most entertaining sequence in the film. Sammo Hung who plays the top gang boss and kung fu master in HK faces off against Ip on a circular banquet table.

Darren Shahlavi (left) and Donnie Yen in Ip Man 2
After that, the film veers into jingoistic territory with a bit of Rocky thrown in for good measure. The British police in HK bring in a Western style pugilist to face off against the Eastern martial artists in HK. The "Twister" is overtly racist and kicks ass on Sammo in the boxing ring. Putting aside any lingering animosity, Ip steps into the ring to avenge Sammo's death as well the yellow man's honor.

It all looked silly and probably would have been more so if I had had subtitles to understand everything they were saying. Donnie Yen plays it straight, actor/stuntman Darren Shahlavi chews up the scenery as the rapid Twister and Sammo is conflicted by his pride and need to serve his English masters.

Having dispatched the Japanese in the first film and the Caucasian colonizers in the second film, Donnie Yen has announced he does not plan to reprise Ip Man in any future films. Ip Man 2 ended on what appeared to be teaser for the next film. At the end of the film, a cocky young boy with a habit of literally thumbing his nose, asks to become Ip's student. He sends him away with instructions to come back when he is older. The boy is Bruce Lee, Ip's most famous student.


My favorite film of the festival was My Father and I. The film was directed by the star - Jinglei Xu. She also directed and starred in Go Lala Go.

My Father and I dealt with the complex relationship between a man (Daying Ye) and his estranged daughter (Xu). The film starts when the girl was in high school and her mother unexpectedly passes away. Barely knowing each other, the two are reunited by circumstance. The man's faults are slow to manifest themselves as he initially appears to be a doting father of a teenage girl. Eventually, he is convicted of pimping and the two are separated again during his imprisonment.

Upon his release, the two form an uneasy alliance. Disapproving of her new boyfriend, the father tries to influence his daughter's decisions. His own dubious past form a barrier between the two until she divorces and gives birth to a daughter of her own.

I won't recap the rest of the film. The two lead actors occupy most of the screen time and their relationship is quite believable. Heartwarming and heartbreaking, I thought the film was unusually nuanced and ambiguous for a Chinese film which frequently paint their characters with broad brush strokes. Both actors excelled in their roles.


Go Lala Go is romance/comedy set in an office where apparently all the women are stunningly beautiful and dress fashionably. Jinglei Xu plays Lala, an up and coming corporate type who tries to balance her ambition with a budding romance with her boss. The character of Lala felt contrived as did the whole film. I never quite suspended disbelief but certainly admired the stylish office decor and beautiful women. The comedy was hit and miss and I found Stanley Huang's character to be unworthy of the affection he received from a few women at his workplace. Go Lala Go reminded me a little of Sophie's Revenge with Zhang Ziyi from last year's Chinese American Film Festival. Lala did not have as high a slapstick quotient as Sophie but they both dealt with attractive and sophisticated professionals in modern day China - the looked good, lived and worked in chic environs and behaved like Westerners.

Those three films are all I can really recommend and I'm luke warm about Go Lala Go.


Confucius is barely watchable. Chow Yun-Fat plays the wise man. We're given little insight into the source of his wisdom. After suffering a military defeat, he wanders the wilderness with his disciples for a decade. It wasn't clear to me how his perseverance in exile led to his forming the dominant philosophy/theology in the world.

I fell asleep during The Treasure Hunter which stars Taiwanese pop star Jay Chou. The film was laden with action sequences and fake looking special effects. Jay Chou was dressed up like a Chinese version of Indiana Jones but the film lacked a coherent plot and my interest quickly waned.

Cool Young was indecipherable. The film was about the interconnected relationship between a group of people but the plot made no sense. In fact, at the end of the film, the actors broke the fourth wall and rhetorically asked why two of the character would break off their relationship. The actors marched into the director's office to ask the question and he gave some answer. By that time, I had lost all interest and just wanted the film to end so I could go about my day.

The Star and the Sea was predictable and schmaltzy. The film seemed intent on covering the most trite and hackneyed conventions of melodramatic films. It tried to manipulate the audiences emotions and may have succeeded if the director and writers had more talent and skill. Ostensibly a biopic on Chinese composer Xiang Xinghai, the movie left me wishing for a better introduction to the man.

No comments: