Thursday, September 29, 2011

Hong Kong Cinema

The San Francisco Film Society has moved into their new venue at New People/Viz. SFFS has also kicked off their fall season with a new series called Hong Kong Cinema. They screened seven HK films in three days (September 23 to 25).

HK Cinema is the newest addition to the SFFS Fall Schedule. It augments established fall series such as Taiwan Film Days , (October 14 to 16) French Cinema Now (October 27 to November 2) and New Italian Cinema (November 13 to 20).

French, Italian, Hong Kong & Taiwan? Can't we get a Japanese series going at the Japanese owned and themed theater in the heart of San Francisco's Japantown?

I caught four films during the HK series.

Mr. and Mrs. Incredible starring Louis Koo & Sandra Ng; Cantonese with subtitles; (2011)
Punished starring Anthony Wong & Ritchie Jen; Cantonese & Mandarin with subtitles; (2011) - Official Website
Don’t Go Breaking My Heart starring Louis Koo, Yuanyuan Gao and Daniel Wu; directed by Johnnie To; Cantonese & Mandarin with subtitles; (2011)
City Under Siege starring Qi Shu & Aaron Kwok; directed by Benny Chan; Cantonese with subtitles; (2011) - Official Facebook

Johnnie To produced Punished and shares directing credits with Ka-Fai Wai on IMDB for Don’t Go Breaking My Heart.

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I didn't like Mr. and Mrs. Incredible. The premise was that two Chinese superheroes meet and fall in love. They move to a small village and live quiet lives while hiding their superpowers. A martial arts tournament is held in their small town which results in them having to come out of retirement.

That premise seems ripe with possibilities but Mr. and Mrs. Incredible mainly went for slapstick comedy. The didn't have much in the way of wire action or general action scenes. There was some CGI, jokes about getting old and a lot of gaudily dressed Chinese kung fu masters bickering with each other. I wasn't too impressed with Mr. and Mrs. Incredible so I won't spend much time on it.

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Punished is a revenge flick. It reminded me of any number of Korean films where revenge seems to be a genre. It was not as graphic as the Korean films (although programmer Rod Armstrong said the film skipped the Chinese film ratings process). The film was predictable but had a few things going for it. First, Anthony Wong plays a real piece of work. He plays Mr. Wong, a shady businessman who drives away his family, tries to bully some villagers so he can get their land cheap and carries a grudge.

Wong's college-age daughter, Daisy (Janice Man), is in her rebellious phase as she snorts coke, hangs out with the wrong crowd and torments her stepmother. Daisy is kidnapped and eventually found murdered. This results in Wong dispatching his bodyguard/driver/security chief (Richie Ren) on a bloody revenge spree.

Punished isn't bad and has a few heart-poiunding scenes. Considered as a whole, it comes up short compared to other Chinese action films. The gold standard for gritty Chinese action films is The Beast Stalker (2008).

The villains in Punished were one-dimensional. Daisy was an interesting character. Her behavior was such that I thought she may have been involved in her own kidnapping but her early death limited her role.

That leaves Anthony Wong running roughshod over everyone and Richie Ren dutifully avenging Daisy's murder. There were also some visually stunning scenes set at Salar de Uyuni, a Bolivian salt flats.

I can't say I disliked Punished but it feels like a near miss to me. If Johnnie To had directed (as opposed to produced), the film may have closer achieved its potential.

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For the most part, I liked City Under Siege. An immoral circus troupe come into contact with gas cannisters left by the Japanese in WWII. The gas gives whoever is exposed to it superhuman strength, aggressiveness and transforms their bodies. The performers decided to use their new powers to rob banks and commit mayhem. Sunny (Aaron Kwok), the good natured clown is only partially affected by the gas. He teams up with Qi Shu (Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen, Blood Brothers, Confession of Pain, Three Times & The Transporter) as a television news reporter and Wu Jing & Zhang Jin Chu as a romantic pair of government agents who are trained to fight superhuman opponents.

City Under Siege was directed by Benny Chan who also made Shaolin which I was lukewarm about. Chan shows an aptitude for action scenes. City Under Siege delivers many entertaining fight sequences. Kwok shows some comedic skills Colin Chou as the leader of the circus gang shows some range as a psychotic killer with a desire for normalcy.

Although something of a lightweight film, City Under Siege achieved what it intended to achieve...namely numerous action scenes, Qi Shu looking radiant, a dash of comedy and more action scenes.

Why did I expect more of Mr. and Mrs. Incredible than City Under Siege? I'm not sure.

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Johnnie To directs a romantic comedy! That sounds like a joke; like Quentin Tarantino directing a children's movie. However, as SFFS head programmer Rachel Rosen stated while announcing the film, To has directed romantic comedies before. I'm too lazy to look them up on IMDB but it doesn't surprise me. To's action films usually have a bittersweet romance as a subplot.

To discards all his typical tropes for Don’t Go Breaking My Heart. He does cast Suet Lam in a supporting role. They heavyset Lam is usually cast as a heavy (literally and figuratively) gangster with a sense of humor and soft spot in his hearts. I guess To is casting against type when he casts Lam as the nervous #2 of the company where suave Daniel Wu is the CEO and Yuanyuan Gao is the ernest staffer who is the object of his affection and jealousy. For her part, Gao vacillates between her boss and the sensitive but recovering alcoholic architect she has befriended (Louis Koo).

As Gao allows both relationships to develop, the men get anxious and frustrated. I won't give away the finale but Wu and Koo mutually escalate their mating rituals in an attempt to marry Gao. The film portrays one character better than the other but Gao's character was ambivalent towards the two which leads to some uncertainty in my mind.

Don’t Go Breaking My Heart is a sweet comedy. At times, it was a little too cloying. Gao's inability to make a decision (the decision was obvious to me) began to irritate me a little. Most of all, I was surprised at how comfortable To appeared in the romance/comedy genre. There wasn't a gun or gangster to be seen. Don’t Go Breaking My Heart is my pick of the series.

1 comment:

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