Movie Review: The Gigolo 2/鴨王2

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Connie Man puts the jiggle in Gigolo 2.

Last year’s The Gigolo was everything you could want in a Category III movie: tawdry, explicit, and so entertaining I felt like I should have worn protection.

But I’m glad I didn’t. Never mind.

Dominic Ho returns as the titular (!) character Fung. Having tasted success (!) as a singer and movie star and gigolo, he now whiles away his nights ‘managing’ a fabulous nightclub where young and glamorous people mingle with sex workers on their nights off.

The club is in Lan Kwai Fong and not Wanchai. Why? Because it’s a movie.

Or because all these sex workers are Chinese. You finger it out.

Naturally, Fung hasn’t hung up his jock just yet (so to speak). He still does, uh, freelance sexual response consulting. He is, after all, a professional. He is uniquely trained and equipped (!) to deal with things like self-diagnosed frigidity.

The treatment for which, in case you were wondering, is learning to eat (fish) balls in Mongkok and getting finger-blasted in a seafood delivery truck parked on a side street (that’s not a euphemism).

He is also able to deal with, and I quote, an extra thick hymen.

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It matches her eyebrows… But now I’m just being mean.

Making her Category III debut is Connie Man Hoi Ling, who’s appeared in movies such as Lan Kwai Fong 3Flirting In the Air, and My Sassy Hubby.

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This woman’s last name being Man is like my last name being Cheerful

She’s also appeared in Lan Kwai Fong 2, Don’t Go Breaking My Heart 2, and From Vegas to Macau II. So perhaps it’s no surprise she’s in The Gigolo 2.

She plays Monica, a struggling actress with few career prospects, a shitty boyfriend, a shitty family, a sick mother, and a shit-ton of medical bills. What’s a pretty, innocent young girl to do in order to make ends meet?

Make sure her ankles… don’t.

Luckily (?) for her, more than one of her colleagues works in the horizontal refreshment industry. And they’re more than happy to welcome her into a world of sex, money, and some of the richest ugly dudes the world has ever seen.

But Monica doesn’t like sex, and isn’t very good at it. Who can she turn to?

Who do you think?

In a weird homage to classic martial arts movies, Monica begins a protracted training sequence involving two globs of tofu and a 12-inch cigar.

And since when did cigars have veins??? 

I could tell you more about the plot, but who really gives a sh*t about the plot in a Category III movie? We all know why we watch these movies.

Let me tell you another thing you probably already know: Connie Man doesn’t show us anything we haven’t already seen of her. The odd part, though, is that we don’t see any of it from anyone else either.  The best we get is a half an ass crack a few times.

And at least one of those is a man. Dammit. 

In the first Gigolo, Dominic was the mayor of Titty City. This time, at least visually speaking, he’s the mayor of Dullsville.

But that doesn’t mean The Gigolo 2 doesn’t deserve its Category III rating. It definitely does.

Tony Ho, who put a lot of the torque into the first movie, returns as a different character this time, but still brings the wrench. Big Dog leads a group of rich whoremongers.

Winnie Leung plays Big Dog’s wife Mona.

And boy is she a moaner!

Samuel Leung Chuk Moon, no stranger to local cinema’s gutter, turns in yet another sleazy performance as one of Big Dog’s pals who’s got a pretty demanding idea of customer service. This movie is lurid, unsettling, and very memorable.

And not just for the hot tub with the CGI water.

Or dialogue like “Tell Sushi to remember to ask for Dick!”

Those things help, though.  

What I liked about this movie was how uncomfortable it made me. The Gigolo 2 is oddly affecting, and I sincerely respect it for that. I’m not sure I feel comfortable recommending this movie, because it’s a very unique experience. But as I said, I kind of enjoyed the tonal car-crashes and the gleeful wallowing in wrongness.

Which sounds a lot like my dating history but that’s not my point. 

The Gigolo 2 is… different. I may never watch it again, or I might, but if I don’t it’s still going to stay with me. If you think you’ll enjoy it, you should watch it.

Besides, that’s the only way to play Where is Jane Wong?

Movie Review: Anniversary/紀念日

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Anniversary is a Patrick Kong film. He wrote and directed it. It’s the second film he directed in 2015 and the fifth movie he wrote this year. 

He’s a very busy man.

Alex Fong and Stephy Tang play a married couple. They’ve been married for 10 years. Which is interesting, since it’s been almost 10 years since 2006’s Marriage with a Fool and 2007’s Love is Not All Around, and 2008’s L for Love L for Lies, three Patrick Kong movies starring Alex Fong and Stephy Tang. Anniversary, therefore, is art reflecting… art.

Did I just call Patrick Kong movies artYes, I did.

I’m not sure if we could call Anniversary a sequel to any of those earlier  movies, because that would require me to go back and watch them again.

And that’s not going to happen.  

Like so many other couples (all of them) in Patrick Kong movies, Alex and Stephy are not completely happy. They’ve been married for ten years, and the grind of real life has taken the shine off of their relationship. Stephy works as a wedding planner in a company run by Jacqueline Chong.

She appears in Patrick Kong movies more often than I appear on Portland St. 

Alex works in real estate, in a small office with Siu Yam Yam. But she takes a holiday, bringing in her niece, played by Shing Long Hei, to fill in for her. Can she fill her aunt’s shoes? Will Alex fill her in?

Yes, that’s a euphemism.

But wait, there’s more. A chance encounter brings an old flame, played by Jackie Choi, back into his life on a professional level. What will he do? Who will he do it with? Who will he do?

Who does what, with which, and to whom?

As if on cue, Stephy makes the acquaintance of a handsome man who asks her to fill in (!) for his newly-ex girlfriend. In practically the next scene, Alex’s new employee asks him to fill in for someone too (that’s not a euphemism). Some might call that economy of narrative.

Others might call it something else.

Especially when a short time later, Stephy sees Alex and calls him. And then Alex sees Stephy. And calls her. By dialing all eight digits. Why would you have your wife’s number saved, right? Is it necessary to show both of them, at different times, walking in front of Michael Kors? 

Well, movies don’t pay for themselves, so I guess I understand.

I also know there’s no sense trying to fix what isn’t broke, so I don’t blame Patrick Kong for not expending too much effort on narrative uniqueness or plausibility. If you made a movie about gay people with this level of stereotypical behavior, people would be up in arms.

But these are straight people, so you can present them and their story as a caricature of real life without fear of recrimination. 

Hong Kong is a small city, but the people in this movie run into each other in the most random places as if… well, as if it were scripted. A terminally ill mother leaving a goodbye video for her child is a powerful thing.

But do we really need to see all five minutes of it?

If married people with secrets locked their phones, we’d have a lot fewer movies to watch.

Including this one and S for Sex, S for Secrets. 

If one of your biggest trademarks is an inevitable plot twist, some viewers might have a hard time focusing on the story because we’re just waiting for the twist. We know the twist has to be there. We’re not surprised by it. We just want to know what it is. And then when it shows up there’s a laborious voiceover flashback to make sure we understand why this is a twist. 

Can people really remember so little that they need this reminder?

But that’s not my point. My point, if indeed I have one, is that the (unusually large) audience at the Dynasty, made up as it was of Patrick Kong’s intended audience of young local couples, thoroughly enjoyed this film. 

And so did I for that matter. I watched Anniversary on Christmas Eve. With a pretty bad cold. Maybe it was the holiday spirit, or maybe it was the cough syrup, or maybe I just liked the movie. It helps that it was a story that older, married (and/or divorced) people could relate to. 

It helped that there was some good acting in it. Louis Cheung and Leila Tong were impressive as another married couple facing their own challenges. Leslie Keung and Bob Lam, playing Stephy’s sister and her boyfriend, were entertaining if not always convincing. It was nice to see Loletta Lee on the big screen again, even if the role was hardly flattering for her. 

Alex and Stephy were very believable as a married couple who love each other but aren’t really in love any more. They convinced me. 

And when you consider that I’m talking about Alex and Stephy in a Patrick Kong movie, that’s saying something.

Movie Review: Ip Man 3/葉問3

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It’s been five years since Ip Man 2, the last Ip Man movie directed by Wilson Yip and starring Donnie Yen. There were other Ip Man movies, but they had no Donnie.

Ip Man 3 was, at least initially, supposedly going to feature the relationship between Ip Man and Bruce Lee, and there was even talk of using CGI to portray Bruce. This approach ran into some, uh, legal impediments, and now Bruce is only in one scene, and is portrayed by Danny Chan.

I watched Ip Man 3 on Christmas Eve.

Because I have no family. And no life. But never mind that.

This movie is showing in 3-D in some cinemas.

The three D’s  stand for Donnie, Donnie, and… Donnie. 

I didn’t watch it in 3-D. I watched in 2-D. At the Dynasty. 

Because I’m cheap like that.

And I got what I deserved, because the movie started early and they left the lights on for the first ten minutes.

Serves my cheap ass right. 

Hong Kong, 1959. It’s been 10 years since Ip Man came to the city. He’s older, wiser, and wants to lead a simple life with his wife and son. 

Naturally, that can’t happen, or we don’t have a movie. 

A rapacious (!) foreign businessman named Frank (just Frank. He has no last name) wants something, and the only thing in his way… is Ip Man.

And his Wing Chun.

Frank is played by Mike Tyson.

Who is not Chinese.

Ip Man is Chinese. And played by Donnie Yen. So it doesn’t matter how many people you throw at him. Because he’s Donnie Yen. 

I mean Ip Man.

But I need to say this quickly: Ip Man 3 is refreshingly devoid of the knee-jerk, clumsy nationalism that spoiled the first two films for me. Yes, Frank is a foreigner, and he’s the bad guy. But that point isn’t belabored the way it was in Ip Man 1 and 2.

In fact, Ip Man’s fight with Frank isn’t even the climactic battle. That takes place between Donnie Yen and Max Zhang, who also fought Tony Leung in The Grandmaster

Max plays Cheung Tin-chi, another Wing Chun master, and he wants to be #1. But he also wants to take care of his son, and so he ends up doing some things that (naturally) set him on a collision course with Ip Man. Their fight is really good, but we know who has to win.

That’s not a spoiler. It’s just logic.

While there is a lot of fighting in Ip Man 3, it’s not necessarily the main focus of the movie. It’s still a lot of fun to watch, and with Yuen Wo Ping’s choreography it definitely has impact. There’s even a fight inside an elevator.

But there’s a lot more character development in this 3rd movie. 

Well, for some characters.

It would have been nice to know more about Frank and Cheung, but the more time you give them, the less time you have for Donnie.

And that’s not happening.

Lynn Hung returns as Ip Man’s incredibly patient and very understanding wife, Cheng Wing-Sing. In the first two films, the few scenes in which Lynn Hung appeared were still very entertaining, thanks to her ability to make the most out of just a few lines and her facial expression. That continues in part 3, and with an expanded presence, her performance becomes that much more impressive. 

The relationship between these two married people was, for me, the centerpiece of the film. Watch it and see what I mean. The only downside of this very engaging storyline is that the emotional climax of the film really shows Donnie Yen’s acting limitations.

But I feel bad saying that, because the film in general, and this narrative thread in particular, were really pleasant surprises. There’s a lot more light-hearted fun in Ip Man 3, and it is welcome. So is watching the cast inhabit their roles. Kent Cheng returns as another (the same?) cop, and Babyjohn Choi plays a journalist. 

Patrick Tam’s scene-chewing portrayal of a local goon is especially noteworthy. I’m not sure which was funnier; Patrick Tam speaking English or Mike Tyson speaking Cantonese. Some of his Cantonese lines were dubbed, but others weren’t. 

The film as a whole is also very entertaining thanks to the level of depth and detail in the background. A lot of time, energy and effort (and money) was spent making the sets not just accurate but interesting. You’ll want to look at the whole screen, and sometimes you’ll see or hear things in the background that are a lot of fun.

I was very pleasantly surprised by Ip Man 3, and I can definitely recommend that you watch it. The action is excellent, and while we already know who has to win all the fights, that doesn’t mean there are no surprises. But in addition to the action, Ip Man 3 adds a very strong dramatic component that puts this final installment of the trilogy far ahead of the first two movies for me. 

Movie Review: Finding Mr. Right/北京遇上西雅圖

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If you watched my review of American Dreams in China, you might think that Finding Mr. Right would also insult me as an American and irritate me almost endlessly. But you would be wrong, and here’s why.

Finding Mr. Right is funny, well-made, much better-acted and a much better (and better-told) story. Finding Mr. Right is directed by Xue Xiao-Lu, who also directed Ocean Heaven starring Jet Li. The Chinese title is Beijing Meets Seattle, and it’s apparently inspired by Sleepless in Seattle. I don’t know because I’ve never watched that movie.

Don’t act surprised.

Tang Wei plays Jia Jia, an unmarried Chinese woman who comes to Seattle to give birth. Jia Jia is… not a very nice person. Tang Wei is a very good actress, because I wanted to reach into my TV and choke Jia Jia less than five minutes after I saw her. She calls Americans foreigners. In America. After having entered the US under false pretenses. She’s a princess. She’s rude, imperious, insensitive, and selfish. She mistreats virtually everyone around her, even the people who help her. 

Thanks to drinking while pregnant, she even mistreats her unborn child. 

Wu Xiu-Bo plays Frank, a quiet man who meets Jia Jia at the airport. Not by accident. He works for the people who run the birth hotel, and transports Jia Jia to her new home. He was a doctor in China, but is now a stay-at-home dad raising his daughter because his wife’s career keeps her traveling. 

I’d rather leave out most of the specifics of the plot, because you’re better off seeing it unfold yourself. And you should see it. Because Finding Mr. Right is a very interesting movie, especially for people who are not its original, intended audience.

As an American, the story does somehow offend me. I have a feeling that this film, which played in China, couldn’t be set in China because the main character is a criminal who never gets punished for her misdeeds. She defrauds immigration by concealing her pregnancy and proceeds to overstay her tourist visa in an illegal business establishment to gain citizenship for her (illegitimate) baby.

I couldn’t always go along with the film’s emotional expectations. We’re supposed to feel bad for a woman who gets knocked up by her married boyfriend/sugar daddy and then gets sent away with a pile of cash on an all-expenses-paid birth tourism trip. 

All she got for Christmas was a Hermes bad and a load of cash, but she’s a victim.

Speaking of Christmas, have you ever heard of Seattle having fireworks at Christmas? Neither have I. But never mind.

The emotional turning point of the film is bonding over perjury against the police. This woman, who spends the first half of the film as a shrewish, unbearable, civilian under naval training, suddenly becomes okay because she cooked a meal.

I never knew it was that easy. 

Finding Mr. Right is very much a by-the-numbers rom-com. There are no surprises, and you can see every plot point coming a mile away. This movie is so generic the DVD case should look like this:

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but the acting carries it. As a viewer, I really enjoyed and even admired the film, because I tried hard not to like it. Tang Wei does a really great job presenting a vile, unlikeable character, and then transforming her.

I really didn’t want to stop hating her, but I did.

And I’m me.
Wu Xiu-Bo was very subtle, very believable, and very entertaining. He may have been a little too reserved, but compared to Jia Jia, anyone would seem dull. Frank’s daughter, Julia, is played at different ages by sisters Song Meihui and Song Meiman. They were both very good in their role. It helps that the character was very funny, especially when she’s translating for Jia Jia. And I don’t even like kids.

Unless you cook ‘em right.

Veteran actress Elaine Jin plays the woman who runs the birth hotel, and turns in her usual solid, commendable performance. It’s an extra bonus to see Theresa Lee in a movie again. She plays a doctor who treats Jia Jia and, I assume, other birth tourists.

At just over 2 hours, the film does seem a trifle… leisurely. It could be tightened up, but it never really dragged for me. I did end up wondering how Jia Jia got back in the country at the end, after she overstayed her visa and left with a baby.

But never mind that.

The success of the film in China means, of course, that there’s a sequel in the works. I’m actually looking forward to watching it, so miracles do happen. The movie also inspired a run on Seattle real estate by Chinese buyers. Even though the vast majority of it was shot in Vancouver.

I guess Western cities all look the same after all.