Movie Review: Insanity/暴瘋語

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Derek Yee has made a lot of films I’ve enjoyed. He produced Insanity and left the directing to Lee Kuan Yew.

Not the Singaporean politician.

This other Lee Kuan Yew is a director. His English name is David Lee.

No Roth.

Though let’s be honest, you’d probably rather watch a movie directed by David Lee Roth than Lee Kuan Yew the politician.

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I know I would. But who cares what I think?

Insanity tells the story of an ambitious young doctor played by Huang Xiaoming, and a troubled, middle-aged murderer played by Lau Ching Wan. The trailer makes it seem like the movie is a psychological showdown between these two actors, like some kind of mental duel. That’s not really the case.

In fact, Lau Ching Wan is a Chinese vampire.

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I joke, of course.

I won’t tell you what Insanity is really about, but I don’t feel bad telling you what it isn’t. These kinds of movies are always difficult, because of the genre conventions and the temptation to incorporate psychobablle and name-dropping. I’m not saying that happens here, I’m just trying to explain that a literal psychological thriller is always a very tough movie to make well. The keys to it are the script and the cast.

Insanity is a welcome showcase for Lau Ching Wan, one of Hong Kong’s best actors. It’s a lot of fun to watch him play his role so authoritatively. He’s subtle, layered, and very entertaining. Huang Xiaoming is lucky to be half as good.

And I mean that literally.

The first half of the movie, Huang’s character is well suited to his acting abilities. But when the plot twists, I think he kind of gets thrown out of the vehicle.

Or under the bus.

He’s simply not a good enough actor to carry the dramatic weight of the role. He certainly tries though.

Boy, does he try.

But to be fair to him, the script, written by the director, isn’t doing him any favors. Like I said, these movies are extremely hard to do well. Still, even if the story isn’t great, a lot of the acting is. As I already said, Lau Ching Wan is a pleasure to watch.

He’s so good, I don’t mind saying it twice.

The supporting cast are also impressive. Nina Paw plays a mother in law none of us would want. She may be crazy, or she may just be a mother in law.

If you’ve ever been married, you know what I mean.

Fiona Sit plays Huang Xiaoming’s girlfriend, and it was nice to see her playing a woman and not a girl. Michelle Ye is also impressive in a small role. Often these smaller roles seem to be tossed off without a lot of care or attention. But here it seems like care was taken not just in the casting but also the acting.

Michelle Wai only appears in one scene in the film, but she was really, really impressive. Her portrayal of a young junkie woman was terrifyingly accurate.

Don’t ask me how I know what insane junkie women are like. Just trust me when I say that she nailed it.

Those kinds of roles are usually the low point of local film, because actors (and especially actresses) seem to have little or no experience with that life or the people who live it. And that is a good thing, don’t get me wrong. The problem is that when they play those people, it often comes off like an after-school special or an anti-drug PSA.

I also want to point out that the fake tattoos on Michelle’s arms were really well-done and unusually realistic.

Insanity isn’t a bad movie, and there’s a lot to recommend it, but it’s very obvious that the writer/director was trying very hard to impress us. I guess directing is the opposite of sex: the first few times you’re allowed to direct a movie, you try to do too much and expend way too much time and energy trying to show how skillful you are, making great effort to be inventive, and overthinking a lot of it.

The first time most of us had sex, it probably lasted about as long as a teaser trailer and probably was a lot less impressive.

Speaking of impressive, I want to point out the really great use of sound and music, and sound editing, in Insanity. It contributed to the film and helped heighten the impact of some scenes.

Insanity isn’t great, but like I said it almost couldn’t be. Psychological thrillers are almost always predictable because of the genre, so you’re left with being excited about the ride. I’ll recommend watching Insanity for the acting. There’s a lot to be entertained with on that level, and I enjoyed the vast majority of the performances.

I got to attend a press screening for Insanity. I was very honored, but my seat was in the front row. That’s great for concerts. But not for movies.

Then again, considering the ticket was free, maybe I need to shut what they call ‘the f@#$ up.’

Movie Review: One Night in Taipei/台北夜蒲團團轉

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Sometimes, even being a well-educated person, it’s difficult for me to discharge my responsibilities as a wordsmith.

But in the case of One Night in Taipei, I am lucky enough to have the chance to be instead a word-johnson. Those of you who understand the euphemistic nature of that particular name will therefore be aware of why I invoke it when I say “F@#$ this movie.”

I had low expectations going into this film. It is, after all, directed by Wilson Chin, the slop merchant who directed all three Lan Kwai Fong movies, the execrable Black Comedy, and the inane Summer Love LoveSo I knew I was not likely to be pleasantly surprised.

But so what? I watch movies so you don’t have to.

And if that makes me some kind of cinematic martyr, One Night in Taipei makes Wilson Chin the directorial equivalent of Jihadi John. No more than 5 seconds after the film started, I turned to my friend and said “This movie already sucks!” Because it did.

It’s confoundingly bad.

I always say that I could never direct a movie when people ask me if I would like to. But after watching One Night in Taipei, I’m beginning to think I could.

On some weird level, One Night in Taipei was sincerely fascinating because I wanted to try and understand who would like this movie or these characters.

They’re all idiots.

Stick figures have more detail than these people. And let’s not even talk about the ‘story.’ I wish I was joking when I say that the three romances on the film are instigated, respectively, by roophies, racism, and extortion. The homophobia is just an extra treat. Two women have a disagreement. And they settle it… on the pole!

Most of the ‘actresses’ in this movie spent all their plastic surgery allowance on their chest and obviously ran out of money before they got to their face.

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“In case of a water landing, this actress can be used as a flotation device.”

 They’re all poster children for plastic surgery excess yet strangely most of them still have faces for radio. 

They look like second place in a hatchet fight.

There are a few brief flashes of funny in One Night in Taipei, but they’re snuffed out by an avalanche of sh*t, both figurative and literal.

 When feminine hygiene jokes are the comedic high point of your film, you have problems.

One Night in Taipei is inept, clumsy, rhythmless, and breathtakingly awful. A lot of this movie is painfully unfunny. 

This movie stinks.

But I want you to watch this movie. You need to see it to know how stupefyingly horrid it is. I know it entertains people when I sh*t on movies. And I honestly tried to have an open mind when I watched this movie. I tried to be charitable. But Mother Teresa couldn’t be charitable to this movie.

So why the f@#$ should I?

Little Big Master/五個小孩的校長 Movie Review

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A Category I true story about a woman who teaches kindergarten. 

I wouldn’t blame you for thinking it’s not the kind of movie I would normally watch, much less enjoy.

Miriam Yeung plays a woman who works in a top school in Hong Kong. But she cares more about the children than their test scores, and in Hong Kong that’s a recipe for disaster. She resigns, and intends to wait for her husband, played by Louis Koo, to finish his last project so they can travel the world and visit museums.

But then she sees a story on TV about a school in Yuen Long, which is a long way from Central. She takes the job, which pays probably 10% of her old job. And she’s not just teaching. She’s also the janitor, the groundskeeper, and the principal. Then again, she’s only got 5 students and the school is just one room. Her husband isn’t too sure about this new job, but he loves his wife and he’s got his own work to worry about.

It seems like everyone in this movie has something to worry about, from the teachers to the students to their parents. But that’s really what makes Little Big Master such an interesting and such a good film. There are no gun fights, or car chases, or ignorant dingbats traipsing around Lan Kwai Fong in their underwear. There are just stories about real people and their real problems.

Little Big Master is the best kind of movie for actors and the audience. It gives actors the kinds of characters they can really perform, and the audience gets to see some really great performances. Miriam Yeung plays her role remarkably well, and I think she deserves any and all awards she might get for it.

And she should.

Louis Koo’s performance is more muted, but I think that’s also the character. It’s still a really great turn, and it was nice to see Louis Koo being so… normal. Even the smaller roles are of a higher than normal quality.

The actors who play the parents of the children are all very believable, even though some of them, like Richard Ng and Phillip Keung Ho Man are very recognizable. They portray working-class parents and people, and their performances are funny, believable, and very entertaining.

The film obviously centers around the five little girls who are the students in the school. There’s a certain amount of leeway you have to give to child actors, and it doesn’t make sense to judge them the same way you would adult, professional actors.

But these little girls were fantastic.

Admittedly, they weren’t really playing anything different than who they are, but they do still have some challenging scenes and lines. And they are very, very impressive. I don’t know how the director got such believable emotions from them, and I’m not sure I want to know.

The biggest lesson I took from this film is that these little girls act circles around a depressingly large percentage of local actors.

I’m not naming any names, but they could learn a lot from these young women.

Little Big Master can seem a little melodramatic a couple times, but they are just moments, and the rest of the movie more than make up for them.

Director Adrian Kwan is locally known for directing Christian films like Team of Miracle and A Dream Team. But he’s also directed films like 6 AM and If U Care. If he keeps making movies like Little Big Master, I’ll watch every one of them.

The best thing I can say about this movie is that it really is too good for me to talk about.

Movie Review: Sara/雛妓

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Herman Yau directed this movie, which got a lot of attention before its release. After all, it’s a Category III film starring Charlene Choi in a story about the Asian sex industry. I was looking forward to this movie if for no other reason than to see what it was like. Herman Yau is one of my favorite local directors, and I always say its nearly impossible for him to make a bad movie.

But I have to be honest: I really didn’t enjoy Sara, though the direction of the movie is the least of my problems.

The story spans fifteen years in the life of Sara, played by Charlene Choi. The movie opens with a brutal, depressing scene in which Tony Ho yet again proves that being sleazy isn’t easy. 

He just makes it look that way.

It’s one thing to be a child molester. But Tony takes it to another level with an impressive display of technique.

 Just because you’re a sexual predator doesn’t mean you have to be clumsy at it.

Screenwriter Erica Li plays the world’s worst mother.

I don’t want to say too much about the narrative, because it would give away too many plot points, and because the story jumps back and forth so many times it confused me a little. It also doesn’t help that the story is stiff, clunky, and badly written. 

So many of the details are quite simply unbelievable that it took me out of the film. If a man promises he can get someone into a good school, chances are it’s not going to be the next day. When people die, their eyes open, not close.

Even when the death happens on narrative cue.

Two people speaking a second language to one another cannot and do not communicate in the ways, or at the level, that these characters do. According to an article I read, the scriptwriter did a month’s worth of research and wrote the film in two weeks. This may be why the film’s ‘examination’ of Thailand’s sex industry seems shallow, banal, and little more than a plot device.

So does using a butter knife to cut your wrist. Ain’t gonna happen.

And I feel bad, because Erica Li has written a number of films that I really enjoyed, like Split Second Murder, My Mother is a Belly Dancer, and the two Ip Man films Herman Yau directed.

But the story isn’t my biggest problem in SaraIt’s Charlene Choi. She plays Sara from a teenager to a woman. She’s 35 years old. The audience were laughing at her wearing a school uniform.

She really should be arrested for attempted puberty.

It also doesn’t help that the three different phases of her life  aren’t represented by any significant change in her appearance. So when the story jumps back and forth, sometimes  it can take a minute to figure out what period we’re seeing.

But the biggest problem for me is Charlene Choi’s performance, or lack thereof. Quite a lot of the time, it seems like there’s a movie going on around her and she’s just sitting there. Her responses are wooden, unconvincing, and jarring in their flatness.

Charlene Choi is so out of her depth she needs a life jacket.

William Hung would have been more convincing.

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In a wig.

The only time she’s convincing is when she’s acting like a petulant teenager.

And in that scene she’s already 21 or 22.

I’m not saying Charlene Choi can’t act. I’ve seen her do it. I just didn’t see much of it here. 

Sara is apparently Category III for language and nudity. But it also may have gotten that rating because Charlene Choi’s performance is just f@#$ing awful.

If you see the movie, you’ll know what I mean when she throws the watch.

Her performance is especially a shame because without her, I think Herman Yau could have made a better showing. I wanted to like this movie. I like Herman Yau. I enjoyed Simon Yam’s performance. He was his usual dependable self, turning in a performance that touches on all the right notes.

I didn’t have any problem with the direction of the film, and like so many Herman Yau movies, there are moments of guilty hilarity.

I was happy that the Queen of Cameos has a small role, so if you watch the movie make sure you play Where Is Jane Wong?

But most of the time you’ll just be watching a movie with a big blank space in the middle of it where the protagonist should be.

Movie Review: Lucky Star 2015/吉星高照2015

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A Chinese New Year movie released in Hong Kong right at the very end of the holiday?

It opened in Malaysia on the first day of Chinese New Year after a significant publicity effort.

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Strictly speaking, given the British past of Hong Kong and Malaysia, Eric Tsang is giving the audience the finger.

But maybe this movie was so good they waited until after Chinese New Year to release it in Hong Kong. Maybe they didn’t want it to destroy the other four movies at the box office. Maybe the producers are so polite that not only did they wait until after the holiday, they’re limiting the screens its showing on so as not to hog all the tickets. They’re really polite. Lucky Star 2015 is showing in just a handful of cinemas, and usually just once a day.

Including Yuen Long, which is Chinese for East Bumfxck.

That kind of polite self-effacement is true selflessness.

Or it’s the sign of a turd they’re unceremoniously dumping just to fulfill obligations.

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Speaking of turds, Wong Cho Lam stars as an aspiring entertainer who manages a group of celebrity lookalikes. I’m not sure if he’s supposed to be a Wong Cho Lam lookalike in the film.

And I can’t really say that I care.

Ella Chen is the oldest member of SHE, a Taiwanese girl group managed by HIM. I wish I was making that up, because then it would just be a bad joke that was my fault, as opposed to a bad joke that’s someone else’s fault. 

Speaking of bad jokes, She plays Wong Cho Lam’s sister. And speaks Taiwanese Mandarin.

Unlike everyone else in the movie.

Well, I assume that Lollipop F, the Taiwanese boy band spoke Mandarin too before they got overdubbed. 

I’d rather call them Lollipop F Yourselves and call their album Music For All the Wrong Reasons.

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Please, get shot.

Wen Chao plays a Stephen Chow impersonator from Guangzhou who comes to Hong Kong in the hopes of meeting his idol. The entire movie is thematically a send up of Stephen Chow and his movies.

Which may explain why Ella overacts vigorously throughout the entire film. She chews scenery like a meth-addicted shark.

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I wish that was in her mouth for the whole f@#$ing movie.

Wen Chao actually does a pretty good impersonation of Stephen Chow’s voice, or he was dubbed. It’s not that I can’t tell.

It’s more that I don’t care.

But neither did the people that made this movie, really.

Eric Tsang plays Wen Chao’s dad, and he may be crazy. 

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Or he may just be Eric Tsang.

Dada Chen plays an aspiring pop star managed by her mother, Kingdom Yuen. Wong Cho Lam and Dada’s characters have a relationship, which proves that movies aren’t real.

This movie is not good. And it is pretty bad in a lot of ways. It’s practically 4:3 for God’s sake. But it’s not as bad as I expected it to be. I expected it to infuriate me, being so insultingly bad that I would risk (yet another) aneurysm.

Lucky Star 2015 surprisingly didn’t aggravate me. It was bad but it would be unfair to expect otherwise. There were a few things I sincerely liked about the movie. The romance between Wong Cho Lam and Dada was, dare I say it, believable. It’s nice to see Wong Cho Lam moving away from his androgynous smartass schtick that always infuriated me. And in at least one scene, Dada Chen actually impressed me in spite of myself.

Wen Chao’s character is, at first, played for laughs in the Ah Chan tradition, and someone even asks if he is in fact Ah Chan. The opening of the movie takes place in Guangzhou, and the sets are atavistically bursting with Communist imagery. I was very surprised to see such a throwback.

The best part of the movie to me is the end.

And not because that meant it was over.

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Lucky Star 2015 ends with the old-fashioned Chinese New Year greetings from the stars and the entire cast. It’s something I really like, and while it contributes nothing to the narrative, it did go a long way towards helping me forgive the gaping shortcomings of the rest of the film.

Besides, the audience I saw it with laughed and seemed to enjoy it from what I could tell of their discussion during the movie. 

I think maybe TVB secretly financed this movie to try and make Triumph in the Skies look better. And it almost worked. But I’d still much rather re-watch this movie than Failure in the Cinema.

Lucky Star 2015 is a Chinese New Year co-production made on the cheap, and so the overacting, Mandarin, and happy ending were more guaranteed than the ones I usually get in Mong…

Never mind.

Movie Review: An Inspector Calls/浮華宴

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A Chinese New Year movie based on a 20th century British play critiquing capitalism that uses black humor as a comedic device? It certainly sounds interesting.

And it is interesting.

Herman Yau and Raymond Wong co-directed this movie, and Raymond Wong plays about a half dozen different people, but only one at a time. I’m not saying that he didn’t pull his own weight as co-director. I’m just saying he was obviously busy with other things.

That don’t make him a bad person.

Neither does appearing as a woman in one segment of the film. It was amusing, and even a little disturbing, but there’s nothing wrong with it.

Louis Koo plays Inspector Karl, a police inspector who interrogates an entire family about their interactions with a young woman played by Chrissie Chau.

Eric Tsang and Teresa Mo play Mr. and Mrs. Kau, whose daughter Sherry, played by Karena Ng, is engaged to Johnny, played by Hans Zhang.

Each of these people is grilled in turn by Inspector Karl. Louis Koo attacks the role as if he were Aaron Kwok, and the resulting scene-chewing would make Richard Craft wince. But it’s Chinese New Year, so it isn’t off-putting. In fact, it’s fun to see Louis Koo being so exaggerated.

The whole film is overstated, but it makes sense in the overall picture. It is, after all. Chinese New Year. Much of the film is played for laughs, and naturally includes a long list of cameos from people like Jacqueline Chong, Dada Chen, Cheung Tat Ming, Stephy Tang, Annie Liu, Kelly Chen, and Donnie Yen as a quartet.

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No, really. 

The farcical nature of much of the proceedings fits nicely into the Chinese New Year movie tradition. 

In fact, at one point, Eric Tsang breaks the fourth wall by asking rhetorically if their situation is a Chinese New Year movie.

An Inspector Calls is an interesting movie, with a lot of strengths. The set design is very interesting, especially because it’s so different than normal productions. Time and money was spent creating a very different environment. Some of that money went to digital effects that broaden the scope of the production in general and some shots in particular.

Surreal flights of fancy are one thing, but this particular shot of a factory is interesting because we rarely see this sort of thing in local films.

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It helps to set An Inspector Calls apart from other local films, and if it doesn’t always succeed, I can at least admire the attempt. Ultimately, this movie left me confused.

And it’s not because I don’t speak Chinese. 

If Chinese New Year movies are about family and triumphing over adversity, I have to wonder why this story was used. In the original, the family are all unlikeable swine who ultimately share in the guilt of a crime they each contributed to. The ending is overtly political, bleak, and a broad indictment of many of the values that supposedly founded and drive this city.

That sounds like a Pang Ho Cheung movie, and he’s really good at using black humor to both entertain and make a point.

So why on earth would you want to make a Chinese New Year movie about that sort of thing? If you change anything about the story, it’s intent goes out the window, and that’s what happens here.

It also doesn’t help that the film ends weirdly, abruptly, and features, at least in the English subtitles, an odd bit of explanation that seems like it was cribbed wholesale from the original play’s Wikipedia page. For all the reasons I may get confused about Chinese movies, these were the least expected. 

I admire this film for getting really weird, but I can’t say I enjoyed it. And that’s a shame, because there are some things in this movie I really admired. 

Continuing to impress me for non-mammary reasons is Chrissie Chau, whose performance is oddly affecting. Her acting is really improving, and I’ll credit Herman Yau with making her the emotional center of the film.

 Gordon Lam and Teresa Mo were also very good, if only because they were playing unusual roles and really made their characters believable.

 I liked the way the movie looked, the way it was acted, and the way it was directed.  I guess I just didn’t care for the way it ended.

 I often speak of movies made for Chinese New Year that get released at other times and how much they aggravate me.  But this movie is just the opposite. I’d rather have seen it any other time of year.

Movie Review: 12 Golden Ducks/12金鸭

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It’s Chinese New Year, and that means one thing.

Well, it means a lot of things, but one of those things is Chinese New Year movies. 12 Golden Ducks is the fourth movie in the Golden Chicken franchise.

Which is not a restaurant.

Last year’s Golden Chickensss was also a new year movie, and it was my favorite of the bunch. I liked it so much that it was one of my top five movies of 2014.

That movie, as well as 12 Golden Ducks, was directed by Matt Chow. He co-directed this year’s Triumph in the Skies, a film I called Failure in the Cinema. I’m more than willing to lay that off on his co-director, because 12 Golden Ducks, like its predecessor, is a really, really good movie. It’s not just a good Chinese New Year movie, though it is that.

It’s a really good movie any time of the year.

Sandra Ng plays Future Cheung, a gigolo.

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Yes, Sandra plays a man.

It’s a little hard to get used to at first, but she does such a good job with it that I started to see her character instead of her. She deserves a lot of credit for going through this kind of makeup, because that takes a lot more patience than I could ever have.

Like the previous movies, Sandra’s character is a sex worker facing a challenge, and she must find a way to rise to the occasion. In this movie, that’s just one of the challenges.

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Future’s not alone in this endeavor; his colleagues are an interesting bunch played by Philip Keung, Babyjohn Choi, Wilfred Lau and Lo Hoi Pang, who continues his nearly unbroken streak of appearing in every single Hong Kong movie made.

Ivana Wong and Wyman Wong (no relation) play a Thai couple whose restaurant is a front for a duck shop. I wasn’t really fond of the Thai impressions they were doing, but they weren’t as bad as some other things I’ve seen in local movies.

These tenacious professionals face adversity with courage, wit, and ingenuity. Along the way we get to see a lot of different stories and a huge variety of local stars. Pakho Chau and Michelle Wai appear in the beginning of the film. Fiona Sit’s cameo makes a nod to the city’s current political climate. Simon Yam’s cameo answers the question “how ugly can one man’s outfits be?”

A flashback featuring Nicolas Tse foreshadows the end of the film and also recalls the original Golden Chicken from 2002. Speaking of the original, Eason Chan returns for another cameo, split into two parts, both of which are hilarious.  Isabella Leung returns to the big screen with a small role. Unlike me, she’s aging really, really well. So is Chrissie Chau, who plays the headmistress of a school 90% of men and 10% of women wish they had attended. Anthony Wong plays another headmaster who probably would be just as popular, but for different reasons. 

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I was really happy to see Carmen Lee back on the big screen again in a very funny scene with Louis Koo. It was also nice to see him getting to play an informal, funny character. I can’t explain it well, but when you see it you’ll know what I mean.

Carmen Lee actually used to exercise at the same gym I go to. The first time I saw her, I asked if she was Carmen Lee, and she asked me why I knew who she was. Understandably, she was more than a little nervous.

The end of the movie features a cameo by Lu Han, who is apparently a member of some Korean boy band.

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Or girl band. 

The thing that makes 12 Golden Ducks so special is the same thing that made the Golden Chicken movies special. They somehow capture a very distinctive sense of the local. It’s almost a kind of nostalgia, but it’s more than that. These movies are almost like love letters to the city.

It also helps that 12 Golden Ducks is so well-written, acted, and directed. It’s a lot of fun to watch, and it still ends up affecting you more than it objectively should.

It’s easily my favorite Chinese New Year movie of 2015.

Movie Review: Seeding of a Ghost/种鬼

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Released in 1983, Seeding of a Ghost was infamous for its shocking content. The Shaw Brothers were trying desperately to get people in the seats,  and so they took the ideas of onscreen sex and violence to new highs.

Or lows.

A taxi driver’s wife cheats on him. But he loves her. When she gets raped and murdered, he is at first the prime suspect.

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What do you expect from cops dressed like this?

Frustrated, he enlists the help of a black magic practitioner to get revenge on his wife’s attackers, using his dead wife’s ghost as the instrument of vengeance.

They also use his dead wife’s naked, desiccated corpse. The way they use it is so weird and disturbing… that they don’t even want to watch.

Seeding of a Ghost isn’t Category III. But that’s only because in 1983, Category III hadn’t been invented yet. But believe me, this movie should be Category III. There’s a LOT of blood.

It’s that super-bright Shaw Brothers red, but there’s gallons of the stuff. And a lot of other gore. There’s nudity.

Of the full frontal variety. 

But mostly there’s magic.

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 Lots and lots of magic.

Rendering magic through special effects has always been a challenge. Add to that the time and budget constraints the Shaw Brothers were known for, and you know that Seeding of a Ghost didn’t make Rick Baker nervous.

Even so, there’s a lot to like here. It’s the sizzle that sells the steak, and the use of bright, vivid colors really does make up for the technical, budgetary, and, frankly, visual limitations of the effects. The lighting, and especially the camera work, keep the movie higher on the quality scale than it really ought to be. 

The colors, which look fantastic on these remastered DVDs, as well as the professional lighting, go a long way towards making the movie not just fun but acceptable. It’s hard to explain, but Seeding of a Ghost looks nice enough in some ways that it helps you overlook the things that look bad. In other words, the poor quality of the effects don’t take you out of the movie.

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I still would.

Seeding of a Ghost features old-school animation-type special effects like we see in Iceman Cometh or Magic Cop and others. They’re  aren’t convincing, though we have to admit we have no idea what these things would really look like. Maybe it’s nostalgia, but I really like the aesthetic of these effects. The remastered DVD makes them look even nicer, and it’s easy to realize now that even if they aren’t great effects, they’re better than you might expect or remember, at least aesthetically.

The effects are special if only because they deserve a lot more credit for their expedience and ingenuity than their ability to convince. Before CGI, bubbling potions used Alka Seltzer. And if the script called for you to vomit live worms, guess what you had to put in your mouth?

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More importantly, even though the effects aren’t convincing, they’re still very watchable. I wasn’t deceived, and I wasn’t frightened… but I was definitely entertained! At least one of the special effects actually made me rewind to see how it was done. Partially because it was such a surprise in the movie. Bonus points for seeing a Taoist priest biting his finger to write with his own blood.

That never gets old to me.

I really enjoyed Seeding of a Ghost, because it surprised me so often. Although the effects aren’t all that great visually, sometimes their content is enough to impress you. I was genuinely shocked a few times. My mouth literally fell open. This movie goes so far past inappropriate, shameless exploitation that even I felt wrong for watching it.

But in a good way. 

You know how some movies try to be transgressive and shocking? Seeding of a Ghost doesn’t have to try. The story, as I said, is about a man taking revenge on the men who raped and murdered his wife. But I guess his wife’s ghost has other plans. Because she then goes after her boyfriend. And his wife. And their houseguests.

The last fifteen minutes of Seeding of a Ghost is completely depraved, and you keep thinking it can’t get any weirder.

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 It does.

Not only does it mimic The Thing, the John Carpenter movie that was released the year before, it also features the most f@#$ed up homage to the original Alien I’ve ever seen. 

There are few movies you can really call unforgettable. Seeding of a Ghost is one of those movies.

Movie Review: From Vegas to Macau II/賭城風雲Ⅱ

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From Vegas to Macau was one of 2014’s bigger Chinese New Year movies, because it heralded the return of Chow Yun Fat to the Hong Kong gambling movie. He wasn’t reprising the God of Gamblers role, but the film certainly referenced, and played with, that iconic character. The sequel is also being released at Chinese New Year, and it has an even bigger budget than last year.

I think its important to state up front that From Vegas to Macau II is very much a Chinese New Year movie, because that has a very big influence on its content. Chinese New Year movies are a lot more about cameos, comedy, and silliness than about drama, narrative or pathos. From Vegas to Macau II adds in a lot of action, special effects, and interesting locations. The opening credits evoke the old James Bond films, and they make it clear right away that significant money was spent on the film.

The story moves from Hong Kong to Thailand to Macau, with filming in all three locations. The plot involves the continuing efforts of law enforcement to stop a criminal organization with the help of Chow Yun Fat’s character Ken, a mster gambler.

To be honest, he’s actually a master cheater. He always seems to have some gadget or trick that lets him win. But so what?

In the movie, the good guys pursue the bad guys. That’s not much of a synopsis to give you, but let’s be honest: the story is the least important thing in this movie. And I don’t mean that in a bad way. The story is simply a means for the film to move from set piece to set piece, setting up the different scenes that happen.

The film opens with a meeting on a luxury yacht, and features cameos from Wong Jing, Nat Chan and Eric Tsang playing mahjong. When the story moves to Thailand, the action kicks in with two different scenes featuring a lot of gunfire, explosions, and CGI blood squibs. 

Thailand is also the setting for a parody of (or homage to) 2013’s Unbeatable. But this time Nick Cheung plays the corner man and Chow Yun Fat puts on the gloves. Along the way, we also visit Ken’s super-high tech mansion, home not only to Ken and his daughter but a robot butler that speaks in the Chiu Chow dialect.

This is one of those times that I can full concede my lack of language skill means I don’t understand part of the movie. I know it’s supposed to be funny, because I heard the other people laughing, but I don’t know why. But I may have been the only person in the cinema to have picked up on the Woody Allen homage that Nick Cheung performs.

Speaking of Nick Cheung, his interactions with the robot were the source of one of my biggest laughs of the film. And there’s a lot to laugh at in the movie. I don’t know why there’s such a thing as a syringe marked ‘obtuse muscle injection,’ or why it would be found in an armory.

But I know it gets used.

One thing I really enjoyed about From Vegas to Macau II was seeing a lot of old and new faces onscreen. Connie Man Hoi Ling and Hazel Tong played Interpol agents, and for both of them this may be their most under cover roles yet; neither wears a bikini or anything else vaguely revealing. But in a cameo, Natalie Meng Yao makes the most of what God gave her to make a joke. Kenny Wong and Derek Tsang also play Interpol agents, and Philip Keung Ho Man plays a gambler. None of them reveals much either.

And thank God for that.

Shawn Yue takes over the Nicholas Tse spot, though Nick Cheung Kar Fai ends up with significantly more screen time. It was nice to see Carina Lau on the big screen again, and her scenes with Chow Yun Fat were a lot of fun to watch. My favorite cameo will remain a surprise, because I think you should see it. It’s probably my favorite part of the movie. 

From Vegas to Macau II is a great Chinese New Year movie, even if it’s not a great story. But it’s not really supposed to. It’s supposed to entertain people during the biggest holiday in Chinese culture, in ways that the Hong Kong audience has come to expect and even demand. So if you watch this movie, it would be wrong to expect it to be something that it’s not designed or intended to be. But if you like Chinese New Year movies, I think you’ll really enjoy From Vegas to Macau II.