Movie Review: The Gigolo/鴨王

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In Chinese, the movie is ‘Duck King,’ which some people might think is a typo. Seriously, look at your keyboard.

But it’s not that. In Cantonese, female prostitutes are called chickens. Visiting a prostitute is ‘calling chicken.’

Chickens’ male heterosexual counterparts, men who sexually service women for money, are known as ducks.

The Gigolo tells the story of a young man named Fung, played by Dominic Ho, who gets a job in the horizontal refreshment industry.

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And sometimes the upright refreshment industry.

He services a pair of clients, played by Candy Yuen and Hazel Tong, who display varying amounts of themselves in the film.

Jeana Ho plays Chloe, an aspiring young movie director. An article I read (the link is in the description) said that Jeana gave up her sexy image for the role. The article explained that the character was based on Barbara Wong, and quotes Jeana as saying “I don’t have to show off my figure, it would be a pure acting challenge. This time I play a female director, my costumes don’t have to be sexy.”

Barbara Wong could not be reached for comment.

Tony Ho also has a role, and as is usually the case, he damn near steals the movie with his scenes.

But why talk about the people in this movie who don’t have breasts?

Movies like this are made to appeal to 90% of men and 10% of women.

Candy Yuen doesn’t go the full monty, so to speak, but we do get to see her topless. It’s commendable.

And not just because they’re lovely.

Candy’s not using a body double makes her performance more effective and affecting than that of her costars. When the camera pans up from her tuchus or her breasts to her face, you can see that it’s all her.

Or that those are hers.

Her willingness to show herself also, by comparison, highlights the editing cuts necessary for the other actresses to use body doubles.

I’ve said before, for a number of reasons topless talent tends to be imported most of the time. So it was nice to see Cantonese breasts onscreen. 

Especially because of the (unfortunate) risks Candy Yuen is taking by showing us. One of her topless scenes was ‘leaked,’ and she’s been all over the tabloids this week. Typically, the ‘journalists’ are asking relevant and incisive questions like “Now that you’ve been naked onscreen, how will you ever find a man willing to date you?”

[raises hand]

As a Westerner who obviously is genetically incapable of understanding the vicissitudes of local views about sex, I find it hypocritical and cheap that the tabloids, and the people who read them, clamor for salacious content beforehand, and then excoriate the people who do it afterwards:

“Oooh! She’s gonna be topless! I can’t wait to see it! Look! She’s topless! Look! Ohh! She’s a whore!”

No, you are. If you really disapprove of something or someone, don’t put it on the cover, cheese-d*ck.

But where were we? Oh yes, the educational merits of The Gigolo.

Women apparently call ducks for very different reasons than men call chicken. Whereas a man might want the feeling of Ice-Fire, women apparently want something else: 

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Well, turn over. 

That joke may sound crass and unnecessary, but I can tell you that according to The Gigolo, attaining the feeling of first love apparently necessitates being on all fours, at least for part of the time. So it’s not just me.

This movie is so devoid of basic decency that I felt like I was at my family reunion.

I also learned that sex is the best cure for a roophie hangover.

I disagree; the last time I did that, my ass hurt for a week.

A lot of the soundtrack of The Gigolo is pornographic.

It’s f@#$ing awful.

CGI has definitely been used in a movie for a coin toss before. But this is probably the first time it’s ever been used to show someone juggling coins… with his tongue.

Better movies through technology.

That’s as good an example as any of the way that The Gigolo cannot be called suggestive. It’s demanding and insistent and overbearing.

This film has less subtlety than a rhinoceros with eczema.

The moments in the movie that are intended to be dramatic are laughably hollow, because the whole film is so morally and narratively shallow that you just can’t care about anything or anyone in it except in the most prurient sense. Our protagonist Fung casually snorts K-jai and then tricks his girlfriend into snorting it too.

Then they watch 33D Invader.

A moment of sexual deviance that should come off as shocking and repugnant is instead funny because it gets the tone all wrong.

Who am I kidding? It’s not funny. It’s f@#$ing hilarious.

There are NO narrative surprises in this movie. It’s a slave to the genre, but that is also one of its strengths. There’s nothing new here, but everything is familiar in the best kind of way.

This movie made me laugh at things I knew I shouldn’t laugh at.

And that just made me laugh even more.

Movie Review: The Extreme Fox/非狐外傳

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My father always use to say that if you’re not having fun, lower your standards. That’s been valuable and useful advice. Especially when I sat down to watch The Extreme Fox.

I don’t remember this getting a theatrical release in Hong Kong, but it’s very likely I just missed it. I bought this on DVD the other day because it was 3 for HK$100 and I figured that good or bad it was bound to be a good movie to review. And I can honestly say that it is a good movie to review.

Even if it’s not a good movie.

The Extreme Fox is directed by Wellson Chin. He directed The Inspector Wears Skirts and some of the sequels as well as Street Kids Violence.

Hey, I liked it.

It’s a parody of the literary classic Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio, the source material for movies like Painted Skin, A Touch of Zen and A Chinese Ghost StoryIt’s a good-natured throwback to the 90s, with a fast pace, an irreverent tone, and a period setting juxtaposed with current slang. There’s a lot of energy and a spirit of fun in this movie; watching it, you get the impression the people who made this movie had a lot of fun doing it.

It’s likely that they had more fun than the people who actually watched the movie.

It’s obvious from the opening frame that this movie wasn’t intended to be a cinematic masterpiece.

The budget constraints on this film would make Bob Crane jealous.

It looks like it was made in 3 days.

On someone’s phone.

But there are moments that make me laugh. There’s a lot of dialog I don’t understand, but I know it’s funny. One of the gags I did understand has to do with unscrupulous tour guides, a problem that occurs in Hong Kong sometimes. It’s always funny to me to see modern issues addressed in a period film.

There are more than a few instances of sincerely shocking and surprising moments that somehow charmed me. I guess because they were so unexpected. You’d have to see them to know what I mean, but if you watch the movie, you’ll know them when they happen.

The effects in this movie cannot reasonably be called special. They’re… unique, but not special by any stretch of the imagination.

The subtitles were occasionally very interesting, and I got the feeling some of it was intentional. Why else would someone talk about the deleterious (!) effects of “sucking your whammy gas”?

The Extreme Fox isn’t the worst movie I’ve ever seen.

But it was the best movie I saw that day.

It has Chrissie Chau as a ninja.

And she’s not good at it.

What more could you ask for?

I seriously give the actors credit for being able to keep a straight face through some of the situations in the movie. The NG reel that plays during the credits is actually entertaining, if only because it lets you know that the actors realized they weren’t trying to win any Golden Horses. 

And how much they struggled to keep those straight faces.

I’m not suggesting you should buy this movie.

I’m not even suggesting you should watch it.

But I am suggesting that if you did watch it, because you’re on an airplane or at home sick with the flu and it’s on TV, you may find that it has enough redeeming qualities that you won’t feel like it stole 90 minutes of your life from you.

Movie Review: Love in a Puff/志明與春嬌

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Pang Ho Cheung has helped to change the language of Hong Kong cinema. People always ask me if I learned bad words in Cantonese from watching movies. In truth, I learned them from the bus, the MTR, the sidewalks, and pretty much everywhere except the movies.

Profanity usually means that a film gets a Category III rating, but that’s been changing for a while now. And some people say it’s because of Pang Ho Cheung’s movies. In 2007’s Exodus, Nick Cheung’s character spouted a constant stream of profanity.

Some people were offended, but others were happy to hear realistic dialog. And that was the most common reason I heard when people told me why Love in a Puff was such a good movie and so popular with locals. They enjoyed the language.

Exodus didn’t get a Category III rating, but Love in a Puff did. But that’s probably because everyone in this movie is swearing all the time. The dialog in the movie was refreshingly realistic, natural, and believable.

Love in a Puff opens strangely, before making perfect sense. The first scene is really weird, but Pang Ho Cheung is no stranger to weird openings in his movies.

Besides, he’s Pang Ho Cheung, so he can open his movies any damn way he wants to.

Miriam Yeung plays Cherie, a woman who works at a cosmetics shop and meets fellow smokers outside her workplace where they share cigarettes, stories, and snacks.

She meets Jimmy, an advertising executive played by Shawn Yue Man Lok, and begin the slow dance of people interested in one another.

Between the realistic dialog and the very commendable acting of the two leads, this romance is believable, and it’s easy to get interested in it and stay that way.

At one point in the film, Miriam Yeung smiles, and you realize why she’s a movie star.

There’s a lot of dialog in Love in a Puff, and I mean a lot. But like I said before, it’s so natural that I could still pay attention. It was just nice to hear characters speaking like real people in a very uncinematic way. It helps that the supporting cast are so believable, even as they’re so recognizable. Cheung Tat Ming, Isabel Chan, Kuk Cho Lam, Vincent Kok, Charmaine Fong and Matt Chow all appear at different points of the movie, but they embody their characters well.

Love in a Puff is a vaguely artsy film, and it has that whimsical classical music soundtrack, and a ton of dialog and no action. No one gets shot, or naked. These kind of movies are usually not the kind of thing I enjoy, or even like. But rather than be bored or offended, I really enjoyed Love in a Puff, because it’s entertaining as well as artistic. It’s engaging, and I could like these characters.

It certainly helped that the film was the standard 90 minutes, so it doesn’t try my patience, and it’s not self-indulgent hubristic crap. Even if it is a little smug (and I’m not saying it is at all), at least Love in a Puff earns Pang Ho Cheung the right to feel that way. This movie was so good I didn’t even mind the classical music soundtrack, which is almost always a big red flag with the word PRETENTIOUS on it in local films.

I wish all movies with these kinds of pretensions came out so watchable. 

Speaking of watchable, make sure you watch all the credits. Otherwise you’ll miss something you need to see.

Movie Review: The Big Boss/唐山大兄

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The martial arts film certainly didn’t start with Bruce Lee. But his impact on was so big that the genre became something totally different. The moment Bruce Lee became a part of Hong Kong martial arts cinema, everything changed. Luckily for us, that moment was captured on, or maybe in, film.

The Big Boss tells the story of a group of Chinese men working in an ice factory in Thailand in the early 70s.

Which may seem like ancient history to some of you, but at the time it was the present.

As you can easily imagine, selling ice isn’t very profitable.

Even in a country that’s hot 400 days a year. 

Turns out that there’s something in the ice that’s worth a lot more than frozen water. This is why the film was originally called The Chinese Connection in America; it meant to capitalize on the success of The French Connection, the true story of the breakup of a Corsican heroin smuggling ring in America. In fact, the demise of the French connection led to the Chinese underworld’s dominance of the heroin trade in the mid-to-late 1970s.

But never mind that.

Because weighty geopolitical issues are the last thing we should be talking about in reference to The Big BossThere’s (almost) nothing weighty or important about this movie other than its star. The Big Boss wasn’t an expensive movie to make, and I doubt they spent a lot of time making it, and in a lot of ways it really shows its age.

And I don’t mean the outfits.

I’m talking about the cinematography, the acting, the script, and most of the action choreography.

If it weren’t for Bruce Lee, we probably wouldn’t be talking about it at all.

The film was originally written for James Tien, who spends the first half of the movie kicking ass in the Shaw Brothers style. Which makes sense since that’s where he worked before shifting to Golden Harvest. But somewhere along the line people realized that this new Bruce guy was pretty good, and before you know it James Tien’s character disappears.

Enter the Bruce.

It’s like watching a community theatre production with Chow Yun Fat in one of the roles. Every time Bruce Lee is onscreen, you can’t look at anyone else. People often forget that Bruce Lee was already an accomplished film actor, and that he had an incredible amount of screen presence. Because he spends the first half of The Big Boss not fighting, we can watch him acting. His facial expressions, his smile, or his mannerisms are all very effective. 

Especially in the context of the frankly horrible surroundings.

That may sound harsh (and it may be), but it’s obvious from the beginning of the film that Bruce Lee was above and beyond the whole rest of the cast combined, in just about any way you look at it.

With one exception: A very young Lam Ching Ying appears in the movie, and was just as good a martial artist, and, it turned out, just as good an actor.

But I digress… What I mean is that Bruce Lee makes his mark on The Big Boss before he starts fighting. And once he starts fighting… it’s over.

What’s over? Everything.

Although the choreography is still very pre-Bruce, he makes it look a lot better by virtue of being so fast and precise you can barely see him. His counterparts aren’t nearly as good, but it’s still thrilling to see the genesis of a phenomenon in these fight scenes. 

Like I said, we get to witness the first moments of a man quite literally changing the world. Because after this, nothing was ever the same again. So the greatest value of The Big Boss is that it captures the moment when everything changed, and it shows in stark clarity the old and the new.

On a nostalgic level, The Big Boss is a lot of fun to watch. There really isn’t anything quite like the 1970s martial arts bad guy. It’s cheesy and it’s silly and it’s great fun. And it’s still, after 40 years, amazing to see just how much Bruce Lee lights up the screen.

Watching it again on DVD reminded me of my previous viewings. When I was in high school in the early 80s my father and I went to the Granby Cinema in Norfolk, Virginia to watch a double feature of The Big Boss and Fist of Fury. It wasn’t a good neighborhood, but I have to say my dad and I really enjoyed the commentary track the audience provided.

Then, when the movie was over, we got what they call the f@#$ out.

The next week at school a number of my friends pointed out how stupid and crazy I was to go to that neighborhood. 

I think they were just jealous.

Movie Review: The Crossing Pt. 1/太平轮

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John Woo directed this movie, which is actually going to be released in two halves, like Red Cliff.

It has birds, and babies, and bromance, and women whose role is essentially decorative.

The Crossing tells the story of three couples caught up in the Chinese civil war. Zhang Ziyi plays a woman searching for her husband, who’s off fighting the war. She experiences a series of setbacks, challenges, and violations that would make Meryl Streep green with envy.

Huang Xiaoming plays a Kuomintang general who meets a woman, falls in love, gets married and… goes off to war.

Just like his mother in law said he would.

His wife, played by Song Hye-kyo, goes dutifully to Taiwan to wait for him. She meets a doctor, played by Takeshi Kaneshiro, who’s hoping to reunite with a girl he met in school. 

His mother may have a different idea.

My favorite character was a soldier played by Tong Dawei. He joined the army to learn to read, and ended up becoming a career combat soldier. To me, he was the most human character, if only because he looked like a regular person.

The rest of the cast was too… photogenic. They were too… pretty.

But in fairness, I think some of the reason for that is thematic. One of the things I enjoy about John Woo is the way he creates a cinematic universe. If you watch Windtalkers, you might find it old-fashioned, but I think that was intentional. He wasn’t just trying to tell a story about WWII, I think he was trying to evoke the films of that era as well. I see the same thing in The Crossing.

It’s not just a movie, it’s a movie, with a lot of cinematic qualities. The actors look and act like movie stars as much as characters. It didn’t help draw me into the movie, but it made me appreciate the experience of viewing the movie. It made me mildly nostalgic, and I appreciated that. It allowed me to (mostly) overlook some of the more… unrealistic aspects of the story.

Cars don’t screech when cornering on mud and dirt.

Takeshi Kaneshiro played himself in a school flashback.

He’s about as convincing as a student as I would be.

The opening battle sequence unfortunately recycles the opening of Saving Private Ryan, but it is at least visually and cinematically impressive. That certainly helps explain the utterly illogical nature of the scene in question.

Let’s just say that people with that much tactical ineptitude deserve to get shot.

The scene makes no realistic sense, but it’s a very movie moment. I really appreciated that John Woo utilized flashes of necessary nastiness. War is ugly, vicious, and disgusting, and I was glad to see glimpses of it throughout the movie.

I thought the movie handles the political hand grenade of recent Chinese history very well. The Crossing occasionally makes the Nationalists look bad, but a cursory glance at history will show you that they weren’t saints by any stretch. 

The movie is based around the true story of the sinking of the Taiping during the Chinese Civil War. That part of the story will be shown in the second half of the movie, due to be released in May.

The end of Part 1 has what amounts to a preview of Part 2, and quite honestly it spoils a few things. Obviously we know the ship’s gotta sink, but some of the narrative questions posed in Part 1 are inadvertently answered by the preview they show at the end. I found it disheartening, but I’m sure I’ll watch Part 2 when it’s released.

Movie Review: Women Who Flirt/撒娇女人最好命

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Pang Ho Cheung directed Women Who Flirt, a movie based on a dating guide published in Taiwan. Zhou Xun and Huang Xiaoming play Angie and Marco, two old friends who went to school together and now work together in Shanghai. Marco appreciates Angie, but puts more emphasis on her being a friend than on being a girl, to a pretty extreme level. Angie likes Marco, but since this is a movie, she’s never said it and can’t say it.

During a business trip to Taiwan, Marco meets Hailey, played by Sonia Sui. She’s a walking stereotype of every terrible trait you can imagine. Whiny, petulant, manipulative and detached, she made me wish this movie was Dream Home 2: Women Who Get Carved Up with a Razor.

She’s horrendous and I hated her.

So too does Angie, who enlists the help of her friends to win Marco over. Most of her friends all look like they went to the same plastic surgeon, and chose the same face in the catalogue, though the ringleader appears to have avoided the knife. But frankly, I wouldn’t blame her if she got some work done.

Good Lord, I’m being catty.

Her friends teach her about taking selfies, whining, and other things that she has absolutely no skill in doing.

Besides, that’s what Hailey does.

When I first saw the trailer for Women Who Flirt, I was conflicted. I think Zhou Xun is a great actress, and I think she’s very easy to look at. And here she was playing a very tomboyish character. But… the movie is obviously intended for the China market, and it’s in Mandarin. That’s not usually my thing. However, it was directed by Pang Ho Cheung, and the trailer looked interesting, even as it looked pretty mainstream.

Women Who Flirt is certainly not anything new in terms of stories, characters, or situations. We’ve seen it all before and we know where it’s going. But it’s still a very enjoyable trip. I really liked this movie a lot more than most rom-coms.

Part of it is it’s because I’m almost 50, so I’m more interested in mature stories, but a bigger part of it is how well done this movie is. I liked the way the movie presents us with things without making us choose sides. Like I said, the film is obviously China-friendly, but it doesn’t pander to that market.

It takes place in China (and Taiwan), and it will resonate most with a Chinese audience, but it could cross over very easily, because the story is very applicable almost anywhere. As we know, I’m not much of a fan of China movies, but Women Who Flirt was easy for me to watch because it was different.

I’m not even sure I could explain why, but I’ll try.

One way, maybe, is saying that Angie’s friends, who are all gold-digging whores with rebuilt faces (did I say that or just think it?) are shown to us as… socially repugnant but still good friends. I liked the way that we can appreciate her friends’ caring and support without being expected to find them likeable. What I mean is that the movie made me believe that they really, genuinely cared about Angie, but we weren’t expected to care about them, and we could still think poorly of them.

They’re just as horrendously shallow, manipulative and emotionally worthless as Angie’s adversary Hailey. I didn’t watch Tiny Times, but I don’t think it was the same.

Women Who Flirt may be derivative of and very similar to Western romantic comedies, but it still beats the pants off of What Women Want, a China remake of an American movie so awful that Andy Lau made Switch just to try and make people forget about it.

Women Who Flirt is a lot of fun to watch. It’s mostly lightweight and disposable, but it’s so well-made that it’s effortless viewing. Pang Ho Cheung’s direction is assured, consistent, and strong. His pacing, as well as his character and story development, make Women Who Flirt a very impressive movie in structural terms. 

Besides, there are a lot of little things that make the movie worth seeing. It has the weirdest (and perhaps best) Sergio Leone homage I’ve ever seen, and even includes ‘Ecstasy of Gold’ playing in the background. It has the best Chinese homage to Ghost since A Chinese Torture Chamber Story

Movie Review: S for Sex, S for Secret/小姐誘心

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This is the first movie of 2015.

Happy f@#$ing new year.

I didn’t think anyone could ever make me wish a movie was directed by Wilson Chin.

I was wrong.

S for Sex, S for Secrets is directed by Jil Wong, who also directed See You in You Tube and Trick or Cheat. He’s also been an assistant director on about 30 other films.

Some of which I liked.

He didn’t write S for Sex, S for Secrets. Patrick Kong did. He also produced it. Patrick Kong has written and directed some movies I actually enjoyed, like A Secret Between Us and Love is the Only AnswerBut he’s also responsible for some movies I really didn’t care for.

And to be honest, this new movie is one of them.

S for Sex, S for Secrets tells the story of two married couples who are having problems sleeping with each other. They don’t have problems sleeping with other people though. And that weird dichotomy is emblematic of why I couldn’t connect with this movie. These characters are so schizophrenic that I couldn’t believe them:

I love my wife so much that I’ll sleep with any other woman who lets me.”

“I just want to have a baby with my husband, whom I love. So I’ll make sex tedious, impossible, and infuriating.”

It is possible to make a movie about people with these kinds of contradictions. But it would have to be a lot better written, directed and acted than S for Sex, S for Secrets.

These characters are unbelievably immature, irritating, and just plain stupid. It was impossible for me to have any empathy or sympathy for these characters. They’re ignorant, obnoxious, unlikeable, boring, shitty idiots. 

They’re stupid people doing stupid things and saying stupid stuff: She told her cousin something very personal about her husband, but she didn’t want to tell him that her cousin was giving birth?

People that stupid shouldn’t breed.

Of all the things a woman would want to keep secret from her husband, is her cousin’s imminent birthing really one of them? 

On what f@#$ing planet?

Apparently the same planet where no one has a screen lock on their phone.

Yeah. Uranus.

I understand movie narratives rely on misunderstandings, but simple, stubborn refusal to speak to someone is not misunderstanding, it’s just… stupidity.

The best way I can explain this movie is this: you know those sample videos you get in a new computer? They’re just there to show you how the video software is supposed to work, but there’s nothing unique, artistic, or interesting about them?

S for Sex S for Secrets is 90 minutes long, and it has people pretending to be characters, and it has a story, but… it’s like a Sample Movie.

This is what a movie does, and looks like. But there’s nothing new or inventive or stylish in S for Sex, S for SecretsIt’s just what a movie is supposed to look and sound like. Can we say a film has bad grammar? Strange how so many characters end up in the same place at the end of the movie.

It’s as if there was a script…

I’ve been told that local movies have flashbacks because the audience needs them. 

That’s not a very flattering depiction of the people who watch local movies.

Apparently, it’s getting worse, because in S for Sex S for Secrets, something happens, and less than a minute later we are shown a flashback of it. I think that’s a record. One of the other flashbacks can be flatteringly called exhaustive.

If I didn’t want to be flattering I could call it infuriatingly tedious.

But I’d rather save that for the third flashback. 

I sincerely do appreciate some things about this movie. There’s a lot of relatively graphic sex scenes, and that’s a refreshing change from the usual chastity of local films. 

It wasn’t always believable, but that’s to be expected.

I am sincerely glad the movie had those scenes, for an unusual reason. While I didn’t necessarily want to see Philip Keung Ho Man in sex scenes, I am glad for him. He’s one of my favorite local character actors, and I was happy for him because he got to do some pretty raunchy sex scenes with Jeana Ho and other women in the movie.

Jeana Ho was the biggest and most pleasant surprise in the movie. She gets a chance to act, and does it well. She also gets to have a character with some depth and detail for a change. She was very impressive, and if there’s any reason to watch this movie, she’s it.

The only other reason might be to watch Jessica C talk about her pet penis.

She’s dubbed, of course, but I don’t think she’s popular because of her voice.

But you know what? My opinion about this movie doesn’t matter. It’s probably going to make a lot of money, and young people in Hong Kong seem to like these kinds of movies, so my opinion is irrelevant. I’d even venture to say that Patrick Kong isn’t even insulted by my chronic abuse.

I’ve said terrible things about him and his movies since I started this channel.  At the premiere, he actually came up to me before the screening and said he recognized me as The Silver Spleen. 

I wouldn’t blame him for not wanting to speak to me or for hiring goons to kick my ass.

But he didn’t, and if I wasn’t such a f@#$ing sociopath I might actually have felt bad about all the awful things I’ve said.

That said, I’d have then watched S for Sex S for Secrets and absolved myself.

But never mind that. The bottom line is this: a lot of people obviously do like Patrick Kong movies, and he spends his time directing Jeana Ho in sex scenes. I, on the other hand, am here with you. I’m sure I think a lot more about his work than he does about mine.

Movie Review: Exiled/放‧逐

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Macau, 1998. The looming handover to China, two years after the handover of Hong Kong, has everyone on edge. Gangsters are fighting over money and turf. Macau’s casinos are a lucrative prize, and are worth killing for.

The runup to Macau’s handover saw a lot of violence, up to and including bombs being used and shootings in broad daylight.

Johnnie To’s Exiled/放‧逐 is set against this historical backdrop. A group of gangsters is brought together for a job. Anthony Wong, Simon Yam, Francis Ng, Lam Suet and Roy Cheung played similar roles in Johnnie To’s 1999 film The Mission, but Exiled shouldn’t be considered a sequel.

Still, there are obvious similarities.

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Nick Cheung plays Wo, a gangster trying to leave his past behind before it catches up with him.

Considering he just moved back to the place he did all his gangstering, his past doesn’t have to go far to find him.

I don’t want to talk about the story for two reasons. One, talking about it will tell you too much of the narrative, so I’d rather you saw it yourself. The second reason is that the story in Exiled/放‧逐 is pretty thin and, quite frankly, unnecessary.

I don’t mean that in a bad way. What I mean is that the story takes a distant second to the way the story is told. Johnnie To’s Exiled/放‧逐 is an exercise in style, and in case you’re wondering whose style, have you noticed I keep saying Johnnie To’s Exiled/放‧逐?

Again, I don’t mean this in a bad way. Johnnie To’s Exiled/放‧逐

Okay, I’ll stop. 

Exiled/放‧逐 is a beautiful movie to look at and a pleasure to watch. There’s nothing in it to distract you from looking at it. The cinematography, the composition, and the soundtrack all work together to make it one of the most watchable movies I can think of.

It’s the cinematic equivalent of a hot bath or a cool breeze. You don’t need to expend any effort doing anything but appreciating it.

There’s a lot of good acting in it too. The entire cast turn in entertaining performances, whether playing strictly dramatic roles or doing comic relief.

Benz Hui plays a policeman who will retire in a matter of hours and literally goes out of his way to avoid the gangsters and their actions.

Richie Ren (Jen?) is also entertaining as a cool, pragmatic cop.

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Gordon Lam Ka Tung is a lot of fun to watch as Keung, an up and coming gangster.

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Even more fun is Eddie Cheung Siu Fai as Jeff, a local fixer whose personality is almost as greasy as his hair.

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Josie Ho is especially good as Wo’s wife and mother of his baby.

Exiled-2006

It’s even nice to see Ellen Chan back on the big screen. Even if she keeps her shirt on.

Dammit. But speaking of Category III…

Exiled/放‧逐 got slapped with the rating because of a handshake. A triad handshake. Which Johnnie To swears isn’t the case, but it doesn’t matter. 

So if you watch this movie expecting gonzo sex and violence, you’ll be disappointed.

But you will get to see a movie so stylish it verges on the pornographic.

Exiled/放‧逐 is also such a self-conscious display of Johnnie To’s stylistic signatures that you could reasonably call it cinematic onanism.

But when it’s this much fun to watch, who cares?

I really enjoyedExiled/放‧逐 . I saw it’s local premiere, and paid to see it again in the cinema.

I own the DVD and every time I watch it I like it more and more.

Movie Review: Jiang Hu/江湖

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In 2004 Wong Ching Po gave us Jiang Hu/江湖, his second film. It was a highly anticipated venture, featuring many of the same actors from the then-recent Infernal Affairs trilogy.

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Andy Lau plays Roberto Benigni.

I’m joking, of course.

2004

Andy Lau and Jackie Cheung play veteran gang leaders whose haircuts are so bad their ears carry knives.

Their characters are evocative of those they played in As Tears Go By; Andy is the cool-headed leader and Jackie plays the enforcer who uses violence to solve his problems.

jacket

He needed a new jacket, so he killed his drapes.

Shawn Yue and Edison Chen play young gangsters looking to make a name for themselves.

ladies

Not that Edison needs any help with the ladies…

Gia Lin plays a young woman who needs to make a lot of money and can’t do it legally. She’s a hooker.

The supporting cast turns in a variety of small but interesting roles; Jacqueline Wu plays Andy’s wife and mother to his newborn son. Kara Hui makes the most of her single scene as Shawn Yue’s mother. Lam Suet does similarly well as a hapless cop, Gordon Lam has a couple of great moments as Jackie’s second in command, and Tony Ho appears as a small-time hood in a very big jacket. Chapman To (over-)answers the directorial question “How stereotypically gay can one man (over-)act?”

But in a way, that makes sense. Jiang Hu/江湖 was the subject of a lot of hype before it came out. Which may explain why there’s so much hype in the film. There’s nothing subtle about this film. It’s garish in its aesthetic as well as its directorial ethos.

Jiang Hu/江湖 is an exercise in over-making a film. It’s stuffed with cinematic tropes and genre clichés we’re very familiar with. That may sound harsh.

Well, maybe it is.

Although the word ‘generic’ has come to mean something negative, it means ‘of a genre.’ The triad genre has lots of clichés that we love and expect. But at the same time, there’s a thin line between generic and derivative. There are absolutely no surprises in this movie, including the intended surprise at the end of the film. But by that point, we’ve already been presented a bunch of similar things.  Gee, two people holding hands running in slow motion.

Like we’ve never seen that one before.

We’ve seen everything in Jiang Hu/江湖 before. We just haven’t seein it with this much slow motion and backlit rain. In style terms, it’s like a big, long music video. But without the song. Speaking of songs, this movie opens with the same song used for one of my favorite scenes in Once Upon a Time in Shanghai. Recycling is environment friendly!

Never mind that. 

Style isn’t necessarily a bad thing in and of itself. It can enhance the substance and impact of a film.

Or it can try to make up for a lack of substance.

In this case, I think that’s what happened. Jiang Hu/江湖 is only 80 minutes long, and that’s including all that slow motion. But given the usual artistic hubris that makes self-important movies bloat to over two hours, I’ll gladly take this alternative (and the extra half-hour of my life). Don’t get me wrong, there’s still hubris and self-importance here, even at a reduced running time. I think also there’s more than a little… meretrition. Wong Ching Po wants us to watch his movie, but he also wants us to know he made this movie.

There’s a dolly zoom in Jiang Hu that’s notable only because it draws attention to itself by being so obvious. I got the impression it was meant to be that way, that Wong Ching Po wanted to make sure that we noticed.

Because people like Martin Scorsese used it or something.

A lack of realism in movies is to be expected.

Especially in a movie written by Christine To.

But some of the things in Jiang Hu/江湖 are impossible to ignore.

The story is supposed to take place over a single night, but so many things happen that the story would have to be set in northern Norway for it to have any shred of realism. But it’s nice to know so many fine dining places in Hong Kong are 24 hour.

So I got that going for me.

Of all the things you can do to make a girl fall in love with you in an hour, I’m gonna guess that ‘attempted rape’ isn’t really one of them.

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In this movie, no means no, unless you force yourself on her, in which case no means yes.

Wong Ching Po better hope he never has to bathe in prison.