Movie Review: The Mobfathers/選老坐

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Herman Yau is one of Hong Kong’s most prolific, professional, and reliable directors. There are a few things that I really admire about the vast majority of his work. Herman Yau doesn’t make movies.

He makes movies that are better than they should be. 

With a lot of his films, an objective glance at the cast list and the budget would make you cringe. To be clear, I’m not talking about Mobfathers here. I’m talking about Split Second Murder and Kung Fu Angels. I enjoyed both of those movies immensely, and I didn’t expect to.

But here’s an illustrative example of Herman Yau’s directorial virtuosity from Mobfathers: Deep Ng appears in this movie, and he was actually good! 

The other aspect I really appreciate about Herman Yau and his work is that he often brings a subtle but significant social and/or political consciousness to his films. With movies like From the Queen to the Chief Executive, Love Lifting, and Whispers and Moans, he tells stories about regular people and the struggles they face in their regular, unglamorous lives. 

The Mobfathers sits squarely at the intersection of these two aspects of Herman Yau’s work. On one level, Mobfathers is a soundly generic (and I don’t mean that in a bad way) and very entertaining gangster movie. Chapman To plays a young (ish) boss who’s getting out of prison after a five year term. He’s walking into a simmering gang war sparked by the imminent election of a new leader.

Anthony Wong Chau San, who’s made a lot of movies with Herman Yau, turns in yet another memorable, admirable performance as the venerable dragon head of the Jing Hing Society. A scene where he talks to his doctor is probably my favorite moment of his performance, because it is masterfully performed.

Gregory Wong plays Chapman’ rival, another young hotshot on the rise. One thing I really appreciated about this character is the way that his sexual orientation is presented. It’s seen as notable but not defining, and thankfully Gregory Wong never devolves into the mincing parody that too often passes for a local portrayal of a gay man.

Or of Wong Cho Lam in general, But I digress. 

I don’t want to tell you too much about the plot, because I don’t want to give anything away, but I was impressed with how much energy and life Herman Yau gets out of a well-worn (and well-loved) local film genre (and plot line). We already know how the story unfolds, but there’s still plenty here that’s new and interesting. 

As much as The Mobfathers functions as a straight-ahead Hong Kong gangster film, it is also overtly political. Anyone with even a passing familiarity with local politics will see The Mobfathers as an allegory for Hong Kong’s current situation. It even peeks over the fourth wall when a character bemoans the way politics has found its way into everything in Hong Kong. As another character states, even buying vegetables in the wet market is political nowadays, and he’s right. So at least Mobfathers lets you know up front that it is politically loaded.

In fact, it happens even before the movie proper starts. Mobfathers was produced by Chapman To, who also stars in the film. He was allegedly blacklisted in China for remarks he made about the Occupy protests and Taiwan. His production company is called Hong Kong Film

The entire story can (should?) be read as an allegory for Hong Kong’s political climate, with too many real-life parallels to ignore. The Jing Hing Society’s election committee is only 9 people; the rank and file goo wak jai feel disenfranchised. In a scene that follows, we see Chapman To’s character campaigning on the street in the identical way that real politicians campaign here. One of the jokes in the movie may seem overly simple or even atavistic. But it’s referencing a local politician who said that his party would, and I quote, “try our breast … to improve people’s living hood.”

Sic. 

At one point the police try disperse a group of gangsters, who angrily ask “Can’t we walk and shop here?”, a question frequently posed in Mongkok after the Occupy protests. 

But I really don’t want to focus on the political aspect of the film. It’s central, of course, but even if we turn a blind eye to it, there’s still plenty of good stuff to watch in Mobfathers. 

One of the things I liked about this movie is how awful most of the people in it are. Most of them are cynical, bitter, unpleasant, unhappy people who are just grating up against each other. Even when they do so in a sexual manner, it’s still… miserable. I didn’t appreciate these sex scenes for being graphic, I appreciated them for being
honest an realistic. There’s a sex scene in a car that’s not mean, but all I could think of is how short both parties must be
to have that much space inside a car.

I really am getting old. But never mind that mawkish nonsense.

As I noted earlier, Herman Yau can get some great performances out of his actors. Kenny Wong plays a police inspector whose attitude, methods, and motivations fit right into the tone of the film. The ever-reliable Tony Ho also appears as a middle-management gangster. Another character at the same level is played by the eminently watchable Philip Keung Ho Man, and his performance here is especially noteworthy. As soon as we get Gordon Lam the leading role he deserves, I nominate Philip Keung for next.

The only thing I didn’t really like about Mobfathers is something beyond the director’s control. I’m really annoyed by CGI used for blood. Call me old-fashioned, but squibs are just better looking. Speaking of which, the blood in The Mobfathers may be fake, but each and every one of the titties was real!

There’s also another moment that I thought would have been much more affecting with a prosthetic rather than CG. But it’s still a refreshingly shocking moment, don’t get me wrong. 

Speaking of refreshing moments, The Mobfathers allows us to play the official Silver Spleen game “Where is Jane Wong?” Bonus points if you check out her expression during the pertinent scene.

Priceless.

One more thing that may not be priceless but still valued and appreciated: there were a couple times the English subtitles offered some context and clarification for terms used in the dialog.

I really appreciate it, and I know that the people who need subtitles do too, so thank you.

Movie Review: The Bodyguard/特工爺爺

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Sammo Hung is a legendary figure in Hong Kong cinema.

And he has a legendary figure, too. [rimshot]

He’s got decades of experience as a stuntman, an action choreographer, an actor, and a director. The Bodyguard is his latest acting, directing and action choreographing effort. It tells the story of Old Ding, a retired officer of the Central Security Bureau who is struggling with the onset of dementia and the burden of a past that haunts him.

The cast includes Andy Lau in a small role and more than a few cameos from people like Tsui Hark, Yuen Biao, Karl Maka, and Eddie Peng, among others.

This film is obviously made for the China Market, but I don’t want to use that as the start of a (nother) rant. At the same time, it’s effect on The Bodyguard is obvious, significant, and unfortunate. The opening credits play over vintage PLA training footage, and include a pretty funny photoshop moment.

Now, since this is a China film, I hope you realize its no spoiler when I tell you that the good guys win and the bad guys get caught. We know that because in one of the last scenes, while there’s dialogue between two characters about personal stuff, the TV in the background is showing footage of all the bad guys being led away by the righteous and valiant police to face fair and inescapable justice. At least, I assume that’s what the newscaster said.

You know, in case you had any doubts about the fate of bad people or the ability of the Chinese police to catch them.

Because so much of the movie seems to be aimed at kids, or at an audience that doesn’t seem to need much to be happy, there’s a lot of shallow humor, overstatement, and (en)forced cuteness. There’s no subtlety in The Bodyguard whatsoever.

The TV telling you the fate of the bad guys is the most subtle thing in the film.

Another problem with making a movie this way is that in those rare moments when the film needs to be serious, many of the actors can’t carry the weight. The writing doesn’t help much, either.

But to be fair, the elderly woman who was sitting next to me was totally engaged with the film and seemed really caught up. I enjoyed how much she enjoyed herself.

The Bodyguard is one of the strongest, clearest arguments I’ve seen lately for the necessity of a ratings system in China. But it’s not for the reasons you might think. The first hour of the movie toddles along in a nice G-rated haze, but then suddenly it takes a brutal turn down Leon The Professional Street and gets violent. Really violent.

I wasn’t offended by any of it, but I was shocked.

And I remember thinking that someone, somewhere, obviously felt that seeing the rather graphic effects of a stomping is okay for kids in China to see.

It was weird.

Some of the cameos in The Bodyguard are nice, but others seem like the cheapest excuse to include names and faces on a poster. The Eddie Peng cameo is so crass in its placement in the timeline, its duration, and the character Eddie plays that I was not just insulted but offended.

And I’m me.

The screening I saw was dubbed into Cantonese, and I actually felt bad, because I think I’d have enjoyed the film more in its original Mandarin.

I did enjoy the location shooting in parts of the film. I think they really did shoot in Vladivostok, which was interesting since I’ve never been there.

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It was also interesting because apparently in Vladivostok they have Cinnabon.

Movie Review: Trivisa/樹大招風

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In 2007, Johnnie To was one of three directors (the others being Tsui Hark and Ringo Lam) who took part in Triangle, a movie featuring three independently directed stories.

This time, Johnnie To is the producer, and he’s gotten three fledgling directors to do basically the same thing. It’s a Milkyway production, and I know I’m not alone in having a fondness for that logo when it pops up at the start of a film. Even though recently, it’s preceded some films I didn’t really care for.

But never mind that, because it’s thankfully not the case here.

Gordon Lam Ka Tung, Jordan Chan Siu Chun and Richie Ren play three criminals based on real-life people: Jordan plays a fictionalized version of Cheung Tze-keung, aka Big Spender Cheung, the inspiration for Operation Billionaire, starring Simon Yam. Richie Ren plays a version of Yip Kai Foon, who inspired King of Robbery.

Starring… Simon Yam.

Gordon Lam plays a version of Kwai Ping Hung, a ruthless robber, who, as far as I can tell, didn’t have any movies made about him. Each of their stories is told independently of one another, and that’s how they were filmed, too. But the stories all run concurrently and switch back and forth.

Vicky Wong Wai-kit directed Jordan Chan’s segment. It’s the most entertaining, on an admittedly shallow level. Big Spender Cheung was loud brash, and not afraid to dream big. Jordan Chan goes whole hog with the role, chewing up scenes and overacting to a remarkable extent.

But it’s not (all) bad, because, like I said, the real person was apparently that way. Besides, given how gravely serious the other two segments are, this part of the film helps break up the tension and provides some necessary comic relief.

This segment also features some of the blackest humor since Bernie Mac died.

Jevons Au Man-kit directed Richie Ren. Au was one of the directors of Ten Years, but his work here is very different. It still has a political element, but it unfolds as part of the story instead of being the story.

Richie Ren turns in a compelling and noteworthy performance. He manages to create a convincing air of ready menace that reminded me a little of his role in Exiled. But the veneer of cool that character had is replaced here by a barely concealed rage that occasionally bubbles over. 

The entire segment is tense, sharp, and very impressive. Richie Ren captures Yip’s struggle between adapting to new ways and falling back into his old habits, consequences and all.

The most impressive segment was, for me, the one featuring Gordon Lam directed by Frank Hui Hok-man. I’d heard that Firestorm was  originally intended to be a starring role for Gordon Lam, but after Andy Lau got involved… well, you know.

I don’t think anyone would argue that Gordon Lam is certainly capable of carrying a movie. His performance here removes any possible doubt. It’s hard to make psychopaths people you can empathize with, but Lam does it. It helps that he gets to play off of Philip Keung Ho Man, in yet another solid, entertaining, and very good supporting role.

I often say that there’s nothing worse when you’re watching a movie than predictability. On the other hand, there’s nothing better than really not being able to tell what’s going to happen, and one scene in this storyline had me squirming in my seat. It was fantastic filmmaking, and it reminded me why I love (some) movies.

Trivisa is a Milkyway movie that many people have been waiting for. It’s a lot like the movies they made in Johnnie To’s gangster heyday (see what I did there?),  but with a very current and topical emphasis and relevance. 

The movie is bookended by footage of the 1997 Handover. It’s the most overt political thing in the film, though there’s an implicit undercurrent that’s there all the time, as part of the historical and thematic context of the storylines.

I realize I haven’t said much about the plot, or some of the actors you’ll see, because I think you should see it for yourself and I don’t want to spoil any part of it. One of the central ideas in the second half of the film will keep viewers guessing. But the entire film is so good that even if it was just a setup for a sequel, it would be okay. Trivisa is so well-written, well-acted, well-edited and well- directed that it makes you want more.

Anyone who says Hong Kong cinema is dead hasn’t seen Trivisa. It’s been a while since I was optimistic about this city and its film industry, but Trivisa makes me feel like there’s hope.

That’s huge, and I am very grateful.

Movie Review: Ten Years/十年

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Ten Years is an independent film comprised of five segments, each of which tells a different story. The thing that ties them all together is that they hypothesize what Hong Kong might be like in ten years.

The first segment, Extras, tells the story of two low-level triads who get caught up in a political plot to hasten the passage of Article 23.The end of the segment was met with enthusiastic applause. 

The second story, Season of the End, was the least engaging of the five. It’s artistic pretension, slowness and inherent self-absorption were excruciating, especially because I watched this entire film standing up. On concrete. At the end of this segment, the silence was deafening.

You could have heard a hand clap. But I didn’t.

The third segment, Dialect, is a story of a taxi driver, played by veteran TV actor Leung Kin Ping, struggling to survive in a linguistically regulated new world.

The fourth segment, Self-Immolator, is a mockumentary about a person who sets themselves on fire as a protest. It got the most vocal and emotional response from the audience.

The fifth segment, Local Egg, also focuses on language, but also whole lot more. Issues of education, history, and culture (as well as the Cultural Revolution). It stars Liu Kai Chi, one of the most recognizable actors in the whole film.

That’s all I’m gong to say about what’s in the film. Because I think you should see it for yourself, and because the things that go on around this film are more important than the things going on in it. 

Ten Years is one of those movies that is undeniably important but not undeniably good. Some of the segments are good, but none of them are really triumphs of filmmaking. But they’re not supposed to be. This was a movie made for next to nothing, mostly as a way of allowing new directors to express themselves.

But the movie caught on in Hong Kong for what are, to many, obvious reasons. It got picked up for a local cinema run, and was selling out screenings daily. Then, suddenly, it just disappeared, even though it was commercially successful beyond all expectations.

That’s okay. People in Hong Kong aren’t really that concerned about money, are they?

Some people say that the stories in Ten Years are overly exaggerated, that they could never happen, not ten years from now, or even twenty. I’ve lived in Hong Kong for ten years, and in 2005, I would have never believed some of the things that have happened in real life during that time.

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If you told me that the police would use 87 canisters of tear gas in one day on Hong Kongers, I wouldn’t have believed it.

If Dante Lam made a movie about protesters taking over two of the busiest roads in Hong Kong for 10 weeks, I might have gone easier on The Viral Factor.

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 Ten years ago it would be hard to believe that half a dozen Hong Kong cops would pull a Rodney King on anyone. 

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In 2005, who would believe this woman would be convicted of assaulting a police officer with her breast

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Or that this police officer would not be charged for striking passersby with his baton? That he would say he used the baton as an ‘extension of his arm’ and he ‘unintentionally touched’ a few people?

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I got an extension of my arm too.

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Who would believe that Hong Kong people would end up in a running street battle with police during Chinese new year over street food? 

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Who would believe that a police officer would discharge his weapon into the air in one of the most densely populated places in the world? 

Twice?

Or that his actions were not just quickly okayed by police (in a thorough two-day internal investigation), but he and 250 other police officers would be recommended for a citation?

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Who would believe that a Hong Kong book publisher would leave Hong Kong illegally (and ‘voluntarily’) to assist with an ‘investigation’ in the Mainland? And while he was there, do a TV interview with Phoenix TV where he admits ‘sneaking out of Hong Kong and into China, and oh, while he’s at it, renounces his British citizenship.

Just, you know, because. 

Any of those things (and a whole lot of others I could talk about) would be right at home in a shitty movie. But this isn’t a movie. 

It’s Hong Kong. 

Satire is only funny when it ’s outlandish, and I sadly can’t say that anything in Ten Years seems unlikely any more.

Ten Years got nominated for Best Film at this year’s Hong Kong Film Awards. And then, organizers were apparently put on notice that the film must not win any awards and should be summarily ignored. Which sounds like the plot of a bad movie, but anyonewho lives in Hong Kong has almost gotten used to such… Orwellian weirdness.

Executive producer Andrew Choi (2nd R) speaks backstage in front of directors and cast members of movie "Ten Years� after winning the Best Film award at the Hong Kong Film Awards in Hong Kong, China April 3, 2016. REUTERS/Bobby Yip

Executive producer Andrew Choi (2nd R) speaks backstage in front of directors and cast members of movie “Ten Years� after winning the Best Film award at the Hong Kong Film Awards in Hong Kong, China April 3, 2016. REUTERS/Bobby Yip

Ten Years ended up winning the award for Best Film, and all I can think is how bad the backlash and the consequences are going to be for a whole lot of people. It’s fun and educational to read George Orwell. 

It’s not so f@#$ing fun actually living in it.

Watch Ten Years if you have the chance.

It’s not just a movie.

Movie Review: iGirl/夢情人

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Ekin Cheng, Dominic Ho and Lam Tze Chung play three good friends who live on Cheung Chau, one of Hong Kong’s many outlying islands. Life there is breezy, simple and fun. Until the three of them all get serially dumped by their girlfriends. So Evan, Johnny, and Irwin do what all real men do.

They drink.

A lot

And when Evan stumbles home later, he does what all real men do. He goes on the internet. Where he is asked one of the great existential questions of our time: “Would you prefer a person who doesn’t love you or a robot who does?” I don’t know the Cantonese for ‘drunk shopping,’ but soon after a big box shows up at Evan’s front door (that’s not a euphemism). 

What’s in the box? What’s in the box???

Chrissie Chau! She’s Evan’s new robot companion. She makes such a good  impression on him (that’s not a euphemism) that his two buddies, perhaps unsurprisingly, soon order their own robot companions. That’s about all I want to tell you about the story.

Not so much because of spoilers, but because the story isn’t, quite honestly, the strong suit of the film. iGirl is written by Wong Jing, and while that can mean bad things, I like to focus on what it means in positive terms. When Chrissie first appears, she is, unsurprisingly, naked.

Not visibly naked, but you know what I mean.

It’s not hard to imagine that the clothing she ends up with in the next shot may have been some things Jeana Ho’s character left at Ekin’s flat. But then, when Connie Man shows up at Dominic’s in a very snug red dress, we’re given no clue as to where she got it.

Well, either Johnny maybe likes to do a little cross dressing (not that there’s anything wrong with that), or… it’s a Wong Jing movie. When the movie makes a completely weird left turn at the third act that’s implausible, illogical, and totally changes the tone of the film (but makes a good excuse for lots of CGI), remember: It’s a Wong Jing movie. 

Who knew there was a gigantic dance club on Cheung Chau that looks suspiciously like the inside of a film studio? 

What are the chances that some weird white professor type (?) makes love robots on Cheung Chau, which is not known as a good place to hide a research lab.

That looks suspiciously like the inside of a film studio.

Dance club or ‘research lab’, plausibility has long since left the building. I think Wong Jing has a restraining order against plausibility.

See? Don’t you feel better? I do.

Speaking of which… iGirl is directed by Kam Ka Wai, who’s making his directorial debut. He’s been an assistant director for some time, but now he’s in the big chair. I am very happy to say that he’s managed to pull some quite remarkable performances from his cast.

I’m also happy to say they’re remarkable in a positive way.

Jeana Ho may have a dark future, so to speak, playing mean women. She’s believable, acts well, and is, unsurprisingly, very watchable in black leather. Connie Man hoi Ling plays 002, and spends most of the first hour of the movie trying to divest Dominic Ho of his inhibitions, his self-control and his pants.

And not always in that order.

I was very impressed by her performance because she never let up. She never came off as cheap or slutty (not that there’s anything wrong with that), but she was very, very sexy in the best kind of Category IIA, wink-wink-nudge-nudge way. Joyce Cheng provides the comic relief as 003, a robot matched to Lam Tsz Chung’s Irwin, both figuratively and literally. There’s a lot of obvious jokes to be made, but what struck me more was the chemistry between the two of them. They sold their roles and I believed in their relationship.

Chrissie Chau and Ekin Cheng are also very believable in their relationship. Chrissie Chau continues to grow as an actress and gives us what may be her best performance yet. As 001, she has to learn how to be more of a human and less of a machine, and she sells the role well. Her comic timing is really good, and the way she smiles at Ekin Cheng, you can believe she means it.

I really, really enjoyed the first hour of the movie, because it was surprising and funny and almost touching. As recognizable as this cast all are, they’re believable, funny, and even affecting. Director Kam Ka Wai deserves the credit for getting such good performances out of the cast. 

But then iGirl gets weird. It all starts with what might indelicately be called a bitch brunch, with Jeana Ho and he Surgery Twins.

I won’t spoil it, but it leads to  CGI, fights, and a weird homage to Men in Black. But like I said, it’s a Wong Jing movie, so it had to go there. I can’t say exactly why, but I’m not his target audience, am I? The people who are his audience will very probably appreciate it.

The ending is slightly abrupt, but it’s kind of sweet, and re-establishes the mood of the first 2/3 of the film. I wish iGirl had stayed on the initial path, because it was actually interesting to watch the relationships developing. That massive change in tone is kind of jarring, but overall iGirl was still, for me, a lot of fun. 

I enjoyed it in a way I really didn’t expect to, and if I say  it was a really pleasant surprise, I just mean it was even better than I had hoped it would be in a lot of ways. 

 

 

Movie Review: PG Love/PG戀愛指引

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PG Love tells the vaguely interrelated stories of a group of young (and one not so young) women who work in the promotion industry. This can include selling beer at restaurants, helping promote new products in street promotions.

Or, in the case of two of the characters, banging men for money. There’s a reason the word promotion is found in the dictionary between procuring and prostitution.

I was lucky enough to attend the premiere of PG Love. It’s the first film of 2016 from Patrick Kong, who wrote and produced it.

I’m sure it’s not his last film of 2016.

One way Patrick Kong gets so many of his movies onscreen is because he doesn’t direct all of them himself. PG Love is directed by Charlie Choi Kit-ling, who is in fact a woman. She was an assistant director on the excellent 2008 Lawrence Lau film Besieged City. PG Love is directed well enough, and I can’t really find any fault with the director or direction.

The writing, acting, cast, and soundtrack, on the other hand…

I said I was lucky to attend the premiere for a reason. Before the film, Patrick Kong spoke about how and why this movie is important to him and should be important to us. He said that PG Love tells the stories of people who are often ignored or looked down on, and we should respect these people and their stories.

Having seen PG Love, I think when Patrick Kong says we should respect these women, he apparently means us without him, because PG Love demonizes them or makes them one-dimensional stereotypes. This script is as judgmental, condescending, and dismissive of these women as a dried up tai-tai whose husband spends a lot of time ‘working’ in China.

The story, and the characters, are so full of ignorance, exploitation and stupid decisions that PG Love the movie needs an intervention.

Or maybe the scriptwriter needs one.

Because Patrick Kong also said that we should pay close attention to the actresses in this film, because they’re the future of Hong Kong cinema.

If that’s the case, we’re f@#$ed.

Most of these glorified bobble-heads couldn’t act their way out of a paper bag. A couple of them are okay in their roles, but I get the impression that playing young, avaricious women who get railed from behind while bent over a couch isn’t much of a stretch for any of these women.

Who, after all, accepted money to be filmed getting railed from behind while bent over a couch.

As far as the sex scenes go, the one problem I did have with the direction was that the sex scenes are edited strangely. They’re not sexy, they’re disturbing.

Remember, that’s me saying that.

And speaking of un-sexy, a preponderance of these self-labeled ‘model-actresses’ have what can only be described as faces for radio. Which may seem picayune and cruel, but if you’re trying to draw in viewers by claiming the women in your film are worthy of being looked or stared at, I’d have appreciated it if I found more of them worth looking at in that way.

But let’s get off these young women…

There are, after all, plenty of other things wrong with this movie. Most of which have to do with the script. If that girl loves her boyfriend so much, why does she… scan the other guy’s WeChat?

That’s not a euphemism.

She gets a job promoting waterproof cases in the beginning of the movie, but she can’t bear getting watered. Does she really find that demeaning? If she only knew what her colleagues went through…

It’s not water, I can tell you that much.

PG Love features one of the most implausible stock swindles ever put in a movie. The only people dumb enough to buy it as a plot point would probably buy the stock.

Sure, women who talk smack about one of their friends in a women’s bathroom never think to check if that woman is in the bathroom. In movies, no one has ever seen a movie.

Neither, apparently, have some people who write movies.

My favorite bit of nonsense, and I sincerely hope it’s intentional, is when a young man eating dessert talks about getting a job on a movie doing continuity. And the continuity of what he’s eating is obviously wrong.

Any dramatic impact in PG Love is swamped by the soundtrack. Every time the story makes a bid for gravitas, the music ends up rendering it as comedic.

I realized after the movie that the reason so much of the soundtrack seemed familiar is because it’s so reminiscent of free music on YouTube. 

Like much of PG Love, it ends up making the movie asinine but entertaining. But hey, let’s look at the good side of this movie. Because there is one.

Just one.

There are 3 stories in PG Love, but only one of them is really worth watching. Jacqueline Chong plays Phoenix, a former beer girl down on her luck after getting out of prison. She explains her incarceration, and her life in general, in ne big exposition money shot/monologue early in the film. In the pre-screening Q&A, Jacqueline said she was proud of her role because she had put on weight for it to look more realistic.

Which is all well and good, but playing fat in a movie next to Bob Lam is a pretty relative effort. And I don’t mean that to sound as nasty as… it does.

Bob plays Happy, a nice guy who tries to look out for Phoenix no matter what it costs him personally or professionally. This story arc, and the performances of these two actors, are the best thing in PG Love. It’s sincerely funny, engaging, realistic, and very, very entertaining. It also provides the only excusable use of blackface in local cinema I’ve ever seen.

The rest of PG Love is eminently forgettable. It’s dumb, and tacky, and laughable, but at least its inoffensive.

As is the requisite Patrick Kong plot twist © at the end of the movie.

Movie Review: From Vegas to Macau III/赌城风云III

from-vegas-to-macau

Chinese New Year movies tend to be light, funny, full of cameos and jokes, and are intended to make people laugh and enjoy the holiday. They’re not really intended to be great works of art. I enjoy watching Chinese New Year movies during the holiday, because to me they reflect and add to the sense of holiday fun. 

From Vegas to Macau III is a great Chinese New Year movie. It has a whole lot of familiar faces, some silly laughs, and a lot of spectacle and distraction. The opening credits recycle footage from Part 2, as if to remind us of some story in progress. Except there isn’t.

But it’s cheaper than shooting new footage,  suppose. 

Chow Yun Fat returns as Ken, the de facto god of gamblers.  He’s not the God of Gamblers, but he is. Know what I mean?

Yes, you do.

His daughter’s nuptials are interrupted by an exploding robot (that’s not a euphemism). He may be insane. And he gambles. A little. He does a lot of scene chewing that left me flat but had the audience laughing.

Andy Lau plays… well, Andy Lau.  

He shows up occasionally, and even smiles.

To be honest, I don’t remember that much about the story. It’s very, very thin and quite often the movie just stops trying to tell it. There’s a long sequence involving ping pong that is funny, and it certainly entertained the audience I watched the movie with, but it also conveniently and conspicuously burned off 10 minutes of running time without moving the story forward one iota. 

The same can be said of an entire sequence of the film that takes place in prison. I don’t remember how or why Ken ends up in prison, but I think it’s just so that we can watch (and sincerely enjoy) an extended homage to the Prison on Fire movies that includes cameos from Ng Chi Hung and Chow Yun Fat wearing those improvised sunglasses and playing the erhu.

None of these things do anything for the story, but it was a lot of fun to watch. I enjoyed it a lot, but the Dynasty audience I saw the movie with enjoyed it even more. They had a grand old time with it.

My disquieting fixation with… alternatively attractive women continues thanks to Li Yuchun, the 2005 winner of China’s Super Girl singing contest.

And thankfully NOT a member of Hong Kong’s Super Girls.

She works for Ken, fulfilling the role previously filled by Shawn Yue. I don’t mean the character role, I mean the professional role. She does a lot of running, jumping, and shooting. I enjoyed her appearance much more than I should have.

Which can also be said of Nick Cheung doing an impression of Marlon Brando’s Don Corleone. 

From Vegas to Macau 3 is not a great film. But I spent a very happy 90 minutes watching it during the Chinese New Year Holiday. The audience in the cinema laughed a lot and seemed to enjoy it quite a bit. I especially liked the traditional greeting from the cast at the end of the film. That used to happen a lot more often, and I’m glad that it happened at least once this year.

From Vegas to Macau III panders to its sponsors and the China Market with such open genuflection that I almost feel bad for the people who made it. It takes some of the biggest names in Hong Kong cinema, one of the most iconic roles in that cinema’s history,  and the trust, goodwill  and affection of the audience and pimps all of it so mercilessly that the screen practically has scars from clothes hangers and electrical cords.

From Vegas to Macau III isn’t a good movie. But it entertained the audience I saw it with, and it provided a lot of what that audience wanted. I enjoyed it, but that probably has a lot to do with going into the cinema with incredibly low expectations.

I’m sure that helped.