Movie Review: Wonder Mama/媽咪俠

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Local films have been experiencing a kind of bifurcation (!) the last few years. On the one hand, we’ve got local versions of blockbusters, where the scope of the film keeps getting bigger and bigger. On the other hand, there have been a number of local films that are much smaller, much more localized, and in a lot of ways, better. Films like Bends, Doomsday Party, The Way We Dance, Dot 2 Dot, and Gangster Payday tend to be more character driven and have few if any gun fights, car chases

Or Andy Lau.

Wonder Mama, directed by Clifton Ko, falls squarely and comfortably into this growing body of small, local films.

Ah-Oi, played by Petrina Fung Bobo, is turning 50. She’s a shy, timid widower who tries to maintain peace in her home and at work. The film opens with her being offered a promotion, which she doesn’t want. She lives with her 30-year old unemployed son, a reclusive, shy type played skillfully by Babyjohn Choi (please change your name), as well as her father and her mother-in-law, played by Kenneth Tsang and Siu Yam Yam respectively.

But certainly not respectfully.

These two old people despise each other, and we learn that the first time we see them. Their arguments are epic and loud, and while they may seem overly dramatic and unrealistic, all I can say is I used to be married and this film reminded me why I’m glad I’m not. But never mind that tawdry nonsense. This weird, loud family isn’t very popular in their housing estate, as sleepless neighbors point out with hilarious frequency.

The film’s plot unfolds with a series of funny, touching, and entertaining plot lines that I’d rather let you learn about by watching the film. There is some overstatement and overacting. But I still found it very entertaining, and the audience I watched it with, in the cinema in Hong Kong, found it even more entertaining.

The acting is very commendable all the way around. Fung Bobo and Kenneth Tsang turn in remarkably complex performances, while Siu Yam Yam and Babyjohn Choi also do well. Their characters and the script don’t give them the same kinds of things to work with, but they are still impressive and very entertaining in their roles. 

That can also be said for the supporting cast. It was nice to see Tommy Wong Kwong Leung make an appearance playing a very funny character in a sub-plot involving Ah Oi’s dead husband. Wen Chao plays a cousin from ‘Up Above’ whose constant Stephen Chow impressions get on people’s nerves. Which, if you know about Wen Chao, makes it a case of art reflecting life.

Wonder Mama is a lot of fun to watch, and as it veers between over-the-top silliness and heart-wrenching seriousness, you’re treated to a number of very memorable moments. Sometimes they are the center of attention and sometimes you have to watch the background of the scene to catch them. Siu Yam Yam has one particular moment that I found really, really funny, even as it’s really no laughing matter.

I really enjoyed Wonder Mama, for a lot of reasons, and I hope you would too. It’s a very localized film, but it’s not opaque. You have to be a little generous in places, but the rewards are well worth it. As I said before, it’s the kind of movie that’s been appearing more often in Hong Kong, and I really, really appreciate that.

I also appreciate Wonder Mama for being the first film in a long time that got Film Development funding and didn’t make me want to pull my teeth out.

Movie Review: SPL II/殺破狼2

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This movie has everything: action, comedy, drama, an idiot savant and a phone that’s actually a submarine.

SPL 2 is the latest film from director Soi Cheang. It stars Louis Koo as a man with a life threatening-illness.

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If he doesn’t get a new hairdo, I’m gonna die.

He’s a criminal with a plan, and Simon Yam plays a cop out to stop him. Wu Jing plays an undercover cop who ends up in the wrong place at the wrong time several times.

If you see the movie, it’ll make sense. 

Donnie Yen isn’t in SPL 2. I have no idea why.

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But this is as good a time as any to say that Tony Jaa acts really well in the movie in addition to being a fantastic movie martial artist.

He plays a man who will do almost anything to save his terminally ill daughter. There are quite a few very noteworthy performances in SPL2 at all levels. Both Tony Jaa and Wu Jing are known primarily for being action stars, but they both display admirable dramatic chops in this movie. One of the best things about Hong Kong cinema is the very strong talent pool of supporting actors. Jun Kung plays Louis Koo’s brother. It’s a small but important role, and Jun plays it well.

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The same goes for Candy Yuen, who plays his wife.

Philip Keung and Ken Lo also turn in notable performances. Most importantly, as familiar as they are, they still managed to make me believe in their characters. That’s especially admirable given the rather, uh, minimal character development in SPL 2. It’s a big, sprawling movie that is ambitious in its scope. In many ways it realizes those ambitions, but in other ways it doesn’t. Big movies need big characters.

But big characters need backgrounds.

It’s hard to know who any of these people are beyond what scant information we’re given about them. SPL 2 is very much a local blockbuster. It’s gigantic in scope, and often the spectacle is expected to be its own justification. There’s no narrative need for a gigantic prison riot.

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But it sure looks good, and it gives three of the main characters a chance to showcase their phenomenal action skills.

There’s also another really robust phone.

Still, SPL 2 is a very entertaining movie simply to look at. The action is, of course, impeccable. Zhang Jin is a very capable foil for Tony Jaa and Wu Jing.

My only critiques of him are things beyond his control; for some reason his ‘wire assistance’ is quite obvious some of the time.

That’s not about him at all, it’s about the people in charge. The problem is that it stands in stark contrast to the others, who do have wires sometimes, but it’s not as obvious. Speaking of obvious, I also found it hard to take the idea of a man wearing a suit in an un-air-conditioned prison and fighting off all and sundry without breaking a sweat. He did look flawless, I just found it hard to believe. It probably sounds like I’m being picayune (!), but again, everything else is much more natural and realistic, so it seems very fake in context. 

But when has realism ever really mattered in a summer blockbuster?

As I noted in the opening, this film also features a piece of technology that is nothing short of miraculous. Without spoiling anything, I can say that this mobile phone not only survives being tossed unceremoniously into Hong Kong harbor, it then apparently migrates out to the fishing grounds (not that there’s much commercial fishing in Hong Kong these days, but I digress) where it is (pun intended) fished out of the water by someone who proceeds to use it to call someone.

Look, at the very least, anything you drop into the harbor is likely to melt from the pollution. They had to change the script of The Dark Knight because stuntmen wouldn’t swim in it. 

The reason I say all of that is because, for me, plausibility is important. Not just because I would like to believe things could happen. It’s also important because it can affect the mood of the whole film. I’ve talked before about what I call the Mood Roller Coaster in local film; the tone can shift dramatically (!) from dead serious to outright silly several times over the course of any given film.

But remember; SPL 2 is a big, loud summer blockbuster and as such it has no obligation to be any smarter or more believable than San Andreas.

Trust me, if it weren’t for a couple of good friends in L.A, I would totally root for the earthquake. But never mind that.

There’s a lot to like about SPL2, including the acting, cinematography, and especially the action choreography. I enjoyed looking at this movie, and I did get a little caught up in it, especially because of the sub-plot involving Tony Jaa and his daughter.

It’s just not a story you should think about too much.

Unfortunately, the emotional climax of the movie is so shamelessly contrived that it struck me not just as hopelessly implausible but manipulative and cheap.

I didn’t know Barbara Wong wrote for Soi Cheang.

Movie Review: Imprisoned: Survival Guide for Rich and Prodigal/高登闊少踎監日記

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Imprisoned: Survival Guide for Rich and Prodigal tells the story of a young man named Nelson, played by Gregory Wong. Nelson’s filthy rich. He sleeps around, parties every night, and his cure for drunkenness is to get behind the wheel of his Maserati and drive it off. One night, while driving too fast, and too drunk, while his new best friend has her head in his lap (but she’s not sleeping), Nelson runs over an old lady.

Which is why he ends up in prison.

His cloying, overprotective mother, played by Candice Yu, promises to get him out as soon as she can. Her condescension and utter lack of concern for anyone other than her son make it very easy to dislike her, which is what we’re supposed to do. It’s also made easy by Candice Yu’s performance.

There’s a lot of that in Imprisoned Survival Guide, and it’s part of what makes it such a wonderfully schizophrenic film. On one hand, you’ve got a Category III movie about prison. Foul language, brutal violence, and sexual situations and humor abound. I’ve never seen digital FX used to show something onscreen that you normally would be prohibited from seeing. But it happens here, and it’s funny as well as visually impressive. As is the non-digital ‘prosthetic humor,’ which also shows us something we’ve never otherwise see.

And I hope I never see again. Ever.

As young Nelson adjusts to his new environment, he learns a lot of lessons. He makes some new friends and meets an old enemy. And these people are what make Imprisoned Survival Guide such a fun, and good, movie. The supporting cast all turn in very watchable performances. Babyjohn Choi plays Roach, the archetypal squirrely sidekick. Young Mr. Choi is becoming a very good actor.

He just needs a new English name. Really.

The antagonist in the film is played by Justin Cheung, star of Due West: Our Sex Journey. He may be hard to recognize in the film because he was doing a Vegas-era Elvis Presley imitation. His constant glare is impressive because he never, ever, breaks out of it.

There are a ton of cameos and small roles, all of which add to the film. Lam Suet, Yuen Qiu, Philip Keung, Ken Lo and Tony Ho, among others, all make their presence felt. Speaking of presences, here is the literal and figurative presence of local cinema history.

Prison on Fire gets name checked in Imprisoned Survival Guide more than once. But it’s more than that. Quite a few people who appeared in those two movies also appear in this one as well. Tommy Wong and Ho Ka Kui reprise their roles as inmate leaders, and Vincent Wan, who appeared in Prison on Fire II, returns as well. Ng Chi Hung, who was in both movies, makes an appearance as well, though not as an inmate. Elvis Tsui once again plays one of the jailers. It was nice to see him back onscreen in a Category III movie, though he didn’t do anything prurient. In fact, he shows off his considerable acting skills without dropping any F bombs.

Or his pants.

So while Imprisoned Survival Guide has everything you think it would, it’s also got a lot of surprises. The film’s schizophrenia also results in the ‘mood roller coaster’ so common in local films. One minute you’re laughing at an actor so obviously doubled that you know it must be intentional, and the next someone’s acting their ass off and making you believe in the character. I don’t want to give away any details, but I will say that as usual, Lui Kai Chi makes Aaron Kwok look (even more) foolish. If you see the movie, you’ll know exactly which scene I’m talking about.

In a similar vein, for every pointless appearance of some over-breasted bimbo whose English name should be Random Ho, there’s very topical and very knowing references to Hong Kong’s political situation.

And yes, I realize I shouldn’t say such terrible things about he women in the movie. One of them is named Coffee Lam, and I only know that because of priceless headlines like this one:

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Lovely.

Two of my personally favorite aspects of the movie are likely to be of particular value to non-locals. For one, the English subtitles provide a good amount of contextual information that helps explain some of the humor and situations in the film. The other thing is the musical cue that brings to mind a recent Hollywood film based on a local blockbuster from 2002.

I know I’ve said before that I’ve gotten kind of blasé about premieres. Well, I shouldn’t be. I got to go to the premiere of Imprisoned Survival Guide, and I’m extremely glad (and grateful) that I did. I got to take photos with quite a few of the cast members, including 

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Gregory Wong

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Vincent Wan

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Tommy Wong

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Ken Lo

and…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

wait for it…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Elvis Tsui!!!

Movie Review: Prison on Fire I&II /監獄風雲 I&II

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Ringo Lam is one of Hong Kong’s most well-known directors, especially to non-local fans. His films are often tense, unflinching glimpses at people and situations most of us never have to see.

1987’s Prison on Fire tells the story of a group of inmates imprisoned in Hong Kong. Tony Leung Kar Fai (aka Big Tony) plays Yiu, a young man who works in advertising. In helping his father defend himself against a gang of hoodlums, Yiu commits involuntary manslaughter.

The film opens with him processing in with all the other new arrivals. He’s very much a fish out of water, and has good reason to be terrified. 

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And not just because of the cavity search.

Right from the start, prison proves to be an emotionally, psychologically, and physically uncomfortable place. He soon makes the acquaintance of Ching, a seasoned inmate who tries, with varying degrees of success, to teach the ‘new fish’ how to act right.

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Ching is of course played by Chow Yun Fat in what I think is one of his best roles. But maybe that’s because I think Prison on Fire is such a great movie. As part of Ringo Lam’s series of ‘Fire’ movies, the others being City on Fire and School on Fire, Prison on Fire is a realist look at life and the people you find in it.

I’ve never been inside a Hong Kong prison, but films like this one can at least give us a glimpse. I’m sure there are corners cut on accuracy, and the film opens with a disclaimer, but just seeing the day-to-day realities of Hong Kong prison life are interesting.

Like when it kicks off in the yard and no one gets shanked. I was shocked.

There is of course a story taking place amid all this, and if I say it’s generic, I only mean that it’s a prison movie, and as such prison movies (the good ones, anyway) tend to have some similarities.

That’s why they call it a genre, the noun from which generic comes.

Yiu and Ching are trying to stay out of the way of the guards, led by Roy Cheung, and the gangsters, led by Tommy Wong Kwong Leung on one side and William Ho Ka Kui on the other. 

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Oh, and Shing Fui On in the middle, taking swipes at any and everyone. 

One thing I notice about this movie is how young everyone looks. And I mean everybodyTony Leung, Chow Yun Fat, Ng Chi Hung, Victor Hon Kwan.

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Even Lo Hoi Pang! 

I also notice how nice Prison on Fire looks. The DVD I watched was remastered, which certainly helped, but I want to also mention the cinematography and shot construction.  It adds a lot to an already powerful film.

In Prison on Fire, Ringo Lam creates an intense, downright brutal film that contains extremely graphic violence, but never becomes exploitative. It stands as a testament to his skill and to the kind of movies Hong Kong cinema once made. But it also stands as an impressive, entertaining movie no matter where or when it was made. One of the nicest (and truest) things I can say about Prison on Fire is that it ages really, really well.

Unlike me.

The story, the acting, and the direction have lost nothing to the passage of almost 30 years.

Unlike me.

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Prison on Fire was popular enough that they made a sequel. But it took them four years. And they are kind of an important four years, because halfway between 1987 and 1991 is… 1989. Halfway though any year is the month of June.

And June 1989 was a very important year for Chinese people.

It’s also important for Prison on Fire II. Tony Leung isn’t in Prison on Fire II, but Chow Yun Fat is.
He’s still up to his usual tricks, keeping everyone entertained or annoyed, depending on how they feel about him. 

There’s a new officer in the prison, played by Elvis Tsui, who rather unusually has both hair and pants in this movie. He’s much more of a disciplinarian than Roy Cheung, and has a penchant for braking arms and legs as a means of maintaining order.

And order is being threatened.

In the 1980s, groups of daring robbers from China committed a series of brazen armed robberies of jewelry stores in Hong Kong. If you’ve seen the original Long Arm of the Law, you know what I’m talking about. Naturally, not all of these robberies succeeded, and so the presence of mainland convicts in the Hong Kong prison system became more pronounced.

The rivalry, and friction between Hong Kong and mainland inmates is the backdrop for the story in Prison on Fire II

Naturally it is also an allegory for the way Hong Kong felt about its looming return to the PRC in 1997.

Early in the film, Chow Yun Fat attempts to speak with the mainlanders in Mandarin. But apparently his Mandarin is terrible. Undaunted, he launches into a Mandarin song, “Bloodstained Glory.”
Originally about the men lost during China’s abortive 1979 invasion of Vietnam, the song became an unofficial anthem, and memorial, of the Tienanmen students.

But enough about context.

In Prison on Fire II, Chow Yun Fat is trying to juggle his psychotic new jailer, a bubbling conflict with the mainlanders, and the growing alienation of his son, who wants nothing to do with him. Like the first film, Prison on Fire II veers between solemn and silly, but also like the first film it’s always engaging, entertaining, and builds towards an ending both vicious and unforgettable.
Like the first film, it ages really well. even as it also captures a snapshot of the city’s social and political past. The cast, some of whom return from the first film, again turn in very, very strong performances. Tommy Wong Kwong Leung, Ng Chi Hung, and Victor Hon Kwan return, and a (typically young looking) Vincent Wan Yeung Ming also makes an impact. 

Prison on Fire II is the rare sequel that not only doesn’t disappoint but actually holds its own. I’ve said very little about the plot because I think it’s a movie that you need to see for yourself. There are a lot of genuine laughs, shocks, and entertaining scenes. There are a bunch of impressive performances, and the direction and execution of the film are also highly commendable. 

I strongly encourage people to see these movies if they never have. And if you have seen them, watch them again.

Movie Review: Lost in Thailand/人再囧途之泰囧

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I didn’t see 2012’s Lost in Thailand in the cinema when it played here. The promotional material that I saw didn’t make me think I would like it. I’m not a fan of certain types of mainland comedy, which I sometimes find overstated and oversimplified.

And yes, I admit that I am a diehard Wong Jing fan and as such ought not make any pretensions to comedic refinement.

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But images like this made me think I wouldn’t enjoy the movie.

So I didn’t watch it. Even as it became a huge hit. But I recently picked it up on DVD at 3 for 100 HK$, and that’s what Ross Perot used to call a Sore Peter deal; you can’t beat it.

Xu Zheng co-wrote, directed, and stars in Lost in Thailand. So does Huang Baoxiang. They had starred in 2010’s Lost on Journey, a movie about two guys trying to travel in China during the annual Spring Festival. Which is a lot like playing golf at night. Under water.

You can do it. but it ain’t gonna be easy. 

Lost in Thailand isn’t a sequel, but I suppose it’s vaguely related. Xu Zheng plays an engineer who has to find someone last reported to be staying in a Buddhist temple in Chiang Mai. Huang Bo plays his rival colleague, who wants to find the same person, because whoever gets to him first will be very well rewarded. Wang Baoqiang plays a young man with a bucket list and not a lot of brains. #1 on his Thailand itinerary is a visit to the Taj Mahal.

Yeah.

Hey, it’s not high art. It’s not even high comedy. But it is funny. All of the verbal humor in the movie is lost on me, since I don’t speak Mandarin. But a lot of the humor is very easily understood, as is the vast majority of the movie itself. The structure of the film is a classic mismatched pair on a road trip comedy, with a healthy dose of fish out of water shenanigans (i.e. people from one place being in another). So a lot of the cues, beats, and moments will be familiar to anyone with any film literacy whatsoever. There are lots of the typical jokes about Thailand, including some very funny and yet inoffensive jokes about ladyboys. There’s even an evil white guy.

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Something for everyone!

There’s no nudity and very little profanity, but I have to admit I didn’t miss it. Lost in Thailand is’nt really missing anything without it. You’re also not missing anything by reading the subtitles.

Or so my native-Mandarin-speaking assistant Ivana Killyu tells me.

There’s nothing exclusively Chinese about the story or the characters. Naturally, some of the references and language require context, but whatever you miss is frankly inconsequential. There are lots of other rewards in the movie. There’s a cameo from Wu Jing’s wife. Even better is a cameo from Fan Bingbing as herself. It’s funny and, within the frame of the story, downright nice. Speaking of which… Movies in China have  no rating system, so in theory every movie must be viewable by kids. I

f you like comedies like The Hangover, you might be disappointed. But even I have to admit that while the movie ends up happily, with a triple-scoop of niceness, I actually enjoyed it. It was saccharine, and a little naive, but it was also a refreshing change from detached hipstperrific irony. Sometimes that Lost in Thailand became a huge box-office success, well beyond expectations. It remains the highest-grossing domestic film ever in China, slightly ahead of Stephen Chow’s Journey to the West

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It’s not a great movie, but it’s a fun watch, and it has a few really good laughs and surprises along the way. There’s no new comedic ground broken, but I don’t think there was supposed to be. This film is generic, but it’s very solidly made and hits all the right points for movies of its type.

Movie (P)review: Dream Home/維多利亞壹號

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[Editor’s note: this post originally appeared in May of 2010 on another platform]

A while back, Conroy Chan had invited me to the premiere of Dream Home/維多利亞壹號. It was in passing, no doubt at an AnD event. I know he’s a busy man, and he’s got a lot on his mind, so I wouldn’t have minded if he forgot.

But at the same time I wasn’t really surprised Tuesday night when I got a call from his assistant confirming my invitation.

It’s nice to be remembered by people who quite understandably have other, more important things to think about than making sure their friends get on a guest list. So I want to thank Conroy publicly for remembering and including me.

I was pretty excited about it, because I have heard a lot about this movie from people and was looking forward to seeing it. In the spirit of optimism, I asked for two tickets, since I figured it would be easy to find someone to go with me.

It might even be a woman.

It was not as easy as I thought, since, as we all know, Dream Home/維多利亞壹號 ‘s reputation precedes it. Friends of both genders (meaning men and  women, not hermaphrodites…) begged off, citing weak stomachs or prior engagements (dinner, gender reassignment surgery, etc.).

But eventually I found someone to go with me: my good friend Maggie, a graduate of my school and one of the biggest Daniel Wu fans in the world (at least until he got married).

We met at the Convention Center at 8:00 and proceeded into the reception, a rather dimly lit affair that nonetheless made for an ideal  social setting, lubricated as it was by free San Miguel beer and popcorn. Apparently they wouldn’t let you bring beer into the movie, though, which was a bummer.

They should have the next premiere at the Dynasty, where they’re not so uptight.

It was a chance for me to socialize, and I got to see lots of people before the movie, including Conroy, whom I thanked effusively, and Andrew Lin, whose work I was looking forward to seeing.

I got to see lots of people from the local film and music scene, and it made me realize how lucky I am to live in a place where I can be a part of something that matters to me and to have contemporaries whose work I enjoy and admire.

I’ve said this before, but the only thing better than knowing people in LMF is having them know you.

I got to spend a lot of time with Grace Huang and Desmond So, discussing all manner of things, including my movie reviews. I consider them two extremely nice people, so their enjoyment of my vituperation is a bit baffling.

Or maybe not.

Remember in school when the teacher would tell the class “Don’t laugh, it only encourages” the class clown?

Yeah, well which one of us got a PhD, Mr. Boneswallow?

When people tell me they enjoy my reviews, especially because I, unlike themselves, am at liberty to degrade, insult, and verbally pummel bad movies and the bad people who make them, it makes me realize that I’m basically an overgrown class clown.

Who is performing an apparently necessary public service, so its okay.

As long as people laugh, I will keep doing it. Not just because of them; I’ll keep doing it because I am sure that there is no shortage of sh*tty movies in the pipeline.

People also asked me how I would review a movie made by people I consider my friends. Before I even saw Dream Home/維多利亞壹號, I had said that it would be hard for me to dislike it on several points.

  1. Pang Ho Cheung. For me personally, he has surpassed Johnnie To in terms of local film quality, because his films are stylish and substantive.
  2. I knew that Dream Home/維多利亞壹號 was trying to break new ground, and that the people involved were confident without being arrogant. Which cannot be said of all the people (or movies) claiming to do something “never before seen” in local film.

I’d much rather see a sincere effort that may not succeed [I don’t mean Dream Home ] than a blunder whose failure goes unacknowledged by people too full of themselves to see the “unbearable truth” that their movie sucks putrid fruit salad out of the eye socket of a dead rhesus monkey.

  1. Following on that bit of florid imagery, I knew that Dream Home/維多利亞壹號 was going to be Category 3.9 in terms of gore. And from what I’d heard, it was not playful, excessive gore. I think that when people make movies about murder, war, etc., that it ought to be as realistic as possible so that people don’t get the wrong ideas about basic human brutality.

When we filed into the theatre, there was a promotional ‘barf bag’ on every other seat, with a big Cat III triangle on it.

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With instructions. Priceless.

I was quite surprised to see Ekin Cheng in attendance, and very nearly bum-rushed him for a photo op, but decided it was not the best idea.

I just wanted to see the movie!

I really liked Dream Home/維多利亞壹號. It was nasty, profane, crass, bitter, and touching.

I don’t mean inappropriate touching, I mean emotionally.

It starts with a scene that is more psychologically violent than physically (though other people may disagree).

The film does a great job of juggling hope and misery, and alternates resolve and psychosis, showing us how thin that line can be ground. The people in this film are very human, and in being that way, are un-glamorous, un-appealing, and verybelievable.

All too often in Hong Kong movies (and society in general) people studiously ignore the warts on the face of our city/culture.

I’m going to bring that barf bag to the next Alex Fong/Stephy/Patrick Kong movie I see, because I’ll need it.

As Maggie said several times during the film, “It’s so real!”

It’s nice to watch people on screen who could be real-life humans.

It’s nice to watch them get dispatched by methods so foul, cruel, and bad-tempered (name that reference and win dinner with a former film professor) that you start to wonder about the people who wrote the film.

I am a product of the 80s, the glory gory years of the slasher genre, when advances in technology allowed for violence of an as-yet-unseen graphic nature.

I’ve (almost) always been able to observe screen violence with an eye that sees it as a technical process rather than actual violence. Dream Home/維多利亞壹號 gave me a lot to think about. I guess because I know it isn’t real, I can really enjoy black humor of a violent nature.

As a result, during the squeamish bits, amidst the shrieks and groans, my laughter could be heard.

So could Desmond’s, just another reason I like him.Let me say something that will make me look bad, at least by implication. As I often said to my students, don’t ask how I know this, but the gore in Dream Home/維多利亞壹號 is actually very understated. It is not, shall we say, anatomically correct. If it were, it would be not only grossly (!) more horrific, it would make it difficult to film.

The human body contains 5-6 litres of blood under 2-3 foot pounds of pressure. Rupture the containment mechanisms (organs, veins, etc.), and you get blood everywhere.

More than a gallon if you do it right.

Dream Home/維多利亞壹號 is not, shall we say, anatomically correct. It’s still pretty frigging nasty, though.In a sense, the juxtaposition of humdrum persons just like you or me being murdered in such awful fashions helps amplify the sense of dread and horror.

Even knowing some of the actors as real people didn’t alleviate the sense of creeping dread.

As I said to Andrew Lin after the film, the stuff that always gets me isn’t the outlandish things like birthing an alien through the chest. It’s people trying to ward off a knife attack with their bare hands.

Because I have bare hands and knives in my house. So that sh*t could happen to me.

There was plenty of that in the movie, so I squirmed a lot.

And loved it.

One image that made me very uncomfortable was based on prior knowledge. For a reaction shot, Phat Chan took a shot in the baby hangars to get the proper expression of shock and agony.

It had to happen one of two ways:

  1. He wasn’t expecting it, and still didn’t kill Conroy (the offender).
  2. He knewit would happen and took one for the movie.

Either way, give that man an award. And a bag of ice.

I’d also like to uncharacteristically give thanks to China. Not because there’s no way in hell this film could be shown there, but because without China, there’d be no nudity in Dream Home/維多利亞壹號 (or any other local movie). Two women get naked in the film, and they both speak Mandarin.

More importantly, neither of them wax. God bless Cat III.

What I think I like most about Dream Home/維多利亞壹號 is the titties that it succeeds as a film in multiple ways; it is topical, thought provoking, prurient, entertaining and unsettling. It refuses to reconcile its contradictions and leaves that up to the viewer. It’s anti-didactic nature is refreshing. 

Dream Home/維多利亞壹號 will spark a reaction in Hong Kong, and hopefully a lot of discussion. It’s a truism that if nothing changes, nothing changes. Dream Home/維多利亞壹號 is trying to change things, and in so doing bring some of the vitality, daring, and moral ambiguity back to Hong Kong cinema, because that’s what made it so f@#$ing exciting to begin with.

Go see Dream Home/維多利亞壹號. You may not enjoy it completely, but it will make an impression on you, and it will give you something to think about.

It’s also a very good film, and it deserves our support, if for no other reason than it takes chances and goes places local filmmakers have been to timid (or China $-minded) to go in far too long. 

Movie Review: Full Strike/全力扣殺

FullStrike

Full Strike is the latest movie from 852 films, the people who brought us Dream Home and Naked Ambition 3D, among others.

Derek Kwok and Henri Wong co-directed Full Strike. I’ve enjoyed some of their work. I really loved Gallants, and Henri Wong’s segment of Hardcore Comedy was my favorite.

Full Strike tells the story of a group of misfits who come together to participate in a badminton tournament in Macau.

Badminton isn’t a very popular sport in America.

Probably because we can’t say shuttlecock without giggling.

But so what? Badminton is popular elsewhere. Especially in Asia. It’s the second most popular sport in the world after football.

The European kind. You know, soccer.

Never mind.

In Full Strike, Josie Ho plays a disgraced former badminton champion. She works at her brother’s restaurant, enduring a constant stream of abuse from seemingly everyone around her. Eking Cheng plays the leader of a small group of former robbers who have purportedly turned over a new leaf and have opened a badminton school in Yuen Long.

Ronald Cheng plays “Suck Nipple Cheung”, the owner of the building the school is located in. He doesn’t trust his new tenants.

And that’s all I’m going to tell you about the story.

Because like so many other good movies, Full Strike must be seen to be full understood and appreciated. 

Full Strike is thoroughly funny. The characters, the dialog,

and the situations all contribute to the laughs. A lot of the verbal humor comes from people’s accents or use of dialect. Full Strike is a movie I easily admit I can’t appreciate fully because I don’t understand the language anywhere near enough. I know there are jokes, and I know it’s funny, but I wouldn’t attempt to say that I get those jokes. I don’t mind admitting that.

But trust me, my lousy Cantonese is not the reason I thought Enthralled sucked.

Even if you don’t speak Cantonese (or the Hakka dialect), some of the verbal humor is easily inferred. I know the subtitle is wrong when it says “Fornicate your mammaries!” But it’s funny anyway.

And there’s plenty of non-language humor to enjoy. The situations engendered by the story are very funny. I don’t want to tell you any of them, you’ll just have to believe me. For me, the funniest character is probably Champion Chik, the alcoholic badminton master played by Andrew Lam. His resemblance to Ng Man Tat is not only remarkable, it’s probably intentional. Sports movie? Humorous sidekick?

Bueller?

His dialog is often hilarious, especially in the movie’s epilogue. But it’s his physical humor that had me literally rolling. The humor in the movie is often surreal, and in the midst of a weird montage, there’s a moment where Chik appears to be doing something. The nature of the montage is such that you can’t be sure, but the moment itself was just really funny to me. My biggest laugh of the film, and so far the year, is a scene involving Chik and the most unlikely live-action homage to Team America World Police I hope I ever see.

It was so funny I couldn’t breathe. It may not be funny to you, or as funny.

But so what? I paid for my ticket, I’ll laugh at whatever I want.

Ronald Cheng is not far behind in the funniest man race, but then he’s never really had a problem making us laugh. His use of dialect, as well as his character and wardrobe, are chronically entertaining.

As funny as the movie is, it’s kind of touching too. Hong Kong movies are known for their often violent mood shifts. Ng’s brother is played by Kau-chun Tse Kwan-ho. He’s known as a stage actor, so to see him portraying a foul-mouthed New Territories restaurant owner is a big change. But his acting chops come in handy, because when Full Strike makes the occasional shift into seriousness, he really pulls it off.

There’s a lot of good performances in Full Strike, and not just from the main actors.  Philip Keung turns in a typically great performance. The other 2/3 of the robbery trio is played by Edmond Leung and Wilfred Lau. They’re funny, believable, and very entertaining. Siu Yam-yam is as funny and engaging as ever, but she’s also believable, and I’m just happy to see her onscreen. There’s also a ton of cameos from people like Michael Tse, Grace Yip, Kabby Hui, Matt Chow, and Vincent Kok to name just a few. It was a typically pleasant surprise to see JBS, Ah Fai and Kit from 24 Herbs make appearances.

There’s even a Jo Koo cameo!

This movie was so funny and so entertaining that I didn’t mind getting up God-awfully early on a Sunday morning to see it. It was worth it. I can easily recommend this movie. It’s wildly entertaining, a lot of laughs, and the kind of movie that I wish I got to see more often.