Triad/紮職 Full-Length Commentary

This full length commentary is the first in what I hope will be a recurring theme: positive, useful, and informative discussions of selected films with people involved in making them.

For this commentary, I was lucky enough to be joined by Triad‘s director Daniel Chan and Assistant Director Yorkie Kam. 

Movie Review: From Beijing With Love/國產凌凌漆; 凌凌漆


Let’s get this out of the way now. I speak very, very little Cantonese. Therefore, the vast majority of Stephen Chow’s humor escapes me. I can watch the movies, and I know something funny is happening, but I don’t understand how it’s funny because I don’t have the language skill.

I have no problem admitting that when it’s true. But I refuse to believe that the reason I didn’t like some truly awful films is because of language.

But never mind all that.

1994’s From Beijing With Love is a broad parody of James Bond, starring Stephen Chow and Anita Yuen, and featuring appearances by Yu Rongguang and Pauline Chan Bo Lin, among others.

The skull of China’s only dinosaur fossil is stolen, and the government will stop at nothing to get it back.

Or maybe they will.

They don’t seem too concerned, because they send the worst person they can find to get it back, a pork vendor from Southern China who fancies himself a master spy. The vendor is played, of course, by Stephen Chow. He heads to Hong Kong to meet up with Anita Yuen and try to find the skull.

I’m not going to tell you anything else about the story, because it’s really not that important for the purpose of the review.

Like I said, I don’t understand mo lei tau, Stephen Chow’s unique brand of verbal humor. Some of the movie parodies, like Days of Being Wild, I do get. And physical humor is always funny. And between us, I was never really a huge James Bond fan, even though I’m apparently named Sean because of Sean Connery. 

That’s what my mother would scream at my dad when she was drunk, anyway.

Good Lord, how did we get here?

From Beijing With Love was released in 1994, three years before Hong Kong was handed over to China and five years after the Tiananmen Massacre of 1989. Those are important because the movie is, in a way, about the relationship between Hong Kong and China, as well as between Hong Kongers and Chinese people. 

The most obvious thing I can say about From Beijing with Love is that it could never, ever be made today, more than a decade after the handover. The grossly unflattering portrayals, actions, and the behaviors displayed by citizens and officials of China are now so far out of bounds that you almost can’t believe it was ever allowed.

The second most obvious thing about this movie is how much it cost to make. 

Or how little, I should say.

But while it is glaringly obvious that the budget was low, there is still an awful lot of energy and movement, and Anita Yuen. From Beijing with Love makes it easy to see how and why she became so popular. She’s extremely easy to look at, and I mean that in a respectful way. She also displays some really strong comic timing as well as the dramatic ability to make her character convincing.

And let’s face it, that’s not easy to do in a movie that’s a spoof of spy movies that was made quickly and cheaply and stars Stephen Chow. It would be easy to end up a forgotten side note, but Anita Yuen draws and holds our attention whenever she’s onscreen.

Pauline Chan Bo Lin does that as well in a small role, but it’s more because of her really hot bust. That’s a euphemism, but for perhaps the first time in my Godforsaken life, it’s not a sexual one.

Law Kar Ying puts in his usual over-the-top contribution as Da Wen Xi (get it?), the Chinese equivalent of Q, the man who made all of James Bonds’ best gadgets. As you may imagine, his inventions aren’t as cool, reliable, or refined as Q’s.

From Beijing with Love is like a time capsule, because it shows you what it used to be like for Hong Kong, and for Hong Kong movies, 20 years ago. Things are very different now, but that’s how it always goes.

Whether they’re different or worse depends, I guess, on your perspective.

If you understand Cantonese, I’m sure this movie has a lot to offer that I have no clue about. But even without it, there’s a lot to see in From Beijing With Love.

Movie Review: Knock Knock Who’s There?/有客到


Everybody knows about Chinese New Year and Chinese New Year movies. But not everybody knows about the Hungry Ghost Festival. It occurs in late summer, and while I can’t tell you exactly what happens, I can say that it’s definitely a part of people’s lives here in Hong Kong.

One thing I really enjoy and appreciate is the way that people in Hong Kong manage to integrate their spiritual beliefs with everyday life. You always see Kwan Gung statues in restaurants and shops. Buildings often have built-in places in the walls for shrines. People burn incense or other offerings on the sidewalk, and no one seems to notice, or worry, or complain.

Part of this spiritual presence in Hong Kong is reflected in people’s belief systems. I’m entertained by ghost movies, but I’m not scared. Because I don’t believe in ghosts. But a lot of people I know do believe in ghosts, and these movies do scare them.

The Hungry Ghost Festival seems, like Halloween, to have become a tent-pole for ghost movies. Last year there was Hungry Ghost Ritual. This year, there’s Knock Knock Who’s There? Like 2013’s Tales From The Dark, this movie is a collection of three stories which are tangentially connected by the characters in them

The film opens with an obviously distressed woman on a ledge. I have no idea who she was, and I think it’s just used to set the mood.

The first segment is called Missing. Annie Liu plays a woman engaged to a handsome, rich man. They leave their engagement party in his BMW and get chased by a photographer.

In a BMW.

Hey, I’m not mad.

Movies don’t pay for themselves.

Since this is a ghost story, something terrible happens, and we meet Babyjohn Choi, who works at a funeral home. I’d tell you more about the story, but I don’t want to spoil anything. I will say I liked the segment, and it was more effective than I had thought it would be.

The makeup they put on Annie Liu isn’t necessarily convincing. It logically can’t be, if you think about it, but that’s not my point. The makeup, if you watch it, is still pretty effective and creepy because of what I will non-spoilerishly call independence of moving parts.

It’s just a nice little detail that sold me. Watch the movie and look for it.


Some of the digital effects are a little hokey, but a lot of the others are good, and I liked the visual aesthetic of a lot of them.

The second segment is called Karma and stars Kate Tsui as an overly sensitive young woman who works in a shop making the paper offerings that people burn to the deceased. They’re really fascinating things; you can burn things ‘to’ people, including cars, houses, servants, wristwatches and shoes.

When I’m gone please burn me DVDs. And a mahjong set.

We first met Kate earlier in the film when she was delivering some of these offerings to the funeral home. She works for a couple played by Carrie Ng and Simon Lui. The boss and her husband aren’t very likeable people; she gambles all the time, berates the help, and ends up doing something incredibly cruel. Her husband just goes along with it. When Kate Tsui’s character discovers what happens… things go bad.

Carrie Ng was believably unlikeable, and Simon Lui was more restrained and subtle than I’ve ever seen him.

Unfortunately, I felt like this was the weakest of the three segments, mostly because Kate Tsui wasn’t given much with which to flesh out her character. She just acted weird.


Her appearance didn’t help.


I doubt the contact lenses were meant as an homage to Seeding of a Ghost, but it made me think of it, which was nice. So was seeing an Italian movie poster for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. It was a nice detail.

The third and final segment is called Smell.

No, I’m not in it and yes, I think I could be too. Now f@#$ off.

Jennifer Tse plays a young woman who works at the funeral home doing makeup for the deceased. One night she ends up in possession of a phone that can send and receive messages… from beyond.

Again, I don’t want to talk too much about the story. But I will say that it’s surprising, shocking, and there was one moment that sincerely scared me. It’s my favorite of the three segments, so I am glad it’s the last one of the movie.


Jennifer Tse, wearing jeans, Doc Martens and a big shapeless jacket, almost manages to look like a regular woman instead of the model she is in real life. She gets put into some very weird and unusual situations in this segment, and I think she was very convincing.

Eric Kwok was convincing too. He’s a good actor, because if he’s not acting, he needs to be locked up.

One of my favorite moments of this segment, ad of the film, is an epilogue involving two police officers and a grandmother. It encapsulates the unique relationship that this ultra-modern city has with tradition. But the whole movie is like that.

I really enjoy local movies showing these things because they are still very much a part of everyday life. The things we see in the movie, like the paper offerings, aren’t relics of a bygone era; they’re things people still do and believe in. They’re traditions that are preserved in the best possible way; by continuing to perform them.

I liked this movie more than I expected to, and I can also say it’s better than I expected it to be.

Carrie Ng directed the film, and I think she did a very good job with it overall. I didn’t care for Angel Whispers, but if she makes more movies like this one, I’ll gladly watch them.

Remember that woman on the ledge in the beginning of the movie? She shows up again at the end. No idea who she is or what she’s doing.

But I have a hunch her name is Ivana Sequel.

Movie Review: Undercover Duet/猛龍特囧


I’d been looking forward to seeing this movie for quite a while. Not just because of the movie, but because its release had been delayed for a long time.

Mark Wu wrote, directed, and co-starts in Undercover Duet. He wrote and directed Due West: Our Sex Journey. He wrote Lan Kwai Fong 1 and 2. And Iceman 3D. And Lives in Flames.

But I watched Undercover Duet anyway.

It tells the story of James, an aspiring actor who lives with is sister, played by Ava Yu. She’s as blind as two bats, which should be clear from the way she’s dressed. James witnesses and videos a crime. A lot of people want the evidence, Or they want James dead.

The local police want James to testify. So they enlist the aid of D Dragon, played by Ronald Cheng Chung Kei. He’s a local undercover cop who was raised in Harlem.

No, really.

I was pleasantly surprised by how much the movie avoids the abundant minefield of potential racism that so often appears in local films. Luckily for us we’re not expected to take it seriously, and we’re expected to laugh at the character as well as the things he says.

I know I did. I laughed my ass off. The credit for that goes to Ronald Cheng, whose performance is funny, engaging, and, in a strange way, convincing. He switches effortlessly between Cantonese and English, though the English tends to be profanity 90% of the time.

It don’t make you a bad person, I’m just f@#$in’ saying.

I think it helped the movie avoid a Category III rating, because in Hong Kong, English foul language isn’t considered nearly as offensive as Cantonese ‘cho hau.’ So that means Undercover Duet is rated IIB. Which explains why there was a family of four sitting behind me in the cinema. It doesn’t explain why one of the two young boys parroted every single English swear word Ronald Cheng uttered.

Undercover Duet is funny, and entertaining, but I wouldn’t want to say it’s a good movie. I will say that I sincerely doubt it was ever intended to be. It’s a (very) lowbrow local comedy, and the audience I watched it with seemed to enjoy themselves thoroughly.  There’s a lot of verbal humor, some slapstick, and at least one sequence that is gleefully juvenile but at the same time nauseatingly squirm-inducing.

I was sincerely impressed by Mark Wu’s willingness to self-deprecate; he makes himself the butt of a lot of jokes and seems willing to do virtually anything to get a laugh. And I mean anything.

So like a lot of local movies, Undercover Duet is basically cinematic fast food. Cheap, greasy, and just the thing when you’re in the right mood.

If you go to McDonalds, you have no one to blame for the quality of the food except the moron who placed your order.

All that said, there is still a lot to enjoy in Undercover Duet. As I said, the verbal comedy is funny, even to someone like me whose Cantonese is rudimentary at best. There’s also some pretty impressive stunt work from Ronald Cheng. I was watching him closely, and he does a lot of his own work. 

Tony Ho delivers his usual solid performance as a… well, I’m not sure what he is, but he’s good in the role, and that’s what matters. 

Peter So Man Fung, aka Master So, self-deprecatingly plays a cop whose knowledge of feng shui and other associated nonsense plays too large a role in the investigation.

Wen Chao appears, and thankfully doesn’t resort to his near-chronic Stephen Chow imitation. 

There’s a huge number of cameos in the film. They vary in length, from the literally momentary appearance of Gregory Wong to a scene-length appearance from Chrissie Chau.

Also appearing are Sammy Sum, Phat Chan, Dominic Ho, Jessica C, and Miki Yeung, among others.

You’ve probably never heard of Zhang Chuanqi/张传奇 (I know I haven’t), but he bears a striking resemblance to a very famous local movie star. From certain angles, anyway. There are some very local and very topical jokes, including a new report from ‘April Dairy’ in the unique style for which a similarly named news organization is famous.

The South American psychotropic Ayahuasca makes an appearance, which I found nearly as surreal as the drug itself. From what I’ve read.

Speaking of surreal, the occasional serious parts of this film often come off as more convincing than a lot of serious scenes in other movies.

Also speaking of surreal, why was that guy pissing blood?

And why did I have to see it???

Movie Review: Wild City/迷城

Wild City

Ringo Lam has made some iconic Hong Kong films.

School/City/Prison on Fire, Full Alert, Full Contact, Victim, and a segment in 2007’s Triangle, his last film before this one. It’s been a long time since Ringo Lam made a movie, so I was really looking forward to Wild City

In some ways, it’s very reminiscent of his earlier films. There are large action set pieces interspersed with dialog between characters who are much more human than heroic. Louis Koo stars as a former police officer who now runs a bar.

But he’s not Irish.

His stepbrother, played by Shawn Yue Man Lok, drives a taxi. One of the things I love about movies is that they show us things that can never happen to real people in real life.

Without resulting in a restraining order, anyway.

One night a very drunk woman, played by Tong Liya, refuses Louis’ offer of a ride home.

So she’s either blind, stupid, or a lesbian.

Speaking of plausibility, Louis brings this inebriated woman to his mother’s house. His mother, played by Yuen Qiu, seems used to it. I really enjoyed her performance, but that can be said about a lot of people. It was nice to see Philip Ng in a non-action role that still required him to do some stunts, one of which sincerely frightened me.

It was good to see Joman Chiang as a policewoman, even though she’s played that role quite a few times lately. Philip Keung, Simon Yam and Sam Lee also turn in memorable performances. Joseph Chang, Jack Kao, and Marc Ma played Mandarin-speaking antagonists, which added to the 80s throwback feeling of the film. They were all entertaining as well as effective. Michael Tse plays the slimiest boyfriend since The Incredible Melting Man.

I don’t want to talk about too much of the plot, because I don’t want to give too much of it away and as usual I’d rather you watched it yourself. I’d rather talk about Wild City as a movie, because that’s the most interesting part of it for me.

I’m not saying the story’s bad, just that I won’t be focusing on it.

Having lived in Hong Kong for a decade now, one thing I really enjoyed about this movie is the settings. I recognized a lot of the places, and I think they really added to the film, both visually and narratively.

I used to wonder why so many local films had laborious flashbacks that for me unnecessarily reiterate a plot point or illustrate something we’ve seen.

But to be fair, the idiot couple sitting next to me spent so much time blabbing to each other and messing with their phones that I can now understand why flashbacks are necessary; because some of the audience are shit. Thanks a lot.

One of the flashbacks in Wild City was actually good, and made a contribution to character development. The second one wasn’t anywhere near as interesting. If we see someone in one place, and then later see someone else in that place, do we really need to be shown the first person leaving that place and the second person going there?

Do we?

A few days after watching it, I’m still not really sure what to think about Wild City.  On one level, it seems like a throwback movie, except that it looks a lot more modern. The themes, the tone, the dialog and the story all seemed very reminiscent of Ringo Lam’s 1980s films. 

But on a technical level the film is very up to date. Some people have criticized the CGI, but I don’t. The simple reality is that you can’t go setting off explosions in the middle of one of the most crowded places in the world. So in that sense, I understand why you need CGI sometimes. And to be fair, there was some other stuff that was surprisingly real. If you watch the movie you’ll know what I mean.

You’ll also see a bit of CGI that was totally unnecessary, both thematically and visually. It was the low point of my viewing.

A lot of recent productions have aspired to be blockbusters for any number of reasons, most of which I admit I don’t know. While Wild City doesn’t necessarily succeed on that level, I will easily say that it comes the closest to fulfilling that aspiration than any number of recent local films. Wild City isn’t perfect, but it’s a pretty entertaining way to spend 90 minutes.

Provided you’re not unlucky enough to be sat next to two mouth-breathers.

I can recommend watching this movie, if only because that way you can make up your own mind.

Besides, if you don’t watch the movie, you won’t be able to play the official Silver Spleen game “Where is Jane Wong?”

Movie Review: To The Fore/破風


Dante Lam is one of Hong Kong’s best known directors. He’s made films like Unbeatable and The Stool Pigeon.

Then again, he made The Viral Factor and Sniper.

So any new Dante Lam film is always exciting, because you never know what it’s going to be like.

To the Fore is the story of a Taiwanese bicycle racing team trying to win races.


And respect.

Eddie Peng stars as the talented but egotistical young hotshot. 


Choi Si Won is his teammate and rival.


 It’s hard to tell how he feels at any given time, because plastic surgery has rendered his face a frozen mask.

Or he can’t act his way out of a wet paper bag, I’m not sure.


Shawn Dou plays the dutiful teammate who always helps ensure victory but never gets to win the race. Still, his hair is always… perfect.

So he’s got that going for him.

Wang Luodan plays a female cyclist (that’s not a euphemism) with a heart problem. And I don’t mean romantical [sic].


Though she has those problems too. 

Andrew Lin plays the team’s coach and mentor.


Will Eddie learn to be a team player?

Will the girl get the guys she wants, and will it be the guy who wants the girl more than the other guy?

Will a wayward team member learn the error of his ways?

Will the team reunite after learning their respective (and trite) life lessons?

Will this film play in China?

Since the answer to that one is yes, the answers to all the others are too. I’m not spoiling anything.

Anyone with an IQ above that of a rhododendron bush can see every bit of this movie coming from a mile away.

To the Fore was originally going to have the English title Breaking Wind.

Luckily for us, that tile was changed. Unluckily, the content remained the same. I don’t know what word goes past ‘pedestrian,’ but I wish I did. Everything about this movie is leaden, obvious, and embarrassingly derivative.

The only thing I enjoyed was Carl Ng in a small role as a manager so twisted he puts his pants on with a corkscrew.

Practically everyone else in this movie is so clean-cut it made me sick. Not to mention they’re cleanly cut with a cookie-cutter.

Okay, that went too far.

Considering how derivative virtually everything in this movie is, you’d think that at least Dante Lam might have had the intelligence to recycle Breaking Away, an iconic and Oscar-winning story about bike racing.

Then again, it’s a good thing he didn’t recycle Breaking the Waves either.

But To the Fore does recycle movies you may have seen before.

Sadly, and weirdly, it’s a Taiwanese version of Talladega Nights.


Intentionally or not, when you have three plot points in your movie that are the same as a Will Farrell comedy about NASCAR, you got problems.

Speaking of problems… I have some questions of my own.

The movie takes place in Taiwan. So everyone speaks Mandarin. Well, almost everybody. Why do the newscasters in the voiceovers always speak Cantonese? It doesn’t matter where the races are; Taiwan, China, Korea… they speak Cantonese.

Who was that photographer woman who got a couple of close-ups but no dialog?

Why do the bad guy racers all bleach their hair blond?

Maybe they couldn’t afford foreigners to play the bad guys.

Everybody’s favorite home wrecker Mandy Lieu plays the designated Anglophone tramp.

Why do sluts always speak English in these movies?

A wayward teammate, a the ruthless winner, an alcoholic mother, a pining girlfriend, a slutty foreigner… this movie has everything!

Why are the male racers all about their sport but female racers are all about the boys?

Why does so much of the movie look like it was shot on a phone?

An old phone.

I know you can’t film a realistic bike pile-up (or you can’t afford the CGI), but why did they just show a bunch of people laying down while some PA tossed water bottles randomly into frame?

Why does that guy stick himself with a needle so huge it would make an elephant faint?

If someone you despise literally and intentionally pisses on you, why don’t you hit him?

Do people really gamble on bicycle racing in Korea, and is racing there to pay your debts really the moral and social equivalent of being a hooker?

If the racer’s ankle was ‘shattered” and the Achilles tendon was severed, how did they manage to get right back up and finish the race?

The answer to that question, and probably most if not all of thee others, is that it’s a movie.

That does not answer the question of whether or not that was a Curt Schilling homage I saw. 

But to be honest, I don’t really care. Ten minutes into this movie, I was counting the 115 more minutes until it ended.

As soon as I saw the first credit, I bolted for the door. But then someone tried to stop me from leaving. Apparently, there was an Easter Egg. “There’s still more to see,” she said. As I brushed past her, all I could say was “No there isn’t.”

I don’t necessarily want to call this a bad movie, because it might not be. I think that for the right audience it might actually work. The film was apparently made for teenagers, and on that level I can understand it. They’re the only ones for whom the pedantic storytelling and moralizing might actually inspire anything other than confusion and pity.

As I Tweeted after the screening: