Movie Review: Tiny Times I-III/小时代 I-III

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Because I lost a bet, that’s effing why.

So take it from me. Don’t gamble. It’s not like throwing money into the sea. It’s like throwing away six excruciating hours of your life on a trilogy of movies so bad, so insulting, and so moronic that I literally felt like I was getting teabagged by a stroke.

But enough of that nonsense.

Let’s get this over with.

I watched this three-pronged mess in a little over 36 hours while battling a head cold. But that’s not why I can’t really keep the three movies separate. It has more to do with the absolute worthlessness of the narrative. It’s conception and execution are both execrable.

A quartet of besties go to school in Shanghai. They live in a palatial dorm apartment with a balcony overlooking the central campus. Because some animals are more equal than others. They’re best friends forever. Which is why they argue every 10 goddamned minutes and then tearfully make up again.

Only to resume their bitchiness ad nauseum.

They never seem to go to class, what with all the parties, fashion shows and dating they do.

Then the movies start to lose this sheen of verisimilitude.

These women spend all their time wondering about their lives, their future, and their men. Just like the book. Which was written by a man. More on that later.

And yes, I said moron.

I’m sure it’s plausible for a 22 year old to become a CFO.

She may not be old enough, but we can at least say the actress looks old enough.

The only reason Mini Yang doesn’t look laugh-out-loud ridiculous trying to play a teenager is because I’ve seen Charlene Choi do it so often I just can’t be as offended/amused as I should be.

After graduation, they all move into a villa that Lily, the rich one, pays for. Because rich people are always generous. Especially to three freeloading wastes of oxygen.

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If Lily is so business savvy, why do I never hear her say “Get a job, you fat slag”?

But even the people with jobs don’t seem to ever have to work. In part 3, Mini Yang’s character works for a total of three minutes at the start of the film. She seems to have an inordinate amount of time off.

Or maybe the movie is just sh*t.

Mini’s character is the dumbest of the bunch. She gets a job at ME magazine.

How subtle.

Their star columnist gets such care, attention, and indulgence (both in the story and in the movie) that Hunter Thompson would have wept with envy. This may be the way the book is written or it may be because the actor playing the journalist is the director’s boyfriend.

Well, rumored boyfriend. Because the director’s only rumored to be gay.

Just like I’m rumored to do movie reviews. But never mind.

Supposedly writer/director Guo Mingjing is a closeted homosexual. But the closet’s made of glass, because the men in these movies are the subject of slow-motion, surreal shots of fancy.

That’s not a euphemism.

While the women are treated like blank slates upon which clothing is draped. I guess their blank stares that substitute for acting are just par for the course.

What we can say about Guo Jingming is that he’s short and from Sichuan, and so probably has the same big-city fantasies and aspirations that millions of young Chinese women have. To be young, rich, beautiful and in love with a young, rich, beautiful man.

I’m not trying to be funny. Hinting at gay love is the only vaguely interesting emotional event in these movies, if only because they are the only times the films take anything resembling a risk. The heterosexual ‘relationships’ are so trite, clichéd and unbelievable that they inadvertently function as humor for anyone with any emotional maturity whatsoever.

I think the gay subtext is unfair to gay people, because no one deserves to be seen as such shallow, materialistic irredeemable swine like everyone in these movies. Gay men deserve better than to be depicted as a bunch of manorexic plastic surgery addicts with no visible emotional affect or facial expressions.

I don’t mean the characters, I mean the actors.

I’d blame the director, but that line’s already snaking out the door. So let’s pretend there’s no gay subtext in the movie. Because in this case at least, exclusion is a very big favor.

Speaking of big. Or not… Guo Jingming is short. 150cm short. A joke in China is “Here’s a photo of Guo Jingming meeting Yao Ming.”

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Even if you don’t think that’s funny, it’ s funnier than anything in these movies.

They stink.

There are lots of split screen shots of the four women beset by life, anguish and having to wear last year’s shoes.

You know, end-of-the-world stuff.

There’s a ton of ridiculously overstated framing and lighting. There’s more slow motion running than every episode of The Six Million Dollar Man combined.

Fat girls are funny. If they weren’t fat, they wouldn’t be funny. And they might have a man. But they don’t, so they’ll just have more cake.

Ha ha funny fatty.

At the end of the second movie, the arty one is an ignored phone call while the other three laugh and play. In the third movie, she’s back. No reasons why.

Except besties!

I don’t think this is what Deng Xiaoping meant when he said getting rich is glorious. Unless by glorious you mean shallow, banal, and lacking even a scintilla of any redeeming characteristic whatsoever. Tiny Times is indefensible garbage. If this is what the young people of China think is good, or cool, or worthwhile… Mao was right.

But wait. There’s four. Tiny Times 4 was already in the can.

That’s not a euphemism.

But the actor who plays Lily’s boyfriend/fiance/enemy/boyfriend/whatever the f*ck was busted on a drugs charge. So they’re re-shooting all of his scenes.

There are several lessons from this.

One: Never say that drugs don’t have tangible benefits.

Two: Don’t smoke weed at J.C Chan’s house.

Three: I’m calling this an act of God, and therefore I am excused of any obligation or liability to watch the fourth film.

With any luck, #4 will never see the light of day. Because like the rest of these movies, I’m sure it’s #2.

Movie Review: Two Thumbs Up/衝鋒車

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Lau Ho Leung has written some movies I really like, including Kung Fu Jungle, Chaos, and Painted Skin. Two Thumbs Up is his directorial debut. I’d seen the trailer for the movie several times, and it was… interesting. It was hard to get a sense of the movie from the trailer, so when I watched it, I wasn’t sure what I was going to see.

Fancis Ng plays Lucifer (don’t worry, that’s just his English name. He’s not playing Satan.) Released from a Malaysian prison, he returns to Hong Kong to reunite his gang of robbers.

Patrick Tam makes a modest living doing bootleg haircuts for ‘karaoke girls’ in an alley in Prince Edward.

I don’t think it makes me a bad person to say I know where the alley is. But never mind.

Simon Yam works maintenance at a bowling alley and lives there too, in conditions that make a regular Hong Kong flat seem palatial by comparison. Mark Cheng makes a welcome return to the big screen as a minibus driver with very bad eyesight.

Together these four intrepid (if not intelligent) criminals launch a plot to make, as is usually the case, one last big score that will put them back on top. Or at least allow them to pay off their debts.

Leo Ku plays a policeman whose last job, working as an undercover minibus driver in Operation Lost in Time, took a significant toll on him. He’s struggling with re-adjusting to regular police work again.

I’d rather not discuss too much about the plot, because watching it unfold is one of the major pluses of the film. I’d rather talk about how good, and how much fun, Two Thumbs Up is.

The movie is brought to us in part by Emperor Motion Pictures, which, let’s face it, often does not bode well for people who like their movies to be more than crass promotional videos for whatever new stars and starlets are being pimped.

Good Lord, did I say that… or just think it?

But luckily, director Lau Ho Leung doesn’t have too worry about that too much. Instead, he gets to create a very interesting, surreal world in which these characters act, react, and interact.  It’s nice to watch a movie where there is no big-name star. I’m not saying Simon Yam isn’t famous, but he’s no Andy Lau.

And thank God for that.

All the main actors turn in solid, watchable, and very believable performances in Two Thumbs Up. It’s nice to see actors who are usually in supporting roles get an opportunity to show what they’re capable of, and they’re capable of a lot. My usual barometer is whether or not I can stop seeing actors we are all very familiar with and see the characters instead.

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I admit, the haircuts made it easier.

Even the smaller roles are played well. But I suppose that’s easy when you have people like Jack Ko, Siu Yam Yam, and Philip Keung playing them. 

I even enjoyed the use of CGI for special effects. In a rare (and welcome) exception to the rule, Two Thumbs Up uses special effects to enhance the story in subtle but effective ways. A specific phone call, a montage, and especially the last shot of the film utilize effects in interesting and aesthetically impressive ways. I also want to say that I appreciate the use of what looked like real sparks during a few gunfire exchanges. Either they were real or the CGI was just that good.

Kind of like the rest of the movie. Two Thumbs Up is farcical in the best sort of way. It’s not very realistic, but it was never intended to be. In fact, the movie starts with a title card that says “This film is based entirely on fictional events.” Considering how badly (in terms of both frequency and severity) the inverse sentiment gets abused, I really appreciated that joke. And all the rest of them.

Two Thumbs Up manages to successfully juggle drama and comedy. A lot of movies don’t handle the shifts as well, but Two Thumbs Up made me laugh without taking away any of my concern for the characters even as they were being funny. In fact, Two Thumbs Up carries off the narrative so well that it’s effortless to simply watch the proceedings unfold.

It’s probably the most fun I’ve had at the movies in a long time. I felt funny walking out of the cinema. Then I realized… I was happy! I’d watched a movie I really enjoyed and that I thought was really, really good.

How good is Two Thumbs Up? The two main actresses in the film are played by Christie Chen and Zhuang Jie-Meng. You may not recognize them (if you’re lucky). They’re members of Oh My Girls (OMG!), Emperor’s manufactured girl group. They were the group ‘featured’ in The Midas Touch, a movie that nearly killed me. Yes! A real girl group playing a fictional girl group! Okay, you got me, a fictional girl group playing itself.

What I wouldn’t give for a preposition there. 

Two Thumbs Up is so good that these two vapid moppets didn’t even bother me. That’s how good it is.

You’ll want to watch this movie more than once, not so much for plot clarification as much as seeing more and more thematic elements and the way they tie into one another. I’m sure I didn’t see all of them the first time.

I will definitely buy this on disc and you should too.

If we don’t support the movies that deserve it, then we get the movies we deserve.

Movie Review: Ab-Normal Beauty/死亡寫真

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Oxide Pang, one of the Pang Brothers, directed 2007’s The Detective, a movie I really liked. But he also directed 2011’s Sleepwalker, which I really didn’t. Both of those movies contain elements of the supernatural, or at least of things you can neither understand nor explain.

2004’s Ab-Normal Beauty is the same way. Jiney, played by Race Wong, is an art student. So is Anson, played,  unsurprisingly, by Anson Leung. He likes Jiney. But so does Jas. Jas, perhaps a little surprisingly, is a woman. Unsurprisingly, Jas doesn’t like Anson. Jas is played by Rosanne Wong, Race Wong’s sister.

Hmmm… Real-life siblings playing potential lesbians in a Hong Kong movie.

Now that is surprising. But their relationship never really goes there. Which is, really, not surprising.

I think it might be illegal.

Hey, I’m not spoiling, I’m saving you from watching the movie with unrealistic expectations in one hand and…

Well, you get the idea.

Jiney has her artistic inspiration ignited one day by the aftermath of a car accident. The accident features a cameo by Ekin Cheng, and the scene is a reference to Leave Me Alone, another 2004 Pang-directed film. But that was Danny Pang.

Not that it matters.

Anson Leung looks like Ekin Cheng’s stunt double anyway, so it was easy to be confused.

Jiney starts to become more and more confused.

If by confused you mean psychotic.

She develops an unhealthy appetite for the aesthetics of death and may be losing touch with reality.

I know how she feels.

Only in movies does a woman catch someone filming her through a window and then invite him inside to talk.

I got probation, court mandated counseling and a restraining order. But never mind that.

Only in movies can a woman tell a man “If you don’t do what I tell you, you can’t leave,” and he listens to her. Even though she’s 50 pounds lighter than him.

I got two words for you: skull punch.

Ab-Normal Beauty isn’t predictable as much as it’s just… dishearteningly unsurprising.

It has one of the worst schizophrenia metaphors I’ve ever seen.

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No, really. That’s the metaphor.

But hey, just because you’re batshit loony doesn’t mean your skin can’t look great!

To be fair, a couple of moments in Ab-Normal Beauty are sincerely transgressive and surprising and interesting.There were some risks taken, and one of them is pretty serious: part of the film could arguably be considered child pornography.

It made me uncomfortable to watch it. And I’m me.

But the rest of the movie is uninspired, cookie-cutter blandness; “This is what happens in this kind of movie, so we’ll do this.” An intrusive soundtrack and lots of special visual effects like stuttering seem generic instead of organic.

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And throw in lots of Ringu face!

You can’t say you see things coming a mile away, but you can say “Oh, this is going to happen,” and it does. The ‘revelation’ or ‘discovery’ of Jiney’s ‘obsession’ with photographing death is contrived, overblown, and obvious. The ending was interesting, but then the movie’s final revelation, which is delivered in a van with NO SH*T written on the side of it in three foot letters, just ruined it for me.

Like a lot of movies, the stretches of reality in Ab-Normal Beauty were sometimes…just… too far. Movie stories exist in an alternate universe where no one, not family or friends, ever says “You’re obviously losing it and I’m going to call someone for help.” 

Only in movies can psychos wander the streets and no one calls the cops.

Only in movies can you clean oil paint with water.

But let’s face it, slow-motion shots of cascading water and two women bathing is a lot more cinematically salable than some loopy dingbat with a rag and a can of paint thinner.

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Only in movies would you be able to say Jaycee Chan has really great tits.

Movie Review: A Battle of Wits/墨攻

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2006’s A Battle of Wits was written, produced, and directed by Jacob Cheung.

Can one man wield so much power wisely?

He directed the 1992 classic Cageman, so I’d say yes. But he also directed 2014’s The White Haired Witch of Lunar Kingdom.

So I’d have to say no.

Somewhere between those two films, and those two answers, is A Battle of Wits. The army of the Zhao nation is on its way to invade the Yan nation. The city of Liang is right between the two of them, and the Xhao army naturally expects Liang to tremble before the might of their military hugeness. 

But wait… who’s this lone figure walking across the front lawn?

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Andy Lau plays St. Francis of Assisi.

I’m joking, of course. He plays Ge Li, a tactician who practices Mohism (墨家). He has arrived in Liang to organize the defense of the city.

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“How can this city protect the people… if they’re too big to fit in it?”

With the help of the soldiers of Liang, Ge Li’s military prowess is no match for the Zhao army.

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“Are you giving me a shillelagh or are you just happy to see me?”

Ge Li saves the city of Liang, though not without a cost.

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“They can take our lives… but they’ll never take our do-rags!”

He also manages to catch the eye of Fan Bingbing, who plays a cavalry officer.

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Because it’s a movie, that’s why she can play such a role.

But the Zhao army is the least of his troubles. Suddenly the city comes under attack from the 10th Panzer Division!

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It doesn’t really. This photo just turned up anomalously in the search.

Naturally, the Zhao army isn’t through yet.

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“Damn you monk… I’m going to find El Dorado or my name isn’t Francisco Pizarro… Wong.”

I really liked the first half of this movie when I saw it in the cinema in 2006 and when I watched the DVD. Then suddenly the emperor snaps out of his alcoholic coma and starts… meddling. Court intrigue. Internecine squabbles. Skulduggery. Treachery.

Lost momentum. A good idea gone terribly wrong.

And another hour of movie to sir through that’s as pointless as it is disappointing. I felt like a really interesting, engaging premise went careening off the rails and turned the movie into a confusing, tedious mess.

If assassins in most Chinese movies are so good, why are the ones in A Battle of Wits so bad? They’re the real Moists.

They’re as skillful, and as successful, as the Three Stooges.

Why does the prince always look so wide-eyed? He reminds me of the Japanese actor in Red Cliff. But he’s Korean.

The subtitle says Fan Bingbing’s character has been muted.

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But she doesn’t look very injured, does she?

She shows no signs of having had her tongue and/or vocal cords removed. Where’s the blood? And muted as she is, she could clap her hands. Or whistle.

But she doesn’t.

How come night and day switch so quickly all the time? Were they really running half the night and most of the next day? Do emperors really schedule executions for the middle of the night, or is that just so the script can have dawn as a dramatic backdrop? Why do so many Chinese military leaders stop everything to play board games in front of both their armies?

Why did this movie go so wrong?

Movie Review: Insanity/暴瘋語

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

Not the Singaporean politician.

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

No Roth.

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

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

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

In fact, Lau Ching Wan is a Chinese vampire.

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I joke, of course.

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

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

And I mean that literally.

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

Or under the bus.

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

Boy, does he try.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s confoundingly bad.

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

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

They’re all idiots.

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

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

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

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

They look like second place in a hatchet fight.

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

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

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

This movie stinks.

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

So why the f@#$ should I?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And she should.

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

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

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

But these little girls were fantastic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Movie Review: Sara/雛妓

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

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

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

He just makes it look that way.

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

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

Screenwriter Erica Li plays the world’s worst mother.

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

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

Even when the death happens on narrative cue.

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

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

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

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

She really should be arrested for attempted puberty.

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

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

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

William Hung would have been more convincing.

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In a wig.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Movie Review: Lucky Star 2015/吉星高照2015

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

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

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

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

Including Yuen Long, which is Chinese for East Bumfxck.

That kind of polite self-effacement is true selflessness.

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

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

And I can’t really say that I care.

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

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

Unlike everyone else in the movie.

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

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

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Please, get shot.

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

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

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

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

It’s more that I don’t care.

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

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

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Or he may just be Eric Tsang.

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

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

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

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

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

And not because that meant it was over.

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

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

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

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

Never mind.