Movie Review: She Remembers He Forgets/哪一天我們會飛


Let me get this out of the way up front: She Remembers He Forgets is a local film that I can’t fully appreciate because I’m not local. I didn’t go to school here, and I don’t speak anywhere near enough Cantonese to really get all the depth and nuance in the story. That doesn’t mean I can’t understand the movie. I’m just saying there are things in She Remembers He Forgets that I may not get, may not appreciate, or maybe even understand.

But that’s not unique to Hong Kong or even Chinese cinema. 

I sat in a cinema in Washington DC watching There’s Something About Mary, and because of where and when I grew up, there were jokes and references that I got, and laughed at, and no one else in the cinema did. When I watch an American movie in Hong Kong (a rare occasion, I admit), there’s a lot of stuff that I notice, or laugh about, and again, I’m the only one doing it. 

So yes, local films have a locality that is unique to them. But locality is not unique.

Let’s get back to talking about She Remembers, He Forgets. Because it’s a really, really good film even without all the deep references. In fact, it’s almost two films. Because part of it takes place in the present, but most of it takes place in the past. 

Miriam Yeung plays Fung, a woman whose ten-year marriage to Shing, played by Jan Lamb, has settled into the typical drudgery of professional, urban existence; working too many hours for too little money, surrounded by people you don’t like and not having enough time to spend with the people you do like. At an informal school reunion, Fung reminisces about her school days and starts thinking about what she, and her life, and her friends, were like back then.

As I said, most of the movie takes place in 1992, with the main characters being played by much younger actors, all of whom are very good. I’m not going to tell you much about the story, because you need to see it yourself, and I don’t want to spoil anything. 

But I do want to tell you just how good the movie is. Adam Wong directed She Remembers He Forgets. It’s his second film after 2013’s The Way We Dance, a very interesting film about local dance culture. 

It’s nice to see a movie where we get to know the characters so well, and so thoroughly. It’s nice to see a movie that’s not aimed at teenagers. It’s nice to see a movie so realistic, so well-acted, and so emotionally affecting without ever becoming melodramatic. At times the story veers dangerously close to maudlin, but the movie is so well-done and so well-acted, I didn’t really mind.

By the same token, the film manages to make some political statements, but does it in subtle and yet undeniable ways. In a scene from 1992, students talk about what Hong Kong will be like in 20 years, and it puts the present into very sharp focus. They talk about things like electing the Chief Executive, 1 Country 2 Systems, Hong Kong’s role as a financial center, and even the nature of co-production of local films with China. 

Speaking of which, watch for the easter egg when the students talk about their dream jobs. 

Dreaming of the future and remembering the past are central themes at work in She Remembers He Forgetsand as someone with a lot more of life to look back on than look forward to, I can say that this film is probably going to appeal to an older audience. Anyone can enjoy it because it’s so well-made, but the older you are, the more it’s likely to affect you. It’s a rare treat to leave a cinema so thoroughly impressed, and I really, really appreciated it. 

As much as people want to sound the death knell for Hong Kong cinema, I’d suggest that these very localized films, of which we’ve seen several in the last few years, are some of the best, most interesting movies Hong Kong has produced of late. 

She Remembers He Forgets is the kind of movie that deserves the highest praise I can give it: it’s much too good for me to be talking about it.

Movie Review: Big Fortune Hotel/吉祥酒店


I think Pakho Chau released Super Models last month so that when Big Fortune Hotel came out, it wouldn’t seem quite so bad.

Pakho Chau plays a morose musician (!) from Hong Kong who takes up residence in a hotel in Malaysia. It’s managed by Tyson Chan and Lo Hoi Pang. Like Pakho, most of the residents aren’t from Malaysia.

In fact, most of them are not of this world…

I like ghost movies. Which is a good thing, because you’ve got to really love ghosts to sit through Big Fortune HotelDirector Stephen Yip Tin Hang has directed almost 50 movies. 

Most of which you’ve never heard of.

Because if you knew there was a movie called God of Gamble [sic], or Dick’s Dick Dicks (!), or Provocative Monkey, you’d remember it.

I know I would.

Obviously, Stephen Yip’s directing experience isn’t necessarily grounded in comedy. I don’t say that because he made a lot of soft porn. I say it because Big Fortune Hotel is supposed to be a comedy.

The directing in this film makes Willson Chin look like Ang Lee. 

When I saw it in the cinema, only the top half of the English subtitles were visible. I thought about asking if they could fix it, but I realized it wasn’t worth it and they would probably just laugh at me. And they would be right for doing so. 

It’s so bad that if I explained it you wouldn’t believe me. You’d have to see it for yourself, and then you’d be mad at me for having seen it. But at least you’d know what I was talking about. There’s a lot of painfully unfunny stuff in here. There’s also a lot of downright painful stuff. It’s a chore watching this movie.

But not just because it’s so cringe-inducingly bad. It’s because there’s a few things to actually like in the movie.

Lau Lan appears in the film in her iconic Lung Po role. 


She’s lit in blue even when she’s next to someone.

It was silly, but I enjoyed it. Her interactions with Lo Hoi Pang are also worth seeing. He is, as usual, entertaining, and his scene in a restaurant is really something to see. Partially because it sits in the middle of this cinematic puddle of vomit, but also just because it’s good. 

The biggest reason I can give for watching this movie is something many of you will probably not believe. I’m not saying Judy Dench should be nervous, but Shiga Lin really impressed me in her role as Siu Dip, a ghost who needs help solving the mystery of her murder, which happened 30 years ago.


Were movie stars still wearing cheongsams in 1989?


And how does a ghost have a change of clothes?

I’d like to think these are knowing jokes, but the rest of the movie keeps me from thinking that. I really enjoyed her performance because it reminded me of a lot of older ghost movies. The role requires a certain level of restraint and understatement, and Shiga Lin does it well.

It helps that there’s so much overacting going on around her (and she does admittedly do some herself), but overall I was oddly impressed with her performance. 


She’s certainly more impressive than Ran Ran, or Yim Yim, or whatever her name is. She’s one of the hotel’s living guests. I don’t think she was hired for her thespian tendencies as much as her physical attributes,and it didn’t help that she was dubbed.

It really didn’t help that she was dubbed so poorly that more than once we hear her voice while we see her with her mouth closed.

But she wore that wig a lot, and she tried hard. So does Alan Wan. They gamely chew up scenes as they were no doubt directed to, overacting enough to make Aaron Kwok blush. Tyson Chak stays right with them, doing his best Eric Kot Man Fai impression.

There’s enough acting in this movie to make four regular movies.

And yet… I can’t hate it. Don’t get me wrong. Big Fortune Hotel is an awful movie. But the most awful thing about it is that you can see glimmers of a decent movie in there.


If the story had been played a little straighter, if it hadn’t been directed in such a horrendous way, it would be a lot more watchable. 


It’s so badly directed that I’m sure these animated reaction shots weren’t so much a stylistic choice as much as a means to make up for having not shot the reaction in the first place. Better movies through illustrations.

Or not.

Movie Review: Lazy Hazy Crazy/同班同學


The title of this movie describes the direction, writing, and plot. They should have called it Pubic Hair and Platitudes.

According to a title card, this film is inspired by a true story, but names, backgrounds and events have been altered according to requests by the actual parties.

In other words, what happened in this movie might have happened to someone, somewhere, sometime. Maybe. Gee, thanks.

But it still allows for a meretricious ploy for some kind of gritty credibility. Lazy Hazy Crazy needs all the help it can get.

I mean with credibility. There are already plenty of cheap ploys.

The award for most pointless/useless/crassest cameo goes to Japanese porn queen Ai Sola, who is in the movie for… as long as she’s in the trailer. But hey, that way you can feature her in the trailer and the cast listing.

Don’t worry, she’s probably used to being exploited.

Speaking of exploitation in the trailer, it naturally includes dialog that alludes to lesbian behaviors between the cast members.

Because girl-on-girl on the screen translates into ass-on-seat in the cinema.

So does full frontal nudity. So what if you achieve it via a completely pointless (other than providing the nudity) ham-fisted scene featuring Siu Yam Yam?

I know what you’re thinking. All this nudity and implied under-age sex (by which I mean the sex is explicit but the characters doing it are in their mid-teens) is unimportant. What about the story? That’s why you want to watch this movie. Right? The story?!?!

Lazy Hazy Crazy tells the story of three young women who discover the rewards and regrets of love, friendship, and compensated dating. 

Oh, and dog ownership too.

The first act of the movie goes by and nothing’s really happened. There’s not much exposition.

Just exploitation.

The story never moves.

But a lot of hips do.

As abused as some segments of this film are going to be on home video, they should re-title it Yanky Spanky Cranky.

Obviously, when three girls are friends and two are whores, the third one has to be a reluctant joiner.

And a virgin.

I knew cognitively that I was somehow supposed to be sympathetic to at least some of these characters. But I couldn’t. Sadly, I’d been given no grounds for being sympathetic to them. Why should I care about these selfish, manipulative, deceitful people when their actions finally have consequences they can’t wriggle out of?

Maybe I could have if the symbolism used in Lazy Hazy Crazy was more nuanced than… a kite stuck in a tree.

The cheap joke here is to say that if you wanted a symbol with a string, use a tampon [groan], but by that point in the movie, we’ve already seen one.

If you make a public online profile for prostitution, and you carry the tools (!) of your trade to school, when your classmates find out (and find it), I find it (?) hard (??) to feel like you’re suffering some kind of moral outrage. Expecting teenagers to act responsibly about sex, whether as participants or observers, is not just unrealistic, it goes against the logic of the entire film.

But when has logic ever gotten in the way of a movie plot?

Sure these nubile young women would bathe on a rooftop that’s not the highest building in their neighborhood. That’s what friends do! I say that because naturally, somewhere around the start of the third act of Lazy Hazy Crazy, all of a (convenient) sudden they’re teenage girls again.

The trio of besties’ inevitable reunion (because the only thing more cinematically certain than women fighting with their so-called friends is a reunion with them over something so trivial, outlandish and laughable) could only be bought into emotionally by viewers too young to legally watch the film.

If you parse out the message portion of this film (and take out the exploitation), it would make a nice 10-minute PSA. The problem is that in its present Cat III state, the audience who most need to hear it (and would be young enough not to see through its cheap, stilted presentation) are all too young to legally see this movie.

Lazy Hazy Crazy also fails miserably to make any kind of statement about it. In the end, these young women learn nothing they didn’t already know.

Welcome to the club. 90 minutes of my life gone…

Too many local directors seem incapable of answering some basic questions about the films they make:

Who’s your audience?

What’s your message?

Do you have one?

The credits for Lazy Hazy Crazy say story, written and directed by Jody Luk Yi-Sam. It should probably say ‘other people’s stories adapted by,’ but now I’m just being picayune. Which may be true. I have unfair expectations of directors. I unfairly expect them to make a film that at the very least doesn’t perpetuate the negative stereotypes of women that their film supposedly critiques. I have the unrealistic expectation that if a woman directs a movie that on some level decries the exploitation of women and their bodies, the movie might not want to spend its first hour exploiting women and their bodies.

I’d also expect that after the moral left turn that theoretically redeems the women, a slow-motion shot of three teenagers in maid uniforms that devolves into slavering upskirt fan service is the last thing we’d see. Turns out I was wrong. 

I know that if a man directed this kind of objectifying trash he’d be pilloried and branded a pederast and a sexual predator.

If you want to make a movie for the sake of titillation (rub) go ahead. But don’t try to tack on some moral retribution at the end for the characters and by extension yourself. Especially after indulging in titillation for an hour. The serious and long-term risks that the young women acting in Lazy Hazy Crazy take, as well as their performances, frankly deserve a better movie in which to display them.

Movie Review: Bride Wars/新娘大作戰


Bride Wars is a China remake of a 2009 American film starring Kate Hudson and Anne Hathaway. The American version made money, but not a lot of money. The critics hated it.

So at least the China remake had a pretty low expectation bar.

Which is good, because it makes it over the bar. By about this much. It’s probably no surprise that I’m not really a fan of rom-coms, chick flicks, or movies about weddings. But I was offered a ticket to see this movie, and I took it.

Because the only thing sleazier than someone who does something distasteful for money is someone who will do it for free, right? 

Angelababy and Ni Ni play two besties who have an ideal life. They’re young pretty, and have boyfriends so passive I thought they were eunuchs. But what’s that loud ticking sound? Oh no, it’s the metaphorical twin clocks of biology and culture! 

If they don’t get married soon, they… won’t be married. 

So they quickly (and asexually, since this is China) manipulate their boyfriends into getting engaged and set about planning the best weddings everBut wait! The flaming stereotype of a wedding planner f@#$ed up. There’s only one perfect wedding date.

And two b*tches who want it for themselves.

Cue the backstabbing, nastiness, false indignation and all the other unrealistic nonsense that these movies, no matter their country of origin, are overstuffed with. And let’s face it. We all know where this will end up. So if we know the destination, all that’s left is to watch the journey and see how much we like (or dislike) it.

And as I noted before, it would be unfair to expect much from a movie based on a mediocre film. The nicest, and most accurate, thing I can say about Bride Wars is that it’s probably just as good as the American version.

I say probably because I haven’t watched the American version, and if you think I’m going to, you can go piss up a rope, pound sand and eat shit.

Ye gods, where were we?

In terms of execution, I can’t really say anything bad about Bride Wars. It looks nice, and it obviously had a decent budget. There were a few times I sincerely laughed, the best being a scene in an elevator where Angelababy feels insulted and responds accordingly. 

The two grooms, when they were given the rare opportunity to appear in the film, were actually entertaining and funny. I liked the Huang Ziaoming cameo in the opening of the film, because that was the only time I had to look at him. Why was he there? I don’t know why.

But I do know he and Angelababy recently got married, and weddings are expensive, and movies about weddings probably involve people and companies who do weddings and they may be glad to have a famous person endorse them, and… Oh now I’m just being catty.

There’s a lot of Tiny Times-like wrongness on display in Bride Wars.

Horrific materialism, the joy and emotional value of credit card abuse, the necessity of bingeing, the assumption that self worth has a literal dollar sign…

It’s all here. But it’s in the original too (from what I’ve read), and in that sense I must admit, in a rather SARFT-y fashion, Bride Wars makes a good argument for de-westernization and the eradication of capitalist influence and… Western taint.

But as long as we’re talking about cultural representation in film, I really enjoyed the wedding-day-morning (?) sequences, because they show some of the traditions of Chinese weddings. I also liked the use of CGI in the movie, because it made narrative sense and looked very good. It was nice to see that corner not be cut. 

There’s a good amount of overstated humor in the film, but again, if you watch a Hollywood movie, you’ll see a lot of the same thing. Most comedies aren’t made for New York, or Shanghai. They’re made for what the Chinese call third-tier cities.

You know, like Mobile, Alabama.

If I say I disliked Bride Wars, it has nothing to do with the country it was made in. It’s just a disposable rom-com, which I’m not a fan of. It’s glossy, dumb, and empty, which can be said not only of Hollywood movies but of Hollywood itself.

Movie Review: Are You Here/碟仙碟仙


Hong Kong used to make a lot of ghost movies. Vampire movies too. That’s not the case so much any more, so when there are ghost and vampire movies I am grateful. These days, such movies tend to get released during two periods: the Hungry Ghost Festival in the summer, or around Halloween. 

Are You Here is a ghost movie written by Patrick Kong and directed by Jil Wong (one L, male). I was lucky (?) enough to attend the gala premiere in Tsim Sha Tsui. The invitations asked people to dress in a Halloween costume. I didn’t wear a costume. I told people I was dressed as a ghost in a mainland movie. Because in mainland movies, there’s no such thing as ghosts! 

But Are You Here isn’t a mainland film. Before the screening, Patrick Kong addressed the audience, thanking the cast members. My Cantonese stinks, but I’m pretty sure he also said something about making movies in Hong Kong, or making Hong Kong movies.

I appreciate that, because making a ghost movie where the ghosts are really ghosts and not just some psychological hallucination means the movie won’t play in China. Unless you add some kind of weird, obtrusive epilogue where someone wakes up and says “Wow, what an odd dream I just had…”

So no matter what I think about the content of Are You Here, I’m still glad it exists. 

Sammy Shum plays a young man struggling to keep his app-writing business afloat. His girlfriend, played by Jacqueline Chong, is tired of him being broke and constantly harassed by loan sharks. That’s when Nina Pau Chee hing shows up with a job, a fat check, and ominous background music. That’s all I’m going to say about the story, because I don’t want to ruin the movie.

That’s director Jil Wong’s job.

I’d say the direction in Are You Here is bad, but that would imply that the movie had been directed, and I’m not sure that’s the case. For example, a woman is kidnapped, tortured, and almost murdered by a maniac. But then she escapes and sees a ghost. That’s when she gets scared.

I can honestly and sincerely say that the story, as it is written, isn’t great, but it’s not bad. The vast majority of the acting is good too, and very watchable. So is the cinematography. But the direction… Ugh. It’s almost as bad as the subtitles. A woman is assaulted. We find out later she was rapped. [sic] I cringed at the inadvertent linguistic stereotype of “come back and correct your stuffs.” Ouch.

Though to be fair, I laughed at “You’re going to have a necrotising penis.”

There’s just no excuse for this except a lack of effort. And yes, I know that it’s only going to affect about 5% of the audience. But if you put this stuff out there, don’t get mad when they notice. Like a notice on a door that’s kind of important to the plot that doesn’t get translated. 

But so what? I’ve been so mean to Patrick Kong over the years that I almost feel guilty. Almost. But on the other hand, I’m starting to learn how to appreciate his (very commercially successful, and that’s the point) brand of film making. Are You Here features the patented Patrick Kong Twist.

Because otherwise it wouldn’t be a Patrick Kong movie, would it?

But the audience likes it, so who am I to judge? Besides, there are things about this movie I really liked. Yeah, the Supergirls appear in Are You Here, but it’s just the opening and they’re thankfully absent from the rest of the film. Narratively speaking, I think they died.


Speaking of guilty pleasures, a pregnant woman gets slapped. Thanks to the patented Patrick Kong Flashback, she gets slapped twice. And hey, I’m not saying I enjoyed a pregnant woman taking a shot in the chops. I did, however, enjoy the surprise of it.

My greatest non-guilty pleasure of Are You Here was watching Nina Paw, Siu Yum Yum and Lau Lan appear in one movie. The only bad part was that they showed us just how badly some of the younger people acted.

But we should cut Jumbo Tsang some slack, because it’s not easy to move past being Janice Man’s stunt double.

Never mind.

It was just fun to see those three women on a big screen, especially in a ghost movie. It was a nice tribute to them and to the tradition of the Hong Kong supernatural film.

Overall, I can’t say Are You Here is a good movie. But I can say that I appreciate it and I wish there were more movies like it.

Movie Review: Wong Ka Yan/王家欣


This movie doesn’t necessarily succeed at everything it attempts, but I really appreciate how hard it tries.

First-time writer/director Benny Lau is a local radio host, but now he’s behind the camera. He’s adapted an apparently true story about young love, commitment, and the passing of time.

The majority of the movie takes place in 1992. Wong You Lam plays Chun-yin, a young man who lives on Peng Chau, one of Hong Kong’s outlying islands. One day he goes to the movies in Kowloon, and he meets a young woman named Wong Ka Yan. She works in the ticket booth at the Hoover Cinema, which is in fact The Dynasty in Mong Kok. After the movie, he puts her on a bus.

By the time he gets back to the cinema to see her again, she’s quit her job and no one knows how to get in touch with her. So Chun-yin decides, perhaps a little stalkerishly, that he will dedicate his life to finding her, even if he has to call every Wong in the Hong Kong phone book.

That’s all I want to say about the story, because telling more would give some of it away and I don’t want to.

Besides, I’m not really sure yet what I think and feel about Wong Ka Yan. The movie doesn’t necessarily succeed at everything it’s trying to do. But it tries very hard, and it goes places and does things that are both unexpected and appreciated.

There’s a lot of good acting in the film. Wong You Lam is entertaining and believable, which is impressive because he’s obviously playing well below his real age, but still carries it off. Karena Ng is also very good, and if I say I was surprised, I mean that in the nicest way possible. Tyson Chak is very entertaining as Chun-yin’s sidekick. 

There are a number of smaller roles in the film and many of these are worth mentioning. Prudence Liew plays Chun-yin’s sister, a character whose different aspects are highlighted at different points in the film. It’s not easy to be convincing in such different ways, but Prudence is. 

Jason Pai Piao plays an old man who works at the cinema. His gruff demeanor and dismissive attitude about the people he meets at work are extremely accurate, at least in my own extensive experience at the Dynasty.  He is central to what is probably my favorite scene in the film. It’s an improbable occurrence, but within the context of the overall story, it was something I really, really enjoyed. 

Lawrence Cheng, Lawrence Chou, Kelvin Kwan and Janelle Sing all make appearances. Pal Sinn, Hacken Lee, Vincent Wan, Gigi Leung and Patrick Tam also appear, and while these roles are small, everyone still makes an impression. Speaking of which, Isabel Chan has a cameo, and unlike a lot of local actors can still convincingly play a schoolgirl without taxing your suspension of disbelief.

Suspension of disbelief is also made easier in this movie by some pretty noteworthy attention to historical detail. They used the Dynasty because it’s one of the few remaining old-style cinemas.

And probably hasn’t been cleaned since 1992, but that’s not my point.

They found, or printed, 1992-era movie posters. They even managed to find an older-model bus for a few shots. I really appreciated and admired this effort. 

One thing I liked about this movie is that it’s not made for teenagers. Even though the protagonists are very young, the movie is really more suited to an older audience, and I for one really appreciated it.  

I think that appreciation is what allows me to overlook some of the shortcomings of the movie. The story meanders a little bit, and sometimes characters’ motivations or behaviors don’t make anything but narrative sense. The emotional climax was badly acted, but part of that may also be a lack of directing experience. The movie is bookended by scenes that take place in the present day, and while the first makes sense, the second doesn’t seem to offer any kind of rationale, much less resolution.

But again, I think that may be a part of the overall intent of the film. Wong Ka Yan is interesting as a film as well as an interesting film. It’s not always engaging, but I find all of its faults to be benign. I guess I could say that its reach sometimes exceeded its grasp, but I sincerely admire the attempt that was made and the effort that was put into it.

It’s a very different local film, and I liked its differentness. Wong Ka Yan isn’t the best movie you’ll see this year, but I still think it’s very worth watching.

Movie Review: The Crossing Part 2/太平輪:驚濤摯愛


The last time I paid HK$50 for such morally indefensible manipulation, I was on a massage table.

The Crossing (both parts) is based on the true story of the sinking of the Tai Ping, a Chinese steamer that sank off the coast of Taiwan.

As a title card tells us, of the more than 1500 passengers on board, fewer than 50 survived the sinking. I say all of that to remind you that there is a real-life tragedy at the center of this film. And that may be the main reason why the entire movie, but especially part 2, is problematic and more than a little bit wrong.

Part 2 opens with a sort of John Woo trademark. I say sort of because there are birds. But they’re not doves, they’re seagulls. They’re also CGI. But so is the ship they’re flying over. That doesn’t bother me, though, because real ships are grossly expensive and seagulls are notoriously hard to train.

From what I’ve read.

John Woo’s iconic doves do show up, and they are real. But they show up in the middle of a sex scene, and it’s weird and unsettling.

And that’s me saying that. 

Part 1 of The Crossing ended with what amounts to a preview for Part 2, and it gave away some things that it shouldn’t. So going into Part 2, I already knew too much about the three most important narrative arcs in the film. By the time I got to see Part 2, I couldn’t remember the specifics, but I did remember that preview giving so many things away. Part 1 was released in Hong Kong Christmas of 2014. At the time, Part 2 was supposed to be released in May of 2015. It’s now October.

But hey, what’s five extra months to a middle-aged memory?

Besides, like Titanic, we all knew that the ship was going to sink, so there really weren’t any surprises. But The Crossing doesn’t do anything to help itself either. Taken as a whole, it’s four hours. The sinking doesn’t occur until well into hour three. Admittedly, that’s only hour two of Part 2, but it still felt like it took forever. I know it was wrong to be muttering “Alright already, just sink the godd@mned ship, will you?”

And I admit it’s wrong get impatient about a real-life tragedy.

Part of the reason it took forever is the exhaustive approaches to the three love stories. Or should I say exhausting?

It seemed like John Woo spent a lot of time showing us how tragic these people’s lives were before some of them got on the boat. There are a lot of overstated, implausible coincidences, some cinematically useful but wholly unrealistic monologues, and too much convenience, contrivance, and melodrama. Instead of creating dramatic tension, it just felt like cheap, smothering manipulation, so by the time the ship started sinking, it came across as just another setback in these ridiculously hard lives. I don’t like saying that, but I didn’t like thinking or feeling it either. I didn’t want to have this many problems with the movie, I really didn’t. 

But as long as we’re talking about problems…

Some characters I couldn’t remember, probably because of the 10-month gap between the release of the two parts. For other characters, I was forced to remember because it seemed that some scenes from Part 1 were replayed in their entirety. 

It’s a shame that I ended up feeling that way because there’s some very good acting in this movie. Takeshi Kaneshiro is very good, playing a character with an ethnic background nearly identical to his own. Zhang Ziyi is also believable as a woman who needs to get to Taiwan to find her long-lost love. One thing I did like about Part 2 of The Crossing is that Huang Xiaoming’s character was only in it for a flashback or two. 

Speaking of flashbacks, it was nice that in part 2 I didn’t have to see Takeshi Kaneshiro in a student uniform too much. He’s over 40.

He’s not very convincing as a student, just as an adult. That’s not something I can say for Song Hye Kyo, the Korean actress who plays Huang Xiaoming’s (Chinese) wife. She’s overdubbed, and spends most of the movie with a blank look on her face. 

I suppose there’s a plastic surgery joke to be made, but I already brought up Huang Xiaoming so let’s move along.

Speaking of plastic surgery and other issues of facial appearance (?), shooting movies in high definition video means that makeup has to change. In movies set in the past, like this one, it doesn’t matter as much because makeup was heavier and more obvious in the late 1940s.

But only women wore makeup back then.

And as long as we’re finding fault with the production, maritime collisions don’t take place at high speed. I realize it’s more dramatically compelling, but if you know anything about ships it just looks silly and painfully unrealistic.

Speaking of dramatically compelling and unrealistic…

I realize this is becoming something of a dead horse for me, but you can’t see underwater.

In the ocean.

At night.

So much of this movie feels superfluous, and there’s an awful lot of screen time that feels, narratively speaking, like treading water (pardon the pun). I felt bad thinking that (but not bad enough to not make that joke) because it feels disingenuous or disrespectful to the historical event.

Even I know it’s wrong for me to feel impatient, or like I was just waiting for the ship to sink. Which does eventually happen, but it’s almost perfunctory. Once the collision occurs, the film ends up seeming an awful lot like a Chinese version of Titanic.


Does this make me a bad person?

Sure, it’s disrespectful to the victims, but so is using their death as an excuse for a four-hour wallow through a maudlin, melodramatic exercise in emotional manipulation. The Crossing is crassly melodramatic and manipulative. 

It’s also grossly predictable. I knew exactly when the collision would take place based on the dialog. I literally said ‘… and boom’ and there it was. 

I’m sure you can do it too, if you watch the movie, which I cannot in good conscience recommend you do.

Saving Mr Wu/解救吾先生 Movie Review

The writer/director of Saving Mr Wu is Ding Sheng. He directed Little Big Soldier, a film that I can admit I actually liked. But Ding Sheng also directed Public Security Bureau 2013, [sic] which I did not watch (and will not). So needless to say, when I went to see Saving Mr. Wu, I was more than a little trepidacious. [sic]

The movie is based on a real-life kidnapping of a Chinese actor. But I say based on for a reason. A title card in the beginning of the film states that it is ‘based on real events but the plot and characters have been fictionalized.’ 

I’m still trying to work out exactly what that means. Sometimes I think I get it, but then… ahhh, never mind. 

I knew going into this movie that it would have a judicially satisfying ending. Even if this movie wasn’t based on a real story, I already knew how it had to end. In China movies, bad guys always get caught or killed, and cops always win. And cops are always good. But so what? If you know the destination, all you have left is the journey.

Saving Mr. Wu is one hell of a trip. 

I really enjoyed the opening of the film, which features some interesting scenery of  nighttime Beijing, set to ominous music. You know something terrible is going to happen, because the movie makes it so obvious. I liked the mood it set. 

But we also find out right away that the head kidnapper is already in police custody. This sets up a ‘ticking time bomb’ plot device as well as a cat and mouse game between the kidnapper and police. Through extensive use of flashbacks (all of which are helpfully labeled) we see the details of the kidnapping and captivity of Mr. Wu, played by Andy Lau.

While the film obviously has to conform to the rules of China movies, it still has some moments of realism. The kidnappers pose as police officers to accomplish their goal, and the way they behave towards people, as well as the way  people respond, tells us something about the nature of police in China. So too does the use of Beijing’s comprehensive network of surveillance cameras that cover the city. 

There’s an implicit endorsement of what might be called the surveillance state that was, again, an interesting insight. On the other hand, when the kidnappers buy guns, they get them from foreigners, because no one sells guns in China

Never mind all that.

Like I said, we all know how the movie had to end, so let’s just talk about how it gets there. Like I already said, I really enjoyed the cinematography. The handheld stuff can get a little nauseating, but I felt that it was useful. 

Like the frequent use of extreme close-ups, it helped create a mood that was claustrophobic and unsettling. Time-lapse shots are also used to good effect, both narratively and visually.

As long as we’re talking about narrative and visual effectiveness…

I really liked Andy Lau’s performance in the movie because he really actsIt’s well-known that he doesn’t like to smile or otherwise move his face and show wrinkles. But in Saving Mr. Wu he really engages the character and does quite a lot of facial and physical acting. He can act, if and when he wants to, and in this movie he does. It probably helps that the character he’s playing is obviously modeled on Andy Lau.

It’s fun to see him playing a character that implicitly and explicitly blurs the mine between the actor and the character. Yes, real-life victim Wu Ruofu was in movies. But the dialog in the film makes references to the character Mr. Wu appearing in Andy Lau movies, singing Andy Lau songs and having personal details that are interchangeable with the actor playing him.

And since we’re in that neighborhood, Wu Ruofu, the kidnapping victim, appears in Saving Mr. Wu as a police captain on the case. That had to be more than a little weird for him, but I imagine having yourself being played (?) by Andy Lau helped.

I’d settle for Carina Lau. But that’s me.

The head of the kidnappers is played by Wang Qingyuan, who manages to make the character complex, believable, entertaining, and, at different times, both likeable and terrifying.  

Liu Ye plays another officer on the case, and makes the most of a small part. Some of his character details are apparently grounded in his own life (do we see the pattern here?), and it makes the performance that much more convincing. It also brings home the reality that being a cop anywhere, but especially in China, is a difficult and inherently thankless task. 

Lam Suet is funny and convincing in a small role as a go-between. I am in no position to comment on the quality of his Mandarin, but he seemed to carry it off. At least no one in the cinema laughed at him.

Even the supporting actors deserve mentions. Cai Lu plays another kidnapping victim, and considering he usually appears literally chained to one of the biggest Chinese movie stars in the world, holds his own. Even the kidnappers are believable and entertaining. 

The actual rescue is probably the most disappointing part of the film, simply because of the way it’s presented. Compared to some of the interesting things we’ve seen before, it feels… lifeless.

But if the things preceding the rescue make it seem dull, what comes after it really makes the rescue look bad. The final scene with Wang Qingyuan  redeems the letdown you just sat through. His performance, in general but especially in this scene, steals the movie. 

I have a feeling that this movie won’t be successful in Hong Kong simply because it’s a mainland film, and that’s kind of a shame. It’s a good movie, and within certain boundaries it’s politically risky, but I don’t think it will make much money here.

I Am Somebody/我是路人甲 Movie Review

The only thing missing from I Am Somebody is a Jesse Jackson cameo.

Derek Yee is one of Hong Kong’s well-known directors. He’s made a lot of really good movies, like C’est la Vie Mon CheriOne Nite in Mongkok, Lost in Time, and Viva Erotica, just to name a few. He’s spent a lot of time in Hengdian, a small city in China whose entire existence is dedicated to the production of Chinese movies and television.

A lot of these productions involve large-scale sets and scenes, so you need a lot of people. These extras are people from all over China, and they all have a story. I Am Somebody attempts to tell some of those stories. 

Peng is a young man who lives in Dongbei province, where it’s cold, quiet, and a future as a lumberjack awaits. His dream is to be an actor, so he heads off to Hengdian. Across the span of the film, he (and the audience) meet a cast of characters who share the same kind of dream, and we see the ways they cope with the realities that shape, support, or threaten those dreams. 

It’s not a new story, to be sure. But what’s different about I Am Somebody is that the actors playing extras in Hengdian are people who are extras in Hengdian. Derek Yee spent a couple years researching and writing the story based on the experiences of  the people he met, interviewed, and cast.


As a result, the film ends up an interesting mash-up of documentary and drama. There’s an inherent sense of truth and reality to the sets, the characters, and the situations in the movie.

I’d call it cinema verite, but I’m allergic to clove cigarettes.

All the main characters are people who make a living as extras. The benefits of this approach are considerable, though they are not without their costs. It’s easy to believe a lot of these characters because they’re played by people who live the life they’re portraying. But on the other hand, extras aren’t actors, and so sometimes these characters are less convincing than others.

Some of the dramatic moments in the film ring a little hollow because these actors can’t really carry the weight. But the vast majority of the time most of them turn in commendable, enjoyable, convincing performances. The emotional climax of the film is extremely well-acted.

The film is peppered with cameos from Hong Kong cinema people like Daniel Wu, Stephen Fung, Andrew Lau Wai Keung, Ann Hui, Alex Fong the Elder, and others. Anita Yuen’s cameo is especially noteworthy, because she ends up talking with the main characters about the realities of being married to another entertainer. It cannot have been easy to talk about some of those things.

The film runs over two hours, and I don’t think it really needed to. I enjoyed the vast majority of it, but some things in the movie could be removed and others tightened up without really losing anything. But some of the things I personally wouldn’t miss still have their purpose. 

The film is at times more than a little preachy and melodramatic, and I could have done without a song-length homage to Flashdance or Fame or whatever it was. But as I sat through the scene, I realized that this part of the film, if not the whole film, isn’t really meant to speak to me. It’s much more likely to appeal to young people who may see their own hopes and aspirations mirrored by these characters (who are, in essence, real people).

It also occurred to me while I sat in the cinema that if young Chinese people have to see a movie that tells them what is good and possible and valuable in life, that tells them who they should want to be, what they should want from life, and how they should go about getting it, I Am Somebody is a profoundly better message movie than all four Tiny Times movies could ever hope to be.