Movie Review: Good Take!

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Good Take! is a collection of five short films that together make up a feature-length… feature.

Sorry.

It was produced by Eric Tsang, and I’m very grateful to him because I’d love to see these kinds of movies being made more often.

Good Take! opens with throwback animation credits that I really enjoyed. If you see them, you’ll know what I mean.

All of the stories are set in Macau, and they were all shot there, as far as I can tell.

The first segment, directed by Derek Tsang, is called Cement. It stars Pakho Chau and Alex Fong the Elder as two cops called to a domestic disturbance. I can’t tell you much about the plot, because it would spoil things. But I can say that the direction, acting, and cinematography are all very well done. This segment captures not only captures a very creepy, unsettling mood, it also sets it for most of the segments that follow.

How good is this segment? Yanny Chan from Supergirls is in it and I didn’t even mind. It’s that good. 

The second segment, Banquet, was directed by Henri Wong. It stars Eddie Cheung Siu Fai as a divorced father trying to bond with his son, who takes a big interest in cartoons. Again, I can’t say much about the story, but the acting and direction, as well as the cinematography, were all impressive. It was so good that Harriet Yeung, who is in it, didn’t even bother me. 

Do we see a pattern here?

The third segment, Good Take!, is directed by Wong Chun (and thankfully not Wong Chun Chun or it would be an hour long and just a copy of other short films) and stars Lo Hoi Pang as an elderly man looking for something. 

Yes, that’s vague, Cope.

Derek Tsang and Lam Suet play a pair of loan collectors who end up in an unenviable situation. I really enjoyed this segment for the gleefully morbid tone and humor, and because even in the midst of that, it was still oddly sweet. 

The same cannot be said of the fourth segment, The Solitudes, which was written and directed by Vernie Yeung. It’s in black and white and stars Sam Lee and the very missed Cherrie Ng. It’s nice to see her back on the big screen no matter what, but here she manages to impress by playing a character outside of what we know her for and carrying it off very, very well.  The same goes for Sam Lee, who shows no sign of the comic relief he often injected into his darker roles.

This segment starts off cold and mean and stays there, and I loved it.

It was nice to see Yumiko Cheng and Emme Wong in small roles, and the twist ending manages to be both generic and topical at the same time. I also really enjoyed the visual style of the segment a lot.

These four segments are all entertaining one way or another. Some are better than others, but they are all interesting, and each of them moves at a decent pace. I enjoyed them all, but I also enjoyed that they never feel slow. I enjoyed Ten Years, but if I never have to sit through the second segment of that movie again, it’ll still be too soon. 

The first four segments of Good Take! are all good and/or interesting. Then Wong Ching Po and the ever-mugging Charlene Choi drop what can only be described as a Cleveland Screener.

Ugh.

We Are Ghosts is directed by Wong Ching Po and ‘stars’ Charlene Choi. If you’ve ever wondered (and why the f@#$ would you?) what it would be like if EEG made a short film, this is your answer. You know how some EEG movies like A Chinese Tall Story or The Midas Touch (or other movies with Charlene Choi) seem to be gleefully, knowingly awful? As if they’re teabagging you and saying “We already got your money, now here’s a mouthful of cinematic b@lls”?

We Are Ghosts is like that. It’s… bludgeoningly insulting. Right down to the cartoonish haircuts. 

An audience in Gansu would find this segment boorish and shallow. 

It’s as if they set out to see how low they could go. Maybe it’s a weird experiment to see if they could get people to leave the cinema. It’s offensive. And I just mean the ‘humor.’

I’m not even talking about the grossly outdated swishy performance of Michael Miu. 

I’m trying not to think about it.

Or any other part of this awful  segment. 

It really sh*ts up Good Take!, because all the other segments are so good and so much fun to watch. 

If you haven’t seen it, wait until you can watch a DVD.

So you can stop it after the 4th one and skip We Are Ghosts. 

Movie Review: Heaven in the Dark/暗色天堂

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Preposterous, ponderous, and pretentious, a more fitting title would be Hell in the Cinema.

Heaven in the Dark is based on a local play called French Kiss.

But I watched it anyway.

I’m not a big fan of movies made from plays. There tends to be a lot of talking and not much doing.

Which sounds like two Mormons on a date, but I digress.

The original play takes place in one room and is a conversation between two people. Heaven in the Dark thankfully isn’t that claustrophobic. There are exteriors, different locations, and sometimes
the camera even moves.

As my mother always says, “Thank f@#$.”

Heaven in the Dark was nominated for best film of 2015 at the Hong Kong Film Awards.

Even though it opened in March of 2016.

Jacky Cheung and Karena Lam were also nominated for Best Actor and Actress, respectively.

Too bad there’s no award for Most Acting.

There’s a lot of acting going on here. These are the roles that have Aaron Kwok weeping in jealousy.

Or cranking his junk. One or the other.

It’s also the kind of acting that seems tailor made for awards. Lots… of… slow… dialog… Long monologues that go into excruciating detail about how people feel. While, of course, drinking red wine and staring out the window of expensive cars, exclusive social clubs, or outrageously luxurious homes.

How they suffer.

Heaven in the Dark comes a long time after 2002’s excellent July Rhapsody, which also starred Jacky Cheung and Karena Lam. But that movie was directed by Ann Hui. Heaven in the Dark was directed by Steve Yuen Kim Wai.

aka Mr. Karena Lam.

He directed the film and adapted the screenplay.

Oh joy.

So more than anyone else, he’s got to shoulder the responsibility for this movie’s cheap symbolism and meretricious pretension.

Heaven in the Dark (sloooooowly) tells the story of a pastor who runs an NGO. His name is Marco, and he is played by Jacky Cheung. A young (?) woman named Michelle, played by Karena Lam, starts working for him, and they take an apparent interest in one another. One night, while both of them are drunk, they share an intimate moment. It has a deleterious (!) effect on both their lives.

Five years later, they meet at some kind of dusty, constipated dinner-slash-piano recital, a setting so aridly waspish that I felt myself getting lockjaw just watching the damn thing. Michelle’s husband basically forces her to go into a room (alone) with Marco(a man she accused of sexually harassing her) to hash it all out. While her husband practices for his piano recital.

Who writes this stuff?

Their discussion about conflicting understandings of the moment, and its meaning, makes up a large part of the movie. Or maybe it doesn’t. 

Maybe it just felt that way.

Stage actors are said to act with their voices, because there’s no such thing as close-ups in theatre. Film actors supposedly act with their eyes. Jacky Cheung does a lot of acting with his eyes.

He acts like a contortionist.

Or maybe he’s doing all the facial acting Karena Lam doesn’t do.

I’m sure that it’s my… barbarian nature, my… vestigial Papist leanings, my repugnant working-class genetics that make it impossible for me to appreciate the… subtle emotional filligree of Karena Lam’s long, aching, soulful gazes. Because all I could hear in my head was my alcoholic Uncle Charlie’s voice asking “Is that broad autistic?”

I haven’t seen so much blank staring since I worked at the morgue.

It’s probably no coincidence that my favorite character in the film was a mechanic played by Edmond So Chi Wai. He’s the only character that doesn’t come off as a self-absorbed, miserable slug of a human being.

Well, almost the only one. You know how a lot of movies have characters with the same name as the actors playing them? Karena Lam’s character is named Michelle. So too is actress Michelle Wai, who has a small role in this movie. In an ideal world (or an ideal Hong Kong?), Michelle Wai would have played the lead role. I think she’d have been much better, much more watchable, and much more convincing as a woman who tempts a pastor.

I certainly would have liked the film more and maybe even have respected it a little. As it is, I just couldn’t. One of the most laughable scenes in the film may have been in the original play, so I can’t (necessarily) blame the director/writer.

During the sexual harassment trial, the judge, played by Tyson Chak, is revealed to be a former student of the prosecutor, played by Law Lan, who proceeds to browbeat the judge into favorable rulings. This is the beauty of fiction; there’s no need to allow logic, reality, or truth to intrude on whatever puerile fantasy you’re creating. It’s not as though there’s any conflict of interest here that would create legal wrongdoing, because it’s only a story.

And apparently there’s no problem expecting your audience to still buy into this nonsense. Or shouldering the responsibility for wasting a very fine, very watchable Anthony Wong performance as Marco’s attorney.

The climax of Heaven in the Dark is laughable for any number of reasons. By this point in the film, the emotional angst of the story has been ratcheted beyond reason by the contrivances of the plot. Worse, the two leads devolve into psychologically epileptic parodies (I don’t know either, and I wrote it) of human behavior, swaddled in the kind of sophomoric symbolism that’s much more a mark of pedantry than perceptiveness.

This story poses a lot of questions, the answers to which don’t interest me in the least. Why should I feel bad for someone whose overblown cathartic moment comes in a fountain at a posh social club? Or for some woman whose religious fervor looks dangerously close to a psychotic episode?

I feel sorry for none of these characters. I hated almost all of them. On one hand, I feel bad talking so negatively about this movie, if only for the sake of Jacky Cheung. He tries his best, and I don’t really blame him for how much I disliked this movie. But I don’t feel bad disliking it because I paid money to see it and I sat through the whole thing.

I don’t care about any of these awful, self-absorbed people. Or the movie they made.

Movie Review: Buddy Cops/刑警兄弟

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I  love Chinese New Year movies.

But only during Chinese New Year. 

I can’t stand CNY movies that for whatever reason don’t get released during the holiday and instead get dumped into cinemas later in the year. Fortune Buddies was like that; it was garbage, but if I had seen it during the holiday it might not have made me so angry. 

Then again, it had Wong Cho Lam in it, so I probably would have. 

Fortune Buddies was also a TVB production.

So I guess yeah, I’d have been mad no matter what.

But what, you ask, does this have to do with Buddy Cops? I’ll tell you. The word Buddy appears in both titles. Both movies are TVB productions. Both feature a strong family theme, a CNY movie staple. And both were released outside of the holiday. Apparently Buddy Cops was shot three years ago. It’s been fermenting quite a while.

So you can at least, I hope, understand my suspicions when I went to see this film.

Buddy Cops opens with something that always brings me a flush of nostalgia; the Shaw Brothers fanfare. It’s like getting a kiss from your grandmother. Unfortunately, the Shaw Brothers logo is followed by the TVB logo.

Like I’ve said before, It’s like granny slipping you the tongue.

Buddy Cops opens… strangely. A pervert is taking advantage of an escalator… 

Wait, not like that.

I mean he’s getting upskirts on the down low. What? Cheap joke?

It’s a TVB movie, I didn’t think you’d notice. 

Bosco Wong plays a young go-getter cop who quickly apprehends the suspect and just as quickly perverts (!) the course of justice. Meanwhile, across town, King Kong plays a henpecked cop who spends his days in the office currying favors and being run ragged by his commanding officer. He’s meek, obsequious, and more than a little… metrosectional (sic).

These two cops meet under less than ideal circumstances, and it’s no surprise to say they don’t get along. If they did, we wouldn’t have a movie, would we? Dante Lam’s To the Fore was dangerously close to recycling Talladega Nights. And whoever wrote Buddy Cops has probably watched Step Brothers more than once. But so what? Asking TVB to break new artistic ground is like asking the Catholic Church to change.

What do you think the adjective catholic means? 

I don’t want to tell you much more about the plot, because it would ruin some of the surprises and/or jokes. Speaking of surprises and jokes, I have to say that I was oddly (and pleasantly) surprised by Buddy Cops. It’s no triumph of filmmaking, but it’s a lot better than I expected.

To be fair, I expected a 90-minute wallow through the cinematic equivalent of that gooey stuff that drains out of dumpsters. But I didn’t even get my shoes dirty. 

That said, I could definitely smell something.

A lot of these jokes are old enough to qualify for a pension, and I’m fairly certain there were no effort-related injuries on set. But Buddy Cops surprised me in a few ways. There’s a lot of surprisingly adult humor, the kind of thing that you definitely can’t have on TV.

I don’t think anyone’s gotten so much mileage out of masturbation jokes since American Pie.

It wasn’t always hilarious, but it was oddly refreshing to see TVB actors speaking HBO dialog. It was also a surprise to hear so much political and police humor. But like I said, it made a positive difference.

So too did a lot of the cast members. Charmaine Fong chews up some scenery (and wears a lovely mosaic in one scene) as a self-abusing nutjob of a girlfriend. Kate Tsui and a set of prosthetic teeth that would shame Louis Koo’s character in Protege fare a little better. I’m not sure how she managed it, but Kate actually makes this character cute and watchable. Even with the well-worn speech impediment gag. 

Narrative pedestrianism notwithstanding, I can think of a lot worse fates than watching veterans Stanley Fung and Elaine Jin, or watching Bob Lam and Eric Tsang Chi Wai riffing with each other. It was nice to see Angela Tong back on a big screen, and it was nice seeing Candice Yu playing a policewoman, if for no other reason than Maggie Shiu is usually the one who gets that spot. It was fun to see an MC Jin cameo, too.

Speaking of cameos, Candy Yuen, who bared her soul (and her breasts) in The Gigolo appears as a TV reporter/presenter, which, of course, she actually was back then. I didn’t know that, because I don’t watch TV, but it casts a whole other, salty glow on her… corporeal generosity. The only thing better than a sexy newscaster is a sexy newscaster who is kind enough to show us her-

Never mind. 

Speaking of other cameos, a quick eye will see Connie Man Hoi Ling in the rather odd scene that plays along with the credits. She’s wearing a lovely fake police outfit that starts late and ends early. She and others are dancing in front of a green screen. Apparently, whatever post-production was supposed to be done…never was. But so what?

Did I mention her outfit???

Lo Hoi Pang appears, as he always must, because this is a local film. But he’s Lo Hoi Pang, so he’s always worth watching.

All in all, there’s maybe 90 seconds of Buddy Cops that are really worth watching in  terms of something you’d otherwise miss. Like a very half- assed homage to Hard Boiled. How half-assed? I’m not sure if it really was an homage, and neither is someone I asked about it because they were in the scene. So who knows? 

There’s really nothing new here except the turn towards a more adult kind of humor. It’s not a good movie, but I have to say that I was very pleasantly surprised at how much I didn’t hate it.

Because I expected to. 

Movie Review: The Mobfathers/選老坐

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

He makes movies that are better than they should be. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sic. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Priceless.

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

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

Movie Review: The Bodyguard/特工爺爺

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Sammo Hung is a legendary figure in Hong Kong cinema.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was weird.

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

And I’m me.

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

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

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

Movie Review: Trivisa/樹大招風

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

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

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

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

Starring… Simon Yam.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s huge, and I am very grateful.

Movie Review: Ten Years/十年

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I got an extension of my arm too.

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

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

Twice?

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

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

Just, you know, because. 

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

It’s Hong Kong. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Watch Ten Years if you have the chance.

It’s not just a movie.