Archive for the ‘HK YEAR OF PRODUCTION 2008’ Category



Hong Kong 2008  Directed & Written by: Alan Mak, Felix Chong  Produced by: John Chong  Cinematography: Edmond Fung  Editing: Kwong Chi-Leung  Music: Chan Kwong Wing   Cast: Sammi Cheng, Eason Chen, Chapman To, Patrick Tam, Zhang Guoli, Michelle Yip, Kate Tsui, Richie Jen, Ricky Chan, Liu Kai Chi, Wilfred Lau, Conroy Chan

Who hasn’t wished for the golden era of Hong Kong cinema to come back after 1997? And since a short while we were getting exactly that – all the good sides and the bad sides, just like the handover had never happened. From Benny Chan vehicles to ALL’S WELL END’S WELL 2008 and 2009 and 2010, up to BEAST STALKER (and later FIRE OF CONSCIENCE) – once again Hong Kong cinema is that very special mixed bag of surprises. But most impressively did the 2008 LADY COP & PAPA CROOK show what we actually hadn’t meant to come back. Ever.

The 80’s were back and were bringing along Sammi Cheng after a few years of absence from the silver screen, but the formally glossy appearance couldn’t hide the fact that LADY COP & PAPA CROOK was on the same level as similar films from back then. It was like time stood still.

Now it is not entirely clear if that’s an expression of the ignorance of the film producers who dare serving us something we have seen exactly like this already 20 years ago (just better), or if it is an expression of the stupidity of the audience who haven’t developed an inch since then and still demand the same old stuff. Perhaps it’s both.

It is undisputed that it’s difficult to earn money with complex and serious movies in most domestic markets in Asia, on the other hand various films have succeeded nevertheless (such as those of Mr. Alan Mak) and proven that mass compatibility does not necessarily require the smallest common denominator.

The bearable 20 minutes of LADY COP & PAPA CROOK (the beginning and some other sequences; these are reminiscent of Michael Mann) are very cinematic and have little – if nothing – in common with the rest of the film. This is good cinema, but then very quickly the most idiotic slapstick imaginable takes over. Inconsistency is therefore the only asset of the film.

Moreover logic and storytelling are vanishing further into nirvana minute by minute, so another issue is lack of substance. One of the most crucial mistakes then is that LADY COP & PAPA CROOK is adjusting itself completely to the acting skills of Sammi Cheng, instead of finding an actress who has class in the first place. The downward spiral is unstoppable from here, even the human touch, which was supposed to be one of the strengths of the film, is drowning in all the nonsense – there is no spark between Cheng and Chen whatsoever.

Perhaps a good script would have helped, but that would have hardly been worth spending time on. As long as wannabe liberal sex-talk and dirty jokes are supposed to fill the massive gaps in the storyline and all that counts is the perfect looks of the actors as well as a calculated political correctness to satisfy the Chinese censors nothing can improve the mess Mak and Chong have created here.

LADY COP & PAPA CROOK is not a film, it’s a formula. Box office success may be calculable. Art isn’t.




Hong Kong 2008   Directed by: Johnnie To Written by: Chan Kin-Chung, Fung Chih-Chiang Produced by: Johnnie To Cinematography by: Cheng Siu-Keung  Editing: David M. Richardson   Music: Xavier Jamaux, Fred Avril Cast: Simon Yam, Kelly Lin, Lam Ka-Tung, Law Wing-Cheong, Kenneth Cheung, Lam Suet

“Sparrow” is the term used in Hong Kong for pickpockets, and that’s exactly what Kei (Simon Yam) and his fellows are: everyday they roam the streets of Hong Kong to steel from locals and foreigners alike. Until one day Kei meets a mysterious woman (Kelly Lin) who seems to be on the run from someone trying to follow her. Their paths shall cross again soon but only later Kei and his friends will realize what her true intentions are.

Johnnie To’s SPARROW was shot in between other projects and reflects To’s filmmaking from around that time: unpretentious, light, witty and likeable, yet not important enough to compare to other of his earlier or later works. Rather something like the film next door.

Like many other, similar To works SPARROW is driven by coincidence: there is no master plan, no predictable outcome. The story is rather loose and as so often we are observers, witnessing how it unfolds. SPARROW is amiable enough for us to stay tuned and enjoy the show, but when it’s over it’s time to recapitulate that SPARROW is little more than “nice”.

I do appreciate the Mediterranean flair and flavor SPARROW displays, I was almost surprised Belmondo or Delon didn’t pop up out of the blue. But maybe that was just a cheap trick to make SPARROW more Cannes compatible. How know. Any which way SPARROW lacks some punch and isn’t exactly compelling, so its shelf life is only as long as its running time.

SPARROW is a beautiful and eloquent film best consumed on a Saturday afternoon. It’s a really tasty appetizer; just make sure you also have prepared a main course.




HONG KONG 2008  Directed by: Wilson Yip Written by: Edmond Wong  Produced by: Raymond Wong Cinematography by: Sing-Pui O  Editing: Ka-Fai Cheung  Music: Kenji Kawai Cast: Donnie Yen, Simon Yam, Siu-Wong Fan, Ka Tung Lam, Yu Xing, You-Nam Wong, Chen Zhi Hui, Lynn Hung, Hiroyuki Ikeguchi, Yu-Hang To

In 2008 two attempts were made to bring the work and life of grandmaster Ip Man to the big screen: first prolific producer Raymond Wong announced his project, then Wong Kar Wai came out saying he had his own version of an Ip Man movie coming up soon. While Wong Kar Wai’s film remains in development hell until today, Raymond Wong went ahead producing the acclaimed epic finally simply called IP MAN after some title controversy.

The movie is set during the Sino-Japanese war in the 30’s: Foshan, originally a city bustling with martial arts schools of southern Chinese styles is soon being occupied by the Japanese army. The previously prosper Foshan declines and becomes a place in which disease and starvation are the norm. The martial arts schools are closed and the masters have to work in a coal mine to make a living. Occasionally the Japanese force them to fight against their own martial artists, and one day it’s Ip Man’s turn to take on the enemy in a life-and death martial arts duel.

IP MAN naturally takes its liberties with Ip Man’s biography, but who are we to judge right from wrong. What’s more important is that IP MAN is a rich, diverse and believable portrait of the Wing Chun grandmaster within the limitations of a martial art movie (we have to understand that IP MAN is not a biopic). Still there are so many ways in which you can enjoy the movie; IP MAN will most certainly stand the test of time and become a modern classic.

With Donnie Yen’s best acting so far and with another fabulous martial arts performance of his (which is even more notable bearing in mind he had to learn Wing Chun from ground up before shooting started) IP MAN succeeds in portraying Ip Man as a kind, skilled and dedicated person. Yen’s acting is very believable and I couldn’t think of anyone else to play the role better, or at all (unless you rewrite the role and omit all fighting). The rest of the ensemble is also well cast, which elevates IP MAN far above most other martial arts movies. From beginning to end you never have the feeling to watch a stunt show that requires just any story as an excuse for the fights, instead the movie is more than sincere in telling the life and times of Ip Man.

For all martial arts fans out there IP MAN should be a feast for the eyes, featuring various styles and fantastic action choreography by Sammo Hung. The fights are enormously dynamic and grim with wirework that supports the action and never overshadows the skills of the fighters.

If you are fond of history IP MAN is also an interesting account of the Japanese invasion: naturally the film is biased, but it never feels unjustified and in the end every great movie needs a great villain. IP MAN may have strong views in regard of the Japanese, but it’s not propaganda like many other films – for IP MAN history is a canvas upon which it paints its story.

Finally the movie shines when it comes to production value (I forgive the movie that the very first scene showing Foshan is very much revealing that these are studio facades), direction, editing and music. In short, it’s another outstanding Raymond Wong production.

IP MAN evokes memories of the good old days of Hong Kong cinema and gets as close as that is possible today to milestones like ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA. If all Hong Kong movies would have the virtues of IP MAN we would soon see a renaissance of Hong Kong cinema; unfortunately this is not the case.

For the time being IP MAN marks the pinnacle of contemporary Cantonese martial arts films with only one serious competitor in sight: IP MAN 2.