Archive for the ‘HK YEAR OF PRODUCTION 2010’ Category

DREAM HOME [WAI DOR LEI AH YUT HO | 维多利亚一号]

2010/12/11

http://www.dreamhome.asia/

HONG KONG 2010  Directed by: Pang Ho-Cheung Written by: Pang Ho-Cheung, Kwok Cheung Tsang, Wan Chi-Man Produced by: Conroy Chan Chi-Chung, Subi Liang, Pang Ho-Cheung  Cinematography by: Nelson Yu Lik-Wai  Editing by: Wenders Li  Music by: Gabriele Roberto  Cast: Josie Ho, Anthony Wong, Michelle Ye, Norman Chu, Lawrence Chou, Eason Chan, Kwok Cheung Tsang, Hee Ching Paw, Hoi-Pang Lo, Ching Wong, Ying Kwan Lok, Juno Mak, Lap-Man Sin, Wai Hung Chan, Chu-Chu Zhou, Juan Song

In order to afford her dream home a woman, Cheng Li-Sheung, goes to great lengths, applying very drastic measures to make her dying father happy with a sea view apartment: once she has identified the property of choice, she begins to kill her neighbors one by one so that the value drops dramatically, bringing the price down into a range she can afford. But despite her will to inflict utmost brutality on her victims, she also seems to be just an ordinary girl pursuing a dream – and inevitably heading for trouble the longer she plays this vicious game.

DREAM HOME boasts a very fine and complex script that provides plenty of reasons for the main character to act the way she does: we learn a lot about her through her childhood memories, especially how the difficult relationship with her father has formed her personality, as well as it explains her dependency on her dad’s affection and motivation behind the need to buy that apartment. Her mother’s and brother’s roles are equally important, laying out a precise, psychological and believable cause-and-result pattern – DREAM HOME isn’t absurd, but an intense study of an unstable personality spiraling out of control.

Cheng Li-Sheung’s dull, monotone and difficult working life adds another interesting component, turning her into someone who is used to rejection, used to the harsh reality out there that is best dealt with in raw fashion. Ultimately, Cheng separates her gentle and fragile side from the side that shows no mercy, no morals and no guilt, and she develops into a Jekyll-and-Hyde type of character who puts her dream above anything else, even human life, in a delusion that fulfilling that dream could lead to salvation and a redefined relationship with her father.

It has been noted that DREAM HOME lacks coherence, but after studying the history of serial killers in-depth you will realize that schizophrenia doesn’t need a reason. People have been killed under far more random circumstances, so Cheng Li-Sheung’s motivation seems fairly reasonable after all. But you will have to understand that she is in fact not a girl next door anymore when the film starts, but that at this point she has crossed the line and changed into a deviant psychopath. She is leading a double life, and her measures are completely out of proportion – there is no turning back for her, she has lost it completely. There is only black and white, but I wouldn’t go as far as saying that she is a sadistic killer, as she derives no pleasure from the violence, but sees it as a necessary means to an end. She is committing horrible crimes, but always looks beyond the here and now, hence never actually feels anything about what happens.

There are many other ways looking at DREAM HOME besides watching it as a slasher: the movie first and foremost is a very black comedy, a sarcastic comment on Hong Kong’s money-driven culture and inflated real estate market, and an essay on what values in life really matter. Mr. Pang is taking things to the edge, so that the most violent moments border on the hilarious, but never turn into slapstick: the line between laughter and shock maybe thin, but it’s always there. DREAM HOME remains a gut-wrenching flick at all times, and is probably one of the most violent movies of the year, yet it is also one of the most intelligent films of the year, telling a story that is painfully real and intense like few other films that were released in 2010.

The ending is, quite as expected, less coincidental but most of all consequential, a reductio ad absurdum, leaving Cheng and the audience speechless in view of what just happened. It’s the to-the-point conclusion of a great, condensed film that deserves to be praised – it’s a truly accomplished work.

With DREAM HOME Mr. Pang proves once again to be one of Hong Kong’s most versatile filmmakers and a brilliant observer who likes to dismantle reality and bring its essence to the screen, concerned most of all with what moves the ordinary citizen amid an ever-changing world. I recommend watching his previous film LOVE IN A PUFF back to back with DREAM HOME, and you will come to the conclusion that Mr. Pang’s films are wonderful, contemporary works from Hong Kong that shouldn’t be missed.

Whatever’s next, I bet on Mr. Pang to excite the audience with another surprising, and surprisingly good, film. I’d kill to see it today.

J.

 

 

 

 


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KIDNAPPER [BANG FEI | 绑匪]

2010/11/30

http://www.facebook.com/pages/KIDNAPPER-bang-feiMOVIE/339840283277

SINGAPORE 2010  Directed by: Kelvin Tong Written by: Ken Kwek, Kelvin Tong, Danny Yeo Produced by: Aimee Fong, Ong Hung Heng, May Pun, Lim Teck, Leon Tong Cinematography: Wai Yin Chiu Editing by: Wai Chiu Chung Music by: Joe Ng Cast: Christopher Lee, Regene Lim, Phyllis Quek, Jack Lim, Jerald Tan

It wasn’t very wise of the Singaporean government to be too restrictive in handling film content for decades. Not only has it led to extensive censorship of foreign movies, it has also massively hampered the local movie industry and prevented it from developing. Now, it suddenly has become convenient for the leaders of the island state to promote “creativity” / creative industries to paint a rosy picture of “Brand Singapore” as being so very very liberal and open-minded. Too little, too late: not only does the world know that there is no such thing as an open-minded Singapore, not only do we all understand that Singapore’s so-called creativity is nothing but an institutional order from above, but most of all are the standards of the movie industry still only fair at best (and that’s basically an overstatement).

When you start watching KIDNAPPER it is very likely that you will feel the need to grab some snacks, go pee or simply leave the cinema for good after a few minutes. All the usual flaws are there: the artificial look and feel, lack of style and finesse, wooden acting, clumsy story development, you name it. It was a blessing to see that KIDNAPPER refrains from using Singlish, so that kind of made up for some of the issues above and many of the clichés you’ll encounter (like bad guys having scars and wearing baseball caps).

All this may sound unjoyable, and it is – sitting through the first half hour or so may not be as great a torture as – god forbid – watching a Jack Neo movie, but it requires a very high tolerance level. Then however Kelvin Tong is giving it his best shot and KIDNAPPER turns into an entertaining, albeit mostly average thriller that achieves a more than moderate level of excitement through its high pace and an extensive series of twists and turns. I am not saying that this makes it more believable or the script more original, but for Singaporean standards KIDNAPPER is quite dark and gritty, flashy and stylized, furious and tense at times. If you look the other way you may not even notice how much it still complies to (written and unwritten) rules and regulations, or a political agenda.

First and foremost KIDNAPPER works because of a solid performance of leading man Christopher Lee who’s the true highlight of the film. Secondly, the script could be better, but occasionally it is surprisingly inventive and keeps a tight leash on the characters and their moves. I wish it wouldn’t also be so illogical and more straight-forward instead of melodramatic.

It may sound like a paradox but KIDNAPPER proves that 1) Kelvin Tong arguably is still the island’s best director, and 2) Kelvin Tong arguably is also the movie’s biggest letdown. As for the first point, KIDNAPPER is without doubt one of the best movies coming out of Singapore, earning Mr. Tong a top spot in the industry and probably a bit of reputation across the region. As for the second point, it is nevertheless disappointing to realize how little has happened between 1999 and today.

I saw EATING AIR (1999) when it was released and I felt that it is an intense, authentic, charming and quite original small work that may have borrowed here and there from more successful filmmakers but still had a lot to offer. Today, EATING AIR still looks like a milestone of Singaporean cinema and in many ways ahead of the conventional KIDNAPPER. The fresh breeze, the sense of freedom, the struggle of youth and the spirit of revolt are all a thing of the past – despite Mr. Tong still producing independently.

A while back Mr. Tong said that he is still learning his craft. The least I can say is that he is still trying to find his direction.

J.

 


 

 

WIND BLAST [XI FENG LIE | 西風烈]

2010/11/29

 

http://xifenglie.ent.sina.com.cn/main.html

CHINA 2010  Directed by: Gao Qunshu Cinematography: Du Jie Cast: Francis Ng, Xia Yu, Charlie Yeung, Duan Yihong, Wu Jing, Ni Dahong, Zhang Li

Four detectives are assigned to track down a murder suspect who has fled with his girlfriend, but not without taking a photo of the one who hired him beforehand. They follow him into a vast desert where they run into two top assassins who turn the manhunt into a high-octane cat-and-mouse game, reversing the roles of the hunters and the hunted.

It’s a bit like watching the finale of THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE UGLY for about two hours. Then again, nothing compares to Leone’s original. WIND BLAST, Gao Qunshu’s Neo-Western, is as hard to grab – and as fast-moving – as quicksand. There is no story, and the film concentrates entirely on the duel between the various parties. And even then, the action creates spikes and not a consistent flow of events. Somewhere between the landscape and the shootouts time stands still – despite the breakneck pace, the movie keeps circling without ever getting out of the treadmill.

There are relationships, maybe even loyalties, but there are no real reasons why everyone is doing what he or she is doing. Apart from the thrills the film is mostly contemplating, filled with thoughts, reflections, and a few insights shared by the characters, yet this doesn’t make WIND BLAST the next CHUNGKING EXPRESS. Not that Gao Qunshu is trying: WIND BLAST is an exercise in action choreography, and as the film is a western movie homage it seems more concerned with replacing horses with cars, the Grand Canyon with the Gobi desert and John Wayne with Francis Ng than with telling a story. WIND BLAST is a fair attempt to join the club of new school western films made in Asia, but where the western genre will never be out of fashion, everything that possibly can be said has been said this way or another. WIND BLAST is kind of late even by Asian standards, bearing in mind that filmmakers like Johnnie To, John Woo or Wai Ka-Fai toyed around with the western and its ingredients already decades ago.

So it all comes down to the question if you fancy a film with a whole lot of formidable action but no plot, no point, not even a plot point. WIND BLAST may feature eye-popping visuals, excellent choreography and some fine performances, but we never care about any of the characters who stay strangers to the audience from beginning to end. As for the action, it tends to get tiring after a while, and I have seen other directors making more out of a location like that. The scenery may be impressive, but it isn’t put to good use as there is no orientation point for the viewer and therefore dramatization falls short.

WIND BLAST will entertain you for a while, and it definitely has its moments, but very little about the movie is genuine or interesting. Watching it once isn’t a waste of time, but it certainly is more than enough. Once the dust settles it becomes clear that WIND BLAST isn’t much of a blast, but rather gone with the wind indeed.

J.