Archive for the ‘TITLE J’ Category



HONG KONG 2010  Directed by: John Woo, Su Chao-Pin Written by: Su Chao-Pin Produced by: John Woo, Terence Chang  Cinematography by: Wong Wing-Hung, Arthur Wong  Editing by: Cheung Ka-Fai  Music by: Peter Kam  Cast: Michelle Yeoh, Jung Woo-Sung, Wang Xueqi, Barbie Hsu, Shawn Yue, Kelly Lin, Guo Xiaodong, Jiang Yiyan, Leon Dai, Paw Hee-Ching, Pace Wu, Li Zonghan, Jiang Yiyan

We are still far away from a real renaissance, but with two small masterpieces launched around the same time that are reviving the best traditions of Hong Kong cinema we are kind of spoiled for choice: no matter if you see DETECTIVE DEE AND THE MYSTERY OF THE PHANTOM FLAME or REIGN OF ASSASSINS first, you’ll end up coming to the same conclusion – that you just saw a film that looks and feels as good as Hong Kong movies did twenty years ago.

And again it is no surprise that REIGN OF ASSASSINS is helmed by a veteran director of the golden age of Hong Kong cinema: after RED CLIFF John Woo has returned to China once again, this time telling the tale of the mummified remains of an Indian monk that are supposed to bear magical powers. Various parties are after the treasure, including the Dark Stone gang whose top assassin Drizzle (Kelly Lin) gets hold of the remains, but decides to live an ordinary life instead of returning to the gang after meeting a monk and master swordsman who sacrifices himself to enlighten her.

She changes her appearance through surgery and assumes the identity of Zeng Jing (Michelle Yeoh). She moves to the city and opens a store selling cloth, and soon after marries messenger Ah Sheng. They could have lived happily ever after, but the script thinks otherwise: the Dark Stone gang is still in pursuit of the remains, and their leader Wheel King (Xueqi Wang) is upping the ante by sending three assassins to hunt down Drizzle. Lei Bin (Shawn Yue), The Magician (Leon Dai) and sexy but merciless killer Turqoise (Barbie Hsu) are are getting closer to the truth, while some more surprising twists complicate things further. Everything gears towards the last stand-off between Drizzle and her old gang, with some uninvited guests are joining the party.

For a Hong Kong swordsplay flick (new or old) REIGN OF ASSASSINS has a very solid story, detailed characterization and inventive script. All is quite right: the movie’s depth and complexity is intriguing, but never reaches the kind of confusion that have made movies like SWORDSMAN 2 as tiring as an accounting seminar. On the contrary, REIGN OF ASSASSINS achieves a great level of integration with the story driving the action and vice versa. I didn’t know what to expect at first with Su Chao-Pin being under my radar in the past, but it must be said that the script is fabulous.

The same must be said about the action: the choreography is state-of-the-art, a very modern yet artistic interpretation of swordsplay, with spectacular gimmicks and incredible pace, as beautiful to watch as it is breathtaking. Mr. Woo has teamed with legendary DOP Wong Wing-Hung (A CHINESE GHOST STORY, THE KILLER, HARDBOILED) and it is obvious from the beginning that he enjoyed shooting the film quite a bit more than BEAUTY ON DUTY (that’s only my assumption, of course). However, action hasn’t looked that good for a while, and it’s not a coincidence that it comes from the people who originally turned made in Hong Kong into a valuable trademark as far as filmmaking goes.

What brings me back to Tsui Hark’s DETECTIVE DEE and what I wrote about it earlier: DETECTIVE DEE and REIGN OF ASSASSINS are not exceptional for what they are inventing, but because of what they are preserving, or bringing back to the silver screen. Both mark the return to Pre-‘97 Hong Kong filmmaking, and while they are of course products of 2010 they seem as imaginative, untroubled, powerful and touching as movies were back then.

Those who don’t care much about the past or know very little about it should note however that contemporary Hong Kong cinema doesn’t get any better than this. If REIGN OF ASSASSINS, or DETECTIVE DEE for that matter, don’t convince you this kind of cinema simply isn’t for you. And all the dedicated fans will be pleased to hear that, at least for a moment, Mr. Tsui and Mr. Woo have put back the magic into Hong Kong films. Enjoy it while it lasts.







HONG KONG 2010  Directed by: Andrew Lau Written by: Cheung Chi-Sing, Gordon Chan  Produced by: Andrew Lau, Gordon Chan  Cinematography by: Andrew Lau, Ng Man-Ching  Editing by: Azrael Chung  Music by: Chan Kwong-Wing  Cast: Donnie Yen, Shu Qi, Anthony Wong, Huang Bo, Shawn Yue, Yasuaki Kurata, Huo Siyan, Yang Zhou

We are living in fast times. Attention to detail has become a virtue without value. Everything has to get attention instantly, just to be succeeded by the next best thing coming our way. Movies, an art form that has always been driven by systematic acceleration, is no different of course, and LEGEND OF THE FIST: THE RETURN OF CHEN ZHEN is a good example for that.

THE RETURN OF CHEN ZHEN is a movie made for an audience without memory, without the expectation of logic or the ability to follow linear storytelling from beginning to end, even though it tries to give us the impression it was dedicated to storytelling. But in fact, we are rather dealing with fragments – a movie like an executive summary, enough to get it, but leaving out the details. It is made for an audience that has forgotten what movie they just paid for the moment they take their seats in the cinema. As long as it is loud, cool and fast-paced, as long as there is familiarity to make it instantly likable, it’s all good. We may never find out what came first, an undemanding audience or dumb filmmaking, but nowadays they complement each other very well.

So let’s take THE RETURN OF CHEN ZHEN for what it is and move on. Let us forget about historic accuracy (who Chen Zhen really was and what he meant), seamless continuation of the FIST OF FURY franchise or sophisticated characterization, and instead enjoy the spectacle featuring a masked hero coming out of nowhere, going nowhere.

THE RETURN OF CHEN ZHEN opens with Chen Zhen fighting in WWI in France, becoming the savior of the Chinese working over there, helping them to survive and get back home. In one of the more memorable moments, Chen Zhen defeats the German army by running, slaloming, jumping and swinging through a hail of bullets until he’s the last man standing.

I don’t remember how the film cut to Shanghai set years later (I am not sure if it escaped my memory or if there’s simply nothing to remember), and we are presented with the usual introduction of the city: the nightclub (called Casablanca), the Jazz music, the lights and the glamour. Here we meet Liu Yiutian (Anthony Wong, who looks tired – or bored – throughout the film), the club’s owner, and his wife Kiki (Shu Qi, who looks equally bored, but attractive as always), who is spying for the Japanese. It’s a reprise of the roles of Chow Yun-Fat and Gong Li in SHANGHAI, with Wong’s gestures and looks being a perfect copy of Chow, and Qi trying her best to imitate Gong Li most of the time.

These are turbulent times, and soon we get some more insight into the characters, like that of Anthony Wong: “the more chaos, the more we earn, ha ha”. He knows he’s the big shot who owns the only island of tranquility amid the chaos outside. Speaking of the club: its name immediately struck me, quite like Mr. Lau intended I assume, but I don’t know what to make out of it. Is it an homage? Is it that Mr. Lau realized SHANGHAI pretty much copies CASABLANCA, so as he copies SHANGHAI the club’s name becomes something like an insider joke? Or is it just stupid, naming a club in the 1920’s after a movie set during WWII and released in 1942? Or am I stupid and they really are fans of the city?

Chen Zhen, who now goes by his other name, is part of an underground movement. Soon he gets Liu to trust him and they become partners of the nightclub business, all for no obvious reasons. It is not clear why Liu should make someone he doesn’t know a partner (= give half of his profit away), and it is even more illogical that a key figure of the resistance, who at the same time is a superhero, would expose himself like that. Maybe it’s because he has to meet the villain, Japanese Colonel Takashi, at some point and nobody knew a better way to introduce them than the club. It’s not the only meaningless, pointless moment of the movie, so someone must have figured we’ll get over it quickly.

As soon as the swiss-cheese-plot, sketchy editing and amazingly false music (they go as far as using Heavy Metal) started to get annoying, THE RETURN OF CHEN ZHEN throws in the second catchy scene, the silver dollar bet between Chen Zhen and Takashi. That is a fine moment, a tense, sophisticated duel between the archenemies. Bravo. But then, we are back to endless dojo scenes with Takashi, endless display of racism (Britons against Chinese, Chinese against Japanese, Chinese against Britons, Japanese against everyone else), and many more plot holes, until we can witness the less than climatic last fight between the antagonists (with Donnie Yen mutating into Bruce Lee and from here on suddenly using Lee’s trademark high-pitched scream).

THE RETURN OF CHEN ZHEN is not unentertaining, but it never really makes up for all its shortcomings. Mr. Lau seems to believe that playing some sad music when someone’s dying can replace characterization or good acting, just as he believes he can fool us that Donnie Yen has really done all the fighting by himself. The biggest letdown is the fact that at least half of the time Mr. Yen is doubled, and the rest of the time he doesn’t show much of his capabilities as those sequences are shot largely close-up with shaky camera and are edited very fast. Martial arts fans will inevitably feel cheated.

THE RETURN OF CHEN ZHEN is another production that promises a lot and keeps just a little. It feels rushed, incomplete, not very well planned and misses more opportunities than it seizes. What if, what could have been – you’ll most certainly find yourself asking questions like these. THE RETURN OF CHEN ZHEN is one more proof that Mr. Lau’s INFERNAL AFFAIRS was both, a masterpiece and a fluke.

According to the (true) legend, Chen Zhen’s identity was never revealed, and one day he just disappeared without leaving a trace. Quite like the movie – it’s suddenly over, just like that, and it leaves no trace behind. What was I just watching?




UPDATE: READ THE FULL REVIEW HERE! – – – – – – – – – – – – From CJ Entertainment comes MOSS, based on the popular internet comic that started in 2007: a young man travels to a remote village to attend his fathers funeral, only to find out that his death might have to do with a conspiracy. As soon as he confronts the villagers and their leader he gets closer to an inconvenient truth…

MOSS is directed by Kang Woo-Suk, written by Ji Woo Chung and stars Park Hae-Il, Jeong Jae-Yeong, Yu Jun-Sang, Yu-Seon, Yu Hae-Jin, Kim Sang-Ho, Kim Jun-Bae, Heo Jun-Ho, Kang Shin-Il, Lim Seung-Dae, Jeong Gyu-Min, Keum Dong-Hyun.