Archive for the ‘TITLE N’ Category

SHAOLIN a.k.a. THE NEW SHAOLIN TEMPLE [XIN SHAO LIN SI | 新少林寺]

2011/02/13

http://www.emp.hk/title.php?film_id=66

HONG KONG 2010  Directed by: Benny Chan  Written by: Chi Kwong Cheung, Cheung Tan, Alan Yuen  Produced by: Benny Chan, Albert Lee Cinematography by: Anthony Pun Editing by: Chi Wai Yau   Music by: Nicholas Errera  Cast: Andy Lau, Nicholas Tse, Bingbing Fan, Jackie Chan, Jacky Wu, Yu Xing, Xin Xin Xiong

Armies march, bullets fly, monks pray and fight, evil lords say evil things while Jackie Chan provides comic relief – all orchestrated by Benny KILLER CLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE Chan.

SHAOLIN or THE NEW SHAOLIN TEMPLE is an update of Jet Li’s debut from 1982, but is mostly related by name and concept, not so much through storyline or characters. Released closely to Chinese New Year 2011 it is one of the less commercial almost-CNY-films, however tries to draw in the crowds with household names (Andy Lau, Jackie Chan et.al.) and big PR (concentrating on budgets, locations, stars etc.). So how did it turn out?

Let me answer this question by going into a few details. SHAOLIN is, in principle, supposed to be a martial arts movie, and I believe that is what most people who know the Jet Li film or any of the other Shaolin-themed flicks of the past decades expect. What sense does it make therefore to cast an ageing star and non-martial-artist (Lau) as the hero, an ageing martial arts star solely as comedian (Chan) and a few younger, more capable fighters as cannon fodder? None, right. Also, you wouldn’t expect SHAOLIN to be primarily an epic tale of rival warlords and the westernization of China, repeating pretty much what last year’s blockbusters have featured well enough. SHAOLIN pays relatively little attention to Shaolin, the monks and the martial arts heritage, instead loses itself in confusing plot threads, personal feuds and vaguely developed characters who mostly contribute nothing to the development of the story, which by the way would work quite as well without the Shaolin.

As expected, Benny Chan’s direction has no focus, resulting in a movie that seems randomly assembled, with various units filming all kinds of scenes and a failed attempt to patch things together. One again Mr. Chan proves to be a stranger to coherence as much as a stranger to the more traditional martial arts cinema, as well as having little eye for details. The extensive wirework feels outdated and repetitive, frankly speaking it’s unimpressive, the way the action scenes are captured lacks verve and inspiration, the extensive use of doubles is too obvious and many special effects seem out-of-place. What I found most lackluster is the fight choreography, as the film passes by without a single original idea to beef up the action. And the training sequences of the monks are a bit funny to watch, as their positions and movements never seem aligned correctly – the choreography of any Lady Gaga show is more precise than those training sequences.

Thematically, SHAOLIN is by the book, featuring ideas like brotherhood, hierarchy, code of honor, love, trust and betrayal in A-Z order, ticking off one by one from the must-have-ingredients list. The most remarkable message of the film, especially bearing in mind that Chinese New Year was around the corner, is that materialism and pursuit of money shouldn’t be our main goals in life (SHAOLIN doesn’t really answer the question what should be instead, though). So in light of the ever money-centered CNY SHAOLIN tries to make a point, but I am not sure if the audience will really get it or mostly miss the one or two respective lines of dialogue by Andy Lau’s character.

I don’t know what others have seen in SHAOLIN, but as far as I am concerned SHAOLIN is an exceptionally uninteresting film, a whopping two hours of boredom, a revue of incoherent scenes and plot threads leading nowhere, a mixed bag of whatever sprung the makers’ minds. What were they thinking? Armies march, bullets fly, monks pray and fight, evil lords say evil things while Jackie Chan provides comic relief.

J.

 

 

 

 


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NEIGHBOR

2011/01/27

http://www.fearyourneighbor.com/

USA 2009  Directed by: Robert A. Masciantonio  Written by: Robert A. Masciantonio  Produced by: Charles Smith  Cinematography by: Jeff Schirmer  Editing by: R. Emmet Sibley  Music by: Kurt Oldman  Cast: America Olivio, Christian Campbell, Lauren Rooney, Pete Postiglione, Joe Aniska, Sarah McCarron, Amy Rutledge, Mink Stole, Meredith Orlow, Giovanna Galdi, Tracy Toth, Robert A. Masciantonio, Stink Fisher, Megan Madsen

Does it sound cynical saying you’re bored by a movie that depicts torture and mutilation from beginning to end? Even though it’s not the on-screen violence in particular that makes you yawn frequently throughout NEIGHBOR, it is true nevertheless that the film, despite its acts of cruelty, leaves you unimpressed and strangely detached from what’s happening.

NEIGHBOR is not the first film of its kind, and it’s certainly not the best: most of what makes up the backbone of the story are common genre ingredients, presented as a salad buffet of best-of moments. Built upon what feels like a remake of Skip Wood’s THURSDAY director Robert A. Masciantonio is juggling around with serial killer motifs, revenge flick excerpts and editing techniques of psychological thrillers, without ever coming to a conclusive result.

An even bigger problem is the choice of the lead actress: America Olivio is portraying her character with harrowing overacting, incapable of nuances or adding the slightest human touch or personality to the figure she plays. Ms. Olivio is not exactly talented, and that’s too little to make a film centered around a single character work. Imagine HENRY played by Ron Howard, and you get the idea. Thanks to Ms. Olivio, NEIGHBOR tends to be unintentionally comedic most of the time, not hauntingly realistic.

If you have ever studied serial killers you will have noticed that no matter how insane they seem, or irrational, they always have a very good reason to kill, even if that “good reason” is only a good reason in their world. Unfortunately, Mr. Masciantonio believes that a serial killer movie is all about killing and neglects the fact that serial killers are driven by lust, fear, dead mothers or slimy soap bars. The reason NEIGHBOR never feels threatening is because “the girl” is unreal, like a remote-controlled, lifeless robot without a purpose, and all that’s left for the audience is to sympathize with the victims (played by a solid cast, surprisingly).

Bottom line is there is just no real story to NEIGHBOR, nothing the movie is “about”, what puts it in the neighborhood of THE TOURIST. So don’t waste your time, and grab a copy of DREAM HOME instead.

J.

 


GIRL$ [NAM NAM | 囡囡]

2010/11/11

HONG KONG 2010  Directed by: Kenneth Bi Produced by: Kin Hung Ng  Cast: Michelle Wai, Seli Xian, Minyi Wang, Una Lin, Deep Ng, kwok Cheung Tsang, Eric Tse

It’s not the first time youth prostitution is the subject of a movie, and it’s also not the first time that it’s hard to say how serious or exploitative the result is. Is it a film about prostitution, is it a film with prostitution as a mere canvas, is it a film against prostitution, or is it actually just a T&A show?

To be fair, GIRL$ doesn’t fall into the good old CATIII category because of its exploitative nature. As it turns out, GIRL$ is a halfway serious attempt of halfway serious filmmaking. The story follows four girls who turn to paid “dating” for reasons that are not always entirely clear, but are in any case superficial. Expensive handbags or sheer boredom are hardly good reasons to sleep with someone for money. Or is it just one of the choices that is within easy reach in our multi-options-society? Maybe it’s the internet’s fault: technological advancement makes prostitution so damn easy.

When I mentioned “reasons” before, I believe that wasn’t precise enough. The reason, the goal, might be obvious, but what’s missing is a motivation. You might want that handbag, but that doesn’t tell much about the fact that you choose to pimp out yourself to the highest bidder in order to get it. So what the movie does is primarily dealing with objectives, and showing us that for these girls prostitution is a way to get there. What GIRL$ doesn’t explain is why the handbag is so important that the means to the end are completely out of proportion.

Mr. Bi is not explaining to the audience what’s really going on. GIRL$ is much more like a report on an extreme lifestyle than an essay on morals and declining standards of society. There is little context here, it’s a black-and-white world: you turn to prostitution for some pocket-money or you don’t. As is the case with the girl who bids on an internet auction. Mr. Bi makes it seem as if there are only two choices: not to have the money to pay up for the goods or to go on a paid date.

And I think that is where GIRL$ is just wrong: instead of touching on the decision-making process, the motivation behind, the question of right and wrong or at least somewhat conscious actions, the film is presenting reality as a pre-determined road to perdition with a predictable outcome: sooner or later you will be a prostitute. So it’s all not so much a matter of why you become a prostitute, it’s only a matter of when.

Great films like Masato Harada’s BOUNCE CO GALS have proven a long time ago that contemporary cinema can deal with the harsh reality out there and make it all mean something, without being a boring discourse on changing times. That doesn’t require a huge budget or funny tricks, all it requires is real insight and detailed observation. Something Mr. Bi doesn’t prove to have: GIRL$ has probably been written with a couple of newspaper articles as source material and a bit of he said she said that he said that she told him gossip.

GIRL$ could have been an insightful film providing us with a proper learning curve about what makes the youth tick, what they really want and what their state of mind is. Instead it turns out feeling like a “desk job”: a case made up more or less well, without ever reaching the depth you’d achieve if you had ever left that desk in the first place.

J.