Posts Tagged ‘Alan Mak movie’



HONG KONG 2010  Directed by: Felix Chong Written by: Felix Chong, Chapman To, Lau Ho Leung Produced by: Alan Mak, Ronald Wong  Cinematography: Lin Yau Tsou  Editing: Chi Wai Chan  Music: Ken Chan Cast: Ekin Cheng, Jordan Chan, Alex Fong, Michelle Ye, On-On Yu, Wilfired Lau, Conroy Chan Chi-Chung, Sze-Kwan Cheng, Fung Kwok, Pong Nan, Kwok Cheung Tsang, Ben Yuen

It’s not exactly original to rip off Italian western movies anymore (unless you do it very, very intelligently), but the copy of the opening of ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, here set in a Hong Kong harbor reminiscent of 70’s/80’s kung fu and action flicks, was a fair beginning (then again, Leone’s original is one the greatest opening scenes of any film ever). I almost expected Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan to appear out of the blue, but then, while a Morricone-inspired melody is playing, the film cuts to daring close-ups of scarcely hidden genitals and butts of young triad members attending an initiation ceremony. So expectations changed as quickly as the scenes and settings with the film suddenly gearing towards a Hong Kong version of DON’T MESS WITH THE ZOHAN.

But it’s not that bad after all. ONCE A GANGSTER is a relatively (by Hong Kong comedy standards) demure satire paying homage to – or exploiting – the notorious YOUNG & DANGEROUS series and similar triad movies. Consequently many of the old stars of Hong Kong’s gang movies have joined the cast, and apart from the always-brilliant Jordan Chan also Ekin Chen is far more bearable here than in his fantasy films. ONCE A GANGSTER tries its best to put the cast to good use and mostly refrains from the usual slapstick and tedious trickery of Cantonese comedy: many of the jokes are falling into the category of black humor, but even some of the more vulgar gags hit home occasionally.

Of course all this is not on the same sophisticated level of satire as Johnnie To’s films (even though ONCE A GANGSTER extensively quotes ELECTION), but it’s also not Stephen Chow terrain. The story about the selection of the next don is just a reason to trail off left and right into Hong Kong action (B-)film history. Expect a lot of obvious references as well as quite a few insider jokes, paired with various artistic styles like musical or silent picture. Instead of a coherent movie ONCE A GANGSTER is a playground for director Felix Chong and his fellow co-writers to explore the HK gangland, past and present. You may like what they found, or not, as their selection of “best of” scenes is entirely subjective.

I would have wished for a less tiring story and script, in fact a further reduction of the plot, and instead for a sharper and wittier interpretation of common gang movie clichés. I doubt that literal references to Andrew Lau’s movie series have any news value, or that the mobsters’ funny outfits and names are offering a new perspective on one of the more genuine Hong Kong movie genres. Quoting is not transcending, and I can’t help but feel that ONCE A GANGSTER hardly ever goes beyond the former.

ONCE A GANGSTER has a hard time to find its place. It’s not the most intelligent persiflage, nor the most stupid. But it is evident that a great cast is wasted on a mediocre script and a lukewarm attempt to bring back fond memories. ONCE A GANGSTER too obviously feeds off the cast, and that’s why in the end it’s more a reunion than an actual satire.




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.




UPDATE: READ THE FULL REVIEW HERE! – – – – – – – Felix Chong teams up with Alan Mak once again for ONCE A GANGSTER, marking their return to Hong Kong crime films. Starring Ekin Cheng, Jordan Chan, Michelle Ye, On-On Yu and Wilfried Lau and it remains to be seen if Chong and Mak can live up to INFERNAL AFFAIRS standards.Out today.