Posts Tagged ‘Asian Movie Review’



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 2009   Directed by: Dante Lam  Written by: Jack Ng Produced by: Candy Leung  Cinematography: Cheung Man-Po  Editing: Angie Lam  Cast: Richie Ren, Edison Chen, Huang Xiaoming, Bowie Lam, Kai Chi Liu, Jack Kao, Wilfried Lau, Mango Wong, Michelle Ye, Charmaine Fong, Patrick Tang

With Dante Lam’s latest movie FIRE OF CONSCIENCE released it’s a good opportunity to revisit his 2009 THE SNIPER.

Ming (Richie Ren) is the top shooter of the police force, but that is thanks to the fact that the former No. 1 is doing time in jail: Ching (Xiaoming Huang) accidentally shot a hostage on duty and was sentenced to 4 years due to manslaughter. Once released he has only one goal: take revenge. Not only is he after the criminals originally responsible for the hostage-taking, but he is also convinced that his colleagues gave false testimony of what happened back then and that as a result he was convicted. A duel between Ming and Ching begins but it gets even more complicated when the ambitious newcomer OJ (Edison Chen) gets in between them, trying to claim the top spot in the sniper hierarchy.

THE SNIPER is probably most notorious for its delay due to Edison Chen’s photo scandal and for being the first film of Chen released after the scandal. Originally scheduled for release in May 2008 it only hit cinemas about one year later. Quite a big ballyhoo for a movie that only co-stars Chen along others, but it also proves that he was vital for marketing THE SNIPER in Asia.

The story of the movie is basic and hardly ever getting out of the never-ending cycle of revenge. It doesn’t feel like a revenge flick though as a lot of time is spent on painting a glamorized picture of the snipers as a heroic elite force of the Hong Kong police. Once the proposition of the story is revealed there is no development whatsoever. The situation is crystal clear and THE SNIPER indulges in the stand-off between the antagonists. Everything else is irrelevant.

On the other hand you can easily fall for the movie for its aesthetics and fast-paced, hard-boiled action sequences. Again I have to acknowledge that Lam is one of the few directors in Hong Kong who never tries to apply stupid humor or a mix-and-match mentality to his action movies to please the crowd. Dante Lam’s action films (not necessarily the others) are as straightforward as they can possibly get in HK, honest cinema that doesn’t compromise.

Its story may not be THE SNIPER’s strength, but it is pretty much what Lam does in most of his actioners and what he has perfected with his latest movie FIRE OF CONSCIENCE. The duel between two men who are the same and very different from each other at the same time is his trademark concept; the way his heroes and anti-heroes perceive themselves and how others see them, and how their own image is reflected by the enemy, and how that starts to change them, make them realize certain truths about their life and personality – that’s what makes Lam’s movies outstanding and moves them forward at a neck-breaking pace.

THE SNIPER is reduced to the bear duel and uses the sniper topic to make the shootouts look different from many other films, adding high-octane impact thanks to all the fancy weaponry. What’s missing is detailed characterization, personal conflict, depth and emotions, more complexity and a more intertwined relationship between the protagonists, all of which has made FIRE OF CONSCIENCE a great movie.

THE SNIPER has all the prerequisites and the glossy finish, but it’s like the patty is missing between the bun and all the salad and the dressing. It’s a preparation for greater things to come, but still worth watching if you generally like Lam’s take on Hong Kong action cinema.




JAPAN 2009  Directed by: Takashi Shimizu Written by: Daisuke Hosaka Produced by: Dai Miyazaki, Satoru Ogura, Masayuki Tanishima Cast: Yuya Yagira, Ai Maeda, Suzuki Matsuo, Ryo Katsuji, Shoichiro Masumoto, Misako Renbutsu, Erina Mizuno

THE SHOCK LABYRINTH 3D isn’t exactly known for its great 3D visuals but rather for being ignored by most audiences so far (its very limited release seems to be a chicken-or-egg question). How come, you might wonder, as SHOCK LABYRINTH is helmed by the man himself, JU-ON’s and THE GRUDGE’s Takashi Shimizu.

A group of teenagers is surprised and shocked when a long-lost friend suddenly returns after more than a decade. But very soon she falls ill and they have to take her to a hospital that turns out to be a trap, a haunted house that is a shock labyrinth. A cat and mouse game begins triggering the teenager’s memories of their childhood friendship and the things that happened in the past.

I must admit that I have never been an admirer of Shimizu’s work as I believe that what he has done others have done long before him, and mostly better. For pure shocks Shimizu has never matched Hideo Nakata’s films, for depth and IQ never even come close to Kiyoshi Kurosawa. Maybe Shimizu and the way he approaches what is commonly known as J-Horror are part of the problem and the reason the once popular export has become largely extinct.

In the late 90’s J-Horror became famous mostly for its relentless shock and awe, combined with a visual language western audiences found fresh and exotic as well as initially some very good ideas as far as storytelling goes. These movies were really scary, a brilliant example of psychological and not physical horror that most of their western counterparts resorted to. But very soon epigones and imitators too over and started to cannibalize the genre by exploiting its motifs and repeating the same formula over and over, with substance and quality of ideas decreasing until there was little more left than a bunch of scenes that were supposed to make your adrenaline rush. They failed to do so after a while.

What made J-Horror interesting, different and effective in the beginning very soon became a routine, a formulaic way of filmmaking, and with no new stories in sight and the same old shocks wearing off there was simply no reason to watch J-Horror anymore, let alone that more and more original J-Horror movies were remade by Hollywood eroding the unique position of horror made in Japan further. J-Horror had sold out, and most kids watching the American remakes wouldn’t have even noticed that these films were not genuine American horror movies. For the mass audience, Hollywood had absorbed J-Horror completely.

Without new ideas J-Horror also lost on the festival circuit as especially horror movie buffs were quickly getting used to the same old tricks. Girls with long black hair anyone? The decline was inevitable and I was not surprised that Kurosawa for instance has left the genre (even he never actually was part of the J-Horror wave).

THE SHOCK LABYRINTH 3D illustrates why J-Horror is flatlining. It’s a tragic example of Murphy’s law. It starts with a truly idiotic idea: who on earth would make a movie inspired by the Labyrinth of Horrors attraction at Fuji-Q High Land amusement park? What “idea” is that in the first place? How do you pitch something like this to a film studio? How do you sell it to distributors and audiences? Why in god’s name did Fortissimo films pick up the rights for this?

So THE SHOCK LABYRINTH 3D starts out with no idea at all. Then a ridiculous script comes into play, untalented teenage actors, a rushed production and a low budget. Add to that a direction that has no signature at all, editing that is less than impressive, and truly horrible music. Plus a location that is anything but a labyrinth.

If the aforementioned girls with long hair, if twisting heads, blackened eyes, people vanishing in the dark, X-ray like visuals or stuffed white rabbits make you scream then THE SHOCK LABYRINTH 3D is for you. But then you’re also probably 10 years old, have an evil older sister and have not been exposed to any other horror than the stories of the Brothers Grimm. Can’t blame you.

THE SHOCK LABYRINTH 3D is a grave disappointment, its shabby, shoddy and so unbearably talkative you wish you could kill the actors with your own hands. I take great comfort in the thought that this movie was made to rip us off and not to inject new life into the genre. So there’s still a possibility someone will bring J-Horror back from the dead.

But don’t expect it’s SHOCK LABYRINTH. Beware. Abandon hope all ye who enter THE SHOCK LABYRINTH 3D.