Posts Tagged ‘Ekin Cheng’

ONCE A GANGSTER [FEI SAA FUNG CHUNG CHUN | FEI SHA FENG ZHONG ZHUAN | 飞沙风中转]

2010/08/01

http://www.mediaasia.com/onceagangster/

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.

J.


KAMUI GAIDEN [KAMUI | カムイ 外伝]

2010/05/28

http://www.kamuigaiden.jp/

JAPAN 2009  Directed by: Yoichi Sai  Written by: Kankuro Kudo  Manga: Shirato Sanpei Produced by: Akira Morishige, Yui Tamae  Cinematography by: Tomoo Ezaki, Junichi Fujisawa  Editing: Isao Kawase  Music: Taro Iwashiro Cast: Kenichi Matsuyama, Koyuki, Hideaki Ito, Kaoru Kobayashi, Suzuka Ohgo, Ekin Cheng, Yuta Kanai, Sei Ashina, Anna Tsuchiya

KAMUI GAIDEN, based on the LEGEND OF KAMUI manga published in the 60’s, has little in common with most of the contemporary manga adaptations out of Japan, largely thanks to the original series: set in feudal Japan, KAMUI tells the story of Kamui, a young, low-born ninja who tries to flee his clan seeking freedom, resisting to follow the destined path. Very soon he is branded a traitor and the other ninjas are trying to hunt him down to make sure their secrets are safe and stay within the family. Kamui, determined to lead a life free from rules, hierarchies and orders very soon discovers that even freedom has a price – and the question is if he’s willing to pay it.

If it wasn’t for some gimmicky effects you couldn’t tell that KAMUI is based on a manga. Usually that’s a good thing and for half of its running time KAMUI is a real treat, lavish, elegant, beautifully filmed and choreographed, just like a dream. Then, the initial fascination starts to wear off and a lot of flaws get in its way.

First of all, Kamui has no personality whatsoever. He is a cold killer with no ties to anyone, no emotions, no remorse, driven by revenge and his will to stay independent. The bit of character development we can see later when he starts to have feelings for a girl and gets closer to some of the fishermen is not enough to speak of real character development. There’s no fire burning, just some twigs smoldering. There are no big emotions hidden underneath the surface and there’s very little conflict within him.

Secondly the story doesn’t go anywhere: it’s like playing catch for two hours, and we already know who’s going to win. Sure, some of its more intimate moments and dialogues are moving, some sequences and plot twists are interesting, but overall KAMUI is mostly beating around the bush. So we stop caring after a while and enjoy the visual bonbons.

Last but not least KAMUI has entirely lost the manga’s subtext: originally reflecting Shirato Sanpei’s leftist convictions KAMUI dealt with ideas like breaking away from the fate assigned by the elite, oppression and the rule of the upper class. Bearing in mind that KAMUI was most popular in the mid 60’s one can easily understand that it is not about individualism (the way it would be interpreted today), but about paradigm change.

Every work of art is influenced by its zeitgeist, and THE LEGEND OF KAMUI was no exception. Watching KAMUI today shows that the movie lacks relevance and as this is the 21st century has no more use for the ideals of the original. Consequently, all that’s left is the story of a loner, a killing machine in pursuit of something intangible, a story of shinobi, ronin, destiny and betrayal.

In its best moments KAMUI is captivating eye-candy, a poem of blood and death; what it fundamentally lacks is a reason to fight for. And so we see our hero battling hordes of enemies, but without love or affection Kamui could as well be dead. Maybe he will be. The ending is as pointless as the two hours preceding it. Quickly KAMUI is gone with the wind.

J.


DIM SUM: ONCE A GANGSTER [FEI SHA FENG ZHONG ZHUAN | 飞沙风中转]

2010/05/20

http://www.mediaasia.com/onceagangster

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.

J.


J.