Posts Tagged ‘Hong Kong Cinema’



HONG KONG 2010  Directed by: Tsui Hark Written by: Chen Kuofu  Story by: Lin Qianyu  Produced by: Tsui Hark, Nansun Shi, Peggy Lee  Cinematography by: Chi Ying Chan, Chor Keung Chan  Editing by: Chi Wai Yau  Music by: Peter Kam  Cast: Andy Lau, Carina Lau, Li Bingbing, Tony Leung Ka-Fai, Deng Cao, Teddy Robin Kwan, Jinshan Liu

There are many people who wish that Hong Kong cinema was still the way it was in its heyday, and I am probably one of them. What bugs me the most, and has bugged me ever since 1997, is that the liabilities of Hong Kong cinema have survived (the tedious humor, the flawed scriptwriting, the sloppy filming, the overacting, and so forth), while all its qualities seemed to have vanished over night. We were robbed of John Woo, Ringo Lam, Ching Siu-Tung, Tsui Hark, and most of all the magic made in Hong Kong, and were left with the imitators, the junk and all the rest that we put up with only because the show had to go on.

In recent years we have seen more attempts to bring back what I’d consider the “real” Hong Kong cinema, yet the renaissance never got off the ground, with the old masters remaining absent or concentrating on less-than-appealing projects, while the disciples were hampered by small budgets, a local audience that doesn’t care or their own doing-it-for-money attitude, while again others continued doing what they always did, like Wong Jing, hence keeping up the bad work nobody needs.

Now we all don’t know how the story will continue, but what we can say is that there’s a bright light on the horizon and its name is DETECTIVE DEE AND THE MYSTERY OF THE PHANTOM FLAME. I am not going to suggest that the film is bringing anything to the table that we haven’t seen before, because it doesn’t, but what it brings to the table is what we have seen before but haven’t seen in a very long time, and that would be the point of watching, and enjoying, Tsui Hark’s latest gem, a movie that’s charming, creative, humorous and zesty like maybe no other film made in Hong Kong since the early 90’s (including Mr. Tsui’s own).

DETECTIVE DEE essentially is a historic crime saga, a Chinese Sherlock Holmes story, presenting a who dunnit case set in the Tang Dynasty. Shortly before Empress Wu Zetian is going to be crowned the first female Emperor of China, a series of mysterious murders is threatening to delay her crowning ceremony. She orders the incidents to be solved immediately so that everything can go ahead as planned, and she feels there is only one person who can succeed on such short notice: master detective Dee (a fictional version of the legendary official Di Renjie), who is serving time in prison for previously opposing her seizing the throne.

Once he is brought back and reinstalled as head of the justice system, he is in for a real rollercoaster ride, fighting against the Empress’ henchmen, political games, deception and conspiracy and the ultimate murder weapon, not to mention the many more murders that are following. Dee and his associates are running into traps and out of time, while the ceremony approaches and everyone’s fate is on the line.

Mr. Tsui seems to have learned from SEVEN SWORDS and has found just the right balance for a complex yet streamlined plot with DETECTIVE DEE, presenting a well-rounded, twisty, logical and believable script that boasts creativity while never derailing into a historic drama of encyclopedic proportions. Mr. Tsui also understands that taking yourself too seriously makes you vulnerable, and he has injected enough twinkle-in-the-eye moments into DETECTIVE DEE to make it fly with ease. At the same time it is as witty as it is enthralling, fast-paced and eloquent, displaying confidence and a great sense of what makes cinema cinematic.

The performances are top-notch, first and foremost Andy Lau (who still knows how to lead a movie despite starring in too many disaster movies) and the formidable Carina Lau, with Li Bingbing and Tony Leung Ka-Fai also being part of the illustrious ensemble. You can feel how much they enjoyed making this movie, it’s almost as if they had the same impression of traveling back in time that I had, shooting once again a Hong Kong movie how it was, and still is, supposed to be.

Fans will also be pleased to hear that Mr. Tsui has put considerable effort into the action sequences that look less like Sammo Hung’s work (which they are), but more like that of Ching Siu-Tung, resembling the trademark action of the late 80’s and 90’s as found in many of the classic swordplay epics. Coincidence or not, DETECTIVE DEE is getting as close as that is possibly possible to the Hark-produced, Ching-directed, genre defining A CHINESE GHOST STORY (the movie that most probably originally put Hong Kong cinema on the world map), made in 1987.

Having said that, I also dare to predict that fans of the old school Hong Kong cinema, as much as those who are relatively new to the genre, will be thrilled by DETECTIVE DEE’s breathtaking cinematography, superb martial arts sequences (many of which are better than most of those some self-proclaimed martial arts masterpieces have to offer) and a gripping story right until the end.

In a nutshell, DETECTIVE DEE AND THE MYSTERY OF THE PHANTOM FLAME is awe-inspiring, and that’s not because it changes everything we know, but because it’s everything Mr. Tsui knows about film, in a film.









UPDATE: READ THE FULL REVIEW HERE! – – – – – – – – – It seems the IP MAN story is still in fashion with another movie about the master coming up:  THE LEGEND IS BORN – IP MAN (a.k.a. THE YOUNG IP MAN) is about the early years of Ip Man (so again – NO Bruce Lee in here) and stars Sammo Hung, Yu-Hang To, Biao Yuen and Siu-Wong Fan. Directed by Herman Yau, so we consequently expect the usual Yau take on the subject (Wong Kar Wai, are you still pursuing your IP MAN project?).




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.