Posts Tagged ‘Hong Kong Cinema’



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.




The Pang Brothers obviously can’t let go of their EYE franchise, so we’re up for another, 4th installment called THE CHILD’S EYE and this time they also jump on the 3D bandwagon.

Due to a political crisis in Thailand a group of young people ends up in a dodgy hotel. There they meet three weird children and an even weirder puppy, and very soon they start disappearing one after another. Directed by Oxide Pang and Danny Pang, starring Elanne Kwong and Rainie Yang. Due for release in Taiwan early June. More updates later.




HONG KONG / FRANCE 2009  Directed by: Johnnie To  Written by: Wai Ka Fai  Produced by: Johnnie To, Peter Lam, Laurent Petin, Michele Petin  Cinematography: Cheng Siu-Keung  Editing: David M. Richardson  Music: Tayu Lo  Cast: Johnny Hallyday, Anthony Wong, Lam Ka Tung, Lam Suet, Simon Yam, Cheung Siu Wai, Felix Wong, Ting Yip Ng, Maggie Siu, Irene Thompson

At first sight VENGEANCE seems like the late but expected Asian contribution to the once-again popular genre of revenge flicks. After DEATH SENTENCE and TAKEN comes VENGEANCE.

Most of these new movies are neither particularly creative, nor especially meaningful. They are original as far as some details are concerned at best, leaving their mark through creative ideas that however do not change the fact that the movie generally speaking is irrelevant. The two aforementioned movies are proof that revenge 2.0 is following the principle “everything remains different”. An eye for an eye; he who laughs last, laughs best.

But even if today the laughing sounds a bit different: Darwinism and the concept of natural selection remains the intrinsic philosophy of the genre. It is important to understand though that natural selection is always a question of balance of power at point in time X, and that this balance of power by definition is dynamic, always in the flow. Every film that makes payback its central idea dramaturgically pretends that balance of power is a linear process: the (anti)hero is the victim that turns into the delinquent and „wins“ at the end. The film however is nothing but a window, a moment in time, a fragment that makes us believe that the balance of power actually has a zero-point, starts from there and reaches its final stage at the end of the movie’s run-time, marking a kind of endpoint.

That is of course not true at all. It’s a lie. Revenge movies simply stop telling the story when it is most convenient. They do not mention that each victim may have been a culprit before the film’s beginning, and that after the film is over the hero will become a victim again (it is very likely that not only the hero avenges the death of his family – murderers have friends too, you know). The balance of power is shifting permanently, is renegotiated case by case, again and again and again. Revenge movies ignore this cycle and reduce the balance of power to a very simple scenario: the good guy is doing bad things to bad people and therefore comes out as the good guy. And it all ends there.

Johnny To has achieved a new milestone for the genre: the deconstruction of the revenge flick. This is much more important than the fact that VENGEANCE is one of the most aesthetic Hong Kong films of recent years; or that it is a balls-to-the-wall thriller; that it celebrates violence, just as it was common during the good old days of Hong Kong cinema; that it features two (!) of the most original showdowns seen in a long time; that it takes itself and the genre seriously, but not too seriously; that it showcases some very fine acting, especially a fabulous Anthony Wong; and that it is exquisitely nonchalant, even more than most other To films.

VENGEANCE is a discourse on revenge, not just revenge in a 24fps format. It is actually both. VENGEANCE feels very comfortable being a thriller, but then it feels even more at ease as abstraction of what happens. VENGEANCE is prancing, playful, imaginative, then dissembles all in an instant. In VENGEANCE Johnny Hallyday is Costello who assigns three hit men to avenge his family and kill their murderers. Costello doesn’t have much time: he has a bullet in the head and begins to lose his memory. That’s why he begins to photograph and archive the people he meets and the places he goes. It’s a memory substitute. Analogue RAM.

Already before the first showdown it is obvious that Costello doesn’t really realize much of what is happening around him anymore. Anthony Wong and his men however arrive at the point of no return: a promise is a promise, old-school triads like them still know what rules, ethics and morale are. They have taken Costello’s money, now they will finish the job. With or without the employer.

Thus they win the battle, but lose the war. The murderers who have killed Costello’s family are dead. And then also Wong et al. die in a hail of bullets courtesy of the mafia. Pure coincidence. Bad luck. Shit happens. But you gotta finish what you’ve started. Even if you know that it’s the end of everything. Facing death eyes wide open. Like Pike Bishop, Dutch Engstrom, Deke Thornton. Never back down. Defending values and ideals against this overwhelming nihilism.

VENGEANCE is not a revenge thriller, but its swan song. It’s the WILD BUNCH of revenge flicks. With VENGEANCE the eternal cycle ends, not just because at the end everybody’s dead (that would be too simple), but when everything finally is really over the avenger has forgotten what revenge is. “What does revenge mean when you have forgotten everything?