Posts Tagged ‘hong kong movies 2010’

DREAM HOME [WAI DOR LEI AH YUT HO | 维多利亚一号]

2010/12/11

http://www.dreamhome.asia/

HONG KONG 2010  Directed by: Pang Ho-Cheung Written by: Pang Ho-Cheung, Kwok Cheung Tsang, Wan Chi-Man Produced by: Conroy Chan Chi-Chung, Subi Liang, Pang Ho-Cheung  Cinematography by: Nelson Yu Lik-Wai  Editing by: Wenders Li  Music by: Gabriele Roberto  Cast: Josie Ho, Anthony Wong, Michelle Ye, Norman Chu, Lawrence Chou, Eason Chan, Kwok Cheung Tsang, Hee Ching Paw, Hoi-Pang Lo, Ching Wong, Ying Kwan Lok, Juno Mak, Lap-Man Sin, Wai Hung Chan, Chu-Chu Zhou, Juan Song

In order to afford her dream home a woman, Cheng Li-Sheung, goes to great lengths, applying very drastic measures to make her dying father happy with a sea view apartment: once she has identified the property of choice, she begins to kill her neighbors one by one so that the value drops dramatically, bringing the price down into a range she can afford. But despite her will to inflict utmost brutality on her victims, she also seems to be just an ordinary girl pursuing a dream – and inevitably heading for trouble the longer she plays this vicious game.

DREAM HOME boasts a very fine and complex script that provides plenty of reasons for the main character to act the way she does: we learn a lot about her through her childhood memories, especially how the difficult relationship with her father has formed her personality, as well as it explains her dependency on her dad’s affection and motivation behind the need to buy that apartment. Her mother’s and brother’s roles are equally important, laying out a precise, psychological and believable cause-and-result pattern – DREAM HOME isn’t absurd, but an intense study of an unstable personality spiraling out of control.

Cheng Li-Sheung’s dull, monotone and difficult working life adds another interesting component, turning her into someone who is used to rejection, used to the harsh reality out there that is best dealt with in raw fashion. Ultimately, Cheng separates her gentle and fragile side from the side that shows no mercy, no morals and no guilt, and she develops into a Jekyll-and-Hyde type of character who puts her dream above anything else, even human life, in a delusion that fulfilling that dream could lead to salvation and a redefined relationship with her father.

It has been noted that DREAM HOME lacks coherence, but after studying the history of serial killers in-depth you will realize that schizophrenia doesn’t need a reason. People have been killed under far more random circumstances, so Cheng Li-Sheung’s motivation seems fairly reasonable after all. But you will have to understand that she is in fact not a girl next door anymore when the film starts, but that at this point she has crossed the line and changed into a deviant psychopath. She is leading a double life, and her measures are completely out of proportion – there is no turning back for her, she has lost it completely. There is only black and white, but I wouldn’t go as far as saying that she is a sadistic killer, as she derives no pleasure from the violence, but sees it as a necessary means to an end. She is committing horrible crimes, but always looks beyond the here and now, hence never actually feels anything about what happens.

There are many other ways looking at DREAM HOME besides watching it as a slasher: the movie first and foremost is a very black comedy, a sarcastic comment on Hong Kong’s money-driven culture and inflated real estate market, and an essay on what values in life really matter. Mr. Pang is taking things to the edge, so that the most violent moments border on the hilarious, but never turn into slapstick: the line between laughter and shock maybe thin, but it’s always there. DREAM HOME remains a gut-wrenching flick at all times, and is probably one of the most violent movies of the year, yet it is also one of the most intelligent films of the year, telling a story that is painfully real and intense like few other films that were released in 2010.

The ending is, quite as expected, less coincidental but most of all consequential, a reductio ad absurdum, leaving Cheng and the audience speechless in view of what just happened. It’s the to-the-point conclusion of a great, condensed film that deserves to be praised – it’s a truly accomplished work.

With DREAM HOME Mr. Pang proves once again to be one of Hong Kong’s most versatile filmmakers and a brilliant observer who likes to dismantle reality and bring its essence to the screen, concerned most of all with what moves the ordinary citizen amid an ever-changing world. I recommend watching his previous film LOVE IN A PUFF back to back with DREAM HOME, and you will come to the conclusion that Mr. Pang’s films are wonderful, contemporary works from Hong Kong that shouldn’t be missed.

Whatever’s next, I bet on Mr. Pang to excite the audience with another surprising, and surprisingly good, film. I’d kill to see it today.

J.

 

 

 

 


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GIRL$ [NAM NAM | 囡囡]

2010/11/11

HONG KONG 2010  Directed by: Kenneth Bi Produced by: Kin Hung Ng  Cast: Michelle Wai, Seli Xian, Minyi Wang, Una Lin, Deep Ng, kwok Cheung Tsang, Eric Tse

It’s not the first time youth prostitution is the subject of a movie, and it’s also not the first time that it’s hard to say how serious or exploitative the result is. Is it a film about prostitution, is it a film with prostitution as a mere canvas, is it a film against prostitution, or is it actually just a T&A show?

To be fair, GIRL$ doesn’t fall into the good old CATIII category because of its exploitative nature. As it turns out, GIRL$ is a halfway serious attempt of halfway serious filmmaking. The story follows four girls who turn to paid “dating” for reasons that are not always entirely clear, but are in any case superficial. Expensive handbags or sheer boredom are hardly good reasons to sleep with someone for money. Or is it just one of the choices that is within easy reach in our multi-options-society? Maybe it’s the internet’s fault: technological advancement makes prostitution so damn easy.

When I mentioned “reasons” before, I believe that wasn’t precise enough. The reason, the goal, might be obvious, but what’s missing is a motivation. You might want that handbag, but that doesn’t tell much about the fact that you choose to pimp out yourself to the highest bidder in order to get it. So what the movie does is primarily dealing with objectives, and showing us that for these girls prostitution is a way to get there. What GIRL$ doesn’t explain is why the handbag is so important that the means to the end are completely out of proportion.

Mr. Bi is not explaining to the audience what’s really going on. GIRL$ is much more like a report on an extreme lifestyle than an essay on morals and declining standards of society. There is little context here, it’s a black-and-white world: you turn to prostitution for some pocket-money or you don’t. As is the case with the girl who bids on an internet auction. Mr. Bi makes it seem as if there are only two choices: not to have the money to pay up for the goods or to go on a paid date.

And I think that is where GIRL$ is just wrong: instead of touching on the decision-making process, the motivation behind, the question of right and wrong or at least somewhat conscious actions, the film is presenting reality as a pre-determined road to perdition with a predictable outcome: sooner or later you will be a prostitute. So it’s all not so much a matter of why you become a prostitute, it’s only a matter of when.

Great films like Masato Harada’s BOUNCE CO GALS have proven a long time ago that contemporary cinema can deal with the harsh reality out there and make it all mean something, without being a boring discourse on changing times. That doesn’t require a huge budget or funny tricks, all it requires is real insight and detailed observation. Something Mr. Bi doesn’t prove to have: GIRL$ has probably been written with a couple of newspaper articles as source material and a bit of he said she said that he said that she told him gossip.

GIRL$ could have been an insightful film providing us with a proper learning curve about what makes the youth tick, what they really want and what their state of mind is. Instead it turns out feeling like a “desk job”: a case made up more or less well, without ever reaching the depth you’d achieve if you had ever left that desk in the first place.

J.

 

 

 

 

 


DETECTIVE DEE AND THE MYSTERY OF THE PHANTOM FLAME [DI RENJIE ZHI TONG TIAN DI GUO | 狄仁傑 之 通天帝國]

2010/10/18

http://www.emp.hk/

http://www.filmworkshop.net/

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.

J.