Posts Tagged ‘john woo’

REIGN OF ASSASSINS [JIANYU | 剑雨]

2010/10/24

http://www.mediaasia.com/reignofassassins

http://jianyu.ent.sina.com.cn/

HONG KONG 2010  Directed by: John Woo, Su Chao-Pin Written by: Su Chao-Pin Produced by: John Woo, Terence Chang  Cinematography by: Wong Wing-Hung, Arthur Wong  Editing by: Cheung Ka-Fai  Music by: Peter Kam  Cast: Michelle Yeoh, Jung Woo-Sung, Wang Xueqi, Barbie Hsu, Shawn Yue, Kelly Lin, Guo Xiaodong, Jiang Yiyan, Leon Dai, Paw Hee-Ching, Pace Wu, Li Zonghan, Jiang Yiyan

We are still far away from a real renaissance, but with two small masterpieces launched around the same time that are reviving the best traditions of Hong Kong cinema we are kind of spoiled for choice: no matter if you see DETECTIVE DEE AND THE MYSTERY OF THE PHANTOM FLAME or REIGN OF ASSASSINS first, you’ll end up coming to the same conclusion – that you just saw a film that looks and feels as good as Hong Kong movies did twenty years ago.

And again it is no surprise that REIGN OF ASSASSINS is helmed by a veteran director of the golden age of Hong Kong cinema: after RED CLIFF John Woo has returned to China once again, this time telling the tale of the mummified remains of an Indian monk that are supposed to bear magical powers. Various parties are after the treasure, including the Dark Stone gang whose top assassin Drizzle (Kelly Lin) gets hold of the remains, but decides to live an ordinary life instead of returning to the gang after meeting a monk and master swordsman who sacrifices himself to enlighten her.

She changes her appearance through surgery and assumes the identity of Zeng Jing (Michelle Yeoh). She moves to the city and opens a store selling cloth, and soon after marries messenger Ah Sheng. They could have lived happily ever after, but the script thinks otherwise: the Dark Stone gang is still in pursuit of the remains, and their leader Wheel King (Xueqi Wang) is upping the ante by sending three assassins to hunt down Drizzle. Lei Bin (Shawn Yue), The Magician (Leon Dai) and sexy but merciless killer Turqoise (Barbie Hsu) are are getting closer to the truth, while some more surprising twists complicate things further. Everything gears towards the last stand-off between Drizzle and her old gang, with some uninvited guests are joining the party.

For a Hong Kong swordsplay flick (new or old) REIGN OF ASSASSINS has a very solid story, detailed characterization and inventive script. All is quite right: the movie’s depth and complexity is intriguing, but never reaches the kind of confusion that have made movies like SWORDSMAN 2 as tiring as an accounting seminar. On the contrary, REIGN OF ASSASSINS achieves a great level of integration with the story driving the action and vice versa. I didn’t know what to expect at first with Su Chao-Pin being under my radar in the past, but it must be said that the script is fabulous.

The same must be said about the action: the choreography is state-of-the-art, a very modern yet artistic interpretation of swordsplay, with spectacular gimmicks and incredible pace, as beautiful to watch as it is breathtaking. Mr. Woo has teamed with legendary DOP Wong Wing-Hung (A CHINESE GHOST STORY, THE KILLER, HARDBOILED) and it is obvious from the beginning that he enjoyed shooting the film quite a bit more than BEAUTY ON DUTY (that’s only my assumption, of course). However, action hasn’t looked that good for a while, and it’s not a coincidence that it comes from the people who originally turned made in Hong Kong into a valuable trademark as far as filmmaking goes.

What brings me back to Tsui Hark’s DETECTIVE DEE and what I wrote about it earlier: DETECTIVE DEE and REIGN OF ASSASSINS are not exceptional for what they are inventing, but because of what they are preserving, or bringing back to the silver screen. Both mark the return to Pre-‘97 Hong Kong filmmaking, and while they are of course products of 2010 they seem as imaginative, untroubled, powerful and touching as movies were back then.

Those who don’t care much about the past or know very little about it should note however that contemporary Hong Kong cinema doesn’t get any better than this. If REIGN OF ASSASSINS, or DETECTIVE DEE for that matter, don’t convince you this kind of cinema simply isn’t for you. And all the dedicated fans will be pleased to hear that, at least for a moment, Mr. Tsui and Mr. Woo have put back the magic into Hong Kong films. Enjoy it while it lasts.

J.

 

 

 


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FIRE OF CONSCIENCE [FUR LONG a.k.a. HUO LONG | 火龙]

2010/05/15

http://www.mediaasia.com/fireofconscience/

HONG KONG 2010  Directed by: Dante Lam  Story: Dante Lam Written by: Wai Lun Ng  Produced by: Dante Lam, Candy Leung  Cinematography by: Charlie Lam, Chung-To Tse  Editing: Ki-Hop Chan  Music: Henry Lai Cast: Leon Lai, Richie Ren, Baoqiang Wang, Vivian Hsu, Kai Chi Liu, Michelle Ye, Wilfried Lau, Charles Ying, Vanessa Yeung, Pinkie Cheung

Wow. Hard to believe Hong Kong can still produce something like this. Brash, straight forward, undiluted, no funny hats. But then, it’s director Dante Lam behind FIRE OF CONSCIENCE who has brought us some of the most exciting action movies of the late golden era of Hong Kong cinema, just as much as he is one of the last men standing to deliver the goods in the 21st century.

FIRE OF CONSCIENCE is how we’d expect it to be, and then it’s not. Blending some of the most (over)used motifs of Hong Kong crime thrillers it elevates the story that revolves around various connected cases of murder and robbery, a depressed cop who lost his wife and baby in a seemingly random attack and police corruption as expressed through a rogue and unscrupulous senior police office far beyond your average actioner.

Not much seems new here at first, but I’d refrain from saying that Dante Lam’s FIRE OF CONSCIENCE is just thick and sugary eye-candy covering up the lack of substance. On the contrary, I feel that Lam goes as far as that is virtually possible with an action thriller like this. FIRE OF CONSCIENCE is as good as it gets indeed: a strong and convincing drama, an intriguing and complex story of fate and betrayal, a hyper-violent action fest and an enormously tense thriller.

It may not be up to the ISO-standardized script excellence of Hollywood and indeed misses inescapable logic at times, but other than that Dante Lam’s FIRE OF CONSCIENCE is competing with the iconic works of Michael Mann or John Frankenheimer.

If you have grown up with the Hong Kong cinema of the 80s and 90s you will quickly realize how much FIRE OF CONSCIENCE is revisiting the same motifs, relationships and places while at the same time breathing the post-97 spirit and a todayness characterized by a strange where-do-we-go-from-here melancholy.

With all political and administrative systems working and new rules in place after the handover it almost seems like the time was ripe to get a taste of the street again. Leon Lai (finally his long-awaited come-back to action cinema) is like a modern Taxi Driver, a depressed loner, good cop but often erratic lunatic who is motivated by finding his wife’s killer and sleeping in his car ever since the murder happened. He’s on a permanent lookout, yet it’s like only the street feels like home, feels real, makes him feel alive.

Then there’s the mainland gang, a cliché used in many of modern Hong Kong crime films. But something is different here, again. Never since the late 80’s I felt that the “mainland criminal” is more than a biased image of the quintessential villain and the perfect concept of the enemy for a Hong Kong audience. Not this time: in a way Lam is returning to the LONG ARM OF THE LAW realism, drawing a similar picture of people who become criminals out of necessity, not because it’s fun.

Their desperation, dependence and hopelessness are well captured in FIRE OF CONSCIENCE and personified through one poor chap who is used and abused by the ruthless masterminds. But even the leaders of the gang, being the cold killers that they are, have this aura of “going-nowhere”. It’s not because this mission is their endgame (it is not meant to be), but because they know there’s nothing left to lose, and moreover nothing left to gain, now or ever.

It is no surprise to see that the ones having everything – a beautiful soon-to-be wife, a big house, a good career – are in no way different from the ones who have already lost everything. While Detective Manfred (Leon Lai) has something to live for (finding the killer of his wife) Inspector Kee (Richie Ren) has literally been robbed of that last reason to keep going. Or at least that’s how he sees it.

Honor and loyalty are values of the past; honor is down the drain and the only loyalty left lies with the biggest monetary gain, or with the loved ones long gone. What drives both men nevertheless is their Zodiac – the dragon that makes them powerful leaders, but also makes them think that they can do anything and get away with it. They can’t. There’s always a price to pay.

Dante Lam is staying true to his formula yet excels himself, setting a new standard for high-octane action movies made in Hong Kong anno 2010 altogether. With over-the-top action sequences, highly emotional moments, gripping dialogue and some memorable set pieces like the opening sequence and some gruel shootouts, FIRE OF CONSCIENCE is the best HK action movie since I don’t know when.

Watching FIRE OF CONSCIENCE evokes memories of some of the best movies of this kind, of the aforementioned LONG ARM OF THE LAW, but also John Woo’s HARDBOILED as well as one of my all-time favorites, Ringo Lam’s FULL ALERT. It speaks for the quality of FIRE OF CONSCIENCE that it doesn’t remind me of any of the latest productions. FIRE OF CONSCIENCE may not be able to repeat the greatness of some of the classics, but it delivers a kinetic rollercoaster ride second to none by today’s standard, wonderfully written, acted and photographed.

Usually I’d give FIRE OF CONSCIENCE four stars as not everything’s perfect, but just for the sake of a 2010 movie that actually looks and feels like some of the best movies done in Hong Kong in the 90s, I give it another star. Call me nostalgic, but looking back isn’t always a bad thing. Sometimes you can even learn for the future. Just ask Dante Lam. He knows.

J.


A BETTER TOMORROW REMAKE: MOO JEOK JA

2010/02/26

Here’s another news just hot off the rumor mill: KOREAN studio Fingerprint has just wrapped their remake of John Woo’s Hong Kong cinema milestone A BETTER TOMORROW. The new title will be MOO JEOK JA, and the film has been shot partly on location in Thailand. The film will feature Korean actors Song Seung Hun, Joo Jin Mo, Cho Han Sun and Kim Kang Woo. Release date is scheduled for July 2010. We are eager to see how a Korean remake of a Hong Kong classic will score without John Woo directing and Chow Yun Fat acting. Good luck!