Posts Tagged ‘Shu Qi’

LEGEND OF THE FIST: THE RETURN OF CHEN ZHEN [JING MO FUNG WAN: CHEN ZHEN | YE XING XIA: CHEN ZHEN | 精武風雲.陳真]

2010/10/04

http://www.mediaasia.com/legendofthefist/

HONG KONG 2010  Directed by: Andrew Lau Written by: Cheung Chi-Sing, Gordon Chan  Produced by: Andrew Lau, Gordon Chan  Cinematography by: Andrew Lau, Ng Man-Ching  Editing by: Azrael Chung  Music by: Chan Kwong-Wing  Cast: Donnie Yen, Shu Qi, Anthony Wong, Huang Bo, Shawn Yue, Yasuaki Kurata, Huo Siyan, Yang Zhou

We are living in fast times. Attention to detail has become a virtue without value. Everything has to get attention instantly, just to be succeeded by the next best thing coming our way. Movies, an art form that has always been driven by systematic acceleration, is no different of course, and LEGEND OF THE FIST: THE RETURN OF CHEN ZHEN is a good example for that.

THE RETURN OF CHEN ZHEN is a movie made for an audience without memory, without the expectation of logic or the ability to follow linear storytelling from beginning to end, even though it tries to give us the impression it was dedicated to storytelling. But in fact, we are rather dealing with fragments – a movie like an executive summary, enough to get it, but leaving out the details. It is made for an audience that has forgotten what movie they just paid for the moment they take their seats in the cinema. As long as it is loud, cool and fast-paced, as long as there is familiarity to make it instantly likable, it’s all good. We may never find out what came first, an undemanding audience or dumb filmmaking, but nowadays they complement each other very well.

So let’s take THE RETURN OF CHEN ZHEN for what it is and move on. Let us forget about historic accuracy (who Chen Zhen really was and what he meant), seamless continuation of the FIST OF FURY franchise or sophisticated characterization, and instead enjoy the spectacle featuring a masked hero coming out of nowhere, going nowhere.

THE RETURN OF CHEN ZHEN opens with Chen Zhen fighting in WWI in France, becoming the savior of the Chinese working over there, helping them to survive and get back home. In one of the more memorable moments, Chen Zhen defeats the German army by running, slaloming, jumping and swinging through a hail of bullets until he’s the last man standing.

I don’t remember how the film cut to Shanghai set years later (I am not sure if it escaped my memory or if there’s simply nothing to remember), and we are presented with the usual introduction of the city: the nightclub (called Casablanca), the Jazz music, the lights and the glamour. Here we meet Liu Yiutian (Anthony Wong, who looks tired – or bored – throughout the film), the club’s owner, and his wife Kiki (Shu Qi, who looks equally bored, but attractive as always), who is spying for the Japanese. It’s a reprise of the roles of Chow Yun-Fat and Gong Li in SHANGHAI, with Wong’s gestures and looks being a perfect copy of Chow, and Qi trying her best to imitate Gong Li most of the time.

These are turbulent times, and soon we get some more insight into the characters, like that of Anthony Wong: “the more chaos, the more we earn, ha ha”. He knows he’s the big shot who owns the only island of tranquility amid the chaos outside. Speaking of the club: its name immediately struck me, quite like Mr. Lau intended I assume, but I don’t know what to make out of it. Is it an homage? Is it that Mr. Lau realized SHANGHAI pretty much copies CASABLANCA, so as he copies SHANGHAI the club’s name becomes something like an insider joke? Or is it just stupid, naming a club in the 1920’s after a movie set during WWII and released in 1942? Or am I stupid and they really are fans of the city?

Chen Zhen, who now goes by his other name, is part of an underground movement. Soon he gets Liu to trust him and they become partners of the nightclub business, all for no obvious reasons. It is not clear why Liu should make someone he doesn’t know a partner (= give half of his profit away), and it is even more illogical that a key figure of the resistance, who at the same time is a superhero, would expose himself like that. Maybe it’s because he has to meet the villain, Japanese Colonel Takashi, at some point and nobody knew a better way to introduce them than the club. It’s not the only meaningless, pointless moment of the movie, so someone must have figured we’ll get over it quickly.

As soon as the swiss-cheese-plot, sketchy editing and amazingly false music (they go as far as using Heavy Metal) started to get annoying, THE RETURN OF CHEN ZHEN throws in the second catchy scene, the silver dollar bet between Chen Zhen and Takashi. That is a fine moment, a tense, sophisticated duel between the archenemies. Bravo. But then, we are back to endless dojo scenes with Takashi, endless display of racism (Britons against Chinese, Chinese against Japanese, Chinese against Britons, Japanese against everyone else), and many more plot holes, until we can witness the less than climatic last fight between the antagonists (with Donnie Yen mutating into Bruce Lee and from here on suddenly using Lee’s trademark high-pitched scream).

THE RETURN OF CHEN ZHEN is not unentertaining, but it never really makes up for all its shortcomings. Mr. Lau seems to believe that playing some sad music when someone’s dying can replace characterization or good acting, just as he believes he can fool us that Donnie Yen has really done all the fighting by himself. The biggest letdown is the fact that at least half of the time Mr. Yen is doubled, and the rest of the time he doesn’t show much of his capabilities as those sequences are shot largely close-up with shaky camera and are edited very fast. Martial arts fans will inevitably feel cheated.

THE RETURN OF CHEN ZHEN is another production that promises a lot and keeps just a little. It feels rushed, incomplete, not very well planned and misses more opportunities than it seizes. What if, what could have been – you’ll most certainly find yourself asking questions like these. THE RETURN OF CHEN ZHEN is one more proof that Mr. Lau’s INFERNAL AFFAIRS was both, a masterpiece and a fluke.

According to the (true) legend, Chen Zhen’s identity was never revealed, and one day he just disappeared without leaving a trace. Quite like the movie – it’s suddenly over, just like that, and it leaves no trace behind. What was I just watching?

J.


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CITY UNDER SIEGE [CHUN SING GAI BEI | DIAN YING QUAN CHENG JIE BEI | 全城戒备]

2010/08/18

http://www.facebook.com/pages/dian-ying-quan-cheng-jie-bei/121659681202514

HONG KONG 2010  Directed by: Benny Chan Written by: Benny Chan, Tsang Kan-Cheung Produced by: Benny Chan, Daniel Lam  Cinematography by: Anthony Pun  Editing by: Benny Chan, Sing Yan Chan  Music by: Anthony Chue Cast: Aaron Kwok, Shu Qi, Collin Chou, Wu Jing, Zhang Jingchu

CITY UNDER SIEGE sounds like your average Hong Kong actioner, but it’s more like MUTANT KILLER CLOWNS ON A RAMPAGE really. But then it’s not. You’ll see.

Clown Sunny (Aaron Kwok), trying to match his father’s reputation as master clown, goes on an adventure hike with his fellow carnies, stumbles upon an old mine from WWII where the evil Japanese conducted even more evil experiments (does the Chinese government actually award filmmakers for their negative portrayal of the Japanese?); accidentally they set some gas free that transforms them into mutants with superpowers, and as soon as they return to the city they have nothing better to do but use these powers for criminal activities of all sorts. They are like a plague laying waste to Hong Kong, except for Sunny who instead tries to fight them and bring their reign of terror to an end with the help of reporter Angel (Shu Qi).

If you happen to have a vivid imagination the story reads interesting and unconventional, something that in the hands of visionary maverick directors like Takashi Miike or Sion Sono or Yukihiko Tsutsumi would turn into a genre-bending, no holds barred extravaganza. Under the direction of veteran helmer Benny CONNECTED Chan however it rather proves that some things don’t mix, like career and marriage, fruit and chocolate or super heroes and Hong Kong cinema.

On a ranking of things we desperately need, where would a “superhero movie from Hong Kong” be? Surely somewhere down in the 800s, jammed in between a FUTURE X-COPS sequel (#879) and BASIC INSTINCT 3 (#881). But let’s pretend for a minute that CITY UNDER SIEGE is to be taken seriously. Let’s just take a really serious look at it.

The first thing I noticed was that, not quite atypical for Hong Kong scripts, the idea of the clowns and the circus troupe and the Japanese army experiment has no relevance whatsoever for the story. In fact, after an adagio first twenty minutes or so establishing all this pomp and circumstance it’s suddenly all gone. CITY UNDER SIEGE is a simple-minded mutant action movie, no one talks about clowns or the war anymore later on. Luckily, the audience’s memory is probably as short as Benny Chan’s.

The next thing is that Aaron Kwok still cannot act, and that he is the wrong choice for the lead role: Sunny, the clumsy, good-hearted mutant not only has to save the city but also deal with a blossoming relationship with Angel. This is a delicate task for any actor, but Kwok really spoils it. It’s just like Jerry Lewis explained to Lee Evans in FUNNY BONES: there’s two types of comedians, one acts funny while the other actually is funny. Aaron Kwok is the third kind, he tries to act funny but fails miserably. Apart from the funny part he also fails to convince as mutant, or lover, or hero. Kwok is really just a clown.

The rest of the cast ain’t much better, delivering variable to underwhelming performances. The characters are one-dimensional, also thanks to the script. I dare to say though that Shu Qi is vastly underrated as actress; she’s come a long way and is very charming also in this movie, but is abused as scream queen and dumb love interest by the writers.

So let’s talk about the action then, CITY UNDER SIEGE is an action movie, isn’t it? Here comes another problem the film undoubtedly has: the mutants never ever look or feel like superheroes, instead they are like martial artists with above-average skills. That must be attributed to the excessive (and almost exclusive) use of wire fu (and also the substandard craftsmanship of CITY UNDER SIEGE). Not only is the editing of the action sequences sketchy, most of all you can always clearly see the point of gravity and where the wires were attached to the actors before they were edited out during post production. The “superheroes” are obviously only actors or stuntmen hanging on wires. Takes a bit of the wow away, doesn’t it? And it only gets worse as soon as Chan engages in a crude mix of wire fu and CGI.

The craftsmanship is an issue in other scenes as well: one time Chan chooses an irritating POV-style shot to “observe” a scene while no physical person is present, another time we can see someone smash a car door window while the button is up and the door unlocked, and so forth. Looking at the batch of action scenes CITY UNDER SIEGE features, not more than maybe one to two “ok” set pieces stand out, otherwise I’d classify the action as average to boring. No impact, no fun. What should have been solid Benny Chan action seems miscalculated: Chan tries to be out of the box, but fails to add the needed creativity to outfox himself and surprise the audience.

It all boils down to a lot of borrowing from the likes of X-MEN (the movie’s only cool moment is the Wolverine joke), FANTASTIC FOUR and HULK, a lot of drama that no one knows how to integrate and a lot of disorientation. The cast may boast both serious actors and fighters, and Benny Chan may have tried his best to bring us a contemporary homage to 80’s exploitation movies from Hong Kong, but CITY UNDER SIEGE ends up being the trash it tries to worship.

If God wanted Hong Kong to have super heroes they wouldn’t need the forthcoming rip-off MR. & MRS. INCREDIBLE that Peter Chan will unleash upon us next Chinese New Year (and God forbid he rakes in another acting award for that one like he did for BODYGUARDS & ASSASSINS).

No. God just wanted Hong Kong to be the cradle of some of the best action flicks on the planet. That’s more than enough for me. It should have been more than enough for Benny Chan.

J.


DIM SUM: CITY UNDER SIEGE [全城戒备]

2010/05/11

Action fans will be eagerly awaiting Benny Chan’s latest work, CITY UNDER SIEGE. Written by Tsang Kan-Cheung the actionfest stars Aaron Kwok, Jacky Wu, Shu Qi (yeah!) and Collin Chou. Previously titled CITY ON ALERT the co-production with China’s Enlight Pictures is a SciFi Actioner dealing with a mysterious gas attack that gives both the hero and the villain superpowers. Screening starts in China as early May (to be confirmed; release was originally planned for September), so look out for your local dates.

J.