Posts Tagged ‘Teddy Robin Kwan’

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.

 

 

 

 

 


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GALLANTS [DA LUI TOI | 打擂台]

2010/08/03

http://www.gallantsthemovie.com/

http://www.facebook.com/gallantsthemovie

HONG KONG 2010  Directed by: Derek Kwok Chin-Kin, Clement Sze-Kit Cheng Written by: Frankie Tam, Kwok Chi-Kin, Clement Sze-Kit Cheng  Produced by: Lam Ka Tung  Cinematography: Sing-Pui O  Editing: Matthew Hui  Music: Teddy Robin Kwan, Tommy Wai Cast: Leung Siu-Lung, Chen Kuan Tai, Wong You-Nam, Chen Koon Tai, J.J. Jia, Teddy Robin Kwan, Jin Auyeung, Li Haitao, Siu Yam Yam, Lo Meng, Ku Kuan-Chung

Kung-fu master Law Sun is in a coma since 30 years. In the meantime, his martial arts school had to close down and is now run by his ex-disciples as Law’s Teahouse. Outdated, without customers and broke shopkeepers Dragon and Tiger, both in their fifties now, are thinking to finally give up the place when a young property company manager, Cheung, shows up. Clueless at work and aimless in life Cheung used to be a kung-fu enthusiast, but had to give up his passion at an early age due to asthma. Cheung gets involved in a property dispute about the teahouse and learns about the rich heritage of the place and its old inhabitants – just before he accidentally wakes up master Law. Once Law is back on his feet, he reopens his school – not knowing that 30 years have passed. Having lost a substantial part of his memory he shifts into high gear, training Dragon, Tiger and Cheung to take part in a tournament and fight with their arch rivals to get their dignity back.

GALLANTS is a lovely homage to the art of kung-fu and kung-fu cinema alike. It displays a fine sense of humor that has little to do with your average Cantonese comedy: instead of making fun of the subject or exploiting it for cheap punch lines GALLANTS always respects its (anti-)heroes and loves them for their character as much as for their flaws and failures. Seen largely through the eyes of Cheung GALLANTS has a touch of coming-of-age story that makes for an interesting contrast to the ageing martial arts masters: young and old are learning from each other and have respect for each other, typifying one of the virtues of Asian cultures, but it also wouldn’t be a topic of this movie (and many others for that matter) if we all wouldn’t feel its appreciation is gradually fading in the East as well.

The movie’s offbeat style and indie-feeling is a welcome change to what else is out there at the moment; all things considered GALLANTS is a league apart from proclaimed masterpieces of satire like ONCE A GANGSTER. However, in the wake of GALLANTS being hyped as one of Hong Kong’s best movies of the year it still takes quite some imagination to see what exactly would constitute the movie being a real milestone of cinematic creativity. It is honest and authentic, warm and heartfelt, funny and yet seriously in love with kung-fu, however, I’d overrate the movie if I’d praise it as something that it isn’t.

GALLANTS is a formidable small film, and looking at this year’s output from HK most certainly one of this year’s sleeper hits, especially thanks to its non-commercial approach to filmmaking, but it is also a movie that’s contained within its subject-matter, mostly playing inside the box. GALLANTS is a film about the heyday and downtime of kung-fu, but it doesn’t reach out to an audience that isn’t much concerned with the physical or spiritual side of martial arts.

J.


DIM SUM: GALLANTS [DA LEI TAI | 打擂台]

2010/05/29

http://www.facebook.com/pages/da-lei-tai-GALLANTS/103765246330303

UPDATE: READ THE FULL REVIEW HERE! – – – – – – – – The biggest surprise hit from Hong Kong so far is NOT a Wong Jing movie (really? how come?), but reportedly an indie kung fu comedy called GALLANTS. For Hong Kong movie lovers this one is a welcome change from the super-commercial films of the first months of the year. GALLANTS features lots of old-school HK movie style; essentially, GALLANTS is an homage to Hong Kong action films and stars of the past.

Hong Kong has always been able to produce surprising indie films seemingly coming out of nowhere, so we are happy to see that this is still possible Anno 2010. One of the producers is Andy Lau by the way; maybe he should concentrate on producing and not acting as his appearance in junk like FUTURE X-COPS is a waste of time (unless he uses the money he earned with it for producing films like GALLANTS, of course). The other producer is Gordon Lam. Directed by Derek Kwok and Clement Cheng. Starring are Chen Kuan-Tai, Leung Siu-Lung, Teddy Robin Kwan, Wong yau-Nam, JJ Jia, Siu Yam-Yam, Jin Au-Yeung, Chan Wai-Man, Li Hai-Tao, Law Wing-Cheong, Lo Meng and Goo Goon-Chung.

J.