Posts Tagged ‘Tsui Hark’

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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IP MAN [YIP MAN | 葉問]

2010/05/09

http://www.ipman-movie.com/

HONG KONG 2008  Directed by: Wilson Yip Written by: Edmond Wong  Produced by: Raymond Wong Cinematography by: Sing-Pui O  Editing: Ka-Fai Cheung  Music: Kenji Kawai Cast: Donnie Yen, Simon Yam, Siu-Wong Fan, Ka Tung Lam, Yu Xing, You-Nam Wong, Chen Zhi Hui, Lynn Hung, Hiroyuki Ikeguchi, Yu-Hang To

In 2008 two attempts were made to bring the work and life of grandmaster Ip Man to the big screen: first prolific producer Raymond Wong announced his project, then Wong Kar Wai came out saying he had his own version of an Ip Man movie coming up soon. While Wong Kar Wai’s film remains in development hell until today, Raymond Wong went ahead producing the acclaimed epic finally simply called IP MAN after some title controversy.

The movie is set during the Sino-Japanese war in the 30’s: Foshan, originally a city bustling with martial arts schools of southern Chinese styles is soon being occupied by the Japanese army. The previously prosper Foshan declines and becomes a place in which disease and starvation are the norm. The martial arts schools are closed and the masters have to work in a coal mine to make a living. Occasionally the Japanese force them to fight against their own martial artists, and one day it’s Ip Man’s turn to take on the enemy in a life-and death martial arts duel.

IP MAN naturally takes its liberties with Ip Man’s biography, but who are we to judge right from wrong. What’s more important is that IP MAN is a rich, diverse and believable portrait of the Wing Chun grandmaster within the limitations of a martial art movie (we have to understand that IP MAN is not a biopic). Still there are so many ways in which you can enjoy the movie; IP MAN will most certainly stand the test of time and become a modern classic.

With Donnie Yen’s best acting so far and with another fabulous martial arts performance of his (which is even more notable bearing in mind he had to learn Wing Chun from ground up before shooting started) IP MAN succeeds in portraying Ip Man as a kind, skilled and dedicated person. Yen’s acting is very believable and I couldn’t think of anyone else to play the role better, or at all (unless you rewrite the role and omit all fighting). The rest of the ensemble is also well cast, which elevates IP MAN far above most other martial arts movies. From beginning to end you never have the feeling to watch a stunt show that requires just any story as an excuse for the fights, instead the movie is more than sincere in telling the life and times of Ip Man.

For all martial arts fans out there IP MAN should be a feast for the eyes, featuring various styles and fantastic action choreography by Sammo Hung. The fights are enormously dynamic and grim with wirework that supports the action and never overshadows the skills of the fighters.

If you are fond of history IP MAN is also an interesting account of the Japanese invasion: naturally the film is biased, but it never feels unjustified and in the end every great movie needs a great villain. IP MAN may have strong views in regard of the Japanese, but it’s not propaganda like many other films – for IP MAN history is a canvas upon which it paints its story.

Finally the movie shines when it comes to production value (I forgive the movie that the very first scene showing Foshan is very much revealing that these are studio facades), direction, editing and music. In short, it’s another outstanding Raymond Wong production.

IP MAN evokes memories of the good old days of Hong Kong cinema and gets as close as that is possible today to milestones like ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA. If all Hong Kong movies would have the virtues of IP MAN we would soon see a renaissance of Hong Kong cinema; unfortunately this is not the case.

For the time being IP MAN marks the pinnacle of contemporary Cantonese martial arts films with only one serious competitor in sight: IP MAN 2.

J.