Posts Tagged ‘Zhang Jingchu’

AFTERSHOCKS a.k.a. AFTERSHOCK [TANGSHAN DADIZHEN | 唐山大地震]

2010/08/26

http://www.mediaasia.com/aftershock

CHINA 2010  Directed by: Xiaogang Feng Book: Zhang Ling Written by: Su Xiaowei Production: Hua Yi Bros.  Cinematography by: Yue Lu  Editing by: Xiao Yang  Music: Li-Guang Wang  Cast: Zhang Jingchu, Daoming Chen, Yi Lu, Jin Chen, Fan Xu, Chen Li, Zi-Feng Zhang, Ziwen Wang, Lixin Yang, Li-Li Liu, Mei Yong, Tie-Dan, Guoqiang Zhang, Zhong Lu

How do you dramatize a disaster that has actually happened? It probably depends on how interested you actually are. How much you care.

AFTERSHOCKS is honest cinema that has little to do with special effects orgies. The film instead chooses to deal with the decisions a catastrophe like the earthquake of Tangshan forces upon people, and how this incident affects everyone’s life in the long run. AFTERSHOCKS spends very little time on the earthquake itself, and why would it: it happened, and it is non-negotiable. There’s little that needs to be dramatized, or stylized for that matter (although the moment of the quake certainly leaves an impression). A dialogue later on reveals a crucial point: you don’t need to run from a small earthquake as no damage will be done, and you also don’t need to run from a very serious quake as you can’t escape anyway.

AFTERSHOCKS has understood that very well and consequently avoids any of the familiar disaster film clichés. What’s more important for the movie are the scars the quake leaves on people, the impact it has on their lives. The English title AFTERSHOCKS is very befitting, because life after the earthquake is no longer like life before. The disaster is hour zero, and everything after that is a very long aftershock that rocks the foundation of people’s very existence. For decades, smaller and larger shock waves will bring back not-so-fond memories and raise uncomfortable questions. Tangshan knows.

AFTERSHOCKS tries to fathom how the earthquake distorts reality, how it makes a family drift as the father dies, the mother is made to choose which of their two kids to save and the daughter who is believed to be dead is separated from the family for decades and grows up with step parents. It may only be one story of many, but like so often, if told well it can represent the story of them all.

AFTERSHOCKS succeeds in telling its story without complication or tricks, it speaks to us, personally involves us in the suffering we see. AFTERSHOCKS presses all the right buttons (not to say that was its objective): sometimes it observes, but is also very cinematic, sometimes it’s dramatic, but also authentic. AFTERSHOCKS respects the characters and their story at all times (a rarely seen integrity), but it nevertheless manages not to bore the audience (I wouldn’t want to call it „manages to entertain”). On the contrary, with increasing running time you’ll forget the time.

The ending may seem like a frequently seen happy end, but it is consistent and perhaps a necessity. After all that we have witnessed and gone through for more than two hours, any other denouement would be intolerable. And the way AFTERSHOCKS unwinds the threads isn’t fatuous by any means, but in fact perfectly rounds off the film.

Talking about perfection: many years ago we admired the aestheticism of Zhang Yimou, while today China’s far away from its heyday as a film nation. It is noteworthy however that AFTERSHOCKS is an extraordinarily sophisticated, detailed, precise and simply impressive film, a film so elegant and beautiful that most of what comes from Hong Kong (and elsewhere) fades in comparison.

AFTERSHOCKS is one of the most important Chinese films of the year, and I can only hope that more producers and directors will abandon political propaganda or purely commercial interests in the future and instead tell touching, relevant stories that have the power to move and deeply affect audiences far beyond the borders of the People’s Republic, just like AFTERSHOCKS does.

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.