Ann Hui’s Night And Fog A Disappointment

Star-Trek-2009

Star Trek (2009) – I was really looking forward to the Star Trek reboot given the raving reviews stateside and I must say I wasn’t disappointed. J.J. Abrams imbues this 2009 version with great energy less all the cheesy dialogue that made the previous movies quite cringe-inducing at times. Without any A-list stars in the leading roles works in the film’s favor and in fact the relatively unknown cast delivers solid performance – we can see how they grow into the characters. The movie never really slows down as crisis after crisis hits the crew of the Enterprise and I must say the space fleet battles are the best yet in any of the Star Trek series. My pick for the best blockbuster for the summer so far! Highly recommended.

Terminator Salvation – many film buffs probably squirmed at the idea that McG was going to direct this 4th installment of the Terminator franchise but the casting of Christian Bale in the leading role as John Connor gave some hope. Terminator Salvation isn’t as hopelessly boring as Terminator 3, but fails to generate the excitement of T2 or the original. We’ve seen robots bashing each other around in the Transformers two summers ago, there aren’t any new jaw dropping special effects … and the plot fails to deliver any surprises either. The film remains a passable popcorn movie but won’t be crowned top dog among this summer’s blockbusters.

Duplicity – Hollywood has run out of ideas (and new stars) for successful romantic comedies so they created a new genre – the romantic thriller. Julia Roberts and Clive Owen star as ex-CIA and ex MI6 operatives who have fallen in love, and given up their secret service jobs in order to make a quick buck in the world of corporate espionage. Alternating between romance and thriller, Duplicity should provide enough serpentine plot twists and romantic interludes to keep both guys and chicks happy. Recommended.

Night And Fog 天水圍的夜與霧 – I found Night And Fog a disappointment as part 2 of acclaimed Hong Kong director Ann Hui’s probe into life in the working class Tin Shui Wai 天水圍. Her earlier film followed the mundane life of a blue collar mother working to support her son – that movie never succumbed to melodrama and delivered a slice of life about making a living in one of Hong Kong more troubled neighborhoods with honesty and a lot of heart.

Night And Fog, however, although based on a real life tragedy, quickly falls into genre movie territory with Hui adding an overt layer of social commentary on top of the proceedings. The film focuses on an unemployed construction worker played by Simon Yam – his distrust of his significantly younger Szechuan wife ultimately leads to the tragic slaughtering of his wife and two children. Although Yam has really blossomed into a subtle actor in many of Johnnie To’s movies, here he is reverting back to the “madman pervert” role he played so often in exploitation movies back in the 1990s.

Night And Fog

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To’s Sparrow soars – Kwok’s The Moss fails to excite

Sparrow 文雀 – Much publicity surrounded this Johnny To film as it made its debut at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Sparrow is supposed to be an elegy to the old Hong Kong – but I’m not sure it works well at that. It is however a very entertaining film – very little dialogue yet totally engrossing. Kelly Lin cons Simon Yam and his pickpocket colleagues into helping her regain her freedom by stealing her passport locked into her husband’s safe. To’s usual ensemble of actors are present here, from Simon Yam to Lam Ka Tung and the ubiquitous Lam Suet. Kelly Lin is also given more to do than most actresses in To’s crime capers. For me, Sparrow resembles Jean-Pierre Melville’s Bob le Flambeur in its insistence on being light-hearted at the core despite the presence of a few unsavory characters. Very good and highly recommended.

The Moss 青苔 – Director Kwok Chi Kin’s previous film The Pye Dog 野‧良犬 won some accolades at the Hong Kong Film Awards this year and Kwok was nominated for a Best New Director Award (though he lost), so I became interested in his latest film. The trailer looked interesting – Shawn Yue is a cop who will do anything to survive on the streets. Make no mistake Yue’s character is not likeable. Trouble starts when the son of a gang’s leader is missing and Yue is “assigned” the task of locating him. Shit piles up quickly . . . and the plot breaks down! The 2nd half of the film falls back on cliches like a reclusive assassin, betrayals within the various gangs etc. I did not find the film particularly intriguing.

2008 Summer Blockbusters : Round 1

Speed Racer – From the directors of the Matrix Trilogy comes this eye candy adaptation of a classic 1960s Japanese cartoon about racing cars (which I watched as a kid). Targeted at young kids, the film is ridiculously colourful, offers non-stop action, and rather juvenile comic relief. For some reason, I found the film enjoyable for the laughs more than the action or special effects! My 9-year-old nephew enjoyed it, especially the low-brow comedy. Also, the movie IS better than the trailer, which is a rarity these days. Recommended, but viewers who dislike music video style hyper editing ought to stay away.

Iron Man – Marvel comics’ first full fledged film as production house, Iron Man delivers in spades and can perhaps be justly called the best comic adaptation to date. Robert Downey Jr. is impeccable as the arrogant Tony Stark (great casting!)and keeps the film fired up even when the titular armor is not on screen. The film features a solid script and decent action – none of the effects here are cutting edge, but they are well thought out and because viewers care about the characters, the fights generated excitement. Highly recommended.

Forbidden Kingdom – Most viewers in Hong Kong and China looked upon this bastardized tale with contempt but I had to see it to find out just how awful the movie would be. What the Hollywood studios have done is basically slap together various elements of Chinese folklore and incorporate it into a coming-of-age tale for an American teenager. Although the movie stars Jet Li and Jacky Chan with fight choreography by Yuen Woo Ping, the action and fights are stale by Hong Kong standards (though they might still dazzle the viewer with no experience of the classic kung fu films). And what is it with the eye shadow on the villains? This is totally reminiscent of bad kung fu TV dramas of the 1980s! Not recommended.

Winner of Round 1 is IRON MAN

Zodiac : David Fincher’s best work yet

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Fantastic Four : Rise Of The Silver Surfer – pure pop corn fun with no pretence of any high brow themes (or moralizing), this Fantastic Four film is probably the shortest blockbuster of the summer, clocking in at only 92 minutes. This is a plus in my books, as it means we cut straight to the actions scenes, with a little bit of comedy serving as diversion in between the set pieces. The best sequence was the introduction of the Silver Surfer and the subsequent chase with the Human Touch; unfortunately, the trailer exposed this scene months ago. All in all the film was fun: the Silver Surfer was cool and I can accept the compromise of Galactus being a cosmic cloud rather than Jack Kirby’s purple armoured giant (which wouldn’t work at all on the silver screen). Special effects were decent but not groundbreaking.

Zodiac – I have waited for David Fincher’s latest critically acclaimed film for months and I would say this is one of the best non-action movies I have seen so far in 2007. Based on the real life unsolved case, the film traces how both the press and the police failed to pin the Zodiac killings to anyone. The murders took place in San Francisco from the late 1960s to the 1970s and the serial killer has fascinated the public – in fact, the original Dirty Harry movie imagined a scenario where the maverick cop managed to identify and kill the Zodaic killer. In real life, the case was much more complex and David Fincher gives us an engrossing look at how a reporter, an inspector and a cartoonist dedicate their lives to uncovering the man behind these murders. Of the trio of stars (Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, and Robert Downey Jr.), I thought Ruffalo was the most convincing one, though all three were outstanding. This is definitely Fincher’s most mature and controlled film to date. The film also features an excellent soundtrack. Highly recommended.

Eye In The Sky 跟蹤 – well received when it was shown abroad at various film festivals, I missed the Johnnie To produced, Yau Nai Hoi directed police thriller at this year’s HKIFF, but managed to catch it last week. Eye In The Sky follows the mould of most of Johnnie To’s thrilling police procedurals – I found the plot engaging, and the acting strong and generally subtle (in the case of Simon Yam and Tony Leung Ka Fai). Former Miss Hong Kong Kate Tsui makes her big screen debut and acquits herself with an OK performance. The production was partially financed by Cable TV – this means prominent product placements for many Wharf Holdings companies, from Cable TV to New T&T. Overall, not quite as good as To’s Election movies or Exiled but still above average.

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Thumbs up for Pirates 3 and Ocean’s 13

Ocean’s Thirteen – Soderbergh plays fast and loose in this third outing. I didn’t bother to count if Danny Ocean actually had a team of 13 this time, and the plot seems very implausible to me – come on, surely the Nevada Gaming Commission and ANY casino in Las Vegas must recognize these guys on sight by now. So how can they keep on conning the people who run casinos? If you can suspend you disbelief, however, the film is very enjoyable, looks incredible (makes Las Vegas comes across as more glamorous than cheap) and even Soderbergh seems to be enjoying himself behind the camera (I particularly liked his use of old style pans and zooms). The film still belongs to George Clooney, but this timeMatt Damon grows more confident in his role as the new kid. Also features one of Al Pacino’s most restrained performances in ages. Recommended.

Premonition – since the Sixth Sense, this is the type of crap that gets passed off as thrillers; I’ve seen better twilight Zone episodes. Sandra Bullock tries yet again to play a non-romantic comedy role but continues to disappoint. This time the entire film is at fault – the plot doesn’t hold up at all if you play any attention to it. Basically, Bullock is a wife who wakes up to find her husband dead and then alive and then dead again. The idea is that sometimes it is a “premonition” – but the film remains totally illogical and Bullock’s memory about events, real or imagined, is controlled by what the plot needs. Dreadful.

Pirates of the Caribbean : At World’s End – the last instalment of the Pirates trilogy ends with neither a bang nor a whimper. It delivers alot of excitement but is too convoluted and long. What keeps it unique from other blockbusters, I feel, is the quirkiness of Depp’s Capt. Jack Sparrow. Some may find the scenes with multiple Jack Sparrow’s indulgent, but I am going to give director Gore Verbinski credit for it in this age of committee driven studio productions. The film may be overlong but has more character than most Bruckheimer productions (working with Bruckheimer, I think Verbinski produces less anonymous and more original work than Michael Bay). The special effects are dazzling with a nice sea battle and the actors are all pleasant enough. Chow Yun-fat’s doesn’t really have a crucial role and I am sure it was a marketing move to cast him to appeal to the Chinese market (and promote HK Disneyland). While Keira Knightley looks real fetching in Chinese armour, Depp remains the prime reason to see the show. Recommended, but convoluted plot means viewing previous films is a must.

Local horror more shocking than modern zombies

Gong Tau – Herman Yau’s latest gore-feast is an entertaining romp. I have not watched a similar local film like this for ages; with fewer released these days, HK cinema has seemed to abandon financially risky films like these for a few big-budget star-studded film. Anyway, Gong Tau’s unoriginal plot goes like this : HK man goes to Thailand, gets hooked up with a woman, abandons her to come home, and woman puts a curse on him. What elevates this film from dull to fun is the sheer amount of offensive material, from loads of internal organs during an autopsy to roadkills, full frontal male genitals, etc etc. The flying head vampire is abit silly though.

28 Weeks Later – Inferior to Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later, though not horrible. 28 Weeks Later begins promisingly with the rebuilding of London after the catastrophic events of 28 Days Later but the subsequent action didn’t really engage me. Once the zombies (or infected people) started appearing, the film collapses into a simple chase and kill scenario with very few surprises. The social / political commentary about the failure of US forces in re-establishing order and their general ineffectiveness felt heavy handed. As recent zombie revival movies go, I much prefer Land Of The Dead.

Black Book – Paul Verhoeven’s first Dutch film in decades, this is a solid WWII drama about a Jewish woman trying to survive during wartime. I found the film engaging as the protagonist transformed from hating the Germans to falling in love with a Gestapo officer. Discarding the bombast of his Hollywood films (like Starship Troopers), Black Book is much more drama driven and although it contains a few scenes of sex / nudity, this is not the same kind of exploitative film like Basic Instinct.

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Marky Mark in another solid action thriller

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The Reaping – When I first saw the trailer online, this film was scheduled for a Halloween 2006 release. After many delays, it finally came out in March 2007 in the US. Normally, delays mean production problems, or worse yet, a lack of faith on the studios part. I went to see the film wondering which it would be and my guess now is the later. The Reaping starts off strong – Hilary Swank as a university professor out to debunk miracles with scientific explanations. The plot thickens when she is asked to explain a series of events the resemble the 10 plagues documented in the Old Testament. Unable to provide a plausible outcome, the final act comes out of nowhere and is extremely hokey. What a disappointment.

The Shooter – This movie reminds me of the no nonsense macho action movies of the 80s. Back then, they didn’t need convoluted plots. Compared to the current crop of actioners, The Shooter is fairly straight-forward and I think it is more entertaining precisely because of this. Mark Walhberg stars as an ace sniper, a role that is very familiar to gamers who play tactical FPS games. He is framed for an assassination he did not commit and needless to say he wants to clear his name. I didn’t find the action too bombastic and it was engaging enough as simple pop corn fun.

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