Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Moving ...

The House Where Words Gather has a new home over at LoveHKFilm.com:


See you there!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

How I Spent My Summer Solstice

When I started this blog, I promised that I wouldn't bore you with details like what I ate for breakfast or what colour shirt I was wearing today. So, I hope you'll indulge me as I talk a little bit about a banquet I attended last week. I promise that it'll eventually lead to something entertainment circle-related.

Though the Cold Hand of Fate decided to afflict me with cancer, I feel that, for the most part, I've been blessed in my life. Included among my many blessings is the fact that I have one of those TVB families from their light comedy-dramas -- you know, a family that has its squabbles and its foibles but, at the end of the day, they care about one another and frequently gather together for family meals. While the conversation at these dinners tend more toward George Costanza and his fiance Susan talking about shoelaces than witty repartee that includes propitious puns ("Here, eat these long noodles that'll bring you long life"), a good time is usually had by all at these events.

Last Tuesday, the Leung clan got together with the Mak family to celebrate the Tuen Ng Festival (端午節, the Festival of the Fifth Day of the Fifth Moon). According to legend, the Festival celebrates the life and death of Qu Yuan -- a poet during the Warring States Period who drowned himself to protest government corruption. Over the years, the Dragon Boat races and the eating of 粽 ("jung", rice dumplings wrapped in bamboo leaves) have become associated with Qu's death and, subsequently, the festival celebrating it. However, the rationalist in me subscribes to the theory that all this Qu Yuan stuff is used to "tart up" the Festival and that it likely originated in early agrarian society because it coincides annually with the Summer Solstice. If you would like to learn more about the Tuen Ng Festival, here are some links:
While my saliva-deprived self sipped tea and watched everyone else chow down on their rice dumplings (don't cry for me, Argentina, the truth is I never really liked rice dumplings in the first place), kindly Granny Mak walks up to me and hands me a "get well" lucky money packet. When I got home (it's impolite to open a lucky money packet in front of the person who gave it to you), I discovered a nicely-folded $100 Canadian dollar bill tucked inside the red envelope. Considering that I spent Summer Solstice 2006 lying in a hospital bed getting shot up with Cisplatin and 5-Fluorouracil, this year's Summer Solstice was exponentially better than the one last year.

The little windfall has since sparked an angel versus devil debate in my mind. The angel is saying: "Save the $100, put it in some interest-bearing instrument, and, like those bank pamphlets suggest, it will eventually turn into $1000 and feed you when you're 64."

Meanwhile, the devil is tempting me to buy the LEGEND OF THE CONDOR HEROES 1983 DVD set that I've had my eye on with whispers of: "今朝有酒﹐今朝醉 (gam jiu yau jau, gam jiu jui or "if you have wine at dawn, then get drunk at dawn" -- the Chinese version of carpe diem)."

I hate to admit this but, right now, there's a 95% chance that the devil will win the argument. First, you only live once. Second, the angel, in my mind, is being played by Hui Siu-Hung while Anthony Wong Chau-Sang plays the devil. As a result, even though the angel has solid arguments, they're being presented in a hapless and ineffectual way while the devil is all cool and convincing. I've already done some shopping around on the Internet and found a place that's selling the set for only $55 -- not bad for a 59 episode, 15 DVD collection. The only thing stopping me, oddly enough, is the potential for getting my childhood memories crushed by buying the DVDs and being bored out of my skull by the extended "emotional" sequences that were de rigueur for the 1980s TVB adaptations of Louis Cha's works. Too many of those sequences marred the 1980s adaptations of RETURN OF THE CONDOR HEROES (starring Andy Lau Tak-Wah) and FLYING FOX OF THE SNOWY MOUNTAIN (starring Ray Lui Leung-Wai).

Does anyone out there have the LEGEND OF THE CONDOR HEROES DVDs? Are they as good as they are cracked up to be: uncut, contains the opening theme sequences and credits, English subtitles, clear picture and good sound?

By the way, I really need to get different people to play the angel and the devil because the devil is winning far too many of these arguments. Actually, what I really need is an Inner Six -- a sexy but belligerent and antagonistic presence. If I had one, maybe you'd see more posts on this blog -- that is if I don't end up unwittingly contributing to the destruction of humanity.

Image credits: Allen Timothy Chang (rice dumpling image), TVB (LEGEND OF THE CONDOR HEROES DVD cover), United Filmmakers Organization (Hui Siu-Hung from IT HAD TO BE YOU), China Star Entertainment (Anthony Wong Chau-Sang from JIANG HU: THE TRIAD ZONE), R&D TV (Tricia Helfer from BATTLESTAR GALACTICA)

Friday, June 8, 2007

Thoughts on IT HAD TO BE YOU

As my hot flight attendant girlfriend is away (probably out two-timing me), I've got nothing to do but walk Tobias, my imaginary dog, come home, make some horribly expensive coffee, put on a Faye Wong CD and cook myself some instant noodles after putting on a wig and my late wife's dress. With all that done, I have some time on my hands to share some thoughts on IT HAD TO BE YOU.


Directors: Andrew Lo Wang-Hin, Maurice Li Ming-Man
Cast: Karena Lam Ka-Yan (Jill), Ekin Cheng Yi-Kin (Jack), Eric Tsang Chi-Wai (Jason), Harvey Hu Bing (Chi On), Bobo Chan Man-Woon (Grace), Nicola Cheung Sun-Yu (Moon), Kiki Sheung Tin-Ngor (Jill's Mom)

PRE-CONCEIVED NOTIONS: After watching a slate of "Chinese epics made for the international market", a depressing Ann Hui film and a decent attempt at a classic HK action film, I was ready for something light. My OMNI-2 "Super Cinema Night" recording of IT HAD TO BE YOU seemed to fit the bill. IT HAD TO BE YOU is an UFO film so you have to expect a star-studded cast, interesting characters, a solid story, great production values and a glossy urban setting. After all, UFO is responsible for some films that I look back upon fondly: HE AIN'T HEAVY, HE'S MY FATHER (a classic starring the two Tony Leungs), LOST AND FOUND and the under-appreciated AND I HATE YOU SO. Of course, UFO has had their share of misfires -- like TWELVE NIGHTS and LAVENDER -- but, generally speaking, the UFO label means quality HK romance/drama just like the Milkyway label means quality HK action/drama.

AFTER THE MOVIE: IT HAD TO BE YOU turned out to be one of those middling films that's somewhat disappointing but not particularly vexing. It doesn't lend itself to penetrating analysis so, instead of a full-blown review, I'm just going to write some bullet points on stuff I liked and didn't like then wrap everything up with a few words.


- Karena Lam Ka-Yan doing the cute schtick. If you like Karena Lam and you enjoy watching actresses doing the cute schtick then this is the film for you. From beginning to end, Lam has the "pedal to the metal" on the cute accelerator. This means, of course, that if you don't like the cute schtick, then Karena Lam's performance is going to grate on you. More on this later ...

- Ekin Cheng Yi-Kin turns in a solid performance. As Kozo over at LoveHKFilm points out in his review, ol' Noodle sheds his usual "thirtysomething teenager" persona for a mature, level-headed guy persona. This is a welcome development as "Mr. Badminton" turns 40 (40!) this year and watching him continue to play overgrown teenagers would be as disconcerting as watching Kevin Spacey, great as he is, play a twentysomething Bobby Darin in BEYOND THE SEA.

- Kiki Sheung Tin-Ngor gives a nice performance as Jill's Mom. One thing about UFO Films, there are always some solid supporting characters and Kiki Sheung's role is no different. By making Sheung's character deaf, the filmmakers allowed for a nice variation on the typical "leading lady's Mom" character. You're probably tired of hearing me say this but seeing Kiki Sheung play a Mom in this film makes me feel old since I used to watch her play hot girl roles in 1980s TVB series.

After some time away, Sheung has rejoined TVB and can currently be seen with Cecilia Yip Tung, David Chiang Dai-Wai and Sheren Teng Sui-Man in the TVB series THE FAMILY LINK (師奶兵團). The series is being billed as a Hong Kong version of DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES.

- Bobo Chan Man-Woon makes a noble bid to join the likes of Kitty Ting Hao (THE GREATEST CIVIL WAR ON EARTH) and Valerie Chow Ka-Ling (CHUNGKING EXPRESS) in the Hong Kong Movie Hot Flight Attendants Hall of Fame. Lost in the crowd of young HK starlets, Chan retired from the entertainment circle in 2006. As evidenced by her role in this film and her ad for the MTR, it's too bad because I thought she had an air of maturity to her that gave her a leg up on the bubbly, girly-girl types. For example, I wouldn't scoff at the idea of Chan playing a lawyer like I would, did, when I heard Gillian Chung Yan-Tung was playing one in 49 DAYS. In case you were wondering, Chan is currently on a path taken by many of her HK starlet predecessors: involved in a relationship with some rich, business-type guy.


- Karena Lam doing the cute schtick. Like the fine line between love and hate and the fine line between genius and insanity, there's a fine line between endearing and annoying. In this film, Karena Lam not only crosses that line, she leaves it a speck in the horizon of her rear-view mirror. When you combine the overdone cute act with character quirks like her penchant for charades and her imaginary dog Fluffy, her character loses the sympathy that a leading lady in a romance film needs. Instead of feeling bad for Jill's plight as "the other woman", all you're thinking is that she's a ditzy dope who deserves to be in the situation that she finds herself in.

- Ideas and setups that fizzle instead of sizzle. In addition to setting the cute meter for Karena Lam's character at 100, IT HAD TO BE YOU is filled with plot points and setups that are intended to add charm and romance to the film but are so clearly calculated that it kills the mood instead of enhancing it. The three biggest offenders are:
  • Jill's imaginary dog. This bit really hurts the credibility of the Jill character and the damage that it does isn't worth the payoff at the end.

  • A sequence where Jack and Jill, unbeknownst to the other, sing to a Faye Wong at the same time. The scene is intended to show the audience that the two belong together because they have some sort of great cosmic synchronicity but, by this point in the film, everyone knows that already. As a result, it ends up being a piece of cinematic verbosity that disrupts the momentum of the movie.

  • Eric Tsang Chi-Wai's character in drag. This bit is supposed to set up Jack and Jill for an Oprah "Moment of Enlightenment"™ about life and love but it's too forced and strained for it to be meaningful.
Just as every magic trick has a pledge, a turn and a prestige, every romantic comedy has a situation, a complication and, hopefully, a post-romantic comedy afterglow (a term coined by an old girlfriend from my university days describing the "toasty warm" feeling you get after a good romantic comedy). IT HAD TO BE YOU has an imaginative situation (two people who can be labeled the "third party" in a romantic triangle) but the complications are too laboured and contrived to amount to any post-romantic comedy afterglow. With Ekin Cheng, Karena Lam, Harvey Hu Bing, Nicola Cheung Sun-Yu and Bobo Chan in the cast, it's a good film for stargazing but if you are hoping to get a romantic buzz, you're better off looking elsewhere.


- When I used to eat French Fries, I liked them without ketchup. I usually ate them with some salt and some pepper. I'd always thought that slathering ketchup on a fry smothered the taste of potato making eating fries meaningless. I mean, would you listen to an iPod while you're sitting in a theatre watching a movie?

Anyway, what does this portend for my love life? Does it mean that I actually don't want love in my life? I guess I'll have to head over to Temple Street some day and consult a fortune teller.

- Fire Lee Ka-Wing plays a character named "Fatty". I hope it's not because people think he's fat but because Lam Chi-Chung (or someone of similar proportion) was originally cast for this role and the powers-that-be were too lazy to change the character's name after Lam dropped out.

- The greatly under-appreciated CRAZY N' THE CITY must have made a deeper impression on me than I thought because once I saw Yan Ng Yat-Yin, I half-expected Chloe Chiu Suet-Fei to pop up on the screen. I have an OMNI-2 recording of COCKTAIL (the Hong Kong movie, not the Tom Cruise one) lying around somewhere. It has both Chloe Chiu and Bobo Chan in it. I think that's next up on the queue.

- Seeing Nicola Cheung Sun-Yu made me look up what's she been up to since I got put on the DL. With no movie or TV credits since 2005, there are reports that she got a day job and supplements her income by doing ads and showing up at store openings and promotional events. There are also reports that she's going to marry her rich boyfriend in October or November 2007. Then again, there's also a report of her rich boyfriend out on the town with another woman.

- From the "Learn Something New Every Day" File: Lo Meng, my favourite entertainment circle muscle man, has an English name -- Turbo. Jet, obviously, was already taken.

Image Credits: United Filmmakers Organization (IT HAD TO BE YOU), Cathay Organisation Holdings Ltd. (THE GREATEST CIVIL WAR ON EARTH), Jet Tone Production (CHUNGKING EXPRESS)

Friday, May 25, 2007


Apologies, again, for the long delay between posts. I'm still struggling with finding my writing mojo. For the past week, I have been working on a post about CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER but it isn't ready yet for publication. I'm unhappy with the tone of a section in it about Zhang Yimou because it reads like I have a grudge against him. It feels like I could have easily started off the section with: "Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die."

I certainly don't have a grudge against Zhang and I definitely don't want to come off like I do so the post is parked in my Blogger draft folder awaiting further work. I hope to have it ready to go before the Chrysanthemum Festival.

In the meantime, here are some thoughts on a couple of movies I watched this past holiday long weekend here in Canada: THE POSTMODERN LIFE OF MY AUNT and SPL.


Official Website: http://www.postmodernlifeofmyaunt.com/
Director: Ann Hui On-Wah
Cast: Siqin Gaowa (Ye Rutang), Chow Yun-Fat (Pan Zhichang), Lisa Lu (Mrs. Shui), Vicki Zhao Wei (Liu Daifan)

PRE-CONCEIVED NOTIONS: None. Apart from some early reports in 2005 that Chow Yun-Fat was "coming back" to star in an Ann Hui On-Wah movie, I missed all the media coverage about this film. I picked up this title mostly to see Fat-Gor in something other than a Hollywood film or a "Chinese epic made for the international market" and because, at eight dollars, the Mainland DVD was conveniently priced for the Leung treasury.

I only developed a pre-conceived notion when I got the DVD. Looking at its cover (right) and reading the little blurb on the back, I came away with the impression that I was in store for a light comedy-drama. The movie description suggests a "late-in-life romance" between a quirky, divorced senior and a "mysterious stranger" who meet in a park. The romance is then jeopardized because the "stranger" may or may not be a con-man. Coupled with the cover image featuring a comically-harried Siqin Gaowa, a charming-looking Chow Yun-Fat, Vicki Zhao Wei [still known mostly for playing the bubbly Little Swallow in (MY FAIR PRINCESS a.k.a. PRINCESS RETURNING PEARL, 還珠格格)] and a collection of background characters who look like they are the Shanghai equivalents of the townies from GILMORE GIRLS, most people would be inclined to expect something like AS GOOD AS IT GETS but from Chinese and female perspectives.

AFTER THE MOVIE: Numbed by the unyielding melancholy of the final third of the film, the only thing I was thinking when I pressed the stop button on my remote was that the phrase "don't judge a book by its cover" can easily be extended to DVDs. Instead of a quirky, heart-warming comedy-drama, viewers are treated to the sad tale of a vibrant, independent woman transformed by circumstance into a lifeless, defeated automaton.

The "bait-and-switch" type trick that the DVD cover perpetrates will undoubtedly gall unsuspecting viewers who were conned into watching the movie. However, I suspect that those who come into the film with eyes wide open will also be disappointed.

There are many movies out there where, going in, you know that things are not going to end well. LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA, the German film DOWNFALL (about the last days of Adolph Hitler) and the HBO movie WIT (starring Emma Thompson as a professor who learns that she has terminal cancer) come to mind. There's a poignancy to those films where, even though the subject matter is depressing, you walk away feeling re-assured about the human condition. This is not the case with THE POSTMODERN LIFE OF MY AUNT. From about the halfway point on, the movie is unrelenting in its sadness as its protagonist, Ye Rutang, has her emotional, financial and physical well-being stripped away. In films of this ilk, there is usually some point, some nuance to the downward sprial that gives the film some insight but in THE POSTMODERN LIFE OF MY AUNT, the point appears to be missing.

There are elements that suggest that there is a method in the sadness. The two "harvest moon" scenes and the relationship between Ye Rutang and her young nephew Kuan Kuan (the only time Ye Rutang perks up in the last half of the movie is in her scenes with Kuan Kuan) hint at something. However, the hints are too faint and make no impact. Ultimately, the only message the viewer gets is "life sucks sometimes" -- a message that most people likely already understand without having to pay for and sit through an 111 minute movie.

Other things that don't really work in the film:
  • The plot point that Ye Rutang abandoned her young family to start her life in Shanghai is touched upon but never explored. You would think that a revelation of that magnitude would lead somewhere but it doesn't.

  • Similarly, Vicki Zhao Wei's character has a scene or two that seems to be conveying something but, again, the resonance is too faint and there is no pay off. In fact, the scene where she is taking a smoke break during work feels like a tacked on "let's get Vicki Zhao a Golden Horse nomination" moment. Actually, that whole "Vicki Zhao at work" sequence seems to me to be entirely superfluous to the movie.

  • Chow Yun-Fat's character, Pan Zhichang, is somewhat inconsistent. Alternately charming and buffoonish, the character screams "fictional creation" rather than "credibly-rendered human being". There are moments where Chow's broad acting would elicit chuckles or contemptuous eye-rolling were it not for the fact that it was the legendary Chow Yun-Fat hamming it up on the screen.

Leaving aside room for the possibility that those immersed in Mainland culture may pick up on meaningful nuances that those of us outside of the Mainland cannot, I am hesitant to condemn THE POSTMODERN LIFE OF MY AUNT with "not recommended" status. However, I can safely say that it is probably for devoted arthouse fans and Chow Yun-Fat, Vicki Zhao Wei or Ann Hui On-Wah completists only. Casual fans aren't missing anything by passing up on this movie.

  • Another sign of the inexorable nature of time: Chow Yun-Fat is now old enough to play an "old man". The first time I saw him, he was playing an idealistic Beijing University student forced into the Shanghai criminal underworld. Now, he's playing an 阿伯 ("Ah Bak", "old man"). Hard to believe that the thirtieth anniversary of SHANGHAI BEACH (上海灘) is only two years and change away.

  • There's a "FACE Audio and Video" logo that pops up intermittently on the top left-hand corner of the screen throughout the movie. What's up with that? Did I somehow end up with a well-made pirated DVD or does this sort of thing happen often with Mainland DVDs? This is the first Mainland DVD that I've watched. I usually get the Hong Kong versions.


North American title: KILL ZONE
Official Website: http://www.shapolangthemovie.com/
Director: Wilson Yip Wai-Shun
Cast: Simon Yam Tat-Wah (Inspector Chan Kwok-Chung), Sammo Hung Kam-Bo (Wong Po), Donnie Yen Chi-Tan (Inspector Ma Kwan), Wu Jing (Jack), Liu Kai-Chi (Wah), Danny Summer (Sum), Ken Chang (Lok)

PRE-CONCEIVED NOTIONS: SPL was released before I was diagnosed so I was around for all the media hype surrounding the film. The publicity machine made it sound like it was a return to the mid-1980s/early-1990s Hong Kong action movie heyday (no CGI, no cameo appearances by EEG pop idols, no mercy sir!). Todd over at Twitch called the film: "... one of the finest films to emerge from Hong Kong ever. Period."

On the other hand, I remember the film getting killed by some posters at its Mov3.com discussion board. I also remember that SPL didn't break the benchmark HK$10 million mark at the HK box office so the ol' Sanney-sense started tingling and I suspected that the film would likely fall somewhere in between the high praise and the pessimistic murmurs from the crowd over at Mov3.

Despite the tempered expectations, I held high hopes for the film due to the fact that I've been a longtime fan of both Simon Yam Tat-Wah (even during his GIGOLO AND WHORE, DON'T STOP MY CRAZY LOVE FOR YOU period) and Sammo Hung Kam-Bo. Also, I've had a soft spot for Wilson Yip ever since he had that great streak of BIO-ZOMBIE, BULLETS OVER SUMMER and JULIET IN LOVE from 1998 to 2000. Sadly, Leon Lai Ming and an orangutan stopped the run cold with SKYLINE CRUISERS (official site). If you haven't seen them yet, BIO-ZOMBIE, BULLETS OVER SUMMER and JULIET IN LOVE are three of the better "diamond in the rough" type films from the post-Handover era. Of the three, I liked BULLETS OVER THE SUMMER most but BIO-ZOMBIE is a whole lot of goofy fun.

AFTER THE MOVIE: Sad to say but I think I fall more on the side of the fickle folks over at Mov3 than I do with Todd from Twitch. I would rate SPL somewhere in between mediocre and good rather than good or great -- a C+, maybe a B- but definitely not an A and certainly not "... one of the finest films to emerge from Hong Kong ever. Period."

SPL is an amalgam of three Hong Kong movie sub-genres: the one fateful day/night genre (think ONE NITE IN MONGKOK or THE LONGEST NITE), the heroic bloodshed/honour among men genre (think John Woo movies from the mid-1980s/early-1990s) and the well-tread cops-and-robbers genre. Movies from those genres like ONE NITE IN MONGKOK, A BETTER TOMORROW, HARD-BOILED, EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED and THE LONGEST NITE are the "Rolexes" of Hong Kong cinema. SPL is a "Lolex", a finely-crafted imitation but one that doesn't stand up to closer inspection.

The critical difference between the "Rolexes" and SPL is pacing. The credibility of the story-telling in SPL is reminiscent of the credibility issues and plot holes found in HARD-BOILED and THE LONGEST NITE. However, those films had the energy and pacing to keep you engrossed and exhilarated until the end. It was only after the movie that you begin to think: "hmmm, wasn't it a little ridiculous that Tony Leung Chiu-Wai's character survived that shotgun blast to the chest?". SPL, by contrast, has energy-sapping sections that plod along giving you the opportunity to wonder about things like:
  • The unit headed by Simon Yam's Inspector Chan have footage of Wong Po (Sammo Hung) beating the undercover cop before someone else shoots him. Isn't that sufficient evidence to show that, even though Wong Po didn't pull the trigger, he was complicit in the crime? I'm not exactly sure about the details of the criminal justice system in Hong Kong but it seems to me that Wong Po would have been eligible for some jail time on the basis of the tape even before Chan and his boys decided to doctor it. Who cares what charge you get him on just as long as you do get him -- right? Isn't this a clear-cut "Eliot Ness nails Al Capone for tax evasion" situation?

  • At least twice in the movie, Wong Po is shown to have a legion of henchmen just hanging around on the street in front of his high-rise crime headquarters. Yet, when Inspector Ma (Donnie Yen) arrives after phoning and telling Wong Po that he is coming only ONE guy, Jet (Wu Jing), is there to stop him. Was there no time for a sequence where Donnie Yen effortlessly dispatches anonymous low-level associates before moving on to the sub-boss and then, ultimately, the boss? Wasn't that how the narrative arc went in the classic Bruce Lee action movies? Didn't anyone involved with SPL remember the scene in THE BIG BOSS where Bruce Lee says: "Just keep away. Go on. It's not your fight. Beat it or I'll kill ya' ..."? How hard would it have been to shoot a brief sequence like that? Seems to me that a film that purports to be "an action classic" should have a detail like that covered.

  • Don't get me started on the whole "Inspector Chan has brain cancer" sub-plot. We'd be here for days.
The pacing flaw in SPL reminds me of a great boxer whose skills have been diminished by age. No longer able to dominate and dictate the action for the entire fight, he lays back and relies on occasional flurries of punches to try to "steal" rounds by impressing the judges with furious, flashy spurts of action. Similarly, SPL is punctuated by some great action sequences but, for the most part, plods along flat-footed. Like the great boxer who has devolved into just a good boxer, SPL is not "great" just merely OK. It is a decent time at the movies and certainly worth a watch but it does not deserve to be placed in the pantheon of great Hong Kong action films.

  • (Spoiler warning, skip this point if you haven't seen the film.) Was anyone surprised that Wong Po (Sammo Hung) wasn't dead after Inspector Ma (Donnie Yen) suplexed him onto the table? As soon as the camera moved in for a tight shot of Donnie Yen and stayed there, I'm sure 90% of viewers realized that Wong Po was going to sit up like The Undertaker and start fighting again.

  • To get a sense of where I fell on the SPL opinion spectrum, I read a bunch of reviews and, to my surprise, discovered that Donnie Yen has a bit of a reputation for being a "preening schmoe". More than one of my fellows web writers mocked Yen's "pretty boy" acting abilities. Where does this reputation come from? I've seen Yen in a bunch of films from ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA II and DRAGON INN through to HERO and SEVEN SWORDS and, while he's never going to give you Tony Leung Chiu-Wai level acting, he's not the worst offender when it comes to on screen preening. Heck, back when I had a thing for Kitty Lai Mei-Han and Margie Tsang Wah-Sin (two of Tony Leung Chiu-Wai's ex-girlfriends) I even watched Yen's TVB series A NEW LIFE (命運迷宮). He ain't that bad. At least he's a "legitimate bad ass" when it comes to fight scenes and action sequences -- unlike some other "pretty boys" I could mention.

  • I don't buy the argument that a CAT-III rating prevented SPL from breaking the HK$10 million mark at the Hong Kong box office (it ended up with a HK$7.5 million take). A CAT-III rating certainly wasn't an impediment for ELECTION (HK$15.5 million). In spite of the problems with piracy, illegal downloads, the regrettable prejudice amongst HKers against Hong Kong films and plain ol' general indifference, good movies tend to find a paying audience. SPL just wasn't that good.

  • Should I give Wilson Yip's DRAGON TIGER GATE a go? The promotional pictures over at Mov3 scream "stupid and over-produced" but it's another Wilson Yip/Donnie Yen collaboration. It also has the always entertaining Yuen Wah in it. I'm on the fence. Anyone care to tip me over to one side or the other?
Image credits: Beijing Poly-bona Film Publishing Co. Ltd. (THE POSTMODERN LIFE OF MY AUNT), Golden Harvest (SKYLINE CRUISERS, THE BIG BOSS), Abba Movies Co. Ltd. (SPL)

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

May Day Medley

A medley of items on this May Day 2007 ...

First, the hard drive on my new laptop failed last Sunday while I was surfing Yahoo! Sports and reading up on the NBA basketball playoffs. One minute, I'm reading up on Golden State's chances against Dallas. The next, I get a blue screen of death telling me that's there's something wrong with the computer's kernel. No dramatic warning signs like smoke coming through the keyboard or awful click-click-click sounds as the hard drive worked its magic. Just business-as-usual and then the abrupt blue screen of death.

The next day, I got a hold of a repair guy and he told me that my hard drive suffered a massive failure. He tried mounting it on another system to recover some data but the drive was filled with too many critical errors. I could have had it shipped to Ontario where a data recovery company would give it a try with more sophisticated equipment but it would cost me at least $800. The only things I had on there of value were two years of digital photos (including all of my cancer photos) so it wasn't worth it to me to dip into the Leung treasury to try something that might not even pay off. It's a shame about the pictures but as Ah Poon (left) [Maggie Cheung Ho-Yee's character in PLAIN LOVE II (茶是故鄉濃)] said: "There's a reason Heaven put a person's eyes in the front. It's because people are meant to look forward not back."

I asked to keep the hard drive because, who knows, the technology may exist five, ten years later for me to retrieve the pictures. I leave that up to Providence.

What's galling about the situation is that I bought the laptop in May 2005 but didn't use it from February 2006 to March 2007. This means that I essentially used the computer for only ten months. All things being equal, if I had used it regularly instead of being sidelined by cancer, the repair would have fallen under warranty.

The repair guy said that it was just plain bad luck that the hard drive failed on me. It was probably faulty manufacturing or a weaker than standard part. It certainly wasn't from overuse. Oh well, that's life.

As a result of the calamity, I've been busy these past few days re-installing software and restoring my bookmarks. I also have to figure out what will happen if I plug my iPod into my new hard drive: Will everything on my iPod be erased? Does that mean I have to rip all my CDs again and re-establish my playlists? I'm going to have to hit Google on this one because, surely, I'm not the first person to find themselves in this situation.

There's no way to gracefully segue from my petty technology problems to the Virginia Tech shootings so I'll just jump right in. I was going to write a blog entry on the tragedy a couple of days after it happened but, after being subjected to the exhaustive media coverage, I was reluctant to contribute to the element of "what happened at Virginia Tech was a tragedy that will forever mar the lives of many ... but how does it effect ME?" that I was sensing. However, my friend Charles sent me a link to a story by the Washington Post's Stephen Hunter in which Hunter labours strenuously to "hint" that John Woo movies nudged Cho Seung-Hui into action. Hunter's arguments are so contrived, it saddened me deeply to see that a major paper would run an article with such an egregious premise. Luckily, Charles also sent a link to a rebuttal of the article by New York Times' film critic A. O. Scott.

I realize that articles linking OLDBOY and John Woo movies to the shooting stem from a natural reaction to make sense out of a senseless act. Lamentably, this type of coverage has put Asian cinema in a negative light in the minds of some. Instead of thinking: "I got to check out the film that THE DEPARTED was based on", some people are now thinking: "Isn't that the ultra-violent movie that the crazy guy from Virginia Tech was mimicking?" The worst part of the numerous "OLDBOY made Cho Seung-Hui do it" articles is that Park Chan-Wook's "Vengeance Trilogy" is about the emptiness of revenge and not the glorification of it. Of course, a majority of the writers who lined up to cast blame at OLDBOY missed this salient point because they probably didn't even bother to watch the movie.

One other thing about the tragic affair: In the early moments of the media coverage, when reports emerged stating that the shooter was "Asian", I started thinking to myself: "please don't be Chinese, please don't be Chinese, please don't be Chinese." I knew it was a little silly -- I think North American society has evolved beyond the point where the actions of one Chinese person would taint the perception of all Chinese people -- but I still couldn't help feeling the way I did. I wasn't alone. When I talked to a friend a few days after the shooting, he admitted that he felt the same way. He said his feelings were rooted in the fact that there's already enough tension between China and the United States these days. He didn't want it compounded by having the "nutjob from Virginia Tech" be Chinese. For me, the reaction was more instinctive. This article, "When ethnicity brings an unwelcome focus", from the Los Angeles Times does a good job of explaining my initial unease to the early "Asian shooter" reports.

That's it for today. I'll be back soon with posts on some of the movies I've watched recently: CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER, MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA, BATTLE OF WITS, THE HEAVENLY KINGS, ELECTION, ELECTION 2, MY NAME IS FAME and THE BANQUET. I just have to re-install my InterVideo WinDVD Player so that I can use some screen grabs.