HKMDB Daily News

January 30, 2010

January 30, 2010

Filed under: News — Tags: , , , , — dleedlee @ 9:39 pm

Donnie Yen

14 Blades opens Feb.4 (Sina)

Myolie Wu - one of 174 popular stars in 72 Tenants of Prosperity (Sina)

Huang Shengyi

Sammo Hung

Kirk Wong

Peter Pau

Stanley Kwan

Zhang Yang

At a Juli Entertainment company celebration in Heibei, it was announced that Huang Shengyi will be featured in a, possibly 3D, version of Madam White Snake to be directed(?) by Sarah Choi Bo-Chu and filmed by Peter Pau. Guests included Sammo Hung, Stanley Kwan, Kirk Wong, Peter Pau, Zhang Yang and others. (Sina)

Brigitte Lin and husband, Michael Ying Lee-Yuen

What’s behind the gates to their 10000 sq.ft. mansion on New Clearwater Bay Road?

A private cinema, heated swimming pool, a private studio, a luxury gym, and a small dance floor! (Xinhua)

Jane Zhang

Believe in Jane, Jane Zhang’s new CD since joining Universal Music will be released Feb.2. According to yesasia, the CD includes two hidden tracks, the theme songs to Mulan and Panda Express. (Sina)

Audio only - I Believe

Bodyguards and Assassins (Hollywood Reporter review)

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: — dleedlee @ 7:08 am

Bodyguards and Assassins
By Maggie Lee

Bottom Line: An ambitious blockbuster that successfully yokes together two entities — patriotic drama and dynamic martial arts spree.

HONG KONG — Emulating the group dynamics of Kurosawa’s “Hidden Fortress” and patriotic heroic ethos of King Hu’s “The Valiant Ones,” Teddy Chen’s “Bodyguards and Assassins” concocts smashing action and a compelling dramatic arc from a kamikaze mission to protect China’s first president during his visit to Hong Kong in 1906.

With stirring nationalist sentiments, a select cast and possibly the most authentic set and CGI replicas of turn-of-20thcentury Hong Kong, “Bodyguards” lived up to its blockbuster ambitions with combined Asian boxoffice gains of over $47 million, of which $40 million came from China. Produced by Peter Chan (”Warlords”) and China’s Huang Jianxin through their new venture Cinema Popular, its marketability beyond Asia rests on the last 50 minutes of propulsive, undiluted action to offset its long running time and occasional emotional excess.

Though the mission and the assassination plot are fictional, the film conveys the danger and excitement of a historical milieu when Manchurian monarchists and Chinese revolutionaries cross swords, while Confucian family values wrestle with Western democratic ideals.

In October, 1906, the Qing court gets wind of exiled revolutionary leader Dr. Sun Yat-sen’s plan to meet allies in Hong Kong to formulate strategies to overthrow the monarchy. General Yan (Hu Jun) is dispatched to mastermind his assassination. China’s republican future rests on scholar Chen Shaobai (Tony Leung Ka-fai) and a local tycoon Li Yu-tang’s (Wang Xueqi) efforts to recruit a team of ‘bodyguards’ to protect Sun. Unbeknownst to Li, his son Chongguang (Wang Po-Chieh) has volunteered to play a pivotal role.

In shaping a motley crew with individual agendas for defending a man whose significance they can’t comprehend, the script gives them a common bond by defining them through filial relationships — an opera performer (Li Yuchun) wants to avenge her father’s death, a gambler (Donnie Yen) protects Li for his daughter’s sake, a rickshaw boy (Nicolas Tse) treats Li as a father-figure (for arranging his marriage) and the beggar (Leon Lai) is ruined by desire for his stepmother. Even Yan pays lip service to Chen for being his teacher, hence “equivalent to a father.”

This is not a coincidence as the patriarchal family is the bedrock of Confucianism. The underlying theme is that personal and blood ties must yield to higher ideals of nationhood, freedom and equality — epitomized by Chongguang visiting Dr Sun’s mother in his place. The film’s strongest emotional pull comes from Li’s dilemma of patronizing the cause yet fearing his son’s involvement. The most touching dramatic development is Chongguang’s growing respect for Li as the latter’s revolutionary commitment deepens.

Wang trumps the whole cast with a performance that tempers integrity with human frailty. Tse also stands out for playing the humble laborer without any trace of star aura.

However, Chen’s direction tends to be heavy-handed, especially the over-use of reaction shots and sentimental ‘dying visions’ when his experienced cast can evoke pathos more naturally.
The intricate maneuvers that unfold three days before Sun’s arrival are related at urgent pace. Conversely, the few hours of Sun’s rickshaw ride past 13 blocks is directed to feel like an eternity for the protagonists as they ward off hundreds of Ninja-like assassins. The tension is heightened by a countdown display on screen and many near-real time sequences.

Versatile action choreography designed to foreground period architecture (like a fight between Colonial style balconies using bamboo poles) as well as recreated landmark locations (like the homage to “Battleship Potemkin” enacted on Ladder Street) does justice to the monumental scale Shanghai studio set. Donnie Yen does all the hard work, and excels in one seven-minute continuous combat where he tops his ferocious boxing with a wild dash through a shopping alley, leaping over things with the thrilling agility that rivals Tony Jaa in “Ong Bak.”

Production values are impeccable, especially Taylor Wong’s classical cinematography, which gives images a romantic oil paint finish. CGI shots of a sampan-filled Victoria Harbor capture the look of vintage photos or colored prints.

Composers Chan Kwong-Wing and Peter Kam use contemporary melodies which stand out from the period setting and sound as bombastic as “Mission Impossible,” but they do give the action scenes extra bite.

Production companies: Beijing Polybona Film Distribution Co., Ltd. and Cinema Popular Limited present a We Pictures production
Cast: Wang Xueqi, Tony Ka-fai Leung, Wang Po-Chieh, Donnie Yen, Nicolas Tse, Hu Jun, Fan Bing-Bing, Li Yuchun, Leon Lai
Director: Teddy Chen
Screenwriters: Guo Junu, Qin Tiannan, Joyce Chan
Story: Chen Tongmin
Producers: Peter Ho-sun Chen, Huang Jianxin, Jojo Hui
Executive producers: Yu Dong, Han Sanping
Production designer: Ken Mak
Director of photography: Taylor Wong
Action directors: Tung Wai, Lee Tat-Chiu
Costume designer: Dora Ng
Music: Chan Kwong-wing, Peter Kam
Editors: Derek Hui, Wong Hoi
Sales: We Distribution Limited
No rating, 139 minutes
Hollywood Reporter

January 29, 2010

January 29, 2010

Filed under: News — Tags: , , , — dleedlee @ 3:47 pm

New posters for Choi San Dou (God of Wealth Arrives)

Fortune King is Coming to Town


The Future of Hong Kong Cinema: a round table discussion (V) (Conclusion)

CRI: Jianyu Jianghu Stills Come out! (Rain of Swords)

This first batch of John Woo-produced romantic martial art thriller ‘Jianyu Jianghu’ starring Malaysian Michelle Yeoh and South Korean Jung Woo-sung are released online Friday. (14)(Sina)

Lydia Shum?

No, Elton Loo!

Elton Loo (Law Kwan-Chor) will play Lydia Shum in an upcoming superstar concert. In addition to Fei Fei, he will impersonate Pak Suet Sin, Lowell Lo and Paula Tsui. Law recently lost his right leg due to diabetes. (Sina)

Miriam Yeung

A fan presented an embarrassed Miriam Yeung with sweet lotus seeds (for wishing a male offspring) and a birthday cake while she and Raymond Lam were filming on Temple Street. (

Jacky Cheung

Jacky Cheung launched his first album in five years at the Hong Kong Shangri-la Hotel. (Xinhua)

Taipei Times

Mother: The invincible matriarch

Selected as South Korea’s submission to the Oscars this year, ‘Mother’ is another example of why director Bong Joon-ho is the country’s most brilliant young auteur

Transsexual or hermaphrodite? “This ain’t my shit.”

Taiwanese TV host Liching: Both man and wife

China Daily: Why I don’t want to watch Avatar

CRI: Leon Lai on Duty: Children and HIV/AIDS

Cecilia Cheung could have miscarried after jumping in earlier TV ad

Before she knew she was pregnant with her second child, Cecilia Cheung filmed a TV commercial in which she had to jump and bounce on a bed. The Hong Kong actress was said to have felt dizzy and nauseous after filming the advertisement, and could have risked a miscarriage. This news was reported two days ago though the shoot had been done a few months back.

January 28, 2010

January 28, 2010

Filed under: News — Tags: , , , , , — dleedlee @ 2:18 pm

The Future of Hong Kong Cinema: a round table discussion (III)

I wrote an article in 2007 in which I discussed how there was probably a misreading of Stephen Chow’s film culture. Why is he so popular on the mainland? Because none of you [mainlanders] have seen Michael Hui’s movies. You had no awareness, no experience of the filmmakers of his generation, so when you suddenly saw Stephen Chow, it was like discovering a new continent, you felt it was very special, very innovative. His influence in Hong Kong has not been as strong as it has been on the mainland, but he didn’t create this effect, it was because the earlier work of Michael Hui was inconceivable to them…

The current decline of Hong Kong movies is also related to this, an indistinct sense of identity.

The Future of Hong Kong Cinema: a round table discussion (IV)

Many Hong Kong directors are making movies of inferior quality in order to accomodate the current mainland market. Take Wang Jing for example. He’s really a very interesting director, but if he wanted to make money on the mainland he would have to make what they wanted there, and his original style would be lost completely. His work has a delightful and comic sort of ribaldry, but how do you play this sort of comedy on the mainland? You can’t…

Go north, or you’re road kill…

Tsui Hark has become a synonym for lousy movies…

many Hong Kong directors went north. but there were also Hong Kong directors who opposed CEPA, such as Herman Yau, Johnnie To and Pang Ho-cheung. Herman Yau may be the most home-grown Hong Kong director.

CRI: Ge You and Huang Xiaoming to Star in “Zhao’s Orphan”

Zhang Ziyi, Li Bingbing

Zhang Ziyi drops out from English movie Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

Three new possible cast lineups considered: Fan Bingbing and Li Bingbing, Fan Bingbing and Shu Qi, Li Bingbing and Shu Qi. The first is unlikely as the two ‘ices’ are quite rivals. Li Bingbing is Huayi’s top female actress, Fan Bingbing left Huayi early and has been producing her own projects. She is also currently working on New Shaolin Temple. Previously, Shu Qi had turned down an offer to costar in the film. (Xinhua)

Li Bingbing, reported by Hong Kong media, replacing Zhang Ziyi who is too busy with Wong Kar-Wai’s Grand Master according to Zhang’s manager. Hugh Jackman has been invited to join the cast. (HunanTV)

Jay Chou’s Pandaman TV series draws low ratings. Guangzhou TV reported a .06 rating on its third episode. This is the equivalent of 5000 viewers. (Xinhua)

Hong Kong pop legend Jacky Cheung feels liberated by jazz album

Besides the CD, Jacky has 3 new films: Crossing Hennessy, Hot Summer Days, 72 Tenants of Prosperity.

plus the already released Bodyguards and Assassins. In addition, he will appear on a mainland TV variety show for the first time. (Xinhua)

The Great Rescue

Danny Chan

Danny Chan Kwok-Kwan has spent a month shooting the TV series The Great Rescue in Yunnan. The story is about the rescue of the Flying Tigers pilots captured by the Japanese and features an international cast and crew. (Sina) (2) alivenotdead pictures


Former Andy Lau girlfriend, Yu Ke-Hsin, announced that she had quietly married Andy Lau double Du Yiheng in a small ceremony. Sources have reported that Yu is pregnant and living in Beijing. Andy’s stunt and body double, Du Yiheng who is currently working on Let The Bullets Fly, was vague and noncommittal when questioned. Stay tuned. (Xinhua)

Donnie Yen’s turn: Did he or didn’t he?

Plastic surgery on eyelids, straightend teeth scrutinized (HunanTV)

CRI: Barbie Hsu: Powered by Tofu!

Francis Ng charged with assault (2)

The 48-year-old will stand trial in Kowloon on 9 Feb. If convicted, the actor could be jailed for up to 3 years.

Cherie Chung denies dating Singaporean

Hong Kong - Cherie Chung has denied talk that she plans to marry a Singaporean businessman.

The former actress, whose husband Mike Chu died two years ago, was quoted as telling Apple Daily there was no new man in her life.

‘There is no such person. I haven’t thought about remarriage. I am not dating. This report could not be more false,’ she said.

Her friend, actress Sylvia Chang, also said there was no truth in the report and it was not possible that Chung would wed next year.

January 27, 2010

Vengeance (Screen Daily review)

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: — dleedlee @ 5:49 pm

By Lee Marshall

Dir: Johnnie To. Hong Kong. 2009. 108 mins.

A revenge shoot-em-up which fires mostly blanks, Johnnie To’s eagerly anticipated pairing with French actor and rocker Johnny Hallyday isunlikely to make it into the To Top Tens obsessively compiled by the Hong Kong director’s loyal fanbase. As always, the sensuality of To’s visualstyle and soundscapes and the choreography of the film’s bullet ballet provide reasons to watch, but the contrived plot, some wooden English dialogue and Hallyday’s stilted perfomance derail proceedings well before the final showdown.

What’s really lacking in Vengeance is the narrative inventiveness which lifted films like Breaking News or PTU out of the Hong Kong crime genre box and turned them into arthouse crossover items.

Producer/distributor ARP releases the film in France on May 20 – but the audience driven by the pulling power of ageing rocker Hallyday, who is a national institution, is likely to be short-lived, and may not translate to other territories.

Though he has become a festival favourite over the last five or six years, To is still invisible to most ordinary filmgoers, and Vengeance is unlikely to change this. Most of its ultimate audience will probably come from DVD.

There’s something very physical and compelling about To’s innate feel for cinematic sheen and syntax, and it’s fully on display in the 90-second pre-title sequence, which shows the brutal slaying of a happy Macau family – French mother Irene (Testud), her Chinese husband and their two young sons – by a trio of hitmen. Left for dead, Irene survives – and when chisel-faced father Costello (Hallyday) arrives at the hospital, he swears to avenge the murder.

Costello engages three local hitmen (To regulars Wong, Tung and Suet) to find the killers. To has a way with character actors, but the wry chemistry between the three assassins and the rugged Frenchman – who offers them his restaurant on the Champs-Elysees as collateral for the deal – doesn’t quite work.

Maybe it’s because Suet and Tung learned their lines phonetically, maybe it’s because, behind his unflinching Easter Island facemask, Hallyday looks as if he’s not sure what he’s doing here. But around 30 minutes in, the humour-tinged noirish atmosphere that To is usually so good at evoking begins to tip over into absurdity.

Essentially it’s a script problem. Worst of all is the moment around 45 minutes in when a wounded Costello – who by now has revealed that before working as a chef, he too was a hitman – tells his hired guns that he has a bullet lodged in his brain, and is in imminent danger of losing his memory.

It looks like a plot turn that might have been invented on the hoof, but this is the first script that To and Wai Ka-fai actually committed to paper. This new fact allows for some Memento-style visual business as Costello rapidly drifts into amnesia and is forced to write down the names of friends and enemies on photos, and on his gun. It also gives an amusing edge to the final last-man-standing shoot out, but the slapdash way it’s introduced loses the sympathy of an audience that was already wavering between indulgence and impatience.

As ever, there are compensations. To is a master of location shooting, and Macau’s neon casino signs and ancient lanes provide an atmospheric backdrop for the film’s early scenes – an atmosphere that is underlined by Lo Tayu’s great urban score, which alternates blaxploitation-style funk with jangling Wild West guitar melodies.

A scrapyard on a piece of wasteland backed by distant high-rise office blocks supplies another atmospheric setting, and becomes the location for the film’s most choreographed gunfight involving huge bales of scrap paper – a sequence whose self-conscious theatricality is underlined by the improvised grandstand from which Fung surveys the action.

Production companies
Media Asia
Milkyway Image
International sales
(33) 9 51 47 43 44

Johnnie To
Wai Ka-fai
Michele Petin
Laurent Petin
Peter Lam
John Chong

Wai Ka-fai

Cheng Siu-keung

Production design
Silver Cheung

David Richardson

Lo Tayu

Main cast
Johnny Hallyday
Sylvie Testud
Anthony Wong
Lam Ka-tung
Lam Suet
Simon Yam
Cheung Siu-fai
Felix Wong
Yuk Ng Sau

Screen Daily

January 27, 2010

Filed under: News — Tags: , , — dleedlee @ 12:26 pm

New poster of Little Big Soldier is notable for the disappearance of Wang Lee Hom. It adds fuel to the recent speculations that Jackie Chan and Wang have had a falling out. (HunanTV)

Wendi Deng Murdoch, Zhang Ziyi

Li Bingbing, Zhang Ziyi

The Zhang Ziyi-Wendi Deng joint venture production Snow Flower and The Secret Fan is reportedly is in financial trouble and the January start date is being delayed. Insiders say that Zhang Ziyi has not been able to put up her share of the investment. Originally, Wendi Deng was not concerned, assuming that boyfriend Vivi Nevo would come to assist Zhang if necessary. Seemingly, Zhang and Vivi have had a falling out and her latest ‘ink-splash’ scandal, also possibly related to Zhang’s attempt to secure financing, has scared supporters away. Li Bingbing has been mentioned as possibly replacing Zhang Ziyi in the lead role. (Xinhua)

CRI: Zhang Ziyi Quits ‘Secret Fan’: Report

Mongkok - AngelaBaby, Rene Liu, Michelle Wai


Rene Liu (Source)

Hot Summer Days Mongkok appearance slide show (12)(Sina)

CRI: ‘14 Blades’ Premieres in Beijing

CRI: Chinese Actress Yu Nan Joins Berlin Jury

Yesterday, Francis Ng was formally charged with one count of wounding in the New Year’s bakery incident. If convicted, the maximum penalty is imprisonment for 3 years. (Sina)

Francis Ng charged with wounding man in New Year’s scuffle

Leon Lai shows his might against TVB

Tang Wei did not attend her father’s art exhibition opening because she is filming [Late Autumn] in the US according to her father. Tang Yu Ming’s Hong Kong exhibition is entitled ‘Buddhism in the Heart’. (Sina) [sighting in Seattle]

CRI: Kelly Chen Fronts Hong Kong Disneyland Park

No reunion between Jay Chou and Jolin Tsai

Sammi spent 3 hours at Andy Hui’s home

Sammi and Andy back together?

Sultry Barbie Hsu stars in new pro-vegetarian peta ads

Miao Pu


January 26, 2010

January 26, 2010

Filed under: News — Tags: , , , , , — dleedlee @ 1:10 pm

Chinese Mirror: The Future of Hong Kong Cinema: a round table discussion (I)

The Future of Hong Kong Cinema: a round table discussion (II)

First-time South Korean director gears up for Sundance

“Hot Summer Days” heats up icy Beijing

Hong Kong - Chow’s wife was nearly injured by a falling display board but was saved by quick acting security personnel. (Source)

Chow Yun-Fat, Zhou Xun, Chrissie Chau, Ren Quan, Chen Rui, Fala Chen

CRI: ‘Confucius’ in Hong Kong

Donnie Yen - 14 Blades press conference

Wu Zun/Wu Chun

Sa Dingding, Kate Tsui (Sina)

Elsewhere, an anonymous email was sent to a reporters stating that investors were trying to recoup Zhao Wei’s $3M  fee for breach of contract for failing to attend publicity and promotional events due to her rumored pregnancy. Her contract called for appearances at four premieres. (Xinhua)

Shao Bing (Let The Bullets Fly) photo shoot (6)(Sina)

Kenix Kwok gives up acting to focus on family

Chow Yun-Fat paying for surrogate mother

Chow Yun-Fat’s mother has longed for a grandchild for years, and the Hong Kong superstar may be ready to do whatever it takes for his 90-year-old mum…

Maggie Cheung - Paris

Maggie Cheung attends the Christian Dior Haute-Couture show (Zimbio)

Maggie Cheung - Paris Fashion Week (Sina)

ESWN: The Hallelujah Mountains Are In Zhangjiajie

Chrissie Chau gets flirty at Tokyo fashion show  (Sina)

January 25, 2010

January 25, 2010

CRI: Zhou Xun Croons for ‘True Legend’

Jia Zhangke (Xinhua)

Chinese director receives “directors of decade” award in Toronto

“Make film to reveal common feelings”: Chinese director Jia Zhangke

Interview: Jia Zhangke

“It’s the theme of the new economics of China,” he says through an interpreter. “Years and years of tradition are being essentially destroyed and replaced with new customs that are still forming. In the cities, certainly, the changes in the economy have greatly affected everyday life and changed the path of the average person in a way. It affects their outlook on the future.”

Thai film tops TIFF list of decade’s best

CRI: Chen Kaige to Work on Fantasy Movie after “Zhao’s Orphan”

As reported last year, Chen Kaige will officially begin filming Zhao’s Orphan in March. (Xinhua)

“Zhao’s Orphan”, which has seen many stage incarnations in Chinese opera houses, is the story of a rural doctor 2,500 years ago, who saves the newborn son of the chancellor of the Jin Kingdom, whose family is executed because of political slander. The doctor decides to raise the boy so he can avenge his family. (Source)

Confucius gets mixed review from audiences. Lauded for expressing Confucian concepts but criticized for mangled dialogue, rough special effects and most deadly: boring - lacking dramatic conflict. (Xinhua)

Jacky Cheung

Eric Tsang and Jacky Cheung

Koni Lui

Vincy Chan

Bernice Liu gets ugly for 72 Tenants (9)(Sina)

CRI: HK Showcases Ideas to Restore Bruce Lee’s Residence

CRI: “Impression Dahongpao”, A 3D Movie in Live

The fifth project of director Zhang Yimou’s “Impression” musical series, previewed Sunday.

China pop stars face fine for lip-syncing

Faye Wong and husband Li Yapeng flew to Shanghai to help a friend open her new jewelry shop. Faye denied reports that sher received a fee of $2.5M yuan for appearing. (Xinhua)

Beijing - Faye Wong arriving at actress Luo Haoqiong’s wedding

Faye’s eldest daughter, Dou Jingtong


Milan - Leon Lai

Front row guest at fashion show


Anita Yuen

Alex Fong and wife, Anita Yuen attend charity walk


Bodyguards and Assassins

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: — dleedlee @ 7:32 am

Bodyguards and Assassins
Shiyue weicheng

(China-Hong Kong) A Polybona Film Distribution, China Film Group (in China) release of a Cinema Popular, Polybona production, in association with Shanghai Media & Entertainment Group. (International sales: We Distribution, Hong Kong.) Produced by Peter Chan, Huang Jianxin. Executive producers, Han Sanping, Yu Dong, Jojo Hui. Directed by Teddy Chen. Screenplay, Chun Tin-nam, Guo Junli, Wu Bing, James Yuen.

Sum Chung-yang - Donnie Yen
Lau Luk-yak - Leon Lai
Li Yuetang - Wang Xueqi
Prof. Chen Xiaobai - Tony Leung Ka-fai
Ah-si - Nicholas Tse
Yan Xiaoguo - Hu Jun
Li Chungguang - Wang Bo-chieh
Fang Hong - Li Yuchun
Sa Zhenchan - Cung Le
Chief of Police - Eric Tsang
Yuet-yu - Fan Bingbing
Wang Fuming - Mengke Bateer
Fang Tian - Simon Yam
Yang Quyun - Jacky Cheung

A solid emotional foundation anchors action-drama “Bodyguards and Assassins,” a satisfying mix of politics, personal sacrifice and death-or-glory combat centered on an imagined assassination attempt on Chinese revolutionary hero Sun Yat-sen in Hong Kong, 1906. Delivering a final hour of good but not great mayhem, as a mixed bag of fictional patriots shield Sun from scores of Imperial Army killers, helmer Teddy Chen’s (”The Accidental Spy”) star-studded ensembler reps a strong first effort for ambitious shingle Cinema Popular.

Biz has been smashing across Asia since the pic’s mid-December release, with more than $40 million grossed to date in China alone. Though a big breakout beyond the region looks unlikely, the pic should garner respectable returns in niches and ancillary.

Driven by Hong Kong producer-director Peter Chan (”The Warlords”) and mainland multihyphenate Huang Jianxin (”The Founding of a Republic”), and aiming to become China’s answer to DreamWorks, Cinema Popular has started in the right gear with “Bodyguards.” A big-budgeter (reportedly $23 million) with broad mainstream appeal, the pic is a clarion call to Chinese patriotism across political and geographical divides.

Giving depth and substance to a large roster of characters, the screenplay, credited to four writers, cleverly stashes Sun Yat-sen — revered in all Chinese quarters as the “Father of the Nation” — out of sight for most of the duration. Instead, it’s the aura of the man fighting to free China from a corrupt monarchy and forge a republic that inspires citizens, ranging from a tycoon to a street bum, to lay down their lives if necessary.

Plot is basically a grand-scale take on Bruce Willis starrer “16 Blocks,” about a cop escorting a valuable prisoner downtown amid a hail of bullets. Sun (referred to here as “Sun Wen,” the name given to him at school) is due in Hong Kong for secret talks with leaders of provincial resistance movements. The mission requires Sun to negotiate 13 blocks of the British Colony and survive the attentions of Yan Xiaoguo (Hu Jun, “Red Cliff”), a Qing dynasty commander sent to H.K. with sidekick Sa Zhenchan (Cung Le, Vietnamese world kick-boxing champion) and hundreds of crack troops.

Apart from two early shows of strength by Yan’s goons, the first hour quietly and effectively establishes character profiles of locals who form a bodyguard detail for Sun. Although no single dominant figure emerges, those at the forefront number Prof. Chen Xiaobai (Tony Leung Ka-fai), a newspaper editor and committed revolutionary; Li Yuetang (Wang Xueqi), a tycoon who funds Chen’s efforts; Li’s 17-year-old son, Li Chungguang (Taiwanese newcomer Wang Bo-chieh), and Sum Chung-yang (Donnie Yen, “Ip Man”), a gambler whose ex-wife, Yuet-yu (Fan Bingbing), is now Li Sr.’s concubine.

The only real script weakness is the repetition of what’s at stake. Speeches about how “China’s future is threatened” and “millions of people are depending on us” are given a few times too many.

In “Dirty Dozen” fashion, the ad hoc crew is rounded out by down-and-out bum Lau Luk-yak (Leon Lai, with unconvincing hair and makeup); teen opera diva Fang Hong (mainland popster Li Yuchun, showing capable martial-arts moves); and rickshaw driver Ah-si (H.K. heartthrob Nicholas Tse). Last but not least, there’s tofu-vending giant Wang Fuming, played by basketball star Mengke Bateer, who debuts impressively and shows promise of becoming China’s equivalent of late French wrestler/thesp Andre the Giant.

Sparse action to this point may make those who’ve come to see only chopsocky a little restless, but most auds will appreciate the relationships mapped out between characters on both sides of the battle. Most potent of these is the master-student history of Prof. Chen and henchman Yan, now the deadliest of enemies.

Having virtually every role played by bankable names from the mainland and H.K. does no harm, either. Standouts in a uniformly fine cast are Wang Xueqi, who brings gravitas to a stern patriarch whose support for the cause is tested, and Leung as the intellectual coming to terms with blood and violence as necessary tools of political change. Hu expertly underplays the chief villain.

Played out in real time on the biggest walk-through set ever constructed in China (the pic was shot entirely at a studio outside Shanghai), the final 60 minutes follow the real Sun and a decoy rickshaw hurtling around the city while assassins pop out from every nook and cranny. The nonstop action is marred only by rapid-fire closeups in fights — including a terrific battle involving Donnie Yen and Cung Le — that beg to be left uninterrupted by such distractions.

Color-desaturated lensing by veteran d.p. Arthur Wong applies an appropriately gritty veneer to exteriors, with slightly warmer tones showing in interiors. With its stunning streetscape centerpiece, Kenneth Mak’s production design is immaculate in every detail, even down to realistic weathering. Score by Chan Kwong-wing and Peter Kam runs the gamut from traditional drumming to contempo electronica, yet suits the mood wherever it goes. The rest of technical package is topnotch.

For the record, publicity material on the movie sets the action in 1905, whereas onscreen text all says 1906. Chinese title literally means “October Besieged City.” (Mandarin dialogue)

Camera (color, widescreen), Arthur Wong; editors, Derek Hui, Wong Hoi; music, Chan Kwong-wing, Peter Kam; production designer, Kenneth Mak; art director, Lam Chi-kia; costume designer, Dora Ng; sound (Dolby Digital), Ju Sheng-hen; action director, Tung Wai. Reviewed at Hoyts Chatswood Cinema, Sydney, Jan. 20, 2010. Running time: 138 MIN.


January 23, 2010

China’s Homegrown Movies Flourish

Filed under: Reprints — dleedlee @ 2:56 pm

“Avatar” has been flying high in China, but Beijing is clipping its wings.

On Tuesday, cinemas confirmed that they have been ordered to pull two-dimensional editions of the Hollywood blockbuster as of Thursday to make way for a state-sponsored biography of the Chinese philosopher Confucius.

The move to sharply curtail showings of the movie highlights China’s efforts to limit foreign films. But it also comes amid a rebirth of the Chinese film industry.

About a decade ago, Chinese films scored big at international art festivals, but the industry was in disarray at home. Cinemas were old and decrepit, productions were clunkers and pirated videotapes and discs proliferated.

Domestic films account for more than half of China’s box-office gross, which has been growing at 25% a year over the past five years.

By contrast, Beijing’s You-Town shopping center was crowded with young couples watching films on a recent Wednesday night. The modern, six-cinema multiplex seats 1,200, and almost all the seats were taken at $8 each, even though stores on the next block were offering pirated films for about $1 a disc.

All the films on display were Hong Kong or domestically produced movies. Domestic films account for more than half the box-office gross, which has been growing at 25% a year over the past five years. In 2009, growth accelerated to 42%, with total receipts of $911 million. That is still far behind the U.S., where box-office receipts were $9.87 billion in 2009, according to Adams Media Research.

In December, foreign filmmakers were heartened by a World Trade Organization ruling that said China should open its market to foreign films by lifting the requirement that the movies be sold through a government-run monopoly. The system allegedly discriminates against foreign films and limits foreign companies’ revenues. China has a year to change the rules or face tariffs from the U.S.

This week’s Avatar decision fits with China’s current efforts to limit foreign films; only 20 movies can be imported each year, and most are blacked out during popular moviegoing seasons, such as the upcoming Chinese New Year festival. Avatar will continue to be shown in some of the country’s estimated 800 3-D and IMAX cinemas but not in most theaters, which are being cleared for the holiday season for domestic films.

Twentieth-Century Fox, the studio behind “Avatar,” is owned by News Corp., which also publishes The Wall Street Journal. A News Corp. spokesman didn’t have an immediate comment Tuesday.

An official with China Stellar Film Co. said the distribution company had received an “urgent notice” Tuesday from China Film Group, the government company that distributes most films in China, saying China Stellar had to stop running two-dimensional versions of Avatar. China Film Group declined to comment.

If the rules on foreign films change, more pictures could enter the market, but the domestic industry is now in a stronger position to compete. “Opening up might bring in some more good foreign films, but I’m not convinced it will change things dramatically,” says Lambert Yam, a U.S. filmmaker who now works in China. “People like seeing local films, and local studios are stronger than before.”

The Chinese film industry began to turn around after China joined the WTO in 2001. At the time, the only films that did well in China were foreign—the box-office king then was the 1997 film “Titanic,” which grossed $45 million here and, like “Avatar,” was directed by James Cameron.

To join the WTO, China agreed to double the number of imported films to 20. “People were worried that the domestic industry would disappear,” says Yu Jianhong, a professor at Beijing Film Academy.

Officials say the looming crisis forced a reconsideration. “In the past, we were more influenced by the old state planning system—we set targets” says Tong Gang, a senior official at China’s State Administration of Radio, Film and Television. “After 2002, it was more a question of what was needed, what did people want?”

The growth in modern theaters has spread the number of screens in Chinese cities, and investment by private entrepreneurs has led to more effective marketing.

Piracy is more controlled than before; although pirated DVDs of first-run films are available, the products largely come out after films have had their first runs in theaters.

Significantly, China’s studio system also has changed. In the past, every major city or province had its own studio—also a relic of state-planning days. That was broken up with consolidation through the past decade, culminating with one studio, Huayi Brothers Media Corp., going public in October.

The shift put pressure on studio bosses to make a profit, something they realized they could do after the 2002 film “Hero” became the country’s first homegrown blockbuster, grossing $177 million world-wide.

“We began to think that we could use China’s own stories to develop the industry, and that’s worked really well,” says Xu Jianhai, president of Beijing Forbidden City Film Co.

Chinese audiences typically shun musicals, horror and westerns, which rules out many Hollywood films. But they do like costume dramas, romances, war stories and kung-fu films. Except for a few government-subsidized political films, almost all productions widely shown in China are escapist.

These films have been able to tap into an increasingly affluent populace. Stanley Rosen, a professor of political science and an expert on Chinese films at the University of Southern California, says the number of Chinese moviegoers isn’t that much greater than before and they are still largely concentrated in a few wealthy, urban areas.

But spending money at the new cineplexes is a status symbol for many affluent urbanites, who are willing to pay ever-higher ticket prices.

This year, China is expected to surpass South Korea to become Asia’s second-largest film market and could overtake Japan in five years at current growth rates.

(Wall Street Journal)

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