HKMDB Daily News

February 17, 2010

Au Revoir Taipei

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: — dleedlee @ 11:37 pm

Au Revoir Taipei
Yiye Taibei

An Atom Cinema (Taiwan)/Greensky Films (U.S.) production. (International sales: Beta Cinema, Munich.) Produced by Lee In-ah, Liu Wei-jan. Executive producers, Wim Wenders, Meileen Choo. Co-producers, Michael Leow, Michelle Cho. Directed, written by Arvin Chen.

With: Jack Yao, Amber Kuo, Joseph Chang, Lawrence Ko, Frankie Gao, Jack Kao, Liu Jui-chi, Paul Chiang, Peggy Tseng, Vera Yen.

Far from the closeted capital of Asian anomie so often portrayed in Taiwanese fest fare, Taipei becomes a warm, romantic city, peopled with likeable oddballs, in Boston-born American Chinese Arvin Chen’s immensely likable feature debut, “Au Revoir Taipei.” Ensemble criss-crosser mostly set during a young guy’s final night in his hometown is a well-crafted romancer that could build sufficient traction as an audience pleaser on the festival circuit to make some specialist distribs take a chance on saying bonjour for niche play.

As Kai (Jack Yao) bids g.f. Faye farewell as she heads off to the airport to catch a flight to Paris, and Kai’s v.o. slips into French, pic initially raises fears of cross-cultural pretension that — happily — aren’t fulfilled. Obsessed with leaving Taipei and joining her in Europe, Kai is a hopeless dreamer who wiles away his time working at the backstreets noodle eaterie of his parents (Jack Kao, Liu Jui-chi) and trying to master French at night in a bookstore.

Film slowly spins its web of quiet humor as a pretty young shelf-stacker in the bookstore, Susie (Amber Kuo), circles around him, clearly attracted, though Kai himself hardly notices.

Other characters in the nabe swim into view: vet gangster Brother Bao (Frankie Gao); his louche nephew, Hong (Lawrence Ko), who’s due to inherit the business; and handsome married cop Ji-yong (Joseph Chang), who’s staking out Bao’s operation. When Kai is dumped over the phone by Faye and decides to hightail it to Paris to win her back, Bao offers him the airfare — but on condition he takes a mysterious package with him that becomes much sought after by various parties.

The stage is set for a long night, prior to Kai’s flight, in which he has a farewell meal with a friend, Gao (Paul Chiang), bumps into Susie (who insists on sticking with him) and becomes drawn into a web of greed, kidnapping and emotional turmoil as to whether he should even leave his hometown. All characters undergo some kind of catharsis or life change — from the cop and his unhappy wife, Yuan (Peggy Tseng), to schlonky Gao who falls for a girl, Peach (Vera Yen) — as they follow each other around through the nighttime backstreets.

Working with U.S. d.p. Michael Fimognari and American-Chinese jazz composer Hsu Wen, Chen evokes a romantic, borderline unreal Taipei in which anything is possible. Well-constructed script, which neatly sets up ideas and rounds them off later on, pretty much sustains interest during the tight running time, and when the cogs start to click into place after the opening 30-minute setup Chen hardly puts a foot wrong.

Kuo is especially good as the bookshop girl quietly carrying a torch for the single-minded Kai, and older players like Gao and Chang add some heft to the movie as the gangster and cop. Things get a bit too sophomoric in the subplot of Hong and his nerdy, kidnapping colleagues, but the ensemble of the film is overall strong, with every character well defined.

For the record, Wim Wenders offered behind-the-scenes support after being introduced to Chen via L.A.-based Korean American producer Lee In-ah. Original Mandarin title literally means “A Page of Taipei,” but also sounds identical to that for “One Night in Taipei.” Mandarin, Hokkien, French dialogue

Camera (color), Michael Fimognari; editor, Justin Guerrieri; music, Hsu Wen; production designer, Huang Mei-ching; art director, Chen Bo-ren; costumes, Hsieh Ching-liang; sound (Dolby Digital), Tu Duu-chih; assistant director, Lin Li-shu. Reviewed at Arsenal 1, Berlin, Jan. 28, 2010. (In Berlin Film Festival, Forum.) Running time: 84 MIN.

Little Big Soldier

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: — dleedlee @ 11:28 pm

Little Big Soldier
Da bing xiao jiang

A Polybona/Huaxia Film Distribution Co. release (in China) of a Jackie & JJ Prods., Media-Television (Hong Kong)/Beijing Dragon Garden Culture & Art Co., Beijing Universe Starlight Culture Media, Talent Intl. Film Co., Universal Culture Co. (China). (International sales: Jackie & JJ, H.K.) Produced by Jackie Chan, Solon So, Zhang Zhe. Executive producer, Chan. Co-exec producers, Sun Yuannong, Wu Hongliang, Kay Zhao, Peter Cheung, Li Guiping. Co-producers, Sun, Esmond Ren, Zhang Xiang. Directed, written by Ding Sheng, from a story by Jackie Chan.

With: Jackie Chan, Wang Leehom, Steve Yoo, Lin Peng, Du Yuming, Jin Song, Xu Dongmei, Low Houi-kang, Yu Rongguang, Wu Yue, Wang Baoqiang, Niu Ben.

An “Odd Couple”-cum-martial-arts-road movie set some 2,000 years ago during the end of China’s chaotic Warring States prior to unification, “Little Big Soldier” is a Jackie Chan vehicle without any surprises. Wisely bowing to the demands of age, the 55-year-old star soft-pedals stunts in favor of characterization, here as a vet soldier who captures an enemy general for prize money. An easy sit, with regular action, a light tone but an unattractive, bleached look, “Soldier” is instantly forgettable even before it’s finished, with the feel almost of a kidpic. Pic just bowed in Asia, and looks unlikely to conquer any markets for long.

The most surprising thing is that the writer-helmer is Ding Sheng, who made one of 2008’s most original genre-benders, “The Underdog Knight.” Not for the first time, any trace of a director’s personal style has been eliminated in a Chan production, which has the fingerprints of the Hong Kong star (who’s mulled the idea for two decades) all over it: as lead actor, producer, exec producer, action director, story source and even “ox dubbing.” Huh?

Opening similalrly to the vastly superior Warring States drama “The Warlords,” on a bloody battlefield in 227 BC, a soldier from Liang state (Chan) who’s faked his death takes captive and patches up a defeated general from rival Wei (American-Chinese singer-songwriter Wang Leehom). Proud and snooty, and certain he’s been betrayed by his own side, the general attempts suicide but ends up being carted by the soldier back on the long road to Liang. Latter wants to claim a reward and buy a plot of land to farm.

Rest of the film is basically their perilsome journey, pursued by louche, corrupt Prince Wen of Wei (South Korea rap star Steve Yoo) and his heavies, briefly sidetracked by a mysterious songstress (Lin Peng, debuting in a peripheral role), bumping into a bunch of non-Han aboriginals, and fighting their way out of every corner. Oh, and along the way, they really come to respect each other between spatting, brawling and double-crosses.

This being a Chan picture, political correctness is prominent, with the soldier refusing to kill a pregnant bunny even when he’s starving, cossetting a baby sparrow, and singing the virtues of being “a normal person” (unlike all the power-mad, vicious types en route). The aw-shucks quotient — presumably aimed at Chan’s younger viewers — is high in between all the fighting for survival.

Action, largely staged in dusty locations, is nimble but unmemorable, apart from one sequence featuring the aforesaid ox, and chemistry between the two leads OK without being at all involving. In fact, the whole film is permeated by a seen-it/done-it feel, down to Chan’s cheeky nimbleness and the usual end-crawl outtakes, that pushes its luck in the charm stakes.

Realistic design, down to military duds and the overall grungy look, is already a cliche in Mainland-shot costumers, though handled well enough. Chinese title literally means “Big Soldier, Little General.” Mandarin dialogue

Camera (color, widescreen), Zhao Xiaoding; editor, Ding; music, Xiao Ke; production designer, Sun Li; costume designer, Wang Yi; sound (Dolby Digital), Wu Ling, Chen Chen; action director, Chan; visual effects, Daysview Digital Image (Beijing); visual effects supervisor, Sam Wang; associate producer, Wendy Wong. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (Berlinale Special), Feb. 16, 2010. Running time: 95 MIN.

Little Big Soldier (Screen Daily review)

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: — dleedlee @ 9:19 pm

Little Big Soldier (Da Bing Xiao Jiang)
By Dan Fainaru

Dir: Ding Sheng. Hong Kong-China. 2010. 95mins.

Compared with Jackie Chan’s usual frenetic extravaganzas, Little Big Soldier is almost low-key, a reflection on the pointlessness of war, even though reflections have not traditionally been action star Chan’s strong point. Set in 225BC at the end of the Warring States Period which preceded the establishment of the Chinese empire, this tale of a simple soldier who accidentally captures a general alternates action with philosophical musings and incorporates an untypical tragic ending that may take many of Chan’s fans by surprise.

Opening at home over Lunar New Year, Little Big Soldier was developed from an idea by Chan himself, with sales being handled by his own company. Performance should be solid, but weighted towards home territories with the action here perhaps proving perhaps too complex for international tastes.

Two survivors remain alive at the end of a bloody battle in which the Wei state’s army was completely annihilated by the Liang state; an older Liang soldier (Chan) who believes that staying alive is more important than fighting battles, and an injured Wei general (Wang Leehom).

The soldier ties the general up with the intention of bringing him back to Liang for a sizable reward and exemption from further military service. During their first night on the road, they stay at an abandoned inn where they fall prey to a singing maiden (Lin Peng) who drugs them both. They then encounter a wild bear, followed by angry peasants who vent their anger for losing everything in the war.

The plot thickens when the Prince of Wei (Yoo), his bodyguard (Du Yu Ming) and their soldiers are shown hunting down the missing general. A tribe of wild warriors is a further impediment to the soldier on his journey home.

All Little Big Soldier’s action is directed as usual by Chan himself, now in his mid-fifties and inclined to indulge in fewer acrobatics than usual. Mainland director Ding Sheng, who developed Chan’s idea, has trouble keeping the continuity clear, introducing a couple of confusing dream sequences and even throwing in an Amazon riding with the wild tribe.

Locations are pretty spectacular although they seem undercoloured for no particular reason. Chan and Wang Leehom deliver their lines in a good-natured manner and bond convincingly by the end of their trip.

Production companies
Jackie & JJ Productions

Solon So
Zhang Zhe

International sales
Distribution Workshop
(852) 2768 8678

Ding Sheng
From an idea by Jackie Chan

Zhao Xiaoding

Production design
Sun Li

Ding Sheng

Xiao Ke

Main cast
Jackie Chan
Wang Leehom
Steve Yoo
Lin Peng
Du Yu Ming
Jin Song
Xu Dong Mei
Low Houi Kang
Yu Rong Guang
Wu Yue
Wang Bao Qiang
Niu Ben
Screen Daily

Apart Together (Hollywood Reporter review)

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: , — dleedlee @ 3:18 pm

Apart Together
Bottom Line: Drama about a family separated by civil war has universal resonance but skims over deeper historical and psychological trauma.
By Maggie Lee

BERLIN — Wang Quan’an’s fifth film “Apart Together” is another variation of his recurrent set-up of one woman flirting with two husbands (or boyfriends), torn between obligation and love (or attraction). Small in scope but tightly structured, gracefully acted and directed, it opens up deep historical wounds and generational traumas created by China’s civil war, but does not press on them, exploring instead more universal human dilemmas lightened by scrumptious culinary episodes.

Generally engaging but moving at an even-keeled, slightly flat pace, it probably cannot repeat the international market buzz of Wang’s Golden Bear winner “Tuya’s Marriage,” but should still get respectable fest-play and niche release.

Set in the late ’80s, when Taiwan first organized tours for retired Nationalist (KMT) army soldiers to visit their families in mainland China, it follows old veteran Liu Yangsheng (Ling Feng)’s return to Shanghai to find his wife Yu-e (Lisu Lu) whom he lost at the pier during the chaotic retreat to Taiwan in 1949. The Chinese title “Tuan Yuan,” which means ‘happy reunion,’ is meant ironically, as his visit causes discord among Yu-e’s adult children and turns into an awkward threesome with her current husband Lu Shanming (Xu Caigen), also an ex-soldier, but on the Communist side.

Lu appears exceedingly courteous and accommodating, agreeing to let Yu-e follow Liu back to Taiwan, despite the children’s disapproval or demand for financial compensation. However, things do not work out as planned. In a droll scene, Lu and Yu-e, who are common-law partners, have to get married and pose for their virgin wedding photo before they could get a divorce. Then, Lu has a stroke, giving Yu-e second thoughts.

Liu’s story could speak for a million other Taiwan war veterans but Wang tactfully does not push his complex relationship with Lu as a political allegory of PRC-Taiwan division. If Wang had played up the two men’s rivalries especially their emotional blackmail in the mirrored scenes, when Lu reveals his bitterness after getting drunk at dinner, while Lu brings up his share of lifetime miseries at another meal, the film would have more dramatic intensity and the characters more human depth.

Even though major plot developments are all timed around meals, “Apart Together” is a subversion of epicurean films celebrating food’s healing power. Despite the delicious feasts on display, nobody touches the dishes. The dinner table becomes the film’s most powerful battleground and symbol for family politics.

Wang’s regular D.O.P. Lutz Reitermeier captures Shanghai in a state of flux that reflects Liu’s estranged status (reinforced also by his use of Mandarin while Yu-e’s family natter away in Shanghainese). His somber and meticulous compositions encapsulate the three characters’ shifting intimacies and distances in portrait style close-ups against crowd-scenes in more natural medium shots.

Wang eschews a music score but pregnant moments are interspersed with songs full of personal significance and political nuance. The most lyrical of which is Yu-e humming the ’30s song “Night-time Shanghai” as she and Liu sit in their own home, now converted into a hotel, and the last trailing notes are heard as the camera pans across the tiled rooftops of ’30s buildings, nestled within high rises. Or when Liu sings a song expressing his home-sickness in Taiwan dialect, symbolizing his cultural displacement.

It is a rare treat to see elderly and highly distinguished actors hold the fort with calibrated performances that only come with age. However, as a result, their children are pushed to the periphery of the narrative and leave little impression — especially Liu’s sullen and resentful son and Yu-e’s grand-daughter Na-na, who could have enriched the film were they more fleshed-out. Instead, the script indulges in too many neat parallels, like Liu and Lu reversing roles as cooks, or the decision of Na-na’s fiance to study abroad.

Venue: Berlin International Film Festival — opening film, competition
Sales: Celluloid Dreams
Production: Lightshades Filmproductions Ltd.

Cast: Lisa Lu, Ling Feng, Xu Caigen
Director-screenwriter-producer: Wang Quan’an
Screenwriter: Na Jin
General executive producer: Wang Jun
Producers: Wang Le, Du Daning, Wang Zhangliang, Ouwen, Ruan Yusheng
Executive producers: Ma Rui, Sun Yian
Director of photography: Lutz Reitermeier
Costume designer: Zhang Min
Music: Ma Peng
Editor: Wu Yixiang
No rating, 93 minutes

February 17, 2010

Filed under: News — Tags: , — dleedlee @ 12:59 pm

THR: Besouro (Brazil)

Bottom Line: Martial arts meet Brazilian history in an original mythic story.

THR: Au Revoir Taipei

Bottom Line: A perky urban dramedy that makes one smile from ear to ear.

Variety: Echoes of the Rainbow

A nostalgic family melodrama with its heart in the right place, “Echoes of the Rainbow” is diverting and even affecting while never quite straying from tried and tested formulas.

Echoes of the Rainbow - Berlin

Simon Yam

Aarif Lee, Simon Yam (Xinhua)

Korean film ‘Late Autumn’ headed to Whidbey Island

In an interview, Jackie said he plans to begin shooting Zodiac in May. It will be shoot in France, Britain and other locales. He is searching to cast a French-Chinese actor fluent in Mandarin. (Sina)

AngelaBaby wears a dress by Lady Gaga designer Petra Storrs and becomes ChocolateBaby

Jay Chou has lashed out at rapper Dog G for writing a song about ex-girlfriend Patty Hou’s virgin bride status that indirectly insulted him.

The Taiwanese rapper, inspired by media reports that the soon-to-be-married television host Hou is a virgin bride, wrote in his song that Chou “writes about being ‘diao’ [cool, powerful] in his songs, but is all talk and never used it”.

The word ‘diao’ can also refer to the male genitalia in the Taiwanese dialect.

Au Revoir Taipei (Hollywood Reporter review)

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: — dleedlee @ 11:46 am

Au revoir Taipei
By Maggie Lee
Bottom Line: A perky urban dramedy that makes one smile from ear to ear.

BERLIN — A romantic comedy match-made with a crime caper, “Au revoir Taipei” is best compared with Taiwan delicacy “Pearl Milk Tea” — sweet, bubbly, with something tasty to chew on. Directed with panache by American-Chinese first-timer Arvin Chen, this delightful tale of fumbling love and daydreaming in the city has a sound script idea that can be transposed to any metropolis from Bangkok to Barcelona.

The influence of executive producer Wim Wenders, combined with upbeat critical response could help the film rendezvous with some art house cinemas in the West and more commercial releases in Asia.

“Au revoir” follows the trend of new Taiwan films (like “Parking” and “Cape No. 7″) in weaving a circus of zany figures into a tapestry of multistranded stories. Unlike most, the characters actually connect on a narrative as well as heart-to-heart level. The story also stays focused by sticking to one small, cozy neighborhood and climaxing in a single night.

The film begins with the departure of Kai (Jack Yao)’s girlfriend Faye. He parks himself in a bookstore to learn French the stingy way, and catches the eye of shop assistant Susie (Amber Kuo). His break comes when Bao (Frankie Gao), a gangster who frequents his parents’ noodle shop, offers him a ticket to Paris in exchange for “courier delivery.”

The pot heats up the night before Kai leaves, when Bao’s nephew Hong (Lawrence Ko) tries to pull off a slick crime that drags Kai; his friend Gao, a gawky, lovesick convenience store worker; Susie; and two bungling cops into two hours of adventure and a farcical surprise resolution.

The cast is chipper and likeable across the board, conveying the naivete of small-timers dreaming big. Also lending the film charm are mouth-watering food scenes, which make fun of the Taiwanese habit of tending to their rumbling stomachs under ANY circumstance. Taipei sizzles as a 24/7 snack haven.

Apart from deadpan colloquial dialogue, Chen orchestrates physical slapstick with spot-on timing, such as three dance acts that crop up in unexpected moments, or a Woody Allen-esque escape from chair bondage. These tricks have been done before, but Chen somehow gives it a fresh touch.

The nocturnal yet jazzily lit cinematography is composed of peppy short cuts while the camera often remains stationary or slow moving before ending in a dazzling track in the bookstore with the rhythm of a dance.

Music is well considered, especially a French violin score spurring associations with “Amelie” that campily accompany images of dusty, densely built-up Taipei at crack of dawn.

The Chinese title, “A Page of Taipe,i” refers to Kai’s and Susie’s biblio-romance while punning on “One Night in Taipei.” End credits give thanks to “Director Yang,” hinting at homage to the late Edward Yang.

Venue: Berlin International Film Festival

Director-screenwriter: Arvin Chen
Cast: Jacky Yao, Amber Kuo, Lawrence Ko, Frankie Gao
Produced by: In-Ah Lee, Wei-Jan Liu
Executive producers: Wim Wenders, Meileen Choo
Producer: Oi Leng Lui
Director of photography: Michael Fimognari
Production designer: Mei Ching Huang
Music: Wen Hsu
Editor: Justin Guerrieri
Sales: Beta Cinema
Production: Atom Cinema, Greenskyfilms Inc.
No rating, 85 minutes

Echoes of the Rainbow

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: — dleedlee @ 8:39 am

Echoes of the Rainbow
Shui yuet sun tau

(Hong Kong) A Big Pictures, Dada Media, Sky Cosmos Development presentation of a Sky Cosmos Development production. (International sales: Mei AH Entertainment, Hong Kong.) Produced by Mabel Cheung. Executive producers, John Sham, Li Kuo Shing, Liu Rong. Co-producer, Candy Leung. Directed, written by Alex Law.

With: Buzz Chung, Aarif Lee, Simon Yam, Sandra Ng, Evelyn Choi, Paul Chiang, Teresa Loo, Ann Hui, Vincent Kok, Larry Lau, Clifton Ko.

A nostalgic family melodrama with its heart in the right place, “Echoes of the Rainbow” is diverting and even affecting while never quite straying from tried and tested formulas. Writer-helmer Alex Law’s largely autobiographical tale focuses on a struggling but loving working-class family with two sons who live in a sentimental version of 1969 Hong Kong. Mostly sweet without becoming saccharine, the pic should find a small pot of gold at the end of its local run, which begins March 11. Fests and tube buyers looking for solidly made, family-friendly fare are likely to tap in.

Walking around with a fishbowl over his head, 8-year-old “Big Ears” Law (Buzz Chung, expressive and cute) wants to be the bustling city’s first astronaut, a couple of months before Neil Armstrong lands on the moon. A bad student and something of a rascal, he might be tiny but he knows what he wants.

His handsome 16-year-old brother is his polar opposite: Desmond Law (Cantopop poster boy Aarif Lee, good) is a brainiac champion athlete at an English-language high school that the boys’ shoemaker father (vet Simon Yam, dignified) and can-do mother (Sandra Ng, in a more serious role than usual) can barely afford.

Subtle hints already suggest a storm is brewing, though the first hour mainly sketches a loving and carefree childhood that feels authentic, even if the cutesy Hong Kong the protags live in is clearly a nostalgic re-creation rather than something resembling the real deal.

Just when it seems there’s no real reason to take an interest in this perfectly happy family, a typhoon threatens to destroy their modest home and store, turning the pic into a full-blown, somewhat predictable melodrama. It’s thanks to the strong ensemble work of the actors, both veterans and newcomers, that the film doesn’t capsize in a sea of sentimentality.

Sets, bathed in a soft golden light, and Charlie Lam’s somewhat flat lensing make the pic look like a throwback to Hong Kong studio pictures of yesteryear, while Henry Lai’s whirling score cranks up the melodrama. (Cantonese, English, Mandarin, French dialogue)

Camera (color), Charlie Lam; editor, Kong Chi Leung, Chan Chi Wai; music, Henry Lai; production designer, Alfred Yau; sound (Dolby Digital), Kinson Tsang; special effects, Yee Kwow Leung, Lim Hung Fung, Lai Man Chun; associate producer, Catherine Hun. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (Generation Kplus), Feb. 15, 2010. Running time: 117 MIN.


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