HKMDB Daily News

September 19, 2012

Caught in the Web (Hollywood Reporter review)

Filed under: News — Tags: , , — dleedlee @ 10:21 am

Caught in the Web
9/17/2012 by Deborah Young

Chinese master Chen Kaige returns to a contemporary setting with top actors Gao Yuanyuan, Chen Hong, Mark Chao and Yao Chen.

In Caught in the Web, director Chen Kaige updates the high-energy brushstrokes of his sweeping historical epics like Farewell My Concubine to describe the modern intrigues of Internet rumor-mongering and office politics. In this fast-moving, densely plotted black dramedy, a faux scandal raised by an ambitious web TV editor comes close to destroying a number of lives, offering a masterful panorama on urban, middle class China. Toronto should be just the first port of call on a long festival voyage, with some crossover into the niches.

The popularity and dangers of Internet discussion boards hardly seems like the kind of thing that would spark the interest of the master of Asian costume dramas set in yesteryear. Yet in his third film with a contemporary setting, Chen effortlessly spins out his familiar themes of scandal, love, power, role-playing and betrayal in a society now dominated by the media and technology. In this sleek modern China, everyone’s out to get something from somebody, selfishness is the rule and “only the mentally ill tell the truth.” The screenplay, co-written with Tang Danian (Beijing Bicycle), is intricate but never confusing and filled with complexly drawn characters, particularly women. Its only real misstep is the dark, sentimental ending, which doesn’t hit quite the right note.

One morning in a big city, a young woman learns she has lymphatic cancer and must be operated on within a week. Shocked by the news, Lanqiu (Gao Yuanyuan) is so preoccupied that on her way to work she refuses to give up her bus seat to an old man and reacts rudely to protests from the other passengers. Unknown to her, cub TV reporter Jiaqi (May Wang) is filming the scene on her cell phone. She proudly presents it to her editor Ruoxi (Yao Chen), who knows a good thing when she sees it, and sends it viral on the net, igniting what comes to be known as “the Sunglasses Girl scandal.” Thanks to a jealous, ambitious co-worker, Lanqiu’s identity is revealed on the web and she is forced to go into hiding. Even the company she works for suffers, as the whole country moralistically shakes its head over her shameless arrogance on the bus.

In truth, Lanqiu is the reserved executive secretary of Mr. Shen (Wang Xueqi), the wily old company president. Uncharacteristically, she bursts into tears in his private office while asking for a loan (for the operation), just as Shen’s wife Mo Xiaoyu (actress and producer Chen Hong) walks in. She misreads the scene entirely and decides to take revenge on the two “lovers”, as subtly and cruelly as a poisoning at court. Still, she has her own backstory and a terrifying master-slave relationship with Shen that partly exonerates her.

She gets in touch with Ruoxi, who is a ruthless and stupidly ambitious young woman, yet also sports a human side. Ruoxi is dating Jiaqi’s hot brother Shoucheng (Mark Chao) and the three of them share a rented apartment, while Ruoxi dreams of making it big so they can buy a bigger place to live.

Shoucheng is a photographer who still has some ethics intact. When his path crosses Lanqiu’s, she offers to hire him for one week, basically to protect her from herself. He cautiously agrees, knowing she’s the victim of an outrageous Internet smear campaign that could lead her to suicide, but not knowing that she’s ill. Naturally, he has to hide the gig from his girlfriend, Ruoxi. She finds out.

Only a top-drawer cast could individualize all these characters. In the main role, the ethereal Gao Yuanyuan (City of Life and Death) is so noble and refined she’s almost a fantasy figure, though she’s unpredictable enough to keep the appealing Chao guessing as her temp bodyguard. He gets to kick up his heels in a playful martial arts fight; she terrifies him in a mini-car chase. They’re cute characters and their inevitable romance has all the more impact for being handled delicately.

The other notable acting pair is the rich Mr. Shen and his trophy wife, always at each other’s throats. Wang Xueqi’s Shen is delightfully cunning and cynical, though he’s a tyrant to his wife. She gets pay-back when she calls Ruoxi for a private chat, but in the last scenes, Chen Hong’s dignity earns respect.
Fast-paced and beautifully shot by Yang Shu, the story is told in theatrical spaces, through curtains and doorways, and inside soaring glass and stone buildings in which all traces of the past have been erased. Meng Ke and Ma Shangyou’s score is varied and touching.

Venue: Toronto Film Festival, Sept. 10, 2012.
A New Classics Media presentation of a 21 Century Shengkai Film production in association with Ningbo Radio & TV.
Cast: Gao Yuanyuan, Yao Chen, Mark Chao, Chen Hong, Wang Xueqi, Wang Luodan, Chen Ran, Zhang Yi, May Wang
Director: Chen Kaige
Screenwriters: Chen Kaige, Tang Danian
Producer: Chen Hong
Executive producers: Cao Huayi, Chen Hong, Wang Ziwen
Director of photography: Yang Shu
Production designers: Gao Yiguang, Tu Nan
Costumes: Sawataishi Kazuhiro
Editor: Li Dianshi
Music: Meng Ke, Ma Shangyou
Sales Agent: Moonstone Entertainment
No rating, 121 minutes.

Lotus (Hollywood Reporter review)

Filed under: Reprints — dleedlee @ 10:15 am


9/18/2012 by Neil Young

Premiering in Critics’ Week at Venice, producer/director/writer Liu Shu’s debut stars Tan Zhuo as an idealistic schoolteacher in provincial China.

Cinema is rarely kind to teachers who are young, beautiful, inspirational and female, and the list that features Maggie Smith in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and Diane Keaton in Looking For Mr. Goodbar now also includes Tan Zhuo from Chinese indie parable Lotus (Xiao He). With themes and a narrative structure that are straightforward to the point of being schematic, this is an engaging if ultimately depressing debut from 36-year-old writer/director/producer Liu Shu.

Her clear-eyed indictment of 21st century China presents deeply unflattering depictions of state education, the police system, journalism and private enterprise. And while the results certainly won’t win her any state-sponsored accolades at home, they’ll find plenty of takers among overseas festivals - especially events showcasing new talent - and even more so if her Venice premiere attracts any kind of official flak.

Having previously made an impact via secondary roles in two controversy-courting indie productions, Lou Ye’s Cannes-awarded Spring Fever (2009) and Han Jie’s Hello Mr Tree (2011), demurely pretty Tan now moves very much front and center in a picture where her eponymous heroine is present in just about every single scene. Single at 25, and living with her fretful, conventional parents, ‘Miss Lotus’ teaches high-school in an unidentified provincial town on the edge of the countryside.

Her free-spirited, questioning approach and unorthodox methods make her popular with most of her charges, but telling the kids that they “don’t have to obey [their] parents or teachers” spells trouble with her employers. And when it emerges that she has been conducting an affair with an older, married man, the humiliated Lotus escapes to start a new life as a journalist in bustling Beijing. Further complications ensue.

No flower can thrive without suitable a environment and proper nourishment - not even the Lotus, whose stainless emergence from muddy ground has for centuries made it a symbol of purity in eastern religions. And it’s quite hard to watch the radiance of this particular Lotus, initially so lively and upbeat, fading as she struggles to find her place in a go-ahead, unforgiving society. She descends the economic ladder via a series of sackings, her promising journalism career foundering when it emerges she’s more interested in quizzing a veteran female cinematographer about her career under Chairman Mao than in following the “latest directives from the Central Propaganda Unit.”

“The Cultural Revolution is off-limits” snaps Lotus’s editor, who prefers to emphasize “entertainment and celebrity news.” It’s not just in China, of course, that free-thinking teachers come up against the strictures of an education system that prioritizes exam-results above all else, and Lotus’s acute journalistic frustrations certainly won’t be unfamiliar to her counterparts in numerous western countries. But it’s as a heartfelt, ultra-critical dispatch from this particular nation that Lotus exerts particular appeal and fascination, and while Liu’s on-the-nose dialogue isn’t exactly a subtle analysis of the status quo, her tart little fable neatly concludes with a coda that constitutes one of the sourest ‘happy’ endings we’ll see in cinema this year.

Venue: Venice Film Festival (International Critics’ Week), September 7, 2012.
Production company: Beijing Hour Hand Film Workshop
Cast: Tan Zhuo, Guo Zhongyu, Xu Mingzhe, Luo Kang
Director / Screenwriter / Producer: Liu Shu
Director of photography: Zheng Yi
Production designer: Tao Li
Music: Wu Hongfei
Editor: Guo Hengqi
Sales agent: Beijing Hour Hand, Beijing, China
No MPAA rating, 89 minutes

September 18, 2012

Starry Starry Night (Screen Daily review)

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: — dleedlee @ 7:06 pm

Starry Starry Night
8 September, 2012
By Brent Simon
Dir: Tom Shu-Yu Lin. China-Taiwan. 2012. 98mins

An imaginative, emotionally resonant coming-of-age story about two young kindred spirits who seek solace in one another, writer-director Tom Shu-Yu Lin’s adaptation of Taiwanese author Jimmy Liao’s bestselling illustrated book is swollen with genuine feeling. Showcasing the commingled frailty and toughness of adolescents, and the rich inner landscapes that exist apart from whatever tethering relationships they have with adults, Lin’s sophomore effort represents a solid blend of technical achievement and kindhearted portraiture.

Shot in Mandarin with a generous budget of $7 million, Starry Starry Night represents one of few recent Taiwan-China co-productions. It should do solid business in Eastern markets, and if given some time and proper care Stateside, where it releases in select AMC Theaters through a special partnership with distributor China Lion, it could find specialty market penetration, given its adolescent-runaway narrative echoes of indie summer hit Moonrise Kingdom, as well as its fetching fantastical elements.

Against the backdrop of her parents’ bickering and divorce, and the death of her beloved grandfather (Kenneth Tsang), 13-year-old middle schooler and puzzle lover Mei (Josie Xu) strikes up deep bond with the new kid in town, Jay (Eric Lin Hui Ming). Tracked to and fro with his mother by an abusive father, sensitive Jay doodles in sketchbooks, and is an instant target of humiliation for other students. Lonely, adrift and misunderstood by those around them, Mei and Kay steal away in an effort to track down and visit her grandparents’ house in the countryside.

Perhaps owing to the fact that he was born in Taiwan but raised and educated in the United States, director Lin exhibits an unfussy and intelligent touch beyond his years. He finds quiet, universal ways to impart joy, longing and heartache — the latter captured in the distancing third person of Mei’s divorce conversation with her parents (“Mei’s thirteen, Mei understands”).

Working with cinematographer Jake Pollack, Lin also constructs a tender and gorgeous visual palette. Shiny surfaces of picture frames reflect, literally, happier times, while considerable CGI inclusions — including a bravura sequence of Vincent Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” come to life — capture the buoyant invention of Liao’s illustrations, and the especially active imaginations of those poised between childhood and the onset of pubescence.

The narrative beats are sometimes familiar, and its metaphorical underpinnings rather highlighted, but the movie’s superlative inducement of whimsy ensures that its grip on one’s attention and heart never significantly loosens. While not nearly as overtly comedic as something like Stephen Chow’s CJ7, Starry Starry Night taps into the same sense of fantastical wonderment as that film, as well as the more melancholic tones of movies like Hirokazu Kore-eda’s compassionate I Wish and Spike Jonze’s Where The Wild Things Are.

The adolescent performances are charming and well modulated, and the musical compositions, mostly by World’s End Girlfriend, are tenderly evocative.

Production companies: Huayi Brothers Media Corporation, Tomson International Entertainment, Franklincultural Creativity, Atom Cinema

Domestic distribution: China Lion

Producers: Wang Zhonglei, Liu Weijan, Wang Zhongjun, Albert Tong

Executive producer: Chen Kuofu

Screenplay: Tom Shu-Yu Lin, based on the illustrated book by Jimmy Liao

Cinematography: Jake Pollack

Production designer: Penny Tsai Pei-Ling

Editors: Xiao Yang, Cheng Hsiao-Tse

Music: World’s End Girlfriend

Main cast: Josie Xu, Eric Lin Hui Ming, René Liu, Harlem Yu, Kenneth Tsang, Janel Tsai, Stone Mayday, Gwei Lun Mei

September 14, 2012

The Last Supper (Hollywood Reporter review)

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: — dleedlee @ 8:21 pm

The Last Supper (Wang De Sheng Yan)


by Deborah Young

Spectacularly beautiful and achingly poetic, Lu Chuen’s The Last Supper describes the bloody birth of the Han dynasty in the 3rd century BCE with the skill of an expressionist painter and the curiosity of a historian. Like the director’s much-admired City of Life and Death (2009) about the Nanking Massacre, it takes a real interest in the period it depicts, pinpointing the gap between the historical record, revisionism, and what really happened. This all makes for a gripping Chinese epic of Shakespearean proportions that will entrance audiences well-disposed to the genre, starting from its Toronto premiere. Not for the distracted, the film has multiple characters who are quite hard to keep straight, though it is possible to do so with careful viewing.

The first Han emperor is dying and the court is full of intrigue. Emperor Liu (City of Life and Death’s Ye Liu), an ancient-looking man with long gray hair and beard, is so sick he can barely tell his aged wife (Qin Lan) from his young concubine. Haunted by nightmares and ghosts of the past, he is horrified to see the severed head of General Xin (Chang Chen) brought before him.

He then remembers when he first saw the dashing young nobleman Lord Yu (Hong Kong actor Daniel Wu) riding by. Back then, Liu was a rough-hewn country man who dreamed of serving in Yu’s army. Later, he humbly applies to the grave, 24-year-old aristo for soldiers to liberate his town where his wife is held captive, and Lord Yu gives him 5,000 men.

This noble gesture allows Liu to free his tortured spouse, and Lord Yu and Liu fight side by side with other warlords against the decadent and despised Qin empire. Their victory in 207 BCE allows Liu, not Yu, to be the first to set foot in the forbidden city of the time, the Qin Palace. Viewers will marvel along with these semi-barbarians at the extraordinary stone palace and its cultural artefacts, including a vast library of historical records written on linked wooden slats, which are delivered in the blink of an eye by an ingenious mechanical system. It may have been the kind of empire that forced “100 minds to think as one,” but how not to shed a tear for the delicate but defiant young Qin emperor, hacked to death in the public square after undergoing excruciating torture?

Trouble is afoot when Lord Yu learns that Liu has usurped his right to be the first to enter the hallowed palace walls. This time it looks like curtains for the peasant commander, yet once again Yu chooses to overlook his faux pas. Too nobly, it turns out, because they end up struggling for power at the head of rival armies.

In the final reels, the underlying theme of commoners who topple an empire becomes more explicit, though the film’s take on contemporary Chinese politics is too veiled for easy comprehension. In any case, noble Lord Yu’s democratic idea of dividing the empire into 19 independently run kingdoms, each speaking its own language, ends in blood.

Another theme is the falsification of history by the victors. Old minister Xiao (Yi Sha), an idealist like Yu, lectures an obedient army of scribes on how General Xin was falsely vilified by history. Xiao was an eyewitness and recounts, Rashomon-style, a very different version of the facts than the one written in the official records. His honesty is punished even more horribly than Lord Yu’s.

Cinematographers Li Zhang and Ma Cheng follow one breath-taking image with another, soulfully underscored by composer Liu Tong. Yet for all its lyricism, the film is remarkably believable in reconstructing a long-ago era lost in poetic mists and long telephoto shots, but still having its own dense reality. Poetic and terrifying at the same time are the armies arranged in orderly files; warhorses flying over the plain; the emperor’s magical candlelit chambers; clouds animated with human figures; a dangerous barbarian sword dance, as the camera slides around the dancers.

With the action shifting back and forth 14 years and the men mostly bearded and wearing heavy armor or elaborate period costumes, there is ample room for the characters to blur. The very fine cast helps keep confusion to a minimum with strongly individualized performances even within the formal confines of the period aesthetic. Ye Liu’s emperor is quaking and terrified, ready to run for his life when danger threatens, yet there is something in this “Son of the Dragon” that towers above the crowd. As his Lady Macbeth of a wife, made to age painfully as the film progresses, Qin Lan shows who wears the pants in the beautifully lensed and edited summoning of General Xin.

Venue: Toronto Film Festival

Production companies: Beijing Chuanfilms Co., Stellar Megamedia Group, China Film Group

Cast: Liu Ye, Daniel Wu Chang Chen, Qin Lan, Sha Yi, Nie Yuan, Huo Siyan, Cuckoo He, Tao Zeru, Li Qi, Qi Dao, Lu Yulai, Hao Bojie

Director: Lu Chuan

Screenwriter: Lu Chuan

Producers: Albert Yeung, Alan Zhang, Yang Ten-Kuei, Zhao Xiaowen, Gu Guoqin, Lu Chuan, Xin Wen

Executive producer: Qin Hong

Directors of photography: Li Zhang, Ma Cheng

Production designers: Chen Haozhong, Lu Tianhang

Editor: Liu Yijia

Music: Liu Tong

Sales Agent: Wild Bunch

No rating, 115 minutes


Beijing Flickers (Screen Daily review)

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: — dleedlee @ 4:39 pm

Beijing Flickers
14 September, 2012
By Anthony Kaufman
Dir: Zhang Yuan. China. 2012. 96mins

Prolific sixth-generation Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yuan returns to the same territory as his first major film, 1993’s Beijing Bastards, with this highly accessible and heartfelt expression of angst and alienation among the city’s less upwardly mobile young adults. Less rough-hewn than his handheld debut, Flickers still captures the disaffection of contemporary Chinese youth, but does so more via the accomplished cinematography and sentiment seen in his later films such as Seventeen Years and Little Red Flowers. Commensurate sales are likely.

Based on a 2010 video and photography exhibition about young people called “Unspoiled Brats” that Zhang created for Beijing’s Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Flickers follows the urban journeys of the luckless San Bao (Duan Bowen). In a voiceover narration that comes and goes throughout the film, San informs us that his dog, Happiness, has disappeared; his pregnant girlfriend has abandoned him for a wealthier man—”there are more and more rich men these days,” he laments—and he hasn’t uttered a single word in over 100 days.

Turns out San Bao, drunk in his sorrows, tried to eat a glass, severely lacerating his mouth in the process. The scene is played mostly for laughs, not tragedy; thankfully, Zhang keeps the tone light, with a dose of naïve wistfulness—as when San Bao, experiencing the first snow of the year, utters, “Despair can be so amazing sometimes.”

Soon, the other central characters filling out this sorrowful yet humorous tapestry come into focus: Xioa Shi (a particularly good Shi Shi), an effeminate young man with a love for plastic surgery, poetry and cross-dressing; Wang Min (Lv Yulai), San Bao’s best friend, who has also lost his girlfriend to a man of higher social standing; and You Zi (Li Xinyun), a singer at the local bar who is abandoned by her musicians when they’re seduced away by promises of fame.

Rebuked and/or left behind by China’s economic boom, this band of outsiders finds solace in each other, fantasizing different ways to get revenge on the wealthy and supporting each other in times of woe.

While Zhang can be heavy-handed in his critique—with a none-too-subtle scene of a “Big Boss” attempting to rape an innocent girl—Beijing Flickers largely pulls back from its melodramatic tendencies in favor a defter storytelling style. San Bao’s temporary muteness may be an obvious metaphor for the powerlessness of the film’s young urbanites, for example, but Zhang doesn’t overplay it. And one of the film’s final scenes on a beach—so often a clichéd location associated with cleansing and redemption—is ironically undercut: Rather than beautiful blue skies and waters, the young men enter a pallid vista, with a washed-out ocean and oil wells shrouded in smog in the distance.

Shot on Beijing’s fringes, with concrete housing projects towering in the background, piles of brick rubble and dilapidated bridges, Beijing Flickers beautifully captures an overall sense of urban blight. And with its likeable cast of misfits—particularly Duan Bowen’s melancholy San Bao and the effervescent Shi Shi—it’s also a tender look at China’s forgotten—and yet defiant—underclass.

Production company: Beijing Century Good-Tiding Co.,Ltd, China Film Co, Ltd

International sales: Fortissimo Films,

Producer: Zhang Yuan

Executive Producers: Dong Ping, Han Sanping

Screenplay: Kong Ergou, Yang Yishu, Li Xinyun, Zhang Yuan

Cinematographer: Cai Tao, Zhang Yuan

Editor: Wu Yixiang

Music: Lao Wu

Main cast: Duan Bowen, Lv Yulai, Shi Shi, Han Wenwen, Li Xinyun

The Bullet Vanishes (Screen Daily review)(2)

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: — dleedlee @ 4:35 pm

The Bullet Vanishes
14 September, 2012
By Edmund Lee

Dir: Lo Chi-leung. Hong Kong, China. 2012. 103mins

Less fantasy-oriented than Tsui Hark’s supernatural Detective Dee and more seriously minded than Guy Ritchie’s playful Sherlock Holmes movies, The Bullet Vanishes is a competently staged period whodunit which, judging from its handsome box office returns in mainland China and its makers’ visual flair and intellectual candour in handling the complicated material, has ample potential to develop into a prominent detective movie series for the Chinese-speaking market.

Set in Tiancheng Province, China, this stylish 1920s-set movie opens to the suspicious death of a young female worker of an ammunition factory, who’s forced by the crooked owner (Liu Kai-chi) into what turns out to be a rigged game of Russian Roulette. The mystery only deepens as a murder subsequently takes place at the factory – with a bullet that seems to have spontaneously vanished from the scene – and rumours begin to circulate that the dead girl has put a curse on the factory, predicting further deaths by ‘phantom bullets’.

A veteran of horror flicks and action thrillers (Double Tap, Inner Senses, Koma, Kidnap), director and co-scriptwriter Lo Chi-leung comes up with arguably his best film to date with this Hong Kong-China co-production, a sumptuously realised detective mystery that merges Holmesian deductions with shootouts, explosions and action sequences – some of which are shown with slow-motion bravado.

Lo is handsomely assisted by his lead pairing, Lau Ching-wan and Nicholas Tse. The former plays Song Donglu, an eccentric forensic expert whose unrelenting pursuit of justice has earned him a promotion as the new NPA officer at Tiancheng’s corrupt police headquarter, while the latter plays Guo Zhui, a righteous cop who arrives with a history as a contract killer and a cheesy reputation as the “fastest gun” in town.

The Bullet Vanishes is, however, not a buddy movie in its core. Guo, despite his skills with firearms (he can hit his targets with bullets that bounce off walls, as if he’s playing pool), is less a right-hand man for Song than he’s a rival investigator of the cases. Judging by Hollywood standards, it could be said that the two leading men have been given relatively few occasions to banter and bond; their interactions are sometimes amusingly, if not quite intentionally, awkward.

But that, together with a relative lack of humour, doesn’t diminish the entertainment quotient of the film, which maintains its sense of intrigue with an incessant stream of details and clues. Here is a detective mystery that trusts its audience to put the puzzles together, without succumbing to the tendency of mainstream blockbusters to explain everything away for their viewers’ easy, immediate consumption.

The rapidly increasing number of henchmen and factory workers involved – or killed off – in the mysterious circumstances may be fairly overwhelming for the less attentive viewers. Amid the vanishing bullets and a case of locked-room murder, extraneous developments are few and far between in the movie; even Guo’s romantic interest, a tricky fortune-teller called Little Lark (Mimi Yang), would prove to be playing a vital yet barely discernible role in the chain of causation.

The one major weakness of this otherwise very satisfying movie is its lack of a sense of humanity. Despite Lau’s charismatic presence, it’s hard for the audiences to identity emotionally with a protagonist they know nearly nothing about. The back story of Song is curiously kept private and, one would reasonably guess, for the next instalment of the would-be series.

In all likelihood, the protagonist’s relationship with an incarcerated husband killer (Jiang Yiyan) – whose own intricate murder plot is briefly reconstructed for Song in The Bullet Vanishes (shot with an inventive dash of silent film aesthetics) but whose past history with the detective is left perplexingly unspoken – should return in a more expositional manner in the probable sequel.

Production company: Film Unlimited Production

International Sales: Emperor Motion Pictures,

Producers: Albert Lee, Zhang Zhao

Co-producers: Albert Yeung, Jia Yueting

Screenwriters: Lo Chi-leung, Yeung Sin-ling

Cinematography: Chan Chi-ying

Editors: Kong Chi-leung, Ron Chan

Production designer: Silver Cheung

Music: Teddy Robin, Tomy Wai

Main cast: Lau Ching-wan, Nicholas Tse, Mimi Yang, Boran Jing, Liu Kai-chi, Wu Gang, Yumiko Cheng, Jiang Yiyan.

September 12, 2012

September 12, 2012 [HKMDB Daily News]

Filed under: News — Tags: , , , , , — dleedlee @ 8:22 pm

LATimes: Chinese pay for product placement in Hollywood movies

TimeOutHK: Karen Mok interview

My next big project is my first English album and it’s jazz. This has been my dream for as long as I can remember. Our take on this jazz album is to also retain our Chinese identity. So we have some Chinese elements in the album. I play the guzheng and we put that in as well. It’s a completely new sound we’re trying to create.


Karen Mok’s micro film/advert for Cadillac shot on Route 66

Daniel Wu gets Tom Cruise-y for Cadillac

Posters for the recently opened (in August) Mainland horror film “Horrible Hotel”(?). The B-list cast includes Cecilia Cheung look-a-like, Gong Mi, and the pulchritudinous Zhao Ming, Anya, comic actors Li Jing and Dong Lifan. Hong Kong singer-actor and Wang Lee Hom clone, as well as Kelly Chen’s brother, Victor Chen is the nominal hero.

Gong Mi, Victor Chen

Nightgown scene

Wet tee-shirt scene

Chinese Klansman?


September 10, 2012

The Last Supper (Screen Daily review)

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: — dleedlee @ 5:25 pm

The Last Supper
Dir/scr: Lu Chuan. China. 2012. 115mins

9 September, 2012
By Dan Fainaru

A companion piece to Chen Kaige’s award-winning The Emperor And The Assassin (1998), which portrayed the rise of the Qin dynasty and the unification of the Chinese empire and running on parallel lines with last year’s Hong Kong production White Vengeance, Lu Chuan’s new and visually spectacular historical pageant is dedicated to the fall of that same house of Qin, at the end of the Third Century BC.

Lu Chuan, best known in the West for his City Of Life And Death, has been at work for years on this complex project, involving not only a large cast and enormous production means, but also a plot - or more exactly a myriad of intersecting plots - whose details could mystify any audience unfamiliar with the Chinese history.

He has finally come up with a Chinese version of Macbeth. A tale about a king who is the victim of his own ambition and haunted by guilt, and about his wife who would stop at nothing to preserve her power. The moral of this tale, however, offers some surprisingly updated hints about modern China and its rulers, likely to be frequently discussed in Western reviews.

A lesson in Chinese history, this isn’t. The plot is far too intricate and its presentation is too convoluted to make much sense for an unprepared audience. Lu, who also wrote the script, chooses the point of view of a raving Liu (Liu Ye), the almighty emperor who started the Han dynasty, troubled by nightmares in which his closest assistants are plotting to get rid of him.

The film constantly goes back and forth in time, from the early days when Liu was a humble peasant leader joining forces with the young and highly respected noble Yu (Hong Kong star Daniel Wu) to topple the corrupt Qin rule, through the various pacts and treacheries established between the various chieftains, climaxing at the famous banquet when, despite the attempts of Yu’s advisers to kill him, he manages to come out, alive.

He later defeats Yu’s armies thanks to General Xin (Taiwanese Chang Chen), who defected from Yu’s camp. But after subsequent plots and counterplots Liu is lead to believe that Xin will now betray him as well to take away his crown. His wife, Empress Liu (a subtle, fiercely controlled Qin Lan), who has been at his side all along, engineers one cold blooded murder after another to prevent any attempt in stopping her from taking over once her ailing husband is dead.

To make some sense out of this complex plot is very much like assembling a large puzzle whose pieces have been scattered in all directions. And once assembled, there will still be quite a few of them missing. No wonder it is difficult to follow, but at least all the production departments have spared no effort or imagination in making the film look fabulously eye-catching.

A pageant mostly concerned with the lessons of history rather than history itself, it constantly points at the bitter fruits of ambition; suggests acquisition of power is a long procession of deceptions, conspiracies, corruptions and treacheries, and suggest one never relies on historians to tell you the truth. Whether the decision to spurn chronological narrative was the outcome of production difficulties or editing problems, it will certainly constitute a major obstacle for this handsome picture, at least outside its home territory, where audiences might be more familiar with the material it is presented.

Production company: Beijing Chuanfilms Company Ltd.

International Sales: Wild Bunch,

Producers: Albert Yeung, Alan Zhang, Yang Teng-Kuei, Zhao Xiaowen, Gu Guoqin, Lu Chuan

Executive producer: Qin Hong

Cinematography: Zhang Li, Ma Cheng

Editor: Liu Yijia

Production designer: Chen Haozhong, Lu Tianhang

Music: Liu Tong

Main cast: Liu Ye, Daniel Wu, Chang Chen, Qin Lan, Sha Yi, Lv Yulai, Nie Yuan, Huo Siyan, Cuckoo He, Tao Zeru, Li Qi, Ki Dao, Hao Bojie

September 9, 2012 [HKMDB Daily News]

Filed under: News — Tags: , — dleedlee @ 5:00 pm

TimeOutHK: Lo Chi-leung interview

Perhaps better known for his scary flicks and modern thrillers, director Lo Chi-leung is now playing detective for the excellent The Bullet Vanishes.

Liu Kai-Chi

FBA: Lotus review

Simplistic drama of a young female “rebel” fails to convince on a dramatic level.

FBA: Lethal Hostage review

Manipulative but gripping crime rondo set in the southern drug trade, with a fine cast.

Sun Honglei

Ni Dahong

Wang Luodan

Yang Kun

Zhang Mo

September 7, 2012

Comrade Kim Goes Flying (Screen Daily review)

Filed under: Reprints — dleedlee @ 5:01 pm

Comrade Kim Goes Flying
7 September, 2012
By Allan Hunter
Dirs: Anja Daelemans, Nicholas Bonner, Kim Gwang-hun. Belgium-North Korea-UK. 2012. 83mins

The cheery spirit of Stalinist-era propaganda films is alive and flourishing in Comrade Kim Goes Flying, a fluffy, feel-good valentine to a little working-class girl with impossible dreams. The film’s unique status as the first Western-financed fiction feature made entirely in North Korea should attract the curiosity of some Festival programmers. The retro sensibility, garish production design and simplistic plotting are unlikely to attract wider international audiences unless the film finds a niche as a high camp object of derision.

Comrade Kim (Han Jong-sim) is just the Stakhanovite-style worker that Stalin might have admired. A coal miner in a small rural village, she is dedicated to her work and renowned for exceeding her quotas. She has dreamt of being an acrobat since her childhood but put such foolish hopes aside after the death of her mother.

Assigned to a Construction Site in Pyongyang for a year, she is thrilled at the opportunity to see the big city and visit a circus where she meets trapeze artist Ri Su Yon. Encourage to audition, she is publicly humiliated but leaves determined to conquer her fear of heights and prove to arrogant but seemingly irresistible Pak Jang Phil (Pak Cung-guk) that even coalminers can master the high wire trapeze.

In some respects, Comrade Kim is no more corny than anything Hollywood might have devised for Ruby Keeler or Deanna Durbin in the 1930s - Kim even pretends to have a twin sister at one point. There are even times when it seems to acknowledge its own ridiculousness when Kim challenges Jang Phil to a cement mixing context or arm wrestles with factory workers. It might have worked as a tongue-in-cheek spoof with a hint of Tears Of The Black Tiger and it is hard to take seriously at face value.

The latter stages of the film are more engaging as Kim undertakes a grueling training schedule to chase her dream. Suddenly, we are in the familiar comfort zone of underdog territory defined by Billy Elliot and countless Rocky films. The production notes reveal that the performers are circus acrobats who have never previously acted and that may explain why the scenes focusing on the trapeze routines and acts of physical derring-do easily carry the most conviction.

Generally, the performances veer towards the enthusiastic and eager-to-please with Han Jong-sim all wide-eyed smiles and plucky determination as Kim.

Comrade Kim does afford the odd, lush picture postcard glimpse of the notoriously secretive North Korea but it is not flamboyant enough to work as a candy-coloured satire (a musical number or two might have helped) and it is not charming enough to succeed on its own modest terms as a heartwarming fairytale.

Production company/International sales: Another Dimension Of An Idea

Producers: Anja Daelemans, Nicholas Bonner, Kim Gwang-hun

Screenplay: Sik Sin-myong, Kim Chol

Cinematography: Hwang Jin-sok

Editors: Alain Dessauvage, Kim Yun-sim, Gao Bing, Ren Jia

Production designer: Kim won-song

Music: Ham Chol, Frederik Van de Moortel

Main cast: Kim Chol, Han Jong-sim, Pak Chung-guk, Ri Yong-ho, Kim Son-nam


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