HKMDB Daily News

December 27, 2012

The Guillotines (Variety review)

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: — dleedlee @ 2:35 pm

The Guillotines
Xuedizi

(Hong Kong-China)
By MAGGIE LEE

A We Pictures, Media Asia Film (in Hong Kong)/Stella Mega Films, We Pictures (in China)/Well Go USA (in U.S.) release of a We Pictures, Media Asia Film Prod., Stella Mega Films presentation of a We Pictures production, in association with Polyface Entertainment Media Group, Omnijoi, Dingsheng Culture Investment Co., Huaxia Film Distribution Co. (International sales: We Distribution, Hong Kong.) Produced by Jojo Hui Yuet-chun, Andrew Lau, Peter Ho-sun Chan. Executive producers, Peter Lam, Peter Ho-sun Chan, Qin Hong, Tengkuei Yang. Co-producers, Simon Chan, Jing Zhigang, Mei Hong. Co-executive producers, Zhou Li, Yang Zhiguo, Gu Guoqing. Directed by Andrew Lau. Screenplay, Aubrey Lam, Joyce Chan, Jojo Hui Yuet-chun.
With: Huang Xiaoming, Ethan Juan, Shawn Yue, Li Yuchun, Jimmy Wang, Wen Zhang, Boran Jing, King Shih-chieh. (Mandarin dialogue)

Heads won’t roll in “The Guillotines,” an ineptly executed period actioner in which the decapitating blades are hardly ever unsheathed or shown in all their grisly 3D glory. Starting out as a bromance between imperial assassins, this latest effort from Hong Kong helmer-producer Andrew Lau (”Infernal Affairs”) morphs into a heavy-handed allegory on government oppression, but never delivers a cathartic payoff. Producer Peter Ho-sun Chan’s track record helped presell the $18 million blockbuster to major territories, including North America, but the lack of rip-roaring martial arts or even a half-decent storyline will leave genre aficionados feeling short-changed.

Loosely inspired by Ho Meng-hua’s schlocky 1975 actioner “The Flying Guillotine,” the pic was initially conceived by Chan’s We Pictures as a regular 2D project, with Teddy Chen (”Bodyguards and Assassins”) set to direct. But the production was temporarily suspended in April 2011 — reportedly due to script issues, which may explain the stylistic incongruities — and resumed months later with Lau at the helm.

The film takes its name from a squad of assassins assembled by Qing dynasty Emperor Yongzheng to destroy his many enemies, such as the Herders (most of them Han Chinese who resent their Manchu invaders). The Guillotines have been trained by Gong’e (Jimmy Wang) to behead their opponents with a weapon known as xuedizi, as confidently demonstrated in the pic’s strong opening sequence.

Resembling a frisbee with blades, the xuedizi’s manga-like design reps a cool improvement on the model used in the original film and its four spinoffs, and although the 3D images aren’t the sharpest, these weapons do leap dynamically out of the frame, an effect aided by Azrael Chung’s whiplash editing. Alas, these nifty gadgets never see the light of day again as the screenplay strays from its promising genre beginnings.

The Guillotines capture the Herders’ leader, Wolf (Huang Xiaoming, “The Message”), but he manages to escape and even makes off with Gong’e’s daughter, Musen (pop idol Lee Yuchun). Under the wary eyes of Royal Guard captain Haidu (Shawn Yue, “Motorway”), Guillotines head Leng (Ethan Juan) and his five comrades pursue the rebels to their stronghold in Guanwu Town. It transpires, through muddled flashbacks, that Haidu and Leng were handpicked at childhood by Yongzheng to be close aids to his heir, Qianlong (Wen Zhang). Leng’s camaraderie with his squad strains his friendship with Haidu, especially when Qianlong takes the throne and decides to trade his outmoded henchmen for new toys from the West — namely, rifles and cannons.

For more than an hour, an uninvolving war of loyalties plays out, one that suspiciously calls to mind the angst-ridden moles in “Infernal Affairs,” though without that film’s psychological intrigue. There isn’t a single scene highlighting the strength of Leng’s relationships with the other Guillotines, who remain largely faceless, and narrative logic and pacing falter even as a mysterious connection develops among Wolf, Leng and Musen. Sporadic mob violence and military reprisals, shot in a jerky handheld style, are what pass for action in between wordy exchanges, and the 3D technology is never put to particularly vibrant use.

Throughout, the Qing monarchy is none-too-subtly depicted as a corrupt, hierarchical dictatorship prone to ethnic discrimination, censorship and armed suppression of dissidents. Although the final showdown bombastically reinforces the film’s ideology, it also rehashes the spectacle in Peter Chan’s own “The Warlords,” with a distant echo of Roland Joffe’s “The Mission,” to numbing effect.

Perfs from the hot young cast are limp, and veterans like Wang (who starred in a 1976 spinoff, “Master of the Flying Guillotine”) and King Shih-chieh (”The Fourth Portrait”) aren’t given meaty enough roles. Huang has a hard time reconciling his character’s inconsistency as Wolf abuses Musen horrifically one moment, then channels Jesus and Gandhi with “equality for all” peace slogans. Saddled with a one-dimensional role and few opportunities for derring-do, Juan is a pale shadow of the manly Chen Kuan-tai, who originated the role in the 1975 pic.

Lau Sai-wan’s production design conjures the squalor of a dusty border town (shot mostly in Taiyuan, North China), and d.p. Edmund Fung’s sandy color palette lends the protags a soiled, shabby look despite the highly stylized lensing. Other tech credits are serviceable.

Camera (color/B&W, widescreen, HD), Edmund Fung; editor, Azrael Chung; music, Chan Kwong-wing; production designer, Lau Sai-wan; costume designer, Dora Ng; sound (Dolby Atmos/Dolby 7.1/Dolby 5.1), Kinson Tsang; visual effects supervisor, Victor Wong; visual effects, Nova VFX, Vision Globale, Cubic Pictures; action director, Lee Tat-chiu; assistant director, Fei Wong. Reviewed at Ocean Theater, Kowloon, Dec., 20, 2012. Running time: 112 MIN.
Variety

December 22, 2012

Fallen City (Hollywood Reporter review)

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: , — dleedlee @ 1:31 pm

Fallen City
12/22/2012 by Neil Young

The Bottom Line
Straightforwardly sensitive study of post-trauma grief steadily expands into a sly microcosm of the changes afoot in 21st-century China.

Chinese writer-director-producer Qi Zhao’s debut, selected for Sundance’s International Documentary Competition, follows the aftermath of a shattering 2008 earthquake.

The reconstruction of an earthquake-leveled town takes on intriguing allegorical aspects in Qi Zhao’s dutiful but deft documentary Fallen City. One of the more notable world premieres at Amsterdam’s IDFA, whose own Bertha Fund contributed to its production, it’s secured a North American bow as part of the International Documentary Competition at Sundance in January. This will doubtless lead to exposure at numerous non-fiction showcases through 2013, with small-screen sales a given.

Beijing-based writer-director Qi also acts as his own producer here, a role he filled on Lixin Fan’s well-traveled 2009 documentary Last Train Home. That film showed how a specific phenomenon could with proper handling speak volumes about general problems facing contemporary, fast-changing China. Lixin in turn takes an executive producer credit here, alongside U.K.-born Michelle Ho and prominent Canadian documentarian Peter Wintonick.

Already the focus of several documentaries and fictional treatments, the quake of May 12, 2008 was China’s deadliest for more than three decades, killing nearly 70,000 people in Sichuan province in the country’s mid-west. Among the communities devastated by the temblor was Beichuan, a town of 20,000 residents which was virtually wiped off the map in a matter of minutes.

Qi catches up with several of the survivors, following three stories over the course of four years: teenager Hong, who lost his father in the disaster; thirtysomething couple the Pengs, whose 11-year-old daughter was among the fatalities; and fortyish divorcee Mrs. Li who cares for her paralyzed mother in between rehousing her fellow townsfolk in her job as a community organizer.

The approach is suitably somber and respectful, each of the participants given time and space to verbalize their grief and explain how they go about picking up the pieces. This is absorbingly tough material, conventionally presented by means of talking-head testimony amid surveys of the wrecked landscape, with mournful musical accompaniment courtesy of the inevitable tinkling piano and sonorous strings.

But as Fallen City goes on, Qi does move toward establishing his own distinctive voice. From the very first shot - what looks like a leaf, but turns out to be a gentle mantis - he displays a Malick-esque fascination with flora and fauna, putting human suffering in the context of a natural world whose delicate fragility is more resilient than it might first appear. Cats and dogs play their part, but it’s those mantises which really steal the show, photogenic little critters whose gracefully jointed limbs encourage anthropomorphic speculation.

These grace-notes punctuate a wider narrative development in which Qi and his three editors devote considerable time to how the famously controlling Chinese government uses the crisis of Beichuan as an opportunity to start afresh. The stoically fatalistic residents are housed in temporary accommodation some 40 miles from home while a gleaming new city takes shape, with striking alacrity, in their absence.

The boosterish tones of officialdom become a wry running feature: “The new Beichuan will be a safe, beautiful and culturally rich city,” assures a spokesperson on state television. And once the modern, rigidly right-angled buildings and roads are constructed, the broadcasters crow: “We have made progress because we have a great party and a powerful country.”

Unsurprisingly, Qi and company find the reality to be more complex and problematic: complaints are heard that the new apartments are too expensive to rent or buy, and that the new city has “no feeling.” The supposed servants of the people emerge as less than entirely altruistic, notably in a third-act twist concerning one of the main protagonists which knocks the unsuspecting viewer off-balance.

Corruption, the discontents of youth, inter-generational strife, shortages of cash and the harsh effects of a tough labor-market all come under the microscope in a documentary which occasionally feels like it’s trying to cover too many aspects of 21st-century China within the confines of a standard 90-minute running-time. As a quiet paean to human resourcefulness and resilience in the worst of circumstances, however, Fallen City takes its place among a rich current run of east Asian documentaries that find illumination amid heart-rending desolation.

Venue: IDFA - International Documentary Festival Amsterdam (First Appearance Competition), November 21, 2012.

Production company: YFM (YuanFang Media)
Director / Screenwriter / Producer: Qi Zhao
Executive producers: Lixin Fan, Michelle Ho, Peter Wintonick
Directors of photography: Shaogang Sun, Xiaoyu Niu
Editors: Matthieu Laclau, Peicong Meng, Xiaoyo Niu

Sales agent: YFM, Beijing
No MPAA rating, 89 minutes
THR

December 20, 2012

The Guillotines (Hollywood Reporter review)

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: — dleedlee @ 1:48 pm

The Guillotines

12/20/2012 by Elizabeth Kerr

The Bottom Line
An occasionally thematically scattershot wuxia actioner that will appeal to fans of the genre.

Director Andrew Lau’s sprawling epic is finally hitting screens.

The long-gestating The Guillotines, the love child of Hong Kong action maestro Andrew Lau and relatively adventurous producer-director Peter Chan, is finally hitting screens, not so much with a glorious bang but something of a thud. At one time rumored to be a straight-up remake of the Shaw Brothers classic, Flying Guillotine, this film pivots on a crew of assassins whose weapon of choice is the titular blade—something of a cross between buzz saw and Xena’s chakram that attaches to the neck and with the pull of a wire, decapitates the wearer. The Guillotines isn’t explicitly violent but it has a grim, nasty overtone that presses down on the familiar narrative as it builds slowly to the inevitable. It’s been a while since we were treated to a good old-fashioned drawing and quartering.

Already sold to parts of Europe, the UK, North America and Australia, any territories that are left could be swayed by the considerable talent behind the title, and Asian distributors should come calling if they haven’t already on the strength of the young, rising stars in the cast. The bizarre marriage of criticism and praise should make the film a hit in China, and an extended life on DVD and download for Asiaphiles is a safe bet. The 3D is adequate and could look better on BluRay on a big television.

The film begins with a kinetic, blistering action sequence that shows off what the legendary Qing Dynasty death squad was all about. Tasked by the Emperor to put down any dissenters with the fabled blade, The Guillotines are led by Leng (Ethan Juan, Monga, rather on the bland side), a typically soulful, reticent assassin with a tortured past. Leng and his crew are on the hunt for Wolf (Huang Xiaoming, The Banquet), a Han Chinese rebel with a quasi-militia called The Herders, all of whom have taken issue with the Manchurian rulers’ heavy handed reign of terror. The Guillotines find him but decide to use him as a bargaining chip for their own power play, but of course while they’re discussing some minor detail, Wolf manages to stage an escape and run off with a hostage, Guillotine Musen (Li Yuchun, Flying Swords of Dragon Gate).

That’s the basic infrastructure that sets up Lau’s sprawling, occasionally disjointed epic. Underneath the plot machinations that at different moments recall The Wild Bunch (a vanishing way of life), The Seven Samurai (a town under siege) and Lau’s own Infernal Affairs (young boys trained by the same organization to work on opposite side of the law) among others there’s some contemplation of social justice and the impact of obsolescence on one’s identifying purpose. And what a mixed bag of images Lau’s thrown up on the screen—choices that are either simply confused or calculated ambiguities to ensure the film works outside of Hong Kong. Wolf in particular is perplexing: with his tangle of wild tresses and chin-centric facial hair he could be a charismatic cult leader, a classic marital arts master or Jesus. Take your pick. Wolf’s message of respect and peace has something of two-sided aspect as well. Given Mainland China’s recent change in government, Lau and Chan have made a fairly bold statement about the power of egalitarian rule. But Wolf’s rural compound populated by (clearly) socially superior Han is hilariously idyllic; everyone just wants to sing, say hi to the neighbors and cook. If ever there was a mixed message this is it.

As if that weren’t enough to cram into one film, the Guillotines final mission is handed an Imperial envoy, Haidu (Shawn Yue, Love in the Buff), who is also a childhood friend of Leng’s. Little does Leng know, Haidu is there to help the new emperor, Qianlong, make the smooth transition to more Western style military tactics, and that means erasing the black stain on history that is the Guillotines. Screenwriters Joyce Chan (a co-writer on Bodyguards and Assassins) and Aubrey Lam (Wu Xia) tread some well-worn ground in this area and never veer from that path. The requisite arguments over brotherhood and loyalty—among the Guillotines as well as between Haidu and Leng—are all present and accounted for, though when Yue is finally allowed to let Haidu go full-on maniac he seems to be having more fun than at any other point in the film.

Technically, The Guillotines falls flat in spots. The 3D flirts with gimmickry in the fight scenes and is almost unnoticeable in all the others. On top of that the glasses (at least the ones provided at the Hong Kong screening) made the picture extra dark—darker than expected—and obscured Fung Yuen-man’s wide-open vistas and color saturated battles. With Life of Pi still fresh in viewers’ minds, filmmakers are going to have to seriously up their games if indeed 3D is going to be come a standard of any kind, even for just genre films.

Producer: Peter Chan, Hui Yuet-chan

Director: Andrew Lau

Cast: Shawn Yue, Huang Xiaoming, Ethan Juan, Li Yuchun, Jing Boran,

Screenwriter: Aubrey Lam, Joyce Chan

Executive producer: Peter Chan, Peter Lam

Director of Photography: Fung Yuen-man

Production Designer: Kenneth Mak

Music: Kwong Wing-chan

Costume designer:Dora Ng

Editor: Chung Wai-chiu

No rating: 112 minutes
THR

Already Famous (Hollywood Reporter review)

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: — dleedlee @ 1:45 pm

Already Famous
12/20/2012 by Stephen Farber

The Bottom Line
Shallow but jaunty showbiz satire, Singapore-style.

Michelle Chong directs and stars in this lighthearted look at the TV business.

One of the oddities among this year’s list of foreign film contenders is the entry from Singapore, Already Famous, a dizzy Asian variation on A Star Is Born. This film has no chance in the Oscar derby, and it’s too crude to be considered a really good movie, but it’s a funny glimpse into the pitfalls of show business around the world. The picture is something of a vanity production for Michelle Chong, who wrote, directed, and produced in addition to playing the lead. But she never quite wears out her welcome.

Chong, who is a well known TV personality in Singapore, plays Zann, a young woman from a village in Malaysia who dreams of hitting the big time. Her elderly grandmother (Lok Meng Chue) is the only family member who encourages her, so Zann makes the journey to cosmopolitan Singapore. She takes a job as a salesgirl while making the rounds to audition for modeling and acting jobs. Along the way she finds comfort with a handsome coffee shop worker (played by another popular TV actor, Alien Huang), but she refuses to allow anyone to distract her from her primary goal.

The comic touches in the film veer from clever to cringe-inducing. Two gay co-workers are such flaming stereotypes that the film curdles whenever they are on screen. But the inside-showbiz touches are often engagingly loopy. The humiliating cattle call auditions are well caught. Zann finally gets a part as an extra on a medical soap opera, and the director is impressed when she cries convincingly during a hospital scene. But when Zann goes home to watch the episode with her family, her closeup has been cut to just a shot of her arm reaching toward the hospital bed. The final sequence, Singapore’s variation on an American Idol-style contest, is also wickedly funny.

The actors help to enliven the uneven material. Chong herself makes an attractive, put-upon heroine, and Huang is a winning love interest. Many well known TV personalities play themselves and add to the film’s savvy texture. Visually the film is hardly extraordinary, but the contrast between the rural landscapes and the sleek urban locations is effective. Chong could have used a more rigorous editor. This lightweight film drags on for two hours, when 90 minutes would have been just about right. Still, the likable cast and knowing touches keep us watching right up until the end credits, which feature the same kind of outrageous out-takes that end many American comedies.

Cast: Michelle Chong, Alien Huang, Lok Meng Chue, Jalyn Han, James Lim, Tan Jun Sheng

Director-screenwriter: Michelle Chong

Producers: Michelle Chong, Pauline Yu

Executive producer: Anita Hatta

Director of photography: Meng Fye Wong

Production designers: Boon Keng Lim, Wong Chun Lim

Music: Joshua Chia

Costume designer: Youg Siew Lin

Editor: Jin Yan

No rating, 120 minutes.
THR

CZ12 (Hollywood Reporter review)

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: , — dleedlee @ 12:38 pm

CZ12

12/20/2012 by Elizabeth Kerr

The Bottom Line
The alleged final action film from martial arts star Jackie Chan is a hideous cocktail of cynicism, sanctimony and pedestrian filmmaking.

The latest globetrotting romp by martial arts action star Jackie Chan, opening Dec. 20 in Hong Kong, is the kind of mindless, silly romp the multi-hyphenate has become known for. CZ12 (sometimes Chinese Zodiac) couldn’t be a more inauspicious swan song if he tried, if such rumors are to be believed. As a mercenary tomb raider looking for ancient Chinese sculptures Chan’s age is starting to show; with the exception of one key fight sequence he leaves the heavy lifting to his younger costars and resorts to either greenscreen for his big moments — or does them from the comfort of a horizontal position. This isn’t what you pay for when lining up for a Chan film.

Clocking in at just over two hours and with a remarkable dearth of the martial acrobatics Chan is known for, there’s little to recommend the film for anyone other than Chan completists. The film is hitting screens in Hong Kong the same week as the superior family fare of Wreck-It Ralph, popular box office nonsense of the last Twilight film, and only days ahead of Les Misérables. It’s going to be an uphill battle for this vehicle, particularly in light of recent comments in the press (“taken out of context” naturally) where Chan whined about Hongkongers being too quick to exert their right to free speech. It hasn’t endeared him to the public and a backlash wouldn’t be at all surprising.

Still, it’s a Jackie Chan movie and his fans around the world are legion. CZ12 is aggressively multi-national and designed for maximum market appeal: the cast hails form South Korea, China, the USA and France, is spoken in four languages and was shot in Paris, Taiwan and the South Pacific among others. Chan is still a brand even if it is a diminished one, and he broadened his reach when he went down the slapstick road with 1995’s Rumble in the Bronx (complete with Canada Post mailboxes visible in the background). The kids in the audience rarely stopped giggling, and so reasonably healthy box office returns should be expected in Asia where slapstick plays well, and the content will make it an enormous hit in China. Overseas the film is going to have to rely on viewer goodwill and brand loyalty. CZ12 should fade to the background of Chan’s oeuvre sooner rather than later.

As the leader of a wily band of Indiana Jones-type archeological thieves, JC (Chan) has made a good living swiping rare antiquities from long abandoned corners of the globe and handing them over to auction houses. When the nefarious president of the MP Corporation (Oliver Platt, slumming it) hires him to find the last of the missing bronze zodiac animal heads from the old Summer Palace in Beijing, he meets the irritating, sanctimonious Coco (Yao Xingtong), a member of an irritating, sanctimonious activist group dedicated to returning national treasures to their rightful owners—which is mostly China. They wind up on an island where a French woman that’s fallen on hard times, Katherine (Laura Weissbecker), claims her grandfather’s ship ran aground coming back from China. Great, more stolen treasure for Coco to get indignant about! After about five minutes of introspection JC finds his soul and decides to steal for the right reasons.

Regardless of what one believes about historical propriety and national rights, CZ12 is not the place to debate them, and after the third lecture on the foreign raiders and auction houses that profit from 19th century pillages, the subject simply becomes exhausting. No matter how valid the argument, it’s cocooned inside some truly awful paint-by-numbers filmmaking with dull characters, wooden acting and at least two moments of dreadful compositing. No one expects Chan to crank out the next Citizen Kane, but we do expect him to meet a standard of fun. This is mostly lazy, with frequent lapses in logic and continuity. A final warehouse confrontation with Lawrence’s henchman Vulture (Alaa Safi) in and around a sofa set and then a horde of thugs is the creative high point, however JC’s right hand Bonnie (Zhang Lanxin) and her opponent (Caitlin Dechelle) is far more interesting. If Chan were half the patriot he claims he is, he’d put his considerable resources as a producer into finding the next Jackie Chan; Jet Li is only slightly younger, leaving Donnie Yen as Hong Kong’s sole marital star. If this does turn out to be Chan’s last picture it’s easy to see why. Not even the closing credit out takes are fun anymore.

Producer Stanley Tong, Barbie Tung, Jackie Chan

Director Jackie Chan

Cast Jackie Chan, Yao Xingtong, Kwong Sang-woo, Zhang Lanxin, Laura Weissbecker, Oliver Platt

Screenwriter Frankie Chan, Edward Tang, Stanley Tong, Jackie Chan

Executive producer Brett Ratner, Wang Zhongjun, Albert Yeung, Jackie Chan

Director of Photography Ng Man-ching, Jackie Chan

Music Roc Chen, Nathan Wang

Costume designer Kitty Chen, Kwok Big Yan

No rating, 124 minutes
THR

December 19, 2012

CZ12 (Variety review)

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: , — dleedlee @ 2:40 pm

CZ12
Sap yee seng chiu

(Hong Kong-China)
By MAGGIE LEE
Dec. 19, 2012

An Emperor Motion Pictures (in Hong Kong/Macau)/Huayi Brothers Media (in China) release of a Jackie & JJ Prods., Emperor Film Prod. Co., Huayi Brothers Media presentation and production in association with One House Prods. Co., Shanghai Film Group, Talent Intl. Film Co., Beijing Sparkle Roll Intl. Culture Industry Co., Beijing Dragon Garden Culture & Art Co. (International sales: Jackie & JJ Intl., Hong Kong.) Produced by Jackie Chan, Albert Lee, Wang Zhonglei. Executive producers, Jackie Chan, Albert Yeung, Wang Zhongjun. Co-executive producers, Ren Zhonglun, Wu Hongliang. Directed by Jackie Chan. Screenplay, Jackie Chan, Stanley Tong, Edward Tang, Frankie Chan.

With: Jackie Chan, Kwon Sang-woo, Yao Xingtong, Laura Weissbecker, Zhang Lanxin, Liao Fan, Alaa Safi, Caitlin Dechelle, Oliver Platt, Vincent Sze, Jonathan Lee, Chen Bo-lin, Jiang Wen, Daniel Wu, Shu Qi, Lin Fong-chiao. (Cantonese, Mandarin, English, French, Latvian, Japanese, Thai, Hindi, Arabic dialogue)

Taking more than a dozen credits, including helmer-scribe, Jackie Chan emerges a Jackie-of-all-trades and master of none in his 101th film, “CZ12.” Toplining the 58-year-old Hong Kong star as a bounty hunter rescuing Chinese national treasures around the globe, the pic reps an uneven ride that is repeatedly stalled by grandstanding anti-colonial screeds. Chan’s stunts may not wow as much as they have before, but longtime fans will still be moved by his self-punishing physical efforts and go-for-broke spirit. Though “CZ12″ is bound for a good international run, home biz is hard to predict; the pic opens locally Dec. 20.
The film is a quasi-reboot of a franchise that began with “Armor of God” (1986) and its 1991 sequel, “Operation Condor,” which starred Chan as Asian Hawk, an Indiana Jones-like tomb raider. The protag has been renamed JC in “CZ12,” which shares no other characters and little in the way of plot continuity with its predecessors.

Establishing the film’s excessively moralistic rhetoric at the outset, a prologue (narrated by mainland helmer-thesp Jiang Wen) details the sacking of China’s Summer Palace by Anglo-French forces in 1860, during the Second Opium War. Among the treasures looted were 12 bronze heads modeled on the 12 animals of the Chinese Zodiac. Preying on the eagerness of Chinese patriots to redeem their plundered national heritage, antique dealer MP Corp. hires JC (Chan) to locate the missing heads.

JC and his crewmates Simon (Kwon Sang-woo), David (Liao Fan) and Bonnie (Zhang Lanxin) set sail to the South Pacific, where some of the trophies may have sunk in a shipwreck. They are joined by two femmes, NGO leader Coco (Yao Xingtong) and French duchess Katherine (Laura Weissbecker), who prove as troublesome as they are helpful.

As to be expected from most Chan vehicles, the plot takes a backseat to the action and visual spectacle. Even so, the screenplay, credited to Chan and three other scribes (including Stanley Tong, who helmed several of Chan’s films), is patchy and bumpily paced, with a mood that swings wildly from frantic to goofy. The midsection, largely set on a forested island where various factions converge, is especially directionless, with messily designed confrontations and pyrotechnics that are raucous without being fun.

“CZ12″ relies heavily on technical gizmos, as in a sequence with JC in a Buggy Rollin wheel suit. Elsewhere, Chan does playful work with parachutes in preparation for a skydiving finale, but despite the daunting logistics involved, the sequence looks less arresting than might be expected.

Ultimately, Chan is most engaging when he’s making mischief with simple props like a tripod or a swivel chair. Although the film’s best hand-to-hand fight doesn’t occur until the last half-hour, when JC grapples with agile rival Vulture (French martial artist Alaa Safi), it helps end Chan’s reportedly last heavy-duty action movie on a high note.

Even for a lightweight genre pic, the characters seem thoroughly hollow, and Chan has more chemistry with a pack of Dobermans than with any of his co-stars. Coco and Katherine make an insufferable duo, engaging in nonstop catfights and screeching like banshees whenever danger’s afoot. Without a single face-to-face scene with love interest Zhang, Korean TV heartthrob Kwon has no chance to show his acting chops in his second foray into Chinese co-productions (after “Shadow of Love”). A more substantial role should have been carved out for mainland taekwondo champion Zhang, who dazzles in full-blooded combat with the equally supple Caitlin Dechelle, who plays Vulture’s g.f.

Shooting in Latvia, France, Taiwan, Australia, Vanuatau and Beijing yields a giddy patchwork of locations, each with its own ambience. The ample budget is not always reflected in the production design and cinematography, but visual effects by predominantly Korean teams are on the money.

Camera (color, widescreen, 35mm/HD), Horace Wong, Ng Man-ching, Ben Nott, Jackie Chan; editor, Yau Chi-wai; music, Nathan Wang, Gary Chase; art director, Jackie Chan; costume designers, Kitty Chau, Kwok Big-yan; sound (Dolby Digital, Dolby Atmos), Kinson Tsang; re-recording mixer, George Lee; special effects, Bruce Law; visual effects supervisors, Han Young-woo, Kim Joon-hyung, Victor Wong, Patrick Chui, Seong Ho-jang; visual effects, Digital Idea, Vfx Nova, Mofac Studio; stunt choreographers, Jackie Chan, He Jun; Buggy Rollin instructor, Jean Yves Blondeau; line producer, Johnny Lee; associate producer, Wang Tianyun; assistant director, Lemon Liu; casting, Xu Bo, Amy Zhou. Reviewed at UA Cityplaza, Hong Kong, Dec. 15, 2012. Running time: 122 MIN.

Variety

December 12, 2012

Fallen City (Variety review)

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: , — dleedlee @ 2:46 pm

Fallen City
(Documentary - China)
Dec. 12, 2012
By LESLIE FELPERIN

A YFM presentation of a YuanFang Media production in association with Ikon, in co-production with ITVS Intl., NHK, with the support of the Sundance Documentary Film Program, the IDFA Fund, NRK, Knowledge Network, YLE. (International sales: YuanFang Media.) Produced by Zhao Qi. Executive producers, Fan Lixin, Michelle Ho, Peter Wintonick. Directed, written by Zhao Qi.

With: Peng Xiaoguan, Li Xiaorong, Hong Shihao, Niu Rong, Li Guihua, Li Shanming. (Sichuan dialogue)

Three families from the decimated Chinese city of Beichuan who lost loved ones in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake struggle to cope with more than just the emotional aftermath in Zhao Qi’s absorbing docu “Fallen City.” Strictly as a depiction of ordinary people working through grief after horrific loss, the pic is expectedly moving, if nothing radically new, but it gets much more interesting when its focus expands to encompass broader issues about the protagonists’ lives. Selected to compete at Sundance after its IDFA premiere, Zhao’s debut could build limited theatrical prospects, but will be most at home on upscale TV.

The magnitude 8.0 quake killed nearly 70,000 people in Sichuan province, and reduced the city of Beichuan to splinters in a matter of minutes. Quickly spliced-in news footage, shot immediately after the quake, captures wailing survivors digging bodies out of the rubble, and underscores the scale of the disaster. Quieter and more effective, however, is the elegiac original material showing what’s left of the town now, where shattered buildings are ornamented by flowers and makeshift shrines, still-standing walls bear traces of lives erased, and abandoned cats and dogs roam free, indifferent to the loss of human life.

After a montage of static cinematic “portraits” of survivors holding pictures of the dead, the narrative zeroes in on three main families: Peng Xiaoguan and his wife, Li Xiaorong, who lost their only child, an 11-year-old girl; 14-year-old Hong Shihao, who lost his father; and middle-aged community leader Li Guihua, who lost three sisters, a daughter and a granddaughter, leaving her alone to look after her dementia-afflicted mother.

What makes “Fallen City” more compelling than most documentaries of its kind is its emphasis on how its subjects grapple with the challenges of life still to be lived. Peng and Li face hard choices about their future, such as whether they want to have another child, and if Li should take a lucrative job offer in Shanghai. Hong would much rather drown out his sorrows by playing online games, but his ferocious tiger mother, who’s already remarried and is reconciled to the loss of her first husband, hectors him constantly about his poor grades. Li Guihua throws herself into her work,and caring for her own mother, but a shocking reveal late in the game will force auds to rethink their position on this seemingly noble, Mother Courage-like figure.

All the while, Zhao, who produced the fine and thematically similar docu “Last Train Home,” is careful not to directly criticize the Chinese government for how the tragedy was handled or, perish the thought, lay any of the blame on possibly substandard housing. Nevertheless, there’s a faint but unmistakable note of irony in the occasional cutaways to news reports touting the swift rebuilding of a new Beichuan city, emphasizing in classic Socialist style the physical scale of the project, the number of residential units created and the supposed advantages of the new location.

Tech contributions are highly polished, especially the HD lensing by Sun Shaoguang. The soundtrack, featuring tunes by composer Arvo Part, including the overused “Spiegel im Spiegel,” is at least sparsely deployed.

Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Sun Shaoguang; editor, Matthieu Laclau, Meng Peicong; sound (DTS/SDDS/Dolby Digital), Fan Liming; sound designer, Meng Peicong. Reviewed online, London, Dec. 7, 2012. (In Intl. Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam — First Appearance; 2013 Sundance Film Festival — World Cinema, competing.) Running time: 88 MIN.
Variety

December 6, 2012

Diva (Variety review)

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: — dleedlee @ 3:00 pm

Diva
Wah lai chi hau

(Hong Kong-China)
By MAGGIE LEE
Dec. 6, 2012

An Emperor Motion Pictures (in Hong Kong) release of an Emperor Film Production Co. presentation and production in association with Zhujiang Film & Media Corp. (International sales: Emperor Motion Pictures, Hong Kong.) Produced by Albert Lee, Zhao Jun. Executive producer, Albert Yeung. Co-executive producer, Liu Hongbing. Directed, written by Heiward Mak.

With: Joey Yung, Chapman To, Mag Lam, Hu Ge, Carlos Chan, Bonnie Xian, Kara Hui, Fiona Sit, William So, Wilfred Lau, Clement Cheng. (Cantonese, Mandarin dialogue)

Casting Cantopop queen Joey Yung as a Cantopop queen bemoaning the inconvenience of fame, “Diva” puts its protag on a pedestal and leaves her standing lifeless as marble. Emerging Hong Kong helmer-scribe Heiward Mak brought a sassy attitude to “High Noon” and “Ex,” but that’s sorely missing in this MTV-style music-industry whitewash; only the character of a talent manager, played with diabolical charisma by Chapman To, gets at the bling and bitchiness that make the milieu so intoxicating. Though fan support helped cushion B.O., this intermittently engaging pic won’t top the charts in ancillary.

The relationship between pop diva J (Yung) and her reptilian manager, Man Kin-sum (To), is briskly established with their first meeting and impulsive decision to partner up. The yarn then leaps forward 10 years, by which point J is already a pop sensation.

Man pulls a dirty trick, enabling J to go onstage in a $50,000 designer outfit originally commissioned by rival Fi (Fiona Sit). Singer-thesp Sit sets the screen ablaze in a four-minute cameo, her Fi guilt-tripping J and attacking Man with venom. It’s a combustible scene the film can’t top, and the tension fizzles after Sit’s exit.

J goes to South China to give a concert, but loses her voice after a traumatic accident, and requires the probing fingers of blind masseuse Hu Ming (Hu Ge) to relieve her accumulated stress. Conveniently (but improbably), Hu does not recognize her. The rest is all too predictable, and J’s rebellion, along with Man’s retaliation, generate less heat than intended.

In a parallel plot, Man spots a budding talent in singer Red (Mag Lam), who’s torn between her needy boyfriend, Rocky (Carlos Chan), and her thirst for success. Sizzling with sex appeal from the moment she picks up a mic, newcomer Lam proves quite a discovery.

It’s easy to read Red’s loss of innocence as mirroring J’s career arc, since both must weigh their passion for singing against the voracious demands of a cynical industry. But Mak doesn’t belabor the connection, granting them separate identities. Regrettably, the last 20 minutes weaken the impact of their dilemmas with a cascade of decorative montages and a mawkish romantic ending.

Yung comes off as the least developed personality in her own star vehicle. She’s proven herself a competent thesp, particularly in light comedies such as “Crazy N’ the City,” but in straining to present her character as a paragon of virtue, the film robs her of her real-life charisma. Even her meltdown is too graceful, with no raised voices or smashed objects. Oddly for a film ostensibly about music, she only sings two songs.

Like his chameleon character, To is the one who runs the show. Tossing off insidious remarks and double entendres with unctuous relish, Man wears his sliminess like a badge of professional honor. To heightens the complexity of his role by suggesting he’s genuinely hurt by his charges’ resentment, but leaves the truth intriguingly ambiguous.

The ritzy production package sports tony interiors and a pleasing palette of aquatic imagery. Live footage of Yung’s concerts are mixed in to little dramatic effect, while the background score offers a heavy serving of Cantopop. Other tech credits are fine; the pic’s Chinese title means “After the Glamour.”

Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Yip Siu-ki; editors, Joanna Lee, Man Pui-ki; music, Eman Lam, Veronica Lee; art director, Cheung Siu-hong; sound (Dolby Digital), Phyllis Cheng, Kwok Chi-man; re-recording mixer, Lam Siu-yu; line producers, Kenny Chan, Ray Chan, Jiang Baoshan; assistant director, Kiu Fat-chun; second unit camera, Jam Yau; casting, Kang Weiming. Reviewed at Broadway Cinematheque, Hong Kong, Aug. 17, 2012. Running time: 101 MIN.
Variety

December 3, 2012

McDull: The Pork of Music (Variety review)

Filed under: Reprints — dleedlee @ 3:10 pm

McDull: The Pork of Music
Makdau dong dong boon ngo sum

(Animated — Hong Kong-China)

Dec. 3, 2012
By MAGGIE LEE

A Well Talent Hong Kong (in Hong Kong)/Eastern Mordor, Pearl River Film Media (in China) release of a Toonmax Media, Well Talent Hong Kong, Sunwah Media presentation and production. Produced by Qiu Xin, Brian Tse, Jonathan K. Choi, Yu Jie, Samuel Choy, He Zhikai. Executive producers, Li Rong, Brian Tse, Kenny Cheung. Co-executive producers, Yang Wenyan, Samuel Choy, Zhao Jun. Directed, written by Brian Tse, based on the original story by Tse, Alice Mak.

With: Anthony Wong, Michael Zhang Zhengzhong, Sandra Ng, the pancakes, Ronald Cheng, Andy Lau. (Cantonese, English dialogue)

“McDull: The Pork of Music” uses a kindergarten choir’s misadventures to deliver a kooky ode to the soul-stirring (and bowel-moving) power of music. Helmed by Brian Tse, this fifth installment of an animation series based on cartoon characters Tse co-created with wife Alice Mak vocalizes Hong Kong grassroot sentiments with untranslatable local humor. Though piglet protag McDull and his classmates ooze ingenuous charm, the pic’s narrative brain farts, vernacular wisecracks and esoteric worldview make it several bacon strips short of a BLT for non-Cantonese auds. The China release fell far short of the B.O. success of accessible prequel “McDull: Kungfu Kindergarten.”

Although the pic’s running joke of how McDull’s singing stimulates the poop-shoot is an abstruse metaphor for music’s rousing nature, its tender portrait of a headmaster (Anthony Wong) devoted to instilling music appreciation in his impressionable pupils is inspirational for all. Yet the experimental integration of Mak’s cute, distinctive pastel illustrations of tyke protags with Yeung Hok-tak’s grotesque rendering of adults and mainland urbanscapes results in a jarring, bipolar aesthetic. Classical masterpieces, particularly Pachelbel’s “Canon in D,” are comically skewed when set to Tse’s uproarious yet eloquent Cantonese lyrics.

Camera (color, widescreen, HD); editors, Li Chun-man, Wong Wai-lap; music/music supervisor, Ng Cheuk-yin; art directors, Alice Mak, Yeung Hok-tak; sound (Dolby Digital), Wong Hing-seng; supervising sound editor, Yip Chun-ho; re-recording mixers, Wong Hing-seng, Leung Chi-lung; 2D animation directors, Huang Jiangfeng, Chen Liang, Qin Heyang; 3D production, W Production; 2D and 3D animation, Lunchtime Prod.; line producers, Qiang Jiejun, Shi Jun, Karrie Chung, Evan Lu, Caroline Chang, Fan Li. Reviewed at HK Summer Film Festival (Gala Premiere), Aug. 15, 2012. (Also in Vancouver Film Festival.) Running time: 78 MIN.
Variety

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