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February 25, 2013

Finding Mr. Right (Screen Daily review)

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

Finding Mr. Right
25 February, 2013
By Edmund Lee

Just as Meg Ryan juggled serendipity and sentimentality with the spiritual aid of the Leo McCarey weepie An Affair to Remember, Tang Wei (Lust, Caution, Late Autumn) draws inspiration from Sleepless In Seattle in the creatively titled Finding Mr. Right, finding Mr. Right while making her way via Seattle to the top of New York’s Empire State Building.

A spirited sophomore effort after her heavy-handed directorial debut (the Jet Li tearjerker Ocean Heaven), writer-director Xue Xiaolu’s Seattle- and New York-set romantic comedy is nothing you haven’t seen before – although it’s also pleasant enough to disarm you with its sweetness. The movie is scheduled for a late-March release in Hong Kong and mainland China.

In it, Tang plays Jiajia, a materialistic prima donna who is temporarily staying in Seattle – presumably because she’s a huge fan of the Nora Ephron movie – to give birth to the child of her rich, married lover in Beijing. When her plan to check into a maternity centre goes awry, however, she’s instead taken by her hired driver Frank (veteran TV actor Wu Xiubo, dutifully wooden) to a small home run by a friend of his, the Taiwanese caretaker Mrs Huang (Elaine Jin).

As her (off-screen) boyfriend continually fails to shrug off either his wife or the criminal investigations into his possibly shady business, the lonely Jiajia soon discovers the loving side of Frank, who was once a famous doctor in Beijing before moving to the US and being divorced by his more financially competent wife, an inconvenient truth that he’s been keeping from his young daughter and grieving silently ever since.

Directing from her own script, Xue has come up with a conventional yet surprisingly delightful rom-com, at once filled with authentically written supporting characters and some gently humorous sequences, including several that mischievously toy with Jiajia’s limited knowledge in English.

Amid the predictable story trajectory which sees the budding couple respectively recover from their unfortunate romantic past, readjust their focuses in life and finally meet up again for their purely coincidental romantic resolution at you-know-where, it’s Tang’s immense likeability in her alternately sassy and vulnerable role that holds it all together. Finding Mr. Right thrives on the effortless charisma of its lead actress.

Production company: Edko Films

International sales: Edko Films Limited,

Producers: Bill Kong, Mathew Tang, Lu Hongshi

Executive producers: Bill Kong, Hao Lee, Susan Ma, Yan Xiaoming

Cinematography: Chan Chi-ying

Editor: Cheung Ka-fai

Production designer: Yee Chung-man

Music: Peter Kam

Main cast: Tang Wei, Wu Xiubo, Hai Qing, Mai Hongmei, Elaine Jin

February 13, 2013

Forgetting to Know You (Hollywood Reporter review)

Filed under: Reprints — dleedlee @ 8:36 pm

Forgetting to Know You

2/13/2013 by David Rooney

The Bottom Line
A small but distinctive first feature that comes from the filmmaking stable of Chinese critical darling Jia Zhang-ke.

Chinese fiction writer-turned-director Quan Ling debuts with an intimate portrait of an unhappy marriage, produced by festival favorite Jia Zhang-ke.

BERLIN – Produced by highly regarded Sixth Generation Chinese auteur Jia Zhang-ke, fiction writer-turned-filmmaker Quan Ling’s Forgetting to Know You (Mo Sheng) is an intriguing debut that owes much to the aesthetic of its director’s mentor and his regular cinematographer Yu Lik-wai. An intimately enveloping portrait of a woman grown apart from her husband, the film is stronger on character shadings and mood than on narrative momentum. But it keeps you watching, not least because of the striking depth of field and dense textures of its digitally shot visuals.

Jia’s films such as Platform, Unknown Pleasures and The World assemble an immersive mosaic of a changing China, in which Yu’s fluid camerawork picks up incisive details via its deceptive observational detachment. There’s some similarity here in the balance between grubby documentary-style realism and poetic distance, applied to a story that’s essentially a soapy domestic drama.

How much of the nuanced handling is the screenwriter-director’s own assured vision or whether it’s partly that she’s in the capable hands of a resourceful cinematographer is unclear. But Quan displays a keen understanding of the suffocation of life in a bustling small town, and a warm emotional affinity for her unhappy, frequently prickly protagonist, Chen Xuesong (Tao Hong).

Chen snoozes the hours away working the counter at a corner store in a Yangtze River town not far from Chongqing, while her carpenter husband Cai Weihang (Guo Xiandong) works for a near-bankrupt furniture company. They have a sweet young daughter, but communication is strained and affections frayed between the couple, colored by mutual nagging, resentment, growing distrust and, on Cai’s part, suspicion of his wife’s perceived indiscretions.

Wu, a taxi driver besotted with Chen, comes by the store to flirt each day, reminding her of what romance feels like. But Cai’s bigger issue is with her prior relationship to a hotshot real estate developer, whom she dated from high school up until shortly before their marriage. A contemporary woman who refuses to play the subservient wife, Chen is brittle and impatient with Cai’s paranoia. But constant reminders of the property developer’s success and his own failure feed her husband’s jealousy. These festering feelings erupt in a shockingly frank scene of marital rape.

Angry and shaken, Chen takes off with Wu for a day, abandoning her responsibilities. And Cai reacts immaturely by going AWOL the next day in retaliation. Despite the seemingly irreversible chill that has crept into their relationship, Chen rallies herself and makes an effort to save the marriage by asking a favor of her ex-boyfriend. She borrows the money for Cai to start a new business venture, but even this gesture creates more friction.

There’s a certain deliberate messiness to the storytelling that echoes the conflicts roiling in both Chen and Cai’s heads. But with its unconventional approach to a conventional story, this feels definitely like a real movie from a new filmmaker with a point of view. The complexity of Tao’s performance in the central role alone makes it interesting.

Laced with moments of low-key humor, the film is a quietly despairing picture of a marriage that moves to its own peculiar rhythms.

Venue: Berlin International Film Festival (Forum)
Production companies: Xstream Pictures, Hansen Media
Cast: Tao Hong, Guo Xiaodong, Zi Yi, Zhang Yibai
Director-screenwriter: Quan Ling
Producers: Jia Zhang-Ke, Sara Po
Executive producer: Jia Zhang-Ke
Director of photography: Yu Lik-Wai
Production designer: Liu Weixin
Music: Lim Giong
Editor: Wang Yuan
Sales: Xstream Pictures
No rating, 87 minutes

February 12, 2013

Linsanity (Hollywood Reporter review)

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: , , — dleedlee @ 5:01 pm

Linsanity: Sundance Review

1/21/2013 by Justin Lowe

The Bottom Line
A sports doc with abundant heart persuasively chronicles the emergence of a global phenomenon.

Evan Jackson Leong’s film adds significant new perspective to point guard Jeremy Lin’s breakout NBA season.

PARK CITY – When pro basketball player Jeremy Lin burst into the national consciousness in a flurry of record-setting games with the New York Knicks last winter, most fans — and even many sports professionals — had little clue about who he even was. While a surge of global enthusiasm, quickly dubbed “Linsanity,” pushed him to international celebrity, in reality Lin was struggling for the opportunity to sign a multiyear NBA contract.

Chinese-American filmmaker Evan Jackson Leong already was shooting a documentary about Lin’s career well before the stardom stage, which allows him to bring an insider’s perspective to one of the NBA’s most memorable career starts. With Lin’s worldwide following already firmly in place, broadcast play for Linsanity is practically a lock, while basketball’s already notable popularity throughout much of Asia could assure the delivery of multiple territories for a variety of formats.

The middle son of Taiwanese immigrant parents who settled in Palo Alto, Calif., Lin started playing basketball from an early age, modeling his moves on Michael Jordan and encouraged by his NBA-fanatic father and tirelessly supportive mom, who observes in an interview that “Jeremy will do anything he can to get what he wants.” Local media began tracking Lin when he played point guard for the Palo Alto Vikings high school team, leading them to a state championship.

Coaches, players and sports correspondents considered him a likely candidate for a major university scholarship, but when none materialized, he entered Harvard, playing on the varsity team that went on to the Crimson’s first NCAA tournament since 1946. Although Lin accumulated impressive stats at Harvard, he got passed over again in the 2010 NBA draft.

Accepting an offer to play in the Dallas Mavericks’ summer league, Lin subsequently signed with his hometown Golden State Warriors for the 2010-11 season. Although he’d finally accomplished his lifelong dream of playing in the NBA, he rarely saw game action. As the first American-born NBA player of Taiwanese or Chinese descent, there were whispers that the team had picked him up primarily to capitalize on ticket sales and marketing opportunities with Northern California’s substantial Asian-American population.

When Lin was dropped by the Warriors, the Houston Rockets picked him up, then quickly cut him again. Lin was facing the expiration of his contract when the New York Knicks came calling, putting him into a memorable series of games in February 2012 as a substitute for injured-list point guards.

In his first five career games, Lin scored a record-setting 136 points, including 38 in a single game against Kobe Bryant’s L.A. Lakers. Fans both old and new instantly responded to the point guard’s historic run, flooding social media platforms with praise and showing up at games with hand-lettered signs or wearing slogan-emblazoned T-shirts. Perhaps the strongest wave of support came from Asian-American fans nationwide who finally had a hero to cheer for and helped launch the Linsanity craze, as well as basketball fanatics all over Asia who responded to both his professional talent and his family heritage.

From promotional spots, endorsements and Facebook tributes to the covers of Sports Illustrated and Time, Lin had the sports world’s undivided attention. And as Leong continued to shoot his documentary, the story suddenly blew up to global proportions.

With a mix of personal interviews — including extensive on-camera discussions with Lin, combined with more informal scenes – home-video footage from Lin’s childhood and clips from his high school and college careers, as well as game-play commentary from ESPN and other broadcasters, Leong has assembled a film that’s not just a stirring sports drama but also a classic immigrant-family success story, presented in an entirely new context.

With Leong skillfully orchestrating the interview segments and actor Daniel Dae Kim (Hawaii Five-O, Lost) narrating a voice-over that occasionally tends toward an overly dramatic tone, the film is attractively packaged and superlatively edited by Greg Louie, who impressively distills the disparate formats and source materials. Since the film’s title emphasizes public reaction to Lin’s rise to stardom, some additional footage featuring fan reactions and social media trends would have been welcome, however.

Ironically, Lin attributes both the adversity and success he’s experienced to his ethnic heritage, crediting his Chinese-American upbringing for cultivating his discipline and perseverance and frankly discussing the taunts and racial slurs directed at him in both collegiate and pro ball, as well as the racial stereotypes perpetuated by the media. As a devout Christian, he says he’s been gradually able to deal with that adversity, as well as the many other challenges of his career. Leong’s film recognizes that Lin’s religion plays the pre-eminent role in his personal hierarchy of “God, family, basketball,” but it doesn’t dwell unduly on either his faith or his ethnicity, instead integrating these themes into the narrative, which is foremost a sporting tribute.

Recapturing the joy Lin experiences while excelling on the court in that incomparable season — as fans at first discovered, then promoted and finally celebrated his accomplishments — Linsanity reaffirms that the best sports stories originate with dimensional, relatable subjects who earn respect and admiration through their personal struggles and triumphs. Lin’s three-year $25 million contract with the Rockets, signed following his season with the Knicks, confirms that he’ll continue to be a player to follow.

Venue: Sundance Film Festival, Documentary Premieres
Production companies: 408 Films, Arowana Films
Director: Evan Jackson Leong
Producers: Christopher C. Chen, Allen Lu, Brian Yang
Executive Producers: Sam Kwok. Patricia Sun, James D. Stern
Music: The Newton Brothers
Editor: Greg Louie
Sales: CAA
No rating, 88 minutes

Berlin 2013: Fortissimo Catches ‘Linsanity’
The Hong Kong-Amsterdam company lands world rights, excluding North America and China, for the well-received documentary about the rise of Taiwanese-American NBA star Jeremy Lin.

February 11, 2013

Lost in Thailand (Hollywood Reporter review)

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: — dleedlee @ 11:40 pm

Lost in Thailand

2/11/2013 by Deborah Young

The Bottom Line
A non-stop script keeps the laughs flowing in a wacky comedy about three Chinese men abroad.

Its claim to fame is in the numbers: Two months after its release, Lost in Thailand has broken every box-office record in China, with over 40 million admissions and domestic grosses exceeding $215 million. Not bad for a wacky $2-million comedy about a Chinese businessman-inventor (played straight by the film’s director-writer-producer-actor Xu Zheng, one of the leads in the witty Hong Kong rom-com Love in the Buff) who rushes to Thailand on a not very well-defined mission in the company of his arch-enemy and a humble pancake-maker.

While the exact secret to the film’s high-grossing recipe remains a bit of a mystery, it probably has to do with the good-humored chemistry between the unlikely partners, pushing the limits of censorship in the sexual-innuendo department, and a well-written off-the-wall script that makes audiences laugh out loud. Though it doesn’t seem much of a Western taste, beyond its curiosity value, the Golden Network Asia title should have no problem catching on in related territories.

The film is a sequel to the very successful, though not stellar, 2010 comedy Lost on Journey, which featured Zheng and Wang Baoqiang in very similar roles. Here Xu Lang (Xu) is introduced as a big Beijing energy-company exec who is developing a miracle Super-Gas, plugged as a renewable energy source of vast commercial potential. It just has to be developed a bit. In a fast and furious opening office scene that suggests the cutthroat competition at Chinese businesses, he quarrels with his snide colleague and rival Gao Bo (Huang Bo) and sneaks off to the airport, while dodging his wife’s divorce request. The competing demands of work and private life will be one of the film’s underlying themes.

On a plane to Thailand, while frantically trying to download a map of where he’s supposed to be going, he sits next to the innocent young pancake-maker Baobao (Wang in a blond Beatles wig, wearing a infectious, idiotic smile). Baobao is hand-carrying a small cactus to plant in Thailand for “health and good luck,” and it occasions many slapstick scenes before turning into an emotional plot point.

Reaching Bangkok airport, Xu loses his passport and is forced to shack up with Baobao, who has lost his wallet and has to rely on Xu for money. Together they try to shake Gao off their trail, who like Xu is searching for the principal shareholder of Super-Gas, apparently meditating in some temple. Gao’s use of radio-tracking devices, the search for SIM cards, an exchange of mobile phones, a short-circuited laptop and posting on China’s micro-blogging website Weibo situate this comedy in today’s world.

In the good-humored road movie that ensues, the main conflict is between straight man Xu and the good-hearted but clumsy Baobao, who inadvertently thwarts his plans at every turn. The youth’s misunderstanding that Xu has slept with Gao’s wife keeps the gags rolling. In a temple full of sinister gangsters, Xu, Gao and Baobao fight their personal war, oblivious of the danger around them.

In the film’s second half, Xu and Baobao fly off a mountainside in a rented jeep, land on a thatched hut, cross a river on an elephant, are swept away by the current, get bitten on the backside by a cobra and finally, incredibly, reach the temple they are seeking, only to find Gao waiting for them in a wacky final showdown with a professional Thai kick-boxer. As might be expected, the outcome is unimportant, because in a touching scene just after a big fight, Xu reads Baobao’s heartfelt diary and learns the lesson (the same one as in Lost on Journey) that what matters in life is friendship and trust, not money.

Though quaint by Western or Thai standards, the sexual gags are rife, particularly in the first part of the film when Xu and Baobao are sneaking around hotel rooms. At one point, Xu finds himself hiding perilously under a bed creaking under the weight of a Western man and two hookers, while Baobao is forced to give a massage — no more — to an Asian businessman who is surprised at his strength. The joke is that bumbling Wang is a kung fu expert, and in other scenes he gets in some well-placed kicks at his attackers. There is also much mention of Thai “ladyboys,” but none actually turns up in the film.

All is shot in a style of garish chaos that befits the tale and edited for non-stop action. The backdrops seem aimed to appeal to Chinese tourists – fancy hotels, exotic temples, water-throwing festivals, hot-air lanterns flying through the air. The modest chase scenes are multiplied on old-style split screens.

Venue: Berlin (European Film Market)
A Beijing Enlight Pictures Co, YYT Media, Luck Road Culture Communication Co., Huang Bo Studio presentation of a Beijing Enlight Pictures Co., YYT Media production.
Cast: Xu Zheng, Wang Baoqiang, Huang Bo, Tao Hong
Director: Xu Zheng
Screenwriters: Xu Zheng, Shu Huan, Ding Ding
Producers: Xu Zheng, Abe Kwong Man-wai, Chan Chi-leung
Executive producers: Wang Changtian, Li Xiaoping
Director of photography: Song Xiaofei
Production designer: Hao Yi
Music: Zhao Yingjun, Deng Ouge, Howie B.
Costume designer: Hao Yi
Editor: Tu Yiran
Action choreographers: Chen Shuo, Lee Chi-kit
Sales: Golden Network Asia
No rating, 105 minutes

February 10, 2013

Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? (Screen Daily review)

Filed under: Reprints — dleedlee @ 8:14 pm

Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?

10 February, 2013
By Carmen Gray

A warm flourish of music over a vista of Taipei rooftops opens Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? with the sense we’re in early Woody Allen territory - an impression borne out by the film’s whimsicality and quirky love predicaments. But this Taiwanese romantic comedy develops with its own anti-conventional twists, being the coming-out story of a married man conflicted over whether to return to the gay life he had before marrying.

It’s the second feature from Arvin Chen, whose debut Au Revoir Taipei - another lighthearted, slightly off-kilter rom-com - saw moderate festival success. While there’s much to endear it (it has its heart in the right place in its good-natured assault on societal hypocrisy, and is buoyant with frothy quirks) it lacks the memorable bite to have much cross-over potential beyond its territory and niche festivals.

Weichung (the huge-in-Asia Richie Jen) is an optometrist whose marriage to office worker Fen (Mavis Fan) seems smooth on the surface. But her desire to have another baby with him brings their sex life (or lack of it) into sharp focus for both of them, making it impossible for her amiable, diffident, husband to repress the issue any longer.

Weichung’s chance meeting with old acquaintance Stephen (Lawrence Ko, who steals all the scenes he is in), a wedding photographer and homosexual, prods his restlessness further when, ribbing him he looks “fat as a pig, and so straight”, he invites him on a night out. Drunken fun on the bubbly Asia-pop dance floor of gar bar Delight - a recurrent hangout throughout the film - sees his tentative renaissance with his own sexual identity fully ignited. When a handsome young flight attendant comes into his store for new glasses, he starts seeing him behind Fen’s eventually suspecting back.

Meanwhile, Weichung’s sister Mandy (Kimi Hsia) is grappling with cold feet about her imminent wedding to San-San (Stone) - which comes to a head when she abandons him on a supermarket expedition to Carrefour. This parallel story thread offers another variation on Stephen’s observation - and the film’s tritely packaged message - that the happy images of wedding portraits are a simplified ideal. As Stephen pep-talks the lovelorn men around him, moping Mandy also finds a supportive ear in the imaginary form of a hunk in a powder-blue blazer from her favourite daytime soap - who appears on the sofa beside her among her glumly piled-up pot-noodle tubs.

Such whimsical flights into fantasy punctuate throughout - kissed on the cheek by his secret amour, Weichung floats on an endorphin rush and soaring music up in the sky toward puffy clouds – and emotion ramps up a notch toward serious drama in a confrontation scene between Weichung and Fen, but the feel-good quotient soon reasserts itself in this airily toothless fun.

Production company: 1 Production Film

International sales: Media Asia Film,

Executive producer: Lee Lieh, Roger Huang

Screenplay: Arvin Chen

Cinematography: Hsia Shao-Yu

Editor: Justin Guerrieri

Music: Hsu Wen

Main cast: Richie Jen, Mavis Fan, Stone, Kimi Hsia, Lawrence Ko

February 9, 2013

Beijing Flickers (Variety review)

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: , — dleedlee @ 10:19 pm

Beijing Flickers


A Global Lens release of a Fortissimo presentation of a China Film Co., Beijing Century Good-Tiding Co. production. (International sales: Fortissimo, Amsterdam.) Produced by Zhang Yuan. Executive producers, Dong Ping, Han Sanping. Directed by Zhang Yuan. Screenplay, Yuan, Kong Ergou, Li Xinyun, Yang Yishu.
With: Duan Bowen, Lv Yulai, Shi Shi, Li Xinyun, Han Wenwen. (Mandarin dialogue)

In Zhang Yuan’s “Beijing Flickers,” suicidal sad-sack hero San Bao loses, in rapid sucession, his girlfriend, his dog, his job and his apartment — and also his voice (an interior monologue compensates for his muteness). But he’s not alone in this arch saga of loss and betrayal; a motley group of three twentysomethings join his silent walks through a city whose rapid rise to wealth and conspicuous consumption have left many in the dust. Zhang tempers his bleak outlook with resilient dry humor that makes his memorable characters’ struggles for survival surprisingly enjoyable, and could snag the film an arthouse release.

On motorcycle, San Bao (Duan Bowen) pursues his runaway dog, Happiness (the name less symbolic than absurdly ironic). His obsessive, numerically specific voiceover reveals he still mourns the g.f. who left him 144 days earlier for a rich man she met 377 days ago and by whom she is now pregnant. When a passerby sabotages his motorized attempts to retrieve the dog, the already volatile San Bao becomes further enraged, assaulting the interloper and getting himself arrested.

Drowning his sorrows at a bar where he rhapsodizes about his lost dog, he suddenly begins to eat the glass, but is stopped by You Zi (Li Xinyun, the gorgeous star of Zhang’s “Little Red Flowers” and “Dada’s Dance”), a singer in the house band.

San Bao winds up in the hospital with lacerated lips, a bandage over his mouth (the beginning of his muteness) and a new, self-proclaimed friend in hospital roommate Xiao Shi (Shi Shi, in a standout turn), who performs graceful fan dances in traditional Chinese drag, recites poetry, and lets slip that he has never known love and is addicted to plastic surgery. San Bao also gets regular visits from Wang Min (Lv Yulai), a lifelong pal from his village who has his own set of troubles.The trio is soon joined by You Zi, herself struggling with a devastating betrayal.

The group wanders around Beijing, marveling at the season’s first snow. They chastise San Bao for his latest foiled suicide attempt after he leaps in front of a truck that screeches to a halt inches from running him over. Meanwhile, a subplot involving You Zi’s roommate Su Mo (Han Wenwen) sees her treated as sexual chattel by her married b.f. But any descent into melodrama is countered by fantasized revenge scenarios that unfold onscreen in exaggerated genre heroics.

Helmer Zhang returns to the marginal milieu of disaffected youth he first explored in 1993’s “Beijing Bastards,” coming back with a more lucid, more assured aesthetic that creates a sympathetic distance from his intrepid, floundering characters. Zhang, who also acted as d.p. along with lenser Cai Tao, contrasts the rubble-filled neighborhoods where the characters live with the opulent hotels and neon-splashed cityscapes through which they pass.

Camera (color, widescreen), Zhang, Cai Tao; editor, Wu Yixiang; music, Lao Wu; art director, An Bin; sound, Zhao Bo. Reviewed at Global Lens, Museum of Modern Art, New York, an. 16, 2013. (Also in 2012 Toronto, Vancouver, Busan film festivals.) Running time: 96 MIN.

February 7, 2013

Motorway (Hollywood Reporter review)

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: — dleedlee @ 11:26 am

2/5/2013 by Todd McCarthy

The Bottom Line
A simple but entertaining series of car chases in and around Hong Kong.

The car chase thriller is the second collaboration between director Soi Cheang and producer Johnnie To.

A relentless car chase thriller that ends up feeling less like a Hong Kong version of the Fast and Furious films than like an existentialist cousin of Walter Hill’s The Driver, Motorway lurches along at first but really shifts into high gear in the second half. Borderline humorous in the way concocts excuses for cops to start chasing bad guys every few minutes, this second collaboration between Macau-born director Soi Cheang and producer Johnnie To, after the thriller Accident in 2009, opened in Asia in July and is too strictly genre-oriented to fit the agendas of most Western festivals or foreign film distributors.

The chase that opens the film feel downright clutzy, as two Kowloon auto cops, young speed-freak Chan (Shawn Yue) and seen-it-all veteran Lo (Anthony Wong) fail to apprehend a car that’s charging through the streets and highways at an alarming pace. With the pair demoted to speed-gun duty, things poke along for a while until Mainland Chinese gangster Jiang Xin (Guo Xiaodong) gets himself deliberately hauled into jail so he can spring a cohort who will pull a big heist for which he’ll be the driver.

For a while, interest flags because there’s nothing much at stake and the chases don’t produce any real tension. Through the middle section, car talk takes precedence over plot, as Lo tries to pass on some know-how to Chan before the older man’s retirement, notably how to make a seemingly impossible turn in the very tight space. Veteran Wong makes the most from very little in building Lo into a fairly interesting character — he seems quite young to be retiring — and Michelle Ye similarly supplies more than required as Lo’s wife.

U.S.-born Joey O’Bryan co-wrote the script for the 2001 release Fulltime Killer, which was co-directed by To, and once the story he wrote for this one and then scripted with Szeto Kam-yuen and Francis Fung sharpens its focus, Motorway snaps into place. The action is now nocturnal, it moves from the city to winding roads in the hills, the use of slow-mo increases, as does the ratio of music to talk, there are moments of stillness and an air of moody fatalism descends upon the proceedings that makes the details of the plot seem less important than the fact that the men keep racing their cars, just as surely as the Earth keeps turning. “If you lose your drive, you’re worse off than a broken car,” Lo advises his protege; as almost mock-profound as this sounds, it does serve to echo the man-defined-as-action ethos that asserts itself at the end.

Some of the car stuff has a catch-as-catch-can feel, but some sequences are cool and breath-catching, including one in which a car is made to encircle it prey like a boxer might dance while encircling his victim. The cast is solid and it all comes in at under 90 minutes.

Venue: Santa Barbara Film Festival
Production: Sil-Metropole Organization, Media Asia Films
Cast: Anthony Wong, Shawn Yue, Guo Xiaodong, Gordon Lam, Barbie Hsu, Josie Ho, Michelle Ye, Li Haitao, Li Guangjie
Director: Soi Cheang
Screenwriters: Joey O’Bryan, Szeto Kam-yuen, Francis Fung, based on an original story by Joey O’Bryan
Producer: Johnnie To
Executive producers: Song Dai, John Chong
Director of photography: Edmond Fung, Kenny Tse
Production designer: Simon So
Costume designer: Boey Wong
Editors: David Richardson, Allen Leung
Music: Javier Jamaux, Alex Gopher
86 minutes

February 4, 2013

Linsanity (Variety review)

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: , — dleedlee @ 12:05 pm


February 4, 2013
Justin Chang

An example of long-term documentary filmmaking paying off in ways few could have anticipated, “Linsanity” energetically recounts Jeremy Lin’s astonishing rise to NBA stardom. Capturing the excitement that erupted when the 23-year-old point guard galvanized the New York Knicks and became a global icon of Asian-American progress, Evan Jackson Leong’s film makes the most of its superior access and exciting basketball footage, overcoming repetitive stretches by sheer dint of a tremendous underdog story. Docu’s strong but wholly appropriate Christian overtones may alienate some fans, but this is rousing fare destined for theatrical bookings and robust sports-cabler play.

The first athlete of Chinese/Taiwanese descent to play in the NBA, Lin became an international sports and media sensation when he led the hapless Knicks to a seven-game winning streak in February 2012 that helped propel them into the playoffs. Leong, who had already been filming Lin and his Palo Alto, Calif.-based family for some time, provides an exhaustive sense of the young man’s years of practice and dedication, as well as the various challenges he faced playing for Harvard U., the Golden State Warriors and the Houston Rockets before he was picked up by the Knicks. (Lin returned to the Rockets last summer on a three-year contract.)

The list of disappointments includes an ankle injury that nearly sidelined him in high school, erratic performance on the court, and numerous stints in the NBA’s development league, from which few stars typically emerge. But the phenomenon known as “Linsanity” swiftly demonstrated Lin’s impressive mental resilience and his quicksilver ability to turn setbacks into opportunities, to surprise scouts, coaches and teammates with athletic abilities that didn’t always announce themselves right away.

Whatever his awareness of these talents, the 6-foot-3 star is presented here as a likably grounded, unpretentious guy who speaks in a low drone, claims to hate the spotlight, and remains closely involved with church and family. Much is made of his well-known habit of sleeping on his brother’s and teammates’ couches, a habit he fell into at a time when it seemed inevitable the Knicks were going to cut him.

Like his close friends and relatives, Lin is quick to attribute his success to his Christian beliefs, and if this strikes more cynical viewers as naive, the sincerity of his professions of faith (“God gives and takes away”) serve only to make his ups and downs that much more compelling. Leong, who previously helmed the missionary-focused docu “1040: Christianity in the New Asia,” more or less embraces his subject’s views without coming off as too pushy or proselytizing. Still, there are enough oncamera testimonials here to render unnecessary the voiceover narration by Daniel Dae Kim (“Lost,” “Hawaii Five-0″), which adds yet more levels of inspirational earnestness to an already uplifting narrative.

As Lin’s stellar performances piled up one after another, inspiring general awe and widespread pride among Asian-Americans, there followed a backlash from players and other observers who claimed Lin’s success and attention were due entirely to his ethnicity. This section yields the docu’s juiciest material; covered at length here is an episode in which Kobe Bryant verbally slighted the player prior to a Knicks-Lakers game, initiating a social-media frenzy and a classy response from Lin on and off the court.

The explosion of puns, quips and headlines in the media (“Amasian!” screamed the New York Post) took an unfortunate turn when ESPN anchor Max Bretos at one point dropped the phrase “chink in the armor,” kicking off a painfully necessary conversation about racial slurs, deliberate or unintentional, targeting the Asian-American community. As Lin makes clear at one point, he’s no stranger to such insults, having endured many even from fellow Harvard students watching in the bleachers.

Focusing primarily on Lin’s meteoric rise, the docu doesn’t get into the details of how Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni was replaced midyear by Mike Woodson, whose offensive scheme didn’t showcase Lin’s talents as well, or the knee injury that ended his season. Yet if “Linsanity” at times comes off as overly admiring and protective of its subject (as well as a bit prone to hammering the same points at 88 minutes), the film’s positioning of Lin as an exceptional figure on two cultural fronts, race and religion, largely justifies its celebratory approach.

So does the ample footage of Lin in action; fluidly edited by Greg Louie and backed by an adrenaline-pumping score by the Newton Brothers, the shots of Lin dunking, passing off to teammates for easy baskets, slipping past opponents and making three-pointers never seem to get old.

A 408 Films and Arowana Films presentation. Produced by Christopher C. Chen, Allen Lu, Brian Yang. Executive producers, Sam Kwok, Patricia Sun, James D. Stern. Co-producers, Josh Fan, Eleanor Nett. Directed by Evan Jackson Leong.

Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Leong; editor, Greg Louie; music, Newton Brothers; supervising sound editor, Thomas O’Neil Younkman; re-recording mixer, Derek Vanderhorst. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (Documentary Premieres), Jan. 22, 2013. Running time: 88 MIN.

Jeremy Lin, Gieming Lin, Joseph Lin, Joshua Lin, Shirley Lin, Jim Sutter, Peter Diepenbrock, Stephen Chen, Mitch Stephens, Gary McKnight, Josh Fan, Pablo Torre, Tommy Amaker, Kenny Blakeney, Oliver McNally, Dan Duggan, Phil Yu, Landry Fields, John Wall, Joe Lacob, Roger Montgomery. Narrator: Daniel Dae Kim. (English, Mandarin dialogue)

Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons (Screen Daily review)

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: — dleedlee @ 11:23 am

Journey To The West: Conquering The Demons
4 February, 2013
By Edmund Lee

Dirs: Stephen Chow, Derek Kwok. China. 2013. 110mins

A glorious return to form after the slightly underwhelming CJ7 (2008) and his first ever directorial effort in which he doesn’t also play the lead role, Stephen Chow’s Journey To The West: Conquering The Demons is a thoroughly entertaining action comedy that suggests, a la Woody Allen, a promising new life behind the screen for the actor-director, who found an eager international audience with 2001’s Shaolin Soccer and 2004’s Kung Fu Hustle after having established himself as Hong Kong’s most iconic comedian since the early 1990s.

Those who’re worrying that Chow is on an irreversible retreat into self-congratulatory mode could be in for a surprise: as someone whose image is synonymous with his oeuvre, the actor isn’t even making a notable cameo appearance in his latest film. Serving up a delirious blend of monster movie, romantic comedy and martial arts fantasy, this inventive new take on the classical novel Journey To The West also marks a long-awaited return to the material by Chow, who previously starred as the Monkey King in director Jeff Lau’s now-classic two-part adaptation A Chinese Odyssey (1995).

Clearly structured – and titled – as the first film of a potential movie series, Conquering The Demons opens in mainland China, Hong Kong and Singapore on February 7, as well as Taiwan on the following day, to coincide with the Chinese New Year holidays. While international sales should be less affected by the actor’s conspicuous onscreen absence, it remains to be seen if Chinese viewers will respond with the same enthusiasm they showed the Chow-starring comedies of the past.

Although the film is billed as “a Stephen Chow film” that is “produced, directed and written by” him, it is noteworthy that Chow, as a producer, only took up his directorial duties – and the head billing – midway through the production. Conquering The Demons is in fact co-directed by Derek Kwok (Gallants), who was initially the sole director – even if his name doesn’t currently appear in the opening credits.

While the film is still peppered with small and unpretentiously bizarre touches of humour that are unquestionably Chow’s own, the introduction of a new creative voice may have contributed to the refreshing dramatic focus here. Unlike seemingly every other movie in Chow’s acting career, which almost always features a bratty anti-hero battling against his underdog status, the protagonist of Conquering The Demons is surprisingly not the spotlight-hogging Monkey King – whose ironically unimpressive image is unveiled at the movie’s final showdown as an awkwardly hilarious sight gag – but a younger Xuan Zang before he makes the titular pilgrimage.

Played by Chinese actor Wen Zhang (Love Is Not Blind, The Sorcerer And The White Snake) with an endearing balance of determination and humility, the lead role of Xuan Zang barely possesses the bigger-than-life personality that typically defines Chow’s leading roles. As a demon-hunter with minimal martial arts skills, the character is guided only by an unwavering belief in the inherent goodness of every evil being: he strives to awaken the demons’ sense of innocence by singing from his treasured book of 300 Nursery Rhymes.

Aided by the original character Miss Duan (Shu Qi), a beautiful yet totally fierce fellow demon-hunter who’s fallen hopelessly in love with him, Xuan Zang spends the duration of the film consecutively conquering the three demons that will eventually become his famed disciples: a fish demon (which inspires a few Piranha-like sequences), a pig demon (whose exceedingly ugly look leads to a couple of very gross kisses) and a monkey demon aka the Monkey King. With an expected reference to A Chinese Odyssey’s most famous lines, Xuan Zang becomes a Buddhist monk and finally learns of the significance of ‘greater love’ through his love interest.

As is frequently the case for the recent Stephen Chow movies, violence and gore are used occasionally to comical effects; a malfunctioning blood-splashing device used by a character provides some of the movie’s funniest gags. And though the computer-generated demons, often in the guises of giant animals, are not at their most realistic, they do feel very much at home in a fantasy movie as wacky as Conquering the Demons.

Production companies: Bingo Movie Development Ltd, Village Roadshow Pictures Asia Ltd, Chinavision Media Group Ltd, Edko Films Ltd, Huayi Brothers Media Corporation, China Film Co Ltd

Co-producer: Wang Zhonglei

Executive producers: Stephen Chow, Ellen Eliasoph, Dong Ping, Bill Kong, Wang Zhongjun, Han Sanping

Screenplay: Derek Kwok, Huo Xin, Wang Yun, Fung Chih-chiang, Lu Zheng-yu, Lee Sheung-ching, Ivy Kong

Cinematography: Choi Sung-fai

Editor: Chan Chi-wai

Production designer: Bruce Yu

Action choreographer: Ku Huen-chiu

Music: Raymond Wong

Main cast: Shu Qi, Wen Zhang, Huang Bo, Show Lo, Lee Sheung-ching, Chiu Chi-ling, Chrissie Chau

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