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March 29, 2013

The Painter (Hollywood Reporter review)

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: , — dleedlee @ 4:14 pm

The Painter

by Deborah Young

Director Hai Tao shows great respect and invention in approaching a delicate subject – the role of the artist in Chinese society.

About Wu Daozi, a master Chinese artist of the Tang dynasty, a legend has long made the rounds: One day, as he was contemplating a wall painting he had just completed, he clapped his hands. The temple gate opened and he stepped into the mural, never to be seen again. Hai Tao’s The Painter traces the great artist’s disappearance in a significant fashion. Not only is it a calm, soothing dip into traditional art and wisdom; it passionately champions the absolute necessity of artistic freedom of expression. Though set in the distant past, the message comes across loud and clear. Released last year in China, the Beijing Film and TV production is a small gem that should be right up festival alley and a delight for anyone interested in films about art.

The Buddha-like face of a young man of noble bearing at first masks his grasping arrogance. This is Tang Anzhou (Xu Ning), a traveler who arrives at a gracious village inn run by the beautiful inn-keeper Hong Jiang (Guo Zhenni), a patron of the arts. To impress her, Tang shuts his eyes and paints a life-size woman with child on the spot. Drunk and dirty, the village crazy Sir Hu (Wu Ma) stumbles in chasing a rooster around the inn. When he catches sight of the fetching drawing Tang has just completed, he expresses his opinion by spewing wine all over it. Tang takes umbrage, but Hong is strangely indulgent and explains that the old man is a harmless loony.

The truth is that Hu is none other than Wu Daozi in disguise. Years ago, his extraordinary murals of rural scenes and court pageantry so pleased the Emperor that he forbid Wu to pick up a brush, except by imperial decree. Instead of being honored, Wu vanished from court. Tucked away in the forgotten village, he paints as he likes — magnificent household gods on doors and walls for villagers looking for good luck. The reason behind his friendship with Hong, who is more than an inn-keeper, and Tang’s real identity are revealed by and by.

Tyro director Hai Tao shows great respect and invention in approaching what must be a delicate subject – the role of the artist in Chinese society. The story is set in the 8th century, but it’s hard not to notice modern parallels. He brings a fresh eye to lovingly describe the period and creates characters that remain in memory.

Well-known Hong Kong actor and martial arts film director Wu Ma (A Chinese Ghost Story) throws himself into the part of the uncompromising artist with gusto, wit and seeming enjoyment. As the art patron, Guo Zhenni is a wonderfully authoritative female character and an impressive example of restrained emotion combined with intellect.

A landscape of bright marigolds and petroleum greens overcomes a somewhat low-budget look. Costumes, hair and makeup take their cue from the astonishing horned hairstyles and graceful draped clothes displayed in Wu’s paintings.

The print screened at Filmart was urgently in need of more modern and readable English subtitles.

Venue: Hong Kong Filmart, Mar. 22, 2013.
Production company: Zhongshi Hanlin (Beijing) International Film and TV
Cast: Wu Ma, Xu Ning, Guo Zhenni, Hung Yihan
Director: Hai Tao
Screenwriter: Ran Jianan
Producer: Yang Shanshan
Executive producer: Ran Ping
Director of photography: Sha Jincheng
Production designer: Jin Yang
Editors: Zhang Yifan, Hai Tao
Music: Dong Dongdong
Sales Agent: Beijing Film and TV Planning Co.
No rating, 90 minutes.

March 27, 2013

A Complicated Story (Hollywood Reporter review)

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A Complicated Story

by Elizabeth Kerr

Education and industry veterans join forces for the inaugural feature from the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts’ film program.

A mainland university student in Hong Kong in dire need of money quickly accepts a lucrative offer from a wealthy couple to act as a surrogate mother in A Complicated Story, a title that does justice to the film in more ways than one. First time feature filmmaker Kiwi Chow has turned in a very technically polished student film, made on the strength of collaboration between industry heavyweights Milkyway Image and Edko Films (executive producers Johnnie To and Bill Kong’s companies) and the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts’ film production program (nine other master’s students worked on the film).

The professional contributions to Chow’s film are obvious and the effort to prop up the local industry and train the next generation of filmmakers is a noble cause. However, it begs the question as to whether there were too many cooks spoiling the broth. A Complicated Story begins as one film and ends as something quite different, and a viewer might wonder what kind of narrative decisions Chow would have made left to his own devices. Nonetheless, the timely and divisive subject matter should generate festival interest overseas, and the presence of superstar Jacky Cheung could secure the film a general release in Asia-Pacific.

We first meet mainland university student Yazi (Zhu Zhiying) during an interview with power lawyer Kammy (Stephanie Che) that will determine if she’s a suitable surrogacy candidate for a local, and anonymous, power couple. Though she’s clearly got some pointed questions, Yazi’s need to pay for her sick brother’s surgery trumps any misgivings, and she agrees to sign on the dotted line and enter into a strict and binding contract. She’s set up in a beautiful home (Hong Kong is rarely made to look this lushly idyllic) and chauffeured to and from elite doctor appointments, but the rug is pulled out from under her in her eighth week: The wife of the mystery couple has decided to terminate the contract — and thus the pregnancy. Yazi has no legal leg on which to stand, but knowing crucial information is being kept from her, she asserts her moral authority and goes into hiding. She’s safely secluded in a vaguely hippie-feminist island village and tended to by Gipsy (the always engaging Deanie Ip) when Yuk (Cheung), the father, finds her and exerts his parental rights.

That first act is a complete film in itself. For almost an hour Chow lays the groundwork for a larger discussion, with little moments that seem minor forming the basis of a more complex picture. Yuk isn’t a deadbeat dad unwilling to unable to care for his children. His appearance asks, as a once unknowing participant, if he has a right to demand custody or access to his kids. Is it acceptable for Yazi to breach her contract because of personal conviction? Are her opinions more valuable because she’s a surrogate and not a gestational carrier? Are developing world women being exploited by choosing to use their wombs for financial gain? To this point Complicated is a thoughtful and somewhat challenging exploration of the ethics and morality of an increasingly common modern family planning choice. But then Yuk decides to solve the problem by courting Yazi and starting a new, wholesome nuclear family with her.

The seeds of soap opera are scattered earlier in the film, but the camera is so focused on the moral and legal quagmire that they’re easily dismissed. However, the second act shifts gears and brings Yuk’s divorce from his princess movie star wife, Yazi’s angry boyfriend Chun-ming and Kammy’s burgeoning feelings for Yazi (really, they went down the closet lesbian path) into the picture, reconfiguring the film as an overwrought romantic melodrama. It nearly renders the first, more engrossing half of the film nearly irrelevant. There’s even a tabloid scandal and a hate crime. This is a different movie.

It’s unclear how faithful Chow and his team of writers, Felix Tsang, Isis Tao and Shu Kei, were to Yi Shu’s novel, but given the density of the film’s first act a lot could have been jettisoned and still left enough material for a complete narrative. Yazi’s time with Gipsy, Kammy’s (non-romantic) companionship, and the contrast between the treatment Yazi receives from her contractual, old-school male doctor and that from the women’s clinic she seeks herself would have dovetailed beautifully with the main story. The story also lets Zhu down. For most of the time she is empathetic and dignified as a young woman at a major crossroads, but as the romance develops she’s compelled to a level of obstinacy Yazi had never displayed. Her motivations become muddled and the reordering of her worldview and perception of self is abstract. The film is by no means a failure: Chow has a strong sense of story and pacing, and he gets great support from the entire cast. Che in particular lends Kammy a steely, sadly misdirected sense of honor that clashes with her sense of duty, and Cheung is always welcome on the screen. He’s well cast here as what can best be described a one-percenter with a 99-percenter’s soul. A Complicated Story just didn’t need to be as complicated as it is.

Venue: Hong Kong International Film Festival
Producers: Shu Kei, Ding Yuin-shan
Director: Kiwi Chow
Cast: Zhu Zhiying, Jacky Cheung, Stephanie Che, Ziyi, Dennie Ip, Lo Hoi-pang, John Shum
Screenwriters: Shu Kei, Felix Tsang, Isis Tao, Kiwi Chow, based on the novel by Yi Shu
Executive Producers: Bill Kong, Johnnie To
Director of Photography: Zhang Yin
Editor: Chak Hoi-ling
No rating, 107 minutes

A Wedding Invitation (Hollywood Reporter review)

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A Wedding Invitation

by Elizabeth Kerr

Korean romantic comedy maestro Oh Ki-hwan adds a touch of pathos to his latest starring Eddie Peng and Bai Baihe.

Five years after ending their relationship to pursue careers in two different cities, a young couple reunites and ties the knot (not a spoiler), but only after a series of trials, tribulations and misunderstandings in A Wedding Invitation, a pan-Asian collaboration by Korean contemporary romantic-comedy maestro Oh Ki-hwan.

A Wedding Invitation is precisely the kind of hokey and entirely illogical romantic dreck that mega-distributor CJ Entertainment trades in efficiently and that plays so well regionally. Regardless of where one falls on the romantic-melodrama scale, the film is undeniably saleable in most of Asia-Pacific, and the appealing leads, polished production and weepy, couple-friendly subject matter should give the film a buoyant box-office life. Distributors that found success with films like A Moment to Remember and the earlier, groundbreaking Christmas in August should take an interest here, both in Asia and overseas.

The story begins with LiXing (Taiwanese actor Eddie Peng, Cold War) and his girlfriend QiaoQiao (Bai Baihe, Love is Not Blind) breaking up in order to pursue their individual goals — his in becoming a master chef, hers in industrial design. They make a pact that if in five years neither is married, they’ll get hitched to each other. He stays in Beijing, and she heads off to Shanghai. Five years later, QiaoQiao gets a call out of the blue and an invitation to LiXing’s nuptials. Not so fast. QiaoQiao isn’t quite ready to give LiXing up, and so off she marches to sabotage the wedding. But that’s okay, because it’s not a real wedding; he just needed a way to get her to come see him. They haggle a bit over their mutual stupidity, but a new wrench is thrown into the works when QiaoQiao receives some surprising medical news. That can never be good. Cue tissues.

Similar in tone (at least initially) to Oh’s retro battle-of-the-sexes rom-com The Art of Seduction, Invitation has the kind of contemporary, hip characters and overall vibe that provides a nice contrast to the art-house mainland Chinese fare audiences outside China, and to some degree Asia, are more accustomed to. There is no hardship in Invitation. No struggles to make ends meet, no slogs through mines and desperate flights to urban centers seeking work. The film’s closest thematic rival is Doze Niu’s equally glamorous Taipei-based Love. LiXing and QiaoQiao are thoroughly modern, attractive, ambitious twentysomethings with cool careers and international worldviews who spend their time in the hippest parts of gleaming Beijing and Shanghai. Their best friends are gay MaoMao (played with only a tiny bit of flame by Chinese TV actor Jiang Jingfu) and Zhou Rui (Pace Wu, Reign of Assassins), who grew up in France.

There is no disputing A Wedding Invitation will divide audiences over its fundamentally ludicrous premise, which demands a serious suspension of disbelief. The ridiculous and circuitous route LiXing and QiaoQiao take to happy ever after would not happen in reality (one real conversation is all it would take to end the film). But Invitation never set out to be a realistic portrait of modern relationships; it never pretends to be something it’s not. This is high-grade romantic melodrama, and it’s nearly flawless in its execution. Detractors will hate it, but fans of the genre will adore it. A great deal of credit for the film’s success should go to Bai as the flummoxed QiaoQiao. Though she fails the Bechdel test on every front, Bai keeps a character that could easily slip into shrill and childish far from that quagmire, and Peng matches her step for step when the drama kicks into high gear.

Venue: Hong Kong Filmart
Producer: Jeong Tae-sung, Han Sanping
Director: Oh Ki-hwan
Cast: Bai Baihe, Eddie Peng, Jiang Jingfu, Pace Wu
Screenwriter: Qin Haiyan
Executive Producer: Miky Lee, Wei Xiaobin, Joshua Tong, Zhao Yifang
Director of Photography: Kim Young-ho
Production Designer: Jeffrey Kong Hun Lim
Music: Lee Ji-soo
Editor: Shin Min-kyung
No rating, 105 minutes


March 26, 2013

The Way We Dance (Screen Daily review)

Filed under: Reprints — dleedlee @ 6:12 pm

The Way We Dance

25 March, 2013
By Mark Adams

A Hong Kong spin on the hip hop dance movie – which has proved highly successful with films such as the StreetDance and Step Up series – the enjoyably frothy The Way We Dance might lack the sheer brilliant dance edginess of other films of the genre, but it is engagingly entertaining despite its lapses into simplistic melodrama which hamper the momentum that might help it appeal to international dance-loving audiences.

The film, which had its world premiere at the Hong Kong International Film Festival as well as Filmart, is given its note of charm, however, by the exuberant and graceful performance by actress/model Cherry Ngan, who only made her film debut in 2012 with roles in Night Fall and Floating City.

She stars as young wannabe street dancer Fleur, a hip hop natural who puts her parents’ tofu business behind her when she goes to a Hong Kong University and joins college dance crew BombA. The crew’s main ambition is to defeat their archrivals, Rooftoppers. Fleur takes a shine to the crew’s leader Dave, but he only has eyes for sexy teammate Rebecca.

But when Rebecca – supported vaguely by Dave (Lockman Yeung) – makes fun of Fleur’s more radical dance moves (poking fun at her for dancing like a fiddler crab), Fleur storms off. Meanwhile apparently straight-laced Alan (Babyjohn Choi), the chairman of the University’s Tai Chi Club, takes a shine to Fleur and her moves and against the odds she is slowly won over by the graceful Tai Chi moves.

Just when Fleur decides to re-join BombA she hurts her ankle, confining her to a wheelchair for three months. But just as she reaches rock bottom she meets Stormy (Tommy “Guns” Ly), the leader of the Rooftoppers, who reveals what has happened to him and how it has influenced his dance style, giving her hope and determination to create a new street dance style.

The choreography by Shing Mak is suitably racy and dynamic, though the fact that writer/director Adam Wong favours a fairly static camera means that the routines, while impressively staged, lack a certain dynamism. There are perhaps too many subplots – such as sexy dancer Rebecca’s sideways move into posing as a manga character as part of televised competitions and the background to Alan’s enthusiasm for Tai Chi – which slows the pacing when the film should be keeping it much more tight and exciting. But it is a nicely youth-orientated attempt to link into the still popular film genre, and offers Cherry Ngan a great platform for her talents.

Production companies: Golden Scene, Eyes Front Pictures
International sales: Golden Scene Company Ltd.,
Producers: Saville Chan, Wong Yat Ping
Cinematography: Cheng Siu-Keung
Main cast: Cherry Ngan, Babyjohn Choi, Lokman Yeung, Tommy ‘Guns’ Ly, Paul Wong

March 24, 2013

Ripples of Desire (Hollywood Reporter review)

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: , , , , — dleedlee @ 1:37 pm

Ripples of Desire
by Deborah Young

Despite its lurid English title, Ripples of Desire is more feminist romance than bodice-ripper. Set on a floating island populated by pirates and lepers off the shores of 17th century Taiwan, the costumer questions the status of women, in a tale of talented but doomed sisters who have become indentured courtesans in the House of Flowers. A break from her lesbian-themed films like Spider Lilies which won the 2007 Teddy Award in Berlin for best feature, and with hetero erotic touches, it could earn Taiwanese filmmaker Chou Zero a broader fan base among festival goers and Asian film lovers.

Enwrapping melancholy Chinese lyricism in a dream-like atmosphere, Chou navigates the cruel horrors of the day, which include murder, leprosy, kidnapping and abject betrayal. Though potentially beautiful to watch, the exotic pleasures are sometimes marred by a narrative that is opaque in key scenes. Audiences will need to leap over these gaps to enjoy a haunting and original film.

More graceful that any geisha when she performs on stage at Madame Moon’s, White Snow (Michelle Chen, You Are the Apple of my Eye) enchants an audience of pirates and sea-faring travelers with her melancholy songs and heavenly voice. Singing love duets with her sister White Frost (Ivy Chen, the popular star of Hear Me), who wears a mask and dresses as a man, they are the top attraction for at the establishment of businesswoman Moon (bewigged Hong Kong actress Sandra Ng).

Though their after-show activities are glossed over, as trained courtesans they are a bare step up from common brothel personnel. (“Folk music is just an ornament for prostitutes,” says Snow sadly.)

Moon still has feelings, as well as carnal relations, for her old but still burning flame, Master Hai. This larger-than-life figure, played by veteran actor Simon Yan of The Thieves, has rebelled against a Ming dynasty decree that forbids sea trading and is defiantly holed up with a motley crew aboard his outlawed ship. Though his pirate-like men don’t hesitate to kill for him, they have qualms about it afterwards, even his loyal henchman Scarface (model/pop singer Jerry Yan, costumed like an Asian Johnny Depp without the eye makeup.)

One day, naïve young music teacher Wen (TV star Joseph Cheng) arrives at Flower House to teach the girls new opera songs, and is brought to tears by Snow’s song about her childhood, how she and Frost were shipwrecked and were unable to save their father when the waves swept him off their raft. Afflicted by leprosy, his rotten hand comes off in Snow’s, as the little girl desperately holds on to it. Her piercing song makes the sensitive Wen fall in love with her on the spot.

What he doesn’t know is that the sisters guard a terrible secret: the first signs of leprosy have appeared on Snow’s fair skin. Madame Moon replaces her with Frost as her stage star, and cruelly suggests she can cure herself by infecting a man, thereby regaining her own health. This strange idea is one of the film’s required leaps of faith. Meanwhile, Frost has been meeting platonically with her childhood friend Scarface. Though she dreams of being in his arms, their potential romance is thwarted by the obvious problem of her being available to the highest bidder.

Chou’s screenplay neatly introduces a fourth couple, the lustful nobleman Sir Li and his beautiful, rich wife Lady Jen. Again the theme is love and loyalty versus trickery and betrayal, with women’s freedom to choose her own life at stake.

The cast is well-chosen and Michelle Chen and Ivy Chen (unrelated, but who also played sisters in Hear Me) are both intriguing on screen. The film’s cinematic qualities, shot by cinematographer Liu Hoho, could just be glimpsed on the DVD screened at Filmart. Chen Ming-Zhang’s notable score uses traditional Taiwanese folk music along with more modern sounds.

Venue: Hong Kong Filmart, Mar. 20, 2013.
Production company: South Island Film Inc.
Cast: Ivy Chen, Michelle Chen, Jerry Yan, Joseph Cheng, Simon Yan, Sandra Ng, Mao Zi-Jun, Li Xiao-Ran
Director: Chou Zero
Screenwriter: Chou Zero
Producer: Wang Mimi
Director of photography: Liu Hoho
Production designer: South Island Creative Team
Costumes: Jessie Dai
Editor: Chen Powen
Music: Chen Ming-Zhang
Sales Agent: Serenity Entertainment international (world), TC-1 Culture Fund (Asia)
No rating, 121 minutes.

March 19, 2013

Saving General Yang (Screen Daily review)

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Saving General Yang

19 March, 2013
By Edmund Lee

As the latest in a long line of movies to dramatise the heroic exploits of the Yang family of generals (with the 1983 Shaw Brothers classic The Eight Diagram Pole Fighter being arguably the best of the bunch), Ronny Yu’s historical war epic recounts a variation of the much adapted legend with largely predictable results. The film premieres at the Hong Kong International Film Festival on March 28 and opens a week after in various cities across Asia.

For a film that seems to go out of its way to invite critical derision by casting some of Greater China’s most popular heartthrobs in all its key roles, Saving General Yang is certainly never expected to be a triumph of ensemble acting. It is a credit to director Ronny Yu – whose reputation is split between his brilliant takes on Chinese folk legends (Fearless, The Bride With White Hair) and dreary horror sequels (Freddy vs. Jason, Bride Of Chucky) – that his Song dynasty-set actioner still manages to be at least intermittently engaging.

After the patriotic General Yang (Adam Cheng) is betrayed by an aggrieved ally – whose son was accidentally killed in a sparring match with Yang’s sixth son (Wu Chun) – and ambushed by Khitan invaders, his seven sons (also including Hong Kong’s Ekin Cheng and Raymond Lam, Taiwan’s Vic Chou and mainland China’s Yu Bo) set out to rescue the stranded patriarch despite a massive disadvantage in numbers and, more alarmingly, a prophet’s warning to their worried mother (Xu Fan) that only “six will return” – an ambivalently worded set-up that is bound to mislead more than a few viewers in the course of the movie.

With its focus squarely placed on family honour and the consequent, obligatory bloodshed, it is no surprise that the movie appears to treat the brothers’ well being as its only concern. An hour into Saving General Yang – after their troop of soldiers and deputies are entirely vanquished in ascending order of narrative importance – only the siblings and their wounded father are allowed to stay in the picture as the susceptible targets of the Khitans’ relentless pursuit.

Notwithstanding an inspired, Kurosawa-esque scene of arrow fight, which is dynamically captured by cinematographer Chan Chi-ying on a field of tall grass, Yu’s increasingly sombre portrait of loyalty and violent revenge is partly let down by his story’s uniformly superficial characterisation – if not also by its continual reliance on momentary flashbacks as a last-gasp attempt to flesh out the characters. A memory sequence which sees the family members sit around a living room and laugh out loud together, to cite one example, could well be one of the most awkward images of familial bliss to ever be put on film.

Production companies: Pegasus Motion Pictures Production Limited

International Sales: Pegasus Motion Pictures Distribution Limited,

Producers: Raymond Wong, Ronny Yu

Screenplay: Edmond Wong, Scarlett Liu, Ronny Yu

Cinematography: Chan Chi-ying

Editor: Drew Thompson

Production designer: Ken Mak

Music: Kenji Kawai

Action choreographer: Dong Wei

Main cast: Xu Fan, Adam Cheng, Ekin Cheng, Yu Bo, Vic Chou, Li Chen, Raymond Lam, Wu Chun, Fu Xinbo


March 18, 2013

Ip Man — The Final Fight (Variety review)

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Ip Man — The Final Fight

Maggie Lee

With “Ip Man — The Final Fight,” the lucrative Chinese franchise about the grandmaster of Wing Chun reaches a plateau. Competently executed by Hong Kong helmer Herman Yau, with the title role magnetically played by Anthony Wong, the film delivers a detailed account of the hero’s middle-to-later years that is never boring. What the pic lacks in stylistic sparks compared with other renditions by Wong Kar Wai and Wilson Yip, it makes up for in sinewy action and traditional values. The film should have a decent run in Asian markets, and attract offshore genre completists who embraced the franchise, mostly on home formats.

“The Final Fight” follows Yau’s “The Legend is Born — Ip Man” (2010), which depicted the legendary character’s youth. Both are produced by Checkley Sin, an investor and Wing Chun consultant on the earlier “Ip Man” (2008) and “Ip Man 2” (2010) helmed by Yip.

The story — credited to Sin, a pupil of Ip’s son Chun — is diligent in representing the protag’s life with authenticity and respect, but pacing suffers. There’s only so much to draw from one man’s life, and this installment’s focus on Ip’s middle age and his role as a teacher yields an inherently less active story. Qualities like humility and restraint are readily appreciated by Asian auds, but genre fans in the West may be underwhelmed by the fewer scenes of stirring conflict.

The film follows Ip’s life from age 56 to his death at 79. In 1949, following the Communists’ victory in China. Ip leaves his family in his hometown of Foshan, Guangdong Province, and arrives in Hong Kong. Calling on a friend, he is challenged to a duel by cocky cook Leung Seung (Timmy Hung, son of action star Sammo Hung). In a sequence that skillfully highlights the pliant style of Wing Chun, Ip defeats Leung without moving from where he stands.

Leung subsequently uses his professional connections to help Ip form a makeshift school on a rooftop, which attracts a motley crew of pupils: policeman Tang Sing (Jordan Chan), jail warden Wong Tung (Marvel Chow, Sin’s disciple and the film’s Wing Chun consultant), dim-sum vendor Sei-mui (Gillian Chung), Lee King (Jiang Luxia) and tram-driver Ng Chan (Donny Ng).

As in “The Legend in Born,” Yau delights in period nostalgia, recreating the messy but bustling street life of ’50s and ’60s Hong Kong with colorful studio sets, but also depicting an environment of labor unrest, government corruption and colonial oppression. In this sense, the theme is as much about the difficulty of making an honest living as it is the challenges of preserving the core values of Wing Chun. A brief encounter between Ip and a pupil who’s become an “international star” (who looks suspiciously like Bruce Lee) reinforces Ip’s anti-elitist attitude toward disseminating his art.

Although the proportion of action to drama is less than that in “The Legend is Born,” this sequel still boasts four vigorous setpieces, shot with minimum stylistic distraction by Joe Chan, and edited briskly by Azrael Chung. A duel between Ip and Ng Chun (comedian-producer Eric Tsang), master of the White Crane school, displays a precision and fierceness unexpected of elder-statesmen Wong and the pint-sized Tsang. Their sportsmanlike rapport contrasts with a later battle against an unscrupulous underground boxer (Ken Low), which combines visual exuberance with undertones of malice.

Wong convincingly draws on his lifelong training in Monkey Fist boxing style to strike the pose of grandmaster, Ip’s outsider status underscored by a thick Foshan accent. Wong’s dramatic range shines in a cordial, slow-brewing romance with a Shanghainese songstress (Zhang Chuchu), the unmistakable sexual chemistry in contrast with a brief, almost platonic interlude with his wife Wing Sing (Anita Yuen).

Unfortunately, most other thesps are let down by Erica Lee’s workmanlike screenplay, which tries to pack in too many characters and incidents, none of which develop into anything of substance. Chow’s martial arts acumen can’t help his hopelessly wooden acting, while Jordan Chan’s evocative perf gives his undercooked cop role an intriguing ambiguity.

Tech credits are generally pro, but lack distinction, with crowd fights staged as unfocused melees. Brother Hung’s clamorous score distracts from the visual spectacle of the action and drowns out quieter dramatic moments.

Ip Man – the Final Fight
Yip Mun – Chung Gik Yat Jin
(Hong Kong-China)
Reviewed at Hong Kong Film Festival (Opener), March 17, 2013. Running time: 100 MIN.

An Emperor Motion Pictures (Hong Kong), release of a National Arts Films Prod., Emperor Film Prod. Co., Dadi Century Co. presentation of a National Arts Films production. (International sales: Emperor Motion Pictures, Hong Kong.) Produced by Checkley Sin, Albert Lee. Executive producers, Checkley Sin, Albert Yeung. Co-producers, Cherry Law, Catherine Hun.

Directed by Herman Yau. Screenplay, Erica Lee, based on a story by Checkley Sin. Camera (color, widescreen), Joe Chan; editor, Azrael Chung; music, Brother Hung; production designer, Raymond Chan; costume designer, Thomas Chong; sound (Dolby Digital), Ken Wong; supervising sound editor, Wong Chun-hoi; re-recording mixer, Ken Wong; visual effects, Herb Garden; action choreographers, Li Chung-chi, Checkley Sin; martial arts consultants, Marvel Chow, Leo Au Yeung, Luk Chung-mow, Joe Luk, Yiu Kin-kong; assistant director, Ko Tsz-pun; second unit director, Ngai Man-yin.

With Anthony Wong, Zhou Chuchu, Anita Yuen, Eric Tsang, Timmy Hung, Jordan Chan, Gillian Chung, Marvel Chow, Jiang Luxia, Donny Ng, Xiong Xinxin, Ken Low, Wong Cho-lam, Liu Kai-chi, Law Koon-lan, Ip Chun. (Foshan dialect, Cantonese dialogue)


Forever Love (Screen Daily review)

Filed under: Reprints — dleedlee @ 12:34 pm

Forever Love
18 March, 2013
By Mark Adams

A charmingly whimsical comedy romance that plays affectionate tribute to late 1960s heyday of Taiwanese language cinema, Forever Love is a sweet-natured film largely told in flashback, featuring strong and charismatic lead performances by Blue Lan and Amber An. The film has the style and rom-com factors to work locally, and the frothy film industry backdrop could make it appealing to other festivals.

Forever Love, which premiered in Taiwan recently, glossily blends old-fashioned romantic themes with some amusingly recreated sequences from 1960s Taiwan filmmaking – with black-and-white scenes and animation thrown in for good measure – and makes good use of its good-looking leads, model-turned-actor Blue Lan (aka Lan Zheng-long) and Amber An (aka Amber An Xin Ya), who was named the world’s sexiest woman by FHM’s Taiwan edition.

The film opens in contemporary Taiwan with 18 year-old Jie talking fondly about her all-action grandfather Liu Chi-Sheng (played by Long Shao-hua) – he surfs, boxes and rides his mountain bike aged 70 – who loves to tell her tall stories about his time working as a screenwriter in Hollywood Taiwan.

When he is hospitalised after a biking accident she visits him on the ward, and he tells her the story of how he met her grandmother, who he is increasingly worried about she is suffering from dementia and cannot really remember him. His story flashes back to 1969 when he (as played by Blue Lan) was writing multiple scripts, but increasingly annoyed by the clichéd films he has to make

Things change when he meets wannabe actress Chiang Mei-Yue (Amber An) when she sneaks into the premiere if his latest film Spy No. 7, mainly to try and catch a glimpse of the films star Wan Bao-Long. He helps get her through an audition, and the pair start a tentative romance, and when is forced into directing the sequel – Spy No. 7: On The Moon For Love – and manages to get a bigger and bigger role for her.

Though perhaps a little too long, the film is brimming with charming moments, and despite being entirely predictable is a gentle delight, with the performances all pretty much spot on and the recreations of the heyday of Taiwanese cinema engagingly staged.

Production companies: Greener Grass, Pomi Productions, Arrow Cinematic Group, Serenity Entertainment International

International sales: Pomi International,

Executive producers: Hu Chin-Chung, Jessica Cheng, Lin Tian-Gui

Producer: Tseng Han-Hsien

Screenplay: Lin Chen-Hao

Cinematography: Ghou Yi-Hsien

Main cast: Lan Zheng-long, Amber An Xin Ya, Long Shao-hua, Wang Po-chieh, Tien Hsin, Hou Yen-hsi


March 17, 2013

Ip Man – The Final Fight (Screen Daily review)

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Ip Man – The Final Fight
17 March, 2013
By Edmund Lee

Although few people other than martial arts aficionados knew much about him before 2008’s Ip Man, the Wing Chun master who counted Bruce Lee among his protégés has already headlined five movie outings since, with Ip Man - The Final Fight following hot on the trails of Wong Kar-wai’s The Grandmaster. In a programming decision that seems to speak more about the movie’s local sentiments than its artistic idiosyncrasies, Herman Yau’s action drama premieres as the opening film of the Hong Kong International Film Festival on March 17, before receiving its domestic theatrical release on March 28 and its European premiere at Udine’s Far East Film Festival in April.

With its chronically nostalgic tone, The Final Fight sometimes plays like Echoes of the Rainbow (2010) featuring Ip Man. A watchable if far-from-memorable view on the character’s later years, the movie is indeed the second take on the legendary figure by the prolific Yau.

If his clearly fictionalised The Legend is Born – Ip Man (2010), which features real-life kung fu champ Dennis To in the title role, is a fluffy crowd-pleaser that functions more or less as a prequel to the other recent Ip Man biopics, the new movie may be regarded as a sequel of sorts to all the rest, as the filmmaker casts his regular leading man Anthony Wong as an ageing master living a tough but dignified life in the turbulent post-war Hong Kong.

While Yau and Wong first established their cult status together with such 1990s horror classics as The Untold Story and Ebola Syndrome, the actor’s rather human portrait of Ip Man couldn’t be further apart from those crazed, early roles. Sporting a Foshan accent that inevitably reminds a Cantonese-speaking audience of his hilarious voicework for the McDull animation franchise,

Wong nevertheless lends a new dimension to the grandmaster as he mentors his eclectic group of students (Jordan Chan, Gillian Chung, among others), finds an unlikely partner in a beautiful songstress (Zhou Chuchu) after the death of his wife, and finally fights his way into the Kowloon Walled City to save a student from a mythical fighter-cum-criminal kingpin (Xiong Xinxin).

Much early buzz surrounded Wong’s mid-film, closed-door fight with fellow Infernal Affairs alumni Eric Tsang, the former stuntman, now-iconic comedy actor who’s here playing a rival-turned-ally at the helm of the White Crane school of martial arts. But the soul of this movie is really in its tireless references to the historical and social conditions of 1950s and 60s Hong Kong, whose street views are recreated in vibrant, saturated colours.

The character of Bruce Lee does show up briefly in the last reel, though the cameo – which largely obscures the character’s face and shows him as something of a Westernised, prodigal son opposite Ip Man’s humble presence – is unlikely to impress many of his fans.

Despite its title, The Final Fight is arguably the least but certainly not the last we’ll see of Ip Man on the big screen: the 3D final chapter of the Donnie Yen-starring, Wilson Yip-directed Ip Man trilogy is expected to wrap filming within the year.

Production companies: National Arts Films Production Limited, Emperor Film Production Company Limited

International Sales: Emperor Motion Pictures

Executive producers: Checkley Sin, Albert Yeung

Producers: Checkley Sin, Albert Lee

Co-producers: Cherry Law, Catherine Hun

Screenplay: Erica Li

Cinematography: Joe Chan

Editor: Azrael Chung

Production designer: Raymond Chan

Costume designer: Thomas Chong

Music: Brother Hung

Action choreographers: Li Chung-chi, Checkley Sin

Main cast: Anthony Wong, Gillian Chung, Jordan Chan, Eric Tsang, Marvel Chow, Zhou Chuchu, Xiong Xinxin

Ip Man — The Final Fight (Hollywood Reporter review)

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: , , — dleedlee @ 11:43 am

Ip Man — The Final Fight
3/17/2013 by Deborah Young

There seems to be no end in sight for the lucrative Ip Man film series, which to date counts at least five biopics of the legendary kung fu master who trained Bruce Lee in the art of Wing Chun. The fame of the real-life Ip Man, who died in 1972, spread far beyond Chinese borders with January’s release of Wong Kar-wai’s romantic hit The Grandmaster, a reflective auteur actioner which set the bar extremely high as far as international audiences are concerned. Opening this year’s Hong Kong Film Festival, Herman Yau’s Ip Man - The Final Fight is an enjoyable if far less sophisticated tale that nostalgically taps into Hong Kong cinema of yesteryear, while still delivering considerable excitement in the fight scenes. Offshore, it may hitch a ride with dyed-in-the-wool martial arts fans on the coattails of The Grandmaster, but more likely will get lost in the shadow.

For the record, Wilson Yip directed the acclaimed 2008 Ip Man starring Donnie Yen, which focused on the master’s early life in Foshun; it was soon followed by the high-grossing Ip Man 2. Producer Raymond Wong has announced the imminent release of a third installment in 3D. Meanwhile, veteran Herman Yau directed the 2010 The Legend is Born – Ip Man with Dennis To portraying the master as a teenager learning his craft in China, effectively a prequel to the other films.

Still, none of the pictures, even those made with the consultation of Ip Man’s son Ip Chun, like The Final Fight, attempt anything like a rigorous biopic. Each reworks the main character into a mythic mold. Here, the focus is on the moral authority that an aging, Zen-like master exerts over his pupils during a very confused historical period in British-controlled Hong Kong of the 1950s.

Engaging veteran actor Anthony Wong plays an ironic older Ip Man who arrives in Hong Kong from the mainland as the curtain rises. His pretty wife Wing Sing soon follows him. They’ve lost their wealth and part of their family in China during the Sino-Japanese war and are looking to make a new, if humble, start. They are at once taken under the wing of an adoring group of working-class students who are passionate about learning the Chinese discipline of Wing Chun. Coming from all walks of life, these earnest young folk are involved in the politics of the day, including union strikes and clashes with the police, and a stand-off with organized crime.

Without really trying, Ip soon gathers a strong school around him. One of his pupils is a local cop (Jordan Chan) who is sorely tempted by bribes. Another, the leader of the restaurant union, offers Ip a scenic terrace where he can hold lessons. A young woman student is a firebrand union leader who urges on a mass of starving workers in a protest march that ends in a fierce battle with the police. When she is arrested, the local cop uses the bribe money he has ambivalently accepted to re-bribe the British and get her out of jail.

Chan’s cop is a full-fledged character and the most memorable of Ip’s students, even though he ignores the master’s cryptic moral advice and eventually throws in his lot with the scarred crime lord Dragon in an unholy alliance that allows him to rise to the top as chief inspector, but on Dragon’s payroll. He’s a key participant in the closing free-for-all mentioned in the film’s title, which takes place at an illegal boxing ring and in the eerie alleyways of Dragon’s walled slum. When a clean-cut young boxer who rose to fame with Wing Chun refuses to throw a fight, Dragon orders him killed in the ring. Improbably, his wife gets wind that he is in danger and Ip Man appears on the scene with his whole school of fighters for a satisfying action finale. All this takes place during a typhoon that sweeps the picturesque streets with falling signs and blowing litter.

Wong is such a fine, subtle actor that it comes as a surprise to find him a superb martial artist as well, as he convincingly demonstrates the superiority of Ip Man’s technique over competing schools, like old Ng’s White Crane style (actor-producer-director Eric Tsang in a happy cameo).

One could wish for a little more realism and a little less glossing over of Ip’s relationship to the lovely, illiterate young singer Jenny (an able if impossibly saintly Zhou Chuchu). Their platonic friendship, much snubbed by his prudish students, gives way to a sentimental ending that is anyway well-handled by the actors. It’s she who introduces him to opium when he’s doubled-up in pain, but it is made to seem an accidental, one-off indulgence and not the serious long-term addiction it was rumored to be.

What is not covered up is the dire poverty of the times, affecting not just the main characters but also a family the Ips know who are forced to sell one of their six children to feed the rest. Here again, Wong wiggles out of a potentially schmaltzy moment with a quiet, self-controlled, but very human reaction. In a scene that rhymes with Jenny offering him a glass of liquid opium, he acknowledges his friends’ pain and temporarily assuages it by pouring out more booze. Given everyone’s utter poverty, there’s little more that can be done.

Deliberately old-fashioned lighting and production design paint a quaint Old-World city shot on a studio backlot. The colorful streets hung with signs make an apt setting for some of the mass fight scenes between Ip Man’s students and various malefactors, whose West Side Story feeling is increased by Chun Hung Mak’s overblown score. In a delightful moment, Bruce Lee, the master’s most famous student, returns from Hollywood as a warm-hearted but naive star in a shining Rolls Royce, which Ip Man politely declines to ride in.

Venue: Hong Kong Film Festival, Mar. 17, 2013.
Production companies: Emperor Motion Pictures, Pegasus Taihe Entertainment
Cast: Anthony Wong, Eric Tsang, Gillian Chung, Jordan Chan
Director: Herman Yau
Screenwriter: Erica Lee
Producers: Checkley Sin, Albert Lee
Director of photography: Kwong-hung Chan
Production designer: Raymond Chan
Costumes: Thomas Chong
Editor: Wai Chiu Chung
Music: Chun Hung Mak
Sales Agent: Emperor Motion Pictures
102 minutes.

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