HKMDB Daily News

April 27, 2013

Tai Chi Hero (Hollywood Reporter review)

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: — dleedlee @ 6:12 pm

Tai Chi Hero
4/26/2013 by Frank Scheck

The sequel to “Tai Chi Zero” delivers more of the frenetic kung fu action sequences that fans crave.

Audiences who didn’t get enough of the hyper-stylized, video-game inspired martial arts mayhem on display in last year’s Tai Chi Zero will no doubt return for more with Stephen Fung’s sequel, the second entry in a proposed trilogy. But while Tai Chi Hero offers plenty of the kung-fu action that fans crave, it’s less successful on the narrative front. It’s best to leave your mind at the door and simply take in the eye-popping visuals.

The film continues the adventures of Lu Chan (Jayden Yuan), the eager student who inexplicably turns into a fighting machine whenever a particular spot is touched on his head. Living in the village where every resident is a martial arts master, he’s now married to Yuniang (Angelababy), the beautiful daughter of its leader (Tony Leung Ka Fai).

When Yuniang’s prodigal brother (Feng Shaofeng) returns home warning about an ancient prophecy that the town will be destroyed by the presence of an interloper, it turns the town against Lu Chan. It also foreshadows a ruthless attack by the previous film’s villain (Eddie Peng) who’s in cahoots with a crooked British railroad tycoon (amusingly played by Swedish actor Peter Stormare).

It’s all just an excuse for an endless series of frenetic action set pieces rendered in heavily stylized fashion that includes extensive use of pop-up graphics, slow-motion, gravity defying leaps and other visual flourishes resembling video games. Once again expertly choreographed by Hong Kong action veteran Sammo Hung, they’re undeniably entertaining if at times wearying in their sheer sensory overload.

As with the first installment, this one also features a distinct steampunk flavor, particularly with the old-fashioned flying machine that’s called into action against the evildoers’ legions of cannons.

Opens April 26 (Well Go USA)
Production: Huayi Brothers & Taihe Film Investment
Cast: Jaden Yuan, Tony Leung Ka Fai, Angelababy, Eddie Peng, Feng Shaofeng, Peter Stormare, Daniel Wu
Director: Stephen Fung
Screenwriter: Kuo-fu Chen
Producer: Wang Zhongjun
Directors of photography: Yiu-Fai Lai, Peter Ngor
Not rated, 100 min.


April 2, 2013

Love Me Not (Hollywood Reporter review)

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: , — dleedlee @ 7:55 pm

Love Me Not
by Deborah Young

The film is a lively, up-to-date LGBT sex comedy from filmmaker Gilitte Leung.

A lesbian woman and gay man share an apartment in Hong Kong in the first act of a breezy, upbeat gender comedy suitable for all audiences. But blurring sexual identity isn’t enough for debuting writer-director Gilitte Leung, who proceeds to deconstruct the film in the second half with all-new actors slipping into the main roles. Little is gained, however, beyond mild confusion. Agreeable characters and fresh cinematography that pays close attention to the image will anyway push it into the hands of indie festivals and those interested in LGBT themes.

Photographer Aggie (played by Afa Lee in her first incarnation) and painter Dennis (initially Kenneth Cheng) have been pals since first grade. Now all grown up, they decide to move out of their parents’ cramped digs and get an apartment together. Though she likes girls and he likes boys, the arrangement seems to pose no problems, and makes it easier to mislead their folks about their sexual orientations. Things only get awkward when Aggie breaks up with her girlfriend and apparently starts thinking about having a baby.

At mid-point the camera pulls back and reveals that everything up to this point has been simply a movie played by actors. Except that the storyline is quite autobiographical: Aggie (now Rebecca Yip) is the filmmaker, and she is having a fling with a Japanese-American actress (Hitomi Thompson). After several years of cohabitation, she and Dennis (now played by Siu Wu) are living in separate apartments. This being “reality,” they are neither so beautiful nor unfailingly cool as the “fictional” pair. Dennis, for instance, has tried and failed to find a rich sugar-daddy to take care of him, and now is entering into an arranged marriage to qualify for the down payment on an apartment. And Aggie feels jealous and confused.

There’s nothing very consequential about all this, and the film sometimes seems like a magazine article with characters. There are the gay men who have a baby, Aggie’s girlfriends who give her advice, and non-stop background music suggesting swinging 30somethings on the make. Still, indie filmmaker Leung, who participated in producing, lensing, scoring and editing the film, shows a fine eye detail that gives the close-ups a modern taste. She is also skillful at directing a nicely assorted cast of near look-a-likes. Pretty pixie Lee stands out in a scene fighting with her mother over her parents’ late divorce — a nice contradiction of her own anti-traditional lifestyle.

Venue: Hong Kong Film Festival
Production company: Colored Production Company
Cast:Afa Lee, Kenneth Cheng, Rebecca Yip, Siu Wu, Hitomi Thompson, Dominic Yip
Director: Gilitte Leung
Screenwriters: Gilitte Leung
Producers: Joyce Lam, Tony Jung, Gilitte Leung
Executive Producers: Gilitte Leung, Joyce Lam
Directors of photography: Evangelo Costadimas, Gilitte Leung
Editor: Gilitte Leung
Music: Gilitte Leung
92 minutes.

April 1, 2013

All Apologies (Hollywood Reporter review)

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: , — dleedlee @ 8:10 pm

All Apologies
by Elizabeth Kerr
‘Mainland’ director Emily Tang returns with her most accessible feature to date.

When the young son of a middle-class Chinese couple is killed in an accident, the father of the boy takes drastic, and criminal, measures to right the perceived wrong in Emily Tang’s third feature, All Apologies. After making something of a splash with the aggressively artistic Conjugation and Perfect Life, the Chinese filmmaker’s first foray into mainstream, accessible filmmaking is a welcome change of pace. Employing straightforward, engaging camera work by Hong Kong cinematographer Lai Yiu-fai and trading in empathetic emotional beats, Tang finally might have found an entry point for general audiences. Festival play is assured, based on Tang’s past films, and though the subject matter is sensitive, limited release in Asia and some overseas markets is a remote possibility.

On a seemingly normal day in a small southern town, construction manager Yonggui (Cheng Taishen) enrolls his only son, the restless Dazhuang, in the best school in nearby Guilin and then heads off to work in Guangzhou. At home, his wife Yunzhen (Liang Jing) spends her day chasing after the typically troublesome child and being a model, if frazzled, housewife. One afternoon Dazhuang sneaks onto their grocer neighbor Heman’s (Gao Jin) delivery truck, which promptly is T-boned by another driver. Heman’s legs are crushed in the accident, but Dazhuang is killed. Furious and distraught, Yunzhen and Yonggui demand compensation, and during a tense hospital visit, Heman snarkily suggests Yonggui get his wife, Qiaoyu (Yang Shuting), to “give” him another child. Fully believing the couple owes him a life, Yonggui sexually assaults Qiaoyu and gets her pregnant.

There are a lot of thorny issues at play in All Apologies, among them the stress of China’s one-child policy that resulted in elective sterility for Yunzhen and Qiaoyu’s quick shift from rape victim to surrogate — particularly in light of the fact that she actively resisted a second child (hoping for a son) with Heman. When Tang dangles the idea that Qiaoyu and Yanggui might wind up in some sort of twisted long-term relationship, the film almost veers completely off the rails but manages to stay true to its inevitably downbeat path.

Thankfully Cheng and Yang maintain an understated dignity that makes the quagmire drawn by writers Han Jie, Dong Fang and Tang mostly believable and provide much needed introspection when placed alongside the emotionalism of Yunzhen and Heman. Yang, who turns out to be the central character, in particular makes the ethics, sense of (possible) moral obligation and personal sacrifice palpable, and she is one of the biggest reasons the film never crosses the line into soap opera.

Producer: Yang Jian, Chow Keung
Director: Emily Tang
Cast: Cheng Taishen, Yang Shuting, Liang Jing, Gao Jin
Screenwriter: Han Jie, Dong Fang, Emily Tang
Executive producer: Lin Xuerong, Lin Xuefei
Director of Photography: Lai Yiu-fai
Music: Roger Lin
Editor: Chow Keung, Baek Seung-hun
No rating, 90 minutes

Golden Gate Silver Light (Hollywood Reporter review)

Filed under: Reprints — dleedlee @ 7:49 pm

Golden Gate Silver Light

by Elizabeth Kerr

Documentary filmmaker S. Louise Wei sheds some much-needed light on a hidden piece of Hollywood, Hong Kong, women’s and Asian-American film history.

Helen Mirren took Sam Mendes to task during the Empire Awards last week for not citing any female creative team members during his acceptance speech. But it might be that he simply couldn’t find any, if professor and documentarian S. Louisa Wei’s intensely personal Golden Gate Silver Light is accurate. The first-person chronicle of Wei’s search for information on the pioneering Chinese-American woman director Esther Eng is rudimentary and often pedestrian in execution, but the subject matter, which crosses borders and connects industries, is eye-opening and compelling enough to overlook any flaws.

Wei’s feature doc is clearly a labor of love — she also edited, produced, wrote, shot and narrated — and the workload often shows. The voice-over (difficult under dramatic circumstances) is academic and frequently stilted, the subtitles are riddled with inconsistencies and spelling errors, and Wei is given to hyperbole (there are many “masters” and “legends” referred to in the film). The HDV photography is functional and efficient and nothing more, and the film is heavy on stock footage and archival photos (though that is likely beyond Wei’s control). Despite the technical and cinematic shortcomings, festivals should provide Golden Gate Silver Light a healthy life on the strength of its subject, and the film could find a place on specialty cable and even in academic circles.

Wei begins her search for details on Eng’s life in the city of her birth, San Francisco, and follows her footsteps to Hollywood, then Hong Kong and finally back to the United States where she died in New York in 1970. Along the way Wei tracks down the bystander who found Eng’s personal journals and photos in a dumpster (which he donated to the Hong Kong Film Archive) and as many surviving family and co-workers — many former Cantonese opera stars fleeing the war in the 1930s — as she could to paint a rough sketch of the unconventional woman. The conversations with Eng’s now-elderly peers complement the material supplied by periodicals and Hollywood biographers and film critics (including The Hollywood Reporter critic Todd McCarthy). The fact that Wei found two with a semblance of knowledge of Eng speaks to just how unjustly she’s been disregarded.

One of Golden Gate’s strengths is its seamless ability to weave history, Sino-U.S. relations and social standards together to allow for inference and context. When the Chinese Exclusion Act kept Eng from pursuing her chosen career, she left for Hong Kong, where the same individualist streak made her a local celebrity, which stemmed as much from the success of the five films she made there to the exotic lesbianism no one seemed to care about. When she returned to the United States, she was a successful filmmaker — who cast Bruce Lee as an infant girl in one of her last films, Golden Gate Girl (1941).

At a time when too many films drag on too long, Golden Gate Silver Light could have used a bit more time to flesh out some of its peripheral themes that nonetheless related to Eng’s work. Eng’s experience with such industry giants as James Wong Howe and Paul Ivano gets short shrift. A brief examination of the portrayal of Chinese, and Asian, women onscreen — filtered largely through the plight of 1920s and ’30s star Anna May Wong — in Hollywood’s early days is dropped before it can be explored further. Wei also takes the time to incorporate the presence, or lack thereof, of other women on the filmmaking landscape even before Eng’s first film, 1936’s Heartaches, and the years just after World War II, and in doing so makes a subtle yet simultaneously loud statement on the dearth of women in the industry, which continues to this day.

Eng’s life and work is as stirring as it is mysterious, but without the films themselves to draw from, the picture is incomplete. It doesn’t make it any less engaging, and it makes you hope Wei keeps digging.

Venue: Hong Kong International Film Festival
Sales Blue Queen Cultural Communications
Production company Blue Queen Cultural Communications
Producer Law Kar, S. Louisa Wei
Director S. Louisa Wei
Screenwriter S. Louisa Wei
Director of Photography S. Louisa Wei
Music Robert Ellis-Geiger, Tran Manh Tuan
Editor S. Louisa Wei
No rating, 105 minutes

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