HKMDB Daily News

June 25, 2013

Badges of Fury (Hollywood Reporter review)

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: , , — dleedlee @ 12:44 pm

Badges of Fury
6/24/2013 by Deborah Young

Hong Kong action star Jet Li takes a backseat to young co-star Wen Zhang in a local cop spoof featuring a pantheon of star cameos.

From the first scene with an antsy young Hong Kong cop hopping around in a kilt disguised as part of a Scottish dance group, followed by a raucous free-for-all in which his man gets away, Badges of Fury stakes out its territory as broad laughs dressed up with some watchable if not remarkable fight sequences. What’s hot here is the cast and a shower of star cameos that should boost local box office in Hong Kong and China. Though top billing goes to Hong Kong action idol Jet Li as an aging cop who’s tired of the routine and longs for retirement, the story centers around youngsters Wen Zhang as a hot-shot rookie and Michelle Chen as his relatively straight superior. Outside Asia it is unlikely to roll far.

In a lot of ways, the well-paced script by Carbon Cheung (A Chinese Ghost Story) seems aimed at spoofing a lost bumbling cop genre, updated to the bare minimum with modern car chases and policewomen in shorts. Making his directing bow, Wong Tsz-ming brings real affection to his silly detectives, who are on the trail of a serial killer who leaves all his victims smiling. The “Smile Murders” turn out to be linked by an unhappy young actress (China’s Cecilia Liu): all the victims are her ex-boyfriends. But wait! They’ve all been stolen by her sexy, envious, unscrupulous sister (Ada Liu), who likes to stick pins in a voodoo doll representing her famous sister. In the end, it hardly matters who killed the guys, as long as the action keeps coming.

Jet Li fans may be disappointed to see him warming the bench so often in favor of the irritating but more energetic young Wen, but Li does come to the rescue of his cocky teammate in several well-staged scenes, spritely edited by Angie Lam. Another surprise is Michelle Chen, the disturbing romantic lead of Ripples of Desire, in a comic sidekick role that proves her versatility. A dozen famous faces from Hong Kong and mainland cinema turn up in walk-on roles, including luminaries like Josie Ho, Wu Jing and Tong Dawei, who plays the Japanese arch-villain in Switch.

Venue: Shanghai Film Arts Center, June 23, 2012
Production companies: Beijing Enlight Pictures, Hong Kong Pictures International
Cast: Wen Zhang, Jet Li, Cecilia Liu, Michelle Chen, Ada Liu, Wu Jing, Tong Dawei
Director: Wong Tsz-ming
Screenwriter: Carbon Cheung
Producers: Chui Po-chu, Abe Kwong, Chan Chi-leung
Executive producers: Wang Changtian, Li Xiaoping
Director of photography: Kenny Tse
Production designer: Alex Mok
Music: Raymond Wong Ying-wah
Costume designer: Shirley Chan
Editor: Angie Lam
Sales: Easternlight Films
No rating, 98 minutes

Useless Man (Hollywood Reporter review)

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: — dleedlee @ 12:42 pm

Useless Man
6/21/2013 by Deborah Young

The inventive film for the festival elite stands out in a Shanghai sidebar.

A brilliant technical tour-de-force, the Chinese art film Useless Man has such boundless energy and invention it can be forgiven being so rooted in local history and idiom that its story slips into obscurity for long patches. The difficulty posed by its multi-layered, fast-talking screenplay will prevent it from being an easy choice for Western festival programmers, much less commercial distributors. Yet the wild, atmospheric tale of a smug young idler who falls for a beautiful con artist in 1930s Tianjin announces a major new talent in director Zheng Dasheng. He also presented the star-crossed love story Falling City, which was shot nearly at the same time recycling the same sets, in the Shanghai film festival’s Spectrum sidebar. Both are worth consideration for sophisticated showcases, with Useless Man having the edge.

Signaling the historical setting as a lost world is a dazzling opening sequence in which the camera pans over archival photos accompanied by realistic city sounds. The whole film is recounted in a dim speakeasy to an audience of men in 1930s dress by a traditional Chinese storyteller. His witty language conjures up Tianjin in the years leading up to the Japanese invasion in 1937, painting the city as a prosperous town full of café life, back street dealers and loafers. His tale comes alive onscreen as the camera switches from rich sepia tones to color.

It comes as a surprise to find out the hero of the story is Su Er Ye, a grinning, overfed young fellow wearing a spotless khaki robe, played with broad humor and an ample range of facial expressions by TV presenter Guan Xincheng in his first screen role. In another culture Er Ye might be called a combination busybody, troublemaker and street inspector, strutting around town tricking people into inviting him to lunch and paying him for small scams and playing practical jokes. One day he bumps into Yu Qiuniang (Yang Miao), a deliciously malicious young lady posing as a bride, and love is born. While Er Ye courts her and she, more practically, plays up to a rich and powerful admirer (Zhang Jinyuan), they team up in a con game that involves an unidentified corpse fished out of the river. Qiuniang now poses as the dead man’s widow and threatens to sue a shopkeeper; Er Ye, her secret ally, presents himself as a mediator, pretending to represent the shopkeeper’s interests. To make the lawsuit seem real, they get the scheming editor (Li Hongchen) of a daily newspaper involved, and here the story starts to spin into murky waters, at least for those following the lightning fast subtitles.

As the horizon darkens with war clouds, everyday tricks and cheating are no longer an innocent sucker’s game but turn into serious business. Yet once again the script and direction take an unexpected turn in a beautifully ironic ending, funny and poignantly melancholy at the same time. Though Guan’s comic idler is never depicted as a victim or even as a clown-turned-hero, the actor draws sympathy with his big face and shabby clothes, even before his bravura stand in the final scene. He makes an appropriately humorous pair with the petite spitfire Qiuniang, portrayed by Yang with arch aplomb.

Much of what is admirable about the low-budget film is in its stunning visuals, courtesy of cinematographer Jeffrey Chu, which gracefully combine with stylized VFX, like Chinese newsprint rearranging itself on the screen or a bright red cloak swirling through a whole sequence shot in black and white.

Venue: Shanghai Film Festival (Spectrum)
Production company: Magic City Entertainment Co.
Cast: Guan Xincheng, Yang Miao, Zhang Jinyuan, Li Hongchen, Zheng Fushan
Director: Zhang Dasheng
Screenwriters: Wu Bin, Jin Yuxuan, based on a novel by Lin Xi
Producer: Ge Xiaozheng
Executive producer: Sun Yan
Director of photography: Jeffrey Chu
Production designer: Wu Bin
Music: Zhe He
Editor: Gao Bing
No rating, 90 minutes.

Switch (Hollywood Reporter review)

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: , — dleedlee @ 12:37 pm

6/21/2013 by Deborah Young

Hong Kong star Andy Lau adds kung fu to China’s answer to James Bond

While the James Bond franchise has started to focus on character development and serious acting, China’s entry into the international espionage market, Switch, gets back to basics with an army of sexy female assassins guarding an invincible villain, futuristic electronics used without budget worries and the world’s most expensive branded cars and hotels – plus a great deal of acrobatic kung fu.

As directed by producer-turned-filmmaker Jay Sun Jianjun, the overall effect is more retro camp than cutting edge, accounting for the critical beating the film has taken since its June 7 release. Yet the film’s detractors have caused few injuries at the box office: the movie soared to the top until being deposed by Man of Steel this weekend. The reason is probably that, in spite of its far-fetched plotting, blatant product placement, outré characters and set design, etc., Switch is still an amusing, well-produced two-hour romp through Asia and the Middle East with jaw-dropping set pieces filmed in Dubai, China and Tokyo.

The movie can also bank on the power of craggy-faced Hong Kong superstar Andy Lau, who at 51 has lost none of his charismatic screen appeal. In the role of a larger-than-life secret agent whose mission, entrusted to him by the mysterious “F,” is to unite two halves of a priceless scroll in time for an international shindig, he references not only 007 (evident from the opening credits onward) but also Tom Cruise’s skyscraper stunts in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, all in an Asian martial arts idiom.

The action begins in Dubai, where a nasty band of British evil-doers plans to steal an ancient scroll long ago torn into two parts. One half is stored in an art museum in China, the other in Taiwan, and they are to be officially reunited in a joint Chinese-Taiwanese exhibition which serves as a background countdown to the action. Competing for the treasure is the main villain of the piece, the young Japanese yakuza boss Yamamoto (Tong Daiwei), sporting a long blond pony-tail and living in a gadget- and girl-filled mansion that would make Goldfinger feel the need to redecorate.

Though the Taipei museum looks like the Fortress of Solitude, it’s child’s play for the Brits’ radio-controlled drone to open the roof like a can-opener, deactivate the sensors and make the heist. Yamamoto’s squadron of acrobatic women in black catsuits also turn up on ropes, but they are temporarily defeated. Interpol agent Xiao Jinhan (Lau) and Lin Yuyan (Zhang Jingchu), the agent for a global insurance company who happens to be his attractive wife and the mother of his son Baobao, are in charge of retrieving the missing half of the scroll and safeguarding the one in China.

The first stop is a lavish banquet thrown by a disturbing old lady called the Empress (Siqin Gaowa), who is also interested in the painting and who offers to help Yamamoto. But instead of following her, agent Xiao is ordered by F to fly to Dubai, where he will be working with a glamorous new partner, Lisa (Lin Chiling). In spite of Xiao’s chaste wedded state, she serves as his chief love interest. Xiao gallantly solves the issue with the memorable line, “My heart is fully booked, but my body is still taking reservations.” Still he nobly resists Lisa’s charms, which Lin takes beyond seduction to hint at a bit of real feeling for the guy. In comparison, in the fairly thankless role of Xiao’s wife, sensitive actress Zhang Jingchu feels more like a police teammate as she fights by his side in an emergency.

Interestingly, there are no on-camera sex scenes in the film; even Yamamoto’s perverted taste for Oedipal S&M with a giant portrait of his mother hovering in the background is conveyed through suggestive costumes and poses.

Writer-director Sun has a playful feeling for kitsch and alternates the traditional Chinese elegance of Hangzhou and Fuyang with Dubai landmarks like the Burj Al Khalifa building and the Burj Al Arab and Atlantis Palm luxury hotels, the site of an anthology-worthy car chase through the hotel that has to be seen to be believed. The Disneyland-like style of the Middle Eastern locations jives perfectly with the film’s basic pop aesthetic of decadence and hedonism. In this vein, the near-constant display of the female body in cheesy, barely-there costumes seems aimed at getting a laugh as much as titillating the audience. But in the long run, the over-abundance of deadly beauties in stiletto heels and transparent mini-skirts pulls down the quality considerably, even in the finely choreographed fight scenes credited to Robert Francis Brown and Zhang Peng.

Venue: Shanghai Film Festival (Focus China), June 21, 2012
Production companies: Beijing Pegasus & Taihe Ubiquitous Intl., China Film Co., Media Asia Film Production
Cast: Andy Lau, Chiling Lin, Tong Daiwei, Zhang Jingchu
Director: Jay Sun
Screenwriter: Jay Sun
Producers: Shen Xue, Zhao Haicheng, Lorraine Ho
Executive producers: Zhao Minghui,Han Sanping, Jay Sun, Peter Lam
Director of photography: Dan Shao
Production designer: Otto Cui
Music: Roc Chen
Costume designer: Lawrence Xu
Editor: Du Hengtao
Sales: Media Asia
No rating, 122 minutes.

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