HKMDB Daily News

February 16, 2014

Ice Poison (Hollywood Reporter review)

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: , — dleedlee @ 1:49 pm

Ice Poison
2/15/2014 by Elizabeth Kerr

The Bottom Line
Another deliberately paced but largely engaging portrait of the grim economic and social realities of modern Burma.

Burmese director Midi Z’s latest proves the third time is lucky by turning in his strongest feature yet.

With just a few features under his belt, Burmese-Taiwanese filmmaker Midi Z has developed a signature style for his intimate portraits of modern Burmese life. Following Poor Folk and Return to Burma, the director’s latest is a similar look at the poverty, drug abuse and aimlessness that plague his homeland. Ice Poison shows a marked maturation of Midi Z as a filmmaker, and though he still lets his hallmark long shots get the better of the material from time to time, the film is his strongest to date. Festivals that showed interest in his earlier features are sure to repeat that interest here, and limited art house release, particularly in Asia, isn’t completely out of the question.

Set in a small town best known for its opium crop, the story such as it is begins with an anonymous young vegetable farmer (Wang Shin-Hong) and his father (Zhou Cai Chang) discussing the state of the agricultural trade they’ve relied on their whole lives. With industrial farming bearing down on them and making it increasingly difficult to make a living, they discuss some of their options for the coming season. It’s a typical Midi Z segment, with a still camera and naturalistic performances as the two men talk about seeking help from friends and family in the city.

Not much comes of that, as everyone father and son speak to decry the rules, regulations and government/business decrees that are coming into effect — and in many ways destroying farmers and average workers’ livelihoods. Their last hope is Uncle Wang (Li Shang Da), who takes the father’s prized cow as down payment for a motorbike that the son — now officially the Driver — can use as a taxi. If no more money is forthcoming, the cow will be sold to the slaughterhouse.

To this point Ice Poison is a measured (some would say slow), carefully composed and somewhat rambling narrative that deftly illustrates this side of Burma right now. Details are dropped into meandering conversations that unfold within Midi Z’s observational approach. The film really starts to take shape when the Driver finally picks up a fare: Sanmei (Midi Z regular Wu Ke-Xi), a local woman living in China back in town to bury her grandfather. Like many Burmese, Sanmei left for greener pastures, but is desperate to find a way to get her son and stay so as to get out of her arranged marriage to an older Chinese man. Though hardly an unexpected turn, Sanmei ropes the Driver into helping her out as a courier for her cousin, who deals a meth-like drug called ice and who is too closely scrutinized to do his own dirty work.

One of Ice Poison’s greatest strengths is its dispassionate tone; Midi Z’s screenplay never condemns or condones the driver and Sanmei’s decisions, and the casual acceptance of options like smuggling are all the more tragic and infuriating for it. Seemingly throwaway scenes — like one where Sanmei’s mother tells her she should consider herself fortunate to have a husband that doesn’t beat her — gracefully crystallize the state of life in Burma; that Sanmei and the driver choose to get wasted on the product they peddle is no surprise. Wu and Wang are both wholly believable as young people frustrated with what they see as a lack of a future, and balance despair and resigned action to a perfect pitch. Though cinematographer Fan Sheng Siang’s camerawork is rich and fluid, more than a few segments belabor their point, and the necessity of the final closing shot is debatable, ultimately Ice Poison demonstrates a heretofore unseen, and welcome, level of accessibility to Midi Z.

Producer: Midi Z
Director: Midi Z
Cast: Wu Ke-Xi, Wang Shin-Hong, Zhou Cai Chang, Li Shang Da, Tang Shu Lan
Screenwriter: Midi Z
Executive producer: Patrick Mao Huang
Director of Photography: Fan Sheng Siang
Production Designer: Zhao Zhi-Tang
Music: Sonic Dead Horse
Costume designer: Dan Ka Ming Lwin
Editor: Lin Sheng Wen, Midi Z

Sweet Alibis (Hollywood Reporter review)

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: , — dleedlee @ 1:39 pm

Sweet Alibis
2/15/2014 by Elizabeth Kerr

The Bottom Line
A standard action comedy that’s an diverting mixed bag at best.

Lien Yi-chi’s second feature marks a rare foray into genre entertainment from Taiwan.

A chocolate eating dog, a protective police chief, a movie star’s felonious twin brother and Taiwan’s answer to Walter White are just a few of the moving parts bouncing around in Sweet Alibis, a rare piece of unapologetic genre entertainment from Taiwan, better known for angsty teens, sentimental melodrama and moody art house fare. The second feature by burgeoning populist Lien Yi-chi (the middling 2011 thriller Make Up) is a high-energy romp that doesn’t pretend to be anything that it’s not, and hits its targets as often as it misses by a mile.

The film’s gregarious comic book tone is set right from the opening credits (which play something like an ’80s action television series), which is also when the Shaft-lite soundtrack starts. A vaguely stereotyped transgender character and a movie theater shooting scene could prove problematic in some markets, but Sweet Alibis could easily find a life in Asia where the humor will likely land better. And though it’s too commercial for most festivals Asian interest programs may want to take a look.

The needlessly convoluted plot begins with new partners Chih-yi (Alex Su) and Yi-ping (Ariel Lin) working on a poodle homicide (really, it’s part of a bigger case). Chih-yi is a bad, as in not good at his job, cop more interested in dating services than policing, and is known for never putting himself in harm’s way. Yi-ping is the ultra-keen chief’s daughter, who can’t wait to draw her gun and is desperate to prove her policing chops outside the shadow of her dad. Their boss Long partners Chih-yi with Yi-ping to keep her safe, but to absolutely no one’s surprise, the duo stumble deeper into a major drug case involving meth dealer Snack (Matt Wu), Chih-yi’s love struck nephew Johnny, a group of gay gangsters (one of whom transition from male to female to preserve the gang’s criminal “face”) the aforementioned poodle and a remarkable cancer recovery. Cue comic high jinks.

Sweet Alibisis the kind of throwaway amusement that’s rare for Taiwan, and though the toilet humor abounds (the chief has an intestinal problem, which is a recurring, er, joke) it does have its share of genuinely witty moments. Yi-ping’s gun fixation earns a few chuckles and when Snack’s actor brother Matt Wu (Wu cheekily playing himself) gets roped into a sting operation, his distress at crowds being unable to see his perp walk “performance” proves to be a highlight. Sweet Alibis is juvenile in flashes, grossly sentimental in others, boasts one moment that is simply bizarre (a musical interlude that doesn’t work as spoof, satire or tragedy) and its lead actors are only partially engaging. It takes far too long for Su to give Chih-yi a personality trait aside from idiot (granted a script flaw) and Lin is saddled with the “feisty but vulnerable girl” role in Yi-ping. It’s the supporting cast that give the mostly unnamed secondary characters the zing that move the film from the level of forgettable nonsense to enjoyably forgettable nonsense.

Producer: Jackie Wang
Director: Lien Yi-chi
Cast: Alec Su, Ariel Lin, Matt Wu, Lei Hong, Lang Tzu-yun
Screenwriter: Yu Shang-min, Chen Jia-jhen, Lien Yi-chi
Executive producer: Lin Tien-kuei, Yin Hsiao-jung, Alex Wong, Charles Hu
Director of photography: Randy Che
Production designer: YC Kuo
Music: Yang Wan-chien
Costume designer: Emma Lin
Editor: Wenders Li, Ian Lin
No rating, 113 minutes

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