HKMDB Daily News

June 18, 2013

Unbeatable (Variety review)

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: , , , — dleedlee @ 10:41 am

Unbeatable
JUNE 18, 2013
Maggie Lee

Although “Unbeatable” contains a few pugilist-pic cliches, the storytelling artistry of Hong Kong helmer Dante Lam and Nick Cheung’s powerhouse performance make a raw and compelling experience out of this action-drama set in the world of mixed martial arts. While Lam never loses his grip on the action, he also beautifully modulates his characters’ turbulent ups and downs like musical movements, expressing the protagonist’s motto that fighting is all about setting your own rhythm. Critical opinion is likely to generate very positive word of mouth, but any potential to become a B.O. champ will depend on novelty interest in MMA.

What puts Lam a cut above most Hong Kong genre helmers is that he lets the drama drive the action rather than play second fiddle to it. Inherent in all his films is the idea that life is a battle, and in “Unbeatable,” whose Chinese title mean “Raging War,” the fighting is scarcely confined to the ring. Although Lam pulls no punches, so to speak, in presenting the physical brutality of MMA, his characters’ traumas and personal relationships prove no less engrossing.

Lam’s best films, like “Beast Stalker” and “The Stool Pigeon,” often pit male protagonists from opposite sides of the law against each other, then allow them to develop mutual empathy. In “Unbeatable,” that relationship is reworked into a redemptive mentor-pupil bond in which the protagonists learn from each other while dealing with guilt and penance.

The prologue grimly tracks three people hitting rock bottom. After a carefree holiday in Yunnan province, 30-year-old Lin Siqi (Eddie Peng) returns to Beijing to find his tycoon father (Jack Kao) has gone bankrupt overnight. In Hong Kong, washed-up former boxing champion Chin Fai (Cheung), or “Scumbag Fai” as he’s known locally, is up to his ears in debt. Gwen (Mei Ting), a single mother living in Macau, struggles with mental disorder triggered by a family tragedy.

Fai flees to Macau to take on a menial job at the boxing school run by old friend Tai-sui (Philip Keung) and sublets a room in Gwen’s rundown tenement home. Siqi, who’s also come to Macau, barely scrapes by with back-breaking construction work. To prove himself to his dad, who’s gone into a slump, he decides to enter the world-famous MMA championship, the Golden Rumble, and enrolls in Tai-sui’s school, where he eventually persuades Fai to be his personal coach.

With offbeat humor and warmth, Lam deftly brings these wounded souls into each other’s orbits, with transformative results. Gwen’s daughter Dani (Crystal Lee, splendid) warily opens up to Fai, and their developing bond helps to pull Gwen out of the doldrums. Turning Gwen’s hypersensitivity to noise into a metaphor for her social estrangement, the script builds a devastating chain of events using headphones as a motif, adding resonance to the film’s use of Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sounds of Silence.”

As Fai cultivates a surrogate family at home, his initially mercenary reasons for coaching Siqi give way to recognition of the rookie’s tenacity and talent. Eventually the film reveals Fai’s backstory, how he threw away his career through youthful folly; in their shared anger, regret and need to prove themselves, these two men strongly recall the leads in Ryoo Seung-wan’s “Crying Fist.” But Lam tempers the genre’s scowling machismo with a lighthearted touch, as when the two men cheekily lock lips while wrestling each other to the ground.

In contrast with the playful, feel-good tone of the training scenes, the matches are thoroughly vicious, underscoring Siqi’s endurance and desperation. Consciously differentiating itself from traditional Western-style boxing or Chinese chopsocky fare, action director Ling Chi-wah incorporates hot MMA moves, like the “lock technique,” rarely seen in Hong Kong films. The exceptional attention to fighting strategies also enhances the film’s feel of technical authenticity; Kenny Tse Chung-to’s camera prowls nimbly around the boxers to catch their swift movements, while his tight closeup shots magnify their pain with punishing intensity. A final-act twist delivers the payoff of not one but two action climaxes.

Lam downplays any attraction between Fai and Gwen, depicting instead a day-to-day companionship that brings out Fai’s protective instincts. In a real sense, the true romance is between Fai and Dani, the film’s toughest fighter, whose optimism reminds adults what makes life worth living; watching the bossy, impish moppet run rings around the uncouth yet good-natured coach is pure delight. Malaysian child actor Lee also played Cheung’s daughter in Lam’s previous film, “The Viral Factor,” and they display an even greater rapport here.

Peng, who showed off his impressive physique in the gymnastics-themed film “Jump! Ah Shin,” is most captivating when he lets his body do the emoting; he has an easy chemistry with Kao and Cheung, but these character relationships don’t deepen sufficiently as the film progresses. Ultimately, it’s Cheung who owns the film, bringing considerable complexity to his portrayal of a flawed, troubled, passionate fighter who still retains the capacity to inspire and be inspired by others. Flaunting a ripped torso from intensive training, Cheung calibrates his fighting style to gain in strength and dignity as Fai gradually gets his act together.

Shooting is mostly confined to the ring, the school and the flat, all of which have a suffocating grunginess, interspersed with romantic, stylishly saturated images of Macau and some atmospheric scenes set on the rooftop. Other craft contributions are controlled and polished.

Reviewed at UA iSquare, Kowloon, June 11, 2013. (In Shanghai Film Festival — competing.) Running time: 116 MIN. Original title: “Ji zhan”

Production
(Hong Kong-China) A Distribution Workshop (in Hong Kong)/Bona Entertainment Co. (in China) release of a Bona Film Group Co., Bona Entertainment Co. presentation of a Film Fireworks production. (International sales: Distribution Workshop, Hong Kong.) Produced by Candy Leung. Executive producers, Yu Dong, Jeffrey Chan.

Crew
Directed by Dante Lam. Screenplay, Lam, Jack Ng, Fung Chi-fung, based on the story by Lam, Candy Leung. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Kenny Tse Chung-to; editor, Azrael Chung; music, Henry Lai; production designer, Cheung Siu-hong; costume designer, Stephanie Wong; sound (Dolby Digital); visual effects, Free-D Workshop; action choreographer, Ling Chi-wah; mixed-martial-arts consultant, Henry Chan; line producer, Lo Sheng-ching; assistant director, Jay Cheung Wan-Ching.

With
Nick Cheung, Eddie Peng, Mei Ting, Crystal Lee, Philip Keung, Jack Kao, Andy On, Wang Baoqiang. (Cantonese, Mandarin, English dialogue)
Variety

March 27, 2013

A Wedding Invitation (Hollywood Reporter review)

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: , , — dleedlee @ 10:46 am

A Wedding Invitation

3/26/2013
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

THR

October 5, 2012

Cold War (Screen Daily review)

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: , , , , , — dleedlee @ 12:16 pm

Cold War
October, 2012
By Jason Bechervaise

cold-war-poster-blue-ice

Opening this year’s Busan Film Festival, Cold War is a refreshing Hong Kong crime thriller that provides enough enjoyment that should help secure a wider-audience, but suffers from an overly convoluted plot.

The film’s appeal is further expanded owing to the film’s local stars: Tony Leung Ka-fai (2005’s Election) and Aaron Kwok (Divergence, 2005), which should help drive sales across the Asian region and possibly further afield, but neither is able to deliver the necessary performances to make them stand out.

The film follows two Deputy Chiefs, Lau and Lee who are both seeking the top position on the Hong Kong police force. After five police officers are taken hostage, it’s left to Lau and Lee to solve the case, but they both have different approaches, which ultimately leads to failure. What ensures is a realization that they have become pawns in a more treacherous game.

After building a strong reputation for their contributions on a number of films, debut directors Longman Leung (credits include Vengeance, 2009) and Sunny Luk (who worked as an assistant director on 2006 film Isabella 2006) are keen to exploit their visual talents, which is evident throughout the duration. The film includes a number of well-executed set-pieces, but lacks a fine polish in places due to some rather poor CGI. Nevertheless, its strong and vibrant aesthetic does make up for some of the film’s flaws.

Produced by internationally renowned Bill Kong (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), it has real potential to perform well in Asian markets, but its sloppy storytelling may hinder its success in some other territories.

Production Companies: Edko Films Limited, Stars Shine Blue Sea Productions Limited

World Sales: Edko Films Limited, info@edkofilm.com.hk

Producers: Bill Kong, Dai Song, Ryuhei Chiba, Hugh Simon.

Editor: Chi-Leung Kwong

Music: Peter Kam

Main Cast: : Tony Leung Ka-fai, Andy Lau, Aaron Kwok, Eddie Peng, Aarif Rahman, Charlie Young & Ka Tung Lam
ScreenDaily

July 20, 2010

July 20, 2010

Chinese tramp ‘Brother Sharp’ shoots to movie fame

UK article recaps beggar’s drama

THR: Toy Story 3 beats Shrek at Hong Kong box office

‘Toy Story 3′ could turn in 2010’s strongest performance

As for local releases, comedy “La Comédie Humaine” has been making steady progress through good word-of-mouth and took fourth place with HK$3 million in four days, more than in the previous seven-day period, for a two-week total of HK$5.2 million; “Derek Yee’s actioner “Triple Tap,” in its third week of release, took sixth place for an accumulated gross of HK$6.99 million, ahead of this week’s eighth place finisher, “The Legend is Born – Ip Man,” whose four-week total came to HK$6.9 million.

Xinhua: Will new Chinese film about Tangshan earthquake disaster jerk too many tears?

John Woo’s Reign of Assassins will premiere at the Venice International Film Festival September 28. Earlier this week, an advance trailer was accidentally leaked on the internet. Galloping Horse spokesman said that the 29 second trailer was not official. Surprisingly, the teaser showed no stars and was only captioned. The overall effect was suspenseful and shocking and used traditional music. The captions only trailer was rare but also created suspense. (trailer) (Sina)

Close to You poster - Bloody Edition

Romantic Edition

Close to You stars Ming Dao and Eddie Peng and combines romance with boxing. (HunanTV)

Eddie Peng in Close To You

(Sina)

Kelly Lin with

Without makeup

Kelly Lin attended the launch ceremony in Xi’an for a film in which she will play a heart transplant patient. Her co-star in the film will be Tony Leung Ka-Fai for release next April. Kelly upset the media when she disappeared for half an hour to apply makeup on before returning to meet for interviews. As a result, the media retaliated and published a ‘before’ photo and derided her ‘crows feet.’ (HunanTV)2

Ethan Ruan promoting Monga DVD release

Mark Chao, Director Doze Niu (HunanTV-slide show)

Is Gaile Lok pregnant?

Her friends suspect so as Gaile has stopped smoking and goes to bed early these days.

Leon Lai does not want children and wants to focus on business according to informed sources. This has led to disputes. (Xinhua)

Maggie Cheung

Shooting a new series of adverts for a diamond and watch brand with Wing Shya, Maggie revealed in an interview that she has moved in with boyfriend Ole Scheeren in Beijing. For exercise, Maggie runs except when the paparazzi are about, then she sticks to the treadmill indoors. (Xinhua)

Faye Wong

Faye Wong held a very brief press conference in Beijing. To promote her upcoming concerts, her first in five years, Faye Wong invited the press to the event with virtually no notice by e-mail invitation. Held under high security, invited press only were allowed entry. The event started an hour later than announce and Faye was joined by concer organizers and sponsors. The conference left many questions unanswered. Faye herself did not accepts interviews and spoke only about 35 words.

(Xinhua-slide show)2

Sammi Cheng brought 30 pairs of shoes to the set for her MV shoot

On a treadmill (Xinhua)

Miss Hong Kong contestants vs

Young models

The Miss Hong Kong competition has been going on for weeks now. Yesterday the pageant contestants took to the water park, while today the models posed at the Sai Kung Outdoor Training Park. The low-cut battle between the ATV-sponsored beauty contestants and the young models has been a feast for the eyes.

Contestant No.8 is deemed the most curvaceous

(Xinhua-slide show)

Shu Qi in Beijing endorsing household goods (Sina)

HK ex-child star Petrina Fung Bo Bo to write memoirs in Penang (2)

“As a child actress, I never watched my own movies. In a way, I was rejecting my past because of the many hardships I faced.

“Some days I would be working on three movies at a time.

“There were days when I had to stay up past midnight, waiting for the adult actors to show up because they were too busy smoking opium,” she recalled.

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