Sunday, October 01, 2006

Quick Update

Here is just a very quick update on my doings so that this blog doesn't get too rusty. I was off in the Malaysian rain forest of Taman Negara doing battle with leeches, bats, monkeys, boars, snakes and lizards - not to mention over priced beer and what felt like a mile long canopy bridge a few hundred feet in the air! Not really my thing but a real nice break from urban sprawl. For those who like just a touch of adventure without really roughing it I recommend trying it out if you ever land up in Malaysia.

Now I am back in Kuala Lumpur for a bit and have checked out two films - The Banquet and Rob-B-Hood. Both get my thumbs up though two films could hardly be more different.

R-B-H is Jackie light - very light - it's like a Disney family film with important moral lessons to boot (such as don't gamble, steal or be mean to your girlfriend!) - but it's quite entertaining at times. It is primarily a comedy with some totally corny and perhaps unneccessary melodrama and of course it contains the required action scenes that Jackie fans need a fix of. The action is more acrobatics than fighting and in truth nothing that comes close to his older stuff but hopefully no one is expecting that anymore. There are four action set pieces and all are solid- a few highlights stood out for me - Jackie hopping from one air conditioner to another in a high rise building to work his way down and a run-away baby carriage in traffic were great fun. And perhaps more from a sentimental side, the appearance of Yuen Biao in a nice role was a huge boost. I actually teared up seeing him in action again.

The film is extremely predicatable if you have seen any of the films it was based on - three crooks ending up with a baby on their hands - or even if you haven't - lots of baby poop, adorable baby expressions, making faces at the baby to stop it from crying, the baby in dangerous situations and of course three hard hearts being melted by the baby. It's all there, but a fairly funny script and energetic performances make it all very palatable as does a slew of familiar actors - look especially for a great cameo from Daniel Wu and Nicholas Tse as armoured truck drivers. In fact, the film has a real ensemble feel to it as Jackie gives lots of time to many other actors - two other sentimental favorites being Michael Hui as one of the crooks and his wife played by Teresa Carpio - and Louis Koo as the third member of their merry band hasn't been so convivial in a long time. Not only does Daniel Wu show up, but the three other "Heavenly Kings" pop up as well - Andrew Lin, Terence Yin and Conroy Chan. Other familiar faces are Charlene Choi, Cherry Ying and Ken Lo. It all adds up to a bit of a silly party.

If you broke it down by percentages it would be about 70% comedy, 15% melodrama and 15% action. After the grim New Police Story, Jackie just sets out to have a good time and take his audience with him. For those looking for old fashioned Jackie action - well keep looking because it's not here.

Rating: 7.0

The Banquet is getting scorched it seems by the critics but I am not sure I quite understand their comparing it unfavorably to the recent wuxia films like "Hero" and "House of Flying Daggers". Those films were built around the action set pieces, while at its heart The Banquet is a serious drama (based as everyone probably knows on Hamlet) with a few action set pieces nibbling around the corners. The action is quite lovely, but clearly they are going more for art than adreneline and at times they reminded me of the action in the Korean film "Duelist" in which they came closer to dance than to fighting. Admittedly, the pacing of the film is at times dirge like and the mood is solemn with no attempts at any light moments but I found the court intrigue and multiple betrayals quite involving and eventually by the end rather tragic. Mainly though I suppose one will come away simply awed by the beauty of the film with their incredibly ornate sets and costumes. It does seem as if all these epic recent Chinese films - and throw in "The Promise" as well are definitely trying to out do each other in their granduer and The Banquet has upped the ante once again.

The big difference of course from Hamlet is that the mother character is played by Zhang Ziyi and Zhang Ziyi is by most standards a hottie - somehow Gertrude never struck me as a hottie - so this and the fact that having Zhang play the character forces the filmmakers to shift the focus of the film from the son (played by Daniel Wu) to mom.

Rating: 8.0

I may try and do longer reviews on these two films when I have my computer again - but then I may not!

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