Saturday, October 31, 2009

Louis Koo - Photos and Film Reviews

Like a cheap George Hamilton knockoff, for years Louis Koo was best known for his perpetual tan but he has moved steadily ahead in his career from television to low budget films to co-starring in many of the top films in Hong Kong these days. That may be a mystery to some but his classic clean cut good looks and a sleepy-eyed masculinity has gained him some box office appeal. Sometimes he can be reasonably effective, other times he can just be awful – The Protégé in particular comes to mind. Back in March I was perusing through vast amounts of plastic containers in the Hong Kong Photo Shop when I came across an actor who looked vaguely familiar but I was unable to quite place him. Then I saw some more recent photos of this star and realized with some amusement that it was Louis Koo. Wow, what a makeover from his early television days. In those days – early 1990’s - it appears that he was going for a very different persona then he does now with ghostly pale skin, long flowing hair and a bookish prissy demeanor. Then he decided to get a tan and the world was his to conquer. Considering that he spent some time in jail for robbery pre-career, you might have to wonder where he stole that tan. As you look at these pictures of him you may see what I mean.

In honor of Halloween and the goblins, hobgoblins and little pink bees trolling through the streets tonight for sweet candy and sweeter blood, here are reviews of two Koo films from his days doing lots of low budget horror. I am sure he is happy that those days are in the past. Both of these wee slightly better than I expected even if chills were rare – maybe it was seeing them soon after A Wicked Ghost that made them seem worthy. I have a few items after the reviews as well.
Director: Ivan Lai
Hong Kong
Duration: 87 minutes

It is always good to see an “end of the world is coming right around the corner” film some eleven years afterwards when you don’t have to worry they may be right. Now of course we have the film 2012 coming up which foretells the end of earth based on the Mayans of all people. Geez, now I have to start storing food supplies again. Anyway, the oddest thing about is that it has absolutely nothing to do with the Internet but it does have a solid cast and is a mishmash of guilt, sex, religion, death and the supernatural that should have been much sleazier than it was. Based slightly it seems on a true mass death incident in Kowloon, it begins with the discovery of a small group of dead people found in an apartment. They were members of a weird Christian cult and were going through a mystical ritual to extend their lives. It clearly did not go quite as planned as it appears they were poisoned and the money being used for the ceremony was stolen (try dieting and exercise next time). One woman named Ching (Zuki Lee) is still alive and Officer Chan (Louis Koo) hopes he can get some answers from her.

Chan brings Ching’s roommate Ying (the delectable Grace Lam who has issues keeping her clothes on in most films) to the hospital to look after her and in the best scene of the movie Ching starts having visions of snakes and goes into a violent frenzy until all her blood arteries pop and she dies. Ying says that her friend was a disciple of the Church of True God headed by the charismatic Pope (Andrew Lin Hoi) and that she will pretend to join them and spy on them. Sure – you are cute, you are hot – so why not, says Chan in his usual clear-headed manner. He goes to another officer for advice – of the supernatural kind. Every morning Officer Chiu (Anthony Wong) has fellow officers lined up outside his office seeking his fortune telling skills – such as one guy who shows Chiu a picture of the girl he wants to marry and Chiu tells him that because “she has an ass like a duck, she will kill him with constant sex” and by the way, what’s her telephone number. An ass like a duck. I have to remember that one just in case.

The film swishes back and forth from present to past as Chan wrestles with demons from his childhood, Chiu wrestles with guilt for not having stopped another cult like madman (Mark Cheng) before he killed years ago and Pope is predicting the end of the world on 01/01/99 and telling his followers that all will be forgiven so they may as well have an orgy now. Cult leaders have all the fun. Emily Kwan also shows up at his disciple who has to hook to make enough money to pay membership fees and takes out her frustration on her husband and son when clients complain about her proselytizing during intercourse.

Koo goes through much of the film with a blank stare but I expect this was intentional to show his character’s traumatized soul – or maybe he just wasn’t getting enough sleep. Kind of by the numbers but with just enough jolts of violence and nudity to keep you mildly interested; it was a film that came and went in the blink of an eye.

My rating for this film: 5.5

Troublesome Night 4
Director: Herman Yau
Hong Kong
97 minutes

I took a gander at HKMDB and noticed that there were 19 films made in the Troublesome Night series between 1997 and 2003. Whoopee, so many more films for me to look forward to! Ok, not really. Somewhere after the seventh or eighth I stopped watching them as they began getting cheaper and cheaper. Before that though there were some enjoyable moments in the films and I was surprised to realize that I had missed the fourth in the series from one of my favorite directors, Herman Yau, who can go like no one else from exploitation trash to serious social films at a moments notice. He is also the only Hong Kong director I have had dinner with and he came across as a really funny swell guy. So I am a fan, but he makes films at such a pace that I can’t even come close to keeping up with his output. My guess is that if Lincoln Center ever does a retrospective of his career (fat chance), Troublesome Night 4 will not be among them. It is fairly mild medicine comprised of three tales of which two don’t have any sting and the third is much more comical than scary. In truth, it looks like Herman used the film as an excuse to vacation in the Philippines and to meet some soft core Filipina actresses who agree to shed their clothes on celluloid. For a Troublesome Night film, this has a surprisingly amount of nudity and Herman seemed a lot more interested in that than he did in creating chills. But who can really blame the guy?

Troublesome Night 4 has three of the stalwarts of the series – Louis Koo who appeared in the first seven films in the series before he learned how to say “No”, Wayne Lai also managed to find himself in seven of the films – but both these guys are pikers compared to Simon Loui who seemed to show up in nearly every low budget horror film of the period – he was in thirteen of the Troublesome Night films and is probably wondering where his career went. Of course one of the fun things about those early TN films was the large casts that were needed in order to make three separate episodes. Many of these were up and coming actors - some who went on to bigger careers but most of them fell back into working in television once the low budget horror films ran out of gas.

Venturing out of the safe confines of Hong Kong for travel to Southeast Asia has never been a healthy thing in Hong Kong films though it is generally Thailand that brings on death or curses, but occasionally the Philippines gets in on the act – Fatal Vacation where a group of Hong Kong tourists are kidnapped and killed, Marianna where Sally Yeh is terrorized by zombie lepers and even Leslie Cheung’s luck ran out there in Days of Being Wild. A planeload of passengers from Hong Kong are on their way to Manila – two of them are on their honeymoon (Louis Koo and Pauline Suen), one fellow (Timmy Hung, son of Sammo) is unknowingly delivering an urn with a girl’s ashes to her home, a businessman has brought his secretary along for some fun (Raymond Wong and Karen Tong in a running gag where ghosts keep interrupting their tryst) and the rest are part of a tour group led by Emily Kwan. Three of these (Simon, Wayne and Cheung Tat-ming) are friends going for the whoring and are pleased when Emily informs them that “guns and whores are commonly found here”. And finally U2 and K2 are along for the ride to it seems promote their workplace, the infamous China City Club where they are hostesses. Since neither of them (Marianna Chan and Joey Choi) have any particular involvement in any of the stories, one might guess they are either just in it for the eye candy or are friends of Herman.

The first two stories have zero bite to them. Allan (Timmy) begins seeing the ghost of the dead woman (Via Veloso) that he is carrying to her home which isn’t all that bad since she is naked some of the time and in the second segment the newly married couple has a falling out after she suspects him of having a fling with an exotic dancer (Anna Capri). But the film hits comic gold in the third piece. After a few frustrating days the horny threesome decide that tonight they are finding some girls to whore with but they get much more than they bargain for in a finger chopping night of ghosts and zombies who judge them for their wicked whoring. It is like the Three Stooges trying to get laid and is quite loony and funny. The extremely well-built (the “oh my god” expression on Wayne Lai’s face when he sees her naked charms is hilarious) Filipina in this one is Aya Medel and to say she is an eye full is total understatement.

My rating for this film: 6.0

This being Halloween, here are ten pretty good Hong Kong horror films to watch alone in the dark sometime.

Possessed II (1984) – an outlandish tale of possession that will reach out and yank you by the hair until your scalp bleeds.

Love to Kill (1993) – here is a good one to watch with the family. Psycho Anthony Wong tortures and maims . . .his wife. Now get me a beer.

Run and Kill (1993) – another family oriented film of psychotic intentions and terror with Simon Yam creeping it up.

Red to Kill (1994) – this queasy gut churning film puts a serial rapist among a mentally disadvantaged housing group.

Intruder (1997) – the adorable Wu Chien-lien sneaks into Hong Kong like a deadly virus from China and shows her colors as a cold blooded killer in this very suspenseful tale of fear and loneliness. A Handover warning.

Erotic Nightmare (1999) – a fast paced, erotically charged thriller that straddles the line between being a mystic horror film andr being a perverse Japanese fetish film.

Horror Hotline (2001) – following in the urban legend footsteps of The Ring, this is a surprisingly effective creepy film that is nearly all suggestion and atmosphere.

The Eye (2002) – the Pang Brothers hit gold with this eerie tale of a woman who gets back her sight from an eye-transplant and begins to see things she would rather not.

New Blood (2002) – Director Cheang Pou-soi has gone on to bigger films since this low budget horror film, but this one certainly showed his potential with its dead serious ghost revenge plot of bad things happening to good people.

Going Home and Dumplings (2002/2004) – these two stories were the Hong Kong segments from the two Extreme films and they both are similar in the sense that the horror stems not so much from traditional scares but from the true horrors of life – getting old and being lonely – both are filled with yearning melancholy and are brilliant.

Non-Asian Film Review

Here is a film that I have wanted to see for ages and I found it in of all places the Brooklyn Library. It is Lady for Day from Frank Capra made in 1933. It has a small connection though to Asian films since it has been remade twice to my knowledge – first by Jackie Chan as Mr. Canton and Lady Rose in 1989 and then again recently Bollywood made a version with Singh is Kinng. It has all the characteristics of the Capra films to come – a sense of miracle and a belief in the innate goodness of people if you dig deep enough. A tough leader of a gang shows his soft spot for an elderly apple seller named Apple Annie whose apples have always brought him luck. In Mr. Canton it was roses of course but this change may have been made so that Anita Mui could sing Rose, Rose I Love You. Apple, Apple just wouldn’t be the same. Apple Annie who is dirt poor has been fooling her daughter, who has been brought up in a convent in Italy, that she is wealthy and lives in a fancy New York hotel. She receives a letter that her daughter is engaged to the son of an Italian count and that they are all arriving in a few days to meet her. Well, since Duke feels Annie is his good luck charm he and his gang along with his tough wisecracking singing moll, Montana, set up an elaborate charade to make the fiancé and father believe Annie is who she claimed to be. With the cops thinking something is up and hounding Duke’s footsteps it looks like the air will come out of this fantasy balloon but as in all Capra films the goodness of people comes to the forefront and all ends happily. It stars Warren William who I have always previously seen in negative roles as a snide unscrupulous type as the Duke, May Robson as Annie and one of my favorite character actors Guy Kibbee as the pool hustling pretend husband of Annie. The film also has one of the earliest homosexual references that I have come across when Annie goes in for her makeover and one man follows her in to her bedroom. Duke barks out, “Hey no men allowed” to which Montana says “It’s alright Duke”. “What do you mean it’s all right?” “Duke believe me there is no problem”. “Oooh, it’s Pierre. I see what you mean”. I also enjoyed the thought of one of his gang pretending to be the King of Siam in their rehearsal. Funny sweet film that was nominated for four Academy Awards.


Glenn, kenixfan said...

Great funny post.

Wasn't Lady for a Day also remade by Capra himself as Pocketful of Miracles with Bette Davis and Glenn Ford?

Pauline Suen is a name I have not heard in a few years.

And Grace Lam was in PR Girls which I watched and enjoyed despite the film being both simultaneously very sleazy but also not very revealing from what I remember.

YTSL said...

Hi Brian --

More posts like this and photos like the ones you put up, pretty please!

The photo are AMAZING. An aunt of mine in Malaysia had told me about Louis Koo pre-tan but it was hard to believe her description... until now!

And thanks for the reviews, etc. Re Herman Yau: the Lincoln Center may never have a retrospective of his films but the Hong Kong International Film Festival made him a director in focus a couple of years back.

Among the films shown were "The Untold Story", "Ebola Syndrome", "Whispers and Moans" and "Walk In". There may have been a "Troublesome Night" in the mix too -- sorry, can't remember though!

Brian said...

Glenn - ah that was the other film. I was thinking there was a remake but could not remember the title and was too lazy to look it up. Have not seen that one. Though Mr. Canton obviously added a lot - kung fu and a rival gang - I was really surprised at how many scenes followed Lady for a Day. I think the last thing I saw Pauline in was Ichi the Killer - its amazing how many of these late 90's HK actresses have just kind of vanished to be replaced now by Mainland actresses it seems.

Brian said...

YTSL - yup it is almost creepy in how he changed. And people always tell me to stay out of the sun! I have the Yau Retro booklet here and the other films were New Forces of China Rock (a documentary), From the Queen to the Chief Executive (great film), Give Them a Chance (about break dancing), On the Edge (with Nick Cheung) and yup Troublesome Night 3. Huh, I see that he actually directed the first 6 TN films! I did not realize that. So basically they started going downhill after he opted out.

Rex Saigon said...

No one may call themselves a true fan of Hong Kong cinema until they've watched ALL 19 of the Troublesome Night movies. It's a rite of passage. Thus, though I love Hong Kong cinema, I have not achieved the nirvana of the true fan by watching this entire series.

But I do own the entire series. It took a while to source Part 2, but now I have the complete collection. And I shall watch them soon. In sequence. Enlightenment awaits!

Brian said...

Rex - I think you may need an intervention if you proceed with your plans! That would kill most of us but good luck and god bless you because you will need it!

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