Thursday, January 14, 2010

Anita Yuen - Photos and Two Film Reviews

The other night I was cleaning up the links on my website (Hong Kong Cinema – View from the Brooklyn Bridge) as I try to do from time to time. In most of these past clean-ups one or two links may have gone dead, but this time around there was a whole passel of them. It always makes me sad when a web site goes silent – to some eerie graveyard in the Internet Beyond where they cry on each other’s shoulders and ask what did I do wrong? I thought I’d live forever. For many of these sites there was someone who had poured their heart and time into them and I always wonder what happened – too busy with life, disenchantment with Hong Kong film, sudden death, mental breakdown, a jail sentence or simply a sense that no one really cared about their site. I don’t even check on my traffic stats because I don’t want to know how few people visit this Blog. I can’t handle the truth! One of the really big ones to vanish is Kung Fu Cult Cinema which had been around for years and was a terrific site. Where did it go? New ones of course spring to life – usually in Blog form these days – that are great reads – the cycle of life. Someday in the probably not too distant future, it is my guess that upon birth everyone will receive an email address for life and a Blog/Facebook page to detail their exciting lives.

Today five old Egyptian films on DVD showed up. Just what I needed, more films to watch! But I am curious to see if the Golden Age of Egyptian film was really so golden.

Everyone loves spy films don’t they? If so, there is a magazine from the editors of American History at newsstands that lists their 100 favorite spy films. As one would expect there is plenty of Bond, John Le Carre, Harry Palmer and Hitchcock on the list but there were a load of films that I wasn’t familiar with at all and will over time have to track down. Each film gets a one page write-up but for my taste there were way too many spoilers – but I guess that is the difference between writing for a history magazine rather than for a film magazine. In history there are no spoilers. Oh, I can’t tell you who won the Civil War because that would spoil it for you! Not surprisingly there were not many films mentioned from Asia - the only one being Lust, Caution coming in at number 38. How could they have ignored Angel with the Iron Fists from Hong Kong or The Great Gambler from Bollywood!

Here are the Top Ten:

The Third Man
North By Northwest
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold
Goldfinger (my favorite Bond film)
Our Man in Havana
The Manchurian Candidate
Smiley’s People
Pickup on South Street
The Lives of Others

Now on to Anita.

Beginning in 1993 Anita Yuen ruled the Hong Kong film universe for about three years before her flame began to dim among allegations of exhibiting strange behavior on the sets and before the Hong Kong audience moved on to other actresses as audiences tend to do in our ADS society. Everybody wanted a piece of her for a while though – she was Hong Kong’s “It Girl”, the winner of the 1990 HK Beauty Pageant and everybody’s sweetheart with her patented short hair style, easy toothy grin and unbounded pixie like energy. She could make you cry and she could make you laugh with just an expression or a tear in her eye. She was to some degree representative of the Hong Kong women of the 1990’s or at least how they wished they were – spunky, smart, sympathetic, stylish and self-reliant and all of her best roles were set in contemporary times in which these traits could be displayed.

Almost from her entry into the film industry, she was able to get into high profile films (quickly becoming a favorite of the UFO film production company) – first in 1992 with Days of Being Dumb and Handsome Siblings. But it was in 1993 when she broke through as a star with He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Father and especially in Ces’t La Vie Mon Cherie where she reduced audiences into slobbering quivering masses of jelly. This was also her first teaming up with Lau Ching-wan and the two actors would go on to co-star in a number of films over the next couple of years. In 1994 Anita appeared in 13 films, 9 films in 1995 and 6 films in 1996 as her production numbers began a sharp decline. Compare this with her output in all of the 2000’s - 8 films thus far as she has shifted her work load to television.

Some of her other classic films are From Beijing with Love (1994), He’s a Woman, She’s a Man (1994), The Chinese Feast (1995) and Hu-Du-Men (1996), but there are many others of all kinds that she appeared in. Such as the enjoyable action films, A Taste of Killing and Romance (1994), Crystal Fortune Run and Thunderbolt (1995) or comedies like He & She (1994), Tricky Business (1995) and God of Gamblers 3 (1996) – and dramas like Crossings (1994), Golden Girls (1995), Tragic Commitment (1995) and The Age of Miracles (1996). She was really quite the phenomenon and I can’t think of any actress since who captured the affection and attention of a city like she did if only for a few brief years. Maybe The Twins but of course there were two of them.

Here are a bunch of pictures of Anita – 1,  2,  3

And two reviews of films that were among her more obscure ones in 1994. Probably for good reason!

Tears and Triumph
Director: David Lam (Girls Without Tomorrow, Gigolo and Whore 1 & 2)
Year: 1994

Not long after the box office success of Ces’t La Vie Mon Cherie, Anita Yuen and Lau Ching-wan were paired up again in this film but without quite the artistic or financial success. This is a very talky family drama that never allows itself to soar emotionally and keeps its narrative to a slow dense crawl. It is a poorly written script that may have worked better on a Hong Kong soap opera than on the big screen. What makes one stay with it though is simply the easy going chemistry between the leads and the fresh faced loveliness of Anita with more delectable close-ups than Big Mac servings at your local McD’s.

Ming Jun (Anita) is a single (pre-marital as the subtitles put it) mom who has managed to work her way up through the corporate structure to being a division head with the respect of everyone. In flashbacks we see that her old boyfriend Se-cheng (Frankie Lam) did a runner as soon as he found out she was pregnant because he feared this would tie him down and hurt his career. Then one day her boss (Wai Gei-shun) gathers everyone together and tells them that the company has been sold to the wealthy Xie family and that they will all have two new directors, the son and the son-in-law of the family. Ming Jun is soon introduced to the son-in-law and she is shocked (though the audience less so as this film turns into co-incidence central) to see her old boyfriend who managed to marry into the Xie family and has his sights on running it one day. He is your basic scumbag – first he tries to talk Anita into becoming his mistress with a house way out in Stanley and then sets her up for a fall within the company by planting evidence of criminal wrongdoing on her.

In the meantime though the son Shi-wen (Lau Ching-wan) shows up and takes about a nanosecond to fall in love with Ming Jun. Who can blame him really? And nothing deters him from her – not the kid, not the charges, not finding out who the father is, not the family’s disapproval – nothing – because he is a boy in love. The family though is a snake pit as it turns out - Shi-wen’s mother is a second wife (Hui Fan) and the first wife (the legendary Pak Yan) wants the control of the company to go to her daughter (Tamara Guo) who is married to the scumbag. The talk comes faster than bullets in a John Woo film and I was having a hard time keeping up with all the backstabbing – but throughout Anita shined like a firefly on parade. Others appearing here are Cutie Mui Siu-wai as Anita’s buddy, Donna Chu as the doctor and co-incidentally Shi-wen’s sister and Chung King-fai as his father.

I was surprised to see that Shi-wen's house had an entry very much like mine.

My rating for this film: 5.5

When Anita and Lau Ching-wan first kiss in dramatic elevator fashion, the music playing in the background is this terrific song from Faye Wong.

The Wrath of Silence
Director: Frankie Chan (Burning Ambition, Outlaw Brothers, Fun and Fury)

The one thing about Frankie Chan films is that he likes to keep things moving and he does that at light speed in this totally nutty totally illogical psycho serial killer crime tale. I think Chan’s theory of film making is that if the movie never slows down the audience can’t catch it and thus realize they have a rat instead of a fox in their hands. But taking that into account, this fruitcake of a film has some scenes of pure adrenaline pleasure. It also has some pedigree. Frankie Chan was perhaps best known as a martial arts actor (Prodigal Son), also as a composer (Ashes of Time and a ton of others) and then as a director of mainly B action films. He brings along his co-composer of Ashes and Chungking Express Roel Garcia to write the music for this one. Doing the action choreography is Mars of the Jackie Chan School. And then in the cast he has Anita Yuen, Takashi Kaneshiro , Ha Ping and Maggie Siu. Not bad at all. Even Jackie Chan makes a cameo of sorts in a Bo Bo Tea commercial. Of course on the other hand Emily Kwan is doing her horny suspect beating cop bit – generally a solid hint that the film leans to the trashy side.

Anita Yuen plays Mei, a beautician to the dead, who is clearly on the edge of cracking up as she sews up their injuries by candlelight and converses with them because they can’t gossip. She is following in the footsteps of her dead mother in this career choice, but it has made her a social pariah as no one wants to be close to someone who touches the dead for a living. At home, life isn’t much better, her younger sister (Helen Au) is mentally challenged and as irritating as any actress could make her, but Mei feels very protective of her and had promised their mother to take care of her. Mei has turned their apartment into this bizarre convoluted maze of moving walls and hidden closet doors in order to sometimes keep her sister under control – and it turns out to be very handy later on. She is seeing a psychiatrist – Patrick Ko (Takeshi) – who uses close dancing as therapy and analyzes how Mei reacts to his pelvic thrusts – not a therapy I am familiar with. He also keeps a sharp knife out within the grasp of his patients – not probably recommended either.

A horrific serial killer is on the loose in Hong Kong. Pal (Tan Lap-man) likes to take them to rooftops, beat them up, rape them, kill them and throw money at them for servicing him. He also keeps cockroaches in his pocket and lizards and tarantulas at home. Hopefully, none of you are dating someone like this. Yes, your typical bug-eyed maniacal grinning Hong Kong psycho. His next victim is Mei’s sister and though the audience is sort of glad she is gone, this is the final crack in Mei’s psyche and she goes into killer mode. The problem is that Patrick was on the scene and tried to stop the killer to no avail but everyone thinks he is the serial killer. Mei isn’t about to wait for the cops and tries killing him with everything in sight – knife, poison, axe and to top it off she happens to be carrying a cross-bow. Eventually though the truth is revealed to her and she teams up with Patrick’s lawyer cousin (Maggie) to take on this demented force and the final fifteen minutes is a frantic cat and mouse whirlwind of swirling walls, twirling blades, near escapes and total ferocity. It is a great finale and Anita looks surprisingly nice in loco mode.

My rating for this film: 6.5


Glenn, kenixfan said...

It's not much of an exaggeration to say that Anita Yuen is one of the reasons I went to Hong Kong. Those films from her peak represented a place I wanted to find. It sounds silly but there's some truth to that.

Not that much different than going to England to find the country Ray Davies and Morrissey sang about.

You didn't mention TriStar in her list of films? I remember it had its manic moments.

I forgot all about Tears and Triumph until now. Letdown.

Never heard of Wrath of Silence.

Did she try her hand at singing? I heard she -- like most HK stars -- tried to put out an album but hers tanked immediately or something.

Brian said...

Ah, Willesden Green and Berkeley Mews.

I've never seen TriStar actually. I'd heard bad things about it. Not that that usually stops me! YTSL wrote up a review for my site ages ago so I think I have the dvd around here somewhere and will give it a go next time I have any Anita picts.

Never heard of her singing but ya most of the actresses give it a go at some point. I actually have a cd that claims to be Hsu Chi singing that I will put up some time to punish the readers of this Blog. Also bought a cd from Cecilia Cheung that I thought was awful.

Glenn, kenixfan said...

On my last trip I got a Charlie Yeung CD which was a surprise.

And I found a Jo Koo CD with videos.

I should have had her autograph that but I didn't think to bring it with me that night.

fishcado said...

I always found Anita Yuen to be sexy in a silly way. Brian we miss you! Come back to NYC!!!!

Steve said...

Brian, if you like spy stuff try The Sandbaggers, an old British TV show.

I had a huge crush on Anita Yuen back in the day; will have to watch some more of her movies to try to recall why.

Brian said...

Hey Fishcado - I am back sort of but family stuff is taking me to DC most of the time I have been back. How was the fest without me last year? Better than ever?

Steve - Brits are of course the best at TV spy shows - The Avengers, The Prisoner, MI5 and just discovered one called Callan starring Edward Woodward made in the 70's - never heard of the Sandbaggers though.

GF - I picked up a Charlie cd as well once upon a time - thought it was ok but never listened to it more than a couple times. Wu Chien-lien is decent and has put out a number of cds.

Steve said...

MI-5/Spooks seems heavily based on The Sandbaggers, though the former has a much bigger budget and is about MI-5 versus MI-6. One could compare them as SRK's Don versus Amitabh's Don. :-) There were only 20 episodes of The Sandbaggers, so like The Prisoner it's a small time commitment. I don't know when I'll ever see all of The Avengers; so many non-Diana Rigg seasons.

On the topic of singers, I was happy to find I enjoy Gigi Leung's voice. Her MVs can be a bit wierd, fetishizing her thinness or being very depressing.

Brian said...

Oh I also forgot Secret Agent aka Danger Man which I think is my favorite of the Brit spy TV series - dark and serious - The Avengers is fun but I find it a bit frivolous and one episode is about all I can take from time to time. The current Video Watchdog has a really good article on the early years of The Avengers pre-Emma Peel.

Ya - Gigi was a much better singer than I expected - and I guess she has a lot to be depressed about these days - dumped by Ekin and then having to take care of her injured brother. After reading about having to spend much of her savings on his care I am now an official Gigi fan.

Viktor said...

Anita Yuen is really the sweetest.

Does anyone remember the "paparazzi" photo that is taken of her (in white suit) with Carina Lau in arm in the movie "He's a women, she's a man" (and then appears on a magazine cover in the movie)? I would love to have a copy of that "magazine cover" on my wall, but can't find it anywhere.

Best wishes,

Viktor said...

Oh, I would like to add that I just discovered this blog -- seems nice, I will drop by repeatedly for sure :-)

Another thing popped into my mind: does anybody else feel that Anita Yuen and Angelica Lee were really quite a similar type when they were young?

Unknown said...

Never heard of her singing but ya most of the actresses give it a go at some point. I actually have a cd that claims to be Hsu Chi singing that I will put up some time to punish the readers of this Blog. Also bought a cd from Cecilia Cheung that I thought was awful.Jinekomasti

Unknown said...

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