Monday, September 30, 2013

Last of my Cecilia Cheung Photos

I had been planning to shut down this Blog unless President Obama agreed to include in the budgetary Continuing Resolution a law that would make mandatory that all schools study Hong Kong cinema from first through sixth grades and that this Blog and my Website be part of the curriculum. Now I understand that first grade might seem too early to undertake the arduous study of Hong Kong film but that is why I have been posting so many photos. After the President refused to negotiate with me I announced that I was willing to compromise by mandating that only grades three through six do this but I still have not heard from President Obama. Apparently, he has time to discuss nuclear proliferation with the President of Iran but doesn't have the time to stop the closing of this Blog. Shocking and shameful. But after great consideration of the harmful ramifications of doing so, I have decided to keep the Blog open for now. This may have to be revisited in the next few months.

So for the first graders out there here are the last of my pictures of Cecilia Cheung. Ok, not the last of my pictures of her but those others will not see the light of day. Unless of course I need my advertising revenue to be greatly enhanced.


Saturday, September 28, 2013

Honesty . . . is not always the best Policy

Director: Wong Jing

Year: 2003

A couple of years ago I went to see my doctor and after a test he told me that my sugar levels were higher than they should be and that I would have to make some changes. The two things he singled out were coca-cola and Hong Kong comedies. Both could be dangerous to my long-term health he told me. But you know how hard it is to do what a doctor tells you to do. I have been pretty good when it comes to coke but every now and then I have to indulge in a Hong Kong comedy and my sugar levels go sky high. They should come with a warning sign for diabetics. Honesty is about as sweet as it gets but to its credit not ever treacle really. Only near the end like any sweet left in the open too long it gets a little gooey.  But again, it’s not really a “make me gag” gooey.  Wong Jing manages to give a touch of goofiness even to these parts.

Like most modern Hong Kong comedies it aims for cute and it hits it like road kill in the middle of the highway. Cute is the mantra of comedy now.  People act in these adorable make believe ways that don’t in any way resemble real human beings. You don’t need that legal statement in front of these films. Puppy like young stars, cute set-ups, capricious designs and whimsical camera work shouts out in a high pitched voice “kawaii!”. The Twins were of course the masters of this but others rushed in as well who in truth I generally find indistinguishable from one another. But Cecilia Cheung was different because though she can play cute as she does here; she also has shown some major acting skills in films such as Failan and Lost in Time. So you never know exactly what you are going to get from her which always makes one of her films a bit of an exploration. In Honesty she does cute on steroids as every thought that passes through her swiss cheese mind is expressed on her face in the broadest (and cutest) way imaginable. I’ve always thought her oval face, pointy nose and little eyes make her as close to an anime character as a person could be. She is like a character in the Tin-tin movie except they would not have to bother with all that motion capture computer animated stuff they used. She is living anime. Living art. Ok, on to the plot.

Moses (Richie Ren) is too good to be true. As I said earlier, no one in this film resembles anyone living or dead. He is kind to everyone from a beggar to a stranger in front of him on the bus whose hair is out of place. He visits the elderly, is a veterinarian and cries when he lies. And much too staid and dull for his well-filled out girlfriend Mimi (Lee San-san, one of the Cop Shop Babes who sadly has left the business) who has an affair with the nose-picking pizza man (Eric Kot). Moses kindly moves out of his own home and moves in with his girl chasing nephew played by Raymond Wong. One of the elderly men (Wong Ting-lam) that Moses visits decides to leave $25 million dollars to Moses in his will.

Moses has no knowledge of this but a nightclub hostess finds out when one of her inebriated lawyer clients tells her. This hostess Little Girl (Cecilia) has a brainstorm, track Moses down, woo him, seduce him, trap him, marry him and take all his money. She nearly orgasms just at the thought of her fiendish plan! When she meets him she is delighted to hear that he has many ailments and thinks that at most he will only live a few months after the wedding. After she finagles her way into moving in with Moses, Little Girl’s plan goes well for a while even though her loud-mouthed old boyfriend (Chapman To) shows up and Mimi comes back to also live with Moses and the lawyer shows up and recognizes Little Girl and even the pizza man shows up again – but none of this is what might possibly derail her plan. That would be the worst thing imaginable (unless you have ever seen a romantic comedy before) as love rears its ugly head. Silly stupid fun that does amuse at times with additional cameos from Pinky Cheung, Wong Jing, Iris Chan and Kitty Yuen. Next week I have to go back to New York City for another check-up. My doctor will let me know just how much damage this film has done to me.

My Rating for this film: 6.0

In this scene Little Girl thinks she will finally be able to seduce Moses.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Monday, September 23, 2013

Oh God, It's Para Para Sakura

Para Para Sakura

Director: Jingle Ma

Year: 2001


Sooner or later everyone has to Para Para Sakura. It’s like a giant slow moving lifeless blob that will follow you wherever you go in life waiting for you to succumb to the inevitable. I recall dipping my foot into this inert mindless mass years ago and pulling it out quickly in something akin to revulsion. I think this was likely within the first five minutes in which the main actor gyrates on a stage in a pink t-shirt and the announcer asks the watching audience whether anyone wanted “this hunk”.  That was enough for a first attempt. There is only so much a sensitive man can take. But I am older now though clearly not much wiser and so I went into the deep water again. Good God no, someone pull me out, please pull me out. Oh no, it’s too late. It’s Aaron Kwok looking so fit and cute and trying so hard to dance. So much Aaron Kwok.  I feel myself drowning in Kwokiness and I may never be seen again. I need to come up for air.

I am wondering whether the words Jingle Ma in Cantonese mean "pretty and empty". As in that girl is just so Jingle Ma. If not, you have my permission to start using it, but I have trademarked it. Jingle Ma is a great cinematographer and has lensed many of my favorite films, so you can’t say don’t let him near a camera again but I think you can say don’t let him near a script. He just enjoys making really pretty, light hearted films that are so weightless that it makes your average fluff seem like snuff. But lots of people very much enjoy these films and who am I to want to deprive them of their pleasures any more than I would want to stop someone from going to a petting zoo. And in truth I have quite a guilty liking for one of his films that will be discussed in a future post when I have left the country and taken on another identity.

So there is Aaron Kwok as Philip Wong who is a dance/aerobics instructor with classes full of incredibly attractive women who throw themselves at him like coins in the Trevi Fountain in Rome. But he is shy and very unsure of himself around the opposite sex. This is seemingly due to his lack of being able to see color. That is until the ever giggling Yuri (played by Cecilia Cheung as if taking snorts of helium gas throughout) keeps bumping into him and knocking him down. Meeting cute in other words. A tried and true romantic comedy foible since they began making movies. With her he sees color, vivid pinks and greens.
Yuri turns out to be the Japanese daughter of a wealthy department store owner and is engaged to someone she has known since she was a little girl. Sort of an arranged marriage. Once you have that fact under your belt you know exactly where this movie is going and does it ever go there but with less interest and more predictability than the NRA defending another mass shooting.  Along the way there are two dance numbers that were harmless enough.

I don’t want to make it sound like I hated this film because I didn’t. I just woke up from it with less respect for myself than I prefer. It goes by and the world moves on. Cecilia tries hard to be adorable but perhaps a bit too much and Aaron tries to be humble and meek and that plays as well as a tuba in a rock band. In the film, his friend says of his character “You are good looking but boring” and in my mind that perfectly fit Aaron Kwok and I suppose why I have never warmed up to him as an actor. Though clearly physically talented as he has shown in many films he always seems to be skating by on his looks and bland charm. In fact, for much of his career you could call him Jingle Ma, but I will admit that once he hit the ancient age of forty he seemed to be growing into a more mature actor in films like After This Our Exile and The Detective. I have to say I have seen him in nothing recently so I am not sure if these films were an aberration or a trend.

My Rating for this Film: 4.5
Here is the first dance number.
And no doubt you cool kids know that Para Para is a group dance that originated in Japan, but for those who don't here is the finale of this incredibly great film. So come on let's all Para Para Sakura tonight!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Cecilia Cheung Photos

The first time I saw Cecilia Cheung was in King of Comedy and I was totally charmed by her fresh-faced innocence. So was the rest of Hong Kong and in the blink of a paparazzi's camera flash she was a star. But maybe it came too soon and too easily and her life got rather messy. As far as I was concerned none of her private life was really any one's affair but her own. But as her life and the photos were splashed across the media, her private image was so at odds with her cinematic one that she was pushed out of the film business. She paid penance for some five years and has returned to the movies but I suppose it will never be the same. We love to eat our young. Here are some dozen photos of her in happier times.


Thursday, September 19, 2013

Naked Soldier

Naked Soldier
Director: Marco Mak

Action Choreography:  Corey Yuen Kwai, Yuen Tak

Year: 2012

How about that. I’ve actually gotten around to a Hong Kong film that is relatively contemporary in which I did not have to wipe away the dust and spider webs as I do when I come back to my apartment in Brooklyn after being away for months. I have to admit that it helped that the word “Naked” was in the title. With Hong Kong films you can rarely go wrong when this is the case. You have the Naked Poison films that seep with sleaze like a slow dirty oil leak, Naked Party that was a libidinous tour through the sexual perverted peccadillos of the Japanese and most famously there were the two Girls with Guns films, the classic Naked Killer and it’s decade later semi follow-up Naked Weapon.  Now another ten years has passed and along comes Naked Soldier that is fortunately very much in the mold of those two latter films and like them was produced by the cherubic Wong Jing, who never tires of throwing this sort of entertainment with little merit at an audience. Thank God for that.

Wong Jing though always has to keep a steady commercial eye on what the Mainland censors allow so Naked Soldier avoids the seamy sexual undercurrent that made Naked Killer such a hoot, but he partly makes up for this with a barrage of action scenes that begin during the opening credits and continue through much of the film. In fact, this is close to a fan boy wet dream delight and should be watched with a tissue box at hand. It has pretty much everything you can ask for these days – stunning female killers who would look as much at home on the pages of Vogue as they do with a gun in their hands or a blade clenched in their teeth, action choreography by two of the legends of this art form (Corey Yuen and Yuen Tak) and a rugged looking Sammo Hung who if Hong Kong had a Mount Rushmore would be right in the middle. Admittedly, the actresses are probably not exactly trained martial artists but then neither were Chingmy Yau and Carrie Ng from Naked Killer. They just looked really good killing people and so do these actresses. Can’t that be enough some times?

In particular though for me, it is just such a pleasure seeing Sammo dominate a film like he does this one.  No one runs as consistently through the history of the Hong Kong action film as Sammo does and no one deserves more credit for it being what it is and has been. Beginning as an action choreographer for some of the King Hu films, then many of the Angela Mao films as well as some of his own films he helped take martial arts to another level of speed and complexity. He directed a number of the classic films of the 80’s and brought martial arts into the modern age with films like Eastern Condors, Millionaire’s Express and Dragons Forever. His collaborations with Jackie Chan are well known already but much too often he is seen as Jackie’s sidekick when he actually deserves much more of the credit. In the late 90’s and early 2000’s though it looked for a while that Sammo was perhaps fading into the sunset because of age and injuries as did his friend and cohort Yuen Biao. He showed up with his own U.S. TV series Martial Law and though I admit to enjoying it, at the same time it felt like a step closer to the old folk’s home (but saying that why isn’t this available on DVD?). But beginning in 2005 with SPL Sammo and his career have felt revitalized and though he was generally a co-star he made clear that he still has a lot of moves left to show the young guys. And here in Naked Soldier he is in fact the lead in the film and it warms the cockles of my heart to see it.

Lung (Sammo Hung) leads a police raid to confiscate a huge supply of illegal drugs and in response to this a group of assassins led by Madam Rose crash into his home and shoot him, kill his family and kidnap his young daughter Wen-ching. Madam Rose has the annoying habit of taking young girls and after brainwashing them trains the girls to be assassins. She renames Wen-ching Phoenix and she becomes her star student over the next fifteen years. As I am watching this I can’t help but notice how the actress who plays Madam Rose looks so much like a young sexy Ellen Chan, one of my favorite actresses from the late 80’s to the mid-90’s. But when I see the credits scroll at the end of the film lo and behold it is Ellen Chan. Whatever help she is getting from a doctor or from magic pills or from the blood of virgins I want some of it badly. She looks amazing for a woman closing in on fifty. She looks amazing for a woman closing in on thirty. Hell, she just looks amazing.

So fifteen years after the slaughter of Lung’s family, Madam Rose gets a contract to kill a number of crime heads and sends out her three top feline killers to do the job – Phoenix (Jennifer Tse), Selina (Ankie Beike) and Ivy (Lena Lam). The kills are all done with style and more than a splash of blood. And they are kind enough to pose occasionally during their ill deeds to look directly at the camera and make it melt just a little bit. Interpol suspects that Madam Rose is behind the killings and Inspector Sam Wong (Andy On) brings on Lung as a consultant. Needless to say he does much more than consult. Chock full of action and glamour, the film is lots of silly fun and gives us the bonus of Anthony Wong showing up for the final fifteen minutes as a strutting posing drug lord who basically steals the show along with his two gay killer henchmen. Also rather fun is Kang Jia-qi who plays Lung’s adopted daughter and who acts so cute that she looks like she should have been a third Twin but who has a few kung fu moves of her own.  Now the actress who plays Phoenix, Jennifer Tse, turns out to be the sister of Nicholas Tse, meaning of course that she is the daughter of the 1960’s film heartthrob Patrick Tse. Where have they been hiding her all these years? I don’t know if she can act her way out of a soggy sand trap but her lean chiseled features are lovely to behold. The fact that she looks a lot like her brother and that I find her so attractive is though a bit unnerving! What can I say, I am a sucker for these kind of films and though Naked Soldier is no Naked Killer by a long stretch, I still hope to be around in ten years for the next installment.

My Fanboy Rating: 7.0
The Trailer for Naked Soldier

Dinner at Sammo's House with Sammo and  Kang Jia-qi

And for old time's sake, the trailer for Naked Killer