Thursday, July 14, 2011

the tree of life

think about it...

on the anniversary of his brother's death, jack o'brien (sean penn) begins to think about his childhood; specifically the time he spent with his overbearing father (brad pitt), down-trodden mother (jessica chastain) and his two brothers in a suburban neighbourhood in texas.

'the tree of life' is the fifth feature film that terrence malick has directed in the last forty years. prolific, he is not. still, it cannot be denied that malick does, indeed, have an artistic vision and, thanks to the money and sway of brad pitt, he has brought his vision to the big screen. eventually.

the film is quite beautiful to watch. emmanuel lubezki's cinematography, predominantly hand-held, and the quality of light, which makes its way into each scene through the almost ever-present shroud of trees, combine to achieve a really beautiful aesthetic. the production design inject into this sequences that douglas trumbull contributed, showing the origins of life and you certainly have something which is quite beautiful to watch, except for the extremely poor cgi dinosaur scene...

the performances are, on the whole, pretty strong. penn is fine for the five minutes he appears on screen and pitt puts in the kind of assured performance that he always seems to pull out of the bag when he's required to. still, the real stars of the film are jessica chastain, who is quite wonderful to watch, and hunter mccraken, who plays the young jack and is the film's central character. the boy done good.

now, much has been made of malick's choices when it comes to narrative structure and editing: projecting the adult jack's memories as a meandering stream of consciousness, interspersed with the origin of life departures and you certainly have something which is quite interesting in a cinematic sense. the stylisation is all well and good, although the final result makes the film feel as it it were a two hour and twenty minute advert for a bank or investment house. some might say it is masturbation over meditation, and i'd probably say that it certainly ends up being closer to the former, rather than the latter, as i'm sure malick intended. and, ultimately, i found the whole affair vacuous.

for me, the biggest problem with the film is trite, hackneyed americana conceit of the over-bearing father ("don't call me dad"), the pushover mother and the kid growing up confused, oedipal and unable to express emotion. regardless of the analogous nature of the film, the result is, for me, greatly flawed. so much so that it drew chuckles from me at numerous points of the film, which i found unintentionally amusing in their cack-handedness. "think about it"; being one such moment.

i also found the detached sound bites of prayer quite irksome and i wasn't a huge fan of alexandre desplat's score. i usually do quite like his work too.

in summary, i'd say that malick creates the packaging, at times stunning and interesting packaging, but still it is packaging that contains little more than a few very basic, very base ideas, which are given over with only the most surface level of exploration and perfunctory meditation.

not good.

the film is currently on general release.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

i saw the devil

who broke your balls?

soo-hyeon (lee byung-hun) works for the national intelligence service, but he's taking two weeks off work. two weeks to pursue the killer of his fiance, whose butchered remains were found dumped in a river. his fiance's father (jeon gook-hwan) is the chief of police and is able to supply him with the police records of the four main suspects in the case. soo-hyeon sets out to find out who is guilty, with kyung-chul (choi min-sik) quickly being outed as the murderer. and so soo-hyeon's revenge begins...

kim jee-woon is, perhaps, my favourite korean director, who has been responsible for some absolutely cracking films over the past decade and a bit. he is a director who seems to effortlessly slide from film to film and genre to genre, creating something rather special as he goes. unquestionably, all of kim's films are technically and aesthetically exemplary, whilst being filled with great performances from solid casts. 'i saw the devil' is, like his other work, a technical and aesthetic triumph.

one of the characteristics of kim's films, in my opinion, is the feeling of just how well crafted they are. lighting design, sets, props, costume and locations almost always look amazing when captured with a fine cinematographic sensibility. this is another film which is very, very beautiful to look at. the two leads are also, expectedly, strong. lee byung-hun is fantastically glacial but, perhaps, at his best when he shows the little cracks that are there. choi min-sik, on the other hand, is one big crack: thankfully, however, he is talented enough to communicate the character's real lunacy with a calmness that makes him all the more unsettling. the film is also populated with a fun and interesting selection of small roles, almost all of whom seem to make an impression, no matter how fleeting their appearances may be.

and, kim, as director and adapter of the screenplay, has to take credit for a lot of the good in the film. however, i guess that must mean that he has to take credit for the bad too...

at its most basic level, 'i saw the devil' is a meditation on revenge, its futility and how he who hunts the monster becomes monstrous. to be honest, i'm struggling to see anything beyond this most basic level. i also think that another korean director made a trilogy of films which covered the same ground with equal aesthetic brilliance, but with a lot more depth. actually, i think 'depth' is the wrong word; how about composure and... err... shit, i'm totally struggling here.

let me put it like this: there's a scene at the beginning of the film where, following on from the discovery of a carrier bag filled with body parts, the police descend on a stretch of river underneath a bridge. they're there, in the hours of darkness, with the press buzzing around in a ghoulish frenzy: it is like a circus. then, the victim's father turns up, her fiance too, they hear the police shouting about how they've found the head, it gets boxed, a state of delirium is reached, there's panic, people run, people fall, the head rolls out of the box and the music is loud and brash, it's telling you exactly what you should be experiencing at this moment in time. it is an extremely crass piece of cinema.

unfortunately, the film is littered with these moments. part of me wants to believe that kim is playing with his audience; milking the melodrama and throwing logic, logistics and likelihood out of the window. i don't think this is the case, though. what kim wants is to give you the awful experience of what these feelings of revenge, acts of extreme violence and the emotional turmoil associated with his subject matter. and, i'd be lying if i said that he didn't accomplish this with some frequency; there's some incredibly crafted scenes in the film and also moments which are purely awful and you are left in no doubt about how you should be responding. however, the narrative tools which kim uses to take you along this arc, like the hunt for the head, are executed in a way which jars you, they're at odds with their surrounds - they seem crass and, dare i say, stupid.

i'm not saying that 'i saw the devil' is rubbish, but there's a lot of rubbish in there. some scenes are done so badly, i really lent serious thought to whether or not he was attempting to parody brainless examples of such genre films. maybe i'm just saying that i thought it was poor and i expected something much better. i watched the 'theatrical' version on sunday and i managed an hour of the 'international' version this evening, before i got so bored with it that i had to stop. actually, i think i am saying that it is shit: perhaps kim has lost it and, the fact that his performers and stylisation are so amazing, that no one seems to have realised?


the dvd is £8.41 from, unless you want the more expensive korean version, which is $34.99 from

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

attack the block

these things is out to get me, get me?

south london. after being mugged on her way home, sam (jodie whittaker) unexpectedly finds herself teaming up with the kids who robbed her, when aliens attack.

easiest intro ever.

this is a very enjoyable film indeed. i'd pretty much heard it was going to be made, then forgotten all about it, until i heard that it was getting some negative press and mixed reviews. personally, i thought it was a very enjoyable film...

the cast are all good: ms whittaker puts in a fine turn, as does john boyega, who plays the ring-leader of the kids. the rest of the yoofs also do a good job, as does the increasingly expanding nick frost and posh chops luke treadaway. as for the aliens, i like them too; nice big lolloping black furry things with big glowy teeth - what's not to like? as for the script, it is pretty damn funny and there's some very amusing dialogue indeed, it moves along at a cracking pace and entertains all the way. i did lots of laughing and thoroughly enjoyed it. well done, joe cornish.

good stuff.

the dvd is available for pre-order for £11.99 from

happy flight

come fly with me...

i'd forgotten that i watched this, but i did. it's the last film from writer / director shinobu yaguchi; the man who brought us 'waterboys' and 'swing girls'. as you may guess, there's a large ensemble cast who play a wide range of fun characters, triumphing in the face of adversity. so, he has a formula, but it works so very well...

here we have the coming together of a group at an airport and on board a long haul flight; things start to go a little awry and all the stops must be pulled out to make sure the flight is both happy and safe. like other works from yaguchi, the cast is brilliantly compiled, whilst the script is funny and feel-good.

good stuff...

the dvd is hk$37 from

the green hornet

unless anyone prefers 'green bee'?

britt reid (seth rogan) is a hard partying, layabout waster and the son of james reid (tom wilkinson), a respected newspaper magnate. the two do not get on. when james dies, as a result of an allergic reaction to a bee sting, britt is left in charge of the newspaper; this is a duty he happily hands over to mike axford (edward james olmos), who has been his father's right hand man for years. this leaves britt free to track down kato (jay chou), a former employee of his father, who used to make a great coffee.

britt discovers that kato is capable of a lot more than making coffee and it isn't long before the pair of them are hatching schemes, running around town and having fun. then, when the pair kick some ass (well, it's mainly kato, but hey...) and stop a serious assault taking place, britt decides that they should team up and fight crime!

well, i like jay chou, so i was quite interested to see this. i don't mind seth rogan, although the only films i think i know him from are the two 'kung fu panda' movies. and, what i didn't realise until i was watching the opening credits, was that this was directed by michel gondry, who i like a lot. as for it being 'the green hornet', i wasn't arsed: never had any exposure to the character, barring the reference in 'dragon : the bruce lee story'.

any how, i thought jay chou did well in this; he did kinda have all the best lines, was a pretty cool cat and had the crazy martial arts skills, which did help. rogan does well as a big brash ball of brashness and, i guess, cameron diaz did okay in her role, which was little more than an excuse to have a pretty face in the film. and, thank heavens that nicholas cage was ditched in favour of christoph waltz, to play the film's baddie: chudnofsky. he is good.

over all, i found this to be a fun watch. it is a silly film, but one that embraces this and just enjoys going about its business. there's some entertaining action, fun things and clutch of chuckles along the way. it isn't going to change your life, but it will keep you entertained for two hours of it.

a bit of fun.

the dvd is £9.99 from

Monday, June 06, 2011


temper temple...

general hou (andy lau) is an powerful warlord, tearing his way through china, with the younger, cao (nicholas tse) riding at his side. after a display of arrogance and disrespect which involved cao pursuing one of hou's rival into the shaolin temple, where hou killed him, hou begins plotting against general song (shi xiao-hong). song meets with hou, intent on trying to marry off his daughter to hou's son, thus creating a bond between the two families and consolidating power. whilst song is unaware of hou's scheming, hou is equally unaware that cao is plotting against him, hungry for power himself.

as hou's world begins to collapse around him, he takes shelter in the shaolin temple, renouncing his past and embracing life as a monk. still, even if he is accepted by the other monks, there's trouble on the horizon for everyone...

so, yeah, i've just been saying how much i enjoy benny chan films when they're done well and now i watch two in a row which just aren't very good. and, yes, this isn't very good. this is a story which has been told many times, by many people; not this story in particular, but the story of karma catching up to a man and driving him into the arms of those who he has wronged, where he can repent and atone. you know this is going to happen here. you know it is going to happen and you wait for it to happen, you watch it happen and you don't care. you don't care because it's all so laboured and flat, that simply watching the film becomes an effort.

i like andy lau, but this and 'detective dee' were both films i did not enjoy. i won't blame the non-ageing one though, the blame probably lies at benny's door; maybe not for his directorial work, but maybe because in his role as producer he allowed his four (less than reputable) writers to churn out a crappy script. who knows? not me. and, to be honest, i seem to have pushed almost all of this film from my mind and find myself remembering very little.

what i do remember thinking is that lau was fine, nicholas tse was okay, but hardly in it and the same can be said of fan bing-bing: even with her loveliness, i can recall very little about her role as hou's wife. wu jing, again, i feel was underused in his role as the head trainer of monks. then there's jackie chan who was fine in his supporting role.

i suppose the most telling thing is that i can only remember one fight sequence and that was one featuring a supporting character and a bunch of kids. it certainly says a lot to me, that in a film about the shaolin temple, only one action sequence sticks in my mind enough for me to remember. any how, reading this is probably getting to be as dull as actually sitting through the movie: i shall still hold out for benny chan's next movie being a cracker. anyone else for 'invisible target 2: invisibler target'?

pretty bad.

the dvd is hk$105 from

heroic duo

the first of my own duo of benny chan films...

ken li (ekin cheng) is a senior police inspector with a no nonsense approach to his job, which does little to endear him to colleagues. when a fellow policeman is caught, having just broken in to a police safe and burned the contents, ken finds his patience being tested when the man claims no memory of committed the crime. hypnosis!!! yep, there's an evil hypnotist on the loose, so ken goes and visits professor jack lai (leon lai): a man incarcerated for a crime he is thought to have committed under the influence of hypnosis!!!

that's about as much as i can remember about the plot and probably all you need know. if you want to get really confused, try reading the synopsis of the film on imdb - it would appear that the person who wrote it has confused this and another film, as well as having a writing style that seems to be an attempt to induce a headache...

any how, this is a pretty high concept thriller from benny chan. now, i like benny chan and that's despite the fact that he's made a couple of films which i would class as stone cold stinkers. for every 'new police story', he's churned out an 'invisible target', for every 'city under siege', there's a 'connected': sure, there's an often slightly silly, popcorn quality to his movies but, when he gets it right, it really works. this one sits somewhere in the middle ground.

it's a very nicely produced film, it's got a pretty good pacing and, despite some silliness, it is a relatively engaging affair. ekin cheng, leon lai, along with supporting players like karena lam and the ever dependable francis ng all put in acceptable performances but, when it boils down to it, the narrative just isn't quite strong enough to elevate the sparkly sets and high concepts this above its reasonably valiant attempt to be a big blockbuster of a film. it aims high, but only manages average. still, a pretty entertaining watch on a rainy afternoon, if you have nothing better to do...

decidedly average.

the dvd is hk$39 from

Thursday, June 02, 2011

kung fu hip-hop

school for chivalry...

synopsis stolen from;

"street hawker and mechanic chu dong (jordan chan) may look like just another poor joe living day to day in the big city, but he's got some mean dancing and kung fu skills to back him up. when his blind sister (wang yue) gets into an accident, chu dong needs to come up with money fast to pay for her operation. at the urging of dj tina (fan bingbing) who saw him dance before, chu dong rounds up his mechanic buddies to form a dance group to compete in an upcoming competition that offers a hefty cash prize to the winner. starting from scratch, chu dong and co. find their tempo and blaze their way through the early rounds by combining kung-fu and breakdancing. but can chu dong beat cocky dancing sensation shaoxiong (poppin hyun joon) and his well-placed connections?"

after his role as chicken in the 'young and dangerous' films and as cheung in 'men suddenly in black', it would take a lot for me to turn against jordan chan. you've probably already worked this out by the fact that i have even chosen to watch this hong kong amalgamation of 'honey' and 'step up' and probably a half dozen other street dance films which i am completely unaware of. and, beyond a couple of relatively amusing moments (some intentional, some otherwise. in fact, mainly otherwise), there's very little i can say about this film which is positive, apart from the fact that the lovely fan bing-bing is just as lovely as she always is.

being a fan of dance (yeah, i did say that) and breakdance and kung fu, i reckon there was the potential to knock out some pretty impressive or, at the very least, fun choreographed sequences here. in reality, what you get is some pretty bland stuff, with only a couple of moments that could be described as interesting. i guess it's a shame, but i didn't really expect to be surprised by this and i wasn't.

err... a bit rubbish...

the dvd is hk59 from

youth in revolt

i'm not going anywhere until you sink your filthy dick in this tomato...

nick twisp (micheal cera) is a teenage boy who, like most teenage boys, is developing an obsession with losing his virginity. whilst on a camping trip he meets sheeni (portia doubleday): his dream girl. unfortunately for nick, he must leave her and return to his mundane home existence; this is, however, only until his alter ego manifests itself as francois dillinger, in order to attempt to cause the kind of trouble that could see him relocated to be nearer sheeni. although, situations like this do tend to spiral a little out of control...

so, a totally fun film, with two equally amusing manifestations of cera, which made me chuckle. there's lots and lots to enjoy here and people should watch this. it's fun. even if it's not exactly inspiring me to write anything about it...

good stuff, though...

the dvd is £4.99 from

Sunday, May 29, 2011

love and other drugs

you meet thousands of people and none of them really touch you...

jaime (jake gyllenhaal) is a cocksure drug salesman, with a penchant for having lots of sex. maggie (anne hathaway) is a kooky, drugged up suffer of parkinson's disease. when they met it was all quips and sex, until they fell in love...

so, yeah, i've made it sound shit. still, it's pretty hard to try and describe the narrative of the film without making it sound shit. it isn't shit, though. in fact, there's a lot to like about the film and i would say that i enjoyed watching it.

also, i haven't seen the trailer, but i would imagine it has been promoted as a slightly quirky, fun, rom-com: it is absolutely not this and i can well imagine some people getting quite upset with the path the film takes. still, i guess that made me enjoy it more.

err... i was very tired when i watched this and can't think of any good points to make.


the dvd is £9.99 from

the princess of montpensier

la princesse...

france, the sixteenth century, war between catholics and protestants rages. away from the war, marie de mezieres (melanie thierry) finds herself betrothed to her cousin, but it his brother, henri de guise (gaspard ulliel), who has stolen her heart. however, in the sixteenth century marie has little say or control over whom she is to be betrothed and she soon finds that one potentially arranged marriage is usurped by another as her father decides that having philippe de montpensier (gregoire leprince-ringuet) as his son-in-law would be much more beneficial to him, despite marie having never met him.

despite her protestations. marie finds herself we to philippe, who is almost instantaneously is called away to war; leaving his wife in the company and protection of count chabannes (lambert wilson). chabannes is an aging nobleman with no love of war, who takes marie under his wing, schooling her as he prepares her for life in court. still, the undisputed charms of marie, the princess of montpensier, are set to cause her trouble...

adapted by veteran french director bertrand tavernier (and long-time collaborator jean cosmos), from madame de la fayette's short story, this is a fun and sumptuous affair; beautifully presented and performed. the narrative isn't filled with many surprises, but weaves its way along its path, with sexual tension and intrigue aplenty.

i guess i should say that melanie thierry, who has to carry the burden of being a much treasured and sought after object of desire, carries said burden with no small amount of charm and beauty. and, she has the task of trying to weave her way through a selection of well groomed and coiffured gentlemen. what's a girl to do?

any how, style and substance make this a very enjoyable watch indeed. i think i might like to see it again when it hits the cinema, considering i watched it on a tiny screen aboard an aeroplane...

out on general release in july...

Thursday, May 19, 2011

say anything

there's no food in your food...

lloyd (john cusack) is a genuinely nice guy, but a solid underachiever with it. despite his lack of career aspirations and drive for academic achievement, there's one thing that lloyd is sure of; he wants to ask diane (ione skye) out on a date before she heads off to college, after graduating from high school as she has done; an exceptionally high achiever. lloyd isn't deterred by this and, worried that she is missing out on her life because she's too busy focussing on the future, diane agrees to a date. it isn't long before she finds herself falling for lloyd; surely it can't be this simple?

of course, it isn't and, as we all know, there's a peter gabriel track and john cusack holding a stereo above his head...

it had been a very, very long time since i watched 'say anything'; i'm pretty sure it was a new release at the time and i'm pretty sure i enjoyed it. although, i did never watch it again and i'd forgotten the whole thing. so, i decided to give it a watch, as it wasn't what i expected to find on the 'classics' menu of finnair's in-flight entertainment. any how, it was a thoroughly enjoyable watch and, apart from a couple of moments, it had dated remarkably well and was full of late eighties charm.

good stuff.

the dvd is £3.49 from

killer constable

the graceless executor...

leng tian-ying (chen kuan-tai), the 'killer constable' of the film's title, is charged with assembling a team to locate the two million taels of gold which have been stolen from the empress's treasury. it is an unenviable job, to be completed in a very short time-frame and one which failure will come couple with a death sentence. never the less, the constable with a reputation for getting things done, more often through foul means than fair, assembles his team and they head out to recoup the gold, unaware of what awaits them...

now, this is one of those films which starts and you soon start thinking that it might not be up to much. you now, there's something about the set-up and its execution which is rubbing you up the wrong way and then you slowly start to find enjoyment in it, before you start to realise that you're enjoying each scene of the film more than the last and, by the end, you're loving it? well, if you don't know that feeling, then you'll think i'm nuts, but this was a film that started off and i instantly though, this is going to be an ordeal to sit through. ninety minutes later i was hoping that this was one of the shaw titles which celestial reissued, as i'd like to pick up a copy of it.

so, this ended up being a really nicely done, twisting and turning narrative, filled with some enjoyable action sequences, which made for a very exciting watch.

cracking stuff...

the dvd is hk$85 from

dragon tiger gate

ever think about changing your name to leopard?

i can't be arsed writing a synopsis for this, so i'll steal the one from imdb - "three young martial arts masters emerge from the back streets of hong kong to help the powerless fight injustice" - well, it's a rubbish synopsis, but then again, it is a rubbish film, so who cares?

attempting to bring this 1970s manga, of the same name, to the big screen must have seemed like a good idea but, in reality (or should that be, with the benefit of hindsight?), it clearly wasn't. luckily 'flashpoint', which was jolly good fun and a highly enjoyable little movie was just around the corner, as this film had started to sully the good name that 'spl' - the previous effort from director wilson yip and star / choreographer donnie yen - had garnered.

nicholas tse, who i usually like, unless he's been cast as a genuine adult, with a sense of responsibility - something he just can't carry off - is not performing at his best. i blame the weight of his ridiculous fringe. shawn yue who, with a shaved head, is pretty great in 'invisible target', alongside the youthfully irresponsible and hell-bent on revenge nicholas tse, is also weighed down with bleached blonde locks of an even more outlandish crop of hair. still, both of these two must be thankful that they're not donnie yen, who has not only the worst hair of the trio, but has to also attempt to be a character who is half his age. he fails...

so, having to deal with three leads who have been stylised within an inch of their lives, stumbling through a script which mixes trite kung-fu philosophy with a pretty lame narrative about an accidentally stolen marker, which allows various gangland characters the ability to conduct their business, we end up with a pretty poor film.

what makes it worse, is that the action which the yip / yen partnership spewed fourth in 'spl' is watered down and made wishy-washy here, with over stylised and sillified feats of cgi enhanced crappery. bah...


the dvd is hk$60 from

exit through the gift shop

i used to encourage everyone i knew to make art; i don't do that so much anymore...

after starting to film anything and everything in an obsessive manner, thierry guetta finally found a focus when he met up with his cousin and started to film him at work. thierry's cousin is 'space invader', a french street artist of no small reputation. and, using this as a gateway, thierry began filming more and more street artists at work, documenting every detail of a thriving, underground subculture. still, despite finding focus and direction, thierry wanted a cherry on his cake: he wanted to meet and film banksy, who was starting to garner a reputation and seemed untraceable. it was only after meeting, befriending and filming banksy for quite a while, that the question of what was going to be done with all of theirry's footage came up: the answer was to change a lot...

so, banksy. on the whole, i really don't like a lot of his work; there's some nice design to a lot of it, but it's usually filled with trite political sentiment, which kinda makes my skin crawl a little. still, fair play to the chap, he comes across very well on this documentary (which i shalln't suggest is because he directed it) and i will say that i warmed to him, if not his art.

as a film which looks at the world of street art, the world of art and the relationship between these entities, the media and the general public, it's a great little movie and a lot of fun to watch.

good stuff.

the dvd is £4.29 from

fantastic four

sensual blind chick seeks three-ton, rock-hard he-man for deep spiritual relationship...

after travelling into space to observe an energy cloud, things go wrong for a group of scientists and the cloud breaches the shields of their ship, fundamentally changing their dna; reed richards (ioan gruffudd) becomes super stretchy, sue storm (jessica alba) gains the power of invisibility, johnny storm (chris evans) is able to set himself on fire and benn grimm (michael chiklis) turns into a big walking pile of bricks. oh, and doctor victor von doom (julian mcmahon) gains some kind of metal manipulation and electricity controlling powers. needless to say, dr doom goes awol and is hell-bent on world domination, whist the fantastic four set out to kick his ass...

i'll be honest and say that my attention lapsed more than once or twice during my watching of this. from what i did see, there is very, very little reason for me to suspect that i missed anything of consequence. this is a very, very poorly executed film, that i'd say people are probably better off not watching.

i used to enjoy the cartoon of the 'fantastic four': anyone know if that's still entertaining?


the dvd is £3.89 from

Thursday, May 05, 2011

collateral damage

i'll show you collateral damage...

when his wife and child are murdered by claudio (cliff curtis), a colombian terrorist, and those pencil pushing government types aren't going to do squat, gordy brewer (arnold schwarzenegger) sets off to colombia to take revenge...

if i was being kind, i would suggest that the fact this film was originally scheduled to come out in early october 2001, but the events of september 11th meant that some big changes were deemed necessary by the producers, might have had some impact on its quality. i'm not too sure though: i think this was always going to be a shit film.

i guess there is almost a 'so bad, it's good' vibe going on; what with arnold really showing that he has really lost it and manages to show almost no talent for acting at all and just looks like a big lug. then there's the fact that the two main colombians are played by mauri and italian actors, which doesn't really sit too well. then there's the small roles for johns leguizamo and turturro; oh, how low one stoops from time to time. oh, and the action scenes aren't even exciting.

this film is bad, bad, bad, bad bad.

the dvd is £5.99 from

Sunday, May 01, 2011

the lost bladesman

it is not enough to simply live, one must live well...

it is the latter days of the han dynasty. the warring states period. cao cao (jiang wen) is the head of emperor xian's (wang bo-chieh) court; essentially he is wielding power as the young emperor enjoys his protection. amongst other enemy generals in his capture, cao cao has guan yu (donnie yen); a man with no small reputation, who is as fierce a fighter as he is loyal to his sworn brother liu bei (alex fong).now, liu bei is an enemy of cao cao but, such is personality of guan yu, he agrees to fight for cao cao, in order to bring to an end, the bloody fighting that is going on around him, thanks to an attack from the warlord dong cheng (?).

and so begins cao cao's pursuit of guan yu, whom he would love to have as a loyal tool at his disposal. however, guan yu is a man of principle, who doesn't trust the political manoeuvrings of cao cao and just wants to get back to the side of liu bei, taking qi lan (betty sun), liu bei's latest wife, with him. cao cao and his generals are not going to make this an easy task...

so, having not read any promotion for this, but just having seen the posters as i arrived in hong kong a couple of weeks back, i thought that jiang wen and donnie yen in a bit of a historical epic would be a good watch, especially for the acting talents of the former and the martial arts talents of the latter. i was right. although, it wasn't until about halfway through the film that i suddenly realised 'oh, it's that general guan'. i can be quite slow sometimes...

so, yes, it's tale of guan yu crossing five passes, from luo guanzhong's novel 'romance of the three kingdoms' and, from what i read, some people seem to be giving poor donnie a hard time about his portrayal of general guan. well, apart from a little too much beard stroking and the fact that he doesn't really look like any depiction of guan yu that i'm familiar with, i thought he did a pretty good job. donnie has never been someone with a great range of acting ability and, even though he has always had physical presence and undeniable ability when it comes to screen fighting, he has never simply relied on this and he really does seem to have made an effort to better his acting over the years and this probably marks another step up the ladder for him. this is a good thing, especially as he's opposite jiang wen for a lot of the film, who most people would agree is probably one of the best talents working in china today. it should go without saying that jiang wen is brilliant as cao cao, which is a very good role for someone of his talents.

the rest of the cast should be complimented too, but i shall single out wang zuebing for bringing an extra little something to the small role of wang zhi. alex man and felix chong do well to take what is a rather large story and work it into a well paced couple of hours, where the drama and scale of the world the story is taking place in, never overshadows the drama of the characters and the flow from battles and confrontations, to some quite lengthy scenes of one to one dialogue is handled very well.

what also helps is that the film is almost always quite beautiful to look at, with a really nice look and feel to the cinematography, lighting, production and costume design. oh, and there's also some action... in fact, there's rather a lot of action... and, it's rather bloody good.

from a large scale battle, one on ones, donnie taking on all comers, a stunning battle with andy on, a fight with very low lighting, which still manages to come across well and more; there's some very watchable, very well executed going on and, even if he doesn't look like general guan, donnies levels of ass-kickery are pretty sodding brilliant.

i really enjoyed this.

out at the pictures in hong kong, i'm sure it'll only be a month or two before the dvd is available.

Friday, April 29, 2011

dream house

mind your step...

it is late at night when sheung (josie ho) sneaks in to the apartment block, kills the night watchman, takes the cctv hard-drives and then heads up in the elevator. she heads to an apartment, where she breaks down the door and kills the maid by ramming a chisel through the side of her head, which inadvertently pops one of her eyeballs on to the floor, before she goes after the pregnant female occupant of the flat...

yep, the opening scene of 'dream home' is most certainly a bloody affair, which sets the tone for a large part of the film; i.e. the killing rampage of josie ho. between these sequences, are sandwiched the stories of the young sheung (vivian leung), growing up in a hong kong where developers are beginning to wield power, corruption is rife and yet the seed is planted in her mind, to own an apartment with a sea view. then we have the adult sheung, working two jobs, frantically saving, being the other woman to her childhood friend, siu to (eason chan), caring for her sick father (norman chu) and still dreaming of her dream home. is she really teetering on the edge of a descent into violence?

so, pang ho-cheung probably comes up with his most darkly comic offering to date: for some it will, quite simply, be too dark, too violent and too bloody. the cut-throat nature of the housing market and the behaviour of developers is explored and abstracted in (producer and star) josie ho's bit of the old ultraviolence, which might leave alex and his droogs staring on open mouthed.

still, it had me chuckling, both at the humour and levels of gore which hong kong hasn't really offered up, at this level, since 'the story of ricky', which ho sights as an influence on the production. the gore is of a pretty high standard, with only a couple of moments which don't look great in the execution and it's rare they fail to elicit a response.

all in all, i really enjoyed this but, for some viewers, this will definitely not be the case. the bittersweet tale of sheung's childhood, set against the depiction of her adult life and her obsessive struggle to buy an apartment in hong kong's ruthless and ludicrous housing market, interspersed with scenes of brutality, will not be to everyone's tastes, especially if you have gotten used to the softening of the shifting tones which was once so commonplace in hong kong movies.

good, but not for everyone.

the dvd is hk$109 from

Monday, April 25, 2011


gonna get myself, gonna get myself, gonna get myself...

bob (louis koo) is on his way to the airport, to see off his young son who he consistently lets down, when he answers his phone. on the other end of the line is grace (barbie hsu); she's been kidnapped, but managed to piece together a broken phone, dial a random number and now she's speaking to bob. bob is just about to hang up when the kidnappers, led by fok (liu ye), burst in and he hears them threaten and then kill a friend of grace's brother, who seems to be their real target. looks like bob is in this for the long haul now...

well, i'd heard of 'cellular'; the american film, of which this is a remake, but i didn't know anything about it and i didn't actually know this was a remake until the end, as somehow i missed that in the opening credits. any how, i guess that's inconsequential, having watched the trailer for 'cellular' and deciding against watching it.

this, however, is benny chan on a good day. and, when benny chan is having a good day, you can forgive the spots of silliness that so often creep into his work and just go along for a very entertaining ride. 'connected' is a pretty unrelentingly paced, thriller, which happily manages to mix action and drama as the plot unfolds.

i like louis koo, especially when he is all nerded up and barbie hsu does a fine job as her character does her best to hold herself together in the predicament she finds herself in. liu le is a suitably evil baddie: putting on a good turn under the veil of hat, sunglasses and white hair. oh, and nick cheung, in a big cardigan, is also a welcome sight, as the (once disgraced) cop who starts to take an interest in the case.

all in all it's a fun watch, with laughs, tension, drama and some pretty exciting set pieces, including a rather fantastically executed car chase along one of the many concrete river beds / storm channels, which run through various spots in hong kong: i was actually surprised that i'd never seen such use of them being made before. well, not that i can remember...

a lot of fun.

the dvd is hk$60 from

Sunday, April 24, 2011

a chinese ghost story

don't speak like me...

whilst training as a demon hunter, yin chik-ha (louis koo) was tested by his master and asked to kill siu sin (liu yi-fei). siu sin is a beautiful demon, who seduces and kills men to feed the evil tree demon (kara hui), but she and yin fall in love. however, yin and siu sin realise that human and demon do not make compatible lovers and yin realises he has failed in his quest. when siu sin offers her life to him, he uses a magical weapon to only take her memories of him away and he retreats from society, to fight other demons, trying to forget about her as he does so...

years later, villagers at the bottom of the black mountain are delighted at the arrival of ning choi sin (yu shaoqun), a government official, who is responding to their request for government help. the water supply of the village has dried up and they're too scared to venture up the black mountain to find a new supply, as it is where the demons live. of course, they don't tell ning this and he's happily dispatched up the mountain, with a chain gang and the village idiot for company. surprisingly, it isn't too long before they find water, but a strange turn in the weather soon drives the group to take shelter for the night in an abandoned temple. they will soon find out that they are not along...

right, i suppose that right off the bat i should say that i am a pretty big fan of the tsui hark produced, ching siu-tung directed, 1987 film of the same name. like many uk based fans of hong kong cinema, watching a late night screening of this on tv many years ago (along with a slightly ropey vhs release of 'the killer') was something which would change the cinematic path i would spend my life walking along. between them, the two films introduced wu xia, heroic bloodshed, triads, demons, swordplay, two gun action, the aforementioned hark and ching, john woo, chow yun-fat, leslie cheung and so much more. oh, and it also meant that i would always have a crush on joey wong...

needless to say, when i heard that this was being remade, i was very sceptical and had doubts over its quality. still, i like louis koo and wilson yip seems to be on a good run, so i thought i'd give it a go. then, yesterday afternoon, as i found myself mooching past the newport theatre in mong kok - you know, the corner where anthony wong, sam lee and michael wong, hang out in 'beast cops' - i though i'd pop in as it looked like rain. firstly, i was highly amused that people were getting a pack of 'sex and zen' branded tissues, if they were buying a ticket for that; secondly, i was amazed and delighted to find that there were no adverts or trailers before the film. it just started. it's a bit mad in this day and age and, thinking about it, i'm not even sure the cinema sold soft-drinks or popcorn; you just buy your ticket, go in, sit down and the film starts; to me, that's exactly what i want.

any how, after the pre-credit sequence consisted of the first paragraph of my introductory synopsis, i was a little worried as the sloppiness of the storytelling was verging on the painful. still, it did settle down very quickly and what followed was very entertaining indeed. i'll agree with wilson yip when he says that he is borrowing heavily from the 1987 movie, but not remaking it. just. the characters, location and some of the narrative is there, but there's enough new material and a different take on the love story, to make it something different. it is a film with a little bit of everything; drama, comedy, romance, a couple of jumps, some action, special effects and fantasy.

now, for those of you who are hoping that wilson yip will have put the cgi on hold and gone for a ore grounded approach to the action sequences, then i'm afraid you will be very disappointed. this film is cgi heavy but, to be honest, it didn't really offend me. there, i said it and i can't take it back. yep, there's a couple of moments where there's some down to earth swordplay and there isn't as much flying and wire-work during the action sequences as i remember in the original, but there's cgi exploding demon ladies, and fights which have been enhanced. but, they have been "enhanced" and it all fits within the atmosphere and the spectacle of the production and the quality of such effects, like the rest of the production design, is high, so i wasn't bothered.

cast wise, louis koo does well, even with a mildly questionable beard, as did wu ma in the original: surely fake beard technology must've advanced more in the last 24 years? yu shaoqun is perfectly acceptable and makes a good ning. then, whilst being no joey wong, liu yi-fei is an undeniably enchanting ghost...

for me, this was an enjoyable couple of hour in the cinema; i jumped and laughed, was drawn into the narrative and left with a smile on my face. it was nothing close to the experience which contributed to my love of hong kong cinema that occurred when i saw that screening twenty years ago (or whenever it was), but i reckon i'd have been stupid to expect as much. if you think the very idea of this film sullies some precious memories, then you should probably avoid it. if you think it looks like a bit of fun, then embrace it.

an enjoyable flick...

on general release in hong kong, out on dvd in the none too distant future...