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Film Review: Ting Che

Film Review: Ting Che
Cannes, Un Certain Regard

CANNES -- Double parking evolves into a pert metaphor for Taipei's urban chaos and the obstacle-strewn nature of life in "Ting Che", a neat concept film by Chung Mong-Hong. Using a man's Kafkaesque attempts to get his car out as the narrative link, Chung devises a chain of bizarre encounters and confrontations that are by turns amusing and disquieting.

The film has gone down well with critics when it premiered in Cannes' Un Certain Regard section. Making festival rounds will certainly generate more advantageous word of mouth, especially in Chinese-speaking markets, where leading Man Chang Chen and supporting actress Kuei Lun-mei rope in two distinct age groups.

"Ting Che" which means "Parking", begins its detour from quotidian life when protagonist Chen Mo (Chang Chen) buys a Tiramisu and quibbles about its "lack of dynamism" to the cake-maker's chagrin. The film is peppered with this kind of cryptic, quasi-philosophical banter which sustains a theatrically absurd air as Chen makes karmic connections with a one-handed barber, a mourning family, a tailor with a father complex, a triad boss and a pimp, while searching for the driver who double-parked outside the shop.

"Ting Che" echoes a recent spate of Taiwan films that weave together disparate stories, notably "The Most Distant Course" and "God Man Dog". Alejandro Inarritu's works makes a close western parallel. Chung's assured narrative skill is evident in his variation of mood and protagonists in each story, while keeping the episodic form in a tight time-frame (one night) and location (an old building). Yet, like his documentary "Doctor", he mistakes melodrama for profundity. Despite the range of characters and fetching performances by veterans Jack Kao, Chapman To and Leon Dai, plots are almost all implausible, with the ending most make-believe.

Chung has plenty of style to spare, but only a hint of substance. The highlight of the film is a toilet scene involving a wide-eyed fish head. A delicious visual joke, no doubt. But like the white paint artfully splashed on a tailor's torso, or the ending's flashy experimental shot of a centipede, they are devised more for aesthetic effect, than essential to the plot. Art direction is lush, with duskily lit 70s retro decors and cinematography of a mellow, velvety texture. The lyrical music features some violin pizzicato that sounds like the score of "In the Mood for Love".

Cream Production

Cast: Chang Chen, Jack Kao, Kwai Lun-Mei, Leon Dai, Chapman To, Peggy Tseng. Screenwriter-director-director of photography: Chung Mong-Hong; Producers: Shao-Chien Tseng, Jane H. Hsiao' Art director: Shih-Hao Chao; Music: An Dong; Costume designer: Editor: Shih-Jing Lo; Sales: Good Films Workshop.

No MPAA rating, 113 minutes.

Isabella

Isabella
Screened at the Berlin International Film Festival

BERLIN -- "Isabelle" has a gentle, melancholy spirit as two characters look to the future while haunted by the past. During the chaotic, crime-ridden months before Portugal handed Macau back to China in 1999, a rogue cop named Shing (Chapman To), already under suspicion of corruption, brings home an underage hooker picked up in a sleazy bar. Then the girl, Yan (Isabella Leong), hits him with a huge whammy: She claims to be his daughter by a long-ago lover, who recently died. Thus begins two people's odyssey, tracked through the shadowy, decaying back alleys of Macau, toward a relationship neither is certain is desirable.

This Berlin competition film makes a fine festival entry and could do well in Asia where it has several marketing hooks. For one thing, director Pang Ho-cheung, who has made five films in rapid succession since 1999, has emerged as one of the leading Hong Kong new-wave filmmakers. Here he collaborates with To in his partner's first outing as a leading man and producer. Meanwhile, the beguiling Isabella Leong has enjoyed success as a pop singer in Asia as well as an actress.

The film gets off to a misleading start as the time frame is fractured and events are fuzzy, leading one to anticipate an arty deconstruction exercise where things remain unclear for most of the film. However, once characters get sorted out and Yan drops her bombshell, the film heads down a fairly straight-forwarded narrative path.

Pang (working from a script he wrote with Kearen Pang, Derek Tsang and Jimmy Wang) concentrates on character and mood without overplaying the emotional content. Macau itself becomes a third character in the movie, a stubborn, decadent city in transition, as are the two people.

Yan has turned for help to her womanizing father -- whom she has studied from afar but never approached-- only due to a financial emergency. Since she is four months behind on rent, her landlord has padlocked the flat with her dog, Isabelle, inside. When Shing confronts the landlord, the man snorts that he threw the dog out on the street.

This launches an extensive dragnet of the neighborhood by the older man and young woman, searching for the missing canine. Meantime, the homeless girl moves temporarily into her father's one-bedroom flat.

The film's incidents are casual, even muted. Yan puts off a classmate (Derek Tsang) with a huge crush on her by insisting that Shing is her new lover. Fellow cops and crooks wander into Shing's path, offering oblique warnings about the corruption charges. (He's guilty but who wants to be a fall guy?) Flashbacks show Shing as a young man bringing Wan's mother (J.J. Jia) to an abortion clinic, and then abandoning her before she goes through with the procedure. The memory is still fresh for Shing.

One amusing sequence has Yan, assuming the role of Shing's live-in lover, turning away a succession of girlfriends who come to the door. One girlfriend proves her equal in deception: She insists that any girlfriend of Shing's must drink so challenges Yan to see who can drink whom under the table.

Cinematographer Charlie Lam has one of the world's greatest sets to work with -- the amazingly colorful/drab/vital/decaying back streets and alleys of Macau. Throw in Peter Kam's melancholy, Portuguese-influenced music involving piano and guitar and you get a wonderfully lyrical atmosphere for this modest but emotionally satisfying character piece.

ISABELLA

Media Asia Films/China Film group present a Not Brothers production

Credits:

Director: Pang Ho-cheung

Writers: Pang Ho-cheung, Kearen Pang, Derek Tsang, Jimmy Wang

Story by: Pang Ho-cheung

Producers: Pang Ho-cheung, Chapman To, Jin Zhongqiang

Executive producers: John Chong, Yang Bu Ting

Director of photography: Charlie Lam

Production designer: Man Lim Chung

Music: Peter Kam

Costumes: Stephanie Wong

Editor: Wenders Li

Cast:

Yan: Isabella Leong

Hua: J.J. Jia

Yan's suitor: Derek Tsang

Kate: Meme Tian

Shing: Chapman To

No MPAA rating

Running time -- 109 minutes

'Karma' big at H.K. Film noms

'Karma' big at H.K. Film noms
HONG KONG -- China Star's Running on Karma and Media Asia's Infernal Affairs II will slug it out for top honors at the 23rd Hong Kong Film Awards. Karma, directed by Johnnie To and Ka-fai Wai, goes into the final round of voting with 13 nominations, including best film and best director. Stars Andy Lau and Cecilia Cheung were nominated for best actor and best actress, respectively. Cheung was also nominated for her role in Tung-shing Yee's romantic drama Lost in Time. Cheung will be up against Kar-yan Lam (Floating Landscape), Carina Lau (Infernal Affairs II) and Sandra Ng Kwan Yue (Golden Chicken 2). Media Asia's Infernal Affairs II, the follow-up to 2002's boxoffice hit Infernal Affairs, received 12 nominations, including best film, best director, best actor for Francis Ng and best supporting actors for Man-chat To and Kai Chi Liu.

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