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As far back as I can remember, Sylvia Chang was playing the tomboyish
female inspector character opposite Karl Maka and Sam Hui in the Aces
Go Places franchise, and it's been quite a transition for her from
actress to acclaimed director. I haven't been watching a lot of her
films lately, the last being Princess D and saw her in person during
the local gala of the film. So in all honesty, I had decided to watch
Run Papa Run based on her directing pedigree.
Run Papa Run reunites Louis Koo and Rene Liu again for the big screen, after their initial leading pairing in Happy Birthday. Here, they too play a couple that are polar opposites, Koo being in familiar territory as triad chief Lee Tin-Yun, and Liu as Mabel, an aspiring lawyer who decided to junk her high flying career to start a family with Tin-Yun, given after all, a shotgun wedding to begin with.
As most would say, fatherhood will begin to change a man, and for Tin-Yun, the arrival of daughter Hai-Yi begins an uphill battle within himself to change for the better. Gone are the recklessness of youth where fights and getting injured are part and parcel of territorial disputes, and begins to rebrand his illegal business to more legitimate ones, albeit some being a front for the same seedy business, but drugs is something he would not touch.
Sylvia Chang managed to present quite a sympathetic tale weaved primarily for the Tin-Yun character, and with deft touch provides multiple layers to his triad character, with ample comedic moments to lighten up the mood. Being essentially a superstitious character who has prophetic dreams (which we will see in an animated opening credits sequence), I thought Tin-Yun had provided some very interesting insights on his take of religion, having to convert to Catholicism, while yet maintaining his ties to Guan Gong, the deity of choice of many triad members out there.
But more importantly, it tells of the growing up of the Tin-Yun character over a period of many years, chronicling his ups and downs, rise and fall within the triads, though with good buddies Big Mouth (Lam Suet, check out his incredible hairstyle in the beginning), and Big Eyes, starring Max Mok in a welcome return to the big screen, even though both of them really didn't have a lot to do. As such, this movie is primarily a Louis Koo vehicle, and provided him a platform to showcase his acting range, while at the same time, crafting a very likable character. Rene Liu on the other hand, whilst given the meatier role in their previous collaboration Happy Birthday, clearly takes the backseat in this movie, as the long suffering wife whose pride and joy slowly drifts to become more like the father, who has spend a lot of time getting into and out of police stations, and finding it difficult to keep what Tun-Yun is doing, from their daughter.
However, the movie does take its time to tell its story, and toward the last act you do feel a little hard pressed for things to move a notch faster, as it creates a lot of subplots that you'd see coming from a mile away, which while nice to have, doesn't really contribute a lot to the story's depth. For Louis Koo fans, I know that this is one movie that you shouldn't miss!
Tagline: Simply heart-warming
Review by Neo: It is movies like Run Papa Run that keeps HK cinema interesting and its dwelling number of fans on hold. In what is quite frankly a below average year of HK Cinema, Run Papa Run comes at the right time and also it's about time too. With a flick of time, it's now the 1st of July, in financial terms; it is now officially the next financial year and luckily the latest flick from the ever dependable humanist director, Sylvia Chang steals the spotlight of 2008. What makes this flick so special is that despite venturing into a crowded and cliché genre of triad. The film somehow manages to not be clichéd and ingeniously linking Chang's most prominent theme of family values into a bittersweet packaging of a dark chocolate cake. Adding to the icing on top of the cake is the well established chemistry between Rene Liu and Louis Koo, where both seem to be just carrying on from last year's Happy Birthday.
From the opening scene, the audience will already know the fate of the character, Louis Koo is playing, but yet somehow, director Chang still manages to mixes it up and the most of all, the film works. Neo have always been a fan of films that tries hard to touch with the audience heart and yet leaving behind a trail of thoughts within the audience mind. Luckily, Run Papa Run excels in this area and the result is an engaging family drama disguised as a triad genre flick to fuel the box office degree. It is never easy to link two very different genres together, but what allows this flick to work is Chang ability to stay real and the time and concentration she plays to character details is ultimately rewarding. Not to mention, the film possesses a great soundtrack to boot.
There is no doubting that Run Papa Run goes the route not taken usually and the result is easily a winning experience for HK Cinema fans that wanted and longed for something different. What veteran actress turned director does so successfully here is her ability to merge her usual independent style of film-making with enough commercialism to be accessible enough to most movie goers. It is ultimately an interesting look at the different view of life of a triad leader and how much someone can change because of their own children. Sure, some people may say that the change is too sudden, but Neo tend to disagree and knowing how much his own father loves him, it perhaps added layers to the film.
Dark Chocolate, Louis Koo is suitably cast as a triad leader, in a role that he has grown in familiarity since his involvement in the Election series. However, it is his ability to be a father that truly amazed the current reviewer. After years of one dimensional roles in numerous romantic comedies, Koo in recent years have challenged himself in juicy roles like Election and more recently in what Neo once claimed "Koo's best role to date" as a drug addict in Protégé. While Koo is yet to win any awards, there is no doubt that this lad has definite potential. The current role allowed him to expand his range and his at times overacting is actually a complimentary joy to watch. Notwithstanding, his tired and true chemistry with fellow veteran Rene Liu is fast becoming a cinematic item along the lines of Andy Lau and Sammi Cheng. A heart warming, yet bittersweet performance and for someone who was once just nothing more than a heartthrob, Koo have certainly comes a long way.
With Rene Liu approaching the 40 years old mark, there is no doubt that she is aging more gracefully than ever. With the looks of someone at most the 30 mark, Liu is elegantly beautiful as always. It is always a plus when someone who is both pretty and can act. Although Liu is a good actress, it must be noted that she have been playing the same role over and over again, take no further look than Matrimony and last year's Happy Birthday. Luckily, Liu actually tries something different here and her curious yet enjoyable personality at the beginning is well developed all the way towards maturity as the film progresses. Along with Koo, both actor/actress are able to add layer to the film and being a character director in Chang, it is certainly crucial to the ingredients. Also look out for a return to the big screen by veteran Max Mok and the always likable Lam Suet.
All in all, Run Papa Run is very much a successfully piece of HK cinema. While it scores more points for being original, what makes this film works is ultimately the engaging characters, quality acting, well-paced film-making and a quality script to boot. Adding to that, there is the X-factor of emoting and connecting with the audience on a touching level. In terms of HK Cinema, it is probably as good as it gets and for long suffering fans of HK cinema, it is a small cheer of celebration. It is not every day in the commercially driven society of Hong Kong can produce something that balance the goods of both commercial and independent film-making style and Run Papa Run is able to succeeds on both fronts. Perhaps, by now the awaiting readers can probably guess what's going to come next from Neo. After all, it is rare that Neo goes by a film with a single word of criticism; then again, Neo is bias when it comes to a film that he loves. That's right; Neo "loves it" (Neo 2008)
I rate it 9/10
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