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Fung bou (2013)
like a Call of Duty video game
Hong Kong cinema continues the trend set by Hollywood in glamourising violence, explosions crime and guns... some scenes look straight out of video games like Call of Duty. The action scenes are so violent, they took on an almost incredulous comical turn, Andy Lau's character was seemingly an immortal in disguise who survived more than a credible amount of car crashes, bomb/grenade blasts, direct gun fire and jumping out of high rise (sometimes exploding) buildings. There is a thinly veiled attempt to weave in a morality story about a pragmatic and too-late-to-repent criminal but it was a little simplistic, although the scenes were moderately salvaged by the strong acting of Chen Yao. Most interesting arc of the story was Andy Lau's portrayal of the obsessed cop forced to make ambiguous moral decisions in his search for justice. Unless you are the kind of person who really enjoys violence, guns, explosions and how the HK police force doesn't employ snipers to take down criminals in the open, then this film probably quite for you.
Da Shang Hai (2012)
China makes its own Godfather movie
<<< Spoilers ahead, please don't read if you intend to watch the movie without any prior knowledge of the plot>>>
I had the good fortune to watch this in Australia in an actual cinema, a treat for a country that rarely screens Asian movies. It was a particularly worthwhile experience as the movie was thoroughly enjoyable.
The screenplay is well written, using a classic hero's journey plot contained within a "rags to riches" story of our protagonist, Cheng Daiqi (Chow Yun Fat). Viewers of western films may recognise some similarities to seminal gangster movies like Scarface and Godfather. Interspersed through this main plot line, the film's writers (Jing Wong, Manfred & Philip Lui) skillfully weave related Shakespearean subplots of power, romance, lust, betrayal, family, loyalty and patriotism. The plot travels at a comfortable pace and is made more interesting by a clever story telling method that jumps the audience through non-linear time periods during the first part of the movie to paint a beautiful back story for the film's finale.
The casting director should be recognised on his/her own accord for assembling a cast that could deliver on the story. It is a little unfair to single out any specific actors given the aggregate stellar performance, but if pushed, Chow Yun Fat (Cheng Daiqi) and Huang Xiaoming (young Cheng Daiqi) are near faultless in their respective performances. Chow Yun Fat once again demonstrates his acting prowess, moving into that rare stratosphere of actors whom directors can point a camera at, and with just a close-up facial shot and no spoken lines, let the actor's eyes emotionally engage the audience. Perhaps as an indirect homage to Chow Yun Fat's good looks in his younger days, a rather handsome actor plays young Cheng Daiqi. Huang Xiaoming is great in this role, especially in the latter parts of Daiqi's rise in status, exuding a quiet confidence and poise that explain Daiqi's actions in the later parts of the movie. No commentary on the actors in the movie can be concluded without a mention of the women cast in this film, i.e. Daiqi's and Shouting's wives and lovers. Their beauty almost jumps off the screen, and is present in both their young and older guises. The respective wives of the two gangster brothers played their loyal roles beautifully to reveal a touch of vulnerability and humanity in their underworld husbands, hinting at the juxtaposition of power in these families.
The film was shot beautifully and is accompanied by beautiful songs in its soundtrack. No small amount of attention went into the costumes as the cast were dressed in fantastic period pieces to match the movie's early 20th century setting. Although not quite matching the grandeur and realism of war scenes shot in Saving Private Ryan and Black Hawk Down, great care was evident in simulating the chaos of Shanghai's aerial bombing.
This film is well worth watching and is a showcase for Jing Wong's movie directing and Chow Yun Fat's abilities as a thespian. It serves as further evidence of Asian cinema to deliver on movies that arouse our intellectual and visual senses.