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Excellent British indie drama with a unique sci-fi element
An excellent, well made British indie drama with a sci-fi element. Please note this is NOT a sci-fi action film with explosions and monsters, and anyone going in with that pre-conception will very likely be disappointed. It is, in fact, a character driven story focusing around a blossoming (and subsequently collapsing) relationship between two people before an asteroid hits the earth bringing post-apocalyptic disaster. The story shifts back and fourth in time as we witness the struggles and emotions of these two characters, played against the backdrop of mysterious ships in the sky, humanity falling apart and the search for their daughter. It's a very tragic relationship story and shows the three dimensional effect on normal people faced with a disaster, as opposed to the disaster being the forefront and the cardboard cutout characters being fodder on the stage. It's a completely different style of storytelling and all the more impressive that it's an indie production from a UK cast and crew. I hadn't seen anything quite like it before.
The film is well shot, the story is intriguing and the script is good. But the element that stands out most is the acting. Both leads turn in excellent, heart-wrenching performances which span the full-spectrum of emotion, from joy and warmth (flashbacks) to misery, fear and anger (present day). The whole cast, inc supporting players, are very good and it greatly boosts a film like this, where the overall impact relies so strongly on the actors.
In short, this is a extremely high quality drama which tries something new and ambitious with it's sci-fi angle. Well worth seeking out and I hope to see more from this team very soon
Hit Girls (2011)
The UK action scene needs more like this!
Hit Girls, the dynamic short film from Rosebud Pictures has finally been released online, following a successful set of screenings at BAFTA, Working Title and Electric Cinema in London. Blending dark comedy and stylish action, Hit Girls brings together an exciting cast of dramatic and action filmmaking talent and is bound to become a cult favourite.
Word about this film has spread online for quite sometime now (the film was first screened back in 2010), yet very few were lucky enough to actually see it. All this changed with today's official launch of the film online and it's already been causing quite a stir on YouTube and social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter!
On to the plot: Emma (Rosie Fellner: The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, Age of Heroes) and Megan (Gillian MacGregor: A Lonely Place to Die, Father's Day) are flat mates and like all best friends, they argue. Unlike most best friends, however, they are highly trained assassins! Megan has taken Emma off the job for falling in love with their target so Emma kills Megan's date (Joey Ansah: The Bourne Ultimatum, Street Fighter: Legacy) to retaliate. While burying him in the depths of the forest, their arguing reaches breaking point. With neither willing to back down, the normally cool and calculating Hit Girls lose their temper and all hell breaks loose. With old grudges rearing their ugly heads, can their friendship - and their lives - make it through the night?
From director Adrian Vitoria (Age of Heroes, The Crew), Hit Girls delivers a fresh and altogether different dose of action entertainment. Also helmed by actor/producer, Rosie Fellner, and actor/writer Gillian MacGregor, the film is a 'must-see' for fans of the female assassin genre. Gaining a high-energy boost from actor/fight choreographer, Joey Ansah, the film delivers hard on the action front and marks this team as one to watch out for!
There are rumours there may be more from this team, in the form of either a series or feature film. Hopefully it won't be the last we see of the Hit Girls gang, or this asskicking female duo for that matter! The UK action circuit needs more like this!
Bodyguard: A New Beginning (2008)
Blends the best components of gritty British film-making with a heavy dose of Hong Kong style action!
'Bodyguard: A New Beginning' focuses around the story of Leung, the bodyguard of a Chinese Triad boss, Wong, to whom his loyalty is unrivaled. Living in Hong Kong, Wong requests that his bodyguard travel to the UK to protect a young British woman, whose true identity is known only by Wong himself. Even his own errant son, Yuen, is kept in the dark, which leads to a betrayal that threatens to destroy the family and all that his father has worked hard to protect.
This energetic piece of low budget film-making highlights some of the best components of gritty British film-making with a heavy dose of Hong Kong style action and attitude. To top it off, the film features an all-star cast, incorporating the talents of both iconic veterans and rising stars all working under the watchful eye of a bold and multi-talented young director! Leung (Vincent Sze) is the loyal bodyguard of Wong (Richard Ng), the boss of a powerful Hong Kong Triad. Amidst growing tension between Wong and Kai (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa), the vicious head of a rival family, Leung is sent to the UK to protect a British woman whose identity is known only to Wong. As the Triad war in Hong Kong spills out into the streets, Kai, working with Wong's treacherous son Yuen (Carl Ng), sends enforcers to the UK to kidnap the mysterious woman Leung is protecting.
After Leung finds her, the pair struggle to evade Kai's ever-growing army of thugs on the streets of London. Meanwhile in Hong Kong, Wong desperately tries to keep his organisation intact as the business' foundations are weakened by his son's disloyalty and Kai's relentless pursuit for Wong's territory. A final confrontation in Hong Kong will bring about an end to the carnage, but at a price none of them could have predicted.
Following his previous work in Underground, director Cheung Chee Keong proves once again he is one of the most skilled, technically capable young independent action-film directors working in the UK today. Capturing a dark, unsettling tone of drama and a fast paced, brutal and stylish flair for the action sequences, the film treads new ground and blends multi-genre conventions.
Shot neck-deep in the urban metropolis of both London and Hong Kong, the visual style benefits from the diverse range of settings and captures a unique, visceral energy that could never be achieved filming in a studio. Although the story doesn't necessarily present anything new, there are enough innovative ingredients incorporated into the mix to deliver something fresh and exciting for both old-school and aspiring fans of Asian and action cinema.
In addition to the sights and sounds of the locations, the cities are captured in an honest, almost homely light, perhaps an indicator of the director's sentiment towards London and Hong Kong (Cheung was born and bred in England while his folks are from Hong Kong) - despite the obvious inclusion of the criminal underworld who exists there. For residents of either city, many locations will be familiar and instantly recognizable, making the action appear all the more real and immersive.
With a variety of athletic, acrobatic movements and brutal, close-quarters fighting, the action offers plenty of variety, courtesy of action directors Anthony Carpio and Chan Man Ching. To top off the high calibre actors in the film, the physical stars are equally impressive and serve up a nice variety of loathsome villains and noble heroes. Mark Strange makes a particularly intimidating villain, and seamlessly embodies the image of a human wrecking ball, relentlessly pursuing Vincent Sze with monstrous attacks and thunderous force.
One of the strongest elements of the film can be seen in the wonderful range of actors, representing a crossover between different generations of Hong Kong stardom. Richard Ng is far removed from his comedy persona made famous in the Lucky Stars series and shows his range as a great character actor. Portraying Wong, he is both humble and, when he needs to be, incredibly ruthless and aggressive.
In all, the movie offers up a wide range of stars stepping into characters outside normal typecasting. This elevates the story beyond expectation and injects a new, character-driven quality of drama into the action and gangster themes.
Veteran actor, the late, great Shing Fui-On, even features in a cameo role, further evidence of the possible homage to good old fashioned Hong Kong gangster movie-making. Certainly one of the most appealing points of the movie is the range of stars appearing together on screen a real achievement in casting this many talented, high profile actors in a single project.
Bodyguard is a great achievement as a low-budget piece of multi-national action cinema, breaking new boundaries while still managing to deliver traditional conventions for genre purists. It is seeing these traits; veteran actors and rising stars, or classical stories with fast-paced film-making, that gives the film its integral character and identity. Cheung Chee Keong is reinventing British action cinema as we speak and, trust me, you don't want to miss out.
A homage to classic 1980s action cinema!
In homage to classic 1980s action cinema, Underground follows the story of twelve individual fighters brought together to compete in an illegal underground tournament for the grand prize of £500,000. Throughout the gruelling competition each fighter will be pushed to their physical and psychological limits as they make and break alliances, fuelled by the goal of eliminating the competition.
Broken from the same mould as martial arts classics like Kickboxer and Blood Fist, Underground is a relentless, adrenaline-fuelled fight fest that takes no prisoners. Following the simple story of twelve underground fighters competing for a cash prize, the unique characters and their individual stories are told through strong characterization and flashback, thrown against some of the most brutal action sequences witnessed in a long time.
Also featuring a strong cast of up and coming British action stars like Mark Strange (Displaced, Batman Begins), Joey Ansah (The Bourne Ultimatum) and Nathan Lewis (Fight School, Kick Ass), the talented team is shown in an incredible light under the heavily visual style of director, Chee Keong Cheung. For fans of martial arts and action cinema, generally, Underground is a ground breaking addition to a hugely successful genre. A must-see for true martial arts fans!
"A strong depiction of a fascinating time and place in history..."
Don Kit Mak's Epic, Ultra Big-Budget film of the rise and fall of arguably the most powerful Godfather of 20th Century China is certainly an interesting experience.
Luk Yu-San (Ray Lui) is a petty fruit seller with ambition who seeks the money and respect of those great men carted through the streets. One day, he does a good deed and earns mob money for some friends and family, while gaining the recognition of the slimy, corrupt local Police Inspector (Kent Cheng). While falling for a local, prestigious girl (Cecilia Yip), Luk Yu-San begins his gradual climb of the underworld ladder, working with gangsters from both sides of the law and establishing himself as an up-and-coming local icon.
Despite being somewhat overlong and at times falling into irrelevant detail, the film is saved by a strong cast, a clearly competent director, and genuinely impressive production values. Originally shot as one long epic film, it was subsequently broken into parts I and II (the other half being "Lord of East China Sea 2") with the belief that the overall running time was too long. With this first part of the story running at nearly two and a half hours, this is probably true. Nevertheless, the subject is handled with care and does produce a strong depiction of a fascinating time and place in history. Despite inevitable flaws, the film certainly deserves attention and praise by international audiences. The over romanticized plot seems to give the film a more theatrical "feel" but is not detrimental to the engaging characters, particularly Kent Cheng's Chief Wong, whose arrogant and brash depiction of the Police Inspector seems to give the film a whole other dimension.
A combination of enjoyable big-budget epic and history lesson, but be sure to see Part II for the conclusion and to excuse the abrupt ending of this first chapter of "The Lord of East China Sea".
Mou gaan dou (2002)
Andrew Lau's Incredibly Powerful Crime Thriller...
Andrew Lau's incredibly powerful crime thriller; "Infernal Affairs" should be studied long and hard by all Western Filmmakers for a lesson in how contributing factors can, together, create something very special. This film has an excellent "New Wave" HK Director, a first-rate cast, great script, good production values and an overall rich and elegant style which defines it as being one of the best HK films in the last few years.
The film is a cat and mouse tale of two undercover agents, operating on different sides of the law, working to bring down each other's organization and expose each other's true identity. Chan Wing Yan (Tony Leung) is a Hong Kong Police officer undercover within the HK Triads; led by the intense and unpredictable Sam (Eric Tsang). On a long term undercover assignment, his real identity is only really known by his close friend and senior Policeman, Superintendent Wong (Anthony Wong). On the opposite side of the scale is Inspector Lau (Andy Lau), a Triad working for Sam who is climbing the ranks of the Hong Kong Police Department in an attempt to restrict their monitoring of the Triads' activities.
Needless to say, the film goes into far more detail than that, emphasizing strong character development, personal relationships, and issues surrounding honour, love and sacrifice. The film succeeds best on the basis that it draws on so many emotions and convictions, emersing the audience in the lives of the characters and genuinely engaging with the events on screen. The audience also grow to very much like both lead characters, in a strange sort of "Heat"-esque kind of way, and can relate to both characters problems.
The film contains a very interesting non-linear narrative including flashbacks to explain the early lives of Lau and Chan, and also contains some elaborate, but not excessive direction techniques. Andrew Lau, famous for kicking off the "Young and Dangerous" popular film franchise seems to "grow up" somewhat with this film and experiment further with narrative styles and techniques. The cast is nothing short of excellent. Tony Leung, in particular drives incredible emotion into the torturous lifestyle of Chan, and Andy Lau gives a subdued and anxious approach to Lau. Eric Tsang delivers what is probably his best ever performance as the Triad boss, Sam, which is at times both funny and terrifying. Anthony Wong gets a rare opportunity to play a good guy, and seems to adopt naturalism and non-theatrical conviction, reminiscent in performances such as that in "Hard Boiled".
The film is a powerful reminder of how fantastic a movie can be when all the necessary elements come together. They certainly did here. See it for yourself now.
Ying hung boon sik (1986)
Wow... the best John Woo film ever?
John Woo, at his peak, manages to eliminate so-called "action directors" of Hollywood who favor blowing everything up over real drama.
John Woo is unique, but not unlike anyone else. It's just that he's so damn good at what he does. He creates action in a way no-one else can, and even reinvented the "bullet-ballet" action sub-genre. Yet his films still contain emotionally deep characters, powerful dialog, strong poetic imagery and exceptional drama. "The Killer" is a great example of the charismatic work of John Woo, but "A Better Tomorrow" is perfect.
Torn between the Triad lifestyle and loyalty to his graduating police officer brother, Kit (Leslie Cheung), Ho (Ti Lung) eventually forces himself to leave his life of crime when he surrenders himself to police after a double-crossed money exchange. Mark (Chow-Yun Fat) is a top-class player in Ho's business but is reduced to the status of washing the boss's car when Ho goes to prison. Still unforgiven by Kit, who is now a growing figure within the Hong Kong Police, and now released from prison, Ho is pressured towards rejoining the Triads in exchange for Mark's reinstatement and his surveying brother's life.
The film includes incredibly choreographed and directed action sequences, as would be expected of any Woo film. The character relations and interactions are genuinely moving and emphasize the friendship and mutual respect these men hold for each other. The entire cast is flawless, right down to the support players, including Kenneth Tsang, who all deliver performances of genuine solidarity and power. So see this John Woo classic now, and watch out for his minor role as the Police chief, not a bad actor either...
Zhi zun wu shang (1989)
Wong Jing's original and forerunner to the successful "HK Casino" film franchise is an excellent example of how skilfully the genre can be presented.
Crab (Andy Lau) is a smooth professional gambler, although "con man" might be more accurate to describe some of his sleazy and deceptive means by which he tricks his rich victims out of huge amounts of money. Although it must be said, he never steals from the innocent, but only slimy business tyrants. His friend and gambling partner, Law (Alan Tam) is arguably the more careless of the two. They are called in to assist a Casino owning friend of theirs who has lost a lot of money to some cheating Japanese Yakuza, and so their investigation into the suspected men ensues. Needless to say, this attracts unwanted attention and eventually leads them into trouble with the Yakuza. When Law's girlfriend, Tong (Idy Chan) is kidnapped by the Yakuza in exchange for Crab, a punishment for stealing back some money in a gamble, Crab goes straight after the kidnappers...
Without giving the whole film away, little else can really be said, but the film does contain a great deal of plot twists and interesting developments.
Alan Tam is probably the best lead here, and gives an emotionally deep and interesting performance. Andy Lau is not nearly as great as he was in "Casino Raiders II", the unrelated sequel, but still gives a solid depiction of the morally uncertain 'Crab' Chan.
In all, very rich noir-visuals and stylishly subdued direction from Wong Jing and Jimmy Heung make this a strong high-point of the HK Casino-Noir genre.
Gong woo ching (1987)
"...An entertaining and watchable addition to the genre..."
"Rich and Famous" is a slow-moving but character driven Triad drama from director, Taylor Wong, very much created in the style of other Wong titles such as "Triads: The Inside Story".
Kwok (Andy Lau), his brother (Alex Man) and some of his friends begin working for local Triad kingpin Li-Ah Chai (Chow Yun-Fat) to eradicate their debt problems. They gradually become more deeply involved with Chai's activities and the goings on within the Triad organization. But problems begin to arise when Tang Kat-Yung, Kwok's brother, begins plotting his own schemes away from Chai and moving towards the company of Chai's enemy, "Big Eye" (Lam Chung).
Taylor Wong creates a very familiar plot here, using all the familiar Triad clichés. Yet he manages to construct a film which is still entertaining, tense, and maintains audience interest. His detached, almost documentary style direction, passively observing the characters, is used once again. The interesting aspect of this style is that it does not generally create an opinion for the viewer but instead presents the characters in their normal states and allows the viewer to decide who is good and who is bad. Nevertheless, the slightly formulaic structure is redeemed somewhat by an excellent ensemble cast. Chow Yun-Fat, Andy Lau and Alex Man all give strong performances, while Shing Fui-On, Pauline Wong and Danny Lee provide powerful support. Danny Lee is in fact on screen far less than one would expect and only really appears in two or three scenes. However, his minor role is actually expanded by his vibrant and colourful depiction of the determined cop.
Overall, although lacking in originality and inspiration, "Rich and Famous" can still be described as an entertaining and watchable addition to the genre and deserves to be seen by all HK film fans.
Ren yue bo lan jie (1995)
An absorbing and interesting character-driven Romance
It is my pleasure to be able to review "A Date on Portland Street". It could be described as romantic, funny, dark, depressing; all these things would certainly be true. The main point to note, particularly from the perspective of a Western viewer, is that HK Romantic films in no way resemble the dire, and painfully cheerful monotony of typical British and American cinematic Romance. This film has a soft, romantic side, but it is soon challenged by themes of loneliness, failure and pessimism, making the entire movie both absorbing and much more interesting. Moving onto casting, Kelvin Wong is exceptional in this film, moving far away from his "villain" typecasting, with which he has been labeled, within HK cinema. His performance is complex, and he successfully highlights his characters' immaturity, but at the same time a sense of bawdy flirtations, and deeply withheld dissatisfaction with his life. Li Feng Xu provides a strong female lead and sustains the independent woman character who could effectively lead a life without Zhang Wei, yet they remain together despite growing differences.
Director, Zhang Zeming creates a dark and ultimately bittersweet Romantic drama which comes across as refreshing and interesting especially compared to some of the genre's disposable garbage, courtesy of Hollywood and Britain's "Working Title Films" (eg- Hugh Grant). The film is, at times, challenging, but well worth a look. The editing back-and-forth between Zhang Wei in London and Hong Kong creates occasional confusion about where exactly he is at any one point. Yet the overall "feel" of the film is one which certainly deserves wider recognition and praise. Well worth taking a look.