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A lovely delicacy of a dish!
14 October 2009
Ageing cook, Wan (Fuji Tatsuya) is the chef-owner a popular local Chinese restaurant called Little Shanghai. Cooking his favourite dishes from his native Shaoxing in China, his restaurant is favourite with the regular locals which beings it to the attention attention of a department store, who wants to create a range of dishes for retail.

Their rep, widowed mother Takako (Nakatani Miki), is sent to visit Wan, but she is unable to convince him to do a deal. Persistently visiting his restaurant she tries each of the dishes and falls in love with the restaurant, whilst uncovering her own desire to learn how to cook for herself. When Wan suffers a stroke and the restaurant is threatened with closure, Takako quits her job and offers to be Wan's apprentice. Reluctant at first, Wan finally accepts, and Takako's major task is to impress some very important clients.

Admittedly not the most original plot (we've had "apprentice" story lines stretching from dance/music/singing/office/fashion students as far as you can get), this one does provides a nice twist on the idea. Not just focusing on the usual apprentice-will-succeed story, director Mihara Mitsuhiro focuses on exploring the senses. Of course, we could have done with a bit of smelly-vision and tasting the food, but being a film Mihara does his best by taking us also on a beautiful visual and aural journey, not only in the kitchen, but to different parts of Japan and Shaoxing in China as well. In many ways this is as much a cultural eye-opener as a culinary one.

The backgrounds to the characters provide for some neat and touching moments throughout the movie, and the chemistry between the actors is excellent, all brought together to complement Miharo's story and direction.

For me this was one very delightful film, tickling all my senses of pleasure, and I would be happy to revisit this establishment again any time.
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Very disappointing
13 November 2007
A movie to celebrate 10 years since the handover of Hong Kong, this film aims to document the difficulties Hong Kong faced immediately, from the Asian financial crisis in the late 90s to SARS.

Gigi Leung plays Joy, a powerful CFO of a hotel chain in Hong Kong, who sees her husband CEO replaced by a young mainland Chinese businessman. As the Asian financial crisis hits, relationships are strained and even the most trusted ones, both personal and business, are troubled.

Meanwhile, Fiona Sit plays the naïve assistant of Joy, falls for a cheat, yet has an admirer in the form of the flower shop boy next door.

In all honesty, the film fell into the typical trap in converting a novel into a motion picture. There are too many minor dramatic scenes that might work in describing real life in a novel, but simply doesn't add anything to a film lasting an hour and a half. The relationships between the characters seem too artificial, despite glimmers of chemistry amongst some of the actors, but generally, it just didn't work.

But my greatest gripe was that this film just relied so heavily on product placement such that it turned out to be one long advertisement. I understand that films need funding, but that just ruined any artistic value this film had (not that it really had much to start with).

I'm rather disappointed overall. Gigi Leung has proved that she can be a good dramatic actress, but sadly, her talent was wasted this time.
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A Melody Looking, but can't find magic
12 January 2007
A Melody Looking

Starring: Janice Vidal, Leon Lai, Jill Vidal, Charles Ying, Chapman To, Emily Wong

Dir: Leon Lai - 2006 - Hong Kong

There has been a small buzz in musical films recently. Sure the likes of Evita, The Producers and Chicago may be been a follow on from a century of musical cinema in the US, but in Hong Kong, musical films are a rarity. But with the success of the likes of Peter Chan's Perhaps Love, and Jacky Cheung's ultra-successful stage show, Snow.Wolf.Lake, it's no surprise that some of the others might want to step up to the challenge.

A Melody Looking is a story in which a young girl recruits two quirky sleuths, Leon (Leon Lai) and Charles (Charles Ying), to track down a girl called Janice (Janice Vidal), only to instead find Janice's twin sister Jill (Jill Vidal). It turns out that Janice is needed as she had written a song to help a ghost reincarnate herself in the next life.

Leon Lai and Mark Lui are one of the most successful recording partnerships in Hong Kong, and this film was clearly one to showcase the talent they have at their music label Amusic. From veterans Lai and Chapman To, to newcomers Janice, who was the new sensation in 2005 and followed quickly by real life twin Jill, as a video showcase, it works quite well. But sadly anyone looking for more than this, including pop fans of the artists, is going to be disappointed.

The story is particularly weak, not surprisingly, particularly as there isn't much dialogue in between each of the full length music video segments that take place in between the different scenes. In fact the music videos are the major flaw in the film. There are too many of them, and there's little interesting content in them to keep the viewer occupied. Where, usually, in a musical, each song tells a story and the visual element carries you along, the MVs in this film don't. Indeed, even as standalone music videos they look rather boring. A couple of Janice's standalone MVs on her latest album are just based on one camera moving back and forth on a track pointing at her. Rather dull.

It is a shame, though. Where there was good, it was very good. The costumes, the sets, and even some of the camera angles were gorgeous and visually grand. Unfortunately, it's just not put together well enough to make it stick.

All in all, I'm rather disappointed in this effort. For a film that reportedly cost HK$10m to make (a lot by HK standards), I doubt that it was really worth it. Perhaps next time, they could have taken some of the commercialism out of it and tried to make a real story.
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A humorous look at the HK cinema industry
26 December 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Poon Ka-Fai (Lau Ching-Wan) is a washed up actor who was once awarded HK's Best Newcomer award but whose popularity has since waned, not just on screen, but also down to frayed relationships with production crews he had worked with. On the way home from what appears to be his last shoot for a while, he is followed by one of the extras, an obsessed fan from mainland China called Faye (Hou Siyan) who is eager to break into the Hong Kong showbiz scene. As fate would have it, she manages to convince him to take her under his wing, to be her mentor and manager. Little do they know, the journey to stardom gives them both a lift into the limelight.

My Name Is Fame is a fairly humorous poke and homage at the same time to at the Hong Kong showbiz scene at the moment, particularly as it struggles with waning cinema-going and manufactured talent amidst the disillusionment of audiences with poor quality entertainment. (I'll leave my rant about this aside!) However, it is an uplifting story of talent and success and what a bit of hard work will do. The industry is one in which its participants need to have persistence to succeed, and this film doesn't hide that fact. There are plenty of scenes that show HK's cinema machine in action much of it that shows it's not an easy business to be in.

Lau Ching-Wan was clearly the perfect lead for this role. As a man who amazingly hasn't yet been awarded a Hong Kong Film Award in reality and is surely overdue for one, I feel he has drawn a lot from experience to bring to his character, fictitious as it may be. There are indeed some joking references to his past work as well. At the same time, the inclusion of Hou Siyan was also interesting, as she was in fact a real life newcomer to HK cinema from China, although I thought it was a little annoying that her performance did have to be dubbed in the end. Cameos from a number of notable actors (Tony Leung Ka-Fei, the current HK Best Actor, Ekin Cheng), recent new talents (Fiona Sit, Niki Chow) and acclaimed directors (Gordon Chan, Ann Hui and Fruit Chan) make appearances which add to the strength of the storyline.

However, I doubt this film is going to give Lau Ching-Wan a best actor gong. The film isn't emotionally strong enough to deliver that, particularly as it tries to deliver an upbeat ending. But its message is pertinent to the industry that it depicts and is a part of. It's tough out there and there's a change going on. But with some hard work and some nurturing of talent, it can get there.

One that might win your heart, but not an Oscar.
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Deiji (2006)
Encouraging effort, but doesn't quite hit the mark
5 December 2006
Daisy (데이지) Jeon Ji-hyun, Jung Woo-sung, Lee Sung-jae Dir: Andrew Lau - 2006 - Korea / Hong Kong / Netherlands

Hye-young (Jeon Ji-hyun) is a painter in Amsterdam who looks after her grandfather's antique shop during the week and earns extra money by being a street painter during the weekend. It's through her painting that she meets Jeong-woo (Lee Sung-jae), an Interpol cop who is chasing a criminal, but keeps Hye-young in the dark about his real work. Meanwhile, Hye-young is dying to meet the man who leave flowers on her doorstep every day, and built a bridge over a stream for her when she once fell in. Little does she know that he's really a contract killer, Park-yi (Jung Woo-sung), and a shy man, who has fallen for her.

If I were to super-critical, Daisy unfortunately didn't carry the strongest script for me, despite what appeared to be a fantastic concept. A few plot flaws spoilt the cleverness of some of the scenes, and generally, it lacked some of the sophistication I'd expect from a Korean melodrama. This was compounded by some over-acting, which left a feeling that much of the realism was lost from the movie. However, that would be the super-critical view, as there were some positives.

This is one of the rare romantic movies for acclaimed director, Andrew Lau, who famed for his fantastic thriller, Infernal Affairs. With that background, much could be expected from Lau, and this was one challenge that would test his versatility as a director. One of the outstanding features of Infernal Affairs was the cinematography, and Lau has transferred it to this movie using some superb camera angles to add to the visual beauty and mood of the film.

Overall, I did enjoy the film, although I did think that it could be better, given the brilliance of Lau's previous film. However, Lau has done well with a different script and I think he has proved himself as one of the best directors in Hong Kong mainstream cinema at the moment. One with some nice flowers.

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Beautiful cinematography, weak plot
3 November 2006
Ko (Andy Lau) is a young doctor happily married to Zi Qing (Charlene Choi) when one evening she is killed in a car accident. Giving up his job as a doctor to become a paramedic, one evening he encounters a car crash in involving a young woman Tse Yuen Sam (Charlie Yeung). Finding that she was the recipient of his wife's heart, and that the transplant operation has not been entirely successful (her body was rejecting the heart), Ko tries to find out more about her. On discovering that her husband, Derek, who has a striking resemblance to Ko, had left her and that her dying wish was to spend time with him, Ko steps into Derek's shoes to try to bring happiness to her and his wife's heart in their dying days.

All About Love is beautifully filmed a very much an indie, art-house style and therefore encompasses visually-appealing photographic shots with interesting camera angles. A few special effects here and there add photography, and I have to say that in terms of the visual element of the film, it is really up there with the top. Congratulations to Jason Kwan with that.

However, this film was meant to be an emotional film. And while it was (there will have been a few tears jerked in the theatres), I didn't feel as though there was much credible emotional depth to the story. Andy Lau does very well and I can't fault his attempts to bring the characters of Ko and Derek to life. But unfortunately, the plot was simple, weak and linear, with not enough depth in the characters to really keep the viewer that interested.

Overall, at the end of the film, I was left feeling that the film could have been much, much better, which is a shame considering the cinematography was excellent. One missed opportunity.
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The Promise (2005)
Heavily disappointing
31 July 2006
For the official Chinese entry into the Oscars, there is a tremendous disappointment in that this film really didn't live up to its billing.

Kunlun (Jang Don-Kung) is a slave who is taken in by the powerful General Guangming (Hiroyuki Sanada) after Kunlun helps him win a major battle. Meanwhile, Guangming is sent to save the king and his princess, Qingcheng (Cecilia Cheung) from the clasps of Wuhuan (Nic Tse). As he is hurt, he sends Kunlun in his place, who unfortunately kills the king and rescues the princess. But all three men have fallen for her and will fight for her, yet she is cursed with knowing whoever loves her will die.

This was, at the time, the most expensive Chinese film ever made, and it's no wonder, given the amount of special effects and computer graphics used in the film, which is clearly the selling point of the film. But the superlatives stop there. For a film released in 2005, the special effects are heavily disappointing. They barely match the quality of films made a long time ago (I don't think it even manages to equal even The Stormriders, made in 1998) and certainly has the production quality of an FMV in a video game a decade ago and not a high definition feature. In many places the visual sequences are clunky and the editing is poor. Which is a real shame, because a lot of effort has been put into creativity in the camera angles and the set.

As for the script, it isn't particularly spectacular, although not atypical from a lot of fantasy films and novels in China. However, there is very little depth in the plot and there could have been a lot more.

I feel very sorry for the actors. Ultimately, I think they all gave a very good performance. Cecilia Cheung has once again demonstrated that she is a more versatile actor than we previously knew in this role and her recent films, One Nite In Mongkok and Lost In Time.

Nic Tse is believable as the villain and Jang and Sanada give some credible performances.

But the production outputs completely let the film down. Some of the effects fit in very well with Stephen Chow's Kung Fu Hustle (running in fields, etc), but ultimately for a film looking for serious credibility as a drama like this one, this is film was a major disappointment.

One that could have been.
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A few beautiful moments
31 July 2006
A West Lake Moment is a romantic drama featuring Xiao Yu (Zhou Xun) as the owner of a café in Hangzhou. She meets a man, Qin (Chen Kun) from Beijing, a playboy who shares the same idiosyncrasies as she does (from an occasional stammer to mild schizophrenia) and as a result, she promptly falls for him. But his playboy days become too much for her, testing her patience and ultimately forcing her back to Hangzhou. Soon he realises he may have lost the one relationship he really wanted, just as Xiao Yu finds out that she may have just lost her best friend, Tong (Yim Ling).

The setting for the film is West Lake, a large lake that is situated in the city of Hangzhou in southern China. Its history is that it is one of the most beautiful places in China, having inspired writers and artists for many centuries. A very beautiful place, the film uses that to good effect with beautiful shots of the location that do the place full justice. However, my only complaint is the lack of the use of the weather. Most shots are taken on a grey wintry day (probably the only time that the lake is quiet in this tourist city), and thus, I thought it could have been done better.

The film is very much a portrait of life in modern China for the youth of today. The cast are the up and coming young wannabes, who dress well and want to be successful in careers outside of the traditional ones their parents probably wanted. And with all of that is the different opinions of love and how it comes about. The playboy and the girl with a Caucasian boyfriend exemplifies this. The setting is truthful and honest, and does say a lot about how China has changed.

As for the stars, Zhou Xun is one of the biggest talents in Chinese cinema today. Her appearances in Balzac And The Little Chinese Seamstress, Hollywood Hong Kong and most recently Perhaps Love have displayed a versatility that could see her as one of the biggest actresses to have come from China. Her performance in this film makes her completely lovable, particularly as the idiosyncrasies that she possesses are completely believable, and I have no doubt that there will be more big successes for her in the future.

Chen Kun is also a rising talent in China, and his performance in this film was also strong. I suspect the chemistry that he and Zhou Xun has been consolidated over time as this is their third outing together on the big screen.

Meanwhile the partnership between director Yim Ho and his son Yim Ling, who plays Tong in this movie, appears to work well. As I understand it from other reviews on IMDb, Yim Ling also writes the score and soundtrack for the film, which I have to say is excellent.

All in all, this is a good movie, with plenty to keep you interested. One for a dreamy afternoon.
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20 July 2006
Gu Lian Hua (aka Love's Lone Flower) Anita Yuen stars as Yuenfang, a refugee originally from Shanghai who escapes the city to Taiwan following the Communists' civil war win in China in 1949. She works as a restaurant hostess, where she becomes a mentor to Juanjuan (Lilly Hsiao), who reminds her of her previous lover who took her affections, Wubao (Angelica Lee), who died during their escape to Taiwan. However, Juanjuan falls for a guest at the restaurant, a very unpleasant gangster, Ko, and they enter into a life of violence and drugs, leaving Yuenfang to come to terms with the fact that she may not see her again.

The plot for this film isn't very complex, in fact it's very easy to follow. What makes this film, though, is the Wong Kar Wai influence on the production values. The sets are gorgeous, there's an air of tension throughout the dialogue that takes place between characters, and the cinematography is beautiful. In fact, I'd say the pace of the film is much better than a WKW film, and indeed, I think the use of conversation (clearly down to the fact that there is a script) works very well. There is a clear attempt to use Christopher Doyle-esquire photography, but just as clear is the failure to emulate the beauty that Doyle brings to film. But then, that would always be a challenge.

Overall, the story and the characters have plenty of depth and the direction is good. Yuen may not be the best lead for this film, but the support she gets from Lilly Hsiao and the delectable Angelica Lee is superb, and they do bring this film to a new dimension.

Ultimately, I was impressed. I genuinely enjoyed the throwback to an era that continued from the glory days of Shanghai in the 1930s and 40s, and I very much enjoyed also the soundtrack that was attached. For art house fans, this is a good film, and well worth a visit to see. One superb film.
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Dragon Squad (2005)
Formulaic action thriller
9 May 2006
Objectively speaking, this was your typical formulaic Hong Kong cop thriller. Sammo Hung plays the once brilliant cop, Kong Long, with issues as he heads to retirement. One of his issues surrounds an old case in which his team gets wiped out by a gang. Meanwhile five superstars (Shawn Yue, Vaness Wu, Eva Huang, Xia Yu, Lawrence Chou) in the Asian entertainment scene play five international cops who are there to testify against a mobster. However, on the way to court he is "rescued" by the gwei-lo, a former SAS man, Petros (Michael Biehn) and his team (which contains the delectable Maggie Q). Not surprisingly, once the mobster escapes, the young cops are after them and a chase ensues, following a path of history that Kong Long is all too familiar with.

Unlike most HK cop thrillers, there is more of an element of psychology involved and there are mind games that you, the viewer, do get caught up in. It is intelligent in parts, triggering some suspense. However, the downside is that this wasn't consistent throughout the film and much of the rest of the plot is rather weak and predictable. There are some action scenes that add a bit of excitement, but overall the script is the usual formulaic stuff that is much a throw-back to that seen in the last three decades of HK film.

But for most, like many Hollywood efforts of this type of film, the film appeals to the mass market. Some very big names in the world of entertainment in the Far East appear in this movie, including boy band F4-member, Vanness Wu, veteran kung fu supremo, Sammo Hung, and former model Maggie Q. It isn't a sublime work of art. It is meant to be seen at face value. And in that, it might have some success.

Overall, this film breaks no boundaries, in fact it stays well within the outfield. But, it's a fairly solid film that the masses will probably enjoy. One for a bit of action.
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Clean (I) (2004)
Masterful Performance from Maggie Cheung
9 May 2006
So what does it take to win at the Cannes Film Festival? Well, Maggie Cheung pulled out all the stops for her win in 2004 in a moving film directed by her ex-husband Olivier Assayas.

Emily Wang (Maggie Cheung), a junkie ex-VJ, struggles in life after her husband, a famed yet ageing rocker whose career is in decline, dies after a heroin overdose on the drugs she had bought him. After serving six months in jail for possession, she finds her son, Jay (James Dennis) is put into the care of her parents in law, Albrecht (Nick Nolte) and Rosemary (Martha Henry). Knowing that the only way to see her son again is to clean herself up, Emily moves to Paris to rebuild her life, seeking help from long forgotten contacts. Meanwhile Albrecht begins to have a change in heart when he realises that Rosemary is dying.

Maggie Cheung's performance isn't easy to match with superlatives. Mastering dialogue in Cantonese, English and French, as well as singing the title track - she, unlike many HK actors, hasn't launched a singing career - it feels as much an honest, raw portrayal of Emily's character and her struggles to deal with the twists presented to her. Whilst Cheung and Assayas may have split amicably years before, I can't help but feel that their own history must have played a part in the making of this film, and if so, they used it well for the benefit of the film. Which is just as well, as I felt the overall script wasn't as impactful as it could be, particularly given Cheung's performance.

Nick Nolte's role is fairly limited. It's strange seeing him now as a grandfather, but he does it well - will we see a change in direction from him? This is a good film, and we will look back on it one day in an awards ceremony and say this is the one movie that exemplifies all of Maggie Cheung's achievements in one film.
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Just short of the mark
7 March 2006
Much was made of this film when it was being made. There was lots of hype, lots of speculation about Sammi's health during the filming and lots of disappointment and criticism when it was released. And not unfounded criticism.

Sammi Cheng plays Qiyao a girl who became Miss Shanghai in the 1940s with the help of a photographer, Cheng (Tony Leung Ka-Fai) and becomes the mistress of a Nationalist general. Soon after, the Communists win the civil war and Li flees China, asking a friend to tell Qiyao that he is dead. Qiyao decides to stay in Shanghai and endures the new Communist regime that sweeps China. But her life isn't easy, she has a child with a young businessman, Ming (Daniel Wu), who is force to ditch his responsibilities as a father, and much later a whirlwind but disastrous relationship with a young man, Kela (Huang Jue).

Sammi Cheng had chosen to take this movie to mark a change in her acting career, moving away from her famous romantic comedies of the past. So, there was an eager expectation of a star performance, only let down by the movie's poor script and storyline.

The plot feels a little chewed up, unsurprisingly, I guess, as it is an adaptation of a novel, but in the end you leave asking yourself what was the point of the story. It only just told of a life so sad most of the time as she jumped between repeated failures of her relationships. The men of her life were meant to reflect a period in the 40 years the film covers, but unfortunately these characters lacked depth in the final edit as their appearances were fleeting. It's all the more disappointing given the slow pace of the film.

There is clearly an attempt to follow in the Wong Kar Wai ways of filming. Put in some beautiful sets, the gorgeous costumes and some imaginative camera-work. But unfortunately, they all fell short of the mark. The lack of anything that showed the city that the film referred to was an obvious omission. But despite the disappointment, there was one performance that did live up to the expectation.

Tony Leung Ka-Fai (not to be confused with his more famous namesake, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai) is one of Hong Kong's finest and most experienced actors, and he steals the show with an assertive performance. So much so that he was awarded the Best Actor award for the Hong Kong Film Critics Awards.

But his performance was just a glimmer of what could have been. For Sammi, I'm really disappointed as much criticism of the film was aimed at her, but really, she didn't have much to work with. And it is the lack of depth in the film that really let it down.

One with many regrets.
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Perhaps Love (2005)
Fabulous story and music
7 March 2006
Perhaps Love is an unusual film from the East in that it is a musical. Jacky Cheung plays an acclaimed movie director, Nie Wen, who gave the major break to his girlfriend Sun Na (Zhou Xun) years ago. Once again, he's cast her in a musical film which tells of a love triangle between the leading lady to be played by Sun Na, her former boyfriend played by Lin Jian-Dong (Takeshi Kaneshiro) and a circus director played by Nie Wen. Little does Nie Wen know that there are too many similarities between his script and real life, as Sun Na and Lin Jian-Dong have a past from 10 years before.

Our film unravels, showing the parallels between Nie Wen's film and flashbacks of the story between Sun Na and Lin Jian-Dong. Despite the potential for it being clichéd and full of the boring old scenes from other romantic stories, it does turn out to be innovative and full of a few twists to keep the interest going. Plus Nie Wen's musical film gives some beautiful songs and choreography that occasionally bridge fictional and real life, so good in fact, that they would fit in well in some good West End/Broadway musicals.

Jacky Cheung, fresh from his almost endless tour round Asia in the stage musical production, Snow.Wolf.Lake, demonstrates in the movie why he is the king of the musical stage in Asia. His unique, powerful singing voice shines like a heavenly king's should. Takeshi Kaneshiro was a pop star in his youth and sings well (and just in case you wondered, not at all like the drunken scene in House Of Flying Daggers when Zhang Ziyi dances). But the acting honours go to Zhou Xun, who didn't actually have many singing parts, but her acting shone through as exceptional. She effectively plays three characters in this movie (Sun Na in her youth and as the diva, and the character in Nie Wen's film), and she makes the transition between those characters so effortlessly. She is for me a real talent in the making, a Zhang Ziyi but with real acting ability aside from looking innocent. It is no wonder then, that she won the HK Film Critics Award in 2006 for best actress, beating a whole host of stars and is up for the same category the coveted Hong Kong Film Awards in April 2006.

Peter Chan's visionary directing is as strong as ever. The film has some amazing sets, costumes and choreography that brings it to life. The cinematography is almost Christopher Doyle-esquire. Given Chan's other recent success (as producer) being Dumplings in the Three... Extremes films, I'm now looking forward to what Chan has to offer next.

The film is bound to create some more interest in Chinese musicals in the future, and I'm hoping that we'll see a film version of Jacky Cheung's Snow.Wolf.Lake. And there is an appetite for it internationally too, as Perhaps Love was widely praised when it closed the 62nd Venice Film Festival. In Hong Kong, it received good reviews, is nominated for 11 HK Film Awards and was Hong Kong's official entry into the Oscars (although it hasn't been nominated) This is a gorgeous film and definitely worth watching. One for an emotional tug on the musical heartstrings.
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A-1 Headline (2004)
Angelica Lee shines
16 May 2005
Angelica Lee plays Elaine, a fashion reporter for a popular newspaper, Citizen's Daily. Things aren't going well in her relationship with Peter, a colleague, and she decides to break up with him over the phone. Later that day, she hears he has been killed in a car crash, one that the police believe it was a drink-drive accident, although there's more than meets the eye. Fei (Anthony Wong), a former cop turned debt collector thinks something sinister has happened, with a possible link to the recent death of a model, a story that Peter was covering. Elaine, her colleague Kevin (Edison Chen) and Fei go in search for some clues.

The plot of this movie isn't really novel, but its execution is fairly good for the bulk of the film. A few twists and turns, particularly the motives of individual characters, are included and add to some suspense felt in this movie. However, not everything about the story is coherent and for me, holes appear here and there, and without giving the game away, I felt not all of them well filled in by the end.

However, despite that, there were some very credible performances from several of the actors. Angelica Lee has once again proved to me that she is a shining talent. Anthony Wong is great as ever and Tony Leung Ka-Fai has some very good short pieces as the Chief Editor. Edison Chen, much that I do think he is also a talent in the HK movie scene, has taken a massive step backwards here in a peripheral role that really befits a new actor rather than a superstar.

Nonetheless, this is a fair film and I do think it is one that's worth a watch, if only to see Angelica Lee.
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Stealing Hearts
15 May 2005
Another much hyped movie in Hong Kong in 2004 came in the form of "a third on screen union" between Andy Lau and Sammi Cheng, who have fast become the darlings of the Hong Kong RomCom genre. Actually, this is their sixth film together (according to IMDb), but never mind how many, it was the impact their first outing in Needing You that most will remember most, which they followed up with in Love On A Diet.

Yesterday Once More is a story about two thieves, played by Andy and Sammi, who end up divorcing when the wife refuses to share the loot fairly from a recent steal. Two years later, she is proposed to by the son of a wealthy woman and she agrees - if only to steal her "fiancé's" heirloom, a very expensive necklace. Meanwhile, her ex-husband also has his eyes on it, and in a game of cat and mouse, they try to locate each others' stolen possessions whilst finding love again.

Yesterday Once More was quite refreshing. Johnnie To has strayed slightly away from the formulaic movies that most HK RomComs are usually done and has added some darker emotions into it. There's a little suspense too, as you can never tell when a character is lying or not. And personally, I think it is a cute romantic film. But straying down the line he has, the comedy element seems to have been left behind. Gags are fairly basic and the actors who play peripheral characters who supply them don't really match up to Sammi and Andy. And I'm guessing it is this that has brought the lukewarmish reception from cinema-goers in HK.

However, I personally think it is one of the better RomComs offerings you will see from HK this year. One for those looking for a steal.
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Earthsea (2004– )
No production wizardry here
30 March 2005
If this could be nominated for a Razzie, I'd put it in. Sadly, it is a fairly awful mini-series.

Imagine a cross between Lord Of The Rings and Harry Potter. Sounds like it could be good? Ged is a son of a blacksmith, but wants to be a wizard, to the dismay of his father. Having rescued his village and island using a spell from the attack of wannabe ruler of all Earthsea, Tygath, a master called Ogion sends him to Roke to learn at the school of wizardry. Meanwhile Tygath wants to become immortal and seeks the secrets from a religious sect led by the High Priestess Thar to release the unnamed spirits and control them to take over Earthsea.

To put it mildly, the script was fairly dreadful and despite good attempts at special effects, there is little that could save it. Direction was poor, the acting was overdone and amateurish. Editing had the stop-start feel of chapters in a novel, cutting out flow and making it feel like an awful adaptation. If, like me, you watched the two parts back to back, it gets tedious.

Even salivating fans of Kristen Kreuk can't say that this mini-series is any good, and whilst she and Danny Glover put any credibility into this production, there is little in it that leaves you wanting more.

One to switch off.
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How culture has changed...
20 March 2005
An early Ang Lee film, he made this one year after his debut film, Pushing Hands, but had actually written it some six years before. Based on the true story of one of his friends in the first half of the film, Lee and co-writer/producer James Schamus take the story through a few smiles onto the screen.

Wai-tung (Winston Chao) is a gay Taiwanese landlord in New York with his boyfriend Simon (Mitchell Liechtenstein). Having not admitted his sexual orientation to his parents, he is pressured by them (and tradition) to get married and to have son to carry the Gao name. Meanwhile, Wei-wei (May Chin) is on the edge of poverty. An Chinese artist living in one of Wai-tung's derelict buildings, she is looking for a green card to avoid deportation. Noticing both situations, Simon suggests they marry out of convenience, but things go wrong when Wai-tung's parents come over to New York and a wedding banquet is held.

Although such a story today would have been regarded as a ordinary for a film plot, Lee's vision at the time it was made was fairly radical for certain sections of society at the time, particularly in conservative Taiwan. Lee pushed the boundaries, even including the first gay kiss scene to appear on Taiwan's screens.

Despite the ground-breaking story and the fact that I am watching it almost 12 years after it was made, I didn't feel that there was a sense of believability in the first half of the film. Characters were very 2D and lacked depth. There was a lot of missing chemistry on-screen, and for most of the first half, I did admit I was a little bored. The second half after the banquet takes place, though, was much better. As the characters are exposed and plots unfold, the story becomes more interesting and was much easier to watch.

However, one other gripe is the fact that the humour doesn't quite make its mark in the movie. There are plenty of opportunities to add the little smiles on peoples' faces, but the attempts to do so were fairly weak. The only time I let out a chuckle was in the City Hall wedding ceremony. Simply put, it doesn't match Ang's third film, Eat Drink Man Woman, in this respect.

Overall though, this is a watchable film, and you can easily see that Lee has developed his techniques quite a long way since his early films. The Wedding Banquet certainly demonstrates why people had faith in him and recognised his talent in the early days. One for a look back.
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Unoriginality and not traditional Pang brilliance
19 February 2005
* LEAVE ME ALONE * Ekin Cheng, Charlene Choi, Ekin Cheng (sic) Dir: Danny Pang - 2004 - Hong Kong / Thailand

With recent hits from the Pang Brothers such as The Eye, I had pretty high hopes for this movie. Danny Pang, one of the brothers goes solo as director in this cheesy, seen-before plot, and despite some good innovation, this flick falls somewhat short of expectations.

Man and Kit are twin brothers (both played by Ekin Cheng). Kit, who lives in Thailand, visits his younger brother in Hong Kong and on seeing his brother's car decides to take it for a spin, switching identities with their driving licences. However, Kit has an accident and is left in a coma, when Kit's girlfriend, Jane (Charlene Choi), calls needing him back to take out a loan from the bank to pay off some sharks. Man steps in and flies to Thailand, only to find that Kit and Jane may be in deeper trouble than they thought.

The film's plot is too familiar to many people, particularly when it's been used by so many others such as Jackie Chan (Twin Dragons), Jean-Claude van Damme (Double Impact) and Jet Li (The One). However, I do admire the attempt to give the characters more depth. Cheng's portrayal of Man and Kit are clearly different, and not only because of Man being a gay character in the film. Cheng almost pulls off the act of being two different characters, but there were certain parts of the script that made it too unconvincing. I found it amusing that Cheng had a hairstyle that is commonly reminiscent of his girlfriend's, Gigi Leung. Charlene Choi is gradually improving in her roles, but she doesn't have the maturity on screen yet.

As for the story, well, it's somewhat disappointing. There are some incoherences in the film, the action scenes were rather ordinary and unoriginal and frankly, I felt little excitement in watching them. But as a Pang film, the movie does have one saving grace and that is in the cinematography. Interesting camera angles, some good direction, and some quite clever editing did at least provide me something to keep me interested. But overall, it just didn't hit the mark.

In terms of action films, there are plenty of other, better films to see. As a Pang film, it's definitely a disappointment, particularly as the bar for the Pangs was set high with The Eye. But if you want something the pass the time, this film is at least watchable. One for a night in.
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Princess D (2002)
Glimmers of Talent
6 February 2005
A relatively early outing from three of the young talents of Eastern cinema, this was a demonstration of the future potential of its lead stars.

Daniel Wu plays Joker, a young computer graphics designer tasked with designing the perfect female game character. Inspiration, however, is limited in his company as they design a beauty but lacks personality. In his search for ideas, he encounters Ling (Angelica Lee), a nightclub bar girl who peddles drugs to survive. Despite her beautiful shell, Joker and his brother, Kid (Edison Chen), discover a complex character with a dark background: a father in jail, a mentally ill mother, and a younger brother who seems always to be in the midst of trouble. And yet Joker's princess.

Despite the cheesiness of the outline, the flesh is actually okay. Angelica Lee shines with her performance of a very complicated character, one that is in search of not so much happiness, but more of an average life, yet knows how to have fun. However, she is pretty much the only 3D character (indeed she is supposed to be in the computer game) in the whole film. Which did mean that Daniel Wu and Edison Chen didn't really have the challenge.

The storyline, however, didn't match the quality of some of the performances. Never digging deep enough, never really explaining enough, it feels a bit like a run-of-the-mill kind of story. Again, I can't help but think that more could have been done with the plot. As it was, there was little to shout about.

This isn't a great film, but it's not half bad either. Angelica Lee is one of the great contemporary talents and I really believe she will go far. Even in this early film in her career, she really shone above the rest. One for Angelica fans.
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Windstruck (2004)
Struck by missing-ness
13 January 2005
Windstruck (2004)

Starring: Jeon Ji-hyun, Hyuk Jang Directed by: Kwak Jae-young

I don't normally do spoilers, but potentially some people may feel I've revealed too much in this review.


As Windstruck reunites director Kwak Jae-young with Jeon Ji-hyun from the extremely popular My Sassy Girl, there will always be a comparison for fans between the two. But whilst My Sassy Girl was outstanding and indeed led to the massive break for Jeon Ji-hyun, Windstruck pales in comparison with the former, and indeed, some may end up disappointed.

Windstruck tells of a novice cop, Kyungjin (Jeon), who mistakenly arrests a stranger, Myungwoo (Hyuk Jang), believing him to be a purse snatcher. Once the mistake is realised, they both start dating, with Myungwoo feeling he has to come to the rescue of his maverick girlfriend. Sadly, one time too many and it all goes wrong as Myungwoo is killed.

Windstruck isn't as well written as MSG. Whilst there is plenty of detail in the film, with great attention paid to sets, costumes, camera angels and so on, it lacks the overall substance to carry the story. Indeed, it's hard to work out what really is the theme of the movie. The characters aren't developed enough and I didn't find enough chemistry being built up in the story before Myungwoo's death.

Windstruck is effectively broken into two parts. The first two-thirds of the movie is much about their relationship blossoming, the last third is about how she copes with his death. In their blossoming relationship, you see sparks of the humour and cleverness that made MSG a success. The ending has the melodramatic tone that actually is somewhat clichéd. But the way it's been set up, neither part ever reaches what you'd think is a completeness, and you end up thinking, we could have had more.

And that's what really bugs me about this film. It is really two full length films, spliced and edited into one. It could be a very funny falling in love romcom, or it could be a very good drama about coping with death. But wrapping the two movie themes into one leaves you thinking it didn't have enough substance. Plus the whole thing could have been more cleverly edited.

Having seen all of Jeon Ji-Hyun's movies to date, I can say that she is a very talented actress. However, the shortening and splicing does mean that I don't feel her talent has been fully used. And much the same for Hyuk Jang.

Overall, there isn't enough magic for it to match MSG nor the brilliance of Jeon Ji-hyun's other films. But having said that, for most, it is still a pretty good film and it's still worth a watch. One for a windy day.
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Return of the Master
31 December 2004
There is always a suspicion when films come out with "New" in the title and particularly here, when you've had variations on the Police Story numbering over the years. Does it mean that the whole franchise has changed completely? Is Jackie Chan trying to pass on the mantle? How different is it really? Well, put it this way. The only thing that has changed is that it's better than the previous instalments.

New Police Story tells of Wing (Jackie Chan), a super-cop who has managed to solve the toughest and roughest cases for the Hong Kong police force. So much so that he gains a bit of cockiness. When a group of young guns led by Joe (Daniel Wu) start a crime spree by robbing banks and gunning down cops for fun, Wing declares that he would catch the criminals in just 3 hours. However, his plans bite the dust as his team are gunned down following a leak of his plans. Wing is knocked into drink and depression and rookie Fung (Nic Tse) come to egg him into revenge.

This film follows the style of the previous Police Story series in that it is gritty and dramatic as opposed to Jackie's comedic style. However, this film is very much darker than the previous ones. The usual stunts are there - including a bus sequence which reminds you of the original Police Story - but each stunt has been brought a new lease of life with some perfectionist choreography. I was impressed by Nic Tse's martial art stunts, which certainly were not easy, but mastered flawlessly. Daniel Wu caps off a very good year for him with a very good performance as the enemy. Credit goes to Benny Chan also, who really has pulled out all the stops for this movie.

This is one of Jackie Chan's best films and following some recent dismal Hollywood attempts, I'm really glad that he can still pull it off, particularly when there is a good script for him.

One to see the old master back at his best.
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The Sunshine Came When It Finished
26 December 2004
How did this film ever get made? O (aka H2O, played by Stephen Fung) and Sammy (Ken Chong) are promoted to the role of the "Sunshine Cops" two young policemen (supposedly supercops) that are to promote a brighter image of the police force. However, they are somewhat then held at ransom by the press and paparazzi, who shame them with somewhat compromising pictures on the covers of the glossies. Meanwhile, a bandit is looking to kidnap a group of high school kids who have rich parents, and just so happen to be part of the Sunshipe Cops' fan base. So, you can guess what happens next, the cops seek to salvage their careers (read, image) by saving the kids.

This is a truly awful film. Not only was the dialogue and script dire, but there was little saving grace from the action. The martial arts choreography was basic and unrealistic. Camera angles were raw, editing of these shots hard amounted to any "sequences" as they weren't really sequential! Films such as these can make or break a film career and fortunately for Angelica Lee, she has gone onto some amazing performances since this early film of hers, although I'm guessing since her role wasn't that big, she couldn't be judge on this performance. Stephen Fung was too annoying for his own good, and you wonder if Ken Chong ever had any charisma.

This is not a film for anyone at all. Even the Power Rangers could come up with a better film than this by a proverbial mile. One to burn in the sunshine with a magnifying glass.
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Very well written and executed
3 October 2004
Sleepless Town was a pleasant surprise for me, a well-written and well-executed film, with a gangster storyline containing enough twists to win a dance contest.

Kenichi (Kaneshiro) is a half-Japanese, half-Chinese man of the underworld. You can sell him anything except children's organs. His domain is in Kabukicho, a gangland controlled by various Shanghainese gangs intent on taking overall control. Things are calm, however, his former partner-in-crime, Fu-Chun, is rumoured to have returned to Kabukicho, having fled years earlier after killing the number two to gangland boss, Yuan (Tsang). Yuan wants to get even and attempts to do so by using Kenichi. Meanwhile, Fu-chun's girlfriend, Natsumi Sato (Yamamoto) turns up to sell something to Kenichi.

It's a complicated plot (not least to describe) and it is even more than I've said already. Plot twists are everywhere in this film, and it's been designed to keep you guessing. And what's more it works.

Takeshi Kaneshiro, heartthrob to millions of teenage girls in Asia, is perfect in his role with his trademark stone cold yet innocent manner. Meanwhile, Mirai Yamamoto, is simply brilliant in her role, keeping everyone guessing as to the motives of her character. And Eric Tsang demonstrates why he is everyone's favourite gangland boss (epitomised in the Infernal Affairs trilogy)

This is a fine movie, and whilst the multitude of unpredictable twists really do push the limits of the story. Any more, it would be incoherent.

Overall, it is a very good movie, and is well worth a watch. One to see.
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Hidden Track (2003)
Amelie, but missing some of the magic
2 October 2004
Hidden Track (2003)

Starring: Pou Lok Tung, Shawn Yue Directed by: Aubrey Lam

Oh, this could have been an excellent movie, and it all started so well. But it just misses the mark for excellence due to some shortcomings in the storyline.

Hidden Track tells of Po Po (Pou Lok Tung), who after her breakup with her boyfriend, goes in search of 'their song', a hidden track on one of Jay Chou's albums. The problem is, only 500 of these limited edition albums were made in Hong Kong, so she decides to go to there in search of it. Her trip to HK leads to Yu's (Shawn Yue) second-hand CD store. However, the CD has been sold and passed on a long line of people, so she tracks down these people, only to encounter each person's different definition of love.

The overall plot, though somewhat cheesy at first lance, is actually a good one, and some good direction and camera-work reminds you of Amelie. However, what doesn't carry it well enough is the story itself. Whilst cute, there isn't enough interlinking between story lines, and many of them are too short - more flesh would have made the whole film much more powerful. And then there were the negatives: pointless animation between scenes and the pre-ending where it was inevitable, but shouldn't really have been there. Plus, I never quite understood why the film wasn't written and performed in all Cantonese or all Mandarin in conversations - Pou Lok Tung and Shawn Yue converse in Mandarin and Cantonese respectively, although Yue does speak good Mandarin. Well at least it's not all dubbed...

And whilst Pou Lok Tung was great in her role, she can't quite match the levels Audrey Tautou reached in Amelie. Nonetheless, as it is a very good effort early in her career. Shawn Yue is as magnificent as ever, as he demonstrates, no matter how quirky the role, he can pull it off brilliantly.

And for fans of Jay Chou, you'll only be disappointed as he makes a short cameo towards the end of the film. However, his repertoire as part of the score is used cleverly, particularly the hidden track, whilst the non-Jay Chou score was also very good.

But despite the all the negatives listed, I enjoyed the movie. I hesitate to say more, because it would spoil it. It is beautifully made, cleverly crafted and well executed. But I have seen better. Unfortunately, and probably quite unfairly, that's what stops me from saying it's an excellent film. However, I do admit that this is probably better than you'd get normally from HK cinema these days. It's almost as cute as Amelie, it has a decent basic storyline, and the actors and director make something of it, so I welcome anyone to give it a try and be pleasantly surprised.

One not just for the Jay Chou fans.
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Good idea, just needed something more
20 June 2004
The plot of this film isn't too bad, but sadly what lets it down is the lack of depth. Leaving Me, Loving You tells of a doctor (Leon Lai) who breaks up with his event planner girlfriend (Faye Wong) but regrets his decision. In the following days, they both get recruited by the family of an elderly, but wealthy, businessman, he to check on his ailing health, she to plan for his birthday. Thrusted reluctantly into each others' lives so soon, he faces the fact that he was wrong to break up with her.

The concept may be clichéd (but then, when is a love story on screen not), but there is enough interest generated by the creativity of how the film was made that would impress. There are some beautifully used camera angles, gorgeous sets (particularly from the leafy streets of Shanghai, to Siu Yut's office) and a good arrangement of music (with possibly the exception of the overuse of the classic Moon River throughout) which all made it very watchable, but I found myself watching the film wanting more to happen between the two main characters than really did.

Many have criticised the lack of chemistry between the two actors, but my own view is that there were simply not enough scenes in the script to allow the characters' relationship to develop. Most scenes involving the two together involve just Siu Yut wanting to not speak to him and she leaves or he leaves. Not exactly much for one's emotion to build on. The relationship between the two is just not explored enough in the script. Indeed, we never get to really fully understand why they broke up in the first place, except that things 'were going too fast'.

Ultimately, though, it is a watchable film, and I've given it higher marks for artistic value. But it does lack in the storyline department, and for the guy who took his girlfriend out on Valentine's Day to see this movie, I sympathise, as this isn't quite a story that celebrates love.

One for sappy ones

*DVD Comments* The HK DVD from Widesight contains the Mandarin original audio track as well as a dubbed version in Cantonese. However, the subtitles in Traditional Chinese and English are etched on screen (so you can't turn them off), and there are no extras on the DVD. Expect to find this film in your Bargain Basement, otherwise you'll be paying far too much for it compared to other titles
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