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Life equal to accident and coincidence
29 October 2011
Pale color background, 70's and 80's scene set-up, steady frame shot, constant tempo, dramatic directing and acting; the film is full of old day's sentiments, yet it's a story happening in the overwhelmingly prosperous year 2010. Such a misplacement to reflect the most confusing and unbreakable issue that is troubling everyone in the metropolis gives a strong implication of a totally turning upside down era where boundary between right and wrong doesn't exist anymore. Things realigned according to past social order cannot stand the wave of time change; social value, moral standard, principle are all becoming useless and destroyed. No matter how hard one tries to reset it, it's no more than a joke that nobody would pay attention.

As people are turning to a dead end corner, surprises might turn up to help. On the other hand, those who think they can figure out everything not losing a penny might not be as wise as they presume they are, or somehow be ruined by their wisdom. Lo and Keung thought they are the winner of the game; even though they persist until the last breath, their fatal ending wouldn't change. Denise Ho and Lau, playing honest roles ever, should have been the loser of the game, but thanks to an accident, they both live a decent life thereafter without spending an effort. It's not strange or new to see fate or coincidence happening to the characters in Johnny To's film, but being put in a world of misplacement, this time it looks more like an accident than it's under fate, leading to an even more absurd ending where the world is totally unpredictable that one can't reason it. Mankind relies on accident and luck to settle down, that is a laughable grief.

The film, however; doesn't seem to rule out hard work could bring return, at least Wong, the role of recyclable paper collector, has enough significance. Unfortunately just a while later we see an old working class having fallen under the fade-out group of the society trying to kill himself. The script is actually talking to itself debating over the subject. It even further elaborates by condemning through the characters' dialog. The most remarkable one is the confession by JJ Jia in the police station. Her brilliant acting has turned uncontrollably subconscious contradiction within into reasonable greed. What a marvelous demonstration of metropolis ridiculousness!

Sensibility might not win in this battle against absurdity. Richie Ren has been in a terribly confusing state struggling deeply within throughout the entire film. Not to mention the incidents he faces as a police inspector, he has yet to deal with a lot of personal problems such as his wife's persistence to purchase an apartment under the high market price, a seriously sick father and the sudden arrival of a younger sister by the mysterious wife of his father. These, however; are not dramatic enough to constitute irony effect, so the director has to arrange his wife coming to a sudden awakening by seeing him would die as the ending of the story. All these have come together too fast that Richie Ren is unable to react. He acts in such a slow-reflex way that has conveyed his thoughts of questioning "what's going on with my fate?" He rather believes it's all a coincidence. By taking away one's fate, he loses control over his life and all that left to him is coincidence. He has to pray for this for the rest of his life.

Although the script is full of condemns to reality, the director has remained himself as an outsider with a very calm view over what is happening. The shots are all apathetic, just like people ignoring what is happening around them every day. This metaphor is too good, really too good that it might need another accidental coincidence to wake up the audiences before they would even notice it.
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Black Swan (2010)
Director's duo versus Natalie's trinity
10 March 2011
The first 30 minutes of the film is really well intended and constructed - a dark side of the beautiful reality. Following the camera work, elements poured into the shots I have been expecting very twisted plot, terrific acting and directing. Natalie Portman's role gets warm up quickly and is already in full shape in the characters build-up. It should have been a great movie.

The trinity of Natalie Portman, Nina and Black Swan is a very interesting part and I'm not sure if this is the original idea of the director; if not, then he should thank Natalie Portman for being so intricate in herself and the character mix-up. She works very hard in that playing Nina as a great ballerina, just as hard as Nina trying to catch Black Swan spirit with her own White Swan blood. Pushing herself to the corner or the limit, Nina really gets no better way out to understand what Black Swan is actually about, though Thomas Leroy is using his "cheap" way to seducing her thinking this would make her let go what she's possessing. Natalie Portman is comparatively under a much more difficult state of mind than Nina as she has to figure out how to transform herself into a perfect Nina who in turn is eager to find another ego in herself helping her to be in the role of Black Swan. The difficulties Natalie Portman faces is the plot actually doesn't provide enough build-up and space for her to understand such a complicated state and so she has to rely much on her own imagination about the role where the movie or the screen play hasn't provided yet. To be fair, Natalie Portman has saved the movie.

It seems the director purposely trying to underline sex as the key point about Nina's let go. The way Thomas is speaking about Nina's deficiency in the play (the White Swan is perfect but the Black Swan isn't there) matches the director's underestimation of the character's intricacy, both are so simple in thinking and don't bother to give more thought into what Nina should be. If Thomas has let Nina work on her own how to find the Black Swan spirit, the director has left Natalie Portman alone in the movie struggling around the trinity relationship of herself, Nina & Black Swan. This sounds interesting enough though, as the duo of the director and Thomas versus the trinity of Natalie Portman, Nina and Black Swan succeeds in giving the movie a newer perspective which the audiences wouldn't have given much thought into it. Has it been an original idea of the director? I don't know but the movie really provides such an angle for me to look into it at least.

The movie begins in a very artistic way but it lasts not more than 30 minutes. It could have become a really "Dark" movie but it seems the director doesn't want it be that, so in the last 20 minutes he has turned the movie into a typical thriller. I particularly don't like the way Nina finishes off herself. She should have been really into Black Swan and ends up together with it. Now she's no more than a schizophrenic patient. It should have been more than that.
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2046 (2004)
A piece of tragic mind in a sad moment
13 October 2004
Warning: Spoilers
There is a strong tragic feeling the film has given me. The destiny of Tony Leung is sad, trapped in the past and the future, trying to escape the present time. There are certain scenes and shots imposing this sad sentiment. The still-picture-like shooting blended with heart striking music has created a space where audiences can go in and feel it. Coincidentally, I have seen this kind of shots in Godard's 'Ten Minutes Order' short film - a sigh of life. I remember once in an interview Wong Kar Wai admitted he was much influenced by Godard. I really see it in this film.

The interesting thing of this film is the director has gathered different elements from his previous films. Carina Lau is the same character she played in 'The Days being Wild', Faye Wong is from 'Chung King Express', Tony Leung has adopted some personalities of the character in 'Happy Together'; and the futuristic story '2046' is same as 'Fallen Angels', particularly the absurdity. It's like a retrospect of the director's previous works viewed at another angle.

The main part of the story where Tony Leung gets caught with Zhang Zi Yi, is the negative contrast for Tony Leung's tragic destiny. His true love, no matter Maggie Cheung, Gong Li or Faye Wong, is only in the past or future. What he has at present is something he doesn't like, trying to escape. In 'In the Mood for Love', he doesn't have the courage to take the love with Maggie Cheung because they both are married. Now in 2046 both Zhang Zi Yi and he are singles but still he doesn't have courage to take it because he is not in the mood for love again, instead he chooses to start an indecent relationship with her.

The film carries the same symbol as 'In the Mood for Love' – limited space in reality. The love between Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung started in those two adjacent apartments, now Zhang Zi Yi and Tony Leung live in the small hotel in two adjacent rooms, start their relationship. Life repeats once again in the similar environment, the only difference is the choice of Tony Leung. The symbol of 'limited space in reality' is interpreted, as an element constituting the routine of life; the attitude and choice of a person in this routine is the final ingredient making up the tragic ending.

Apart from the tragic feeling, the film imposes time and space metaphor. Tony Leung basically lives in the past and future with all his love and sentiment put in these two non-existent time/space. He has no present life in this sense. The 2046 space, though not realistically existing in the film, is actually somewhere in the mind of people. Everyone in the film has such a space in his/her mind, and so are we all. We don't recognize it only because we don't want to admit it.

A film about the past, future and present is certainly not easy to master. Although the futuristic part is too robotic, the overall impact the film has is significant and remarkable. Not only Tony Leung chooses to escape the present time, the film doesn't pass through the present age either. It's another metaphor that we all dwell on the past and future trying to escape the present age, forget it as much as possible, for it's too bitter to taste and think about.

Someone chooses to dream about the future and remember the past so sweetly passing everyday. Someone does it in an opposite manner. It could be the piece of mind, or it could be the moment that determines what it would be. What I see in 2046 is a piece of tragic mind in a sad moment.
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20:30:40 (2004)
A film beyond female world
25 March 2004
Being a female film, 20/30/40 starts from a female angle to look at life at different stages of age. The stories of Rene Liu and Sylvia Chang are indeed quite stereotype and traditional. Liu, because of lack of confidence in man and marriage under the influence of her mother, has a wild love and sex life. Chang has divorced after finding her husband having an affair and crazily look for a new companion but finally in vain. The magic of the film comes from the director catering to the inner feeling of characters, their thoughts and the actors' superb acting performance.

There are two scenes very touching. One is when Chang doing volunteer work in the hospital she said life is a passage where people around you keep leaving you. It's a bitter monologue but then she said to the patient `if people don't leave me, how can I take care of you now?' The heavy tone is simply turned into an easy laughing mood. It's touching but not emotional.

The other one is when Liu finally has settled down with the man who bought her piano. Liu was sitting in front of the piano with the man's daughter who was playing a song; the man's hand touched her daughter and then moved to the shoulders of Liu. The audiences see only the man's hands touching Liu; yet at the same time feel his heart touching Liu too. The warm feeling coming from Liu's face is such a contrast compared with the previous Liu in love or sex with the other guys.

The story of Li Sin Je is a more brave trial. The relationship she has with the other girl is for audience a fresh experience. It's pure, sensational yet sexually related, a test about the extent of love. The director has dealt with it in a very sensible way giving the characters high spiritual innocence and visually no faulty behaviour. I've seen an interview with the director where she said she believed this kind of friendship exists in a lot of cases between two close teenage girls but it's not lesbian love. I would prefer to say she's given a space in the film for audiences to decide what they think this relationship between the two girls is than having defined it. No matter what one might think, he can't deny it's so pure and innocent.

The blending of the three stories deserves a high credit to the director and is one of the successes. Without this, the film wouldn't have been so profound in content. The characters of the three stories are so close together even though they don't know each other in the film.

The ending is the 3 females, though after very tough period of trial in catching what they aim for, have all failed (Liu also failed because she'd been looking for passion, not settle down). They fail but they don't regret, still brave to face their future and accept what has happened to them a part of their lives. Destiny only chooses what to happen to them but can't decide for them what they should do and go for. They still choose their own ways. They look like loser; actually they are winner.

It's such a great film and we should not simply regard it as a female film because the extent it covers and message it has conveyed is certainly beyond female world. A man like me watched it with little tears wetting my eyes.
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Feel the heart of the Chef
29 December 2003
I've watched Infernal Affairs I, II & III, in a year time. I loved the first one very much. It gave me a very unexpected feeling. It's simple but strong in impact. Though one could mention a lot of flaws in the plot, I just couldn't resist its charm. The second one made me disappointed because it lacked the kind of impact the first one gave me. Now after watching the third one, I realise why there needs to be a second one in totally different style than the first one. It's a preparation for the audiences adapting to the change in the third one.

I like this third one. Without the second one, probably I would have been like the other audiences critising the change of style from the first one. It's this kind of change, it's made the film more solid, full of human feeling. The first one indeed was touching only the surface of the hole. This third one is more into the content of it - the heart of the people.

I love particularly the part describing Andy Lau's psychological sufferings and changes. The shadowing effect he had with Tony Leung should deserve a credit for script writing, directing and editting. The interlacing of stories between that happened before and after Tony Leung's death has been editted great. I feel sorry for people who don't read this or who don't like it. It's certainly the best part of the film which should earn a credit rather than negative critics.

I would conclude that the first one is like spicy cuisine which is strong in taste and quick in making one like it immediately if you can stand it. The third one is somehow a French cuisine where you have to be patient, taste it slowly together with the wine before you appreciate the marvellous cooking skills and feel the heart of the Chef.
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PTU (2003)
What is a standard !
13 April 2003
This is to give more precise and and objective comment than the previous one I've given after reading moviemarcus has objected it.

The standard for us to rate a movie should be neutral and unique regardless of where the movie is from, the background of the director and how the movie has been created. A very simple comparison is if you look at "The Mission" also by Johnny To, one would definitely agrees PTU is inferior in all artistic values. "The Mission" is not perfect and I haven't had a prejudice to judge PTU in the shadow of "The Mission", but the acting performance by the actors in "The Mission" was one of the big contribution making the film so impressive. Any great movie will come along with superb performance by actors because movie is constituted by acting.

Of course there are other things to go along, but for any one element the director has decided to include in a movie the director should do it the best and present it in the best form, otherwise he'd rater give it up. Some movie doesn't have any music, so if the director isn't sure about his music, he'd rather play with it without any music, than to input something inappropriate. Any one single shot, single pop or acting in a movie is important and it's the director obligation to take care of it once he's committed to making a good movie, or the director doesn't understand what a director should be doing.

I'm against Johnny To. I like so much some of his previous films. But he certainly should have a goal reaching a higher level everytime he makes a film. I believe that's the life of being a director, or he should retire.
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PTU (2003)
Little fun but not masterpiece
10 April 2003
I've watched this film 3 days ago in the Hong Kong International Film Festival. It's the opening film for the Festival.As usual, the feedback from audiences is great and there are applauses at the end of the movie. I haven't been impressed however; only think it's little amazing to see the policeman losing the gun becoming an accidental hero.

The overall acting is what makes me give not high credit to the movie. Most of the side casts are acting strange or in a way over/under acted. The main casts though more professional are not giving unexpected performance. I'm not convinced the director has spent adequate time in directing the actors' performance. Probably he emphasizes on the story and other directing skills rather than acting performance to bring up the message.

The music too is a little weird. Maybe the director has wanted to give a kind of absurb atmosphere but what comes out is something not matching with the visual images. I can't say which one is inferior. Might be the music is what actually the director has wanted but he hasn't been able to provide an atmosphere in the visual image matching the music and what he wanted to create.

It's a little fun overall but absolutely not a great movie. The "dark" society the director wants to create and emphasize isn't impressive. I'd rather he goes more extreme or puts up some contrast for comparison.
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