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8/10
HK Neo Reviews: Any Questions for Ben?
23 October 2012
From the director of "The Castle" comes a fun, yet important film about a quarter life crisis, the reason for living and how life cannot be measure by how successful you are in your job, the amount of money or your girls scoring record. "Any Questions for Ben?" is one of those well-meaning films that counts and goes the distance in dealing one of the more prominent issues about one's passion, direction and focus in life.

"Any Questions for Ben?" is a film about an universal issue of the reason for our existence, yet it remains extremely and uniquely Australian in its comedy, approach and Melbourne cityscape. What does it truly means to be successful? I am sure, once in your life, whether you are in your twenties, thirties or even sixties, there will be a clear moment in your life where you question yourself, quite simply, why am I doing this? Sometimes, maybe you only need a moment of inspiration and you can sure of what you have been doing for most of your life is well worth it. For others, it may not be quite so simple, as it may take them time to figure out what it is that they are truly passionate about their lives and what essentially drives them. It is exactly the question and dilemma that faces the main character Ben for the entire film, in fact, it took him exactly two hours running time to finally figure it out.

Josh Lawson ("The Wedding Party") is fast becoming one of Australia's hottest up and coming talent, and is perfectly casted as the man that seem to have it all in his hands and destiny. However, Lawson is able to make his character extremely likable and his questions about life seems rather genuine and realistic. There is something about his approach that makes the audience feel as though he truly wants to change and embark on a totally different direction in his life. Likewise, Rachael Taylor ("Transformers") is suitably and contrastingly free-spirited, as Lawson's turning point in life.

Director Rob Sitch is at home in depicting the urban life style of trendy Melbourne. His toying of the corporate world within the midst of the marketing trade can relate to a lot of people going about routine aspect of their own lives. The fact that Lawson got everything anyone would wish for in a great career and is still depressed make it all the more interesting. When he is willing to lose everything to start over again, that is the moment when Lawson is able to finally find himself and in the process making the audience question about their own lives and existence. Perhaps the defining scene of the movie is when Lawson is talking about his life story with a hall full of his old school students and not surprisingly no one has any questions for him.

All in all, "Any Questions for Ben?" is a good example of how to make a trendy and relevant Australian movie. Director Rob Sitch is able to show how important it is for everyone to question once in a while the reasons for our own existence and ask ourselves what it is that we are truly passionate about. In life, there is never a straight forward answer, sometimes, it requires us to dig deeper to find ourselves. Perhaps in the eyes of others, it is a waste of time, a stale in your career, but for one to life without regrets, there are times, when you just have to pursue it. (Neo 2012)

I rated it 8/10

Review at: http://thehkneo.com/blog/?p=2596
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7/10
Helter Skelter (2012) – Japan
15 October 2012
The latest film "Helter Skelter" from famed fashion photographer turned director Mika Ninagawa is an ambitious piece of work that goes beyond its telling issue of the evils that lies in the plastic surgery craze. The film is filled with sharp bright colours, plenty of imageries and an insightful look at the cost of fame, beauty, looks and sex. "Helter Skelter" is ultimately beautiful to look at and goes on a deeper level than many of its contemporaries but somehow it still manages to come up rather flawed and mistimed. After a 5 years hiatus from the big screen and a failed marriage Erika Sawajiri simply shines through in the leading role.

"Helter Skelter" lacks a cutting edge that is required to captivate the audience. The unevenness is evident throughout, as the film itself feels like an emotional roller coaster. Perhaps indirectly the filmmaker is trying to show how much turmoil, depression and slightly mental that Sawajiri has become. The constant use of bright and bloody red throughout the film shows just how much Sawajiri is playing with fire. When things are going well, the fame that comes with being beautiful brings popularity, acceptance and recognition. However, this strive for fame is like a dangerous drug, an inevitable addiction that makes her inner soul wanting more and more. The film raises a number of questions about the price of fame, the superficial nature of showbiz, the aftereffects of plastic beauty and the equation between beauty and happiness. These are all prominent issues as the good news is that Ninagawa does not shy away from any of these.

The film first reaches an emotional crescendo with the purity of the contrasting cherry blossom scene where Erika meets her innocence looking sister. This moment in particular hits the audience hard and straight through the heart as to how far away she is actually from her sister, both physically and figuratively. However, the film often drags at crucial moments, where in turn hampers the audience's ability to connect with the film on a deeper level as the film seems to be toying around with their moods through some inconsistent filmmaking. The scene where Sawajiri is required to face the media upon being exposed remains one of the most striking moment within the film. It is rather ironic that Sawajiri will end up destroying one of her few pieces of bodies that are still real, perfectly transcends to the audience the feeling of freedom, hope and new life.

Erika Sawajiri plays the leading role of a beauty queen who sinks deeper and deeper into depression, drugs, fame and plastic surgery. This is by far her most complicated character in her career. Sawajiri first caught my eye by displaying some fine acting chop as the older romantic interest in the coming of age tale "Sugar and Spice". Since then, Sawajiri has left the industry, got married and divorce all within 5 years and "Helter Skelter" acts as a shadow of her own career in the show business. There is a level of sadness within her eyes that perfectly portray the situation and at times it feels rather scary as the blurring of boundaries seems to be making her real and cinematic life contravened. Other supporting characters like Kaori Momoi as the motherly figure is constantly dressed in bright green, as her character is never truly defined and remains a sense of mystery to audience as to her true intentions towards Sawajiri.

All in all, "Helter Skelter" is not a film about sex and nor should it be. Although it marks as Sawajiri's first nude role, the scenes are never distasteful, but rather it allows the audience to feel the vulnerabilities behind her character. "Helter Skelter" is an uneven and flawed film, but Ninagawa stylistic and daring direction keeps the film afloat. "Helter Skelter" is the kind of film that has a lot to say and combining with a career redefining performance from Sawajiri, the film is able to give the evils of plastic surgery, a much needed all-out blast. Still, this is a good enough film, even if it is clearly flawed in its own way. (Neo 2012)

I rated it 7.5/10

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7/10
HK Neo Reviews: Due West: Our Sex Journey 一路向西
1 October 2012
The latest Hong Kong 3D sex comedy "Due West: Our Sex Journey" comes from the debutant director Mark Wu, who in turns created something fun, slightly refreshing, a good enough story and even some smart antics to boot. A far cry from Wu's previous writing efforts in last year's terrible "Sex and Zen 3D" and far better than the recent crude and unnecessary "Lan Kwai Fong 2".

With a bit of research on the internet, the name Mark Wu is associated with Cat 3 and sex selling movies namely the script writing of the atrocious "Sex and Zen 3D" and the" Lan Kwai Fong" series. With such accreditations, director Wu does not exactly provide any comfort to the awaiting audience. However, "Due West" is surprisingly entertaining, contains an adequate storyline, enjoyable and sexy performances and even having something to say in the process as well.

Justin Cheung is a far better lead actor than Hiro Hayama's ill-fated role in last year's "Sex and Zen 3D". Cheung shows far more character in his role as the slightly nerdy typical local, growing up in the midst of a satirical democracy family that is not unlike Hong Kong's current political situation. What makes Cheung's character interesting is that underlining all the monologues and self-indulgence, he is easily a likable person that the audience can relate towards. Representing the local Hong Kong industry, Celia Kwok does well as Cheung's mainstay girlfriend and despite being an obvious stereotypical take on Hong Kong's girls in general. I probably won't go into the detail naming each actresses who bare their parts, but it must be admitted that the quality on display (in particular the scene at the camping site and the showing of different types of actual massage on offer) is by far better than the atrocious "Sex and Zen 3D". Jeana Ho also appears in a hilarious cameo, while Gregory Wong is suitably cool and Mark Wu's groovy yet realistic appearance provide adequately support as Cheung's accomplice and venture into the world of Mainland prostitution.

Director Mark Wu succeeds because he clearly respects better filmmakers and there are obvious notions and elements of auteur Wong Kar Wai, Stephen Chow and Pang Ho Cheung throughout in his work. Wu constantly plays with the audience and breaks the third wall through Cheung's constant monologue to the audience. This is extremely effective as the audience can easily walk into the movie and be fully absorbed in the proceeding. Films like these can easily be cheesy and resulting in the audience laughing at the filmmaker and actors alike, but somehow Wu manages to switch this around and created something relevant, smart and sexy enough to satisfy a broader audience base.

All in all, "Due West: Our Sex Journey" is probably as good as it get in terms of Cat 3 sex comedy. After the failures of "Sex and Zen 3D" and to a larger extent "Lan Kwai Fong 2", both of which have fallen down the path of being cheap and sleazy without any substance, "Due West" holds up surprisingly well and even provide a somewhat satirical look on the sex industry. I am not saying that "Due West" is a perfect example of how to shoot a local Cat 3 production, but I must admit that I am pretty impressed with the film's production values, adequate casting, inside look on the vibrant sex industry, somewhat realistic look on modern relationships and sexy performances all round. For what it is worth, "Due West" is easily one of those pure guilty pleasures of the year. (Neo 2012)

I rate it 7.5/10
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Taken 2 (2012)
5/10
HK Neo Reviews: Taken 2
27 September 2012
"Taken 2″ feels far too much like a franchise film, loses all the edge of your seat impact of the original, filled with clichés dialogue and contains rather predictable plot line. The result is a below par attempt to recreate the excitement of the original and the conventional and boring final 30 minutes did not help the proceeding.

"Taken 2″ cashes in on the same concept that made the first film a sleeper hit, despite its modest budget. However, this film loses the audience minute by minute, when it should have an edge of your seat thriller. French director Olivier Megaton (who previous worked with Luc Besson on "Transporter 3") along with the script writing duo (Besson and Robert Mark Kamen ) are both key accomplices for the sequel failure to excites or entertain. It must be admitted that the film is well structured from the opening minutes and even manages to sustain an adequate level of suspense for a good 50-60 minutes, but from then on, it all goes to hell. In fact the film is filled with unintentional humour and constant unnecessary referral to the first film, making it almost impossible to take the situation seriously.

Liam Neeson is one actor that never fails even when everything else besides him falls apart. He tries extremely hard to keep the film afloat and have a good enough revengeful screen presence to attain the audience attention. However, at times, even Neeson's intense look can seem a little repetitive and combining with a lacklustre script and plot line, the result is a rather cliché and predictable final 30 minutes of bore- fest. Maggie Grace reprises her role as the daughter in the original film, but here she is not given enough material to work on. At times, Grace just seems lost within the chase and unsure of where her character needs to be. Famke Janssen adds nothing to the proceeding as she spend most of her time either kidnapped or in a black bag wrapped around her face. Perhaps the biggest issue of all comes in the form of the villainous role played by veteran Rade Šerbedžija, who is neither menacing nor interesting for the audience to feel the full effect.

I have always been a keen admirer of Luc Besson's body of work, while he can be a hit and miss; there is always something in his films that makes it slightly different to the usual Hollywood. His recurring themes of human degradation and the brutal nature of humanity provides a different take on Hollywood action cinema. While the original "Taken" explores the tried and true issue of human trading and forced prostitution, this film does not seem to have any particular focus and the end result is seemingly coming down to an vengeful factor that is never truly explored. While the first film director Pierre Morel (a keen cinematographer), provides a sharp and constant edgy look that makes the film such a success, Megaton lacks this crucial ability and in turn moves the camera so often that the audience is unable to focus on the action on display.

All in all, "Taken 2" is one of those films that try too hard to follow the same premise, tricks and plot line as the original. However, the film lacks a decent script, an important issue, a crucial focus and sharp and edgy direction that is required to make this kind of film clicks. Looking on the brighter side, the film does start pretty convincingly and even manages to sustain the audience attention for a good hour, but from that point onwards, it is essentially a cliché and predictable bore-fest. (Neo 2012)

I rate it 5/10

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4/10
HK Neo Reviews: Lan Kwai Fong 2 喜愛夜浦2
27 August 2012
Wong Jing has finally find a predecessor under his belt in the form of "Lan Kwai Fong 2″ director Wilson Chin Kwok-Wai and that's not a compliment in any way. In fact, the sequel to last year's commercially successful mindless entertainment "Lan Kwai Fong" is so bad that it is funny.

Director Wilson Chin is the next Wong Jing and that is nothing to be proud of. If Wong Jing's recent output is to go by, "Lan Kwai Fong 2″ is precisely what you call cheap, sexy and lowbrow. If the first film is somewhat empty, but mindless fun filled with sexy performances from Dada Chen, Jeana Ho and Shiga Lin (who is the only of the trio to returns for the sequel) and fun performances from Chen Zi-Ming, Jason Chan and Sin Lap-Man. The sequel lacks all the vital ingredients that made the first film a fun and enjoyable ride into the world of Hong Kong's iconic party scene. In fact, the film is so bad that it is funny. Some of the script writing and acting is so terrible that the film becomes filled with unintentional humour and the audience laughing at the cheap production values. When the best things coming out of the film are the cameos performances, in particular Alex Fong is a real scene stealer in an ultra-hilarious performance that singlehandedly remains the funniest and more memorable moments in the film.

Director Wilson Chin needs a seriously look in the mirror as this is by far the worst film in his short career. However, like Wong Jing's worst films, "Lan Kwai Fong 2″ will sell tickets, but if he keeps making films like these, his hands will be forever tie to cheap productions rather than the promised land of bigger budget productions. In fact, the film is filled with bad editing, poor writing, poor lighting inconsistent acting, cliché storyline and uninteresting characters compared to the original.

Shiga Lin ("Lan Kwai Fong") is far from ready to lead a film, her inexperience to handle crucial moments did not help the film. Likewise, Lin and Kevin Kwan do not have enough chemistry to justify the amount of screen time. Mia Chan is the case of the unfortunate, having to expose more than required including many unnecessary crude shots of her under garments. Perhaps Mia is following Dada Chan's ("Vulgaria") footstep, but when the focus becomes your other assets rather than actual acting, Mia is more like the victim of its circumstances. In the scene after Mia bedded Avis, her quick and unusual turn of emotions filled the audience with unintentional laughter. With Mia at the screening, one can only imagine how embarrassing it would have been. Make no mistake, Avis is one terrible actor and apart from his association with Chrissie Chau, one must wonder why someone of his acting calibre can even get a film gag. While newcomer Dominic Ho adds nothing to the preceding other than looking cool and smirking a smile, not unlike the infamous Edison Chen.

"Lan Kwai Fong 2″ contains all the hallmarks of bad filmmaking and it does not help when everyone involved somewhat contributed to the downfall. Director Wilson Chin should get the burden of the blame and should promptly sack whoever the editor was involved. The cutting of scenes affected the film flow of events and by the final third of the film, it seemed so rushed that one can be forgiven to think that the film simply went out of budget. The numerous "close up" shots is more annoying and overused and just about anything that was good in the original, director Chin somehow managed to exclude it. However, the well made finale involving the entire LKF going backward is unbelievable yet sweet, but after going through everything before, the scene is definitely out of place and undeserving of such an ending. One wonders, if the entire production budget and thoughts went into filming the final sequence, the director forgotten that he is not shooting a music video, but rather an entire movie.

With the Hong Kong film industry making lesser local productions, "Lan Kwai Fong 2″ by being sexy and riding on the fame of the first film, may yet sell a few tickets, but with its questionable and cheap quality, it certainly does not help the future of local productions. Still, there is still some fun within this film, but mostly it relates to unintentional humour and to a large degree on the laughable script writing and the bad acting involved. If the first film is mindless entertainment, the second is just so bad that it is funny (Neo 2012)

I rate it 4/10

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7/10
HK Neo Reviews: The Bullet Vanishes 消失的子弹
22 August 2012
"The Bullet Vanishes" is flawed, a mixed bag, but is filled with plenty of tense and suspenseful moments that makes the film worth taking a look at.

Director Lo Chi Leung ("Inner Senses" and "Koma") certainly have a hand in creating tense and suspenseful moments, which is vital in low budget thrillers. However, "The Bullet Vanishes" is budgeted at US$12 million, one must wonder, why producer Derek Yee is not directing instead. Lo lacks experience in directing anything outside the genre of thrillers and in most cases those films are carried by the ever wonderful Karena Lam ("Kidnap", "Koma" and "Inner Senses") or the late Leslie Cheung ("Double Tap" and "Inner Senses"). That's not to say that this film is without great actors, as the likes of newly crowned best actor Nicholas Tse, the ever versatile Lau Ching Wan, the always brilliant Liu Kai-Chi and rising Mainland actress Mini Yang, more than fill the acting dues. So what exactly went wrong? That is a question that kept me puzzled right from the moment the film finished. The film looks wonderful, credibly produced, expensive sets and contains some brilliant turns from Lau Ching Wan and Liu Kai-Chi, but somehow it feels like a mixed bag. It doesn't help when the film ends with one twist too many. Perhaps upon viewing the film, one just cannot stop themselves referencing to "Sherlock Holmes" In essence, it is still a relatively entertaining, suspenseful and gritty detective thriller, that just didn't quite cut it on an emotional and deeper level.

As usual, Lau Ching Wan is in his "Mad Detective" mode. Lau manages to carry the film once again and alongside the scene stealing villainous turn from Liu Kai-Chi ("The Viral Factor") are the highlights of the film. In those confrontation scenes, the interaction between Lau and Liu are simply priceless and oozes with screen presences. While reigning best actor Nicholas Tse ("Beast Stalker" and "The Stool Pigeon") is dependable without being stunning and lacks chemistry with Mini Yang ("Painted Skin: Resurrection"). At times, it seems as though Tse is going on auto-pilot and a far cry from his performance in "The Stool Pigeon". Yang is pretty much underused and under-explored and in many ways the film seems to be using her current hot streak in Mainland to sell more tickets. One must question what role she really plays in the film, other than exposing some skin and getting hot with her co-star Tse. Yumiko Cheng ("Heat Team") is Yumiko Cheng and despite having more screen time than Yang, she adds nothing to her role.

All in all, "The Bullet Vanishes" is at times suspenseful, gritty and even thrilling, but the film feels stretched and is filled with unnecessary scenes and characters that adds nothing to the overall storyline. While, Lo is probably trying to saying something noble or about the human condition, he is clearly constrained by filming for the Mainland market. Still, this is far from being a bad film, as there is really a lot to like about. In particular, it is always a joy to watch Lau Ching Wan going the distance and Liu Kai-Chi always surprises the audience with his performances. The film most certainly could've been done with tighter editing, but for what it is worth, "The Bullet Vanishes" remains a highly watchable detective thriller. Certainly worth a look, despite its flaws…(Neo 2012)

I rate it 7.5/10

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8/10
HK Neo Reviews: GF*BF 女朋友。男朋友
22 August 2012
"GF*BF" is one of those tragic life experiences disguised within layers of a coming of age kind of youthful romance, but really it is a deep and complicated emotional turmoil about three tragic souls growing up in Taiwan during the 80s period of immense social change.

"GF*BF" is an immensely difficult film to review, as it is one of those films that is impossible to dislike. It is well directed, stylishly filmed, complicatedly and originally scripted, filled with some truly wonderful and convincing performances, but somehow, it doesn't totally go the distance. In saying so, director Yang Ya-che does a wonderful job in bringing such a complicated and layered script to life and almost pulled it off convincingly. In fact, there are times when I was almost overwhelmed by the volume of feelings and emotions on display, but somehow the film lacks a resonance emotional connection with the audience that could have propel the film to reach its lofty ambitions. Not unlike 2006′s Taiwanese youth romance "Eternal Summer" (also starring lead actor Joseph Chang), the film deals with similar issues and situated during a testing period of time in Taiwan and for youth growing up in general.

In many ways the film attempts to say too much, striving to be far too complex and by the end of it, the film itself is caught within its own web. There is just so much potential that director Yang could've explored, but somehow fails to fully capitalize on it. In fact, some scenes are so powerful and notable, namely the intense confrontation scene at the karaoke room, the simple good bye gesture from Gwei Lun Mei looking on by the bedroom window and the brilliant scene at the airport near the end. At times, the quality from these scenes feels as though it came from a different movie all together. However, a few scenes do not make a movie and instead of uplifting the audience to the ultimate emotional connection, the film decides to cut and chop to another time period.

Joseph Chang ("Eternal Summer") at times is able to even outshine the always brilliant Gwei Lun Mei ("Secret"). Chang is quietly wonderful in the conflicted role and carries the film with the most difficult character on hand. Rhydian Vaughan ("Love 2012") tries hard, but is given far too little material to work with, other than being a total jerk. In a way, Gwei Lun Mei is fast becoming the Taiwanese's version of Zhou Xun and that's the highest order of compliment an Asian actress can receive in this day and age. Her chemistry with Chang is undeniable and the subtle moments between the two are best left in the unspoken scenes of early tiny touches, wandering eyes and some stirring emotions. What director Yang is able to achieve is being able to create and allow the audience to focus on the two main characters (Gwei Lun Mei and Joseph Chang) that in more than one ways or another are clearly two complete mirror images of each other.

At the end of the day, Yang tries extremely hard to convince the audience about the subject matter that he is trying to say. While there are notions of life, love and friendship that one can possibly learn from or even relate, the film seems more occupy with the twists and turns of complexity into the dynamics of the trio relationships than actual cinematic experience for the audience. With that being said, "GF*BF" is easily a good film, filled with some truly wonderful performances, helmed by an ambitious director and illuminated by a difficult period of change in Taiwanese history. One just cannot help compare the similarities with 2006's "Eternal Summer", but of the two films, there is no doubt that Yang takes it much further. A good film that comes up short of its lofty ambitions (Neo 2012)

I rate it 8/10
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Hua pi 2 (2012)
8/10
HK Neo Reviews: Painted Skin: The Resurrection 畫皮II (2012) – China (Australian Premiere)
2 July 2012
Seriously, who can possibly resist the temptation of the flawless and seductive display from the ever-wonderful Zhou Xun, a much improved performance from Zhao Wei (after her dismal role in last year's "Mulan") and of course the insanely cute portrayal by Mini Yang. Like the 2008 prequel, "Painted Skin", to truly embrace the experience, the audience needs to slip into the film like a dream and suspend all beliefs. The more you escape from reality and believe into the world of "Painted Skin: The Resurrection", the more you will end up enjoying the experience. It is one of those special films that require the audience to just go with the flow, enjoy the scenery, the on-screen beauties on display, over the top action sequences, some truly wonderful acting and along with the stunning bright visuals on display.

Zhou Xun is simply flawless in her display as the "spirit" that wants to be more human than human. However, while this film shares the same issue as Ridley Scott's classic "Bladerunner", the issue of wanting to be more human is only given a superficial flick of a dice. Still, Zhou is able to carry the film and the manner in which she seductively graces the screen is nothing short of amazing. In particular her noticeable dance to seduce the General (played by Chen Kun) is certainly a highlight. It should also be noted that when the Zhou is required to switch roles with Zhao Wei, it is Zhou who is able to seamlessly step into the shoes of the princess character. It's been a while since Zhou's winning performance in "Perhaps Love", and while she may not win this year, another nomination is only just around the corner.

In terms of Zhao Wei, one must say that she gets better with age. This does not mean that she is aging well in terms of beauty, but rather the improvement comes in the form of her acting. After the disappointing "Mulan" where the fault lies more in the director and the script, rather than her ability in question, Zhao stands shoulder to shoulder in the role of a princess who values beauty and exterior, over the need of being a human. Her character is a direct contrast to Zhou Xun and she performs particularly well until the two switches bodies. There is a sadness in her eyes that allows the audience to always sympathize with her. It is a natural ability that cannot be taught and in many ways, she was always like this. Think back to "Shaolin Soccer" days, the tears in her eyes when she made the noodles still stands firmly on the back of my mind. While she did not exceed Zhou in terms of acting, there is no doubt that Zhao is finally coming of age.

After first catching my eye in "All's Well, Ends Well 2012" as the swimsuit babe, tackling a relatively difficult and engaging role in "Love in the Buff" and then meeting her in person at the same movie premiere, it is unreservedly that Mini Yang is the latest "it" girl to win my heart. What impressed me in this role is how versatile Yang is. Yang is constantly cute and perhaps the one character in the film that can link more to reality at a human level. Her giggles, laughs, cute-eyed look and comic timing is all at show here. While on surface, it seems like an easy role to play, it should not be underestimated, as it is a kind of role that can so easily go the route of being outright annoying and a waste of space. Instead Yang is able to glue the audience to the screen and turn her small role into a scene stealing performance. Putting aside my personal bias, Yang is still an actress to watch for years to come.

It must be said that one cannot stop being disappointed in the lack of a need for 3D or perhaps for the film not making most of the technology on hand. While "Painted Skin: The Resurrection" is beautiful to look at and at times the bright contrast and use of colours in the scenery and backdrop is breathtaking to endure. On the other hand, in the battle scene where the shooting of thousands of arrows is disappointing to say the least, despite obviously taking a page out of Zhang Yimou's infamous "Hero" scene. While Yimou did not have the same technology back in 2002, "Skin" fails to stretch the 3D technology and the result lacks the outcome of Yimou's earlier work. The film always lacks the vital ingredient of fight sequences, this may be due to the departure of Donnie Yen, but for the few fights that is included, almost all of them are well-choreographed. However, sometimes, less is not more, when the film could have done with at least a few more elaborated staged fights.

All in all, "Painted Skin: The Resurrection" is easily a crowd pleaser and in many ways more of the same as the 2008's original. What I really enjoy about these kinds of fantasy films are the manner in which it allows you to escape into another world. Imagine having a dream which compose of the seductiveness of Zhou Xun, the sympathetic looks of Zhao Wei and the cute-eyed Mini Yang. For me, it is more like a dream come true. Still, "Skin" is by no means a perfect movie and as with most dreams there are numerous plot holes, flaws and unrealistic moments, but if one is able to totally suspend your beliefs, then one can truly enjoy the experience. At the end of the day, sometimes when watching a film like "Painted Skin: The Resurrection" it is all about entertainment and for me, just thinking of the trio of actresses, I am already finding it hard to resist. Most certainly a dream-like experience… (Neo, 2012)

Neo rates it 8/10

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Che sau (2012)
7/10
HK Neo Reviews: Motorway 車手 (2012) – Hong Kong
1 July 2012
Review by Neo (Andrew Chan) FCCA

"Motorway" is well directed, produced and possesses some exhilarating car stunts, but leading star Shawn Yue fails to make his character interesting to follow My personal interest in director Soi Cheang's works dates back to my 2004′s "Love Battlefield" review. Quoting myself in the 2004: "Director Soi is a brilliant director that knows how to 'cheat' the audience but not in a bad way, but rather a terrific way." Back then, Soi was only starting out in his career and that movie took me by the storm and by the end of the film, I was overwhelmed by how much I cared and emoted with the characters and the situation. Since then, Soi continued to venture further into this path and made some wonderfully dark and character driven thrillers like "Dog Bite Dog", "Home Sweet Home" and his first encounter with Shawn Yue in "Shamo", before Soi began his association with Johnnie To's Milkway Films beginning with 2009′s "Accident". In many ways, "Accident" is Soi's first half-hearted crack at commercial cinema before going full on commercial for the first time in his latest corroboration with To in "Motorway". It is not necessary a bad thing, as there is still a certain degree of emotional core in his work, but it lacks the character of his earlier films. Despite, "Motorway" comes off engaging and entertaining, but with a team of Soi and To, one cannot stop the flow of greater expectations and in turn, "Motorway" comes off as one of the pair lesser works in comparison.

Having met Shawn Yue earlier this year at the "Love in the Buff" world premiere, you can tell that he is a man full of confidence and is now at a stage and age where he is ready to really carry the film and burden the shoulders of the male leading roles. Therefore, it is all the more disappointing to see him fail to add anything to his character and to be totally honest, he is fast becoming more wooden and stoic than ten years ago. In the Hospital scene, which was supposed to be film's most dramatic moment, Yue failed the audience by covering his faces when he is weeping in tears. For god's sake, it is his only moment in the film where he can display genuine emotions and set up a finale where the audience can actually care about. Instead, we are left with the audience starring at how cool the car drifting in tight angles is rather than caring about the person driving the car. If Yue continues to act like this, he is simply wasting his time and opportunities to become a truly long term box office draw card or acting award nominations. However for the sake of the future of Hong Kong cinema, I sincerely wish to be proved otherwise.

On the other hand, Anthony Wong is simply amazing in his role as the retiring cop who has done it all before. Wong is the reason why the film possesses an emotional core and in many ways it is him, not Yue that carries the burden of engaging the audience along for the ride. He is the perfect example of an actor in a car chasing scene, where the audience cares more about his well-being and safety rather than how fast the car is going or how cool the next drift will be. In many ways, the film relies so much on Wong, that the film essentially ended when his involvement with the film departed as well (trying my best to avoid spoilers).

Adding to the mix is a strong supporting cast of Johnnie To's regulars. Michelle Yip stands out in a miniature role as Wong's supporting wife. Yip's teary eyes and expressive emotional face in the hospital scene is a perfect example of how Yue should have approached the situation. Another actor that Yue should take a page out of is long time supporting actor Gordon Lam as their police boss. Lam despite being stoic in the role is able to portray a level of depth in his character and the way he handled himself at the hospital with unspoken words and his red watery eyes tells a thousand words. In many ways, Lam is probably due for some recognition and his hard work throughout the last decade has not been gone unnoticed. Others like Barbie Hsu are wasted in a paper-thin doctor role.

All in all, "Motorway" is an entertaining and fun movie ride that will most likely satisfy anyone who enjoyed "Initial D" or to a lesser extent the Cannes Film Festival's favourite – "Drive". However, as a complete cinematic experience, the film lacks character, script and emotional depth. It is impossible not to expect more from talented director Soi Cheang, producer Johnnie To and the Milkway Team. Still, "Motorway" works because of its slick production values, quality direction, sharply edited, comprising of some well-choreographed car stunts and an excellent acting turn by Anthony Wong. It may not win any awards, but for the targeted audience, it is probably good enough (Neo 2012)

Neo rates it 7.75/10
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Rock of Ages (2012)
6/10
HK Neo Reviews: Rock of Ages (2012) - USA
19 June 2012
Tom Cruise. Mr. Tom Cruise is simply amazing. In fact he is the only reason why this movie should be watched. Believe me; his performance here is exhilarating, different, rock-like and totally awesome. In essence, Cruise is easily unrecognisable and the manner he is able to electrify the big screen makes Rock of Ages totally watch-able. Without being over-bearing, "Rock of Ages" is an average movie that never raises above its musical genre clichés. In fact, it is actually filled with all the predictable clichés of puppy and stop-start love plot line. However, the reason that the film is better than it should be, can simply be attributed by a long list of strong supporting cast that goes on like a shopping list in Hollywood.

In leading roles are two young guns and romantic leads in the form of Diego Boneta and Julianne Hough. Their love of rock music brings them together and eventually predictably put them apart at the same time. While both kids are rather raw in their acting, they are both likable and have enough justifiable presence along with a good singing voice to boot. However, both are only able to manufacture emotions and the result is the audience never really connecting with the duo. Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand turn out far better and the sudden twist of storyline provides a welcome laughter moment for the audience. Likewise, Paul Giamatti is always good as the greedy music producer and the monkey is without question along with Cruise the best thing in the film. In terms of females, Malin Åkerman does extremely well as a Rolling Stone's journalist and is able to churn out an hilariously and sexy display. Unfortunately the usually dependable Catherine Zeta Jones turns out the worst out of the pack and incredibly wasted in a role that seems more annoying than funny.

All in all, "Rock of Ages" is at best an average film that offers nothing new, but is elevated by some fine performances, namely Tom Cruise and a strong cast to boot. Director Adam Shankman is an expert in the musical arena; therefore it is all the more unfortunate that Rock of Ages seems just exactly like "Hairspray" in disguise, rather than aiming for something more original and touching. Still, despite all these mediocre phrases, "Rock of Ages" starts off slowly, but kicks out the electric presence the moment Cruise steps into play as Stacee Jaxx and never stops beating till the credits began to roll. That's a fine achievement by all means, even if the film never truly deserves it at all. At the end of the day, this is a film where some fun can be had, but ultimately it is really just an empty rock 'n' roll experience… (Neo 2012)

Neo rates it 6.5/10

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Careless Love (2012)
8/10
HK Neo Reviews: Careless Love (2012) - Australia
19 June 2012
This is a great film and that's not an understatement. In fact, it is one of the finest Australian films in ages. That's not exactly saying a lot, but it is a tremendous achievement for the local film industry. With the much missed director/writer John Duigan on board "Careless Love" is deep, thoughtful, well-shot, possesses excellent cinematography and filled with heart-felt performances all-round.

With all honesty, newcomer Nammi Le is a wonderful new talent. Le in the leading role of a prostitute paying her way through university is able to captivate the audience attention from the get-go. The manner in which she approached an extremely difficult character that is trying hard to conquer her own demons of having a double life and drawing a line between love, family and sex is nothing short of amazing to watch. Veteran Peter O'Brien ("X-Men Origins: Wolverine") stars as a customer who befriend Le, works extremely well in a paper-thin role and especially dialogue between the two adds some dimension to the movie. While Andrew Hazzard (from the local "Home and Away" TV series) is at home as the romantic interest, but offers nothing special. Others like Ivy Mak turns in an interesting supporting role as a fellow prostitute and her expressions in the scene when she is raped by an Aussie cop is nothing short of memorable.

All in all, "Careless Love" is a great Australian movie given its budget constraint and subject matter. What makes the film work is simply the exquisite performance from Nammi Le and credits to director John Duigan for delivering an engaging and touching situation that can happen almost anywhere in the world. While there are shortfalls when one look at the film in much clearer details, "Careless Love" remains one of the Australian films to beat for 2012… (Neo 2012)

Neo rates it 8/10

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6/10
HK Neo Reviews: A Royal Affair / En kongelig affære (2012) – Denmark (Media Screening)
13 June 2012
Mikkel Boe Følsgaard as the mad King of Denmark, may not have been given the title role, but he oozes with scene stealing presence in almost every scene he appears. In saying that Danish historical drama "A Royal Affair" is purely carried by Mikkel is by no means an understatement. In fact, the film is rather disappointing with all characters rather blend and uninspiring, apart from the King. Director Nikolaj Arcel (writer of "The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo") is clearly a much better script writer than at bringing the picture to life. "A Royal Affair" could have been something enormous, but rather it all seemed too much like clichés, too many boredom moments and some rather predictable acting from Mads Mikkelsen as the Royal doctor. I am by no means an expert in Danish cinema, but despite looking wonderfully detail in its depiction of 1700s life, the film lacks a vital ingredient of having a heart. There is no doubt that "Royal" is not a bad film and will never be, but one cannot stop wondering what could've been and once again the case of a missed opportunity.

As mentioned earlier, Mikkel Boe Folsgaard steals the show from far more acclaimed Mikkelsen ("Casino Royale"'s fame) and the Queen played by rising Swedish star Alicia Vikander. Mikkel is able to bring his mad character to life and more importantly a human naturalistic touch to it as well. It is a vital stranglehold that the film ultimately fails miserably at. In saying so, Mads Mikkelsen is extremely disappointing in a role that requires so much more. His stoic outlook and appearance certainly did not help the cause, but what really led him down is his inability to show the conflict between love, power and ideals that his character and the audience needed from him. Although it must be noted that despite the age difference, there is an underlying chemistry between him and Alicia Vikander. Moving on to Vikander, there is no question of her pretty face, but despite a promising start, she is never sure of the character that she is trying so hard to portray. At the end, the audience does not feel for either Vikander and Mikkelsen and while both actors should be blamed, a burden should be attributed to the director Arcel, by not being able to exploit the most at his disposals.

"A Royal Affair" is really a historical film about a time in the late 1700s when people are starting to challenge the status quo, the introduction of science, questioning of the Church and all of these leading to the times of being in the middle of the age of enlightenment. The famous Royal doctor Johan Struensee is being portrayed as a simple and straightforward idealist guy that bedded a Queen, but rather he is an interesting character that is driven with passion and ideal to change the world and in the midst of things got stuck in an affair with the Queen. However, he is nothing, but a simple character, as he is torn between assuming more and more power as well as his personal drive for ideals. Here, all we see is a simple black and white character where by the end of the film, he seemed more like a villain than a complicated yet flawed character he should have been.

All in all, "A Royal Affair" is really a missed opportunity. Although it must be admitted, that the screenplay and the best actor award seems thoroughly deserving in winning the Berlin Film Festival awards, but the film precisely fails to deliver in every other category. The film is also a tact too slow in the beginning and lacks tension even in the rather frequent sexual Royal affair. Luckily, the film is saved by the wonderful Mikkel Boe Følsgaard whose character despite being the least normal of the trio, stand heads and shoulders above the rest of the crowd. Perhaps the film-maker was right to focus on the pair of scandalous lovers, after all the film name is titled after it. Still, this could easily be a far better film, far better acted and far more deep and meaning. Perhaps, I am being a tact too harsh, but the result of "A Royal Affair" is not that it is a bad film, but rather it is far too average, far too normal and far too predictable to be involving and affecting. I should be crying by the end of the film, but instead, I almost felt nothing. Beautiful to look at, but ultimately I felt nothing… (Neo 2012)

I rate it 6/10

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Like Crazy (2011)
7/10
HK Neo Reviews: Like Crazy (2011) - USA
20 May 2012
"Like Crazy" is one of those films that you either click completely or disconnect in isolation. Not unlike "Going the Distance", the film deals with the age old issue of long distance relationships. It is never easy. Those moments when you look around you at a restaurant full of romancing couple and there you are looking and holding sake glass all by yourself, convincing that you have a girlfriend somewhere across the Pacific. It's simply difficult and "Like Crazy" succeeds in depicting exactly that very mood.

Casting the duo Felicity Jones and Anton Yelchin are simply a stroke of cinematic genius. From their first encounter at the coffee, it was frankly awkward, yet there is something about the two that glues them together. The manner in which both interacts, embrace, touch and feel about each other is just astonishing to watch. The agony when the two are separated by a trivial visa issue is easily heartfelt and understandable. Of the two, Felicity Jones outshines the Anton Yelchin in the display of affection, emotions and relate-ability from the very beginning. She depicts that kind of affection and longing for someone that can only be relatable for those that understand the matter at hand. Hunger Games' heroine Jennifer Lawrence is wasted in a supporting role, but shines through sheer beauty and the moment she left Anton Yelchin's apartment one last time, the bittersweet look on her face is priceless.

All in all, "Like Crazy" is by no means a perfect film affair, but rather it is very much a personal experience to ensure. The filmmaker ingeniously leaves an ambiguous ending. In an interview director Drake Doremus said that he purposely opened the ending, as by the end of the film the audience would already be exhausted by the relationship and with girl stepping out of the shower there can really be one outcome. In other words just a matter of time. For that, the film earns extra points and at the end of the day, if you like the film, it is almost impossible not to be bias and for that I shall leave it at that…

Neo rates it 7.5/10

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8/10
HK Neo Reviews: Delicacy / La délicatesse (2011) – France
20 May 2012
"Delicacy" works because Audrey Tautou is so amazing to watch. From the moment the film zoomed in on her pitch perfect classical pretty look, the film set its tone. However the part of the film that made it spectacularly brilliant is the final quadrant. Just when you feel the film moves toward melodrama, it turns over in full circle and finally laughter filled the cinema screening. The awkward moments became funny spots and the effortless unlikely romantic companion in Swedish François Damiens is as funny as Hong Kong's iconic Lam Suet. "Delicacy" is film that starts off sweetly, then bitterly and in the end unlikely and delightfully.

Audrey Tautou is simply stunning to watch. Not unlike Audrey Hepburn, they can do nothing and just frankly filled with close up shots and you will still be captivated. Her ability to own the screen is simply a pleasure to watch. Whether she is sad, happy, shocked or even random, Audrey can seamlessly connects with the audience at its very core. Equal to the task is the scene stealing Swedish co-worker François Damiens. Their romantic chemistry does not crash any computer screen, but there is something about them that makes then a couple to root for. His comedic timing is just absolutely "laugh out loud" moments. In fact, there was a time in the film when I uncontrollably laughed out loud and resulted in several turning heads and looks. However it was all worth it.

All in all, "Delicacy" is really one of the lightest hearted melodramatic yet romantic comedies of the year. It is one of those delightful films that are best served after a long day at work where you can sit back and appreciate the beauty of Paris and Ms Audrey Tautou. Ever since Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris", I have placed the city on top of my list and after "Delicacy", I can only say that love is not just a four letter word. A highly enjoyable bittersweet rom-com…

Neo rates it 8.5/10

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The Lucky One (2012)
6/10
HK Neo Reviews: The Lucky One (2012) – USA
20 May 2012
"The Lucky One" is one of those films that if you want to enjoy it, you have to suspend your beliefs and move away from reality. Think about all the realities of life that would otherwise never happen in a movie like this one. Love conquering all is usually the main and key theme of author Nicholas Sparks' novels and his big screen translation are usually even more exaggerated. People love watching his films or books because real life is dull and his world is anything, but boring. Likewise, "The Lucky One" goes about the same themes about love, only with different actors. However, I just never clicked with this film and the result is a film that is borderline average and rather unromantic to me.

Zac Efron is obviously a good looking bloke, but his acting here is far too wooden and starry eyed to be anywhere near convincing. His chemistry with Taylor Schilling seems more conventional than natural and in many ways it feels more like a brother and sister relationship, rather than the later. It's a shame, as Taylor Schilling handles a character torn between past and present extremely well and come off a character that is most human of the lot. The grandmother played by Blythe Danner pops up here and there with some quirky lines and whispering words of wisdom. While the former abusive husband played by Jay Ferguson is constantly annoying and suffers from some of the worst overacting in years.

All in all, "The Lucky One" is probably a film targeted at a particular segment of audience. Despite my secret fonder of romantic dramas, this one just never clicks, too contrived and at times even a tad too long. That's not to say it is entirely a bad film, but in terms of similar films, this one doesn't make the cut. A borderline average film at best…

Neo rates it 6/10

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3/10
HK Neo Reviews: Wise Guys Never Die 提防老千 (2006) - Hong Kong
10 May 2012
Wong Jing is the ultimate loser…

Some movies are so smart that the viewers are overwhelmed. It is generally OK to look smart when you are humble. However, if you think you are damn smart and the fact that you are pretty damn stupid and lame, it just turns the audience "off". Such is the case in Wong Jing's Wise Guys Never Die and when you not only have Wong Jing as the director, writer, producer, but also the main leading role, this flick is really going to head one direction – hell. It is a shame that after a flawed, yet promising – Wo Hu, Wong Jing as expected, follow it up with a piece of lame crap. Then again, it's becoming more like social norm than the unexpected. Sometimes, you really wish this flick to just work, especially when you have several hot babes baring it all, the newly improved reputation of Nick Cheung and a pack of cards. With that being said, the flick is not only disappointing, but it makes you feel sorry for the stupidity the entire cast has to go through.

Sometimes it is good to have ambition, but sometimes one also have to be realistic. Wong Jing may be arguably at best a capable director, but he is by no means in any destinations – a leading actor material. It is a disgrace to HK film industry and a full-on smack in the face to the leading actors of the tiny territory. Not only does he, not have the looks, but his acting is plainly crap and it is an insult for the audience to endure his face and unbearable antics on the big screen and the small screen. What's worst is the unrealistic portrayal of Wong Jing as the ultimate mastermind that seems to "know it all" plus a player. Seriously, Wong Jing bedding the hot chicks is like saying William Hung with Jessica Alba! Get real man, it is both lame and bad for the viewer's eyes. If this flick is directed by someone else, then at least, it makes Wong more credible, but when he is the one behind every one of those steamy hot scenes. It is clear that Wong Jing is more interested in touching and sexually harassing the hot chicks than actual filmmaking. All in all, it is a full on disgraceful performance that underlines a huge detrimental effect on the credibility of 2006 HK cinema.

With that being said, there are some better points, notably being the hot babes doing hot things here and there - including a pretty chick with just a piece of cloth, on the top of the HK peak. Extra points must be given to their brave performance as they handled the harassment of Wong Jing with grace and endurance.

As for Nick Cheung, who has become one of the better supporting actors in the last couple of years, mainly due to the Johnnie To's effect, shows once again that comedy isn't really his cup of tea. Whoever designed his hair – must either hate accountants (Neo doesn't have a lame haircut like that) or he/she is just plainly bad taste. It is still a rhetorical question as to why Cheung actually starred in such a role, after receiving much praise from critics net wide. In a totally un- educated guess, Nick might have been coned by Wong Jing into thinking that this is a witty and smart drama. If that's the case, then Neo must say that – Nick, you are really a stupid guy.

All in all, Wise Guys Never Die is not really a gambling film or a comedy, but rather a chance for Wong Jing to flirt and touch some innocent hot chicks. It is degrading and absolutely disgraceful to endure through the steamy spa scenes. To be honest, Neo does not recommend this flick in any fashion and if you have a chance, just stay away from it. Yes, it is an official warning. Yes, if Wong Jing is replaced by Tony Leung Chiu Wai – Neo will probably praise it as a daring performance. Yes, it has the chicks. Yes, it is from Wong Jing, but it is so damn stupid and the though of seeing Wong Jing in a leading role is really like the end of HK cinema. For the goodness of the world sake, please do not make a sequel or a prequel and do not let this happen again…

Note: All 3 rating points are given to the chicks that endured through this harassment event.

I rate it 3/10
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6/10
HK Neo Reviews: Wife From Hell (2006) - Hong Kong
10 May 2012
A trying effort that falls just short…

Sometimes, when you go into a film with no expectations or even expecting the worst, there are those occasions when it is going to be better than expected. While this isn't saying much, as it is a par below the refreshing – Cocktail or Neo's favourite – I'll Call You, this flick isn't half bad. Wife from Hell isn't really a thriller or horror as the title might suggest, but rather about the temptations and hidden ambitions that a married guy in his 30s has to go through. Given the limited budget, the director and his entire production team puts in a credible effort at an actual attempt of filmmaking. Neo have always admired people who try to make an effort and doing their best. Sure, the solution of the film may be flawed, but at least the effort is there. Yes, it is by no means perfect, but at least they tried – unlike the atrocious, Wong Jing's Wise Guys Never Die.

Candy Lo is an interesting performer and one that is willing to act her age. She has always been an underrated actress and someone that deserves better than her given string of B-movie roles. Earlier this year, Lo produced a scene stealing performance as a regretful lover in Cocktail. There were moments of depression and drunkenness that show glimpses of her underlying acting talent. She isn't outright beautiful or cute, but there is something attractive about her that makes the audience notice her. Here, she is given a sleepwalking role and clearly her talents are suitably wasted.

Another B-grade actor that has improved in 2006 must be that of Andrew Lin, whose at times overacting is compensated with deep underlying emotions. In films like Heavenly Kings, Undying Heart and now – Wife from Hell, Andrew is no longer emotionless and totally wooden, as he makes use of his limited ability by being more expressive. Sure this may lead to some exaggerated overacting, but luckily he is never to the point of annoyance as he is quite easy to watch. With that being said, this is probably his first juicy role and Lin handled it with full stead in what can be claimed as he best ever performance.

One must also mention the director, in most likely his first ever attempt, it is almost a full mark effort as he clearly translates on screen in the smoothness of the camera angles experimented and attempted. The scene of juxtaposition of the Heineken beer dripping to emptiness fits perfectly with the exact moment of sexual tension in Andrew Lin and the crazy seductive chick. It emphasizes intentionally or unintentionally about the random bar chick as just someone to enjoy temporary, like a bottle of beer, the effect does not last forever. Full credit to the terrific soundtrack done by the Japanese artist and once again the trying effort deserves some sort of complementation. One person of notable mention is the chick who plays the mysterious role of a prostitute. Her performance is noteworthy and her acting shows much promise. There is that sense of hotness about that seems to fascinate Neo and the constant use of numbers and time is clearly an asset to the film.

All in all, Wife From Hell isn't by all means straight forward or a film that make any sense. It is flawed, full of plot holes, but at least the filmmaker and the entire cast put in a trying effort and a clear attempt at experimental filmmaking. As I said before, this flick is probably not as good as I claim it to be, but it is clearly a par above what I expected. There are meaningful moments to be taken from it, but the manner that it attempted to reach the audience lack the vital emotional punch. Nonetheless, it is films like this that shows that there are still people in the industry that still care about filmmaking. Sure the destination may not be totally fulfilling, but the journey is certainly worth the effort. Once again, full credit for trying, even though the outcome could be better…

Note: Something worth noting is that the two producers of this flick also produced the acclaimed Dog Bite Dog, the above average – Explosive City, the better than expected – Midnight Running. It is an odd duo – a Japanese in Shin Yoneyama and Sam Leung.

I rate it 6.5/10.

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7/10
HK Neo Reviews: Wo Hu 卧虎 (2006) - Hong Kong
10 May 2012
1000 too many undercover cops…

Eric Tsang is fast becoming the next Danny Lee, but just a direct switch of the same role. The later is probably the most well-known cop in the HK cinema history as Lee Sir. So much so, that some jokes that Lee Sir probably thinks he is a cop in real life. Such is the case for Eric Tsang, who after the success of Infernal Affairs has appeared in endless films as the triad boss. Sooner or later, he too will think he is a real triad when he goes down the street, then discovering he is a head too short to be recognised. Still, when thinking about Eric Tsang, one can not help but come up with the image of the moment he pushed all the food of the police desk. It was a moment of cinema classic and likewise a moment to remember. So why the hell is Neo going on about Eric, well you probably guessed, he is playing a triad boss once again. With Wong Jing in the production line and his usual collaborator Marco Mak as the letterhead, together they produced something interesting to watch, even if the ending is a bit too flat. Like Colour of Truth, it comes to prove that when the maniac Wong Jing is serious, he can work wonders, and when it comes to comedy, let's talk about something else.

Undercover cop infiltrating the triad society sounds a lot like a little movie called Infernal Affairs. Luckily or unfortunately, Wong Jing attempts to be somewhat original within a load of clichés, by emphasising on not one undercover, but 1000. Yes, you heard me right, 1000 freaken undercover cops. How the hell did the police force manage to force that many young aspiring cops to become Tony Leung Chiu Wai-s are really beyond our imagination? Perhaps, the only reason is that they all aspire to be as cool as Chiu Wai. Actually, I should really care less about how this idea came about and rather concentrate on the quality of the movie.

The movie started off extremely promising, and the idea of 1000 undercover is absolutely intriguing to watch. However, my initial fears was coming to life as the movie drag on and on, the focus becomes not on any one of the 1000 undercover, but rather Eric Tsang. Sure, Eric is an interesting face, and probably can make most people laugh when picturing him as a triad boss in real life. Nonetheless, he is really a great supporting actor, and when thrust upon the leading role, this is where the most went down the wrong hill. Luckily he is ably and terrifically supported by someone with the name of Francis Ng.

Ng scene stealing cameo in Herman Yau's On the Edge was memorably breathtaking, and here he plays a similar role, if only a little more comical. As usual Ng's overacting is immensely fun to watch, including a hilarious scene when Ng and Jordan Chan gather a bunch of wanna-be gangster. With that being said, Jordan Chan is the weak link of the trio, and despite a somewhat funny performance, which include the funny scene of his girlfriend's ring tone – is the chick in a sexy voice – "lo gung lo gung, continue la". Chan isn't choosing the right roles, a more than capable dramatic actor, deserve far better than this nonsense role.

One thing that Infernal Affairs lacked is any sort of romance. Here, Wong Jing shows a typical modern-day romance in a cynical yet true way. As Neo love to proclaim in a WKW manner, love is all about timing, its no good meeting the right person at the right place, but at the wrong time. In other words, it's no good meeting someone too early or too late. Sure, it sounds very pessimistic, but from time to time, there are exceptions. It was by pure chance that Eric met Sonja Kwok. From there they started a relationship that seems more realistic to a couple of young adults. Still, despite the obvious age difference, the chemistry is still there. The romance is random, yet there is this feeling within the audience, which almost reminds them of their own past and the manner of how most of their relationships started. Then all of a sudden you realise that Eric is not 30, 40, but 50. Then again, this is a Wong Jing's flick.

All in all, this is really a flick that shows more about the triad bosses trying to offset each other, rather than a flick that stresses upon the glorified genre – undercover. It is shocking to realise that director Mak didn't follow in what Neo acclaimed it as – "an original idea from a well worn cliché." The lack of development of any real characters and some unnecessary overacting, are really the downside of Wu Ho. Sometimes, you wonder, when will HK make a great movie again, and in a scale of probability, it is already pretty low, let alone a movie by Wong Jing. Seriously, maybe I was expecting too much, but it can't be my entire fault, when the main attraction of the film is the 1000 undercover cops. To be honest, this isn't exactly as bad as I am sounding, as once again, it is still slightly above being wholly average. This isn't necessary a bad thing, as most Wong Jing movies are a par below average, but still, I expected more. Call me a realist, or whatever, no matter what this flick is still a missed opportunity…

I rate it 7/10.

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8/10
HK Neo Reviews: Without Words (2006) - Hong Kong
10 May 2012
Surprisingly good!

Once in a well, some random movies pop up at my door step that I either never heard or never expect to see. Some of them become some piece of gem – Love Battlefield and some quite frankly a piece of crap – Silly Kung Fu Family. Without Words, certainly isn't an art house film, but the good news is that it isn't totally commercial and it stars Neo's favourite – Ella Koon! Ella Koon looks like a cute little duck, but her acting range shows much promise without distracting from the fact that she is damn hot! Yes, Neo is bias when it comes to stuff like that, but in many ways, I was expecting a pretty crap movie, but what turned out to be more meaningful and cliché that I ever imagined. In that way, it is good news, as it turns out to be a pretty surprisingly good heck of a film. Then again, there is Ella and there is a dog, how can that possibly go wrong.

Without Words isn't exactly anything new, but what it does well is using cliché to portray something that touches the audience. While the movie isn't on the same level as Love Battlefield, Cousin Mak is a director of much promise. In many ways the movie may seem to be a mixture of a variety of Korean movies and stuff we have all seen before, but the process is peaceful and definitely feels good. Mak uses adequate camera angles without being showy and the scenery of the sea provides a sense of hope in a rather sad movie. The story of the Little Tide is touchingly memorable about those who left will remain in our hearts forever.

Ella Koon puts in a credible debut leading performance and while her range is still questionable; her performance here is brilliant and easing to endure. The scene where she keeps saying "I love you" is memorable to endure and pleasing to remember. A touching performance nonetheless which definitely show Ella as an actress with much promise. Lawrence once again shows exactly why he is a worthy talent and continues to improve from underrated performances in AV and Eye 10. In another twist, Eric Tsang's son – continues to appear in movies at the rate of Chapman To, like his father, he seems to be heading towards a good supporting career.

Without Words isn't exactly the freshest movie of 2006, but the overall feel of the movie is seemingly touching and worthwhile. There are movies that you watch and at the credits one would feel wasted and regretful, but Without Words, uses cliché to trick the audience into a feel good mode. While Mak doesn't reach the heights of Derek Yee's romantic dramas, but given the low budget and less commercial voltage, Without Words is better than it should have been. In the state of HK cinema right now, a movie that surprises the audience is deemed to be a good one and under any circumstances Without Words is a damn good movie. While it is probably something like a collection of films we have all seen before, this film succeeds at being just that – simple yet deep, touching without being emotional and Ella without being bias. All in all, Without Words sum the theme up well and by the end, Neo himself is without words…and thinking…

I rate it 8/10.

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Love (I) (2012)
7/10
HK Neo Reviews: Love 愛 (2012) – Taiwan/China
7 May 2012
"For every jerk, there lies a broken heart inside…"

Taiwanese cinema has proved to be the next Asian powerhouse. Love (2012) is a feel good romantic comedy about what else, but love. Headed by International star Shu Qi and Mainland superstar Zhao Wei, both carries the film broadly on their shoulders. However it is the love stories that make the movie a romantic affair. What makes Love a good movie is the fact that it doesn't go overboard in the overtly romance notion. It tries to deal with some real issues yet at the same time providing a true Hollywood experience. In along the reins of Love Actually and countless Hollywood Valentines' day events, Love is a good movie and works well within its defined boundaries without being truly special.

Shu Qi being the biggest drawer of International audience is able to create a likable and realistic character despite being mostly materialistic. Although her resulting relationship with Ethan Ruan is quite laughable, she is able to convince the audience in the scene where she packs her clothes and decides to leave. Likewise, Zhao Wei excites the audience and her dance tease is quite a treat. Eddie Pang does well and Ivy Chen shows good potential in a difficult role, while fellow Taiwanese actress Doze Niu is thoroughly cute and endearing.

All in all, Love is not really movies that inspires or deflect from genre conventions, but there is an undeniably good feel about it that makes it impossible to dislike. With good production values, decent semi realistic love stories and attractive actresses to boot, Love will not win any awards, but for a day called Valentine, it could be far worst. A good film for what it is worth…

Neo rates it 7/10

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Safe House (2012)
7/10
HK Neo Reviews: Safe House (2012) – USA
7 May 2012
Matt Weston: How am I supposed to get more experience by staring at four walls all day?

Safe House is the kind of film that could have been great and ended up being just good. It is a shame as for a good three quarters of the film; it simply oozes with sublime confidence. However, it fails big time in the finale and resulting in a film of unfulfilled potential. With the likes of veteran Denzel Washington and the uprising Ryan Reynolds, one would expect better. Still for the majority of the film, it works and it may seem half baked, some credit should still be due.

Denzel Washington does well without being stunning, but it is Ryan Reynolds that handles the difficult role well enough to carry the film. Years ago nobody fancy the guy of romantic comedy range to do anything substantial. In this film, Reynolds is able to balance subtlety required of his role to compensate the tension surrounding the situation.

All in all, Safe House is a good movie, but it plays far too safe, far too predictable and far too cliché to be anything beyond its worth. It is a real shame as the filmmaker tried so hard to create a premise that could well have finished with a big bang. Unfortunately that is not to be, but sometimes like life we just cannot finish what we started. Therefore, we should appreciate a good 75% of this flick and forget the rest. Yet another film which shows the notion of what could've been…

Neo rates it 7.5/10

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8/10
HK Neo Reviews: My Week with Marilyn
7 May 2012
Milton Greene: That's what she does, she breaks hearts. She'll break yours.

What made this movie so enjoyable are definitely the stunning impersonations by Michelle Williams and Kenneth Branagh as Marilyn Monroe and Sir Laurence Olivier respectively. If there are two performances along worthy of the price of admission, this is your movie. The petite yet filled with radiating screen presence ability of Williams showed a side of her not previously seen in her career resume. She is sexy yet extremely likable, flawed, yet romantic and beautiful yet pretty. In fact, it is a shame that she did not get an Oscar nod as not only did she made the character her own, but she made Marilyn come back to life. That is by no means an overstatement.

As usual Kenneth Branagh is a great character actor and as the legend of British cinema Sir Laurence Olivier, Branagh is imposing and totally a pleasure to view on the big screen. Likewise Williams gives the performance of a lifetime. From top to bottom, words cannot describe those moments, some fragile, some subtle, some expressive, some incredibly sexy and some just so extremely likable. Eddie Redmayne is most likely the weakest link in the film. The fact that his relationship with Marilyn is so central to the film, that it is all the more disappointing that he is unable to convince the audience in the most critical moments. It is not as if Redmayne is not given a chance, but he has a character to work with and perhaps could have displayed his emotions better. Another problem is the unbelievable romance between the two, as there is zero chemistry between the two. On the other hand, he does have clear chemistry with the scene stealing cameo from Emma Watson.

All in all, My Week with Marilyn is one of those movie events of the year that isn't a great movie, but an experience that revokes the memories of cinematic greats. It goes back to one of the best quotes ever: "it doesn't matter how long you live, what matters is the legacy that you live behind." It is without question that Marilyn Monroe had that rare quality and aided by an illuminating Michelle Williams, it appears as though it is the 50s all over again. It reminds me of the scene where Collin Clark says: "It's agony because he's a great actor who wants to be a film star, and you're a film star who wants to be a great actress. This film won't help either of you." Some people are just born like a star and natural to the screen, while others have to work harder to achieve the same thing. Monroe was one of a kind and definitely once in a generation occurrence, and as for Williams; she has certainly turned a lot of heads. This is a fine film, if only due to the performances….

Neo rates it 8/10

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5/10
HK Neo Reviews: [36HKIFF] The Love Letter (1999) – USA
7 May 2012
@ 36th Hong Kong International Film Festival

"Love Letter: Dearest, Do you know how much in love with you I am? Did I trip? Did I stumble – lose my balance, graze my knee, graze my heart? I know I'm in love when I see you. I know when I long to see you, I'm on fire. Not a muscle has moved. Leaves hang unruffled by any breeze. The air is still. I have fallen in love without taking a step. You are all wrong for me and I know it, but I can no longer care for my thoughts unless they are thoughts of you. When I am close to you, I feel your hair brush my cheek when it does not. I look away from you sometimes, then I look back. When I tie my shoes, when I peel an orange, when I drive my car, when I lie down each night without you, I remain, Yours"

Peter Chan's first venture into Hollywood was a massive cultural barrier. Not unlike, Wong Kar Wai's poorly executed, but well meaning "My Blueberry Night", the premise seems very much Korean and the idea of a love letter creating multiple opportunities of love is more corny and cheesy than believable. Seriously if you see an untitled love letter randomly on a table at someone's else home, it is very likely that you will take it seriously to heart and take it as a piece of salt instead. The answer is clear and the whole idea is flawed from the beginning. Here is how Chan works his magic on the audience and trick us to believe and takes us along the ride in a somewhat light hearted and slightly heart-warming view of nothing else than love.

In one of Kate Capshaw's final on-screen display, she is ably casted as a single middle aged woman trying to find love again despite the odds. In fact the film would not have been watchable if not for Capshaw's performance and Chan's persistent style of direction. I have always called Chan a romantic director as he goes for the depth of characters and their stories in unprecedented details. Unfortunately, in this film, Chan is clearly lost in translation and its a definite shame.

All in all, like most Asian directors cutting it out in the golden mountain of Hollywood, Chan is unable to replicate his best works. No matter how you see this film from whatever angle, for a Hollywood movie it is just too corny to connect with the Western audience and for the Asian audience we have seen too many Comrades, Alan and Eric and countless better cinematic experience. Still, Chan did not fully fail as some fun can still be had, except by his standards, this is an epic fail by all proportions….

Neo rates it 5.5/10

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8/10
HK Neo Reviews: [36HKIFF] Declaration of War / La guerre est déclaré (2011) – France
7 May 2012
@ 36th Hong Kong International Film Festival

By being the opening film of the 36th Hong Kong International Film Festival, Declaration of War is a film that touches the audience hearts, but more importantly it talks about real humans, real events, real emotions and real surroundings. For that alone director and main actress deserves a simple round of applause. It is not easy to go through a traumatic experience and come out strongly by telling her life story through films. This film works because the director never stray away from its core issue of a couple dealing with their child having a brain trauma and all the other issues that goes along with it – losing money, jobs, lifestyle, relationships and ultimately themselves. It should be complimented that the film yet is about to play with a sense of humor along the way.

Valerie Donzelli not only carries the film as the mother and wife, but directs a film that is so personal to her. It was my honour to meet such a strong lady at the festival. In the scene where she ran and ran in the hospital corridors until she collapses is a perfect example of originality in her camera work and her ability to depicts and communicate a difficult moment. Likewise her former partner Jeremie Elkaim excels in a role that compliments Valerie and two display amazing chemistry that cannot just be manufactured.

All in all, Declaration of War is very much a personal film, about how a child's illness can affect almost everything in his parents life. Dealing with difficult times like these is never easy and often the wear and tear will stop any couple from living their lives. Points should be given to Valerie for being able to so convincing portray these emotions. Although the film seems raw at times, War is very much a perfect example of how an extremely personal film can still affect the audience. While the film may never be a masterpiece, Valerie have certainly created and shared something special…

Neo rates 8.5/10

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5/10
HK Neo Reviews: [36HKIFF] Beautiful 2012 美好2012 (2012) – HK/China/Taiwan/Korea
6 May 2012
This is really a big mixed bag of short flicks hales from 4 major Asia film market regions. In saying that it is a mixed bag is not an understatement, as each individual short films varies from being great (My Way – Ann Hui's segment) to almost unbearably un-watchable The Walker segment. The Walker segment is unashamedly poor and most likely the longest 20 minutes I have to endure in any kind of movie. In fact the 20 minutes seems more like a hour as the monk walks at a snail pace around the bustling city of Hong Kong. Some may call it artistic, I call it the biggest load of pretentious bullshit. It is really that bad. The other two fairs better, but ultimately not memorable enough to be remembered. The exception to the rule is once again Ann Hui, who made use of everyone of those 20 minutes and all credit to Francis Ng is tackling a difficult role as a female born with male body. Still, a good 20 minutes does not make the other 60 minutes more bearable and in many ways, Hui's segment can easily be made into a full length feature.

Back to the The Walker, no matter what the good intention is behind the whole juxtaposition of Hong Kong lifestyle and the monk, a film needs to entertain, excite and be enjoyable. The Walker fails big time in all aspect and in essence certainly does not deserve any of the perigee it is getting. In fact, I can go on forever as to how I felt like I wasted 10 hours rather than 20 minutes sitting through the slowest and never- ending segment of the The Walker. Whereas Hui on the other hand, entertains and is not afraid to have some fun in the proceeding. Francis Ng is one heck of a one great actor whose range is unprecedented. He is ably supported by the much missed 90s action heroine Jade Leung who is able to show the emotions of a woman in the face of her husband becoming a transsexual.

All in all, there is doubt that Beautiful 2012 is a mixed bag of good and bad eggs. Unfortunately, by the time the film reaches Hui's segment, the audience attention is already on a downward scale. It is a disappointing effort from the other three major cinematic regions in Asia. Personally, I would much rather have seen a feature length film showing Francis Ng afterlife as a new-being refreshed into Hong Kong society. However, Beautiful 2012 is anything, but beautiful and in fact, The Walker segment is just outright awful. Honestly, wait for the DVD and fast forward to the Korean and Hong Kong segment and pretty much ignore the rest. Hard to recommend, except for Hui and Francis Ng's saga…

Neo rates it 5/10 (average rating of the four shorts)

The Walker (0/10) You are more than Beautiful (6/10) Long Tou (5.5/10) My Way (8/10)

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