Friday, May 22, 2009

Four Cherie Chung Features

Yes, my current Cherie Chung phase continues! It is so much fun to almost rediscover this actress. I first saw and loved Cherie in Peking Opera Blues and it's quite wonderful to see her in earlier roles displaying a similar wide-eyed perkiness, not to mention some others where she lights up the screen with quite a bit of sensuality.

(Now, if I could only find the Celestial re-issue of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, I would be really happy!)

I have a few non-Shaw Brothers Cherie films in my library that I've yet to watch, but this time I tackled 3 more from that studio, as well as one of the recent re-issues from early in her post-Shaw career.

The Flying Mr. B (1985)

Director/writer Wong Jing provides this Kenny Bee/Cherie Chung vehicle with action choreographed by Leung Siu Hung, who worked on the recent Ip Man. Kenny Bee plays Mr. Shi, a high school teacher who stumbles upon a "superman" pill that's been concocted by fellow HS teacher, Zhu, played by HK cinema regular Kent Cheng. Add to this mix, Cherie Chung as Ms. Cheung, a sexy sci-fi novelist (she's always at the HS so I'm not sure if she's meant to be a teacher as well -- typical Wong Jing narrative laziness).

Wong Jing plays Liu Ben, a 29-year-old HS student (though he dresses like a teacher) who seems to hang out with the adults more than the students despite having a crush on a female student which sounds a bit creepy now that I think about it.

Pat Ha Man Jik plays Kent Cheng's love interest. Pat was exceptionally good in the semi-gritty, semi-melodramatic Shaw film My Name Ain't Suzie but here she's not given very much to do.

Kenny Been takes the pill and flies and beats up criminals and so on. Then there's a long, semi-funny stretch of the film where Cherie and her editor conspire to prove that this "flying man" is indeed Mr. Shi.

The film takes a turn into Disney's Flubber territory when the HS basketball team attempts to use the pill. Mr. Zhu runs out of the pill and it's up to 29-year-old student Wong Jing to make the winning basket in the big game in slow motion (I'm not making this up!).

The best part of this sequence is the presence of Nat Chan as a rival school's sneering coach.

Then, it's on to a ridiculous finale where Cherie is once again menaced by the same goofy gangster and his goons only to have the school students and Mr. Shi save her. In an echo of E.T., dozens of 10-year-old boys furiously ride their mountainbikes down Hong Kong streets and into (!) the gangster's house, crashing over stairwells even, to save Cherie.

Overall, the film feels more coherent than My Darling Genie, but that's not saying much. Cherie and Kenny are charming -- especially in a very dated music video-style sequence where they sing about their love for each other.

Hong Kong Playboys (1983)

Another Wong Jing spectacle! Sanjuro has a real review here but here are a few of my thoughts on the film:

First off, I can see why Alexander Fu Sheng was such a hit. He's not as ruggedly handsome as David Chiang was. And his pudgy face, earring, and floppy bangs made him look like just enough of a "regular guy" to not be a threat to the guys in the audience as well as a plausible romantic icon for the ladies in the crowd. He's like a better looking, less spastic Jim Carrey.

Alexander plays Sheng, a charming rascal and inveterate playboy, living in a state-of-the-art (circa 1984) remote controlled house -- love the wine glasses on the robotic rolling table on the rollerskates! -- who is the king of picking up the ladies. Sheng's mother shows up unexpectedly with her nurse Ah Mei (Cherie Chung) in tow. Any of us with a thing for a girl-in-glasses have our wishes granted with this film 'cause Ms. Chung wears glasses for a large section of the film. And the more the producers try to make her look plain, the cuter she looks.

The film is largely episodic as Sheng, romantic rival Valentine (played by Patrick Tse-Yin), and the bumbling Lolanto (Nat Chan) attempt to outmaneuver each other in the pursuit of various women in a series of bets.

The lack of pretense felt refreshing in a weird way. The film is so lighthearted as to be largely inconsequential, like a late-era episode of TV's Three's Company when the show wasn't as sexual.

Of course, as the film nears its conclusion, with only minutes to spare, the contrived plot getting Cherie and Alexander together kicks into high gear. Cherie really isn't the star of this film and it would have been a better film if she had been one of the women the rivals were romancing.

As it is, she is cast against type with little to do for a large section of the proceedings. Her best scene is a sequence where she and Alexander play strip poker and a drinking game only to go crashing down a secret passageway to Sheng's lavish marble bathroom, landing in slow motion in the tub. This scene is actually funny in a way that prefigures Stephen Chow comedies but with a nice gentleness to it that I liked.

Look for Enter the Dragon villain Shek Kin as the triad boss father of one of the ladies.

It's worth noting that this was obviously one of the first Shaw re-issues on the Celestial label and it's nonanamorphic letterboxed with a grainy picture and sometimes poor subtitles.

Maybe It's Love (1984)

This film is an ambitious failure from first-time director Angela Chan, who also directed Anthony Wong's first film, My Name Ain't Suzie. The blame is shared by writer Lillian Lee, who wrote the wonderful Green Snake for director Tsui Hark and Rouge for director Stanley Kwan (not to mention the very strange A Terracotta Warrior starring Gong Li and director Zhang Yimou and directed by action choreographer Ching Siu-Tung).

Maybe It's Love is not a *bad* film, just a very strange one, with tones that vary wildly.

HK stalwart Elaine Kam and Shaw star Ku Feng play a bickering Mainland couple recently emigrated to Hong Kong -- I'm guessing this is set in the New Territories due to the sparseness of the country landscape. When we first see Elaine's character she is gazing in envy at a picture of Brigitte Lin (!) on the cover of a movie magazine while lusting after a young Chow Yun-Fat on a TV series. Clearly, her husband can't satisfy her and soon she is taking refuge in the arms of hunky postman/kung fu teacher Ken Tong.

Ken Tong's character is lusting after rich girl Cherie Chung who lives on what appears to be the only mansion estate within miles. Cherie spends her time being the kept woman of various successful businessmen. She also practices aerobics quite a bit and the film is nearly a lecher's paradise as the camera zooms in on Cherie's leotard-clad body.

Of course, what was sexy in 1984 now seems silly as the music and outfits remind one of that Travolta film, Perfect.

Add to this a Rear Window-inspired plot with a young girl with a prosthetic leg who seems to have observed a murder across the street. The girl is the product of an abusive home (hence the leg) and is now living with her disbelieving grandmother. The grandmother works as the maid for Cherie Chung's character.

When Elaine Kam's Mrs. Wang goes missing, and the girl thinks she saw her murdered, it's up to the kid to solve the crime.

(I should take a breath after relating the convoluted plot up to this point!)

The film suddenly and awkwardly shifts tones and turns into a kind of Chinese version of The Goonies with Marble and her little friends in the village trying to solve the crime. What started as a pretty steamy tale of adultery, envy, and betrayal now is a kids' film!

The literally cliffhanger ending is just so silly that whatever drama there was is quickly forgotten.

There are elements of a *great* film here and the director and writer certainly crafted an intriguing love triangle in the film's first third. For a few minutes, I felt like I was watching a film on the level of Hong Kong Hong Kong, but as soon as the murder plot kicked in, and the kids dressed up like pirates (or something) trying to solve the murder, I realized this thing was a waste of time.

Yes, Cherie looks amazingly hot in her early scenes, and Elaine Kam is quite sultry for a change, but overall the film is a mess.

Moon, Star & Sun (1988)

Director Michael Mak (who directed the serviceable Butterfly and Sword which seemed to be a good introduction into the modern wuxia genre for a few friends of mine)directed this soap opera about the lives of three girls working at the China City nightclub in Hong Kong.

I was pleasantly surprised with this film as it is not quite the Cat. III exploitation fare that was typical in the 1990's (PR Girls, for example) but a rather sympathetic and only moderately prurient look into the lives of these club hostesses.

Shaw sexpot Hu Chin plays the club madam, Margarita, who essentially buys Maggie Cheung's May character. May is a virgin at the story's start and so is quick to earn a big chunk of money for her family and Margarita.

The scene of Maggie's slow motion deflowering at the hands of a sumo wrestler-sized white man is a bit too over-the-top to be as shocking as it's intended but the viewer gets the point at how quickly May is soiled by her new life even while the life brings an opportunity to pay off her family's debts.

Cherie Cheung plays Gigi whose husband is in prison for some financial crime. Gigi charms her customers -- look for Shing Fui On from the classic-and-yet-ridiculous The Blue Jean Monster as one of the most persistent ones -- only to deny them sex, intending to keep herself pure for her incarcerated hubby.

I think any viewer can see what's coming and Gigi suffers the worst fate of the three girls. But Cherie does get one great scene near the end when she unleashes a blistering, room-clearing tantrum in her hubby's new hair salon after catching him with a young woman on his lap.

But the real star of the film is Carol (Do Do) Cheng. Carol plays Porsche, the older, less popular hostess, quick to take a drink and start a fight. The part won her a Golden Horse award and rightly so; she manages to take what is essentially a stock figure in this sort of saga and make it a real character.

It would have been easy to play this part a bit tougher or a bit more melodramatic, or with a bit more sadness, but Carol really nails it. Porsche is realistic, jaded, and -- at least in the context of this story -- strong; when her dreams are dashed she literally laughs it off, unlike the characters of Gigi and May.

It's really remarkable how realistic the film feels (despite the music and slow motion sequences). Having seen a few Cat. III films -- and some similar Shaw titles from the 1970's -- I can say that the film really seems understated in many ways.

Certainly it is melodramatic, and bad things happen to the women, but all of the events in the plot are there to serve these three well-written characters.

Not a masterpiece but certainly better than dozens of other films of this genre.

The DVD is the recent FortuneStar re-issue and it looks decent in most places except for a few bits where the film seems herky-jerky. The subtitles are not perfect but probably better than on the original DVD.

You can order The Flying Mr. B on DVD here.

You can order Hong Kong Playboys on DVD here.

You can order Maybe It's Love on DVD here.

You can order Moon, Star & Sun on remastered DVD here.