Friday, February 27, 2009

Hong Kong International Film Festival -- UPDATED

The Hong Kong International Film Festival is opening soon and there were plenty of stars in attendance at a related gala on February 26, 2009, including Simon Yam, Daniel Wu, Fan Bing-Bing, and Zhang Jingchu from The Beast Stalker.

I'm curious about the new Ann Hui film with Simon Yam and Zhang Jinchu, as well as -- obviously -- the Derek Yee film with Jackie Chan.

It's funny that the excitement is not so much over "a new Jackie Chan film" but "a new Derek Yee film!" (One that features Fan Bing-Bing as well! LOL!)

I hope other bloggers -- maybe YTSL? -- will cover the festival and/or go to a few of the screenings and report back.

Details on the festival are here.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Celeb Stuff -- More Mulan, Ah Gil!

Following on from my earlier doubts, pictures have been released of Zhao Wei as Mulan. And while the pics look fine to me, it's the direction of Jingle Ma -- he of The Butterfly Lovers debacle -- that has me worried about this flick.

Gillian Chung promises to return to showbiz. I hope she does and I hope it doesn't involve Oliver Stone.

I stumbled into a Chinese/Vietnamese grocery store yesterday after trying out a new Thai restaurant in this area (Wheaton/Silver Spring) only to see Edison Chen's mug plastered on the face of the Chinese newspaper on the stands. I didn't have to understand the text to get the meaning and the pull of this story even a year later.

I just hope that the media in Hong Kong can eventually forgive Gillian some simply, youthful mistakes and let her return to the limelight along with Cecilia Cheung.

They were both actresses I expected much of in the future, obviously.

Jeffrey Lau's robot thing finished shooting. After A Chinese Tall Story, I am intrigued at what this director plans for the future. Beyond Ronald Cheng, I'm not very familiar with the cast so far.

Sammi's Back -- Lady Cop & Papa Crook

The Sammi Cheng that I know and love is back but unfortunately she's trapped in someone else's movie.

Kozo, as always, has a real review up but here are some quick thoughts from me.

An opening sequence has us Sammi fans back on familiar ground: watching our starlet, easily the most beautiful and fashionable woman in a room, play the gawky one in a group of women discussing their romantic woes. The scene is almost identical to a similar one with Maggie Q and Nicola Cheung in Magic Kitchen. Add in a cameo from Richie Ren and I was momentarily upbeat.

Unfortunately, the rest of the film just is a mess of different genres with Sammi seemingly acting in a comedy and everyone else acting in a drama. Only Chapman To seems to be having fun with his character which is still underdeveloped beyond a hairstyle and a pair of glasses.

A strange misfire that is redeemed simply by the starpower of Sammi. Eason is fine, it's just that he seems to be miscast; I just couldn't buy him as a heavy, even a sympathetic one.

Kozo's review says that Jo Koo was in this but I'll be darned if I could find her.

You can order the barebones DVD here for a reasonable price. It has the theatrical cut plus the "director's cut" which is a good 7 minutes longer.

Monday, February 23, 2009

My Usual Oscar Contrariness

First off, let me say that apart from Midnight Cowboy (1969), there is no Oscar winner for Best Picture that really matters to me very much. Sure, there have been some good films in there but in a world where 1980's Ordinary People can beat Raging Bull, what good is the Best Picture Oscar anyway?

And I'm probably not the best person to write about racial and gender identity considering how I objectify Asian actresses on my blog but I'm going to do it anyway.

The Oscars usually make me embarrassed to be a liberal. The annual pat-on-the-back marathon, the hard work at showing that "we care a lot" (to paraphrase Faith No More), gets to be wearying after the first hour of the broadcast, never mind as the clock gets near midnight.

Only in Hollywood could a win for a film about a gay rights icon be seen as an actual accomplishment at getting gender equality in America. Maybe the scriptwriter's real and moving speech will change hearts and minds? Maybe.

And there is something a bit disgusting about the way that a handful of British filmmakers accepted their awards for a hackneyed piece of pap using the very actors from the film as little more than window dressing. How is that anything more than another form of colonialism?

Christ, the winning screenwriter couldn't even get the names of the two leads actors right, calling Dev by his name but calling Freida Pinto by her character's name! Is that how little the Indian actors mattered to them?

The producer hugging this kid in the photo brings to mind Bill Clinton scanning the crowd for little black babies to kiss as he worked to get votes in either of his campaign years.

Real progress would be an Academy Awards telecast where an Indian filmmaker won an award.

And Cuba Gooding Jr. whose whole career is a cartoon devoid of dignity, a perpetuation of a whole catalogue of negative black male images, has no right to lecture Robert Downey Jr. -- even in jest -- about playing an actor playing a black man; Downey's performance in the otherwise overrated Tropic Thunder (2008) says more about race and liberal sensibilities in Hollywood than any film this year, Slumdog or otherwise.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

"Ip Sifu! Ip Sifu! Ip Sifu!" -- Ip Man

There's not much more that I can say about Ip Man (2008) that the review by Kevin Ma from Kozo's site didn't say better. But I'm going to post about it anyway.

The best martial arts films all have one thing in common: context. Time, place, a sense of history, and characters all make a film more than just fighting. Those are the things that separate the Ip Mans of the world from the Kill Bills of the world.

Now, that's not to say that Ip Man is historically accurate, but it does ground its action in setting and motive; the action springs out of the characters and situations in the film.

Unlike Flash Point, the plot isn't secondary to the action even if the action is why most of us are going to be watching this film.

Donnie Yen delivers, pure and simple. While the music can be a bit annoying in some crucial moments, and the drama borders on the sentimental quite a few times, the story of Wing Chun master Ip Man makes some crucial points about why one fights and the meaning of martial arts, and the meaning of national identity as well.

Where Jet Li's Fearless was a bit too thoughtful, this film aims to please the masses. But it does that without sacrificing meaning.

Every fight in the film serves a point in the plot and illustrates the characters who are doing the fighting; there is no carnage for the sake of carnage.

I can ask for nothing more from a modern martial arts film.

Yes, there were points in the story where I felt like things were rushed, and, yes, the first half is certainly better than the second half. But, on the whole, the film succeeds and made me happier as a viewer than Fearless did.

You can order the decent, basic edition DVD here.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Telephone 601 (Or The Rise and Fall of Cecilia Cheung) -- MAJOR UPDATE

I've been thinking for weeks of what made Cecilia Cheung so special in my mind.

And, after watching the Mainland film, Telephone 601, I am now feeling a bit sorry for her.

Back in very early 2001 -- right after Christmas, 2000 -- I dove into Hong Kong cinema with determination. I had just seen Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and had just bought my first DVD player. I immediately realized that that film owed a lot to earlier -- some would say better -- films. So, now that I had a DVD player, I could easily investigate all those old Tsui Hark films I had seen clips of and read about.

In the process of doing that, I started to branch out into non-action, non-wuxia genres and the first actress currently working at that time who really caught my eye was Cecilia Cheung.

Now, I'll be the first to admit that she's not even one of the most beautiful Hong Kong actresses as far as I'm concerned; Christy Chung, Cherie Chung, and Maggie Cheung are all more attractive to me when judged purely on looks -- I'm a man so I can't help being shallow but at least I'm honest about it.

(And, yes, I do agree with Yvonne and others who have found her too thin at times.)

But Cecilia had a presence that went beyond just looks. She may not have been quite the actress that Maggie Cheung is but, like Maggie, she did manage to bring her personality into her roles and that counts for a lot with me.

And my nostalgia for when I first became a fan of Cecilia is also a tribute to all of the websites that helped me further that craze in 2001 and 2002: Sanney's old Hong Kong Entertainment News in Review; The View from The Brooklyn Bridge where I first read reviews from Brian and Yvonne; and, Kozo's site, of course;

In fact, this old sponsor page from Kozo's site provides a little web evidence of my fan-love of Cecilia from probably 2002 or 2003.

Which is a long introduction to try to figure out why I liked Cecilia so much.

I use the past tense because her career seems to be effectively over. It seems that Cecilia had her share of press issues before the Edison Chen scandal and that incident only made things worse. She needed to retire from the limelight, raise her son, and, hopefully, is planning a return for some time in the future.

I think the first film I noticed her in was the pretty bad Tokyo Raiders. Cecilia is wasted in the film, frankly -- hell, the whole cast is wasted in the film -- but, in 2001, it was easily available on a good, legal DVD and it had a lot of stars in it whose names I had heard of.

And it's worth noting that the majority of real Hong Kong fans probably first noticed Cecilia in Stephen Chow's excellent King of Comedy from 1999.

But I think the moment that she went from just being a spunky character actress to a real actress came with Failan; she is just ridiculously good in this film in a role that would be easy to screw up -- a Zhao Wei or Shu Qi would alternately be too cute or too sexy for this part; Cecilia strikes the right notes of vulnerability and determination in this film. I defy any film fan not to cry like a baby while watching the end of this flick.

And to think that this was a few years before the majority of us saw Choi Min-Sik in Oldboy!

The song is by Karen Mok but the MV features scenes from the film with Cecilia.

Looking at her filmography, I confess to having seen every film on that list with the exception of Master Q and Himalaya Singh.

Having said that, I can recall a little something delightful about her performances in each and quite a bit of variety as well; Kelly Chen can -- barely -- do modern romances and that's me being generous. Cecilia has done those (Everyday is Valentine), comedies (Help!!!; King of Comedy, Mighty Baby), dramas (Lost in Time, Failan, One Nite in Mongkok), period films both semi-serious (Legend of Zu, The Promise) and silly (The White Dragon, The Lion Roars, Cat and Mouse), as well as films that defy easy categorization (Running on Karma, Second Time Around).

Seriously, what other Hong Kong actress of the past decade could be so good in films as different as Twelve Nights and The White Dragon and Lost in Time and Wu Yen and Mighty Baby?

I was going to talk about how even Cecilia's husky voice is a great acting tool -- how it sometimes reminds me of Demi Moore but that's an insult; Cecilia's career is more interesting and more varied than Demi's was ever going to be. Bruce Willis' ex was a humourless robot in every film she starred in next to Cecilia's persona even in something as silly and lightweight as her cameo in Stephen Chow's Shaolin Soccer.

Which finally brings me to her last film to date, the woeful Mainland film, Telephone 601 (2006). In a role that eerily both echoes Cecilia's past mishaps with the press and foreshadows the fallout from the Edison Chen scandal, Cecilia plays a pop singer, Tianyou, in modern Shanghai whose cellphone number gets switched with a dour and seemingly doomed office worker Yishu. Yishu pines for Xiaowen who is a handsome punk rocker (though the music is more like the Backstreet Boys) dying of cancer as he writes his final song that he dreams to give to Tianyou to perform.

And I'm probably not ruining anything by telling you that she sings it in a tearful finale. The film is crap and, in the States, it would be in the bargain bin at Blockbuster or straight-to-cable to show up on Showtime in the middle of the night.

I think maybe I was pissed off seeing Hu Ge after enduring his sub-Ekin Cheng acting in The Butterfly Lovers? It goes without saying that he plays the dying, cancer victim/punk rocker.

This fan didn't enjoy the scenes of Cecilia's character preparing to plunge to her death from a balcony as her label bosses watched from a far; it was just too creepy to imagine the kind of crap that happened in real life after the Edison story broke.

There's not much here for me to recommend; I watched the film as a Cecilia completist as I was too scared to open Himalaya Singh. It's as simple as that.

Even the simple pleasure of seeing Cecilia have a great crying scene -- she's a great on-screen crier on par with Gong Li -- was denied me as the insipid, predictable ending meant that I had to sit through this cancer guy's song -- again!

The picture quality was horrible as well. Should I go on? I am just thankful that I found the legal DVD for less than $10 in a local Chinese video store.

You can order the Hong Kong DVD here.

It is dubbed into Cantonese and I am pretty sure that Cecilia's voice is dubbed on both the Mandarin and Cantonese language tracks on the DVD.

So, in the end, there are quite a few of us -- Jason would probably chime in with me now -- who really miss Cecilia and want her to return to film.

Hopefully someone like Hou Hsiao-Hsien or a director of a similar mindset would one day attempt to give Cecilia another chance.

Here's hoping he watches her in Failan first and not Para Para Sakura!

MAJOR UPDATE: In what seems like a moment from one of her films -- the scene where Cecilia starts to choke up, her voice going all raspy, as she speaks up for herself -- Cecilia Cheung gave an interview on the Edison Chen sex scandal on a TV program last night, February 28, 2009! Crienglish has the details

My favorite quote from the article is this paragraph:

"A report in said Cheung showed sincere regret for her actions during the program and placed all the blame on herself. But she also criticized actor Chen, claiming he shed crocodile tears when he testified in a Canadian court last Monday for his involvement in the scandal."

She even hinted at a return to acting if she was presented a decent script!

And even if this TV interview was the equivalent of a Barbara Walters interview, or merely some kind of public penance to get the scandal over with already, I'm happy because it means that Cecilia is going to be back eventually. Good for her, good for her fans!

Get Your Shu Qi Fix On!

Both Look for a Star (2009) and If You Are The One (2009) are hitting DVD on March 13 according to Yes Asia.

You can order Look for a Star (2009) here.

You can order If You Are The One (2009) here.

Enough of this Stephy Tang crap, I'm going back to an actress with star quality and talent (fingers crossed that Look for a Star isn't rubbish).

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Celeb Stuff (Again)

I just felt like posting this link from Crienglish covering a few stars. What's funny is that this article is written like these are "new" celebrities or something but Vicky Zhao has been on my radar for years. And I think Ruby Lin has her share of fans as well.

One of the actresses in that article is Fan Bing-Bing and she recently held a press conference for her new TV series, Jin Da Ban. Hong Kong cinema staple Alex Fong is on the show as well. I just love Bing-Bing's expression and the use of a hat to convey the character, apparently.

And there is some relationship gossip about Sammi Cheng. Hopefully my DVD of Lady Cop and Papa Crook will be in my mailbox from Yes Asia this week!

One day, I will watch Everlasting Regret but it's sat on the shelf for so long, and I've read so many bad things about it, that I keep putting off watching the thing.

Another DC Disappointment

Well the Michael Turner-esque cover fooled me into expecting greatness within.

Don't get me wrong; Ed Benes was born to illustrate the Justice League of America but this book is pretty weak. A strong start leading to a weak conclusion.

Justice League of America: Sanctuary starts with a great premise: supervillains seeking asylum in the JLA headquarters. The setup is great, echoing current political events -- especially in Batman's distrust of the government's secrecy -- as well as the Marvel Universe's recent Civil War series.

Unfortunately, after this beginning, not much happens beyond the usual.

Maybe if Ed Benes had illustrated the whole thing, if more had happened, if the above ideas had been expanded? But, as it is, this slight volume is a dull, quick read apart from the Benes art.

Save your time and enjoy the cover without buying.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Teen Titans and Batman

As a kid I was a bit too young to fully appreciate theDennis O'Neil/Neal Adams era at DC Comics and so, by the time that I was buying comics on a serious, monthly basis at the age of 11 or 12, DC Comics was a bit of a joke. Marvel was hip and popular and had the quality goods: The Uncanny X-Men was about to flourish, The Avengers had George Perez, the Fantastic Four had also experienced the Perez touch and were about to get the John Byrne treatment; there really was no reason to pick up a DC comic in the late 1970's.

Now, that all changed when George Perez started to draw The New Teen Titans for DC Comics in the very early 1980's. One title made me reconsider DC.

Yes, the title was derivative of Chris Claremont's similar revival of The Uncanny X-Men, but, over time, the title became a favorite of many fans. New characters and updates on earlier characters made this The New Teen Titans quite popular. And simply for George Perez fans, it was a pleasure to watch his style progress from his first run on Marvel's The Avengers.

Which is a long way of introducing Judd Winick's recent update on the same characters, now called simply Titans, in Titans: Old Friends. Being one of those fans who can't keep up with DC Universe continuity even while trying, I was happy to not feel frustrated this time when picking up a title I hadn't touched in a while; the book works as simply a spin on an origin story, with the new team being reassembled by Cyborg.

I picked up the book because of Ian Churchill's art and Judd Winnick's writing -- he worked on recent Green Arrow stories including the lead-up to the Black Canary/Green Arrow wedding which I enjoyed immensely.

I have to say that, while I will always hold the artwork of George Perez in high esteem -- particularly the way he drew Starfire -- he is given a run for his money by the way Ian Churchill draws the same character sunbathing.

And that's not to slight Joe Benitez either; he has a nice style even if he makes Donna Troy look like one of the Beverly Hills Teens.

A nice beginning to future greatness with the reappearance of Trigon, one of the great Titans villains and Raven's father.

Both artists managed to make Nightwing look cool; sorry, Dick Grayson should be Robin in my book.

Which leads to this mini-series from Batman, Batman: Rules of Engagement, which pits The Dark Knight against Lex Luthor in an interesting spin across familiar ground.

I quite liked the way Andy Diggle envisioned the Green Arrow origin story, so I was more than happy to buy this Batman story which takes place about one year after Batman has taken up crimefighting.

Artist Whilce Portacio has a lively style that is similar to Rags Morales, for lack of a better comparison, and is not as cartoony as some artists who've worked on Batman, nor as dark and gloomy; it feels bright even in the dark scenes.

And while the story did lose some steam for me near the end, there are some nice touches -- the scene where Batman reprograms Luthor's robots made this hater of George Bush and his policies a happy reader.

I am still an artist guy but I'm beginning to think that Andy Diggle is a writer I should read more often.

Christy Chung at 39

The most beautiful woman in the world posted some new photos. That is news to some of us.

The first non-wuxia, non-action Hong Kong film that I purchased was Mermaid Got Married. Ironically, it was sitting in my friend's pawnshop of all places and I had just seen The Bride with White Hair 2 with the majestic Brigitte Lin. But, it was the young Christy Chung that caught my eye.

Mermaid Got Married is pretty bad and, yes, Christy has not had a stellar track record of film choices -- The Medallion? -- I still like her, she looks fantastic, and I'll probably watch anything she appears in even at her advanced age of 39 (that was a joke!).

Sunday, February 15, 2009

More Than 200 Posts

I just noticed that, despite deleting a few early posts, I've now posted 202 -- now, 203! -- blog posts of various import.

Do I get a prize in the mail?

The blog hasn't been exactly what I envisioned it being *but* I did not abandon it yet and that's something.

La Lingerie and Candy Rain

La Lingerie

The best thing about my DVD of La Lingerie is that, thanks to some promotion, it came with a free copy of Magic Kitchen with Sammi Cheng; even her weakest comedy is better than the 2-hour (!) trainwreck that is La Lingerie.

I've been a Hong Kong film fan for slightly less than 10 years. Has it gone downhill to crash in a fiery wreck so quickly? Yeah, we've got Ann Hui and Johnnie To making even better films that they have in the past, but what else do we have to enjoy as diehard fans?

Just seeing Gigi Leung in her small cameo in this film made me long for a time when slight comedies like this out of Hong Kong at least had film stars that were interesting in them -- How sad is it that I'm now nostalgic for Gigi Leung's earlier work?

I'm not going to write a synopsis -- you can read Kozo's review if you want all the hard facts and a gentler assessment of the film -- I'm just going to give you this fan's opinion.

If Charlene Choi is a lesser talent than earlier Hong Kong actresses like Cherie Chung, what does that say about Stephy Tang? Could Hong Kong produce a safer star? Bland to the point of being a mannequin, she makes Charlene Choi seem like Jean Arthur.

The same director's earlier films, La Brasserie (2001) and Mighty Baby (2002), were slight and somewhat forgettable but at least they had personalities in them. Personalities who could keep you entertained even if the plots were weak and the laughs not forthcoming. It's a long way down from Carina Lau, Rosamund Kwan, Lau Ching Wan, and Cecilia Cheung to Stephy and Jance Man and JJ Jia.

Now, for a split second, I almost liked the JJ Jia and Andy On subplot; I thought to myself that it felt like something Chingmy Yau would have starred in -- JJ Jia was starting to seem charming to me -- and then came the single dumbest moment I've seen in a Hong Kong film in a long, long time.

After being robbed by her date, JJ Jia walks the streets of Hong Kong in her underwear.

Speaking for the guys who watched this film, thanks for the eye candy but at a certain point, absurdities like this will distract even the horniest viewer. She didn't have any friends to call to bring her clothes? She wore the bedsheets as she got up from bed and, yet, she loses the sheet and struts around in her underwear, at night, as she wanders the streets crying, with buses (!) passing her?

Even if I had liked this film, this scene alone would probably have made me hate it.

I've got another 4 Stephy Tang films on DVD that I've not watched yet. I dread doing that now.

Candy Rain

I've got to admit that I've got the major hots for Cyndi Wang. I'm not going to dress up my reasons for watching this film beyond that.

Candy Rain is more of a failure than La Lingerie because it is aiming to be something more. Reeking of artistic ambition and yet devoid of any meaning or value beyond titillation, it fails of even delivering on that level.

I've seen music videos with more developed characters and more interesting stories than this! The best one can say of Candy Rain is that the cinematography is nice. Four sort of related stories -- they all occur in the same area in Taipei, apparently -- of young lesbian love among 8 different women.

I'd think that real lesbians would be annoyed with this trifle. It's like a jeans commercial set to Chinese pop. A video image of Faye Wong in the film is so refreshing that it jolted this viewer awake.

The only memorable moment in the film was Karena Lam's character's wisecrack about Karena's own July Rhapsody which, I guess, was supposed to be funny.

And Cyndi Wang wears goofy wigs during the entire segment of the film that she's in. So the film didn't even deliver for me on the Cyndi Wang level.

And for a legal DVD, this Taiwan 2-DVD set has some of the worst English subtitles I've seen in years.

Avoid if at all possible.

You can order the DVD of La Lingerie here.

You can order the 2-DVD set of Candy Rain here.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Kristin Hersh Album

I've got 22 years of being a Kristin Hersh fan that I could write about.

I could write about all the various ways that Throwing Muses songs saved my life during a few crucial years of my youth.

I could write about the first magical concert I attended at the old 9:30 Club: Hugo Largo opening for Throwing Muses in the fall of 1987. I followed my friend Wolfgang's roommates to the concert. (I have no idea why Wolfgang didn't go to the concert as well, especially since he was one of many people that hipped me to the Muses in the first!)

But, for now, I just want to post a link to the CASH Music website which offers a new business model for musicians.

One of the benefits of this is that fans can buy the latest Kristin Hersh album for a donation via and I -- as always -- highly recommend anything she releases.

The link is here.

Here's hoping there's another 50 Foot Wave release in the near future!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Shoe Fairy

I can see why people wouldn't like Vivian Hsu and not just because of her "risque photos" background (much like Shu Qi's); she is cute to the point of being almost annoying, like Charlene Choi but without the pep.

At least without the pep in this 2006 movie from Andy Lau's Focus Films production company (he also narrates). Vivian Hsu plays a woman called Dodo who grew up a sad and somewhat serious little girl. She couldn't walk and so consoled herself with fairy tales, like The Little Mermaid, until an operation allows her to walk.

As an adult, she moves through a fairy tale-looking landscape with little purpose as she works at a strange publishing company that makes pop-up books at a leisurely pace.

She does have an obsession with shoes to rival Carrie Bradshaw's and her storybook house is filled with shoes.

The start of the film is filled with precision, suggesting that all of these little details are going to add up to something, but they don't. They are just bits and pieces of things the director has thrown in, like all of the details in Wes Anderson's Royal Tenenbaums without the rich characters that Anderson's film had to carry the film.

The lessons learned here are obvious. The characters are not really developed beyond Dodo's character -- and that is a slight character to begin with; Vivian's expression and wardrobe are the character.

I just felt a sense of disappointment at the end of this film as I expected something to happen to tie everything together.

There is some joy in appreciating the film's production values; The Shoe Fairy is a film whose success depends largely on how much one appreciates art direction and cinematography. The film looks gorgeous -- like the chocolate factory in the original Willy Wonka -- and every shot does seem to be carefully considered and composed. I did appreciate the care behind that aspect of the film.

Compared to a film like Sakuran, which had a similarly rich production design, this film is sorely lacking; Sakuran had Anna Tsuchiya's playful performance at its center, as well as a good deal more story than The Shoe Fairy has.

But I found myself bored with the slight plot as I got distracted by the lovely composition and color scheme in just about every scene.

It's hard to write about a film this whimsical. What can you say about cotton candy?

You can order the reasonably priced, all region DVD here.

I'll close with this photo of the ever beautiful Vivian at the last Golden Horse awards.


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Zhao Wei as Mulan -- UPDATED

Zhao Wei (Vicky Zhao) as Mulan = good idea.

Jingle Ma as director of said historical epic = maybe not such a great idea.

One look at his filmography reveals quite a few good films on which he was cinematographer and a few decent modern films where he was the director but, judging from The Butterfly Lovers, I have to express my doubts about Mr. Ma handling directing chores on an epic with such broad appeal as the story of Hua Mulan.

An additional point of distress for this fan is the presence of pretty boy Chen Kun (Aloys Chen) from Painted Skin.

If the story of Mulan is handled like that film, we are in for a sorry epic indeed.

Like Brad Pitt in Troy, perhaps?

UPDATE: I am including this link from The Chinese Mirror to provide some context on past film versions of the story of Mulan

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

New Shu Qi Pictures

Shu Qi shot some new photos for a magazine for men. The results are here.

I may now believe in God again.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Celeb News (or, The Moment That I Stopped Being a Fan of Fan Bing-Bing!)

Okay folks, it's come to this. I may have to remove Fan Bing-bing from my masthead which would mean that she's no longer this blog's muse. Really, have you seen anything more ridiculous than the photo of the angelic Bing-bing with the stone-faced Oliver Stone, a director a good 15 years past his prime (if he ever had one)?

Click thru for for more pictures if you dare.

In more inspiring news, Zhou Xun has become a citizen of Hong Kong! This is probably good news for the Hong Kong film industry in some small way. Here's to better films than Painted Skin or All About Women in Zhou Xun's future!

There are now also photos from Gigi Lai's wedding posted. I hope the now-retired actress is happy but in a way I'm sorry to see her retire -- yet another mainstay of Hong Kong cinema's peak years leaving the limelight for good.

Andy Lau shot new photos for an upcoming album to come out in shops on Valentine's Day.

Here are some wonderful pictures of a surprised looking Leon Lai heading to the airport to fly to Berlin to promote his latest film, Forever Enthralled at the Berlin International Film Festival.

Taiwan's S.O.S. better known as Barbie Hsu and Dee Hsu shot photos for Elle magazine and the results are here. Barbie will be familiar to film fans for her work in Connected.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Malaysia Kopitiam in D.C.

I found myself in Washington, D.C. unexpectedly this weekend -- maybe because the weather was so ridiculously nice and Spring-like today? -- and I decided to try Malaysia Kopitiam to see if it lived up to Penang restaurant.

Well, maybe I'm spoiled but Penang wins for the sake of being on the edges of the city where parking is typically easier to find.

Malaysia Kopitiam is a smaller restaurant near the heart of D.C. on the way into Georgetown, more or less, and near Dupont Circle by only a few blocks (hell, D.C. is a tiny city when you get right down to it).

I have to be honest: the service was pretty weak so I was a bit soured quickly.

I ordered the baby oyster omelet which was not as good as the same dish at Penang. For one thing, it was much smaller but, more importantly, it tasted more like egg than oyster -- I would have been hard pressed to find the oysters in the dish, actually. The sauce was nice and different than what Penang serves with this dish: it was similar to sauces served with satay dishes and was a clear, spicy sauce with bits of red onions in it. I liked that.

Okay, I can report better things about the Nasi Lemak! Much better than the same dish when I had it at Penang. Not very much ikan bilis on the plate but otherwise, a very nice mix of many ingredients: the spice of the curry chicken, the cucumber, the hard boiled egg slices, and the peanuts just mixing up wonderfully no matter in what order I consumed them. The rice didn't have the coconut flavor of the rice at Penang but it was good all the same.

I was happy with this dish and, because of it, will probably give Malaysia Kopitiam at least one more try.

Okay, Yvonne, how about the next time you do one of your wonderful food photo essays, you sample Nasi Lemak so that I can see the real thing?

I need to travel the world on a full wallet and an empty stomach because it's too much work finding this dish at only two restaurants in the whole D.C. area!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Celeb News

Crienglish is reporting some good news today: Tang Wei, star of Lust, Caution, is finally returning to the screen in a film costarring Jacky Cheung and to be directed by Ivy Ho. Ivy Ho was the screenwriter behind quite a few films that I enjoyed -- Comrades, Almost a Love Story, Anna Magdalena, And I Hate You So, Divergence, July Rhapsody, Jade Goddess of Mercy (from Ann Hui, director of The Way We Are) -- and a few that I didn't enjoy so much -- The Accidental Spy, 2 Become 1 -- and one that I have a feeling I'm not going to like too much -- Linger.

I think this is a good sign. Jacky can be a decent actor and his presence is sure to draw audiences and get Tang Wei more work on movie screens. Provided the film is halfway decent.

Li Bing-Bing shot some more magazine covers. You can see all the nice pics here.

And the rumours were true: Stephen Chow is doing a film with Jack Black. I don't know if that will be as bad as The Green Hornet but, again, it's a Hong Kong star -- genius, really -- selling himself short just to break into a Hollywood that is bereft of ideas.

I didn't get into Hong Kong film to see Jet Li do a Mummy movie and Stephen Chow do this. Frankly, Hollywood should be asking Chow what he wants to do and letting him dictate the terms of a feature and then marketing that rather than just attaching him to a Jack Black film.

Gigi Leung shot some new portraits (see above) and see here. I can't remember the last movie I liked her in -- Tempting Heart, maybe? -- and I can't bring myself to open the Wonder Women DVD. Maybe she should go back to modelling?

Am I being too cruel?


Monday, February 2, 2009

In The Mood for Love -- The Criterion Collection

Well, here goes. Writing about a film I didn't think I could write anything about.

The Film

Wong Kar-Wai's In The Mood for Love is one of those films, like Jacques Demy's The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, that I hold in such esteem that I'm afraid to write about the thing for fear that it will somehow slip away or wither under too much attention.

But, ironically, this simple story set in 1962 Hong Kong seemed richer this time around, on my 5th viewing, I think, and my first viewing of the Criterion edition.

If Chungking Express is a positive riff on loneliness, then this film is a morality tale.

On first viewing, it appears to be about unfulfilled love, stifled passion, and so on.

But on this viewing it struck me that the film is largely about morality, societal mores, and moral choices, even if unspoken.

My point being that Mr. Chow (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai) and Mrs. Chan (Maggie Cheung) suffer all the fallout from having an affair without having one. As a modern viewer, their actions are frustrating. "Just 'do it' already," a viewer might say. But the film is really about what holds each person back -- conscience? fear of what the neighbors might say? fear of spoiling the perfection of the moment?

Not only does the couple not consummate their love, they put themselves to productive use while investigating their spouses' supposed affair -- they write a martial arts serial!

All of those things about repression and passion and all that are there, for sure, but largely I kept asking myself about the things holding the characters back; why were they holding themselves in check, even when no one was watching?

I mean, if you are going to have the landlady lecture you for your supposed affair, you may as well have the thing, no?

Again, all of their peers from Chow's friend Ah Ping, to Mrs. Chan's boss, Mr. Ho, are having affairs and sometimes enlisting the pair in actions related to those affairs, and yet this couple doesn't do it. Is it simply a case of "not being like them," to paraphrase Mrs. Chan?

The repression works for the viewer, though, turning scenes like a dinner where Mr. Chow offers some mustard to Mrs. Chan into a scene of some passion, in a weird way.

The Extras

The first DVD has the film in a great transfer and a handful of deleted scenes, each about 8 minutes long, with commentary from director Wong, though the commentary is very, very sparse. The most interesting thing about the deleted scenes here is that one of them has the couple actually make love and thus change the entire tone of the film from one of longing for what might have been to one of mourning for what was.

The film is anamorphic and filled the screen of my widescreen TV perfectly. The subtitles were good expect for one titlecard near the end when Mrs. Chan comes back to the apartment and the title card is untranslated in the subtitles; this problem existed on the earlier Chinese DVDs that I've owned as well.

Additionally, there is a 2:29 film, Hua Yang de Nian Hua, made by Wong Kar-Wai for the Hong Kong Film Archive, that I found wonderfully touching. Simply a collection of imagery from older Chinese films prints, the montage manages to cover the same moods as In The Mood for Love and further refines what Wong was working for -- think of it like a cheatsheet for the real film in some weird, emotional way; even without recognizing the stars in the clips, one gets the sense of a world of glamour lost to us in the modern world.

Disc 2 has a 43-minute press conference from the Toronto International Film Festival with Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung. And a 22-minute interview with a remarkably straightforward Wong Kar-Wai; for a guy with a reputation as being a pretentious, inscrutable auteur, the guy is perfectly direct and down-to-earth in this sequence. I found that refresing and comparable to Nicholas Roeg's commentary on the Criterion edition of The Man Who Fell To Earth; both men seem to be artists where the results -- the films -- matter and no further dissussion is required. This interview is followed by a 15-minute press conference with the director from Cannes.

The best feature of the second DVD is the 51-minute documentary about the making of the film by the director. This is ESSENTIAL viewing for any fan of the film as it contains even better deleted scenes that were not on disc 1. The clips of the couple cooking in room 2046 are very funny, especially scenes of Mr. Chow sneaking cookware out of the hotel. And the clip of the couple dancing the Twist in the hotel room is just awesome; Maggie in that outfit doing that dance takes on a sexiness that I can't describe in words.

I sat down to watch the film for fear that I would ruin it with too much scrutiny but, instead, I've had the film illuminated immensely with the deleted scenes serving as starting points for alternate cuts of the film in my head. In the "little" that is there, there is so much. The viewer, like the lovers in the film, can ask "What might have been?"

The genius of Wong Kar-Wai is that he knows what to leave out. Any one of these many deleted scenes would have changed the meaning of the film in a big way and yet by removing them and paring the film down, he has made a romantic masterpiece where nothing physical happens.

There are many essays contained on both discs, along with trailers, TV spots, a photo gallery and so on, but I didn't read or watch all of those. And there is an 18-minute electronic press kit on DVD 2 that didn't play perfectly on my player for some reason so I can't comment on that.

Read more about the Criterion edition of the film here.

UPDATE:Someone posted the short film, Hua Yang de Nian Hua, on YouTube and I urge anyone to go watch it even if you don't want to shell out $40 for the Criterion set itself. The link is here.