Friday, April 30, 2010

Iron Man 2 in Hong Kong on The Last Day of April, 2010

Last Christmas, I was watching Robert Downey Jr. put a modern spin on the title character of Sherlock Holmes (2009) on the film's opening day, here in Hong Kong. Today, I was more anxiously awaiting Downey's return to the role that made me love him as an actor: Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, in Iron Man 2 (2010).

(By the way, that theater wall last week had a Charlene Choi, Beauty on Duty poster up even though the film was rapidly exiting most theaters here, and not even playing this theater near my hotel.)

Here are some basic thoughts on Iron Man 2 (2010) -- a little review, if you will -- so [SPOILERS BEGIN]:

Iron Man has always been the story of an asshole -- an alcoholic asshole -- who wants to do the right thing. Bruce Wayne is the comparison from the world of DC Comics. However, Bruce Wayne is called The Dark Knight for a reason as his soul is that of a knight -- he's got a code of honour, a sense of duty, all that.

Tony Stark, while a similar bad boy playboy, is a bit of a messy character. Even after that change of heart from Iron Man (2008), he's still got conflicting motives of pleasure and love, business and duty, friendship and egoism.

As a film, Iron Man 2 doesn't have a reason to exist; there's no story that has to be told. However, the characters progress nicely and that is a story in itself sometimes.

The biggest plus for me is the replacement of Terrence Howard with Don Cheadle. I'm a big Don Cheadle fan -- have been ever since Boogie Nights (1997) -- and while I might not seek out every film he makes, I do look forward to his presence in a film because it usually means that there will be at least one good performance in an otherwise crappy film -- see Swordfish (2001).

And as I watched this film, I honestly didn't think Terrence Howard could have done so much with so little here. Cheadle somehow immediately makes Rhodey more likeable and appealing to the audience before the War Machine armor is even donned despite the fact that his best lines are later in the picture, sometimes after his mask is on.

On that note, it's worth noting that the film's appeal for me remains the characters -- characters I grew up with, really. It's not that I want to see two big mecha-guys fight it out, as cool as that might be; I want to see these two characters argue and fight it out and it just so happens that they are in armored suits and shooting repulsor rays at each other.

That's the difference I try to explain to non-geeks: this isn't Transformers or something. It's the characters that come first and then the special effects. I can forgive a weak plot and too many things blowing up if the characters seem like the ones I read in the Marvel comics as a kid.

Which brings us to Black Widow, a character never even called that name. Scarlett Johansson looks okay in the outfit but I still couldn't quite buy her as the character; she's too young and soft. Famke Janssen would have been perfect.

But, like Halle Berry as Storm in X-Men (2000), it's just something a fanboy has got to live with.

Sam Rockwell was largely funny and seemed to be underplaying for most of his scenes; Mickey Rourke is menacing but Whiplash is not exactly the villain to normally strike fear into anyone's heart -- though here his first appearance in Monaco does seem to strike that chord of fear that was necessary to propel the story forward.

There's a bit with Stark's dad that felt too Superman: The Movie (1978), and some nice links to future Marvel projects -- stick around after the credits for a nice treat just like in the first film!

And there are a few action sequences that are a lot of fun with the final battle being more exciting on many levels than that last big fight in the first film.


So after the film, I rode a streetcar to North Point -- you can see some of the video below.

I found a nice Vietnamese restaurant in Tin Hau/Fortress Hill/North Point -- hard to tell exactly where I was today.

These spring rolls were good and certainly different and better than anything called a "spring roll" in America...

I tried to catch a shot of the nice, soothing view from the restaurant before the lunch crowd rushed in...

North Point...

More in that area...

This video from the streetcar near Causeway Bay/Victoria Park features a quick shot of Sedap Gurih for duriandave. Also, check out the large Sammi Cheng billboard -- also on the left -- after we pass the restaurant...

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Ip Man 2 in Hong Kong (My 500th Post!)

Now, how cool is this? My 500th blog post is the one about seeing Ip Man 2 (2010) in Hong Kong?

(It is worth noting that I deleted a few early, political posts so this is really probably post number 505, or something.)

Anyway, before the film, I purchased tea today for a friend at this shop, Ki Chan Tea Co..

The weird thing for a shopper is that the pu erh tea is stored in a few large, identical containers with the only difference being the price structure -- the higher the price, the higher the quality, or so I'm told.

I got something midway between expensive and cheap so I hope it's good.

Now, people here probably think Americans are fat and fast food junkies. We are, in many ways. However, I've seen two things here that put any American fast food excess to shame: KFC breakfast which is just beyond unnecessary -- chicken with gravy AND eggs AND bread at breakfast? Sure, I would like to need a nap immediately upon waking.

The second similarly American-styled excess is this dessert at McDonald's. I didn't see an English name for it so here's a picture:

It's essentially a Slurpee with soft serve ice cream and flavoured spread on top of that!

Silly? Yes, but delicious too! I got orange and chocolate syrup on top of the ice cream!

So, on to Ip Man 2 (2010). What can I say? Seeing the film in Hong Kong was a near religious experience. Well, I'm being funny, obviously.

It's not a great film and while the first film's pro-China sentiments fit the story's backdrop of the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong, this film's similar moments feel shoehorned in. And to call the villains one dimensional would be generous; the British bad guys are like the bad guys from a cartoon.

Still, Donnie Yen attempts to bring some gravitas to the role without overdoing it and it's less offensively an exercise in making Donnie look cool than it is an exercise in making a simple point about why martial arts is worthy of study.

I'm probably being too kind but, in an age of CGI, in a city where people line up for Twilight, and Japanese restaurants seem to outnumber Chinese ones, it was refreshing to watch a film so unabashedly proud of its local flavour.

(Which is not to say there were not moments of CGI and wire fu here but that they were used sparingly.)

Two hours of plot devices designed to get to the fight scenes, Ip Man 2 (2010) still delivered the goods, especially in the scenes with Sammo Hung.

There's one moment where Sammo tries to catch his breath after fighting the British boxer and, as the older actor leans on the boxing ring ropes, the audience really gets a small sense that we're watching a legend.

I will add that the fight scenes all seemed to have been shot in different techniques: close-up, medium shots, overhead shots, fast editing, slow motion, and so on and the editing overall was quite good.

Not a masterpiece and not quite the crowd pleaser the first one was, Ip Man 2 (2010) worked for me because of the Sammo Hung and Donnie Yen fight scene and because of the message that Donnie was trying to make about "remaining neutral" and "not striving" as the subtitles explained in a moment that seemed to reference the Tao Te Ching.

Then it was onto rbt for dessert.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Charm Strikes Out in Hong Kong

I tucked in my shirt, smiled, and went back into the Celestial Pictures office but I can't say my results were stellar (pun intended). Read on.

A woman came out to greet me -- I use the term "greet" loosely -- and she said there was not much to tour there in Celestial Pictures -- "just office" and that the company had moved out of the old Clear Water Bay facility -- which I suspected -- so there was not much to tour at the old studios either.

(But where are all those props and costumes? Where is that stuff?)

So, I tried to explain how many people want more Shaw titles on DVD -- how Americans like me have purchased all region DVD players just to watch this stuff; how fans want the musicals and dramas and comedies languishing in the vaults out on DVD -- and she explained that it was up to IVL. That's more or less the point I was getting from her: that DVDs would come out again if only for IVL. Or something.

Now, I realize that I showed up uninvited and unannounced, but am I asking too much for some simple curiosity about my interest in the films? I mean, would it have killed her to show some sign of being impressed that an American took the time to travel to the office just to learn more about the products that they were putting out on DVD?

Even when I said something about friends reviewing these titles -- her products! -- on various websites, there was not a sign of interest or happiness that someone was so enthusiastic about these films.

Geez, the girls at the McDonald's in Festival Walk were more friendly!

I didn't expect a hero's welcome but some little expression of "I am glad you like our films" or "I'm glad so many people are buying these titles" would have made my day.

It wasn't a total loss as she did present me with the book you see below.

I use the word "book" as she called the thing a product catalogue but, as you can see, it's closer to a small coffeetable book. If you stuck a $40US price tag on this thing, put it on a shelf at Border's, I would buy it and so would a lot of the regular readers of this site.

So I thank her for that but, truth be told, I would have traded this book for a bit more appreciation, or simply surprise, that a fan made an effort to get to that office.

I've spent more than 30 days in Hong Kong this last year, and that's not counting the week I have left. And while I'm not quite homesick or anxious for the trip to end, I'm in a bit of a bad mood sometimes.

I just feel a bit tired of fighting the crowds to get anywhere; tired of so many people being in such a hurry and yet not walking too fast to get there in the MTR; sick of almost having my arm and shopping bag ripped off in the subway as I tried to squeeze onto the train after a guy with an enormous suitcase.

The effort of going anywhere is not so much fun now, no matter how nice the shopping and living spaces are sometimes.

I need to go somewhere fun and soon -- Lamma Island could quite possibly recharge my batteries, I think.

Anyway, I decided to make a stop at Festival Walk as there was one more location of the Hong Kong Records chain in that mall.

Of course, the store doesn't open until 11:30 AM which means I had to kill time in McDonald's -- at least those kids in there were nice to me!

And, all-in-all, the trip was worth it as I found a few titles I needed, including one, Crocodile River (1964), that I don't think I've ever even heard of before despite being Lo Wei's first film as a director.

Festival Walk mall is near Kowloon Tong and the City University of Hong Kong and I was digging that entrace -- a far cry from that dumb turtle mascot I had to walk past at the University of Maryland.

As the sweat was rolling down my back, and my shirt coming untucked, and the thought of picking up my laundry looming in my mind, I decided to eat lunch at the food court again.

This time, I picked the Korean place and I have to say that this was not bad. A bit oily but not bad for $8US. It was supposed to be soup OR soda but I think I misunderstood the lady and she smiled and gave me the soup anyway.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Jollibee: A Taste of The Philippines in Hong Kong

Before anyone laughs at me for posting pictures of fast food -- yes, I'm fat and I enjoy to eat -- I'd just like to say that for the thousands of Filipino women working as nannies and domestic helpers in Hong Kong, this particular fast food chain is not just a spin on McDonald's; it's a nice reminder of home.

And when someone works here for sometimes months at a time before a chance to visit home again, that reminder can be very much a treasured thing.

That said, Sunday was probably the worst day to go as the place was packed as most nannies and domestic helpers in Hong Kong take their day off on Sundays.

So my friend and I ordered too much food and here are the pictures to prove it!

A small part of the menu -- see the rest here...

Dessert menu and I was assured that the tuna pie was a snack and not some kind of fish dessert!

I got the spaghetti and chicken combo -- the chicken is called Chickenjoy!

I also got a hot dog to go with the chickenjoy!

This is a quick spin on palabok. I had a small taste of this and I liked it more than the chickenjoy, actually...

When I try stuff like this here in Hong Kong, I wish Anthony Bourdain would do a whole episode in Hong Kong devoted to all the non-Chinese food here!

A Bad Mood In HK Is Still Better Than A Bad Mood In The USA

I say bad mood because I schlepped all the way to the Hong Kong Film Archive and both films today were already sold out! I had a local woman tell me repeatedly and loudly that they were "full" as she stood in line for the standing room only tickets. She did the same to the next white guy she saw as well.

If I had known that I didn't need to be in a rush to make a film screening, I probably wouldn't have chowed down at Hiroshima in the food court of the Times Square mall...

The Yakisoba was a large portion, even by American standards, and the takoyaki...well, it was overkill, let's be honest. It's always a chore to eat that but I'm learning to appreciate it because, on some weird level, the idea of the dish is fascinating to me...

This way to disappointment -- it's a nice shot though...

I visited the Patrick Lung Kong exhibit, which was small but informative -- no pictures allowed, of course.

And I tried to buy a ticket to Friday's screening of Love Massacre (1981) with Brigitte Lin but, as of today, there were only three seats still available near the front row. Forget it. That's why God invented 47 inch plasma TVs and DVDs.

The older I get, the less pleasure I take in seeing a film in a theater (I'm sure I know one fellow blogger who I respect who will disagree with me vehemently on that concept, LOL!).

The day was not a total waste as I did purchase some books on Cathay Pictures -- because one day I'll run out of Shaw Brothers films to watch! -- and director Li Han-Hsiang.

That's Julie Yeh Feng in that photo.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Celestial Pictures, Mega Box, and Lunch at Roka in Pacific Place

Do you remember at the end of National Lampoon's Vacation (1983) when John Candy comes out of Wally World and says: "Sorry folks. Park's closed. The moose out front should have told you"?

Well, that's almost what happened to me today when I got to Celestial Pictures but read on in this photo essay.

First, breakfast at this place in Causeway Bay that proudly had the microwave out in plain view of the patrons. Kind of reminded me of the Snack-n-Shack segment on the old In Living Color TV program -- I half expected Tommy Davidson to be back there with the old men cooking...

On my way...

We need to get into this building...

In the elevator...

Outside the door!

I want this poster!

So, I get in and there's one lady working the front desk in jeans. The rest of the office was empty with just a few construction workers doing repairs on the ceiling. The lady said "Today out day." My first thought on hearing that was: "Maybe I should do a Supermarket Sweep-like run through this place and just grab stuff? But I'm not really going to do that. So I politely asked her if I could take pictures of the posters. Which I did.

I said I came all the way from America to see this office and she wrote down a number to call on Monday to ask about a tour. I think she understood what I was asking.

So I nervously took pictures of the posters in the lobby. There was a lot of glare too so these didn't come out great.

I actually haven't seen this yet...

Is there anything I need to say?

Again, not much that needs to be said here...

More Ti Lung...

Big budget Shaw epic...

Outside the ridiculous Mega Box mall...

So I wandered around the nearby Mega Box mall and was quickly bored and annoyed. I understand that space is at a premium in this area but, if used wisely, it can provide a pleasant shopping experience for a customer rather than feel like work just to get to a single shop or use the escalators. For every annoying experience at Langham Place or Mega Box, I'd rather go to Pacific Place or Elements and not feel like a rat in a maze.

Not only that, but Mega Box is not near the MTR which means that you would have to ride the MTR, catch the free commuter shuttle bus to Mega Box, and then ride a whole lot of escalators or stand in line for the elevator just to go to Ikea and a Thai restaurant?

These are the lines for the elevators. I wouldn't wait in a line like this even to ride an elevator up to Charlene Choi's private apartment. Wait a minute: Yes, I would!

So, I had lunch at Roka Restaurant in Pacific Place. The food was good and, speaking for a moment as an American who doesn't like to spend $40US for a lunch, actually worth the price. It was a nice surprise and a relaxing way to end the afternoon.

The business card for Roka lists the restaurant's three locations and there's something wonderfully absurd about seeing: "London, Hong Kong, Scottsdale" emblazoned together.

Ah, yes, Scottsdale, Arizona, that hotbed of industry!

Sushi and sashimi assortment...


I'm not even a big beef eater but this was delicious!

Dessert was some sake and pear concoction and it was delicious!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Yee Shun Milk Company

I was laying low today. Too much humidity, then rain -- finally! -- was making me feel a bit winded.

For those of you keeping score at home: I'm not sick yet!

So after what seemed like a lot of oily Thai food recently, I wanted something safer/tamer tonight and, by chance, I stumbled across a Yee Shun Milk Company very near this hotel on Hennessy Road.

As I enjoyed this place last New Year's Eve, I was more than happy to give it another try.

I can't find the chain's real website but this review site is informative.

The signature milk dish with two films -- not sure what that means either -- I got it served cold today. Very tasty. Like milk pudding, sort of...

I remembered these sandwiches being smaller so I ordered two. I couldn't finish both of them but I ate my way into the second half of the second pork chop sandwich. This is something Bourdain would have loved and he should have shown these on his HK episode...

Where is Jacky Cheung? How about Tang Wei? I will scout out locations later...

On Hennessy Road, a few blocks from my hotel...

Ms. Karen Mok! I love being in a city where I can look up and see Karen Mok on a billboard on the way home!