Monday, February 28, 2011

Jane Seymour and Madeline Smith in Live And Let Die (1973)

In the more than 3 years of this blog's existence, very few movie posts have generated as many hits as this one about Jane Seymour in Sinbad And The Eye Of The Tiger (1977) and this one about Madeline Smith on TV's "The Two Ronnies" program.

(Heck, pretty much every post I've done about Madeline Smith has generated a significant number of clicks for me!)

So it only seems fitting that I at least highlight the loveliness of these two actresses in the otherwise forgettable Live And Let Die (1973).

I'm not a James Bond fan and I'm decidedly not a fan of Roger Moore; I can take the Sean Connery ones but the Moore ones are just silly without being enjoyably campy.

Live And Let Die (1973) is overlong and a bit awkward racially in some sequences -- though the scenes of Bond in Harlem are sort of funny and I think they were meant to be funny, at least.

Madeline Smith appears very briefly as an Italian agent, Miss Caruso...

Jane Seymour is the main female character in the film, Solitaire...

Friday, February 25, 2011

Depeche Mode And A Moment Of Reflection On The MTR

(This is gonna be one of those really personal and downright silly blog posts. You've been warned.)

"Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it." - Ferris Bueller.

Back in 1997, Depeche Mode's Ultra was a major disappointment for me, apart from standout tracks "The Love Thieves" and "Home".

Following the alt-rock masterpieces of 1990's Violator and 1993's Songs of Faith and Devotion -- yes, I think that that 1993 album is almost the equal of the nearly perfect 1990 one! -- Ultra seemed anemic and...dull -- the work of a DM imitator and not the real deal.

Still, those 2 tracks stood out and I realized the hard way that I didn't even have them on my iPod.

So back during my April trip to Hong Kong, MTV Asia was showing a Depeche Mode live concert and the below version of "Home" came on as I was getting ready to go out for dinner.

I had forgotten how much I loved that track in 1997. I took my iPod out and scoured it for that track. Nope. I had those 1990 and 1993 albums, and a few select DM singles, but nothing from Ultra.

At that moment, the lyrics of "Home" took on a different meaning as I considered the idea of how much I wanted to live in Hong Kong.

"And I thank you for bringing me here,
For showing me home...
Finally, I found that I belong here..."

"Home" by Depeche Mode, live 1998

I went home and bought those songs from iTunes.

Last December, as I was riding the MTR in HK on my way to meet some friends for a night at the cinema, I was thinking of the song again.

I felt a bit lucky -- as grateful as an atheist can feel -- to be not only in Hong Kong but in Hong Kong for the 4th time and on my way to go to the movies with one or two people whose very reviews had helped me enjoy Hong Kong cinema in the first place.

(It's worth noting that one other prominent reviewer was missing that evening. And another great HK film reviewer was certainly present but I've only been reading his reviews for about a year, not 9 years like with those other guys.)

Sure, it had been nearly a decade since I started watching HK stuff, but here I was on the MTR in Tsim Sha Tsui -- it still sounds a bit magical to me, I have to say -- looking over at a Kelly Chen advertisement on the wall of the subway car.

Yeah, I know I'm sounding like a broken record but I don't want anyone to think that I don't realize how fortunate I have been.

And when I need a reminder of why I want to live and work in Hong Kong, I play this song and think of that moment in April, and that second moment in December.

A moment's reflection on the MTR at the TST stop in HK, 23 December 2010...

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Love Without End (1970) with Jenny Hu

Jenny Hu is QingQing and her uncle (Wong Chung-Shun) works in a snazzy nightclub in Hong Kong. Essie Lin Chia is star performer Meng Li. Ling Yun is the handsome Tang Pengnan who overhears Qingqing the country girl singing along backstage with Meng Li's onstage performance.

If that basic setup sounds familiar, it should. It's because this is a big color remake of the earlier Linda Lin Dai classic of the same name from 1961. 1970's Love without End benefits from color photography and larger sets and a strong male lead in Ling Yun.

Still, this version is almost more clumsily put together than the original where Doe Chin was at least directing. I mean, within the first 22 minutes, Jenny Hu presents herself as a naive country girl, coughs, and buddies up to older singer Essie Lin Chia. You almost want to tell the filmmakers to pick a story: either it's the naive country girl corrupted by the big city of Hong Kong or it's the story of a young beauty with a tragic disease.

I suppose that even as late as 1970 that this sort of melodrama still worked. And Jenny Hu and Ling Yun at least look fantastic together. If nothing else, the film delivers Shaw Brothers glamour.

So, there's the usual drama and thwarted romance with Jenny Hu having to go on a trip with rich businessman Lin Chih-Yung. When the guy gets stopped at customs entering Tokyo, there's more trouble as it seems the guy is a diamond smuggler.

I guess the drama of a dying country girl becoming a nightclub singer was not enough? She's gotta be wrapped up in a criminal enterprise as well?

Love Without End (1970) is a bit tedious, I'll admit. I guess I would recommend this film to any other diehard Jenny Hu or Ling Yun fans out there.

All of the seriousness here is leavened a tiny bit by the inexplicable scene where Ling Yun disguises himself as a mutton-chopped hippy and shows up at Qingqing's door. Not really sure what purpose it serves other than to be a cute proposal scene.

While I can't say that I entirely enjoyed this version of Love Without End, I did appreciate the time spent on the two leads. In the original, Linda Lin Dai's death seemed a bit abrupt despite the foreshadowing. Here, Jenny Hu's tragic end is telegraphed from the first few minutes of the film but at least there is a sense of doom.

As others have noted, Jenny Hu was not equipped for period piece wuxia films at the Shaw studios. Her Eurasian beauty would have been too much of an anachronism.

But she was ideally suited to this sort of high drama. And in Love Without End (1970) she is practically Shakespearean. I can only compare this sort of performance to what Li Ching was doing in Susanna (1967). The films' plots may be a bit over-the-top but the lead actresses commit without a trace of irony.

The handling of Ling Yun's final scene is well staged despite the actor's surprising lack of emotion -- well, he wasn't the most emotive of actors in the Shaw studio stable, was he? The empty sets here, and the song, serve to convey the sense of loss that the actor cannot.

Love Without End (1970) is out-of-print on both VCD and DVD which is why there is no link here to buy the film.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Spring Blossoms (1968) with Lily Li

In an amusing pre-credits sequence, Mr. Wu (Yang Fang) and Mr. Yao (Chin Feng) are kicked out of their apartment by a landlady in need of space for her soon-to-be-married child. The fact that Chin Feng's side of the room has a wall covered with pin-up pictures doesn't help the guys' case.

The boys are college students and their paths are about to cross with that of high school student Chen Meiyu (Lily Li). Lily Li is the fifth sister and she's watched three of her other sisters get married already.

The girl's mother (Chen Yan-Yan) is busy trying to get fourth sister (Shu Pei-Pei) married off.

There's also the matter of a room for rent in the house which the mother only wants to rent to college students.

Cheung Kwong-Chiu is the girl's uncle and Lily Li's Meiyu seems close to her cousin Jinglan (Essie Lin Chia), also unmarried.

Within minutes Spring Blossoms (1968) endeared itself to this viewer for two big reasons:

1) Location shots of 1967 Hong Kong. There are not a lot but I actually recognized the stretch of road that Shu Pei-Pei's bus is traveling down in an early shot.

2) Lily Li in a lead role.

After seeing the actress in so many supporting roles -- usually playing a petulant brat -- it's a delight to see the girl in a main role here. She's adorable and cute and a bit tomboyish.

So, after Yang Fang's Mr. Wu has moved in with Lily Li and her family, Chin Feng's Mr. Yao moves in with Lily's uncle and his family, including the guy's pushy wife (Kao Pao-Shu). It seems like both sides of the family are desperate for handsome college students to rent rooms if those college students are potential suitors for their daughters.

There's not much reason to recount all of the silliness and romance here; Spring Blossoms (1968) is largely fluff but it's fun. I don't think it's any surprise that the two male leads will somehow end up marrying two of the girls by the film's end but the comedic bits make the inevitable hijinks a pleasure to sit through.

Shu Pei-Pei has the thankless role of the serious sister but Essie Lin Chia is quite charming here as her cousin. At one point, the girl runs away from home and later finds her father in the park. The scene felt quite natural and a lot less histrionic than a similar scene would have been in a Li Ching film.

Then again, the tone here is a bit lighter.

And Lily Li really is ridiculously cute here.

You can buy Spring Blossoms (1968) on DVD here.