China

Review: Ip Man: The Final Fight

Sep 20 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]215911:40340:0[/embed] Ip Man: The Final Fight (Jip6 Man6: Zung1-gik6 Jat1 Zin3 | 叶问:终极一战)Director: Herman YauRating: PG-13Country: China (Hong Kong)Release Date: March 22, 2013 (China); September 20, 2013 (US limited) Much like The Legend is Born, The Final Fight operates in the mold of the old-fashioned biopic. The movie chronicles about 20 years in the life of an older Yip Man. It's the post-war period, however, so the oppression of the Imperial Japanese isn't bearing down on the country or on the film. The dread of annihilation is gone and the reactionary nationalism in many films about the Sino-Japanese conflict has been swapped for unbridled nostalgia. The Hong Kong of this time seems idyllic even though there's brimming social unrest. Workers call for rights on the job, and it feels at home with the bustle of rickshaws, the brightness of the cheongsams, the flutter of old love songs. In some ways I found it hard to think of this as a sequel to The Legend Is Born. There's little continuity between Dennis To's portrayal of a young Yip Man and Wong's take on the older Yip Man. To's young Yip Man was noble but lacking in personality. Compare that to Donnie Yen in the Wilson Yip films: a badass chivalric Wing Chun machine with leading man charisma. What Wong brings to Yip Man is gravitas. This is Yip Man by way of Yoda and Morgan Freeman. He's a sage to numerous Wing Chun students in the film, and selfless to a fault like most noble cinematic heroes. "A warrior and a scholar!" a character declares after hearing one of Yip Man's poems in the newspaper. Wong isn't really known as a martial artist. He went on a diet (the real Yip Man was very skinny) and trained in Wing Chun for a year prior to taking this role. The fights in the movie are fewer than The Legend Is Born, and yet they feel more invigorating. The choreography by Xiong Xin-Xin (Once Upon a Time in China 3) stresses a cleanness and groundedness of movement that's free from overt wirework or near-superheroics. It's stylized fighting that feels more real than the young Yip Man film. The fights may also be interesting since it's Wong doing so much of it himself. He looks comfortable as he goes from move to move, dishing out flurries of punches to the chest with the occasional high kick to the jaw. It's as impressive as Daniel Day Lewis doing MMA in a stovepipe hat and a beard. My first exposure to Anthony Wong came in a much different Herman Yau film from 1993 called The Untold Story: Human Meat Pies. I'd seen Wong before in Hard Boiled, but I always noticed him after The Untold Story. Wong played a ruthless psychopath who murders people, chops up their bodies, and puts their flesh in the pork buns he sells at his restaurant. (The film was allegedly based on an actual crime in Macau.) The Wong sections of the film are inhumane, particularly when we see what he did to the previous owners of the restaurant. This bleakness is off-set by the goofy detectives in the film, though it's not as bad as the bumbling cops from Last House on the Left. Every Wong movie I see is measured against this role. What Wong's shown over the years, aside from staggering productivity (he has 174 acting credits on IMDb), is versatility. He can play a sociopath, a suave criminal, a wizened older cop, and a goon, and he'll fully inhabit these parts. With Yip Man, there's something fascinating about what Wong is doing, even in the still moments where he's lost in thought and about to smoke a hand-rolled cigarette. There's a scene where Yip Man and his wife are together. She's come to Hong Kong from Foshan, and there's a dignified giddiness to Wong's performance when he's with her. They've been living apart for a long time, and it's one of the few sequences of The Final Fight where Yip Man isn't in Yoda mode. The couple are in bed and it's cold, and Yip Man's students bring up a comforter for them. It's a kind of Capra moment. Yip Man and his wife turn toward each other with eyes locked. Yip Man hasn't been this happy in a long while. It's so old-timey and might have been schmaltzy if Wong wasn't so good. Wong is the real strength of The Final Fight, and as long as he's on screen there's something worth noticing. Where the film falters is its looseness, which might be a consequence of the post-war setting. Without the Imperial Japanese as an obvious foil and without Yip Man as a symbol of Chinese persistence in the face of an outside force, there's almost no conflict that drives the film. In some ways it works since it's about the winding down of Yip Man's life, and yet it's a little off. Matters of plot and proportion are the ultimate difficulty of biopics -- too much plot molding doesn't feel like real life, too little feels like the narrative is meandering. There's a fight against the head of a rival martial arts school (played by Wong's Infernal Affairs co-star Eric Tsang) which reveals character rather than builds conflict. It's more like a tussle between two righteous men with mutual respect, which has an interesting payoff in a quiet scene following another fight. Eventually a sideplot involving a criminal in Kowloon Walled City drives the last half (really the last third) of the story, but it feels forced. Whereas The Legend Is Born is too rounded with its plot and ties its slew of fight scenes together with a bow of movie intrigues (i.e., sibling rivalries, love triangles, double crosses, betrayals), The Final Fight begins to droop and its last action scene feels perfunctory. The Final Fight is an admirable effort that adds a new take on Yip Man even if it doesn't quite work. I actually can't wait to see what Tony Leung (another Hong Kong great) brings to Yip Man in Wong Kar Wai's The Grandmaster, or more accurately, what part of himself he'll reveal in the guise of Yip Man. On the note of other Yip Mans, I think the third Donnie Yen/Wilson Yip Ip Man film (whenever it comes) will take place at some point in this post-war period as well. How will they handle this this era without a handy conflict? Will Yip Man become a social crusader, a warrior against water rationing? Will this social unrest become integral to the plot rather than part of the film's historical garnish -- Wong Fei-Hung meets Woodie Guthrie? Whatever happens, it'll be tough to match Wong's grace as a guiding force.
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Anthony Wong and the many faces of Yip Man
In the review for The Legend Is Born: Ip Man, I mentioned how the character of Yip Man seems to be turning into the new Wong Fei-Hung. Here's a real-life historical figure who's suddenly become an idealized version of the rea...

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J - A - C... See you real soon!
During an event in Beijing, Jackie Chan said he's interested in creating his own theme park in Yizhuang. According to the Malaysia Times, the park will be called JC World. The two square kilometer park will be comprised of fi...

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AMERICA

Chinese PLA officer claims Pacific Rim is propaganda


USA! USA! USA! Oh and Australia, China, Russia, and technically Mexico
Sep 03
// Nick Valdez
According to a statement in People's Liberation Army Daily, Zhang Jieli (a PLA officer), wrote that Hollywood uses movies as a way to convey American propaganda to the world. Sure big Hollywood films could have big 'Meri...

Review: The Grandmaster

Aug 22 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]216244:40600:0[/embed] The Grandmaster (Yut Doi Jung Si | 一代宗师)Director: Wong Kar WaiRating: PG-13Country: China (Hong Kong)Release Date: August 23, 2013 I write "seems" because I haven't watched the 130-minute Hong Kong cut of The Grandmaster, the official director's cut of the film. (I haven't seen the 115-minute international cut either.) There's a lot that can happen in 22 minutes. I skimmed a recent piece by David Ehrlich on film.com that details all of the differences between the longer cut and the US release. It's spoiler heavy, but just looking at the bolded text, there are plenty of shuffled scenes, nixed story elements, and truncated sequences that break the architecture of the original movie. Before checking out the Ehrlich piece, I could still tell where some of the changes were. The Grandmaster is guided by Ip Man's overt narration, and every now and then some English text appears for transitions and explanations. Certain moments feel choppy, others feel like the proportions are off, some feel misplaced, and the coda is just strange; the tape is visible, the movie is sticky with glue. What I want from a Wong Kar Wai film is sumptuousness, emotion, and observation, as found in his previous movies like In the Mood for Love, Happy Together, or Chungking Express. It's still there in this version of The Grandmaster, but it's been heavily compromised. It says something about Wong's gifts as a filmmaker that this compromised material still shines and still has moments that are undeniably breathtaking, and yet these glowing bits are like neon arrows pointing out that 22 minutes worth of lacunae. If you look at the marketing that Weinstein did for The Grandmaster, it made the film seem like a chop socky movie. It's a fundamental misunderstanding about the material and how to sell it. This is not a standard martial arts movie. The Grandmaster, as it ought to be, is an art house martial arts movie. There's incredible action in the film, but it's more daring and much headier than its arty wuxia forebears like Ang Lee's Couching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or Zhang Yimou's Hero. Yuen Woo-Ping's fight choreography is still remarkable, but it's the way that Wong Kar Wai stages, shoots, and edits the action that makes it transcendent. The fighting goes beyond visceral spectacle and becomes something spiritual, metaphysical. When Ip Man twists to throw a punch, Wong cuts to a close-up of his hat brim soaked with rain, the water arcing away in slow motion. We don't see his body, but we know the motion his body makes simply from the motion of the water. Ip Man twists again and his shirt sleeve will send water off in a spearing jet. The speed and strength of that strike are there in the motion of rain and cloth, and it's never distracting. These disturbances are extensions of action. Before a punch nearly connects, Wong focuses on the little push of air on fabric that precedes the blow. More disturbance, more extension of movement; the punch is more than just a punch. This poetic way of presenting the fight scenes gets at the heart of The Grandmaster. For a martial artist, the martial arts is more than just self-defense. It's a way of life. To commit yourself wholly to a craft or an art means mental discipline, the formation of a personal philosophy, a means of comporting yourself to the world that aligns with the craft or art. The physical motions are repeated until they're internalized; any movement is the expression of that person's whole being. That may be the subtext in other martial arts films, but it is expressed with such remarkable sweep in The Grandmaster. It's the idea of what Ip Man represents as a martial artist that's most important to the movie rather than Ip Man himself as a historical figure. The same goes for Zhang Ziyi's character Gong Er. Though previous Ip Man films were only about Ip Man, The Grandmaster is as much about him as it is Gong Er. (This explains why the movie was at one time going to be called The Grandmasters.) The first half involves duels between Northern-style martial artists and Southern-style martial artists, exploring ideas about differences in style and what these mean to those who care about such distinctions. When Gong Er and Ip Man eventually duel, the scene is as much about pride in mastery as it is about the seduction of mastery--you can be great and be admired for it, and you can be great to win a person's admiration. There's a kind of love that blossoms while they're battling each other and it continues after Gong Er returns to the north. The second half of The Grandmaster shifts from Ip Man's home in Foshan to post-WWII Hong Kong. The streets are filled with martial artists, many of whom are teachers or have mundane day jobs that are still somehow expressions of their inner skill. Many of the movie's side characters, however briefly they appear, could carry their own feature films. While in Hong Kong, Ip Man tries to find out whatever happened to Gong Er. This is one of those breaks in the narrative I wasn't expecting, and it will probably throw off a lot of audiences given how much it subverts the conventions and expectations built into many action films and martial arts films. Gong Er becomes the driving force that reveals a lot of the philosophical machinery that probably inspired Wong to make a martial arts movie in this way. I imagine the transition is smoother in the longer cut of the film. With Gong Er, there's an exploration of gender roles, veneration of parents, obligations to future generations, and the importance of maintaining a legacy or tradition. Again, it's the idea of extension, where the fights means more than just beating someone physically. These high stakes for the martial artists are heightened by the way that Wong treats his locations, emphasizing verticals and horizontals. The enclosed spaces of Foshan are lush in color, the dark streets of Hong Kong have a sense of mystery. I mentioned that this feels like a mythic iteration of Ip Man. More than Leung's performance, it's the writing and the locations that are key in establishing this mythological feel. These spaces and their moods are inhabited by characters who seem like the figures of legend. They embody ideas and ideals, they fight over primal and yet fundamental human concerns, they are known by certain deeds or identified by the objects that they carry which are extensions of their personalities. The mythic feel reaches its peak during the final fight, which is the stuff of classical myth and legend, but charged with potent concerns that are at once unique to the characters and universal. The stakes are high, the emotions raw, and the characters are fighting for more than just honor. Behind them rushes a potent metaphor for time, both the past and the future, because what they're fighting about has everything to do with matters of extension through time. It's hard to score The Grandmaster because it's so compromised a work. Every great scene hints at the brilliance of a scene that's not in the film, and knowing that Wong changed the sequence of certain scenes makes me feel like I've been reading a novel with chapters in the wrong order. The fighting in martial arts movies is so much about rhythm and motion, and both are disrupted in this cut of the film. What The Grandmaster offers is a flawed vision of something greater. This is a beautiful punch, but mostly just that; I know there's supposed to be more to it.
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The flawed US cut hints at a masterpiece on the meaning of the martial arts
While Donnie Yen kicked off the Ip Man craze back in 2008, you could argue that Wong Kar Wai was partially responsible. Wong had announced his own Ip Man film prior to the Yen picture even being conceived, but it took ages to...

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Yet another case of Harvey Weinstein's scissorhands
Wong Kar Wai's long-in-the-making Ip Man film The Grandmaster finally hits the US next week, and it will be about 20 minutes shorter than the Hong Kong version of the film. Wong was in attendance at a special screening of The...

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Pacific Rim opens well in China, sequel more likely


Aug 01
// Hubert Vigilla
While Guillermo Del Toro's Pacific Rim has been a bit of a bust at the box office domestically, it's been doing quite well overseas. In fact, Pacific Rim had a record-setting opening day in China on Wednesday, grossing $...
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This movie looks tough as hell
Martial arts superstar Donnie Yen has been keeping busy. He's got The Monkey King and Iceman 3D coming out soonish, there's the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon sequel shooting next year, and there's still talk about Ip M...

Flixist Discusses Review: Double Xposure

Jul 10 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]216037:40403:0[/embed] Double Xposure (Erci puguang | 二次曝光)Director: Li YuRating: NRCountry: China Alec: I know that we were warned that the film would pull a pretty major reversal, but I still wasn't prepared for it. In fact, knowing it mislead me a bit. I thought that the murder early on was the narrative turning point, because it definitely was a shift, but it worked within the context of the narrative. Then when things got weird, I thought that was the big third act reveal that would be followed by a wrap up with some sort of weird, uncomfortable ending (it's an arthouse film, after all). Instead, the movie kept going and going and going, and it went from really compelling to pretty compelling and weird to just weird. Hubert: That's pretty much why I had such a violent negative reaction to Double Xposure. It sets up a compelling story of a woman who questions her boyfriend's fidelity and her best friend's trustworthiness, and this cocktail of jealousy and insecurity turn her into a madwoman on the run. Extreme breakdowns could go to many interesting places, and Double Xposure does for a while, but then you get the narrative shift that tosses it all away. The first half of the movie no longer matters in a traditional sense -- without saying too much, it turns some real life-and-death drama into something psychological. There are no longer consequences to the events in the first half of the film once the shift takes place. Stakes are traded in for a contrived and illogical mystery. Movie #1 is over and incomplete and doesn't matter; welcome to movie #2. Sure, you were going somewhere interesting with movie #1, but now you're going to the wastelands of baffling pretentiousness. Worse, the way the film reframes the events from the first half makes no narrative sense. It felt cheap and it felt sloppy and it felt like there wasn't any kind of emotional or thematic throughline between the two halves. At least Fan Bingbing was good throughout the bad movie. Alec: Yeah, I thought her performance was pretty spectacular. I don't know that having no consequences is inherently problematic, but it was presented in such an odd way because it seems like the stakes are really high. That being said, the bizarre way people acted around her from the beginning made that first twist not surprise me quite as much as it could have (at least in retrospect). That's not to say it actually made much sense (it didn't, especially if those things that appeared to be security cameras were security cameras), but it was telegraphed at least somewhat, especially with the way some of the "evidence" was so openly ignored. That she could have gotten away with it at all, when she was so stupidly popular, seemed suspect from the beginning. Hubert: There's something in my brain that just doesn't like twists like this, though usually they come at the end of the movie rather than the middle. I immediately start to ask questions rather than go with it -- less like I'm watching a magic trick, more like I've realized I've just been conned. How long has this behavior been going on for? What triggered it other than lazy screenwriters? Why does x-event untrigger it other than lazy screenwriters? (And yet I'm sometimes okay with people curing amnesia by getting hit in the head really hard. Go figure.) These are things that may be telegraphed, but they just don't make sense if you think about them for two seconds. The same thing happened when I watched High Tension, and Secret Window, and even A Beautiful Mind. Rather than think, "Oh, that's clever," I thought, "Are you freakin' kidding me? That's fucking stupid." It's a switcheroo and reveal that feels like hackery. Alec: Hmm... interesting. I'm a lot more willing to accept twists like this, if I think they're done well. I just don't know that I think this one was done well. The fact that it came halfway through is just so... strange. I feel like I'd be giving it way too much credit to say that the second half is like some bizarre-o fever dream where we go into the mind of the character, but in a way it does feel like that. Things just make less and less sense for us and for her. But that is only legitimate if you don't think about the fact that she seems relatively content with whatever revelations she's had by the end while the audience is just left confused with no real hope for answers. Hubert: You hit the core of it, Alec. I can accept twists if they're done well because then they don't feel like twists or gimmicks but a natural part of the story. In Double Xposure, it's a twist and a klutzy one. Going into this character's mind could be great if there were some real stakes that carried forward from the first half, but it's such an abrupt transition and basically the first half of the movie evaporates. I was wondering how I'd feel about both of these halves if they were their own films that saw their own stories through to the end. I think I'd have liked them both, but they're sutured together haphazardly here. Alec: That's true enough. I get the feeling that this is where we start to disagree a bit, but I want to bring up Upstream Color. Double Xposure's final act took on a lot of the bizarreness that Upstream Color has, both audiovisually and conceptually. Honestly, if someone had told me it was Shane Carruth's Chinese debut, I probably would have believed them. During that final act, I kept thinking, "Does this make more or less sense than Upstream Color" And, in fact, that was the first thing I asked you after the screening, because I still don't understand Upstream Color and you took 8500 words to prove that you do. Your Grumpy Cat expression answered my question, but I don't know. Even though Double Xposure goes in weird places, there was more sanity to latch onto (kind of ironic, don't you think?) because prior to that final act, I felt like I had some kind of a grasp of what was going on. Even if the twist is klutzy, it's something I can understand. I never had that with Upstream Color. Hubert: I actually think the most Upstream Color-like bits of Double Xposure are in the first half before the twist and just as Fan Bingbing's character is spiraling into madness. You have the music coming in to emphasize the emotional core of scenes, you have segments that are edited in an off-kilter way but maintain an emotional continuity, and even the unmoored camera feels like it could have come from Upstream Color. (Lots of people are going Malick-y in approach since The Tree of Life; hell, even Zack Snyder did it for parts of Man of Steel. This is another conversation.) I feel the opposite of what you feel about Double Xposure and Upstream Color, but that may be based on how I perceived the approaches of the two films. For me, Upstream Color has a logical, straighforward plot (at least for the world of that movie), but it feels inaccessible because it's thematically cluttered and presented in an opaque way. I feel like Double Xposure has a straightforward plot until the twist midway through, which then undermines its own logic and suggests a haziness to all of the storytelling; none of the opaqueness comes from attempts at philosophical heavy lifting or even psychological heavy lifting, at least to me. I'm curious about what you found you could latch onto in the two halves of Double Xposure. Alec: I can see what you mean. Both of them are really pretty movies with really weird/effective soundtracks with discontinuous editing. Because Upstream Color was so impenetrable for me, that was most of what I had to connect with. In Double Xposure, I could connect with the plot, at least in the first half. In retrospect, I understand how Upstream Color's is in its own world, but I didn't get it. With Double Xposure, I felt like things stayed surprisingly consistent, at least stylistically, and that's why it never completely lost me... at least until the last five minutes. When she did that stuff with her hair, it was just all over for me (although the main girl in Upstream Color had short hair too...). This might be because after the initital shock of the twist, I think it devolves pretty slowly, so even though I lost my investment over time, there wasn't a single moment that made me give up. At least until that ending. That ending was dumb, and undid a lot of the goodwill that I had built up for it. It didn't undo all of it, though. I've still got some Double Xposure love in there... somewhere. Hubert: I like how we both lost goodwill for this movie, just at different times, and for me it just came immediately with the twist because it felt like the movie revealed its contempt for the audience's intelligence. I posted this on Facebook, but this was basically my thought process while watching Double Xposure: "Okay. Okay. Cool. That's fascinating. All right! Wow. Gosh. This is a daring bit of execution. Hmm. Holy crap! That reminds me of early Wong Kar Wai by way of Shane Carruth. This is awesome. Fan Bingbing is really, really good in this. Oh my god! Where's this going to go next! ... What? ... No! ... You've got to be kidding me! Seriously!? What?! Oh, you fucking jerks! ... OH COME ON! Was this written by a first-year creative writing student?! Damn you! End already! ... This friggin' train wreck is taking forever! Oh, hey, a llama. ... Hope the store's open when this screening gets out. Hope my facial expression doesn't stay this way forever. Good thing that's over. IT'S NOT OVER?! I hate you." If I were to score this, I'd give it an angry 33 (Bad), with Fan Bingbing and the good first half saving it from going lower. How about you? Alec: Haha, I can definitely see that. I feel like that's the way the guy sitting in between us felt too, except he fell asleep for a while also. But I'm willing to give it more credit than you are. I'm curious if a second viewing would actually help or not. I feel like it wouldn't. As a first go around, though, I'll be much more forgiving than you. In fact, I'll double your score. For a while, I was thinking I would go higher (I've given some really high scores to films that have lost me in the third act), but a score is also in part a recommendation, and it's kinda hard to recommend this film, certainly in the blanket sort of way that a 70+ implies. But because I get the last impression, I'll give you the last word. Hubert: It's definitely a niche film, though apparently it grossed ¥108,720,000 at the Chinese box office (approx. $17.7 million). For perspective, that's roughly what Resident Evil: Retribution made in China. That's great business for what in the West would be a pretentious pseudo-arthouse movie, albeit a pretentious pseudo-arthouse movie starring one of the country's biggest actresses. But even though I hate Double Xposure, I'm interested to find out how others feel about the film. Do they sour on the plot twist? What does the movie do for them as a whole (or as two discrete halves)? The oddest thing is that I really want to read positive reviews for the film so I can figure out if I'm just missing something in my viewing experience that would alter the way I perceived the film. I may not like this movie, but I'd love to find out what other people like about it.
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An attempt to understand some Chinese art house pretension
Whenever News Editor Hubert Vigilla and I see a film together, we follow it up with a discussion about what we just saw, what we thought, what it means, whatever. Sometimes, those discussions play out in miniature with our sy...

NYAFF Review: The Bullet Vanishes

Jul 08 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]215968:40391:0[/embed] The Bullet Vanishes (Ghost Bullets | Disappeared Bullets | 消失的子彈)Director: Law Chi-LeungRating: TBDCountry: China / Hong KongRelease Date: August 14, 2012 (China) The material above the cut sort of makes it sound like I didn't enjoy The Bullet Vanishes, but that's not the case at all. It's such a stylish, fun period piece with welcome surprises along the way. While it's set in the 1920s, it melds the sensibilities of other times, cultures, and genres. This is a movie where gunfights out of a contemporary Hong Kong film feel right at home with Western-style quickdraws, and where the fastest gun in the East belongs to a man with incredible skills of deduction. The two leads of the film are Nicholas Tse and Lau Ching-Wan. Tse plays Captain Guo Zhui, an action-oriented young detective who's fast on the trigger. We're first introduced to him when he's hot on someone's trail in the red light district. A daring leap from a building is followed by a quick yet meticulous dissection of small clues, the sort of stuff that wouldn't feel out of place in Sherlock Holmes stories or the Batman TV show with Adam West. Lau plays Inspector Song Dalu, an older criminologist who's got a finely-tuned mind. We're first introduced to him in what seems like an attempted suicide, but it's really just unorthodox forensics. This is how far he's willing to go to get his man. Our detective duo and a rookie policeman named Xiaowu (Boran Jing) are sent to investigate a series of strange murders at a munitions factory. The victims are found shot on the premises, but with no trace of an actual bullet anywhere in the bodies or at the crime scene. The workers attribute it to "the curse of the phantom bullet," which involves a co-worker who died playing Russian roulette after being accused of stealing bullets. So think The Hound of the Baskervilles by way of The Deer Hunter. There's a compelling dynamic that develops between Tse and Lau. It's not like one's a dumb rookie and the other's a by-the-books veteran, and it's not just another union between the hothead and someone who's cool as a cucumber. These cliche pairings are hinted at but avoided. Instead there's a mutual respect. These are men who admire each other's minds and methods and are committed to cracking this case. Maybe it's like Robert Downey Jr.'s Sherlock Holmes (this would be Tse) teaming up with Jeremy Brett's Sherlock Holmes (this would be Lau). I got a sense that each of these guys would have been able to solve the mystery of the phantom bullet on their own, but by working together, they get the job done faster. You can also contrast the characters with the two women in their lives. For the young captain, it's a fortune teller/tipper he knows named Little Skylark (Mini Yang). She might be able to ground his devil-may-care ways with her growing concern for his well-being. On the flipside for the older inspector is Fu Yuan (Jiang Yiyan), a female prisoner who orchestrated a perfect crime. While there's the possibility of romance for Tse's character, I never got a sense of it for Lau's. It seems like love's no longer a possibility for Inspector Song. What he and Fu Yuan get to share is a realization about the nature of good, evil, and moral compromises. Technically there's a third woman in Li Jia, a coroner/forensics specialist played Yumiko Cheng. She's more a helper during the CSI moments of the film (with many shots looking out of a cadaver through the rib cage and sternum) rather than a potential source of love. To put it another way, she's a source of functional knowledge rather than the fount of new outlooks on life. Actually, there's a fourth woman in our detectives's lives if you count the ostrich that Li Jia keeps in her workplace. (Don't ask.) Too clever isn't necessarily a bad thing. (And neither is stupid, come to think of it, at least in some films.) I don't think the eventual too-cleverness in The Bullet Vanishes undermines the rest of what works in the film, because a lot of it does. It hits that odd sweet spot where if enough elements I enjoy are brought together -- old industrial machinery, kooky sleuths, unconventional solutions, dapper old-timey fashion, an unexpected sense of melancholy or pathos under the humor -- I'm willing to forgive the shortcoming or the overreach. If anything, this overreach is a way for the movie to come back to the characters at the heart of this film. The plot is a way to explore two detectives, with focus on their methods and their philosophies of life. Like Captain Gho, I can at least follow the footprints and figure out why the film did what it did even if I didn't think it worked. And yet so many other solutions presented in The Bullet Vanishes are so good, and director Law Chi-Leung successfully gives his overarching mysteries, sub-mysteries, and interpersonal intrigues room to breathe. It's all a question of how much is too much and how clever is too clever. The more that I think about it, The Bullet Vanishes ended on the right emotional note for me. The problem is how it got there. Given, it gets there with a very tense and well-crafted scene, but something about it seems off key. This is the kind of stuff that doesn't make sense in the moment, and it makes even less sense the more you think about it. I'm curious what the guys in Spinal Tap would say about being too clever for your own good.
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The intrigue of the improbable and the false step of the impossible
There's an observation in This Is Spinal Tap that sums up the dilemma of many detective stories: there's a fine line between clever and stupid. Successful detective stories provide satisfying solutions to mysteries, no matter...

NYAFF Review: Tales from the Dark Part 1

Jul 02 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]215988:40345:0[/embed] Tales from the Dark Part 1 (迷離夜)Directors: Simon Yam ("Stolen Goods"), Lee Chi-Ngai ("A Word in the Palm"), and Fruit Chan ("Jing Zhe)Rating: TBDCountry: China (Hong Kong)Release Date: July 11, 2013 (China) The opening film is "Stolen Goods," directed by and starring Simon Yam. The story follows a mentally distraught screw-up in his attempts to make money. He can't do much of anything right and yet doesn't understand what he's doing wrong. While secluded in his one-room apartment, he yells at two stuffed dolls which are (because it's a horror movie) more creepy than adorable. When times get desperate, he decides to make money in a way that disrespects the dead. This awakens several ghosts throughout Hong Kong, and they're upset. Yam is probably best known for his roles in Johnnie To's Election and Triad Election, SPL with Donnie Yen, and Exiled. As a first-time director, he shows a flair for unnerving visuals and calculated freakouts. While the ghosts in the other two Tales from the Dark films have a kind of cinematic polish to them, the ghosts of "Stolen Goods" have a quick-and-cheap look, as if the actors went to the local Halloween shop and applied their own fright makeup direct from the tube. This is surprisingly effective since it makes the ghosts appear more necrotic -- bits of skin tone are obvious through the layer of white cream. The best parts of "Stolen Goods" are the ones where Yam is more interested in creating atmosphere and mood than moving an actual plot along. The ghosts are like skipping records or broken industrial machinery, repeating the same lines and actions over and over again. Once the actual plot kicks in, the mood is decidedly less creepy, and the story proceeds in a straightforward (by the end a bit clunky) manner, punctuated by the occasional jump scare. The middle film is Lee Chi-Ngai "A Word in the Palm," which blends a ghost story with kooky comedy. Picture a half-serious, half-kidding Scooby-Doo yarn, though sadly without a guest appearance by Don Knotts or The Harlem Globetrotters (if only). I haven't seen any of Lee Chi-Ngai's films, so I can't say if this was to be expected from him. It's unexpected in this horror anthology since the bookending films are both so serious overall, and yet this goofball in the middle is a welcome change of pace. "A Word in the Palm" focuses on a fortune teller who can see ghosts (Tony Leung Kar-Fai) and a New Age crystal vendor wearing at least 10 pounds of necklaces and bangles (Kelly Chen). Both of them work at the mall. The fortune teller wants to close up shop so he can spend more time with his wife and musically inclined son, but the appearance of a creepy ghost pulls him back into the game. The moments of slapstick and the little details of "A Word in the Palm" make it worthwhile, like the constant rustle of beads whenever Chan's hippy-dippy spiritualist walks around. Her character wears contacts that enlarge her pupils, giving her every action an adorable, cartoon quality. The resolution to the ghost's dilemma is a little too pat and too obvious, but the coda to the tale plays up the strengths of this middle entry. Even if it's imperfectly shaped, my favorite of the bunch is the last film, "Jing Zhe" by Fruit Chan. The short starts light. Siu Yam-Yam plays an elderly woman who makes money as a villain hitter. Strangers on the street pay her money to pray for bad luck on certain people. In turn, the old woman recites rhymes while smacking a photo of the cursed-to-be with a shoe. The first so-called villains we hear about end up revealing the pettiness and passive aggressiveness of the people who hate them. The turn in the story comes when a ghost appears before the old woman and says she'd like to deal with some villains in her life. "Jing Zhe" lays on the sadness and anger in its final half, like a kind of rejoinder to the first half of the story. Sure, you may have problems with people, but here is a ghost who has a legitimate score to settle with real-life villains who did her wrong. In a lot of ways it's such a simple switch from low stakes to high stakes and from hoax to hex, but something about Fruit Chan's presentation sucked me in. This is a revenge story with a ghost, and when the shoe comes down on the faces of the villains, the heel strikes with the righteousness of a gavel. As with other anthology movies, scoring the whole is a bit difficult. Tales from the Dark Part 1 is enjoyable, though nothing quite hits as hard or scares as much as I hoped. I'm becoming more of a fraidy cat as I get older, but I wasn't bothered by much in the film. Leaving the theater, I felt content rather than ill at ease. Eventually I hope to see Tales from the Dark Part 2 just to see how the two films compare. Hopefully the second film also has a bit of everything but actually leaves me feeling creeped out in a lingering way.
Tales from Dark 1 Review photo
Film #1 = GRR! GHOSTS! Film #2 = G-g-g-g-ghosts?! Film #3 = Ghosts *sniffle*
Tales from the Dark Part 1 had its world premiere last Friday at the New York Asian Film Festival. It's an anthology horror movie containing three shorts films, all of which are adaptations of stories by Lilian Lee. Think les...

NYAFF Review: The Legend Is Born: Ip Man

Jun 27 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]215910:40314:0[/embed] The Legend Is Born: Ip Man (Young Ip Man | Ye Wen Qian Zhuan | 葉問前傳)Director: Herman YauRating: TBDCountry: China (Hong Kong)Release Date: June 24, 2010 (China) One of the things that immediately struck me about The Legend is Born is the number of actors in it who appeared in the Yen/Yip Ip Man movies. Sammo Hung (who was in Ip Man 2) plays the master of the Wing Chun martial arts school, with Yuen Biao as his disciple/protege. Dennis To was in both Ip Man and Ip Man 2. The same goes for Louis Fan (star of the cult masterpiece Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky); in The Legend is Born, Fan is Ip Tin-chi, Yip Man's brother in arms, though he played the Northern bandit in the Yen movies. Even Yip Man's dad, actor Chen Zhihui, had a part in that first Donnie Yen film. (I also noticed a brief role for Jiao Xu, the young star of Starry Starry Night, one of my favorite movies at last year's New York Asian Film Festival.) Part of me wonders if some of this casting was a wink to the audience, though it may have been based more on klout and ability. I think the film does a bit of martial arts fan service since its opening fight involves Hung and Biao duking it out with blindfolds on. The two actors can still move well, which makes me wish they'd do a reunion film with Jackie Chan. Yau also offers some fan service with a cameo appearance by Ip Chun, the real-life son of Yip Man, who gets to shine in a fight scene against the much younger To. The Legend Is Born zips through Yip Man's teenage years and young adulthood in the early 1900s. He and Ip Tin-chi are brought up learning Wing Chun, and they make fast friends with a young girl at the school named Li Mei Wai (portrayed as an adult by Rose Chan).  Mei loves Yip Man, who doesn't love her back; Ip Tin-chi loves Mei but she just sort of tolerates him. The love triangle becomes a kind of love quadrangle once Yip Man leaves for Hong Kong and meets Cheung Wing-shing (Huang Yi). She's the aristocratic daughter of the Lieutenant Governor, and of course her dad doesn't want his own flesh and blood dating that kung-fu riffraff. I mentioned that the film plays like an old-fashioned biopic, and it became most apparent to me in the scene where Yip Man and Cheung Wing-shing first meet. They're both in an outdoor market and happen upon a gramophone. They lock eyes and the film makes it seem like they're destined to be together. As we hop from event to event and from year to year, bits of Yip Man's life fall into place neatly and purposefully, without the loose ends of real life. I picture the screenplay written with bullet points instead of paragraph breaks. Each scene is about shoving the plot ahead or a life lesson learned, whether it's a new way to do Wing Chun or a declaration of personal philosophy, which in this film veers equally at nationalism (impossible to avoid when it comes to Chinese/Japanese relations in this period) and proto-globalization. The Legend is Born features a fight every 8-10 minutes, which is why it's reminiscent of an old-fashioned martial arts film. Yip Man stops a con man and they fight. Yip Man plays field hockey and it leads to a fight. Yip Man returns to Wing Chun school and there's a fight as a demonstration of what he learned. Yip Man has dinner and kapow. There's also a masochistic training sequence/montage that feels like it's straight out of a classic late 70s/early 80s period martial arts film. Instead of Wong Fei-Hung, Butcher Wing, or Beggar So, it's Yip Man, who seems like he's joining those other historical figures as a new cinematic folk hero. Like the martial arts films of old, there's also rigid concern for the purity of a martial arts school's ways, though the hero must combine skills and adapt rather than remain conservative in order to win in the end. The fights aren't as mind-blowing as the ones in the Donnie Yen films. It's impossible not to compare them since the bar is so high -- The Legend Is Born deals in volume since it can't top Ip Man with innovation or intensity.  I think this may simply be because Yen brings a physicality and a knowledge of action direction that isn't on display here. Even though veteran director Sammo Hung appears in the film, he wasn't in charge of fight choreography. That role fell to another veteran, Tony Leung Siu-Hung (another Ip Man alum), who does a more than serviceable job. Dennis To is similarly good as a fighter. He moves well, and I want to see a few more of his movies to peg the personality of his body language. Yuen Biao has a way of doing things that's all his own in the same way that there's a unique fighting style for Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, Bruce Lee, and Donnie Yen; a few more movies and I may figure out what To's up to. I'll give The Legend is Born credit on this point: one of the flaws of Ip Man was that Donnie Yen was invincible and no one really posed a threat to him; and one of the biggest flaws of Ip Man 2 was that the boxer he faces in the end is an artificial threat who is merely stronger and not a better or more skillful fighter. (The inevitable solution for the Ip Man 2 fight is something that the character would have thought of immediately in the first Ip Man.) The Legend Is Born does at least force Yip Man to be better than his opponents. Combining fighting styles and surpassing your teachers is a hallmark of the classic martial arts film, and it's something that seems to be missing a lot in the martial arts movies of today. Blending the old-fashioned biopic and the old-school martial arts movie is quaint. Think Drunken Master mixed with The Life of Emile Zola in that respect. And yet The Legend Is Born ultimately feels thin and hokey. It's not a particularly deep or realistic portrayal of the young Yip Man, and it's garnished with lots of artificial dramatic hubbub. Not only is there a bland love story, but it's a film with double crosses, political intrigues, sibling rivalries, and betrayals. By the end, it's like a Douglas Sirk kung-fu movie without the Sirk irony. We get an incredibly dark resolution followed by a chipper closing scene, which is such a peculiar note to end on. This weekend I'll be reviewing Ip Man: The Final Fight, Yau's follow-up to this film which focuses on the older Yip Man as played by the venerable Anthony Wong. We'll see how this film functions as a precursor/companion piece. But taken on its own, The Legend is Born is so brisk and light, almost to a fault, and feels more like reading the CliffsNotes than the novel. As a portrait of the cinematic idea of Yip Man, it works and entertains from quick scene to quick scene. It's a nice chopsocky throwback, but it's also shaky as a coherent biopic. Maybe to enjoy it fully, it shouldn't be considered the latter. [The Legend Is Born: Ip Man will screen on Saturday, June 29th. Director Herman Yau will be in attendance. For tickets and more information, click here.]
Ip Man Legend Born Review photo
Is Yip Man becoming the new Wong Fei-Hung?
Ip Man starring Donnie Yen and directed by Wilson Yip is one of the best martial arts films of the last 10 years. It cemented Yen's reputation as a major star, and it began a craze for Yip Man films. Wong Kar-Wai has bee...

Review: High Tech, Low Life

Jun 19 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]215817:40264:0[/embed] High Tech, Low LifeDirector: Stephen MaingRating: NRRelease Date: June 18, 2013 (VOD); July 22, 2013 (PBS Premiere) Rather than focus on the entire citizen journalist movement in China, director Stephen Maing plays on the contrast between his two subjects. It's a much narrower focus that I thought it would be, but there's something to be said about this documentary as a character study rather than a crash course in Chinese blogging culture. Zola is a brash young man who seems less into hard journalism and more into blogging as a form of self-promotion and self-aggrandizement. He claims at one point he doesn't really know what journalism is, and yet it seems like an act. He travels to a town where a young woman was allegedly raped and murdered by the relative of a government official, though the police claim she committed suicide. While at her funeral, Zola says he's blogger rather than a journalist (there's the semantic distinction again) as a cover -- it gains him access and a certain level of anonymity. Later, Zola mentions what his readers are looking for when they read his work. He uses different terms, but it's basically the five Ws of hard news. There's a tension in Zola. On the one hand, he's playing with an online persona. He's a flippant and fun-loving kid, and he often takes photos of himself at arm's length with the subjects of his report. And yet, if he just wanted to be an online celebrity, he wouldn't be covering serious stories, albeit in a not-so-serious way. It's as if Maing caught up with Zola just as he was understanding the difference between online notoriety, role as blogger, and duty as a journalist. All three pull in their own directions as Zola's profile rises and as the government places more scrutiny on his work. Tiger Temple, on the other hand, has embraced his role as an online muckraker and investigative journalist. (And what a great name.) In his fifties, sometimes wearing two pairs of glasses to watch TV, Tiger says he's not going to live much longer and just wants to tell the truth until he dies. To tell it, he travels thousands of kilometers on his bike to cover stories out in the Chinese countryside. He documents flood damage and water pollution and the plight of farmers. If he doesn't do it, no one else will. Tiger melds these dispatches and bits of reportage with direct action. He's not just a reporter, he's an activist, which makes him a target of the Chinese government. By focusing on Zola and Tiger, Maing basically explores generational differences and the philosophical differences that come from life experience. Whereas Tiger lived through the horrors of Mao's Cultural Revolution, Zola (born in the 1980s) seems to have lived a rather complacent life. This may define their approaches to citizen journalism. Having lived through what he's lived through, Tiger feels a sense of duty and obligation to others. Given his generally isolated personal life, he seems to relish in this ability to make a difference somehow, or at the very least to get people agitated enough to pay attention. Zola spends one scene in the documentary arguing with his parents about where his duty lies. Is it with the country, the family, or himself as an individual? His parents think it's the country and family, but Zola thinks of himself. It's unclear which of these groups his citizen journalism serves, or in what proportion. Maybe it varies. Another story Zola covers involves the living/working conditions of Beijing construction workers. It's not as bad as the foreign contract workers in Dubai, but it's far from ideal. Maybe there's a little Tiger in him occasionally. There's some interesting suspense in High Tech, Low Life that gets caught on film. Late at night, someone bangs on Zola's apartment door for 10 minutes. He records this with his Blackberry, unsure who's out there but pretty certain it's some goon hired by the government to intimidate him. Tiger is similarly pressured in the film, and yet he continues to do what he does. He takes it in stride. What's a hassle like this for a man who'll bike days from home just to make sure someone's story is being told? This government harassment also points out the tension in Zola's motives, which are still, even by the end of the film, in the process of defining themselves. Tiger is set in his ways and has committed himself to a cause, so these sorts of problems he can face with admirable bravery. There's something in Tiger's demeanor that says, "Go ahead, bring it. I've got nothing to lose." Zola could quit being a citizen journalist and not have to deal with these problems at all, but he persists. Maybe for the thrill, but maybe something else. There's room for both kinds of journalists and bloggers depicted in High Tech, Low Life. Zola gets a comment that says something like, "I don't like your personality, but there's value in what you do." The information is what's most important, and it's what should come before any semantic distinctions between "journalist" and "blogger."
High Tech Low Life Review photo
The tale of two citizen journalists in China
The semantic distinction some people make between "journalist" and "blogger" is pretty amusing. Many cling to one term or the other to describe themselves, as if there's no crossover between the two, or as if the functions of...

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Trailer: Iceman 3D


Donnie Yen gets thawed out in this remake of a Yuen Biao film
May 22
// Hubert Vigilla
Donnie Yen is going to have a crowded 2013, with three films coming out this year: the big-budget fantasy movie The Monkey King, the crime/martial arts yarn Special Identity, and Iceman 3D, a remake of the enjoyable 1989 fil...
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Check out new photos for Wong Kar Wai's The Grandmaster


They are full of martial artistry, lol
May 21
// Liz Rugg
Wong Kar Wai's The Grandmaster has had a long and bumpy road to production, but it's finally coming to US theaters this summer. While opinions have been relatively lackluster about the film since it's international debut at t...
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Chinese actors cut from Iron Man 3 to be in short film


May 10
// Logan Otremba
Small potential spoilers depending on how picky you are. So have a small warning of caution people. For those who didn’t like that Wang Xueqi (Dr. Wu) had a small performance in Iron Man 3, don’t worry! He and oth...
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Trailer: The Grandmaster


It's in English this time!
Apr 23
// Liz Rugg
Wong Kar-Wai's The Grandmaster has been stuck in production and post-production h-e-double-hockey-sticks for about three years now. While we can hardly say at this point whether or not the movie will be worth the wait, we ca...
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Transformers 4 to have a reality show in China


China still cool
Apr 18
// Matthew Razak
Hollywood so wants China to love it, but China isn't sure if Hollywood is really cool yet. Hot off the heels of announcing that Transformers 4 would be a co-production with China, Paramount Pictures has revealed that the...

NYC: Old School Kung Fu Fest, April 19-21

Apr 08 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]215309:39921:0[/embed] OLD SCHOOL KUNG FU FEST PROGRAM SCHEDULE Lau Kar-wingTHE ODD COUPLE1979, 97 min, 35mm There are 18 different weapons in Chinese martial arts, and in this flick someone's gonna get stabbed with every single one of them. Sammo Hung and Lau Kar-wing play elderly martial arts masters who duel each year to decide whose technique is better, but they always end in a draw. Now they've each taken a student (also played by Sammo Hung and Lau Kar-wing) leaving it to the younger generation to duke it out. Problem: their students get kidnapped by an old enemy (played by the inimitable martial arts mimic, "Beardy" Leung Kar-yan). Solution: both masters team up to kick maximum butt with maximum weaponry. A face bomb of comedy kung fu as well as serious, old school action, it's the opening and closing movie of the Old School Kung Fu Fest because it is, quite simply, the alpha and omega of martial arts movies. Truly unbeatable. –Fri, April 19 at 6:15 and Sun, April 21 at 9:15.   Gordon LiuSHAOLIN AND WU-TANG1983, 89 min, 35mm The movie that inspired the Wu-Tang Clan's first album is a blast of hardcore, old school mayhem. Gordon Liu (bald-headed brother of Lau Kar-leung) was ticked off that the sequel to his landmark 36TH CHAMBER OF SHAOLIN was played for laughs, so he headed to Taiwan where he directed, choreographed, and starred in this "real" sequel. A brutally authentic ode to Shaolin Fist and Wu-Tang Sword, Liu plays a student of Shaolin, and his buddy, the charming Adam Cheng, is a student of Wu-Tang. Their masters refuse to teach the Manchu prince their moves, so the prince manipulates the two schools into combat, counting on killing the winner. Then: everybody fights! Shot with the scale and scope of a Shaw Brothers production, this movie is an avalanche of action with its stars unleashing the beast in scene after scene of blistering combat. –Fri, April 19 at 8:30 and Sat, April 20 at 2:00.   Law KeiTHE DRAGON LIVES AGAIN1977, 95 min, 35mm WARNING: Watching This Movie Will Destroy Your Brain!!!!! Four years after Bruce Lee died, everyone was cashing in on his legend with look-a-like films, but this is the most notorious Brucesploitation movie of them all. Bruce Lee is dead, but his adventures aren't over. He arrives in Hell where he must fight Dracula, Clint Eastwood, and the Godfather in order to come back to life. Fortunately, Popeye is there to lend a hand. Bruce Lee is played by Bruce Leung (KUNG FU HUSTLE) but even his genuine skills can't stop the madness. Beginning with the corpse of Bruce Lee getting an erection (Don't worry – it's just his nunchakus!) and ending with him flying away as the cast waves "Goodbye!" you cannot unsee this movie. You will laugh! You will cry! And you will scream as the spirit of Bruce Lee kicks his way out of your stupid skull! –Fri, April 19 at 10:30 and Sun, April 21 at 1:00.   Cheung Gin-gatSHAOLIN TEMPLE AGAINST LAMA1980, 85 min, 16mm. Print provided by the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office New York. Taiwan's indie kung fu films eschewed slick sets and smooth camera movements to shoot on location with urgent handheld cameras wielded by operators who were constantly freaking out. In this flick, Tibet's evil Black Lamas (you know they're evil by the skulls in their hair) decide to wage war on Shaolin Temple while wearing costumes that would put Bootsy Collins to shame. The Lamas manipulate a righteous Tibetan prince to be their proxy face-breaker in a war with the hard-hitting Shaolin monks, and what ensues is a whirlwind of non-stop mayhem spiced with a whiff of funky incense. Never content to show two men fighting when it could show 20, this film is a psychedelic throwback to a time when kung fu movies were allowed to pull out all the stops and do absolutely anything as long as they kept your eyes glued to the screen. –Sat, April 20 at 4:00 and Sun, April 21 at 7:15.   Wai LitANGEL TERMINATORS1990, 91 min, 35mm B-movies always have to try harder, and this girls-with-guns flick gets an A++ for (intense) effort. Shot in 1990 but not released until two years later, it's an undiscovered grindhouse joyride full of bare-knuckled stars: Lau Kar-leung acolyte, Kara Hui; the "lady Jackie Chan" Sharon Yeung, whose career never caught fire; Japanese back-breaker, Michiko Nishiwaki; the sultry Carrie Ng; angry white boy, Mark Houghton; and everyone's favorite bad guy, Dick Wei. They all turn in blistering action work in this mile-a-minute rampage through exploitation heaven. Two lady cops and one gangster's ex-girlfriend endure drug addiction, theme park shoot-outs, having their heads shoved in toilets, kicks to the face, terrifying high impact falls, and major concussions to prove that women are 10 times better than men. No subtitled prints of this movie exist, so we're subtitling this one live in a twice-in-a-lifetime celebration of high caliber girl power. –Sat, April 20 at 6:00 and Sun, April 21 at 5:15.   SECRET SCREENING – ONE SHOW ONLY!!!! We can't tell you the title of this rarely-seen martial arts movie, but trust us: you want to see it on the big screen. In the early 80s, big studios were trying anything to attract audiences, so this flick mixes three genres and then adds plenty of crack: you've got your wandering swordsman movie, your gore film, and a sexploitation shocker. The result is a whacked-out, hyper-gothic version of "The Monkey's Paw", full of occult dungeons, human face frisbees, wild plot twists, swinging swordplay, and naked demon ladies having kung fu freak-outs. –Sat, April 20 at 8:00.   Titus HoRED SPELL SPELLS RED1983, 93 min, 35mm Career-minded Hong Kongers with no respect for tradition go to Borneo to shoot a TV segment and wind up violating the tomb of the Red Dwarf Sorcerer, who returns the favor by violating their bodies from beyond the grave with scorpions, killer trees, and even more scorpions. Scorpions attack! Scorpions get smashed! Scorpions crawl out of pustulent blisters! Never released on DVD, this unhinged rarity makes BOXER'S OMEN look like Walt Disney as it flings shovelfuls of objectionable content in your face, from busty women in see-through t-shirts, to the slaughter of a LOT of real pigs, to a slew of outrageously nasty deaths. Technically it's not an action film, but there's no way we could not show this gore-soaked hayride! Truly dangerous movies make you doubt the sanity of the people who made them. In RED SPELL SPELLS RED there is no doubt: these filmmakers are insane. –Sat, April 20 at 10:00 and Sun, April 21 at 3:15.
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Check out Gordon Liu, Lau Kar-wing, and a secret screening at Anthology Film Archives
If you live in New York and are a fan of old school kung fu movies, you need to head to Anthology Film Archives next weekend. From April 19-21, the team behind the New York Asian Film Festival is putting on the Old School Kun...

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World War Z being changed to appease Chinese censors


Just the latest bit of news in the not-very-close adaptation of World War Z
Apr 02
// Hubert Vigilla
Our report yesterday about the PG-13 World War Z barely having blood in it was not a joke. And neither is this: The Wrap reports that Paramount will be changing some story elements in World War Z in order to get past the Chin...
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China to get its own version of Iron Man 3


Mar 29
// Matthew Razak
China is big effing business to the movie industry right now, so it should come as little surprise that Iron Man 3 will be getting its own, Chinese-friendly version to play in the country. The Chinese version will featur...

SXSW Review: Xmas Without China

Mar 11 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]215047:39769:0[/embed] Xmas Without ChinaDirector: Alicia DwyerRating: TBDRelease Date: TBD The source of this impossible dare is Tom Xia. Born in China, his family immigrated to the United States in search of a better life. Culturally, Tom is somewhere in between, which seems to be one of those situations familiar to many Asian Americans living in California. After several news stories pop up about unsafe products being made in China, Tom decides to ask people around Arcadia, CA to try to go without Chinese-made products for the Christmas season. There's no prize involved, it's just a matter of accomplishing something too difficult to achieve. And yet, a family does take the challenge: the Jonses, your average upper-middle-class suburban household. Not only is the name so quintessentially American, Tim and Evelyn are a slice of modern Americana: two kids (a girl and a boy), religious, caring. Watching the film, they remind me a lot of households I knew living in San Jose and San Diego. As they go through their home suddenly origin-conscious, they start to realize just how much of what they own has a "Made in China" label. All of the goods made in China get locked into storage container in their front yard. Their house is left dim (light bulbs all made in China), mostly toyless, de-Xbox'd, and, worst of all, without a coffee machine. Just the act of removal would probably cause most people to abandon this challenge, but the Joneses somehow persist. It's hilarious to see them try, and heartening as well since they're such likable people. Tom checks in periodically to see how the challenge is going, and it's the dynamic between Tom and the Joneses that enlivens the events of Xmas Without China. Meanwhile in another part of Arcadia, Tom and his family are building a new house. It's the culmination of a dream from Tom's parents, and the sort of thing that typifies the immigrant experience (Asian or otherwise) in America: to work hard and to make it. Tom notes how the suburbs of Arcadia are dotted with both white families and Asian families, and how there's a real mix of the cultures even though there are identifiers for the two groups. The dream house being built is comfortably in the Asian mode, though interestingly, Tom and his family are themselves product of different cultures, cultural ideas, and cultural aspirations. Exploring these parallel stories, Dwyer winds up doing something a bit more interesting than just looking at the larger macro-level concerns about foreign goods and what they mean for the world. Ostensibly the film is about products made in China and how inexpensive they are, something made very apparent when the Jonses look for Christmas presents and gawp at the price tags. Tim even struggles to find a place that sells Christmas lights not made in China. Meanwhile, Tom's family tries to decorate their home like the suburban lightshows common in most affluent suburbs at Christmas time. Midway through the brief film, I started to notice a new kind of focus that had really been central to the movie all along. Rather than just looking at products, Xmas Without China is an exploration of cultural identity, family, and what it means to be American. I think what's effective about this is the unwillingness of the Joneses or Tom's family to pull out a soapbox to espouse their personal politics. There are a few exchanges between Tim and Tom that could have triggered major political arguments if either were tactlessly adamant about their stances. Instead we watch polite disagreements between neighbors who may not agree all the time but always want to understand where someone is coming from. It's these interpersonal interactions that highlight a greater sense of community and kinship rather than difference, which in a lot of ways is an example of the best aspects of the American melting pot. It could even be a small scale version of globalization at its best. In a roundabout way, the focus on the interpersonal/small scale also highlights the best aspects about Christmas -- a truism, maybe, but somehow it's not trite given the people involved. It's so earnest. Xmas Without China is by no means a comprehensive overview of the issue -- I can't remember any major mentions of worker's rights, pollution, or outsourcing, let alone reasons why people would avoid buying Chinese products that go beyond safety concerns -- but it never sets out to be one. The documentary presents a snapshot of what it means to live in a globalized world and what it means to be a product (both a person and a consumer good) of a globalized world in America. Think of Xmas Without China as the larger issues of production and culture filtered through a photo album, a home video, and a newsletter during the holidays -- we see it from the ground and the porch and the family room.
Xmas Without China Review photo
US/China relations through consumerism and cultural identity
[From March 9th - 17th, Flixist will be providing coverage from South by Southwest 2013 in Austin, TX. Prepare yourselves for reviews, interviews, features, photos, videos, and all types of shenanigans!] I remember seeing an...

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The Marvel/Disney partnership is taking it to the next level and moving in together overseas. Hong Kong Disneyland will create an area of their park dedicated to Marvel superheroes. During his 2013-2014 budget speech, Hong Ko...

Film Comment Selects Review: Motorway

Feb 22 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]214565:39681[/embed] Motorway (Che sau | 車手)Director: Soi Cheang Pou-SoiRating: NRCountry: Hong KongRelease Date: TBD Cheung (Shawn Yue) is a hothead newcomer to the police force. He does traffic duty with veteran cop Lo (Anthony Wong). In the opening scene, we see the contrast while they do a traffic stop. Cheung goes in hot pursuit of a fleeing perp while Lo, always cool-headed, advises caution. We see more of Cheung's impulsiveness and brashness outside of the job as he tries to hit on a woman at a bar and works the electronics in his own car. Already there's the expectation of some mentorship and a father/son bond because that's how reliable these cop movie cliches are. Together, Cheung and Lo need to stop a master getaway driver named Sun (Gu Xiaodong). He's a total pro, well-prepared, and he and his partner Huang (Li Haitao) have got a big-time crime job in mind. You know where this is going, but that's not important -- the car chases are the crux of the film (how you get to where you're going). And like many movies about hot-headed young cops, the personal journey that the rookie goes on is one of maturation. The kid's not a rebel but rather a frustrated conformist who needs to be shown the way. When Cheung first goes in pursuit of Sun, the car chase is staged with real drivers and little if any CG. It's the sort of crazy driving you'd see in a 1980s Hong Kong action movie, but not quite as reckless. In addition to conveying the speed and impact in these chases, there's also an elegance and tension involved. They're treated a little like martial arts in a strange way -- a white-knuckle tai chi battle on the road, with special attention paid to precision adjustments, sounds, and an instinct for sudden redirection. The dazzle of these action scenes comes not from ramp jumps or spiraling between speeding train cars but from seeing if a car can drift in place to make a 90 degree turn in a narrow alley. This same approach to the car chases happens throughout the film. Budget restrictions had to be involved to some extent, I'd imagine. But staging these car chases with smaller scale makes more sense from a story perspective. Since the emphasis is on the mastery of the driver rather than the spectacle of set piece, the car chases are character driven. May the more apiritually attuned man win. We see the cool head of Lo try to train the hothead rookie of Cheung. (And of course, Lo's wife says that Cheung reminds her of a young version of her husband. Of course.) Like a duel between two great fighters, it's going to be expertise that'll prevail rather than a case of pure speed. The small scale approach to the driving makes the car chases more daring since the stunt driving is done with minimal trickery. There's an insane amount of drift and skidding, close calls and scrapes, and there are creative solutions and bits of trickery that crop up throughout these scenes. Whereas a big-budget car chase movie would wreck the narrow, hilly streets of Hong Kong, Motorway uses an unexpected setting to stage a car chase like a game of cat and mouse. The audacity of scale is almost silly, but director Soi Cheang pulls it off with confident style. Even though the story is predictable, the performances are at least good enough that Motorway doesn't feel like it's totally coasting. Wong turns in the best of the bunch, but it's near impossible for Anthony Wong to act poorly in a film. There's gravitas and weariness to Lo, and he has a genuine concern for Cheung's future on the force. For decades Wong has been one of Hong Kong's best and most prolific actors, playing everything from cannibalistic psychopaths and gangsters to upstanding people like Lo. (Wong's next role is as an older Yip Man in the movie Ip Man: The Final Fight, for which he spent a year learning wing chun.) Motorway was produced by Johnnie To, the venerable Hong Kong filmmaker best known for his action movies like Fulltime Killer, Election, The Mission, and Exiled. (Oddly, my sentimental favorite To movie is his strange romantic comedy Love on a Diet starring Andy Lau and Sammi Cheng.) Some of To's kinetic energy has rubbed off on Soi Cheang, which is inevitable given that To is Cheang's mentor. I haven't seen Cheang's other films, but watching Motorway makes me a little nervous about his work on The Monkey King with Donnie Yen. Cheang's strengths on display here involve blocking, staging, and using as few special effects as possible. Since The Monkey King is an IMAX 3D movie full of CG, Cheang's abilities and talents may be hurt by so much bulky equipment and reliance on computers. It was a little hard to figure out a score for Motorway. It's a movie where you know the whole plot before you've even watched the movie, and you know the fates of the characters pretty immediately as well, but at the same time, the plot is secondary. In the car chases there is pure joy and even snippets of character development. Predictable, sure, but there's something to it at least. [Motorway will screen at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center on Saturday, February 23 and Tuesday, February 26.]
Motorway Review photo
The old cop movie cliches run into a different kind of car chase picture
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