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Genisys photo

Terminator: Genisys makes bank in China

China still cool
Aug 24
// Matthew Razak
Currently we can blame China for a lot of crappiness what with their destroying of the world economy in full swing at the moment. On top of this they're probably going to be responsible for a sequel to Terminator: Genisys&nbs...

The estate of Bruce Lee doesn't want him in Ip Man 3

The CG Bruce Lee is now unlikely
Apr 02
// Hubert Vigilla
Just last week we reported that production on Ip Man 3 is underway, featuring Mike Tyson and a CG Bruce Lee. While Iron Mike is a lock, it seems that the Donnie Yen sequel has hit a snag with CG Bruce Lee (aka Marshall Law fr...

Ip Man 3 will feature Mike Tyson and a CG Bruce Lee

So... will this Donnie Yen sequel be partial schlock or total schlock?
Mar 24
// Hubert Vigilla
Ip Man 3 (or Ip Man 3D) has been in the works for a while, but the Donnie Yen sequel started shooting today in Shanghai. With the start of production comes news of some really bizarre stunt casting. According to The Hollywood...
Outcast Trailer photo
Outcast Trailer

Nicolas Cage and Hayden Christensen are a match made in heaven in this Outcast trailer

Aug 22
// Nick Valdez
What do you get when you cross an actor who can't seem to say no, and an actor who can't afford to say no? You get Outcast, the absolutely insane looking film where Hayden Christensen teams up with a British accent spewing N...

NYAFF Review: Silent Witness

Jul 10 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]218019:41674:0[/embed] Silent Witness (Quán Mín Mù Jī | 全民目擊)Director: Fei XingRating: NRCountry: China Courtroom dramas have always fascinated me. In any given crime, there is a single objective truth: the perpetrator committed the crime, or they didn't. It's a black and white reality that's mired by a whole lot of gray. Sometimes the crime was committed for legitimate reasons, ones that could allow the "criminal" to walk. Sometimes the real crime is hidden and some serious digging needs to be done. Most of the time, actual courtrooms are a whole lot less interesting than the ones you see in movies. But why would someone make a movie about a straightforward case? Silent Witness isn't a reflection of reality, straddling a line between the familiar and something ridiculous like the Phoenix Wright games (brilliantly adapted by Takashi Miike). In these stories, the police are basically useless, forcing the lawyers to go search out evidence in all manner of ways, going out on wild goose chases based on super-secret intel or even hunches. These aren't things an actual lawyer does, but they make for a far more interesting story. On trial is the daughter of the famous entrepreneur Lin Tai (Sun Honglei) for the murder of his girlfriend. Heading up the prosecution is Tong Tao (Aaron Kwok), a man who has been trying to convict Lin Tai for years. The defense is Zhou Li (Yu Nan), the most expensive lawyer in the country. It's a battle that plays out primarily on the public stage, and it's fascinating how it unfolds. Especially in the beginning, the film makes extensive use of a newsroom as a producer tries to create the most compelling TV drama he can. Choosing subjects and cameras from behind the scenes, he gives insight into how the media can manipulate a viewer's impressions of people and an event. It's a fitting metaphor, because everything in the trial is every bit as manipulated. Unclear motivations, misunderstands, and false evidence are about. Twists and turns come rapid-fire, and by the time everything becomes clear, it turns out that nobody is really who they seemed. The biases that everyone brought into the courtroom painted very specific pictures of the characters, but people are rarely so black-and-white. Fortunately, Silent Witness knows this, and everybody is given some nuance to clarify and even redeem them. And this gets to the part of the narrative that's uniquely Chinese. While much of the film could really take place anywhere in the world, the true reverence for family (and not just family values) is foreign. There is an extremely strong bond between Lin Tai and his daughter, and that bond drives everything in the film. It's kind of heartbreaking, really, but it all feels very natural and real. Bravo to the performances on all sides. As an interesting aside, actor Aaron Kwok is from Hong Kong, and his Mandarin is not particularly good. You'd never know it from watching Silent Witness, though, because he had someone read out the ~60,000 character script and put it onto a CD for him to listen to. He memorized the entire thing like a song, and then acted on top of that. It's a brilliant bit of theatre underlying the whole narrative. While I'm no expert on the intricacies of Chinese dialects, the shocked reactions from the crowd (which featured no small number of Chinese natives) when director Fei Xing mentioned it told me that Kwok pulled it off with aplomb. As I watched Silent Witness, I kept coming back to the idea of the mainstream. I wondered whether or not this sort of narrative could be popular in the US, and I still don't know the answer to that. Courtroom dramas make for good TV, but they rarely succeed on the big screen. If the film truly represents Chinese cinema, then that's a sign of a film market that has excellent potential to grow with all kinds of narratives. If Silent Witness can succeed in theaters side by side with juggernauts like the new Transformers film, then the industry is going to thrive. And that's a future I'm looking to.
Silent Witness Review photo
Ace Attorney
Before the screening of Silent Witness, it was introduced as an example of what mainstream Chinese filmmaking is like in the modern era. Many of the films that play at the New York Asian Film Festival fit into some sort of ni...


Transformers 4 becomes the highest grossing movie in China ever

Film pulls in over $1.39 billion beating Avatar
Jul 09
// Matthew Razak
Damn it, China. What happened to you? You used to be cool. This is why we can't have nice things.  [via Variety]

NYAFF Review: As the Light Goes Out

Jul 03 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]217972:41653:0[/embed] As the Light Goes Out (救火英雄)Director: Derek KwokRating: NRCountry: Hong Kong/China  As is often the case, As the Light Goes Out is centered around a series of unfortunate events. It’s Christmas (which I would have never known if they didn’t keep repeating it, because Hong Kong is close to the equator and there’s not a snowflake in sight), so the availability of power is more important than usual. But a fire near an oil pipe causes some problems that result in a power plant explosion followed by a mass blackout. Hong Kong does have female firefighters, but there are none to be found in As the Light Goes Out. This movie is all men all the time doing all sorts of manly things like digging and carrying people. It’s not quite the fireman porn that some might be looking for, with its notable lack of glistening bare chests and bulging biceps. But if men-in-uniform is your thing, then there’s still plenty for you here. And these manly men have all sorts of manly problems. The official NYAFF description says the members of the fire squad suffer from “man angst,” and I’m inclined to agree. Haunted by visions of the past and former fights, these men are often at each others’ throats trying to prove to each other (and to themselves) that they are worthy of their station. There’s the grizzled veteran trying to prove that he’s still number one, the man on his last day who decides to go out just one last time, the hardheaded new guy, and all of the other clichés that you probably grumble about like but secretly love. Each character gets their big moment to shine; unfortunately, not all of them survive. Early on, a time skip turns the film into an advertisement for the fire department. But initially there’s no indication that it is an ad, and suddenly meteors fall from the sky and begin to destroy Hong Kong. I groaned, because those effects really weren’t all that good, and not having read the synopsis, I thought that the movie had just gone from 0 to 60 and this is what I was in for. Fortunately, it went back to normal after a brief cameo by Jackie Chan. My fears were assuaged. Some of the characters watching the ad even joked about how overblown the visuals were. Little did I know that this was a sign of things to come. While meteors didn’t fall from the sky, the second half of As the Lights Go Out is a veritable smorgasboard of visual effects. Once that plant goes up in flames, there’s probably not a single shot that goes by without some sort of special effect, practical or otherwise. Fortunately, they’re generally pretty good. A few moments are subpar and don’t quite work, but the ones that matter are all enough to make the drama and intensity feel real, especially as the fire begins to take its toll. But that intensity is mitigated somewhat by As the Light Goes Out’s slowness. Even amidst a raging fire, the film periodically stops to let the drama play out, and I really mean stop, thanks to the most excessive use of slow motion since 300. This happens most frequently amidst the “thick smoke,” which the film’s opening text presents as the true nemesis of a firefighter. In the thick smoke, visibility goes down to zero, and trying to breathe without a special apparatus means near-instant death. When the firemen step into the smoke, everything else disappears. It’s a nice effect, the first time. But it happens over and over again, when you just want to get back to the action. The big climax, a moment that should be extremely emotional, becomes excruciating because a 30-second sequence takes five minutes (and feels like ten). It’s too slow, and it happens too often. It has an unfortunate consequence of making the whole film feel far longer than it is. Even so, As the Light Goes Out is worth seeing because it scratches an itch. I can think of dozens of cop movies (especially from Hong Kong), but firefighters are underrepresented in cinema. This is likely in part due to the big-budget requirements of big fire-centric sequences, but whatever the reason, it makes this film stand out. Not all of the beats hit their mark, but it’s still one heck of a ride.
As the Light Goes Out photo
The roof is on fire, and so is everything else
There’s something uniquely fascinating about firefighters. When they arrive on a scene, they aren’t armed to the teeth and ready to take down some villain; they are there to save lives. That’s pretty much th...

NYCFF Review: So Young

Nov 07 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]216780:40892:0[/embed] So Young (To Our Youth That Is Fading Away | 致我们终将逝去的青春)Director: Zhao WeiRating: NRCountry: China  So Young stars a girl. That's not in and of itself particularly noteworthy, but it's important because it lets the film get away with something a male-centric film couldn't: avoiding creepiness. It’s a romance, but in it a young girl, Zheng Wei, pines after a young man, Chen Xiaozheng. She’s pretty weird about it and she can get away with it, in a way, because she’s adorable and whatever, but what if the roles were reversed? What if Chen Xiaozheng was doing exactly what she did but pining after a girl? It would remove that cuteness and just make it weird. Like the Taiwanese film Make Up, the fact that the “aggressor” is female means that something kind of uncomfortable presents as cute and naïve rather than creepy. Eventually, Chen Xiaozheng relents, because of course he does, but it seems like a misunderstanding of human nature on the part of the filmmakers. I would simply chalk it up to their youth, that being the driving force of so much of the film (shocking, I know), if it weren't for an instance of actually-creepy stalker behavior later in the film. Inititally, it appears to be treated with some level of seriousness (even if that seriousness is kind of uncomfortable in its own right), but the ultimate message of that revelation is “threatening suicide is a totally acceptable way to make a man love you and stay with you.” Which is, let's be very clear, not okay. Maybe it's a cultural thing (I know for a fact that I missed some things because I'm an ignorant American), but that's a terrible message to send under any circumstances. Not okay.   So Young covers a pretty sizable timeline quickly, and it does so to varying degress of success. At the start, most of the characters are beginning their college careers, and they look about as young as I would expect them to look. Four years later, their time at the university has ended, and the only way to tell is that they talk about their time at university ending. Those four years play out over about an hour and a half, and time passages just happen without any indication. One moment, Zheng Wei is standoffishly rejecting a person and the next she’s borrowing DVDs from him. How did they get past that first barrier? Don’t know. And it doesn’t really matter after the fact, but in the moment it’s jarring. In the film’s final act, the characters have all aged by a substantial amount, and... I have no idea how they did it. They take these people who look 17/18 and make them look late 20s/early 30s. Or maybe they take those who look late 20s/early 30s and make them look 17/18. I don’t know, but wherever that transformation took place it is truly breathtaking. In the first act, I never questioned that the actors were college age. If anything, I thought they were too young (see previous paragraph). But in that final act? I would have believed they were all late 20s/early 30s. The only reason I questioned it was because I’d spent the previous 90 minutes seeing them look so young. Whoever was supposed to age Adèle for Blue is the Warmest Color could learn a thing or two. So Young is the debut feature from actress Zhao Wei, and I could kind of tell. Not necessarily in a bad way, but there are certain aspects of the visual style that just seemed like rookie mistakes (although "mistakes" isn’t quite the word…): The first is the way the camera moves. It’s almost always moving, up, down, in, out, doing all kinds of cool stuff. But sometimes it moves in ways that breaks the continuity in editing. Sometimes it just looks like something went slightly off course and no one realized it. It’s nothing horrendous, but it's problematic in a way that doesn’t seem intentional. There was also something odd about motion in certain shots. It seemed like the frame-rate was something other than 24fps, or maybe the shutter speed had been changed. I don’t know if it was the film itself or the projection or just me losing it a little bit, but it happened with reasonable frequency. And maybe they were intentional decisions made by a rational director, but they didn't seem to be. Even so, So Young is freaking gorgeous. The use of lighting especially is spectacular, and the colors of the film are just wonderfully vibrant. I haven’t seen enough films from China proper to be able to make any kind of sweeping statements about its place in Chinese cinema, but it sure as hell doesn’t look like an American movie, and I mean that in the best way possible. The only real visual complaint I have stems from a few moments of truly, truly awful CGI. Like, early 2000s level bad. So Young is like a generically pretty, young college student: nice to look at but ultimately empty. Its attempts at profundity are laughable and it doesn't really know how to make a point. It throws weird things into conversations without any clear reason, and sometimes it has an emotional breakdown that doesn't seem rationally motivated. The film's characters exhibit these traits, so they clearly apply in Chinese colleges as well as American ones, but the film itself doesn't need to fit that stereotype. Maybe it's making some grand statement, but it's not an interesting statement to make. I'm still young and even I get that.  But sometimes that pretty, young college student is fun to be around... in small doses. So Young may not have much to say, but it's entertaining and worthwhile nonetheless. Also, it's really pretty, and call me shallow, but I'm willing to forgive a lot from a movie that's really pretty.
So Young Review photo
Pretty, silly, and ultimately entertaining
I'm still young. Young enough that I can understand and generally relate to the characters in So Young, but also old enough to see just how silly they actually are. It's an odd place to be, and it leaves me wishing I was a fe...

Watch out for the 2013 New York Chinese Film Festival

Nov 06 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
4TH New York Chinese Film Festival November 5,6,7, 2013   Acclaimed Actress Zhao Wei’s Directorial Debut SO YOUNG Set As Opening Night At Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall Film Screenings At Empire 25 Closing Night And Awards at Capitale   Vicky Zhao Wei, Miriam Yeung, Donnie Yen, Larry Yang, Wesley Wong Among Talent & Filmmakers To Attend   Join in the celebration as the New York Chinese Film Festival returns for its 4th annual outing of presenting the best in Chinese cinema.   The 2013 NYCFF, presented by the Chinese American Arts Council (CAAC) and the Chinese Movie Channel, CCTV-6, will screen 7 new films from Hong Kong & Mainland China over the 3-day event, and will introduce such celebrated filmmakers and performers as Vicky Zhao Wei, Miriam Yeung, Xiubo Wu and Donnie Yen to New York audiences. The NYCFF Opening Night film, Vicky Zhao Wei’s box-office smash So Young will be presented on Tuesday, November 5th at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall.  The remaining films will be presented on Wednesday, November 6th and on Thursday, November 7th at the AMC Empire 25 on 42nd Street and will be followed by Q&As with talent in attendance.  The Closing Night Awards Gala will be held on November 7th, at one of New York’s most fashionable venues, Capitale. The NYCFF is a non-profit organization whose aim is to promote Chinese art and culture through film, while gaining exposure and insight from an American audience.  Selected films are chosen to participate because they provoke conversation, compassion, peace and friendship amongst our two great nations, as well as to help Americans gain a better understanding of Chinese Cinema.   In essence the NYCFF is the foundation for having constructed a great working relationship between the United States and China.              The NYCFF is produced by Qi Jia, Alan Chow, Kaijie Wang and Kate Lin, and is presented by the highly successful Chinese American Arts Council (CAAC) and the Chinese Movie Channel, CCTV-6.  The culture of Chinese Cinema has transformed itself in the past one hundred years becoming a major influential player in International Cinema.   Established in 1975, The Chinese American Arts Council has gone above and beyond, expanding the existence and the culture of the Chinese Community within the city of New York.   The CAAC’s main objective is to maintain Chinese Heritage both domestically and internationally in the greater New York area.  Being the entertainment capital of the world, there is no better place than New York to present and display the latest in Chinese filming to America. Some of the CAAC’s year-round activities include outdoor and indoor performances of modern and traditional Chinese theater, dance, vocal and instrumental concerts.  In addition, the CAAC also presents annual exhibitions of Asian American Art.  The Council takes their cause a step further by providing assistance to Artists and Organizations in support of their programs.  Chinese American Arts Council is supported in part by funds from the National Endowment of the Arts, the New York State Council on the Arts, New York City Department of Cultural Affair.             The China Movie Channel Programming Center was established in 1995, with its first flagship channel, CCTV-6 having launched on January 1st, 1996. To date it is the only national movie channel in China that reaches over 930 million people.  CCTV-6 has consistently ranked at the top in annual ratings and market share of all Chinese TV channels.  Over the past ten years, new television programs have been introduced, such as the China Home Cinema and the China Movie Channel, which stretches across Asia, Europe and North America.               The NYCFF has built a platform for internationally promoting Chinese films and with such an impressive film lineup and star-studded group attending, this year is sure to be NYCFF’s best festival to date.                “A great director opens our eyes; a great film opens our minds.” - The New York Chinese Film Festival Foundation 4TH New York Chinese Film Festival Films: So Young (Opening Night Presentation at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall, 8:00pm) – Directed by Vicky Zhao Wei. So Young is the debut directorial effort of the renowned Chinese actress Vicky Zhao Wei.  It is based on the best-selling novel "To Our Youth that is Fading Away" by Xin YiwuIt, adapted by Li Qiang ("The Postmodern Life of My Aunt") and produced by Stanley Kwan. It is a film about the love, joy, and pain of a group of young students in their school days and their harsh confrontation with the realities and a lament on the loss of youth to adulthood. Attending the Festival will be Director Zhao Wei.    Sorry, I Love You (Presented at the AMC Empire 25. Wednesday, November 6 at 11:00am) – Directed by Larry Yang.  With only six months to live, Walker decides to leave Vancouver to go back to China, where he was born and adopted and go look for his biological parents and twin sister.  With the aid of Encai, a girl he once helped, he tries to find his family but they start falling in love with each other very quickly. With only six months to live, Walker will have to make important decisions to make his loved one’s life complete.  Attending the Festival will be Director Larry Yang, Actor Wesley Wong and Producer Hang Hon.  Finding Mr. Right (Presented at the AMC Empire 25, Wednesday, November 6 at 2:00pm) – Directed by Xue Xiaolu (“Ocean Heaven”). City girl Jiajia is traveling to Seattle to give birth to the son who's going to help her win over her rich, married boyfriend. Armed with his unlimited credit card and the singular goal of bringing a little U.S. citizen back to Beijing, Jiajia knows how to play this game of modern love. But when Jiajia arrives in Seattle, nothing goes right: she's stuck sharing a small house with two other pregnant ladies, she has trouble reaching her boyfriend on the phone, and eventually, even the credit card stops working. To top that off, the only person willing to spend time with her is her driver Frank. Frank is the opposite of everything she ever wanted in a man... or could he be exactly the kind of guy she really needs.  Attending the Festival will be Actor Wu Xiubo. Love Undercover (Presented at the AMC Empire 25, Wednesday, November 6 at 4:30pm) – Directed by Joe Ma. Fong (Miriam Yeung), fresh out of the Police Training School is only allowed to work on some trivial missions in the police station after graduation. Fortunately, she is soon assigned to work undercover as a waitress. She needs to get close enough to a gangster's son so that she can plant a microphone at a table where the gangsters make their deals. Complications arise when she finds herself falling for him.  Attending the Festival will be Actress Miriam Yeung. Love in the Buff (Presented at the AMC Empire 25, Wednesday, November 6 at 7:30pm) – Directed by Pang Ho-Cheung. In this sequel to the hit movie Love in a Puff, former lovers Jimmy and Cherie start a new life in Beijing after they ended their relationship. Despite meeting someone else, they can’t seem to forget each other and are torn between fidelity towards their new partners and following their hearts.  Attending the Festival will be Actress Miriam Yeung  IP Man (Presented at the AMC Empire 25, Thursday, November 7 at 11:00am) – Directed by Wilson Yip.  This is the story of IP Man, a legendary Wing Chun Kung Fu master set in Foshan, China in the 1930s. IP Man becomes a hero and creates a craze for Wing Chun. During the Japanese invasion, General Miura, a fanatical practitioner in martial arts, demands that IP Man teach Wing Chun martial arts to the Japanese Army, but IP Man refuses and takes up Miura’s challenge. A fierce fight is going to start….  Attending the Festival will be Actor Donnie Yen. Special ID (Presented at the AMC Empire 25, Thursday, November 7 at 2:00pm) – Directed by Clarence Fok Yiu-leung.  A cop and his team of comrades go undercover in one of China's most ruthless underworld organizations to stop a gang leader, only to put themselves in great danger after being exposed one by one.  Attending the Festival will be Actor Donnie Yen.   NYCFF Film Schedule November 5, Opening Night, Alice Tully Hall 8:00pm – So Young November 6, AMC Empire 25 11:00am – Sorry, I Love You 2:00pm – Finding Mr. Right 4:30pm – Love Undercover 7:30pm – Love in the Buff November 7, AMC Empire 25 11:00am – IP Man 2:00pm – Special ID November 7, Capitale 4:00-9:00pm, Closing Night and Awards   For additional information, schedule, and to purchase tickets to all the above films (including Opening Night) please visit the Chinese American Arts Council site at or the New York Chinese Film Festival site at
NYCFF photo
And (probably) our coverage of it!
[Just a reminder that this is going on! I was hoping to have my review of So Young up by now to act as a reminder, but I have been at the AMC Empire all day and it's made writing kind of hard. Am still there, actually, a...

Review: CZ12 (Chinese Zodiac)

Oct 18 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]216599:40810:0[/embed] CZ12 (Chinese Zodiac | 12 Chinese Zodiac Heads | 十二生肖)Director: Jackie ChanRating: PG-13Country: Hong Kong/ChinaRelease Date: December 20, 2012 (Asia); October 18th, 2013 (US) If CZ12 is Jackie Chan's last big action movie, maybe it's for the best, and it pains me to write that since I've been a Jackie Chan fan for so long. CZ12 is not necessarily a bad movie, and it's definitely not Chan's worst film of the 21st century (that would be the almost unwatchable The Spy Next Door). The biggest issue with CZ12 is how unremarkable it is despite some moments of brilliance. It's also problematic that CZ12 is semi-associated with Armor of God and Armor of God II: Operation Condor, two of Chan's landmark classics. By comparison, it falls far short. Maybe this is less a case of Chan showing his age and more Chan showing his lack of good judgment. At the heart of CZ12 is a story of retrieving some bronze animal heads that were looted by European soldiers during the mid-19th century. JC is on the case, and he's doing it all for the money rather than a sense of national pride/reverence of Chinese history. You can probably guess how that will flip as the story continues. There's slapstick, there's globetrotting, and boy is there ever some cheesiness involved. Chan's movies have always had a cheesy streak to them which is endearing (see Shanghai Noon and Shanghai Knights for the best and most enjoyable examples of cheesiness in latter-day Chan's career), but here the cheese seems especially dialed up. In some ways it's Chan paying homage to the broadness of Cantonese comedy, but it also seems just too quaint and not all that appealing anymore. Maybe it's the execution -- the difference between Leslie Nielsen in The Naked Gun and Leslie Nielsen in 2001: A Space Travesty. Yet there are still some great scenes in CZ12 that I can't deny. The opening with that rollerblade suit is pretty cool for the most part, and it has the vibe of dangerous zaniness that always marked Jackie Chan's best efforts of the past. I even think that the skydiving finale is almost great in how absolutely random it is. Sure, it doesn't really work with the story (which, yeah, is often a secondary concern in Chan's movies), but it works as a bizarre conceit that I'm willing to go with. Watching Chan airborne is like a mix of the last shots of Armor of God, the wind tunnel of Operation Condor, and the underwater fight from Police Story IV (aka First Strike). The showstopper of CZ12 is the only big fight in the film, and you can tell just how much effort went into the choreography and visual gags. The fight comes way too late in the movie, which has been disappointingly light on fights overall. What we get throughout so much of CZ12 are unmemorable skirmishes that don't amount to much. But this big fight, when it finally happens, is such a welcome reprieve from the rest of the mediocre slog that is CZ12. Chan's in a giant warehouse full of gewgaws, doodads, catwalks, and props. Bad guys come at him from all angles, and he brings them down with such creativity and style. Sure the action is sped up about as much as an 80s Hong Kong flick, but this is Chan the immortal and I don't care. Well, at least I don't care until he flips CG Chiclets into his mouth. That's when I cringe and sigh. It was so much cooler when he just did stuff like that for real. CG often undermines the best bits of action in CZ12. Some of that is just due to the chintzy obviousness of the CG. A great sequence in theory that involves attack dogs and a hedge maze is ruined by constant CG overhead shots. One bad CG shot in a pipe during the rollerbalde suit scene took me out of an otherwise fun set piece. There are also CG bees and a really painful logride during one scene of the film, and since the film was released in 3D in China, there are the requisite "in your face" shots. Chan has always been better than any digital effect, and yet he relies on them too much for storytelling rather than safety. Personally, I think Chan's real last hurrah was 2004's New Police Story. It was a darker reboot of the Police Story franchise, and it was a wonderful mix of "greatest hits" and "he's still got it." The darkness isn't the film's appeal for me, though. New Police Story offered Chan's fans a sense of a new direction. He's fighting a younger generation of criminals and has to adapt. He's mentoring someone to be an ass-kicking supercop. More than that, the final confrontation is a game of wits where the solution isn't to be tougher and faster than the young whelp he's up against. Instead it's about using his years of experience to be smarter and better. That's something that I hoped would carry through in this stage of Chan's career -- the ability to outsmart as an integral strategy for outfighting, the sense of an older master besting opponents through years of knowledge -- but it seems to have stalled without follow through with New Police Story. In the audio commentary for the original Drunken Master, writer and Hong Kong movie enthusiast Ric Meyers said that Jackie Chan has always felt the need to top himself, but it's so hard to do. In fact, it gets harder and harder given his tremendous body of work, the constraints of studios, and the unavoidable effects of age. Meyers ended his point by saying (and I'm paraphrasing) that the only person who could really beat Jackie Chan is Jackie Chan. CZ12 proves how true that is.
CZ12 Review photo
A final harrumph over Jackie Chan's last hurrah
When the first promo/trailer hit for CZ12 (aka Chinese Zodiac), I bought into the hype and the possibility of the film. When news landed that CZ12 was going to be Jackie Chan's last big action movie, I was eager to see how he...

Interview: Jia Zhangke & Zhao Tao (A Touch of Sin)

Oct 09 // Hubert Vigilla
I've heard that A Touch of Sin is coming out in China in November. What has the process been like with the censors and have there been any compromises? Jia Zhangke: For Chinese films to pass through censorship and enter into theatrical release, there are two steps. The first one is before you begin principle photography, before you even begin production. You need to have official sign-off on the script, story, and premise of the work. And then after the completion of the film, there is another step where you enter into negotiation for another level of approval. So that second step was completed before we left for Cannes. We waited for a few weeks and we learned that it was approved. Obviously you can't tell the future, but how do you think the film will be received when Chinese audiences see it? Jia Zhangke: I believe there will be a lot of discussions formed after people view this film in China. Perhaps the arguments will separate into two different poles for discussion. One is that because of the complexities and the different layers of Chinese society and social realities, only parts become visible at once to the individual, so people cannot see a whole picture. So the emergence of violent events such as those in the film emerge from this complexity. And the other point of discussion comes from the perception of how art functions in Chinese society. For instance, many people will say, "Why did you make this?" and "To what end are going for with with work of art?" There's a question of what art does in society. But of course I'm very much looking forward to the film finding its audience in Mainland China because to me this film represents part of the missing picture to these events. So many of your films are socially conscious. Expanding on the previous question, can you both speak about what being a socially conscious artist in China means to you. Jia Zhangke: This is inextricable from my life in China. When I make a film, it comes from a very personal place. Living in China and having encountered and lived through the Cultural Revolution, working within such a state of change and flux -- both in the economy and society -- inevitably alters the way that you work. So in order for me to work on a personal level, the art cannot be separated from a social level. On a deep personal level, we cannot help but be radically affected by these social and economic changes. And Zhao Tao? As an actress in socially conscious films? Zhao Tao: Through collaborating with director Jia, I feel that we expressed a world, a society, that was facing many changes. And personally having grown up in a working-class family, working together on these films was a way to get a scope on these larger, changing social realities. But through and actor's perspective, I expressed these through my body. One of the most memorable scenes in A Touch of Sin is at the sauna when you're being beaten with a stack of money. Could you talk about the scene? Zhao Tao: The difficulty came in collaborating with other actors in this very long take. So from the moment that the two men enter into the room to after the beating happens, that's one long take. It had to be conveyed through body language mostly, so it was difficult to work with that constriction. On screen, I was beaten 38 times, and we filmed for six hours, so the pain that was felt was very palpable for me on a very physical level. I wanted it to be a visceral reaction; the performance to be a viscerral performance. Jia said after the 20th blow I could turn away and we could stop, but I wanted to continue in order to feel this anger and to be pushed to this point where violence seems like the only logical response. And it appears that I made the right decision because that part of the performance in that scene seems to have affected people very deeply. There was a point when I wondered when the beating was going to stop! It's remarkably effective. That does get to the idea of violence as a last resort or an only resort. Could you talk about violence in the context of the film as well as in human nature in general. Jia Zhangke: I wanted to explore a deep contemplation of two factors. One is the social roots of violence and the second is violence that has its roots in a very human level. Perhaps the most extreme form of violence is to take away a person's pride or dignity with your violence, and to make it worse is when it becomes unconsciously manifested. Perhaps this unconscious violence is worse than getting hit in the face directly. For instance, the character Dahai (Wu Jiang) in the first story. He acquires a nickname partway through that segment, which is "Golf," because when he's beat up at the airport, he's beat up with a golf club. And this is actually a way to insidiously take someone's pride away, which is very violent in its nature. And there's the man who beats up Zhao Tao's character with a stack of cash, who thinks that money is the ultimate weapon, which can solve every problem. Maybe these are very insidious, violent accumulations of innate tendencies of people. And perhaps, ultimately in the last story, the form of violence that's invisible is when the mother makes the phone call to the son and makes those demands of him. To me, this is a violence that comes from the family -- from the people who should be dearest to you. Do you think there's any way to end the cycle of violence as presented in the movie? Jia Zhangke: I think the film serves to describe and observe these events because that forms a kind of necessary platform to change. In our current social reality in China, I think we need to have a deeper focus on respecting other people and respecting one another's freedom and pride. On a global level, violence is a collective problem for everyone, and in order to see behind that and get to the root of these problems is the key to promoting a kind of change. But we have to come to acknowledge these invisible forces that accumulate and manifest themselves into acts of violence. This might simply be a restatement of the last point, but how do you hope these platforms for recognition will bring about change? [Editor's note: After fumbling through a few versions of this on-the-fly question with the interpreter, I finally arrived at this more succinct version of the question.] Jia Zhangke: I think that the film itself will not offer any singular solutions or a prescriptive plan for change, nor is it the role of a director to prescribe such a plan. But the key is for the film to spur people's ideas about possible avenues of change. I think the film serves to describe our current experiences today. I remember reading that wuxia films had influenced your approach to this movie. When did the wuxia genre come in in terms of approach to these stories? Jia Zhangke: Well, it was about last year around April that I realized that the wuxia mode could be applied to this film because I'd wanted to make this film a while before, but there was no form of filmmaking that excited me in terms of applying it to these stories. But then I noticed that there were distinct parallelisms between the wuxia narrative and the people in this film. Even though wuxia films describe stories that come from a feudal era, I thought that I could apply them to a contemporary context. Did it affect your performance at all knowing there was a wuxia focus? Zhao Tao: When I first received the script, [Zhangke said] he wanted to be able to distinguish a certain spirit of a wuxia heroine in Xiao Yu's character. To prepare for the role I watched a lot of wuxia films, and I noticed the female characters wielded their swords and had this sense of heroism. I imbued this kind of energy to my character in the scene when I'm walking through the mountains to find my mom -- just by walking. And the notion of wuxia is manifested in Xiao Yu in sort of mystical way. When she endures the violent event that turns her into a tragic figure, and she reacts to it with an act of violence, that's when she transforms into a wuxia heroine. As a final question, I remember hearing that social media such as Weibo helped the film get made and perhaps even helped secure its upcoming Chinese release. [Editor's note: Weibo is a Chinese microblogging and social media website.] What hopes do you have for social media in China's future? Jia Zhangke: Weibo brought a sense of democracy to the way that news is transmitted in China and received. So for instance, events that could have been obscured or would have been obscured by official newspapers in the past are no longer obscured because of social media. It made it impossible to hide certain social realities that exist in China. So the existence of Weibo eliminated one basic question for this film, which was "Did this really happen in China?" Weibo gave the stories a validity that was irrefutable.
Zhangke & Tao Interview photo
The director and star of A Touch of Sin discuss the changing face of China
Jia Zhangke has been called one of the most important filmmakers in the world by Richard Brody of The New Yorker and John Powers of NPR. This isn't just because his films are well made. Jia occupies an interesting place in co...

Review: A Touch of Sin

Oct 03 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]216431:40743:0[/embed] A Touch of Sin (Tian Zhu Ding | 天注定)Director: Jia ZhangkeRating: NRCountry: ChinaRelease Date:  October 4th, 2013 (New York); October 11th, 2013 (LA) In retrospect, the wuxia allusions are pretty apparent. The protagonists of the four vignettes are struggling against larger forces and they carry themselves like the chivalric heroes of old. Three of them, at least, strike poses or achieve gaits that put me in mind of wandering swordsmen. The irony is their social position (these are all everyday working class people elevated to the level of martial folk hero), the kind of violence that occurs (there's no spiritual or philosophical sense of refinement as there would be to the martial arts, this is simply violence as a desperate lashing out), and the emptiness of the violence they enact (there's a sense that nothing will come of the violence). The references begin in the opening scene following a striking image of an overturned tomato truck. A man on a scooter drives an empty freeway -- a massive extension under construction is visible in the distance -- and is accosted by teenage bandits wielding hatchets. Axe-wielding baddies have appeared in plenty of kung fu films from Chang Cheh's Boxer from Shantung to Stephen Chow's Kung Fu Hustle. He dispatches of them quickly and then rides on. There's nothing glorious about what just happened as there would be in a wuxia film, it's just violence, and he continues on his way. In the opening vignette, we watch a worker played by Jiang Wu struggle with political corruption at a local level. Next we get acquainted with the man on the scooter (Wang Baoqiang) who took out the teens with hatchets. Then comes a woman who works in a sauna (Tao) who's pushed to extremes partly because of an affair. The last vignette involves a young man (first-time actor Luo Lanshan) trying to make it in different demoralizing workplaces. Even before knowing these were all based on true stories, I could recognize the non-fiction elements in the final vignette. Part of it centers around an electronics factory/worker dorm not unlike Foxconn; the other portion of that vignette centers on a brothel where teenage girls give themselves to businessmen. It's difficult not to notice the sharp bitterness in the connection. I sensed a few sources of tension throughout A Touch of Sin that underline these ironies and allusions. The violence is so brutal and so ugly, and yet most of the film is based on these artfully paced characters studies with delicate, emotional moments within them. The film is also so beautifully shot, with several images that keep cycling back through my head even days after I've seen the movie. A Touch of Sin is the kind of film where you watch a man's jaw get blown off with a shotgun in graphic detail, but you also experience the quiet desperation of the man who pulled the trigger. There's also a scene where the silent, awkward reticence as a man reunites with his family implies so much about the entire nature of their relationship. All of this is against the backdrop of modern China, rapidly changing, always leaving people behind, the country in the process of trying to catch up to its own ambitions as an economic super power. One of the most memorable images that highlights the differences between the haves and have-nots involves a New Year's fireworks display. Across the water where skyscrapers light up the night, the skies are illuminated by a lush pyrotechnics display. In a lowland, working-class area opposite the skyscrapers, a father amuses his son with the closest available equivalent: he fires his pistol into the air. Since the point of view of the film is that of the working class, I couldn't help but read an us vs. them moment in this act, which wasn't just to make the man's kid happy but to punctuate a kind of thesis statement for the violence in the film: Them, they have industry and so many other tools to degrade and to dehumanize; us, all we have left is violence. But violence is a limited kind of power given how it's manifested in the film. I mentioned above that it seems like nothing can come of violence in and of itself, and it may have something to do with the way these vignettes end. There may be a sense of narrative closure, but not a sense of closure when it comes to affecting actual change. What happens after an act of murder to feed a family other than a cycle of murder out of necessity? Or say political violence when it's just one man and his gun? Violence may not be the answer, but it's the only option. In A Touch of Sin, and by extension China itself, violence is the manifestation of a larger social frustration, the voice of the alienated oppressed cast into steel, the only means of making a statement even when the statement will be negated and the speaker silenced once the authorities come into play. So if not violence, what is the answer to all these social woes? This is the frustrating thing about art as social criticism. It can offer a mirror and hint at possibilities, but there's no requirement to propose actual, workable solutions. But maybe that's the proper way to go about it since any simple proclamations on how to solve the ills of a quickly developing nation would be insulting and naive. Jia offers an interesting closing note for A Touch of Sin, suggesting that these stories are not just ripped from the headlines but are touchstones to the concerns of older tales. And these older tales are a reflection of history which itself cycles into the concerns of modern people. There's an interrelation between different narratives, mirrors down a hall, all points to reconsider what's gone before and what's to come. Maybe there's a leveling principle at work in art, not just art that's also a form of social criticism, or at least a space of sympathy and understanding. Maybe underlying all these acts of human degradation and woe there's a whispered acknowledgement: "There but for the grace of the global economy go I." A Touch of Sin opens in China next month. Somehow the film made it past cultural censors mostly intact despite its harsh, despairing criticism of modern Mainland  China. I'm curious about how it will be received, and also what, if anything, the viewers will be able to do with what they're shown. Like the freeway and the airport being built in the film, the future is uncertain and a work in progress.
A Touch of Sin Review photo
A collage of real-life violence across Mainland China
It's remarkable what a little context can do. My initial impressions about A Touch of Sin were generally positive but also ambivalent. I wasn't sure of what to make of the four loosely connected vignettes, each a mix of right...

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.
Ip Man Final Fight Review photo
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...

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...


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 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.
The Grandmaster Review photo
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...

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...


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 $...
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.
Double Xposure Discussion photo
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.
Bullet Vanishes Review photo
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...


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...

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...

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...

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...

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.
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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