Category Archives: 2012 Hong Kong / China Movies

Lost in Thailand 人再囧途之泰囧 (2012) – China

Review by: Andrew Chan FCCA AACTA
Review Date: 19th March 2013

Directed by: Xu Zheng
Starring: Xu Zheng, Wang Baoqiang, Huang Bo, Fan Bingbing

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Reviewed as part of 7th Asian Film Awards 2013

It is only a matter of time before Chinese cinema will come of age and with “Lost in Thailand”, they seen to have finally capture the essence of good fun commercial cinema and the result is the biggest Box office hit ever to hit the Mainland. It is also worth nothing that both “Painted Skin Resurrection” and this film are sequel to films produced and directed by Hong Kong film makers. However both sequels are made by Chinese film makers and are arguably far bigger hit. How you interpret this result is entirely up to you. Still, “Lost in Thailand” is exactly how you direct an over the top comedy and when you have three of China’s hottest stars in the mix, it is pretty much bound to work. If there is one film that has surpassed the now dented pride of Hong Kong cinema, this is as close as it gets. If they keep making films like these, it will be sooner rather than later.

Setting the film in Thailand is a smart move as it allows the actors to be in a fish out of water situation. It also allow the comedic gags to be more over the top style and hilarious. With the influx of Chinese tourist all over the world, many laughs are bound to be universal, rather than local.

The film will not be a success without the uncanny chemistry in the duo of Xu Zheng (also directing) and Wang Baoqiang. Wang Baoqiang is outright funny as the kid in adult body. His inflation with national treasure Fan Bing Bing provides the film with one of its many laughs. In fact Wang Baoqiang is like Zach Galifianakis in “Hangover”, as he is so effortlessly hilarious and laughter situations just tend to follow him everywhere. Xu Zheng is more retrained of the two and the manner how he slowly loosen up after one mishap more serious than the previous one is truly enjoyable to witness. Xu Zheng has good presence and plays well the immature nature of Wang Baoqiang wonderfully. Huang Bo, the it guy in Mainland cinema at the moment just cannot put a foot wrong. Despite his limited screen time and not much insight into his character, Bo has the unique ability to simply chew scenery and steal almost every scene. Adding the three together in a pot is exactly who hot pot is so popular in Chinese culture.

Director Xu Zheng hits all the right marks from its maniac pacing, non stop gags and plenty of big and loud laugh out moments. It is a hallmark of a good blockbuster film, when the audience never cease to be entertained and go along with characters on the frantic ride. With a huge budget to boot, the film possesses excellent production values, vivid look and cinematography of the modern and exotic Thailand location, all add up to a true blockbuster film making qualities in the east.

All in all, “Lost in Thailand” is exactly how you balance local Mainland Chinese humour and universal comedy to make this a true blockbuster of a film. Chinese film-makers have been trying for years to make something truly commercial and appeal to the masses and with this film, it comes a formula, which will undoubtedly be repeated many more times in the future. If this film is to show the world one thing, a quality commercial film can still exist within the censored boundaries and that Chinese cinema is really an elephant waiting to be awaken. I look forward to “Lost in America” for the next globalisation sequel and maybe throw in Brad Pitt for the laughs.

I rated it 9/10

“Lost in Thailand” won the Biggest Box office hit in Asia for 2012 at the 7th Asian Film Awards 2013.

Click here for our courage of the 7th Asian Film Awards, guests including Andy Lau, Deanie Ip, Gigi Leung, Michelle Yeoh, Sammo Hung, Miriam Yeung, Hu Jun, Guey Lun Mei.

CZ12 Chinese Zodiac 十二生肖 (2012) – Hong Kong / China

Review by: Andrew Chan FCCA AACTA
Review Date: 4th March 2013

Starring: Jackie Chan, Kwon Sang-woo, Liao Fan, Yao Xing Tong, Zhang Lan Xin
Directed by: Jackie Chan

Hong Kong Box Office Takings: HK$11,710,110

Available on DVD and Blu Ray on March 7th 2013.

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The good news is that Jackie Chan is back to what he does best that is delivering quality action stunts and physical comedy. The bad news is that “CZ12” is not the next “Armour of God”, but for that is just fine as the latest Chan’s film manages to be one of his better action comedy in recent years and revokes his 90s effort. At the ripe old age of 58, nothing seems to be stopping Chan and the extended fight scenes in the final quarter of an hour is not something we have seen from Chan since the 90s. “CZ12” also marks as Chan’s first directorial effort since 1998’s “Who am I?” and while the film is by no means flawless and possesses a rather messy plot, the film never seem to stop and the result is one of Chan’s better films in recent years.

Sure, we have all enjoyed Chan’s wonderful display of comic timing in “Little Big Soldier” and steady restrain in “The Karate Kid”, but one must admit that he has not been the best drama actor in films like “Shinjuku Incident”, “1911 Revolution” or even “New Police Story”, therefore, it is actually refreshing to see Chan goes back to his 90s roots and produce a film with qualities that initially made him a star. With Hong Kong cinema at a strive, it is all the more important that big names like Chan, Stephow Chow, Chow Yun Fat and Jet Li continues to thrill the audience back to the cinemas and in “CZ12”, it has all the ingredients of a winter blockbuster event.

As with most Chan’s films, the English actors are terrible and even laughably bad and in this film, the same can be said of Oliver Platt and French actress Laura Weissbecker as I do not whom comes off worse. Popular Korean actor Sang-woo Kwon (“71: Into the Fire”) appears for next to no reason and possesses zero character in a role designated to draw in the Korean market and nothing more. Newcomer Yao Xingtong flairs better as Coco as she is given more screen time and dialogue to boot and 2004 (China) National Women’s Taekwondo winner Zhang Lanxin gets to show her moves in an extended fight scene and trading blows with “World Champion Martial Artist” Caitlin Dechelle. While promising actor Fan Liao (“Ocean Flame”) appears as one of Chan’s sidekick, little is known of his character.

All in all, “CZ12” is essentially another Jackie Chan’s starring vehicle, meaning that other actors are usually regulated in the background and that is absolutely fine with me. As always, Chan possess an irresistible screen presence and plenty of charm and there are few in the action comedy that can rival the man. In “CZ12” we see more of the same from the master and that is not necessary a bad thing. The audience have been starve of quality action blockbuster and while “CZ12” may not offer anything new, it delivers exactly what they set out to do. If “CZ12” is the direction that Chan intents to take, one cannot blame him for doing more of the same, as it is essentially what he does best and probably no one else can do better either. (Neo 2013)

I rated it 7/10

One Tree Three Lives 三生三世聶華苓 (2012) – Hong Kong / Taiwan

“I am a tree, with roots in China, the trunk in Taiwan and the leaves flourished in Lowa (USA)”

“I was always an outsider. I was considered a mainlander in Taiwan. And among the mainlanders in Taiwan, I was still an outsider. Mainlander, Outsider, Outcast, I was aliened in every way.”

“The job of a poet is to put into intense language, those things in his life that move him intensely.” Paul Engle

Review by: Andrew Chan FCCA AACTA
Review Date: 27th February 2013

Starring: Hualing Nieh
Directed by: Angie Chen

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In order to make a documentary affecting, it requires more than just a human touch, it needs a story worth telling about and the audience can learn something from it in a rewarding way. “One Tree Three Lives” is one of those unique documentary that tells an even more unique life story of an outsider and a writer that is anything but ordinary. Famed author Hualing Nieh, is the focus of the story and director Angie Chen is impressive in pacing and editing of a journey about human adversity and the importance of living a legacy behind, not because of fame, but simply by being a human being. This is a beautifully shot bio-pic that is equally knowledgeable historically and culturally important and extremely engrossing and touching tale of a writer born in China, married in Taiwan and finally finding her true meaning of life in the Western world.

I have always a soft spots for films that take the audience on a journey and don’t let them off the train, till a long time after the film is finished. “One Tree Three Lives” is such a rewarding journey that is require the audience to invest their own life experiences, the feeling of being an outsider and everything else that makes us essentially human. Even at the ripe old age of 80, author Hualing Nieh is able to demand the centre of audience and is every bit charismatic. It is not hard to imagine why she has become so popular among fellow writers and peers alike. Her retelling of her love story with Paul Engle gives the audience a truly romantic story to emote about. It is especially resonating after the tough and luckless first two chapter of her life. Her story is one of inspiration and like many successful people, they never gave up hope and the persistent in her own art and viewpoint in face of adversity is that of admiration.

All in all, this is powerful and emotionally intense documentary about a forgotten generation that went through so much. What I believe makes a good documentary is that it strives to deliver a truth or something to say in a manner that the audience can relate, question, learn and come out of it with some sort of new light. “One Tree Three Lives” delivers exactly that and something more. What I am certain about is that I gained something within all the midst of events as well. A lovely little documentary and easily one of Hong Kong shining light in 2012. (Neo 2013)

I rated it 9/10

My Sassy Hubby 我老婆唔夠秤II: 我老公唔生性 (2012) – Hong Kong

Review by: Andrew Chan FCCA AACTA
Review Date: 3rd February 2013
Released on DVD and Blu-ray across Asia

Director: James Yuen
Starring: Ekin Cheng, Charlene Choi, Zhang Xin-Yi, Jones Xu

HK Box-office Takings: HK$10,820,150

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Its been a long ten years since the last James Yuen’s mini cult classic “My Wife is 18”. I am not entirely sure if the public actually needed a sequel, but “My Sassy Hubby” is surprisingly fresh, highly enjoyable and even providing a rather mature and realistic outlook in modern relationships. While the first film centre on love, interest and youth, the sequel looks at a more relevant and prominent issue of what happens when love fades and life takes over. In the process, director James Yuen (“Crazy N the City”) provides the audience with plenty of life-like scenarios, complications, regular household arguments and finishing off with the vital ingredient by adding an uniquely Hong Kong flavour to it. “My Sassy Hubby” works because it tries extremely hard to relate with the audience and not to mention, the wonderful established chemistry between Charlene Choi and Ekin Cheng is once again very much in play. This film may not be a total success, but in terms of entertainment value with a faction of emotional core, “My Sassy Hubby” easily delivers on most fronts.

Its been quite a while since we last saw Ekin Cheng take on a leading role (last being 2010’s “Once a Gangster”) and even longer from his last romantic outing (2005’s “It Had to be You”). Therefore to see Cheng takes on his famed Thirteen Cheung is actually a Hong Kong cinematic welcome back. In this film, Cheng has clearly matured, both in his acting and appearances, which in some ways he is actually playing himself. Nowadays, Cheng has come into terms with his own limited acting range and by playing Thirteen Cheung, Cheng is essentially playing himself, a man nearing forty and a mid-life crisis. His underlying chemistry with Yoyo Ma’s (Charlene Choi) playful and sassy personality provides the film with plenty of gags and highlight moments. Choi on the other hand delivers a much more restrained performance than her over the top ultra cuteness role ten years back. While, Choi may lacks her previous comic antics, there a number of notable scenes like on the hospital bed where she manages to touch the audience. Choi has always been a decent dramatic actress, take “Simply Actors” for instance, and at the age of 28, she seems to have find the right balance between acting cute and discipline at the same time. Zhang Xin-Yi possesses some rather acting looks and the lingering scene near the end, when she rides away in the taxi, provides the film with one of its moments. Jones Xu on the other hand, as Yoyo’s potential suitor comes off rather cliché, cloying and rather unrealistic.

All in all, “My Sassy Hubby” is a welcome addition to the “My Wife is 18” series and credos to director and writer James Yuen for keeping the sequel surprisingly fresh and interesting. While it is not exactly cinematic gold, Yuen manages to portray a realistic look into the dynamics in a modern relationship and in the process providing the audience with characters that that they can easily identify with. It helps when you have a comfortable leads in Choi and Cheng. Still, Yuen manages to deliver his message without being overtly cynically and repetitive and in turn, making “My Sassy Hubby” much in the reins of “My Wife is 18”, a simple guilty pleasure to watch. (Neo 2013)

I rated it 7.25/10

The Last Tycoon 大上海 (2012) – Hong Kong / China

Review by: Andrew Chan FCCA AACTA
Review Date: 11th January 2013
Released in cinemas across Asia in 26th December 2012

Cast: Chow Yun-fat, Huang Xiaoming, Sammo Hung, Francis Ng, Yuan Li, Yuan Quan, Monica Mok, Feng Wenjuan, Gao Hu, Xin Baiqing
Director: Wong Jing
Produced by: Andrew Lau

HK Box-office Takings: HK$5,787,307

Available on DVD and Blu Ray on March 7th 2013.

Also Reviewed as part of 37th Hong Kong International Film Festival 2013

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If “The Last Tycoon” proved one thing is that Wong Jing still can produce a decent picture, if he can be bothered. Sure, the latest Chow Yun Fat/ Francis Ng / Sammo Hung starring flick isn’t exactly cinematic gold, but it is by far the best Wong Jing’s best directing effort for almost a decade (2003’s “Colour of Truth”). “The Last Tycoon” produced by Andrew Lau (“Infernal Affairs”) is filled with lavish production sets, plenty of big budget explosions and gun fights and some adequate acting display. This is certainly not magic, but in terms of anything from Wong Jing, this is probably as good as it will ever get.

For once, we get a serious Wong Jing without any of his usual annoying antics and cheap commercial. This can be attributed to the long overdue reunion between Wong and Chow Yun Fat as the pairing last made the now cult classic “God of Gamblers”. While “The Last Tycoon” will never be anything as good as the aforementioned film, it possess enough good points to justify at least a viewing. What I particularly enjoyed about this film, is the manner Wong goes about his business and even when Wong is alluding to other clearly better film-makers (John Woo, Wong Kar Wai, Johnnie To and Wilson Yip), it feels more like a homage than a cheap shot for once. That’s not to say the film is entirely a fun ride, as there are areas that remains constantly hampered by a dragging script that lack a key focus for the audience to dwell on. At the end, the film relies heavily on its main star being the extremely charismatic Chow Yun Fat to carry the film with his smirk and his much missed trademark gun fights. This is especially evident, when the film falls flat in the final quarter as Francis Ng uses all his acting depth to get his paper thin character through by being outright menacing, but like the film remains rather empty.

Perhaps the film is not really about how one rises to power, as “The Last Tycoon” seems to be more concerned with its romantic sub-plot and regretting undertones. That’s not necessary a bad thing, but it feels far too uneven for the audience to feel the everlasting impact. For the first third of the film, we see rising Mainland star Huang Xiao Ming playing the younger Da Qi (Chow Yun Fat), where he gets into a fight with some small time triads and rises through the ranks after a chance encounter with his master Hung (played by Sammo Hung). This portion of the film feels extremely like Wilson Yip’s “Ip Man 2” and if you must be pedantic, Sammo Hung seems not only to be playing the same character, but also wears the same black dress. Moving on the middle portion, we get a scene directly from any John Woo movie and more prominently the famed gun fights and unlimited ammos during the church scene in “The Killer”. To see Chow Yun Fat with a gun is almost like going through a moment in the memory lane where almost all die-hard Hong Kong cinemas will agree in delight. In the final quarter, Mr. Wong even manages to release a preview of Wong Kar Wai’s “The Grandmaster” (releasing in Hong Kong a couple of weeks later) with the black umbrellas, slow motions and raining backdrop. In actually fact, it is also a scene from Johnnie To’s “Sparrow”. Just when you think that the allusion and homage is over, Wong Jing comes up with an absolute gem of a finale, a star crossed lovers, unrequited love, everlasting regrets and quite frankly “In the Mood for Love” car scene. Still, despite the obvious carbon imaging, Wong Jing manages to remain serious and the undertones is clearly a homage rather than a cheap imitation of his usual sorts. That alone is worthy of a complimentary gesture.

In terms of acting, Chow Yun Fat “The Assassins” is most probably the coolest actor on earth and with two guns on his hands, he is simply a match made in heaven. I cannot recall the last time, he hold a gun in a Hong Kong film (strictly this is a Mainland co-production), but with his trademark two handed gun fights, Chow is truly at home. When Huang Xiao Ming (who plays the younger version of Chow) tries to apt his idol, the best he can do is reminding the audience exactly how much cooler the older Chow really is. Sammo Hung is Sammo Hung and that’s not an understatement, but the story fails to explore more into his character and the underlying relationship and brotherhood between Chow and Hung. Hung has physical presence is always a welcome on the big screen, even if his role is insanely “Ip Man”-like. As for the young Huang Xiao Ming, he spends far too many scenes trying to mimic Chow that he lost his own style and character. Nonetheless, Huang remains a likeable character and there is an air of coolness in the way he goes about the task on hand. As usual, Francis Ng steals the show whenever he appears on screen, however, despite his menacing outlook and obvious over the top acting, Ng is unable to extend or extract something special from his paper thin role. Monica Mok (who was wonderful in “Ocean Flame”) does well and even manages to leave the audience wanting in the final few sequences.

All in all, “The Last Tycoon” is a decent attempt at recreating a Shanghai triad epic and while the film lacks originality, it is made up by a good cast of actors, some interesting gun fights and some throw-in Wong Jing’s homage to other directors. It is most certainly Wong Jing’s best effort in years and for that alone, we should really celebrate. In terms of entertainment value, you can certainly do a lot worst than “The Last Tycoon”, just don’t expect too much and a decent time can still be had. Then again, when a film allows Chow Yun Fat to hold more than two guns on his hand, it is alone worth the price of admission. (Neo 2013)

I rated it 7.5/10