Category Archives: Taiwanese Movies

HKAFF: Stray Dogs 郊遊 (2013) – Taiwan

Review by: Andrew Chan FCCA AACTA FIPRESCI
Review Date: 14th November 2013

Directed by: 蔡明亮 Tsai Ming Liang
Starring: 李康生 Lee Kang Sheng, 楊貴媚 Yang Kuei Mei

Reviewed at 10th Hong Kong Asian Film Festival 2013

Support our decade of film scholarship on Asian Cinema by buying Official DVD or Blu-ray release from our Store

fromvegastomacauposter

Taiwanese director Tsai Ming Liang have always turned heads with his own unique style and with “Stray Dogs” he takes this even further by slowing and essentially freezing every waking second and frames in his latest effort. Whether this is a good or bad thing, it really depends upon the audience interpretation, but for me, there is only so much one can take, before being physically and mentally drained. The acclaimed 14 minutes scene, where Lee Kang Sheng and Lu Yi Ching are speechless and motionless starring in the distance is possibly the most exhausting 14 minutes of my life. While a film that possesses some moments here and there, may seem like cinematic magic, for the whole duration of 138 minutes, it is almost impossible to bear. Sure, it allows the audience to ponder and think beyond the film subject matter and reflect upon their own lives and problems, but surely there can be another way to show all that. In an offhand comment from director Tsai, he claims that films are too fast and what happens in real life, is really slow and everything is actually at this pace. Tsai may be correct in this statement, but a movie is about movements and in other words, a “motion picture”, otherwise, I would have went to an art gallery instead. This is not a bad film, but 138 minutes of people being motionless and doing nothing at all, is not exactly art in my dictionary.

Tsui’s regular Lee Kang Sheng stars as the failed father and husband in this film and his emotions is probably the most important thing that came out of the film. People are poor and living conditions are almost slum-like and Lee perfectly encapsulate this emotion and the constant outward stare of his face allows the audience to feel as though they too are in the movie, living those atrocious conditions. Lu Yi Ching who helps out Lee taking care of his kids at a local supermarket, reminds me of Ann Hui’s wonderfully life-paced “The Way We Are”. In fact, showing a movie in real time, where people live, eat, work, and survive can be interesting as seen in Hui’s award winning work, but “Stray Dogs” goes beyond living life and the result is an extreme that will never work.

All in all, “Stray Dogs” is not good cinema and with piss poor pacing, director Tsai has gone too far from reality. People do not just stare in the distance and motionless for an entire 14 minutes. If Tsai say he wants to reflect reality and real life, then he is wrong. Unless there is a gun pointing to my head, I am unlikely to stand outside in the rain, totally motionless, speechless and possibly mentally ill. Sometimes, the word “art” get stretched too far and for this instance, “Stray Dogs” is neither art nor film, it is just a personal film that is meant to be seen by himself and possibly only himself. I am sure, there will be fans of Tsai’s work and some colours and imagery are beautiful to look at despite the slum-like conditions, but that 14 minutes I wasted, will not come back to me. For that alone, I am bitterly regretful and disappointed. (Neo 2013)

I rated it 4/10

Support our decade of film scholarship on Asian Cinema by buying Official DVD or Blu-ray release from our Store

fromvegastomacauposter

The Stolen Years 被偷走的那五年 (2013) – Hong Kong / China / Taiwan

Review by: Andrew Chan FCCA AACTA FIPRESCI
Review Date: 27th August 2013

Directed by: Barbara Wong (黃真真)
Script: Barbara Wong, Silver Hau, Daryl To, Skipper Cheng.
Photography: Chen Cheng.
Editing: Kwong Chi-leung.
Music: Henry Lai.
Production design: Kuo Chih-ta.
Art direction: Jackal Ning.
Costumes: Tai Chia-yuan.
Sound: Tu Duu-chih, Kuo Li-chi.

Cast: Bai Baihe (He Man/Mann), Joseph Chang (Xie Yu), Ken Lin (Danny), Amber An (Lily), Queenie Tai (He Man’s elder sister), Tse Kwan-ho (Philip, Hsieh Yu’s boss), Christine Fan (He Man’s old friend), Deng Ziyi (He Man’s elder sister), Sky Wu, Fan Kuang-yao.

Film Distributed by Golden Scene Hong Kong
In cinemas Hong Kong from 15 September 2013.

Support the site by buying DVD or Blu-ray from our HK Neo Distribution Ebay Store

Director Barbara Wong have been out of sorts recently (“The Allure of Tears”), but kindly return to the sort of form that created her career best effort to date, “Break Up Club”. In “The Stolen Years”, Wong goes back to what she does best, displaying manners of realism and adding a third dimension to her work. With the duo of Joseph Chang (who have starred in his fair share of gay roles in recent years) and the current “it” girl at the moment, Bai Baihe (“The Love Contract”) in the helm, there is plenty of acting abilities, wonderful chemistry and two actors at their prime. I have always commented that one of the key ingredient of a romantic drama is the chemistry between the co-stars and Chang and Baihe are an instant match and plays off each other more than convincingly.

The story of a girl losing memory and eventually falling to a brain tumor is nothing new, but director Barbara Wong is able to inject new life into the film, while at the same time engaging the audience to care for the characters and their eventual outcome. Joesph Chang is clearly one of the rising stars of Taiwanese cinema and having been around for a decade, mostly known for his acclaimed gay roles, most notably GF*BF (2012) last summer is again terrific as the corporate rising executive coming to terms with his ex-wife losing her memory and rekindling an unlikely romance. While the premise may seem far fetched, both actors are adequately grounded in their roles and never going over-the-top till the extravagant finale. Likewise, Bai Baihe is at her most comfort zone as the vulnerable girl who has fallen into the realm of life and death. Baihe is easy on the eyes and one can seamlessly sympathizes with her situation and root for her in the process. This in turn assists in the proceedings and the emotive finale that we all expected to happen.

All in all, “The Stolen Years” may not be a cinematic classic and then again in the tried and true romantic melodrama, what can really qualify as one. The good news is that Wong is clearly back in form and that is already a cause for celebration. While it does not feel as realistic as say her best works (“Break Up Club”, this is an easy film to take as it engages without being pretentious and emotes without extravagance. With good leading performances from both actors, the audience automatically cares for their relationship, hardships, the sickness, the trials and everything that life throw at them. What I also admire is the depth that Wong goes into exploring the notion of memory loss and the aftermath effects that goes along with it. In essence, “The Stolen Years” is not cinematic gold, but it is probably as good as it gets nowadays. (Neo 2013)

I rated it 7.5/10

)

When A Wolf Falls In Love With A Sheep 南方小羊牧場 (2012) – Taiwan

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

Starring: Ko Chen-Tung, Jian Man-Shu, Tsai Chen-Nan, Guo Shu Yao
Directed by: Hou Chi-Jan

Hong Kong Box Office Takings: HK$791,688

Support the site by buying this DVD or Blu-ray from our HK Neo Distribution Ebay Store

Taiwanese cinema is having a good streak in making quality coming of age youth drama about romance and growing up. “When A Wolf Falls In Love With A Sheep” touches upon genuine emotions filmed in an ingenious manner about the aftermath of a break up and how different people deal with it. Despite the story offering nothing new or noted, director Hou Chi-Jan (“one Day”) is able to provide a fresh perspective to a tried and true material. The result is a highly engaging and entertaining experience through a wonderful turn from relatively newcomer Jian Man-Shu and more of the same from “You Are the Apple of My Eye”‘s heartthrob Ko Chen-Tung.

Ko Chen-Tung flairs much better here than his one noted performance in the recent disaster “Together”. Here Ko Chen-Tung is able to portray the innocent look and vulnerable feelings to maximum effect. His chemistry with Jian Man-Shu is easy on the eye, sensationally sweet and ultimately cute. Jian Man-Shu is one to watch for the future and is wonderful in a highly understated performance. Like Ko, Jian Man-Shu is extremely likeable, making it easy for the audience to relate, understand and root for. In the supporting role, Tsai Chen-Nan is excellent as Kuo’s boss and provides the film with some simple and light hearted funny moments, while Guo Shu Yao is lively and spirited as the money-minded salesperson.

All in all, “When A Wolf Falls In Love With A Sheep” works by staying true, simple and quite frankly innocently effective. There are some personal messages within the film and how you de-construct from this is entirely up to you. The countdown of the 100 days is fittingly portrayed and although the film departs from its simple approach by being over the top in the final few scenes, it still worked as the audience have already been won over. Still,”When A Wolf Falls In Love With A Sheep” may not offer anything new to the already saturated genre, but it manages to take a different angle and approach. The film ultimately succeeds by being genuine and simple and that’s sometimes all that the audience really wants. (Neo 2013)

I rated it 8/10

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

Support the site by buying DVD or Blu-ray from our HK Neo Distribution Ebay Store

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

The Fierce Wife Final Episode 犀利人妻最終回 (2012) – Taiwan

Review by: Andrew Chan FCCA AACTA
Review Date: 23th December 2012

Hong Kong Box Office Taking: HK$781,426

Support the site by buying this DVD and Blu Ray from our HK Neo Distribution Ebay Store

The finale to the hugely popular Taiwanese hit television series “The Fierce Wife” is probably more suited to original fans of the series. As a standalone film, it feels too padded, uneven, filled with underdeveloped characters and overtly spontaneous at times. Still, some fun can be had, if you can ignore the TV-style direction, but its not hard to see how “The Fierce Wife” makes good television.

I have not seen the original television series, therefore my opinion on “The Fierce Wife” may seem rather saturated. Still, “The Fierce Wife” is essentially a final episode of a highly successful TV-series. This is a bit of a shame as a remake of the series into a film may not be entirely not plausible. This film suffers from an obvious lack of coherence, feels rather disjointed, somewhat padded and the common issue associated with most finales, which is the essence of a predictable and cliché ending. I am pretty sure that the series ended on an open ended note and the film tries hard to tie all the lose ends. However, as a standalone film (which this is never meant to be), one cannot stop noticing the gaps, the holes, the believability factor and most of all, its failure to connect with the current reviewer.

Sonia Sui headlines in the role of a ex-wife who is destroyed by a cheating husband (played by James Wen) and the film captures the years and after effects of the divorce. Four years has passed, Sui has the the choice to begin a new journey in life, in the arms of a new lover (played by Chris Wang), but Sui remains reluctant and unsure. Sui has leading actress material who suitably portrays a fragile, yet strong woman. However, this film fails to explores her inner and deeper motivations and dilemmas and instead using the art of jealousy to force an ultimate decision.

Chris Wang is insanely Aaron Kwok-like, from is head to toes mannerisms, good looks and voice. Wang is constantly wooden and lack an emotional range that the audience can truly care for. This is a common issue within the entire film, as all the male characters seem to exists for the sake of Sui’s love and nothing more.

Another issue of concern is its made for television style direction. In fact, this makes the final product more suited to the small TV-box than cinematic viewing. I am certain that the fans of the seies is unlikely to concur, but the pacing, the editing and the inconsequential dialogue are all too amateurish in terms of film making.

All in all, “The Fierce Wife” probably makes great television and is most certainly a film made for eagerly awaiting fans of a highly successful series. Having only seen the movie, I can only judge this episode of the film. However, the film does have some good moments and the way it deals with the complications of modern relationships is at times worthy of our attention. Still, as a standalone film, “The Fierce Wife” doesn’t work for me, nor does it inspire me to roam into the small screen and spend hours over the original series. Fans of the series will probably get the most out of this, as for others, it is best to stay at home. (Neo 2012)

I rated it 5.5/10