Category Archives: 2008 Hong Kong / China Movies

Yes, I Can See Dead People 惡男事件 (2008) – Hong Kong

A redeeming finale act…

Review by Neo: Good horror movies are hard to come by and good HK horror is even more of a rarity. So the latest teen horror flick starring Steven Cheung comes as more of a surprise than anything. Still, Yes, I Can See Dead People is by no means a perfect horror flick, as the opening 45 minutes drags you almost to the point of boredom. Luckily the 2nd half more than pick up the pace and unlike most HK movies, who fail to finishes of, this flick ends on a fairly high note. The finale is certainly something to be proud of as the audience is manipulated to feel for what is happening and the clever use of flashback easily aids the emotional cause. Still, the first 45 minutes hampers the film immensely and the result is making Yes, I Can See Dead People, an above average flick at best. If only the film starts from the 50 minutes mark, it could easily have been a good little accomplishment.

For those that know Neo by now, he is someone that embraces the idea of eye candies and this flick certainly have one. This comes along in the form of newcomer (Kathy Yuen Ka-Yi), whose steer pretty face and smile makes up for her lack of acting or rather non-existent character. Relatively newcomer Mandy Chiang from the fame of B-movies like A Mob Story isn’t exactly a pretty face, but there are glimpses of acting potential in some of the ghostly encounters. As for Steven Cheung, this is without any doubt, his best acting display as he is able to drip within some humorous self-referential along with some moments of serious acting chops. Certainly a much better actor than his former Boyz partner Kenny and that’s not really saying much though.

So why is this movie better than the usual HK horror fare? Perhaps it is just that 99% of HK horror movies nowadays end in disappointing or it is so cheesy and over the top that it is just plain stupid. Somehow, Yes, I Can See Dead People ends better than it starts and the result is an emotional attaching finale and an almost satisfying second act. However, by the time the credit begins the roll, the movie is ultimately a forgettable affair, but not in a bad way.

All in all, Yes, I Can See Dead People is a par above the usual HK horror fare and that’s alone is a little accomplishment worthy of some sort of celebration. Ignoring the opening 45 minutes, the acting is actually quite adequate; the pacing picks up from the second half, the newcomer (Kathy Yuen Ka-Yi) face is pretty enough to sustain Neo’s attention and the impacting finale more than compensate for the taking of the journey. So it is recommended that the eagerly awaiting viewers to grab the VCD version, so that you can go straight to Disc 2 rather than heading to the exit by the end of Disc 1… (Neo 2008)

I rate it 7/10

The Way We Are 天水圍的日與夜 (2008) – Hong Kong

An excellent film about the basics of human beings…

Review by Neo: Sometimes, a film does not need to do much, nor does it require something extraordinarily to happen and it can still be a film that can relate, touch and affect one life. While, the usually dependable Ann Hui does not create a masterpiece, but it is probably safe to say that The Way We Are is very much a success story. After the bleakness shown in the city of sadness “Tin Shui Wai” with likes of Besieged City, the little Hong Kong city within borders of the mainland is filled with negative press, distinguishing of hopes and pure darkness. Here, director Hui is smart, by going back to the basics of filming, the very essence of human lives. The method taken is by filming a week or two in life of ordinary people. While it may seems that the film aren’t doing much, not going anywhere, the film still somehow leaves the audience wanting more and leaving the credits with a glimpse of hope within the shambles.

Casting a ballet of untried actors in the likes of Bau Hei-Jing as the happy-go-lucky mother who works hard day and night to supporting her teenage son (Juno Leung Chun Lung) as a duran fruit cutter and packer in the area’s Welcome Supermarket. Life is not easy, in fact, it’s difficult, but yet, Bau remains cheerful, hopeful and most important of all she is content of herself. On the other hand, we have her son, a reclusive young boy who prefers staying at home than going out. Then there are people who they bum into within their lives like the lonely grandmother living close by, or the random relatives who are much better off than they are. Not exactly a movie about the plot line or clever and intriguing premises, rather it is about the little things that happen in our real lives.

What makes the film work is that Ann Hui is very much a director who looks at human emotions, and the very fact that she does not create or fabricate emotions to affect the audience, but rather creates real emotions about the simple aspects of humanity and the happening. The casting of Bau is top notch, as she is natural enough for the audience to relate towards. Her optimistic nature, despite all that she has gone through makes her extremely human and ultimately realistic. Likewise, as her son, Juno Leung steps in with a good debut performance. In no situation does Leung tries to be acting, but instead remains real and without a moment of laughable overacting. Other supporting actors, such as the old granny, repeatedly making the same dish, further emphasis what happens when you get older and basically how people lives.

The Way We Are, is unlikely to splash any fire into Hong Kong cinema and nor does it attempt to. What Ann Hui is trying to show is that people in Tin Shui Wai are basically human and like all humans, we all need to eat, work and survive. There are little moments of happiness, sorrow, boredom, neutral and ultimately it is there basic human feelings that make this film works. Sometimes, criticizing something may well create some controversial, but at the end of the day, it remains rather subjective and opinionated. What Ann Hui is able to do, is at its very best being able to show something that seem more objective and somehow able to make the audience feel as though they are experiencing the experience firsthand. All in all, The Way We Are succeeds by showing the basic needs of humanity and ultimately, it is a day of reflection of our lives … (Neo 2009)

I rate it 9/10

The Sparkle in the Dark 黑道之无悔今生 (2008) – Hong Kong

A well meaning piece of crap…

Review by Neo: While a well meaning movie may be a good thing, but it is almost truism to say that a movie needs to be entertaining. Unfortunately, director Tony Leung Hung Wah can only hit the mark on the first point and fail miserably in the second. With almost the entire cast of unknown mainlanders, except a few B-grades HK actors in the likes of Mandy Chiang from the Whisper and Moans fame, Kenny Kwan from 6AM and being a former popular Boyz group and Deep Ng attempting to relaunch a career after his drug taking fiasco. Surely any reasonable HK fans will not have picked up this flick and watched it, let alone have any sort of expectation. Sometimes, Neo feels like he is just wasting his time watching crappy flicks like this one, it is ok to be boring, but when it goes to the point of bad filmmaking, and Neo have no sympathy for it.

Mandy Chiang Nga Man is an actress that is not exactly pretty, but somehow easy to watch. She have seamlessly been in a variety of roles, from sex worker in Whisper and Moans, to gangster’s girlfriend in Midnight Running and more recently appearing in her career best performance, alongside the other Boyz, Steven Cheung in the better than expected horror flick, Yes, I Can See Dead People. Even though Mandy is still very much a B-grade actress, there is no doubt that she deserves better than this treatment. As for the other two blokes in Deep Ng and Kenny Kwan, their acting is just plain awful and in a matter of fact, both should go back to TVB acting school to brush up their skills before further humiliating themselves on the big screen.

Movies about people changing or helping people to change may sound like gospel to church going public, but this is really a movie. A movie should be allowed to be a movie, not to bore people to death after a long day of stressful work and throwing hard earned money and time in pieces to crap. Yes, Neo is frustrated, may be it is deal to his frustration and tiring day of work, but this does not give the film any excuse for being so crap. Sure, I have witness through worst scripts, worst acting, and even worst directing, but unfortunately Sparkle in the Dark comes closer to that end of the spectrum than the other way around. If you are reading this right now, then take a bow, as this flick certainly does not deserve your undivided attention. In fact, the current reviewer is regretting the time lost and will now promptly shut up and zip… (Neo 2008)

I rate it 0/10

The First 7th Night 頭七 (2008) – Hong Kong

Herman Yau goes cheap and efficient…

Review by Neo: The First 7th Night is exactly the type of movie which you can be safe to call it cheap and efficient. In other words, it is something that works without lighting a fire or two. Director Herman Yau is one of the last remaining HK Horror/Thriller/Cat 3 genre directors who still attempts to deliver the HK favour. This film is by no means great, but with some above average acting, an adequate premise and Yau’s ability to maintain suspense throughout the flick, the film somehow works and that can only be a good thing.

The movie goes like this: Gordon Lam plays a taxi driver who is at loggerhead with his life and when a mysterious truck driver (Julian Cheung) offers him a thousand dollars for taking him to an abandoned village. Lam promptly agrees and then the closer they get to the village the more about his past is revealed.

Not a bad premise at all, considering that the opening sequence of events seemed like a horror/thriller, the film turned for the better and churned into the thriller and suspense genre. Why this film worked is the fact that Yau is able to use the “shows not tell” principle well enough to maintain a level of suspense for the audience to follow. The point is that it is rare for a thriller nowadays to have the ability to keep someone guessing and in the process capturing their attention, even if it is not the most interesting of flicks.

It must be noted that Michelle Ye plays her best and most juicy movie role yet. It is a shame that Michelle Ye have never gotten the opportunity to display her potential, with roles after roles as someone either screaming or getting struck in crappy written roles within B-grade movies. Finally, Michelle Ye is given something to work with and the way and manner she oozes on screen is just a pleasant to watch. The most memorable scene is probably the seducing in the kitchen as well as the final few sequences (not to disclose any spoilers). This is most likely her most captivating display, since her TVB days. Gordon Lam handles the leading man barton quite well and there are moments in his performance that allows the movie and his character to connect to the audience. As usual, Julian Cheung is a real talent and I have always endorsed this and here he is efficient without standing out, but in retrospective, his performance is crucial as to why the film worked out effectively. Other supporting turns (including Eddie Cheung, Fung Hak On and Tony Ho) are all able to add something to the film rather than ruin it.

All in all, it is probably not an understatement to claim that The First 7th Night is a mini success. Given the fact that almost nobody noticed its cinematic journey to DVD, there is no doubt that expectations are minor and even minimal. Still, the dependable Herman Yau is able to step up his mark with some good filmmaking as well as depicting some fine acting turns. It can only be good news for HK Cinema, when a film works, especially in a rather tough and slow year for the tiny territory. While this film qualifies as a minor cheer, it is still something worth cheering about … (Neo 2009)

I rate it 7/10

The Beast Stalker 證人 (2008) – Hong Kong

Dante Lam is back in form…

Review by Neo: Ever since directing Beast Cop, Dante Lam seems to have gone brainless, but with exactly a decade onwards, Lam is finally delivering in Beast Stalker. Although the material does not bombard anything about freshness, there is no reason to be negative, as there are plenty of moments of reasonable excitement to make it one of the better lights of 2008 HK Cinema. While Beast Stalker is by all means dark, it is also lighter than Beast Cops, especially when taken into account of the somewhat redeeming finale. A good film by all means, but on the scale of Lam’s best efforts (Neo mentioning Beast Cop for X number of times), it pales. Luckily, the above is more of a positive comment than negative, as any film worthy of comparison with the aforementioned flick cannot be too bad.

Even the current reviewer is annoyed by how many times, Neo have somewhat mentioned the word, Beast Cop. For god sake, this is not a promotional fest of former great movies, but rather looking at the future of HK cinema, with a view of the past. Years, ago back in Tiramisu, Nicholas Tse portrayed himself as a somewhat capable actor and from there, he has gone from worst to bad. Luckily, Tse has finally come of age and the result is showing in a somewhat pleasing display of serious acting chops. Still, there are a lot of cons that would require mentioning, like moments of Tse being angry or frustrated comes of more laughable than convincing. Without being a pessimist there is a lot to cheer about Tse’s latest display and Neo can safely claim it as one of his best display since Goddess of Mercy.

There is no question that Nick Cheung is one heck of an actor and his steer away from comedy is certainly one of the best career moves for Cheung. It has been noted, that Neo first realise his potential as a serious actor way back in 1998, when he was actively involved in TVB. His role as a good guy turned villain was menacing and in recent years, Cheung has shown that Neo was right about him. Here, his villainous turn is by no means the typical carbon copy, but rather multi-dimensional and the result is menacing, interesting and absolutely captivating. Cheung has come a long way and perhaps award recognition is just around the corner.

There is a saying when all actors are in their best form, the film usually works. Well, to be honest, there is no such saying, but it does rings quite true. Luckily, good things usually come in three and surely one of the better actresses in recent years, Zhang Jing Chu (The Protege), can do no wrong. After Neo acclaiming her as Best Actress for her immensely scene stealing role as a junkie mother in Protege, Zhang does not disappoint and she handles her role with ease, While by no means on the same class as her performance in Protege, it is still more than adequate enough to allow the audience to relate to her character. An actress to watch in years to come and the scene when she realise she has indirectly caused the death of her own child is just captivating to endure.

Director Dante Lam loves brutal straight forward, fist to fist fights and he makes good use of this to further enhance the realism of the work. Beast Stalker works because; Dante Lam tries hard to focus on the characters and allows them to flourish. All in all, Beast Stalker is suitably dark, filled with three capable performances and a redeeming finale to round it out. While it is true that the film falls short of reaching the dazzling heights in Beast Cop, it is great news to announce that director Lam is back to what he does best and finally approaching the sort of form that seem to have eluded from his wane, for the last decade. Basically, cutting all the above crap, it really just requires the following line: a film that Neo recommends viewing … (Neo 2009)

I rate it 8/10