Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Review: Ming Ming (明明) (World Premiere)

Nana and Ming Ming

Ming Ming is a very stylized movie, but that's not to say it has more style than substance. Unattainable love and infatuation play central themes in Ming Ming's world, one which contains fantasy martial arts elements, set in today's contemporary era. The titular character played by Zhou Xun cuts a willowy figure, dressed in black with her long dark tresses. One night she casts her eye on D (Daniel Wu), a street fighter whom she falls in love and spends a night with.

D, on the other hand, is an elusive lover. With secrets of the past which he seeks to unlock, he's never committed, giving out a promise to whoever can fetch him 5 million dollars, and with whom he'll travel to Harbin with. This sets in motion an entire chain of events, starting with Ming Ming stealing the money and a secret box from Brother Cat (the singer Jeff Chang, who has long been away from the public eye).

On the other hand, Ming Ming's friend Ah Tu (Tony Yang) is also infatuated with her, and chances upon Nana (Zhou Xun in her second role), with whom he brings along in their escape from Brother Cat's thugs, and whom too is also in love with D. Confused? Don't be, as Nana is distinctively different from Ming Ming, from hair and outfit (loud and garish) to mannerisms, not forgetting the languages used.

In fact, the movie can be renamed Nana, as this character had more screen time than Ming Ming, as we explore the unrequited love by so many characters in the movie. Love and its different incantations are put up on display, even parental ones, as the plot slowly unravels to its surprise ending. There are some zen like dialogue and moments in the movie, such as being able to be with a person even for a moment, is better than not being able to at all. And this is especially true for Ah Tu, even though he's with someone who resembles, and not with the actual person. I thought Nana and Ah Tu had the strongest storyline and the best character development, naturally so because of the screentime devoted to them.

Accompanying the superb story are both the music and action. The soundtrack is an eclectic mix and fusion of various influences, from electronica to jazz, and the theme used for chases is particularly catchy. Given that it adopted a fantasy martial arts style, most of the fights, especially Ming Ming's, were given distinct looks. Ming Ming's especially, is one adopted from flicking explosive projectiles at her enemies, while D's style is quick, brutal, and very short ranged. Plot elements from such fantasy movies, like mini quests, and the seeking of treasure, are staples too in the movie.

The filming style used is also a mixed bag, with repetitions, quick cuts and flashbacks the norm. It might require a little time to get used to, typically those used in fights. By the time you get through one or two action sequences, you'll be clamouring for more. Savour those moments, as they actually come few and far between. There are many "poser" moments as well, which gives the movie a certain "sexy" look as characters preen and pose when they deliver their dialogues.

I guess I'm fortunate to have caught this movie here, in its original language track, as compared to having to watch the dubbed Mandarin version back in Singapore if it gets played. Key languages used - Mandarin, Cantonese and Shanghainese, provide a certain flavour and utilized to distinguish characters. inevitably the effect will be lost in any dubbed version. Zhou Xun, and Tony Yang too, at times sounded a bit off in their Cantonese diction, but that doesn't mar their performances, in particular Zhou Xun's excellent delivery of dual roles.

For giving a contemporary fantasy martial arts movie a different and refreshing look, Ming Ming will get my vote.


Director Susie Au and the cast and crew, including Zhou Xun, Daniel Wu, Anthony Wong(music) and Veronica Lee (music) were in attendance at today's World Premiere, to introduce the film. Daniel Wu dedicated the evening of the premiere to the director, while Zhou Xun revealed that the movie was 3 years in the making, and joked she was glad that it comes to a finale today as many times director Sharon Au will forget about the passage of time while shooting the film, and the cast and crew had often missed their meal breaks and sleep!

There was also a post screening Question and Answer session, and Sharon Au explained that she was a film buff herself, and so was subconsciously influenced by other films, if any references could be drawn from Ming Ming. She's particularly immersed into the French New Wave, and their narrative approach, and wanted to make a film set outside reality, hence Ming Ming. As a martial arts movie, she needed Ming Ming to have a weapon, and why "beads" and "tan2 zhi3 shen2 gong1" was by chance - they were designing the costumes, and someone brought in a scarf with beads dangling from its ends. Hence it became the weapon of choice for Ming Ming.

Themes of Time and Fate make up the movie, and this was brought out through some of the techniques used, like a particular 1 second shot repeated over many times, to extend the feeling of that duration, as well as to accentuate the notion of Fate, that 1 split second decision can change a lot of things.

Susie Au also explained that the 3 years taken to make this movie was nothing to do with the creative process, but from external circumstances, and laughed when someone asked if there will be a director's cut - there will be, but it's not done yet, she joked.

Zhou Xun was asked if it was difficult playing two roles and to speak in different languages, and she shared that since the two roles of Ming Ming and Nana were completely different and at different ends of the spectrum, it was not so difficult. However, they shared similarities like their pursuit of happiness, and the character development that Nana undergoes. Zhou Xun too had acted in a prior movie before this which was in Cantonese, so it wasn't too difficult this time round in using the language.

Finally, someone asked Daniel, who plays the object of affection for both lady characters, what sort of girls he would prefer - that of Ming Ming or Nana, to which he side-stepped and said that in an ideal world, he would want to have both!

Red Carpet: Cannes 60th Anniversary Photo Exhibition

(Do Check Back Again! More Photos To Come!)

This year, the prestigious Cannes Film Festival will be in its 60th edition, and as part of its celebrations, a photo exhibition commemorating the anniversary has been making its rounds around the world. HKIFF is the fourth to showcase the selected photographs by Cathy Berg and The Traverso Families, and the first in Asia to feature the exhibition.

In addition, the coverted Palme d'Or Award was unveiled in a small ceremony. Designed by Chopard, the Award is given to the Best Film of the Festival for the last 10 years, and also to the Best Actor and Actress for the last 4 years, and is now on display at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre.

The Palme d'Or Award

Review: Ebola Syndrome (Yi Bo La Beng Duk)

The Ebola Victim

Back in the early 90s, I recall widespread concern about incurable diseases such as the Ebola virus, and Hollywood taking the premise and churning out movies such as Outbreak and the such. In Hong Kong cinema, director Herman Yau cemented his cult status for films with excessive graphic depiction of sex and violence with this movie - Ebola Syndrome.

As compared to the other cult hit The Untold Story, you can spot various similarities in terms of presentation style, and certain plot elements and development. Again the lead role, Kai San, is played by Anthony Wong, this time with long frizzy hair, and begins the movie with both sex (with his boss' wife) and violence (yet another gruesome massacre played out in full on screen, coupled with sexual violence). Naturally he becomes a fugitive and escapes to outside Hong Kong - this time to South Africa, and becomes an employee at a local Chinese restaurant.

The similarities do not end there. You just cannot wait for the next dismemberment and the making of the new "char siew bao", now termed African Buns for local flavour. Expect more hard unflinching violence, and this time too with the camera unmoved from the decapitation of animals like chickens and frogs - heart still pumping, and the slicing out of innards, or the chopping off of legs. Sure puts you off your next bowl of frog leg porridge. And serving as another reminder, is not to offend your cook, as he has the power to include unwanted ingredients, including bodily fluids!

Rapid fire profane dialogue is a standard, and sometimes comical as the characters rattle off combinations of vulgarities with ease. But just in case you wonder if Ebola Syndrome is The Untold Story rehashed in a different setting, rest assure that only the good gory bits from Untold get squeezed into the first half of Ebola. Unfortunately the second half seemed to want to move away tangentially from its predecessor, and kept its focus on the contact with, and spreading of the disease.

Stemming from Kai San's inability to keep his pants on, he takes advantage of a comatose African tribe woman, who unknowing to him, is a victim of the Ebola virus. With an incredible stroke of luck, he survives the infection and becomes a virus carrier, spreading the disease in South Africa no thanks to his African Buns, and amongst prostitutes when he returns to Hong Kong. The rest of the movie becomes a comedy somewhat with the police attempts to contain the virus as well as to apprehend Kai San. Nothing too fancy in its second half treatment.

One more thing, look out carefully at the cameos and extras!

Review: Love Sick (Legaturi bolnavicioase)

Can i sleep over tonight?

Incest and lesbianism.

Did i make you stand up and take notice?



Anyway, although much of these topic are avoided in social entity (probably not lesbianism as they seem to be more acceptable then gay in the public arena) , Love Sick tells of a story of two girls, Kiki and Alex, who develops a bond and quickly allowing themselves to take this feeling to where it'll eventually blossom. Of cos the course of love never did run smooth with Sandu, Kiki's jealous brother, interrupting. So i guess you'll know where the incest part kicks in?

Kudos to the explosive acting of Maria Popistasu and Ioana Barbu as Kiki and Alex as they truly show the vulnerability and tender love they portray to each other to almost its sweet innocence. Perfect flow, without the over-longing settlement just for the sake of hidden messages, director Tudor Giurgiu's debut feature truly did the novelization of the story true to its form by focusing on the emotions, allowing the two characters to bloom in its own setting.