Monday, April 2, 2007

We're back!

Touching down safe and sound, the experience in Hong Kong was a real eye opener. Thanks to the guys at the Hong Kong International Film Festival, the event was much of a success and was truly worth a visit.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Review: Undercover (危險人物) (World Premiere)

Payback Time!

Something's wrong when you feel deep inside you that for the first 10 minutes, you might be watching a rehash of Infernal Affairs. Produced by Andrew Lau, Undercover stars Shawn Yue as Feng, in what might look as essential a reprisal of the role he played as the younger Tony Leung in Infernal Affairs, sent undercover to infiltrate gangsters, and looking for the way out and back to normalcy.

In fact, Undercover ventures closely to Herman Yau's post-undercover cop routine in On The Edge, as we look at how Feng assimilates himself with much difficulty, back to the force and society, while most of the time feeling great remorse for betraying the brotherhood he once was a part of, especially towards Brother Wah Ying (Ken Tong).

And he's unable to sever links to his alter ego, having his best friend, the drug dealer Fai (Sam Lee, from Dog Bite Dog), meet frequently for drug consumption. We look into Feng's duality, of different loyalties, until a crime is committed which puts the strain on his friendship with Fai.

Undercover plays out rather blandly, even with its twist ending which you can guess halfway through the movie. It tries to be sophisticated both storywise and with its technical qualities, but end up missing the mark on both counts - somehow it has this tele-movie quality and feel to it. It could have been potentially superior if it went further into exploring how a friend can become your worst enemy, since he knows so much about you, and can use intimate knowledge to destroy. It showed glimpses of it, but decided to branch off into another narrative track altogether, with much coincidences and road blocks marring the storyline.

The Chinese title is translated into "Dangerous Man", but this movie is anything but "dangerous" nor cutting edge. In its message of crime begetting retribution and of karma coming into play, it could have had come up with something more inspiring, so that the cast need not sleepwalk through familiar roles.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Review: Nanking

If I am going to recommend a documentary, then Nanking will be it. The Rape of Nanking just prior to World War II is examined in this film, which contains real stock footage of clips smuggled out of China during the time of Japanese occupation. Interviews with surviving Chinese victims, and a number of Japanese Imperial Army soldiers who took part in the campaign, are conducted by the filmmakers, and it is always chilling to learn from them first hand, on their respective perspective of those horrible years of the Japanese invasion of China.

You will definitely squirm at the tearful, vivid recollection of atrocities from rapes, shootings, knifing from bayonets, and even burning, while the archive clips bring to screen scenes and pictures of such barbaric acts. Tales of plundering, looting, the forceful taking away of young men to be shot and young girls or boys, children even, for brutal rape, are told with an unflinching eye. In fact, nothing is re-enacted in this film, opting instead for actors (such as Woody Harrelson, Mariel Hemmingway and Michelle Krusiec) to portray real historical characters and only as narrators of their personal diaries and memoirs of their stay in Nanking during the invasion and subsequent occupation.

While the rest of the world stood by and did nothing, a handful of foreigners who opted to stay in the city, did what they could by organizing themselves and setting up a Safety Zone for the Chinese refugees, using all the power that they could (which was very little, save for the fact that they are foreigners) to protect their charges from the looting, plundering, killing and rape that takes place on a regular basis outside their zone. And it is indeed this Zone which had saved thousands of lives, that this documentary paid a sort of tribute to.

If this is an anti-war picture, then I'd say it would have done a very good job, highlighting the immense amount of evil that man is capable of inflicting on fellow man. Even up until today, the Massacre of Nanjing is still hotly debated, especially on the number of unfortunate casualties and victims, and the enshrinement of war criminals which have irked the Chinese.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Review: Spider Lilies (刺青)

You Know You Want Me

A spider lily is a flower that is said to line along the pathway to Hell. It contains poison which will cause one to lose our memory. Memories are central to the story, as the characters involved are questioned as to whether their memories are faulty, and if one can choose to repress them in the attempt to forget, be they happier times, or times of woe.

Jade (Rainie Yang) is an Internet web-cam girl, living with her grandma, and making a living out of smut, enticing men to trade money for moments of online peek-a-boo pleasure. She has a love since 9 years of age, and it is the relationship with Takeko (Isabella Leong), a tattooist, that forms the fulcrum of the story. Takeko herself bears a strong spider lily tattoo on her left arm, and it is something that Jade wants for herself, trying to rekindle and capture memories of her lost love, now found again.

There had been a recent fad about tattoos, nevermind the negative connotations once associated with this permanent body art. Perhaps this movie will change opinions about tattoos, as it opens your mind to specifics as to the reason behind each design, and the rationale that each person probably had when making their choices on a particular design. And as a plot device, it was a hand in glove, a tattoo's powerful symbolism of hiding real intentions or emotions behind, or to feed off its perceived energy and possessing the design's qualities.

Spider Lilies has fine editing which serves the movie extremely well in engaging the audience with the characters' past. In fact, the rich back stories created for the characters make the story very compelling to watch. If there is a chink in the armour, then it's the characterization of Takeko's brother Ching (Shen Jian-hung), who is a bit slow in mental intelligence, and spends a lot of screen time pouting for his sister's attention, which totally messes up her social life, out of love and obligation to provide the only family care for him.

The fear and pain of being forgotten in a modern society might resonate with many, and anyone who has spent enough time on the internet, will know that its anonymity can often lead to misunderstandings. That subplot perhaps added a touch of lightness coupled with a tinge of sadness and irony. As most youths today turn to the net as an outlet for expression, most will be able to identify with this portion of the story arc.

I'm quite unsure if this movie will be able to make it to Singapore, given its more obvious subject material that the authorities will probably frown upon. But at its core, it's a tale of change and to have courage to live the life you want to lead, interwoven with a tale of love. If Saving Face can make it to our shores, I hope Spider Lilies will too.


Director Zero Chou, Isabella Leong and Shen Jian-hung were present at the end of the screening to field questions from the audience. Given the time limitation, we only had time for a few Q&As, mostly for the director.

There was a sense that true love is heavy and sad, to which Zero Chou explained that there is love that exists which is deep, and it is in the depths of love that sometimes you experience extreme sadness. However, there are also feelings of happiness. In love, both happiness and sadness coexist, and life is about change and bitterness and sadness are part and parcel of change. In this film, the power of love and courage are explored.

In the movie, there was the earthquake which served as a historical backdrop, and the characters from a fairly lost generation, and the question was how the director managed to blend the stories together for Spider Lilies. Zero Chou explained that Taiwan experiences earthquakes on a rather frequent basis, and in this movie, it is not the main subject. Rather, it's a symbol of abrupt change in emotions and memories, and that tattooing is like a way of stitching things back together again. And this recovery also includes the virtual world that the character Jade lives in. Or the brother Ching's lost memories, which is his way of dealing with abrupt change. This film is about how people deal with these changes, through love and courage.

Red Carpet: Spider Lilies

The Red Carpet was graced today by the director and stars of Spider Lilies - Zero Chou, Isabella Leong and Shen Jian-hung. Noticeably absent however, was Taiwanese actress Rainie Yang, but that didn't stop the cheers of support for the film, especially from the many fans of Isabella Leong who were present.

Director Zero Chou introduced the film, and hoped that Hong Kong audiences will be able to like the movie, and she was happy with the turnout for the screening. Spider Lilies presented many firsts for Isabella Leong, from starring in a Taiwanese film, working together with Zero Chou, as well as being cast in a lesbian role. She thought it was refreshing, and was very happy that the movie made it to Hong Kong. She also hoped that audiences will lend their support to Taiwan movies. Shen Jian-hung, who plays Isabella's brother in the movie, had few words to share - that he was happy to have been able to work with both the director and Isabella.

You can check out some video excerpts from the Red Carpet here:

Pictures and Videos to come! Check Back Soon!

Text: Stefan
Video: CK Yip
Pictures: Courtesy of HKIFF