Saturday, December 31, 2011

The 10 Best & Worst Movies of 2011

2011 was an awesome year for catching movies. There a record high of movies that I really enjoyed. The only downside was that there's equally high numbers of movies that really irked me. Of course there might be gems that I missed and some duds that I had purposely avoided (There's no way that I am going to pay for something that I know it's bad, specially if it's a sequel to a series of not so good movies). Without further delays, here's my 10 Best and Worst Movies of  2011 (click Read More to reveal the list).

The 10 Best Movies of 2011

10 - Flying Swords of Dragon Gate 龙门飞甲 is Tsui Hark's first movie that made with 3D technology (first for the Wu Xia genre) and for someone who do not like 3D movies, this is a remarkable effort. It's easy to see the effort that Tsui Hark and his team put in to this 3D Wu Xia movie and it works. There's a scene of a lone swordsman resting on a metal chain high up above a small jetty that showcase how the gradient in 3D could be effectively used to enhance the story. As a naysayer of 3D movies in general, Tsui Hark's 3D presentation of Flying Swords of Dragon Gate changed my opinion on 3D movies.

But still, it's not a 3D effect that makes a movie. There are a couple of reasons why this movie is in my top ten. First and foremost, this sequel to the New Dragon Gate provided some nice follow up to it's predecessor (i.e the further exploits of Zhou Huai'an and Ling Yanqui). It also provide similarities to the predecessor (whereby a group of people with different agenda gathered at the Dragon Inn) and spun something new and interesting (like a treasure hunt adventure involving sandstorm tornadoes). The special computer effects might be uneven at times but I enjoyed how the the niffy swordplay were done in this movie. Flying Swords of Dragon Gate is a nice homage to the 90s Wu Xia films and a  "standalone" sequel that I am anticipating to rewatch when the Dvd is out.

9 - Drive is a movie that easy to fall in love with and it's also no hard to see why people disliked this movie. This moody piece has a simple plot of a getaway driver getting involved with a married mom's life and mob money that getting people killed.

The crux of enjoying this movie depends if the viewer could delve right into the mood of this movie.

Personally, I love the groovy soundtrack that invokes the feel of the 80's, the cinematography that sets the tone of the movie and the unexpected brutal violence that punctuated the tender love story between the driver and his neighbor. Carey Mulligan had summarized the movie as 'staring longingly at Ryan Gosling for each day' and that worked for me. 

8 - Let the Bullets Fly 让子弹飞 brought back memories of  The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Three remarkable actors who were equally delightful in their respective roles and their performance were well worth the admission ticket.

Ge You plays the weaselly con man MA who was on his way to become a mayor of a remote small town. His train was hijacked by Zhang (Jiang Wen as the righteous bandit chief) and together, they heads towards the small town to scam some of the town's wealth. Their biggest challenge in their way would be the town tyrant Master Huang (Chow Yun Fatt playing the dual role of a devious merchant and his simpleton body double). A bloody game of wits between the three ensues as they tries to outplay each other.

Beyond the comedic action drama, it was said that Let the Bullets Fly is ridden with metaphoric criticism of the China's current government. It was also rumored that the China censorship missed those criticism and tried to ruin the box office collection by releasing high quality copies of this movie online. Theories are abundance online and reading them enhanced the movie even more. Let the Bullets Fly is a rare combination of an entertaining commercial release and a wicked "up yours" to the stifling government.

7 - Wu Xia  武侠 took a novel approach to the old tired Wu Xia (martial art hero) genre and it works. The usage of Chinese style forensic science to explain the exaggerated superhuman feat in Wu Xia fiction was innovative and it adds a new coat of razzle dazzle to the "old" flying kicks and bone breaking punches.

Donnie Yen gave one of his better recent acting performance as Liu Jinxi, a villager who might be a highly skill martial art expert hiding from his past. Tang Wei added a nice emotional angle as Liu Jinxi's "wife". Last but not least, Takeshi Kaneshiro stole the show with his role as a Sichuanese speaking detective who is unrelenting in finding out Liu Jinxi's real identity while suffering from split personality.

6 - Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a fine example on how to reboot a franchise and how a summer blockbuster should be made. For someone who didn't care about the old Planet of the Apes franchise and didn't really like needless sequels / prequels / remakes, this prequel managed to do something quite remarkable. It's making me clamoring for more sequels.

Andy Serkis's motion capture performance as Caesar, the Ape that first gained the ability to evolve and started the revolution for the Apes should get recognized. It's a morality tale that make us question how we treat the other creatures living in this planet and it also have a very good lead up to the future of this franchise. Without a doubt, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is this year's Batman Begins and Star Trek.

5 - Incendies was nominated for Academy Awards 2011's Best Foreign Language Film and it's one powerful movie that lingers long after the credits ended. It started with a strange request in an immigrant mother's will that made a pair of twin brother and sister to set off in a journey back to their mother's birth place. They were supposed to locate a half brother that they never knew existed and a father whom they thought was dead.

It's a long audacious journey that well worth the wait. Why did the mother chose to reveal such revelation after her death? The answer at the end of the movie is a horrifying and yet emotionally touching one. Incendies is a well structured tale that immerse the viewers into this unforgettable unique journey. 

4 - Margin Call is a terrifying reflection of how the recent US financial crisis started. Taking place over a 36 hour period at a large investment bank, Margin Call follows the decision made and action taken by the employee when they discovered that they are holding onto toxic assets that would bankrupt the company.

Margin Call is intense and gripping as we go through their discovery process, the decision making choices and the execution of the inevitable. Margin Call is filled with a strong ensemble cast and in particular, all the scenes that featured Kevin Spacey and Jeremy Irons were pure cinematic gold. Margin Call is a wake up call that everyone should heed, even for those who are not in the financial industry because at the end of it, money matters would eventually affect everyone else.

3 - I Saw The Devil | 악마를 보았다 will not sit well with everyone. Director Kim Ji-woon's tale of vengeance was so violent that the Korean censorship board made him recut the movie for theatrical release, resulting in a Korean theatrical version and an international version.

It features Lee Byun-hun as a special agent who is dishing his own brand of punishment on his girlfriend's killer (Choi Min-sik). While normal people would be content letting the justice system handle the criminal, I Saw the Devil had Lee Byun-hun's character played a cruel cat and mouse game with Choi Min-sik's character.

It's not expected of the usual heroic protagonist but this is not your usual serial killer. This movie posses the question on how do you extract vengeance against someone who is unrepentant of his crimes and so vile that no amount of punishment could break him? I saw the Devil provides the guilty pleasure of enjoying the comeuppances being delivered. Great performance by Lee Byun-hun and Choi Min-sik and a great farewell gift from Kim Ji-woon before he leaves for Hollywood.

2 - The Artist is not something that you get from cinemas these days. Beside the obvious fact that it's a black and white silent film, it's also a damn fine film that making the top ten list of many movie critics. Currently, it's nominated for six Golden Globes and the lead actor Jean Dujardin had won the 2011 Cannes Film Festival Best Actor Award.

But what makes it so good? It's a clever tribute to the silent cinema. The Artist is about the romance between two unlikely individuals with the transition from the silent cinema era to the talkies (where synchronized sound is incorporated into the film) as backdrop. He was once the silent movie superstar who is facing imminent decline in popularity and she was a fan who is raising to be the top actress in the world of talkie movies. The parallelism between the two characters and the transition of film format was made so wonderfully heart wrenching but yet it was managed to counterbalance it with endearing comedic moments.

Movies have the ability to transport the viewer into another era, a different place and time. While watching The Artist, I felt like I was transported to the olden age of the silent cinema era. It's filled with sense of wonderment and it made me want to linger around that period for a longer time. The Artist is a magical immersion of cinematic beauty that's been long forgotten.

1 - You are the Apple of My Eye | 那些年, 我们一起追的女孩 is not a perfect movie. It's a little too long and some jokes just missed the spot. But Director / Writer Giddens has a gift for storytelling and he delivered his autobiography tale about wooing a girl during school days with plenty of hearts.

Part of movie magic would be that it allows the viewer to reminisce the past and this movie definitely brought back plenty of relatable memories of school days. You are the Apple of My Eye also provided an avenue to ponder about the "what ifs" and that was personally the most heart wrenching moments for me.

Sometimes, the only reason to love a movie would be that it resonates with one's life experience and this coming of age movie tugged my heartstrings harder than the rest of the best movies in 2011. Last but not least, if Michelle Chen was my classmate, I would have studied my ass off.

and the other great movies of 2011 that somehow couldn't make it into my best 10 movies list are:  The Fighter, Black Swan, The Man from Nowhere 아저씨, Space Battleship Yamato ヤマト, Source Code, Water for Elephant, Beck, Four หลุดสี่หลุด, Gallants 打擂台, SuckSeed ห่วยขั้นเทพ, Gantz Perfect Answer, Win Win, Tatsumi, Dolphin Tale, Apollo 18, Delhi Belly देहली बेली, Attack the Block, Midnight in Paris, One Day

The Worst 10 Movies of 2011

10 - East Meets West 2011 东成西就 2011 is a showcase of how the director Jeffery Lau being overindulged in his own ideas and losing the comedic touch. It felt that he had big ideas for this "all star ensemble flick" but didn't know how to put them together. The story of seven reincarnated immortals who are seeking the evil eighth immortal had comedic potential and even a decent storyline but Jeffery Lau floundered in the allocation of time and material for these characters. Resulting in a mess up effort that squandered the talents and time of the artists that were involved with this project.

It should be noted that the stars in this movie are not exactly the same caliber as the stars that were in The Eagle Shooting Heroes 东成西就 (Jeffery Lau's previous Mo Lei Tau movie of the same format). Some of the stars in this movie are relative unknown outside the China and Hong Kong market. Some of the artists' celebrity status are questionable even in today's standard. The combination of a directionless director with a odd ensemble of celebrities seemed just the right mix for disaster. East Meets West 2011 just make me miss the good old Hong Kong comedies.

9 - Spy Kids: All the Time in the World in 4D is pretty bad even for a kid show. The gimmicky Aroma-scope (scratch and sniff card) which was suppose to provide the fourth dimension was a big turnoff. Most of the scratch pads smelled like bubblegum and those that really stood out stinks pretty bad. I really don't think that Aroma-scope will become a norm for movie watching. I really hope it's the end of the road for Aroma-scope.

Gimmicks aside, the story of two kids discovering that their stepmom (Jessica Alba) is actually a spy and the world of fancy spy gadgets while their clueless dad host the spy hunter television program is pretty badly made. It's probably passable for a kids television program but when Pixar are bringing quality materials to the movies for both kids and adults, Spy Kids: All the Time in the World in 4D just felt like an outright robbery for the paying adults.  

8 - My Ex : Haunted Lover แฟนใหม่ is the sequel to Thai Horror Romance, My Ex and both movies managed to allocate a place in my 10 Worst Movies List. It's a supernatural horror about vengeful heartbroken ex that's not scary nor emotional. In fact the previous movie had a couple scary scenes that pretty well done. Here we get a comical jump from a building and landing head first with a scar on the face. I would assume that a fall in such manner would at least result in a burst skull but it's impossible to have a headless Asian Ghost movie. Just think of the potential loss in Hair Shampoo business.

My Ex the Haunted Lover is low on scares and dragged the unconvincing triangle love story for too long. The last straw for this movie was when it did a 180 degree turn for events at the end and it was a horrible twist to swallow. But still the Ex franchise is going strong with a third installment coming up and that to me is the real horror.

7 - 3D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy 3D肉蒲团之极乐宝鉴 created quite a buzz and sold a lot of tickets in Hong Kong but ultimately failed to live up to the expectation of a titillating good time. It's really hard to be aroused when the movie is infused with plenty of gory violence that involved mutilating of genitals. The Hong Kong actress revealed very little and the Japanese Adult Video actress performance weren't that spectacular either. It certainly didn't help when they made Vonnie Lui a transvestite with manly voice.

But what Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy ultimately failed for me was the story. The tale of a scholar who left his wife for pleasure elsewhere was the same story that told in Amy Yip's Sex and Zen. This update lacks the ball to carry out the sad ending that was in the original movie. Instead it pulled a happy ending where the protagonists had a 180 degree turnaround to what was being build up in the bulk of the movie. In the end, it's the viewer that got screwed.

6 - Legend of A Rabbit / Kung Fu Rabbit 兔侠传奇 has been called a Kung Fu Panda knock off right from the start. It's not hard to see the rationale behind the accusation.

Large furry animal - Check.
Novice mastering Kungfu - Check.
Kung Fu master who was badly injured by the Villain  - Check.

The list go on and on. To be fair, such plot devices for Kung Fu movies had been recycled a lot. But it's really how the execution of such plot devices were carried out. Kung Fu Panda was awesome and Kung Fu Rabbit gets a mention on my top 10 worst movies. The plot of Tu'er, a pancake cook who seek revenge for a dying kungfu master that he rescued was done in a naively crude China fashion. The protagonist was irritatingly dumb and naive. It simply lacks the sophistication that DreamWorks Animation had shown us. The only thing that make watching this movie easier was to spot the similarity between the two Kung Fu white furry creatures.  

Not forgetting that the computer animation is pretty lackluster when it stands alongside the recent offerings by Pixar, DreamWorks Animation, Blue Sky Studios and etc. It pretty much tells where is China's standard in computer animation these days.

5 - Legendary Amazons 杨门女将之军令如山 wouldn't get a mention here if it's meant to be a comedy because this Chinese historic war film was so unintentionally bad that it's funny. There's so many things wrong with this rendition of the legendary widows of the Yang Clan generals defending the Song Dynasty's borders from foreign invaders that I am going to point out a few of them.

The age disparity between Cecilia Cheung (Guiying) and the guy playing her son is simply too much. Excessive wire works made most of the fighting scenes look fake. The worst aspect of Cecilia Cheung's acting would be her emotional outburst and this movie made her cried one too many time. The movie made a point to introduce the numerous female warriors of the Yang Clan and subsequently put them aside as wallflowers until it's time to kill them off. The warfare weaponry used in this movie were inventive ... as in inventively funny in the wrong way. The production looks cheap and it's an epic fail whenever they try to stage massive battles.

Last but not least, as part of a Jackie Chan produced movie, there's the usual NG segment that usually depicts how hard it was to make a movie and Legendary Amazons NG segments showed just how "difficult" and "dangerous" it was for the ladies.

4 - Lan Kwai Fong 喜愛夜蒲 made me wonder if the folks who frequent Lan Kwai Fong are that superficial or was it the fault of this movie? It would be a genius move if the movie was purposely made in a superficial manner so that there's a form of parallelism but I really don't think that the case here.

The main story of Lan Kwai Fong follows the tumultuous relationship between Steven and Jennifer. The movie covers how they met, their one night stand that kick start their relationship, the breakup and the predictable attempts to patch back. Then there's the additional plot with the promiscuous Cat and Sean who got the hots for her. Last but not least, there's the club manager Jacky who abandon his pregnant girlfriend for a new target, only to wreck with guilt when he found out what became of her as the movie progressed.

These are not the only relationship arcs that covered in this movie. There are a few more subplots that involves ex triad and his long time admirer and a guy pretending to be butch to mess with underage girls. 

Needless to say, all these relationships are superficially touched on. What made it worse would be that these are not seasoned actors to begin with. It's almost impossible to feel anything for the characters or what they are going through. There's a only couple tantalizing shots of boobs grabbing actions (with clothes on) to ease the tedious viewing experience. But in the end, sex sells and Lan Kwai Fong made enough money for the sequel to be green-lighted.

3 - Beastly is a prime example on how classic are being horrendously updated for audience these days. Beastly is a re-imagination of Beauty and the Beast but yet none of the magic remains. The Beast in this movie was so badly established that the character felt superficial when he was trying to portray a superficial being that's overly concern about his looks.

The disfigurement was nowhere near ugly and the chemistry between the two leads were non existent. The story felt like a collection of poorly made scenes with very little substance to it. It's hard to believe that they had Beauty and the Beast as template but yet they managed to veered off by telling the classic story so badly.

2 - My Best Bodyguard | มาย เบสท์ บอดี้การ์ด is a blatant vanity project for the Princess of Thailand and she made a few crucial mistakes in bankrolling this movie. First of all, a story by C.R.A.B that played out like crap. A story that revolve around drug company that doing illegal testing, a reporter who refuse to back down and her dad who send her the best bodyguard to protect her. It tired to do too much when it lacks the ability to do so. Resulting in a badly patched up movie that was horrendous to follow.

The second mistake that the princess made was to fill the movie with good looking males. The disparity in looks was just too distracting. The princess probably should have taken acting class to match the rest in acting too. Not forgetting that the action sequence in this action flick was a tame affair. Last but not least, My Best Bodyguard should have provided subtitles for Shawn Yue's English dialogues in this movie.

1 - The Ultimate Winner | 赢家  ultimately turned out to be The Ultimate Loser. How is it possible that a movie released this year could pale in comparison with the old Hong Kong gambling movies and Singapore television gambling series in the 90s? Thru some divine intervention, The Ultimate Winner managed to do that. Horrible plotting, Christian evangelizing, weak gambling choreographing and bad acting makes it a wonder why this movie managed to get a theatrical release at all.

The Ultimate Winner also goes to show that very few actors should move on to the directing chair... here's looking at you Li Nanxing!

Other notable bad flicks that getting the thumbs down from me this year are The Roommate, Mr. and Mrs. Incredible 神奇俠侶, Sucker Punch, Wasao わさお, A Chinese Ghost Story 倩女幽魂, Battle: Los Angeles, SP : The Motion Picture | SP野望篇, Ghost : In Your Arms Again  ゴースト もういちど抱きしめたい, Exorcismus, The Fortune Buddies 勁抽褔祿壽, The Cat 고양이 : 죽음을 보는 두 개의 눈, No Strings Attached, Treasure Hunt 無價之寶, Sector 7, 11-11-11, Abduction, Sleepwalker 夢遊 & I Don't Know How She Does It

I would really like to include these two movies into the 10 worst movies of 2011 but since both of them were not release in a general commercial release ( one was screen at an invitation only screening and another one had a limited screening at a local Hong Kong film festival), I am just going to list them here.
  • The Devil Inside Me  夺命心跳
  • Quattro I & II  香港四重奏 I & II

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Turning Point 2 Laughing Gor Returns | Laughing Gor之潛罪犯 [ Movie Review ] ★★★

Laughing Gor is quite a "cultural" phenomenon in the Hong Kong entertainment scene. This undercover cop character was a supporting role in a Hong Kong TVB television police drama E.U (Emergency Unit - which was already a third installment to The Academy series). While undercover cops characters and angle had been done numerous times in Hong Kong films and tv series, Laughing Gor managed to gain so much popularity until the character / actor got a movie and drama series spin off.

First was the movie Turning Point that was supposedly meant to chronicle the Laughing Gor's times before the events in E.U. However it wasn't a faithful prequel as there are a few events that contradict with what happened in the television series.

TVB "corrected" those problems by making another spin off television series called Lives of Omission. This new television series became a replacement series that correct the contradiction between E.U and Turning Point. After Lives of Omission, it seems that Laughing Gor is still pretty much sought after and that why there's Turning Point 2 Laughing Gor Returns ( Laughing Gor之潛罪犯 ), a movie that directly ties in with events that occurred in Lives of Omission.

Turning Point 2 starts off with Laughing Gor (Michael Tse) being sentenced to life imprisonment for killing So (Bosco Wong). But for Hong Kong's most beloved undercover cop, it's never that simple. It turned out that Laughing Gor is in a new mission to gather more information on Tai Chit (Chapman To) a former Narcotics Bureau Station Sergeant who admitted to corruption but refused to reveal the identity of his accomplice.

Soon afterwards, a trained psychologist Professor Fok (Francis Ng) is imprisoned for drug dealings. The mysterious Professor is not a simple man. As soon as his jail term starts, he demonstrated his ability in analyzing people and manipulating people's mind. Laughing Gor soon realized that the Professor is interested in Tai Chit too. To add on to his dubious character, Laughing Gor also noticed that So's wife, Paris (Kate Tse) has been visiting Professor Fok and they are in a strange loving relationship.

What is Tai Chit withholding? Who is this mysterious Professor Fok and what is he up to? Why is Paris hooking up with the Professor when she should still be in the mourning for her dead husband. It all adds up to a big confrontation with the new head of police, the drug lord of the golden triangle and a diabolical plan to change the system.

There are a couple of things that I noticed about Turning Point 2 Laughing Gor Returns. The first and foremost would be that this movie relies heavily on the events in Lives of Omission and how it affected characters like So and Paris. Even though there's flashbacks to the last few episodes of Lives of Omission, it can get rather disconnecting. If it's impossible to access the television series, at least try to read up with Wiki page on it.
The second thing would be that Turning Point 2 played out like the third installment of Infernal Affairs. In order to move on, it adds new characters in by writing new background stories that wasn't established in The Omission of Life. In a way, it's a major retcon to what's been established, particularly to Laughing Gor killing So at the end of Lives of Omission. Some might like it and some might not. Personally, I thought it was a rather intriguing retcon and it kept me entertained throughout the show.

It's also quite strange that Michael Tse's screen time as Laughing Gor has been dramatically reduced for a lead role. It's filled with unnecessary characters like Carmen (Janice Man), Laughing Gor's handler and comedic performance of MC Jin as Officer Yeung that did very little for the story or Laughing Gor's story. It doesn't help when Michael Tse's co stars, Francis Ng, Chapman To and Kara Hui are stealing the show from the lead. It's like what Anthony Wong, Eric Tsang and Francis Ng (again) did in the first Turning Point movie, out shinning Michael Tse's performance.

In summary, I am still waiting for Michael Tse to impress me with his Laughing Gor character. I am still not getting the hype and popularity of this undercover cop. But that not to say that Turning Point 2 Laughing Gor Returns isn't without it's entertainment value. The retcon was fun to watch and the supporting cast of Francis Ng, Chapman To and Kara Hui are ever reliable in their respecting roles. Turning Point 2 comes recommended and probably highly recommended if you are a fan of Lives of Omission.

Rating: ***

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Darkest Hour [ Movie Review ]

The Darkest Hour tells the story of four young Americans who became stranded in Moscow when aliens that comes in form of energy beings suddenly invaded planet Earth. After escaping extermination, they managed to find other survivors and a way to spot the invisible aliens.

Together with other survivors, they also found a broadcast message that informed them that there's a Russian submarine that would bring them to their nation's submarine. Armed with a homemade weapon that's designed to disarm the alien's electronic force field, they make their way to the rendezvous point that's located in the heavily alien infested area.

As an alien invasion movie, The Darkest Hour was rather bland. The best stuff are already on the trailer and there's nothing in this movie that really top those that were shown. The Darkest Hour is essentially a tour to see Moscow in post-apocalyptic ruins while the American teenagers attempt to find a way back to America. Initially the alien beings in the invisible electric form look impressive but after a while, it became rather boring. The homemade weapon that helped them fight back came about so easily and very little explanation was spent on this equipment.

It's a visual fest but emotionally hollow when we follows the character in trying to survive this massacre. If the alien invasion is so effective, it really make little sense to travel back to their home country when it's a worldwide invasion. But being a formulaic movie, the characters had to do something and the whole point of this movie was to make that impossible attempt to return home. It's not the worst alien invasion movie but it isn't that good either.  Catch it only if you want to watch the extended version of the trailer on a big screen.

Rating: ** 1/2

Sunday, December 4, 2011

East Meets West 2011 | 东成西就 2011 [ Movie Review] ★★

The Pitch

Back in 1993, director Jeffrey Lau and a group of well known Hong Kong celebrities of that period, gave us The Eagle Shooting Heroes 东成西就, a memorable parody of Louis Cha's The Legend of the Condor Heroes (射雕英雄传). Folks who had seen it would probably remember the Tony Leung's sausage lips gag, the centipede torture and many more. Needless to say, it was one of Jeffrey Lau's outstanding works in his long history of "Mo Lei Tau" comedies.

Flash forward to today, director Jeffrey Lau is back with another 东成西就 (East Meets West 2011). Although it's not a parody of The Legend of the Condor Heroes, it follows the same format of having an ensemble of the famous stars in the current Hong Kong / China entertainment field. While a handful of them are famous enough to match their 1993 counterparts, the rest are mainly made up of relatively new stars and folks whom I have not heard of. Other than that, it features Kenny Bee, the only actor that appeared on both movies.

Personally, I am a fan of Jeffrey Lau's movies. Even though he had some misses (eg A Chinese Tall Story), he also help created some of the classic Mo Lei Tau comedies from Hong Kong (A Chinese Odyssey, All for the Winner and etc). Although his recent features (Just Another Pandora's Box and The Fantastic Water Babes) were panned by most online reviews that I had came across, I thought they were pretty enjoyable. Here's hopping that Jeffrey Lau would be able to achieve something special with this ensemble that makes this new update East Meets West 2011 worthy of it's Chinese title 东成西就. 

The Plot

Funny Meh?
Xiaoming (Karen Mok 莫文蔚) and her father Ah B (Kenny Bee 锺镇涛) are on the run from debt collectors. It turned out that Jia Jia (Huang Yi 黄奕), Ah B's unreliable wife (who also happened to be Xiaoming's ex classmate and stepmom) had accepted a deposit to set up a concert featuring the Wynners (Kenny Bee's famous Hong Kong pop band from the late seventies to the early eighties). It's an impossible mission as all the members of Wynners (except Ah B) are too busy to perform in this concert.

While the father and daughter are on their way to rescue Jia Jia from Mainland tycoon Zhou Dong (Eason Chan 陈奕迅), they came across a eccentric taxi driver Wen (William So 苏永康) who happens to be fanatic actor wannabe. On their quest to form a musical group, they came across Jade (Sitar Tan Weiwei 谭维维) a rich man's daughter who left the life of wealth for a musical career and her money minded butler Bing (Jaycee Chan 房祖明). Before they could make their way to meet Zhou Dong to rescue Jia Jia, they had a fiery car crash accident with Da Xiong (Ekin Cheng 郑伊健), a mute dumpling chef.

Da Xiong's son witness how these group of individuals became superheroes during the accident and escaped unscratched. He told the survivors that they were seven immortals that's been betrayed and killed by the eighth immortal. The legend has it that they are destined to be reborn as humans with no knowledge of their past and eventually, they would have to fight the evil eighth immortal. Naturally, the kid was dismissed as a liar until they found out about their supernatural power.

I like how you cut my hair ...
Meanwhile, Xiaoming became smitten by Zhou Dong and came out with a wacky plan to hold the "Wynners" concert. Things were going well until a shadowy mysterious figure (Stephy Tang 邓丽欣) came and wreck havoc. In times of distress, the seven individuals transformed into super powered heroes to rescue the concert goers from the destruction.

Could this be the eight immortal that they been waiting for? Will these seven immortals survive the battle with the power hungry immortal when their previous incarnations had failed?

The Perspective

East Meets West 2011 was a major disappointment. I am not sure if there was any creative inputs from the China bosses but since it's Jeffery Lau's name on the writer and director credits, he probably should bare the major bulk of this disparage. In recent years, his movies had suffered from his self indulgence with his sense of comedy and story that interest him. Sometimes, it hits the right spot but in East Meets West 2011 case, it was a horrid waste of time and talent.

But how do you critically review a "Mo Lei Tau" (nonsensical) movie? I am going to compare it with The Eagles Shooting Heroes and Just Another Pandora's Box, two of previous Jeffery Lau's movies.

Both East Meets West 2011 and Just Another Pandora's Box suffered from patchy storyline but what helped Just Another Pandora's Box was that it didn't have to suffered from the overcrowding of "main" characters in East Meets West 2011. There was a central love story of Ronald Cheng's character and the Rose fairy (Betty Sun) with the rest of the stars as supporting characters to that love story. In East Meets West 2011, all the "stars" are laden with their own stories and around the halfway mark, it seemed that the director realized that the movie had to focus on the main love story that revolving between Xiaoming (Karen Mok) and Zhou Dong (Eason Chan). Subsequently all the other subplots were either minimize or abandon.

Nothing for me to do?
Of all the characters that were affected, Ekin Cheng's Da Xiong and Huang Yi's Jia Jia suffered the most. It seemed that there were some build up between Da Xiong, his son and his ex wife but nothing was made up of it. Jaycee Chan had a special appearance / cameo billing but it turned out that Ekin Cheng had less screen time or things to do in this movie.

Ekin Cheng might not be the most talented artist around these days but among this cast, he is one of the most well known and to see his role reduced into a forgettable cameo, it's just kinda sad.

Likewise, Huang Yi's Jia Jia character was destined to have a never ending feud with Xiaoming. After a few squabblers, her character was discarded and were only brought back for some gags. Their resolution came quickly and there was very little emotional impact between the two. It makes one wonder why bother with her character at all. Just another waste of talent.

Are We Stars?
lucky they hide half my face
Comparing East Meets West 2011 with The Eagles Shooting Heroes, the first and foremost thing that's lacking was star factor. Given that Eason Chan, Karen Mok, Kenny Bee and Ekin Cheng are all well know personalities in the Asian region, the rest of the East Meets West 2011 stars are not exactly stars qualities (as compared to their counterparts in The Eagles Shooting Heroes). Who is this Sitar Tan Weiwei? Will Jaycee Chan still have a career in the entertainment business if his father is not Jackie Chan? Is William So still singing? I also wonder if Stephy Tang is popular in the Singapore market?

Movies of such nonsensical nature requires a certain star quality to it. It would allow the audience to like the characters quicker as there's hardly any material in such genre to do such buildup. It also allows comedy to arise from a play in their well known personality. These are stuff that you can't do with a relative bunch of unknown / wannabes / up and coming stars. It's possible to do such nonsensical comedy with relatively unknowns but they must have a strong sense of comedy and comedy performance. As again, it's lacking with those that's picked for this movie.

Beside that, the handling of the characters was a mess in East Meets West 2011. There were just as many characters in The Eagles Shooting Heroes and yet they well woven to support each other stories. In East Meets West 2011, you could remove a few of the characters and it wouldn't affect the gist of this story. That how disposable the characters are in this movie.

Last but not least, what The Eagles Shooting Heroes and Just Another Pandora's Box had that East Meets West 2011 didn't was that most of the characters from the previous spoof comedies were well known. Even though some of the eight immortals names sound rather familiar, I believed that they were mainly characters that made from scratch and it's just difficult to handle so many characters at the same time.

East Meets West 2011 might have been better if the focus was on Karen Mok and Eason Chan's character from the start. Reduce the other star roles into secondary supporting ones like the ones in Just Another Pandora's Box and remove all traces of their background stories. This movie had a fairly good theme of redemption and pure love. It just a pity that it muddled the story with allocating screen time for the stars.

Rating : **

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Hong Kong Ghost Stories [ Movie Review ] ★★1/2

The Pitch

Touted as the return of Hong Kong horror, "Hong Kong Ghost Stories" features two spooky tales from director Wong Jing and Patrick Kong. From the good o' classic such as Mr Vampire to the crappy cheaply made ones like the Troublesome Night franchise in the nineties, it's been a long time since there's any comedic horror movies from Hong Kong. 

But can Wong Jing (King of low brow entertainment) and Patrick Kong ( Director of Mr and Mrs Single) revived this once popular genre for the Hong Kong film industry? Or is this just an excuse to put straight to video quality movie on the big screen to earn some quick bucks?

The Plot

The first story, "Classroom" is written and directed by Wong Jing. It stars Jennifer Tse (Nicolas Tse's sister making her acting debut) as Miss Yip, a substitute teacher who is returning to the teaching field after breaking up an abusive relationship with ex-boyfriend Chung (Pakho Chow). But she is not getting any break as her new class is unruly and her ex-boyfriend keep pestering her for a patch up.

Things got worse for Miss Yip when she saw some of her students going for compensated dates. Her offers to help them were met with threats and acts of defiance from her students.

And since this is a horror movie, Miss Yip subsequently got locked up in the toilet with slamming doors and flying blades (courtesy of the exhaust fan). Miss Yip soon discover that this is not your usual unruly class. It's the supernatural horrific type that wouldn't allow Miss Yip "abandon" them. To "entice" Miss Yip more, it seemed that there's a victimized student that would need rescuing. Could Miss Yip survive her class from hell?

Patrick Kong wrote and directed the second story "Travel" in a non-chronological manner. It started with the funeral wake of Bobo (Chrissie Chau) that attended by four of her friends (Charmaine Fong, Jacqeuline Chong, Harriet Yeung and Rose Chan). They spent their time playing cards and recounting their first encounter with Bobo and policeman Jack (Timmy Hung) at a recent tour trip to Thailand.

Halfway through the wake, Bobo's lover Karl (Him Law) arrived to pay his last respect to the deceased. The four girls quickly befriended him and invited him over for a steamboat dinner to talk about Bobo's last few days at Thailand. Karl then revealed some startling information about Bobo and his wife, Phoenix (Stephy Tang). Things are not what they seemed and it's twist galore with this segment.

The Perspective 

Comparing these two segments, Patrick Kong's Classroom was much more entertaining to sit through. There were some genuine funny moments that were delivered by the four female friends of Bobo. Ranging from digs at TVB / ATV (the two Hong Kong TV stations) to their rendition of extremely horny predators, the laughs kept coming to distract the rather weak performance from the rest of the cast (especially Chrissie Chau who got top billing here but was noticeably missing most of the time).

The climatic twist galore was mildly enjoyable even though it's filled with plenty of plot holes. It could have ended earlier with the strongest twist but it went a little too far with the finale revelation and in the process diluted the impact that it had going. "Travel" won't be the next gem in the Hong Kong comedic ghost genre but it's definitely more enjoyable out the two stories that Hong Kong Ghost Stories had to offer..

Wong Jing's Classroom was rather unremarkable. It's not the worst material that he had put out and neither was it one of his better works. It's like a bland functional time wasting TV program. There's a major twist at the end which was also ridden with plot holes. One of the enjoyable bits of this segment was to see how it tried to justified the revelation with contrived explanations.

The other noteworthy aspect of this segment would be that it provides a chance to check out if Jennifer Tse could act or not. Surprisingly, she wasn't as bad as her brother when he had just started out as an actor. Plus she looked like a young Gong Li to me and that makes it easier to follow her role as a protagonist in a rather uninspired horror story. It would be interesting to see what kind of choices she makes for her movie career.

Bottom line, both Classroom and Travel are as scary as Hong Kong comedic horror goes (which is to say that it isn't). Not exactly the type of show that you should fork out hard earn money for but it wouldn't be that terrible if one actually like this genre and actually paid for this. If you could wait, I am pretty sure that the cable TV or dvd rental for Hong Kong Ghost Stories would be out soon after it's taken off the cinema screens. Otherwise, it isn't a big lost if you give this movie a miss.

Rating: **1/2

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Adventures of Tintin

The Pitch

It all got started with a movie review compared Raiders of the Lost Ark to Hergé The Adventures of Tintin comic books. That review introduced Steven Spielberg to the world of Tintin comics and he became fan of Hergé signature style of drawings.

After decades of attempts to make this movie, Steven Spielberg had decided to make The Adventures of Tintin as a live-action adaptation and asked Peter Jackson if Weta Digital could help create Tintin's faithful dog Snowy with computer generated effects. As a fan of the comics, Peter Jackson convinced Steven Spielberg that the best way to show Hergé's world of Tintin would be through motion capture animation.

But even with two of the biggest current Hollywood filmmakers at helm, would it be enough to attract the audience to watch The Adventures of Tintin on the big screen? Since the late Hergé didn't allowed another artist to draw Tintin, there isn't any new Tintin books for decades. Without a new Tintin product to market, it limits the exposure of this fine comics to the masses, particularly the younger generation. While Tintin has always been a huge success in Europe, it remained a relatively unknown franchise to the America audience. I suspect that many viewers of The Adventures of Tintin might be experiencing the world of Tintin for the very first time.

Personally, I was a casual reader of the Tintin comics back in school days. It would be difficult for me to recall any specific stories from those Tintin comics but I had fond memories of reading Tintin at a super quick pace and was intrigued by the unexpected chain of events. It would be a blast looking forward to what Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson could do to revitalize the Tintin franchise and my memories of this Belgium comic books.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

11-11-11 [ Movie Review ] ★★

The Pitch

11-11-11 seemed like a gimmicky way to make a horror movie. Using this date to set up the ominous doomsday scenario just have a desperate feel to it. It might appeal to those who likes to find mystical meaning in numbers. Other than that, there's nothing really of any significant about this date.

It makes me wonder if 11-11-11 would loses it's novelty once the special date had pass. I can't shake off the feeling that this movie would be desperately finding ways to link any form of horror inclination to 11-11-11. Even before watching the movie, It got a "dated convoluted film product" sentiment set against it.

But apparently Darren Lynn Bousman (director of Saw 2, 3 , 4) thought otherwise. Personally I liked his Saw movies and would like to see what he could do after leaving the Saw franchise. Fellow Saw franchise director James Wan's Insidious was impressive and personally I hope that Darren Lynn Bousman could equally good. Let's see what he could cook up for 11-11-11.

The Plot 

Joseph Crone (Timothy Gibbs) is a successful author who lost faith in God when his wife and son died in a fire. After surviving a car crash, he started to notice a trend with the number 11 and it seemed to be plaguing him with nightmares and horrific events. Returning home from hospital, he got a call from his wheelchair bound priest brother Samuel (Michael Landes) and found out that his father was dying. Although they are in an estranged relationship, he decided to travel to Barcelona, Spain to meet his religious dad and brother.

However upon arrival, Joseph began to encounter more weird occurrences involving the number 11. He started to research on this special "number" and discovered that there are some who believed that entities from other realm would be entering earth on 11-11-11. It might even be the end of religion. Not only that, his dad also revealed that both Joseph and Samuel would have a part to play on this predicted apocalyptic date. The atheistic Joseph started to question his lack of faith and wonders if there's some truth with the "religious" prophecies on this date.

The Perspective (11-11-11 Movie Review)

11-11-11 turned out to be a rather weak horror flick as one would expect. With only Joseph as the only main character in the movie, it's not hard to figure out that no harm will come to him for most part of the movie. Therefore for most part of the movie, it's laden with plenty of those silly "spook a moment" scenes that felt cheap scares and pointless.

The subplots and characters were weakly established to bring any emotional resonate to the main story. Joseph's grief and beef with God were so superficially setup that it was cringing to see Timothy Gibbs go through the motion as 11-11-11 required of him. There was a supporting character Sadie (Wendy Glenn) that was supposed to provide emotional support to Joseph and to showcase the power of the other worldly entity. But at the end of the day, I find myself asking what the point of this character.

The whole linkage with the unique date of 11-11-11 felt rather forced and silly. Just imagine part of Joseph's research to the date was watching "youtube" videos of people talking about what they felt and expect would happen on 11-11-11. While some excel in making something out of nothing (eg. The Blair Witch Project), 11-11-11 handling of the special date just drew more attention to how hollow the material they have at hand.

The best aspect of movie was the climatic "twisty" finale. However movie fans should not have any problems figuring it out half way through the movie. It could have been as impactful as movies like Sixth Sense or A Perfect Getaway but due to the lackluster handling of the lead up to the finale, the payout came off as a whimper instead of a bang.

11-11-11 reminded me of the old school scary atmospheric that Insidious had going but it paled in comparison when it comes scarring the audience and providing a satisfactory wrap up in the end. There are some decent scares during the movie but those scares are largely silly and forgettable. The  draggy pace and the revelation of the movie certainly didn't make the wait felt worthwhile either.  11-11-11 didn't had the potential to start with and faltered in many ways that were expected. I don't think this horror movie would be remembered after it's expiry date.  Not Recommended.

Rating: **

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Tower Heist [ Movie Review ]

The Pitch

With the ongoing Occupy Wall Street movements and Bernie Madoff pleading guilty in defrauding thousands of investors of their money in 2009, Tower Heist seemed to be the movie to reflect the zeitgeist of the current economic situation in USA. But to make a adventure comedy out of such thorny issues might not be such a good idea. I don't think it would be as distasteful as how a "foreclosure mill" firm mocked evicted homeowners by dressing up as homeless people at their company's Halloween party last year but still it's a reflection of what people suffered in real life and making a comedy out of it requires carefully delicate handling.

The other thing to look out for would be the return of Eddie Murphy in a live action film after the lackluster Meet Dave and Imagine That. Some had hope that it would be a return to form for his comedic career and early reviews had indicate that he is pretty good in this. Personally, the one that I am looking out for would be Alan Alda. I am a big M*A*S*H because of him and it's been an awful long time since I saw him on the big screen.

Last but not least, there's Ben Stiller and director Brett Ratner. Their movies usually entertains me without fail. Additionally with Casey Affleck, Téa Leoni, Gabourey Sidibe (Precious), Michael Peña and Matthew Broderick, it felt like Tower Heist is loaded to be a mini The Expendables. Let's just hope that Tower Heist would be able to better utilize the cast at hand and create an enjoyable heist movie out of it.

The Plot

Josh Kovacs (Ben Stiller) has managed The Tower, one of the most luxurious and exclusive New York residence for over a decade. He is one of the best manager around and kept his staff under strict control. Then unexpectedly, they found out that Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda), the resident at their penthouse was charged with frauds and held under house arrest in the swanky The Tower's penthouse. The Towers staffs are hit the hardest as Josh had asked Arthur Shaw to invest with their pension and it seemed that they are unable to get their money back. 

Facing bankruptcy, Lester (Stephen Henderson), one of their doorman attempted suicide. Outraged by Arthur Shaw's unsympathetic reaction, Josh went on a rampage in Arthur's beloved Ferrari. That act caused Josh, his brother in law Charlie (Casey Affleck) and new employee Enrique (Michael Peña) their job. While drowning his sorrow with Claire Denham (Téa Leoni), the special agent in charged of Arthur Shaw's case, Josh found out that there's a large sum of money that has not been uncovered.

Josh then deduced that the money is hidden in the penthouse and he might know where the money is hidden. Enlisting the help of Charlie, Enrique and bankrupt businessman Mr. Fitzhugh (Matthew Broderick), they decided to rob Arthur Shaw. But realizing that they know nothing about robbery, Josh turned to his criminal neighbor Slide (Eddie Murphy) for help. They also realize that they need someone who can open safe and one of The Tower staff, Odessa (Gabourey Sidibe) happened to come from a family of locksmiths in Jamaica.

With Arthur Shaw getting acquitted soon, Josh and gang must carry out the prefect heist during Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. But the best laid plans don't always go as planned.

The Perspective 

The real fun of Tower Heist began when the rookie thieves commenced their heist. The unexpected chain of events for the heist were thrilling and it was the most suspense that you can get out of a comedic entertainment. The satisfaction level for Tower Heist matches other recent good heist movies Inside Man and Ocean's Eleven. The only thing that marred the enjoyment of Tower Heist was ironically the slow establishment of the characters and events in this movie.

Ironic because it was necessary for the heist to work so well at the end of it. The viewers needed to root for the amateur thieves to make it enjoyable for the many twists and turns leading to the finale. But yet it was a rather bland and tedious build up of characters and the situation leading up to the heist (specially when viewers were already expecting the  blue-collar employees to extract their revenge on the rich crook all along). The movie tried to make it entertaining by infusing humorous bits into the show but somehow it felt like an awkward blend of humor and real life tragedy. It came to a point where it might have been better if it was a serious drama instead. There were some funny bits with Ben Stiller, Eddy Murphy, Michael Peña and Gabourey Sidibe but Casey Affleck, Téa Leoni and Matthew Broderick comedic contribution felt a little bland.

While the comedic elements weren't at it's best, the thrilling secretive robbery was a page turner. It's not a well thought out heist but the fun lies in what went wrong and how they attempted to rectify the problem. The setup for the characters were done "well" enough that viewer will root for them to get achieved their heist so that the "Bernie Madoff" type of villain can have his comeuppance. There's some glaring loopholes in the whole operation but it was entertainingly executed that it didn't matter that much.

Partly another reason why the heist worked so well would be that in real life, those victimized individuals would likely be unable to extract revenge in such manner. In a way, it's pure escapism for those who seek justice in a society that favors the rich.

Among all the stars, I felt that Alan Alda performance stood out the most. In a limited role, he managed to capture the essence of what a "Bernie Madoff" type of con artist might be like. Someone who could befriends folks from all walks of lives, gain their trust and swindle them ruthlessly. The rest of the stars were right for their respective roles but in my opinion, it was Alan Alda that stole the show.

Tower Heist is an enjoyable heist movies. It suffers from a little slow start up but once the heist gets going, it was high octane fun. The heist could get a rather unrealistic and crippled by a couple of loopholes but it's easy to overlook those problems. Recommended.

Rating: ***

Saturday, October 29, 2011

You are the Apple of My Eye | 那些年, 我们一起追的女孩 [ Movie Review ] ★★★★1/2

The Pitch

Touted as Biggest Ever Opening Day and Weekend Box Office for a Taiwanese film (remained as Taiwan Box Office champion for three weeks), You are the Apple of My Eye ( 那些年,我们一起追的女孩 literally means The girl that we wooed during those years ) marks a revival of Taiwanese films that getting commercial release here in Singapore. This coming-of-age movie is based on a popular autobiography book by Giddens (九把刀 or Nine Knives) and it's selling like hot cakes in Hong Kong (No.1 at Hong Kong box office and out selling it's nearest competitor Life without Principle by about 2.65 times). 

What makes this school days romance movie so popular in Taiwan and Hong Kong? The trailer gave the impression that it's going to be another routine romantic comedy with good looking actor and actress. The director. Giddens is primarily known for his novels and this movie somewhat marks his first directorial debut. To have such a result for his first main feature is pretty impressive. 

Perhaps there's something special about this box office champ that getting a commercial screening like it's predecessors, Monga and Cape. No 7. Let's find out what the X-factor in this movie.

The Plot

The movie started with the introduction of the protagonist, Ko-Teng (Ko Chen-tung 柯震東) and his close friends. They are distinctively different with their own special quirks However all his friends had something in common and that's having a crush with the class monitress, Shen Jiayi (Michelle Chen 陳妍希). For the longest time, Ko-Teng could not understand why his friends got the hot for her as he felt that she was only slightly prettier than the rest of the female classmates and there's nothing special about her.

After getting into trouble with their homeroom teacher, Ko-Teng was made to sit in front of Shen Jiayi. Being one of the top students in school, Shen Jiayi was tasked to keep close tabs on him and supervise his school works. The two of them resented the arrangement initially and started bickering until an incident in class changed the dynamic between them.

Shen Jiayi started to prepare extra homework for Ko-Teng and forced him to stay back after class for revisions. Romance blossom between the both of them but the usually outspoken Ko-Teng couldn't find the courage to propose to Shen Jiayi. With graduation looming, could their puppy love withstand the long distance test as they head towards different universities?

The Perspective 

You are the Apple of My Eye turned out to be surprisingly good. I didn't have much expectation for this coming-of-age romcom but it came out of nowhere and stole my heart. Without any surprises for this coming two months, You are the Apply of My Eye is likely to emerged as the best movie of 2011 for me. If I would to narrow down why this movie worked for me, it would because this movie got heart and soul. It wonderfully captures the wooing process and school days romance. Folks who had "similar" experience at school, they would find this movie easily relatable and heart wrenching in many ways.

Before lapping it with more praises, this movie isn't without it's faults. Some jokes and gags missed the spot entirely. At times, the movie can get rather crude, long winded and even tedious to follow at times.

But the payout at the end made all the wait worthwhile and the flaws forgettable. Especially the last ten minutes of this movie when all the build ups came into a satisfying wrap up. It was said that the director had decided to make this movie when the idea for the closing moments came to his mind. It was an excellent decision as the ending was one of the most beautiful yet poignant endings to coming-of-age school days rom com.

One of the biggest discovery for this movie would be Giddens, the director cum writer for this story. I have not read any of his Chinese novels and this first encounter with his work had impressed me much. He is pretty talented in telling a story and has an inventive touch in approaching materials that had been done to death. If imagination is intelligence having fun, it's not hard to see that Giddens is having a hell of time with this movie.

He had also made a good casting choice for this movie. You are the Apple of My Eye worked due to the casting for the two leads. Michelle Chen is lovely to watch and possess a certain special on screen flair that makes it easy to believe that so many guys would fall for her. Without her to breathe life into the objection of affection in this movie, You are the Apple of My Eye would not have work this well.

Likewise, the hunky newcomer Ko Chen-tung turned in a pretty good performance. As the protagonist, he had to carry the bulk of this movie and he did it in an effortlessly charismatic fashion. Whether the scenes  requires him to be comedic, suave or downright emotional, he managed to aced most of those scenes. Without a doubt, I will keeping tabs on these two actors future works.

After recommending this movie to a fellow movie lover, I was told that this type of movies come every five or ten years. The movie does have it's flaws but the heart of this move could easily hide those flaws. Highly recommended for those who wants to reminisce about their school days romance or currently going through some form of dilemma in romance.

Rating: ****1/2


During the credits roll, there are some scenes of the boys heading to play baseball and talk about their future and writing a book that this movie is based on. The real fun would be at the end of the credit roll when the director played a prank on Michelle Chen. Definitely worth staying back for.

Beyond the Movie

Sadly, this popular movie had cause much distress to the real Shen Jiayi. She had to take a year off from work and left for China to escape the Taiwanese press and the "overly resourceful" online fans. It seemed that the director / writer Giddens Ko was equally affected by the success of his movie and the trouble that it's causing for the apple of his eye that he is avoiding any talk about her to the press.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

In Time [ Movie Review ]

The Pitch

Andrew Niccol movies always have an interesting premises. Ranging from gene discrimination (Gattaca) to the gun trading (Lord of War), he had always weaved unforgettable stories from those premises. This time round, he is tackling a future where the aging gene stops at 25 and time is the new currency with Justin Timberlake.

Justin Timberlake, primary known as a pop star, has been making quite a few movies these days. His rendition as Sean Parker was quite outstanding and his latest leading performance in the romcom Friends with Benefit was pleasantly entertaining. I am aware that he has his fair share of detractors but I for one is interested to see where he is heading with his movie career.

Let's see how this collaboration turns out.

The Plot

In the futuristic world, the aging gene had been stopped and people stop aging when they reached 25 years old. In order to control the population, time has became the new currency.

The poor works from day to day to ensure their mortality. Will Salas (Justin Timberlake) is one of those poor who worked hard to earn minutes and seconds to sustain his life. When trying to prevent a robbery in a bar, he rescued a man with too much time on his hand and was looking for a way to end his life. 

While they were hiding out from their pursers, the "wealthy" man gave the secret behind the rich upper class and why the poor are doomed to be poor. While they were resting, he committed suicide by giving Will Salas the bulk of his lifespan .

Will Salas soon discovered that inheriting a "fortune" might not be that good after all. He was too late to save his mother from running out of time and the time keepers (the police force of this future) are hot on his heels. Will Salas then decided to do the unthinkable and take on the rich to try to right the wrong for the poor.

The Perspective (In Time movie review)

After Gattaca and Lord of War, In Time was a disappointing flick from Andrew Niccol. It has that novel approach of blending currency with time but it didn't come together well to build up an unforgettable story like what Gattaca and Lord of War achieved.

In fact, the characters felt lost and didn't know what to do after Will Salas gained the unexpected long life span. After the protagonist discovered how the poor had been exploited, there wasn't really any solid idea or plan in bringing a balance in the inequity in this futuristic society. Instead it spent the bulk in the protagonists played a cat and mouse game with the rather inefficient time keeper (their equivalent of police force). Things just automatically fall in place for the protagonist and it's hard to feel anxious for them even when their "bio-clock" was going to run out. There's also the additional subplot with a group of gangsters that gave the movie excuses to choreograph some action sequences which didn't really add to much to the story.

The upside of this movie would be that the novel concept of blending currency with time. It brought up a couple of interesting perspective on how we live our lives. The time we spend on and what we choose to do with the resources we have in hand. It also gave an interesting perspective on the lifestyle of the rich and the poor. On the bigger scale, it touched on how currency works in our society and why the gap between the rich and poor could not be closed. But of course, the manner which it tried to solved the inequity between classes was lazy and ludicrous.

Acting wise, I felt that Justin Timberlake did a decent job to carry out the protagonist role. But it felt like the movie didn't have much material for him to expand on his character. Like how the story falter for this movie, his performance went from engaging to boring as the plot plodded on. It's specially disappointing for someone who is hopping for another Ethan Hawke / Andrew Niccol turn out in Gattaca.

Bottom line In Time felt like a good concept that wasn't well executed. It pale in comparison with Gattaca and Lord of War. It was even less enjoyable than Andrew Niccol's second movie S1m0ne. It felt like a big drop in standard for the director. But even still, it's still a passable film with it's formulaic plot and it's still entertaining in it's own way. Perhaps if one didn't approach In Time with such high expectation, it might even be more enjoyable.

Rating: ***


Exclusive Comic Con Footage Trailer from In Time Official Youtube Channel

Monday, October 24, 2011

Life Without Principle [ Movie Review ]

Life Without Principle Movie Review

With the financial gloom looming in near future, director Johnnie To's cinematic take on the financial crisis came at the right time. Divided into three stories, Life without Principle examine how the common folks are affected by the financial market.

Teresa (Denise Ho), an investment banker was forced to push high risk investment to her greedy but ignorant customer in order to meet the business quota. Panther (Sean Lau Ching Wan), a loyal but somewhat dim witted triad member who gets enrolled into futures market stocks when he tried to bailout a fellow triad member. A dedicated police inspector Cheung (Ritchie Jen) gets drawn into financial burden when his fiancee Connie (Myolie Wu) decided to place a down payment without coming to an agreement with him. Three unrelated individuals and their respective problems somehow intertwine when they cross path with loan shark Yuen (Lo Hoi Pang).

The problem with Life Without Principle would be the split into three stories. The stories were riveting on it's own and showed potential to be more than what it was presented in this movie. There's no time to go in-depth with each character's dilemma and the problems that they faced varies so differently from each other that it does not complement each other well.

But then again, there are gems in these stories. In particular, my favorite segment would be that of Teresa, the bank teller segment. We get placed in her shoes and gets a better understanding why some bank tellers would sell high risk investments to their customers. The unpleasantness of a competitive field and the fear of getting left behind could be overwhelming at times. The depiction of how some elderly people loses their life savings through greed and ignorant were also a painful reminder of real stories in financial investments. Life without Principle marks the first time that I took note of Denise Ho's performance. I felt that she got on screen charisma and the camera seems to love her. I am interested to see what this Hong Kong Cantopop singer will take on for her next movie.

On the flip side, Lau Ching Wan's take on the righteous but bumbling gangster was the most amusing segment of these three. It invokes memories of his performance in the TVB series The Greed of Man in which that an amateur started to dabble on stocks speculation. It's entertaining in most part but it took quite some time before it started to have anything to do with the stock markets and it could be quite a drag if one is anxious to know what's the linkage to the financial aspect of the story.

The less satisfying segment would be the one with Cheung (Ritchie Jen) and Connie (Myolie Wu) investment in a pricy Hong Kong apartment. A lot more could have been done for this aspect of financial woes but it meanders with Cheung getting new police cases and a half sister that he is apparently not aware of. This segment ties with loan shark Yuen and the other two segment were also the last satisfying one.

In closing, this movie didn't exactly live up to both it's English and Chinese title. The Chinese title for this movie is 夺命金 (duo ming jin or the gold that seize or deprive one's life) but the movie didn't exactly go to that extreme to illustrate that effect. Neither did the main characters in this movie did anything that radical that would be deem as without principle. But overall, it's a interesting peek at how money affect the common folks and how the financial world operates.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Colombiana [ Movie Review ]

The Pitch

After the recent Star Trek, Zoe Saldana career is on the roll. Appearing in popular movies like Avatar and etc. But however, there isn't a movie that rest solely on her shoulder yet.

Enter Luc Besson, Olivier Megaton and rest of the folks from EuropaCorp. Crafting a movie about a female assassin who is seeking revenge for her parents' death for her, Colombiana might just be that movie that showcase whether Zoe Saldana got the ability to carry a movie all by her own.

The Plot

After witnesses her parents death at a drug lord's hands and escaping the drug lord's clutches, Cataleya seek vengeance by deflecting to the American Ambassador with an important computer chip that her father left her. In exchange for the information on the chip, the Ambassador arranged her to be moved to America. Half way through, she escaped once again and made her way to Chicago to look for her Uncle Emilio.

Her Uncle Emilio took her in and wanted to give her a normal life but Cataleya asked her uncle to train her as an assassin. Conveniently her Uncle Emilio had ties with the underworld and years later, Cataleya became a top notch assassin for her Uncle. She started leaving trademarks of cataleya (orchid) on her victims to attract her parents' killer. What she didn't expect was that she was putting her love ones as risk as she seeks vengeance.

The Perspective - Colombiana Movie Review

Colombiana is filled with over the top action sequences and scenarios that were aesthetically nice to look at but emotionally hollow and a little too convenient plotting. This movie utilize Zoe Saladana's body and looks well but didn't give her much room to showcase her acting nor did it give her character more substance so that the viewers could better remember her and this movie after the credits rolled. It's a wasted chance as female actress seldom gets the chance to headline a movie on her own and this blotch up might just had screw her chance of getting another headlining gig in the future.

Let's head back to the movie review and dissect what went wrong for Colombiana. The whole leaving her calling card at the assassinated victims to get to her intended targets was rather pointless as it didn't achieve what it was intended. Conveniently, she got the information by threatening some top management at the FBI and CIA. She could have done without the numerous assassinations to get the information she needed in the first place. It's also baffling that someone with links to the underground groups had no way of getting the information in a safer manner.

Colombiana was not the Nikita and Léon that I hoped for. In fact, it was more akin to the soulless and forgettable action flick Transporter 3 that Olivier Megaton had also directed. There's lots of bing bam boom and Zoe Saladana looked pretty hot but it's a pity that the plot was so flimsily connected together. Instead of wowing with the over the top setups, it made me lookout for plotholes and what could have gone wrong in the elaborate schemes. Colombiana wilted with poor handling and excessive enrichment. It's a pity because it had the potential to blossom into a beautiful work of art.