Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Underworld: Awakening [ Movie Review ] ★★

The Pitch 

Underworld Awakening is the fourth installments to the Underworld franchise. Just like Vin Diesel with the Fast and Furious franchise, the lead actress of the first two Underworld movies, Kate Beckinsale returns to the franchise after skipping one installment.

It's been reported that Kate Beckinsale had no intention to return to the Underworld series but was convinced by the quality of the script. Since Kate Beckinsale felt that the script was good enough to wear those tight rubber suits and corsets for another round of supernatural whack fest, the Underworld fans must be rejoicing to have another chance to see her strut her stuff on the big screen.

Personally,  I never seen any movies of the Underworld franchise, I had always been curious with the longevity of this series that revolves around the world of vampire vs werewolves. This series had always felt like a hoakey blend of two groups of beloved supernatural creatures with stylist tight clothing and a huge range of noisy weaponry. It isn't something that I would go out of my way to watch but since folks at Incinemas were nice enough to pick me from their facebook contest, Underworld Awakening shall be my entry point to the Underworld series. Let's hope that it would be a good jumping point for a Underworld newbie.

The Plot

The war between the Vampire and Lycan clans had finally comes to an end. But it's not the ending that either side would have expected. The humans have discovered the existence of both Vampires and Lycans - and were exterminating them like they are merely creatures infected by some form of virus. Vampire Selene (Kate Beckinsale) tried to escape the eradication of her species with her lover Michael Corvin (the first Vampire / Lycan hybrid, portrayed by a stand-in for the missing Scott Speedman) but eventually fell to the overwhelming crusade.

12 years later, Selene wakes up in a cryogenic facility with the tag "Subject 1". There's a breach in her holding facility and during the chaos, she managed to escape from imprisonment. She starts to have mysterious visions after her escape.

Believing that the vision belongs to Michael, Selene tries to retrace the path that she sees in the vision. Instead of Michael, she found David (Theo James), a fellow vampire, a young girl called "Subject 2" (India Eisley) and a bunch of Lycans on their trail.

After escaping the Lycans, David brought Selene and injured "Subject 2" back to the Vampire coven. With the help of the remaining Vampire elders, they discovered that "Subject 2" share the same Hybrid traits as Michael Corvin. As they tries to uncover the hidden conspiracy behind the relentless hunt for "Subject 2", they face invasion by Lycans and a super big size Lycan.

The Perspective

Underworld Awakening felt like a movie that favours style over substance. There's a lot of stylish posing and plenty noisy gunfights but very little characterization and plotting. It felt like a video game that focus on repetitive action sequences and snitch them together with a thin plot.

During the movie, I can't help but question what did Kate Beckinsale sees in the script that made her return to this series. It just seemed like a cash cow that was needlessly revived to cash in on the 3D technology craze. I have not seen the rest of the series but one Underworld Awakening felt tiresome enough to deter me from revisiting the older installments.

Let's start with the introductory arc of this movie where the Vampires and Lycans get exterminated like unwanted bugs or helpless zombies. It makes me wonder what happened in the first three movies? Were the vampires and lycans a bunch of weaklings? That wouldn't make an interesting series, wouldn't it? Aren't they immortals with extraordinary capabilities? How did the mere mortals push them to the extinction edge so easily? 

I get that there's a need and even underlying potential in changing the structure of the Underworld series but this is not one avenue that properly set up or explored. The humans who were set up to be the biggest threat in the never ending wars between the vampires and lycans were subsequently forgotten and discarded. Reverting back to the two groups of supernatural creatures and the lycans seemed to have the upper hand over the vampires. Which once again, wasn't properly explored or set up.

The fearsome super size Lycan gets little establishment or background story. If he is meant to be one of the antagonists in this movie, this is one hell of a weak character. He appears humongous and menacing but compared to Viktor and Lucian (from the earlier series) who had much "richer" background stories, this antagonist is just bland and serve very little function but to chase Selene the protagonist around.

Likewise, the other new addition of characters to this series didn't work much for me. Detective Sebastian (Michael Ealy) who was supposed to hunt down the remaining vampires and lycans had a surprisingly and unconvincing turn as the unexpected aid to Selene's mission. David (Theo James) the new vampire who serves as the potential love interest for Selene felt like a unless doormat to the story. 

The protagonist of this movie didn't fare much better. I believe that when Kate Beckinsale said that the script drew her in, she mean the changes in certain dynamics for Selene. This time round, besides fretting over Michael Corvin, the focus shifts to the little girl called "Subject 2". It sets up a mother and daughter dynamic that could be a refreshing change to this series. But then again, the forte of the directors / writers weren't on characterization and at the end of it all, I find myself caring very little for Selene, "Subject 2" or Michael Corvin whom we don't really get to see but were strangely included in certain crucial moment of this movie. When it's hard to care for the character and their causes, the movie just feel boring and long even if it's only 88mins runtime.

Last but not least, Underworld Awakening didn't feel like a movie on it's own. It felt like an introductory piece that opens up the franchise to more installments. In a way, it felt like it's modeled after Resident Evil series and it could churn out endless installments to capitalize on the bored and clueless, the action junkies and the hardcore fans. It's not making a fan out of me and I don't think I will ever fork out money for Underworld 5 which I am pretty sure that it would get made.

Rating: **

Was it worth the 3D prices?

The first 3D movie in the Underworld series was equally unimpressive in it's 3D presentation. Beside certain scenes where a werewolf launches itself towards the audience and shattered glasses flying all around, there's very few 3D scenes that actually impressed me. I removed my glasses a couple of time and was surprise to see that I was able to view the movie normally. I know this is filmed in 3D like the recent Resident Evil movie but there isn't anything outstanding in it's 3D presentation that worth shelling out the extra bucks for.

Friday, January 27, 2012

All's Well End's Well 2012 八星抱喜 [ Movie Review ]

The Pitch

When it comes to Chinese News Year period, the other activity beside celebrating new year at relatives and friends' house, it would probably be a trip to the cinemas for a He Sui Pian (贺岁片 Chinese New Year Movie).

In recent years, Raymond Wong and Eric Tsang had been consecutively churning out authentic He Sui Pian (贺岁片 Chinese New Year Movie) for the Chinese New Year period. This year, Raymond Wong is back with another installment of the All's Well Ends Well franchise and Eric Tsang has another installment of I love Hong Kong.  

All's Well End's Well 2012 八星抱喜 features the likes of Sandra Ng, Donnie Yen, Louis Koo, Kelly Chen, Chapman To, Lynn Hung, Yang Mi and Raymond Wong.

The interesting point would be to note that who has the better He Sui Pian and who takes in the biggest slice of the He Sui Pian Box office. Since it's impossible to gauge who is the winner in this box office until the end of the Chinese New Year period, let's just see who has the better Hei Sui Pian.

The Plot

All's Well End's Well 2012 八星抱喜 begins with an idea from a middle age lady. An idea to start a website (Bao Xi.com) that enables single woman to find single men with spare time to assist them. The rewards that the men get would be an embrace of gratitude from the woman if she is satisfied with the help rendered and willing to give that hug. The website helps to connect the following four couples with their respective stories.

Donnie Yen stars as Carl, a failed singer who has never given up on his dreams. He gets assigned to pose as the boyfriend of Chelsia (Sandra Ng) a member of now defunct two girls pop group. While her partner had found fame after the pop group disband, Chelsia became a has been. After a fallout with her abusive boyfriend, the desperate Chelsia took up Carl's offer and brought him to a dinner with Chelsia's mentor and ex partner. It turned out disastrous and Chelsia was mocked by her former partner. Could the failed duo reignite their music aspirations?

Raymond Wong stars as Richard, a successful lawyer who is a failure as a husband and dad. While researching online on how to be a better dad, he came across Bao Xi.com and decided to help Cecilia (Yang Mi) as her "cheap father". It turns out that Cecilia has a huge inheritance but her late father left a strange clause that requires her to marry before she turns 25 (which is in a week's time). The problem that Cecilia needs Richard to solve for her would be to figure out which of her three suitors are really worth marrying.

Louis Koo stars as Ken, a site foreman who offers to model for photographer Julie (Kelly Chen). The initial photos didn't turn out well as there's no connection between them. Under the advice of her photography teacher, Julie attempts to bring out Ken's masculinity by seducing him with her sensuality. Ken naively interprets that as love and started to woo Julie even with the apparent disparity in their social status.

Chapman To stars as Hugo, a romance novelist who couldn't show revealed his image to his readers as his publisher convinced him that will have adverse effect on sales. Feeling dejected, he decide to help a beautiful but blind Charmaine (Lynn Hung) in experiencing romantic feelings. The low esteem Hugo attempts to fake their romantic outings by bringing her to isolated places. In order to prove his publisher wrong, he brings Charmaine to a novelists dinner and tries to hide the fact that Charmaine is blind.


Romancing in Thin Air | 高海拔之戀 II

The Pitch

Romancing in Thin Air ( 高海拔之戀 II) marks the latest collaboration between Louis Koo and Sammi Cheng as a on screen couple since "Good Times, Bed Times" & "Love for All Seasons" in 2003. While Sammi Cheng's fans might be excited to see her back on the big screen, this isn't exactly what caught my attention for this movie.

Initially, it was the Chinese title for this movie that comes with a "II" It seems to indicate that this movie is a sequel but it would be a sequel to a movie that nobody had heard of. An intriguing move by the film makers to keep the movie buff interested and guessing.

The premise of romancing in the highlands that depicts how love could sometimes leave one breathless sound pretty poetic. I am interested to see how it would be explored in this movie.

Last but not least, I am a fan of Johnny To and Wai Ka-Fai's movies. Although they have some misses with their romance movies, Romancing in Thin Air somehow invokes the feel of Running on Karma. I would love to see them repeat their brand of movie magic with this movie.

Theme Song of Romancing in Thin Air (Mandarin Version)

The theme song Do Re Mi by Sammi Cheng sound lovely and haunting at the same time. One of the reasons why I am interested to catch this movie.

Character Posters featuring Louis Koo and Sammi Cheng

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Soul of Bread | 愛的麵包魂

The Pitch

The local movie distributors must be very impressed with the business that You are the Apple of my Eye did in Singapore box office. That Taiwanese movie was the highest grossing Asian films of 2011 in Singapore, raking in $2.93 million (and counting) with relatively unknown stars.

Like many other male viewers, I was pretty much enthralled by the beautiful lead actress Michelle Chen and it's very likely that these collective male fans would flock to buy a ticket to watch whatever she might be doing next. That's probably why Michelle Chen's latest movie The Soul of Bread 愛的麵包魂 is getting a theatrical release in Singapore on the 15th Mar 2012! Just a few weeks after the commercial release in Taiwan (3rd Feb 2012) and we don't usually get their movies from the Asian region that quickly.

From the trailer (embedded below), The Soul of Bread looks like it's going to be a love triangle set in the world of bakery. A charming foreigner and the local village guy competing for the affection of a beautiful baker's daughter.

It would be interesting to see how Michelle Chen's follow up movie to You are the Apple of my Eyes would fare. The only thing in the trailer that didn't work for would be Han Tien Chen's performance as the local bumpkin. But then again, it's just first impression from the trailer and it might be too hasty to judge.

The usage of bakery as subject matter is quite a smart move. In recent years bread, cakes, pastries, and other forms of desserts are becoming rather popular in the Asian region. There's already a couple of movies like Antique Bakery (Korean), Chonmage Purin (Japanese) and Patisserie Coin de rue (Japanese) that deals with the art of baking and relationships that derived from it. There's potential in this movie about baking and the showdown between bakers but it remains to be seen how it would be executed.


Trailer from The Soul of Bread 愛的麵包魂 Official Youtube Channel


 The Soul of Bread - Anthony Neely
 The Soul of Bread - Han Tien Chen

The Soul of Bread - Michelle Chen

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Viral Factor | 逆戰 [ Movie Review ] ★★★1/2

The Plot

A failed mission to protect a scientist who has stolen a copy of the smallpox virus left Jon Man (Jay Chou) severely injured and the scientist kidnapped by his traitorous colleague Sean (Andy On). The bullet is lodged in Jon's brain will paralyses him within two week and he decides to spend his final days with his mother (Elaine Jin).

What he didn't expect was that his mother revealed to him that he has a long lost brother Man Yang (Nicolas Tse) whom she left behind with his gambling addict dad Man Tin (Liu Kai Chi). To fulfill his mother last wishes, Jon decides to track Man Yang down in Malaysia.

En route to Kuala Lumpur (Capital of Malaysia), Jon befriends medical specialist Rachel (Lin Peng) and came across criminal organization attempting to kidnap her. During the process to foil this kidnap attempt, he discovers that Man Yang is a wanted felon working as a mercenary for Sean, who needs the help of a medical specialist to mutate the small pox virus and holds the world ransom.

After Man Yang failed to kidnap Rachel but escaped with the virus, the criminal organization attempts to control him by kidnapping his daughter. The righteous Jon has to decide whether to stop Man Yang from breaking more laws or assist his wayward brother in rescuing his niece and stopping Sean's diabolical plans?

The Perspective 

Best Explosive Action Movie Made in Malaysia Since Supercop!

Director Dante Lam has once again impressed me with his choreography of action sequences. In terms of scope, presentation and special effects, The Viral Factor's action sequences has met and exceeded those found in most Hollywood action movies. It has also made a credible action star out of Nicholas Tse and Jay Chou.

Besides the action sequences, I also enjoyed how Director Dante Lam handled the emotional aspects of this movie. That one aspect that I didn't enjoyed in his previous movie as he tends to either over do it or drag it on for too long. The Viral Factor had just the right mix of action and emotion scenes to deliver the tumultuous journey of one man seeking his long lost brother out.

Nicholas Tse's acting is getting better with each new movie. He is also mastering the art of restraining his expression to the right amount for emotional scenes. Coupled with his good looks and the image design for his character, he had pretty much stolen the show from Jay Chou.

Nuff Said - The Viral Factor comes highly recommended!

 The Viral Factor - Nicholas Tse blazing away in a KL traffic Jam
 The Viral Factor - Jay Chou in a explosive mission
 The Viral Factor - Jay Chou and Nicholas Tse faceoff

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Journey 2: The Mysterious Island

The first Journey movie (Journey to the Center of the Earth) was targeted at kids but I remembered having fun with that movie

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Dance Dance Dragon | 龙众舞 [ Movie Review ] ★★★

The Pitch

Last year He Sui Pian (贺岁片 Chinese New Year Movie)  winner in Singapore box office was the local movie "It's a Great Great World". It made $2.43 millions, beating the likes of Raymond Wong's "All's Well, Ends Well 2011 最強囍事 2011", Eric Tsang's "I love Hong Kong" and Jack Neo's Homecomings.

This year Kelvin Tong (director of It's a Great Great World) and an ensemble of Singapore / Malaysia actors are back with another He Sui Pian call "Dance Dance Dragon". Kelvin Tong will be taking on the duties of a producer while handling over the directing duties to his long time collaborator Kat Goh.

Dance Dance Dragon is set up to celebrate the upcoming year of Dragon with the anticipation of the baby boom period in 2012 (Most Chinese believes the Dragon Year is the most auspicious time to have a baby). It's going to incorporate Dragon dance and perhaps other forms of dancing into the movie (hence the title Dance Dance Dragon).

 Dance Dance Dragon features local celebrities like Adrian Pang, Kym Ng and Dennis Chew (who is starring in this movie with his popular Aunty Lucy persona). Malaysian veteran actress Lai Ming is back again in another Singapore movie and personally, she is a delightful actress to watch out for.

But the biggest question remains. Will "Dance Dance Dragon" be able to repeat "It's a Great Great World" financial success at the box office this year? Let's wait to find out.

The Plot

Dance Dance Dragon revolves around Mother Loong's (Lai Meng) wish for a dragon baby boy in her household to inherit their Long Zhong Wu dragon dance troupe. As the new Dragon year approaches, it seemed that it is becoming more unlikely that her wish will come true. 

The eldest sister Lucy (Dennis Chew) last relationship was with with an Indian many a couple of years ago and approaching 48, it seems that the window for marriage might be closing. Her second daughter Ah Mei (Kym Ng) works in a gambling cessation clinic and she is approaching 36. Her tomboyish mannerism is turning guys away. Her youngest son Ah Loong (Melvin Sia) is married but is avoiding to have a kid of his own. To make matter worse, he lost his job in KL, had a fight with his wife and returned home alone to celebrate Chinese New Year with Mother Loong.
But that didn't deter Mother Loong as she kept praying to the Gods for a grandchild. Miraculously things start to happen to the Loong household. Ah Mei encounters Eric (Adrian Pang), a chef with a gambling problems and took him in when he was running away from loan sharks. Needless to say, romance between the unlikely couple started to blossom.

Mother Loong also got her wish when a baby boy magically appeared in a box of longan that Ah Loong brought back. The elated Mother Loong immediately assumed that her grandson and the kids decided to play along to make the old lady happy for the Chinese New Year period. 

The adventure in "babysitting" continue as the members of Loong family encounter a rojak (assorted messy) mix of events. There's the conniving relatives out to take over the Long Zhong Wu dragon dance troupe. Lucy attempting the modern dance and encountering wheelchair bound handicaps who has a passion for dancing. Ah Mei tasking Eric to take over the duties of the neighborhood new year feast from her mother. Lastly, a couple of bumbling thieves who are out to steal a strand of the baby's hair.

The Perspective - Dance Dance Dragon Movie Review

He Sui Pian are usually throwaway entertainment that's here provides some laughs to usher in the New Year. It's not likely that one would go in with high expectation with the plot or cast's performance. By that definition, Dance Dance Dragon has serve it's function as a He Sui Pian.

Let's start with the problem with Dance Dance Dragon. Some of rojak mix of events added to prolong this movie felt unnecessary to the main story. If I would to remove certain subplots and characters, it would be the Lucy's dance segment and the baby hair thieves. They are there for comedic effects but it could have been remove to focus on the other more interesting and relevant subplots involving the romance between Ah Mei and Eric, the relatives with their own rival dance troupe and the magical baby.

The plots and gags in Dance Dance Dragon were all formulaic and done a couple of times before. But what made it work and in my opinion made this movie worth catching would be the cast performance and how the recycled jokes were presented. Kym Ng, Adrian Pang, Dennis Chew and Lai Meng's performance cracked me up a few times during the movie. Baby Nigel as the magical baby has a super adorable smile that will probably melt a lot of hearts. I have not seen Melvin Sia act before but he got that easy on screen charms that might enable him to go a long way in the Singapore and Malaysia entertainment scene. Kat Goh has done a fine job of putting them together to deliver a comedic movie about family ties. 

To sum it up, personally I prefer "Dance Dance Dragon" over "It's a Great Great World". Even though both have patchy storytelling, Dance Dance Dragon has a focused storyline that gear towards celebrating the Chinese New Year festive season and that's what I feel a He Sui Pian ought to be. It doesn't have intricate plotting or award winning performance but it does have a barrel of laughs and decent acting from the cast. But we will have to wait till the Hei Sui Pians of 2012 end their runs before we could find out who will become to the 2012 Hei Sui Pian Box Office Winner of 2012. Dance Dance Dragon comes recommended.

Rating: ***

Beyond the Movie

The Chinese title for Dance Dance Dragon 龙众舞 (lóng zhòng wǔ) is the name of the dance troupe in this movie and it could literally mean "Dragon public dance". When the Chinese title is read with the Hokkien dialect. it could be interpreted as "everything also have" and it's an auspicious phrases during the Chinese New Year period.

It's been reported that it cost S$1.2 Million to make.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Great Magician | 大魔術師 [ Movie Review ] ★★★

The Pitch

Without looking at the plot premises, The Great Magician 大魔術師 was already alluring with the people involved with this project. It has a stellar cast of Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Lau Ching Wan and Zhou Xun. Three actors had all impress me with their performance in respective movies (Happy Together, Hero, Mad Detective, My Name is Fame, The Flying Swords of Dragon Gate & The Message - just to name a few) in the past.

Beside the cast, The Great Magician is directed by Derek Yee. Like the cast, I enjoyed the director's previous works (C'est la vie, mon chéri, Full Throttle, Viva Erotica and Triple Tap) and I have yet to find a disappointing movie from him.

On a closer look, The Great Magician seemed to share a similar premise with Edward Norton's The Illusionist. A magician taking on a dictator for the affection on a woman. It's a pretty good movie and even if The Great Magician ends up as a rehash of The Illusionist, I am still looking forward to how this collaboration between Derek Yee, Tony Leung, Lau Ching Wan and Zhou Xun would turn out.

The Plot

During the chaotic period after the collapse of the Qing Dynasty and the encroaching of Japanese forces, a mysterious magician Zhang Xian (Tony Leung) arrived at a town governed by General Lei Daniu (Lau Ching Wan). Anxious to win the affections of his seventh concubine Liu Yin (Zhou Xun), General Lei arranged a private performance at the theater that Zhang Xian is performing. Unbeknownst to General Lei, Zhang Xian was Liu Yin's fiancé who have left for overseas studies many years ago and is now back to rescue her.

Liu Yin on the other hand, is upset with Zhang Xian for not returning sooner from his overseas studies to rescue her from the crutches of the "evil" warlord. Although she had been forced to become the seventh concubine, the almighty warlord hadn't made her do anything that she didn't want to and instead showered her with lots of attention. Torn between the two men, she refused to leave and chose to focus on locating her missing father instead.

To make matter worse, a bunch of Qing Dynasty officials and Japanese spies posing as filmmakers are trying to trick the simple minded General Lei to aid them in their cause. Revolutionists who are working in Zhang Xian's troop are attempting to kidnap the General Lei for the release of their jailed comrades. With all the dangers lurking around, the ignorant General Lei seeks advice from his rival in love. As the revelation draws closer, Zhang Xian soon realize that General Lei might not be the simpleton that he appears to be.

The Perspective - Movie Review of The Great Magician

Think of The Great Magician as a comedic version of The Illusionist with a weak storyline and it's not that funny. The ironic thing about The Great Magician could have been better if it just rehash The Illusionist from start till the end. It felt that halfway through the movie, the director had found out that The Great Magician was too similar to the Illusionist and decided to change everything in the second half of the movie that resemble the Edward Norton's movie. The result was a disjointed movie that finished in a disappointing fashion.

The first thing that the "changes" affected was the love story in The Great Magician. Instead of a love "heist" against overwhelming odds, it became a love triangle that didn't really fit into the story. The unlikely romance between Liu Yin and the General lacks chemistry while her tiff with Magician felt immature in that situation.  Lau Ching Wan's dubious "evil" general role could have been given more layer to established some form of emotional anchor point but it's all pretty fluffy character setup for General Lei's character. Zhou Xun didn't have much to work on for her character that's torn in between the two male leads. Her dilemma came off more as indifferent and that's made it hard to feel for this love triangle. It really pale in comparison with Zhou Xun's previous movie Perhaps Love (which also featured her in a love triangle). One of the reasons why this movie couldn't go in depth with an emotional love triangle would be that it had to juggle with comedy and that would bring us to the second problem with this movie. 

It didn't like a good choice for the director and these three main cast to embark on comedy. It's been reported that the director didn't want to slapstick comedy but for the four key personnel involved, it's been a long time since they dabble in comedy and it felt like they were out of their comedic depth in The Great Magician. Since comedy is subjective, all I would say that there was a few chuckles in this movie but nothing that stood out as hilarious.

 But it's not all gloom and doom with this movie. The showmanship of magic performances was pretty impressive even in a movie where all the tricks could be done easily with special effects. That aspect relied heavily on Tony Leung's performance and on-screen charisma. Lau Ching Wan's role as the questionable simpleton was intriguing and could be given more emotional depth but sadly, it had to divert it's attention to humour that didn't really worked.

As a He Sui Pian 贺岁片 (Chinese New Year Movie), The Great Magician is one of the better choice to pass time with. But as a Derek Yee, Tony Leung, Zhou Xun and Lau Ching Wan collaboration, it's rather disappointing. It's particularly surprising coming from a director like Derek Yee as his movies are usually solid in building up characters / events and his stories generally have a good flow to it. Perhaps it's to cater to the China market (and censors) or it might seem that the director had learn his lesson from release a bleak movie during the Chinese New Year period with Protege but The Great Magician would definitely better if it was given a more somber spin.

Rating: ***