Holding On

It's embarrassing how transparent my train of thought is. It's so easy to pinpoint exactly what I'm obsessing over at the moment and how I got there. After some Sylar action, a bad Chris Pine movie, now we move on to Harold and Kumar. So yes, I am still stuck on Star Trek. I think it shoots out of theatres this weekend, which is unfortunate because that means I won't be able to catch it a second time on the big screen. But we know I'll be all over the DVD release - which can't come soon enough!

Anyway, after having clear exhausted my infatuations with Zachary Quinto and Chris Pine, the next logical step would be John Cho. (Karl Urban is next if I don't lose steam.) Curious, I'm not hot for him. Maybe his having a wife and child alters the equation, though Quinto possibly being gay does not. But I do like John Cho's work. After all, despite the progress Asian Americans have made in entertainment, we can still count the marquee actors on one hand. Gotta support a brother. I popped in Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, a movie I thought was obnoxious and overhyped at first. But it's grown on me and really, how do you hate a stoner comedy starring two cool Asian dudes? And by whole country, I guess I mean the under-35 crowd. I think I'm also getting supremely homesick and this is the perfect slice of America that I need. It's not the most flattering - the battleshits scene is out of control - but it captures some of that jaded post-college ethos and leftover frat humor. And it's just damn funny. Oh yeah, and the burgers. When I was a little kid, a regular McDonald's cheese burger was too big so when those marketing gods over at White Castle delivered mini-burgers, that was my idea of 5 year old heaven.

So here is my absolute favorite scene because I LOVED Wilson Phillips. Yes, that's how cool I was. While y'all were listening to Thriller, I was rocking out to Hold On (and Tiffany).

Also some Samuel Barnett news. At long last he has another project that gets to see the light of day. This one is a BBC production called Desperate Romantics, about the Pre-Raphaelite art movement.

Those blokes gave us dreamy paintings like the one posted below that have since become a mainstay for college poster sales. Guys pick up the John Belushi Animal House poster while these Pre-Raphaelite works end up on girls' walls, next to the picture of Tom Cruise from Top Gun. In this mini-series (?), Mr. Barnett plays artist John Everett Millais who is famous for his insane talent and for getting cozy with an art critic's wife. Hooray, Sam finally gets the girl!


Bits and Bobs: The Final Frontier Edition

The space news keeps coming. Here is a NYTimes piece on Alan Bean - astronaut cum painter - and some of his work. It's really breathtaking, at least for this space junkie.

And of course an obligatory Michael Jackson tribute. I strangely don't recall the growing up to the sounds of MJ. I think I was too engrossed in the Disney Channel and they weren't showing Thriller. But I have memories of the moonwalk and Catholic grade school. See, MJ at his best - bringing two worlds together. Here's my favorite, some classic Jackson 5.


'Flashforward' promo

I might actually catch a US show next season. Flashforward debuts in the fall and will feature Joseph Fiennes (playing an American) and John Cho (playing an American). It's about a global blackout - in that everyone on the planet literally blacks out. In those few moments, some people have visions of themselves 6 months into the future, and not everyone's happy with what they see. From the preview, it's hard to tell if this is more event thriller in the tradition of Lost or if it will veer more towards the drama. The visions aren't apocolypic so I don't think anyone will be rushing to save the world. Take a peek.



Blind Dating

There are ways of making low budget romances that don't resort to cheap tricks involving physical disabilities and cultural misunderstandings. Unfortunately this movie forgoes all those methods and instead traffics in stereotypes of the blind and employs the most generic cross-cultural romance. Only the most loyal Chris Pine and Anjali Jay fans should subject themselves to this one, and even that is suggested with extreme caution.

The supposedly endearing premise focuses on Danny (Chris Pine), a sensitive, virginal, Casablanca-loving but sightless bloke whose love life would infinitely improve if only he could see. His gregarious brother Larry (Eddie Kaye Thomas) lends a hand by way of his limo service and some dubious female contacts. Larry sets up his brother with a string of nutty women who exhibit varying degrees of pity, much to Danny’s annoyance. He'd rather normal, if empathetic, girl and finds one in Leeza (Anjali Jay), the new receptionist at his doctor's office. Their budding relationship hits a major and convenient snag though in the form of her impending arranged marriage with a man (Sendhil Ramamurthy) she doesn't particularly love. Danny, however, thinks he's been rejected because he's blind, thus compromising his emotional readiness for an experimental operation that might allow him limited sight. He proceeds with the surgery anyway and his vision is briefly restored. He soon experiences some setbacks, but not before realizing that Leeza is the woman he loves.

For a love story, this movie doesn't break much emotional ground, relying on caricature rather than character. The conflicts sometimes feel tedious, as with the dating scenes, and always feel gimmicky. Everything centers around Danny's blindness, from the laughable - running into trees, spilling wine on his date, wearing mismatched clothing - to the comically offensive. Is the presence of a psychiatrist (Jane Seymour) who regularly strips in front of an unsuspecting Danny funny or even necessary? The cross-cultural romance doesn't help the movie either; it functions solely as a quick plot device and is left unexplored (sorry, Sendhil fans).

Chris Pine's performance is the one redeeming factor in this movie, and he at least tries to wrestle some emotional complexity out of this contrived story. Pine makes a likeable romantic lead for reasons unrelated to his good looks; he demonstrates a fine control over his characters, making moments of emotional unrestraint all the more powerful. This script, unfortunately, doesn't allow for many such scenes. I also like the female lead, Anjali Jay, of Robin Hood fame, but her character suffers from the same inconsistency that plagues the rest of the film.

Here, kitty kitty.

Save the cat, save the world.


The Return of Bits and Bobs

I haven't done a news post in a long time, so here's some stuff I wanted to share.
The New York Asian Film Festival landed on Friday. Some of the Hong Kong movies making the cut: Donnie Yen's Ip Man, Plastic City with the 'endearingly grizzled' Anthony Wong, and a PTU spinoff in the Tactical Unit series featuring Simon Yam, Maggie Siu, and Lam Suet (of course) called Comrades in Arms. There's also a Lau Ching Wan movie called Written By, which I can't find a record for. The only completed and yet unreleased movie I know of is Overheard, which has finally been posted on the theatres' upcoming lists (release date 7.30).

Spotted a new movie called Telstar about 1960s British record producer Joe Meeks, also featuring Kevin Spacey. The buzz is low, but I'm interested as James Corden rears his cheeky head as the cardigan-wearing drummer. We'll see if this outing redeems him from his Horne and Corden debacle.



The Heavenly Kings (四大天王)

Daniel Wu and company ham it up and form a boy band, replete with coordinating pastels and dopey dance moves. But their foray into the world of Cantopop is more than some new kids on the block trying to make it big. Rather, the erstwhile singing sensation known as Alive set out to expose the industry's machinations, whether in music or the marketing of, with the resulting quasi-mockumentary as their vehicle. The success is debatable but the film is an amusing, over-the-top diversion.

The dubious idea first comes to Andrew Lin as a way of boosting his sagging career, and he lures a few friends who might help the cause. Daniel Wu (beloved action hero, romantic lead, and L'Oreal facial cream spokesperson) is at the top of the list followed by Terence Yin (the snarky bad guy in bad movies) and Conroy Chan (biggest acting credit to date is marriage to actress Josie Ho). Incidentally, none save Yin would even qualify for a local singing contest much less a lush recording contract - and they don't get one, at least one that requires less than a 10 year commitment. But that's merely a pebble on Alive's path to super stardom. They drum up a scheme, one that includes illegal downloading, to generate publicity for their first single.

The plan pans out and the media bites, but the artificial bounce to their singing career doesn't last long. The band needs cash for music videos, concerts, and blinking fan signs, so it's off to a noxious wedding photo promotion shoot. Then their manager, concerned about the lack of a cohesive image, invites a Liberace-channeling fashion designer to propose a few outfits, all of which get a big fail.

It's their mini-tour though that the strain of being pop princes really start to emerge. Chan and Yin prove themselves to be regular party animals, something that doesn't sit well with resident anal retentive Wu or the staid Lin. As the inevitable personality clash threatens the group, the audience wonders, will Alive make up or break up? Will the boys remain friends? Will Andrew Lin actually get a job after this?

The bigger question, really, is whether any of this matters. Is this the expose that will save Hong Kong entertainment from synergetic black hole of EEG and Gold Label, the city's two main pop factories? Director Wu enlists the aid of various industry insiders, including producer Davy Chan, songwriter Paul Wong, singers Miriam Yeung and Karen Mok, real Heavenly King Jacky Cheung, and repeat offender Nic Tse, to help us navigate the treacherous and unseen netherworld of Hong Kong musicdom. They paint quite an unflattering and disheartening picture for anyone who actually cares about artistic integrity - and that's where this caper starts to unravel. Those interested in quality output already understand the overly manufactured nature of the industry, so the movie hardly breaks new ground. And those who would be surprised by these revelations are probably the ones who thought Alive's first song Adam's Choice was a bit of musical genius.

Yes, the film provides some healthy, well-earned laughs; these guys know how to have a good time, and the animated sequences are off the wall. But that said, it appears to suffer from a case of multiple personality disorder. It wants to bill itself as a devastating indictment on Hong Kong entertainment but remains very much a product of the same system it sets out to critique. The whole cast of characters just proves how inbred the industry is. Is Nic Tse, platinum member of EEG, the best guy to ruminate on artistic integrity? EEG, the same company that introduced us to Twins, Boy'z, and Edison Chen - music and movies! Daniel Wu meanwhile has had his share of those generic, throw away pop culture collaborations that he attacks here. I sense that the men of Alive are trying hard to be subversive, but what they reveal instead is an industry leaves little room for maneuvering. In the short run, they pull a fast one on the city, but it grows increasingly difficult to differentiate reality from the pretense of it, as they prove when their song nets a Best Song nomination at the Hong Kong Film Awards.

Which leads me to think, maybe Alive really doesn't care and Andrew Lin really does just need a job. That would explain the fair amount of toilet humor, literally, and general frat boy stunts. They seem to derive more pleasure out of jerking everyone around than anything, and one gets that sense as the film nears its end when Lin unleashes some moments of brilliant deadpan. Maybe that's the best, least cynical way of looking at this. At one point, Miriam Yeung suggests that the industry is one big game. You're going to get played, so the only way to succeed is to accept the rules and play along. Although Alive doesn't play by all the rules, they certainly don't change any, and the game goes on.

English Trailer (better quality than the Chinese one)

The original Adam's Choice (
阿當的抉擇) MV. It's slightly out of sync, but that was never the point.

Alive @ HK Film Awards


鬼佬 singing Cantonese

This is the 盜版 (fake) Christian Bale singing Leo Ku's 愛與誠 and he's pretty good!

Bloody Bloomsday

"Joyce is like the nuclear explosion in literature. People are still suffering from the radiation effects." -- Irish senator David Norris.

Hear, hear! A curious event occurs every June 16 in Dublin - Bloomsday - that only reminds the world how crazy the literary types are. It's a celebration of James Joyce's 1000 page epic Ulysses, a book about everything, or nothing. The story revolves around a day (June 16, 1904) in the life of Leopold Bloom, a sad sack guy who wanders through Dublin, thinks about some stuff, encounters a few friends, and eats a lot of innards. Thrilling, I know. And I do because I took an entire college class on it.

Apparently it's so riveting that a certain class of people - let's call them pretentious - feel compelled to reenact the damn thing every year. Some probably managed to get through the book (professors, grad students, Joyce enthusiasts), most probably lied about getting through it (professors, grad students, Joyce enthusiasts). Whatever floats your literary boat.

Obsession du jour: SPOCK


Post-Its Gone Wild

Genius. A glimpse of my life during finals week when I was in college. Also what I feel like right now as I try to squeeze a thesis out.


'One Nite in Mongkok' trailers

Here are 2 trailers for the 2004 movie One Nite in Mongkok (旺角黑夜). The first one is the original and the second is in English for the DVD release. I prefer the former as the other one gives away too much and looks like it's made for a Quentin Tarantino DVD. Here's what I mean: "In a city with 7 million people, things can get out of control. People will die. And a rival feud beings. A paid assassin from the back country of China is sent to kill a triad leader in the seedy district of Mongkok. Now it's up to Hong Kong's finest to hunt down the killer before he turns the city into a war zone. Starring Daniel Wu from Jackie Chan's New Police Story - One Nite in Mongkok." Really? Granted I write this less than 2 weeks after another acid attack and a serious bus crash where sadly people did die, but...really?

'Overheard' trailer

Get ready, kiddies! Overheard (竊聽風雲) is coming out in a couple weeks and I am ex-i-ted! They just released the trailer, so take a look. Alex Fong gets a couple lines of dialogue. Not bad considering he gets about 4th billing.


The one where Guy asked where we wanted him to sleep.

What better way to start of an episode of Robin Hood than a shot of Guy's raven locks flouncing about his shoulders as he gallops forth, only to be interrupted by a wicked 'your mama' shot from Robin which then escalates into a fight on the forest floor? The two are headed for York this week to rescue their half-brother but first make a pit stop at the outlaws' camp. This doesn't go down too well with the group, especially Kate, whose brother was killed by Guy waaaay back at the beginning of the series. Half-brother Archer, meanwhile, is awaiting execution in York but still managing to get cozy with the Sheriff of York's wife. And really, who would blame her for sleeping with someone who looks like Clive Standen? He gets a reprieve when he turns an iron nail into a gold nugget using some mysterious technique from the Orient but promptly gets thrown back into the clink when it turns out to be fake.

Back at Nottingham Castle, Isabella learns that Guy and Robin have teamed up and are bound for York. Bitter and betrayed, she sends an emissary with instructions to drag the two back, alive, before heading off herself. The gang finally makes a substantive appearance after almost a season's hiatus and we get a slight return to the camaraderie that characterized the first two seasons. They are torn between their hatred for Guy and their loyalty to Robin, each with his or her own opinion about how to interpret this new alliance. Naturally they all make good, which is a lucky thing because the men at York have gotten themselves in a bit of a bind. When the rescue goes awry, Robin, Guy, and Archer find themselves ready to hang. The last minute arrival of the gang saves the day, but Archer, armed with the knowledge that his half-sister is the wealthy Sheriff of Nottingham, deserts the outlaws and seeks better fortunes.

The series is finally coming into its own after a lackluster start, but it may be a little too late. In the coming weeks, we'll see if it's picked up for a fourth series. Now that Isabella is firmly established as the villain, the show has emerged from its vacuum of evil and recaptured a bit of that cat and mouse effect. Guy was never that effective as the penultimate bad guy because his insecurity prevented him from being a forceful chief antagonist to Robin Hood's idealistic do-gooder. Isabella's waffling in earlier episodes and the former Sheriff's fall from grace also deprived the show of a villainous anchor early on thus resulting in more distraction and confusion. For example, the fights between Guy and Vaisey (Keith Allen) were an entertaining exercise in power but left little for Robin and especially his gang to engage in. That's why I think this season has been a miserable misuse of talent and why I was happy to see something of a return to form as far as the gang is concerned - though I'm guessing it will be shortlived as Allan will not be making it out alive.

On a minor and unrelated thought,
the 'love story' between Robin and Kate is painful to watch. I wouldn't say that Jonas Armstrong and Joanna Froggat lack chemistry but I think it's better suited as partners of the non-romantic sort. On top of this, the story is contrived for the sake of romance and Jonas Armstrong in general seems to be walking through this third series like it was his last...because it is.

At last some words about Archer, our hero in waiting and the most interesting thing to appear on my television in awhile. The character is well written, a rare feat for Robin Hood, but really comes to life thanks to Clive Standen. The man's magnetism has little to do with his good looks and everything to do with the way he infuses Archer with a mix of arrogance, resourcefulness, and vulnerability. Archer is, face it, a player and a rogue but never mean-spirited, which kind of makes him a perfect Robin Hood. Standen, the married with children actor, doesn't look at all like Robin and Guy's much younger brother but he keeps his character cocksure and saucy enough to fit the part.

Finally, we might look back at this episode as the introduction of Archer, but some of us will remember it as the one where Guy, back at the outlaws' camp after the rendezvous at York, asks 'Where do you want me to sleep?' Proving once again that there's no such thing as a bad question. And once again, I can't believe I've written so much about one episode of Robin Hood. If only I could redirect my stamina.


'Star Trek' was kind of awesome.

Yes, we are beautiful!


The end is near.

Haven't had a chance to catch the latest Robin Hood but early word is that things are tumbling to a spectacular climax, as promised by Richard Armitage. The fangirls (more like housewives) are distraught over what they assume to be the impending death of dear Guy of Gisbourne. Well, if Richard Armitage is on the outs, that'll save me a good 13 hours next year. Anyway, the last two episodes will be aired the following Saturdays.

Meanwhile, there is one notable departure, and it's not Jonas Armstrong, at least not on the 'notable'. We've just learned that Allan-a-Dale, portrayed by the better Armstrong - Joe, will be offed in the next episode, though it's still unknown if he will be stabbed, burned, hanged, pierced, drowned, buried, suffocated, drawn and quartered, tossed over a cliff, or thrown into a vat of burning tar. Nevertheless, this will leave an unfortunate gap in the Nottingham lineup as he was one of the more dynamic members, from the moment he tried to save his own skin in the first episode to his traitorous turn in the second season to his eventual return to the Robin Hood fold. Hopefully this will free him up for better projects, preferably something with snappier dialogue - though he did get some choice lines in the first two seasons - and more screen time. Fare thee well, Allan-a-Dale.


Water, water everywhere. Not a drop to drink. Or is there?

This Justin Lo (側田) video for Love Song (情歌) has been out for awhile. But there's a curious little bit in the middle. I must have missed it since I have it on a playlist and usually run the videos as background music. But this time, a certain green glowing object caught my eye. Atrocious!


A Great Way to Care

A Great Way to Care (仁心解碼, previously 杏林心處) was just released this Monday but only overseas. Hopefully it will be well-received and get an airing date in Hong Kong. It's the latest from Alex Fong (方中信) and Kate Tsui (徐子珊), and yes, I too am skeptical about this inevitable romance. They could play father-daughter in another show, so we shall see. It's about the lives and loves of a psychiatric unit at Yan Wo Hospital that includes doctors (Alex Fong, Cheung Chi Kwong 蔣志光), nurses (Raymond Wong 黃浩然, Charles Szeto 司徒瑞祈), and residents (Timmy Hung 洪天明). Kate Tsui's character, meanwhile, works for the serious crime unit in the police department. Paths cross and love ignites.

It looks to develop in the tradition of Forensic Heroes, CIB, Healing Hands, et al in that the show moves from one case to the next all the while exploring the personal lives of the main characters and the professional development of a few green apprentices. Aside from my excitement at another Alex Fong series, I'm interested in TVB's exploration of psychological problems and mental illness, conditions that definitely warrant more attention. However, judging from the previews and the first episode, I don't know if a show like this ends up hurting or helping the cause more. Vivien Yeo (楊秀惠), for example, plays an obese girl with an eating disorder. Both obesity and eating disorders are serious health issues, but I'm afraid that the novelty for TVB will be Vivien Yeo in a fat suit. Caricatures such as this are too easy and almost mock the whole situation rather than treat it with the seriousness it deserves. Also, the first episode, which is the only one I've seen thus far, centers around a young woman (Natalie Tong 唐詩詠) who is haunted by a suicide jump she witnessed years back. However, she also suppresses the memory of the man almost raping her, and her mother (Mary Hon 韓馬利) is eager to protect her daughter, even if it means that she will continue to freak out and possibly jump to her own death. Dr. Alex saves the day though with his detective work and reasoned, compassionate approach, and after a quick visit to the original scene of the crime, things look decidedly up for Natalie's character.

The problem is that mental illnesses are not so easily cured, and I object to the tidiness of it all. I understand that it's a television show and that corners are cut for the sake of expediency, but there's a special responsibility I feel when it comes to mental health versus something like a crime investigation. When we watch cop dramas, since they are so pervasive and often so exaggerated with shootouts galore, they can exist in the fantasy realm. We can read the papers and see officers on patrol and get stopped for an ID check and there is a tangible experience that helps us divide drama from reality. But this is not so with mental health. It gets scant media coverage and even in private, people are often reluctant to discuss their mental health issues because of the stigma attached. I do have more faith in TVB and this show in dampening that stigma, however. If there's one thing TVB does well, it's in making blindingly obvious that everyone should get a fair shake and we shouldn't rush to judgment. That said, I'll continue watching the rest of the series.

Here's a youtube video with a few clips and the theme video. The song is sung by the inestimable Juno Mak. Watch it before TVB pulls it down!


Bodyguards and Assassins, oh my!

There's a new movie in town, and it's called Bodyguards and Assassins (十月圍城). Okay, it hasn't actually been released yet, but Bodyguards and Assassins, really? Is that the title of a movie that has this cast - Donnie Yen, Tony Leung Ka Fai, Eric Tsang, Hu Jun, Simon Yam, Leon Lai, Nic Tse, and Fan Bing Bing? I guess I shouldn't complain since we're talking about an industry that produces gems like Raped by an Angel and Don't Shoot Me, I'm Just a Violinist!

Anyway, I caught a quasi-trailer they have out. It's a promotional short that outlines the story and provides some behind the scenes footage of the set. The movie's about a group of guys who are protecting Sun Yat-sen from assassination and takes place in 1905, hence the elaborate set design. Guess they have a lot of imperial palaces lying around but not so many faux turn-of-the-century Hong Kongs. It looks intriguing and I'm looking forward to it. I was amused though by the cast introductions which have a large English typeset. They certainly get to the point. Nicholas Tse RICKSHAW MAN, Hu Jun ASSASSIN, Li Yu-chun DIVA, Fan Bing-Bing CONCUBINE, Cung Le HENCHMAN, Leon Lai BEGGAR. (Leon's looking pretty pretty in that headshot though.) So there you have it, no complaints about who's who.

See it for yourself.


Cop Unbowed (誓不低頭)

I’m usually wary of any Hong Kong movie that features more than two major TVB stars at a time, so I should have avoided this one with its quintuple threat of Alex Fong, Yoyo Mung, Michael Tse, Sam Chan, and Leila Tong. But what can I say, I like to live dangerously. The movie has a promising start. Cop Lam Long (Fong) rides in on a motorcycle one dark, rainy night wielding a long-ass sword, and a baseball cap. He’s greeted by a mob boss Mr. Dick (Ko) and buddy Fung (Tse) who have his wife Ka Wai (Mung) bound and dangling from a clothesline. Fung accuses Long of killing his boss’s very young girlfriend (Tong) to cover his own crime, and after much bloodshed and slow-mo swordplay, Long kills Fung, rescues his wife, and speeds away. Bad ass.

But then the movie actually begins. Fast forward 10 years and Long is running a small seaside restaurant. He and his wife share a warm but quiet relationship; each remains haunted by the past (she also suffered a miscarriage) and tries to insulate him/herself. Long’s disinterest is countered by his energetic friend Curry (Chin Ka Lok) who works at the restaurant along with his younger cousin Yuki (Yu Chiu). Curry spends an inordinate amount of time getting into fights, one of which prompts a teenage punk hyperactive enough for a Twins movie to pester Long into recognize him as a godson. The ubiquitous Lam Suet also pops in and out as Long’s police buddy for no reason except that Lam Suet is in every movie. When Hau (Sam Chan) finally enters as the restaurant’s new hire, the stage is set for some truly intense moments of revenge, betrayal, and maybe even more sword fights. But then the movie is left to mold for the next 40 minutes. We get glimpses of Mr. Dick who still wants Long’s head, an innocuous romance between Yuki and Hau, and some questionable fish metaphors but nothing in the way of plotting that drives the story to an inevitable climax. Instead, the characters remain largely static before rushing headlong into a predictable and poorly executed ending.

Sam Chan bears some fault for this. He has potential, as evidenced by later scenes, but he’s still a television lightweight and in no position to have entire plots pivoting around his characters. Hau is supposed to be one of Long’s primary antagonists and it would have been exciting to comb through the generational and cultural rifts (Hau was raised and educated in the West) between the two. Excepting a few scowls though, nothing Sam Chan does indicates any tension in that relationship; he seems more like a quiet kid who frowns a lot rather than someone with an agenda and enough resentment to fuel it. Likewise, Yoyo Mung wastes what little she’s given to work with. She’s a fair actress but lacks charisma, especially the kind that should sustain her through a 90 minute film. She comes off better on the small screen where she has the luxury of 20 episodes to develop a character. Chin Ka Lok, on the other hand, overcompensates with antics that are amusing but a little too overwrought for this film. This seems to be the case with Yu Chiu as well, who seems well-suited for comedies. As with too many female characters in Hong Kong cinema, hers exists just to look cute and to pine after the new guy, a role she easily fills. The strongest performance here belongs to Alex Fong, and not just because I like to see him sport the wife beater. He does his trademark brooding act, something he always manages with sincerity. The man deserves so much better than the B movies he’s usually propping up. When he gets a compelling script, he can center a film (One Nite in Mongkok) and when opposite top actors, he always holds his own (Lifeline, Your Place or Mine).

Nevertheless, the main shortcoming is choppy storytelling. There’s some good camerawork that hints at something better but even average mob dramas need a plot worth the hour and a half. Half the film is spent in dull anticipation, with an over-reliance on angled close-ups of a ticking clock, silent dinners between Long and Ka Wai, and Hau looking like a sullen schoolboy, while the comedic presence of some of the minor characters disrupts more than lightens the mood. Nice try, but better luck tomorrow.


A song for me.

What to do when you are stuck in a thesis that you can't get out of? Play some Jay Chou. This is my current Jay song. It's a duet with 梁心(Lara Liang) called 珊瑚海 (Coral Sea).


Writers of Robin Hood, you do sometimes shock me. The series has managed to rescue itself from the pits of dulldom and is crescendoing into a fine finale. Three more episodes left for Jonas Armstrong, who plays Robin Hood, to go out with a bang as this is his last season. Fans are guessing that Clive Standen may take over as a new Robin Hood. He appears in the next episode (S03E11) and looks to remain through the end of the season. Not a bad coup if you want to get recommissioned; Richard Armitage and Clive Standen will make many mothers happy. Here's an interview with the BBC on his upcoming role.

Meanwhile, this week's episode was mostly flashback to Guy and Robin's childhood. Episode 9 ended with Guy's escape into the forest so he's still running around like a crazy man when the story opens. He bumps into Robin and the two are about to slice each other to bits when they're suddenly downed by poison darts. When they awake, a robed man schools them in their personal history. When Guy's father, Roger of Gisbourne, dies in the Holy Land, his French mother, Ghiselaine, is left lady of the manor, a move that irks the local bailiff who'd like this opportunity to steal the lands. Malcolm of Locksley rebuffs the bailiff and voices his support for Ghislaine - because he's secretly bedding her. But when Roger returns unexpectedly (he was only captured), things go to the shits. For one, his wife's pregnant with Malcolm's child, and two, he's kind of a leper. Not exactly a great homecoming. His son, meanwhile, is getting upstaged by local brat Robin, Malcolm's son. Robin is a wimpy showboat who almost gets Guy hanged to save his own skin.

When Roger is forced to leave town because of his leprosy, Malcolm and Ghislaine plan a quick wedding for the sake of their child, their lands, but mostly their reputations - something that doesn't go down well with the kiddies. Guy is generally upset at his parents for letting things unravel without any resistance and Robin just gets another excuse to whine. On the wedding day, Roger once again returns unexpectedly to reclaim his wife, Robin cries 'Leper!' in a crowded village, and Guy faces off with his future step-father. Needless to say, things go down in flames, literally. Roger, Ghislaine, and Malcolm get trapped in a burning house as their children look on. After everything's been properly toasted, the bailiff runs the Gisbourne children out of the village and almost does the same to Robin. Luckily, our golden boy pays a visit to his mother's grave and everything is illuminated; he rushes back to the village, shoots a few arrows, and declares himself protector - and he's only 10. What ambitions! Fast forward to present day. The robed man reveals himself to be Robin's father who apparently escaped the fire. He appeals to his son and Guy to save their brother who is holed up in York, waiting to dangle. In a classic case of shoot and run, Malcolm hits them again with poison darts and flees the scene. When the boys finally come to, they decide to run off together into the sunset, which is in the direction of York.

The introduction of another love triangle is not the most original route, but I think the writers did a decent job of piecing together a back story that fit into the general arc of the entire series. The episode itself was not the most compelling but it managed to be both functional and emotional, whatever you take that to mean. There was a good balance of plot devices, to be born out in next week's show (bringing Robin and Guy together, rescuing their brother with Isabella on their heels, collaborating with old enemies, possibly paving the way for a new Robin), and of characterization. This episode fills some of the character gaps previously alluded to but never addressed, especially with Guy. We know that he has some capacity for love and warmth - and not just because he's played by Richard Armitage - but that he's also inhibited by an overwhelming insecurity and sense of personal injustice. Guy's so grisly that he's never come off as one who enjoyed being evil for its own sake, unlike the Sheriff or Prince John; he'd just as well be the good guy if that meant power. And as if
they needed more people to sympathize with Richard Armitage Guy, we finally get evidence of a man who got shafted by life, someone who was generous and dutiful but who loses his parents, his family's land, and gets kicked out of town. It alters our perception of the Robin-Guy relationship but I think more interestingly, it reveals a lot about Isabella and her character.

A last note on the acting. Richard Armitage manages to turn Guy into a sympathetic anti-hero you'd take home to mom, except that he kills people. Jonas Armstrong though.....I don't know, I've tried to give the guy a chance, 3 seasons' worth, but it's not working. He needs to demand a refund from RADA. Maybe it's just this show - I haven't seen his other work - but he has a total of 2 expressions: toothy grin and furrowed brow - which substitutes for angry, frustrated, sad, confused, and stern. He's not an entirely bad actor but I don't think I'm off base for expecting greater depth from the main character. Most of the time, Robin comes off pretty flat. For example, when the hooded man reveals himself to be Robin's dad, you'd expect a number of conflicting emotions to manifest at once. The joy of rediscovering his father must contend with the overwhelming sense of betrayal and abandonment, besides all of which he must reconcile with his father's relationship with Guy's mother and the fact that his brother is about to die. It seems, however, that Mr. Armstrong is only capable of handling one emotion at a time; he is disgusted with his father then seems to forgive him then is crying in his father's arms. Again, he's not terrible but he's not exactly subtle, which can be distracting when he's paired with better actors. His chemistry with the other outlaws is more palatable, however, though some also belong in the 'better actors' category. Because there's less antagonism, because Jonas-as-Robin doesn't have to juggle the archetypical good guy with the emotional nuance of a 'real' person??



Home Sweet Home (怪物)

Add this to the list of movies that make you want to jump out the window; it's that depressing. Not exactly a horror film, it starts as a thriller and bleeds into a drama. Regardless, it still challenges, exhausts, and profoundly disturbs. The young and picturesque Cheng family has just moved into their new flat, but things soon sour. Their son (Tam Chan Ho) sees something that sets him wailing and his mother, May (Shu Qi) spies a dark figure through the air vents. They manage, however, to pass a peaceful night. When they are invited to a neighbor's birthday party the next day, the shy and solitary May reluctantly accepts. But in the chaos of a flash storm, her son disappears, and thus begins a physical and mental chase that leaves everyone wishing they’d just had a better real estate agent.

Unsure at first what to make of the disappearance, the police, led by Lam Suet, think that May might be slightly left of sane, and their suspicions only increase when she starts crawling through the air ducts in search of her son. May insists that someone is scrabbling the dark of the complex with her kid in tow but there's little proof. She finally manages to get a finger, literally, on some evidence, but this doesn't ease the mounting skepticism of her mental state. The police do offer up a suspect though, Yan Hong (Karena Lam), and we learn that she and her family were once squatters where the apartment now stands. After her husband died in an accident, she and her son disappeared from the records.

The movie shifts here from a couple of crazy women giving chase to a kind of deconstruction of madness, at least an earnest attempt at one. Yan Hong is, of course, the woman lurching around with May's son whom she takes as her own, and while she previously had just been someone in serious need of a bath and new clothes, her story pushes forward a larger critique of society. Or again, it tries to. Both women might do well to learn how to win friends and influence people, but their faults hardly merit the cynicism and inattention that envelopes them. After losing family members or facing eviction, they are left even more isolated, their misery compounded by a wholesale breakdown of society, at least for them. The ineffectiveness of all social safeguards - government, neighbors, family - only hastens their flight to the margins and, in the case of Yan Hong, brands her a monster which is the Chinese title for this film.

The moralizing is not too heavy handed and makes this a somewhat effective piece. At the very least, an actual plot and functional characters are in place - though on the latter point I think May's characterization would have been strengthened by greater interaction with her husband (Alex Fong in little more than a cameo). Maybe because of his small role, however, we have two challenging female characters reinforcing each other, always a cause for celebration in Hong Kong cinema. Even in her distress, May evinces some sympathy for Yan Hong, a feeling reciprocated later on, however briefly. Where the film suffers though is in the emotional avalanche that it unleashes as May's desperation, fueled by the general incompetence and indifference of those around her, comes to a head. It rightly asks much from its audience but is unable to provide a disciplined response. If the movie imagines itself a vehicle for examining social responsibilities, injustice, and even mental health, it cannot succeed by simply releasing a torrent of misery. Both characters are pushed to such extremes that by the end, there is little left for us to grasp and reshape; the final effect is that the audience becomes just as consumed despair as Yan Hong and May.


Gold Label All*Stars

Update: Turns out I did have a reason for posting. Leo Ku just switched companies and is now an EEG minion, joining the likes of Joey Yung, Twins, and underage acts I don't keep up with. I smell some bad movies ahead!

I really have no reason for posting this video. How about the second season of
美女廚房 (Beautiful Cooking) is showing and Alex Fong Lik Sun (the little one) shares hosting duties? Weak sauce, but there you have it. The video is 年年有今日 (Every Year Has Today) by Leo Ku and featuring the guys at Gold Label, including little Alex. Don't know what I feel about these guys beatboxing and trying to pull off cool in suits and shades, but hey, I watch to learn Chinese.


(Looks like someone had to sit through his/her own movie.)

The Death Curse (古宅心慌慌)!

A "horror" movie, possibly because Twins and Boy'z share a double billing. I imagine the movie gods over at EEG and Co are running out of ways to stuff multiple stars in a film so they've come up with this delicious slice of stupid. Charlene Choi plays sassy (read: bitchy) Ding Si who regularly lashes out at the adoring mail man (Laurence Chou) who regularly reads her mail. They find that her father whom she has never met has summoned her to a family reunion. On arriving at his massive estate out in the boondocks, she discovers a gaggle of her brothers and sisters (you guessed it, the other Twin, Boy'z, plus Raymond Wong and others) previously unknown to her. Unfortunately, the happiness is cut short because their father has just died. This hardly affects Ah Si, however, who is just angling for her inheritance. Enter Lawyer Cheung played by Alex Fong - as in his first name is Lawyer - who's executing the will. He informs the brood that Papa Ding left them oodles of money, the estate, and some fruit trees but that they must partake in a few crazy rituals before anyone gets their share, namely gathering at midnight for the next seven days to light incense and then hugging each other. Yes, hugging each other. This pleases some of the lot, like Ding Bat (Steven Cheung) and Ding Ling (Gillian Chung), who just want everyone to get along. Hothead Ding Lik (Raymond Wong) meanwhile is the male answer to Ah Si; he would rather bond with his father’s money than with his siblings. Then there is the other Boy('z), Ah Mo (Kenny Kwan), whose main purpose is to throw in some cracks about an unintentionally incestuous relationship between him and Ah Si a few summers back.

The movie quickly vaults into juvenile horror that mostly involves hallucinations and Papa Ding's dead body, which for some reason is propped in a chair in what appears to be an air conditioned cabin. Nothing happens in the way of plot much less characterization for the next hour. No one seems to give a rip about their dead daddy, and they instead tumble from one creepy hijinks to another. The scares are pretty generic and inconsequential and could have been shuffled or replaced entirely. The only thing that saved this movie was a somewhat predictable ending done with such cheeky relish that I couldn't help cracking a few smiles. The last twenty minutes delivered on the promise of an intriguing albeit ridiculous premise of a family reunion between pubescent strangers. Alright, delivered might be a bit strong, but the climax goes the distance with some of the movie's absurdities. At one point, the guys find themselves literally going crazy in a locked cage. A somewhat incapacitated Si has the antidote - honey - but is just out of reach. She nevertheless manages to dip her foot in it which means, yes, a couple of rabid boys must lick honey off Charlene Choi's toes. Also, the requisite feel-good popstar ending is achieved and mostly palatable because the mush factor dissipates quickly. Still, the movie straddles spoof and pseudo-seriousness without settling on either or on a consistent middle ground. That probably suits the EEG crowd but means this horror-comedy on training wheels is passable fare for the rest.

Remembering Tiananmen

(picture from Mingpao)

I was at Victoria Park last night with a crowd of 150,000 strong to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown. The candlelight memorial started at 8p and I arrived about that time. As I headed to the park from Sogo, people were spilling out of the subway exit, to be greeted by Long Hair, a celebrity HK legislator if there was one who consistently calls for greater democracy, amongst other things. He was perched on a ladder and served as kind of the warm up act for those going to Victoria Park, which was about everyone. A little ways down there was another member of Legco I believe and a few banners, and people, stretched out on the street.

Traffic on the road bisecting the shopping area and the park was closed off and from there, I pretty much got sucked into the crowd. The soccer fields and basketball courts were already packed and closed off but it was impossible to rush the crowd and make it to the other field, which was also full. It was difficult to stop off to the side because there wasn't much room and you couldn't see anything, so a number of us were basically swept around the park by the momentum of thousands of people in front and behind. It was pretty warm if you were caught in the middle and for a few seconds I thought this could turn into a disaster, especially when I saw little kids pressed up against everyone else's bums and tums.

But I was glad to see children there, whole families actually. I heard parents telling their children who weren't even old enough to remember SARS about what happened 20 years ago and why it was important that they remember this event. I also saw grandparents who were old enough to remember the Japanese invasion of Hong Kong trying to make their way to the fields with teenage grandchildren in tow. There were middle aged couples without children, packs of teenagers, twentysomethings who were still eating their dinner, retirees who brought their own electric candles. I've never seen anything like it, and that seemed to be the sentiment shared by others. I overheard a person who I took for a businessman telling someone on the phone that it was more people than he'd expected, more than he'd seen before, more than any previous year he'd come. Along the route, organizers kept rallying us to take out our phones and to call and text all our friends and family. "Tell them to come out, tell them to be a part of this. Do they remember June 4? If they do, they must come here." And people actually did this. People weren't just on the phone relaying how big the crowds were, they were also encouraging others to join in.

I never actually saw the speakers and couldn't really hear much of anything - except when they announced that attendance peaked 150,000. The lady next to me told her husband, "Just watch. Tomorrow the government is going to cut that number in half." And true to form, police estimates for this and last weekend's rally were lower than that of the organizers'. Who knows how many people were actually there, but it was damn crowded and the numbers matter less than the significance of such an overwhelming turnout. Whatever the motivation for each person last night, it's clear that Hong Kong still feels the injustice of Tiananmen Square.

Afterwards, I had an interesting conversation with a Mainlander who also attended and who sat near the front.
I was taken with her sincerity at trying to find out more information. She revealed many things I already knew from teaching in China - that young people are told nothing about Tiananmen, that they know vaguely of an event but have no particulars, that even if they want to discuss among friends they are afraid, that the Chinese government has successfully helped a generation forget the protests, that they've ensured the youth don't care, that with time the country can collectively claim a crackdown never happened.

It was the topic of the actual death count though that was most revealing. I mentioned that so many numbers have been thrown up that it's hard for me to know which one is the most accurate. Even if the highest numbers are exaggerated, certainly the lowest numbers - less than 10 - are just as off base, at which point she went wide eyed and I thought her jaw was going to drop. "More than 10?!" she said. "No, I never thought more than 10." She wasn't trying to argue or disagree with me; she was just shocked that of my certainty that the death toll exceeded a handful of students. But what most intrigued me was her reasoning - she just couldn't comprehend the fact that her government could turn the military on its own people. I could be snarky here, mock her naivete, and let loose on how America has a fine record of using and abusing its own citizens (see black American history), but her comment I think really hits at an underlying sadness and the importance of this whole event, not just this particular commemoration in Hong Kong but also the Chinese government's (non)reaction, its disappearance from the Chinese memory.
It is both my friend's disbelief in and at her own country and that she was able to suspend her skepticism for so long that is ultimately so troubling. She has seen video and pictures now; you can't really escape that here in Hong Kong. But by her own account, she hasn't been able to square the evidence with such longheld trust in her government. And it made me think a bit about what it would be like to have that trust taken away, to be filled instead with betrayal. I guess as an American and an Asian American, I've honed by skepticism, but it's something to consider when we ask the Chinese people to examine what transpired 20 years ago. We are telling them not just to take a stand with the students but to radically change the way they view their government. That said, it should still be done. A last point is that whenever I meet new people in China, especially students, they are always quick to remind me of their country's 5000 year history. Impressive indeed, but not so much when you can't remember what happened 20 years ago.


The day before the 20th anniversary of Tiananmen

The obsession continues.......At least the tv show that started my Alex Fong episode (浴火鳳凰 or Phoenix of the Ashes) is finished with his storyline. I think his character got blown up in a train. Pity. I think Shawn Yue kind of takes over from there. My life was already a certifiable mess when I was just interested in Richard Armitage, but now I have to toggle between the two.

Speaking of.....Over the weekend I caught the latest Robin Hood. Sometimes the show actually impresses. Something to do with expectations? I've concluded that this would be great to watch with the kids, if I had any. But it's still miserable to sit through on occasion. I think this season's suffered because of the change in cast; it's trying to reorient itself without a leading character while still maintaining continuity between this and the previous two seasons. I thought series one segued well into series two but the third has been lacking direction. Also we might attribute this to my watching solely for actors rather than any perceptible story, but again, because there's less story to watch for. The first two seasons had a good combination of sheer plot and action combined with some really intriguing characters. The ambiguity of Guy and Allan balanced the moral absolutism of most of the other characters. And their shifting loyalties were well-integrated with the plot. Guy is definitely less interesting this time around and Allan and most of the gang are all but invisible. Isabella has been a bright spot but I think the writers jerk her around from one extreme to the other so much that she loses a lot of nuance. I was looking forward to Friar Tuck as well, but he's disappointed so far, through no fault of David Harewood.

In any case, I write this because I thought that last weekend's episode returned to some of the emotional sophistication of the last two seasons. (Did I just use the word sophistication with Robin Hood?) It was nice seeing hints of goodness in Guy, and this is where Richard Armitage gets to show off that LAMDA training, or talent, whichever route you want to go. Being a baddie can be fun - see Toby Stephens who has been deliciously evil throughout his run. But the show has been lacking emotional traction since Guy's descent, so his relationship with Meg, a fellow prisoner played by Holliday Grainger, was refreshing. Actually, the interaction between Guy, Meg, and Isabella was challenging in that it gave substance to the whole sibling squabble. Previous episodes saw a duplicitous Isabella trying to stick it to her bastard brother, but their exchanges often felt like a ping pong match with nothing to really ground each other's accusations. The unexpected arrival of Isabella's husband and the ensuing chaos, however, gives new life to this relationship, particularly as Isabella is confronted with Guy's sympathies towards Meg, who tries to spring him from the dungeon after he demonstrates civility, even kindness, to her. (Side note: I thoroughly enjoyed Holliday Grainger's performance and hope to see more of her in the future. Which will probably happen because she's appeared in everything, including Merlin and Demons. I didn't particularly care for her in those roles but she was quite affecting as a headstrong but somewhat innocent girl here.) I'm at last looking forward to the next few episodes where it is revealed that Bobbin and Guy are brothers in one way or another. There will be some flashback sequences next week, so this should again give some emotional complexity to season, however belated.

Since I started the night obsessed about Alex Fong, I should end there too. His new movie comes out end of July, I believe. It's called 竊聽風雲 (Overheard) and also stars Lau Ching Wan, Daniel Wu, and Louis Koo. I'm excited about at least one of those actors. The movie's about stock traders and corruption, both things near and dear to Hong Kong. Presser the other day. The question everyone's asking: Why is Louis Koo in shorts? Or why such a flat title? Or why don't they make awesome thrillers with strong female characters in Hong Kong?

This looks like an unhealthy amount of testosterone.