Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Home movies

Ok, not ‘home movies’ as in I’ve made something, but ‘home movies’ as in movies I’ve been watching at home.

There’s been cock-all on at the pictures recently - we’ve watched everything that’s on current release, would you believe. Well not everything, seeing as we only get ‘general release’ films, not the legion of alternative content you get if you live in London. Why The Village gets all the extras and the rest of the UK doesn’t is a mystery. No it’s not - it’s yet another example of how the UK is run for the good of London Village.

I digress.

So I’m at home and I’m looking at the stack of cheap DVDs I recently bought whilst in Hong Kong, and I decide I’m going to have a crack at them. The first one I open is An Inspector Calls from 2015. This should be a retelling / remake of the infamous play by J.B. Priestley, but seeing as it’s also a Chinese New Year comedy, it makes for some very black comedy. Louis Koo (古天樂) is the mysterious Inspector who arrives as Eric Tsang (曾志偉) and onscreen wife Teresa Mo (毛舜筠) are trying to get a party sorted for their debutant daughter. Things progress as they should - apart from the usual partial slapstick / bordering-on-bloopers fun that is a CNY movie. Diaries secreting themselves around Louis Koo’s person, his foot balancing on air, Eric’s screeching getting higher and higher as he gets more and more stressed - and all the time they do very well to keep the face of the deceased obscured in each and every flashback. The first hour flies by and it’s suitably raucous and thought-provoking. However, it dips a little in the third act, only to be rescued by the entirely absurd and completely out-of-the-blueness of Donnie Yen (甄子丹) turning up as the singing quartet at the actual wedding reception. Wait, did I type ‘quartet’? Yes, I did. A little CGI has him in four different haircuts, dressed in identical red outfits that wouldn’t be out of place in a Grease dance contest, bobbing (and actually really singing) along to ‘Sherry Baby’. I shit you not. A good ending, and a surprise ‘guest star’ right at the end was also a chuckle - until the very end curtain, as it were. Nice.

The next one was actually a Taiwanese film called Godspeed (一路順風). Billed as a black comedy / drama, it gave me the confidence to settle in for a good time. And the opening was good. But ai-ya, you thought Quentin Tarantino knew how to swear. He has nothing on these guys. Unfortunately, after the first twenty minutes I was losing interest. It was beginning to plod, the black comedy was so subtle as to be non-existent, and to be honest, I watched the next thirty-five minutes of the film on x3. After fifty-five minutes I gave up. Just not for me, I guess.

I went back to good old-fashioned wewungwung, with Wing Chun, the Michelle Yeoh (楊紫瓊) powerhouse of gratuitous fight scenes, poor wire work and lamentable film restoration - and of course, wonderfully noisy and terrifically well-placed bouts of wewungwung. Yuen King-Dan (苑瓊丹) (yay!) plays her hard-nosed, shrewd businesswoman (and cougar?) of a sister. Even Donnie Yen turns up as the hapless idiot (of lesser gung fu, of course) who doesn’t recognise Michelle Yeoh from when they were wee, and he had a tremendous crush on her.

What I like about this film is the idea that Michelle Yeoh, as a pretty fictionalised version of the actual woman Wing Chun, is fed up of stereotypes and just gets on with life. The fact that her and her sister’s tofu stall is going down the crapper because she refuses to play the beautiful bimbo just to separate all the male customers from their coins is brilliant - when a new ‘tofu beauty’ turns up to ‘man’ the stall, they’re in the money again but now her first love mistakes the air-head for her. For me this movie ticks a lot of boxes - a female lead who is just sick of people’s shit and doesn’t see why she has to take it any more, gratuitous fight scenes well-executed, people bowing down when they bloody well should, and of course a bit of Shakespearian mix-up farce. A fantastic night in.

Hmm… What else? Ah yes. More wewungwung in the form of 14 Blades. Vicky Zhao (趙薇) is impressive here, as the daughter of the traders who have the bad luck to cross paths with a wounded Donnie Yen. The Emperor’s best secret service man, he gets on the worst side of both a corrupt court official and the dude’s enemy - such is life. Making a run for it, he takes Vicky Zhao as a hostage and plots how to orchestrate avenging the corruption and of course clearing his name. These two actors are really good together - the moment where she lumps him over the head with a log is absolutely priceless, as is his reaction. In fact they get along so badly (and therefore like a house on fire) that the last act is heart-breaking. However, the very last scene will make up for some of that, in a way. Wewungung with chicken bones (yes, chicken bones), bath-houses and shiny swords, and two characters who are both as stubborn and unrepentant as each other. Yes, I like.

It would be remiss of me not to mention another Chinese New Year movie, this time from 2011. All’s Well, Ends Well 2011 (最強囍事) (not to be confused with all the other All’s Well, Ends Well films, made in 1993, 1997, 2009, 2010, and 2012, or even the original Shakespeare All’s Well That Ends Well!). Louis Koo (him again) plays a dude who pretends to be gay so he can shift more make-up stock and keep his TV show status as one of the top cosmetic experts in Asia. Cecilia Cheung (張栢芝) is the plain-Jane assistant who ‘isn’t like other girls’, and therefore catches the eye of billionaire playboy Chapman To (杜汶澤). Turns out they’re both just looking for love (go figure; it is a CNY film, after all). Add into the mix a rich HK businessman whose girlfriend from north of the border gets into the cosmetics industry, and you have an almost slapstick comedy of Louis Koo, Chapman To and Louis’ make-up mate Donnie Yen either looking for love, knowing it’s under their nose but not being able to do anything about it, or just plain desperate for someone crazy enough to put up with them. It should be boring - but it’s a laugh riot. Your mileage may vary, but when I see Carina Lau taking the piss out of flaky writers (some of the music was familiar - was that Kelly Chen’s ‘umbrella memories’ music from And I Hate You So?), and Louis Koo hamming it up with expert comic timing, and Donnie Yen taking the piss out of the film industry - and letting other do it Ip Man (the film, people, the film!), it makes me chuckle. There were bits I nearly died laughing - Grandma starting off the circular gossip gag that ends in her spitting out her tea; the ‘bitch’ song in the office; the mahjong rounds and the knife, the bits where it seems people are barely acting at all - a very good time was had, to the point where I had to wind a few bits back to watch again.

However, it showed a level of maturity that I wasn’t expecting from a CNY film. When Cecilia Cheung desperately keeps smiling through the obvious soul-shredding embarrassment and mortification of a vicious power-hungry woman tearing her to shreds for being ‘common’, when Carina Lau tells Donnie Yen she’s getting married and forces him to SMILE and congratulate her - and he does like he’s covering up the fact that he’s going to be physically ill, when Louis Koo has to stand by and watch Cecilia be loved-up by Chapman To, knowing that he doesn’t really deserve he like a certain somebody would - there are lots of moments where you just get slapped by Mood Whiplash and realise you've been caught out by the funnies and the falls, and didn't realise the underlying current was about to kill you with unfairness.

That being said - loved it. It’s silly, it’s frivolous, it’s disposable - but of course it is; it’s a fucking CNY film, people. It’s like Cannonball Run meets Charlie’s Angels for 2011. And yes, it’s going on the pile of DVDs that will cheer me up when it’s grey and raining outside, and I just want to something silly to laugh at.

The thing is, I’ve missed that particular brand of HK goofiness you only get in a CNY film. I love the in-jokes, the name-dropping, the quick insults and witty banter. I miss knowing that pretty much 10% of the film is just bloopers they left in because they didn’t have time to reshoot. I love having so many famous faces in one place. I miss the timeless fun of just letting everything pass you by to enjoy barely two hours of indulgent fun.

So I guess that’s all the news that’s fit to print. I think tomorrow night I’ll open... Well, I suppose I’ll find out tomorrow.

Peach and lube, everyone. Peach and frelling lube.

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