Monday, 17 July 2017

Home Movies (II)

Last time I covered some Hong Kong and Asian films that I’d seen during the week. Well here are a few more, worthy of mentions to (1) remind myself that I’ve seen them, and (2) prove that I do actually blog here from time to time.

This time they were all Hong Kong movies.

Three (三人行)

Billed as a thriller, and starring two solid leads in Vicky Zhao (趙薇) and Louis Koo (古天樂), this character-study-cum-actioner revolves around a triad member being brought into a public hospital. He’s been shot in the head and should be in a coma but he’s not; the police who bring him in are edgy and arrogant, and as time goes on your realise what went down to cause the bloke to get shot in the first place. Tensions are high, a cat and mouse game plays out between the doctor, the police detective and the gangster, and apart from some weird bullet ballet bollocks toward the end, it all kind of makes sense. However, it’s not the most enthralling film I’ve seen, and to be honest there were moments where I picked up my phone to see if I had any email. Shout-out to Luvin Ho (菁瑋 / Ching Wai) for her performance as the dogsbody detective under Louis Koo. And bloody hell, but does Lam Suet (林雪) appear in every single film or what? A nice twist on his character, for a change.

Verdict: 7/10; would recommend if you’re into serious drama.

Election (黑社會)

This 2005 film is basically about the fight for the winning seat. Where is that, exactly? Only the head of all triad gangs in Hong Kong. Sought after about as much as the Iron Throne, it’s the MacGuffin that shows us what Simon Yam (任達華) will do to get it. Surrounded by some real powerhouses of HK cinema, he schemes and betrays whomever it takes to get the top spot. I can’t give away the ending, but I’m pretty sure it’s not what you're expecting. Good cast, solid drama, and a fresh look at what is shown to be a hundreds of years old system, and how it’s survived all this time. If you’re expecting knife fights by hordes of triads in the streets, then you’re going to be disappointed. However, if you’re looking for who will out-do who and how, then I can highly recommend this.

Verdict: 8/10; would recommend to everyone.

Election II (黑社會:以和爲貴)

This 2006 sequel does not disappoint. If you watched the first one and wondered why they always say ‘it’s the quiet ones you’ve got to watch’, then this is for you. More scheming, but this time for a completely different reason. Once again the big chair is up for grabs, and everyone is scrambling to get it - except one. Louis Koo (古天樂)’s character just wants a quiet life, but his loyalty and his ambition for things outside of the triad life are about to make things very complicated.

Verdict: 8.5/10; would recommend if just for the final few scenes. Class.

The Vampire Clean-Up Department (救僵清道夫)

This crew in this 2017 gem do what it says on the tin: clean-up vampires and any mess they make. A team of blokes who are definitely knocking-on are holed up in the basement of the Government Hygiene Department - one of the infamous refuse collection points stationed around the city. However, open the cupboard to one side and you enter the full-on world of talismans, protection sigils, enchanted weapons, and the crematorium which also serves as a place to boil the kettle when you need tea. Poor wee Tim, an orphan, is walking home one night when he thinks he sees someone beating up an old bloke down the ginnel. He summons what little courage he has and decides to intervene. He gets as far as shouting to the assailant before the action stops and he gets a very, very good look at the vampire chomping on the old dude. He tries to make a run for it but is brought to the ground and, in best HK comedy tradition, is bitten not in the neck but on the arse.

When he wakes up he’s at home and perfectly fine after his ordeal, and a couple of strange blokes are talking to his grandmother. She seems to be nuttier than a fruitcake, calling Tim by his father’s (her son’s) name and being generally away with the faeries. Tim is later drawn into the Vampire Clean-Up Department when he determines to find out what happened and how the people know his grandmother - and his dead parents.

A little predictable but made with a lot of heart, the comedy is not too strong and the plot easy to grasp. A few times it made me laugh out loud, and then there came the inevitable Mood Whiplash as a vampire he mistakenly woke up before he could cremate it becomes endearing when it really shouldn’t. A satisfying ending and a little twist to prove what they were banging on about halfway through - it’s all done and dusted and leaves you feeling pretty upbeat.

Verdict: 9/10; would recommend if you like a bit of fun, or the prospect of Supernatural operating out of the local rubbish department with a ragtag bunch of oddities who specialise in vampires.

Golden Chicken$$$ (金雞SSS)

Now then. The first Golden Chicken (金雞) from 2002 was a semi serious affair, designed to show everyone how you may think you have it bad, but there’s always something to be done, something to make it better. This narrative is eloquently put by Kam, the ‘golden chicken’, or damn good prostitute. In the middle of getting robbed, she sits the bloke down and proceeds to tell him her story - one that mirrors the ups and downs of Hong Kong life. Golden Chicken 2 (金雞2) came along in 2003, just after SARS had hit and turned most of the country into a ghost town, where people were afraid to go out, mingle, or simply be where other people were breathing. It was a pretty bleak time for all involved, as anyone who was trying to work during that year can attest to. I said goodbye to a lovely bright young lad who wasn't even six years old, who made everyone happy during every class he was in. A bad year indeed, but that was the point of the second film. The disease and its effects may have forced Hong Kong into a tailspin, but it didn’t last long; as the film showed with as much pathos as it did parody, the can-do spirit of Hong Kong people is indomitable when there’s still money to be made. A spoof on cinematic Oscar-bait, as well as poking fun at the entire prostitution racket in HK, it dealt with the trauma and heart of HKers during the whole black time.

It wasn’t until 2014 that an update appeared. This time Kam the prostitute is struggling as the mama-san of her own brothel; profits seem to be down and she’s always having to do things that gall her just to keep going. She decides to go to Japan to see how their business seems to be booming. A lot of laughs from this one in the first hour, including Louis Koo (古天樂 - him again) playing the Shenzhen version of himself (i.e. a knock-off) to fool a rich woman into thinking she’s actually getting a bit of the movie star. The cavalier way they take the piss out of business in the Mainland, as well as tourism, the current political climate and triads in particular, made me miss HK movies and the black comedy they can come out with. The spot-on English subtitles certainly helped with this - they even managed to recreate some of the innuendos and puns.

Verdict: 9/10; would recommend if you like bawdy comedy and social commentary mixed together, with an unapologetic yet sensitive wit.

And again, that’s all the news that’s fit to print. Going to go and decide what’s next on the agenda, film-wise.


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