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Starsky & Hutch

A wit? Only half...
Owen Wilson and Ben Stiller are likable fellows and good at what they do. They give this film their best shot, and it has its moments. But overall, this movie is neither fish nor fowl--torn between being a straightforward homage to the old show, or a comedy, it really accomplishes neither.

Yes, I am an old S&H fan from when the show first aired. Loved the camaraderie, the sense of fun, yet serious story telling the original show was famous for. Perhaps it doesn't translate well 25 or so years later, but that doesn't excuse Hollywood's lame tendency to mine 70's TV shows for parody material.

For me, the only time the film really came alive was at the end where the new duo meet the old pros. Sad to say, while their successors do not, Paul and David still have the magic--that scene was priceless. Watching the DVD deleted scenes and gag reel, and finding at least one other scene the two were in made me sad it too didn't end up in the final cut. It was funnier than anything in the preceding two hours. The old joke from the show about the Torino being a tomato not a car resonated with this old fan.

I wanted to do more than chuckle occasionally during this film, but that was about all I managed. Some things don't need to be remade but need to stay in their own time with their original cast. A better idea might have been to take the old concept, and try to modernize it--but even then, some things are just best left alone.

Demon Under Glass

Looking for shock and slash--won't find it here--hurray!
Demon Under Glass is a wonderful breath of air in the horror genre where for too long, shock value and gore has overridden plot, characterization and ethical conundrum considerations. This smart and stylish independent production is satisfying on many levels, not the least of which is the ethical dilemma which is its central theme.

Suppose that vampires really exist. And suppose that one were captured and studied by science? Is a sentient human being who just happens to be dead, and who kills others for their blood and fear, to be given more consideration than a lab rat? This is the premise of the film. The capture of the vampire, Simon Molinar happens at the outset of the film, as police and a mysterious commando force set a trap into which the urbane vampire falls. Once subdued and badly injured, he is spirited off to an LA area Veterans Hospital to be studied.

Once here, he comes under the attention and care of Dr. Joseph McKay, young doctor working off medical school debt at the VA facility. McKay is tapped to replace the project leader and medical doctor, Dr. Hirsch, who was killed in Molinar's capture. It is through McKay's eyes and experience that the nature of the project comes to light and the ethical considerations are explored.

Treating the injured captive, the compassionate McKay becomes drawn into his patient's life and situation. Necessarily clued to the true nature of the man under his care, the young doctor finds a polite, cooperative patient who seems to little warrant the stringent security and strict protocols aimed at keeping him under control. McKay's empathy is tested as he is involved in the experimentation involved first in healing Molinar's initial injuries, and as the vampire heals, the scientific inquiry that is the thrust of the secret Delphi project he has been drawn into. McKay is the voice of reason and compassion, who questions the right of the project specialists to conduct what seems at times the vilest sort of torture, in order to further science. As the experimenters go farther and farther in search of answers, and as the police who have been cheated of their suspect in a string of serial murders pursue the case and Molinar's whereabouts, McKay finds himself torn between a patient who is almost a friend, and associates who increasingly seem comfortable violating the very moral code that is at the heart of the Hippocratic Oath.

Molinar is played with style and flair by Jason Carter, who makes his vampire villain complicated and sympathetic--a man who, when escape does not seem possible, agrees to give back to humanity something of what he has taken for centuries, by allowing himself to be studied and experimented on. Garett Maggart is Dr. Joseph McKay, the emotional heart and soul of the film, who masterfully portrays a man torn between his natural compassion, his healing gift, and the moral considerations of how much humanity a fundamentally inhuman patient should be allowed. Maggart gives a multi-layered performance from which McKay emerges the quintessential hero, but not without emotional cost and conflicted feelings. The two stars are supported by a largely excellent cast.

For a low budget independent feature, the production quality and technical aspects are, if not great, still excellent. With studio backing and a huge budget, this could have been one of the most talked about films in years, but would probably have suffered from having huge name stars cast in the roles so beautifully played here.

This is very much a thinking man's film. While there is drama and tension aplenty, this film never goes for cheap shock and audience manipulation. The end result is a film that is first a drama with a compelling plot and second the most satisfying "horror" film this reviewer has had the pleasure to watch in many, many years.

Gods and Generals

Unfairly maligned
As a Civil War buff from childhood, I've seen a lot of Civil War inspired films. This is a worthy successor (though technically prequel) to the excellent "Gettysburg" and despite its nearly four hour running time, kept me entranced.

If "Gettysburg" was largely the story of Joshua Chamberlain, "Gods and Generals" is very much the story of Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson. Stephen

Lang, an very much under-appreciated actor of great talent, shines as Jackson, and should be nominated for an Oscar for his performance. It is through Jackson's point of view/experience that we come to understand the tragedy that was the War Between the States and Lang's heartfelt and compelling performance gives the film its emotional center. Fans of "Gettysburg" will remember Lang's turn as George Pickett in that film, here Pickett is played by actor Billy Campbell. Lang's performance as Jackson makes this odd bit of casting entirely forgivable, and proves his ability to carry this far meatier role.

Robert Duvall is excellent as Robert E. Lee. Jeff Daniels again shines as Joshua Chamberlain. Many faces from "Gettysburg" return in this film, memorable, Brian Mallon as Winfield Scott Hancock. Frankie Faison as Jim turns in a luminous performance as a freed slave who serves as Jackson's cook, and a voice of conscience for the film.

I found the history to be evenhanded, and as accurate as any film I've seen. As with "Gettysburg" this film takes names we may know from history and turns them into living breathing people that we can identify with.

This film is getting unfairly bad reviews and viewer reactions. I hold the fact that America has the attention span of gnat in this day of instant news and gratification, and a willful disregard for knowledge of its own history. History is only as dry and boring as the mind that approaches it. This film shows the human cost of the national tragedy that was the Civil War and dares to defy the 100 minute Hollywood standard for audience attention.

IF watching history come alive and better understanding the dilemmas, motivations of the leaders of both sides (of this struggle that forever changed the American form of government), the causal events and torments of those who fought against friends and kin, doesn't appeal to you, by all means, avoid this film. But if these very things are the elements you feel sorely missing from Hollywood's output of recent years, ignore the reviewers and watch this movie.

In my opinion, with a war with Iraq in the offing, this film should be required viewing for all Americans. It has many excellent points to make that are timely and relevant to our current situation, sometimes uncomfortably so. But you have to be willing to see them.

end of review

Die Another Day

Disappointing with questionable racial messages **SPOILERS**
This was actually my first Bond film with Pierce Brosnan, having avoided his other outings in the role. For my money any of the previous Bonds is preferable to Brosnan who fails to show in this third outing any personality, or spark in the role. He's competent, but not outstanding, not making Bond his own in any way shape or form. The trademark Bond bon mots are just so many words in this Bond's mouth, flatly delivered eliciting groans instead of grins.

The plot starts out promisingly enough, with Bond going into North Korea to bring down the crime empire of a Colonel Moon (played all too briefly with a great deal of charisma by Will Yun Lee), who with his henchman Zao (again, played beautifully and memorably by Rick Yune) keep the de-militarized zone hopping with their unbalanced antics.

Sadly, Colonel Moon is "killed" for all intents and purposes in the opening gambit, Zao ends up with a face studded by diamonds from a Bond initiated explosion, and General Moon, the Colonel's father (played to perfection by veteran Hong Kong character actor Kenneth Tsang) mourning his son's death.

>From this point onward, the film starts sliding down hill. After being imprisoned for 14 months and tortured by the North Koreans, Bond is exchanged for none other than Zao. His license is revoked and off he goes on a curiously flat journey of revenge against Zao. The plot gets unnecessarily murky from this point onward, with more twists than are really supported by the action. Rather than try to enumerate them and spoil someone's fun, I'll cut to the chase of this review.

I guess the North Koreans are one of the last "safe" villains in our politically correct world. While this film makes good use of several Asian actors, it is a shame it does so by casting them as the villains and then ***SPOILER ALERT*** adds the strange and rather distasteful plot twist of having Col. Moon and Zao undergoing "DNA therapy" in order to change their identities. While long a cinematic stock in trade plot device, "cosmetic surgery to alter identity" is taken to unfathomable extremes here as the two main Asian characters undergo this therapy in an effort to turn into white men. Zao's process is interrupted by Bond, leaving the gorgeous Rick Yune with a bald pate, diamond studded face, ice blue eyes and white skin. (I think the first thing I would have had done to hide my identity would have been to have those pesky diamonds removed, as Bond saw Zao's damaged face during their exchange at the DMZ) The insult to Colonel Moon is more extreme, the wonderful and talented Will Yun Lee is replaced by uber-white anglo saxon Tobey Stephens (who is a fine actor and carries off the menace well). I found this plot development rather racist--why would either of these two gorgeous men choose to morph into ordinary looking white men? Presumably to enter the world of the ultra priveleged white male and completely submerge their previous identities--but surely the same could have been accomplished without stripping these characters of the ethnic origin and pride that one would expect megalomanical Bond villains to possess!

Halle Barry is fine as Jinx, she's sassy and intelligent and except for one instance, fully capable of taking care of herself.

Rosamund Pike is good as the obligatory sex object character. Between them the two female leads get all the good lines (or maybe they just know how to deliver them better than Brosnan...).

The movie does lack something in pacing, seeming to drag in spots while dazzling with an overabundance of special effects and stunts that too often did not further the plot.

All in all, a serviceable Bond with some wonderful actors in roles that could have been better utilized. Worth it to watch Rick Yune, Will Yun Lee and Kenneth Tsang. Yune gets decent screen time, while Lee and Tsang deserved more.

I recommend viewers wait for the DVD release, unless you're a fan of spectacular stunts and must see them on the theatre screen to enjoy what looks good, but doesn't s

Mo him wong

Rousing film within a film
Dr. Wai and the Scripture With No Words is a rousing adventure tale set in the middle part of the 20th century. Dr. Wai, known as the King of Adventurers, is a writer and archaeologist in the mold of Indiana Jones, and a renowned finder of missing artifacts.

He is also the alter-ego of his creator, Chow Si-Kit, played by Jet Li. Chow Si-Kit is a beleaguered writer of serialized adventure tales whose own life is in a tailspin. His wife, Monica (Rosamund Kwan) wants a separation and is going to great lengths to insure the break with her husband up to and including engaging in the equivalent of phone sex with her husband's employer in Si-Kit's presence. Later, at a dinner requested by Monica to discuss divorce, a famous movie star--another apparent romantic swain of Monica's-- barges in, lawyer in tow, offering the barrister's services for the divorce.

His rotten home-life is intruding upon Si-kit's work. He is suffering from writers block and cannot seem to move the adventures of Dr. Wai forward--risking his livelihood.

Fortunately, Chow Si-Kit has friends in the publishing house where he works. Shing (Takeshi Kaneshiro) is an eager young writer who befriends Si-Kit and tries his best to support him in his marital troubles and help break his writer's block. When that effort is unsuccessful, he enlists the aid of Yvonne, a pretty young colleague, and together they begin to ghost write the adventure of Dr. Wai and the Scripture With No Words. Shing is represented in the tale by an alter-ego--also named Shing who is sidekick and disciple to Dr. Wai The Scripture is actually a two fold artifact which has, in the course of time been sundered into its components. The first is a seemingly ordinary wooden box, with an inscribed lid--which can kill and maim the unsuspecting who open it. The second is a scripture scroll which, when joined with the box creates an oracle which can tell the future. Many nefarious and greedy types are looking for the two artifacts for their own ends. Dr Wai has more than one occasion to engage the villains in martial arts battle, providing a showcase for Jet Li's impressive physical prowess.

Shing and Yvonne, who are engaged in a budding romance of their own, soon steer the serial into the area of romance, even while Chow Si-Kit is being ever more plagued by his personal life.

The plot of the film within the film lurches forward in a somewhat non-linear way as a "novel by committee" is wrested to and fro between its authors. Ultimately the lines between reality and fiction become less distinct, as a convalescing Monica begins to see her husband in a new light. Coming into his room and finding him asleep and his friends gone, she makes contributions to the novel herself.

The dual plots wind down, one to a bittersweet end, the other more hopeful.

Jet Li is very appealing in the dual roles of Chow Si-Kit and Dr. Wai "King of Adventurers". Where Chow Si-Kit is a bit of a bumbler and a man victimized by life, Dr. Wai is capable and fearless in his pursuit of his objective. Takeshi Kaneshiro shines as the two Shings, both stalwart and steadfast in their support of their friends.

Rosamund Kwan is the perfect ice princess as Monica, and her alter ego, Cammy. Charlie Yeung is excellent as Yvonne and the editor's assistant who is instrumental in bringing the two aspects of the Scripture With No Words together.


Gui xin niang

Charming supernatural comedy....
A charming supernatural thriller/comedy starring Chow Yun Fat and Cherie Chung. SPOILERS Chow Yun Fat plays Lao K, a small time triad type who earns his living as a collection man for a loan shark. His cousin, Chin Hua (played by Deannie Yip), an aspiring "ghostbuster", pines after him, using her divination skills to chart her cousin's romantic future, hoping to see her name revealed. Lao K is oblivious to her infatuation, caught up with his collection activities and the romantic charms of May (Pauline Wong), a self involved maneater who treats him badly, and soon forsakes him for a richer, more successful man. <p>

One day, while trying to collect a debt for his boss in the company of his constant companion, 6'3" (a fellow petty criminal who was deafened and forced to drink acid by the triad bosses while Lao K went to prison for a botched job, and whom Lao K has "adopted") a deaf mute, Lao K is captivated by an antique Chinese desk. Buying it and taking to the home he shares with his cousin (he's nine months arrears on the rent he owes her), he discovers a letter in a drawer that tells the sad story of a young woman, sick from birth, who posthumously was wed to an "ugly ghost" by her family. The young woman has not been reincarnated and has little hope of ever being, until she can find a man born on a yang day, in a yang month, in a yang year willing to give up 3 years of his mortal life to help her escape from her fearsome ghost-husband and win her a chance at reincarnation. <p> Lao K, the petty criminal with a heart of gold, and told by a physiogamist that he will live to 98, decides he can spare a few years to help the girl out. He performs the ritual she details in her letter, and then promptly forgets about the whole matter.

He is walking on the waterfront when he spies a young woman in a boat.

He greets her, she responds, but as he watches in horror, her craft sinks with her in it. Diving into the water he rescues her. Unbeknownst to him, this is the young ghost-woman of the letter from the desk. Escaped from the underworld, Wei Hsaio-Tieh (Cherie Chung), has come to search out her benefactor.

Hsiao-Tieh enters and reenters his life over the course of the next few days, finally coming to stay with him after an argument with his unfaithful girlfriend May, results in Lao K stumbling home sick.

Appearing to him in the elevator of his apartment building while he lies insensible in its cab, she brings him home, takes care of him and tidies his room while he lies unconscious. He awakens to her presence, recognizing her as the girl in the boat, but still unaware of her supernatural nature.

His cousin returns, and she is not long fooled by their house guest, who is at first invisible to her, but is revealed by more magical incantation. A battle over the soul of Lao K ensues, over the course of the next couple of days, which eventually leads to Chin Hua bringing in the big guns, her ghostbuster master. Together they launch into a ritual designed to exorcise Hsiao-tieh and send her back to the afterlife.

Lao K, in the meantime, has discovered that 6'3" has been kidnapped by a rival gang and that his life is in danger. When appealing to their loan shark boss (Paul Chin) results in no help to rescue him, Lao K goes it alone. Buying toy guns and jury rigging them to fire blanks, he launches a lone assault on the gang's lair. He is almost successful when his ruse is revealed and his life and that of 6'3" is put in further danger.

Hsiao-tieh, in the middle of the exorcism, senses his danger and is able to escape to rescue the man she loves and his burly friend. The great expenditure of her supernatural powers to accomplish this results in a weakened condition and the danger of her being sucked back to the afterlife. Lao K, by now aware of her ghostly status, becomes desperate to find a way to keep the woman he has fallen in love with on earth. Further rituals ensue, which will cost Lao K ten more years of his lifespan, but which will allow Hsiao-tieh to spend 49 days on earth in his company. It is a sacrifice he is willing to make.

Restored to full power, Hsiao-tieh is granted her 49 days with Lao K and the love between them grows and deepens. May, the man-eating girlfriend soon returns however, pregnant and abandoned by her new, more upwardly mobile boyfriend. She attempts to trick Lao K back into her clutches. He resists, until she threatens suicide, promising that if he does not come to save her, she will return as a vengeful ghost and take his life.

May's plans go awry, resulting in a finale where all the supernatural stops are pulled out, as Lao K and Hsiao-tieh try to protect each other from the perils of the afterlife. A bargain is struck and the film winds down to a bittersweet ending.

The always versatile Chow Yun Fat is endearingly roguish as the basically decent Lao K. Cherie Chung displays her wonderful range as an actress, effortlessly moving from broad comedy to affecting pathos as the ill-starred Hsiao-tieh. The supporting players, especially Deannie Yip as the long suffering cousin, are universally excellent.

While Hong Kong supernatural comedies are an acquired taste, this film stands on its own, and carries appeal on several fronts, not the least of which is the incredible chemistry between its two leads.

Dou san 2

A Worthy successor to a Hong Kong Classic
SPOILERS!!! The original God of Gamblers became an instant classic and revived the genre of gambling films in HK filmdom, thanks in no small part to the star power of Chow Yun Fat. Several years and a couple of series installments without CYF, Wong Jing was able to lure this superstar back for another adventure of Ko Chun, and God of Gamblers Return is the result of that effort.

Wong Jing had the unenviable task in this film, of being true to the original material, but striving to tell a fresh story. It is a goal that was admirably achieved as God of Gamblers Return is true to the spirit of the original film, but covers new territory, resulting in an entertaining foray into the further adventures of Ko Chun, The God of Gamblers.

The film features an impressive cast of supporting players, (including the returning Charles `Mr. Dragon' Heung, Tony Leung Ka Fai, Jacqueline Ng, Elvis Tsui, Chigamy Yau, Ken Lo and the precocious Miu Tse), a large budget and lush production values.

The action picks up four years after the original film. Ko Chun is how happily retired, living the good life in France with his pregnant wife, Yau (played by Man Cheung who portrayed the ill-fated Janet in GoG). Mr. Dragon--now referred to by Ko Chun as `God of Gun' as a sign of his gratitude for his past services--comes to visit his old friend and boss to apprise him of the latest developments in the gambling underworld that Ko has left behind. At the same time, the `Devil of Gamblers' --a truly vicious villain--is rounding on his retired rival, his goal to draw the God of Gamblers out of retirement by any means possible, in order to humiliate him at the gaming tables.

While Ko Chun and Dragon engage in a little target practice and male bonding in another part of the estate, Devil of Gamblers arrives at the Ko mansion and begins killing everyone in sight. When a wounded servant arrives to warn Ko Chun and Dragon, the two race back to the mansion and engage in a fierce battle with the Devil's henchmen.

While his lackeys are being mowed down, Devil of Gamblers is ensuring his rivals undying hatred by murdering Ko's unborn son and leaving his wife to slowly bleed to death from having the child ripped from her womb. Ko finds his dying wife as the Devil makes his exit. She extracts a promise from her husband that he will forestall his vengeance for one year, during which time he will neither gamble nor admit his identity as the God of Gamblers. Ko Yau hopes to preserve her husband's life with these promises, feeling that his rage and hunger for vengeance will subside in that year, and he will not be drawn to what she fears will be his death.

The action moves ahead to eleven months later. Ko Chun has abided by his wife's wishes-- he has been touring the world, alone and incognito. In mainland China, having just finished a tour of the Silk Road, he meets and befriends Hoi On, a jovial family man, who, it happens to turn out, is the head of the Taiwan casino empire that Devil of Gamblers also works for and is trying to subvert . Ko Chun, ducking photographs and not revealing his own identity per his promise, joins Hoi on his family yacht for an evening of fellowship and entertainment.

Hoi On is betrayed by one of his own henchman, played to perfection by Jackie Chan's bodyguard/kickboxing champion Ken Lo. The henchman masterminds a raid on Hoi On's yacht to rob the wealthy man. The gambit concludes with Hoi On and most of his family dead, the yacht in ruins. The only survivors--Ko Chun and Hoi's son Hoi Yuen. Ko has promised the dying man to see that the boy gets home to Taiwan to be reunited with his sister. Jumping from the burning ship with little more than their lives, Ko and the boy are almost immediately arrested by the mainland police who do not buy their story of being the victims of the crime, not its perpetrators.

They fall into the hands of brutal mainland police and are abused and beaten before being shown a small measure of mercy by the Police Captain (played with alternating menace and hilarity by Elvis Tsui)--mercy which proves short lived. They manage to escape the police compound and become refugees in the countryside, eventually landing at the hotel run by Sui Yui-yui who spends her time mooning over the only known photograph of God of Gamblers (which features him from the rear only) her idol. She dreams that he will come to her and they will dance together. Little does she realize that her daydream has come to pass, so instead she makes life as difficult as possible for Ko Chun and the boy--refusing them service in the dining room, faking sex phone chat chatter when Ko tries to call Dragon, and otherwise being obnoxious.

Also being obnoxious is Hoi Yueh, the casino mogul's son, who blames Ko Chun for leaving his father behind--refusing to believe his father was already dead. The precocious lad also turns to out be a budding gambler, who, while Ko fights with Yiu-Yiu to get an outside long distance phone line, goes off to gamble, hoping to increase his money. This puts him in the clutches of Yiu-Yiu's brother, Fong-fong aka `Little Trumpet' (Tony Leung Ka fai in hilarious form) a small time hustler who cheats any and all comers with his rigged games. Finding the boy, who has just lost all his money, Ko Chun goes to have a face off with Little Trumpet. All the while staying true to his promise to his wife not to gamble, Ko Chun hypnotizes the miscreant into losing all his money in a rematch with the boy.

Soon however, the police, who have been in hot pursuit, appear on the scene and Ko Chun, Hoi Yuen and the Sui siblings are all on the run together.

They manage to turn the tide long enough to take the Police Captain as a hostage and make their escape from the mainland aboard the boat of a smuggler-cum-nationalist party-secret agent Condor, the captain still in tow. A fierce communist while in mainland waters, the police captain turns budding capitalist once they land in Taiwan.

Hoi Yuen is nearly reunited with his sister, when Devil of Gamblers appears and kidnaps the boy, luring his sister and Ko Chun and company to the huge casino.

He has intelligence that tells him that one of the newly arrived party is God of Gamblers, but since no photos exist, he cannot determine which. In an attempt to rescue the boy, Ko Chun and company follow the bait and face off with the Devil and his minions in the casino.

But two days are left of Ko Chun's promise to his dying wife. He cannot reveal himself until that time is up. He is able to win the boy's release by an elaborate pretense, wherein Little Trumpet takes on the persona of God of Gamblers and Ko Chun masquerades as God of Gamblers disciple--Knife. Chow Yun Fat's turn at mimicking Andy Lau's portrayal of the `Knight of Gamblers' is dead on and hilarious--right down to his Knife's distinctive walk and mode of dress. Tony Leung Ka Fai's aping of Ko Chun is side splitting entertainment--and convincing enough that Hoi's daughter tries to seduce the faux God of Gamblers to great entertainment value. Elvis Tsui gets into the spirit of things by posing as, in his turn, the God of Gun, Mr. Dragon, until the original appears on the scene. His characters voyage from party apparachik to enthusiastic capitalist and fervent Ko Chun follower is uproarious.

The ruse buys the time needed. But Devil of Gamblers is not yet done. Before the 48 hours are up, he will attempt to draw Ko Chun out again by more murder and mayhem. Sui Yui-Yui is its victim, dying before she can know for certain that her idol has indeed swept into her life and before she can claim her dance with him.

The violence is prologue to the final showdown at the gaming tables between Devil of Gamblers and God of Gamblers. The face off is a tense, well paced gambling segment that managed to top the original God of Gambler endgame for sheer knuckle biting, edge of the seat viewing.

Chow Yun Fat puts his enormous charisma and star power to good use in this film. While once again for most of the film he is `out of uniform' playing Ko Chun in mufti, here we see not the childlike idiot savant of the first film but a man haunted by the tragedies that have shattered his life, using the one means at his disposal to exact his revenge. His portrayal of Ko Chun is at turns touching (as he ministers to the sick Hoi Yuen on the voyage to Taiwan by humming the boy a lullaby; as he attempts to comfort the dying Yui Yui while maintaining his promise to his late wife);--chilling (as he exacts revenge on those who have violated his home and privacy and killed his wife and unborn child); hilarious (impersonating Knife); and masterful (as the God of Gamblers who truly lives up to his name).

Those expecting a replay of the elements that made God of Gamblers a classic will be disappointed by the sequel. However, if one enters the viewing of the film with a determination not to prejudge the film based on memories of the original, they will find a well crafted story which provides a satisfying further adventure of a compelling character.


Do san

Chow Yun Fat's versatility captivates.
Under appreciated as an actor in the west, Chow Yun Fat shows his incredible versatility as a performer in this Hong Kong comedy/drama.

Chow stars as Ko Chun a gifted gambler with an almost supernatural gift for gaming, hence his exalted title. Ko Chun is suave and sophisticated, master of his gaming, monetarily successful and confident in his abilities. This makes him enemies among not only opponents, but as it turns out, his allies.

Having narrowly escaped an assassination attempt, Ko Chun unwittingly walks into a trap set by Knife, a young gambler wannabe who hankers after a big score. Knife meant to teach someone else a lesson by sabotaging a trail near his home,instead, Ko Chun is the victim. Finding the head injured gambler, Knife and his family take him in and nurse him back to health, not realizing who has literally tumbled into their lives.

Ko Chun awakens from his trauma with no memory and regressed to a childlike demeanor. He's an appealing manchild with an insatiable hunger for a particular brand of chocolate (one carry-over from his former life), and as Knife and Co. find out, a talent for gambling. Knife and his crew make good use of their new friend's abilities--becoming upwardly mobile thanks to "Chocolate"--the nickname they bestow upon him, knowing no other.

Chow Yun Fat has never been more endearing and charming as the brain injured "Chocolate". Chow makes believable and incredibly touching this dramatic transformation from genius to idiot savant. Viewers may find themselves wishing to protect Chocolate from a world he no longer understands and which is by turns baffling and inhospitable. Knife and his crew come to love and protect their friend, mortgaging all they have to provide him with a surgery that might restore his sensibilities.

Their Chocolate-aided success brings unwanted attention, which leads to pursuit, kidnapping, ransom and gunplay. Further trauma to poor Chocolate follows which leads to a showdown that highlights the God of Gamblers uncanny ability to win, even when opponents cheat and "friends" betray. While Chow Yun Fat's impressive talent and charisma are at the heart and soul of this film, the supporting players are excellent, especially Andy Lau and Joey Wong.

A must see and a must own for any Chow Yun Fat fan! In DVD versions of this film the subtitle problems noted in other reviews can be overcome by using the zoom feature on the remote. By slightly shrinking the image and adjusting it upward on the screen, the English subtitles will be perfectly visible and readable 99% of the time. Note:The DVD version of the film is edited, with several original scenes cut that track the ascendency of Knife and Co., and one pretty major plot point that would clarify the denouement at the film's end. VCD versions which are unedited can be sometimes found, but the subtitle problem reasserts itself--VCDs cannot be adjusted to compensate for the problem. But for anyone who has seen the DVD and has the general plot and dialogue down, the search for the unedited VCD version is worthwhile.

Ban wo zong heng

Danny Lee Sau Yin plays against type.
Danny Lee Sau Yin plays against type in this interesting tale of a the relationship of a pair of brothers, set against triad and pop star pressures.Lee plays Bee, a triad smuggler who returns to Hong Kong from overseas, flush with money. An international jewel thief and smuggler, he has NEVER smuggled drugs-which puts him into conflict with the triad boss who fences his stolen gems. Bee wants nothing more than to retire from the criminal life and use his ill-gotten gains to improve the lives of himself, his mother and younger brother. The brother played by Aaron Kwok, attends a performing arts academy and excels as both a singer and a dancer. Bee buys a nightclub and his brother performs there to good reception. Bee's refusal to smuggle drugs comes back to haunt him as the triad boss exacts revenge for his disobedience. Betrayed and set up for a drug charge, Bee's world falls apart, affecting everyone he loves, even as his brother, who now shuns him, becomes a rising star. Danny Lee all too often is typecast playing cops (famously, Inspector Eagle Li in Woo's "The Killer"), type-casting he doesn't seem to mind as his original life's ambition was to be a policeman. But in roles like this, he shows us his versatility and breathes life and depth into a world weary criminal trying to go straight against the odds. Lee is an under-appreciated talent in the Hong Kong film world. Aaron Kwok is appealing as Bee's brother especially in moments of brotherly bonding and betrayal. The supporting cast are all excellent. In short, a good solid film with excellent performances

Lim jing dai yat gik

No Untouchables rip-off this...
Unfairly accused of being a shameless HK "The Untouchables" clone, First Shot rises far above the almost comic book feel of its supposed source material.

The story of the fight against widespread corruption in the Hong Kong police hierarchy in the 1970's, this film stars the estimable Ti Lung as "Tamerlane", an unflinchingly honest cop. Tamerlane is shot in the neck by one of his own men for his refusal to overlook the corruption of his colleagues.

After his release from the hospital, he is approached by Maggie Chung's Annie Ma who has been deputized to pursue and prosecute corrupt cops on the HK police force.

Assembling a group of fellow "uncorruptibles"--including, paradoxically the very officer that shot him (Simon Yam's Sam Mok)--repentant and reformed, Tamerlane and his secret squad go after "Faucet" (Waise Lee Chi Hung)--the triad boss who is the financial source of the widespread bribery, murder and mayhem.

The cast is universally excellent--Ti Lung is a strong, dignified--yet haunted Tamerlane. Maggie Chung is a strong female presence, the focal point who holds the group together when tragedy and treachery threaten its existence. Simon Yam has never been more appealing as the tormented but ultimately heroic Sam and Waise Lee Chi Hung plays the evil Faucet to chilling perfection.

For a compelling look into an anti-corruption squad with a story every bit as compelling as Ness's crew--forgo the big screen "Untouchables" and give "First Shot" a watch. You won't be disappointed.

Ban wo chuang tian ya

Subtle Acting renders fascinating characters
Wild Search is a film in need of respect. I've read reviews that disparage it's pedigree--claiming it to be nothing more than a "Witness" rip-off. Yet, aside from the plot device of a young child being sole witness to a murder and that child's relatives being "from the country", there is little resemblance to "Witness" in plot or characterizations. Chow Yun Fat plays Hong Kong Police Sergeant Lau Chun Pong, nicknamed "Mew Mew". Mew Mew is a man in a downward spiral, having lost his wife and child in a robbery. When first introduced, he's sitting in a car, chain smoking cigarettes and drinking from his flask, watching the drama of street life before him as he awaits the arrival of an informant. His expression is disinterested and weary. In numbing himself from his grief, he is now numb to life. His job is what keeps him going, and he is good at it. He commands the loyalty, respect and affection of his colleagues and supervisor.

Cherie Chung plays the sister of the murdered arms dealer--whose death sets the plot in motion. Chung's Cher Lee is a woman of quiet strength and dignity. Life has not been kind to her. Her husband betrayed her, leading a secret second life with a woman from the Chinese interior, fathering a son. During their marriage he berated her for being clumsy and stupid. Rather than continuing to suffer the humiliation, Cher has divorced him and lives quietly with her father, working along side him in the village fields, harvesting bamboo.

Her sister's death brings Mew Mew into her life dramatically. Their relationship is at first contentious as he suspects her and her father of complicity in the dead sister's arms dealing. The relationship begins to transform as Mew Mew aids Cher in tracking down the father of her 4 year old niece. A man who turns out to be the kingpin of the arms smuggling operation.

Thrown into each others company, facing adversity and danger, these two wounded souls begin to blossom. A tentative, tender relationship grows and is tested time and again: through Mew Mew's suspension from the force (a result of threatening the powerful, rich arms kingpin); a domestic drama within Cher's family concerning her young niece and her father: the complication of Cher's ex-husband returning, determined to win his wife back; and Mew Mew's shooting by Cher's sister's murderer.

To be sure, these are restrained performances. Yet one only has to watch Cherie Chung as Cher as she sits at the bedside of the wounded Mew Mew, not knowing if he will live or die, her worry, longing and love playing over her features, to appreciate her work in this film. Chow's Mew Mew may lack the flash and dazzle of some of his bullet ballet roles, but the transformation from grief stricken widower to a man being brought back to life by love is fascinating to watch. His scenes with the young actress playing the daughter of the murdered woman are especially touching.

Din lo jing juen

Unflinching Look at Problematic subject matter
This is a film that has been unfairly saddled with criticism regarding its portrayal of the homeless and mentally ill, as well as its tendency to paint its titular subjects in violent terms. However, this is a rare breed of film for Hong Kong cinema, an unapologetic social commentary.

As subjects for film, mental illness and homelessness are not recognized as elements in the formula for success. Western society has no better answers for these social problems than the HK system presented in this movie. Social workers are usually overworked and underpaid. Social programs dealing with these problems often receive little public support and agencies charged with the oversight of such programs often have chronic funding issues.

"The Lunatics" casts big name HK stars as the homeless mental patients of its title. This pejorative term does not truly reflect on how the mentally ill are viewed by the film itself. By using the label as title, the film instead challenges the beliefs of the viewer.>

The film follows a social worker as he moves through his day, doing his best to make a difference in the lives of his clients. He is dogged by a reporter wishing to shine the questionable light of journalism onto the issues of mental illness and homelessness. Her presence proves problematic in ways that propel the plot forward.

Tony Leung Chiu Wai is almost unrecognizable in a book-ended performance as the inarticulate, childlike Doggie. Doggie hangs around a fish market, trying to connect with the people who shop and work there. His attempts to engage the fish market denizens in play instead create fear and panic. Leung Chiu Wai's performance is at once moving and frightening.

Chow Yun Fat is memorable in small but heartrending role as Chung, father of two who lives in the city dump and cares for his two small children. Chung ekes out a marginal existence, but does his best to be a good father all the same. The social worker chances across him on a street corner, and is informed that he "has trouble". The social worker and the reporter follow Chung to his shack. There they find one of Chung's children deathly ill, the other missing. Chow proves his versatility once again as he adopts the furtive eye movements and muttering speech of the untreated schizophrenic--completely unrecognizable as the suave sophisticate of films like John Woo's "The Killer".

The third mental paitent seems to be rehabilitated when he is introduced. Events in his life soon spiral out of control. His stability is threatened that soon affects everyone involved in his case.

Tragedy follows tragedy as the film concludes.Along the way it has shown the shortfall of social systems to care for the disenfranchised in an unflinching and compelling way unusual for HK cinema. This film shines a courageous, unwavering light on a difficult subject.

Chow Yun-Fat Goes Hollywood

Terrific Portrait of a Terrific Actor and Human Being
This documentary has been included in a recent release of Replacement Killers as a special edition DVD, and makes the special edition a must-have for any Chow Yun Fat fan, even if they own other editions of the film. The documentary was made during the filming of Replacement Killers and therefore features primarily footage and commentary from the cast and crew of Replacement Killers. Included too are comments from Terrence Chang, John Woo's producer/collaborator. The documentary is an endearing insight into Asia's most versatile and popular actor. Interspersed amongst anecdotes and accolades from cast, crew and production staff (as well as the aforementioned Mr. Chang) is footage of Chow Yun Fat interacting with cast and crew, filming various scenes and contributing his own self effacing often humorous comments. We see an actor who would rather be on the set interacting with the crew --he learns the names of everyone on the set during the first day of filming and personally greets each person by name-- than sit in his trailer alone during breaks in filming (he finds the trailer a "cold" place to be he states). We see no stereotypical "Hollywood Star" behavior here, if left to his own devices, Chow will carry luggage and move scenery--if only the unions in the West would allow! And this is not merely playing to the documentary camera--as any fan of his knows, stories of his humbleness and willing to serve any film he appears in in any way he can abound. This is a man who when anyone on the set fell ill, ministered herbal remedies and personal attention; who often paid for meals for the entire crew out of his own pocket; who moved through the set trading hugs, kisses and genuine warmth will all around him. All in all, a delightful, refreshing documentary which highlights a talent who is not only gifted in his chosen profession, but truly a decent, admirable human being. If only some of our Hollywood stars would follow his example. A MUST see for all Chow Yun Fat fans, and for anyone who would like to know more about this intriguing talent.

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