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Hua pi

Starts strongly but suddenly runs out of gas.
Ever since his early "Dragon Inn" days, Donnie Yen has had a commanding screen presence. In his more recent movies, he always plays himself - strong, violent, a believer in rough justice - and he always delivers great action scenes. He's the only reason to watch this film to the end. He makes the most of his screen time, which regrettably is not anywhere near as much as one wishes.

The film is chugging along great when about halfway through, it just abruptly runs out of plot. In order to fill the remaining time, the actors suddenly start moving and talking incredibly slowly. I thought there was something wrong with my computer. It has to be seen to be believed. Donnie Yen is the only one immune to this strange infection, but sadly, he is not permitted to carry the film by himself.

Yeoja, Jeong-hye

Portrait of mental illness
My Charming Girl inserts the viewer into the life of a rather plain girl with bad skin, ugly hands and feet, a boring job, and mild schizophrenia. The movie is at pains to demonstrate her classic symptoms, complete with flat emotions, apathy, seeing imaginary people, and mild paranoia. Her symptom of increased suggestibility, demonstrated by her reactions to advice about shoes and marriage, provides the context for the climax of the film.

The camera lingers on every shot, creating in the viewer the languid mood of the girl. The cinematography is very good, and there are some visual touches, such as shop names and an image of a leering Colonel Sanders, that accent the film and foreshadow the plot development.

This is the kind of film that makes a good topic for a college essay, but is not particularly enjoyable to watch. However, it does provide a view into everyday life in Korea, which may be of interest.

Gwok chaan Ling Ling Chat

if you liked Kung Fu Hustle...
To Western eyes, Stephen Chow's comedies are uneven. "Kung Fu Hustle" is clearly a masterpiece, but why is "Shaolin Soccer" considered so funny? "From Beijing with Love" is an early Chow effort that does work for both East and West, perhaps because the Bond and Star Wars scenes and pretensions that he parodies are so immediately recognizable.

Westerners love violent films with massive body counts, but have a strong and somewhat contradictory aversion to the gore that would ensue in real life, so like most Asian action films, this one would require some heavy editing for Western release. The juxtaposition of death and mutilation with absurd comedy is not Hollywood's style. From Beijing with Love is definitely not for children. But there are some good laughs here for adult Bond fans with strong stomachs, especially those who remember the lamentable Roger Moore effort, "The Man with the Golden Gun."

Worth watching, and the soundtrack is surprisingly good too.

Han cheng gong lüe

Strictly for fans of Tony Leung CW and Shu Qi
Any reviewer that takes "Seoul Raiders" seriously as a film is either on the take or mentally defective. This film is a ludicrous romp where Tony Leung CW and Shu Qi ham it up shamelessly as ultracool and irresistible superspies in a Korea where the bad guys have neither guns nor knives, and are constrained to fight only with fists and feet. Surprisingly enough, the film is pleasantly watchable, primarily because Tony Leung CW and Shu Qi really are ultracool and irresistible. They even tell us so in the movie. It's fun to watch them mug their way through this movie, although one hopes that this is the last "Raiders" picture (after the previous "Tokyo Raiders") that Jingle Ma will inflict. Richie Ren plays the straight man role to make Tony Leung look all the more wonderful by comparison. One only wishes that the three babes backing up Tony Leung had more screen time.

Siu nin Wong Fei Hung chi: Tit ma lau

excellent martial arts movie
A really well done lung fu movie. A keeper. Technique is excellent, not gory. There is a Robin Hood plot that makes reasonable sense, two subplots around relationships (Orchid and Monkey; the Other Guy and his son), and as a final touch, a lovable bad guy wrestling with his good side (Fox the policeman, as played by a Chinese Nigel Bruce). But make sure you get the uncut original Hong Kong version. This is a resubmission of a comment that I originally submitted erroneously to the 1997 version of this novel, and at that time, there was no ten line minimum requirement. Nevertheless, I believe that this comment conveys useful information and should be retained.

Shi mian mai fu

Chinese film for Western consumption
"House of Flying Daggers" follows "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and "Hero" in the peculiar genre of ponderous and excruciatingly precious, but beautifully filmed, Chinese wuxia movies produced for Western consumption. In the theater I was in, people were lavishly praising the film after it ended, despite the fact that many of the same people had burst out laughing at what was intended to be the most moving and tragic part of the film. Perhaps the current interest in China and the novelty of Chinese film, coupled with the lush, saturated colors and exotic whiny music, overwhelms many Western viewers, who are distracted from the absence of plot and the ludicrous miscasting of Andy Lau. One hopes that as the novelty wears off, Western audiences will be more receptive to the many truly excellent Chinese films, such as the work of Gong Li, Tony Leung, Brigitte Lin, Leslie Cheung, Anita Mui, and others.


Riveting account of Korean govt doublecross
Korean film is blossoming, from the action thriller "Shiri" to the delightful romantic "My Sassy Girl." "Silmido" takes this ability to make excellent films in a political direction. "Silmido" is to South Korea as Costa-Gavras' "Z" was to Greece: truth-telling about terrible government misdeeds. Unlike "Z," however, "Silmido" is not only shown at home, but is hugely successful, demonstrating the increasing strength of Korean democracy. One hopes that films like "Silmido" are a sign of increasing openness, and better times ahead for the Korean people.

As was the case with "Z," the excellence of the film guarantees an international audience for the story, and the widespread attention may well lead to additional revelations. Although the details of the government plot are sordid, the film romanticizes the actions of death-row convicts, and one suspects that the filmmakers took some liberties in portraying some of their noble and comradely behavior. Nevertheless, an first-rate movie and highly recommended.

Yau ching yam shui baau

For fans of Shu Qi and Tony Leung
It would be hard to think of a film more predictable than "Love Me Love My Money," and yet it manages to be an enjoyable film, mainly because the characters look like they would be fun to hang out with. Tony Leung, who is an excellent actor and usually appears in serious films, hams it up as the stingy but handsome and charismatic billionaire, and manages some pretty funny lines. One gets the feeling that Shu Qi is playing herself, or at least an earlier version of herself, and she is good at it. Who would not want to know, or at least look at, such a beautiful and charming woman, even if she is rather slow to catch on to things, and her voice can be a little shrill? Theresa Mak is amusing and appealing as Shu Qi's vamp sidekick. The film slows down at the end with the obligatory montage of wistful looks, set to schmaltzy music, and the boring last scene, which is neither funny nor believable - either one would have sufficed.

Go do gaai bei

Unexpectedly powerful
Lau Ching Wan turns in an powerful performance as a tough cop who goes over the line in pursuit of his quarry and alter ego, played masterfully by Francis Ng. The film transforms from a formula competition between cop and robber midway through the film, to a gripping portrait of two men who must live with the life-and-death decisions that they make in their line of work. Who would have thought that such a shoot-em-up movie would address such deep issues, and do it so successfully? The director, Ringo Lam, is quite versatile, having also directed the excellent Jackie Chan action comedy "Twin Dragons," as well as star vehicles for Jean Claude Van Damme and Shu Qi.

Yan yue chuen suet

starts promisingly but falls apart
The best fantasy films make one central leap - OK, she's a fish - and let the story flow logically from that point. Unfortunately, "Mermaid Got Married" is such an amateurish film that it must also rely on magic, absurdly unlikely coincidences, and that crutch of the poor storyteller, having the main character speak her thoughts out loud for the audience's benefit. Ekin Cheng plays his usual character, the oh-so-sensitive-and-sincere sap, and the real fantasy of the film is that he is the love interest and not Takeshi Kaneshiro, the smart and sexy student who moves the creaky plot along. Christy Chung does a passable job of playing the mermaid - she just has to giggle, cry, and swim at the right moments. The film falls apart halfway through as it abruptly turns into an unfunny farce. The last few minutes of the film, with a second song and final scene, do not fit with the film and look like they were tacked on afterward to give the film a happy ending. Aside from Kaneshiro, the other redeeming features are the two Faye Wong songs on the soundtrack, both lovely. If you are not feeling well and have stayed home from school or work, this film is as good a way as any to sleep with your eyes open. A mess.

Zhong Nan Hai bao biao

Excellent effort from Corey Yuen
If you like Corey Yuen's balletic gunfighting, more recently demonstrated in 2002's "So Close," then you will enjoy the earlier "Bodyguard from Beijing." This film is fun to watch, and manages to produce some surprises despite the formulaic bodyguard-and-rich-bratty-girl plot. The schmaltzy sequence with the song is the only part where the movie drags. However, given Yuen's preference for gunplay, Jet Li fans are apt to be disappointed, since Li has less opportunity to showcase his kung fu skills. Christy Cheung gets the job done in the damsel-in-distress role, and to paraphrase Dorothy Parker, she plays the range of emotions from A to B.

Wo de Ye man Tong xue

high school buddy flick
"My Schoolmate the Barbarian" is a buddy flick that pairs Nic Tse as the poor tough guy with the heart of gold, and Stephen Fung as the rich nerd who discovers inner strength. They teach each other how to maim opponents and pass Bible exams. Joey Yung is added to the mix for comic relief, playing a ridiculous teeny bopper in a juvy school. A strange mixture of the brutal and the slapstick, with no sex other than an absurdly demure kiss. Stephen Pang livens up the action when it begins to flag in his role as Mantis, human kung fu insect. None of it makes much sense, and this is certainly not a film that one would boast about seeing. However, it is a relaxing entertainment after a long week.

Goo wak chai 3: Jek sau je tin

below par entry in Young and Dangerous series
The Young and Dangerous series, prequel through Part 5, is usually entertaining and engaging, but drags in part 3, "Gu huo zai san." How many times can Chan Ho Nam be framed? How many times can Smartie suffer like a voodoo doll? Ekin Cheng does his trademark soulful look. Jordan Chan, usually the best entertainment value, has a painfully embarrassing scene with a grenade that makes no sense at all. Fai does his nose picking thing.

The Priest shakes his stick. Karen Mok provides the only new material, and could have stolen the show, had she been permitted some proper fight scenes.

If you are a Young and Dangerous fan, go ahead and sit through this one, but don't say that you haven't been warned.

Fei lung mang jeung

amusing slugfest
A low budget chop-socky from Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung. Jackie and Sammo develop soppy romances, replete with montages of romantic scenes and schmaltzy music. The girlfriends are walking cardboard cutouts. Meanwhile, Yuen Biao and Benny Urquidez steal the show as they play good and evil charismatic psychotics, respectively. Biao gives an amazing display of acrobatic fighting, while Urquidez plays an unstoppable killing machine who seems to be fond of makeup that gives him a weirdly feminine appearance. Not the unmissable classic that others seem to consider it, "Dragons Forever" is nevertheless a reasonably entertaining film if there is nothing good on TV.

Gam gai

a hong kong history
In the mildly amusing "Golden Chicken," Sandra Ng, the tough lesbian Sister Thirteen from the "Young and Dangerous" series, plays the hooker with the heart of gold. Her life story is a metaphor for Hong Kong, which acts the eager courtesan with her different masters, but should not be judged harshly because it suffers many privations and is doing the best it can. The newsreel clips interspersed throughout the film try to keep the parallel going, but it wears thin and the ending is maudlin. Tony Leung briefly turns this entertainment into a real film during the short time he is on camera. The smarmy Andy Lau is a self parody as the fairy godfather. "Golden Chicken" provides insight as to how Hong Kong views itself, and is therefore interesting viewing if one cares to know the answer.

Jui nam chai

very funny entertainment
Much of Hong Kong's most popular comedy does not travel well. Stephen Chow's nonsense films, for example, while insanely successful in Asia, are mystifying to most Westerners. But Boys Are Easy does travel, especially for fans of serious Chinese film. It's a very funny film in which the actors lampoon their own roles in more serious films. Brigitte Lin sends up her androgenous kung fu antics, Maggie Cheung makes fun of her bad girl roles, Sandra Ng camps up her tough cookie shtick, and so on. But you don't have to catch all the in jokes to laugh at the slapstick and ridiculous plot turns. The subtitles are particularly Chinglish in nature, and this adds to the campiness. A very enjoyable film.

Yu guanyin

for fans of Vicki Zhou and Nic Tse
Yu Guanyin (Goddess of Mercy) has a compelling plot, which presumably accounts for the popularity of the novel it is based on. Unfortunately, Vicki Zhou, who did so well in the light entertainment "So Close," just isn't convincing in the role of a lovelorn policewoman. How could a woman who repeatedly squeals at every surprise, cries at any excuse, and wails in a baby voice be a supercop? She looks as comfortable in a battle helmet as Michael Dukakis. This role needs an actress with the skill and range of Brigitte Lin, but Zhou is more like Gidget Lin. As for Nic Tse, he may be a heartthrob to Hong Kong teenyboppers, but he's no actor. The only real acting is from Yunlong "who's he" Liu, who plays the narrator, and who hopefully will get more roles in better films.

Further detracting from the film is the ridiculously large and stiff doll that replaces the baby during action sequences, and the irritatingly wise father figure, Captain Pan. This film can be safely missed.

Wu xia qi gong zhu

Don King and the Seven Virgins
All rightly then. If you are in the mood for beautiful women, transsexuals, raving vampires, a Chinese Dr Frank N. Footer with Don King hair, severed heads, and a talking penis, then this is the movie for you. The plot is absurdly complicated in this parody of Chinese martial arts epics, and at times the movie actually is hilarious. For no particularly good reason it becomes imperative to assemble a team of seven virgins, led by the delectable Maggie Cheung. If only they had cast favorite gender bender Brigitte Lin as the evil sword dude, this movie could have achieved cult status. "Holy Weapon" is still a good diversion, a guilty pleasure, but not one to admit to.

Chuen zik saat sau

diverting flick
Andy Lau does altogether too good a job playing the Farley Granger "Strangers on a Train" psycho killer role. In fact, with his gaunt, angular features and maniacal grin, he's just unpleasant to look at. On the other hand, Simon Yam is simply so cool that he makes the film worth watching. The film features the standard Hong King balletic gore. The special effects are a little silly at times; a police car, for example, leaps into the air when hit by a single bullet, to the bafflement of the nearby officers. The fetching Kelly Lin is a poor man's Shu Qi, lurching from bespectacled librarian to gangster moll. An entertaining film for a rainy evening.

Gap tung kei hap

promising but never catches fire
The guy-from-the-ancient-past-accidentally-brought-to-the-present plot has been used many times, often in quite charming and amusing films - a recent example being Jean Reno's "Just Visiting." Despite the usually charming Maggie Cheung, "Iceman Cometh" takes this promising theme and manages to go nowhere with it. The fault primarily lies with the smaller-than-life Yuen Biao, who, despite prodigious kung fu skill, has near zero screen presence. **Mild spoiler follows** No woman could seriously be expected to fall in love with this sap, certainly not Maggie's tough-as-nails hooker. Her sudden reformation is the least believable conversion since James Bond transformed Pussy Galore into a heterosexual in "Goldfinger." Deservedly rare, the DVD is, to boot, particularly poor quality.

Batoru rowaiaru

sick and twisted but compelling
Battle Royale is a sick and twisted film full of gratuitous gore that provides a voyeuristic view into the world of the sadist. One views from a safe position behind the lens as children brutally murder each other. Technically, the movie is extremely well made, which creates a strong compulsion to keep watching. The plot makes no sense at all - the whole point of the "BR act" is to somehow act as instruction to children, yet, despite being in force for several years - all but two of the 42 children have never heard of it. But the plot really doesn't matter, as the film is really just a series of vignettes of each bloody killing. Battle Royale provides a window into the darker side of Japanese culture and institutions that has produced such memorable moments as the Rape of Nanking and the Bataan Death March. Given the success in Japan of this movie and the novel on which it is based, this evil tendency would appear to be still lurking in the Japanese psyche.

Bangkok Dangerous

Uneven but worth seeing
"Bangkok Dangerous" reworks many familiar themes - doublecrossed hit-man in love - in a mishmash of imitation John Woo and Takashi Miike, this time in Thailand. All that's missing are the white birds flapping around. Woo and Miike need not worry. The film school cinematography is highly irritating and the first half is slow and filled with labored flashbacks. The second half, however, succeeds in building suspense and interest, thanks to the affecting performance of the guy who plays the deaf and dumb hit-man. There is a scene towards the end that is remarkably original and powerful - you'll know it when you see it. Uneven but worth seeing, if only for the novelty factor - how many Thai films have you seen?

Gun gun hong chen

a must see
"Red Dust" is a political commentary presented as romantic historical melodrama. Filmed in the immediate aftermath of the Tien An Men massacre, it tells the story of an woman who escapes her difficult reality by writing romantic stories. The author, Shen Shao-Hua, is immediately identified with the real-life Eileen Chang, who also escaped imprisonment by an abusive stepfather, wrote romantic stories, and survived comfortably during the Japanese occupation. Unlike Eileen Chang, who escaped the Revolution and lived out her days in Los Angeles, Shen Shao-Hua remains behind and becomes a recognized writer in Communist China.

Brigitte Lin is magnificent as Shen Shao-Hua, and Maggie Cheung is wonderful as her best friend. Both convey an amazing range of emotion throughout this Zhivago-like love story, and hold the viewer enthralled every moment they are on the screen. The men in the movie are more two dimensional; one has little conscience, the other is a cardboard saint.

*** The next paragraph discusses elements of the film and may be considered by some to contain "spoilers." ***

Shen Shao-Hua can be interpreted as a stand-in for China herself, as she suffers through terrible ordeals, managing to survive by disregarding honor, saving her dreams for her stories. Shen survives thanks to her lover's collaboration with the murderous Japanese, yet this is forgiven. Her best friend is murdered by the Nationalists during a student rally in an obvious reference to Tien-An-Men, but Shen nevertheless relies on a wealthy sugar-daddy, ignoring starving people in the streets, and tries to escape with the Nationalists to Taiwan. As she is forced to stay behind, Shen is reassured by the sugar daddy that she will find a way to survive the Communists also, and she does. The current Chinese government is clearly identified as behaving similarly to the Japanese and the Nationalists, with the Chinese people as the long suffering victims. Yet most will do make whatever compromises are necessary for survival; heroes wind up dead.

This is one of the great films of world cinema, although it is disappointingly hard to find, and prints tend to be of low quality, with some white-on-white subtitles. But the film transcends these difficulties. Find it and see it.

Sheng zhe wei wang

pretty good actually
While I have not seen earlier films in the Young and Dangerous series, I did find the plot easy to follow and reasonably engrossing, despite some rather awful cinematography. Jordan Chan carries the movie with a remarkable performance. Sonny Chiba plays his customary gangster role to perfection. Other characters are two dimensional. Ekin Cheng looks sullen and pretty; how does he see with all that hair in front of his eyes? Shu Qi pouts and looks beautiful, and plays an airhead so well that one wonders whether she is acting. Indeed, her efforts at crying look suspiciously like laughing. All in all, "Born to be King" is a quite a decent B movie, if one ignores the smarmy bits about Asian brotherhood.

Love Letter

sooo precious
Clearly this movie fascinates and enthralls the other reviewers here. Unfortunately I was immune to its poignancy of the languid music and lingering camera and found it simply extremely slow, absurdly contrived, and with a twist at the end that is so banal that I felt cheated, having hung on to the end in futile hopes of a rewarding conclusion. Nothing happens. The beginning is also very confusing, due to resemblance between characters, until you realize that the confusion is intentionally introduced and is central to the story. If only I had realized that the story's author also wrote "Failan," a movie so excruatingly precious and meaningful that after twenty minutes I had to shut it off to prevent my life energy from sapping away. "Love Letter" is of interest primarily to fans of precious romantic films.

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