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Notte prima degli esami

A maelstrom of fun, a wild dive into the teenager's world
It will make you laugh, it will make you dance, it will make you nostalgic, it will make you ponder, it will leave you energized. This Italian comedy, which deals with a bunch of teenagers about to graduate from high school, in the summer of 1989, is rich in rhythm and amusing situations. Scene after scene, the protagonists have the uncanny ability of getting messed up in situations more and more embarrassing: their spontaneousness and impulsiveness is infectious... and you as a viewer will quickly sympathize with them. It's also impossible not to feel a bit melancholic, when you watch the protagonists playing Subbuteo and the Commodore video game Emlyn Hughes International Soccer and you listen to music from the 80s (great soundtrack, though foreign viewers of this movie may not be able to appreciate how well it mingles with the story). Furthermore, the views of Rome are mesmerizing. Inevitably, the movie deals with the problems in the relationship with adults and teachers, but always with the lightheartedness that's proper of teenagers, as they easily shift their mind from one problem to the next one.

"Notte prima degli Esami" may not leave you spiritually enriched or wiser but, quoting professor Martinelli's words, "sometimes the important thing is not the result, but the road you undertake to reach it"... and, under this point of view, the movie certainly was an entertaining ride for me! 9/10

Jing hun ji

Mistrust in the world of Hong Kong women
A lawyer, played by Lin Ching Hsia, is planning to pursue a career in Canada and therefore leave Hong Kong, when she is blackmailed. The lack of trust in people leads her to be suspicious with everyone, which eventually leads everyone to become suspicious with her. Bizarre events follow up and, in this movie led by women, they include axe-wielding, pen-stabbing and a double appearance by Joey Wong (who plays a couple of twins, one leading a simple life and one holding a criminal record). It's fun to see Lin Ching Hsia acting managerial and cool as if she were Asia the Invincible (and, sometimes, I had the feeling she was indeed portraying her most famous character!), however the movie never completely takes off, due to lack of introspection or thoughtful situations. Nevertheless, it's enjoyable to watch and there's plenty of action and deceiving smiles, to keep you interested throughout the 90 mins of movie. 6/10

Hei kek ji wong

An uneven and moody story, with 999 climaxes
Stephen Chow paradoxically portrays the life of an "extra" actor, who is quite committed to acting, yet never manages to land anything better than one-line scripts. Cecilia Cheung leads an equally gloomy life, in which her dreams have been shattered after her boyfriend ordered her to work in a night club to make a living. Cecilia's inability to lure customers results in her attending Stephen's bizarre neighborhood acting classrooms; from then on the movie will follow their fortunes and misfortunes.

The good: as usual, Stephen Chow's movies have hilarious moments and, at the same time, explore everything that can be squeezed out from the main role. While God of Cookery was about "cooking with a heart", here the director deals with the topic of "working hard, to act better" and shows that, somehow, we all are actors in the movie that is our life. Indeed, the movie does not need extravagant settings such as Shaolin monasteries or soccer stadiums, but we get to witness many problems of ordinary Chinese suburbs, including kids becoming triad members and people leading a poor life.

The bad: Considering King of Comedy's social involvement, I would have expected a more linear story. Instead, the narration flow is a roller-coaster of moods, in which every one, not just Stephen Chow, seems a bit loony and overdramatizes every aspect of his/her life. Imagine what A Beautiful Mind would be, if also Jennifer Connelly and the other actors were like John Nash! Extravagant, to say the least! 7/10

Six Degrees of Separation

A thoughtful movie, with many degrees of interest!
A brilliant premise features Will Smith (very young, at the time) able to cunningly enter the New York high society and trick them into accepting him as a part of them. The movie title refers to the theory that, taken 2 people at random from the globe, be it the Pope and yourself, an eskimo and the President of the United States, there can be at most 6 people separating them. Therefore the trick of getting in contact with any person can be reduced to the finding of 6 people. In practice, Will Smith gets particularly lucky, as only one person will be needed to accomplish his task, of stepping into the world of the rich bourgeois New York society. In particular, the life of a family of art merchants (Donald Sutherland and Stockard Channing) is literally swept by his arrival, which opens a crack in their life and start making them reflect about their own existence.

The movie is witty, amusing, passionate, rich in surprises and in elements of interest, as it addresses the problem of existence (how much of it you can account for), the role of fantasy and imagination and the relationship between parents and children. Great story, with brilliant acting from everyone and a nice violin soundtrack: perhaps my personal favourite movie of all time! 10/10

Ching se

More of a movie, it's a dream
Two snakes that evolved into women, a tibetan priest, a teacher of poetry and a wonderful frame made up of peach blossom petals, lotus flowers and lanterns lit at night on the river are the ingredients that make "Green Snake" a dream-like movie. The story, slow compared to Tsui Hark standards, flows through two paths: on the first one (lighthearted, playful and with a touch of irony which is never unwelcome) we get to enjoy the life of two snake-girls (White Snake, played by Joey Wang, and Green Snake, played by Maggie cheung) who, by stumbling into a village and alluring every one, cause a lot of turmoil among the people's hearts. White Snake, having trained much more than Green Snake and thus having acquired human feelings, actually succeeds in winning the love of the poetry teacher. On another scenario, the tibetan priest lives in a nearby temple, meditating, trying to gain spiritual ascension, helping people whenever they are in trouble and in general doing his best to preserve the natural balance of the world. However, not everything is like it seems at first glance: while the two snake-girls actually show some positive will and determination as they tend sick people, the priest, although he stops tidal waves from flooding the village, never goes down to experiencing the condition of people... and, by acting as judge, risks of falling into the trap of self-esteem and prejudice. Apart from the thoughtfulness it inspires, the movie is unique in fantasy and never ceases to wonder, regardless if it's autumn, winter or spring! 10/10

Siu ngo gong woo

Not less epic than Star Wars!
The first part of the Swordsman trilogy can be compared to a wuxiapian version of "Star Wars": it boasts paladins of the sword and virtue, leaders of sects being deranged by thirst of power and ambition, plus a musical score no less epic than the Lucas movie soundtrack. The story centers on the theft of the "Sacred Book of Power", a scroll which can bestow invincibility on the bearer and which everyone wants to attain for themselves. The only one unaffected by the hypocrisy and egotism that such search generate seems protagonist Lin "of the Wah Mountain", who regards swordsmanship as an art rather than as a means of dominating the rivals and who would prefer a quiet life of wine and singing, but unwittingly is thrown into the turmoil of the clash between sects. Besides the epic tone, a couple of other factors contribute to the success of the movie:

  • the richness of the people who, friends or foes, surround Lin. Much attention is put to their characterization: as they have different age, background, culture and social status, every one has his/her own distinct way of speaking, of acting and harbors different desires, in accordance to their position. In particular, the character "Blue Phoenix" is full of surprises! while Sharla Cheung donates charisma, regalia and beauty to her role.

  • the awkwardness of the "hero": he and his pupil don't exactly "aid" their ally in the beginning of the movie and in general are quite fun to watch! 8/10

Tian mi mi

Luck accompanies the pure of heart...
This fable of comrades (i.e. people from Mainland China migrating to Hong Kong in pursuit of their dreams) and lovers Maggie Cheung and Leon Lai is generally enjoyable, although at times I found it hard to believe, as it relies a lot on luck, coincidence and predestination. It may be that luck protects those with a noble soul, surely the spirit of Teresa Teng must have watched over the two comrades from a very close point of view!

The first half is very entertaining and energetic, as it follows the ups and downs of the protagonists, as they experience the frenetic life of Hong Kong, with its fast jobs, fast money and fast food. At the same time, Leon and Maggie also discover the negative aspects of their stay: the stock market landslides and, more over, the loneliness of living alone in a big city. Inevitably, they fall in love with each other and yet try to remain detached, as they have way too different aspirations: Maggie Cheung is a business-oriented girl, while Leon Lai is more idealistic and, more over, is already engaged. Among the most memorable moments is the bunch of wishes that the two comrades exchange, in celebration of the New Lunar Year!

The arrival of Leon Lai's girlfriend to HK marks a big change of pace in the movie, as an ocean of problems, sorrows and regrets await the two protagonists: second half is very melodramatic, be warned! Anyway, the movie is definitely worth the viewing, if it were only for the thorough portrait of Hong Kong it offers. 7/10

Dung che sai duk

Slow, beautiful and intense... best viewed if you are alone
Although I enjoy them, I seldom re-watch slow and introspective movies. Ashes of Time is the exception to the rule, as it haunts me so much that I have already given it three viewings! It may be because of the wonderful pictures, the essential yet poignant dialogues or the grave & epic music, nevertheless Ashes of Time is a fascinating movie!

Set in a tavern in the middle of the desert, it tells us stories of different swordsmen and deals with the theme of unrequited love. All the people, in fact, had to face a rejection.. and now strive to find a way to overcome the delusion and go on with their life. Swordsmanship is mostly viewed as an outlet to bring out the inner passions and frustrations.

The protagonist, Ouyang Feng [Leslie Cheung] is one of those swordsmen, who left his lady [Maggie Cheung] and his village to pursue fame and glory, convinced that she would have waited for him to return. Now instead he faces loneliness and the fact that she has married his elder brother.

The most peculiar aspect of the movie is the pictures, so beautifully shot that each still can make a wonderful portrait. Even the battles, rather than being filmed continuously, are rendered as a sequence of separate shots, thus remaining more indelibly impressed in our head. Indeed, the movie also focuses about memory (whom the movie title probably refers to) and its power to keep alive moments of the past, that otherwise would perish in the flow of time. Highly recommended! 9/10

Duet ming ga yan

Recommended to those of you feeling unlucky...
Lady in Black portrays Sang [Tony Leung Ka-Fai] as a worker in a building firm and May [Lin Ching Hsia] as his devoted wife, as well as "working mom". The first one is affected by social climbing obsessions and, in order to gain wealth and power, tries to ingratiate himself with his boss and also gambles big sums of money. However, things start going amiss when he loses $440.000 in the games. May, unaware of the reasons, generously helps the husband in trouble by forging her boss' signature on a check but becomes desperate, when she learns that her husband won't be able to return the $500.000 in time for her to fill the hole left in the firm's balance. How will the family, which also encompasses their son and May's father, be able to come out of this mess?

The movie is a tragedy, with few endearing moments and many harsh and cruel ones. There's a deliberate intention of dramatizing every scene, i.e. by making heavy rain fall down restlessly or by making the two co-stars (son and grandpa) "shakespearian" (meaning that they react pessimistically and impulsively to each situation), yet the aspects the movie deals with - loneliness, social climbing, the charm of power, moral integrity, faithfulness, elders' rest home, bankruptcy - are real and not exaggerated. Overall it's a movie worth seeing, more over as it's enlightened by a great and realistic interpretation by the two leads. 7/10

The DVD from Deltamac displays good picture quality, but suffers in the subtitles from a poor English translation

Do ma daan

A carousel of colors and suspenseful (yet, sometimes improbable) situations, all for the sake of the republic!
In Peking Opera Blues, director Tsui Hark takes us back to 1913 China: daughter of the general Tsao-Wan [Lin Ching Hsia] is torn between the love for her father, who plans to secure a loan from the Europeans in order to aid president Yuan, and the support for a rebellious group, who see in Yuan's leadership a peril for the republic and therefore plan to unmask him by stealing the loan papers and handing them to the congress.

The movie follows the deeds of three women, different by social class (one is daughter of the general, another one a greedy street musician whose goal is to get rich and leave China, the third one a theatre performer - or, more precisely, an aspiring theatre performer, as acting at the time was only allowed to men) and, yet, put together by Fate. As the three eventually join forces, we get to see a lot of colorful Peking Opera performing, as well as amusing and endearing situations. The movie, indeed, deals with the problems of mutual trust and loyalty, especially in those situations when the ideals come to clash against the personal ambitions.

The only aspect of the movie I was a bit put off by is the ease with which the group is always able to escape the most dangerous situations. Even the hardest-to-die Bruce Willis would have been puzzled on how to leave the mansion... and Spiderman himself would need more than one try to leap successfully from a mansion to the top of a tower! Apart from this, Peking Opera Blues is a beautiful movie, more over enriched by a gripping soundtrack, dazzling theatre choreography and, most of all, an intense story that is sure to make you smile with joy at some moments and shiver with terror in other circumstances. 8/10

Bak fat moh lui zyun

What do we get if Romeo and Juliet were born in the Ming Dynasty?
The "Bride with White Hair" is often defined as a wuxiapian version of "Romeo and Juliet": indeed it's amusing, as we follow this tale of two warriors united by love but separated by their belonging to opposite clans, to ponder on the many joints with Shakespeare's tragedy.

For half of the movie (i.e. 45 minutes), it qualifies as being one of the most astounding fantasy movies I ever saw: firstly, it captures the spectator by showing beautiful images and settings (and I'm sure Cho Yi-hang [Leslie Cheung] is not the only one who dropped, out of bewilderment, his jaw!). Secondly, it creates an aura of mystery around the female lead Lien Ni-chang [Lin Ching Hsia], an assassin who is not less beautiful than she is deadly with the whip. Indeed, Cho Yi-hang one day accidentally stumbles upon her and, although her face is shrouded by a veil and only her eyes appear to him, inevitably falls for her. Out of trivia, in another movie Lin Ching Hsia reveals just the rest of her face (i.e. masking herself behind a raincoat and sunglasses) and yet spellbinds people - precisely, Takeshi Kaneshiro. Is there any way that people can escape Lin Ching Hsia's charm?

So far for the good points for "Bride": fascinating setting, a clever hero (with an endearing portrait of his childhood included) and an alluring assassin, all surrounded by a thick veil of mystery and folklore.

On the negative side, the second half of the movie. Just as Cho Yi-hang's feelings get corresponded by Lien Ni-chang and we expect that love will provide a new injection of vitality and creativity over the ruthless and cold world they dwell in, the movie sinks into predictability and shallowness: our heroes just don't have the same mutual trust that Romeo and Juliet had and, since their decisions are guided, more than love, by their impulsive nature, I missed being fully emotionally involved into their ending struggle. However, the transformation that overcomes sorrowful Lien Ni-chang is super-cool! 7/10

Se diu ying hung: Dung sing sai jau

Colorful and wildly entertaining!
Fast in pace and rich in adventures, extravagance, color and music, "Eagle Shooting Heroes" adopts the same characters of "Ashes of Time" but, unlike Kar-Wai's epic movie, here they stand on the screen with the sole purpose of entertaining... and they fully succeed!

The movie can be roughly divided into 3 parts: in the first part, which takes place over a wide landscape, we get to meet the 9 (!) protagonists one by one, and learn about their quest (it can be love, world domination, revenge or achieving nirvana). Lin Ching Hsia and Chiu-Wai in particular shine and deliver the first ferocious confrontation of the movie, by showing us two terrific kung-fu moves: the "Sea can't be Measured" and the "Toad Shen-Kong".

Once we have met all the characters, the second part gathers them together in the enclosed space of an inn, so we see them interact. Hysterically funny is Joey Wang, who may be Leslie Cheung's sweetheart, but apart from that bears very little that can be referred to as sweet. Highly entertaining are also Ka-Fai and Jacky Cheung, who try to win the resistance of their loved ones with their musical talent.

Finally, the third part shows the ultimate confrontation. The ending may actually be the only flaw of the movie, and I personally agree with the character interpreted by Leslie Cheung, who at one point states "too ridiculous!".

However, apart from the bizarre ending, this is an excellent movie... but be prepared for many surprises! And if you thought the cross-dressing of Ranma and Final Fantasy VII are extreme, be ready to change your rankings, as far as extravagance is concerned! 9/10

PS: The DVD (from Ah-Mei) allows selection of Mandarin or Cantonese language (with English/Chinese subtitles burned on the movie), but other than that, no extra feature is included at all.

Gun gun hong chen

Red Dust must have eaten my heart!
"Red Dust" tells us the story of writer Shao Hua (Lin Ching Hsia) during the period 1935-1950. And it does it in an excellent way! The story starts from a very personal point of view, by depicting the days when Shao Hua used to write alone, locked up in the attic by her father, then slowly unfolds to the wider reality of a country suffering poverty and persecution, because of the Japanese first, because of the clashes between the nationalists and the communists later. However, it's not a sad movie: Shao Hua has love and friendship to care about (although they do enter in contrast, as she comes in contact both with people working for the Japanese and with "partisans"), and indeed the movie is more of a journey of her heart, as she climbs through the ups and downs of life, with moments of laughter and glee following or giving way to moments of disappointment and insight. Alongside, as she is a writer, we also get to see as the steps of her existence influence the developing of her novel.

This, added to some wonderful movie stills, a pleasant and rich soundtrack, great expressiveness from the two leads Lin Ching Hsia & Maggie Cheung and a careful view on China's historical background, make "Red Dust" a must see! 10/10

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