Friday, October 3, 2008

Police Story 2 review

It may be an exercise in futility to attempt a worthy sequel to Police Story. Still, Chan gives a valiant effort continuing Chan Ka Kui’s life after he apprehends the first film’s troublesome drug dealer. Kicking off with an exciting highlight reel to recap some of the more daring parts of the last film, we’re set up for a fall when the sequel can’t measure up to these scenes of which we were just reminded. The departure of the last antagonist removes a truly memorable threat from Police Story 2, which would have been especially effective as Chan finds himself in Spider-man esque situations trying to protect the ones he loves from his enemies.

Despite the absence of Brigitte Lin, and the spotlight on Maggie Cheung and her character’s relationship with Ka Kui, certain emotion is lacking as it altogether feels a tad bit contrived. Coupled with the fact that the comedy seemed dimmed down as well, fans of the first will be a bit underwhelmed. While the plot doesn’t create too rousing fight scenarios, most of the actual hand-to-hand combat has improved with the lightning quick punches choreographed in a comprehensible fashion. The choice of locations was a plus as well with a restaurant, playground and explosive warehouse that’d make you want to pick a fight there yourself. The usual environment interaction is there, top-notch and still completely unique to classic Jackie films. Police Story 2 isn’t a bad film by any means, it’s still way above average as a standalone work. It just unfortunately suffers from sequelitis that repeats all the elements we came to love from the first, but fails to top it with the zest we’d hope for in a sequel.


Police Story review

After a botched police drug bust, Chan Ka Kui arrests Selina Fong, secretary to the suspected drug boss. When she agrees to testify against her boss, Chan is assigned to protect her despite her ambiguous motives, while trying to keep his job and upholding the honor of the police force.

As the other landmark series in quintessential 80’s Jackie, Chan crafts another piece to prove he’s one of the few worthy to direct his films. There’s the indescribable aura to the film (and Police Story 2 to a lesser amount) in this combination of 80’s camp, crime drama and Jackie’s unique action touch. Layered with apparently standard cop tactics and less than surprising traitor plot twists, Police Story simply contains things that can never be duplicated. Down to the cheesy, yet catchy cop music or the flawless blend of comedy and action, these elements were solely products of their industry and time. The stunning opener hardly relies on Jackie’s fighting prowess and more on the glorification of stunts and ridiculous explosions. Movies are not made like this anymore.

Action-wise, the crazy stunts and subtle environment oriented fighting is at its best, especially with a mall showdown that just keeps on pushing, satisfying your prayers that it never ends. The film straddles the line between comedy and drama as it shows a satirical view of the silly parts of police life, while it depicts the bold strength of commitment and sense of duty earnestly. It even ties in cute bits of romance with Jackie’s all too pathetic relationship with Maggie Cheung as May, and the necessary bits of vulgar misunderstanding in Chan’s job to protect Brigitte Lin’s character. As carefree, entertainment based experiences go, Police Story stands near the top as a classic. If you’re going to watch one Jackie movie, this may just have to be it.


Thursday, October 2, 2008

Volcano High review

Kim Kyeong-su is on his 9th high school and on the verge of failure for his repeated assault offences amongst other expulsion-worthy behavior. At Volcano High, his last chance at success, he sets restraints on himself in a school that by chance happens to revolve around the strength of the children. You see, there was a “Great Teacher” war in this post-apocalyptic world and the school was left in chaos with a secret manuscript legend that would endow the script’s finder with the power to create peace. While attempting to win over the most beautiful girl in the school (and head of the Kendo club for kicks), and dealing with the emergence of new oppressive teachers quelling the mad rushes for power, Kyeong-su finds himself questioning his role and the responsibilities of his powers.

Calling his powers subtle wouldn’t exactly quite cut it. When he’s not engaging in all out energy projectile hurling showdowns, Kyeong-su enjoys the complete control of water, various other CGI enhanced traits and long walks on the beach. While this isn’t your average high school student, this isn’t your average high school either. The best parts of Volcano High come from the amusement at seeing the Kendo club stand off on their own against a rising faction exercising power to control the school, or joining forces with the Rugby Club to defeat the Weightlifting Club in a complicated set of alliances. It’s nostalgic, high school fantasy manga material, where kids are allowed to fight in school, challenge the best and hold the title in their class.

The lighter, first act accentuates these traits and is naturally interesting when Kyeong-su, as the new student, finds himself in a number of funny situations, enhanced by the school’s quirky characters. The film may not be as laugh-out-loud funny as it intends, but some of the intense over-acting and the bits of corny or legitimate humor can often bring a smile to your face. It’s nice and all when the glitz and wackiness isn’t constrained by a plot that soon governs the film. When the time finally comes to lay down a conflict and actually tell a story, the film’s appeal slowly wanes, only to be minimally maintained by the occasional goofiness of Jang Hyuk

Even the traditionally “cool” segments of the film aren’t nearly as stylish as we expect and contain painful flaws. The action has the right tempo and energy, but it never feels genuine with its combination of awkward CGI and poor wire moments. It’s a messy overflow of too many elements attempting to mimic the Matrix or something, but completely lacking its polish. Glossy cinematography and flashy effects do enhance the visuals, but the cheesy looking effects stick out like a sore thumb. It is too earnest to be camp, but too amateur to be taken seriously.  

While the fighting fails spectacularly, the premise offers a wide range of creative characters with memorable personalities. Still, the main characters all lose their charm and the film has little draw. It’s wonderful that Kim Tae-gyun could get a movie like this made in Korea back then, but in the tradition of action films, Volcano High is missing a lot of key elements and heart.


Throwdown Review

Sze-to, a former judo champion, present drunken club owner, owes a great deal of money to his bosses and makes the wise decision to gamble what he has away, probably while under the influence. In comes Tony, the eager newcomer giddy to challenge anyone and everyone including Sze-to because of his alluring reputation. Also arriving at the nightclub is the homeless Mona, desperate to kick-start a singing career by getting a job at the club. When the bills and judo rivals start to pile up, Sze-to finds himself pressured to question his reasons for quitting in the first place.

The Good?
Throwdown is one of the very few mainstream Judo films in existence and Johnny To manages to capture the appeal to this martial art, despite its less than spectacular visuals He focuses on flashier aspects from intense flipping, counter-flipping, counter-counter-flipping and more intricate tossing fight sequences smoothly strung together. Even while characters don’t have an opponent, we’re treated to interesting training sequences of fighters flipping themselves and almost dancing through the streets in what look like violent gymnastic floor exercises.

The film has a dedication to Judo and elements of the martial arts genre, taking a modern day look at a classical concept and paying homage especially to Akira Kurosawa, whose first film, Sanshiro Sugata, was about a judo fighter. When we thought the idea of challenging dojo masters to duels was over, along comes Tony Leung Ka-fai to fight all takers and lay down an invitation.

To dives into an unexpectedly rich, slower atmosphere with scenes accompanied by sweepingly rich operatic scores, jazzy tunes, and gorgeous, vacant, nighttime Hong Kong streets.

The Bad?
While the film is stunning visually, it is difficult to take the script seriously with its silly themes and clich├ęd characters. Mona dreams of making it big. Sze-To has mysterious remorse and reluctance to fight. These character moments make the film drag, while the best scenes have little to do with the narrative’s ultimate goal and simply exist for aesthetic pleasure.


Thursday, September 4, 2008

Shall We Dance? review

Sugiyama feels the pain of a mundane day job and little in life to look forward to after accomplishing the standard goals for a socially restricted middle-class father. On his way home, almost in response to his wife’s unheard suggestion that he enjoy himself, a dance studio with a beautiful woman inside catches his attention from the train. With an awkward and less than satisfactory start, Sugiyama begins questioning his decisions and deals with his growing passion for dance, which grants him indescribable feelings of bliss.

The Good?
The film has a very strong premise. For international audiences, it sets up the almost-taboo nature of ballroom dancing in the country because of its intimacy and public displays that render it embarrassing. For a male to be participating in this female activity is unheard of, so it becomes a strong conflict when Sugiyama falls into this world.

Director Masayuki Suo makes the dancing comical, accessible and appealing to newcomers. As cheesy and overdone as it is, the amateur to adept story is still inspiring and entertaining, complete with elegantly edited waltz montages of Sugiyama improving in the studio, or dancing at work or in the train station.

The film has an unexpectedly rich comedic side from deadpan humor to awkward situation comedy and recurring gags. If it's not funny, it's definitely a light, fun time.

More characters slowly enter the fray, from an obstinate partnerless dancer, Toyoko to the double-life leading Aoki, who is a quiet, refined office worker in the day and a lavish wig-wearing, energetic dancer by night. They offer a strong variety and contrast to our main character and some amusing subplots. Mostly, there's a sense of warmth to be had from all these characters, whose lives have been touched by Sugiyama's simple act of impulse to dance one evening.

The Bad?
The inclusion of all these extra characters draws some attention away from Sugiyama. He's the easiest for us to understand and empathize with, so the sub-plots sometimes leave us itching to return to his main development.


Just One Look review

Between selling sugarcane and watching movies every week, Fan and Ming, two youths of a small Hong Kong island, fall for a drummer girl at a festival. Meanwhile, Fan also dealing with issues of his own past, begins to take notice of a mysterious girl clad in white, and makes an effort to win her affection.

The Good?
This is an odd and unexpected film in the Hong Kong film industry. Riley Yip sucks the viewer into a very particular nostalgic period to make his own American Graffiti or Dazed and Confused. Yip lets us drift along, building a day in the life mentality capturing Fan's group of friends occupy themselves with films, elaborate rat deaths and the occasional gang war with silly little fights.

The film is built on strong, situational character moments. Genres are seamlessly blended as the story moves from comedy and romance to bits of action, revenge and drama. Once in a while, the film feels like it is stretching itself thin, but the audience is living life and coming of age with these characters, so it feels very natural as well.

The cast does a fine job making their characters the most likable and engrossing elements of the film. Charlene Choi and Wong You Nam are the most naturally convincing of the kids, with light, breezy scenes of cute teen love. Gillian Chung and Shawn Yue are stuck with conveying the deeper, more substantial relationship. It doesn't fit as well, but they do the best they can.

Anthony Wong steals the show as the antagonist with a flawless performance ending the film with more depth than anyone else in the cast. He can anger you to the edge and win your heart over in the blink of an eye.

The Bad?
Gillian Chung and Shawn Yue's relationship gets too serious and melodramatic and feels out of place. The actors struggle to find a healthy medium for it within the story, partly because of a script that gives them very little to build the romance on.


Protege de La Rose Noire review

Charlene, a homeless alien and Gillian, a homeless student with a temper, both discover an ad for a job providing food and housing. Enlisting a friendly taxi driver to take them up to an enormous gothic house, they find themselves victim to the strange owner, Rose, who imprisons and subsequently trains them as superheroes.

The Good?
Charlene Choi and Gillian Chung are charming because this film was built for them of course. The few highlights involve the two from Charlene's awkward and odd dances to showcase her alien powers, to the two in Jackie Chan 70's haircuts performing Drunken Master training montage parodies.

The film might be unintentionally funny at times. It's hysterical to watch for the bad humor and try to determine the writer's mode of thought for each particular joke. The film also parodies the Matrix with another bullet time joke. That's not particularly funny, but the fact that someone in the world thinks it is funny and invested in that joke for a major motion picture is hilarious.

Donnie Yen's little sister, Chris Yen, can actually do martial arts. She has the occasionally attractive action sequence. Did Donnie direct this film solely for her reel?

The Bad?
The list is too long. The film is filled with horrible jokes and gags like a clunky robot running through scenes trying to cut off male genitalia. The jokes aren't authentically good enough to even get a smile nor obviously bad enough for the sake of ironic humor. It's just painful.

The plot is nearly incoherent. It feels like a group of ten-year olds penned it after eating a bulk order of pixie sticks.

The characters are all horribly annoying, and do nothing but hurt the reputations of the actors playing them, from Ekin Cheng to Teresa Mo.

If you're sick of the Twins at this point, their charm will not work. You'll want to kill yourself.

As interesting as evil bikini-clad antagonists, killer schoolgirls, Robin and Shiu Hung Hui with a cleaning obsession sound, the film somehow manages to fail. Really.