Yan Yan Mak and Clement Cheng
Gallants might be the Clement Cheng film that everyone is talking about, but the Vancouver native also has a second 2010 film, Merry-Go-Round. Co-directed with up-and-coming female director Yan Yan Mak, Merry-Go-Round passes on parody and laughs in favor of humanism and drama. The film cleverly combines four individuals, two generations and two continents into a story about immigration and emigration. The film opens in San Francisco where Eva (played by 70s kung fu star Nora Miao) is a traditional Chinese doctor and Nam is a young lost soul looking for herself. The two of them both make the trip to Hong Kong to deal with unfinished business. Nam lands a job in a a coffin depository that is overseen by Hill (played by the Gallant crowd-please Teddy Robin Kwan). Eva returns to her father's herbal medicine shop to persuade her nephew, Fung, not to sell the family property. Eventually the storyline draws the four of them together in somewhat unexpected ways but with somewhat expected results. Mak and Cheng earn huge marks for the casting of Kwan and Miao, the latter an icon that has seen little screen time in the last 30 years. Cheng, tipping his hand as the kung fu fan that Gallants proves him to be, has one very satisfying scene where Eva gives her nephew the kind of smackdown that she was doing in films like Fist of Fury. Merry-Go-Round champions an independent feel that is rare in Hong Kong film, but unfortunately much of the drama suffers from the incessant pop-infused soundtrack. Rising stars in the field, Clement Cheng and Yan Yan Mak are two to watch.
The Fourth Portrait (2010)
Chung Mong-hong is yet another discovery, at least for me, from Taiwan. Although The Fourth Portrait is only his second feature, it's enough of a standout to chase down his first feature, Parking. The Fourth Portrait is inventively paced and beautifully shot. Xiang is ten years old and his father has just died. It rests upon his shoulders to go home and find his father's nicest suit and his best photograph. Unable to find a photo, Xiang produces the first portrait that sets up the film's modest narrative drive. Although it is clear that we will see three more portraits drawn by Xiang, they turn out to be unusual signposts in his journey. While the narrative moves forward, Chung switches the gears ever-so-slightly so that The Fourth Portrait feels fresh. Xiang is left to fend for himself until he is caught stealing food by a stern but caring janitor who takes Xiang under his wing. Suddenly the path for where the film is going is clear. Not quite. The film shifts: Xiang's mother is found and is taking him to her home where she has a new husband and newly born child. Once again, the film seems to settle into a groove, but wrong again. Xiang is the befriended by an older hang-about who only seems to be good at petty crime. Chung does this a few more times slowly working its way through Xiang's four portraits. Make no doubt about it, The Fourth Portrait is a coming of age story, but one told with inventive spirit and sophistication.
The Ugly Duckling (2010)
Garri Bardin's stop-motion animation of the much loved parable is at the very least a joy to watch. The creative character designs and slightly socialist connotation brings something totally new to the tale. The diabolical ducklings and the alien-headed goslings never failed to get a chuckle out of me. The operatic over-the-top score, however, is as pummeling as the relentless oppression of our poor ugly little duckling. There's an overwhelming cynicism to this adaptation that felt unnecessary.
Derek Kwok and Clement Cheng
So glad I got to see extremely fun film on the big screen in a packed house. Gallants is a loving homage to the kung fu films from the 60s and 70s ala Shaw Brothers and Bruce Lee. Clement Cheng this time aligns himself with Derek Kwok, someone he has worked with before as a screenwriter and who is breaking out onto the Hong Kong scene. In a sleepy part of Hong Kong, a helpless young man by the name of Leung has been sent to settle a property dispute. On his route he is bullied by a little kid, who Leung in turn bullies only to get bullied by the kid's father. A passerby takes pity on Leung and stops the very uneven fight. The selfless hero turns out to be the be the aging but legendary Tiger. Tiger and his fellow martial arts brother Dragon have been quietly holding vigil over their master, Law, who has been in a coma for 30 years. Old rivalries ignite as well as the fighting passion within Leung as master Law miraculously awakes to his biggest challenge yet! The brilliance of Gallants is not only in the overt style that Kwok and Cheng chooses to parody with great wit, but also in its cast. The trio of old-timers—Bruce Leung, Chen Kuan-tai and Teddy Robin Kwan—deliver more charisma than seems fair for one movie. Clement Cheng himself must be a creative force to be reckoned with, working on projects as diverse as Gallants and Merry-Go-Round. Gallants is not going to move mountains, but it sure is a raucous romp and a must see for any fan of the genre.
Rubber is occasionally very clever, occasionally very funny, occasionally overly self-conscious and occasionally too redundant. A movie within a movie (but more importantly, an audience watching an audience), Rubber tells the tale of a rogue tire—abandoned in the desert and gaining a taste for blood (or more accurately gaining a taste for blowing things up with its tire-mind.) The introduction to the film comes from a police officer who pops out of the trunk of a car to explain that things in movies happen for no reason. Why is E.T. brown? No reason. Why do the two people in Love Story fall madly in love? No reason. Why does a complete stranger assassinate the president in JFK. No reason. And so it goes. Most things happen in Rubber for—you guessed it—no reason, and for almost half the film it is interesting. Rubber is very strange and it doesn't really work overall, but compared to the other midnight film (L.A. Zombie which I will get to in my next update), Rubber looks like a masterpiece.