Friday, June 29, 2012

LOVE IN A PUFF (HK 2010) -- B-

 Smoke 'em if ya got 'em.

Director: Pang Ho-Cheung, Screenwriters: Pang Ho-Cheung, Heiward Mak, Producer: Subi Liang, Cast: Miriam Yeung, Shawn Yue, Cheung Tat-Ming, Miao Felin, Vincent Kok, Jo Koo


I don't smoke, but I live with a smoker, so I understand all the little rituals that go along with the habit. Sure, there's that sinking feeling of being ostracized from the rest of society, but with that aspect can come a real sense of community amongst fellow smokers. Also, an addiction to cigarettes requires taking habitual smoke breaks with a friend or even a group of friends -- and it's in these stolen little moments where people can gossip, share secrets, or just talk with someone privately.

If anything, this is the aspect of smoking that Pang Ho-Cheung captures beautifully in Love in a Puff. Billed as a romantic comedy, this 2010 film spotlights the plight of smokers in Hong Kong, while focusing its attention on two would-be lovers played by Miriam Yeung and Shawn Yue. The film takes place in February 2009 -- a crucial time period just after the Hong Kong Health Authority enforced a ban on smoking in any inside area but just before cigarette prices went up astronomically. Within this narrative frame, Love in a Puff amounts to a sometimes funny, sometimes tedious week-long journey into a burgeoning relationship between two smokers. While following these two characters, we're plunged headlong into the world of several hip (and not-so hip) urbanites as they try to find love in a pool of alcohol and a fog of smoke.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

STOOL PIGEON (HK 2010) -- B-

Kwai Lun-Mei and Nicholas Tse on the run in The Stool Pigeon.

Director: Dante Lam, Screenwriter: Jack Ng, Producers: Candy Leung, Zhang Dajun, Ren Yue, Stephen Lam, Cast: Nick Cheung, Nicholas Tse, Kwai Lun-Mei, Liu Kai-Chi, Miao Pu, Li Yi


After 2008's well-received Beast Stalker, Dante Lam brought us 2010's Fire of Conscience, which was, in my estimation anyway, a major letdown in comparison to its immediate predecessor. For 2011's The Stool Pigeon, Lam reunites his two leads from Beast Stalker -- Nick Cheung and Nicholas Tse -- and adds the luminous Kwai Lun-Mei to the mix, but the resultant film is a depressing, melodrama-heavy crime thriller that feels more like a lateral career move for Lam after Fire of Conscience.

Sunday, June 10, 2012


 Barbie Hsu breaking a sweat in Hot Summer Days.

Directors: Tony Chan and Wing Shya, Screenwriters: Tony Chan and Lucretia Ho, Producers: Fruit Chan and Paul Cheng, Cast: Nicholas Tse, Jacky Cheung, Daniel Wu, Vivian Hsu, Barbie Hsu, Rene Liu, Duan Yihong, Angelababy, William Chan, Jing Bo Ran, Michelle Wai, Gordon Liu, Charlene Choi, Shawn Yu, Fruit Chan, Kate Yeung, Jan Lamb, Joey Wong, and Maggie Cheung


Hot Summer Days marks the first Chinese-language film produced by 20th Century Fox in its then seventy-five-year history. Packed with stars hailing from Hong Kong, Mainland China, and Taiwan, it's the kind of middle-of-the-road ensemble romantic comedy that American audiences have been eating up for decades. However, this Chinese take on the genre possesses just enough redeeming qualities to elevate it -- albeit slightly -- above the pack of formulaic rom coms churned out by studios around the world. Gorgeously shot with several fine performances, Hot Summer Days is a date movie of epic proportions, as we're treated to a whole stable of good-looking actors -- often glistening with sweat -- as they try to find love in the sweltering heat of summer.

In Hong Kong, we meet Wai (Nicholas Tse), whose air conditioning repair shop is seeing a much-needed boom in business during the blistering heat wave. While coping with the heat, he ends up falling for a black eyeliner-wearing, tough-as-nails biker chick named -- of all things -- Ding Dong (Barbie Hsu). The pair make an attractive couple, and the actors possess wonderful chemistry, but it would've been refreshing if the film hasn't relied so strongly on manufactured melodrama to close out this segment. For a tearjerker to work, you've got to be emotionally invested in the characters, and the film doesn't take its time to explore their relationship in a truly satisfying way. Further, the film's treatment of the much more serious content that arises from Ding Dong's personal story is cursory at best.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

FISH STORY (JPN 2009) -- A+

An album that changes lives.

Director: Yoshihiro Nakamura, Screenwriter: Tamio Hayashi, Producer: Hitoshi Endo, Cast: Atsushi Ito, Kora Kengo, Mikako Tabe, Dakaku Hama, Mirai Moriyama, Kenjiro Ishimaru, and Nao Omori 


I think it's rather appropriate that the very first review for the revitalized Ronin on Empty is Yoshihiro Nakamura's revelatory Fish Story. This plucky, underdog of a movie offers viewers an uplifting, altogether funny commentary about the power of art to enact real change in people's lives. In a lot of ways, I think Fish Story has had a similar effect on me, as the film, among others things, did much to renew my interest in Asian cinema after leaving last year in the wake of my father's passing.

Delivering a proper review of Fish Story, however, puts me in a fairly tricky situation as a writer. Aside from hearing good things about the movie, I went into my first viewing of Fish Story knowing absolutely nothing about its premise. Having seen it twice now, I strongly feel that "going in blind" is the ideal way to experience the story. Of course, a film review requires at least a cursory treatment of the storyline, so I will have to tread carefully about plot details in the following paragraphs, lest I spoil the experience for potential viewers.