Friday, October 5, 2012


In Frank Chin's 1972 play, The Chickencoop Chinaman, the protagonist -- Tam Lum -- takes a trip to Pittsburgh, PA to gather information for a documentary he's making about Ovaltine Jack Dancer, a former light  heavyweight champion of the world. In a seedy porn theater, he finds the owner-operator of the place: Charley Popcorn, Ovaltine's former trainer and father. But as Tam soon finds out, what Ovaltine claimed about his alleged "father" may not be the real story at all.

Like most writers, Frank Chin borrowed from his own life in crafting his plays, novels, and short stories. During the late 1960s, he worked for four years at KING-TV and King Screen Productions, writing TV documentaries and other films. One project that emerged from his tenure at King Screen Productions was ...And Still Champion! The Story of Archie Moore (1967). As one might expect, this documentary traced the career of boxer Archie Moore from childhood to the mid-1960s. Moore, who still holds the record for the most knockouts (131) and even played Jim in Michael Curtiz's 1960 adaptation of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, makes for a fascinating interview subject, as the narration -- written by Frank Chin -- suggests, but doesn't say outright that some of Moore's childhood memories may be self-invented . While Chin served as writer and associate producer, ...And Still Champion! was directed by Loy Norrix, with narratation by Jack Palance (Shane, City Slickers), with a special appearance by Moore's Huckleberry Finn co-star, Tony Randall (The Odd Couple).

Thanks to Youtube user Carbon Titanium (aka Frank's son, Sam Chin), the documentary is now widely available for everyone to see.


Thursday, August 16, 2012

A SIMPLE LIFE (HK 2011) -- A+

Andy Lau and Deanie Ip in A Simple Life

Director: Ann Hui. Screenplay: Susan Chan, Roger Lee. Producers: Roger Lee, Ann Hui, Chan Pui-Wah. Cast: Andy Lau, Deanie Ip, Qin Hailu, Wang Fuli, Elena Kong, Paul Chun Pui, Chapman To, Eman Lam, Hui So, Tsui Hark (cameo), Sammo Hung (cameo), Ning Hao (cameo).


At the 31st Hong Kong Film Awards, Ann Hui's quiet drama, A Simple Life earned an award for Best Picture, besting its more bombastic competition, which included Let The Bullets Fly, Flying Swords of Dragon Gate, Life Without Principle, and Overheard 2. In fact, the multiple-nominated film made a clean sweep of all the major categories -- with cast and crew taking home trophies for Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress,  and Best Screenplay. While I normally lean towards the argument that there's no such thing as a "best film," I think an equally valid argument could be made that A Simple Life simply outclassed its competition on nearly every level. While Hong Kong cinema may have made its mark internationally with martial arts and action cinema, the comparatively subdued drama, A Simple Life, demonstrates Hong Kong cinema at its finest.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012


Director: Derek Yee. Screenplay: Chun Tin-nam, Lau Ho-leung, Derek Yee. Original Novel: Zhang Haifan. Producers: Albert Yeung, Yu Dong, Jeffrey Chan. Cast: Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Lau Ching-Wan, Zhou Xun, Wu Gang, Yan Ni, Paul Chun, Kenya Sawada, Lam Suet, Wang Ziwen, Alex Fong, Wang Ziyi, Daniel Wu, and Tsui Hark.


There's a reason for the term "movie magic," as magicians and filmmakers actually have a lot in common. Manipulation, misdirection, sleight of hand -- these elements remain crucial to each of their respective trades. But while both magicians and filmmakers can certainly dazzle audiences with eye-popping special effects, there's also something to be said for other important qualities like presentation, stage presence, and even charm. While Derek Yee's The Great Magician definitely explores the connections between movies and magic, the illusion it presents isn't exactly the cinematic equivalent of making the Statue of Liberty disappear a la David Copperfield, but it is an entertaining diversion nonetheless.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012


Director: Ian Jacobs, Cast: Garneta Haruni, Monique Henry, Dion Wiyoko, Vikri Rahmat , Ismi Melinda


"INDONESIAN HORROR AT ITS BEST!!!" screamed the cover blurb for Kuntilanak Beranak, a 2009 Indonesian film marketed under the English title Birth of the Vampire -- albeit by a U.S. distributor whose legal claim to the film is questionable at best. Nevertheless, if Kuntilanak Beranak is truly the best horror film that Indonesia has to offer, I'd hate to see the worst.

While I'll spending the next few paragraphs engaging in an extensive critique of the film, I have to admit up front that despite all the snark that might follow, I don't enjoy slagging off on a no-budget horror film. In fact, I really wanted it to be good. But the truth is there's hardly anything in this film that I can truly recommend.  Although the film's budget certainly impacted what they could do visually, I know there are plenty of low and micro budget films out there that transcend their limitations to deliver an entertaining or compelling experience. Unfortunately, Kuntilanak Beranak isn't one of them. Without a clever script, an impressive visual style, or a strong cast, the whole production seems amateurish, especially when compared to other horror films from Southeast Asia.

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.