Irene barely survives a violent home invasion, her family killed, her dad Johnny Hallyday (Man on the Train) visits in a Macau hospital and swears revenge. But Johnny’s not an elite killer getting dragged back into the business, he’s just a French restauranteur with a fading memory. He runs across a team of hitmen played by the Johnnie To superstars Suet Lam, Anthony Wong and Lam “Bo in Sparrow” Ka-Tung and they can fit his revenge scheme into their schedule. Of course since their boss is Simon Yam and he barely appears in the first half of the movie, I guessed the (very satisfying) second half would pit our doomed men against their own organization. Since there’s a French lead actor, this was able to play in competition at Cannes, but got robbed by Haneke and Audiard.

Lam Suet of every Johnnie To movie finally gets a major role as a bully fuckup cop – or so it seems, until the more capable Simon Yam takes over the movie, in search of the gun Lam lost while getting beaten by street kids. Not that Yam is so upstanding – his guys brutalize the youths, being careful to cover their tracks, and beat a red-haired asthmatic to death in an alley then manage to revive him. Suet steals evidence, makes a deal with the warring gangs, finds his gun (which it turns out he dropped in the scuffle and nobody picked up), the gang guys slaughter each other and the cops cover everything up. This more than compensates for Heroic Trio‘s portrayal of noble policemen with super abilities. Most importantly, this is on the early side of To’s spectacular run of great-looking movies – realism be damned, the actors glow as perfectly on the night streets as they do in neon-lit restaurants. Looks like Yam starred in a flurry of belated sequels.

A trap:

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Bird-tossing right out of the gate. The sparrow looks like a finch, but I’m immediately happy that there’s even a bird and the title wasn’t a metaphor, though lbxd says it’s also slang for pickpocket. Back to that opening scene, Simon Yam is smiling too much and gliding around his artfully lit apartment like he’s in a musical, which nicely sets the tone for this movie, a HK crime flick where nobody gets killed and the climax is a wordless slow-mo umbrella dance. Johnnie To gives Throw Down fans another romantic balloon incident, and uses some kind of wide-angle lens distortion throughout. It looks and moves differently than his others, light on its feet, and a movie about a pickpocket gang gives him ample opportunity to show off his mastery in staging and visual design. Perfect movie.

Kelly and sparrow/finch:

Simon, Bo, Sak, Mac:

The Girl is Kelly Lin – she and the protege pickpocket Ka Tung Lan are returning from the previous year’s Mad Detective and Triangle. Lead dude Simon Yam was Lok in the Election series. Pickpocket Mac (the one with the busted head) has had some small roles, and Sak with the glasses is To’s assistant director and editor, who would later make a Donnie Yen movie about ancient warriors time traveling to modern-day HK. Suet “Fatso” Lam works for Kelly’s boss/captor Mr. Fu, and the umbrella showdown pits his skills against our guys’ for her freedom.

“They told us there was a threat to America, but the weapons of mass destruction weren’t there.” I survived an endless difficult work day, and learned that Donald Rumsfeld had died, so this felt like the right movie to watch (though The Limits of Control was considered).

Thea Gill is a “constitutional scholar” (right-wing talking head) and Jon Tenney is a campaign reelection consultant whose boss is a conniving Robert Picardo (in his tenth Dante movie). When dead soldiers begin returning from the grave, seeking only to vote against the current administration, these three try to spin the news to their advantage, angering the soldier zombies. Our spin-artists’ buried family secrets rise along with the zombies, leading to panic and death for all. It’s all wickedly well written and blunt as hell, a quality I was attuned to having just discovered an intriguing letterboxd list called “Garish, Unpleasant &/or Heavy-Handed Movies: A Worthy 21st Century Approach.”

It wasn’t until I finished the series that I found out there was a movie, oh boy. The gang is back together, so who knows where this takes place chronologically. Terrorists have a sort of Dreamcatcher/Prometheus plot to grow the nanobots up in the water supply, killing the world, and only our heroes can put the pieces together in time. The movie’s focus on sub-Garbage 90’s technopop music or visual fx is never impressive, but the compositions and characters always are.

I half-remembered this from watching Eros at the Landmark way back then, and the new remaster gives us a good excuse to revisit. Gong Li is a high-class call girl, whose life/career hits a rocky patch, then she has to move into a dank moldy place and gets the croup. Chen Chang is her devoted tailor in good times and bad. Besides all the perfect costuming and sumptuous dim-light photography, highlight is a scene of erotic dumpling stuffing.


There’s Only One Sun (2007)

Found this short, nonsensical spy drama on vimeo, with horrid video compression compared to The Hand blu-ray. It’s a commissioned television ad that culminates in Amélie Daure of Frontier(s) making out with her flatscreen. Before that, there’s some talk off finding an untraceable person(?) named The Light, a flashback structure, a couple murders – that’s a lot for Wong, who likes to let his camera linger, to pull off in eight minutes. Mostly it seems designed to show the brightest colors possible, bleeding into each other, to impress the rubes when the brightness is cranked up at the Best Buy video wall. No need for too many new ideas – songs are reused from the 2046 soundtrack.

It’s Cannes Fortnight 2021! I was gonna watch this anyway, eventually, then noticed there’s a new Gaspar playing Cannes this year, so “eventually” became now. In in the mood for some cinema after taking things easy post-True/False, rounding up some recent Cannes titles I missed, and some by this year’s crop of directors.

Wonked-out closing/opening credits sequence, then the camera spirals and weaves around a courtyard, Massive Attack’s La Protection Centrale. I didn’t know what was happening for a good long time, the I Stand Alone guy philosophizing with anonymous Frenchman Albert Dupontel (a war survivor in A Very Long Engagement), but it becomes clear as the movie woozily whips us through the rest of the story in reverse order. I was gonna say it takes us from one sordid scene to another, but that’d be underselling one of the most extremely sordid films of the last twenty years. I read a piece recently, thought it was by Charles Bramesco but can’t find it now so who knows, calling Promising Young Woman a weaksauce take on the rave/revenge story, and it came to mind a few times while watching this, a decidedly strongsauced rape/revenge story, because is that such a desirable thing? Is the point to seek out the most extreme rape/revenge cinema? Ultimately, the “time destroys all things” thesis, the film title and the reverse-action gimmick framing the horrors had me appreciating this much more than, say, Revenge, though I can’t feel naughtily transgressive about liking a movie that comes highly recommended by every critic I respect.

A bunch of silliness in the first half which escalated wonderfully in the second. At the beginning Cowboy and Indian try to construct a last-minute birthday gift while Horse takes piano lessons with a cute female horse. But pretty soon they are all enslaved by snowball-prankster kung-fu scientists within a giant arctic penguin robot. Plastic toy stop-motion!

The Torquays was a successful five-piece band of U.S. soldiers who’d stayed in Germany after their war service, playing nightly shows when two serious German art-school dudes approached them and convinced them to rebrand as The Monks and play a pared-down but forceful new kind of rock music. We spend much time with the band members, leaving no anecdote untold and culminating in a one-off NYC reunion show with celebrities like Jon Spencer in the crowd. Still one of the greatest albums ever made… this two-hour movie has only about 15 minutes of illuminating stories, but it’s nice to spend so much time in a world where the Monks mattered.