A pretty bad mid-80’s cop movie with average acting and horrible comedy. But oh man, when the action scenes start, there is nothing better. Cars barrel down a hill right through a shanty town, Chan uses cars as weapons and shields, and it ends with a jump/fall so great they show it three times. Plot-wise, Chan has to protect Brigitte Lin from gangsters before she testifies. He does a poor job gaining her trust (having a disguised fellow cop pretend to attack so Chan can save her) then does a poor job explaining her presence to his indignant girlfriend Maggie Cheung.

Fake-attack:

Movie puts forth the Clint Eastwoody idea that gangsters can’t be convicted in the courts because the system is corrupt, so it’s best to kill them straight away. But oh man, the action scenes. Non-action highlights include an endless court scene with all dialogue in Cantonese except the oft-repeated English phrase “I object,” and a dogshit moonwalk.

That’s Maggie on the left:

Won best picture/choreography at the HK Film Awards (vs. fellow nominee Mr. Vampire, heh), got at least five sequels. Maggie was still three years away from As Tears Go By, Brigitte starred in Peking Opera Blues the following year, and baddie Yuen Chor directed over 40 films in the 1960’s and 1970’s.

Maggie Cheung has health problems, comes to stay with her older cousin Andy Lau, a loanshark enforcer who acts completely recklessly along with his fuckup buddy Jacky Cheung. This movie and Days of Being Wild could definitely have swapped titles.

Ronald Wong (sort of an HK Bud Cort) manages to get out of the gangster life, marries, is given a bunch of money. Jacky fails hard in every direction though, tries to quit and run a food stand but ends up where he came from: getting the shit beaten out of him until he’s rescued by Andy. These two have their moments of brilliance, but by refusing to play the gangster game by the rules, soon everyone is tired of their shit. Crazy Tony (Alex Man) is set up as the “bad guy” who wants our heroes dead, but that’s all our heroes deserve, and soon what they get. Meanwhile, a bit of a love story has developed between Maggie and Andy, set to a Chinese version of “Take My Breath Away” and a 1980’s synth score. But just when Andy thought he was out, the bastards pulled him back in, then shot him in the head.

Jackie on right:

Ang Wong only has two scenes, but makes an impression:

Kwan has made 15 movies in the last 25 years, only three of which I’ve heard of, nominated for whole piles of awards. Shot by Hang-Sang Poon (Kung Fu Hustle, Zu Warriors) and produced by none other than Jackie Chan.

I’ve had access to a high-quality director’s-cut DVD of this, a movie on Rosenbaum’s top-100 list, for some time now. Never got around to watching it because the idea of a 2.5-hour bio-pic on a Chinese silent film actress I’ve never heard of wasn’t too appealing, however highly recommended the film. But I finally, reluctantly watched it, and of course found it brilliant and beautiful.

True, it’s a bio-pic about Ruan Ling-yu, played by Maggie Cheung (between Days of Being Wild and Ashes of Time) and filmed in sensuous color. And it’s probably as full of invented details and dialogue as most bio-pics, but it also seems to take an approach of serious study interwoven with the fiction, for instance showing clips from Ruan’s actual films when available, recreating scenes with Maggie from the Ruan films that are now lost, and always distinguishing between the real and fictional film clips with subtitles. Sometimes it backs up from the fiction completely, interviewing Maggie and the other actors as themselves, commenting on the characters and the story, and sometimes the making of this film itself. Somehow this distance doesn’t detract from the drama of the story, but adds to it in a creative and informative way that makes me wonder why all bio-pics don’t use this approach.

My favorite sequence:
color: Maggie and Tony in character shooting a scene in New Woman
b/w: the film crew surrounding Maggie and Tony, now as themselves
b/w: that scene of the actual film New Woman
color: Maggie/Tony in character watching the scene

It would’ve helped if I’d known more Chinese film history, or history in general (the Japanese are bombing Shanghai?), but otherwise I enjoyed it an awful lot. Maggie Cheung always seems smarter and more aware than other actors (not others in this movie, but actors in general). This movie uses some of the same songs as her Wong Kar-Wai movies, making it feel like Maggie is in some kind of 1930’s color-cinema time-loop.

Maggie/Ruan is friends with actress Lily Li (Carina Lau, Mimi/Lulu in 2046), and married to Ta-Min (Lawrence Ng of New Dragon Gate Inn), but falls in love with Chu-Sheng (Tony 2 of Ashes of Time/Eagle Shooting Heroes), which leads to scandal and suicide. Her funeral is staged with the actors recreating poses from still photos taken at Ruan’s funeral sixty years earlier.

I’m not sure that I buy Tarantino films as thrice-a-decade Big Movie Events. If guy’s gonna make his fun genre flicks, I wish he’d make them more often. The movies he is emulating didn’t take this long to shoot. I’ve been seeing (and trying not to read) reports on this for years now, while I only heard of District 9 last week and I liked ’em both just as much.

One would think the movie follows the Basterds as they rampage through France and Germany killing nazis, but one would be wrong. Starts with a 20-some-minute scene of nazi Col. Landa (Christoph Waltz won best actor at Cannes – nobody can shut up about him) grilling French farmer Denis Menochet about the Jews he is hiding, in Landa’s patient, wordy (duh), polite, milk-drinking manner. The murdered Jewish family’s daughter Shoshanna (Mélanie Laurent of Indigènes, who will never have a better role) survives (an image reminiscent of the last-girl-standing final scenes of exploitation horror flicks) and three years later is running a movie theater she inherited from Maggie Cheung (in deleted scenes, which will hopefully surface). At that time, hero sniper Daniel Brühl (star of Goodbye Lenin and Salvador) is hot for her, arranges to hold the premiere of his new propaganda film at her theater. When she hears the entire nazi high command is attending, she plots to destroy the theater with them inside.

So what about the basterds? Well, they’ve got a plot of their own to show up at the film premiere, with the help of movie star Diane Kruger (star of Joyeux Noël), threatened when she is injured in a firefight at a group meeting place (which claims the life of my favorite basterd, Hunger star Michael Fassbender). QT allows a single scene of their nazi-scalping terror campaign (starring bat-man Eli Roth) to stand alone – the vast bulk of the movie is introduction then the week or two leading up to the film premiere.

The movie makes light of death and torture, essentially coming off as a comedy (Brad Pitt’s hilariously fake accent helps that assessment). RW Knight: “Overriding Tarantino’s gratuitous gore instincts is his allegiance to the power of the cinema, which he makes material (literal) here in the form of a combustible nitrate collection.” Surely there are tons of movie references, for once actually talked-about and plot-relevant (Goebbels, Emil Jannings, Leni Riefenstahl) instead of appearing as influences and references in Kill Bill and Jackie Brown (Death Proof had plenty of movie talk, too).

DCairns:

“It’s a film about cinema,” said Joe Dante, who was quite enthusiastic. Perhaps not a war film at all. Or a film about the victory of movies over war, somehow. Certainly, that’s literally what happens in the climax, which contains, all too briefly, the most beautiful image Tarantino has ever conceived or executed.

I have to say I didn’t take it as seriously as some, enjoying the hell out of the sight of Eli Roth machine-gunning Hitler’s lifeless body into the ground moments after the above-mentioned beautiful image (already-dead Shoshanna’s filmed face projected ghostlike on the smoke rising from the burning film stock). And the unusual structure, tense dialogue and Film Comment article’s about Tarantino’s references to American Indian massacres and other carefully thought-out pieces of writing make me think it could be worth taking more seriously. But if I take it seriously, I’ll have to consider the following.

DCairns again: “Inglourious Basterds in a way is about stealing back pleasure from horrible facts, the revenge of cinema upon tragic events, but as interesting as that is in the abstract, it doesn’t strike me as a healthy response. And the gloating nastiness is much closer to Nazism than it is to the spirit of resistance.”

Redux is playing in theaters, so I watched the original first to get all the plot and characters straight. I know that Plot And Characters Do Not Make The Movie, but even with crazy movies like this and Out 1, I like being able to keep all that stuff straight before I can lose myself in the atmosphere of the film. Also, although there are about eight mega-superstar actors in this, I only recognize half of them. My Hong Kong/Chinese moviewatching has fallen sadly behind. A study guide follows.

Leslie Cheung is in all the framing-device scenes, probably the single star of the movie. Easily recognized throughout by the mustache. Moved out to the desert to forget his true love, Maggie Cheung, who got tired of waiting for him and married his brother. Sort of a swordsman matchmaker – hooks up would-be killers with people who need somebody killed. One day will be called Malicious West.
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Seen him in: Farewell My Concubine, The Chinese Feast
Still need to see: A Chinese Ghost Story, A Better Tomorrow

Tony Leung Ka Fai, or “Tony 2” – old friend of Leslie’s, comes around once a year. This time he brings a wine of forgetfulness for Leslie to drink, but ends up drinking it himself. Visited Maggie Cheung once a year, gave her an update on Leslie. A ladies man, I think he’s in love with Carina Lau. Will later be known as Evil East.
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Seen him in: Dumplings
Still need to see: Election, The Lover

Maggie Cheung – object of affection of the above men. She gives the wine to Tony 2 to be given to her ex, Leslie, in hopes that Leslie will forget her. Dies of an illness before most of the movie takes place, but we don’t find that out till the end.
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Seen her in: Irma Vep, In The Mood For Love
Still need to see: Comrades, Centre Stage

Brigitte Lin – crazy woman who comes around as a “man” trying to hire a killer for Tony 2, then comes back as herself trying to hire a killer for her “brother”. She fights and almost kills ex-flame Tony 2 herself at one point, maybe when she first met him, then later becomes obsessed with him. Finally goes off into the desert practicing sword skills on her reflection.
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Seen her in: Chungking Express, Royal Tramp 2
Still need to see: Bride With White Hair, Swordsman 2, Police Story

Tony Leung Chiu Wai (“Tony 1”) – former best friend of Tony 2, is quickly going blind. Needs one last high-paying job so he can afford to go home and see “the peach blossoms” (see below) before his vision fades completely. Hires on to protect a nearby town from bandits, but the bandits take too long to show up, he loses more of his sight, and he dies in the battle when clouds darken the sky. Perfect role for Tony 1, the saddest of all actors.
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Seen him in: 2046, Infernal Affairs
Still need to see: Cyclo, City of Sadness

Carina Lau – beloved of Tony 1, named Peach Blossom. Mostly crouches in flashback looking awesome… has hardly any lines. She fell in love with Tony 2 years ago, which is why Tony 1 is alone and sad.
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Seen her in: 2046 (she’s Lulu/Mimi), Flowers of Shanghai
Still need to see: Curiosity Killed The Cat, Intimates

Charlie Yeung – poor girl who wants to hire a swordsman to avenge her brother’s death at the hands of the militia with some eggs and a mule. Leslie and Tony 1 turn her down, and Tony breaks her eggs.
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Seen her in: Seven Swords, Fallen Angels
Still need to see: Butterfly Lovers

Jacky Cheung – dirty, barefoot, badass swordsman. Leslie hooks him up, gives business and strategy advice. Jacky is well paid for defeating the bandits, and also takes on the militia in exchange for Charlie’s egg (but almost dies). Rides off with his wife (not Charlie) in the end. One day to be known as the Northern Beggar, will fight a doubly-fatal duel with Leslie years later.
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Seen him in: Once Upon a Time in China, As Tears Go By
Still need to see: Bullet in the Head

Movie is an imagined prequel to popular novel “Eagle Shooting Heroes.” All the cast members also appear in film The Eagle Shooting Heroes, a parody dir. by Jeffrey Lau, with supposed participation by Wong and Sammo Hung. Will have to see to believe. Edit: Found it, watched in between Ashes and Redux, reviewed here, still not sure if I quite believe it! Other filmed versions of Eagle Shooting Heroes all seem to be TV series, although Royal Tramp and the Swordsman series are based on other books by the same author.

Screenshots above are from a scrappy foreign DVD (still not half as scrappy as the American disc looked), then a week later I ran out and watched Ashes Redux on lovely new 35mm (minus the topmost and leftmost 5% of the picture – thanks, Landmark). I am not considering these two separate movies, of course. Don’t know why the IMDB has a new page for Redux – they don’t have five different pages for The New World. Besides being able to see what’s going on and properly appreciate the glorious cinematography, Redux straightens out the plot threads at the start and end, the bits about the memory wine, Tony 2, Leslie and Maggie. It also cuts out a whole fight scene, the one that the original drops the viewer into at the beginning without explaining a damned thing. I miss that fight scene – it was awesome, and one of my favorite shots of the video was in it: a black-eyed, wild-haired Tony 2 giving a monstrous, slow-mo, silent scream.

I did understand everything better while watching Redux – but is that because Wong re-edited, or because I’d spent the week before studying the movie? I don’t think of myself as the type who champions straightforward stories over complex mood pieces, but Redux does probably work better. Movie leads up to this grand emotional moment of Maggie crying over her lost Leslie, talking about her failure to spend the best years of her life next to the person she loves most, and if you didn’t couldn’t make sense of the wild first ten minutes of the film, that’s not going to hit very hard. I’m apparently only good at summarizing plot and character, which, as I said three pages ago, isn’t what makes the movie. The desert, the mountains, the spinning birdcage, the haze, eclipses, sudden swordfights, and endless stories of lost love all add up to a pure and excellent film. I’m not saying it’s my favorite – most of Wong’s films are excellent – but it’s up there.

Writes T. Brogan on the film vs. novel:

The original plot actually dealt with two characters nicknamed “Evil East” and “Wicked West”, aged, respected and feared demi-gods in the pugilistic world. Arch rivals, their tussle for power was the backdrop against which Cha’s main protagonists (a pair of lovers from the entire trilogy series) were tested in terms of their wits, loyalty and love for one another. In Wong’s film, however, the hands of time have been turned back, and the focus is primarily on the two men, now portrayed in their prime, and seeks to “explain” the beginnings of their bitter feud in a progressive manner.

Wong:

Basically the film is about emotions. It’s a love story about Dongxie [Tony 2], Xidu [Leslie] and a woman, spanning half a life time. Certain emotions are eternal. When I got to the film’s ending I finally realized what Ashes of Time is about, and its relationship with my previous films. They are all about refusal and the fear of refusal. Everyone in Days of Being Wild has been refused. They become afraid of being refused, so they refuse other people before other people have a chance to refuse them. It’s the same in Chungking Express. But I think I have changed, so the film has an open ending. Tony Leung and Faye Wong don’t really know where they stand with each other, but they know they can accept each other. Ashes is most deadly. It sums up the three previous films. How do you go on with your life after you’ve been refused, and you’re afraid of being refused to begin with? So [Brigitte] Lin Chin Hsia becomes schizophrenic, Tony [1] resorts to the most destructive method to solve his problems; Leslie Cheung hides in the desert; Tony [2] drinks himself to amnesia. The only exception is Hong Qi [Jacky]. He doesn’t think being refused is a big deal. He just goes ahead to do what he thinks is the right thing.

I read about this when researching Ashes of Time and wasn’t sure I believed it existed… but whattaya know, the video store has it on DVD. And in crystal-clear quality with good subtitles, versus my blurry, half-assed copy of Ashes of Time. How’s that for justice? Oh well, Ashes gets a sparking theatrical reissue with a blu-ray disc to follow, so I guess time heals.

If you’d run these two movies back-to-back I wouldn’t have even suspected they’re both based on the same novel. Yeah, I’d be aware that most of the same actors are here, and some character names are the same, and both movies have borderline-incomprehensible plots, but the only person who seems vaguely similar is Jacky Cheung’s beggar king. This was exec-produced by Wong Kar-Wai, with great fight choreography by Sammo Hung, and shot at the same time as Ashes. Of course, this came out a year earlier because of Wong’s legendary slowness. And it was a bigger hit, because of Wong’s legendary artiness.

It’s actually a good movie… I enjoyed it more than Katy was enjoying Smart People in the other room. Some of the jokes are funny, some of the action is awesome, color is bright, editing is controlled and coherent, and it never drags. Everyone seems dubbed, though. It’s stupid as hell, but in a fun way. I’m not gonna try too hard to get the plot details straight, but here’s an actor/character spread to match the one I did for Ashes:

Tony “Tony 1” Leung Chiu Wai held his title as “the saddest of all actors” for three days, before it was revoked. This screen shot should indicate why. Here he’s an unexplained evil dude who chases the princess to obtain the royal seal and usurp the throne. It doesn’t go well… despite his very powerful toad-style kung fu, he’s beaten to hell (in self-defense) by Jacky Cheung and defeated at the palace by the combined forces of the good guys, so he decides he’s a giant duck and happily joins the cave monsters. Tony 1 has probably got the most complicated story and the most screen time, and he does a great job, really, as an evil goofball warrior. His name is Ouyang Feng (Leslie’s role in Ashes).
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Veronica Yip is Tony 1’s evil partner. I don’t know where she goes between the first few scenes and the last few.
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Brigitte Lin is the princess being chased by those two. Everybody humors her one kung fu attack, which is powerful but lacks any accuracy. She’s poisoned at the end, but that turns out to be nothing. She was engaged to Prince Duan, but that also turns out to be nothing.
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Leslie Cheung is Yaoshi, a kung fu master chosen to protect the princess. He has a mark of three sixes on his chest, which for some reason doesn’t make him the devil, but rather Tony 2’s one true love. He is sweet on Suqiu, who is the only girl he’d ever seen until the princess comes along. He’s playing the role Tony 2 did in Ashes.
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Joey Wang is Suqiu, Leslie’s sweetheart who fears losing him so follows him and the princess. I think she gets him back in the finale, from the way they’re fighting together. Joey was supposed to be in Ashes of Time, but when she couldn’t do re-shoots, was replaced by Charlie Yeung, another girl with a boy’s name.
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Carina Lau is Zhou Botong – she’s actually playing a male monk, not ambiguous like Brigitte in Ashes. When her master is killed by a magical boot discarded by Tony 1, she thinks it’s Leslie’s fault, and follows them parallel to Suqiu to take revenge. Movie ends with her dreaming of her master returning to requite her love – weird.
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Tony “Tony 2” Leung Ka Fai is Duan, a lame but extremely powerful guy who speaks English in his first scene. He’s engaged to the princess, but wanting to be immortal, he goes looking for his immortal true love. When he finds Leslie and tricks him into saying “I love you” three times (there is cross-dressing involved, and a floating disembodied head), Tony 2 ascends to heaven, returning in the finale to kick Tony 1’s ass.
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Jacky Cheung is Hong Qi the beggar king, cousin of Suqiu who wants desperately to marry her. She won’t marry him so he decides to die instead, tries to get every passing kung-fu master to kill him, but he’s too powerful and ends up hurting them instead. Funny that the only happy guy in Ashes should end up playing a suicidal version of the same character in the comic parody.
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Maggie Cheung barely appears in this, just like she barely appears in Ashes and 2046. Maybe it’s an in-joke, or maybe it’s because IMDB lists twelve other 1993 movies she acted in (not including 1994’s Ashes). She is a sorceress who gives the evil duo some malfunctioning equipment (magic flying boots and invincible killer bees) and shows up in the finale to help kick ass.
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Director Lau made some Stephen Chow movies and another Wong Kar-Wai parody (Chinese Odyssey 2002), again produced by Wong himself.

Excerpts from DVDTalk’s review:

written by no one apparently (there is no credited screenplay)… Lau and his cast appear to have never met a silly joke they haven’t liked, even resorting to Three Stooges-style eye pokes and rubber gorilla suits… I was never entirely sure who was after what mystical book or royal seal, nor could I always tell who hated whom and why… everyone gets chased by the vengeance seeking, chubby homosexual Zho Botong (2046’s Carina Lau playing a man). Most of the characters change allegiances at least once, several do so while hallucinating… Really, it’s the fights that are the best part of Eagle Shooting Heroes, when the movie can take a break from the headache-inducing script (or lack thereof) and show off a little… Eagle Shooting Heroes was shot by the awesome Peter Pau (Crouching Tiger, The Promise), which only adds to the incredible roster of talent that threw standards to the wind and made this goofball adventure. It makes it all the more of a waste that Wong Kar-Wai didn’t hire a real comedy writer to whip the material into shape. All of his people are ready to totally go for it, just what “it” is seems to confuse them all.

Maggie Cheung won best actress at Cannes in May 2004, and it didn’t open here till June 2006, then left in a week. I was busy that week so rented it, damn it all.

Maggie’s rocker husband ODs in a hotel room and she’s off to prison for a few months. The rocker’s Nick-Nolte dad watches the kid while she’s away. She uses all her old connections to try to get back on track, ending up with a bunch of crap jobs and a vague hope for a future in music, while Nick is dealing with his dying wife and a grandkid turned against his mom. Maggie sort of lets Nick down at the end, but he doesn’t throw it in her face. Interesting characters, great looking movie.