An Interview with Composer Xavier Jamaux

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A seminal figure of ‘French house’ music, Xavier Jamaux has been building an excitingly eclectic, quietly international and refreshingly unplanned career for twenty years. And he speaks of this career with a sparkle in his eye and unassuming enthusiasm more befitting a passionate music student than an artist of his stature. One of the strings to his bow is film music: in France, but more notably – at least for us – in Hong Kong, where he’s been a prized collaborator of Johnnie To’s production company Milkyway Image for almost a decade, also working with Soi Cheang and Wai Ka Fai in the process. From 2007’s Mad Detective to this year’s Three, his eight Hong Kong scores have brought an unmistakable yet versatile French touch to the poetic gunplay, psychological webs and/or romantic ballets of Milkyway Image’s films. Having just released an addictive compilation of his film music works – aptly titled Music for Films – the man who is also known as Bangbang graciously agreed to meet Asian Film Strike for an overview of his Hong Kong career.

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THREE (2016) review

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Sixteen years after Help!!!, Johnnie To is back within the confines of a hospital, this time to tell the story of a brain surgeon (Zhao Wei) who is reeling with guilt after committing two medical mistakes that cost one patient his mobility and another his consciousness. And things are not getting better, as a cop (Louis Koo) and his squad barge into her medical unit with a wounded criminal (Wallace Chung). There’s a bullet in his head but he’s still conscious and full of calculated sardonic playfulness. It soon appears that he was shot in the head while unarmed, during a violent interrogation where he was threatened and roughed up, until one the cops’ gun went off by accident. Thus the cop is walking on eggshells as he needs to both cover his squad and get information from the criminal in order to stop his accomplices, who are still on a robbery spree in Hong Kong. This puts him at odds with the brain surgeon, who is not ready to lose another patient, whether he be a ruthless gangster or not.

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NEW YORK NEW YORK (2016) short review

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The first film of cinematographer Luo Dong, New York New York was produced by Stanley Kwan and is set in the early-nineties; it tells of the on-again, off-again love between the ambitious head bellboy (Ethan Juan) of a luxury hotel in Shanghai and an equally ambitious young woman (Du Juan), as they cross paths with a shady businessman (Michael Miu) who has plans to start a luxury hotel in New York. It’s hard to be more specific about the film’s plot, because while it’s always quite clear, it’s also spectacularly vacuous and free of tension or emotion. The film always looks pretty, sometimes even quite stylish in its nightly, neon-lit scenes, but it is a relentlessly boring affair, following bland, unlikable characters as they struggle to take uninteresting decisions and carry around ill-defined and uninvolving emotional baggage. Countless forgettable subplots fill out the film, with an occasional voice-over narration laboring to give some sort of tragic sweep to what unfolds languidly onscreen. Ethan Juan and Du Juan make for a strikingly bland couple, their complete lack of charisma or chemistry as actors adding insult to the injury of their poorly-written characters: the former is only remarkable for the stupidity of his decisions (and lack thereof), while the latter is a dead-eyed combination of affected coldness and risible emotional brittleness – there’s an unwittingly hilarious scene where a shrewish rival throws her drink in her face, and she reacts by quaking like the shell-shocked victim of a terrorist attack. What little weight the film possesses is down to veterans Michael Miu and Cecilia Yip, whose strong presence is constantly wasted in favor of the tedious leads. *1/2

BROTHERS (2016) review

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Tiejin (Ethan Li) and Bingsheng (Peter Ho) grew up together, two homeless boys looking out for each other in an unnamed dangerous city, until one day Bingsheng was sent to prison for killing a mobster who was attacking his brother. A decade later he’s released, now a hardened, cynical beast of a man. Not long after they’re reunited the brothers get into more trouble and are drafted by force in the army. After a failed attempt at desertion they’re separated again, and through a twist of fate Tiejin finds himself fighting for the opposite side. Years pass and he has now become a tough squadron leader, tasked with escorting an all-women orchestra to a remote fort where they are to perform for the morale of the troops. It’s not long before they’re under attack from the enemy, and the brothers are reunited again, this time pointing a gun at each other.

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