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

PEACE HOTEL (1995) review

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Chow Yun Fat’s last film in the pre-Handover Hong Kong film industry before he went on to try his luck in Hollywood, Peace Hotel was directed by regular Johnnie To collaborator Wai Ka Fai, produced by John Woo, and has the feel of a swan song. Indeed Chow Yun Fat’s next Hong Kong Cantonese-speaking film would come almost 20 years later. So it is quite suitable that his character in the film is known only as “the Killer”, echoing arguably the apex of his Hong Kong career and his legendary collaboration with John Woo. The Killer, as a gorgeous black-and-white prologue tells us, once wiped out an entire gang of horse thieves responsible for the death of his wife (Wu Chien Lien). His killing spree led him to an abandoned hotel, where after an experiencing an epiphany he spared the life of the last gang member. 10 years later, the hotel is not abandoned anymore : it has become a safe haven for fugitives and outlaws, run by the Killer himself. In comes Siu Man (Cecilia Yip) a woman who pretends to be the Killer’s long lost wife in order to stay there for free. She is quickly exposed as a fraud, and to make things worse she’s wanted by a vicious gang for killing one of their leaders. When said gang shows up in front of the Peace Hotel, the Killer must choose between upholding his vow to protect anyone seeking shelter in the hotel, at the cost of an all-out war, or delivering Siu Man to the gang, with his growing love for her complicating things further.

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