WHEN A PEKING FAMILY MEETS AUPAIR (2014) short review

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Chen Gang’s When a Peking Family meets Aupair (sic) is a tooth-rottingly maudlin and ear-splittingly shrill family comedy about middle-class Chinese parents (Xu Fan and Chen Jianbin) who hire an au pair from Columbia (Gianina Terranova) to be their daughter’s nanny. Things get off to a shaky start as her recklessness and fun-loving ways clash with the mother’s tightly-wound universe. The film obviously aims to provide some commentary on parenting in today’s China, but remains on a very simplistic level, each character reduced to one dimension: there’s the control-freak, the feisty one, the bitchy one (Fann Wong, of Shanghai Knights), the wise one, and so on. It all unfolds as a series of trite, flatly-shot vignettes, most of which are made unbearable by Gianina Terranova’s truly appalling performance, as she yells out each and every one of her lines in a mix of English and Mandarin, constantly bouncing and dancing around so as to hammer the viewer with the fact that her character LOVES having fun. Xu Fan and Chen Jianbin remain dignified and the film’s only palatable moments are the few scenes they share away from Gianina Terranova. Deceivingly, the film boasts on its poster the presence of Sun Honglei, Guo Tao, Tong Liya and Wang Qianyuan, but none of these estimable actors appear for more than a minute. Sun Honglei, in particular, must have agreed to appear after having lost a bet, so sullen and disconnected he seems in his short appearance. *

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MY FAIR GENTLEMAN (2009) short review

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A very loose remake of George Cukor’s My Fair Lady, Peter Lee’s My Fair Gentleman was produced – among others – by John Woo and Michelle Yeoh. It actually only retains the idea of making someone fit for high society, ditching almost everything else including the songs and the phonetics angle. It also relocates to China, swaps genders and modifies the stakes, so that instead of a misogynistic phonetics professor transforming a cockney flower girl into a lady for a bet in London, we have an ex-socialite and head of a marketing company Wu (Kelly Lin) who gives uncouth nouveau riche Zeng (Sun Honglei) a makeover both in sartorial elegance and in good manners and culture, so that he may have a chance to woo top model Fong-Na (Ling Hung), in Shanghai. Along the way, of course, Wu and Zeng develop feelings for each other. This harmless little romantic comedy has none of the wit of George Cukor’s film, and its mostly uninspired script is never lifted by Peter Lee’s workmanlike’s direction. Still, it does benefit from the very appealing duet of Sun Honglei, who has a lot of fun in a broad but appealing performance, and Kelly Lin, whose unassuming comic timing comes with a refreshingly down-to-earth charm. And contrary to many Chinese romantic comedies, My Fair Gentleman runs at a reasonable 85 minutes, its briskness compensating for its triteness. **1/2

LETHAL HOSTAGE (2012) review

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A young woman (Wang Luodan) asks her recently widowed father (Ni Dahong) to bless her marriage to her husband (Sun Honglei): he refuses. A Narcotics detective (Zhang Mo) is on the trail of a drugs carrier (Yang Kun), who manages to elude him and ends up hiding out in a flat next door to a girl (Gao Ye) and her dog. Cheng Er’s Lethal Hostage sets up these two narrative strands in a few minutes, and then unfolds in four chapters set in the past and the present: these strands are of course connected, and there’s much under the surface of what we’ve just seen. To say more would be to start spoiling the film: it is a simple story told in an interesting and meticulously calculated way, much like Fei Xing’s The Man Behind The Courtyard House, which similarly used a non-linear and chaptered structure to elaborate on a seemingly straightforward set-up and evolve into a meditation on fate and the balance of good and evil in man.

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I DO (2012) short review

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Sun Zhou’s I Do follows Tang Weiwei (Li Bingbing), a thirty-something business woman who’s given her all to her career, neglecting her love life after being left heartbroken a decade before by her boyfriend Wang Yang (Duan Yihong), a struggling graphic designer she had supported through difficult times. Now she’s finally ready to get in a relationship again, and in comes Yang Nianhua (Sun Honglei), a former publisher gone bankrupt, whose easy-going charm and selfless devotion make him a prime suitor. But things get complicated as Wang Yang suddenly reappears in Weiwei’s life : now a wealthy businessman, he plans to win her back. It’s the tried and true rom-com formula of the woman torn between two opposites: here, the rich old flame or the modest but charming new leaf. The dilemma unfolds in a thuddingly talky way, each of the usual stakes (does wealth matter more than devotion, can we forgive someone who’s broken our heart once, etc…) being discussed at length against the backdrop of fancy restaurants, sleek offices and luxury apartments, while several subplots involving under-developped supporting characters either fall flat or go nowhere. And if I Do remains watchable, it’s because it has in Li Bingbing a lead actress of tremendous class and subtlety, whose chemistry with Sun Honglei (in a full-on charm attack) and Duan Yihong (excellent in a more thankless role) is immaculate. Would that all romantic comedies had such appealing leads. **1/2

SILENT WITNESS (2013) review

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Lin Mengmeng (Deng Jiajia), the daughter of famous, wealthy and arrogant entrepreneur Lin Tai (Sun Honglei), is accused of having killed her stepmother, a famous singer called Yang Dan, after confronting her over her infidelities to her father, made public in a paparazzi video showing her having a one-night stand with an actor. Lin Tai claims his daughter is innocent and hires China’s highest-paid lawyer, Zhou Li (Yu Nan), while public prosecution is handled by Tong Tao (Aaron Kwok), a brilliant lawyer with a spotless record, who’s been trying to nail Lin Tai for years over finally unproven charges of fraud. But after CCTV footage and a key testimony lead, on the first day of the highly-publicized trial, to the slightly too convenient conclusion that the father’s driver is the actual culprit, the truth starts to unravel as both defense and prosecution claw to the truth and receive clues from a mysterious source as to what lies beneath the clear-cut appearances.

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BLOOD BROTHERS (2007) review

Alexi Tan’s Blood Brothers has been called a remake of John Woo’s Bullet in the Head, but it is really more of a “partquel” if you will, in that it only reworks a segment of the original, and even then, it reworks it pretty loosely. The plot points that remain are mainly the three friends (here, Daniel Wu, Liu Ye and Tony Yang) leaving their hometown to try their luck in the world (here, in Shanghai), and getting violently estranged by fate, one of them going bad and working for the mob. Carried over from John Woo’s film are also the beautiful singer (here, Shu Qi) and the mysterious killer (here, Chang Chen). The similarities stop there, as Alexi Tan’s film goes in a different direction entirely with this set of characters. So the three friends (actually two brothers and a friend) come to Shanghai where they get work in a fancy nightclub held by a charismatic but cruel mob boss (Sun Honglei). Things go bad when one of the friends (Liu Ye) starts going to seed and showing a proclivity for killing, and another (Daniel Wu) falls in love with the mob boss’ trophy girlfriend (Shu Qi), who is herself having an affair with one of his enforcers (Chang Chen).

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