Fantasia Festival 2019: White Snake (2019)

White Snake (2019)

White Snake

Director: Amp Wong & Ji Zhao

Voice cast: Xiaoxi Tang, Tianxing Yang, Zhe Zhang

White Snake is a 2019 Chinese fantasy animated film about a thousand year old white snake spirit who loses her memory and falls in love with a boy from a snake-catcher village.

White Snake is the first made in China animated film by Warner Bros. in collaboration with Beijing animation studio Light Chaser. It retells the story of the Legend of the White Snake, one of the most popular stories that have been adapted into many forms of art and entertainment from TV series to movies to opera, so on so forth. What makes White Snake stand out is that it is somewhat of an origin story for the White Snake spirit and how her love story came to be.

In fact, the story starts off with the White Snake spirit called Blanca sent from her snake clan to defeat the evil General who wants to absorb the vitality and souls of snake spirits so that he can have black magic and use it to achieve immortality and fails in the process. Being saved from Xuan and brought to the snake-catcher village, her amnesia makes her believe that she is human, discovering her powers and finding her memories back gradually. Caught between her sister Verta who has promised to bring her back, the snake clan who believes that she has betrayed them and the General hunting her down for her thousand year soul, her feelings for Xuan grows stronger but at the same time, she is faced with having to fulfill her duties for her “species”. White Snake ends where most White Snake retellings would start.

The White Snake story is familiar territory for those who know Chinese folklore. However, the animation world of China isn’t. This is where White Snake truly shines: in its visually stunning animation paired up with its use of traditional Chinese music. The details from every dandelion fuzz flying through the air of the movement of its nature and especially in the outstanding movements of its characters, their expressions and even more so, the impressive action sequences makes White Snake an exercise of art. It adds in some Chinese painting elements in the opening scenes and the backdrop that resembles the landscape of Chinese paintings for example. Its stylistic and beautiful.

The story doesn’t take the easy path either, despite its frequent retelling. Those familiar with the story will definitely see where the romance scenes will go and the torturous love between them, however while the film spends a lot of time between Blanca and Xuan, its more of a natural progression of their knowledge of each other (for the most part) and a quest to find her memory. At the same time, its more about the General’s evil ambitions as well as the usual stereotypes of breaking the barriers between whether being a spirit, most often seen as evil is different depending on their nature. At the heart of it, the romance isn’t forced and connects easily. While these two main leads are the heart of the story, its hard to not feel that the standout characters are comedic relief, Xuan’s dog who is given talking abilities called Dudou as well as the sly fox spirit who runs the Precious Jade who is literally two-faced in her design, reflective of the image of the cunning and attractive nature in fox spirits in Chinese folklore. Plus, there are a lot of creative iterations of creatures to give it an extra boost in uniqueness.

White Snake is a spectacular animated film. It has a lot of elements that make it great form visuals to creative retellings while still doing justice to the origin story of how Blanca meets Xuan and finally leads to the more normal telling of The Legend of the White Snake. Its not only an animated film but a creative way to share Chinese folklore to the rest of the world in a charming way.

Advertisements

TV Binge: The Chamber of Secrets Escape 密室逃脱:暗夜古宅 (Season 1, 2018)

Moving away from movies for today, we’re taking a look at a Chinese TV game show called The Chamber of Secrets Escape.

Playlist: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HxeBkIJb4qE&list=PLUM8x224JrX9wa0S9MatA4vQ-6v8Qm_x6&index=10

The Chamber of Secrets Escape (Season 1, 2018)

the chamber of secrets escape

Host: Ma Ke

Cast/Guests: Danson Tang, You Ming Huang, Yi Xuan Zhou, Zhi Yuan Xia, Xi Yue Cao, Xiao Yu Lu, Wen Han Li, Mei Ren Wang, Han Yu Gao, Amelie Xu, Bo Wen Wang

This is an ancient style chamber escaping reality show which the celebrity guests are to use their wits to pass each checkpoint and also whether they show good teamwork or working together against the opposing team. – My Drama List

***I’m going to say sorry in advance that the show is only in Chinese. I have the urge to use the Youtube translate thing and do it but I currently don’t have the time to commit to that yet. ***

With a total of 10 episodes, this season is a quick and fast one to go through. The Chamber of Secrets Escape : The Dark Night is all about pitching a group of people into different elaborately built puzzles with different back stories and different goals and twists in the escape room game. The eliminated participants have to go run this corridor of darkness which literally is a 100 metre corridor where you are being chased by a dog. Its a race between getting to the ladder at the end to salvation. The winners of the show have a donation made in their names to a pre-selected school in the country.

The Chamber of Secrets Escape

The host himself is Ma Ke who does a nice sinister feeling as he welcomes the participants and leads them on the journey as a behind the scenes sort of puppet master. I think that was the feeling this started as and even in the first or second episode, it felt that way on how the game set the tone of how it was more about the psychological aspect of it as it talks about how when people are faced with dangerous situation how their human nature would react. Granted these are actors and celebrities, I do wonder whether there is some aspect of it staged beforehand and the environments are controlled as well but they do give them leeway to be fairly exciting. Its one of the reasons that makes this so much fun to dive into.

The Chamber of Secrets Escape

The puzzles here can be fairly hard to put together. At the same time, the show has a definite focus on the game show human nature and opposing and teamwork and trust emphasis that the viewers only get glimpses of the puzzles so it isn’t one to sit down and have time to figure out. However, this is a game show so the human relationships here are put as priority to add in drama and suspense. I do love how the show defines some of its main participants like Danson Tang and You Ming Huang, who are there for 9 of the 10 since the 10th episode changed all the familiar faces from before. The dynamic of three of the most frequent participants definitely breathed life into the show.

Overall, its a fun experience. As with some of the other game shows on this channel in the same family, its one that makes me want to participate in real life in some of these maps. Maybe not the zombie ones because even if I knew it was fake, it would still be creepy. The budget behind these sets and stories and puzzles look so great and its what brings these stories to life and creates the atmosphere.

Fantasia Festival 2017: Free and Easy (2016)

Free and Easy (2016)
Director: Jun Geng

Director: Baohe Xue, Benbin Gu, Gang Xu, Liguo Yuan, Xun Zhang, Xuxu Wang, Zhiyong Zhang

When a traveling soap salesman arrives in a desolate Chinese town, a crime occurs, and sets the strange residents against each other with tragicomic results. –IMDB

A peddling monk, a soap salesman, a reforestation ranger: What do these three characters have in common? Add in a God-loving man who is seeking for his disappeared mother, a jack of all trades kung fu instructor and a tough landlady. Throw together two cops who really seem to be both careless and clueless and this creates the mix of a 99 minutes Chinese movie set in desolate area in Northeast China. Free and Easy is an odd piece altogether. Is it trying to be comedic with its dry  humor? Or is it a societal statement about the world we live in pushing those into paths they don’t really choose no matter how good or bad they are? Perhaps, its a crime story when one of the characters die. Just like the story its telling, maybe the genre also steps somewhere in a grey area.

Free and Easy is however an interesting piece of cinema to talk about. With so many characters on screen, we mostly focus on the soap salesman and the monk at the beginning. The cops are the other end of the spectrum as they truly feel useless in their positions or simply bored. They talk constantly about things they probably shouldn’t and then they also take antibiotics like its candy. Not the authorities that we’d imagine them to be. In a community like this one, desolate and forgotten, even the cops are useless, it is a statement on how everyone has their own way to fend for themselves and survive day to day. They are thrown into circumstances that we eventually realize aren’t quite them however, it is all a sense of digging out that part of them that they need to live. The soap salesman and monk eventually have some insightful conversations throughout the movie that truly point us into knowing them more. Just as the reforestation ranger obsesses over who cut down his trees and we start seeing his mellow character go through a myriad of reactions to the situation. However, with the amount of characters here, the focus moves quickly through them. Their personalities, their facades, their conversations, their tricks all come together as what defines this world because we never know any of them well enough to know their history or even their story. We only know what they are now and those few days in this desolate area.

While, Free and Easy slowly progresses its story and it feels disjointed throughout the majority of it and there isn’t really a character to bond with, one of the best aspects is its landscape and cinematography. The way that the director composes their shots, capturing the wide angles and pulled out space. It truly expands on the desolate and emptiness in this area. Perhaps, it also is done to create a parallel for these characters who each have their own issues and all don’t seem to keen about what life they are in now. No one truly seems happy. However, the scenes here truly capture so much atmosphere and is structured carefully to capture exactly what it wants and hides some of the details off screen. One of the best scenes do go to one of the cops confronting four of the characters as they keep moving on and off screen.

Honestly, there isn’t a lot to say concretely about Free and Easy. The story needs a little more work particularly for the pace they are going at. The sound design is nice and the cinematography captures so much of the atmosphere and the area despite it being desolate and empty. The characters are plentiful but never fleshed out. The dry humor definitely is there however, it never seemed to work enough although humor is rather subjective. Free and Easy is a statement piece about society, at least from the first watch, it definitely seems to be leaning the most in that direction. Its a lot of reading between the lines and listening to the dialogue and conversations. Its a movie for those that enjoy dry humor, slow-paced and reading between the lines.

Personally, this doesn’t feel like a movie that I was meant to like. I do think for its vagueness in many of the issues, it makes it more thought provoking to figure out what they are trying to say. What message is it all about? I’m honestly kind of in between with this one.

Book Review: The Water Rat of Wanchai (Ava Lee #1) by Ian Hamilton

Out of a totally spontaneous venture to the bookstore a while back, I bought this book which is the first of a series called The Water Rat of Wanchai.  Why I chose it is because it is set using a female protagonist who is Chinese-Canadian and well, Wanchai is in Hong Kong.  I always like to venture into these sort of books, even though this one, I’ve never heard of before.  Peculiar enough is that the author is not Chinese so I was interested in how authentic the interpretation of it would be. Lets get started with the plot!

the water rate of wanchai coverAva Lee is a Chinese-Canadian forensic accountant living in Toronto.  She affiliates her business with a close family friend called Uncle who is in Hong Kong.  Her job is to take on contracts from people who have had money stolen from them and track down where it has gone, in exchange her service is a commission of the amount she was able to collect back, in full or not.  This time, she is sent to take care of business of a friend of Uncle’s who swam down from mainland China when China was in turmoil.  Its a relationship and bond that can’t be broken.  She needs to help his relative Andrew Tam seek out money that he lent out for a wholesale fish import business that had gone bad and the owners were completely off the radar.

The Water Rat of Wanchai is a very smart novel.  It approaches it in a way where our strong female character leads us onto a journey where we learn about her abilities and how she uses certain qualities to get what she wants with her extremely sensitive observation and analysis skills.  The only issue I had was that at times, Ava Lee was too tough.  Tough to a point where its unrealistic even though the novel aims at possibly being more realistic as its set in very real places around the world.  Sometimes, Ava Lee can also be a character where her feminism is slightly overbearing.  As much as those characteristics may hinder her character, we do get a few surprises to her character.

The most intriguing part of the novel is how the investigation proceeds.  It really pulled me straight into the action and every step of the way, it kept me wondering what Ava Lee would do to solve her problems.  Going into foreign countries and having to deal with other cultures and their own set of politics as well as using many resources to trace where she had to be next to try to retrieve the money.  In many parts, I actually sensed the urgency of the situation and by the end, the book had turned into a page-turner.

The Water Rat of Wanchai has a lot of good features to it and its compelling and engaging to read.  It is a page-turner and a pretty good mystery novel.  Ava Lee is an interesting character to put on paper.  She shows a lot of Chinese values and qualities enveloped with the Canadian born values to mesh into someone who can transform herself to be likable in certain situations.  Forensic accounting would’ve been what I’d have wanted to do if I had become an accountant so to me, it had a even deeper meaning and stronger connection.  I like investigation and analysis in stories and this one did a very good job at it.

Definitely recommend it! As for me, I’ll be looking for the second one in the series soon!

A Word A Week Challenge: Roof

Have you ever stood on a high point and looked down onto a city full of roofs.  The best one in my memory has to be at a pagoda looking straight out onto the Forbidden City in Beijing.  Unfortunately, I don’t have one of that view anymore as it was before digital camera days 😉

My passion is taking pictures of roofs with special designs like the ancient China roof designs in Nunnery and Pagodas, etc. There’s something about it that appeals me, maybe its because its part of my history.

Some photos from my Hong Kong trip in 2009 🙂

Roof of Chi Lin Nunnery

Roof of Chi Lin Nunnery

Exploring one of the trails in Hong Kong

Exploring one of the trails in Hong Kong

The extended rooftops surrounding the Giant Buddha in Lantau Island

The extended rooftops surrounding the Giant Buddha in Lantau Island

Roofs of Stanley :)

Roofs of Stanley 🙂

And now for a little bit more today 🙂

The rooftops around my work! :) Taken earlier this year...

The rooftops around my work! 🙂 Taken earlier this year…

Doesn’t it make you want to dance around like in Mary Poppins? Love rooftops so much! 🙂

This is my response to Sue from A Word in Your Ear’s A Word A Week Challenge: Roof 🙂 Please go HERE to check out her beautiful entry and other wonderful ones as well 🙂

Fantasia Festival: The Last Tycoon (2012)

I finally made it to see my first movie of the film festival.  I am organizing my time to see a few more as I start feeling better gradually 🙂  Although I did miss the one that I anticipated the most, I did end up finding a few that I missed the first time I was looking at the whole list of movies.  Last night, I went to see the historical crime thriller The Last Tycoon! Let’s check it out!

the last tycoon posterDirector: Jing Wong

Cast: Chow Yun-Fat, Sammo Hung, Francis Ng, Xiaoming Huang, Monica Mok

Cheng Daqi (Chow Yun-Fat)  is one of the biggest mob bosses in Shanghai in 1937.  From the time when he was just a poor boy (young Daqi by Xiaoming Huang) working at a fruit stall at the countryside, he rises up after seeking refuge in Shanghai from being framed for killing his boss and afterwards being saved by a secret service soldier Mao Zai (Francis Ng), who also teaches him how to kill.  In Shanghai, he uses his guts and courage to move up in the underworld mobs and eventually is taken as an apprentice under Mr. Hong (Sammo Hung), one of the biggest gangsters in the early 1900s who is also a police captain.  As he uses his quick thinking to help his master and then saves him from the new General, he rises up to be Mr. Hong’s sworn brother and together they earn money and get involved into different types of businesses until 1937 when they are asked to help against the Japanese invasion by the secret service unit there.  At the same time, Daqi’s old flame ends up in Shanghai with her husband who also has a secret agenda.  Daqi now has to worry not only for himself and his family but also make the choice to save his country and also balance it between his old love.

the last tycoon showdown

Fantasia categorized this as a historical crime thriller.  I hold out on that a little mostly because I’m not completely sure if there is a historical factor to it.  For one, the invasion of the Japanese did in fact happen and I believe my mom told me that one of the characters there is based on a true historical character.  I still have to do a bit of research on it. Regardless, this was very much an action thriller packed with a whole lot of underlying political values and morals in both a coming of age as we watch how Cheng Daqi moves up to become one of the biggest mob bosses in the underworld of Shanghai and also the struggles to maintain a balance between making the right choices of becoming allied with the Japanese as they invade Shanghai (and China as a whole) or to use the power he had to conquer and defend. It was also a story of brotherhood and loyalty.

The last tycoon chow yun fat

Chow Yun-Fat’s character was definitely refreshing.  Its been a while that he has been in an action thriller where we see him fully engaged in action to fight and shoot.  He is absolutely a great actor and in this flick, he leads it very well.  Even his younger self played by Xiaoming Huang, which I came to learn from my mom and is also in real life an actor that Chow Yun-Fat has taken under his wing to teach him better acting skills, was pretty impressive.  Cheng Daqi needed someone to reenacted by someone with the tough and calm charisma that Chow Yun-Fat can bring especially when faced with the scheming parties that surrounds him in this flick. He had so many good quotes also! This one was in the trailer:

I’ve never been afraid of anything in my life…except being a traitor. – Cheng Daqi (Chow Yun-Fat)

Another one they used in the Cantonese version final trailer:

I personally would want to rewatch it in Cantonese because thats the original language of the movie even though I saw this in Mandarin.

the last tycoon daqi hong mao

Sammo Hung had a smaller role in The Last Tycoon.  However, Francis Ng as Mao Zai who plays a controversial and pretty intense character who is a government commander who also has some secret service type of description behind it.  I’m a huge fan of the peculiar characters that Francis Ng chooses to act.  He always lives up to them and he brings exactly that, character. There’s always some new charisma that he can bring on screen and this one was no exception.

the last tycoon huang xiaoming

On the reigns of this movie, we have director Jing Wong.  I’ve reviewed a few movies by him before and he is one of my absolute favorites as he directed most of the Stephen Chow movies and this is the second movie he collaborates with Chow Yun-Fat after God of Gambler.  He makes this movie with a lot of style.  As we enter into Shanghai, we see the contrasts of lights and architecture and just the glamour of all the fame with the nightlife and the mobs underworld.  The setting is just so nice to look at.

the last tycoon chow yun fat shanghai background

Aside from that, we open with beautiful music that reminds of the era that its set in.  The soundtrack in general matches the scenes perfectly.  Whether its the songs that they chose during certain scenes or the background music that makes this movie feel majestic, courageous and maybe even a bit patriotic.

This probably won’t be the best Chinese action movie that I have seen but it does have an amazing style that director Jing Wong brings to it.  Chow Yun-Fat comes back with not only action but plays the role of Cheng Daqi in an outstanding way.  With him, Xiaoming Huang is an amazing young actor that portrays the guts and courage and desire to rise up from the younger Cheng Daqi.  Francis Ng brings in the intensity in the movie.  Its a pretty awesome movie in general and definitely worth a watch! 🙂

Wu Xia/Dragon (2011)

Missing those foreign flicks! My boyfriend and I got into the Donnie Yen mood and we kind of just shelved this after I bought it in Toronto. What better time to watch it, right? Donnie Yen is always fun to watch!

wu xia posterDirector: Peter Chan

Cast: Donnie Yen, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Wei Tang, Yu Wang, Kara Hui

Liu Jinxi (Donnie Yen) is a married man who lives in a small village and works for the paper making companies there with his wife and two sons.  When two escaped convicted criminals arrive in town and threaten the shopkeeper, miraculously Jinxi, in self-defense managed to single-handedly take them down.  This leads the investigator Xu Bai-jiu (Takeshi Kaneshiro) to suspect that Jinxi is more than he seems, especially that he is hiding extremely well-controlled martial arts that has only been seen in 3 other escaped criminal cases in the past.  Afterwards, he continues to follow and observe Jinxi’s every move, this not only causes Jinxi’s wife, Ah Yu (Wei Tang) to wonder about her husband’s mysterious past but also peaks the interest of a deadly criminal gathering in the area lead by a very powerful Master (Yu Wang) who wants to get back his most promising member, Tang Long.

wu xia liu jinxi

Donnie Yen has quickly risen to be one of my favorite action stars in Hong Kong.  His films usually revolve around some fantastic action sequences and in most, he also does the action directing.  Dragon is a very well-made action flick.  Its not about a famous person in the past like his famous Ip Man biopics.  However, in this one, we give him some emotional burden as a man thats trying to turn good.  If you have watched some of Peter Chan’s movies, you will also know that this has his signature all over it.  That is a very good thing.  There is enough foreshadowing in it so that you can actually know or derive what the story will turn out to be, but there is always some that surprises the audience.  Plus, they filmed in a really nice area…in mainland China is my guess…exactly where, I’d have to research but some scenes are crazy beautiful!

wu xia xu baijiu

Lots of people know that I like Donnie Yen, but I have been a long-time fan of Takeshi Kaneshiro.  This actor has done some pretty good movies and usually or mostly big productions.  He’s been part of a lot of the ones thats hit international, which is also why his name is fallen off my radar for a bit.  The last movie I saw of his is 2005’s Perhaps Love also directed by Peter Chan. This guy even was the inspiration of the character in Onimusha, a Playstation 2 game ;).  Yeah, I’m a nerd, I admit it! (But you all knew that already) He’s serious and a little weird as the character of Xu Bai Jiu but he does it in a such a captivating way.  It made me want to focus to understand what is going through his mind, whether there was something more to what he was thinking.

wu xia yu tang

Our group of criminal gang who are all kick-ass martial artists brings in the whole action element to another level.  It does happen rather later as the final sequence as the movie climax. Yu Wang was quite the big star back in the days of Shaw Brothers productions.  I had just talked about the SB movies the other day when reading a post by Forgotten Films on a review on one of the martial arts movies which didn’t star Yu Wang (its an awesome post and you can check it out HERE).  This guy is pretty much the “bad guy”.  But I’m still a bit confused as to whether he is considered that.  He just gets hardcore and extreme in his ways, and maybe slightly on the crazy.  However, he is a scary man.  I have to admit to that so very effective in this role.

wu xia wai ying hung

Now, that is a scary look.  Kara Hui has more of a cameo in this film BUT, she is also one of my most favorite actresses in the business.  Mostly because I’ve grown to love her constantly in Hong Kong TV series in more ancient times doing some sort of martial arts or whatnot. She’s always plays the good person roles.  She sides with the righteous side.  This one she went all out and was totally bad! She was like a killing machine!

This is a pretty amazing movie.  Its not just a martial arts/action movie but its also a bit of a mystery as it unravels before the eyes of Takeshi Kaneshiro’s character, and also a drama.  It is these three elements combined that make this into a really intriguing story that brings out the character development and hidden back story.  It also ties in a little bit of educational material on acupressure points and acupuncture and the essence of how with the advance knowledge of this, it can be a deadly weapon and how it applies to little CSI a la ancient China style ;).  That stuff always amuses me since I almost wanted to study it as a career! I’d totally recommend it! Strong performances all around and worth your time!

Do you  like Donnie Yen movies? Which one is your favorite? Have you heard of Takeshi Kaneshiro before?