Music Obsessions – May 2022

Welcome to this month’s Music Obsessions! I think the big takeaway from April is that I survived yet another year of it! This year was especially challenging. Luckily, there was two newly added TV show on Netflix for a fun Chinese Drama with a decent soundtrack and a martial arts world newly released Tencent one and a new singing variety show that launched very recently which provided me lots of music to share plus bringing back a lot of nostalgia for Cantopop classics.

Facade 被人 – Joker Xue 薛之谦

For a modern series based on the esports world, Falling Into Your Smile isn’t exactly the best of its recent batch using this setting but the soundtrack for this one still is pretty fun. Of course, I’ve shared a bunch of Joker Xue songs in these Music Obsessions. Its rare to see him doing songs for a TV series OST but this song really blends well with the series. I love his voice and the song itself is pretty good.

Soulmate 第一默契 – Xu Kai 许凯 & Cheng Xiao 程潇
(“Falling Into Your Smile” Ending Theme)

Continuing on with the soundtrack for Falling Into Your Smile, it seems suitable to add in at least one of the theme songs especially since it includes a duet from the two main leads which had pretty good chemistry. It brings me back to when I was talking about Cheng Xiao earlier this year when I shared the duet for The World of Fantasy. This music video also captures the TV series pretty well especially the romantic chemistry element. This time, Xu Kai is a much more seasoned actor so probably in terms of singing its not quite as good but it still captures the vibe of the show.

无双 Wu Shuang – Liu Yuning

The latest Chinese series to land on Netflix is Who Rules The World which actually is getting some pretty impressive ratings as its airing in China right now. It probably has to do with the main leads Yang Yang and Lusi Zhao who are in a lot of TV series which has pretty high profile. However, its nice to see them in this sort of martial arts/fantasy world where they do fit so very well together. The script itself is done really well and the chemistry behind them including the world building is so far is good. Plus, the main theme here is by one of my fave up and coming singers, Yuning Liu. I mean, I share a ton of his music here already.

Infinity and Beyond 声生不息 – Performance Favorites

One of my favorite music variety shows to land this while is Infinity and Beyond. In commemoration of the 25 years of Hong Kong Handover, the show invites both Mainland China and Hong Kong singers to group together in men and women team in a competition format ranging from new to veteran singers to battle against each other. Every competition evening includes 2 top choices along with the winning team and audience performance which will eventually be compiled to a soundtrack for the show at the end. Its a pretty neat idea especially since it takes a lot of the Hong Kong classics and gives it a new life for the newer generation. Plus, most of the show doesn’t feel like a competition and just a bunch of good and great singers gathered together to share some good performances. It was pretty hard to narrow down what I liked since there’s quite a few but I didn’t want to overload everyone since a lot of this has to do with nostalgia.

初恋 First Love – Mike Tsang 曾比特

卡拉永远ok Forever Karaoke – 魔动闪霸

海阔天空 Boundless Oceans Vast Skies – Women Team With Audience

That’s it for this month’s Music Obsessions!
What have you been listening to lately?

Double Feature: Time (殺出個黃昏, 2021) & American Girl (美國女孩, 2021)

Time (殺出個黃昏, 2021)

Director: Ricky Ko

Cast: Patrick Tse, Petrina Fung, Suet Lam, Suet-ying Chung, Sam Lee, J.J. Jia, Belinda Yan, Zeno Koo

Once famous for his quick blade, a retired assassin can no longer earn a living with his cut-throat skills. Summoned again, he partners with his chauffeur to carry out special missions – fullfilling the wishes of old people looking to kill themselves. When commissioned by a young girl who has been deserted by her parents and lover, the “Elderly’s Angel” squad finds an arresting way to complete its task. – IMDB

Having missed this one during last year’s Fantasia Festival, its great to see this one creep into Netflix very quietly. Co-written by Ka-Tung Lam and the directorial debut of Ricky Ko (mostly credited with the camerawork for making of and assistant director in other projects prior), Time tells the story of a retired assassin team that now struggles with their own lives as they become elderly: being phased out of work, loneliness, neglect, loss of health, etc. They find new purpose when they use their skills as the Elderly’s Angels performing euthanasia for the lonely and sick elderly. That is until their services are requested by a teenage girl Tsz-Ying who wants to die by all means and slowly gets acquainted with Chau, the lead assassin of the crew now in his 80s.

There is no doubt that Time’s main draw is its stacked cast of main leads who are acting veterans in all regards dating back to their hey-days back in the 60s. Patrick Tse was once the heartthrob of films and a main leading man in Hong Kong TV while Petrina Fung was known as the “Shirley Temple of Hong Kong” in the 60s. It also adds in the consistent supporting man of Suet Lam who seems to find himself in a lot of Hong Kong films in so many different roles and in this one scores himself a main role as the driver for this assassin team. However, this roles takes a much more dramatic turn of events.

Aging is a theme that matches to this leading cast and gives them a platform share their acting skills especially for Patrick Tse who is already in his 80s when filming this one and gives him a chance to reunite briefly with Chow Chung (currently 90 years old) in his cameo role as one of the elderly seeking the help from the Elderly’s Angels. The film executes the topic of aging and the elderly in the form of a dramedy. The drama and the humor does keep a decent balance. The drama is in these three characters lives as they deal with all the struggles that aging has brought for them, at the same, it also reflects bigger societal issues and the modern day values or lack thereof. Between all this, there are some bits that do come across in its dark humor or even a little silly at times that makes for some decent laughs.

Time is not your typical Hong Kong film filled with action and crime. However, this one shows off a wonderful talented cast when the basic Hong Kong acting pool is honestly growing a little thin. The story itself is relevant to the current society towards the elderly (and even dabbles into the topic of teen pregnancy). The film does give it a heartwarming overall feeling as old friends and unlikely acquaintances open up a whole new world for each other as life deals each of these elderly assassins a serious negative dose of aging.

American Girl (2021)

Director (and co-writer): Feng-I Fiona Roan

Cast: Karena Lam, Caitlin Fang, Kaiser Chuang, Audrey Lin, Teng-Hui Huang, Kimi Hsia

During the SARS outbreak of 2003, 13-year-old Fen returns to Taiwan. – IMDB

American Girl is the directorial feature debut for Feng-I Fiona Roan who tells a semi-autobiographical story of Lily Wang, a mother who returns to Taiwan from USA with her two daughters after she is diagnosed with breast cancer. Between adjusting to her life back in Taiwan which proves especially hard for her two daughters especially her eldest with her school work and making friends, the 2003 SARS outbreak also hits causing their alert to be high.

American Girl focuses mostly on the mother Li-li (Karena Lam) and the eldest daughter, Fen (Caitlin Fang) as they navigate through this new life. Li-li struggles with her illness and feeling herself again as she fears the breast cancer getting worse and death causing her to become a rather depressing sort of character which transfers over to her family. Fen in turn doesn’t quite understand all this but despises the negative energy causing her to fight with her mother constantly especially being stuck in Taiwan where its hard to be accepted by friends or the lack of understanding at her school when she falls behind. She also struggles with identity as well when she constantly is referred to as “American Girl”. While both Li-li, Fen or even her father (Kaiser Chuang), they each are flawed characters. Its easy to understand their position but also feel a little frustrated that they each lack the communication to fully portray their feelings properly in this time of adjustment after years of living apart.

The situation feels realistic and the film chooses to set itself during the 2003 SARS outbreak in Asia which is something fairly relatable in our reality. The fear of infection and a mother’s own situation as her own health issues creates a sense of hopelessness when something happens to her younger daughter. There’s a lot of mixed feelings going on but each of these situations and how these characters deal with them help build up these characters and make them realistic. In fact, some of these things are happening as other things are, just like in real life.

Don’t get me wrong though, American Girl isn’t just a depressing slow-burn film. In fact, it is rather heartfelt in many ways. It might not be a film for everyone in terms of pacing or sentiments. There are certain elements that feel like it happens a little late in the story but it does however gives these characters the moment they need to reflect. There’s no big moments in this film and everything is fairly everyday life from conversations at the dining table between the family or arguments in the bedroom or classroom interactions however, it reflects the differences between certain cultures in Taiwan (an East versus West mentality, especially in the school setting) and the film does have some good moments when they do little things together as simple as it all feels.

Raging Fire (怒火, 2021)

Raging Fire (怒火, 2021)

Director (and co-writer): Benny Chan

Cast: Donnie Yen, Nicholas Tse, Lan Qin, Angus Yeung, Patrick Tam, Ben Lam, Deep Ng, Henry Prince Mak, Tak-Bun Wong, Jeana Ho, Ken Lo, Simon Yam, Ray Lui

Cheung Sung-bong is an officer of the Regional Crime Unit who worked in the front line for many years. His protege, Yau Kong-ngo, respects him and manage to reach up to him. However, fate pits them against each other. – IMDB

Benny Chan’s final directorial effort is this Hong Kong action crime film which he also co-writes. Raging Fire hones a fantastic cast full of acting veterans and crafts a rather familiar crime action tale but still manages to make it an engaging film experience with great action choreography and even some rather over the top moments and adds in the casting of Donnie Yen in the leading role facing off a vengeful character played by Nicholas Tse. The film’s credits also paying tribute to the director with their filming snippets instead of the commonly seen bloopers or behind the scenes.

Raging Fire itself feels a little like the story that was crafted in New Police Story and has the twist of this year’s earlier release of Thr Fatal Raid but with better execution. The immensely better casting and the wonderful use of the cinematography and set design all contributes to it being a very engaging sort of film experience packed with some explosions and even one or two ridiculous Fast and the Furious level car chase execution. It sounds like a lot but it does keep a good balance and pacing between the two sides of the story, the police and the villains as their whole story gradually gets revealed right up to an ending with a question about whether things would have been different if roles were switched.

With that said, the cast is a rather packed cast with a lot of familiar faces for people who do watch a decemt amount of Hong Kong crime action films. You have some less frequently seen but once big names like Raymond Lui or cameo roles from Simon Yam. With the power of Tencent Pictures behind the production, it also includes a popular actress Lan Qin playing Donnie Yen’s character’s wife. All that aside, we all know the selling point of this film is the two main leads: Donnie Yen and Nicholas Tse. For most people everywhere in the world, it really might just be the former. However, they both deliver fantastic roles as as Bong and Ngo respectively.

As their story reveals, there is a lot more depth to these two characters especially the opposing side wreaking all the havoc with Ngo and his team which feels like they are out for some type of unknown revenge as they gradually do things that almost feel like they are one step ahead of the Ngo and his cops. Ngo (Donnie Yen) is a rather familiar character who is a righteous cop with very set standards on how he believes in the law and doing things the right way, no shortcuts or selling favors to move up in his ranking to the higher ranking police chiefs and he does a great job at the whole thing and packs in some fantastic action sequences as well. Nicholas Tse on the other hand, shows a lot of growth in his acting as he dives into this more villainous role with strong plans and a very defined team. Ngo is a character that has a silent sort of unwinding and breaking point as he deals with everything quietly and calm and yet with purpose but shows signs of betrayal. Both of these lead roles being well-executed overall.

Raging Fire might seem like the normal action crime film and its general plot is very familiar right down to the plot points or even the little moment when everything comes together. However, the execution is solid from all angles whether its the cinematography, the action choreography (gun fights, hand to hand combat, car chases, etc), the pacing and the acting quality. It is a very good final work by Benny Chan and definitely brings up a desire to revisit all his previous works.

Raging Fire is currently available on Digital, Blu-ray and DVD and Hi-Yah!, The Martial Arts Channel!

*Film provided by Taro PR in exchange for honest review*

The Fatal Raid (不義之戰, 2019)

The Fatal Raid (2019)

Director (and co-writer): Jacky Lee

Cast: Patrick Tam, Jade Leung, Min Chen Lin, Jeana Ho, Elaine Tang, Michael Tong, Sin-hang Chiu

An ultraviolent cops vs. gangsters bloodbath leaves casualties on both sides. Fast-forward 20 years as surviving team member Madam Fong leads a new squad in pursuit of reckless young anarchists terrorizing Macao. An apparition from that fatal day falls into the fray, bringing everything full circle for a serpentine and explosive final confrontation.  – IMDB

The Fatal Raid is a 2019 Hong Kong crime action film telling a story which mixes girls with guns and justice vs. anarchy set in Macau before and after its handover. The selling point of this film is pretty decent. In fact at first glance, for fans of 90s and 00s TVB series would probably recognize faces like Patrick Tam, Jade Leung and Michael Tong who is a focal core of the story in The Fatal Raid as their characters talk about justice and are all affected by the Macau face-off that causes their lives to all go out of control as the government tries to hide the failed operation to the public causing the colleagues who lost their lives to be credited for but also promoting those who were involved and survived despite their irresponsibility in some cases, making those who survived question. The premise itself is pretty good also as it brings in a little bit of the history of Macau using the handover as an anchor point and bringing in some action and crime as its focus. Unfortunately, the film has some serious issues whether in script and post-production.

Let’s start with the first issue which is actually the least serious but is understandable considering its co-scripted by three people who seemed like they didn’t really sit down to make something more coherent. It ended up affecting the tone of the film and the story didn’t end up focusing as much in what it was trying to sell where it had moments of extreme drama as Patrick Tam was very serious (but Patrick Tam is a pretty tense actor in general) but also touched on various things but never felt enough to bring this character fully understandably in his end game. Jade Leung was also a rather bland character making the portrayal feel a little lacking. Its not the acting so much as her character seemed rather one dimensional. The best character having a decent moment had to go to Michael Tong who not only carries some good action moments but also had a really good scene that carried the drama well.

The other side was girls with guns being a major selling point and while the young ladies were around and they were rather sexy, they were more dressed with little clothing than selling them in a more realistic action sequence, other than the opening where they were undercover and that made more sense but they also didn’t have as much time in front of the camera making their characters just shallow female portrayals to come to a slow motion changing scene to see them all in their sports bras standing around. While the tone also tried to bring some abrupt absurd comedy which was just a few random cuts in sudden happy upbeat music with one of the investigators mesmerizing over one of the young lady cops. This created some execution issues where the flow of the whole story was disjointed.

Usually, I don’t talk about post-production. However, in terms of sound editing and subtitles, there are some major issues here. This is a foreign film being distributed to North America making that equally as important to get it right so the audience can understand it. Perhaps the sound editing where the voices are rather off from the person talking seems not as important but makes a difference as I understand Cantonese however, the subtitles also have a few spelling mistakes and inaccurate translations. There’s not a lot to say here other than the revision not being as thorough as it should have been.

Overall, I really wanted to like The Fatal Raid because the premise felt like it could be a really fun action romp. It didn’t even need to be deep as the angle they took felt like it would have some silly elements. While the whole nostalgia for the older cast and the general premise was good, the action sequences had some decent choreography, the film was too imbalanced in tone to be enjoyable. It wasn’t sure whether it wanted to be serious and discuss topics like justice and anarchy in the evolving political atmosphere and crime but it also didn’t know whether it wanted to be full-on silly and mindless entertainment. A pity as either angle they could have chosen if expanded a little more probably would have been a decent film, albeit two drastically different stories perhaps but still decent concepts if they had executed and scripted it better.

The Fatal Raid is currently available on Bluray and VOD via Well Go USA. Click HERE for more info!

*Film provided by TARO PR*

Fantasia Film Festival 2021: Hand Rolled Cigarette (2020)

Hand Rolled Cigarettes (2020)

Director (and co-writer): Kin Long Chan

Cast: Ka Tung Lam, Bipin Karma, Michael Ning, Ben Yuen, Tai Bo, Siu-Ho Chin, Tony Ho, Pak-Hong Chu, Aaron Chow, Bitto Singh Hartihan, Yin-Gor To

Hand-Rolled Cigarette is a 2020 Hong Kong drama filmed entirely during the pandemic and tells the story of a retired British-Chinese soldier Kwan Chiu and an East Indian local Mani that gets caught up in misfortunes with the same triad society, Boss Tai. Both caught in their own difficulties, the story is about those forgotten and abandoned from the Hong Kong society on both a historical level during the 1997 Handover but also the modern day where they need to find their own means to survive. Kwan Chiu (Ka Tung Lam) resorting to being a middleman between triad societies and striking side deals to skim some more money while Mani (Bipin Karma) helping his cousin Kapil (Bitto Singh Hartihan) out dealing drugs to help support his little brother.

This directorial feature debut for Kin Long Chan is a fascinating and meaningful film experience. He dives into the backdrop using a slice of history in Hong Kong for army veterans who have contributed a lot to the country between the handover but was essentially forgotten with no passports being stuck neither here or there. While diving into strong messages of racism present in the society in the current day of 2019, contrasting the past with the present with black and white palette and color respectively. He also utilizes a lot of far shots pulling the camera and audience to a third person perspective and ending with a final brawl that features an impressive long shot watching the fight move from one room to the next using the doorways and windows to add additional depth.

Triad society stories and crime thrillers are very common especially in Hong Kong cinema and yet, Hand Rolled Cigarette takes a different angle, injecting it with themes that are not as frequently discussed like racism exists everywhere but rarely discussed in Asian films. Much like how it uses certain locations in Hong Kong which are more known but with a different perspective like Chungking Mansions, which is a fantastic choice considering the low budget businesses and the dense population that inhabits its building. The set locations aren’t too many but they do make the most out of these locations whether its Kwan Chiu’s apartment where Mani is allowed to hideout or Boss Tai’s headquarters where all the brutal and violent interrogations take place in search for where his stolen drugs have gone. Its easily comparable to Johnnie To’s Election which also featured a lot of violence, if anything this one takes it a step further in many cases usually leaving the brutality to the audience’s imagination leaving things going on behind doors or cut away from the set up of certain situations.

As much as its a thriller, the story is focused on these two people who essentially are trying to just get through life and has no choice but to do what they are doing. Kwan Chiu dealing with being left to their own devices during the 1997 Handover but also a mysterious fallout with his army buddies but having to handle these dangerous dealings between the triad societies while smoking his hand rolled cigarettes. Much like Mani, who crashes into his life to hideout which he offers for compensation but ends up being something of an anchor for this young man who really just wants his brother to have a better life and a future instead of the life he has to face. Ka Tung Lam delivers a fine performance here as its much more than just a crime thriller but adds some depth to his character which doesn’t exactly say a lot but as the little things get exposed, Kwan Chiu is such a righteous and loyal man. However, Bipin Karma’s debut as Mani is also outstanding as he fits well into the role capturing the character really well, creating a sort of contrast with the character of Kwan Chiu. Mani has this innocence and panic that makes him feel very realistic like a lost boy caught up in something much more than he can handle. The friendship between these two characters are absolutely the highlight for Hand Rolled Cigarette.

Overall, Hand Rolled Cigarette is a fantastic debut. Whether talking about the cinematography, the storytelling and the character development, there is a lot to love. The story packs together some Hong Kong history but also talks about the topics that aren’t frequently discussed in Hong Kong films. It also brings in another community and nationality which to be honest does form a part of the Hong Kong population. It balances the drama and crime thriller elements incredibly well and doesn’t shy away from going to the extremities in violence. It also brings a positive themes of friendship, loyalty and comradery. With that said, I’m definitely looking forward to see what Kin Long Chan’s does next.

Double Feature: The Eye (2002) & The Eye 2 (2004)

Next double feature is here as we revisit 2002’s The Eye and check out its sequel, The Eye 2.

The Eye (2002)

Director: Pang Brothers (Oxide Chun Pang & Danny Pang)

Cast: Angelica Lee, Lawrence Chou, Candy Lo, Edmund Chen, Pierre Png, Yut Lai So

A blind girl gets a cornea transplant so that she will be able to see again. She gets more than she bargained for upon realizing she can also see ghosts. – IMDB

I saw The Eye in the mid 2000s before I had any real knowledge or experience watching horror films. Being one of the first films, it was one that I remembered profoundly as it scared me a lot back then. Revisiting in 2012 for the first Halloween Marathon for the blog, still fairly inexperienced with horror, it still managed to scare me despite knowing the twist and the scares. Since 2012, I have never gone back to watch it and its been almost a decade and here we are, revisiting what in my mind was a tense horror film. Will the past few years of horror desensitize me to the film? Will it no longer be as impressive as I remember it? The answer is yes and no.

The Eye as a premise is a pretty good as it is both a horror and a thriller/mystery where the main character needs to adjust after getting her vision after a cornea transplant which shifts her life from being blind since she was 2 until the present where everything is unfamiliar in appearance to her. It leaves room for mystery and suspense and to play to whether what she’s seeing is real or supernatural. Using vision (or any sort of sense or lack of it) in a horror movie usually can create some interesting atmosphere (much like Hush did). The Eye uses this and manages to create some atmospheric tension playing with a unfamiliar setting like her grandmother’s home and creating some supernatural encounters. While the effects in general haven’t aged well considering it is a 2002 horror film, when I first saw it, it was fairly decent. There are of course some horror tropes since Chinese horror isn’t exactly their forte but thanks to The Pang Brothers’ storytelling they do manage to add in some unexpected twists which are rather well-executed.

Angelica Lee is pretty good in her role. Psychological or supernatural horror/thrillers tend to be her forte as she has been in other films of similar genre. There’s something rather good about her acting that is quite enjoyable and believable. Playing as the blind girl that finally sees and has to accept that abnormal things that she sees, the role itself is constructed well. However, the other characters sometimes feels a little less even if its the doctor who ends up helping her through track down what is going on. Most of the other characters are mostly done as supporting roles as a means to an end.

Overall, The Eye is a pretty straight-forward horror film. It moves between its horror elements and the psychological thriller elements pretty well. There are some really good visual elements specifically one where it plays with the visuals of shifting between the actual location and one the one from her vision which creates a cool effect. It also brings in some of the Chinese culture when it comes to death and unfulfilled wishes.

The Eye 2 (2004)

Director: Pang Brothers

Cast: Shu Qi, Eugenia Yuan, Jesdaporn Pholdee, Yuan Yuan Ren

After a failed suicide attempt, a pregnant woman gains the ability to see ghosts. – IMDB

The Eye 2 is a completely story from the first one. Sequels are usually a little iffy overall however Shu Qi takes on a lead role as she moves through this film mostly on her own with the few other characters. This time, it takes on the supernatural belief that attempted suicide will bring on the ability to see ghosts which is what happens after she does that in a foreign country without success. When she comes back to Hong Kong, it essentially is for nothing as she tries to cope with her break-up and realizing that she can now see random abnormal people around her and experience other odd things that come up while eventually realizing that she is pregnant and must go through it alone. Taking this supernatural story of reincarnation as a foundation for the story as well as suicide being pretty much a “sin” but of course, in Chinese beliefs more as an opening for letting the supernatural in as a bad omen.

Shu Qi does a pretty decent role here. Her character Joey is faced with quite a lot of drama. The character shifts through a lot of different phases whether its from the dramatic attempted suicide (which almost feels like she doesn’t mean for it to succeed) to the obsessive stalking of her ex-boyfriend to the adaptation to the supernatural events she starts to face right down to the end when she decides to take some extreme actions in the final goal of protecting her baby. Its all a little crazy but she manages to capture that character fairly well even if it doesn’t feel completely logical sometimes, she still holds up the character in a believable enough way. Much like the first film, the supporting characters are all very much a means to an end and even less people involved. The final deduction of how they pull the reincarnation element to the story makes sense overall but her reaction to it seems a little intense.

As a sequel, The Eye 2 still carries a lot of the good elements. While the horror is a little more obvious this time, its not as atmospheric and actually leans more along the lines of cheap jumpscares. It even has a scene which is pretty disgusting to watch, maybe a little bit of a warning against committing suicide via overdosing. However, its a decent story overall using a mental instability and suicide and pregnancy to carry the supernatural elements. In reality, the end game is less scary when you realize what the twist of the story arrives. . Its not quite as shocking as the first film however, it still is a tad clever.

Better Days (少年的你, 2019)

Better Days (少年的你, 2019)

Director: Derek Tsang

Cast: Dongyu Zhou, Jackson Yee, Fang Yin, Ye Zhou, Yue Wu, Jue Huang, Yifan Zhang, Xinyi Zhang, Xuanming Gao, Xintong Xie

A bullied teenage girl forms an unlikely friendship with a mysterious young man who protects her from her assailants, all while she copes with the pressures of her final examinations. – IMDB

*Originally posted on Movies and Tea for Friday Film Club*

Perhaps one of the more surprising titles to be nominated in the best International feature category at the upcoming Oscars is 2019’s Chinese romantic crime film, Better Days. Better Days is based on a Chinese YA novel called In His Youth, In Her Beauty. Faced with difficulty to release due to censorship in China, Better Days focuses on school bullying while looking at the stressful and demanding environment of preparing for the National Exam which determines the future of a student and where they end up in university while also looking at the reality of family situations in China. It takes a snapshot of Chinese society, call it a social commentary if you will but the movie does end with a discussion of the progress that’s been made with the different ministry departments of creating laws to protect against school bullying. With that said, the movie rather lengthy running at 2 hours 15 minutes, which is structured fairly well as it starts off right away highlighting the school issue and building up those tensions while moving to a second act which is focused on the relationship between Chen Nian and Xiao Bei as he protects her in the shadows. A lot of their relationship is built through actions more than words which thanks to a good direction of director Derek Tsang makes it work. Making the third act one that tugs at heartstrings despite all that’s happening and question the morals of who is right and wrong as well as bringing up how much teens believe in the adults surrounding them and how much they can help.

Talking about the director, Derek Tsang brings in some interesting direction choices whether its how he uses the lighting or moving through a montage of how time passes or just how he chooses to use the cinematography and camera pans to structure the scene to create a great effect and capture what he wants and leaving some mystery, its done pretty well. Of course, the other surprise for most familiar with Chinese pop culture is seeing Jackson Yee do rather well in his role as Xiao Bei especially since he started out at a young age in a youth boy band TF Boys. Taking up this powerful role and delivering on a decent level and especially being able to act at the pace of Dongyu Zhou who is a much more seasoned actress with a lot of great and diverse roles under her belt, a few of them previously Friday Film Club picks, Us and Them and This Is Not What I Expected. Being the central role here, Chen Nian under Dongyu Zhou is done incredibly well. She is able to bring it to a good level of tension and connection especially with a character that doesn’t say a lot and the ability to play a high school senior while being in her mid-20s and making it believable to follow her devastating experience but still in all the bad still wanting to “protect the world” and points out how no one’s taught them about how to be an adult. The most touching line in the movie between Chen Nian and Xiao Bei when he says: “It’s a deal. You protect the world. I’ll protect you.”

Sure, Better Days has its issues especially for those not too familiar with Chinese films, it might bring in the elements of losing traction and shifting focus of the film and having some melodramatic moments as it loves to bring romance in any type of film. However, what Better Days does remind me a lot of is a 2004 Taiwanese series called The Outsiders (currently on Netflix if you want to check it out) which has a similar romantic arc. While it might not be for everyone, Better Days has its heart at the right place, shares an important topic of teen bullying in China and what has been done so far while also having a decent crime story to wrap up the whole thing. Definitely one to check out if you get a chance!

Double Feature: Crazy Rich Asians (2018) & Line Walker (2016)

I’m having this sudden urge to get through these Asian films. Crazy Rich Asians kind of counts, I guess which happens to be one of the double feature picks and just for the comedy element, I paired it up with Line Walker which is something of a crime action thriller with comedy elements. Let’s check it out!

Crazy Rich Asians (2018)

Director: Jon M. Chu

Cast: Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh, Gemma Chan, Lisa Lu, Awkwafina, Ken Jeong, Sonoya Mizuno, Chris Pang, Jimmy O. Yang, Ronny Chieng, Remy Hii

This contemporary romantic comedy, based on a global bestseller, follows native New Yorker Rachel Chu to Singapore to meet her boyfriend’s family. – IMDB

Adapted from the novel of the same name by Kevin Kwan (which I haven’t read), Crazy Rich Asians is romantic comedy with a really great cast. The movie itself should be looked at from two parts: Romance and Comedy. The romantic parts are exactly funny and actually to me, they are a bit weak whereas the comedy elements is what stands out. Of course, comedy is also very subjective so the best way may be to see whether the many comedians involved in this are ones that you normally enjoy or the cast itself. Not to mention, Crazy Rich Asians highlights the beauty of Singapore so much from the food to the scenery and captures the upper class society glamor as well as the Asian prejudices between each other whether its Asian-born or American-born which brings in the East versus West differences/culture clash.

Looking at the cast, its absolutely stunning. Its the first time watching Constance Wu for myself and while I have certain issues with her, she is rather decent in capturing that roles especially in the beginning and the ending parts where her character Rachel really gets a nice development. I can’t say her chemistry or the focus on the romance between her and Henry Golding’s character stands out a lot but her interaction with some of the other characters especially Peik Lin played by Awkwafina is absolutely awesome. Awkwafina carries a good part of the film every time she shows up especially when she first talks about the Youngs and how rich they are. Hands down my favorite part. Comedians involved have Ken Jeong, Ronny Chieng and I think Jimmy O.Yang also counts (even though I haven’t seen any stand-up shows of his). They each have very different types of character bringing in a different sort of comedy and they do a decent job. However, while not there for the comedy, Michelle Yeoh is fantastic and a stunning actress that I love to watch on screen. This role seems a little different from what I’ve seen of hers before however she still delivers.

I was a little hesitant to watch Crazy Rich Asians but I’m pretty happy that I did. There’s a lot to love about it. The way that its filmed and the little execution that they use even from the first scene that highlights how rich the Youngs are to the end where Rachel shows how she isn’t how the family sees her as despite where she grew up. Overall, its a fun time and earned quite a few good laughs even if the romantic elements were fairly flat.

Line Walker (2016)

Director: Jazz Boon

Cast: Nick Cheung, Louis Koo, Francis Ng, Charmaine Sheh, Shiu Hung Hui, Moses Chan

Several cops went undercover. Due to some issues, all undercover identities were wiped clean from the police database. – IMDB

Done as a spin-off from the Hong Kong TV series of the same name (that I haven’t had a chance to watch yet but recently found uploaded to Youtube so will catch up very soon), Line Walker is something of a comedy crime thriller. For what I see, it doesn’t require a whole lot of knowledge of the actual series to understand but its a little loopy as well as the network of undercover cops is quite extensive as the plot reveals itself throughout. In reality, the biggest issue is what the movie wants to be. At times, its comedic and over the top and then it will change in the next scene to a crime thriller serious sequence. It makes the film feel out of balance and maybe even disjointed. The moving parts of everything work as an individual sequence but together, it just doesn’t seem to work that well.

The highlight of Line Walker definitely has to be the stellar cast. With some names like Charmaine Sheh and Moses Chan, the latter in a cameo role rather popular names in Hong Kong series and bigger movie thriller actors like Nick Cheung, Louis Koo, Francis Ng and Shiu Hung Hui, its full of renowned actors who are well-known for their work in movies in similar genre. In reality, its quite a great thing to see Charmain Sheh being the only female lead here and paired up with Francis Ng as one side as the obvious undercover pairing and an undefined relationship between the two while having the much more intriguing pairing between Nick Cheung and Louis Koo’s characters as its a question about which one of them is actually an undercover cop that has lost his file and police status in the police system. Its the main focus for these two as they start questioning each other’s loyalty. At the same time, the movie is full of undercovers as one after the other gets revealed. The standout definitely has to go to Louis Koo and Nick Cheung’s characters as they do bring in the most balanced roles as well as their little bit of dark/sarcastic humor dialogue injected in the performance. It contrasts that of Charmaine Sheh and Francis Ng which adds a more comedic element.

Line Walker is an odd one. The cast makes it worth a watch but the script and the execution of the whole undercover and double crossing and whatnot in the crime world of who is on which side and all the undercover cops that scatter over the crime world almost feels like it doesn’t make that much sense. There are some clever bits but overall, it feels like the movie does fall short. On the other hand, its given me the boost to go catch up with the TV series since its garnered quite a bit of popularity.

Fantasia Festival 2020: A Witness Out of the Blue (犯罪现场, 2019)

A Witness Out of the Blue (犯罪现场, 2019)

A Witness Out of the Blue

Director (and writer): Chi-Keung Fung

Cast: Louis Koo, Jessica Hsuan, Louis Cheung, Patrick Tam, Philip Keung, Sam Lee, Andy On, Fiona Sit, Cherry Ngan

A Witness Out of the Blue is 2019 crime thriller about a murder of a member of a bank robber group that may have gone array as they hunt down their leader with only one witness to the crime: a parrot. One of the best things about Fantasia Festival is hearing director’s talk about their film. A nice touch to A Witness Out of the Blue was the director having a little message about how the movie came to be and how it all started with a parrot. Director and writer Chi-Keung Fung definitely is more renowned for his writing credits with involvement in Stephen Chow movies like Shaolin Soccer and The Mermaid. A Witness Out of the Blue has the hook of using a parrot as a witness and how the cop will use it to his advantage to learn about how a parrot communicates or learns the language and can have the intellect of a 5 year old child and its a fun element for sure. The story itself does create a lot of twists and turns that manages to lead down a rather interesting chase. There’s a bit of tension and a bit of humor and the mystery definitely takes everyone for a chase with the characters. The ending isn’t exactly never been done before (but I say what its similar to, that would be a huge spoiler so I’m going to avoid that). Whether pacing or execution, A Witness Out of the Blue is an intriguing thriller.

A Witness Out of the Blue has a stellar cast. Its consisted primarily with the once righteous but now easygoing cop Detective Lam that everyone sees as useless who sees through the case in another angle played by Louis Cheung who is more known for his music career than his acting career even if he has a lot of Cantonese voice acting credits to his name however delivers quite the performance. Lam starts suspecting his upper level boss played by Philip Keung (a familiar face at this year’s Fantasia for sure with his appearance in Sheep Without a Shepherd HERE) who holds a grudge towards the bank robbers for killing another cop. At the same time, Lam needs to still try to catch the bank robber mastermind Wong by the character played by Louis Koo but always seems to be one step behind as the robber crew starts being hunted down as well making him look more and more suspicious. There is no doubt that Louis Koo’s career is full of crime thrillers at this point and he is the perfect candidate for this role especially since he becomes something of an antihero. At this point, Wong hides out at this senior care home managed by a visually disabled woman played by Jessica Hsuan where we see the more human side of Wong in their interaction.

There is no doubt that Chi-Keung Fung is a great writer since every character in this thriller has its purpose. The characters all play off each other as detective Lam goes looking back at the grudges linked to robbery as he questions supporting characters played by Fiona Sit, Andy On and Patrick Tam. Each of these characters have their own stories whether its a flawed detective or a mastermind who wants to find the truth of the death of his team but every step takes on a different turn. Put in the equation of the parrot being another character and its all quite the whirlwind ride.

A Witness Out of the Blue has a lot to offer. It tries to be a little different and how it starts with a parrot and uses its characters all fit well together. Its a crime thriller that has some action and comedy blended together to become a little more mix genre. With both a stellar cast and a fun little plot and some great comedy points, it all actually fits together in a well-paced, engaging and entertaining sort of crime thriller even if the ending isn’t as clever as the director might think it is but somehow this still felt a little like a breath of fresh air in the sea of crime thrillers that come out every year.

Fantasia Festival 2020: Chasing Dream (我的拳王男友, 2019)

Chasing Dream (我的拳王男友, 2019)

Director: Johnnie To

Cast: Jacky Heung, Keru Wang

Tiger, an aspiring MMA fighter, meets young Du, whose dream is to become a singer. Together they go from audition to audition as they try to get Du into the talent show Perfect Diva. And at the same time, Tiger tries to quit the ring – but leaving turns out to be harder than expected. – MyDramaList

With 70 director credits under his belt according to IMDB, Johnnie To has a huge array of movies under his belt spreading over many genres even if a lot of people will first remember mostly his action or crime titles. Coming back from a 3 year hiatus, Johnnie To’s latest offering is a sport and music comedy about chasing dreams. As it follows two people in debt to the same loan shark ending up living together to pay off their own debts doing random jobs while each pursuing their own dream. Tiger (Jacky Heung) fights these cage battles for the loan shark boss who ends up using his roommate Cuckoo Du as his bargaining chip and he ends up giving in each time to help her achieve her dream to win Perfect Diva, a singing competition. Something about this story is a little silly and been there done that and yet there’s this charming element about how its all put together especially with the array of characters, the comedy point and how its a little bit silly at times being rather reminescent of the 90s Hong Kong comedy.

Chasing Dream

Johnnie To doing this sort of movie adds quite a bit of charm no doubt. He brings in some great comedy points while executing some incredible scenes that feel a little over the top and yet manages to keep it entertaining. Of course, comedies are always subjective so what works for might not work for you. The use of the music element actually works out all the ways especially during a specific singing training scene to prepare Cuckoo for her competition as Tiger calls in a bunch of favors to be her band while trying to help her find her diva style that would fit her as he wheels in food for hotpot while throwing out different popular American singers and Cuckoo imitates their performance and singing style. It sounds a little ridiculous but actually the scene works out really well. All that culminates to a huge Bollywood style musical flash mob scene that is absolutely awesome. However, the movie isn’t all fun and laughs but still packs in a lot of drama especially on the side of Tiger as his boxing matches get more intense and the matches become harder to watch as his character really does connect and stand out the most in the entire film. Jacky Heung shines in this role as Tiger.

To be honest, Chasing Dream is almost back to the basics. Its a simple storyline. The plot points are fairly predictable. Inspirational tales about chasing dreams and going through a lot of obstacles has been done tons of times. The relationship between Cuckoo and Tiger is unique and its because of these two characters that the story stands out so much. The ridiculous comedy, the bright and entertaining bits balances well with the drama of highlighting what is the most important. Especially with a final ending scene that gives major homage to Rocky. Its hard to not slowly be taken over by this movie but then I’m also a sucker for music and chasing dreams movie so watching a movie titled exactly what it is seems like a solid win and Chasing Dream surprisingly not only met my expectations and exceeded it.