Happy Chinese New Year! While some pretty crazy weather conditions have made things a bit tense on the Mainland, a fresh cycle of the Lunar Calender (and one of the most celebrated holidays on the planet) is only a few short hours away. This calls for a celebration of some of the more interesting Chinese films over the past year. (Exit: The Pig)
Triangle – I foolishly did not pick this up when I spotted it in a Chinatown DVD shop in San Francisco. Much like the Atlanta horror flick, The Signal, the central concept behind this collaboration of three of Hong Kong’s biggest names in action films (Tsui Hark, Ringo Lam, Johnnie To) is that the film is like a relay race. Each director picks up the reigns of the story after 30 minutes. The omnibus film contains the same cast and the same general story momentum, but stylistically it changes for each segment due to each directors particular rhythms. Also, there is a certain oneupmanship in that each director tries to make things more difficult for the last. Johnnie To gets the super-striker closer segment, and not surprisingly his is supposedly the best one. Gimmicky? Hell yea. But these things are alway fun.
Exodus – The fascinating thing about Exodus is how easily it boils down to a high concept idea (there is a conspiracy of women plotting to make men extinct) which writer/director Ho-Cheung Pang refuses to fulfill. The result ends up being what can only be called absurdist-noir, a combination strange enough to keep me thinking about the film for days, even during a busy 5-film-a-day festival. Like the easier to digest Mad Detective, it has a knock-out of an opening scene which almost singlehandedly is worthy of recommending the film. Exodus is a slow-burn pleasure that may not even be apparent until after the film is over…when the director lives back up to the wacky concept in the closing minutes. Kaiju Shakedown‘s Grady Hendrix says it more elegantly, “A black comedy so dry that it sucks all the moisture out of your body and leaves you rustling like a dessicated mummy when you leave the theater, it manages to nail the routine of police work (Simon Yam plays a cop whose job consists of filling out forms), and to conceal its poisoned candy payoff till the end.” It is certainly one of the stranger and more exotic entries out of China in 2007. Seek this one out.
The Warlords- What would a list of Chinese films be without a ‘cast of thousands’ historical epic with lots of horses and swordplay? Peter Chan, who helmed the wildly popular Moulin Rouge-esque 2005 film Perhaps Love, enters into the fray with an all star cast including Takeshi Kaneshiro, Andy Lau (The two previously going head to head in Zhang Yimou‘s House of Flying Daggers) and Jet Li. It seems every major director in China will one day get to this type of film (Zhang Yimou, Chen Kaige, Ang Lee, Feng Xiogang, Tsui Hark), 2007 was Chan‘s year. As I understand it (I’ve yet to import the DVD which is available from HK, and a North American Theatrical release is unlikely) what makes The Warlords worth a look is more the moral complexity of decisions to be made by the three principle characters. Although if muddy and gritty battle mayhem is your thing, this film has plenty of that too.
CJ7 – It’s been four long years since the Chow magic has been up on screen. Kung Fu Hustle was pure, effortless joy-for-boys which ended up being one of the best mixes of eastern and western blockbuster culture. CJ7, which is comfortably in E.T. territory, involving a little boy and his cute alien looks to keep up Stephen Chow‘s fine C.V. of parody, slapstick and original execution.
Lust, Caution – While I was not a gigantic fan of Ang Lee’s film, in fact it is probably my least favorite film by him on his extensive and varied resume, it is nevertheless an Ang Lee film, and much like The Coen Brothers, Terrence Mallick or Robert Altman, that makes it mandatory viewing. The film is handsome, Tang Wei is sexy and vulnerable and it is always a pleasure to see Tony Leung do his thing. Handsome production design and pretty faces (even after being ‘broken’ by the secret police, some of the drama students remain fresh-faced with a tiny bloody streak and a grimace) are the chief assets here, this is pageantry of the Hollywood kind if you go for that sort of thing. Tone is favoured over the genre elements, and a rather dry history lesson favoured overall. Despite some of my negativity towards the film, I can easily say that Lust, Caution is worthy a look or three.