SPL: Paradox (Wilson Yip, 2017)

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It’s unclear if this film is actually a continuation of the SPL series or if it just started as one and then mutated into its own thing. I thought I saw the characters for “Sha Po Lang” on the title card of the movie though, so I’m just gonna go with it. Regardless, like the second film in the series, SPL 2: A Time for ConsequencesParadox has only a tenuous thematic relation to its forbearers: all of the characters are new. Louis Koo plays a Hong Kong cop who travels to Pattaya, in Thailand, in search of his daughter, who has gone missing. He hooks up with a Thai cop (Wu Yue) as the two uncover an organ trafficking ring with connections all the way to the top of city government. Helping out in the investigation is another cop, a superstitious (possibly psychic) Tony Jaa, star of the last SPL and arguably the best martial arts star in the world today, in what amounts to little more than a guest-starring role. The final villain is played by Lam Ka-tung (Sparrow, Trivisa), which means that the two most important Thai characters in the film are played by Chinese actors. Such are the vagaries of international cinema.

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VIFF 2017: Paradox (Wilson Yip, 2017)

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You wouldn’t know it from the title or VIFF’s program notes, but Wilson Yip’s Paradox began life as the third entry in the SPL series before the film’s producers and programmers jettisoned any mention of its genealogy ahead of the official rollout. And to be clear, this doesn’t appear to be a quirk of North American unfamiliarity with the series: even in Hong Kong it played as a clandestine sequel, with nary a mention of Sha Po Lang in sight (in English, anyways). And to confuse things further, Soi Cheang, director of the superb second entry, was originally slated to direct Paradox, only to swap out for workman Wilson Yip, director of the not-entirely-superb original SPL, late in the game. Cheang retains a producing credit on Paradox and rumor has it that he will be back to direct the next SPL film, which may end up monikered ‘SPL 3’ if the pre-production reports are to be believed. In the world of Soi Cheang, things tend towards mutation.

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Meow (Benny Chan, 2017)

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From Mao to Meow: Revolution in Contemporary Chinese Cinema

Pop will eat itself.

Last summer veteran Hong Kong director Benny Chan brought us the year’s best martial arts film with the High Noon variation Call of Heroes. This year, he’s made the summer’s most improbable movie: a heart-warming comedy about a giant alien cat who befriends a mop-headed Louis Koo and his wacky family. Pudding is the greatest warrior on the distant planet Meow, a cat-world (literally: it’s shaped like a cat’s head) wracked by meteor collisions that has been hoping to colonize Earth for centuries. But none of the cat-agents sent to Earth have ever returned, though there are snippets of their successes: inspiring worship from the ancient Egyptians and modeling yoga in India. Pudding crashes on Earth and loses his MacGuffin, making him susceptible to the corrupting influences of Earth static. In a last ditch effort to save himself, he merges with the form of a fat orange house-cat, the resulting abomination being a obese, six foot tall ball of cuteness.

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Three (Johnnie To, 2016)

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This guest review comes courtesy of critic Jaime Grijalba.

I’m not an expert on Johnnie To, nor do I pretend to be one. Not because I don’t find him interesting, and I will end up watching his entire filmography before too long. I’m wary of clogging the feed of the many people who are unaware of his talents with my half-assed thoughts, especially when there are so many critics and fans that have spent way more time than I’d ever spend examining and studying the style and everything that surrounds the films of To and his Milkyway Image studio. So, with all that I’ve said, what lead me to write about the latest film from one of the most well-regarded Asian directors of the past two decades?

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The Frances Farmer Show #10: Three and Shock Corridor

This week Mike and Sean, for the third time, trek out to downtown Seattle to catch the opening night of the new Johnnie To film, the hospital-set thriller Three, with Louis Koo, Zhao Wei and Wallace Chung. Paired with it is another thriller set in a hospital, Samuel Fuller’s 1963 Shock Corridor, about a journalist who goes undercover in a mental institution and comes unglued.

You can listen to the show by downloading it directly, or by subscribing on iTunes or the podcast player of your choice.

A Correction:

Philip Ahn, who played Dr. Hong in Shock Corridor, was Korean-American, not Chinese American.

Episode 5: A Brighter Summer Day, SPL 2 and Purple Rain

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With Mike on vacation this week Sean is joined by Seattle Screen Scene writer Melissa Tamminga to discuss Edward Yang’s long sought after 1990 epic A Brighter Summer Day, which has just recently been released by the Criterion Collection, and Soi Cheang’s action film SPL 2: A Time for Consequences, starring Tony Jaa and Wu Jing, which will be released here in the US as Kill Zone 2 in a couple of weeks. They also pick their essential Violent Youth films, take a look ahead to what’s coming soon to Seattle (and Bellingham) Screens and talk about Prince’s classic 1984 film Purple Rain.

You can listen to the show by downloading it directly, or by subscribing on iTunes or the podcast player of your choice.

Links:

Adrian Martin on Purple Rain

Wild City (Ringo Lam, 2015)

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After more than a decade of semi-retirement, legendary director Ringo Lam returns to the big screen with a thriller that hearkens back to the golden age of the Hong Kong crime film. Lam made his mark in the late 80s and early 90s with a series of action films, gritty, ultra-violent and grounded in a darkly pessimistic view of human nature and Hong Kong’s future, movies where everything seemed to be, as many of their titles indicate, ‘on fire’. Rejecting the aspiration toward transcendence of John Woo, or the narrative and thematic ambition of Tsui Hark, Lam’s films best captured the nihilistic urge for chaos at the heart of the Hong Kong New Wave. That particular moment, an apocalyptic age when the prospect of the Handover to the Mainland hung over every aspect of Hong Kong life, had dissipated by the late 90s, when Lam had joined Woo and Tsui in scraping together Hollywood products beneath their talent level (as fine as many of their American films are, and many of them are quite good, I don’t think this point is debatable). When he tired of that, he walked away to spend more time with his family. His only film since the 2003 direct-to-video Van Damme film In Hell was one third of the omnibus film Triangle made with Tsui and Johnnie To in 2007.

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SIFF 2015 Report #3: Overheard 3, Dreams Rewired, The Apu Trilogy, Mistress America, Unexpected, A Matter of Interpretation, Dearest

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Overheard 3 – The third in a series of thrillers from Hong Kong, directed by Alan Mak and Felix Chong and starring the powerhouse trio of Lau Ching-wan, Louis Koo and Daniel Wu. Each film follows a new set of characters in a crime story involving eavesdropping technology of some kind and nefarious financial transactions. Each one is overwritten, the kind of film in which characters speak in long monologues of exposition, explaining things to the audience that all the characters in the scene should already know. Each movie weaves a financial crime  (insider trading, real estate fraud) into traditional cop melodrama (read: problems with the wife/girlfriend), lending well-trod territory the shiny patina of contemporary relevance. Each movie delights in maiming Louis Koo in some horrible way. This is easily the worst entry in the series thus far, the plot overcomplicated (and not, as you’d expect, because Western audiences get confused by the nature of real estate deals in the New Territories, but rather just because the various schemes and revenge plots are far too complex to have ever been enacted by any actual humans), the characters thin and prone to radically irrational behavior. The first two managed to mitigate that with some clever suspense and action sequences, but there is hardly any of that here either. All of these people have done vastly superior work. It looks slick, like a lot of post-Infernal Affairs Hong Kong films (Mak was a co-director on that one as well), but it doesn’t have any depth, any soul.

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