Tag Archives: Maggie Cheung

Police Story (1985, Jackie Chan)

Much of Police Story operates on charm. If it’s not co-writer, star, and director Jackie Chan’s charm, it’s charm of the scenes. There are some painfully uncharming moments–mostly Chan’s frequent neglective abuse of girlfriend Maggie Cheung–but even when Police Story is in its stunt spectacular mode, there’s charm.

The film doesn’t open with charm, however. It opens with this all-exposition police briefing introduction to drug kingpin Chor Yuen. The cops, including Chan, are getting their assignment. Next scene is execution of that assignment, the cops trying to just Chor and his large gang of gunmen in a shanty town. Things go wrong almost immediately (because the cops assumed the criminals wouldn’t notice a bunch of guys around wearing earpieces?), leading to a big shootout.

Chan, as star, hangs back for most of the shootout proper. He comes in to save the day, chases Chor up the mountain (the shanty town is the side of it), then chases him back down–in cars, destroying the shanty town. The scale of the sequence is amazing, making up for Chan’s middling shot composition. He and editor Peter Cheung are showing off the effects executions in Police Story; they’re sensationalizing, not trying to fit into the film’s tone.

Admittedly, given the tone is genial slapstick, the brutal violence of the action sequences (and fist fights) would be hard to fit into that geniality.

After another great action sequence where Chan boards a moving bus and fights off some henchmen, then gets thrown from said bus and still manages to stop it, he ends up poster boy for the Hong Kong police department. For some reason, his bosses also give him the job of protecting hostile witness Brigitte Lin, who works for drug lord Chor.

Lin doesn’t want protection, leading to a montage sequence of Chan following her around while the peppy, cartoonish score (from Michael Lai and Tang Siu-Lam) blares. After some narrative diversion, the bad guys strike, leading to Chan bringing Lin back to his place, where they run into Cheung (and a surprise birthday party for Chan). The next fifteen minutes or so is Chan passively and actively abusing Cheung, which is off-putting, though the movie has enough sensitivity for bad girl Lin to immediately (and sincerely) befriend good girl Cheung.

That C plot character relationship is one of the best things in Police Story, at least as narrative goes; it helps Cheung and Lin give the film’s two best performances. Ninety percent of the male cast (Cheung and Lin are the only female cast members, at least of substance) just mug for the camera.

There’s a really funny courtroom scene, there’s a bunch of great action scenes–the strangest thing about Police Story’s action (and its emphasis on the stunts) is how the biggest stunt, despite being an accomplishment for Chan (they show it from three different angles), is narratively inert. Chan knows how to stage a fantastic stunt sequence. He just doesn’t have much sense as for how narratively effective that sequence is going to be. Same goes for the slapstick set pieces. There’s a lengthy one involving Chan and a bunch of telephones ringing and he contorts his way around to answer all of them. It’s charming enough, but runs way too long. Chan and editor Cheung think because they’ve got that peppy music going, a sequence can go forever. It’s not good peppy, cartoonish music. It’s just peppy, cartoonish music.

The second half of the movie is Chan gone rogue, trying to bring down Chor. Its non-action scenes are some of Chan’s better directing. In the first half, despite being an acrobatic, unstoppable supercop, Chan’s a doofus. In the second half, he’s much less a doofus (leading to the film’s most awkward moment, Chan monologuing about being an unappreciated cop). But the scenes work better, direction-wise. Even if Cheung does pop up just to take Chan’s gentle but intentional verbal abuse or, you know, screw things up.

The big finale, despite the three-peated stunt being narratively blasé, is fantastic. Police Story’s stuntwork isn’t just fantastic for the abuse Chan puts himself through for a shot, it’s the abuse he puts the film’s other stuntmen through. And Lin. She’s obviously performing a bunch of her own stunts, even if the action is only there to shock cruelty value.

None of the villains stand out. Chor’s a thin Mr. Big, overshadowed by his henchmen (who are even more shallow but their performances aren’t) and particularly his lawyer, Lau Chi-wing. Bill Tung’s fun as Chan’s supervisor. Lam Kwok-hung is a little much as the straight-edge accountant police commander though. Police Story goes with caricature even when the actors seem capable of more. And the character consistency, script-wise, is always a little questionable. But with Lam… it’s like he’s not in one the joke when he needs to be.

Police Story is a spectacular spectacle of stuntwork. And the rest is a reasonable enough packaging of said spectacle. But a feature-length expansion of the end credits, which show the behind the scenes of the stunts, would probably make for a better film.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Jackie Chan; written by Chan and Edward Tang; director of photography, Cheung Yiu-Tsou; edited by Peter Cheung; music by Michael Lai and Tang Siu-Lam; production designer, Oliver Wong; produced by Leonard Ho; released by Golden Harvest Company.

Starring Jackie Chan (Chan Ka Kui), Maggie Cheung (May), Brigitte Lin (Selina Fong), Lam Kwok-Hung (Supt. Raymond Li), Bill Tung (Inspector Bill Wong), Chor Yuen (Chu Tao), Lau Chi-Wing (Cheung, the Lawyer), and Kam Hing-Yin (Inspector Man).


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In the Mood for Love (2000, Wong Kar-wai)

In the Mood for Love runs under a hundred minutes. Its present action is somewhat indeterminate, but less than a year total and a few weeks for the longest continuous sequence. As for the length of that continuous sequence, I’m not sure. There’s such a smoothness to William Chang’s editing. It’s calm and measured. It’s not always slow–it often isn’t, especially in the first half of the film, where director Wong and Chang show time transitions through change in dress. With such a concise runtime–and so many ambitions for the film’s visual narrative (which is somewhat separate from the plot)–Wong has to prepare the viewer for the film.

That preparation involves very tight narrative control–this scene leads to this scene, but Wong is actually building to a reveal. Only, since it’s at the beginning of the film, it’s unclear what reveal is supposed to be the most important reveal. At a certain point, In the Mood for Love should be able to be cut into two pieces. Big reveal, whenever it comes, should split the film. Except Wong’s stylistic approach in that first half, how the camera movements, how the framing of characters, it provides such a strong foundation there’s no split. And by not splitting, Wong’s better able to focus the narrative in the second half. In the Mood for Love is a guided tour of its story, with Wong relying on his actors to break through on another level, the tragic one. The actors create the characters, not the script or even Wong’s visual motifs for shooting them. It’s Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung. They’re the ones who get it done.

Great photography, great music. Wong’s got a nostalgic way of being realistic portraying the early sixties setting. The best example is probably how he uses Cheung’s dresses to establish a narrative flow and how he can also use them to disrupt the narrative. It’s all so precise, all so delicately done. The film has these slow motion sequences, but Wong keeps them all entirely separate. The way he’s progressing the visual narrative, he finds different reasons to get to the same technique. It should be complicated, but because of how Wong establishes the visual “language” in the first act, it isn’t.

Everything works–like Lam Siu Ping’s goofy sidekick for Leung or Rebecca Pan’s nosy but nice landlady. Thanks to Wong, his crew–and because of Cheung and Leung–In the Mood for Love achieves something singular. It’s great.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written, produced and directed by Wong Kar-wai; directors of photography, Christopher Doyle, Kwan Pung-leung and Lee Ping-bin; edited by William Chang; music by Michael Galasso and Umebayashi Shigeru; production designer, Chang; released by Block 2 Pictures.

Starring Maggie Cheung (Mrs. Chan), Tony Leung Chiu Wai (Mr. Chow), Siu Ping-Lam (Ah Ping), Kelly Lai Chen (Mr. Ho) and Rebecca Pan (Mrs. Suen).


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Days of Being Wild (1990, Wong Kar-wai)

Director Wong crafts Days of Being Wild as a series of vignettes, only with the film’s principal character never the protagonist of any of these vignettes. Wong and editors Kai Kit-wai and Patrick Tam go for lyrical transitions (or none at all); combined with the emptiness of Wild’s Hong Kong (busy places at times they aren’t busy), there’s palpable mood. Terry Chan’s music, which evokes sixties pop (only desperate), is also essential.

That main character who never gets to be protagonist is Leslie Cheung. He’s a lothario–the film opens with his seduction of shopgirl Maggie Cheung before he moves on to dancer Carina Lau. The first act of the film, which establishes all the characters, is the most unlike the rest. Wong makes verbal reference to off-screen characters who later become important, he makes sure the viewer understands all the relationships. The vignettes don’t start until the second act (so I guess Leslie Cheung does get to be the protagonist for a bit in the first act).

But once the vignettes start, beginning with Maggie Cheung’s return to the film and her friendship with Andy Lau (as the police officer whose beat includes Leslie Cheung’s building). Then it’s Carina Lau’s turn. She sort of shares her time with Rebecca Pan (as Leslie Cheung’s adoptive mother).

Wong isn’t concerned with making his characters likable. No one likes Leslie Cheung, not even his friends–Jacky Cheung, as his sidekick, is just as much a conquest as any of the women–but Carina Lau’s pretty awful too. Maggie Cheung and Andy Lau could both be read as saints, but Wong and cinematographer Christopher Doyle don’t much go for sainthood. There’s darkness and fuzziness to everyone, with the possible exception of Pan. Even though she should be despicable (she bought Leslie Cheung from his birth mother), she’s still extremely sympathetic. Maybe because she’s so self-aware.

Great performances from Carina Lau and Maggie Cheung. Leslie Cheung and Jacky Cheung are both effective, but–until the third act–the real problem with Wild is Leslie Cheung’s far from the most interesting character Wong’s got going here. Even though Andy Lau’s got a bland role to play (sturdy guy), he potentially has a lot more depth than Leslie Cheung.

Then the third act comes along and Wong decides he wants to try out an entirely different kind of film (stylistically, each vignette has its own feel) and it doesn’t work out. Maybe because it’s Andy Lau’s vignette about how he runs into Leslie Cheung later on and they have a misadventure. It feels forced. Everything else is organic. That final vignette, with its melodramatic action, just doesn’t work out.

By the time Wong brings everyone else back in for the wrap-up, it feels like he’s trying to cover. He can’t.

Days of Being Wild is still a beautifully made film, beautifully constructed narrative. It’s just the plotting (and perspective) where Wong is off.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Wong Kar-wai; written by Wong and Jeffrey Lau; director of photography, Christopher Doyle; edited by Kai Kit-wai and Patrick Tam; music by Terry Chan; production designer, William Chang; produced by Rover Tang; released by In-Gear Films.

Starring Leslie Cheung (Yuddy), Maggie Cheung (Su Li-zhen), Andy Lau (Tide), Carina Lau (Leung Fung-ying), Jacky Cheung (Zeb) and Rebecca Pan (Rebecca).


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Ashes of Time (1994, Wong Kar-wai), the redux edition

I never know how to describe Ashes of Time. The first–and probably last–time I tried, I described it as a mix of Magnolia and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. As difficult as it is to describe, it’s got to be impossible to advertise–a character-based martial arts film, where fight scenes lack any visceral impact. Wong stylizes them, but not for any entertainment value. Given he’s become a more recognized and marketable filmmaker since the film’s initial release, as this “redux” edition started, I wondered if he’d tried to make it more palatable to any of the fans he picked up following that Norah Jones music video he made.

Pleasingly–and surprisingly–he did not. Ashes of Time is as hostile to the passive filmgoer as ever.

What’s most amazing, in terms of the narrative, is how Wong approaches his storytelling. The film opens with a few minutes, then skips ahead an indeterminate period of time. Wong separates the film into seasons (a possible addition to the redux edition, but I’m not sure) and, at the third of five seasons, foretells the protagonist’s future. It’s a strange and wonderful move, playing with the point of storytelling–if the reader knows the ending at the beginning, it’s going to change how he or she experiences the narrative–but to reveal the ending as an aside, it’s an entirely different effect. In Ashes of Time, it contributes to the film’s surreality.

The film’s visual style is one of its most hostile features. Set in a panoramic desert, in a small village, Wong never shows the village in an establishing shot. The desert never gets a vista shot for narrative’s sake. There’s only one time he even comes close and then it’s to emphasize the shot’s singular presence in the film. Much of the film takes place inside Leslie Cheung’s house, which is occasionally seen from the exterior but certainly not long enough to give the viewer any real sense of it.

There’s a wonderful scene between Cheung and Brigitte Lin where it’s nothing but close-ups.

The film’s actors have a rather awkward task here. There are lots of monologues, lots of close-ups–Maggie Cheung basically just has a long, single shot monologue. They’re in ornate costumes, playing these historical, mythic characters, but delivering these humanizing, rendering lines. In addition to delivering the majority of these monologues, Leslie Cheung narrates almost all of the film–both exposition and internal reflection–giving him the hardest task.

Both the Tony Leungs–Chiu Wai and Ka Fai–have good roles. Chiu Wai has the flashier role, but the importance of Ka Fai’s performance gradually comes through. Lin’s excellent, as is Charlie Yeung in a smaller role. Maggie Cheung’s monologue–her delivery of it–is invaluable.

While Christopher Doyle’s photography is–as always–wonderful, it’s the editing here. William Chang and Patrick Tam out do any expectation. Ashes of Time gets better as it moves along, every pitch perfect. The omnipresent musical score–from Frankie Chan and Roel A. García–transports the viewer into Wong’s created world. While he based it–loosely–on a novel, what Wong does in Ashes of Time is create a setting the viewer cannot be familiar with, but can’t be foreign in either. It’s an immersive experience, one requiring active participation with wonderful result.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Wong Kar-wai; screenplay by Wong, based on a novel by Louis Cha; director of photography, Christopher Doyle; edited by William Chang and Patrick Tam; music by Frankie Chan and Roel A. García; production designer, Chang; produced by Jeffrey Lau, Jacky Pang Yee Wah and Wong; released by HKFM Releasing.

Starring Bai Li (Hong Qi’s Wife), Jacky Cheung (Hong Qi), Leslie Cheung (Ouyang Feng), Maggie Cheung (Brother’s Wife), Carina Lau (Peach Blossom), Tony Leung Chiu Wai (Blind Swordsman), Tony Leung Ka Fai (Huang Yaoshi), Brigitte Lin (Murong Yin / Murong Yang) and Charlie Yeung (The girl).


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