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Romance Of The West Chamber (1997) Directed by: Lam Yee-Hung

The classic Chinese drama Romance Of The West Chamber is quite suitable for the Category III treatment as it centers around young lovers following through on their love outside of marriage and prior to consent to marriage. Thus challenging a system where marriage was based on convenience and influence rather than love. In Lam Yee-Hung's (The Woman Behind) hands, the depth is more clear on paper rather than in the stiff frame. Scholar Cheung Gwan Shui (Jimmy Wong - Don't Tell My Partner) and Ann-Ann (Kawamura Senri), daughter of a highly ranked official, meet in a Buddhist monastery as the former passes through and the latter is accompanying her mother while taking the coffin of their father to his hometown. After foiling a plan to have bandits take away Ann-Ann, Cheung is promised Ann-Ann's hand in marriage but the mother takes back her promise as Ann-Ann is already set to marry court official Cheng Hang. Ann-Ann's maid does carry out a plan to make the pining lovers go through with their desires...

The main story takes a backseat at first as Elvis Tsui's Monk Faben gives shelter to the character of Ming who's lost her parents at the hands of murderous thieves. Not knowing she's a girl initially, this monk character then acts as a catalyst for the main story but he seems awfully unexplored despite. But really, Romance Of The West Chamber isn't out to provide high art as evident by the transition from proposal of massage to almost full on lesbian love scene. Surprisingly the sex still isn't acting as THAT much padding to the running time and while certain sequences take their time, some end midact. A few dream sequences have a more lighthearted, silent movie style comedic flair to them that is a hit or miss concept but a standout concept in the dull frame nonetheless. It's almost a brave choice to want to focus on the important story strands but that is what Lam Yee-Hung does, even though the drama is handled with such a lack OF drama that there's no tension or emotional investment in the plight of the two lovers. Certainly doesn't help when our leading man or lady are sedated too, even though Kawamura Senri gets by with her incredible looks more often than not. Come ending time, the film may close with the exact meaning of the written work but you don't get automatic approval as a filmmaker in this case despite.

The Romancing Star (1987) Directed by: Wong Jing

A box office hit for Wong Jing and a product well suited for local audiences, looking at the cast gathered up alone. With Chow Yun-Fat, Nat Chan, Eric Tsang and Stanley Fung acting up a silly storm and the main female on display being Maggie Cheung, no wonder. One should also wonder if anything happened in this FULLY (not largely) episodic and skit-like comedy. Quite a bit of downtime exists but overall this is still amusing stuff and despite the most constant parody used by Wong being A Better Tomorrow (Ti Lung's character Ho comes and goes, only shot from behind), it's also kind of irresistible. Wong is making the audience's movie, not the reviewer's movie. Other episodes includes a trip to Malaysia with Tsang always riding on the roof of the bus crying and the gang almost being raped by Indians. Some romancing of Maggie Cheung by Chow Yun-Fat (who is given time to display his underrated comic persona, in particular during an orange game at a party) and rivalry with Stuart Ong later, The Romancing Star sets out to do what it ends up doing too. It may be a bit of a trek but fair amusement is acceptable.

Buy the DVD at:
Yesasia.com

The Romancing Star 2 (1988) Directed by: Wong Jing

Chow Yun-Fat returns in recycled footage and a small piece of new (which might've been a cut scene from the first movie) so instead the trio of Nat Chan, Stanley Fung and Eric Tsang are joined by Andy Lau and Carina Lau out of the female trio for some TV channel wars! Yes, if anything Wong Jing is interested in a bit more narrative focus this time around as he puts his horny, money-hungry characters at the forefront of the fight for ratings. Featuring some amusing takes on Wuxia stories done on a television budget and a re-creation of Peking Opera Blues with two sets of cast of characters (including Eric Tsang in drag), in between there's of course still some of your episodic skit structure, movie references and parodies. Quite a bit is flat and lame, in particular Wong Jing echoing Mr. Vampire, and for the sequel he is re-creating the beats out of An Autumn's Tale (in the first it was A Better Tomorrow). Putting Stanley Fung and Wong Wan-Si at the forefront for the echo of the latter, it's highly amusing following his total rejection of her and even when seemingly being in synch with her romantic feelings, he finds a way to disappoint her again (especially during a bit that extends the open ending of said film). The movie even has a snappier pace and energy that's well showcased in the opening Eric Tsang led parody of Way Of The Dragon, the subsequent robbery the trio gets in the middle into and really, Wong Jing deserves kudos for even referencing dramas such as Papa, Can You Hear Me Sing!

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Yesasia.com

Romantic Dream (1995) Directed by: Lee Lik-Chi

Sharla Cheung's production company reportedly only churned out two movies: Romantic Dream and Dream Lover (directed by Bosco Lam). What's curious is that they came out at essentially the same time and were essentially the same movies. An experiment to see which cast & crew would create the better flick or sheer laziness? Based on the different verdicts of the films, it's easy to argue the latter but both certainly aren't space-wasters. Romantic Dream more than Dream Lover though. So we do have the same plots, this time Lau Ching-Wan is Dino Sau, a poor but brilliant engine designer who falls in love with rich girl and equally fanatic car nut Mandy (Sharla Cheung). When their fates eventually doesn't match, despite Dino trying his best to woo her by growing her favourite flowers, the rose, he gets launched into wealth thanks to his invention the V-T engine. But as the years pass, Dino won't let go off Mandy and bumping into her as a married woman certainly springs feelings to life again. So much so that he hires a dream master (Wong Kam-Kong) to at least have him feel the happiness he never had...

Lee Lik-Chi ultimately stumbles compared to the out there trickery of Bosco Lam's. Structurally both movies are way out there but a few notches beyond the usual Hong Kong cinema shenanigans and while Lee seems to adhere to the Stephen Chow-esque notions of comedy (he directed quite a few of those films), he IS on board with the weird, epic structure. Central message is fine during the opening reels, about seeking real love, but gets buried under one sheet of weirdness after the other, something that makes Romantic Dream stumble less as it moves on. Credit Lau Ching-Wan for the dedication as a few instances of heartache gets to us too and credit director Lee for enhancing the frame with basic yet unusual Hong Kong cinema techniques. Problem overall is, the plight of the lovers ultimately must be compared to Dream Lover. Lau Ching-Wan and Sharla Cheung rank below Tony Leung Ka-Fai and Wu Chien-Lien therefore. Similar exaggerated and felt package deals, the bout of movies where Romantic Dream just isn't as adept is interesting and definitely shows why Dream Lover is such an underrated piece of fireworks display you're just not going to see each day. It feels like being thrown around like a rag doll and being a free for all experience, final kudos could actually go to Sharla Cheung the behind the scenes profile for her work. Co-starring Lawrence Cheng as the mostly grating best friend of Dino's. Also with Michael Wong.

A Roof With A View (1993) Directed by: Tony Au

Cop Lau (Tony Leung Ka-Fai) witnesses his long time partner (Kent Cheng in a cameo) commit suicide t in front of him, leading to him moving and working on small time cases in order to deal with this loss. His neighbor Hiu Tung (Veronica Yip) is a single mother struggling to find a footing in life and men only seems to want to be with her for casual reasons. When her father passes away, she makes a commitment to step away from any loose lifestyle and helping along is neighbor Lau. Eventually love is in the air and both now has to overcome issues of trust and commitment...

For Tony Au's streak of movies during the 90s, he utilized Tony Leung Ka-Fai as his leading man and after their first collaboration on Au Revoir, Mon Amour, Au went back to something smaller in scale and old fashioned in its ways, namely the romance/drama/comedy. He consciously uses genre staples that have been done to death but hinges a lot on his leading man and lady for it to stand out and he succeeds.

A Roof With A View sees an already suave and terrific actor strike up fine chemistry with prior Category III starlet Veronica Yip. Yip gets strong emotional beats to work with for sure but Au challenges by letting the whole proceedings, including the drama and comedy, play out calm and light, something Yip in particular nails. A lot of subtle things can be read into Hiu Tung's plight and desire to finally settle down and further shows how easily Yip escaped her sexy image from movies such as Take Me and Pretty Woman. A Roof With A View can easily be looked down upon as being too clichéd but it thoroughly works and is a small, Sunday afternoon delight of a movie. Perhaps even Au's finest next to Dream Lovers. Kwan Hoi San, Ray Lui and Carina Lau also appear.

Buy the VCD at:
Yesasia.com

Rosa (1986) Directed by: Joe Cheung

Sporadic fun can be had in this buddy-cop actioner starring Yuen Biao and mostly otherwise composer Lowell Lo (An Autumn's Tale). We've seen better pairings and for 90 minutes it's also uneven Hong Kong comedy hijinxs with mainly two action set pieces in between. To list good points, Lowell Lo is a visual amusement in itself and Paul Chun is a good sport, being the object of much punishment at the hands of our two cops. The action directing trio of Yuen Biao, Yuen Wah and Lam Ching Ying also serve up dependably executed action and stunts, playing to the strengths of Yuen Biao nicely while Lowell Lo participates as much as he can as more of a comedic fighting sidekick. Kara Hui, James Tien, Dick Wei, Chong Fat, Tai Bo, Zebra Pan and Blackie Ko also stop by. Writer Wong Kar-Wai would go on to better things...

Rose (1986) Directed by: Yonfan

image courtesy of the A Free Man In Hong Kong website

Also known as The Story Of Rose and Lost Romance, Maggie Cheung is the titular character going from the pouting, annoying girl that every man wants to a full grown woman in the space of 90 minutes...or something like that. However many deep sensibilities may have been intended by director Yonfan, Rose is a hasty product with attempts that resembles grave pretentiousness despite not hiding behind abstract behaviour. There's the obvious journey Rose needs to take, from shallow youth to maturity, form an independent aura around herself and realize that love hurts, taking it or giving it. Her relationship with brother Charles (Chow Yun-Fat) is a close one, both clearly not being able to survive without each others presences. Loneliness. Bada-bim, bada-boom, Rose goes on a lighting fast ride through studies, marriage, parenthood, divorce, death and love again when Chow Yun-Fat turns up a second time in the picture as a different character. For obvious symbolic reasons partly, Yonfan doesn't convince other than in the careful design of the flick. Being a photographer, it's no surprise surroundings are impeccable and that the stars look marvelous. The transformation in Maggie Cheung is admirable because Yonfan finds an early version of the movie star she turned out to be while Chow spreads some well-honed charisma over the production. Then again, it never really helps. Roy Cheung, Ha Ping and Alfred Cheung also appear.

The dvd release supervised by Yonfan reportedly replaced the dubbing of the leads with a new voice track by Tse Kwan-Ho and Ada Choi. The Winson laserdisc preserves the original soundtrack.

Rose (1992) Directed by: Samson Chiu

"Have you ever seen Maggie Cheung act in a movie with Roy Cheung?
I don't know, we haven't tried but maybe there will be some sparks?"

This is actual dialogue from Rose (aka Blue Valentine), a not so subtle in joke but director Samson Chiu actually makes us believe it's an intriguing proposition for a romantic drama. Clear from the beginning is that he's mixing drama and generic triad action, these crucial points works fine for the opposite attracts romance between insurance sales woman Rose (Maggie Cheung) and triad bad boy Roy (Roy Cheung). Both of whom have been neglected and left alone, especially the pregnant Rose who is now living in a shell where she makes her smoking habit equal to that of a secure man in the house. A little calculated, plagued with some holes in the character sketches (in particular Rose's shift in behaviour when harboring the wounded Roy as she would probably at one point do anything to kick him out) and predictable, director Chiu, while "borrowing" slightly with the A Moment Of Romance formula, merges these opposite performers to pretty decent effect. The stars themselves carry their more all too familiar-roles from their perspective into this unusual narrative, especially Roy, and delivers emotions of the workable, bearable kind. Still only at his second feature film (the superb Yesteryou, Yesterme, Yesterday followed), Chiu at this point doesn't seem to know that sappy montages are not needed for dramatic effect but his final reel moments does however speak of a subtle, simple poignancy that would be very evident in later films. Veronica Yip co-stars as Rose's friend who can't juggle life and love while Norman Tsui, Michael Wong and Yiu Wai also appears.

Buy the DVD at:
Yesasia.com

The Roving Swordsman (1983) Directed by: Chor Yuen

One can't deny that Chor Yuen and company have done their best Wuxia filmmaking in the past but The Roving Swordsman contains worthwhile elements despite. It's simply a lot of fun watching the cunning trickery back and forth between the rival martial arts families for starters. All contained within colourful, intricate sets that Shaw's did not put in sloppy work into, even during their decline at this time. The actual sword fight action by Tong Gaai does not feel inspired but an extended sequence in a mirror maze (that curiously comes with a disco ball!) has creativity in spades from all involved, even though the concept is far from riveting) With Ti Lung, Cheng Lee, Ching Hoh-Wai, Goo Goon-Chung and Ku Feng.

Buy the DVD at:
HK Flix.com
Yesasia.com

The Royal Scoundrel (1991) Directed by: Johnnie To & Chik Gei-Yee

Further signs of Cinema City's decline and dressing the buddy cop genre in Hong Kong colours doesn't make for an outstanding or even good time with The Royal Scoundrel. Tony Leung Chiu-Wai and Ng Man Tat are paired up but that's where all the effort ends. They go into both sedated comedic banter (feelings of Johnnie To's subsequent Lucky Encounter crop up) and exaggerated exchanges but these are just guys punching in for a few days work where nothing is expected of them. They do comedy, romance, action while directors Johnnie To and Chik Gei-Yee try to convince themselves they have a passable product. This is the heyday of assembly line filmmaking though (not a forgivable thing but still...) and Johnnie To certainly turned his act around. Wu Chien-Lien delights every time she's on screen and is one actress that could just stand in front of camera and pass with flying colours. Waise Lee, Wong Yat-Fei and Wong Tin-Lam also appear.

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