Run Papa Run (2008)

Directed by: Sylvia Chang
Written by: Sylvia Chang, Susan Chan & Mathias Woo
Producers: Willie Chan, Solon So & Patricia Chong
Starring: Louis Koo, René Liu, Liu Yihan, Max Mok, Lam Suet, Derek Tsang, Conroy Chan, Ti Lung & Nora Miao

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Nominations at the Hong Kong Film Awards 2009:
Best Screenplay (Sylvia Chang, Susan Chan & Mathias Woo)
Best Actor (Louis Koo)
Best Supporting Actress (Nora Miao)

Award at the Hong Kong Film Critics Society Awards 2009:
Recommended Film

Nominations at the Taiwan Golden Horse Awards 2008:
Best Director (Sylvia Chang)
Best Actor (Louis Koo)
Best Supporting Actress (Nora Miao)

What Sylvia Chang may lack as director in terms of making slam dunk, home run-masterpieces that goes little hand in hand with commercial interests in Hong Kong cinema, she makes up by sheer presence whenever she's on the scene and a consistent standard. With her first film since 2004's 20 30 40, the width of her vision is opened up via scope photography and a more constant need for playing around while also telling of human issues. Run Papa Run takes a chance therefore to toss about its audience via animation, musical numbers, narration in the third person but is of a wonderful quality when combining all this with a classic story. It's a slight shame that when taking our main character on his eventual serious journey, the movie doesn't hold enough interest but ponder this, go from a close to masterful time to valid, well made cinema in one movie, that's more than some director's can achieve.

Suitably painting the flashback picture of the 70s (and slamming the era quite playfully) and its inhabitants, mainly the triads, in goofy fashion, Louis Koo's Lee Tin-Yun enjoys a bad hairstyle, a major ass tiger- and dragon tattoo, living a casual, shallow dream life and being head of a least two fellows (Max Mok, a welcome return, and Lam Suet). Sweet stuff but soon the quite, deep central questions manifests themselves when he impregnates barrister Mabel Chan (René Liu, frequent Sylvia Chang lead or supporting lead). Happily thinking a kid and a woman won't get in the way, Lee's priorities are indeed soon shifted. But living the triad life is a want, living the triad life is a dream and LEAVING the triad life seems nigh on impossible. It all has its roots in key events between himself and his mother (a fine act by Nora Miao 1*)

Evoking feelings of certain sequences from her co-directed effort Princess-D, keys for Run Papa Run lies in the words "playful" and "classic". Playful in the sense that Sylvia basically, but not necessarily, gives the finger to audiences not ready to be taken on an emotional journey that also means partly the film is wide in terms of genres across the board. Howza 'bout: flashbacks with added animation, Louis Koo often breaking the fourth wall as he speaks to the audience and René Liu in an impromptu musical number in the name of love? The display is colourful, fun and a wide eyed viewer shouldn't lose interest or hope in the fact that amidst all this, eventually a real story will be conveyed. It's a tough sell to audiences admittedly but more often than not, Run Papa Run enchants in a realistic fashion. I say, just like Sylvia surely; Why not?

And there's no huge, illogical leap into the full on examination of Lee Tin-Yu's predicament of being in the triads and the denial towards his daughter that has to do with him promising never to let her in on his secret (and changing religion from the loyalty of worshipping General Kuan to the compassion of Christianity). Sylvia skillfully weaves in natural dialogue that transfers moods from one to another and has her lead Louis Koo gladly be treated like a rag doll too. It still travels but because someone means what she's doing.

Aspects such as Louis Koo's rather unconvincing aging AAAALLLMOST plays out as a tongue in cheek matter but it grows more hard to watch as the movie ejects many notions of fun and deals in grave emotions instead. No HUGE emotions are present. That's important to note but there lies a certain tired nature to Sylvia's direction when ALL she has to deal with is the downwards spiral of Lee Tin-Yun. It's not enough to make audiences grow a little bit tired of the assault of what is in general darkness and somber matters however. Engaging emotionally Run Papa Run is and probably for me feels like a step forward for an already high standards director. With Run Papa Run, Sylvia Chang does the right thing by creating characters with predicaments worthy to follow. But wanting to follow through in a truly dedicated way becomes a little bit hard.

The DVD:

Deltamac presents the movie in an aspect ratio of 2.31:1, with anamorphic enhancement. The transfer is quite gorgeous with strong colours and sharpness.

Audio options are Cantonese Dolby Digital 6.1 EX, Cantonese DTS 6.1 ES and Mandarin Dolby Digital 6.1 EX but as I'm not equipped with such a system, my assessment of this disc aspect will be left off this review.

The English subtitles are of superb quality through in terms of grammar and coherence. A set of Chinese subtitles is also available.

Extras are subtitled in English but not overly plentiful. Aside from the trailer, a 13 minute, 11 second featurette details the photo shoot for the promotional art of the film. Rene Liu also sits down for a 10 minute, 10 second interview where she discusses a lot of character but the true interest comes during the mention of Sylvia Chang's working methods towards the actress.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson


(1) Miao makes her first appearance in a HK movie since 1996 and even before that she had a 15 year gap between appearances. The old Golden Harvest actress from such movies as Fist Of Fury today hosts a radio show in Canada.