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|Spring In A Small Town (1948) Directed by: Fei Mu
Recently selected by the Hong Kong Film Awards as the Best Chinese movie ever, this Mainland China drama shot in 1948 didn't gain much of a recognition at the time of release and director Fei Mu received such a critical backlash, based on the politics apparently woven into this story that he left for Hong Kong and never made a film again. Subsequently, during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s, the film was banned but it sprung to life many, many years later when a print was made available in the 80s. But in the new millennium, despite beaten up print elements, Fei Mu's Spring In A Small Town has finally gained its due recognition.
Set in a post-war small Chinese village, director Fei slowly but assuredly sets up the small character gallery. Yuwen (Wei Wei) is a devoted wife to Liyan (Shi Yu) who has been struck with heart disease ever since their initial steps into marriage. It's not a foundation built on love or happiness but out of duty. A sister (Dai Xiou) and a servant (Cui Chaoming) also has a place in their daily lives. Into their routine bound lives comes a childhood friend of both Yuwen and Liyan's. He is Wei (Zhang Zhicheng), now a doctor and the first meeting in 10 years sparks a quiet rivalry between the two men over the woman...
Spring In A Small Town is a tale where there exist secondary characters that therefore receive less attention but the structure calls for that and does not hinder any intentions of Li Nianji's screenplay. Possibly written very sparsely as Li clearly wants to favor subtlety, Fei Mu comes through strikingly well when it comes to this task. It's an intense story despite the measured pace where Fei brings fine, subtle nuances to all the stages characters goes through. Jealously, rejection, shame, self-realization, it's all here and each one naturally and in a compelling, even haunting way flows into one another. The spring setting feels highly ironic also as the movie contains inner turmoils that threatens to escalate into unheard of darkness for the characters.
When all's said and done, Spring in A Small Town is probably is too stagy for all viewers to actually pick up on the powerful characteristics that is injected via Fei Mu into the performers. Also, while it's clearly greatly executed, its selection by the Hong Kong Film Awards may mean that it's always struck a chord with Chinese and Hong Kong audiences more than it does with outside eyes. It may also very well mean that I'm too thick to get the entire picture. Nevertheless, Spring In A Small Town is an old gem that proves to have staying power even in 2005. If that's not worth a high grade, I don't know what is. A remake was shot in the Mainland during 2003, bearing the title Springtime In A Small Town.
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|Stage Door Johnny (1990) Directed by: Wu Ma
Acting as executive producer, Jackie Chan reportedly let Wu Ma's production utilize leftovers or originally constructed material for his Mr. Canton And Lady Rose (aka Miracles). Showcasing outdoor settings better than indoor ones (the film still looks above average budget-wise), Wu Ma co-stars and portrays struggling Hsiao Ho Chun opera company (whose cast is all female). Bringing in Tsui Yen Hsieh (Kara Hui) to spice matters up, the direction the troupe now takes is not appreciated by all. All while gangsters, in particular Chang (Lau Siu-Ming) have their eyes on the beautiful girls and opposing forces trying to stop the gangsters befriends the troupe...
A very slight action-melodrama, much of the time even the above-average looking frame fails to connect. Having no problem getting his ladies to look good on-screen, translating this to weighty drama isn't Wu Ma's strength at all and while he does provide some fine, somber points about the dying art of opera, most viewers will walk away with thoughts of busy, hollow melodrama and with more fond memories of the Jackie Chan stunt team action scattered throughout. Also with Lam Ching-Ying, Waise Lee, Mars and Ken Lo.
|Starry Is The Night (1988) Directed by: Ann Hui
A co-produced Shaw Brothers venture, Ann Hui blends romance with that pesky ache attached to it and politics that equals a package that goes way too non-distinct routes by posing as a mixture. Disconnect a strand or two and you've got yourself a very watchable, punishing drama. Switching her narrative between the 60s and 80s, To Caimei (Brigitte Lin) is a student that falls for her English teacher Dr. Cheung (George Lam). Eventually being found out and the teacher having to walk off in shame, we cut the 80s where Caomei is now a social worker due for a promotion. It hinges on the case of Tien-On (David Wu) but as Caomei dedicates herself to the energetic young man with a skill in hairdressing, feelings of love starts to arise and an age old pattern as well...
Keeping matters very low-key, rather boring and unintelligible for at least 45 minutes, I'm willing to play the "too dumb"-card against myself as I'm sure there's subtleties that take on substantial meaning, especially when every now and again mentioning the political climate of the respective eras. But slowly we see the emergence of a darker drama with Brigitte Lin's Caomei venturing into areas of a familiar kind and it's when the characters are the sole focus (and not events around them) that Starry Is The Night engages. Ann Hui's intentions with this mix are fairly clear but the outside eyes looking in finds the engagement in the smaller scope only. Therefore Derek Yee's role as a political activist doesn't travel but some of the ache does and cast is on board. Special mention performance-wise goes to David Wu and as a matter of fact George Lam who sinks his teeth deeper into this role than expected. John Woo appears briefly.
|Step Into The Dark (1998) Directed by: Dick Cho & Wong Jing
Dr. Care Kwan (Lau Ching-Wan) not only gets the benefit of getting out of a demanding relationship with May May (Celine Ma) but strikes up a friendship with former patient Faith (Athena Chu) who a year earlier nearly lost her life after falling from a roof. It all seems very sugar sweet between them until people around Kwan starts to suspect Faith is a ghost and Kwan is being enchanted. You know what they say about ghost/human love. The TV ghost expert Sperm Loui (Simon Loui) does draw comparisons to masturbation and the triad society in that regard but Kwan and friend Leslie Cheung (Emotion Cheung) needs to enlist this obviously very inept expert despite...
Wong Jing's paws infect this deadly boring ghost story that seriously lacks energy and initiative. Going silly on us and thinking comedy will be achieved just because characters are a bit out there, a tired Titanic spoof follows and it's not long before we truly see the boredom in leads Lau and Chu's faces. There's not much romance to work with anyway and when the regular spooks turn up that years earlier even from Wong Jing meant some kind of low budget energy was nowhere to be found, Step Into The Dark is embarrassing in the way it hardly tries to conjure up even a minute spark. Also with Helena Law Lan, Ha Ping and Lee Siu-Kei.
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|The Stewardess (2002) Directed by: Sam Leong
The trailer for The Stewardess asks us if it's horror, comedy, cult and you should be asking the filmmakers too but ultimately settle in to be yanked in all of these three directions. Screenwriter Ken Ma (Sam Lee) hooks up with stewardess Apple (Lee San-San) whose family he gets to meet the day after. A triad family as it turns out with the head being Dragon played by Michael Chan. Meeting his neighbour, the Japanese stewardess Yurei (Seina Kasugai) one day in the hallway, Ken is infatuated and sees his opportunity to try and get another stewardess onto his resume. It's especially good that she's Japanese as he's always wanted to avenge the Chinese people by having sex with an oppressor. Ok... he's not exactly good boyfriend material nor a sympathetic character but he's one that gets Yurei following him and revealing ghostly tendencies...
Sam Leong continues to via production company Same Way put Japanese talent in his Hong Kong productions (also see Shamo, Explosive City etc) and with himself in the directing chair, The Stewardess turns out to be a rather kooky, spooky time with a lot of dedication to mentioned three moods. They logically shouldn't mix but Leong isn't afraid to be off-beat, quirky, very Japanese in horror and cartoony to almost a literal extent. The music, atmosphere and camerawork all contribute to a very light time that doesn't mean very much as a story or even cinematically but Leong clearly has an eye for what the trailer asks. As well as a desire and skill to deliver. Also with Wayne Lai and Lam Suet.
|The Sting (1992) Directed by: Nico Wong
Fast-paced, hyperactive lunacy that represents one of those many Hong Kong movies on the shelf that you don't expect much out of but get a ton out of. Andy Lau is Simon Tam, wealthy private detective of some sort that has sworn to his master not to take any more jobs. His agent and assistant (Simon Loui) does accept a million dollar down payment to protect a client but that client dies and leaves behind the wife Yvonne (Rosamund Kwan). Subsequently the triads (led by Henry Fong and Michael Dinga) want money and diamonds so the hunt is on. All while CID officer played by Bowie Lam wows to take down Simon Tam...
Certainly a very lively, comic book adventure in style as director Nico Wong lets us know he feels The Sting has no business operating in the real world or within the notions of sense. But Wong has the skills to back this up as he takes the über-awesome Simon Tam through a plethora of chase scenarios. It's one of those heroes tailored for Andy Lau's inherent coolness as there's no way he's ever going to be in danger and judging by the manic humour on display, here could've laid a Stephen Chow vehicle perfectly suited for that man's screen image of the time as well. Andy Lau continues to prove he's adept at selling fights and take part to an admirable degree, even though the action here is more comedic in style (his encounter with an assassin not QUITE from the modern world is the best action director Lee King-Chu offers up). Bonus points goes to a completely mad Bowie Lam who appears in a variety of disguises, none more memorable than him as Jesus on the cross or as a very ugly baby. Also with Chin Ho and Shing Fui-On. Wong Jing's gambling/prison movies parody Perfect Exchange was also known as The Sting II but has nothing to do with Nico Wong's movie aside from the casting of Andy Lau in the lead.
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|Stolen Love (2001) Directed by: Alan Mak
By the time director Alan Mak and writer Felix Chong reveals their high concept for Silent Love, you firmly realize what a missed opportunity this romance was. An entire different cast & crew of note should attempt this love story again, preferably one headed by Derek Yee and not do what Mak does here, which is a whole bucket of wrongs. First is the problematic casting of young faces Rain Lee and Raymond Lam who strike up zero chemistry and are unable to chime in any weight to the characters. Mak instead attempts compensate for that by populating the film with surreal comedy, an overload of Canto-pop to stir up emotions and a surprise twist that again has opportunities but not in Alan and Felix's hands. It's definitely 10 steps back for Mak since he had A War Named Desire done by this point but Stolen Love thankfully has become buried under the success of the Infernal Affairs series that Mak co-wrote together with Felix and directed with Andrew Lau.
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|The Stone Age Warriors (1991) Directed by: Stanley Tong
After working as action director for a number of years, Stanley Tong got the chance to helm his own feature in 1991. The result was this jungle adventure starring Elaine Lui (Angel) and Nina Li (Tiger On The Beat) that, judging by the outtakes, was not an easy going and glamorous shoot for anyone (Lui and Li has several very real encounters with the wild and its animals here).
Aside from some lagging pace initially, The Stone Age Warriors settles in nicely after a while, giving us equal amount of low brow humour, slight detours into sleaze and competent action directing. The latter being the standout and is supposed to be a standout in a movie such as this. Tong doesn't create overly complex set pieces but plus points goes to the fair brutality of it and the fact that stars Lui and Li are most of the time performing themselves. If any style is evident in Tong's early work as a narrative director, it's that of giving us a piece not only set outside of Hong Kong but amongst several exotic locations. Something that would be very true for his subsequent collaborations with Jackie Chan on Police Story III and First Strike. Fan Siu-Wong co-stars (and gets a fine fighting showcase) and Dick Wei appears in a cameo during the intro.
|Stoner (1973) Directed by: Wong Fung
George Lazenby (the one time only 007) plays American cop (although the original trailer seems to go with him being Australian) Stoner who goes to Hong Kong to stop the new drug "Happy Pill" (a mixture of heroin and aphrodisiac) and to exact a little personal revenge as well. A parallel investigation is headed by Taiwan police woman Li Shao Hu (Angela Mao) who's suspecting the smugglers are using old Taiwanese boats to ship their drugs into Hong Kong. Traces leads to a local temple where the sick and poor go to have their illnesses cured...
If you're into the particular, sometimes unexplained atmos a Golden Harvest production can provide, you'll feel right at home with Stoner as it features elements and cast members we've come to expect to be included, including Whang In-Sik and Sammo Hung (also the film's co-action director). The film also takes some wonderfully dopey detours into exploitation as the effect on the drug can be seen at an early drug party scene where a woman is screaming for men and sex all while the onlookers praise the black man who's delivering the happiness. Lagging in pace somewhat, Lazenby does look powerful in his various brawls and the finale at the James Bond-esque lair gives Angela Mao her time to shine. Especially an extended end fight with Whong In-Sik is intense and even dangerous as it's got a fair amount of fire gags incorporated.
A shorter version on Hong Kong vcd loses a good chunk of Angela Mao's scenes (even fight ones) and nudity from the film. Lazenby went on to star in an additional two Hong Kong productions: The Man From Hong Kong and A Queen's Ransom.
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|Stooges In Hong Kong (1992) Directed by: Otto Chan
A comment on the lows television goes to to satisfy its audience, it's not a finely tuned view on our times but in this second James Wong/Tommy Wong romp (first being Stooges In Tokyo), the combination of hit/miss silliness equals an entertaining, silly time. James is the host of a dirty jokes show that is a smash but when he threatens to exclude Tommy as credited writer for their upcoming book, the buddies go their separate ways. No longer repressed, Tommy achieves great success utilizing a dirty singer while James is left to his own devices that drains the life out of his audience. Verbal vulgarity, a lot of lame parody and skit-theft (Airplane! and Monty Python being victims although the makers of the former seemingly gets an end credit acknowledgement!), director Chan (Devil's Woman) begins rebounding in the second half thanks to excessive silly behaviour that means a lot actually sticks to the wall. See one of the television bosses scratch his always growing testicles, multiple jokes about Amy Yip's breasts, her choice of vibrators and even when she's sporting a beard, there is something amusing and successful about Otto Chan's straightforward directing. James Wong mostly grates but Tommy Wong is funny and part of a surreal sense Stooges In Hong Kong has as the character for some reason enter different eras wherever he goes at times. Among others appearing are Mimi Chu, writer Vincent Kok and producer Clifton Ko.
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