Mr. Cinema (2007)

Directed by: Samson Chiu
Written by: Samson Chiu, Si Yeung-Ping & Siu Kwan-Hung
Producers: Henry Fong, Cheung Hong-Tat, Wu Tian-Ming, Wang Zhan-Liang & Zhao An
Starring: Anthony Wong, Ronald Cheng, Teresa Mo, Karen Mok, John Shum, Pau Hei-Ching & Andrew Lin

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Nominations at the Hong Kong Film Awards 2008:
Best Actress (Teresa Mo)
Best Supporting Actor (Ronald Cheng)
Best Supporting Actress (Karen Mok)
Best Original Song 星光伴我心 ("Starlight Accompanies My Heart")
Music: Peter Kam
Lyrics: Keith Chan
Performed by: Ronald Cheng

Starting in 1964, Zhou Heung-Kong (Anthony Wong, whose character name sounds like "Left" when pronounced) is a pro-communist leftist who naturally loves his country and the politics that is going to make them all thrive for years to come. Also a projectionist at a local Hong Kong movie theatre and possessing a love for only his beloved Mainland movies, his wife Chan Sau-Ying (Teresa Mo) works hard to support the struggling family. Even more so when it's revealed that their son Chong has a heart disease. Through the important points of history, Kong remains optimistic that the path he's steering his life onto is the correct one but it becomes more about dreaming than adjusting yourself to reality. The son (played as an adult by Ronald Cheng) tries out a plethora of career choices with little success and the wife is suffering quietly as the decades roll on...

Taking my sweet time to approach this Samson Chiu directed drama, despite being a huge fan of his works such as Yesteryou, Yesterme, Yesterday and When I Fall In Love... With Both, since Mr. Cinema is dealing with a large piece of Chinese history between the 50s leading up the 1997 handover by the British to China, I tend to create for myself an illusion that I'm too stupid to take this on. Well, the theory that with a bit of honest focus, you'll get through it works too (and with a little online help) and Samson Chiu's love for history and nostalgia has often been an experience that's burned itself into my emotional mind (see his Golden Chicken films). Originally carrying the working title "Call Me Left" and promoting the film via artwork similar to old propaganda posters depicting hard working, happy Chinese individuals, the title Mr. Cinema of course carries with it a crucial weight too. It's put out as entertainment and a way for audiences to re-experience history, for better or worse. But one crucial worse-section other reviews such as Ross Chen's at lovehkfilm have correctly mentioned is the fact that not only was Mr. Cinema a Mainland co-production premiering a few weeks shy of the 10th anniversary of the handover, amidst this intent to celebrate, its history lesson clearly skips a few beats out of harsh chapters such as the one covering the Hong Kong 1967 Leftist Riots and the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre but does this mean the makers are neglecting the true intent of the movie/is it ok to forget in favour of highlighting the merits of pretty much every aspect of Chiu's movie? You be the judge, I am not but for myself, Chiu's grip on sentimentality, reality and hardships remain as compelling as ever.

Not only Kong provides the positive vibes initially. No, Samson Chiu shows the growing hope in the citizens who are singing, are proud but for instance the brief look at the 67 riots shows a turning point. Not only does the family relationship take a turn as the wife sustains the injury that will affect the son but Kong's future dreams is clearly starting to crumble. All clear to anything but him and in fact, his beliefs seems shaped by movies more than the real world. So in reality the filmmakers may have been forced to neglect parts of history that would've worked well when balanced against the hardships of the family but it's important to note that it's all felt despite and pretty much all historical notes are covered quickly anyway.

The financial upswings and falls are portrayed and in particular the presence of Western goods, influence and despite a Kong remaining determined, of course the correct stance is held by someone like Chong who is adhering to what the current reality is. Find whatever job you can, allowing failure to be in your life is a lesson learned but Chong has to learn to speak of his feelings towards childhood love Luk Min (Karen Mok) whose family has lived next door to the Zhou's throughout the decades (and Luk Min's father, played by John Shum, is always the hothead towards Kong when politics comes into the discussion).

Mr. Cinema seems dormant emotionally but then again Samson Chiu is so apt at, even when showing glimpses of it, of putting us into a historical reality. Hong Kong has often been shown as meaning a lot to him and it's no different in this film. Mr. Cinema is also very simple at its core and therefore it was wise to not linger on the hardships of history more than featuring them as matter of fact aspects of the lives of the characters. But when frustration reaches the boiling point for characters, sorrow and tragedy enters and the sentimental story really begins to fly. Chiu's argument is that as a human being you hopefully will be able to add up all the good in your life once done with it and it's where Chiu also reaches our hearts. The melodrama is big but taken to real caring levels, much thanks to Anthony Wong and Teresa Mo being very compelling in their parts. Ronald Cheng takes his Chong to way big, way stressed out and awkward places at many points but manages to reel in the character in some very successful scenes alongside Karen Mok come ending time.

Mr. Cinema isn't about lingering, it's about people showing a persistence and that is more powerful than Mainland influence dictating what should and shouldn't be featured in movie entertainment. Samson Chiu rises above any problems that honestly can be argued to be in the production because of its intent to portray history but ultimately, the brief look at events shape people and that means the people are the spotlight... in a very uplifting, sincere way and that scores you points with critics rightly criticizing the film. It should.

The DVD (Joy Sales):

Video: 1.76:1 anamorphic widescreen.

Audio: Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1, Cantonese DTS 5.1 and Mandarin Dolby Digital 5.1.

Subtitles: English, traditional Chinese and simplified Chinese.

Extras: The trailer.


reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson