Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Charlene Choi’

Treasure Inn or Cai Shen Ke Zhan (2011)

For some reason, the summer season is associated with big crowd-pleasing blockbusters. When the sun is beating down and there are so many distractions outdoors, the studios release the films they believe will pull the crowds. In many cases, their choices are really bad. It can just be that the particular script-writing committee and associated focus groups were particularly poorly co-ordinated so the plot emerges in a chaotic state. More often, it’s obvious the cast were only interested in taking the money and finishing as quickly as possible. Whatever the reason, the summer is often the graveyard of the studios’ hopes and expectations.

Nicholas Tse and Nick Cheung finding humour in the moment

 

This year from Hollywood has been no exception. There have been some real stinkers. Looking in the other directions, there have been some good films from Europe and one or two excellent offerings from Hong Kong and China. Well, the mould has now been broken with the arrival of Treasure Inn or Cai Shen Ke Zhan from the remarkably prolific Jing Wong. This just goes to show that, whatever Hollywood can do, Hong Kong can beat if it puts its mind to it.

Huang Yi and Charlene Choi relegated to eye candy roles

 

Welcome to the wacky world of wuxia comedy. When this fires on all cylinders not only is the fighting superb, but the laughs flow as well. Treasure Inn is a classic example of how not to do it. I suppose the starting points for this pastiche were Dragon Inn or Long men kezhan (1967) and Dragon Inn or Sun lung moon hak chan (1992) which are wonderful straight fighting films set in a remote desert inn. So, as a modern director, you pick your targets carefully. This will have the Inn act as a haunt for criminals who auction off stolen goods to the highest bidders, making it a lure to all the best thieves who want the top return on their skills. In this instance, it’s all about a jade life-sized Goddess of Mercy. A gang of raiders hire a criminal mastermind to steal it for them and pass it on at the Inn. Standing in their way is an elite group of police agents led by Captain Iron (Kenny Ho). Also involved are Nicholas Tse and Nick Cheung playing bottom-feeder officers, left to do household chores by their corrupt local officers. When they insert themselves into the investigation, they are accused of being the thieves and then make a break from jail thanks to the efforts of Fire Dragon Girl (Yi Huang) and Water Dragon Girl (Charlene Choi). Needless to say, this pairs off our “heroes” — you can tell this is love at first sight because of the red hearts that burst across the screen when their eyes meet. Yes, some of the humour is that primitive. The other element of romance is between Tong Da Wei as a doctor in love with Ling Long (Liu Yang), the lady who runs the Inn.

Liu Yang floats around showing she's in charge of the Inn

 

Perhaps it’s an age thing but, when I watch a film, I want it to make sense. I can understand why the corrupt local police would want to drive the innocent do-gooders away, but why they would stay in the face of this relentless abuse is unclear. What makes this a problem is that, when the murders and theft of the statue occur, they are fast to insert themselves into the investigation and obviously ambitious to be recruited into Captain Iron’s troop. Later, when accused of being the robbers, we have slapstick torture and then the rescue by the cross-dressing ladies. There’s no attempt at explanation of why one of the ladies should be locked up with our heroes, nor why the three should be sentenced to death without any kind of trial. I suppose we have to have the ladies readily agree to go to the Inn because that’s the way love works in these films. I could go on but you should understand that, except in the broadest of terms, there’s very little logic or consistency of characterisation at work in this film.

Tong Da Wei looking dangerous in a different film

 

I might have forgiven all this and accepted the one or two laugh-out-loud moments as compensation if the fighting had been any good. Sadly, we are into poor cutting to hide the lack of good fighting sequences. You can always tell you’re in trouble when the use of sound as a weapon is so heavily featured with red blades of doom being cast off the guitar strings while a lion’s roar comes back. Even the CGI storm that rages around and eventually destroys the Inn is embarrassingly bad.

 

It’s rare I emerge from the cinema unable to find a single redeeming feature. While accepting that humour often does not cross cultural boundaries, it’s possible this film is aimed at mainland Chinese markets and they will all fall about laughing from start to finish. Certainly, much of the humour is lower common denominator and basic — as in the usual argument about who such suck out the snake venom from one of our hero’s buttocks — so if cultural stereotypes are true, this will make a lot of money. Worse, there’s little passion in any of the three romances to distract us, and the fighting fails to deliver anything entertaining.

 

So even when Treasure Inn is scheduled on terrestrial television, think twice before spending time to watch it.

 

Other films by Nicholas Tse:
The Beast Stalker or Ching Yan (2008)
The Bullet Vanishes or Xiao shi de zi dan (2012)
Storm Warriors or Fung wan II (2009)

Kung Fu Dunk or Gong fu guan lan (2008)

About half way through this film, I began thinking about the best meaning to give to the adjective “affectionate”. It’s an easy word to dismiss because it falls somewhere short of love and, in our rather back and white culture, we seem to consider mere affection as somehow a failure. In a society where we’re all supposed to be trying for love, this is a wishy-washy second-best. Yet, in more open-minded terms, we can always say that affection is a forerunner to love. It’s that warm feeling you get when you meet someone. It’s that positive sense you enjoy someone’s company. It’s something you treasure because, in those shared moments, you know you are both special and set apart from the general crowd around you.

Jay Chou and Charlene Choi thinking about ice cream

 

Well, although this is not a review of a relationship, it’s a statement about the way the filmmakers and cast so obviously feel about both kung fu and basketball. And before we go any further, I need to say a few words about Shaolin Soccer which is Stephen Chow having fun (again). Both films must come to a confrontation between a team of underdog heroes and an “evil” team. Since there will be wire work and SFX, the ball will act in strange ways that do not follow the usual laws of physics, while the players will move through the air as if able to defy gravity. Such is the fantastical beauty of kung fu when it stops taking itself seriously and decides to play for fun. Yet the two films are actually chalk and cheese, with the soccer more deliberately intended as an action comedy, whereas the basketball is really about a young man growing up and recognising who his friends are.

Bo-Lin Chen unimpressed by Jay Chou's ball-handling skills

 

Kung Fu Dunk was originally intended as a big screen adaptation of a highly popular Japanese manga series created by Takehiko Inoue called “Slam Dunk!” Except, when director Yen-ping Chu began work, he realised a different approach was required. Thus, Kung Fu Dunk starts off as if it’s going to be played for laughs — a baby found abandoned by a basketball court is taken in by a kung fu school where he has the good fortune to see his shifu (that’s a kung fu master for those of you not educated in the ways of these films) lose control of a complicated kata intended to control time and freeze to death. It then charts the boy’s startling lack of success in relationships with girls and leads us to his modern day existence as the top student whose primary job is to pretend the school principal can punch like a mule. This is Fang Shi Jie played by Jay Chou. When he fails to give a convincing performance, he’s kicked out for the night and meets the redoubtable Eric Tsang as Zhen Wang Li, an impoverished trickster with a heart of gold. So begins the real story as the orphan finally gets the chance to learn the benefits of having a father-figure in his life and the power that can come from a team as a family.

 

What gives the film its strength is the natural chemistry between Jay Chou and Eric Tsang. Although the basketball team led by Ting Wei (played by Bo-Lin Chen), the girl Li-Li (played by Charlene Choi), and the teachers at the kung fu school are all important in what, for the most part, is an ensemble piece, Eric Tsang must be credible for it all to hang together. Fortunately, he gives a quietly understated performance and, most importantly, pulls an improving performance out of Jay Chou who starts out as slightly wooden, but ends with a genuine sense of affection for the conman and loyalty to the rest of the team. Whereas kung fu is mostly about individual skills (except for some of the most extravagant formations we see on the large screen), a game of basketball is won by individuals who trust each other and sacrifice their own glory when it’s necessary.

Eric Tsang and Charlene Choi looking for a score

 

First a word about the kung fu. There’s a terrific fight sequence in an expensive bar owned by one of the owners of the “evil” team. This sets the tone for the relationship between the “good” guys and the “bad”. More importantly, it establishes that Jay Chou can fight convincingly. All I will note about the sequence is that, at the end, the major ornament above the circular bar falls to the ground and smashes. It’s a double dragon and a reminder of the shaolin style. The basketball, when shown in training and played straight, is also convincingly skillful. When the two are combined, the results are pleasingly absurd. The intervention of the teachers is masterful with unexpected prowess from the one female teacher. It just goes to show you should never underestimate the ones that look the weakest. They can compensate for power with low cunning and a knowledge of the acupuncture points. If push does come to shove, the right application of chi delivers the momentum needed to surprise even a school principal.

Jay Chou showing off his star power

 

This is a film that could have been a sentimental and hackneyed copy of Shaolin Soccer. Instead, it’s an affectionate take on both the tropes of kung fu and the drama that comes from basketball played well. Although there are some good individual jokes, it’s less a comedy and more an “entertainment”. However you choose to put it, this is a fun sporting film that tells a good story about family and sporting values. It also shows that if you put Jay Chou in the right part in the right film, he can deliver a better than good performance. Unlike Secret in which he miscast himself, this is showing off real star power. It’s easy to see why, after two more films, he should end up in Hollywood playing Kato in The Green Hornet. As a final note, Jay Chou is, of course, a musician and wrote the score for the soundtrack.

 

%d bloggers like this: