Wednesday, May 15, 2013


Sometimes you start watching a film and you just know there's a big twist ending coming. And you're pretty sure you've figured out what it is. And then the twist comes and it's totally not what you were expecting. That's awesome! And Nightfall (2012) is just such a film.

The great Nick Cheung plays an ex-con named Wang (incorrectly listed as Wong on IMDb, plus the HK disk subs I saw had Yang -- go figure) who's just done 20 years for a rape/murder he may or may not have committed. In fact, finding out whether he did it or not is one of the main objectives of the film. Then there's the brutal murder of a famous symphony conductor right after our mystery man (who hates the conductor for some reason) gets out of the joint. This comes to the attention of Detective Lam (Simon Yam), a depressed widower who lives for his job. He's going to get to the bottom of things, and the whole backstory gradually unfolds, taking us deeper and deeper until we reach the devastating denouement.

Extra points for Cheung and Yam -- seeing these guys go up against each other is pure Hong Kong film bliss. Yam is getting up there in years (he runs slowly and painfully in chase scenes), but he's still got it. Readers of this blog may have noticed I mistakenly called him "Simon Lam" a few times (I've since gone back and fixed that). I apologize; I must have been thinking of his unforgettable performance as the title character in the notorious Category III nasty Dr. Lamb (reviewed in Asia Shock).

If you like HK film, police procedurals, mysteries and don't mind a bit of ultraviolence (the opening scene is fairly brutal), you can't go wrong with Nightfall, a stylized and truly absorbing piece of film-making.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Tai Chi Hero

This was one of the first films assigned to me by Netflix -- yes, that's right folks, they're paying me to watch movies (and then enter metadata into their system; it's a part-time, freelance gig, but in these tough times I'm glad to have it).

A refreshingly upbeat, steampunk take on the period martial arts film, Tai Chi Hero (2012) is actually a sequel aka Tai Chi 2: The Hero Rises, renamed for an unsuspecting (and presumably uncaring) Western kung fu film viewership. It starts off with a lightening fast recap of the previous film -- man, those subs just fly by. For a slow reader like yours truly, it was more than a struggle to keep up!

And the pace stays pretty breathless throughout. The eponymous hero of the story is one Yang Lu Chan (1799 - 1872), famed innovator in the practice of Tai Chi (not the slow kind your Chinese grandma does in the park -- this is the quick-as-a-whip, ass-kicking variety). He gets married to bitchy yet beautiful Yu Niang (played by someone named Angelababy), and she proceeds to train him in her family's secret kung fu method. Meanwhile, her black sheep brother Zai Yang returns to the family full of secrets. He's an inventor and has created a fantastical flying machine (that apparently made a big splash in the first film).

There are numerous subplots, one in particular involving, of all people, Peter Stormare, the freaky Norwegian fellow from Fargo, here playing another heavy, a representative of the East India Company. Unfortunately, his storyline has less impact if you didn't see the first film.

If you're into Hong Kong film, watch this space; Netflix seems to be sending me HK films at a 3-1 ratio to Japanese films (sadly no Korean films -- someone else does those). As usual, I'll only be writing about the films I'd recommend (2012's The Treasure Hunter didn't do much for me, for example -- see? It ain't here). Next up: HK crime flick Nightfall.