Friday, February 25, 2011

Two by To, HELP and THE EXECUTIONERS

HELP!!! (2000)

Two posters here for the Johnnie To Kei-fung movies HELP!!! and THE EXECUTIONERS. First up is HELP!!!, an entertaining (if not much else) flick starring Noodle Cheng Yee-kin, Jordan Chan Siu-chun, and Cecilia Cheung Pak-chi. Honestly, I remember little about the film and it's kind of an odd bird in the To/Ka-fai catalog. I'm probably going to blaspheme right here but I'm growing weary of To. Don't get me wrong. I still enjoy To's films but when thinking about them they begin to smudge together. So, I'm in a curmudgeonly mood, so I shall further stir the pot. And keep in mind, this is just a cursory shit stir.


During a Chinese New Year dinner at Wei's house, one of her brothers Korean friends (a non-cinephile. Korean film or otherwise) asked me if I knew who Johnnie To was. HA! Did I know who Johnnie To was??? But of course! Anyway, he went on to tell me that he has been watching a lot of To movies lately and wanted to know why they all seemed the same?! Dark looking movies about gangsters who wear sunglasses and just look cool. They pose a lot. I didn't have an answer for him? I should mention that these are the recent To flicks he had been watching, ELECTION through VENGEANCE. He was right. I had been tiring from To but couldn't really put my finger on why? Until a cinema 'layman' pointed it out. He's making the same film. And before you go haywire on my tuchus, I understand that other HK directors make 'the same film' as well.




THE EXECUTIONERS (1993)

So, am I a bad boy? Have I spoken ill of one of HK's greatest filmmakers? As I said, I still enjoy To, but it's becoming much less. I recently went back and watched two of To's most 'groundbreaking' films, THE MISSION and A HERO NEVER DIES. Both films were made during the dog days of HK cinema in the late 90's and signaled a turning point of sorts in the way HK cinema was to be further presented. Less movies produced during the year, though with larger budgets. Well, larger is relative and within reason. Also, To was masterful in his narratives where much more was offered when much less was spoken. I enjoyed THE MISSION when I first saw it on initial release and wanted to see how it held up. I held it in high regard but upon watching it again, THE MISSION, 12 years later, is merely just a good movie. Not what I had remembered.
It was still functionally strong and I still really admire To's cinematic landscape change. Good job by To.

A HERO NEVER DIES I have always had mixed feelings about. It is a very silly movie. This is not a slight at all as most films I enjoy from my favorite period in HK cinema, late 80's-early 90's, were just as ridiculous. And that is a huge part of what I love about them. I believe A HERO NEVER DIES only works well one way, but I really can't get into it here. I could argue with A HERO NEVER DIES hardcores for days. I will proffer one word in how I believe To meant to present the film.....Homoerotic. This is the ONLY way the film works for me. And if it's not supposed to be blatantly about two killers with an unquenchable man-love for each other, than the film is just plain horse shit. Discuss and send death threats. Maybe I will do a post with my take on the film using stills from the film? After watching these films I wondered, sometimes out loud and to myself, were To's films really all that good? Placing these two 'classics' in the context of time and place in HK cinema history, were they the best or just the best of what was around? Hmmmmmm?
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If you are into THE MISSION (Please don't get me wrong! It's a good flick!), please do yourself a huge favor and check out my buddies blog A HERO NEVER DIES (guess who i'm gonna but heads with?), where he formatted his own dvd of the To flick using the French remastered version and inserting new English subs. Check it out HERE.



Ok, back to the posters. Above is the poster for To's excellent follow up to 1993, THE HEROIC TRIO, the same years, THE EXECUTIONERS. I have a poster for THE HEROIC TRIO somewhere but I just couldn't find it and was getting cranky looking for it. So ya'll are only getting the second half of this sweet heydey treat. If you don't know who these three lovely ladies are, exit this page tout-de-suite!

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I wanted to say thank you all for listening to the first show of THIS WEEK IN SLEAZE, and for giving me feedback. I hope you guys will continue to listen? Ken and I actually do put a decent amount of work into the show and research (more than watching movies) certain topics before blabbing about them. Keeping you guys up to date, Ken and I recorded our second show last Friday and are scheduled to record our third show next Friday. The second show should be out in a few weeks. I will keep everyone posted on the exact date. Thanks again and if you know anyone interested in Asian cinema and is into the podcast thing, send them on over to Podcast On Fire. A bunch of nice Asian cinema lovin' fellows, that lot!

6 comments:

  1. That was a thoughtful stirring of the shit, LOL. I understand the frustration with the modern To. Hopefully that rom-com thing he's got coming out will remind people he's more than gangsters.

    FWIW: I didn't like Vengeance very much either. And I saw it on my first day in HK ever. The experience of seeing it was fun but the film was not.

    I still haven't seen A Hero Never Dies.

    I think the problem is that some fanboys on sites outside of the ones linked here rave about To the way people raved about Woo back in the day. And that kind of fanboy QT-ish raving is EXACTLY the thing that kept me away from HK Cinema for so long.

    What makes To interesting is not that "gangster shit" (to quote an Outkast song) but his talent in multiple genres.

    Just like how I loved HK cinema once I found out it wasn't just Jackie Chan falling off a ladder and John Woo filming a bunch of guns and doves, you know?

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  2. He used to be good, but the fanboys ruined him. Now he has only one thing on his mind: VENGEANCE. Coming soon, an all new, insufferable Johnnie To romantic comedy.

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  3. Agreed, totally, glad I am not the only one. I didn't like "A Hero never Dies" much at all. David Bordwell said a couple interesting things about this film last Saturday. There apparently is a whole section on To in his online book (still have to buy that thing!). Much of his comments on the film at the event had to do with some choices To made just because of the low budget. But what helped me most was his comment about Leon Lai's acting. I guess the question was why was LL always looking down and not at Lau Ching Wan when they were talking. And To's response was that LL wasn't a good enough actor. LCW would have destroyed him onscreen.

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  4. Wow! Glad to see I have some people in the same boat.

    I do like To but he is becoming stale. I would asert that of the two main Milkyway directors, To and Ka-fai, Ka-fai is the more talanted of the two. Maybe it's unfair to compare them since both seem divergent filmmakers. At least recently. Anyone see Ka-fai's WRITTEN BY? That was not a HK film!? Or maybe a HK film that we are used to seeing. Extremely different from To's retreads. Even Ka-fai's stuff Like RUNNING ON KARMA. Easily rooted in a HK cinema feel but wholly of the map in regards to story.

    I don't mind Fanboys to some extent. I enjoy that they enjoy HK cinema and specific talent so much. Some do go waaaaay overboard and boarder on ignorance, but Fanboys do have a place in cinema discussion. There place is just somewhere near the back =P

    Diana, I'm kicking myself for missing Bordwell! I don't mind Leon's acting as I know acting isn't his forte going into a film. To looked to really stretch to make Lai look super cool in A HERO NEVER DIES. he did a good job with it, I think? LCW can destroy most anybody on screen. Even in his crap romantic comedies. He has quite a demanding presence on screen.

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  5. Interesting post and comments everyone, I love posts that stir up this kind of discussion, its all about opinion, and thats why we read and write blogs.

    For me JT is in a bit of a no win situation in some regards, if he sticks to the crime/gangster films he's a one trick pony. When he switches to other genres, he is accused of selling out or even worse, wasting his time.

    The interesting thing for me is the diversity and blending of genres that To and the Milkyway team can pull off, either in an artistic or commercial way and quite frequently both. We may not like them all, but if a Help or Don't go breaking my heart can help to fund something like Sparrow, then great and you don't have to watch everything.

    The Mission is a masterpiece of HK cinema for me and while it maybe true that not much else was around to challenge it at that time, that doesn't take away anything from it for me. A hero never dies is open to interpretation, a really interesting film in that it polarises even audiences open to that style of film. I hope that you do the post with stills you mention Kingwho? I would love to read it, and I will be doing something on it soon and then we can really butt heads in a similarly homoerotic manner to Jack and Martin! Leon Lai was never going to be able to compete with Lau Ching Wan (the HK god of actors) in the acting stakes but does about as well as he could I think.

    Finally, the Bordwell book is well worth downloading, even if you have the older print version, the updates are great.

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  6. I'm on the run tonight and off to work. I shall get back to this topic shortly.....AHND! =P

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