Blind Detective by Johnnie To

Blind Detective by Johnnie To

Forced to leave service after turning blind, former detective Johnston Chong See Tun (played by Andy Lau) makes his living by solving cold cases for police rewards. During a bank robbery case, he meets an attractive hit team inspector Goldie Ho Ka Tung (played by Sammi Cheng). When Ho notices Chong’s strong sense of hearing and smell, she enlists his help in a missing person case.

Blind Detective marks the sixth time Andy Lau and Sammi Cheng have played an onscreen couple. Three of them, Needing You, Love on a Diet and Yesterday Once More were all Milkyway productions. Their first collaboration in the office romantic comedy Needing You is the original blueprint of their coupling, establishing the lovable quirks of Sammi Cheng, the catchy pop theme song sung by Cheng and her charming chemistry with Andy Lau. When Andy Lau and Sammi Cheng are next to each other in a movie, it’s so dripping in charm you feel like anything can happen. They can be pigging out at a restaurant, do crazy borderline illegal things or scream at each other. No wrong can be done.

In a way, that is the guide to enjoying Blind Detective. Lau and Cheng completely drive the film, not the plot or the mystery. It’s a combination of Johnnie To’s 2007 Mad Detective and the fourth sequel-in-spirit of Lau and Cheng Milkyway romantic comedies. In fact, having that preexisting knowledge is a requirement to understanding the film’s meandering tone.

At 130 minutes, Wai Ka-Fai’s script takes on more subplots than necessary. The mystery plot had me most engaged, and I liked how the crime-solving plot sprouted in multiple cases. The final reveal seemed rushed and a bit far-fetched to be truly believable. And there were details that should have been caught. The subplot with Andy Lau trying to woo a dance instructor played by Gao Yuan Yuan is cute but extraneous. It’s like the filmmakers brainstormed every possible thing for Andy Lau and Sammi Cheng’s characters to do, filmed all of them, and couldn’t decide what to take out.

In the end, Blind Detective is a weird animal. It won’t translate to overseas audiences and probably shouldn’t have premiered at Cannes. It’s biggest achievement is it knows its stars are the main attraction and does everything it can with them. Andy Lau seems to be relishing in this role and it’s adorable how his character is a major foodie. I laughed throughout it’s entirety, never really questioning where the plot was going because I knew the context. And for that, people who are familiar with Andy Lau and Sammi Cheng’s coupling in Milkyway productions will have a better time.

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American Dreams in China by Peter Chan

American Dreams in China by Peter Chan

During the economic reform period of the 80’s, three friends bind together by a common ambition – to live the American dream.

The three leads Huang Xiao Ming, Deng Chao and Tong Dawei create a very believable camaraderie. It is possible to be happy for your friend doing well and envy him at the same time, and that is the central story between these three friends. Huang Xiao Ming brings his best performance thus far. He’s not busy preening for the camera and posing a pretty boy as I have seen in his past works. It’s partly the role itself as it asks Huang to start by playing a vulnerable teenage boy who eventually that ages into a man.

There’s a trend of using very fast cuts in Mainland comedies right now. It originated with Ning Hao’s 2006 heist comedy Crazy Stone – which drew its visual style from Guy Ritchie – and now it has officially embedded itself genetically as filmic grammar for Chinese comedic dialogue. There’s a scene where two of the friends had a fight and complain about each other individually with the third friend over a ping pong game. The cutting is so fast between conversation A and conversation B that it’s impossible for the audience to really feel what these characters are going through. These montages will happen every now and then to speed the story ahead. It’s zany for sure, but at times I wish they would let the scenes breathe instead of zeroing in for laughs.

That said, it’s smart on Peter Chan’s part of picking up on this trend and using it here because American Dreams in China is a Mainland Chinese story made for the Mainland audience. The content may prove more difficult with English-speaking audiences whom aren’t aware of the cultural context or why the 3 friends carry the values they do about America and the American Dream to laugh at it whole-heartedly.

Suffice to say, Chan balances the film well and it is impressive to see a Hong Kong director tune to a Mainland frequency. Best thing I can say about Peter Chan’s direction is that he is worldly. He doesn’t portray Americans as white devils, which makes things more interesting and engaging. American Dreams in China will connect with its audience, namely Chinese people who were born in the 80’s, and those people will enjoy it. Everybody else I am not so sure but this is a nice gem of a film nonetheless.

Love in the Buff by Edmond Pang Ho Cheung

Love in the Buff by Edmond Pang Ho Cheung

Love in the Buff by Edmond Pang Ho Cheung

The sequel to 2010’s Love in a Puff continues the story of Jimmy and Cherie (played by Shawn Yue and Miriam Yeung), who met and fell in love through their outdoor office smoking breaks (after the 2007 Hong Kong government indoor smoking ban). Five months after the events in the first film, Jimmy and Cherie face more difficulties in their romantic relationship as they split up and both individually end up in Beijing as they follow their jobs to China’s capital city, and both begin new relationships there. But despite their best efforts they can’t seem to keep away from each other.

Edmond Pang Ho Cheung is a promising writer/director that always puts out off-kilter interesting work. Isabella and Exodus still remain my favourite Pang Ho Cheung films. The only Pang film I did not like was the Category III  horror film Dream Home for it’s over-excessive satirical violence that ran out of steam. Love in the Buff was released in its original Cantonese language dub in Mainland theatres (which is a first! Something I’ve wanted to see for my entire teenage life), and that’s how I saw it. Part of the sell of the movie is watching celebrities swear onscreen, so it was important that I saw it in Cantonese. I laughed more than six times and was glad to see the mandarin-speaking locals next to me laughing as well in its sharply-written dialogue set pieces. For this reason, the film will be lost on English-speaking audiences.

In a way, the film was made specific to me. It was about Hong Kong people living in Beijing. The locations were all the restaurants and places where Cantonese people congregate. In fact, there was an establishing shot of the mall I was watching the movie in. So the film briefly gave me a non-acid mind trip. Beijing is presented in a non-touristy gaze and the film addresses the cultural interaction between Hong Kongers and Mainlanders. Together with the swearing, the film felt real and life-like. So this all added an extra layer for me.

By the middle, the film was bringing up hints of that romantic comedy trope in which the conflict would be easily resolved if the protagonists told each other how they felt, instead of dragging the movie for another 20 minutes. That usually annoys me as it always seems to exist only to prolong the film to the 90-minute mark. I would have been annoyed but Pang does something interesting with it. The non-communication is exactly the problem between Jimmy and Cherie. They are a couple who never knows the right time to say the right things to each other and it keeps creating rifts between them. Hence the need for the many supporting characters who serve as their confidants, who talk to them while they’re around each other. There are two tongue-in-cheek celebrity gags with Huang Xiaoming and Ekin Cheng. I preferred the latter gag, the former was a bit too cheeky “wink wink” in-jokey for me. Pang makes all these conversations fun with witty lines, innuendoes and profanity. I could see it all being shorter, but it was fun.

Love in the Buff really does test the likability of its two leads with the audience. Jimmy and Cherie are pretty real in the sense that they aren’t likeable all the time. In fact, they’re even downright shitty at times the way they treat their present lovers Sam and Youyou (played by Zheng Xu and Mini Yang). Sometimes you want to go up to slap both of them. I was worried that the film will lose me and drag along. It did not. The film makes these characters sympathetic by showing how well Jimmy and Cherie fit together as a couple. To quote John Cusack from High Fidelity, “Some people just feel like home.” And with that, the film ultimately won me over by the end.

Even though, if it were me, I’d totally choose Mini Yang as my movie girlfriend. An air hostess who takes Polaroids? Seriously? Sign me up! Man, I have a new crush.