Sunday, September 11, 2011

New from China: My Kingdom and Love in Space

Hey, China Lion, it's been a while since I saw you. We're a bunch of prudes in Boston, so even the indie theaters booking 3-D Sex & Zen: Extreme Ecstasy was right out, and I passed on The Beginning of the Great Revival back in June, so it's been almost five months. Good to see you're making up for lost time, with a potential double-feature. Quality-wise, it's fifty-fifty, but at least My Kingdom may be my favorite movie of the ones you've released.

I wonder if any of the places playing these movies offered them as a double feature; they're not exactly an obvious pairing other than being released on the same day, but both screenings I went to were sparsely attended. Probably not to the point of Creature-like per-screen averages, but I had some elbow room. I tend to wonder if this would appeal to thrifty people who might not otherwise give these movies a chance (I've written about this before, but it bears repeating: Theaters would benefit a heck of a lot from bringing back the double feature), both within and without the core Chinatown audience.

Of course, when measuring attendance for Love in Space, it depends whether you're talking about at the start of the movie or at the end. The fire alarm went off about 2/3 the way through, so we all went out and milled about in the lobby, returning to our seats once the flashing lights stopped. Then they started again, so it was back to the lobby until the Boston Fire Department gave us the thumbs up and we sat back down. Each alarm caused a bit of attrition; I'm guessing that the attendance went from eight to two over the course of the two hours. This was not a movie were it paid to give the audience a chance to leave!

Da Wu Sheng (My Kingdom)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 9 September 2011 in AMC Boston Common #1 (first-run)

Fans of action cinema respect the Peking Opera School - it's where Jackie Chan and many others trained, finding their way to martial-arts-movie-stardom when they graduated to find little demand for traditional Chinese opera. In My Kingdom, we see a tale from the form's heyday, and while it maybe overdoes some things, it seems like bad form to complain about this movie being too operatic.

At the turn of the twentieth century, a Prince Regent ruled China, and part of the way he solidified this rule was to execute whole clans martial artists, including children. One boy, Meng Er-kui, sang as he was led to the headsman.and was rescued and taken in by Master Yu Sheng-ying (Yuen Biao), to be trained and raised as a brother to Guan Yi-long. How the Regent favored Yu did not go unnoticed, and Yue Jiang-tien (Yu Rongguang) journeyed from Shanghai to challenge Yu for the title and golden plaque of the country's greatest Opera Warrior. Fifteen years later, the grown Yi-long (Wu Chun) and Er-kui (Han Geng) journey to Shanghai to make their fortunes and challenge Yue, despite their Master's demands they do not. They find their old enemy to be the star of the city's most popular troupe, engaged in a taboo romance with his leading lady, Xi Mu-lang (Barbie Hsu).

Say what you will about the rest of the movie, but there can be little argument that it is gorgeous to behold, especially the first half, which is filled with opulent costumes and elaborate recreations of 1920s Shanghai. There's not a frame that doesn't seem to have some sort of detail that makes the audience grin: General Lu (Louis Liu) lounges in the back of the theater like something you'd see in a movie from the period. The brothers' wardrobes show them assimilating to the city, going from the traditional costumes of the rural Chinese to a more western hayseed look to Yi-long's spiffy suits and top hats. And the make-up jobs are utterly fantastic, transforming some faces into masks while still letting emotion come through.

Full review at EFC.

Love In Space

* ½ (out of four)
Seen 10 September 2011 in AMC Boston Common #1 (first-run)

Movies that get their science wrong (by, say, having one character in a microgravity environment throw something at another only to have it slowly float across the room like it was underwater) annoy me; movies that flaunt their ignorance (having the second character snidely comment about how the first should have known that was going to happen) just flat-out tick me off. Basic physics is not hard, even for creative writing majors! But I'll leave the examples of bad science at that example, because (a) many people, sadly, just don't care; (b) it only really impacts one of Love in Space's four storylines; and (c) even without those errors, this film is plenty stupid.

Mary Huang (Xu Fan) has always loved flowers; all three of the widow's relationship-challenged children are named after one. Rose (René Liu) is an astronaut, currently on a mission to the International Space Station with Commander Michael Chan (Aaron Kwok) - who happens to be her ex-boyfriend. Lily (Gwei Lun-mei) went to Sydney, Australia to study art, but her germophobia and obsessive-compulsive disorder is holding her back. She has just met a nice guy, Johnny Chen (Eason Chan), but they may not be a perfect match, as he's the "Son" in Chen & Son Trash Collection. Youngest daughter Peony (Wing "Angelababy" Yeung) is an actress who has just received China's equivalent of a Razzie. Having never led a normal life but determined to do much better in an upcoming role as a waitress, she takes a job in a café alongside frustrated writer Wen Feng (Jing Boran) - who, shall we say, is not a fan of her work - while her manager "Uncle Hua" nurses a crush on Mary.

While some of these storylines certainly have a lot of miles on them, each one of them has a decent enough idea inside them that a talented filmmaker and a charismatic cast could make an entertaining romantic comedy out of each of the daughters' stories (with Mary and Hua a B-plot for Peony's). Combine those with a fairly strong cast - all seven main cast members are big names in China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan - and the raw materials look promising. No, Love in Space is not likely to be a classic, but as cinematic comfort food, it's got potential. Just don't screw it up.

Full review at EFC.

No comments: