Saturday, May 10, 2014


Man, did this one sneak up on me. Usually, when something like this is opening, I'll at least know about it a couple days ahead of time - it's usually in a Subway Cinema email or Facebook post, at the very least - but I half-wonder if all the people who would have usually reported it were blindsided by the same glitch that got me - this listings everywhere I looked, whether on Fandango, Flixter, Google, or anything else - all gave the description of another movie by the name of "Aberdeen". I was interested in that one - I liked the director's A Somewhat Gentle Man, and it had a nice cast - and it wasn't until I was actually writing out this week's Next Week that I noticed the release year on it was 2000 and went digging to find a 2013 or 2014 release by that name. Then I got even more excited. I probably would have gone to see the other movie anyway and been kind of surprised by what I got, but, wow, that was a broad, weird screw-up. It's fixed on Fandango, at least, and there were flyers promoting it and That Demon Within at the theater and on the AMC website (which lists a Korean movie coming out next week, although not necessarily to Boston), so I guess there are more places I should be looking.

It was a neat movie, at least, although I half-wonder why it wasn't released a week earlier to capitalize on the "May the 4th Be With You" goofiness. Sure, that probably wouldn't move the needle in Hong Kong or China at all, but given how relatively small the audience for foreign movies is in America, a few trailers or targeted ads that point out that at least one character in the movie is a pretty serious Star Wars collector - and his friend explains why he shouldn't worry about his daughter's appearance with a metaphor from the movies - it couldn't have hurt, right? The latter was in the middle of a bit of weird product placement (apparently there's a toy store in HK that sells a lot of Star Wars stuff and one conversation was shot to frame their logo), but it still worked, and I got a kick out of when the credits I could read thanked both George Lucas and "The Stormtrooper who hits his head".

And I must admit - even though I kind of grumble about how making a movie with higher production values than usual seems to have blunted director Pang Ho-cheung's strengths a little, I kind of wonder if he's a fan, and if so, if Disney might talk to him about doing one of the spin-off movies. I mean, why the heck not get some Hong Kong folks to make a movie with potentiallya bunch of crazy wire-fu, and if you can cast a lead like Donnie Yen or Andy On who can do it in both English and Mandarin, that is some serious money to be made. Even if Pang's not the guy, it seems like something the business people at Disney should have already started work on.

Or maybe get Pang to do an old-school "man in suit" kaiju movie, especially if there's a satirical angle to be taken. Those scenes in Aberdeen were fun, too.

Anyway, I notice that Pang has another movie due later this year - probably not in time for Fantasia, sadly - to continue his recent trend of making films in twos, with Women Who Know How to Flirt Are the Luckiest being a Mandarin-language comedy set in Mainland China. I kind of wonder if that's going to be his pattern for a while - one mainstream thing for the big audience, one Hong Kong-centric thing, as with 2012's Love in the Buff & Vulgaria. I kind of hope it is; as much as I like when good filmmakers get big money to play with, the recent revival of Hong Kong cinema that isn't worrying too much about how or whether it plays in the People's Republic has been nice to see.

Aberdeen (2014)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 9 May 2014 in AMC Boston Common #19 (first-run, DCP)

Is there a term for when directors like Pang Ho-cheung who have thrived, maybe not on the edge, but certainly in a part of the film industry where things are less polished and more open to eccentricity, do something bigger and more serious and have it not quite measure up to their previous works? That's kind of what happens here; Aberdeen doesn't neuter Pang's quirky nature, but it could use a little focusing.

The focus it has is on the Cheng family, who presumably all live in Aberdeen, Hong Kong. Sister Wai-ching (Miriam Yeung Chin-wah) is a tour guide at a local museum, seemingly unaware of the affair her husband Yau Kin-cheung (Eric Tsang Chi-wai) is having with his nurse, in part because she's still hung up on how her mother still seems to hate her from beyond the grave. Her brother Wai-tao (Louis Koo Tin-lok) is a "tutor" (more of a motivational speaker) married to Ceci (Gigi Leung Wing-kei), a model and actress who didn't seem to pass her looks on to their daughter Chloe (Lee Man-kwai). Their father Dong (Ng Man-tat) is a Taoist priest, although that is not incompatible with spending much of his time with Ta (Carrie Ng Ka-lai), a dancer who has graduated to running her own nightclub in her middle age.

There's not much of a story to the movie, per se, no thing that must be accomplished or tragedy that throws the family into disarray. The focus eventually seems to drift toward Tao, Ceci, and Chloe because there's kind of an interesting dynamic going on there. Tao calls his daughter "Piggy", worries about her paternity, and spends a lot of effort on toughening her up because she won't be able to get men to do things for her just as Ceci is starting to find it a little harder to get work. That's an interesting if sort of gross set of issues, enough to build the rest of the movie around, especially since Pang and the cast are able to tell that part of the story in a way that comes across as very genuine and individual rather than didactic, even if I'm not sure Tao necessarily draws the correct lesson from how George Lucas handled the stormtrooper who banged his head on a Death Star bulkhead when making the Special Edition of Star Wars.

Full review at EFC

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