Thursday, March 21, 2019

New from China: More than Blue & The Crossing

I see that More than Blue is getting a second week at Boston Common and The Crossing is not, which is too bad; the latter is clearly the better movie. I wonder how much it's down to the first being more easily-digestible and how much is due to other factors - there were previews for Blue before many of the Chinese movies I saw over the past few months but I found out about Crossing when it appeared in listings a couple days before release, and I have no idea how that played out in local Chinese-language media. Mandarin-language movies seem to play better here than (mostly) Cantonese ones, and for all I know Taiwanese movies specifically are more popular here.

That certainly reflected the crowds - the place was packed on Friday night, but just a few of us on Saturday, even though both were 7pm shows. I kind of wish I'd seen them in the opposite order just so that I could give The Crossing the write-up it deserved and hopefully steer a few people there before it closes tonight, but I got caught late at work on Friday and 7pm vs 7:20pm turned out to be important.

I do wonder about a few more things, though:

First, I'm pretty sure that having another Chinese movie named The Crossing out there is going to make the John Woo pair by that name even more impossible to find. I knew I should have pounced when I saw that Taiwan version on YesAsia, but it seemed so expensive...

Second, this is something like the third movie where it sees like pains have been taken to paint Hong Kong (and the Cantonese-speaking characters) as where the villains come from. Maybe not to the extent of Drug War and the A Better Tomorrow remake, but there does seem to be a bit of an arc about Peipei discovering that the place is full of dangers and temptations and embracing her identity as a girl from Shenzhen. Why, once she embraces that, she finds she doesn't even have to leave home for the snow she'd thought she needed to make an expensive trip to Japan to see.

And, finally, having just returned from a vacation in Hong Kong made in large part because I didn't want to see snow, I think these girls are nuts.

Bi bei shang geng bei shang de gu shi (More than Blue '19)

* * (out of four)
Seen 15 March 2019 in AMC Boston Common #9 (first-run, DCP)

More Than Blue is the sort of love story that requires a viewer to be able to say "yes, this is horrible, but so romantic!", and, folks, I am not good at that. Nope, I'm the guy who is going to spend much of the movie trying to keep myself from yelling "that's not freakin' heartwarming, you ghouls!" despite how generally and earnestly charming this romance can be.

Sung Yuan-yuan, aka "Cream" (Ivy Chen Yi-han) and "K" Chang Che-kai (Jasper Liu Yi-hao) met in high school ten years ago, coming together after Cream's family died in a car accident and K's mother abandoned him, living together in K's house (and both working for the same record label) but never sharing a bed or even a kiss, seemingly content to be best friends. In truth, K has never told Cream that he has leukemia, and as it reaches its terminal stage, he's intent on making sure that she has a happy life after he's gone. When he sees her apparently spark with dentist Yang Yu Hsien (Bryan Chang Shu-hao), things look good, except that he's engaged to photographer Cindy (Annie Chen Ting-ni) - though with all her affairs, breaking them up shouldn't be too hard.

Maybe it worked a little differently in the original Korean version of this film, but director Gavin Lin Hsiao-chien and co-writer Hermes Lu An-hsuan set themselves a tricky-than-necessary situation to navigate. It would be one thing if K's plan was just misguided and Cream was just fooling herself, or trying to, but they come into this other couple's lives in a selfish manner and are never exactly poised to learn from what they're wrecking. It's easy to spend the movie cheering for the supporting cast, especially Bryan Chang Shu-hao as the lovably doofy alternative love interest and Annie Chen as his (ex) fiancee who at least seems straightforward and self-aware. One doesn't necessarily want to see them with each other, but they're funny characters and Wu plays Cindy with such great lack of b.s. that the audience is with her even when it's probably not supposed to be. There's also what seems like a pretty good workplace comedy/show-business spoof going on around the main characters; it's kind of broad and weird, but also fairly funny.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Guo Chun Tian (The Crossing '19)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 16 March 2019 in AMC Boston Common #7 (first-run, DCP)

It will be interesting to see where rookie director Xue Bai goes from The Crossing in large part because it exists on several different sorts of lines. The story straddles the line between genre movies and coming-of-age tales without tipping too far in either direction and the setting itself is quite deliberately neither here nor there. It's a sure-handed debut that doesn't try to tell a universal story but handles the spots where it bumps into limitations well.

There are a lot of odd little quirks to Hong Kong having been a "Special Administrative Region" of China since the 1997 handover, such as how while Li Zipei (Yao Huang) and her mother live in Shenzhen, outside the SAR, her having been born in a Hong Kong hospital sixteen years ago entitles her to a Hong Kong ID card and admission to the school system, generally seen as advantageous (it was also frequently used to get around the one child per couple laws, though that doesn't seem to be the case here). Her best friend Jo (Carmen Soup) is a local, and they plan to take a trip to Japan over Christmas break to see snow. That takes more money than "Peipei" can easily raise, even hustling and working a part-time job, but it turns out that Jo's boyfriend Hao ("Sunny" Sun Yang) is in tight with people smuggling iPhones across the internal border - the rollout of new models to the mainland always lags the one to Hong Kong - and a schoolgirl who has made the crossing every year for a decade is likely to just be waved along even if she does have thousands of dollars worth of electronics in her backpack.

The Crossing isn't quite a story about a scholarship student trying to fit in at a private school with the rich kids, but it's certainly got some of that DNA to it. The things that separate Shenzhen from Hong Kong can be a bit subtler than usual, at least for those of us who are not Chinese - a few more English words used here, probably other differences in dialect elsewhere - and it does a nice job of muddying the whole idea of where Peipei belongs. Xue is not necessarily subtle about how she calls out certain signifiers of status, from how her first hustle is making cell phone cases for classmates (not unlike the sort of manufacturing jobs you find in Shenzhen) to the absurdity of owning a shark as a pet, but Peipei is also never quite an outsider. There are reasons why she belongs beyond her parents trying to game the system at birth

Full review on EFilmCritic

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