Sunday, May 05, 2019

Two from the Chinas: Always Miss You & Savage '19

I wonder, just a bit, if these two movies might be holding up better ones playing Boston. Well Go seems to have pushed its release of Shadow back a week upon acquiring distribution rights for Savage, and I can't necessarily blame them for that: Chinese imports tend to have a bit of a half-life, both because of how quickly pirated content makes its way across the Pacific these days and for how, with China pushing out so much content these days, expatriates' and Chinese-Americans' attention may move on if it doesn't get here within a week or two. So why not push the movie that came out in China last September back a week? Even those of us who may have import discs by then aren't going to be put off by that.

There's probably no similar one-to-one between Always Miss You and Long Day's Journey Into Night, despite both being romances, but I do wonder how much the fact that two Mandarin-language films came out this week combined with Avengers: Endgame last week cut into their willingness to put a Chinese movie that probably needs a 3D screen on the schedule, especially one that got poisonous word-of-mouth from audiences who felt its advertising was deceptive at the very least.

So, these were not the Chinese movies I was looking to see this weekend, and I can't really say it worked out for the best; these were not great movies and they're the type where I can see what's wrong with them clearly enough that I wonder why the professionals making it couldn't.

Xia yi ren: Ze ren (Always Miss You)

* * (out of four)
Seen 3 May 2019 in AMC Boston Common #9 (first-run, DCP)

"Missing a person" probably doesn't have the same double meaning in Mandarin as it does in English, which may mean that whoever came up with the English-language title for this Taiwanese film may have made the most clever contribution. It's a movie that looks like a romantic comedy but seldom actually delivers on that promise, pairing a game cast and a potentially fun situation but neglecting the spark that would let it really take off.

When she was a kid, Lin Xin-tian (Amber Kuo Caijie) spent a lot of time in her grandfather's temple delivering fortunes, at least until her father left her mother, and the folks at her current job in publishing still hang on her words of wisdom. Boyfriend David (Li Ronghao) is nice enough, but when the guy she's had a crush on since high school joins her employer, that seems like destiny - except, of course, that as with every other time it's looked like she and Huang Ke-qun (Ethan Li Dongxue) might get together, something comes up, in this case, her getting laid off the next day. Friend Guo Xiao-meng (Xie Yilin) has built a hookup app that matches her with handsome and funny executive Wu Chuan (Ryan Zheng Kai), so maybe the God of Love hasn't cursed her after all.

This sounds like it should be zany or melodramatic, depending which direction filmmaker Chen Hung-i wants to go, but it winds up being neither, in large part because Xin-tian doesn't really do anything, and the way in which she lets the story bounce her around is often kind of jarring - the moment in which she actually seems to take some small amount of control of her romantic life and breaks up with David undercuts it by showing her as kind of zoned out at the start, running through two versions of their entire relationship, and having this whole other joke going on at the same time, like Chen wants to distract the audience from anything that could make her read as selfish, seemingly unaware that having her spend much of the rest of the movie asking others to solve her problems could be seen as much less sympathetic, while a new boyfriend and job appearing in tandem feels more than a bit off, though maybe this particular sort of workplace relationship doesn't ring the same sort of alarm bells in Taiwan.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Xue bao (Savage '19)

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 4 May 2019 in AMC Boston Common #12 (first-run, DCP)

Cui Siwei's Savage opens with a clever heist but keeps cutting away from it to something that promises to be less exciting, which seems to be sort of the opposite of how the tease at the start of a movie should work. There's still what amounts to a decent thriller to come, but it's a scramble that takes advantage of its setting, not the cutting sort of noir it could be.

That crime involves mastermind Damao (Liao Fan), partner Zhou (Wang Taili), and Damao's punk brother Ermao (Huang Jue) robbing a truck containing bars of gold from a nearby mine under the guise of illegal loggers. That - and poachers like Guo San (Liu Hua) are more the sort of problems that the local cops are used to facing, though Han Xiaosong (Li Guangjie) and Wang Kanghao (Chang Chen) are, at that moment, more concerned with who is going to be promoted to the city and who Doctor Sun Yan (Ni Ni) finds more appealing - at least, until they come across Damao's gang while on patrol. A year later, the case remains unsolved, with the rumors that Guo San has found a bar of gold and used it to purchase a new rifle an obsessed Kanghao's best lead. Following it up will lead him and new partner Zhang Lu (Zhang Yicong) in the right direction, but the clock is ticking on Damao using the frozen river to transport the gold even if the fiercest blizzard in years wasn't due to arrive in mere hours.

It's kind of a bore talking about the rules that the Chinese film industry must operate under every time even a moderately complex crime movie from that country opens, but one can't help but wonder what sort of movie Cui could have made if the likes of Damao and Guo San were allowed to be full-on antiheroes. There are glimpses of it in Damao's opening narration, where he talks about his family coming from a long line of loggers abandoned when the government made it illegal; the symbolism of him using those skills to attack a transport taking the region's riches away would be richer if the film could lean into it. There's such potential in the clash between the locals desperately trying to survive or escape their homes and the likes of city people like Kanghao and Sun Yan who can leave when their assignment is complete, satisfied in a job well done, that it's a shame it can't be played closer to the foreground. Instead, the film sort of stops at Damao being worried about his no-account brother and Kanghao's obsession threatening his relationship with Sun Yan.

Full review on EFilmCritic

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