Previously I gave the rundown on one of the most influential films in the history of Hong Kong cinema, one that set the standard that virtually all movies involving cops and criminals would follow (City on Fire). Then I detailed a movie that typifies the golden age of Hong Kong cinema, which the first movie helped to pave (Full Alert).
What’s next? An example of the genre as it stands today, basically what the machine churns out today, that which constitutes the norm, mainstream entertainment in Hong Kong. As well as something that represents the other end of the spectrum. Not only in terms of audience but production values…
Cold War in many ways is prime representative of Hong Kong’s cinematic landscape as it stands today. K, it’s a couple years old, but not by much; the original release date was 2012. Basically, things are a bit different since Full Alert hit the scene in 1997. Back in the day, HK filmmakers sought to create Hollywood-caliber thrills at the fraction of the cost, which it turn led to the need for ingenuity, along with tapping into one’s cultural ethos for added flavor. With the end result being motion pictures that overshot their targets and were in many ways superior to what was being imitated. Whereas nowadays increased budgets and resources have led to, not surprisingly, a certain degree of creative stagnation. The end results are films that could be mistaken for stuff hailing from the States, and that’s not a good thing. A more specific example: it’s hard to argue that Cold War is nothing more than yet the latest attempt at another Infernal Affairs, ten years after the fact. Make no mistake; City on Fire had tons of copycats also, but it wasn’t long before new takes to the formula were developed. Hence why once Full Alert arrived, also ten years later, standards had changed dramatically.
Though movies made in Hong Kong aren’t the only things that have changed; the location itself, as depicted through the lens of its filmmakers, feels like an entirely different place as well. And not just due to shift from film stock to digital, which has given a once raw and dirty looking metropolis a safe and shiny coat of paint (not a fan of that either, btw). So what used to be depicted as the playground for nefarious characters is now deemed “Asia’s Safest City”, at least on the walls of police HQ, where much of Cold War takes place. While the person most responsible for upholding such a decree, aka the police commissioner, is overseas on official business, a van filled with five officers plus a ton of gear all go missing. Which immediately leads to the various leads in the movie (which there are loads of; Cold War is very much the star studded affair) to bark at each other (plus scowl a whole lot). Anyhow, acting commissioner MB Lee, portrayed by Tony Leung Ka-fai (not to be confused with Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, best known for co-starring in John Woo’s Hard Boiled and a number of Wong Kar-wai flicks) decides to go after the suspects with guns a blazin’, use waterboarding to get answers, and break even more rules to cover his ass among members of the press. This causes the by the books deputy commissioner Sean Lau, portrayed by Aaron Kwok, to demand Lee step aside. Especially when it’s discovered that the main reason for such hotheadedness is due to the fact that Lee’s son is one of the snatched patrolmen. Lau even manages to get Albert Kwong, aka Lee’s right hand man, portrayed by Gordon Lam (who as far as I’m concerned is the real star of the show) to begrudgingly agree and have the deputy’s back.
Well, the coup d’état works, prompting Lau to employ cutting edge technology as his means of nabbing the bad guys; he guesstimates how much money the kidnappers will want and goes about procuring that exact amount. But they end up asking for considerably less, and the drop off results in a chase scene that is both predictable and spectacular. But it was all a distraction, as the remainder of the ransom money gets nicked as it was being taken back to the bank. Also, Lau’s right hand man bites it, and that sucks too. At least the kidnapped law enforcers are recovered and Lee shows up expressing no hard feelings towards Lau, which is kinda cool of him. Though there’s still the matter of the missing money, along with how it would appear that perhaps Lau purposefully made certain decisions (like asking for such a large sum of money for the kidnappers in the first place) in order to cash in himself, according to police corruption investigator Billy Cheung, played by Cold War‘s token pop singer turned actor Aarif Rahman (described as the hottest actor in HK at the moment; the first thing I found when Googling him was the headline: Aarif Rahman takes a break from playing a Chinese emperor to show off his hot abs, so there ya go). Anyhow, this is the part of the movie in which all the analogies linking the internal turmoil within the police force with the identity crisis that the citizens of Hong Kong are still going through, post the handover to China, are driven way too hard and heavy. More dramatic showdowns between the principles occur, and we all learn that the jerks are not bad guys after all, yet the good guys aren’t so great sometimes either.
Oh, and things culminate in a showdown at a fireworks factory, in which roman candles are used to blow cops to bits to a comical degree. And that’s the thing, no matter how good Hong Kong has gotten at emulating Hollywood, there’s one department where they always fall short, and it’s CGI; it’s especially bad here. In the end, it’s hard to really recommend Cold War, and is only really worthwhile if you’re serious about getting the full spectrum of contemporary HK cinema (alas, it plays before City on Fire and Full Alert). It’s just perplexing how super successful it ended up being, both at the box office and among critics alike (even those on this side outside of HK have been positive). Enough to [SPOILERS, MAYBE] to warrant a possible sequel or follow-up, hence another reason to maybe watch what might be part 1. If you’re interested, Cold War plays Saturday, June 27, at the Walter Reade Theater (get your tickets here).
It’s Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong
I’m really not into romantic comedies, but decided to give It’s Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong a shot anyway, for two reasons. First, I needed something to get the taste of three hard-boiled action thrillers, seen all in a row, out of my mouth. Though aside from the 180 in tone, there’s also the 180 in terms of production; while I’m not 100% certain, It’s Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong definitely feels like an independent effort, quite the stark contrast to the zillions of dollars behind the previous movie. As for the second reason; I caught the numerous comparisons to Before Sunrise (never seen it, but know what it’s about, and It’s Already Tomorrow is definitely in the same mold), though the one that grabbed me the most were the comparison to Lost in Translation. Aside from Tokyo, which I’ve thankfully been to, the next city on my bucket list is Hong Kong (can you tell?). So I figured, even if I’m bored to tears, I’ll get an intimate portrayal of a city I’ve long been fascinated with (just like Sofia Coppola, the director of It’s Already Tomorrow also drew from her experiences living in HK).
The plot is paper thin, which after Cold War was actually welcomed: Josh (Bryan Greenberg; appeared in One Tree Hill, which I’ve also never seen) is a white dude, an expat businessman to be exact, having a smoke outside a bar when he encounters Ruby (Jamie Chung; am familiar with her role as Go Go Tomago in Big Hero 6 at least), the daughter of Chinese immigrants, one who’s way into her hometown of LA and is only in HK for a brief visit. Because Ruby has no idea where the bar her friends are at is located, and because Josh’s directions are somewhat complicated (thanks to GPS, all our senses of direction are official crap, which ain’t working on her phone, fyi), he ends up escorting her. Along the way they learn about each other, via small talk, like how Ruby’s occupation is toy design. Let’s just say that whoever came up with that has zero familiarity with the profession. In fact, it solely exists as the punch line for a gag an hour later, which is fairly lame. Anyway, Josh does his best to educate Ruby in all the wondrous sights and sounds they encounter, that which makes Hong Kong such a special and amazing place, as I had hoped for. And thus we have my primary beef with the movie: the camerawork simply isn’t up to snuff and we basically have to take Josh’s word on in many cases. Maybe certain shots were not possible? Though, for the most part, much of what we see just feels like a TLC special; I don’t expect every film shot in Hong Kong to look as if it was helmed by Christopher Doyle (Wong Kar-wai’s cinematographer of choice), but I expect something along those lines, given It’s Already Tomorrow’s intent.
Anyhow, by the time they reach Ruby’s destination, she’s way more interested in having a drink with Josh. Too bad he already has a girlfriend, so they say their good byes awkwardly. One year later, Josh happens to run into Ruby a second time, who we discover has been living there for a little while now. Again, Ruby needs to go somewhere and again Josh offers to tag along, though this time she makes it clear upfront that she now has a boyfriend. Once more, they spend the whole night walking the streets of Hong Kong, and the second stroll is admittedly a tad bit more interesting than the first. Mostly due to the fact that Ruby’s questions and comments are not for the perspective of a total outsider; apparently Mexican food is just as bad in Hong Kong as it is in Tokyo! Yet it’s still filled with the sam inane chit-chat you hear from couples on their first date, if you happen to find yourself sitting next to at the bar or a restaurant, the kind that makes your quietly gag. Inevitably Josh and Ruby ask themselves if they’re with the right people after all; again, despite having relatively zero familiarity with the genre, the ending certainly feels to me like the finale to almost every romantic comedy out there. Hence why it’s hard for me to say much else, since It’s Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong was clearly not made for me. Though I will say that the age-old truism appears to remain fact: when on vacation, often it’s not where you go but who you are with. Still, if It’s Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong does seem like up your alley, check it out on Sunday, June 28, at the Walter Reade Theater (get your tickets here).