It’s officially summertime here in New York City, a season that many are not exactly fond of, myself included. The heat and humidity all by itself can be brutal, but add that to overcrowded subway trains in which folks are already on edge? At least there are ways to stay nice and chill, and your absolute best options starts later tonight.
I’m talking about the 2014 edition of the New York Asian Film Festival, naturally! And as I’ve done so for (more or less) the past ten summers, I’ll either let you know what you should see in in lieu of the latest POS Michael Bay creation, or make you feel bad for making the wrong choice after the fact. Starting with…
Seeding of a Ghost
Familiar with Shaw Brothers Studio? They were once the undisputed kings of Hong Kong cinema, largely thanks to the ku fung craze that they helped to usher in, and which lasted all throughout the 70s. But once the 80s rolled in, things changed. Jackie Chan was taking martial arts movies into bold new directions, leaving the Shaw Brothers and their super low budget chopsocky ways in the dust. Hence why they shifted gears and began doing the new thing that was in vogue: low budget horror flicks. The precise name of their take on the genre is Hong Kong black magic movies, and the NYAFF two years ago showcased what is considered one of the most revered representatives, Boxer’s Omen, so for this year they’re resenting the forgotten gem that is Seeding of a Ghost.
HK cinema mainstay Phillip Ko plays a hard working cab driver (with one of the worst hairpieces I’ve ever seen in a movie; the dude’s not bald so I guess he just had a really bad haircut when production started and a wig was the best option) who has a beautiful wife that he absolutely adores. Now her job is dealing cards at some gambling establishment, where she encounters some rich married dude who lays on the moves. Next thing you know, she’s his new girl on the side, and it’s up to the viewer to determine if she’s simply not a good person, or if her infidelity is a curse, the direct result of the cabbie almost running over a black magic sorcerer in the very beginning. Anyhow, while her spouse is earning a heard earned buck, the not so good wife is running around the beach with her new boy toy (while topless and in slow mo).
Inevitably, the cab driver’s wife begins to profess a desire for something more serious, but her sugar daddy ain’t havin’ it, so she storms off into the night in a huff. Two seconds later, she gets kidnapped by two punks who beat, rape, and murder her. Now, her death devastates the husband, though making things much worse is the law, who (as expected) are completely clueless and ineffectual. So the cab driver decides to seek revenge the old fashioned way, with a baseball bat, but when he gets his ass handed back to him by the rich dude, he turns to the magician for help. And that guy’s idea of getting even involves digging up the rotting corpse of the cabbie’s wife and getting her pregnant, by raping the rapist this time, though it’s actually his sprit that’s involved.
Let’s just say, if you remember that one part in the first Conan The Barbarian with the hand drawn souls and thought to yourself: ”Man, this would make a great sex scene, put instead of a living person, it was a floating mummified corpse that awkward animates” then this is the movie for you! Also, one last spoiler: the attempt at a zombie baby is a success and, as the saying goes, hilarity ensues. Seeding of a Ghost plays tonight at 11:30 at the Walter Reader Theater (get your tickets here); it’s highly recommended, though I’d also highly advise a few drinks before showtime.
The White Storm
I know I say this every year, and it’s sure to make some eyes roll, but am going repeat myself anyway: The White Storm proves yet again, and without a shadow of the a doubt, that Hong Kong is still the undisputed king of Asian cinema. And when compared with their direct western counterpart, aka Hollywood, it’s basically a cruel joke. Yes, it’s yet another heroic bloodshed bromance, yes it’s by the numbers to the point of being parody, but just like in the States, not all big budget, star driven vehicles are inherently stupid. It just so happens that the chances of one being good, when it comes from HK, are literally a hundred times greater than in the US. Though you’re basically guaranteed greatness when Lau Ching-Wan is the star of the show.
On paper, The White Storm is seemingly nothing special, again for a flick from Hong Kong; it’s about three childhood chums who are all anti drug enforcers. Louis Koo plays Kin-chow, the rattled undercover who wants out (as expected, given the character type), especially since his wife has a bun in the oven (again, no surprise here). Calling the shots is Lau Ching-Wan as Ho-tin, who tries his best to keep Kin-chow from getting killed plus his eyes on the prize, but is a real dick about it. Finally we have the always awesome Nick Cheun as Tsz-wai, Ho-tin’s second in command, and also the dude who basically keeps the other two from tearing each other apart. Anyhow, the movie kicks off with Kin-chow as he’s about to pull the trigger and make the big arrest, to finally wrap things up.
But at the last minute, the heroic trio are instead sent to Thailand to go after an even bigger bad guy. Yet due to a combination of Kin-chow just wanting to get the f home, and Ho-tin refusing to play by anyone’s rules but his own, the missions goes bad big time. Resulting in Tsz-wai falling off a cliff and into a pond full of alligators, in a shot that absolutely must be seen to be believed. Not long after is the film’s big twist, which for any seasoned HK movie viewer is hardly a shocker, but I won’t spell it out anyway. Let’s just say that the brash, out of control law enforcer is forced to eat humble pie, someone who was clean cut gets facial hair, to tell the whole world that he’s no longer mister nice guy, people get shot way too many times to still be breathing, plus as much male bonding as possible sans spit actually being swapped.
The White Storm is rock solid, and even kinda spectacular in certain parts, but it doesn’t re-write the book. Yet it’s still a watch, especially if you’re new to Hong Kong cinema. In fact, it might actually be the perfect introduction to the genre, a good warm up act to classics like Hard Boiled and Infernal Affairs (especially if you saw the latter Hollywood remake, Martin Scorses’s The Departed… correction, the sh*tty Hollywood remake… k, it wasn’t that bad, I’ll admit, just overrated). The White Storm plays this Sunday, June 29 at the Walter Reade Theater (get your tickers here).