The Gangster’s Daughter

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

BayView;
Drama;
$27.99 Blu-ray;
Not rated.
Stars Jack Kao, Ally Chiu, Stephanie Lim Mei-ching.  

From runaway, rebellious, delinquent and courageous to daring daughters of darkness and the dust, female offspring in cinema have come in all shapes, sizes and plot contrivances. Daughters of Satan, Dracula, Dr. Jekyll, Rosie O’Grady and Ryan have at one time or another all graced marquees. Don’t forget four daughters for my daughter, first daughters, lost daughters, a devil’s daughter, and Mrs. Brown’s lovely daughter. Farmer, general, ambassador, king, coal miner, devil bat and pig keeper alike all contributed a daughter to the cause, and don’t get me started on my boss’s daughter. Even Jesse James met Frankenstein’s daughter. There’s been a slew of small-screen offerings on the subject, but apart from Connie Corleone in The Godfather Part III, the big screen hasn’t devoted much multiplex time to daddy goodfella’s little wisegirl. Was director Chen Mei-juin’s 2017 effort The Gangster’s Daughter the riveting character drama we were longing for or an awkward tale of a Taipei mobster and his alienated daughter that at times plays like an escapee from an ABC After School Special?

We open in mid-hit. Of the two assassins that greet us, Boss Keiko (Jack Kao) knows how to brandish a pistol for dramatic effect, but looks dumbfounded as his partner steps in for the slaughter. Keiko may balk when it comes to killing, but nothing can stop him from ending his “business trip” with a stuffed animal, presumably purchased in an airport gift store, to be presented to his little daughter upon his return home. This first blush of sentimentality kickstarts a gradual upheaval that commences even before the credits roll. Fortunately, maudlinism never bares its fangs. With the cuddly toy in hand, young Shaowu (played in her teens by Ally Chiu) watches as daddy drives off, not to be seen again until a flash forward skips a decade or so and reunites estranged Keiko with his 14-year-old daughter at the funeral of his wife and her mother.

When an overzealous classmate pranks Shaowu, she goes full “like father, like daughter,” rewarding his effort with a cow dung shampoo applied liberally in the school cafeteria. With Shaowu becoming too much to handle, her grandmother arranges for Keiko to take the kid to the big city (and off her hands). Aware of Keiko’s preferred career, Shaowu romanticizes her dad out of proportion. With mom’s body barely cold, Keiko introduces Shaowu to his latest galpal, Coco (Stephanie Lim Mei-ching, anything but the stereotypical moll). Shaowu takes greater interest in dad’s second favorite squeeze, the bright shiny handgun she unearthed while rummaging through his personal effects.

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Operating deep within Keiko is a strong moral compass rife with contradiction, a code burned into his fiber that makes him wholly unsuitable to succeed in his chosen profession. Put a bullet through the enemy’s eyes and he’ll hire you on the spot; deal drugs, and you can take your business elsewhere. It’s a complex moral dilemma that’s lightly touched upon before being brushed aside in favor of outfitting Keiko at the mall or celebrating his birthday. Humanizing only acts to prolong the inevitable. Wait until dad finds a dime bag of blow in his little girl’s pack of butts. Kao and Chiu spark a natural chemistry, but not enough to elevate it above the rank of better-than-average gangster melodrama or standard issue father/daughter bonding experience.

Detective Chinatown

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Bayview;
Action;
$27.99 Blu-ray;
Not rated.
In Mandarin with English subtitles.
Stars Haoran Liu, Baoqiang Wang, Baoqiang Wang, Baoqiang Wang, He Chen, Yan Xiao.

Like a lawnmower cord stiff on the recoil, director Sicheng Chen’s Detective Chinatown takes forever to start. Once going, the action chugs and sputters along with occasional flashes of brilliance, but more often than not the narrative needed another good jerk.

“Why do you want to become a cop?” a police academy examiner asks. Faltering over the softball question, Qin Feng’s (Haoran Liu) deafening silence fails to impress the board. Lucky for Qin his mother has connections. She reminds her son of his third cousin Tang Ren (Baoqiang Wang) — a great aunt’s husband’s cousin’s wife’s nephew once removed — who just so happens to be a top dog detective in Thailand. Under Tang’s watchful tutelage, seven days in another town should be just what the doctor ordered to make a cop out of Qin. His first night finds Tang taking the shy lad to a strip club where the dancers on stage wear more clothing than the droolers in the audience.

Qin’s weeklong stay is broken into seven chapters. As expected, Tang is no more a cop than Qin graduated with honors. Cousin Tang is a measly grifter, a con artist feeding off spinster’s pensions. Qin’s performance at times borders on catatonic while Tang’s manic monotonousness houses more tics than a flophouse mattress. Liu eventually comes into his own while Wang’s atonal variation on a career builds to nothing but bluster. His flailing-handed, high-pitched delivery is grating, but not in an entertaining way. The combination doesn’t click and the schtick quickly derails. The same could be said of a running time-padding petty rivalry between two cops: Kon Tai (Yan Xiao), a repetitive dolt who gets by mirroring everything the handsome, but klutzy Huang Landeng (Chen He) has to say. With Tang assumed to be the prime suspect in a murder/robbery, the chief comes up with the idea of pitting the two officers against each other in a competition to solve the mystery. To the victor belong the spoils. The winner will be promoted to the force’s next deputy chief.

The 2015 film is not without the occasional burst of gesticulative invention. Wandering drunk through the neon bowels of Bangkok’s clubland, Qin can barely focus on the playing card garnished monolith moving towards him. At the point of impact a quick cut to Qin’s bedroom finds him plopping face first on his deck of cards sheets. A food fight in an outdoor spice market never fails to amuse as does an unexpected tribute to The Three Stooges. A trio of eye-poking, hair-pulling, licensed to kill gangsters occupy just the right amount of screen time without wearing out their welcome. Alas, the characters are cartoonish enough to defy the laws of physics, but not cartoonesque enough to rank as a live-action cinematoon. This will make due, but if it’s a full-throttle squash-and-stretch celebration you’re after, track down a copy of Stephen Chow’s Kung Fu Hustle.

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Run for Love

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 8/29/23;
BayView;
Drama;
$24.99 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘PG-13.’
Stars Ziyi Zhang, Eddie Peng, Tetsu Watanabe, Liang Jing, Zhang Yi, Wu Mochou, Wang Qianyuan, Michelle Chen, Sebastian Stigar, Janny Hoff Brekke, Tong Li Ya, Zhou Dong Yu.

What is it about anthology films, that peeving, frequently multi-authorial sub-genre, housing three or more standalone shorts under one inchoate heading and commonly tied together by a single theme, premise, or author, that never works? Often associated with horror, these cinematic subdivisions saw a brief vogue in the ’60s with some of Europe’s ‘A’-list auteurs (Godard, Visconti, Truffaut, Pasolini, Fellini, et al) sharing directorial duties on a string of successful omnibus pictures (Love at Twenty, Six in Paris, The Witches, Spirits of the Dead). Alas, the lure of numerous star directors united under one banner generally gave cause for disappointment. Has there ever been a package film in which each individual component contributed its fair share of the heaving-lifting? Martin Scorsese, Francis Coppola, and Woody Allen didn’t so much as collaborate on New York Stories as they provided three large pieces to a loosely fitting jigsaw puzzle. The general consensus: Scorsese dazzled, Allen amused, and Coppola fizzled. It’s difficult enough nowadays for a film to carry one story let alone three or four. Bookended by brilliance, the five-part Run for Love takes the long road between its first and final chapter.

The 2016 film boasts five stories told by five directors in five different locations across the globe. The individual segments share one commonality: a pair of lovers in a strange land. The manner in which the stories come out of the shoe is key to a winning hand. Start strong, finish big, and try not to let the middle section(s) lag. First stop, Otara, Japan where Zhang Yibai’s introductory segment, So Long My Love, made good on his part of the bargain. The interstellar backgrounds, complete with “coming at you” credits and backed by a romantic score, suggest a new Superman film, but Yibal’s screwball romance snarls up the most down-to-earth, amorously feasible pairing in the bunch.

While working in America, Leqi (Ziyi Zhang, stirring up a radiant ditziness) “suddenly felt something she couldn’t let go of in her heart.” Armed with a stack of her ex’s love letters to guide her, sentimental Leqi is taking a brief vacation to celebrate the 10th anniversary of their first meeting in the place he wrote about with such fondness. (With prose like, “Only the ocean under the snow can carry my love for you,” is it any wonder she packed the letters?). A hunger for Chinese food lands her in a sushi bar where she meets Yujian Feng (Eddie Peng), a handsome wannabe sushi chef who after seven years on the job has barely risen to the level of apprentice. The older restaurateur (Tetsu Watanabe) may have limited his employee’s participation in the food prep to rolling rice, but his romantic streak is such that he’s kind enough to arrange for his worker to walk the vacationing customer back to her inn. The worst blind dates are the one in which your prospective partner spends the entire evening talking up her ex. But that doesn’t seem to bother a smitten Feng. The next morning Leqi awakens to find him seated in the lobby of her hotel, eager to act as her tour guide. The twist that caps their day spent together is as gratifying as it is predictable.

The next two segments land with a thud. Set in Istanbul, Guan Hu’s Homeward Journey stars Tang Jing (Liang Jing) and Zhou Hong Yi (Zhang Yi) as a vacationing Chinese couple who get separated from their 5-year-old daughter while touring a giant Turkish bazaar. The couple, caring more about their flawed relationship than they do their kid, is a major disconnect that too often defies logic. Calculable melodrama aside, why would the father of a missing child smash his wife’s phone no matter how heated the spat? Not for a minute is a sense of urgency or relief felt, and the clean cut band of street urchins that help save the day are at best a rankly amateurish touch. Happenstance passed off as fantasy grounds things to a halt when a postcard falls from the sky, jarring memories of their daughter’s whereabouts.

It’s any portmanteau in a storm for Zhang Meng’s Nothing Like Romance, a limp for love that involves a married couple in a zipless romance. Our first meeting brings three things to light: Guan Yue (Wu Mochou) married Lu Jie (Wang Qianyuan) in exchange for a green card, he owns a vintage white Buick, and she has a terminal disease. Not wanting to die in a cold place, and against doctor’s orders, Guan demands that Lu remove her from the hospital only to spend the winter’s day being driven through the streets of Chicago in a convertible with the top down. This leads to a road trip from Chicago to Los Angeles on the highway that’s the best, Route 66. They pick up a hitchhiker, for no apparent reason, hit up a couple of tourist traps, dress in ’50s fashion, and drive a 1966 car. It’s part travelog, part fashion show, and all never neverending homage to Bonnie and Clyde, right down to a grainy TV enlargement of the climatic shootout. (I know nothing about guns, yet even I can tell the pistol she uses to threaten him doesn’t have a bullet in the chamber.) It’s when he draws a bead on the doctor who refuses to release his frail wife from the hospital that what little plausibility that was left flies out the window.

Set in Norway where the sun doesn’t shine, Teng Hua-Tao’s Artificial Sunlight stars Michelle Chen as Lily, a nurse who accepts a position in an austere senior facility located in a valley surrounded by mountains so high, they block the sun. It’s what’s easily the sturdiest premise in the bunch, Lily and local lawyer/love interest Mr. Andrews (Sebastian Stigar) team to bring her favorite patient Mrs Anderson’s (Janny Hoff Brekke) final wish come true by devising Operation Sunshine, a bank of electronically controlled mirrors that bring daylight to the valley. The crack in the dementia that passes across Anderson’s face when asked if she wants to sing followed by her haunting rendition of The End of the World raises goosebumps. One regret: in the end, Andrews is more interested in impressing a chick than he is helping the elderly.

In Stolen Heart, writer/director Gao Qunshu introduces us to Ye Lan (Tong Li Ya), a TV star living in Saipan who encounters Bai Qie Zi (Zhou Dong Yu), a borderline stalker who professes undying fandom and an insider’s knowledge of the actresses past. Not only does Bai bring news of the death of Ye’s husband, she knows the heart inside her body is a replacement part. Two women embracing in a tropical Paradise, one with the heart of both their lovers beating inside her chest, share a bottle of jagermeister. How’s that for romance? They should have called it quits at that point rather than tacking on a curtain shot we could certainly have done without.

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The Wasted Times

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 6/27/23;
BayView/China Lion;
Drama;
$24.99 Blu-ray;
Not rated.
Stars You Ge, Ziyi Zhang, Tadanobu Asano, Quan Yuan, Ni Yan, Dahong Ni.

Directed with metronome precision, Er Cheng’s (Lethal Hostage, Hidden Blade) mesmerizing 2016 film The Wasted Times wastes no time in thoroughly confounding the hell out of the audience. There’s a lot to unpack, starting with the racketeer rags. Bedecked in black, form-fitting cheongsam lab coats topped by a wide-brimmed Sam Spade fedora and qipao collar reminiscent of a clergyman’s tab, these boys look more like Taoist priests in a neorealist noir than they do pre-war Japanese mobsters. Or am I being redundant? We open and close after World War II. Told in achronological order, scenes are destined to repeat, and when they do it’s with the additional flourish or two of information that forces one to reevaluate the truth as initially told. Our first of many flashes back (and forwards) is to 1937, prior to the Battle of Shanghai. Before it ends, the war is over and Japanese POWs are building their own internment camps on Luzon Island.

The film’s unifying force is Chinese crime lord Mister Lu (Ge You). An outwardly taciturn mouse, if so instructed Lu will order an entire family slaughtered before your eyes, whether or not the punishment fits the crime. His is a spotless universe of gangster glitterati, an antibacterial paradise soiled only by an occasional river of mahogany splattered brains. Cheng does his best to sidestep gangster tropes, but even he couldn’t resist kicking things off with the old “body part in the jewelry chest” gag. In this case, a jade bracelet came draped around its former owner’s wrist. If it’s any consolation, the hand in the box belongs to the offending thug’s side piece and not his wife.

The only thing better than a filmmaker drawing a direct line between criminals and the clergy is painting military combat as a gateway drug to gangland. Many of the soldiers in Lu’s army grew to enjoy killing in the service of their country. At war’s end, members of his goon squad chose to profit off information gleaned during their tours of duty. Loyalty to one’s country and feelings of national identity are at the core of the history lesson. Watabe (Tadanobu Asano), Japanese-born and passing for Shanghainese, is Lu’s brother-in-law. If there’s a war, Watabe would fight on the side of Shanghai. No wonder the restaurateur’s best customer is a black alley cat. Normally, what gets Watabe to eventually change his mind about Japan would be enough to make audiences stand and cheer, but in his case the punishment more than fit the crime.

Other than costumes, hair and cars, there’s not much in the way of attention to period detail. Nor is there any sign of a sense of humor. The sets are spectacular, but just stagey enough for audiences to envy characters who get to go outside and grab some fresh air. What sets this apart from its contemporaries is a surprising attention to female characters not generally associated with the genre. The majority of women in crime films are props used to bolster testosterone. Cheng actually invites dames to his boy’s club, and while never afforded full membership, the presence of Ziyi Zhang, Quan Yuan and Ni Yan adds a touch of well-rounded personation that Martin Scorsese and John Woo can only dream of.

Lastly, I’m obsessed with directors capable of putting a fresh spin on something as tried and true as a ride in a car. (The mere thought of Mort Mills and Chuck Heston’s tour of back-alley Tijuana with the top down in Touch of Evil raises goose flesh.) Through Chang’s lens, a car’s interior is divided into four quadrants, and you’re never sure exactly who, if anyone, is in the passenger’s side and back seat. Not all is stylistically pleasing: The one exterior shot into the driver’s side rear window is enough to make blood boil.

I loved loathing these characters. It’s a tough sell, but look at it as a gift that keeps on giving. It will probably take a minimum of three viewings to crack, but your patience will be rewarded tenfold. As for bonus features, there’s never a commentary track when you need one!

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Office (2015)

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Bayview (China Lion);
Comedy;
$23.99 Blu-ray;
Not rated.
Stars Sylvia Chang, Chow Yun-Fat, Eason Chan, Tang Wei, Ziyi Wang, Yueting Lang.

Quick! Name a film best remembered for its striking use of a single set. (Without Googling, Hitchcock’s Rear Window, Jerry Lewis’ The Ladies’ Man, and Luis Buñuel’s The Exterminating Angel were the first to come to mind.) Depending on your approach, Johnnie To’s Office is either a brilliant failed experiment, or a glacial set in search of a musical hook. There are no walls to speak of, just a wire framework of steel rods as far as the eye can see. The metallic structure proves no match for To’s janky narrative structure. It’s a giant Lite-Brite box of a set that, depending on the view, resembles everything from a Vegas casino to the mesh basket in a Williams Sonoma Stainless-Steel Salad Spinner®.

Released in 1932, most of the action contained within Alfred E. Green’s pre-code delight, Union Depot, plays out in a train station so spacious, it even comes with its own fur salon. The reason for including it in this discussion is not since Union Depot has a set come equipped with so many amenities to choose from. In addition to housing a high rise office complex, the set, designed by William Chang and Alfred Yau, comes complete with a hospital, restaurant, subway system, apartments, a boxing gym, a 24-hour convenience store, and the giant clock in the sky watching over all. In short, everything but a fur salon. On the downside, the shiny surroundings bring a touch of sterility to the proceedings texture. Add to that wafer thin characters who can’t carry a tune and a score makes Andrew Lloyd Weber’s manner of talk-singing look like Cole Porter and you’ll be thankful for the set to carry you through it.

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The director is best known for his hard-edged crime dramas. Drug Wars is a minor-miracle: a cop picture that manages to sidestep every cliche and add a fresh wrinkle to an over-starched genre. As rewarding as it is to see two adults (Chow Yun Fat and screenwriter Sylvia Chang) shouldering the weight of the romance, the ballast needed by their young assistants (Ziyi Wang and Yueting Lang) to balance the load is, to say the least, disproportionate.

 

 

Cinedigm Inks Content License Deal with China Lion

Cinedigm Jan. 23 announced it has entered into a non-exclusive content licensing agreement with China Lion to release more than 40 Chinese-language movies on the home entertainment distributor’s pending streaming channel, Bambu.

“This deal delivers dozens of very strong and well-known films, and perfectly complements the [China International TVCorporation]deal we recently announced, which was more TV episodic content,” Bill Sondheim, president of Cinedigm Entertainment Group and worldwide distribution, said in a statement. “We are particularly pleased that the titles are all subtitled, allowing for the best representation of the original film versions and adds to the authentic high-profile content foundation for Bambu.”

Bambu’s primary focus is Gen Z demo (ages 16-24), and Millennial viewers (ages 25-35). Together, those viewers represent more than 27% of the U.S. population.

“When we started China Lion back in 2010, Cinedigm was our first strategic home entertainment partner,” said China Lion CEO Yanming Jiang.

The titles expected on the launch of Bambu include:

 THE ARK OF MR CHOW

  • BATTLE OF MEMORIES
  • BEAUTIFUL ACCIDENT
  • BREAKUP BUDDIES
  • BUDDIES IN INDIA
  • BULLET VANISHES
  • COCK AND BULL (2016)
  • DETECTIVE CHINATOWN
  • THE DEVOTION OF SUSPECT X
  • DOUBLE TROUBLE
  • THE EX-FILE 3: THE RETURN OF THE EXES
  • EXPLOSION (2017)
  • FALL IN LOVE LIKE A STAR
  • FLEET OF TIME (aka BACK IN TIME)
  • A FOOL
  • FOR A FEW BULLETS
  • FOREVER YOUNG (2015)
  • THE GOLDEN ERA
  • GO AWAY MR TUMOR
  • GOODBYE MR LOSER
  • I BELONGED TO YOU
  • A JOURNEY THROUGH TIME WITH ANTHONY
  • THE LAST WOMEN STANDING
  • LET’S GET MARRIED
  • LOBSTER COP
  • LOST AND LOVE
  • MR DONKEY
  • MR SIX
  • MY LUCKY STAR
  • NAMIYA
  • THE NEW YEAR’S EVE OF OLD LEE
  • NEW YORK, NEW YORK (2016)
  • ONLY YOU (2015)
  • OOLONG COURTYARD: KUNG FU SCHOOL
  • OUR TIME WILL COME
  • SO I MARRIED AN ANTI-FAN
  • SO YOUNG
  • SO YOUNG 2: NEVER GONE
  • SWEET SIXTEEN (2016)
  • TILL THE END OF THE WORLD
  • THE VIRAL FACTOR
  • THE WASTED TIME
  • THE WITNESS (2015)
  • WOMEN WHO FLIRT

The deal follows Cinedigm’s recently-announced partnership with China International TVCorporationto bring more than 500 hours of Chinese content to the U.S. through Bambu, including “Nirvana in Fire,” TV ratings hit in China in 2015; documentary A Bite of China; “Journey to the West,” the most-watched show in Chinese television history, and current series, “The Advisors Alliance” and “Diamond Lover.”

A partnership with Youku to distribute 30 original Chinese feature filmsin North America on all platforms including Bambu, digital, DVD and Blu-ray Disc, and across all OTT platforms, with a primary focus on major streaming platforms and niche outlets.

A content licensing agreement with Starrise Media Holdings Limited to release several Starrise productions on Bambu. The titles have not yet been announced.