A little bit of an Ekin Cheng double bill now. Ekin Cheng is not particularly a favourite actor of mine, and I certainly would not go out of my way to watch a film because he was the star. However, I do feel that his “wooden” reputation is possibly a little unjust. He appears in certain types of movie, and certainly has a charm and screen presence. So let me introduce you to a couple of flawed movies that you might enjoy…
This one should have maybe been a heck of a lot better. For one it is by Danny Pang, and regular readers will know how much I love a Pang Brother film. We also get Charlene Choi, which makes this a must-see in my book anyway.
The film centres around two brothers, both played by Ekin Cheng. One, Yiu Chun-Kit is straight, and has been living in Thailand (with Choi as his girlfriend). The other, Yiu Chun-Man, is a gay fashion designer. They both seem to be assholes to their partners. Chun-Kit comes to meet Chun-Man and after some brotherly banter, borrows his siblings car. Minutes later he has been involved in a fatal road crash (in one of the most peripheral crossovers I have ever seen – this is the same crash that is the catalyst for the events in Oxide’s “Ab-Normal Beauty”).
Chun-Kit is in a coma, but Chun-Man has to go off to Thailand to sort out his siblings’ business problems (i.e. he has borrow heavily from a loan shark). Basically, due to various machinations of the plot – each brother has to pretend to be the other. As the saying goes about walking a mile in my shoes… they start to find out more about themselves and each other.
So what we have here is an action comedy, using the not-unusual conceit of having one lead man playing dual roles. It is pretty amusing when it tries. Chun-Man offers Choi’s father plenty of fashion advice in a recurring joke, and there is a lovely scene where Choi and the Chun-Man are surrounded by naked men in a bathhouse.
Action-wise, it is not too shabby. Remembering that the movie is made on a budget that is a fraction of a Hollywood blockbuster, there is some nice gun play, and a pretty impressive (if a little dodgy CGI) car chase.
The real highlight is the biggest of surprise of all. Cheng really pulls off the dual role. Yes, the brothers have slightly different haircuts, and dress a little differently, but Cheng actually allows you to feel they are two separate characters. His Chun-Man is fey without being over camp, whilst his Chun-Kit is a bit of a lad, but not overbearing. Choi is watchable also, not her strongest role, but far more than eye candy.
There is some clever stuff going on here. The Pangs are twin bothers – so having the lead be twins, plus the bad guys be brothers is a nice nod. Even cleverer is the fact that Choi is of course half of the canto-pop group TWINS.
However, the film has problems.
Firstly, it lacks any kind of style and polish that you would associate with a Pang film. The movie just looks decidedly middle of the road. There is no sheen of gloss, no clever camera angles, no muted colour palette. Of course there is plenty of subtle split screen going on whenever Cheng shares the screen with himself (and it is VERY well done), but if I had watched the film without credits, I don’t think I would have known it had any Pang connection.
Secondly, we never really get to see Chun-Kit be the asshole it is suggested he might be. There is almost no interaction with his girlfriend, so everything we know about him is either second hand or assumed.
Finally, there is a reveal that is botched awfully. I spoiled things earlier by saying the bad guys are brothers. I think this was meant to be a big surprise reveal – but it was already made so obvious by two previous scenes the reveal had zero impact.
There is some other stupid stuff going on also – but I am going to forgive this on the fact it is a comedy (but seriously – is filling a car park full of bombs REALLY the best way about getting rid of two debtors – and why do people escape by running to the TOP of the building?).
So on the whole, this is a perfectly decent movie. It has issues, but there are also some pleasant surprises. I doubt it would make any more than a footnote on anyone who was involved in making it CV. So disappointing, but solid.
On the other hand, here is a movie just dripping with style and no little substance. I have one major issue with it that stops it achieving greatness, but I’ll get there shortly.
Shawn Yue plays a cop (a very straight-laced and by the book cop), who after his last arrest goes a little pear-shaped is assigned to the Miscellaneous Affairs Department – something like the X-Files. His boss is a somewhat world weary Ekin Cheng, who is waiting to retire. Yue discovers that the job basically involves covering up the existence of Ghosts.
What is nice about this is that the film quickly builds up a set of rules for these evil ghosts. They can inhabit the bodies of the living, but when they move on to the next host, they leave the previous body an empty shell.
The opening scene is fantastic (after an equally good post credit scene), brilliantly building up tension, and introducing the supernatural element to the movie as its climax.
It is somewhat reminiscent of the Denzel Washington film “Fallen”, but you don’t necessarily get marks for originality here at Things Fall Apart – we are more interested in execution! To be fair, this movie goes far further with the idea.
It is a mightily dark movie, invoking some quite intense imagery (it reminded me a lot of the scenes in “Suicide Circle” – one of the original 15 movies that I have yet to discuss here), and frankly some of it could be viewed as upsetting to gentler souls.
Yue is his usually impressive self – although I have mostly seen him in some strong dramatic roles, he is certainly becoming a firm favourite with me. Cheng plays the more experienced detective well, even with the little extra weight he is carrying.
So far so excellent. In fact I could stop talking about the film now and be satisfied. Except I have one nagging doubt. Alfred Hitchcock regretted lying to the audience in the opening scene of “Stage Fright”. He showed the audience something which eventually was shown to be false, but not attempt was made to explain this in the narrative of the film. Unfortunately Rule Number One does something similar in its’ climax. We spend a long time with the characters, and although it does not quite make sense, everything is resolved. Except then we suddenly get a new ending, showing us the previous 15 minutes DID NOT HAPPEN. This annoys me not only because it is bad form, but also because the twist could have worked just as well without the the false pre-ending.
In short, a very good and entertaining movie, spoilt only by some execution near the end of the film, which may not bother you at all. Recommended.