Capsule Comments–Overheard, Au Revoir Taipei and Balzac & The Little Seamstress

It has been a while since I took the capsule approach but been a little busy with work, although I have managed to fit some films in.  Usual rules apply – I may one day come back to these in a fuller manner, but it is unlikely.

Overheard

Bought to you from the makers of “Infernal Affairs”, this is a complex little thriller, following an investigation into a potential Stock Market Scam.  Our investigating team are full of quirks though – leader Johnny (Ching Wan Lau) is having an affair with the estranged wife of his best friend, Gene (Louis Koo) has a sick child and finds out he too is terminally ill and Max (Daniel Wu) is struggling to keep up with the financial expectations of his prospective Father-in-Law.  So when they get wind of an insider trading tip, they decide to take advantage.  However, it all goes wrong, and their attempts to cover up their mistake leads to the criminals exacting revenge on the threesome and their families.

It is pretty darn good, with strong performances all round (even the oft maligned Michael Wong is great as the mastermind), including a nice performance by Jingchu Zhang.  But several things stop it being truly great.  The underlying plot is not too well realised, concentrating (for once) maybe too much on the strong characterisation of not only our three main protagonists, but also a number of secondary characters.  It also has an ending which although is kind of exciting, really does not make an awful lot of logical sense.  Recommended though, and expect a fuller review of the in-name-only sequel soon.

Au Revoir Taipei

Poor Kai (Jack Yao) has seen his girlfriend go to Paris to further her education, leaving him to spend his nights alone in a bookstore learning French.  Pretty Store Assistant Susie (Amber Kuo) seems keen on him, but he is immune to her charms.  He borrows money from local crime boss Brother Bao (Frankie Gao) to go visit his girlfriend after she dumps him on the phone.  In return, he is to take a mysterious package with him.  However, this attracts the attentions of both the Police and Bao’s Nephew Hong (Lawrence Ko) who wants to stop being the legitimate face of his Uncle’s organisation and get him and his boys a “Sweet Score”.  Cue a chase around Taipai one night for Kai, his best friend (Paul Chiang)and the unwitting Susie.

It really is the most beautiful and gentle of comedies, evoking a real sense of love for Taipei.  It is colourful and noisy and just overwhelmingly like candyfloss.  The problem is that there never really is any sense of threat about proceedings, which makes for a pleasant enough journey, but means it just lacks that special extra thing which would elevate this.  Jack Yao isn’t quite strong enough to carry the film, but Lawrence Ko is brilliant and I challenge you not to fall in love with Amber Kuo.  It is a film to make you smile rather than laugh out loud, and I recommend it with just a touch of caution. However, I look forward to seeing what Director Arvin Chen produces next

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress

One of those films I have meant to watch for ages.  It is 1971 China where Luo (Chen Kun) and Ma (Liu Ye) are sent to the countryside by the Party for re-education.  The both fall for the beguiling young daughter of the Tailor from the neighbouring village (Zhou Xun).

Sadly I wanted to like this one far more than I did.  Based on the directors semi-autobiographical Novel, the individual vignettes are fine, helped by the stunning landscape.  Yet, I felt there was a cruelty about it – the city boys seemed to be always looking down on the villagers, and even when their desire to educate the Little Seamstress backfires on them, I felt no sense of regret, or even learning.

The lead males are sadly anodyne at best, though Zhou Xun is wonderfully effervescent – a far cry from those cold femme fatales she tends to play in more modern times.  It also has a really odd penultimate scene, set in the present day, which makes no sense when it is followed up by a final scene showing the final fate of our heroine.

It is interesting, and at times lovely, but the whole thing felt like a series of recollections rather than an engaging story arc.  Worse, I got mixed feeling about the re-education programme – an evil thing – where I got the sense that the lead was actually feeling this was the best days of his life, and that as the boys were so abusive and cruel, that Mao may have had a point.  Mildly recommended, mostly for the beautiful vistas and a glowing Zhou Xun.

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