Quite the little watching Marathon has been going on at ThingsFallApart Towers, so as is customary, here are some little reviews. The right is reserved as ever to look at these in more detail later, but don’t go holding your breath! Quite the mix of genres too.
Starting with 1980’s Hong King Comedy, “The Happy Ghost” tell the humorous tale of a Ching Dynasty Scholar (Raymond Wong) who visits a 1980’s Catholic girls school as a ghost. It wants to be all-ages fare, and other than an opening scene suicide and some risqué sexual banter, it succeeds on the most part. In fact on occasion it is a total riot, with our fish-out-water Ghost having great fun fitting into the modern world, with some set pieces such as that at a school athletics meet being some of the funniest low brow physical jokes I have seen from an Eastern film. On the other hand, it doesn’t really have that strong a story, and the eventual descent into teen pregnancy and education-pressure suicide attempts leave the film feeling a little unbalanced. It really is pretty basic stuff in terms of cinematography and the general standard of acting, but it is not offensive in anyway, just low budget fun. It has enough in it to entertain a Western audience, just as long as you are not looking for too much
It spawned 4 direct sequels, a 1990’s reboot and a more modern retread (which should be discussed here soon), and for what it is, well it comes Recommended.
Shifting to Heroic Bloodshed now, and I have finally lost my John Woo/Chow Yun-fat cherry, with “Hard Boiled”. Chow plays a Hong Kong Cop with a severe attitude problem, which is made worse when his partner is killed during a bloodbath at a tea-house. He eventually comes across Tony Leung’s character who is a much in demand hitman who is in demand by both the main gun runners (including a menacing Anthony Wong). Thing is, turns out Leung may well be on the side of the Angels, in a twist that he would play yet again in “Infernal Affairs”. The first half of the film is excellent, and once you get used to Woo’s Directorial tics (random slo-mo anyone?), it really is both exciting and engrossing. Then the last minute re-write rears its head, and the second half of the film decides to do away with all the strong character work and setup, and becomes one extended action scene. Ignoring any gun-based logic, the action scenes here are fantastic, and Chow does make a good action hero. Sadly, I was so put off by the sudden shift in the story, that I found it all a bit disappointing. But, as an example of the imagination and seat-of-the-pants filmmaking that characterises late 1980s/early 1990s Hong Kong Film making, you really cannot go too far wrong with this one. Recommended with reservations.
Bringing us up to date, is “Silenced” (a.k.a “The Crucible”), a Korean Drama from last year. If I had seen this earlier, it would have made my Top 10 of the year. Recent Widower Kang In-ho (Gong Yoo) goes to Musan to take up a job as an art teacher in a school for the deaf. What he finds is a culture of abuse (both physical and sexual), which he feels obliged to bring to the attention of Human Rights activist Seo Yoo-jin (Jeong Yu-mi). Torn between his duty to his Mother and sick child (as he will certainly lose his job for this) and the duty of care he has to his pupils, this would be a tough story to tell normally. However, it is instead harrowing because it is shockingly based on true events. It lacks maybe in a little character development, but this is because it unflinchingly shows the abuse in a way I have rarely seem actually portrayed on screen. It is devastating and utterly heartbreaking, and frankly one of the toughest watches I have ever put myself through. A damning indictment on the corruption deep in Korean Society (where money, position and religion hold sway over what should just be right). Great performances all round, and even braver as it does not go for the cop-out happy ending, sticking instead to the facts. Not only Highly Recommended, but this is a must see.
Ending up in Horror, and the Mainland produced “Nightmare”. I knew this was going to be bad, mostly as I knew that there just are no Ghosts in Mainland China. Feng Lai (Zhou Xianxin) is a Doctor with severe and crippling mental issues (insomnia, self harm, OCD, etc), but still manages to carry out a highly stressful day job. Her attacks get even worse, until she dreams she has killed her ex-boyfriend, which just makes her symptoms even worse. However, there are more red herrings than a fish market going on, so we have plenty of additional suspects – could it be the creepy stalker of a fellow Doctor, the hunky yet grubby Interior Designer who has just moved upstairs, or even her long lost best friend who is now married to this ex-boyfriend? The answer is actually painfully obvious, and is resolved in a clunky, almost Scooby-Doo manner, replete with a previously unseen character popping up to explain all. To be fair, the ghostly haunting stuff is actually done rather well, and at least one scene is utter class (when Feng Lai turns round to confront the long-haired girl ghost that has been stalking her). But it really is a noisy mess, with the Director seemingly unable to really carry off the air of paranoia that the film needs, and reign himself in from some pretty basic camera trickery. It does redeem itself a little at the end, where it is brave enough to have our lead actress announce that she is mentally ill, even though the events of the movie have been solved. A silly little coda though really does not help at all. Avoid.