Beast Stalker (Ching yan)


In Hong Kong action movies, even pedestrian overpasses aren’t safe.

(2008) Crime Drama (Emperor) Nicholas Tse, Nick Cheung, Jing Chu Zhang, Pu Miao, Kai Chi Liu, Ho Man Keung, Jing Hung Kwok, Sherman Chung, He Zhang, Suet Yin Wong, Sum Yin Wong, Kong Lau, Tung Joe Cheung, Simon Lee, Accord Cheung, Ka Leong Chan, Esther Kwan, Si-Man Man, Francis Luk, Sai Tang Yu, Kim Fai Che, June Tam. Directed by Dante Lam

Lives can be changed in the blink of an eye. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time can have devastating consequences, the effects rippling out like a rock thrown into placid waters. Rarely are those ripples pleasant although in time they can turn out to be beneficial but that isn’t often the case.

Hong Kong police detective Tong Fei (Tse) is ambitious and arrogant. He’s chasing a well-known Triad crime boss and has him in his relentless sights. Working with his team whom he sets very high standards for, he manages to get the criminal arrested – only to learn that the guy’s thugs have managed to break him out of custody. Fei personally leads the chase after him along with longtime friend and mentor Detective Sun (Liu). A violent car crash leads to a terrible tragedy in which an innocent little girl is killed. Fei is devastated.

Months afterwards, the prosecutor for the case, Ann Gau (J.C. Zhang) is getting past the grief of losing a child when her surviving child is kidnapped by Hung (N. Cheung), a half-blind assassin who is caring for a paralyzed wife and needs the dough. The guilt-wracked Fei is obsessed with finding the missing daughter despite Ann’s pleas for him to butt out – she has been warned to not involve the police. She agrees to alter the evidence that will put the crime lord behind bars for a very long time; so Fei goes out looking for the girl on his own. Hung is just as desperate to make sure that the girl isn’t found and both men play a game of cat and mouse with a little girl’s life hanging on the outcome.

Like many Hong Kong crime dramas, the plot hinges around a number of coincidences (some might say improbabilities) that require a whole lot of disbelief suspension. How likely is it that the crook would steal the car of his prosecutor who just happened to stop the car she was driving so she could yell at her ex-husband on the phone? And the coincidences don’t end there.

However if you can unwrap your head around those plot points you’ll be treated to a story with plenty of nice twists and turns, maybe one or two you won’t see coming. Nicholas Tse and Nicky Cheung are two of HK’s  best action stars and they are at their best in this movie. The action sequences, particularly the initial car chase that sets everything up, are extremely well done with the aforementioned chase being literally breathtaking.

The story does get a little bit maudlin in places but again that’s pretty much standard operating procedure for Hong Kong action films – is there a manual for these things? – and anyone who is a fan of that genre won’t mind a bit. Dante Lam is one of Hong Kong’s surest action directors and while this wasn’t his very best work, it was certainly one worth reviving. It played the recent New York Asian Film Festival. While I don’t see it listed on any of the standard streaming services, you can find the DVD and Blu-Ray in a variety of places. If you like Asian action, you won’t want to miss this one.

REASONS TO GO: The action scenes are uniformly excellent. The plot is full of lovely twists and turns.
REASONS TO STAY: The camerawork is so aggressive and kinetic it becomes distracting. The story is a little bit maudlin in places.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a whole lot of violence, some mild profanity and a few disturbing images.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was nominated for five Hong Kong Film Awards in 2009, winning two.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/11/18: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Infernal Affairs
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
The Looming Storm

Pulp Fiction


Someone is going to get a cap in their ass.

Someone is going to get a cap in their ass.

(1994) B-Movie Noir (Miramax) John Travolta, Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, Uma Thurman, Ving Rhames, Tim Roth, Eric Stoltz, Amanda Plummer, Harvey Keitel, Christopher Walken, Steve Buscemi, Quentin Tarantino, Julia Sweeney, Phil LaMarr, Frank Whaley, Burr Steers, Rosanna Arquette, Bronagh Gallagher, Duane Whitaker, Peter Greene, Stephen Hibbert, Kathy Griffin, Maria de Madeiros. Directed by Quentin Tarantino

Some movies become classics because they define an entire genre; others because they define a region. Many become classics because they define the person who made it – and Pulp Fiction does. But what sets it apart from other movies is that Pulp Fiction has come to define cool.

Pulp Fiction is ranked high on a lot of people’s lists of all-time favorite or significant (or both) films, critics and film buffs alike. Tarantino had already been receiving notice for his previous films True Romance and Reservoir Dogs but to most people, this is his artistic nadir. It would provide a serious career renaissance for Travolta and a boost for Willis, while Jackson would really hit the public radar with his incendiary performance here.

Tarantino skillfully weaves three stories – one of two career killers, Vincent Vega (Travolta) and Jules Winnfield (Jackson) having a particularly bad day, a second about a prize fighter named Butch Coolidge (Willis) who fails to throw a prize fight and runs afoul of gangster Marcellus Wallace (Rhames) who also happens to be the employer of Messrs. Vega and Winnfield. Finally a third story involves Vincent’s ill-advised assignment to take out Marcellus’ wife Mia (Thurman) out for dinner and dancing. He takes her out to Jack Rabbit Slim’s, a restaurant that never existed but OMG it should have. There, waiters dressed like Hollywood stars of the 50s and 60s serve burgers, shakes and steaks to customers seated in classic cars. Slot car racers ring the room and periodic twist contests and other entertainment keep the joint hopping.

My personal favorite sequence is when Vincent and Jules head to a suburban home of mutual friend Jimmie Dimmick (Tarantino) after one of the messiest accidents you’ll ever see on film. They are forced to call The Wolf (Keitel), a fixer who specializes in clean-ups. There is a whole lot of dark humor in the scene and I always look forward to it whenever I view the movie which is pretty regularly.

Tarantino has always been a skillful writer of dialogue and he writes some of the best I’ve ever heard here. Much of it has become classic; Vincent’s laconic assertion that in France, a Quarter Pounder with cheese is called a Royale with cheese, or Jules’ Biblical oration when he’s about to shoot someone in the face and who can forget Marcellus Wallace promising that he is “going to get medieval on yo ass” to a  It is also the kind of film where bad things happen to just about everyone.

The movie combines all sorts of different genres, from black comedies to thrillers, from mob movies to fight flicks. Pulp Fiction is B-Movie noir, a tribute to the movies that weren’t so respectable but are the movies that we tend to remember even more than the high-falluting Oscar winners. These are the movies that we are raised on, the movies that make us feel just a little bit like badasses. These are the movies that appeal to the devils of our better nature, and Pulp Fiction is everything about these movies that makes them great.

WHY RENT THIS: A true classic with some of the best dialogue ever written. Terrific performances by Travolta, Jackson, Thurman and Keitel.  Awesome soundtrack.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: May be filled with a few too many pop culture references.

FAMILY VALUES:  All sorts of violence and drug use as well as a ton of foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Travolta and Thurman copied their twist sequence at Jack Rabbit Slim’s virtually move for move from a similar dance sequence in Fellini’s 8 1/2 by Barbara Steele and Mario Pisu.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: The Collector’s Edition DVD includes a feature from Siskel & Ebert At the Movies on Tarantino and his generation of filmmakers, Tarantino’s acceptance speech when the film won the Palm d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, an interview of Tarantino by Charlie Rose and a menu from Jack Rabbit Slim’s. The Blu-Ray has all of these other than the menu.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $213.9M on an $8M production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Reservoir Dogs

FINAL RATING: 10/10

NEXT: The World is Not Enough

Perrier’s Bounty


Perrier's Bounty

Murphy, Whittaker and Broadbent stroll away from yet another catastrophe.

(2009) Gangster Comedy (IFC) Cillian Murphy, Jim Broadbent, Brendan Gleeson, Jodie Whittaker, Gabriel Byrne (voice), Liam Cunningham, Michael McElhatton, Domhnall Gleeson, Ned Dennehy, Patrick McCabe, Glenn Speers, Natalie Britton. Directed by Ian Fitzgibbon

Sometimes, you’re left in an impossible situation; one in which, either through your own ineptitude or through no fault of your own there is no good outcome. There are times when the lesser of two evils is to go medieval on somebody’s ass.

Michael McCrae (Murphy) is a small-time hood in Dublin who owes a thousand Euros to Darren Perrier (Brendan Gleeson), a big-time hood. He has sent a couple of thugs to inform young McCrae that they will return in four hours to collect – and if he doesn’t have the cash, they will break a leg. Four hours later they’ll break another leg. And so on and so forth until every limb is broken and all that’s left is to shoot him dead. Perrier doesn’t mess around, obviously.

At first McCrae seeks to get the amount from another loan shark known only as The Mull (Cunningham) but when that falls through, McCrae is left to the mercy of the thugs. He is saved when his neighbor Brenda (Whittaker) whom McCrae has had a crush on for ages, accidentally shoots one of the thugs.

This pisses Perrier off no end; he regards it as nothing less than a challenge to his authority. He authorizes a bounty on the head of the two of ten thousand Euros. Now McCrae are on the run along with McCrae’s dad Jim (Broadbent) who has had a premonition that he’s going to die the next time he falls asleep. With every hood in Dublin gunning for them, fleeing town seems to be the only option but that won’t be easy either.

For more than a decade gangster movies have made a resurgence in the UK and really for my money they are the best in the world at making them (although the Chinese have made some pretty intense gangster movies as well). This is not one that’s going to be at the top of the list, but neither is it going to be at the bottom either.

Murphy is a likable enough sort and he has the acting chops to go a lot farther in Hollywood than he has to date. He lacks that one vehicle to lift him over the top and make him a viable property over here; even appearances in the Christopher Nolan Batman movies haven’t done it for him yet.

Brendan Gleeson is as rough and tumble as they come and he’s done several turns as a bad guy, particularly in In Bruges (although audiences may know him best as Mad-Eye Moody in the Harry Potter films). He’s one of the best character actors in the business and lends a certain amount of cachet to any film he participates in. His Darren Perrier is quite an S.O.B. but Gleeson keeps him from becoming a standard paint-by-numbers villain by making him interesting and quirky.

Most of the rest of the mostly Irish cast (with the exception of Broadbent who is English and also one of the finest character actors in the world) aren’t well known in the States, although Whittaker, who plays Brenda with some spunk and verve should be and could be eventually (although she’s English too – hmmm). Still, there are solid performances all around and the movie is the better for it.

The main problem is that there isn’t anything that particularly stands out from other gangster movies. The idiom requires a hook of some kind; a lead character without a name, a shootout in a medieval town, a language spoken only by a few in the UK, a missing parcel. Something that is more than just trying to get away from the bad guys – although the movie isn’t boring by a long shot either.

The script is well-written and the dialogue is clever, so the movie is smart in its own right. It just doesn’t take any chances, which is a shame because it could have used a few risks. Still, it has a great cast and any movie with Murphy, Broadbent and Gleeson in it is worth watching.

WHY RENT THIS: Gleeson, Broadbent and Murphy are always wonderful and Whittaker does a terrific job as well.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Not really very groundbreaking when it comes to gangster flicks.

FAMILY VALUES: There is an awful lot of violence (which you’d expect in an Irish gangster flick), a whole lot of swearing (which you’d also expect in an Irish gangster flick) and a smattering of drug use.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Fitzgibbon is currently completing his next film, based on the novel Death of a Superhero.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $167,938 on an unreported production budget; I’m thinking this probably lost a few bucks.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Rio