With Prisoners


Dinner is served.

(2016) True Crime Drama (Times Production Ltd) Neo Yau Hiewk-sau, Kelvin Kwan, Edward Chui, Kimi Chiu, Lee Kwok Lun, Raymond Chiu, Kwok Yik Sum, Amy Tam, Gill Mohindepaul Singh, Han Wan, DreGar, Luk Yuen Yee, Mak Yee Ma, Sham Ka Ki. Directed by Kwok Kuen Wong

Dostoevsky once wrote that you can tell how civilized a society is by how it treats its prisoners. Who am I to disagree with so distinguished an author? In fact, I completely agree; most societies seem to be all about punishment ahead of rehabilitation. It doesn’t seem to be much of a concern that convicts be given the tools to go straight and lead a law-abiding life; the general consensus is that if they come back we’ve always got a cell and if we run short we can always build more. As for brutality, those who are in jail are there because they’re guilty of something and thus they deserve whatever they get.

Fan (Hiewk-sau) is a thug and proud of it. He lives with his Nana (Yee) who disapproves of his lifestyle, but he’s young, arrogant and has a quick temper. He has ambitions of becoming a big crime boss, but after getting into a brawl with a drunk police officer in a bar he ends up convicted of assaulting a police officer and is shuttled to prison in Hong Kong’s “Short Sharp Shock” program, an accelerated boot camp-like environment designed to provide self-discipline for young men who sorely need it.

Immediately he discovers that while there is brutal discipline, it is enforced by cruel and sadistic punishments – at one point Fan is forced to clean the toilet with his fingers and then brush his teeth with those same fingers without a chance to wash them first. And yes, that’s as disgusting as it sounds. He is beaten by the guards, particularly the sadistic Gwai (Lun) who seems to take great pleasure in torturing the prisoners mentally as well as physically.

Things are so bad that he attempts to hang himself on only the third day but is saved by the quick-thinking guard Ho (Kwan) who alone among the guards seems to have any sort of humanity in him. He is the opposite of Gwai – he wants to see the kids rehabilitated and to make productive lives for themselves. He is deeply disturbed by the attitudes and behaviors of the other guards but the Warden (Singh) turns a blind eye so long as nothing negative reflects on him.

Fan eventually makes friends in prison, including the friendly Sing (Ki) and Sharpie (Ma) who has an agenda of his own. When word reaches Fan that his Nana is sick, he strives to become a model prisoner and get released early but will it come in time for him to see his Nana one last time? And once he is free, will he sink back into his old ways?

Based on actual events, the movie never really establishes a “this is the way it happened” feel to it. There are a lot of prison movie clichés that crop up – all that is missing is a prison riot climax – and some of the film actually feels more melodramatic than authentic.

That said, there is also a Scared Straight vibe as well. If you’re going to do the crime, you are likely to do the time and here, ladies and gentleman, is what that time looks like. There is very much a boot camp look to prison in Hong Kong with military-like marching, prisoners shouting “Good morning, sir!” at the top of their lungs every morning during role call and entire companies of prisoners forced to do push-ups and laps for the transgressions of a single guy. While there are beatings administered and sadistic punishments inflicted, there isn’t a ton of blood and the violence is pretty tame by American prison movie standards.

The two leads, Kwan and Hiewk-sau are both strong in their performances. Hiewk-sau goes from a smiling, snarling thug to a disciplined prisoner determined to get out early and see his nana and the transformation is both believable and compelling. Kwan’s character is more of a generic nice prison guard but there is a sub-plot involving his recovering addict wife that gives him more depth.

Hong Kong doesn’t produce a lot of prison movies but when it does they tend to be worth watching and this one is no exception. I would have liked something a little less slick and a little more gritty but I think that the difference in tastes between East and West might have something to do with that. In any case, there is ample reason to check this out should it appear in a festival near you or on your favorite specialty streaming channel.

REASONS TO GO: Hiewk-sau and Kwan give memorable performances. The movie can serve as a warning to those contemplating doing the crime as to what doing the time looks like.
REASONS TO STAY: The movie is overly melodramatic in places. The film may be a bit tame for American tastes for this kind of movie.
FAMILY VALUES: Although the movie is fairly mild by prison movie standards, it does contain a brief scene of drug use, some mild profanity, sensuality, brief male rear nudity and some violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Mak Yee Ma, who plays the returning prisoner Sharpie, is the former convict whose story the movie is based upon.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/12/17: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: A Violent Prosecutor
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: Vampire Cleanup Department

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An Affair to Remember


An Affair to Remember
Dressed to impress!

(1957) Romance (20th Century Fox) Cary Grant, Deborah Kerr, Richard Denning, Neva Patterson, Cathleen Nesbitt, Robert Q. Lewis, Charles Watts, Fortunio Bonanova, Dorothy Adams, Richard Allen, Suzanne Ellers, Genevieve Aumont, Marni Nixon. Directed by Leo McCarey

 

Some movies withstand the test of time while others become hopelessly dated. Some remain classics because of their era-centricity.

An Affair to Remember is one of those movies that has had a charmed life. It began as a remake by McCarey of his own 1939 hit Love Affair which garnered six Oscar nominations, starred Irene Dunn and Charles Boyer and is a classic of the romance genre on its own. An Affair to Remember was a massive hit in its day, one of the first movies to take advantage of the Cinemascope process. It slumbered in the archives of Fox for years, occasionally surfacing on an afternoon movie program before Sleepless in Seattle referenced it as a romantic touchstone for the Meg Ryan character, sparking renewed interest in the film (more than two million video cassette tapes were sold of the film after Sleepless came out).

The plot has European playboy Nickie Ferrante (Grant) taking a transatlantic voyage aboard the U.S.S. Constitution to New York where he is to be married to his heiress girlfriend. On board he meets singer Terry McKay (Kerr) where in time-honored romantic tradition the two find each other not liking each other much but being the only single people on board constantly paired together.

It is only when the ship docks in Madeira and Terry meets Nickie’s charming grandmother (Nesbitt), seeing his tender and loving side that she falls in love with him and he with her. The two spend most of the rest of the voyage trying not to be seen as a couple together; as they dock in the Big Apple they agree to meet at the Empire State Building in six months time. However, fate throws a curveball in their direction that may irrevocably separate the lovers for good.

This remains one of Da Queen’s most beloved films. Her wedding dress and bridesmaid dresses were modeled after the dress Kerr one (depicted in the picture above) to give you an idea of what she thought of the movie. It certainly captures romance in a time and period where elegance and manners weren’t four letter words.

Grant is perhaps one of the most romantic leads ever in cinema. In his time he would have won the Sexiest Man Alive on multiple occasions had the award existed and there are plenty of women today who’d be quite happy to be swept off their collective feet by his ghost – and regularly are whenever they watch one of his films. This may well have been his most romantic.

Kerr is one of the most beautiful women ever in the movies and she was at the height of her beauty and allure here. What man wouldn’t fall in love with someone as strong, smart and lovely as her? She is of course a woman of her time and in many ways there are things about her character that modern feminists might take umbrage to, but that’s simply the norm for the times. For my money she is as modern a woman as most I’ve met running around the 21st century.

This is the way they used to do romance and in many ways, in this age of social networking, online romance, dating services and internet porn, they got it far more right than we do. I think that strikes a chord in a lot of us – wanting our romance to be simple, more elegant, more epic in scale. It isn’t much to ask.

So do yourself a favor – curl up on the couch, bring out the champagne and chocolate-covered strawberries, slip into something comfortable and put this on the DVD player. Guys, nothing may blow up or get shot  at nor will there be any bare breasts but trust me – your woman will thank you for it. In a very meaningful way.

WHY RENT THIS: A favorite of Da Queen and considered one of the best romantic movies ever made. Certainly it has all the right elements for a terrific couch cuddlefest.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Elements of it are dated and might not be relatable for younger audience members.

FAMILY VALUES:  Like most films of the era, there isn’t anything here that you’d find objectionable for your kids to see, other than the excessive smoking and drinking that was par for the course at the time.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie debuted aboard the U.S.S. Constitution where many of the shipboard scenes were filmed.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: This has received several home video incarnations; the original DVD release (2003) includes a commentary track from film historian Joseph McBride and singer Marni Nixon who dubbed Kerr’s voice in the film. There is also an episode of AMC’s “Backstory” devoted to the film, and a snippet from a newsreel showing the film’s premiere on board an ocean liner. The 50th Anniversary edition (2008) comes with postcard reproductions of the film’s original lobby cards, as well as segments devoted to the careers and lives of Grant, Kerr, McCarey and producer Jerry Wald. The Blu-Ray edition (2011) comes with everything in the 50th Anniversary edition sans the postcards.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $3.8M on an unreported production budget; the movie was a huge hit!

FINAL RATING: 10/10

TOMORROW: Chronicle