Breaking News (2004) (Dai si gin)


I'm not worthy, I'm not worthy...

I’m not worthy, I’m not worthy…

(2004) Crime Drama (Palm) Richie Jen, Kelly Chen, Nick Cheung, Cheung Siu Fai, Hui Siu Hung, Lam Suet, You Yong, Ding Hai Feng, Li Hai Tao, Simon Yam, Maggie Siu, Yuk-Keung Kwok, Chi Wai Wong, Wah Wo Wong. Directed by Johnnie To

Our reality is shaped to a large extent by the media. Our lines of thought and conclusions are largely a product of how things are portrayed online and on television.

That’s as true in Asia as it is here. An attempt by the Hong Kong police to capture Yuen (Jen), a notorious criminal ends in a devastating shootout and an indelible image of a terrified police officer surrendering to the vicious brigand. The media picks up on it and the criticism of the police department becomes intense, leading them to assign Superintendent Rebecca Fong (Chen) to spin control.

In the meantime Inspector Cheung (Cheung) has cornered Yuen in a high rise apartment building and the criminal has taken a taxi driver (Suet) and his kids hostage in his apartment. As Fong continues to feed the media stories reflecting favorably on the police, Yuen – amused as all get out – uses his captives’ web cam and cell phones to feed stories to the same media outlets that are far less complimentary of the police.

With the reputation of the police at stake, the pressure is on not just to capture the miscreants but also, as Fong puts it, put on a good show. It doesn’t matter who gets caught in the crossfire as long as the ratings are high.

To, one of the most capable action directors in Asia (if not the most capable) outdoes himself here. Known for long tracing shots, the opening shot which lasts about seven minutes is a thing of beauty. The camera swoops down into a busy city street like an errant leaf on the breeze, soaring up to a second story building and then following along with an intricate, violent shoot-out without missing a beat and seemingly all in one fluid shot. It’s a masterstroke of technical ability and should be shown to all aspiring film students as a primer as how a tracking shot should be done.

He doesn’t stop there. Some of the gun battles in the apartment building are downright graceful despite the claustrophobic setting. He also knows how to keep the tension high enough to keep audiences squirming in their seats only letting up just enough to keep them from having coronaries. He populates his story with tough talkers and bureaucrats and basically everyone else is cannon fodder.

In fact, most of the characters in the movie are pretty much standard characters you’ll find in most Hong Kong action flicks – the cocky criminal, the tough-talking cop, the clever bureaucrat, the femme fatale – they’re pretty much all here. None of them are given much depth.

Unlike most action movies, this isn’t just stunts for stunts sake. There is a real message here about the role of the media. It’s frustrating though that To is basically just wagging his finger at the problem like an irritated schoolmarm. He had the opportunity to explore the issue more thoroughly but chose to go for a car chase instead. Lamentable.

And therein lies my issue with the ending as well; as opposed to the beginning of the film, the end of the movie brings nothing new to the table. You see it coming and you keep waiting for the twist you’re sure is going to come. Then the movie ends. Makes me wonder if To ran out of time to write a decent ending because compared to the rest of the movie it’s awfully disappointing.

Still, this is a high octane Chinese action thriller that is one of the better ones to come from there in the past ten years or so. If you haven’t seen it and you’re a fan of the genre, you owe it to yourself to rent it.

WHY RENT THIS: Amazing opening sequence. Terrific action sequences.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Missed opportunities. Ending misses the mark. Clichéd characters.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a pretty fair amount of violence and some brief strong language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: A Russian version of the movie was released in 2009 under the title Newsmakers although it hasn’t yet been released in North America.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $1.0M on an unreported production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Inside Man

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

NEXT: We’re the Millers

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Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life


Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life

Get your motor running?

(2003) Action (Paramount) Angelina Jolie, Gerard Butler, Ciaran Hinds, Til Schweiger, Djimon Hounsou, Noah Taylor, Christopher Barrie, Simon Yam, Terence Yin, Daniel Caltagirone, Fabiano Martell, Jonathan Coyne. Directed by Jan de Bont

 

Video games have had a terrible time translating into movies. Maybe because they lack that interactive factor that hooks gamers so thoroughly, or maybe it is because Hollywood doesn’t understand the gamer market. I think the most important factor is that most of the movies based on video games have been pretty bad.

The second installment of the video game franchise turned movie adaptation is pretty basic. An earthquake on Santorini, the remains of the legendary Thera volcano in Greece, unearths a temple that brings all sorts of treasure hunters eager to check it out, including Lara Croft (Jolie). After Lara discovers a mysterious golden orb in the ruin, it is immediately stolen by Chen Lo (Yam), a high-ranking Chinese triad leader who is working for bioterror merchant Jonathan Reiss (Hinds) who believes it to be a map to the location of the legendary Pandora’s Box.

Except that the Pandora’s Box is actually a terrible weapon, one capable of destroying all life on earth, yadda yadda yadda. Lara is approached by MI-6 to enlist her aid in getting back the trinket, and to do so, she needs the help of someone who has worked for the bad guy. Conveniently, Terry Sheridan (Butler), a former lover of hers who is rotting in a jail in Kazakhstan fits the bill. The two travel to Asia to retrieve the orb, which Croft cronies Bryce (Taylor) and Hillary (Barrie) discover is activated by musical notes.

Lara and Terry must infiltrate the rural hideout of Chen Lo and retrieve the Orb – but when they do, they discover it’s not there. They then have to head to Shanghai where they are too late to interrupt the exchange between Chen Lo’s flunkies and Reiss. Lara must steal it from the heart of the dragon, so to speak and this leads her to a break-up with Terry, whom she doesn’t fully trust. It also leads her to Africa, where her friend Kosa (Hounsou) will lead her to an ancient tribe of guardians. They warn of shadow guardians, creatures who live in the darkness that will pluck out of existence the unwary and those who would enter the Cradle of Life, where the Box rests. Unfortunately, it is there that Reiss will catch up with her and the fight for the future of the world will truly begin.

To this point, Angelina Jolie had always left me flat. While I would come to appreciate her in later films, when I saw this I not a member of her fan club. Re-watching the movie recently didn’t change my opinion – you don’t get a sense that she really cared much about this film or this character. I felt this was more of a paycheck than a performance and maybe it’s a good thing that the film franchise died here, although a reboot of it is currently in the works.

Of course there are the special effects, which are considerable. The Shadow Guardians scene is particularly well-executed, and the Cradle of Life environment is vertigo-inducing in a good way. And, the rest of the cast is pretty nifty. Hinds makes an outstanding bad guy, and Butler is a riveting romantic lead, a bad guy with a heart of slightly tarnished gold. Hounsou is fine as an African guide, and holdovers ¬†Barrie and Taylor from the first film are woefully under-utilized as Lara’s violent butler and resident computer genius.

I want to like this movie more than I do. When I watched it I was suitably entertained, and will probably wind up purchasing it. There are flaws, but director Jan De Bont overcomes a lot of them by keeping the action non-stop, something the man who gave us Speed understands very well. Although I find Jolie not my personal cup of tea, I have to admit she looks the part and she handles her stunts rather well. However, there’s a difference between expressing self-confidence and smirking and the latter is very unattractive.

WHY RENT THIS: Nifty special effects and action sequences. Butler, in his first major role, is roguishly charming.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Jolie may look the part but lacks heart. The plot is a bit banal.

FAMILY MATTERS: There is a goodly amount of violence, a few mildly bad words here and there and some fairly intense making out.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Jolie is the only actor in the film who was American-born.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: There are a couple of music videos and Gerard Butler’s screen test.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $156.5M on a $95 production budget; the film lost money during its theatrical run.

COMPARISON SHOPPING:King Solomon’s Mines

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Brave