Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Natasha Richardson

Natasha Richardson has died after a head injury suffered in a skiing accident in Canada during a family holiday. This post doesn't fit with the stated purpose of this blog but she has been one of my favorite actresses since I first saw her over 20 years ago in "Gothic". Natasha Richardson has been in quite a few bad movies--I have seen many of them only because they included her, as has been the case with Maggie Cheung Man-Yuk and Cate Blanchette, two other enormously talented actresses.

There are potted biographies, family histories and obituaries all over the net so I won't bother linking any here.
May perpetual light shine upon her.

As Blanche in "A Streetcar Named Desire", May 19, 2005, New York Times

"The White Countess", 2005
And one more

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Gillian Chung, Angelina Jolie, Rock Hudson and the uses of Thai sorcery

Hong Kong residents who visit Thailand and stray from typical tourist paths into brothels and bars are set upon and sometimes followed home by evil spirits. Or so it would seem from the movies—"The Eternal Evil of Asia" is one example of the genre. At her news conference the other day it would have been fitting if Ah Gil had summoned one of these demons to help her deal with the intrusive, vulgar and imbecilic questions from the press. The reporter who asked her whether she had to sell a condo unit in order to support her family could have gotten the same treatment as Bobby Au-Yeung Jan-Wa, ventilated with a few flourescent tubes while the one who wanted to know is she still loved Edison might look good as a a penis-head which is only one of the fates suffered by Elvis Tsui Kam-Kong when their characters crossed a powerful wizard in Thailand.
Bobby Au-Yeung Jan-Wa Elvis Tsui Kam-Kong

In the United States we have become used to the paparazzi and the celebrities they stalk and who owe at least part of their fame to the photographers they try (or seem to try) to avoid but Lindsay, Paris and other objects of the diva-starved masses have it quite easy compared to what Hong Kong celebrities must deal with, given the conservative audiences in the Special Administrative Region and their demands that popular entertainers have lives paralleling their screen images. The Hollywood studio PR systems that lasted until the 1950s are a good parallel. Rock Hudson was a manly man, Doris Day was the wholesome girl next door, Debbie Reynolds was a sweet as Tammy. No one expects that kind of organized hypocracy now (there are a different set of lies to retail to the credulous) but is seems from this western point of view that it is alive and well in Hong Kong.

Gillian Chung is returning from her year wandering in the wilderness, hoping to reignite her movie career and, to the extent possible, put the tawdry Edison Chan episode behind her. One wishes her all the success in the world, particularly given the insanity of the reaction of the Hong Kong press. A good summary of the gory details of her reception from AsianFanatics is here.
The great lengths to which celebrities go to insure their privacy was shown when Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt decided that the birth their daughter Shiloh should take place in the southern African nation of Namibia. They are wealthy and not afraid to spend their wealth on privacy; have excellent international contacts and credibility due to Jolie's work with the United Nations refugee efforts (UNHCR) and complete cooperation from the Namibian government, who said foreign journalists wishing to cover the birth must have written permission from Pitt and Jolie to enter the country and obtain a work permit.

Few of the targets of celebrity-stalking journos have the money, logistic capabilty and connections that allow them to dictate immigration rules in a country of their choosing, so they wind up answering questions that shouldn't be asked. It seems as if Gillian Chung got through this ordeal relatively well, due in significant part to the unstinting support of the Tough Jeansmith clothing line. It must have been the first time in Hong Kong that an announcement for a new line of jeans by a local company drew over 100 press participants.
Here is a picture of her during the conference
And another the next morning, looking much happier at a Jeansmith store in Mongkok, surrounded by her fans
Gillian Chung is not a great actress but she had been a hard working and very professional performer, seemed to get as much from her talent as the script and director would allow and was willing to promote her projects tirelessly. She clearly had no sense of how to deal with the firestorm that the publication of her pictures with Edison Chen caused but may have done the right thing in simply disappearing for a year. It is interesting that her comeback is as a spokesperson for a clothing line. While Jeansmith got more ink and airtime in one day than they usually get in a year (or ten years) their executives still had to be as sure as they could that having Ah Gil as the face of their brand would work in their favor. I hope they are right and that she is able to begin working and once again make her fans happy.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Five or so of the sexiest Hong Kong actresses

In a recent post to his blog Asian-Cinema-While on the Road, which updates his invaluable "View From Brooklyn Bridge" Brian listed his five sexiest Hong Kong actresses since 1980. They are:
1. Chingmy Yau
2. Hsu Chi (Shu Qi herein)
3. Pinky Cheung
4. Christy Chung
5. Ellen Chan
I certainly can't argue with that list. In case anyone needs a quick refresher, here are a few pictures of each of them:

Christy Chung

Ellen Chan

Pinky Cheung

Shu Qi

Chingmy Yau

Sexiness is as subjective a category as exists anywhere and it would be possible to put together a list of five most sexy actresses without including any on Brian's list, although Shu Qi (an alternate spelling for Hsu Chi and one that is used as the primary one on the Hong Kong Movie Data Base which is the guide I follow here for romanization) might make anyone's list. I will cheat a bit and add two actresses that I find extremely sexy, Karen Mok and Carrie Ng. And, of course, Teresa Mak.

Carrie Ng was told by a make-up artist that no amount of make-up in the world would make her attractive enough for television. This is on a par with the famous report on Sophia Loren's first screen test which read, "Too tall, too big-boned, too heavy all around. The face is too short, the mouth is too wide, the nose too long..." Thank goodness that one of the the key elements of sexiness is self-confidence so that neither Carrie Ng nor Sophia Loren listened to these experts.

Karen Mok has had a much higher profile career than Carrie Ng. In addition to her film work she is a very successful singer whose live shows sell out quickly. But since she doesn't exude the risque sensuality of Carrie Ng or Pinky Cheung--who might look provocative wearing a burqa--she often doesn't make lists like this. For me she is a real knockout, more suggestive than steamy. She seems seductive without really trying to be.

Two movies that showcase several of the sexy seven: "Naked Killer", a must see for any fan of Hong Kong movies. It features Chingmy Yau who is costumed, made up, lit and shot to take full advantage of her already very striking good looks and Carrie Ng at her smoldering best. The characters they play are in rival gangs of lesbian killers for hire. Written and produced by the ubiquitous Wong Jing it is a delightfully trashy movie full of grotesque humor and beautiful women. It is every bit as strange and wonderful as it sounds.

The other is "So Close" where Shu Qi and Karen Mok begin on different sides of the law--Shu Qi is half of a pair of sisters who use high tech and low cunning to assassinate corrupt CEOs who are protected in seemingly impregnable skyscraper fortresses while Karen Mok is the tough cop in charge of stopping them but who gets framed for a murder charge and decides to join forces with the vigilante sisters. Things are sparked further by the strong but not quite carried through Sapphic attraction between Karen Mok's character and the other lovely sister, winning played by Vicki Zhao Wei, who is probably on a number of top five sexiest Hong Kong actresses herself.
Carrie Ng

Karen Mok

Monday, March 2, 2009

Cecilia Cheung

Cecilia Cheung was one of the young women caught in the debacle last year when pornographic photos of Cecilia, Ah Gil and a few others, taken by Edison Chen and stored on his laptop, were found by a repair tech in Hong Kong and posted on the web last year. Within a few hours they were everywhere and the actresses have had a very tough year, especially Ah Gil, who as Gillian Chung of the Twins, had a squeaky clean, girl next door image. Cecilia Cheung has suffered from the fallout as well, with her career on hold although her family and her in-laws have been very supportive of her. Cecilia gave an interview recently--the best short discussion of the entire tawdry affair is by Valerie Soe in her blog beyondasiaphilia.

Cecilia Cheung had a charmed film career until theses photos were released. In her first movie, "Fly me to Polaris", she had a role that almost any actress would love to do and Cecilia squeezed every drop of pathos from it. Some of the most jaundiced reviewers at the Hong Kong Movie Database confessed to shedding a tear while watching the unabashed weeper.

"One Nite in Mongkok" was a real departure--she plays a young mainland woman who comes to Hong Kong for three weeks every couple of months to work as a prostitute in order to keep her family out of poverty. She plays who Dan Dan is a hooker without a heart of gold. She tries to keep an upbeat attitude and has a realistic, if not enthusiastic, view of her profession. She hates what she does but is from a very poor village and is one of fourteen in her family. Making $8,000 in three weeks at $130 a trick—her cut after the pimp and room are paid for—she obviously pays very dearly for her family loyalty. One of the few upbeat moments in the film comes at the very end when the audience realizes that Dan Dan really won’t be returning to Hong Kong—or if so, at not as a Mongkok prostitute. We see her in a confrontation with her pimp Walter, played by a memorably thuggish Chan Mong-Wa. She is finished for the day, has done her quota of tricks, knows how much she needs to make and how much she has made and just wants to leave. Neither she nor the audience is surprised when Walter starts slapping her around—this is just part of the cost of doing business and and part of the degredation she has to suffer in order to help her family--it is heartbreaking. Dan Dan is a very luridly written role and Cecilia and comes across very well as a person who is being pulled in several directions at the same time.

Two pictures from "One Nite in Monkok":

Incandescent as the Princess in "The Promise" Cecilia's beauty, which could be a distraction in grittier roles, served her very well here. Even though the Princess was a spirit, a human being and, possibly, a hallucination her portrayal was perfect, switching from one aspect to another and running the scales from imperious to heartbroken, to both desperate and hopeful this last when she was locked up in an iron birdcage prison. "The Promise" had a big budget with an international all star cast directed by Chen Kaige and was the entered in the Oscar sweepstakes by the People's Republic. Cecilia was exceptional even as part of this formidable group.

Pictures from "The Promise":