Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Teresa Mak in "Love is a Many Stupid Thing"

There are a number of things you can count on in a Wong Jing comedy including plenty of attractive actresses, generally dressed (or undressed) to hightlight their beauty. A movie from the Wong Jing cinema factory in the 1980s and 1990s might look as if it were slapped together in a few weeks--because they often were. Confused plots and semi-improvised dialog were either part of the charm or real annoyances to his audiences. But Wong always knew how to get a movie cast, shot, edited and to the distributor on time and under budget.

A typical example of this is "Love is a Many Stupid Thing" which features Teresa Mok as a tough Hong Kong police sergeant leading a squad of lovely police constables. She falls in love with the wrong guy, a handsome cop who is actually a mole from one of the Triads sent to infiltrate and spy on the police. Her moods go from coy to friendly to bloodthristy--in one scene she storms into a conference room and stomps the suspect then flirts with the officer who was questioning him. This is a movie in which Teresa Mak is one of an ensemble--probably the lead co-star if such a thing exists. It is a guy's movie with Eric Tsang and Chapman To keeping the slapstick humor going. Here are some pictures from "Love is a Many Stupid Thing".

The first two show her in uniform. Many actresses look great in police uniforms--Cynthia Khan, for example, clocked a lot of time as a Hong Kong policewoman--and Teresa looks quite fetching here as Sergeant Cool Lady:

Cool Lady (I am not making this up although it probably made a lot more sense when said in either Mandarin or Cantonese) attempts to involve herself in the conversation Watson (Raymond Wong Ho-Yin) is having with another cop on how to approach the suspect played by Tony Ho Wah-Chiu and who is described in the credits as "insane sex offender". She is already getting a bit wild-eyed since she has a crush on Watson.

Things develop poorly during the questioning to the mounting concern of Cool Lady and her squad who are watching through the two way mirror.

Here she tries to act demure and girlish toward Watson who she just rescued from the suspect who was smashing Watson's genitals under the table in the interrogation room. After kicking the bad guy in the head she simpers at the object of her affection:

One of the trademarks of Wong's work is actresses in their underwear. Watson and Cool Lady are staking out the bad guys from a rooftop. They fall off but each are able to grab a string of lights to slow thier fall. Cool Lady's dress gets ripped off leaving her on the ground in the rain in her not very revealing lingerie.
It isn't necessary to have the actress wet and partially undressed, of course. A simple snap front blouse that just barely closes over Cool Lady's breasts with the snaps pulling but not quite gaping is a slightly more understated look although still very effective:
Looking shocked, amazed, horrified or just plain angry is the stock in trade of any professional actress. Here Cool Lady has discovered that not only is Watson an underworld informant and is planning to kill her but that he never planned on marrying her.

"Love is a Many Stupid Thing" is not a bad movie for fans of Teresa Mak Ga-Kei. While she doesn't have much screen time she does pop up throughout the film and is often featured in the scenes she is in. The movie itself is funny in parts, dreadful in parts and occasionally confusing--in other words what one expects from Wong Jing.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Reviews and Reviewers

Last month my friend Chick Young, proprietor of the blog Trash-Aesthetics a person who knows more about film, criticism and theory than I will if I live to be 100 and who really loves movies, posted a short and scathing discussion of movie reviewers based on the published reactions to “Watchman”. While six weeks ago is a century or so in blog time it is still well worth reading (as his entire blog) and can be found here.

There are many examples of sloppy thinking/writing/viewing among both the waning number of reviewers for newspapers and the explosive growth of online reviews there have been some excellent reviewers. Paul Fonoroff, when he wrote for the "South China Morning Post" was one of them. Like everyone else in daily or weekly film coverage he wrote under deadline pressure, wrote about whatever opened that week and had a specific amount of space allotted to him. His audience were the Anglophone residents of the then Crown Colony. His reviews were published in At the Hong Kong Movies: 600 Reviews from 1988 till the Handover.

While Fonoroff was very tough on screenwriters and directors it is the writers get the brunt of his scorn. Almost invariably when he doesn’t like a movie he faults the script. Fonoroff loves actors, none more than Chow Yun Fat and Maggie Cheung Man-Yuk, and he is generally at least supportive of the efforts of those in front of the camera. He knows good action scenes when he sees them and describes them well. A civil libertarian, he was very critical of movies in which the police show "a sneering attitude toward human rights" (from a review of Organized Crime and Triad Bureau) and wrote that "human rights in Hong Kong would be all but extinct if life ever imitated the 'art' of Twist in his article on that movie. It must have been a long decade for him since it seemed that there was a new "Danny Lee will beat you into submission" movie every month on the Jade screen.

His reviews were full of short and wonderfully descriptive allusions. In writing about True Love, Fonoroff mentions Sandra Ng and her "special brand of inelegance", as good description of her look and style as any I have seen. He wrote that "Robotrix looks like a Chinese Robocop invested with the spirit of Russ Meyer" and that in Point of No Return Jacky Chueng and Patrick Tam "are so unconvincing that one feels like putting out a contract on them. And I don't mean a movie contract".
With undergraduate studies in Chinese and a Master’s degree in cinema, knowledge of both Mandarin and Cantonese and long residence in Hong Kong, Fonoroff has the local lore, theoretical background and linguistic ability to cover Hong Kong movies in great depth. Most importantly he really loves the cinematic output of the former Crown Colony. This shines through in many reviews, not least in the Jade Leung vehicle Fox Hunter where he writes: "The finale set in a Guangdong department store s deftly choreographed. It’s unlike anything seen outside the Cantonese screen, as realistic as a Fred Astaire dance number and nearly as much fun."

From Fox Hunter, as is the image at the top of this post:

Another movie that Foronoff really liked (as did I) was Green Snake. He wrote that "The story outline is familiar to Chinese audiences from Singapore to Shanghai. Green Snake (Maggie Cheung) and White Snake (Joey Wong) are reptilian sisters who assume human form to seduce any hapless mortals who catch their fancy. Looking as they do like Maggie Cheung and Joey Wong, these human snakes are pretty hard to resist".

"What distinguishes Green Snake from its predecessors is both its imagination and humor. This is no museum piece rendering of a Chinese classic. The sight of the elegantly gowned Green Snake sticking out her tongue to nab a tasty fly, or her efforts to engage in the most unsnakely activity of shedding tears lightens up the proceedings considerably."

Three images from Green Snake