A Tale of Three Cities (2015)

A Tale of Three Cities [三城記] (2015)

Starring Lau Ching-Wan, Tang Wei, Qin Hai-Lu, Boran Jing Bo-Ran, Huang Jue, Elaine Kam Yin-Ling, Li Jian-Yi, Jiao Gang, Phillip Chan Yan-Kin, Wang Zhi-Xuan, He Ya-Fei, Xiong Ao-Yu, Yuan Wei-Xuan

Directed by Mabel Cheung

Expectations: Moderate. I’m curious to see the story dramatized.


After watching Mabel Cheung’s 2003 documentary, Traces of a Dragon, about Jackie Chan’s parents and their wartime struggles before arriving in Hong Kong, I was immediately intrigued to see A Tale of Three Cities, Cheung’s 2015 feature film version of the story. Like everything with me, though, “immediately” turned into 16 months later, so the true story of the documentary wasn’t quite so fresh in mind. This probably worked out for the best, allowing A Tale of Three Cities to exist a bit on its own, although I was also surprised just how many events in the movie I do remember from stories in the documentary. The question of which one better tells its tale is one I’m not entirely sure I can answer, although for me I’d lean towards the documentary. Regardless, it is quite the incredible story that you’re not likely to forget however you take in its specifics.

Our story begins during the Second Sino-Japanese War, with a series of events showing us the food chain of war. Whether we acknowledge it or not, the world generally exists on the principle that everyone is out for themselves, and only the strong survive. The context of war adds a huge amount of chaos to the mix, changing circumstances in a moment, for both good and bad. This is communicated expertly by Cheung in these opening moments, and in terms of the film’s plot it eventually introduces us to Chen Yuerong (Tang Wei), a mother of two young girls who has just become a widow. Cheung chooses to introduce the male lead, Fang Daolong (Lau Ching-Wan), many years later, in the early 1950s when he is working in the kitchen of the US consulate in Hong Kong. We don’t know of his struggles to get there, but the depth of his experience is easy to spot in his eyes and the way he carries himself.

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Quick Takes: The Dentist, The Dentist 2: Brace Yourself, Rise of the Legend

dentist_1The Dentist (1996)
threestar

Starring Corbin Bernsen, Linda Hoffman, Michael Stadvec, Ken Foree, Tony Noakes, Molly Hagan, Patty Toy, Jan Hoag, Virginya Keehne, Earl Boen, Christa Sauls, Mark Ruffalo, Lise Colleen Simms
Directed by Brian Yuzna

If there’s one thing that the majority of people hate, it’s going to the dentist. Now imagine visiting a dentist who just found out his wife is cheating on him, yanking away the last straw holding together his sanity. Sounds fun, right? Dr. Alan Feinstone has had a busy morning, so by the time he arrives at his office it’s a few hours late and the waiting room is full of eager patients. But he’s a professional, he can pull it together and get the job done. Or not. Feinstone’s lapse in sanity makes him kind of wig out when he’s looking at people’s teeth, seeing their mouths as festering maws of disease and decay in need of major restorative work. Corbin Bernsen is wonderfully deranged as Dr. Feingold, and the FX work induces so much intense mouth trauma that I felt like I was actually in the dentist’s chair myself. Especially effective are the large-scale models for the mouth interior closeups, allowing us to see every bursting root and tooth drilling in stunning detail. It’s not a perfect movie by any means, but it’s well worth a horror fan’s time.

dentist_2The Dentist 2: Brace Yourself (1998)
AKA The Dentist 2: You Know the Drill

twohalfstar

Starring Corbin Bernsen, Jillian McWhirter, Jeff Doucette, Susanne Wright, Jim Antonio, Lee Dawson, Wendy Robie, Ralph P. Martin, Clint Howard, Linda Hoffman
Directed by Brian Yuzna

The Dentist 2: Brace Yourself has what is perhaps the greatest, most pun-tastic sequel title of all time. The film doesn’t quite live up to expectations this brings, but it’s still a great sequel to the original film. While it continues to present a similar “festering mouths of bad hygiene must be punished” structure, the sequel actually goes off in a different direction that changes the tone. In the original film, Dr. Feinstone was progressively more and more batshit crazy, but in the sequel he has moments where we can sense the man underneath the madness. There are shreds of regret and thoughtfulness that endear the character, making you actually kind of root for him in this one. It’s not as effective a horror movie, but it is a great sequel that explores what makes the character tick.

RiseOfTheLegendRise of the Legend [黃飛鴻之英雄有夢] (2014)
threehalfstar

Starring Eddie Peng Yu-Yan, Sammo Hung, Wang Luo-Dan, Boran Jing Bo-Ran, AngelaBaby, Tony Leung Ka-Fai, Feng Jia-Yi, Byron Mann, Wong Cho-Lam, John Zhang Jin, Julius Brian Siswojo
Directed by Roy Chow Hin-Yeung

There’s a lot of modern filmmaking techniques (such as quite a bit of CG, some Matrix bullet time, etc.) that should make me not like Rise of the Legend, but damn if I didn’t enjoy the hell out of this movie. This is the first Wong Fei-Hung feature film since 1997’s Once Upon a Time in China and America, but you should really do your best to put Jet Li’s interpretation of the character out of your mind before beginning this film. This is not your standard Wong Fei-Hung, instead it’s like a prequel of sorts (in a different way than Iron Monkey), and this version of Wong Fei-Hung bears little resemblance to the folk hero we’ve come to know and love. Has Wong Fei-Hung ever decapitated a guy on-screen? Well… he does in Rise of the Legend (and it’s quite a stunning decap, too). The more recognizable character does eventually emerge in the third act, and with it my big goofy grin also came to the party. Even the Wong Fei-Hung song made an appearance! The action is fun to watch, with great choreography by Corey Yuen and some really incredible wirework in spots. It’s a very visually modern film, and parts of the fights are awkward because of this, but the choreography shines through to entertain handily. Eddie Peng is great as a young Wong Fei-Hung, and Sammo Hung is his stalwart, badass self as the villain. Tony Leung Ka-Fai (AKA Big Tony) also plays a wonderful Wong Kei-ying amidst a superbly well-cast film. If you dig Wong Fei-Hung, I say check it out!

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