Monday, October 8, 2018

Jevons Au's Distinction is deserving of special attention (film review)

 Award-winning filmmaker Jevons Au's 
first solo directorial effort
Distinction (Hong Kong, 2018)
- Jevons Au, director and co-scriptwriter (along with Ashley Cheung and Chung Chui Yi)
- Jo Koo (aka Jo Kuk), Jennifer Yu, Kaki Sham, Tse Ka Long, Rain Lau, Dominic Lam, Cecilia Yip, Chung King Fai
Hong Kong cinema is not a genre!  This is something I had to tell many a friend when I was living in the US who mistakenly -- and disparagingly -- assumed that my Hong Kong movie diet was limited to "chop-socky".  And this is something I was shocked to have to point out just a couple of weeks ago to an expat friend of a friend who somehow has managed to be a resident of the Big Lychee for 14 years, yet not realized the variety and quantity -- never mind quality -- of cinematic offerings that have been produced by Hong Kong filmmakers for so long now.  
To be sure, Hong Kong cinema has produced lots of martial arts movies and crime dramas/actioners/action-dramas over the years. But its output also includes Chinese New Year comedies, gigolo comedies and prostitute dramas -- distinctive sub-genres that seem specific to this film territory -- along with film that fit into more conventional categories!  And in recent years, it seems like education-centric offerings also may be becoming a thing -- with the makers of such as My Voice, My Life (2014), Little Big Master (2015), Big Brother (2018) and now also Distinction electing to shine a light on students, teachers and the flawed local education system.
After working on a dystopian drama (Ten Years) and a dark crime drama (Trivisa) which led to his being described as both a critic of Hong Kong as well as one of its most fearless advocates, Jevons Au has produced a solo directorial debut effort which shows how much he worries and cares about his home city.  A social drama about a bunch of individuals coming together to put on a school musical, Distinction delves deep to examine Hong Kong's distinction-chasing -- but at what cost? -- educational system but also local socio-cultural attitudes that lead to people often under-valuing the abilities of mentally challenged people and others who think outside the very small box that's deemed to be "normal" and "proper" in a city where consumerism and the seeking of material success is rampant.
Jo Kuk headlines the movie as Grace Chui, a teacher in a Special Educational Needs (SEN) school tasked with organizing a musical to showcase her school's students with the help of volunteers, including students from other schools, some of whom approach the project with better attitudes than others.  Shown early in the film seeking jobs in more "regular" schools, she is an all too human character rather than saintly teacher who threatens to break your heart both when she tells her husband why she doesn't want to have children and, also, after she finally starts to believe the sentiments expressed in the lyrics she composes for the musical.   
Although they are among the group of students who are supposed to help with this project rather than be helped, hard-working Elite School student Zoey (Jennifer Yu) and tough-acting Band 3 school student Ka-ho (Kaki Sham) are soon revealed to be have problems of their own; with their well-meaning but mis-guided parents often contributing to their offsprings' troubles.  The further one goes into the film, the more the both of them will win your heart -- and the more you hope and wish that they will follow their dreams and be rewarded, rather than penalized, for doing so as well as being far more open-hearted and -minded people than many others would be in their circumstances.
I hope that Jennifer Yu and Kaki Sham will continue to get meaty parts like the ones they had in Distinction because they've shown here how good, not just promising, they are already (in Jennifer Yu's case, by portraying a character here who's well nigh unrecognizable from the one she essayed in Men on a Dragon).  And while pretty much everyone in this cast (who included the veteran likes of Cecilia Yip and Chung King Fai as members of Zoey's family, and Rain Lau and Dominic Chan as Ka-ho's parents) did yeoman work, special mention needs to be made of amateur actor Tse Ka-long, who absolutely melts hearts -- and got tears pouring down my cheeks on a couple of occasions -- as Ka-ho's younger, special needs education-requiring brother who can teach others some valuable lessons about life and humanity if they just pay attention.
My rating for the film: 8.0 

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Plenty of good beers to sample at Beertopia 2018!

Chilling at Beertopia early yesterday afternoon

Still standing and imbibing after several hours at the craft beer fest!

A far busier scene at the same event come evening!

It was sunny and hot when I got to the Central Harbourfront shortly after 12pm, the official start time of day 2 of this year's edition of the now annual Beertopia craft beer fest.  The crowd was on the thin side but I didn't mind -- and, to be honest, preferred it that way as I'm one of those people who actually likes to drink in quiet, mellow surroundings rather than feel a need for there to be a party atmosphere to get me in the mood! 

Upon walking around and surveying the scene, I was pleased too to note that three out of the four breweries whose offerings I was looking forward to imbibe had them on tap rather than just bottles or cans.  On a related note: while there appeared to be fewer beer booths about the place this year than last year, a greater percentage of them seemed to have draft beers on offer this year.  On a probably not unrelated note, I also liked a higher percentage of the beers I tried at Beertopia 2018 over the previous year's.    

I already was on my second 6 ounce glass (actually, plastic cup) of beer when two friends joined me for some beer imbibing of their own.  Soon after two other friends also came over for Beertopia, things got rather crazy after our party was gifted with more than HK$500 worth of extra beer coupons by an organizer pal!

By the time I decided to call it a day several hours later, I had enjoyed ales from: Shanghai's Boxing Cat Brewery, whose very reliable Contender XPA was what I chose to begin the imbibing with; Japan's Far Yeast Brewing Company, whose Tokyo IPA was deliciously crisp yet also smooth; Brooklyn Brewery, whose Defender IPA as well as Brooklyn East IPA are both very drinkable; Edinburgh Beer Factory, whose brown ale proved to be a pleasant surprise; and Belgium's Vedett, whose Extra Ordinary IPA actually lived up to its name!  I also tasted but didn't care for brews by Chicago's Goose Island Brewery, Lebanon's 961 Beer, Germany's Zoller Hof and Hong Kong-New Zealand collaboration Seven Brews.

With lots of coupons still to use up after all that, I ended up getting nine bottles of beer to take away and share with friends (except for the Samuel Smith Imperial Stout, which I plan to drink all by myself one cold winter's day!).  One added thrill of the day came from meeting Brooklyn Brewery's brewmaster, Garrett Oliver, and telling him that I began drinking his beers in the late 1990s in Philadelphia and was happy to find that they're now available in Hong Kong too!

And for those who wonder: no, I did not have a hangover this morning.  Yes, I did drink quite a bit of beer yesterday but I also made sure to drink a good amount of water throughout the day and make sure that I lined my stomach with food.  Also, it may come as a shock to some people but I actually tend to sip my beer -- as opposed to chug it -- so as to be better able to taste it.  In addition, I actually don't like getting drunk because, among other things, I really don't like feeling nauseous or that the whole world around me is spinning like mad afterwards! ;D

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Golden Job reunites an ensemble that is no longer young but still can be dangerous! (Film review)

My screening choice for this week :)

Golden Job (Hong Kong-Mainland China, 2018)
- Chin Kar Lok, director and co-action director (along with two others)
- Starring: Ekin Cheng, Jordan Chan, Michael Tse, Chin Kar Lok, Jerry Lamb, Eric Tsang

A confession: I had very little idea of what Golden Job was about prior to my heading to the cinema earlier this week to view it.  I actually didn't even bother to find out who its director, scriptwriters, etc. were.  All I knew was that this was an offering which had the main stars of the Young and Dangerous series back together again -- and, frankly, that was enough for me because, if nothing else, I know that Ekin Cheng and Jordan Chan have great chemistry, and the latter is one of those actors I really would love to see more of but haven't had that many opportunities to do so in recent years.

I'll also be honest here and state that if I had known that Jackie Chan was one of the people behind this crime actioner, I'd have hesitated to check it out.  Ditto upon finding out that Erica Li Man is one the film's three co-scriptwriters (along with Kwok Kin Lok and Heiward Mak).  And there are harsher critics who would say that I'd then have been spared a couple of valuable hours that could have been used to better purpose, including by watching a better made movie with a plot that had fewer holes in it and proceedings that didn't require as much suspension of disbelief.

Here's the thing though: Even while my brain was telling me that Golden Job has its share of dumb movie moments, I still was entertained by this offering which has the Young and Dangerous gang playing globe-trotting mercenaries who seem as much at home in far flung parts of Mainland China, Bucharest, Montenegro, and Kumamoto and Fukuoka, Japan, as in Hong Kong.  In addition, I happily bought into the idea that the majority of these men could be more golden hearted than many a non-career criminal -- as can be seen by their main motivation for enacting their most ambitious and pretty risky heist stemming from their wanting to get valuable medical vaccines to a pure-hearted doctor (Charmaine Sheh) working at a refugee camp in Africa!   
Frankly, when viewing this kind of offering, it probably is more important that the action scenes be visually impressive; and, as can be expected of a movie where Chin Kar Lok has had a hand in directing its action scenes, many of them -- particularly those involving car chases -- are indeed that.  Also counting very much in the film's favor is that, even though they play different characters in it from the triad ones that made them famous some two decades ago, Golden Job provides its featured acting ensemble -- supplemented by Eric Tsang in an elder statesman role -- with ample opportunities to show once again that they really do work very well together.

Further successfully pressing the nostalgia buttons was the re-utilization -- on more than one occasion -- of one of the Young and Dangerous theme songs.  Hearing it actually made me quite emotional, though not as much as a key dramatic scene that is a great example of how (heterosexual) Hong Kong men aren't afraid to cry and show how much love they have for one another (as well as how good at dramatically emoting Jordan Chan and Eric Tsang really can be)!   

Something else that I found myself appreciating while watching Golden Job was how Ekin Cheng is one of those personalities who has aged pretty well -- maturing into a man with gravitas from the pretty boy that he was labelled as being back in the 1990s, and also maturing as an actor to have the requisite gravitas and charisma to seem like a natural leader of the band of heng tai (blood brothers) at the heart of this film.  (And no, I'm not just writing this because today happens to be his 51st birthday -- and I happened to walk by him on a Shau Kei Wan street earlier in the day! ;b)

My rating for this film: 6.0

Monday, October 1, 2018

Standing up and rallying for Hong Kong on China's National Day

Joshua Wong rallying the crowd (of protesters)

Certain Hong Kongers' way of "celebrating" the 69th anniversary
of the founding of the People's Republic of China ;b
Between the radical and the apathetic -- and monitored
by the authorities? -- on China's National Day
This past weekend, I -- along with seven other willing volunteers -- took part in a beach clean-up on Cheung Chau.  Though our number was on the small side, I nonetheless was cheered by our spirit along with effort.  In addition, I took quite a bit of comfort in there being a number of Hong Kong residents being willingness to sweat and sacrifice for a greater cause -- and, in so doing, show up the idea that Hong Kongers don't care about the environment and about Hong Kong to be the fallacy or outright lie that it is.
I'm not sure how many of the people who took part in Saturday's beach clean-up also were out protesting on the streets of Hong Kong this afternoon.  But I, for one, do consider taking part in protest rallies against China's tightening of the screws in Hong Kong to be as much my civic duty as a Hong Konger as my going out and helping to clean Hong Kong's beaches.  Put another way: I consider both to be efforts to make Hong Kong a better, more liveable place.  Also, among the things that really impressed me about the Umbrella Movement was how many of its participants did seem to care for the environment.  

Like with last Saturday's beach clean-up, today's protest march didn't attract that large a group of participants.  At the same time, it's also true enough that today's event did attract at least 100 -- and maybe even 200 -- times more than Saturday's.  In addition, I can say with utter certainty that the number of people who marched from Causeway Bay's East Point Road to the re-opened Civic Square in Admiralty -- not even including those who joined and/or left mid-way! -- far exceeded the number of (clearly paid) pro-Beijing counter-protesters who tried to hassle and heckle the march's participants at two points in Wan Chai as well as the activists waving Hong Kong Independence flags who assembled at one point along the way.
I realize that there are many people in Hong Kong who have decided -- after the occupation of key thoroughfares in Hong Kong for 79 days in 2014 yielded no immediate results -- that organized non-violence is not an effective way to lobby for democracy or political and human rights.  Some of them have decided that a greater radicalism is the answer, others that all resistance is futile, and still others that what they primarily want to do is sulk or flee.
While I understand why they feel the way they do, I reckon that dejection and passivity is not the answer (along with the kind of radicalism that the vast majority of Hong Kongers associate with criminality and look upon as headed to a dead end).  Rather, my way is to stand up, speak up and rally for Hong Kong (while I still legally can) -- and knowing that doing so in public and enmasse irks Beijing and its lackeys makes it feel all the more worth doing (and encouraging fellow Hong Kongers who love Hong Kong to turn out to do the same)!