I love spending a couple of hours in the afternoon
watching an entertaining movie on a big screen :)
Project Gutenberg (Hong Kong-Mainland China, 2018)
- Felix Chong, director and scriptwriter
- Starring: Chow Yun Fat, Aaron Kwok, Zhang Jingchu, Liu Kai Chi
There are Hong Kong movie fanboys and fangirls who don't need a reason to see this movie beyond Chow Yun Fat being its first-billed star. I know second-billed Aaron Kwok also has his share of devotees. If anything, however, the Cantopop singer-actor being in this crime thriller's cast caused me to delay checking out Project Guttenberg for as long as I did. And, in truth, it was my curiosity to see what kind of Chinese-language film could be a box office hit both in Mainland China and Hong Kong that finally got me into a theater to view this offering on a big screen.
Set in the 1990s, this visually stylish effort can feel at times like it's harking back to Hong Kong cinema's late 20th century glory days: most notably by giving a showy role to Chow Yun Fat that allows him to unleash the charisma and even certain action movie moves which he has not had much opportunity to display in his more recent film appearances. At the same time though, this movie possesses the kind of substantial budget that Hong Kong filmmakers of yore could only dream of; which allows for the assembling of a quality cast (some of whom, Jack Kao and Alex Fong Chung Sun among them, can create memorable characters with just a few lines and minutes of screentime) and a story that unfolds in places as far flung as Canada, Poland and South East Asia's Golden Triangle along with Hong Kong.
Lest there be any doubt: Chow Yun Fat owns every scene of this film that he is in. Early on, however, it's Aaron Kwok who has the limelight in scenes that see his Lee Man character in a hell hole of a prison in Thailand before being extradited to Hong Kong, where he sets to telling a story that began in Canada a number of years earlier.
A technically gifted artist who nonetheless was unable to sell any of his original works, Lee Man discovers one day that he has a gift for copying famous works of art. His pursuit of this avenue for him to make use of his talents leads him to become part of a counterfeiting ring as well as part ways with Yuen Man (Zhang Jingchu), the woman he loves and -- he gets to bitterly recognizing -- is a far bigger artistic talent than him. It also got him coming across like a cat in danger of having used up almost all of its nine lives after a number of twists in his life tale that included his being one of just two survivors of the gang that successfully produced thousands of perfect replicas of the US$100 bill before the majority of its members perished in a shootout in the suite of a Hong Kong luxury hotel.
A movie with a non-linear narrative structure that can frustrate some viewers (including those who see too much of a resemblance between it and The Usual Suspects), Project Gutenberg is one of those cinematic offerings that relies to a significant degree on the goodwill of those who watch it and their willingness to sit back and enjoy the ride. Its complicated -- some might say convoluted -- story unfolds at a good pace and, despite being quite a bit lengthier than the average Hong Kong movie at 130 minutes, the film never over-stayed its welcome as far as this particular (re)viewer was concerned.
In addition to it being an entertaining watch, I reckon one reason why Project Gutenberg fared so well at the Hong Kong box office is that this Hong Kong-Mainland Chinese co-production has a lot more Hong Kong actors and actresses in significant roles than Mainland Chinese ones. I also appreciate the way Felix Chong and Co managed to fashion a finale that was able to satisfy the Mainland Chinese censors but still surprise rather than be entirely predictable and, actually, be quite the moving affair.
My rating for the film: 8.0