Friday, February 23, 2024

"Table for Six 2" was the first film I opted to view in the new year of the dragon!

The first Hong Kong movie I viewed in the 
new year of the dragon! :)
Table for Six 2 (Hong Kong-Mainland China, 2024)
- Sunny Chan, director and scriptwriter
- Starring: Stephy Tang, Louis Cheung Kai Chung, Ivana Wong, Lin Min Chen, Peter Chan Charm-man 
One of my favourite Lunar New Year traditions here in Hong Kong involves going to the cinema to view Chinese New Year movies with a receptive audience in the mood for laughs aplenty.  With three such cinematic offerings to choose from this new year of the dragon, I opted to first view the follow-up film to Table for Six, the smash hit family dramedy that originally had been scheduled to be a Chinese New Year 2022 offering, only to get released months later thanks to Covid and the Hong Kong government's then super strict pandemic restrictions including the shutting down of cinemas for a not inconsiderable period of time.    

Going into the screening of Table for Six 2, I knew that the first film's lead actor, Dayo Wong, would not be in this new movie which loosely revolves around three weddings and members of the family that had been at the heart of the first Table for Six now being in the wedding planning business.  But with the rest of the original ensemble being around for it and advance publicity for the festive offering showing that it would boast lots of cameo appearances by the likes of Jennifer Yu, Helena Law Lan, Woo Fung and Tse Kwan-ho, I figured that it would not lack for acting prowess and star power.  And so it proved.  
Disappointingly though, despite Table For Six 2 having the same director-scriptwriter (Sunny Chan) as that which is currently third on the all time Hong Kong box office chart for local releases (having ended up amassing a whopping HK$77.3 million!), there was a notable drop off in overall quality; one that comes from the main characters feeling more one-note and/or their eccentric tics often being overly exaggerated this time around, despite the better efforts of those who play them.  For example, Ivana Wong's Josephine sadly spends too much of her time onscreen this time around fuming (even more so than cooking); so much so that it's harder this time around to see why Lung (played by Peter Chan Charn-man) would care for and love her enough to get married to her.  
Then there's Meow (essayed by Taiwanese actress Lim Min Chen), who appears for much of the movie to have just two modes: cutesy; and alcoholic.  Though, as it turns out, she does end up having a great dramatic scene that may well be the heart of this movie which, like with the first Table for Six, is best when the mood gets more serious and reflective. Too bad then that much of it spent trying to be manically laugh-a-minute (or, it can feel more like, every 10 seconds or so; with one-liners, punch lines and visual gags being thrown out at a crazily fast pace, seemingly in the hope that at least some will stick)!
With Dayo Wong's eldest brother Steve being out of the picture (bar for verbal references aplenty to the character, including his absence being explained away by his having decided to go to Africa), it looks to have fallen on middle brother Bernard (portrayed by Louis Cheung) to anchor the family, and film.  And he does have his moments; with standouts including a musical comedy sequence involving the Leslie Cheung (no relation)'s hit song Monica.  He also gets to interact with his late mother (essayed again by Fish Liew) in scenes that will bring to mind those involving her and Steve in the first film.     
Still, it might be fifth returning star, Stephy Tang (playing Monica), who is given the most opportunities to steal the scene and shine in the film. Nonetheless, with my having viewed her, Louis Cheung, Ivana Wong and Peter Chan Charm-man in other, more serious and/or substantive roles in other movies, I really do reckon that she and all her co-stars deserve better material to work with than what they were given in Table for Six 2.  
All in all, I would have appreciated a less scattershot approach to trying to get laughs.  I also wish the movie's over-the-top tone, flimsy plot involving weddings being viewed primarily as a commercial enterprise rather than a serious affair and often nonsensical subplots, didn't threaten to make my head spin from too many lies being told and piling on top of one another.  And truly, it's quite the miracle that Table for Six 2 managed to ultimately come together and wrap as well as it eventually did.  
Still, less might have been more, actually.  At the very least, a more minimalist approach would have reduced the movie's 133 minute long screen time.  Nonetheless, I did get some enjoyment out of viewing Table for Six 2 -- even while being fully aware that it's no cinematic classic -- and on the first day of the new year of the dragon too.  Also, it even had a couple of scenes that put lumps in my throat and had my eyes watering in a way that told me that, amidst much silliness, I had been emotionally impacted after all. 
My rating for the film: 6.5 

Monday, February 12, 2024

Enter the new dragon year!

"Dragon" installation in a Hong Kong public park! :D
Kong hei fatt choi!  It's now the third day of the new Year of the Dragon and I feel a need to mark the occasion with a blog post as well as assure people who wondered if I was alive that I indeed still am so.  Also, for the time being, I don't have plans to entirely stop blogging... but I might take a break for a bit.  
Somehow, I've just not felt the urge to blog as much as previously; probably because there's so little sense here that there actually are people reading what I've written -- unlike, say, over on Twitter (and no, I refuse to call it X still!).   For now, let's play it by ear and see how it goes, shall we? 

At the very least, I do still want to write reviews of Hong Kong films I see here.  And it would be nice to finish chronicling my most recent (October 2023!) Japan trip here, I think; since I know of at least one person who seems interested in checking out those posts!

Sunday, February 4, 2024

Thank you to Lionel Messi and his new Hong Kong haters for giving us opportunities to laugh (at the Hong Kong government)! :D

Actually, I reckon Messi's no longer welcomed in Hong Kong... :D
And then there's the spectre of Article 23.  Re that which has been billed as Hong Kong's own security law: a sign of how fearful it -- and the national security law that China imposed on Hong Kong back on June 30th, 2020 -- already has made Hong Kongers can be seen in a Hong Kong Free Press article about people's views about Article 23 having been run without any of the people quoted in it having their personal names listed for the record (and more than one of them not even wanting to have their surname known).
And yet, many people have endured and been (unexpectedly) resilient.  And still know how to laugh.  And today, Hong Kongers were given something to laugh about -- and unite to hate! -- by way of the PR fiasco that came by way of footballing superstar Lionel Messi having come with his Inter Miami team to Hong Kong but ended up not playing even been on the pitch for even one second of the friendly game in which he was supposed to be the star draw!
After the game (which saw Inter Miami play and beat a Hong Kong selection by 4 goals to 1 -- not that anyone seems to care about the result or anything besides the fact that Lionel Messi had not played!), the American club's coach, Gerardo Martino, told reporters that the club's medical team had taken the decision to bar Messi -- and teammate Luis Suarez -- from playing after an assessment this morning.  But the match organizers (Tatler Hong Kong) didn't disclose this to match attendees and even announced that he was a substitute in the stadium

And then there's the angry response of the Hong Kong government that came as a result of it getting hit with quite the PR disaster.  A lesson I wonder whether it will learn: "[T]is is what happens when you use taxpayers' money to subsidise multi-millionaire soccer players."  If not, it is going to give people more opportunities to laugh at it!

Thursday, February 1, 2024

A guilty verdict in a trial involving actor Gregory Lee gets people thinking that so much, if not everything, is wrong!

Still image of Gregory Wong at Admiralty from 
This has been one of the weeks where so much has happened (including announcements that make people realize that the dreaded Article 23 may be pushed through faster than many of us had hoped) that I lost track of the days and thought for a time yesterday that today was going to be Friday, only to realize after a while that today's still just Thursday.  But let me focus today's blog post on just one subject: today's judgement by Magistrate Li Chi-ho at the end of a 34 trial in which six defendants stood accused of "rioting" on July 1st, 2019.  
Firstly, let's note for the record that Magistrate Li found four of the defendants, including actor Gregory Wong, guilty as charged.   We'll get back to Gregory Wong shortly but here's focusing now on the two defendants found not guilty of rioting: Wong Ka-ho, who was then a a reporter with a student publication at the City University of Hong Kong; and Ma Kai-chung, who then was a reporter with Passion Times.  Sadly, they did not get off scott free.  Specifically, Magistrate Li found the duo guilty of  "entering or staying in the precincts of the [Legislative Council] chamber" that a number of pro-democracy protestors had illegally stormed that day.
A reminder in a Hong Kong Free Press article about today's judgement of that event that was labelled "Taking Back the Legislature" (the title of a 2020 documentary film that I managed to view but which is no longer allowed to be screened in public in Hong Kong): "That night, protesters occupied the government building, smashing windows and spray-painting protest slogans on the walls. Some left by around 11 pm, according to the case details.  Police officers did not stop the storming. By the time officers entered the building, all protesters had left, according to a police watchdog report" (my emphasis).
As early as the night of July 1st, 2019, itself, people were pondering the following:"Seems possible, even probable, that the police and authorities in Hong Kong purposely retreated to create the circumstances and images that would justify a stronger backlash. Surely they had the means and the force to prevent the legislature being stormed... if they wanted to."  (This from France 24 journalist, James Creedon.)  
A little over a week later, Stephen Vines's July 9th, 2019, Hong Kong Free Press piece was headlined: Was Hong Kong's protestors' occupation of the legislature a dangerous trap laid by the police?" and in it, he noted that Fernando Cheung -- one of the many pro-democracy legislators (including the jailed  since February 28th, 2021, likes of Claudia Mo and Lam Cheuk-ting) who had tried in vain to stop protestors from breaking into the Legislative Council building -- had suggested precisely that.  And today's judgement looks to have proven Fernando Cheung, now no longer in Hong Kong (and, instead, one of the many Hongkongers who have emigrated in recent years to Canada) right.
Returning to Gregory Wong: he had pleaded not guilty and "told the court he entered the legislative council solely to deliver two chargers to reporters who were covering the break-in by protesters.  According to video evidence played by the prosecution, Wong left the chamber immediately after delivering the chargers to a reporter in a yellow vest."  And yet he was found guilty.  

The case magistrate, according to a Reuters report, "said Wong could have met the reporter outside the Legislative Council, so as to not "take risk to get in, and serve the purpose of helping others"."  According to an Associated Press (AP) report, magistrate Li also noted that Wong "had hugged a protester before leaving the chamber as an expression of support."  From this, magistrate Li surmised that Wong's “intention of entering the legislature is obvious, it is to join this riot"!

Also note what happened to another of the defendants, as detailed in the AP piece: Lam Kam-kwan "was convicted of rioting and a separate charge of criminal damage Thursday, had been detained in mainland China in August 2019 and had been forced to write a repentance letter. Lam said some Hong Kong police officers later met him and told him that if he would not admit his wrongdoing, he then could not return to the city."  Does that sound like a forced confession to you?  Because that's what it sounds like to me!
For the record: this was a jury-less trial.  I can imagine a trial by jury producing different verdicts.  So, yeah, it can feel when reading judgements like today's that, to quote a lawyer in a legal drama that did involve a jury trial -- and which I described in my review of it as representing "wishful thinking or plain fantasy on the part of its makers.  Or, alternatively, a reminder of how justice should be served" -- like "Everything is wrong", sadly enough! :(

Sunday, January 28, 2024

Debutant director Sasha Chuk tells a very personal story indeed via Fly Me to the Moon (Film review)

The principal cast members and producer Stanley Kwan 
at a post-screening photo session and Q&A 
Fly Me To the Moon (Hong Kong, 2023)
- Sasha Chuk, director-scriptwriter
- Starring: Sasha Chuk, Wu Kang-ren, Chloe Hui, Yoyo Tse, Natalie Hsu, Angela Yuen

There is an achingly personal feel to this drama by first time feature film director Sasha Chuk who also wrote the screenplay for this cinematic adaptation of her (semi?) autobiographical novel and portrays the female protagonist as an adult.  Spanning two decades, Fly Me to the Moon begins its story in 1997 when the young Yuen (played by child actress Chloe Hui) and her mother arrive in Hong Kong to reunite with her father (portrayed throughout the film by Wu Kang-ren), who illegally immigrated to the then British Crown Colony, while her younger sister, Kuet, stayed behind in Hunan.
Able to only speak Hunanese, Yuen doesn't have an easy time at school and in other aspects of life.  And although her father has learnt to speak Cantonese and her mother soon gets a job as a waitress in a dim sum restaurant, life is not easy either for the adults in the family; as can be seen in the family living in a small sub-divided apartment, and her father turning to drugs for solace and ending up getting arrested and convicted shortly after the arrival -- to Yuen's delight -- of Kuet, who Yuen clearly adores.
Fast forward to 2007, and the girls are now at secondary school (with Yuen being played by Yoyo Tse) and successfully passing as native Cantonese-speaking Hongkongers; with Kuet (played as a teenager by Natalie Hsu) also being fluent in English and doing well at an elite school.  The sense one gets when watching them though is that they have consciously hidden not only the truth about their having come from Hunan from their schoolmates but, also, about their mother now working in a massage parlour and their father being a convict -- as all of these details would get them to be looked down upon, even ostracised, by even those who were supposed to be their friends.
If truth be told, the story of Mainland Chinese people moving to Hong Kong and finding life very hard in this city is one that's been told plenty of times before.  Ditto the notion that childhood experiences, including traumatising ones involving the father, stay with one into adulthood and affect the decisions one makes later in life -- with another recent Hong Kong film, Time Still Turns the Pages, showing that so very movingly and well.  (More than by the way, I do suspect that I would have been far more emotionally affected by Fly Me To the Moon if I hadn't viewed Nick Cheuk's standout offering only a few weeks ago.)  
Still, Fly Me to the Moon does undeniably impress at a technical level, with standouts in this regard including: Chan Hok Lun and Ho Yuk Fai's cinematography, whose images could often tell what a thousand words migh not; William Chang Suk-ping's production design which produced interiors that came across as authentic, be they cramped Hong Kong underclass dwellings, a Hunanese grandmother's rustic room or comfortable Tokyo hotel accomodation; and the acting talent on show, some of whom had to act in multiple languages on account of the film having Hunanese, Cantonese, Mandarin and Japanese dialogue!
The last includes Sasha Chuk -- who, in addition to her behind the camera roles, also appears in front of the camera as the adult Yuen in the scenes set in 2017.  There can be no denying that she is the heart and soul of Fly Me to the Moon -- and that she has laid bare her story as much as Yuen sought to hide her true identity, and often suppress her feelings, for much of her life.  As she told the audience at the film's world premiere at the Tokyo International Film Festival back in October, "I’m from Hunan and I moved to Hong Kong when I was a child. I spent all my life being treated as an outsider, including the time when I went to university overseas. So wherever I am, I am an outsider. And I really wanted to depict my experience."  And this she has done so, in spades.

My rating for the film: 7.0

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Cold day anniversaries and political prisoner birthdays

Attire appropriate for the cold weather we've been having
in recent days in Hong Kong!
The past few days have been unusually cold in Hong Kong.  Yes, it's winter -- but it really is not usual for there to be a frost warning in place, like is currently the case, and for there to be as much frost up Tai Mo Shan as was captured in photos yesterday!  So I feel entirely justified in having my thermal underwear as well as the Norwegian sweater I got in Bergen on in recent days; and even more so when checking and finding both last night and tonight that it's colder in Hong Kong than London!
As expected, there's been much talk on social media about the cold conditions; including by expats who one would expect to normally poo-poo local residents' remarks about how cold it is.  But there also have been a number of Tweets today about it being Chow Hang-tung's 39th birthday -- her third spent in jail -- and today also marking her 938th day behind bars.       

Also, here's noting for the record that last week saw Emily Lau celebrate her 72nd birthday (on January 21st) and Claudia Mo her 67th birthday (on January 18th).  Both journalists turned pro-democrat politicians whose names and faces are easily recognisable to many Hong Kongers, their lives have become so very different since February 28th, 2021, when the latter was arrested (for taking part in pro-democracy primaries that the former had not).  
Back in June 2022, there was a Financial Times article about Claudia Mo entitled "She was loved for standing up to China. She may die in jail".  Something which I hope will not be the case!  Though, if truth be told, things really are not looking good; this especially since she's one of the Hong Kong 47 who have lodged guilty pleas, presumably because she hoped for clemency and a shorter jail sentence than if she pleaded innocent, then was found guilty by the three national security judges presiding over the trial (rather than because she actually believes that she has committed any national security law crimes).

Something else I find sad (and yes, I'm guilty of this too): although there were "Happy birthday, Claudia Mo" messages on Twitter last year, there doesn't appear to have been  any this year.  I'd like to think that it's less a case that people have forgotten about Claudia Mo and more that we "just" forgot when's her birthday.  In any case, for my part, here's noting it belatedly -- better late than never, right? :S  -- and wishing her, Emily Lau, and Chow Hang-tung well in the coming year and years to come.   

*Update: The Court of Final Appeal overturned Chow Hang-tung's acquittal over the over inciting people to take part in an unauthorised assembly in 2021 to remember the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown.  Not unexpected but sad all the same. :(

Sunday, January 21, 2024

A strange week for me, and quite the rubbish week for Hong Kong!

A reminder (from a member of the Yellow Economic Circle
that self care is important
This has been a bit of a strange week for me.  One evening saw me so very upset by something I read that I could feel my blood pressure rising, my actually feeling hot in the head and my hands literally shaking.  Another saw me feeling reflective and depressed post viewing a film looking at traumatic family experiences and how their effects are felt for decades.  And a third had me so affected by a late night discussion about what's been lost in Hong Kong in recent years that I ended up literally having a dream in which I detailed to my mother all the the things about pre national security law Hong Kong that I now miss so much.
Hence my not having been in the right frame of mind to do any blogging.  And all this while, life goes on and events like the national security law trial of Jimmy Lai continue to take place; with this week seeing the first witness for the prosecution take the stand.  Here's the thing though: I can't quite figure out from the reports what Cheung Kim-hung, the former publisher of the now-defunct Apple Daily, has said of his former boss that is actually incriminating!

For example, on Wednesday, Cheung said of his old boss that "“Mr. Lai has a very clear image. He advocates for democracy, freedom, and opposes totalitarianism".  Doesn't that sound more like an endorsement and praise than condemnation?  Also, what's illegal about that?!
Cheung also "said Lai, in 2019, told his senior editorial staff that the government proposal to amend the city’s extradition arrangement was an “infringement of Hongkonger’s democracy, freedom and human rights,” and the Chinese Communist Party would use the amendment to send “thorns in their side” to stand trial in the mainland."  Again, what's wrong and illegal about that?
And there's this: “Mr. Lai’s instruction was to use Apple Daily to encourage people to take to the street, to put up resistance [against the government],” Cheung said."  A reminder: not all street protests are illegal; especially those which are non-violent and got letters of no objection from the police -- which was the case with the vast majority of the anti-extradition bill and pro-democracy protest marches and rallies that took place in 2019, the year that Jimmy Lai gave those instructions.
As for this: "On the international level, Mr. Lai wanted to draw the attention from western democratic countries, hoping that they would offer some help, even some stronger measures such as placing sanctions on Chinese and Hong Kong officials.”  Again, this doesn't sound illegal or criminal to me.  Especially before China's imposition of the national security law on Hong Kong on June 30th, 2020!

In all honesty, much of what's going on these days doesn't seem to make much sense to me at all.  A case in point: the waste tax fiasco that had much of Hong Kong in uproar in recent days.  As Ming Pao journalist Alvin Lum noted, only partly -- even if actually -- in jest, "Forget about Article 23. The biggest challenge for officials might be waste charging"!
Even more disturbingly, this week also saw the Hong Kong Arts Development Council (HKADC) withdraw its support for an annual drama awards ceremony, citing “inappropriate” arrangements last year and warning the organisers they must not breach the law; resulting in the Hong Kong Federation of Drama Societies (HKFDS) – which organises the Hong Kong Drama Awards -- not only losing its subsidy from the government advisory body but, also, being denied a venue to stage it after the Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD) also told the drama federation that it would not be offering a venue for the event this year!
Rather than accept the HKADC's decision though, the HKFDS actually decided to publicly challenge it!  On Friday morning, the HKFDS's chairperson, Luther Fung , called a press conference to “defend the theatre industry’s dignity.”  In response to the HKADC's objections to two of last year's awards presenters having been  political cartoonist Wong Kei-kwan, known as Zunzi, and journalist Bao Choy, Fung asserted that "Zunzi is a veteran cartoonist – are cartoons not art? Choy is a documentary director – are documentaries not art?"
Addressing the HKADC, he said: ""You made an official decision without giving us a chance to defend ourselves, and that came as a shock to us,”... adding that there had been no official meetings between the council and the federation over the funding issue.  “We demand a clarification, and for accusations to be retracted — we will not file a so-called appeal,” said Fung. “[We’re] poor, but we have a backbone!”"
To which I say "kudos"!  And long may Hong Kongers have backbones and not be as easily bullied as the bullies might think and hope!