Thursday, April 28, 2011

Romance and Sex -- Hong Kong Cinema-Style!

Love, lust or just doing what comes naturally

Don't Go Breaking My Heart (Hong Kong-Mainland China, 2011)
- Johnnie To, director
- Starring Louis Koo, Gao Yuanyuan, Daniel Wu, Lam Suet

This past weekend, more than a month after the 35th Hong Kong International Film Festival began, I finally got to watching one of its two official opening films. One reason I had delayed my viewing of it was that I had been rather put off by its trailer (which had looked like Johnnie To was trying to pin some of his action sensibilities onto the romantic comedy with less than satisfactory results). In addition, some reports and reviews I read of the movie had made it seem as though that the Milkyway Image boss who had, for many years, proudly deigned to pander to the Mainland Chinese market, had finally, sadly given up that particular fight.

In the end, however, curiosity got the better of me -- particularly after I read Stefan S.'s positive comments on this romantic comedy which revolves around a now Hong Kong-based female executive who's originally from Suzhou (Gao Yuanyuan), a handsome local high flyer (Louis Koo) and a talented Canadian-born architect (Daniel Wu). And how glad I am post-viewing this charming offering that I did go ahead and check it out after all -- if nothing else because I finally got to see an English translation of the lyrics of a song I have loved for ages now after first hearing it sung by Faye Wong!

More seriously though: its director may be well known for preferring to make crime dramas over romantic works but the fact of the matter is that when Johnnie To puts even half of his heart into it, he comes up with gems like Needing You... (as opposed to Linger -- which I still can't believe he really directed rather than merely lent his name to). And it's not a bad thing at all when I state that Don't Go Breaking My Heart reminded me quite a bit of the 2000 office romantic comedy starring Sammi Cheng and Andy Lau.

For one thing, this 2011 Johnnie To romantic effort is largely set in the world of offices where people fall in love as well as work. For another, this movie's female protagonist -- like with Sammi Cheng's Needing You... character -- most definitely has some cute personality quirks that many viewers will undoubtedly find endearing. And most strikingly, she finds herself having to choose between two attractive men who both have strong feelings for her.

Ultimately, however, what made me come out of my viewing of the film feeling very satisfied was that Don't Go Break My Heart actually goes along a different path after a stretch which got me worried that the story was going to develop way too similarly to how Needing You... had done. And for the record: yes, I definitely agree with the female protagonist's choice of man to marry.

Also, yes, I do think many a heterosexual female viewer will invariably put herself in the female protagonist's shoes and empathize with the difficulty she has making her important decision -- even if the truth of the matter is that it is only in their dreams and fantasies (or in the movies they watch) that they would get to be wooed by one super attractive man, never mind two, at any point in their lives! ;D

My rating for the film: 7.5

3D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy (Hong Kong, 2011)
- Christopher Sun, director
- Starring Hiro Harayama, Leni Lan, Tony Ho, Vonnie Liu

Close to a week ago now, two friends collectively e-mailed invitations to several friends -- male as well as female -- to go and view the Hong Kong movie that's currently the talk of the town. In the end, however, only three of us went this past Monday evening to go take in a screening together of 3D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy.

Before the over 2 hour movie came to an end, one of the two women who had initiated this excursion had walked out of the screening while the other was so shocked by what she had seen that she felt physically sick and decided she couldn't have dinner after the film after all! And while I didn't have as extreme a reaction to this soft porn work that also has its share of violence as them, I must say that I do really regret having contributed to its box office -- and towards what I fear will be a wave of flicks like it in the near future.

Strange as it may sound, 3D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy actually started out promisingly -- with opening credits that looked admirably artistic as well as made good use of the effects of 3D. But within a few minutes, whatever promise this film with an unexpectedly mean streak held of being aesthetically pleasing quickly disappeared. For even while it does have higher production values than some might expect, there really isn't much beauty in this 3D retelling of a Ming dynasty tale about a lustful learned man who decides he wants a bigger member than his own that already had been made into a Hong Kong film back in 1991 and, indeed, I'd go so far as to say that there is much that is ugly about many of its characters, overall story and so much more.

More specifically, early on in the movie, a woman gets described by another character as the perfect female -- perfect in personality as well as physically. Within seconds of this supposedly serious (as opposed to sarcastic or jesting) assertion, this same woman proceeds to throw a major temper tantrum that prompts her to act incredibly cruelly towards a fellow female. And I have to say in all honesty that not only is the actress who played this supposed major beauty not all that great looking, her looks are actually so unremarkable that I don't think I'll be able to recognize her if I see her in another film.

For that matter, I feel the same way about all the women I saw in this offering -- all of whom additionally seemed to look similar to one another. Put another way: none of the actresses in this offering evinced the charisma or had the kind of looks that, say, Chingmy Yau, Carrie Ng, Patricia Ha, Julie Yeh Feng and other memorably sexy sizzlers from past eras of Hong Kong cinema.

On a perhaps related note: none of the women in the 3D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy ever looked like they were experiencing true sexual ecstacy -- only the men. And for the record: this is something that more than one female viewer has noticed, as I found upon having conversations about the movie with those woman friends I know who have also viewed the work.

Small wonder, then, that the general conclusion of many a female who checked out the movie is that it was, in the words of one gweipo, "by men, with men, for men". Indeed, I personally would go so far to describe this effort as distinctly misogynistic and thus most emphatically not a work that was all that pleasurable to watch or one that would put women "in the mood" (the latter of which I reckon makes for a pretty damning criticism of a soft porn work!!)!

My rating for the film: 3


A hero never dies said...

I have a feeling YTSL that one of these two reviews may upset a certain Kingwho? can you guess which one?

I wasn't sure what to think about Don't go breaking my heart from what I have seen, but your comparisons to Needing you have me pretty optimistic about it now.

Anonymous said...

Hi YTSL! I can't say I'm surprised by your review of 3D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstacy. Sounds pretty much like what I expected and nothing that I'd want to see. You'd think that the 21st century would bring a more egalitarian Sex and Zen film, but I guess some things never change.

All of which begs the question, what Hong Kong films of an erotic nature did succeed in putting you in the mood!?

Tops for me is Green Snake. It's not a CAT III film, but Maggie Cheung has some very sexy scenes.

I also thought Viva Erotica was pretty sexy, with nice touches of humor and feeling.

As for genuine CAT III films, I generally avoid them, but I do kind of like the soft, feel-good ones like Electrical Girl and The Fruit is Swelling.

For complex portrayals of sexuality, I really liked Autumn Moon, Hold You Tight, and The Accident.

I'm surprised -- there's actually quite a lot of alternatives to the mean-spirited sadism of 3D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstacy.

YTSL said...

Hi "A Hero Never Dies" --

I know which review you mean but, well, Kingwho? should thank me for having viewed the film and reported on it in a way that will help him lower his expectations!

For more assistance doing that, check out the following link to a page which has audio of Chapman To reading out a hilarious negative review by an 18-year-old male re the movie (an English language translation is provided of the words):-

As for "Don't Go Breaking My Heart": I really was pleasantly surprised -- and hope more people will give it a chance. :)

Hi duriandave --

Good question re Hong Kong films that successfully put one in the mood. Although arguably more dramatic than purely erotic in nature, I'd go for the films of Wong Kar Wai -- all that yearning...

Also, re erotic scenes, ones in "I'm Your Birthday Cake", "The Bride with White Hair" (the water scenes!), "Police Confidential", "The First Time is the Last Time" (the shower scene with Carrie Ng and Andy Lau) and "Gigolo and Whore 2" (involving Rosamund Kwan and Simon Yam) come to mind... :b

Anonymous said...

OMG! Thanks for that link! The review is hilarious enough, but hearing Chapman To read it while cracking up is even funnier. I haven't laughed this hard in a long time! :D

hcpen said...

omg..i knew it would be a misogynistic movie from the start..most modern porn films are anyway..i much prefer the cat 3 hk films of yesteryears whereby stars such as veronica yip and especially chingmy yau were given more 'protection' and had a sense of sensual power over the men or at least some kind of storyline..

YTSL said...

Hi again duriandave --

Glad you enjoyed both the review of "3D Sex and Zen" and Chapman To's reading of it. BTW, I also love that you can hear a female laughing on the track -- and like to imagine that it's his wife, Crystal Tin, who he's reading out loud to. ;b

Hi hcpen --

I have to admit to feeling somewhat surprised that "3D Sex and Zen" is so not for females -- especially as at least one cinema has been offering "ladies night" screenings of the movie.

As an addendum: another female friend reports that she went to see the movie with her husband -- and that her husband *fell asleep* in the middle of the movie! :O

Ann, Chen Jie Xue 陈洁雪 said...


Do they still make movies in HK?

YTSL said...

Hi Ann --

Of course they do! Whatever made you think they don't? :O

Stefan S said...

Hey YTSL! You enjoyed Don't Go Breaking My Heart too! :-) Hope that more will give it a chance!

I'm not sure if Sex and Zen 3D will make it here in Singapore, at first it was mentioned the film sans 18 minutes of it will screen here, then later on it was reported that it may not after all. I will not bother with a censored cut, but oh well...

YTSL said...

Hi Stefan --

Yeah re "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" -- wonder if you agree if it's one of those movies that's far better than its (misleading) trailer?

As for "3D Sex and Zen": I have a feeling that it won't be able to pass the Singapore censors... ;b

Stefan S said...

Hi YTSL, yep, the trailer didn't really quite do it justice, but I liked that bit where all three of them were standing at their office windows looking at one another :D

As for Sex and Zen 3D, one can only hope :-)

YTSL said...

Hi again Stefan --

Still more re "Don't Go Breaking My Heart": I think I appreciated that bit more in the movie than the (out of context) trailer.

Re "3D Sex and Zen": What? My review wasn't enough to put you off the movie? ;(

Kingwho? said...

Great reviews YTSL. In regards to Sex and Zen 3D, though I am very excited too see the film, my expectations have been low since it began production. I am more interested in the Category III film becoming apart of Hong Cinema again, as it was in the early 90's. I understand that if Category III films do revive and see some noteriety that they won't ever achieve as much success as they did in the old days but they might, at the very least, be relevant again.

I just watched another recent CAT III film, Revenge: A Love Story, and it was marginally succesful. Have you seen it? Aside from the director being a pretensious ass, I wouldn't mind seeing more adult oriented films of this ilk in HK cinema. Though, I would much prefer to watch a genre film like Sex and Zen 3D. Low expectations usually don't disappoint.

And Chapman To's reading of that kids review was hysterical! At least i'm not THAT bad. =D

Thanks for the review, YTSL! =D

YTSL said...

Hi Kingwho? --

I must admit that I sure do hope that Category III sex films do not become the dominant trend in Hong Kong cinema -- especially after watching something as unpalatable as "3D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstacy".

Re "Revenge: A Love Story": Yes, I've seen it but was not impressed. Wong Ching Po is one of my least favorite Hong Kong directors. Ironically, I liked his first film, the also Category III rated "Fu Bo" -- but it's been downhill ever since as far as I'm concerned with regards to his works.

Kingwho? said...

haha I don't think CAT III will ever attain the same dominance it once had. but I would like to see more of them. It would even out the market a bit. equal parts comedy, romance, action,...and filth! =D

I'm with you wholeheartedly on Wong Ching-po. Really enjoyed Fu Bo but that's it. He is just unbearable. Revenge: A Love Story was by no means a great movie, but merely...barely...passable. I love Tony Ho Wah-chiu. He is one of my favorite character actors along with Roy Cheung Yiu-yeung, and Mark Cheng Ho-nam. Theo Roy and Mark are more than charcacter actors. They are fine leads as well.

Tony Ho is in Sex and Zen 3D as well? Does he have a big role?

YTSL said...

Hi again Kingwho? --

Make of it what you will: I prefer the violent Category III to the sleazy Category III. But sex AND violence in a single movie appalls more than titillates! :S

And yes, Tony Ho does have a big role in "3D Sex and Zen". Even then, I think his best film remains his debut "The Longest Summer".

Kingwho? said...

haha I will agree with you about the best CAT III films being shocking more thatn titillating. I prefer the shocks as well bc the titllation...I'm an adult, it's nothing I haven't seen before! ;D

As for The Longest Summer, i agree yet again. I even put together a short video for one of my 'Coolest HK Movies You Have Never Seen', for the film.

YTSL said...

Hi once again Kingwho? --

Interesting... Had thought from your blog that you preferred the sleazy Category IIIs! ;b

eliza bennet said...

Now that I have watched the film, I'm so glad that I purchased it since it is exactly what you said and reminded me of 90s romcoms - in fact I so wished to see a young Sammi instead of the lead female actor.

I do not agree with her choice and to be honest I was really suprised.

YTSL said...

Hi "eliza bennet" --

Am glad you gave the movie a try and enjoyed your viewing of it. Re the lead female's choice of man in the end: I like the surprise and I think it speaks to our personalities that we would prefer her to end up with different men. :)