Lee Alon 4/29/2007
Getting a veteran of movie videos and commercials to direct a feature film is invariably a risky proposition. The results can shine or literally suck, and the last thing any sophisticated audience needs these days is another jittery, two hour-long mishmashed affair that looks like a Taiwan pop music video from hell taken to an extreme.
With Susie Au, a first-time movie helmswoman with a resume full of pop productions, that scenario was all too likely to become reality. In fact, her directorial debut Ming Ming seems to have reached a compromise in this respect. Its first twenty minutes are so painfully nonsensical and over stylized you can't help but cringe in anger, yet after those initial phases of ridiculous OTT poppiness blow over, the project reveals itself as quite enjoyable. Get past the obvious attempt to rekindle interest in Kill Bill's Hong Kong heritage through transparent "references", and beneath lurks a passably interesting escapade.
On the upside, Ming Ming delivers characters that surprise with their ability to grow and evolve over the course of a relatively short, and frequently very vacuous, release. Heading the cast is Zhou Xun, who fittingly enough plays two separate and identical looking protagonists. Ms. Zhou has displayed a mixed bag of performances in the past, shining in Where Have All the Flowers Gone and Beijing Bicycle, but irritating with exaggerated acting in films like Suzhou River.
In Ming Ming, she's both. As the titular character, Zhou does a vaguely Trinity-meets-The Bride, disaffected assassin that puts a whole new spin on beads and rosaries. Instead of guns, she launches marbles at her adversaries, cutting a swath of destruction through the henchmen of arch mobster Brother Cat (Jeff Chang). This happens after Ming Ming purloins a sum of money from the gangland boss, funds to be used in financing a new life for her with sulking hunk Ah D. The latter, a fist-fighting mob enforcer, is conveyed by Daniel Wu in a thoroughly disappointing part. We've gotten used to seeing quality and sincerity from Daniel, and in Ming Ming he just doesn't have those virtues on display.
Back to the story. Oddball luck brings together wide-eyed triad lackey Ah Tu (Tony Yang) and Ming Ming twin Nana as the money gets misplaced, changing hands and ending up with these two apparently totally unrelated individuals. On the run, Nana and Ah Tu take over the movie and show it does have merit. Both Zhou Xun and Tony Yang proceed to deliver very respectable performances, showcased by way of dialog and mood-setting scenes on the way to and around Shanghai.
Yang impresses as innocent, loyal and loving Ah Tu, certainly adding to the young actor's portfolio. Zhou Xun truly dazzles those in attendance as the genuine Nana, a character doing the actress far greater justice than the cardboard cutout silhouette that is Ming Ming. And who knew Ms. Zhou is so fluent in Cantonese? Yes, language plays an important part in Ming Ming, and for that we salute the production team. Cantonese, Putonghua and Shanghainese all find room herein, that last one to a large degree from the sensuous mouth of long gone but never forgotten lovely Kristy Yeung, a Shanghai native herself. Yes, she has returned! Although a small cameo, it's still awesome to have her around again.
Ming Ming further contains some highly enjoyable music, and is generally well-produced. Those frenzied opening sequences we could have easily dispensed with, but in the end an Armageddon-esque debacle is averted just in time for a bona fide twist ending that, for a change, puts the various plot pieces together with grace rather than rushed clumsiness. This isn't the new benchmark for indie cinema, but it gets the job done and should be viewed by all appreciators and supporters of filmmaking in Asia and movies in general. It's also proof positive that first impressions can be deceiving, so please, don't despair, stick with it and you will be rewarded.
Saturday, June 09, 2007
Lee Alon 4/29/2007