While watching MING MING, which stars Zhou Xun and Daniel Wu, I was initially impressed by first-time director Susan Au's MTV-influenced style. The rapid-fire cuts, freeze frames and disjointed editing are delivered with flair, it reminded me of Wong Kar Wai works like CHUNGKING EXPRESS and FALLEN ANGELS, and also a bit of Japanese anime.
The production values were good. Cinematography, sound design, art direction etc. Pretty top-notch. Appealed by its visual styles during the first 10 minutes of the film, the filmmaker in me started becoming more attentive, possibly preparing to take some mental notes for myself. (After all, anyone who had seen my short films, especially the two latest ones, should know that I'm really MTV-influenced too. Often I aimed for certain flashy visual techniques to enhance my works. More Fellini-influenced than Antonioni, or more Shunji Iwai-influenced than Hou Hsiao Hsien etc.)
But as the film went on, fascination turned to apprehension, apprehension turned to annoyance, annoyance turned to indifference, then indifference was slightly tinged with a bit of disgust.
Ming Ming is seriously an over-the-top film, Susan Au's supposedly artful and stylish filmmaking techniques, which is seems like a nauseating mixture of Wong Kar Wai, MTV, Matrix, Japanese anime and French New Wave, gradually grows very grating and alienating, until its super self-seriousness and overindulgence border on self-parody. It reminded me a little of how I felt when I watched Tony Scott's 2005 film, DOMINO (starring Keira Knightley).
It made me went... "does it have to be THIS show-offy?"
When the end credits started to roll, which began with a dedication to 'all the mothers in the world', I couldn't help but snicker.
The story's a little intriguing. Ming Ming (Zhou Xun), a gothic-looking super assassin chick who kills people with er, black beads, falls for D (Daniel Wu), an angsty brooding enforcer of triad boss Brother Cat (90s prince of Chinese pop ballads, JEFF CHANG!!!). D reveals to Ming Ming that he wants only two things: 5 million dollars and a trip to Harbin. So, Ming Ming immediately steals the money from Brother Cat so that she can go with D. Unfortunately, D is nowhere to be found by then.
While being chased after Brother Cat's minions through the streets (I call it the 'Jackie Chan syndrome', meaning that you still attempt to run away in fear even though you can actually wipe out the entire group of baddies with your bare hands if you want to), Ming Ming hands the money to Tu (Tony Yang), who is a street punk/ acquaintance.
During the chase, Tu, who actually has a thing for Ming Ming, runs into Nana, whom he thought is Ming Ming... because she's played by Zhou Xun too. Nana is more girlish, talkative, sassy than Ming Ming, and has orange hair. Of course, the craziest thing is, Nana, like Ming Ming, also shared a previous romantic relationship with D.
D is actually in Shanghai, looking for his long-lost mother. The others, Ming Ming, Nana and Tu also end up in Shanghai while they are being pursued by Brother Cat's thugs. The Nana and Tu subplot takes center-stage (the duo has more screen time than the other characters) with the blossoming romance between the two reluctant traveling partners.
The movie could've been pretty good if more focus is placed on just telling the damned story and developing the characters, instead of relying so much on the flashy visual acrobatics, and showing off her MTV techniques. While some reviewers may be impressed by the director's intentions to try something different in her debut feature, I just feel a little repulsed by the execution and the end product... which reeks of self-importance.
It kinda reminds me of my postgrad diploma course in filmmaking last year, when occasionally, I have to sit through a film by a haughty and self-serious fellow film student who likes showing off to garner some kind of a positive reaction. The kind more interested in WHAT filmmaking techniques they are using than HOW they use it. They take themselves so seriously that they scare me. Ah, thinking of that again makes me shudder.
Not leveling any personal attacks against director Susan Au, nor am I going to make any other assumptions. Slightly miffed by the wasted potential of the film, and the negative feelings it generated from me, it made me wish that I've gone off to see Nicholas Cage's NEXT instead. :-(