Friday, January 31, 2003

Review of Shanghai Knights ( spoilers beware )

I've never watched a Jackie Chan film in the cinema before, and what a treat this was! He's already great on the small screen, but it's ten times magnified on the big one. Owen Wilson is once again in his element as the cowboy sidekick, and let's not forget Fann Wong, who makes her Hollywood debut as Chan's on-screen sister.

The story is simple and nonsensical, like that of its predecessor. But the irreverent humour is its strong point, and never sinks to the moronic level. There's lots of poetic licence and name-dropping -- everyone from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Charlie Chaplin and even an uncredited Jack the Ripper are thrown into the mix. The chemistry between the stars is dynamite, and look out for Donnie Yen and newcomer Aidan Gillen as the villains. The latter makes a big impact with his eye-popping swordfighting skills in the climactic fight scene with Chan himself, managing to outshine the veteran, can you imagine! He looks like a cross between a young Gary Oldman and PeeWee Herman, relishes his bad-guy role and looks set for bigger things in the near future.

So how does Wong fare in her first big role? Well, it all depends on your taste. If you're already a big fan and don't care if she plays a deaf/blind mute, as long as she looks good, then this movie's right up your alley. But if you're hoping for some star quality that will make her get noticed by the Hollywood big shots, then you'll be sorely disappointed. She has an atrocious accent which will probably make international audiences think all Singaporeans can't speak English for nuts, and resorts to pouting and lip-biting when trying to emote. Her fight scenes are also obviously stunt-doubled, unlike Zhang Ziyi and Lucy Liu, who displayed admirable "hai-YA!" chops in "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon", "Hero" and "Charlie's Angels".

My advice: don't go for Wong's sake. Chan and Wilson are the main attractions, and the chemistry between them remains strong and guaranteed to draw the crowds. I especially enjoyed a scene with Wilson stuck at the bottom of a lake, gurgling in conversation with an apologetic Chan. Subtitles are even provided as a guide. What a hoot! And ultimately, no-one compares to THE Jackie Chan as kungfu master. Just watch him flip, bounce and fly ( he does all his own stunts ), and you'll be amazed at his gravity-defying physical agility. Wow...

Last but not least, stay for the outtakes, which are worth the ticket price alone. I particularly like the one with Wong licking Wilson in a kama sutra scene, after which she smiles shyly at him, and he softly whispers, "Should I lick you back? I think I should lick you back. What do you think?", fixing her with his half-closed eyes. Lucky woman! :D

Next, the 2nd episode of American Idol II was painful. Many of the contestants failed to live up to their own expectations, never mind those of the judges’, and my favourite, Danny Rodriguez, was eliminated! Aaaaack! But he was a very good sport about it, belting out “My Way” when the results were announced. But hey, I predict he’ll get a recording contract anyway. Someone somewhere would want to harness his talent, so good for you, Danny!

Just bought the latest Russell Watson CD, Reprise, and it’s his best one yet. It’s got 18 songs, including classics like “Santa Lucia”, “Ave Maria”, plus other beautiful pieces from Verdi and Puccini. I love “La Danza”, which has Watson doing vocal gymnastics effortlessly and showing off his remarkable range and stamina. There’re also famous favourites like “That’s Amore” ( sounding uncannily like Dean Martin ), “The Living Years” and even “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen. But my favourites are always the love songs, and here, “The Best That Love Can Be” – a duet with Cleopatra – stands out. Watson continues to astound us all with his versatility, managing to carry off opera and rock with equal aplomb. He’s got a baby face, and is only a couple of years my senior. Truly unbelievable! It’s a fabulous album, so get it ASAP.

Monday, January 27, 2003

Got side-tracked for the past week, so be prepared for a long list. :)

First, America Idol II has hit our shores. ( About time, too! ) And the pilot episode did not disappoint. If you don't know what it's about, where've you been this past week? Pluto??? Anyway, I'm just gonna jump right in and tell you my hot favourites after the first round -- bear in mind, of course, that they didn't show every single successful audition, preferring instead to dwell on the really lousy ones ( the main draw, no doubt ). I pick the twins -- what a knockout rendition of Alicia Keys' "Fallen"! -- and Danny Rodriguez, who sang "Fly Me To The Moon" and stole my heart straight away. :D And get a load of that young lady who sounded exactly like Julie London when she belted out "Fever" -- eerily uncanny. Yep, high-calibre stuff here.

But ultimately it isn't the great ones who stick in the mind. There was Edgar Nova, the Enrique Iglesias wannabe who embarrassed himself dreadfully on international TV, and later showed that he totally lacks insight by arguing with the panel of judges, and telling everyone outside that he'd been chosen for the next round. He needs a psych referral! And don't underestimate the dramatic factor, 'cos two girls who were picked have "potential catfight" written all over them, as one is dating the other's ex-boyfriend, and even though they pretend to be buddies, you can tell that there's definite animosity going on. Hmmm....

The barbs from Simon Cowell are ruthless, but you'll notice that when he's nasty, the contestant usually deserves it. And when he's impressed, he tells it to your face. I just can't figure out how some of the hopeful ones have the gall to go before him, expecting to be complimented when they suck so bad. They're just asking to be hammered, so I don't really pity them.

Well, it's gonna be a tough fight, so let's see who emerges the champion. Check out the website for more juicy gossip and updates.

Second, kudos to the organizers of this year's MTV Asia Awards. It's definitely a lot better than last year's marathon disaster, and the performances were great -- Matchbox Twenty, Missy Elliott, Shaggy, Jay Chou and Robbie Williams stood out. Robbie was especially cheeky during his performance of "Feel", pushing into the crowd and allowing the crazed audience members to grab at him. Way to go, Rob! Hope he'll be back later this year for a full-length concert!

Third, if you haven't heard of or been to Bar None at The Marriott Hotel, you must drop by one of these nights -- preferably a Wednesday, Friday or Saturday. It remains my all-time favourite hangout, and for good reason. Energy, with lead singer Douglas Oliveiro, still rocks! And they're constantly changing their repetoire, so last Friday, they played everything from the likes of U2, Aerosmith ( a dead-on cover of "Walk This Way" ), Guns 'N Roses ( "Sweet Child 'O Mine" never sounded better ), Tom Petty, and even did a cool rendition of "Stand By Me" ( with a guest performance from an audience member, who, thankfully, wasn't tone deaf! ). The dance music in between the sets was good stuff, and the crowd continued to pour in even after 1am. A really happening place, and patrons are young professionals in their 20s and 30s -- very friendly and sociable bunch too, as we made friends with quite a number of those standing near us. So I can't believe the post-MTV Asia Awards show party was at, ugh, Empress Place. No wonder everyone left early. Bar None's the place to be, guys!

Last, take a look inside last week's Time (Asia) magazine, which features Kim Jong Il on the cover. Fascinating issue, with an article on the cloning debate and a small feature on the kooky Raelians. There's also one on North Korea, and offers some interesting viewpoints on Kim Il Sung, as well as the mounting tension over the nuclear warhead crisis. But I especially enjoyed a piece on American architect David Rockwell, who's responsible for the beautiful Kodak Theatre ( home to the annual Oscar ceremonies ). Check out the awesome photos of his other creations ( especially the casino ), and you'll also be surprised by the fact that he was eager to design Singapore's new airport, but was passed over -- probably because his ideas were deemed too "radical" ( e.g. a curbside aquarium, and a giant aviary in the departure lounge ). Sigh, trust the Singapore government to stifle genius. :(

Okay, gotta go do some work. More updates next time!

Friday, January 17, 2003


So the question on everyone's lips is: Is "Hero" better than "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"?
My opinion: Absolutely.

I caught the movie last night at GV Grand, which boasts an excellent big screen -- reserved for the newest releases -- as well as a terrific sound system ( perfect for this film, as I will explain later ).
A good friend of mine, who's also a wuxia fan, was with me. And let me tell you, if you're ( like me ) totally clueless about "cultural" Chinese films, it helps a great deal to see "Hero" with someone who knows a lot about this genre. Reason? Certain scenes seem extremely cheesy, and the audience couldn't help giggling quite a number of times. For example, the swordfight between Sky ( Donnie Yen ) and Nameless ( a really cool Jet Li ) pauses suddenly mid-battle as the latter requests an additional song from an old blind musician. Then there's the other fight between Flying Snow ( Maggie Cheung ) and Moon ( Zhang Ziyi ), which ends with the latter being slain and doing a few pirouettes before dramatically collapsing onto the ground. Standard wuxia fare, my friend assured me. Nothing unexpected. Gave me a good perspective! :D

Okay, on to the story. Basically, it starts with Nameless arriving at the palace of the Emperor of the Qin dynasty, claiming to have killed the king's 3 dreaded assassins. He is promptly rewarded, and asked to retell his tale. In the process, the emperor picks up on suspicious details, and later on, manages to see through this supposed hero's version of events, discovering the truth at the very end.

The movie is told in 3 different ways. It begins with the lie, then the emperor's amended story, then the authentic version. The now-famous colour-coding scheme is as follows ( with helpful insight from above friend ): red represents the lie, blue the amended truth, green the past, and white the actual truth. Each sequence is a feast for the senses!

The fight scenes are brilliantly choreographed, and far superior to those in "Crouching Tiger...". The pace is so fast it's sometimes impossible to see their every move, so don't blink! I feel that the main reason I enjoy "Hero" is because the actors are so much younger than Chow Yun Fatt and Michelle Yeoh -- though both are capable actors, they falter during intensely physical sequences. With veterans like Jet Li, Donnie Yen and Zhang Ziyi, wuxia comes alive and sends shivers down your spine as you watch them engage in mortal combat. Aided by fantastic sound effects -- which greatly enhance the clang of the swords, the whoosh of a tornado of autumn leaves or a swirling silk gown, the soft plop of a drop of water -- it is cinematic drama in top form.

Now we come to the actors, of which I shall only mention the 4 who made the biggest impression on me. Zhang Ziyi excels once again as a hot-headed but beautiful and skilled swordswoman, adding just that extra "oomph" to any period wuxia film. Jet Li defies all laws of gravity and physics, and is clearly at home in this movie, in comparison to hair-raising turns in "Lethal Weapon 4" and "Romeo Must Die".

Still, my favourites are Tony Leung Chiu Wai and Maggie Cheung. The former used to entertain my family during my childhood days, as we faithfully followed the TV series "The Duke of Mount Deer". Since then, he has forged an admirable career for himself, though I haven't actually caught any of his more famous projects. In "Hero", he steals the show without a doubt. A dead ringer for Jim Caviezel ( who starred in "Frequency" and "The Count of Monte Cristo" ), he also shares the latter's affinity for emotional roles. Be it anger, love or remorse, Leung exhibits them all flawlessly and effortlessly. If this doesn't get him an Oscar nomination, I don't know what will.
As for Maggie Cheung, she shines like the sun in her role as Flying Snow. Possessing fine-featured beauty and grace, she adds layer upon layer of complexity to her character. Unfortunately, due to the nature of the plot, she spends the entire film locked in perpetual sorrow or rage. However, watch for a scene somewhere in the middle of the movie, where she parts ways with Broken Sword in the desert, before fighting it out with Nameless. As she walks to her ride, she suddenly turns back to look at her lover, and in that split second, a tentative but unforgettably gorgeous smile touches her lips. And the next moment, it's gone. It is a poignant few seconds, the stuff classics are made of.

The screenplay is terrific, and the script, extremely well-written. Even the English translation succeeds in preserving the poetry of the original dialogue. The climactic scene is guaranteed to resonate for quite a while after you leave the theatre. The theme is so much more all-encompassing, almost at a level similar to that of the "Lord of the Rings" saga, yet it can also be intensely personal as well.

A truly visionary effort from the master Zhang Yimou.

"Hero" has already become the all-time highest-grossing film in China, and has received numerous glowing reviews from the Western media. Chances are high that it will win the Oscar for Best Foreign Film this year, but it remains to be seen if it will earn accolades in the directing and acting departments.

Don't wait any longer. This MUST be seen on the big screen, so get your tickets now.

Next movie I'm greatly looking forward to seeing: Catch Me If You Can. ( Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg -- a film buff's nirvana! :))

Thursday, January 09, 2003

Wow, just read the papers this morning, and this is really unbelievable!

There's a new reality TV show in the US, called Joe Millionaire. Modelled after the wildly successful Bachelor series, no doubt, but with a major ( albeit cruel ) twist -- 20 women will fight for a single man who's supposed to be filthy rich, but in fact, is only a construction worker pretending to be a multi-millionaire.

Everybody together now -- WHAT?!?!

Admittedly, this piece of news has piqued my interest no end, thus my visit to its website. Obviously all the women were kept in the dark about the man's real identity, and all I can say is, those who were eliminated early must be thanking their lucky stars right now!

However, this show definitely offers some fascinating looks into the ugly side of the female psyche. From the Internet synopsis of the pilot episode, snippets of the women gushing over a man they think has $50 million in his pocket makes me want to bury my head in the ground. The women who were chosen are educated and sophisticated professionals -- one of them's a doctor, apparently -- which makes their hypocrisy and materialism all the more intolerable. I can only imagine the "winner's" horror when she's finally told the truth.

Hope the show comes to Singapore soon. Stay tuned!

Next up, Ronan Keating fans here should get their tickets fast. He's giving a concert at the Singapore Indoor Stadium on February 7th, Friday. I've followed his career since his Boyzone days, and his voice has gotten better with age. I'm currently blasting his album - Destination - in my car, and the songs are great. The next time you go to Borders, HMV or That CD Shop at Great World City ( places where you can sample CDs without having to feel obligated to buy ), the good ones to try out are "We've Got Tonight" ( a duet with the lovely Lulu ), "The Long Goodbye", and "If Tomorrow Never Comes".

Wednesday, January 01, 2003

Discovered a wonderful Viggo Mortensen website today.
Featuring everything from the latest news to his biography, and in-depth accounts of his other talents, such as painting, poetry and music, you can also enjoy numerous gorgeous pictures of this remarkable man.
I particularly enjoyed the sections devoted to his paintings and photographs, which show how he has an astute eye for capturing beautiful images both on film and canvas.
Also check out the poetry category, where you can even hear Viggo reciting his various writings. Though some of them are a little cheesy, others are hauntingly memorable. Anyhow, he has a deep and soothing voice, and will especially charm when speaking Spanish, sigh. :) Not that I understand any of it, of course. :D
If he decides to record an audio book, I'll buy it for sure.