Saturday, March 6, 2010

My Review on 3 Chinese New Year Holiday Movies

Tiger Wohoo! (大日子)
Rating: *** (Out of 4)

Few gave it a chance initially. The first locally (Malaysian) produced Chinese New Year themed movie failed to get a cinema release slot during the all-important Chinese New Year (CNY) 2010 season, ironic for a CNY-themed movie. It was only given a limited release on selected cinemas, one month before the actual CNY festival.

And then there was miracle.

Good word of mouth spread. The movie played to sold-out crowd for a good 3-4 weeks. Fans were screaming on facebook saying that it was hard to purchase tickets. The film eventually chalked up an estimated RM 4 million in ticket sales, a terrific figure in the context of the Malaysian market, a phenomenal achievement for a locally produced Chinese language film.

Is the film good?

Story wise, it resembles that of the Taiwanese film 'Cape No. 7 (海角七号)', a tried-and-tested coming-of-age story. 'Tiger Woohoo!' is not the most exquisite piece of film making. Nevertheless, it does have its charm, and that was important. It is charming to the point of making itself a winning crowd pleaser, despite its flaws.

The cast as a whole are new-comers, so do not expect Oscar-calibre performances here. Still, one of them stood out. Chen Keat Yoke as village girl Ah Lian. That was an astonishingly good acting performance for a first-timer.

True Legend (苏乞儿)
Rating: **1/2 (Out of 4)

Cliched and formulaic, 'True Legend' is a recycling exercise of many familiar martial art genre devices. One can easily spot the resemblance to films like 'Fearless (霍元甲)', 'Ip Man (叶问)', 'Fist of Fury (精武门)' and many more.

Still, as a whole, 'True Legend' is a descent pop corn movie. It is good enough if you have nothing to do for your holidays, though it is not something spectacular or memorable. The movie has a great villain, and that saves the day. I guess a cliched revenge drama like this needs a great villain. A great villain somehow compensates for all the glaring flaws, and it pumps up your blood during the climatic fight sequence.

In 'True Legend', we are given a villain so creepy and bizarre that it seems like something you expect to see in a Hollywood superhero movies like Spiderman or Batman.

That, really is the saving grace for this film. The fight sequence is uneven, good and exciting only when it is staged organically without the annoying 3D visual effects. Leading man Zhao Wenzhuo is capable of putting up a good fight, but slumped into embarrassingly bad acting when the script requires his character to go through some emotional upheaval.

Little Big Soldier (大兵小将)
Rating: ** (Out of 4)

Subject matter has potential. In fact, it is probably the only film during this 2010 CNY season that offers a dash of originality with its subject matter.

Unfortunately, it remains just that, a potential. The potential was not developed, and the film falls flat. This promising material was not given justice with the kind of writing and directing it deserves. This is a prime example of originality alone do not make a good film. It has to go hand-in-hand with good craftsmanship.

There is so much unfulfilled potential in it. It could be made into an anti-war drama that is upbeat in its tone. But the filmmakers shows little ambition towards that end, focusing instead on staging Jacky Chan's trademark (and tired) comedic action sequence.

The film lacks suspense, and it is barely funny. More importantly, it lacks charm. In a film with only 2 main characters, one has to wonder why they came about as so plain and uninteresting despite given so much screen time. Whereas a film with an ensemble cast like 'Tiger Woohoo!' was able to create interesting characters that charmed us, with much less screen time per character.

Surely writing and directing had made all the difference.


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