Monday, December 23, 2013

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

For F*** Magazine


Director: Ben Stiller
Cast:         Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Shirley MacLaine, Adam Scott, Kathryn Hahn, Sean Penn, Patton Oswalt, Ólafur Darri Ólafsson
Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Comedy
Run Time: 114 mins
Opens: 25 December 2013
Rating: PG

This reviewer looked up a list of songs which contain the word “dream” in the title. We’ve got “Dream a Little Dream”, “All I Have to Do is Dream”, “California Dreamin’”, “Sweet Dreams are Made of This”, “Dream On”, “Daydream Believer”… it seems “dream” is probably just behind “love” on the “most-used words in song titles” chart. The science of dreaming is a fascinating and inexact one and many have become preoccupied with dream interpretation; dreams being associated with escapism and wish fulfilment. Ben Stiller takes on the role of daydream adventure king in this adaptation of James Thurber’s 1939 short story.

Ben Stiller plays the title character, a negative asset manager at Life Magazine. It’s his responsibility to process the photo negatives that will eventually make it into the magazine’s glossy pages, and life can get a little dull. So, he's given to flights of fancy every so often. In real life, he’s too timid to ask co-worker Cheryl Melhoff (Wiig) out, but in his daydreams, he gallantly rescues her dog from an explosion. Enigmatic photojournalist Sean O’Connell (Penn) has sent in his pièce de résistance to be put on the cover of the final physical issue of Life Magazine. Unfortunately, Walter discovers that the negative is lost, and with his mean new boss (Scott) chasing after him, he has to break out of the doldrums of his existence, embarking on a journey across exotic lands and going all carpe diem in search of the prized Negative #25.

In addition to playing the lead, Ben Stiller helms The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. This film is a change of pace from Stiller’s last two films as director, the manic, over-the-top and raucously funny Tropic Thunder and Zoolander. This is a film that purports itself as being more contemplative and more grown up, its title character embarking on a dramatic journey of self-discovery with nary a fat suit-clad Tom Cruise in sight. However, this is very much a conventional crowd-pleaser which barely nudges the mind, let alone provokes it. Beneath the fantastical imagery and the far-flung locales lies the hoary message of “follow your dreams”, addressed in a disappointingly superficial manner.

Yes, there is an appealing aesthetic to the film and cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh has lensed some beautiful images of the lone figure of Walter traversing barren vistas, location filming in Iceland lending plenty of atmosphere. The film also captures the old-timey glamour and romanticism associated with the publication that is Life Magazine. However, it seems that Stiller’s sensitivities as a filmmaker are too commercial for him to truly embrace the weird and wonderful and he always has one foot firmly planted in formula. A film powered by whimsy, at no point does The Secret Life of Walter Mitty effectively sink its teeth into the consciousness of audiences, content to ply viewers with eye-catching sequences bereft of much substance.

Walter Mitty is yet another in a long line of “beleaguered everyman” characters Stiller has portrayed and he does have fun with the part, his most common screen persona meshing with the archetype of the Thurber protagonist. Even though he has fashioned the film as a less juvenile venture, glimpses of somewhat self-indulgent Stiller silliness are more than visible. There's a fantasy action sequence involving a Stretch Armstrong doll and an odd bit paying tribute to The Curious Case of Benjamin Button that seems pretty out of place, even in a film about a daydreamer.

While this is clearly Stiller’s film to carry, he is backed up by an able supporting cast even if they don’t get a lot to do. Kristin Wiig’s Cheryl is sweet and approachable, emphasising Walter’s timidity in how hesitant he is to approach her. Wiig also performs an acoustic cover of David Bowie’s Space Oddity (possibly related to Bowie’s cameo as himself in Zoolander). Adam Scott does make for an effectively unlikeable corporate slime ball, the particular style of facial hair he sports enhancing the “jerk factor”. Sean Penn’s role is small but important to the plot and though this most likely wasn’t anything of a challenge for him, his presence does lend a smidgen of gravitas Stiller himself would be unable to provide.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty sees Ben Stiller attempt to expand his horizons, the end result being a frothy globe-trotting adventure that is pretty to look at but nowhere near as deep as it would like to be. There are humorous moments that land and Stiller does affect a style that has shades of Michel Gondry, but the film can’t quite connect on an emotional level, the approach to telling the story creating too much of a distance with the audience.

SUMMARY: Conventional in the story it tells in spite of some inventive imagery, Walter Mitty’s isn’t a Life lived to its fullest.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Police Story 2013 (警察故事2013)

For F*** Magazine

POLICE STORY 2013 (警察故事2013)

Director: Ding Sheng
Cast:         Jackie Chan, Liu Ye, Jing Tian, Huang Bo, Yu Rongguang, Zhang Lanxin, Wang Zhifei
Genre: Action, Crime
Run Time: 106 mins
Opens: 24 December 2013
Rating: PG13

Upon the release of last year’s CZ12, Jackie Chan was pretty sure that it would be his last big, action-centric role, but the actor was also adamant that he was far from retirement. He revisits the Police Story franchise in this film which, like New Police Story before it, is unrelated to the earlier entries in the series and promises to be tough and serious. But are “grim and gritty” and “Jackie Chan” really the best bedfellows?

Ditching the Chan Ka-Kui persona from the first four Police Story films and Chan Kwok-Wing from New Police Story, here, Jackie Chan plays Mainland Chinese police Captain Zhong Wen. He goes to meet his somewhat-estranged daughter Miao Miao (Jing Tian) at the Wu Bar, an industrial-chic establishment converted from a factory. Zhong discovers Miao Miao is dating the Wu Bar’s proprietor Wu Jiang (Liu Ye), something he disapproves of. It turns out that his suspicions of Wu Jiang are not unfounded as Zhong and the rest of the patrons get taken hostage inside the nightclub. Wu Jiang pursues a vendetta that began one night five years ago with an incident in a pharmacy, and it turns out that Zhong was there. Zhong has to fight for the safety of his daughter and everyone else held hostage as the police plans an infiltration of the Wu Bar to put an end to a night of madness.

Audiences will know they’re in for something different than the usual Jackie Chan action romp from the opening scene onwards – that scene featuring Jackie holding a gun to his head. In his review of Police Story 3: Super Cop, film critic James Berardinelli said of Jackie Chan’s style, “this is action with a smile, not a grimace.” Well, Police Story 2013 is very heavy on the grimacing indeed. This film is essentially Die Hard in a Nightclub, with Capt. Zhong and the other characters stuck on the premises for most of the film. It’s even set during Christmas, like Die Hard. However, Bruce Willis cracked a good number of jokes but here, Jackie Chan does nothing of the sort, gritting his teeth through the whole affair.

The vast majority of Jackie Chan’s films are exuberant and silly, the actor favouring a madcap style of physical humour and incorporating comedy into action sequences in an inventive manner. While CZ12 was almost gratingly juvenile, here, we have a Jackie who’s grizzled and hard-boiled. The problem with this is that everything that makes Jackie Chan who he is gets stripped away. There really aren’t enough action sequences in this action thriller and the main fight is a pretty brutal cage match, hits and impacts enhanced with Zack-Snyder style slow-motion and ramping. It’s not an enjoyable melee to watch; that mix of playfulness and peril that Jackie does so well replaced with more typical movie violence.

Ding Sheng, who directed Jackie in Little Big Soldier, pulls triple duty as director, screenwriter and editor. In all fairness, Police Story 2013 isn’t a poorly-constructed film and possesses some effectively dramatic moments. However, Liu Ye makes for a relatively disappointing villain. The character’s motivations are very personal, veering into soap opera territory. As an adversary, he pales in comparison to Daniel Wu’s captivating, wickedly charismatic turn as Joe Kwan in New Police Story. The idea of an aging cop mending bridges with his daughter is far from a new one but Jackie and Jing Tian work well enough as father and daughter.

The frustrating thing about Police Story 2013 is that Jackie Chan is not a bad actor and he can be convincingly serious (see Crime Story, The Shinjuku Incident or even Karate Kid) – but then, he ends up just like every other action hero. As he gets on in years, he has been open about his desire to take on more dramatic and less action-centric parts. Perhaps we should be glad that he's no longer running through spice markets butt-naked but we’re pretty sure that most of Jackie’s fans will find themselves missing the humour and vim and verve that are his trademarks. As with most of his films, a gag reel rolls as the end credits do, in which we see Jackie flub lines, get nicked by too-realistic prop knives, take some hits and goof off. It only goes to show that “action with a smile” really is his wheelhouse.

SUMMARY: While not a bad film, Police Story 2013 doesn’t play to Jackie Chan’s strengths, turning him into every other tough action hero ever. It’s surprisingly short on the stunts and thrills too.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

An Old Story Made New: Police Story 2013 Press Conference

For F*** Magazine


Jackie Chan premieres Police Story 2013 in Singapore

By Jedd Jong
Pictures by Jedd Jong

On Tuesday, F*** was at the ArtScience Museum in Marina Bay Sands Singapore where renowned action star Jackie Chan spoke to the press about his latest film, Police Story 2013. Maybe we shouldn’t be calling him an “action star” though – “I really want to prove to audiences that I’m an actor, not an ‘action star’. I’m an actor who can fight, not a fighter who can act, because if you fall into the latter category it’s hard to have a long career,” he said empathically. Jackie has had a long and illustrious career indeed, and he assured us that there’s more to come yet.

“If I didn’t make movies, I’d have no idea what to do with my life! I live for movies,” he declared. “When I was making CZ12, I had a feeling it would be popular with audiences because it’s an action-comedy for all ages, but I don’t feel I can be making only action comedies forever,” Jackie shared. “So this year, you’ll get to see another side of Jackie Chan, and next year there’ll be a different film and I’ll continue to metamorphosise.” Police Story 2013 has been touted as a dark, gritty thriller and is definitely a departure from the lighthearted fare audiences are used to seeing from the actor.

Jackie made it clear that he’s not content to rest on his laurels. “I don’t think I can keep making films of the same variety over and over again, I’d get bored with it as an actor,” he said. “Honestly, I’m not making films for the money now, it’s because I’m interested in making them. I like a good challenge and I like showing the audience that I really am an actor…to me, in my career as an actor, it’s something new for audiences to experience.” He did note that Police Story 2013 isn’t quite as dark as 2009’s Shinjuku Incident. When asked what made him take a different route with this film, Jackie said “I think that my personality has started to change. I feel that I’ve matured a lot physically and mentally.”

In keeping with his desire for audiences to take him seriously as an actor, Jackie said he wants to inch away from films that are wall-to-wall action extravaganzas. “This film focuses on relationships, family, what motivates us in our lives, I think it’s something refreshing,” he said. “The old films were fight after fight after fight, jump after jump, I like this film because I feel that I’ve gravitated towards drama as I’ve grown older.” There are still fisticuffs and explosions to be had in Police Story 2013, and Jackie assured us that he still performed all of the fight sequences himself.

He did also express a genuine concern that he’d become wheelchair-bound and be unable to continue acting. “Every time I make a new movie I have a fear of getting seriously injured,” he said. An accident he experienced on the set of CZ12 was a sobering incident, and Jackie said “I hope that luck is with me each time; if there’s one moment of bad luck, I’d be finished. So as a responsibility to my family, to my fans and to myself, I told myself that I really have to be more careful. So with this in mind, I’ve approached everything with a lot more care. In the past, I had no regard for it – I’d climb up everything! Now, I need it to get checked out to see if it’s safe. So now there’s a lot more preparation and I’ve gotten a lot more careful because it’s so easy to get seriously injured and then it’s so difficult to get better.”

In addition to concerns about his physical well-being, Jackie revealed the emotional connection he had to the film. “the character of Zhong Wen has a family, he has a daughter. Because of his commitment to police work, he’s neglected his family and on top of that, his wife has died. Perhaps it’s because I’m getting on in years that I prefer working on projects that are more emotional.” Jackie is able to relate to the character: “I think it’s very much like my real life. I admit that I have neglected my wife and son in my commitment to my job. It’s really hard to get the best of both worlds, to be working on movies and to spend all day with my wife, to be there to take my son to and from school at the same time. When I had that monologue in the film I started to cry because it did hit very close to home.”

He also opened up a little about his relationship with his son Jaycee. “The path that I take and the path that he takes are totally different, they really are. I can’t influence him because he’s very adamant about not making action movies. He much preferred playing basketball to practising martial arts as a kid. When he got older, he told me ‘Dad, don’t force me into it; I’ll never be the same as you are.’ He wanted to get into music and had set his mind on it.” Understandably, Jaycee wanted to step out of Jackie’s shadow. “He didn’t want to be like Brandon Lee, who was constantly being compared to his father (Bruce Lee). He told me that he’d never be better than I am at making action movies but that I’d never be better than him at making music. So, he’s always had a resistance to making action films. I thought the romantic film he did was pretty good. And, it’s very clever of him, because you don’t get tired making those kinds of movies, but trust me on this: you get really, really worn out making action films!”

Jackie realises that his speciality is making tactile action films with stunts done for real and not assisted by visual effects. “I trust that audiences like seeing ‘real Jackie Chan action’, real action movies. I feel that these days, the international market has become jaded and bored of wire-fu and action that relies a lot on visual effects.” When it comes to competing with Hollywood, Jackie said “honestly speaking, Asian films that are visual effects-driven and rely on the filmmaking technology cannot compete with Hollywood’s output. So, if we make tactile, traditional action films, we can have the upper hand in that area.”

Jackie was invited onto the set of Avatar by director James Cameron, and he described it as a bewildering experience. “He’d say a whole chunk of English and I’d nod and go ‘mm, yes, yes.’ He’d say ‘of course you’re the expert and you know how all of this works’. When I left the set, I had no idea how any of it worked and I couldn’t understand what they were doing! It’s the truth! The whole set was empty and there were lots of technicians in their 20s and 30s around the set with handheld computers. When I went in, everyone started bowing and greeting me, like I was some kind of master of the movies. James Cameron handed me this tablet, and it showed the set completely populated with people, when the set itself was bare!” He decided to continue making movies the way he does them best – relying on the basics. “The way I do things, it’s really easy to understand: there’s a board and you jump off it. If it’s not right, you adjust the board.”

Jackie has a lot in the works for the future: in addition to continuing to make movies, he’s got his training academy, a movie theatre coffee shop business, the Jackie Chan gallery opening in April 2014 in Shanghai, a wine venture, fashion and accessory lines, the Jackie Chan World theme park and an awards ceremony to recognise action films. Feeling that action movies get sidelined at most award ceremonies, he said “the other day, I was in Macau at the Huading awards and who took the award for ‘best global action movie actor’? The guy from Avatar (Sam Worthington). He walked down and when he saw me he said ‘I’m so ashamed!’ I even applauded for him, I think it’s no big deal. I don’t need an award to prove I’m the best. When he took the prize, he felt really embarrassed – it’s not his fault! The judging panels at a lot of these awards ceremonies can’t discern between effects-driven action films and realistic action films. They don’t give action movies the time of day…do you know how much action movies have done for Chinese movies as a whole? I’ve seen a lot of these people get forgotten.”

Jackie then gave us a status update on the films he’s working on in Hollywood. Apparently, Skiptrace – his buddy cop film that won’t be part of the Rush Hour series – has been delayed. “I know that if we begin shooting now in Siberia, it’ll be so cold…when I get on the set, everyone’s mind will only be on finishing up and getting it over and done with. So I’m putting Skiptrace on hold. I will start concentrating on some scripts I have in development. The historical film in April, and then Skiptrace will start back up in August or September.” Jackie also confirmed he will not be involved in The Expendables 3 and gave his reasons for turning down the offer. “First off, it’s a big cast. Stallone told me ‘you can do whatever you like’ but that’s not possible; everyone in the cast is a big name and there won’t be any room for me to be in it.” He recounted a “ terrible experience” he shared with Stallone, appearing in what is regarded as one of the worst films of all time. “I shot a cameo for An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn with Stallone, I shot one scene. The promotional materials declared that it was ‘starring Jackie Chan and Stallone!’ and that became a lie because I was in it for two minutes. So the same thing would happen when The Expendables 3 gets promoted in Asia, it’ll be ‘starring Jackie Chan and Stallone!’” Don’t rule out seeing the Italian Stallion and the Asian Hawk togther, though. “I asked him if I could make a movie just starring the two of us and he agreed with what I said, so that’s why I’m not a part of The Expendables 3,” Jackie concluded. He is also considering shooting a sequel to The Karate Kid.

Next year marks Jackie Chan’s 60th birthday, and he is planning a grand “charity peace” concert uniting artistes from across Asia. "I’m going to get singers from Japan, Korea, the Philippines, Malaysia, Cambodia, Singapore…all across the region together for that night, it’s something that I’ve been planning for a long time and it’s just so that it coincides with my 60th birthday.”

Jackie Chan finished with glowing praise for Singapore as a country.” I really like the cleanliness in Singapore, the fresh air, the discipline and the greenery. I’m always cursing and swearing when I describe how beautiful Singapore is! You guys are really so lucky and you have to maintain it…also, the urban layout is done very well, the positioning of skyscrapers and other buildings. I don’t have plans to make movies in Singapore now, but if I do, you’ll be the first to know!” He ended off the round table session in true Jackie Chan style, posing for pictures balancing between the museum wall and a couch.

Police Story 2013 opens across Asia on 24 Dec 2013.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

12 Years a Slave

For F*** Magazine


Director: Steve McQueen
Cast:         Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Brad Pitt, Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti, Sarah Paulson, Lupita Nyong’o, Alfre Woodard
Genre: Drama
Run Time: 133 mins
Opens: 19 December 2013
Rating: M18 (Violence and Sexual Scenes)

The term “historical film” carries with it the old Hollywood-style notion of an epic scope, a cast of thousands and grandiose spectacle. In spite of the appeal of such films, what has been proven time and again is that audiences gravitate to personal, intimate stories, and that focusing on the journey of a single character or a small group of characters helps put history in perspective – especially the parts of the past that are hardest to come face to face with. 12 Years a Slave is perhaps the most pertinent of such films in recent memory.

Solomon Northup (Ejiofor) is a free black man living with his wife and two children in Saratoga Springs, New York, circa 1841. A skilled violinist, Solomon is approached by a pair of travelling performers who offer him a job as a circus musician. The next day, Solomon awakens chained in a bare room and realises he has been kidnapped and duped into slavery. In New Orleans, he is sold to plantation owner and preacher William Ford (Cumberbatch) and comes into conflict with Ford’s overseer John Tibeats (Dano). Solomon, forced to take on the slave name “Platt”, is later handed to another slave-owner, the savage Edwin Epps (Fassbender), who frequently brutalises the slaves under him. In the midst of his ordeal, Solomon meets the likes of Patsey (Nyong’o), who consistently picks the most cotton but is the most severely mistreated of the slaves, and Bass (Pitt), a Canadian construction worker sympathetic to his plight. Solomon continues to endure slavery, yearning to be freed and reunited with his family.

12 Years a Slave is based on Northup’s autobiography of the same name, a book which director Steve McQueen’s wife found and brought to his attention. McQueen had been looking to collaborate with screenwriter John Ridley (whose credits include U-Turn, Three Kings and Red Tails) on a film about slavery and settled on telling Northup’s story. McQueen, a video artist who made his feature film debut with 2008’s Hunger, has earned a reputation as a filmmaker who makes films that are worth watching but aren’t exactly easy to watch, and 12 Years a Slave definitely falls under that umbrella.

Issues of race and equality continue to rear their heads in a supposedly “post-racial” America, and different filmmakers have addressed this in their own ways. McQueen, his cast and crew have pulled off a truly commendable balancing act. 12 Years a Slave is raw and pulls no punches, but it does not come off as overwrought or emotionally manipulative and isn’t a jump-on-a-soapbox-style polemic. It’s a story that would be very easy to politicise, but McQueen resists. It’s a grim, well-painted portrait of one person’s extraordinary journey which comes off feeling largely bereft of the embellishments that tend to accompany films of the “based on a true story” genre.

Ejiofor has garnered positive buzz and has been named an awards season favourite for his portrayal of Northup, and it is very easy to see why. His performance is earnest and authentic; the determination, desperation, sadness and particularly, the humanity he displays coming together to create a person and not a faceless victim. It is also worth noting that one doesn’t get the impression that the role is a blatant awards bid, as is sometimes all too evident with other actors. It has been said that audiences might lose sight of the larger, horrific picture of the landscape of slavery at the time when presented with just Solomon’s story, but Ejiofor takes the responsibility of doing justice to Solomon Northup’s name as seriously as he should, and it works incredibly well.

The film’s supporting cast provides gravitas in spades and help populate an already-convincing period setting. Cumberbatch has had quite a year, what with Star Trek Into Darkness, The Fifth Estate and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. His William Ford continues that winning streak, the character’s presence raising issues of morality and ethics (he’s a preacher and a slave-owner) without calling too much attention to that theme. Fassbender, who was the lead in McQueen’s first two films, makes for a terrifying and truly despicable Edwin Epps and yet never makes the character a thin, monstrous cliché. The film holds the more decent Ford and the outright cruel Epps side by side and asks “Is one really worse than the other?” Lupita Nyong’o has been considered the film’s breakout star for her turn as Patsey, every bit as much the hero as Solomon is. Producer Brad Pitt’s appearance in the film is brief, a good thing since he would probably be distracting if he was in it for any longer.

At a press junket, director McQueen said “the only reason I’m here, because… people suffered and died for my freedom, and therefore, I cannot pull punches on them. It would be a disservice to them. It would be a disservice to Solomon.” And indeed, no punches are pulled in this searingly affecting biopic, Ejiofor conveying the profound agony of a man so deeply wronged. Hans Zimmer’s score lifts all too liberally from his earlier work for Inception, but that is but a small nit to pick and an insignificant complaint when measured against the thought-provoking, eye-opening and immensely powerful whole that is 12 Years a Slave.

SUMMARY: 12 Years a Slave is not easy viewing but then again, it shouldn’t be. Director Steve McQueen and a strong cast ensure Solomon Northup’s story is given the full weight and respect it deserves.

RATING: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Walking With Dinosaurs: The 3D Movie

For F*** Magazine


Director: Neil Nightingale, Barry Cook
Cast:         John Leguizamo, Justin Long, Tiya Sircar, Skyler Stone, Charlie Rowe, Angourie Rice, Michael Leone, Karl Urban
Genre: Animation, Adventure
Run Time: 88 mins
Opens: 19 December 2013
Rating: PG

In 1999, Tim Haines created the six-part miniseries Walking with Dinosaurs for the BBC. It was a revolutionary production, approaching a dinosaur-oriented TV show from the angle of a natural history documentary. This meant omitting the “talking heads” and treating creatures like the Coelophysis, Diplodocus, Liopleurodon and Tyrannosaurus as if they were naturally-occurring lions, rhinoceros or meerkats. It has since spawned many spin-offs and unrelated shows following in its colossal footsteps. Now, the beasts walk onto the big screen in this feature-length 3D outing.

Set around 70 million years ago during the late Cretacbeous Period, an Alexornis bird named Alex (Leguizamo) tells the story of his friend, Patchi the Pachyrhinosaurus (Long). Patchi is the runt of the litter, spending most of his childhood getting shoved about by his older siblings. He has a run-in with a pack of toothy Troodons, resulting in him gaining a distinctive hole in his crest that never fully heals. Patchi has an intense rivalry with his rather unpleasant older brother Scowler (Stone) and develops a crush on Juniper (Sircar), though he can’t work up the courage to tell the female how he feels about her. The Pachyrhinosaurus herd embarks on a migratory odyssey, the obstacles in the way including forest fires, iced-over lakes and the frightening predatory Gorgosaurs.

Many of us had a “dinosaur phase” as kids and while the film is clearly aimed at the pre-teen-and-younger set, the opening framing device in which an uninterested teenager (Rowe) reluctantly tags along with his uncle (Urban) and sister (Rice) to go on a dinosaur dig appeals to the older members of the audience to open up to the wonderment. Said framing device proves largely unnecessary, but the rest of the film is well-constructed and makes for an effectively sweeping adventure. The trailer caused some concern among fans of the original series that it had become “Talking with Dinosaurs”. Technically, the dinosaurs aren’t talking per se, with the voice actors providing voiceovers and expressing what the animals would have said if they could talk.

Walking with Dinosaurs 3D was filmed on location in the wilds of Alaska and New Zealand, with all of the animals created using computer-generated imagery. There’s a bit of a pedigree behind the scenes, the 3D technology furnished by James Cameron’s Cameron Pace Group and the character animation done by Animal Logic, the studio behind the likes of Happy Feet and The Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’hoole. It is a good-looking movie, the movements and interactions of the creatures sufficiently convincing if not 100% photo-realistic. The iridescent blue scales of the Gorgosaurs and the red and yellow feathers of the Troodon are particularly striking touches of colour. Stereoscopy is put to good use, the environments fairly immersive and particulate matter like ash, smoke and snow floating off the screen. We also get novel moments like a pterosaur’s slender beak poking out of the screen and these never get intrusive.

Surprisingly enough, the screenplay by John Collee with additional dialogue by Gerry Swallow is witty and lively, the film establishing a non-threatening light-hearted mood yet handling the detours into moments of drama and peril with a sure hand. Alex is a one-bird Greek chorus, a comic relief sidekick, narrator and provider of colour commentary all in one. He even breaks the fourth wall on occasion, rewinding the film to revisit a funny moment. The character has the full potential to be fingernails-on-the-blackboard unbearable, but John Leguizamo gives the “early bird” so much personality with his vocal performance that it works. Also, look out for the trio of pterosaurs who provide some inspired physical comedy.

Patchi is a protagonist we’ve seen many times before, his underdog status, the Cain-and-Abel struggle with Scowler and the romantic comedy-esque “meet cute” with his sweetheart Juniper all well-worn tropes. However, the combination of the high-quality animation and Justin Long’s voice work make it very easy to root for Patchi and to get invested in his journey. Yes, there are moments of silliness and scatological humour but we certainly didn’t expect to be able to go along with the movie as easily as we did. Also, Karl Urban as a palaeontologist makes him a literal Dr. Bones. Heh.

Jerry Seinfeld once said “there’s no such thing as fun for the whole family”, but perhaps Walking with Dinosaurs 3D comes pretty close. It’s never boring and it isn’t cringe-inducingly juvenile. Yes, it does have shades of The Land Before Time and Disney’s Dinosaur, but it fuses just enough educational content with exciting, eye-catching imagery. At one moment, the action pauses so Alex can present an infographic in which he describes the vital statistics of the Gorgosaurus to the audience, but he can’t take it seriously because he fixates on the otherwise-fearsome dinosaur’s comically miniature arms. For a serving of light thrills, 3D novelty, a good number of laughs, a tug or two at the old heartstrings and a side of paleontological knowledge, take the tykes on this walk.

SUMMARY: Eschewing the documentary format for an adventure-driven narrative, Walking with Dinosaurs 3D isn’t an earth-shatteringly original spectacle but it is a harmless, enjoyable 87 minutes at the movies.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Wednesday, December 11, 2013


For F*** Magazine


Director: Alan Yuen
Cast:        Andy Lau, Gordon Lam, Yao Chen, Hu Jun, Ray Lui, Kenny Wong, Michael Wong, Grace Wong, Terence Yin, Oscar Leung, Vincent Sze, Sammy Hung, Patrick Keung
Genre: Action, Thriller
Run Time: 118 mins
Opens: 12 December 2013
Rating: NC-16 (Violence And Drug Use)

A popular subgenre of videos on YouTube is known as the “supercut” – short clips from various movies all on the same theme, spliced together. Jukka-Pekka Bohm posted his “There’s a Storm Coming” supercut, demonstrating just how many films have employed an oncoming storm as an omen that something serious is about to go down. Terminator, The Dark Knight Rises, Donnie Darko, Skyfall, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King and even Night at the Museum have had loaded warnings about oncoming meteorological phenomena. Granted, that last one was said to a monkey. Judging by all the time-lapse footage of storm clouds rolling over Hong Kong we’re treated to in this action thriller, Andy Lau’s about to find himself caught in the mother of all storms.

Lau plays Lui Ming Chit, a no-nonsense, by-the-book Senior Inspector with the Hong Kong Police Force. A posse of crooks headed by Cho Nam (Hu Jun), notoriously good at evading capture, pulls off a daring armoured car heist in broad daylight. An ex-convict and former high school Judo rival of Lui’s named To Sing Pong (Gordon Lam) continues to tussle with Lui, though in an attempt to prove to his girlfriend Yin Bing (Yao Chen) that he’s reformed, he eventually agrees to act as an informant within Cho Nam’s crew. Lui has another man on the inside (Patrick Keung), whose autistic daughter he is godfather to. The spate of crimes masterminded by Cho Nam and his ruthless associate Paco (Ray Lui) continue to escalate as Lui finds himself breaking the rules he’s lived by as a cop and endangering those he cares about in his pursuit of justice.

Firestorm has everything we’ve come to expect in a crime action thriller: shootouts, fisticuffs, car chases, pyrotechnics, all that jazz. It is to writer-director Alan Yuen’s credit that even though we’ve seen all of this before, the film he’s crafted is far from boring or overly-familiar. He proves himself more than capable of generating suspense and getting the viewer invested in the proceedings, aided by some very exciting and downright impressive action set pieces choreographed by industry veteran Chin Ka Lok. The climactic firefight which violently turns Central into a veritable warzone brings to mind the finale of Michael Mann’s Heat, and the car chase through narrow alleyways leading up to it is reminiscent of John Frankenheimer’s Ronin; these are very flattering comparisons to draw.

There is a decent story underneath of all this, the main theme being how much those who do police work for a living put on the line, and to what end. The relationships between Lui and his informants are weaved in a sufficiently engaging manner, though there definitely is a tendency towards melodrama evident in the connections he has to both characters: Sing Pong is his schoolmate and the movie even opens with a flashback to the two throwing down on the Judo mat in school, and once Lui’s vulnerable goddaughter appears on screen, it is made very clear that the film is going down the predictable and somewhat distasteful route of imperilling a child to add to the stakes. The film’s weakest scene is a confrontation between Sing Pong and Yin Bing, the woman in his life, who pleads with him to leave his life of crime behind or there can be no future between them, all as the score swells in the background.

Fans of Andy Lau will know he cuts a great figure in police uniform and the role of Senior Inspector Lui is right up his alley, Lau playing down his leading man charm and delivering an intense, laser-focused performance. Gordon Lam’s “wrong side of the tracks” character is arguably even more compelling than Inspector Lui, always just missing out on his chance at redemption. Hu Jun is entertainingly smug as a conniving master criminal who enjoys toying with the police but doesn’t become a moustache-twirling villain – Ray Lui takes care of that. Yao Chen’s Yin Bing has a propensity towards being whiny and gets in the way a lot, but her frustrations with her significant other certainly are understandable.

A gripping action thriller that rises above being just another run of the mill genre entry with well-staged set pieces and strong lead performances, Firestorm’s dips into melodramatic territory and its frequent use of “dramatic echo” flashbacks is easy to forgive. There’s heavy duty ordnance deployed throughout, with the bad guys favouring grenade launchers, myriad cars get flipped over, chunks of debris fly towards camera to justify the 3D post-conversion (we saw the 2D version; apparently the 3D print won't be available in Singapore) and yet, there’s enough of a human element in addition to the blockbuster fireworks.

SUMMARY: Andy Lau catches fire in this robust thriller; the high-octane action beats making up for its slight lack of dramatic subtlety.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Friday, December 6, 2013

Jackie Chan: Global Action Hero

As published in Issue #47 of F*** Magazine.



By Jedd Jong
Jackie Chan has become synonymous with eye-popping daredevil stunts, a penchant for combining physical comedy with fisticuffs and having broken darn near every bone in his body for the sake of our entertainment. The ever-spry 59 (!) year-old multi-hyphenate headlines Police Story 2013, out this month, and has earned the title of “international superstar” not just in terms of his fan base around the world but also in terms of the sheer number of varied locales in which he has made movies. While his films have employed cultural stereotypes more than a few times, they’ve also taken viewers around the world Jackie-style. F*** takes a brief look at the trail the Asian Hawk has blazed around the world.

Who Am I?

The climax of the 1998 film Who Am I? involves an amnesiac Jackie Chan sliding down the side of the Willemswerf Building in Rotterdam, completely unassisted. No wires, no green screen, just Jackie Chan performing one of the most dangerous stunts of his career. We suspect he alternated between cries of “whee!” and “ahh!” Earlier in the film, he uses traditional wooden clogs found in a street market as improvised weapons.


The Myth

In 2005’s The Myth, Jackie Chan plays an archaeologist haunted by visions of what may be his past life as an ancient Chinese general. He visits Hampi, a village in the Northern Indian state of Karnataka and the former capital of the Vijayanagara Empire, named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In this portion of the film, Jackie appears alongside Bollywood actors Mallika Sherawat and Ram Gopal Bajaj.

The Accidental Spy

In 2001’s The Accidental Spy, Jackie Chan plays exercise equipment salesman Buck Yuen, an everyman who through a seemingly random series of events gets caught in an international web of espionage. His journey takes him to Istanbul, Turkey, in search of a bank. He watches a performance of whirling Dervishes, gets attacked in a Turkish bath and chased through a bazaar clad in nothing but a towel – which, of course, he eventually loses.

Police Story 4: First Strike

In Police Story 4: First Strike, also known as Jackie Chan’s First Strike, Chan Ka-Kui goes from tracking down a stolen nuclear warhead in the Ukraine to sunny Gold Coast and Brisbane in the Australian state of Queensland. The missing device has been disguised as an oxygen tank and hidden in the UnderWaterWorld aquarium at Moolalooba on the Sunshine Coast. Where in the aquarium? The shark tank, of course! Not only does Jackie Chan take on one of nature’s most fearsome predators, he also engages in exciting underwater kung fu action. Also, witness Jackie Chan get the seal of approval:

Wheels on Meals

Jackie Chan and Yuen Biao play cousins who run a food truck in Barcelona, Spain. And that’s the least random part of this 1984 comedy that also stars Sammo Hung. Jackie Chan and Yuen Biao also try to throw someone off the roof of the Sagrada Família, a cathedral that has been under construction since 1882 and is still awaiting completion. See Jackie Chan on a skateboard! Experience Spanish biker gangs making trouble for our meal-vending cousins! Witness the infiltration of the villains’ castle!

Rush Hour 3

A common trend in movie series is that a sequel will invariably go foreign, and this was true for the third film in the Rush Hour franchise. Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker got the chance to both be fishes out of water in the French capital, running afoul of a police officer played by Roman Polanski.  Several other Jackie Chan films were filmed in France, including Armour of God and the recent CZ12, but it was in Rush Hour 3 that Jackie got to have a swordfight with Hiroyuki Sanada in the Jules Verne Restaurant that spilled out onto the exterior of the Eiffel Tower.

The Karate Kid

Jackie Chan was closer to his home turf in the 2010 remake of The Karate Kid (more accurately titled Kung Fu Dreams for its Chinese release), but it still counts as an exotic locale to the American audiences for whom the film was primarily made. Jackie Chan plays Mr. Han, analogous to the Mr. Miyagi character immortalised by the late Pat Morita. It ended up being one of Jackie’s finest dramatic performances. In place of a bratty Ralph Macchio is a bratty Jaden Smith, and the numerous training sequences showcased the Chinese landscape as much as Jackie’s martial arts prowess.

The Medallion

The Medallion is certainly far from Jackie Chan’s finest hour, but we like to think that he had an epic pub crawl or two while on location in Dublin, Ireland. As a Hong Kong cop partnering up with Interpol in search of a child with mystical powers, Jackie didn’t get to duke it out with a leprechaun (alas) but with Julian Sands. Dublic Castle and Dunluce Castle were among the locations chosen, though the castle interiors were shot on stages in Thailand.

Armour of God II: Operation Condor

The Armour of God films give Jackie Chan the chance to play an Indiana Jones-esque adventurer for hire, and the 1991 sequel was mostly shot in the North African nation of Morocco. In Armour of God II: Operation Condor, Asian Hawk is tasked with retrieving 240 tons of stolen Nazi gold, and his quest leads him to a subterranean base. He also finds wheelchair-bound villain Adolf (Aldo Sambrell). Prop Moroccan money went missing on the set, and Moroccan officials accused the crew of counterfeiting, resulting in Jackie serving a three month stint in jail.

Pretty much all the rest of his movies

For the last destination on our itinerary, let’s take a look at Jackie Chan’s birthplace: Hong Kong. Jackie’s personal politics have become very controversial as of late, but that’s not what we’re highlighting here. Few have been able to present Hong Kong on screen like the martial artist and he has made full use of its unique urban landscape in staging stunts and action choreography. He’s hung off the side of a double-decker bus by an umbrella in Police Story, fallen off the roof of the Hong Kong Convention Centre in New Police Story, clambered on the underside of a roller coaster track in Ocean Park for Rob-B-Hood and ran buck-naked through the streets alongside Chris Tucker in Rush Hour 2. His wax figure is also undoubtedly the star attraction at Madame Tussauds Hong Kong.