The Random Access Information Blog has moved to a new URL address. You can find new posts at:

Saturday, January 30, 2010

REVIEW: Bodyguards and Assassins

NEW YORK, January 30 – Is it me or is Donnie Yen bucking to be the next national hero of Hong Kong? Maybe he’s starting with Hong Kong and shifting to be a national hero of China. It sure seems like it.

Yen’s recent acting filmography includes Ip Man (葉問), The Founding of a Republic (建國大業), and Bodyguards and Assassins (十月圍城). He is also set to release Ip Man 2 (葉問2) later this year. Interestingly these films have all been historically based fictions with an emphasis on individual heroism and valor.

Some film critics argue that Yen is treading dangerously close to Chinese Communist propaganda in his recent pictures. I wouldn’t go so far as to label his films as propaganda, but they are very careful in their handling of modern Chinese history. It’s a soft touch that is not characteristic of the fast paced Hong Kong film industry.

Yen’s current film, Bodyguards and Assassins, tries to carefully reshape Chinese history with varying degrees of success.

The film is mainly centered on the arrival of Sun Yat-sen in 1905 Hong Kong. Sun plans to unite the various rebellious Chinese factions in order to overthrow the troubled Qing dynasty, and the royal court responds with a group of highly trained assassins (ninja?).

Donnie Yen plays a crooked police officer in the burgeoning Hong Kong police department. As a gambling addict, he constantly finds himself broke and desperately looking for side jobs to cover his addictive habit. As a thug for hire, he sometimes takes jobs that are morally questionable. Over the course of the film, Yen’s character has a change of heart and decides to protect Sun Yat-sen with a heroic band of outcasts, homeless, and destitute individuals.

The film can easily be bifurcated into two halves. The first half is the introduction segment which provides the various background stories for each hero and villain. The second half of the film is dedicated to the action packed chase and fighting sequences between the various characters.

The first half is pretty long (almost an hour) and suffers from a lot of pacing issues. It jumps from one character background segment to another character segment without any sense of order or rhythm.

However, Sun’s arrival to Hong Kong changes everything. The tempo picks up and the rest of the film is a high paced sequence of chase and fight scenes. The frenetic nonstop movement is the hallmark of Hong Kong cinema, and the kung-fu is pretty top notch with Yen showing off his amazing skills.

Some of the best acting performances in the film were delivered by Tony Leung Ka-Fai (梁家輝). He brought serious acting chops to the role, but some of his counterparts lacked the same skill. It was like watching a tennis pro play with a teenage amateur.

Eric Tsang (曾志偉) also had a small side role as the police chief. His limited on screen time was funny and delightful. He lightened the mood during some of the most depressing moments of the story.

On a negative note, the film attempts to hand jam a nationalist allegorical message throughout the narrative which I found a little distracting. It wasn’t a subtle nudging… more like a slap in the face. Jeez… I get it: patriotism and equality. I felt like a customer being subjected to some hard selling by a used car salesman.

If you could bear with the long introductory exposition, Bodyguards and Assassin will take you through an amazing journey of unlikely heroes and fascinating villains.

Related Links:

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Wade Explores Commercial Materialism and Japanese Pop Culture

NEW YORK, January 11 – Jeremy Wade performed a mixed dance piece that incorporated interpretive dance and manga artwork called There Is No End to More. The performance was commissioned and performed at the Japan Society.

In his one man show, Wade’s performance playfully straddled the line between cute and horrifying. He focused thematically on the excesses of commercialism and pop culture in modern life. He included many references to Japanese pop culture including robots, ninja, large soul stealing moe eyes, Super Sentai teams, and Tokusatsu.

Wade especially emphasized the Japanese commercial concept called "kawaii". Kawaii is a label used to describe a commercial product that exudes an irresistible cuteness. It has been used to market and promote everything from toys to airlines.

In addition, Wade's performance was integrated with manga style artwork by Hiroki Otsuka. Otsuka, a veteran mangaka, provided the backgrounds for the dance. His works were projected on the back wall of the stage in stark black and white, and Wade danced in front of them. Some of the Otsuka's works were still images, and others were animated clips such as scenes incorporating rain and snow. His work was pretty amazing. Otsuka managed to create very imaginative environments for Wade to explore. His artwork was definitely one of the highlights of the show.

Related Links:

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Curry Hotspots in Hong Kong

NEW YORK, January 12 – CNNgo published my first official foodie article about my favorite curry spots in Hong Kong. Check it out!

CNNgo: 3 places to sate cravings for curry in Hong Kong

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Shingo Katori Talks Somewhat Like Singing [2009 Back Post]

NEW YORK, January 3 – I know it’s the New Year, and I should be posting new material. But, I had a back log of blog articles from the end of 2009 that I never got the chance to post. They were neglected mostly because of time. This is the first article in a series of “back posts” that I will try to fit into the month of January.

On November 21, 2009, I attended a showing of the live Japanese musical named TALK LIKE SINGING at New York University. The production was the brain child of comedic playwright Kōki Mitani (三谷幸喜). Mitani who is known primarily for his Japanese plays penned a playful bilingual musical (Japanese/English) about language.

The story is about a boy who is unable to speak but has the capacity to communicate through singing. The child draws national attention, and a group of scientists try to help the child learn proper speech and pronunciation. In the end, the whole group realizes that the boy’s singing is not a disability but a gift.

Besides Mitani, the big draw of this play is Shingo Katori (香取 慎吾) who plays the leading role. Katori is a huge pop idol in Japan. Having first entered the public eye with his role in SMAP, Katori remains a hugely popular figure in Japanese culture. According to many in the audience, his role in the production seems to be the primary reason for most of the show’s hype.

Katori’s performance was pretty decent, but he seemed to struggle in the English parts. On the other hand, his co-stars were very entertaining, and their comedic timing was amazing. I especially enjoyed Shinya Niiro’s (新納 慎也) parts. He played the comedic relief who commented on the scene from the outside breaking the fourth wall. Niiro delivered every comedic remark with a touch of sarcasm and played it beautifully.

Mitani has plans to take the production to Tokyo in 2010.

Related Links: