Tuesday, December 24, 2013

This Week in Rankings

I've been rolling along with my Johnnie To and Hong Kong Cinema series Running Out of Karma over the last few weeks, taking some fun detours into the work of the Hui Brothers and late 80s Girls with Guns movies. This month I've reviewed Tsui Hark's Working Class, Michelle Yeoh in Royal Warriors and Corey Yuen's She Shoots Straight in addition to Johnnie To's third feature Seven Years Itch and a revisit of his great 2012 film Drug War.

I've also recorded a bunch of podcasts since the last update. The second of our John Ford episodes on They Shot Pictures, covering his War Movies, along with a extensive two-part year-in-review episode. On The George Sanders Show, we've done episodes on The Hudsucker Proxy and Lady for a Day, Crank and The Victim and Meet Me in St. Louis and A Christmas Tale.

Over at letterboxd, all my lists are updated, with a running account of the Running Out of Karma films (32 as of right now) and a new one for Michelle Yeoh.

I'll have some year-end lists and stuff up here over the next week, covering the best of 2013 movies and also my favorite non-2013 movies I saw for the first time this year. I still have a full week of movie-watching to go.

These are the movies I've watched and re-watched over the last couple of weeks, and where they place in my year-by-year rankings:

Pilgrimage (John Ford) - 18, 1933
Lady for a Day (Frank Capra) - 24, 1933
Meet Me in St. Louis (Vincente Minnelli) - 1, 1944
They Were Expendable (John Ford) - 2, 1945
7 Women (John Ford) - 6, 1966

The Private Eyes (Michael Hui) - 14, 1976
The Victim (Sammo Hung) - 6, 1980
Security Unlimited (Michael Hui) - 18, 1981
Love in a Fallen City (Ann Hui) - 19, 1984
Aces Go Places III: Our Man from Bond Street (Tsui Hark) - 32, 1984

Working Class (Tsui Hark) - 16, 1985
Royal Warriors (David Chung) - 15, 1986
Aces Go Places IV: You Never Die Twice (Ringo Lam) - 20, 1986
Magnificent Warriors (David Chung) - 17, 1987
An Autumn's Tale (Mabel Cheung) - 22, 1987

Final Justice (Parkman Wong) - 25, 1988
In the Line of Duty 3 (Arthur Wong & Brandy Yuen) - 32, 1988
The Killer (John Woo) - 3, 1989
In the Line of Duty 4 (Yuen Woo-ping) - 11, 1989
All About Ah-long (Johnnie To) - 19, 1989

Aces Go Places V: The Terracotta Hit (Lau Kar-leung) - 38, 1989
She Shoots Straight (Corey Yuen) - 29, 1990
The Banquet (Various) - 49, 1991
The Hudsucker Proxy (The Coen Bros) - 9, 1994
Crank (Neveldine/Taylor) - 11, 2006

A Christmas Tale (Arnaud Desplechin) - 7, 2008
Drug War (Johnnie To) - 3, 2012
Leviathan (Lucien Castaing-Taylor & Verena Paravel) - 8, 2012
You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet (Alain Resnais) - 23, 2012
Blancanieves (Pablo Berger) - 30, 2012

It's a Disaster (Todd Berger) - 45, 2012
At Berkeley (Frederick Wiseman) - 11, 2013
The World's End (Edgar Wright) - 13, 2013
Before Midnight (Richard Linklater) - 14, 2013
Drinking Buddies (Joe Swanberg) - 27, 2013
Pain & Gain (Michael Bay) - 29, 2013

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Running Out of Karma: She Shoots Straight

Running Out of Karma is my on-going series on Johnnie To and Hong Kong cinema. Here is an index.

Neither this nor the alternate title (Lethal Lady) capture the film very well. It's a film about family, specifically the kind of family where everyone is a cop. This family just happens to have a lot of daughters and only one son. Joyce Godenzi stars as the new addition as she marries the lone boy, the pride and joy of the family, The Other Tony Leung. Leung's sisters all hate Godenzi, out of jealousy for her crime-fighting skills and the fact that she "stole" their brother. The most vocally disapproving of the sisters is Carina Lau (still recognizable despite some terrible hair, which gets better as the film goes along, and then goes wrong again) and she's also the most aggressively reckless of them as a cop. The family conflict plays itself out as they all fight a gang of Vietnamese gun smugglers led by Yuen Wah (it's unclear exactly what their political motivation is, I think they're still fighting the Communists 15 years after the war ended). Yuen is pretty terrific as a single-minded, bespectacled warrior, though he never really gets to show off his fighting skills (check out Sammo Hung's Eastern Condors for that, he again plays a Vietnamese guy, the final villain in that one, in which Godenzi also makes a memorable appearance).

Director Corey Yuen doesn't stint on the action set-pieces, including a spectacular kidnapping at a fashion show, but the most remarkable scene in the film comes midway through, a birthday party for the mother of the clan, herself a police widow, as we and a couple of the guests know there's been a death in the family, but everyone else does not. The mother, played magnificently by Tang Pik-wan (a Cantonese opera, movie and TV star since before the war, in her penultimate performance), alone knows something is wrong, and as she, and eventually the rest of the family, realize it, the effect is heartbreaking. Yuen doesn't linger on the tragedy to grotesque effect, in the manner of heightened emotional scenes in many other HK action films, but allows it to play out naturally and on a human scale. I do not know, but can only suspect that this is the only girls with guns movie that'll bring a tear to the eye.

Hanging over the film like Chekov's fat man is Sammo Hung, a fellow cop and godbrother to the family who we keep waiting to get involved in the action. He doesn't, letting Godenzi and Lau take the spotlight. He does get the funniest scene in the film, when he approaches a crying Godenzi and pulls out his handkerchief and makes a big deal of wiping and rewiping his nose before offering it to her. (He does get a couple brief action moments at the end, after the ladies have won the day.) Joyce Godenzi appeared in only a few more films, including Tsui Hark and Ching Siu-tung's The Raid and Sammo Hung's Slickers vs. Killers in 1991 before retiring from film. She and Sammo have been married since 1995.