FILM DIARY: The Untold Story 2 (Andy Ng, 1998)

A sequel in name only to Herman Yau’s memorable 1993 Cat III picture THE UNTOLD STORY, which features a powerhouse performance from Anthony Wong, THE UNTOLD STORY 2 has virtually no relationship with Yau’s film – other than the presence of Anthony Wong in the cast. Though the film’s promotional artwork, and certainly the DVD cover, might suggest Wong is playing a cannibalistic cook similar to the ‘Bunman’ of the first picture, the reality is far different. In THE UNTOLD STORY 2, Wong plays a minor character, an indolent police officer named Lazyboots. It’s a walk-on, walk-off role, certainly overshadowed by the major player in this film, Paulyn ‘Alien’ Sun.

Sun plays Fung, the mainland cousin-in-law of Cheung (Emotion Cheung) who arrives in Hong Kong to work at the family-owned restaurant. The clientele of Cheung’s restaurant are equal parts police and triads. Anthony Wong’s character, Lazyboots, offers some comic relief; like many HK films of this era, THE UNTOLD STORY 2 depicts the police as clueless and utterly impotent.

From their first meeting, it is clear that Fung is besotted with Cheung. Fung is charming and loyal – everything Cheung’s unfaithful, unpleasant wife, Fung’s cousin, is not. However, Fung is also a raving maniac, something which is revealed gradually to the audience and then to Cheung: we realise the depths of Fung’s depravity when, in retaliation for anti-mainlander abuse thrown at her by a customer in a shop, Fung follows the woman into a public lavatory, douses her in paint and sets her alight. Outwardly polite and deferential, Fung is also secretly murderous.

Played wonderfully by the beautiful Alien Sun, in a performance that oscillates between absolute naivete and savagery, Fung is a deceptively complex character. Certainly, her dedication to the put-upon Cheung makes her somewhat sympathetic, though as the narrative progresses her violence escalates, and as the film heads towards its climax Fung descends into full-on ‘bunny boiler’ mode – with the final sequences of the film paying homage to the likes of Adrian Lyne’s FATAL ATTRACTION (1987) and Curtis Hanson’s THE HAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE (1992). However, arguably the film is largely sympathetic to Fung: we see the prejudice that, as a mainlander, she faces from the Hong Kongers, who subject her to namecalling and ridicule her. On the other hand, Fung’s deadly behaviour in some ways seems to legitimate the Hong Kongers’ fear and distrust of mainlanders: the film seems to suggest that these two factors become self-validating, leading to a spiral of antagonism between the two cultures.

‘I am the last woman in your life’, Fung tells Cheung as the film nears its climax. But when the deadly Fung is played by the incredible Alien Sun, who can make the most murderous character utterly beguiling, if you were in Cheung’s place would you mind?

Viewing Notes. Watched via the Chinese Universe DVD release, which contains a non-anamorphic presentation (1.85:1) and runs for 90:35 mins.

FILM DIARY: Hard Boiled (John Woo, 1992)

HARD BOILED is still, perhaps, the Ultima Thule of action films. There are action movies I prefer to it; and certainly in terms of John Woo’s pictures, I have a stronger preference for THE KILLER. However, the action in HARD BOILED is absolutely, spiffingly splendiferous. In fact, the action is so good that on the numerous occasions during which I’ve watched the film since first encountering it via its UK VHS release – which I rushed out to rent as soon as it was available – in the early 1990s, I’ve often found myself soaking up the eye candy, focusing on the spectacular action and forgetting about the plot.

And the plotting, to be fair, is of an equally high standard. There’s cross and counter-cross, complexity in relationships (Tony Leung’s conflicted undercover agent, Alan; Mad Dog’s dislike of the sadistic/nihilistic Johnny Wong), clever parallels drawn between Alan and Tequila (Chow Yun-Fat). The moment in which Tequila discovers the book in which Alan’s gun was hidden during the ‘hit’ in the library always struck me on first viewing as too much of a coincidence, but on reflection, viewing the film 20-something years later, I understand how important this scene is in establishing the bond of sympathy/empathy between Tequila and Alan.

Woo’s use of editing is exceptional, particularly the sharp cross-cutting between scenes to establish parallels of action and character, the use of freeze frames to punctuate moments of epiphany, and there are some incredibly-staged action sequences in which Woo shows his mastery of a screen vocabulary of action developed by Sam Peckinpah – which Woo extends and makes his own. For instance, it’s hard to disagree with the title of the video linked below when one reflects on how Woo achieved this incredible sequence of action in a single long take:

In fact, in the years since HARD BOILED’s first release, Hollywood has increasingly taken Woo’s lexis of cinematic action and attempted to interweave it into its own productions – initially by co-opting Woo into the Hollyweird canon. However, there are arguably no Hollywood action films made since HARD BOILED that are its equal – or, arguably, even worthy of licking its cinematic boots. And that includes Woo’s Hollywood productions.

Most frustratingly, however, is the fact that such a significant and rewarding film, which has a strong fanbase, has never had a home video release that isn’t in one way or another deeply compromised.

FILM DIARY: Blue Jean Monster (Ivan Lam, 1988)

I’d not seen this in an age and had forgotten most of it. Big riffs on ROBOCOP and THE TERMINATOR mixed with some bawdy comedy: Shing Fui-On tests his signs of life, realising he’s come back from the dead, by looking at a jazz magazine that he casually keeps on the bedside cabinet in the bedroom he shares with his pregnant wife (WTF?) than admonishing his penis to ‘get up’ (double WTF?). Then he shocks himself into life by miswiring the electric iron, before the parasitic hoodlum who lives with him (much to the chagrin of Shing’s wife) because Shing saved his life comes in and tries to pull the iron from Shing’s chest; the pair end up tumbling to the floor, and Shing’s wife walks in to see the hoodlum’s buttocks thrusting whilst he yells ‘You excite me’. She naturally jumps to the conclusion that her husband is having a sexual relationship with the hoodlum boarding at their house.

This is riotous fun. I think I’m going to have to put this one in for more frequent rotation in my player.

FILM DIARY: Point of No Return (aka, Touch and Go) (Ringo Lam, 1991)

This is a darker than usual film for Sammo Hung, who plays a wide-eyed innocent, street cook Fat Goose, who gets caught up in street level violence when he witnesses a policeman being murdered by a group of thugs. However, the street hoods are in the employ of a much more wealthy group of criminals who are involved in sex trafficking, abducting young women from mainland China and forcing them into prostitution in brothels – the most regular patrons of which seem to be city officials and high ranking members of the police force. Sammo teams up, largely through accident, with Wan Yeung-Ming, who plays Pitt, the partner of the murdered detective. Sammo also attempts to court Wan’s sister, played by Teresa Mo. The head of the street hoods is played with sinister precision by Tommy Wong.

There’s some humour (Fat Goose persuades his mother that Teresa Mo is his girlfriend, and ‘Goose Mom’ – as she’s called in the subs – makes Mo go through a series of exercises designed to assess whether she would be capable of multiple childbirth), though it’s buried in some bone-crunching violence and a near-persistent sense of threat. Not top-tier Ringo Lam (ie, not on a par with CITY ON FIRE, etc) but certainly a good representation of his middle-tier work.