East Meets West 2011 is an update in tone of Jeff Lau’s 1993 film Eagle Shooting Heroes, a classic comedy film that boasted a huge cast (many of whom were borrowed from Wong Kar-Wai’s Ashes of Time, which was running over budget and needed another film to be made with the core cast to balance the books!) and has become one of the mainstay comedy films due to the crazy and energetic feel to the picture. East Meets West 2011 takes inspiration from that, transports the reincarnated gods to modern day, and adds super hero trappings and some philosophical discussion into the mix. And though it isn’t non-stop zaniness, it is still a good time and is one of my favorite recent Hong Kong films.
While Eagle Shooting Heroes/Ashes of Time are largely based on Jin Yong’s Condor Heroes trilogy, East Meets West 2011 instead takes from another of Jin Yong’s wuxia works, Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils. The eight major characters known as the Eight Heavenly Dragons are based on the eight races of non-human entities described in Buddhist cosmology, called Tianlong Babu (天龍八部) the “8 kinds of beings that protect the Dharma” The Eight Races are the Deva, Nāga, Yaksha, Asura, Garuda, Kinnara, Gandharva and Mahoraga. Tianlong 天龍 means Heaven Dragon, but can also translate to deva-nāga “Devas and Nāgas”, the 2 highest categories of tianlong. The lower 6 categories are: yecha 夜叉 “Yaksha; cannibalistic devils; nature spirits”, gantapo 乾闥婆 “Gandharva; half-ghost music masters”, axiuluo 阿修羅 “Asura; evil and violent demigods”, jialouluo 迦樓羅 “Garuda; golden bird-like demons that eat dragons”, jinnaluo 緊那羅 “Kinnara; half-human half-bird celestial music masters”, maholuluojia 摩睺羅迦 “Mahoraga; earthly snake spirits”. And, yes, I ganked all that from Wikipedia.
Jeff Lau’s films are almost always crazy awesome, and he’s very good at bringing Western elements into his work. Lau’s films often look more advanced than their counterparts from the same year, and hold up much longer than normal. His vision can take the simplest tale and give it a grand scope. Even the title of East Meets West 2011 shows the clash of Western and Eastern styles, with the Eastern gods taking up Western super hero visuals in a modern Hong Kong, while still being connected to the ancient past and Jade Emperors and all that jazz. Even the music comes from both the West and East, with a remake of Happy Together used several times, as well as a redo of the James Bond theme (this might be one of the first times I’ve heard the score legitimately used in an overseas film, as I’ve been spending too much time watching old genre films that have been ripping it off wholesale), but also Karen Mok songs.
It is almost impossible to discuss parts of this without spoilers, so I am declaring this review SPOILER FILLED. Don’t come crying to me if you keep reading and everything is ruined.
Sammi (Karen Mok Man-Wai) – Sammi is the burnt out non-love-believer who spends her day doing effects makeup at a haunted house where her father works. But things change when she meets Charles and this whole being an immortal thing happens. Sammi transforms into Ashura. Karen Mok has never looked more glamorous than when she’s flying around in Heavenly Dragon mode. Karen Mok pulls off the awesomely beautiful super hero outfit, as well as the schoolgirl outfit, and the goth outfit, and the normal attire. See Karen Mok in Task Force and Haunted Office.
Kenny Bee (Kenny Bee) – Kenny Bee plays Kenny Bee as Kenny Bee. And his involvement in his former band the Wynners is a plot point. He’s Sammi’s dad and is married to Scarlet. Kenny transforms into Naga.
Wen (William So Wing-Hong) – Wen is a super cabbie who wants to be actor, and spends the film trying to convince people of his acting skills and critiquing other actors. Wen transforms into Garuda.
Jade (Tan Wei-Wei) – A wannabe singer from an affluent family, Jade has an antagonistic relationship with her abusive and philandering father, and is often seen covered with soot. Jade transforms into Deva. Tan Wei-Wei is a singer who gained fame winning a televised singing competition.
Bing (Jaycee Chan Cho-Ming) – Bing transforms into Mahiraga, whose randomly determined form appears as deformed heroes from Hong Kong cinema: a one armed swordsman, someone from the Buddha’s Fist movies with a giant leg, and a hopping vampire. Jaycee Chan is also in Tracing Shadow.
Scarlet (Crystal Huang Yi) – Scarlet is a half crazy, fashioned obsessed spoiled young bride of Kenny, who was a classmate of his daughter Sammi. The two women have an antagonistic relationship because of this. Scarlet often is wearing different expensive and elaborate fashions. Scarlet transforms into Gandharva. Huang Yi is also in Treasure Inn.
Da Xiong (Ekin Cheng Yee-Kin) – A mute bun maker perpetually covered in flour. His wife has left him and his son, Xiaofang. Da Xiong transforms into Kinnara. Ekin Cheng is also in Future Cops.
Charles (Eason Chan Yik-Shun) – Charles is a ruthless hairdresser turned businessman. Can anyone melt his heart of stone? Charles transforms into Yaksha. His ever-present secretary is played by Stephy Tang Lai-Yan (All’s Well Ends Well 2011 and Nobody’s Perfect)
aka Kei hei hup aka Kung Fu Cyborg: Metallic Attraction
2009 Directed by Jeffery Lau
Jeffery Lau declared he wanted to do Chinese Transformers, and have his robots be “the incarnation of Oriental wisdom and strength.” Okay. Lau is no stranger to science fiction, as anyone who has seen A Chinese Tall Story can testify. Kung Fu Cyborg was originally titled Robot, then the title was turned into the easier to remember Metallic Attraction: Kung Fu Cyborg. Except for when it was called Kung Fu Cyborg: Metallic Attraction! Or just Kung Fu Cyborg. D’Oh! So we’ll just call it Kung Fu Cyborg when we refer to it, even if we slip up later. Just ignore the slip ups. They are not the droids you are looking for.
This is a long movie, approaching Korean standard of length. One could easily trim 30 minutes and it would do nothing but help the film along. The length is because it seems like two movies smooshed together, an origin story and a second story. Unfortunately, that means things will be dragging. And dragging. And lots of side plots happen. And it takes forever for the freaking robots to do their robot thing. Which is sort of why I watched the movie in the first place. Before this introduction gets as long as the pre-robot fight scenes in Kung Fu Cyborg, let’s just get to the Roll Call!
Xu Dachun (Hu Jun) – Xu Dachun is a tough cop who wants to get out of his small town and be a famous big town cop. Instead, he has to babysit a robot who moves in on the girl he loves. Then he dies and gets robotted himself. Tough break.
K-1 (Alex Fong Lik-Sun) – K-1 is just your average robot cyborg disguised as a normal human sent undercover to work as a police officer while secretly using his powers in very obvious ways that should blow his cover 5 times a day. But they never do because everyone in the film is crazy. Good for the film. Alex Fong Lik-Sun was on the 2000 Olympics swimming team and is a singer. Don’t confuse him with Alex Fong Chung-Sun, who I now realize I have seen almost 2 dozen of his films.
Zhou Sumei (Betty Sun Li) – A police officer in the small town who takes a shine to K-1. But Dachun likes her already, thus leading to a love triangle. Further love triangle problems are because K-1 is not allowed to love. Basically, lots of love problems, none of which is resolved by giant robot fights. I didn’t realize I knew who Betty Sun Li was until I remembered she was in a music video with Rain that my wife has watched 1000 times on Youtube. She rescues animals and wrote a book called Take Me Home: The Stories of I and Stray Animals.
K-88 (Wu Jing) – aka Chen Long, a rogue robot who will give the few lines of philosophical mumbo-jumbo the film tries to pass off as in depth commentary on man’s place in the universe. And he fights, thus we get action!
Xiao Jiang (Ronald Cheng Chung-Kei) – A local teacher and computer expert who has a crush on Sumei. Ronald Cheng is pretty famous considering his smaller role.
Zhou Suqing (Gan Wei) – Sumei’s sister who was off in college and thus not in part of the film. Spends most of the film with her hair covering her face. This is Gan Wei’s first acting role, but she did marketing work on films like CJ7, Warlords, and Red Cliff 2. Gan Wei also rescues animals like Betty Sun Li.
Lin Xiang (Eric Tsang Chi-Wai) – Eric Tsang spends most of his scenes looking like he is a millisecond from crying, which is an odd acting choice. Okay. Lin Xiang is the dude who invents all the robots for the government and in charged with making sure they don’t go all Skynet on the general population.