2011 Written by Erica Li Man and Checkley Sin Kwok-Lam
Directed by Herman Yau Lai-To
To say that The Woman Knight of Mirror Lake was a disappointment would be a sad understatement. The biopic of famed femme revolutionary Qiu Jin is about a remarkable woman in a dangerous time, but the entire narrative suffers through flashbacks and a lack of establishing just what the heck is going on. I am familiar with the history of Qiu Jin because she’s interesting, but I still had trouble following the historical who’s who of revolutionaries, both real and consolidated/fake. Unfocused and scattered, The Woman Knight of Mirror Lake jumps from revolutionary speak to scenes trying to depict how women got it tough to speeches about Chinese patriotism to battle scenes involving people the audience has never met. The zig-zagging prevents a good narrative that we can follow, and the flashbacks serve no purpose and don’t correspond to what is happening in the present. It’s like they read about the narrative technique in a book and decided to do it just because it sounded cool. Herman Yau Lai-To has directed some cult classics in years gone by, but his extreme nature seems to have been neutered for bigger paychecks, and along with that, any attempts to do things creatively.
The Woman Knight of Mirror Lake is a very patriotic film. Most discussions on the ills of society end up running into the narrative that China is lead by weaklings, so that’s why everything sucks. And at this time, China was essentially carved up by foreign powers, humiliated, and reform attempts had just ended in disaster. But instead of showing how the failures justify the repeated revolution attempts (there were literally dozens over the years before they took), we just jump to the next problem of women not being able to travel due to children, or Japan restricting what students can say, or Qiu Jin’s husband being an entitled douche.
Beyond the script not following a story arc that makes it easy to follow, the individual scenes themselves are messes at times. The most notable is near the end of the film where there is an attempted assassination of a local governor. The setup and subsequent fight seems to last forever, and it’s filled with unknown people fighting unknown people. Worst of all, we all know the conclusion, because it was in the beginning of the film! This is like worrying if Obi-Won Kenobi is in any trouble in a Star Wars prequel.
Qiu Jin (Crystal Huang Yi) – Independent female who won’t be caged. Uses her skills at the brush to fight for freedom with essays and poems. Eventually becomes allied with ever more armed revolutionaries and is caught up in the fervor, and captured for execution as a traitor.
Li Zongyue (Anthony Wong Chau-Sang) – Qing official who is present during Qiu Jin’s trial and is an old family friend. Has to reluctantly go along with her downfall.
Xu Xilin (Dennis To Yue-Hong) – Historical revolutionary whose attempts to assassinate a local governor end with the government cracking down on his group with deadly force.
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 Choi San Har Jan aka 財神客棧 aka God of Fortune Inn
2011 Directed by Wong Jing and Corey Yuen Kwai
Written by Wong Jing
Wong Jing scores with Treasure Inn, a blend of action and comedy with just the right ratio for a pleasant viewing experience. Like most Wong Jing movies, Treasure Inn borrows from a variety of sources, the most obvious are the classic King Hu wuxia films that revolve around inns (Dragon Gate Inn, The Fate of Lee Khan, and even A Touch of Zen) Jing makes the most of the sweeping desert landscape and the cinematography and nature shots are among his best work. Jing wisely brought in Corey Yuen Kwai (DOA: Dead or Alive, So Close) to direct the action sequences, giving them the fanciful look that Yuen brings to his projects. But before we get to the inn, we have the journey along the way.
At this point, I’m no longer impressed by opening credits animated in Flash. Luckily, the credits are quickly over, and we jump into the film proper as good guys are slaughtered and villains strike a deal. But let’s meet the cast!
Liu Jianmeng aka Young Master (Nicholas Tse Ting-Fung) – An apprentice cop stuck on laundry and cook duty while the incompetent bully actual police bumble their way through life. Young Master was taught kung fu by his grandfather, who taught him speed is the most important aspect and that true love is worth sacrificing for. Nicholas Tse has been on TarsTarkas.NET in The Promise.
Chen Yungren aka Brad (Nick Cheung Ka-Fai) – Young Master’s whiney friend and partner. Brad has big buck teeth that he’s shockingly using the entire film and not just for a throwaway gag. As the comic relief, Brad is usually horribly injured. Yes, this film has two actors named Nick as the two leads.
Lady Water Dragon (Charlene Choi Cheuk-Yin) – Lady Water Dragon and her sister are reward scammers and thieves. Lady Water Dragon falls instantly in love with Young Master upon seeing him in the prison cell. No one would believe for one second she is a dude, especially with the tiny Hitler ‘stache she’s sporting. Charlene Choi is also here in Protege De La Rose Noire, Beauty on Duty, and Hidden Heroes.
Lady Fire Dragon (Crystal Huang Yi) – Lady Water Dragon’s sister, who winds up with Brad, and the contrast of the two characters’ personalities gives us many moments of merriment. A tough chick not taken to falling in love at first sight to a random guy in jail. Is just as unconvincing disguised as a man.
Wen Wenqie (Tong Dawei) – A wandering doctor who is probably asleep in the ceiling of your house as you read this! Is an expert in kung fu, though always tries the peaceful path first. Wen Wenqie is in love with Yue Linglong.
Yue Linglong (Liu Yang) – Owner of Treasure Inn and badass swordswoman and dancer. Object of Wen Wenqie’s affection, and even Young Master becomes smitten with her. Some of her anctics reminded me of Moulin Rouge, though I don’t know if it was intentional.
Captain Iron (Kenny Ho Ga-Ging) – leader of the Gold Shield Constables, tracking the villain who stole the White Jade Goddess statue and trying to keep Young Master and Brad from getting the villains before he does.