aka 變身 2013 Written by Giddens Ko
Directed by Jeff Chang Machi Action is a hilarious tale of a tokusatsu hero actor who is replaced and must find a new purpose in life. The film will resonate for anyone who has lost a job and struggled through the uncomfortable period of trying to readjust their life to the new actuality. Unfortunately thanks to the Great Recession, far too many of us have experienced that reality.
A unique film in the tokusatsu genre due to the focus on the actors and decisions behind the series, instead of just a parade of easily replaceable teenage heroes. Machi Action covers all the bases, from the lame effects to generic monsters to shows growing stale due to lack of drama and repetitiveness. The visuals are largely inspired from the various Kamen Rider series, with bits of Super Sentai and Ultraman thrown in for good measure.
The success of Machi Action is due to the mix of Tie Nan’s employment struggles and the tokusatsu genre humor. The balance keeps the film grounded enough for you to feel for the character while providing plenty of joke fodder of not only the effects heroes shows, but the entertainment industry in general. 10 years and a ratings nosedive cause Tie Nan to be on the unemployment line, the hero fighting his greatest battle, trying to stay relevant in a world that has moved on. As an ongoing plot thread shows, modern children have changed, and the show’s greatest failure is being stagnant instead of moving with them. People fear change, and it’s all too easy to get stuck in a routine that becomes a rut. But the longer you put off the inevitable, the bigger the pain will be when things are finally altered. Had Space Hero Fly kept up with the times there would have been no danger, but no one looked at the big picture.
The struggles of Tie Nan becomes the struggles of everyone to adapt and change with what life gives you, while still living up to your principles and doing what you believe in. There is always the danger of someone newer and younger coming in to replace you. But don’t give up the fight!
Tie Nan (Wilson Chen Bo-Lin) – Actor who has portrayed the tokusatsu hero Space Hero Fly for the past decade, and soon finds himself without a job. He was born to play a super hero, having pretended to be one as a child to help his sick brother deal with his illness.
Monster (Chiu Yang-Shiang) – Actor who plays all the monsters on the Space Hero Fly show, and best friend of Tie Nan. Opened a noodle shop with his pay. His face is never seen on tv because it’s always under a rubber suit.
FACE (Owodog Zhuang Ao-Quan) – FACE is the new exciting Space Hero actor brought in as Space Hero Face to replace Space Hero Fly and Tie Nan. Is a recording artist and dancer for maximum multi-media penetration.
Jingfen (Chen Ting-Hsuan) – A makeup girl on the Space Hero Fly show who secretly crushes on Tie Nan. They end up together, but his esteem freefall dealing with his home shopping network stint takes a toll until Tie Nan regains his own self-respect.
Su Ying Ying (Puff Kuo Xue-Fu) – Daughter of SUTV Chairman Su and takes over programming after being educated in America. Her first task is to deal with the ratings disaster Super Hero Fly and fix the problems. Hates the super hero show.
Chairman Su Wu Xiong (???) – Owner of SUTV and creator of the Super Hero Fly program. It’s his wish to keep that show on the air to help give the youth good morals to look up to. Has a distant relationship with his daughter after he sent her overseas for education so she’d have a better life.
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)
2009 Directed by Marco Mak Chi-Sin and Francis Ng Chun-Yu
Tracing Shadow hit the scene when a trailer with cool shots floated around the net and got people all exited it was a cool martial arts action film. But it is not a drama, is an action comedy fantasy reportedly inspired by the classic King Hu film Dragon Inn. And it does have some gorgeous shots, but it suffers from some plot weakness.
One thing Tracing Shadow does do that is unique is the use of look-alikes. Jackie Chan, Jet Li, and Andy Lau are all represented by not the actual performers, but by look-alikes. Eventually, more look-alikes show up, and we have a who’s who of Hong Kong celebrities running around, often in multiple instances. If this becomes more common, then we might have modern day versions of Brucespoiltation films! But, I would watch Clones of Jet Li, because, why the heck not? If it has dancing naked girls and bronzemen, all the better!
Let’s get on with the show….
Changgong (Francis Ng Chun-Yu) – A Mongolian martial arts master who gave up the martial world to live a life up peace. But then this hot chick he’s in to keeps getting into trouble, and he’s sucked back in. Francis Ng is co-director.
Xin (Pace Wu Pei-Ci) – A Japanese ninja in China searching for long lost treasure, but instead finds a husband. Pace Wu is a Taiwanese model, actress, and singer.
Jet Chu (???) – Jet here is the look-alike for Jet Li. He’s a criminal trying to find the hidden treasure while not paying any rent. I have no clue who plays him.
Jackie Tang (???) – Jackie Tang is the look-alike for Jackie Chan. He’s another criminal trying to find the hidden treasure while not paying any rent. I have no clue who plays him.
Andy (???) – Andy is the look-alike for Andy Lau. He’s yet another criminal trying to find the hidden treasure while not paying any rent. I have no clue who plays him.
Lord Xu Sanguan (Jaycee Chan Cho-Ming) – Lord Xu owns all the buildings and land in the area because his father set it all up. Likes Wei, but is frustrated by her refusals of his advances. Jaycee Chan is Jackie Chan’s son, thus leading to comic hijinks with the Jackie Tang character.
Wei (Xie Na) – The adopted daughter of Changgong and Xin. She runs their restaurant and cannot read. Her abrasive personality attracts Lord Xu. Xie Na is a popular emcee in Chinese entertainment, her own show is Happy Show, and she is also a television actress.
[adrotate banner=”1″]Tracing Shadow is a wuxia comedy starring Francis Ng and Jaycee Chan. Francis Ng also co-directed with Marco Mak. It looks like it will be released later this summer.
It is the Ming Dynasty and Chaos reigns. There are many Kung-fu masters from different regions that are fighting ruthlessly for a mysterious treasure map hidden inside the Ming palace. Amidst such combat, the map unexpectedly disappeared. Five of the Kung-fu masters trace the map’s location to a small village and there they disguise themselves as ‘ordinary’ people among the villagers in hope of finding the map. Among them are a Mongolian Warrior and a Japanese Ninja, posing as a married couple in the village. On the surface, the five masters are friendly loving neighbours however they are actually very cunning and competitive trying to outdo each other to be the first to locate the map. One day their wealthy landlord reveals that he possesses the map which sparks an explosive chain of events in this once small and ordinary village.
The trailer doesn’t play up the comedy at all, emphasizing the fight choreography, so I don’t know what type of comedy it will be.