Tuesday, February 3, 2009

3 From Sammo Hung

Sammo Hung is a director that I've seen very little from, but one whose work has always intrigued my interest. Without a doubt, Eastern Condors and Carry On Pickpocket were two of the most entertaining movies anyone can hope to make. Sammo not only shines as the star of those films, but his fluid staging of action scenes and rhythmic editing distinguish him as a major talent. Being able to view three of Sammo's film in succession has allowed me to understand more about his auterist tendencies and personal style.

In Pedicab Driver, Sammo is part of a group of rickshaw drivers in 40's Macao. Sammo competes with an over-the-hill baker for the affection of his pretty assistant. This is coupled with another romance between another driver and a girl he accidentally runs over, whose dark secret eventually serves to drive forward the narrative. Always the consummate cinephile, Sammo stages the opening fight scene between two rival rickshaw companies with several ingenious references to Star Wars and the Three Stooges. In addition Sammo displays some incredible moves for someone of his size. Along with Eastern Condors, this film has many impressive action scenes such as beautifully choreographed fight between Sammo and the master Lau Kar Leung, who makes a memorable cameo appearance. Another incredible scene has Sammo running away from the bad guys with his girlfriend in the rickshaw, which makes a highly unusual car chase scene, a staple of Sammo Hung film (an HK action films in general). Later the film changes sharply in tone from a romantic comedy into a brutal tragedy, and it's a credit to Sammo's directorial skills that he pulls it off with aplomb. Worthy of mentioning is the performance of Sammo regular John Sham, who plays argubly the most absurdly evil and slimy villain ever.

Wheels on Meals has the advantage of featuring not only Sammo but his old buddies Yuen Biao and Jackie Chan. The narrative takes place in Spain, where Yuen and Jackie runs a portable fastfood parlor in their pimped out van. Sammo is a private dick who's hired by a mysterious man to search for a mother and her daughter whom haven't been seen for 20 years. Wheels on Meals is a very light hearted affair that uses its exotic setting and its tremendous cast to full advantage. Jackie even gets to show off his mad skateboard skillz. Yuen's father is hospitalized in an insane asylum that looks like a luxury chateau from Last Year at Marienbad, and Sammo shows great sensitivity when it comes to touchy subjects such as mentally insane. Likewise is the theme of prostitution, which is approached honestly and nobly. Sammo gives most of the screentime to Yuen and Jackie who display impressive physical skills but are not in the same league as Sammo when it comes to comedy.

Last but not least is Winners and Sinners, which unlike Wheels on Meals lavish more attention to Sammo and his cast of regulars than to Jackie who plays the minor role. The beginning of the film set up the collaboration between 5 small time crooks as each of them gets caught in various wacky ways. The most surreal of these episodes involve Sammo who tries to rob a house only to discover a birthday party in ambush to surprise the birthday man, which incidentally is Sammo Hung the actor rather than the crook he plays. After getting out of jail, the group forms a house cleaning company. There's a plot involving counterfeit money and a cop played by Jackie Chan who cannot get a break, not to mention various hijinks and gags sprinkled in. Unfortunately the jokes here are rather lame and too silly to enjoy. One noteworthy scene involves Jackie chasing a couple of crooks on his skates and ends in one of the biggest car mega-pilup accidents ever. So I guess most of the credit goes to Jackie who does all the crazy stunts here. There are many cameos from famous figures in the HK film industry such as Yuen Biao and director Ann Hui. This was the first film in which Sammo, Jackie, and Yuen all appeared in.

One thing that I found interesting was that in all of Sammo's films I've seen thus far, he plays characters living on the fringes of society: a convict in Eastern Condors, a pickpocket in Carry On Pickpocket, a petty thief/house cleaner in Wheels on Meals. Also in all three films there's a romantic subplot. One involving Jackie and Yuen vieing for the girl while in the other two Sammo is the man. What's interesting is that Jackie and especially Yuen is very uncomfortable and shy when approaching the girl, Sammo is as suave as they come in front of the ladies.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

A list of films that I treasure the most

1a. Sans Soleil (1983, Marker)

1b. La Jetee (1962, Marker)

2. Eden and After (1970, Robbe-Grillet)

3a. Tokyo Story (1953, Ozu)

3b. Late Spring (1949, Ozu)

3a. The Spirit of the Beehive (1973, Erice)

3b. El Sur (1983, Erice)

4. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927, Murnau)

4. The Double Life of Veronique (1991, Kieslowski)

5. Andrei Rublev (1969, Tarkovsky)

6a. A City of Sadness (1989, Hou)

6b. Dust in the Wind (1986, Hou)

7. L'Eclisse (1962, Antonioni)

8a. Celine and Julie Go Boating (1974, Rivette)

8b. Up, Down, Fragile (1995, Rivette)

9a. In the Mood for Love (2000, Wong)

9b. Days of Being Wild (1991, Wong)

10a. Scorpio Rising (1964, Anger)

10b. Lucifer Rising (1972, Anger)

11a. Still Life (2006, Jia)

11b. Unknown Pleasures (2003, Jia)

12a. The Seasons (1975, Peleshian)

12b. Our Century (1983, Peleshian)

13. Ordet (1955, Dreyer)

14a. Floating Clouds (1955, Naruse)

14b. Yearning (1964, Naruse)

15. Mother and Son (1997, Sokurov)

16a. Last Year at Marienbad (1961, Resnais)

16b. Muriel (1963, Resnais)

17. The House is Black (1963, Farrokhzad)

18. Vive L'Amour (1994, Tsai)

19. Los Olvidados (1950, Buñuel)

20. Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky (1991, Ngai)

21. Edvard Munch (1974, Watkins)

22. I Fidanzati (1963, Olmi)

23. The Terrorizers (1986, Yang)

24. Outer Space (1999, Tscherkassky)

25. The Man With the Movie Camera (1929, Vertov)

26a. Chronicle of a Summer (1961, Rouch)

26b. The Mad Masters (1955, Rouch)

27. The Life of Oharu (1952, Mizoguchi)

28. Faces (1968, Cassavetes)

29. Possession (1981, Zulawski)

30. Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980, Fassbinder)

31. Vertigo (1958, Hitchcock)

32. La Salamandre (1971, Tanner)

33. A Tale of the Wind (1988, Ivens)

34. Looking for Mushrooms (1996, Conner)

35. The Docks of New York (1929, Sternberg)

36. Two-Lane Blacktop (1971, Hellman)

37. L'Atalante (1934, Vigo)

38. Wanda (1970, Loden)

39. Lola Montès (1955, Ophüls)

40. Paranoid Park (2007, Van Sant)

41. L'Ordre (1973, Pollet)

42. Nights of Cabiria (1957, Fellini)

43. Army of Shadows (1969, Melville)

44. Lemonade Joe (1964, Lipský)

45. The Horse Thief (1986, Tian)

46. Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1964, Parajanov)

47. Troll 2 (1990, Fragasso)

48. Days of Heaven (1978, Malick)

49. A Fugitive From the Past (1962, Uchida)

50. Ménilmontant (Dimitri Kirsanoff, 1926)