Chow Yun-Fat has a natural cool that he wears on his overcoat sleeve. Most of his iconist
acting comes in a brief look, a reaction, or an eerie calmness in action sequences. He has a career spanning decades,
but Hollywood has only really caught on in the last six or seven years. He's an action star of the highest order.
In his first big break, Chow played Mark in "A Better Tomorrow," a Hong Kong mafia
film from action guru John Woo. The film details the story of how two brothers deal with the murder of their father.
Ho (Lung Ti) is a leader in the mob with his friend Mark (Chow), and they constitute the only
obstacles in the way of an up and comer. So Ho is delivered by the betrayal of the green mobster in training and sentenced
to three years in prison.
Ho's brother Kit (Leslie Cheung) is a cop in training, but they get along fine
until their father is murdered. Kit blames Ho and a deep hatred is born. He wants to bring in Ho, bring him to
justice, in order to receive the promotion he deserves but won't get because he's the brother of notorious underworld
Mark drops into the bum life without the company of his buddy Ho. But notn before
he kills the murderer of Ho and Kit's dad in a bloody, intense action scene in a restaurant. He's wounded and crippled,
but not so much that he can't participate in more blood soaked extravaganzas.
The story is good melodrama at best and campy crap at worst. The acting borrows from all
the bad acting you've seen in the last thirty years, but laces it with cool and bullets. It's hard not to like
the film, although many will try.
The problems of the movie rest squarely on writer/director John Woo's shoulders. His dialogue
is awful and his handling of the actors shows novice skill. But Woo shows his uncanny knack for action
set pieces. "A Better Tomorrow's" action rivals the best of today, particularly the restaurant scene.
Woo improves on his original concept in the sequal, "A Better Tomorrow II." The
three main actors return, all playing the same characters save Chow who takes on the part of Mark's twin, Ken.
I know that twins is one of the worst plot devices ever, but it's the key difference between the film and its predecessor.
Ken is much cooler than Mark, but with the same leanings towards violence and attire.
But what really makes the character better than his twin is the subtle approach and restrained dialogue.
All in all, "Tomorrow II" is the superior in all facets. The acting is toned
down (but still far from perfect), the dialogue is more precise, the plot is better (except for the crazy mentor thing), and
the action is bigger and better.
Kit is on a undercover assignment to crack the crime ring led by Ho's mentor.
Ho is released from prison to work as a plant in the system as well. So they work together to bring down the whole family.
But the mentor's daughter is murdered by his right hand man, prompting his insanity.
He was in New York, where Mark's twin Ken runs a restaurant. Chow speaks some English
for the part, though he sounds super foreign, like it was his power or something. But, he's cool, and you can pretend
to understand and have a good time in spite of that setback.
Ken helps the mentor avenge his daughter's death by taking him in and making him embrace
life again in some of the campiest scenes you can bear. But, it's okay because the whole thing ends in a sweet climatic
The films are best watched in their original Cantonese with English subtitles.
Chow Yun-Fat could not be kept a secret for long, so he came to America and made "The
Replacement Killers" with Mira Sorvino and direction from Antoine Fuqua ('Training Day," "Tears of the Sun").
The plot is simple. John Lee (Chow) is an assassin indebted to Terrence Wei, crime lord.
He is ordered to kill a cop's son because the cop killed Wei's son in a drug bust. He can't bring himself to kill a
child, so he runs. Wei doesn't like it, so he sends his thugs to kill Lee and Lee's family.
Lee goes to get a passport from sassy counterfeiter Meg (Sorvino), but gets attacked by Wei's
men in her apartment. Lee draws his gun Meg brandishes a gun as well. Action ensues.
Wei hires replacement killers to come in and kill the cop's son. An because Lee is a nice
guy and learns of this development, he tries to stop them.
Chow employs his usual subtle expressions and emotions, but he also remembers that he
was born cool and shows us why. It's not an especially demanding part, but he still entertains throughout.
Sorvino is hot and sassy and I like both of those things in a woman, so I didn't have much to
Fuqua goesw through the motions as a director, adding little to the genre and specific piece.
His "Training Day" is much, much better from a directing standpoint.
My other quarrel with the film is that it seems rushed. I could have used more character
development and maybe some new action scenes.
In "The Corrupter," Chow plays Nick Chen, the head of the NYPD's Chinatown gang unit.
Chow's English had improved by this film and he speaks plenty of it. His character is a cliche, but once again, Chow
just plays it so well that you forget.
Mark Wahlberg plays Danny Wallace, the unit's newcomer and the only white cop in a unit
of Chinese cops. Needless to say, he must earn the respect and trust of his fellow cops by proving himself in the line
of duty. It's all too conventional.
At first, we are led to believe that Chen is the corrupter of the title, mainly because
he's an effective cop with loose morals who doesn't like getting his pockets lined with cash by dangerous liaisons.
But we soon learn that Wallace is also suceptible to money, help, and women from the same dangerous liaisons.
The action is thrilling, but it all seems borrowed. Everytime I see an explosion or a
gun fired, I can't help but feel like I'm seeing older action scenes from other movies regurgitated back to me. Director
James Foley ("Glengarry Glen Ross") fails with the action but succeeds by allowing his actors to explore the corners of their
characters and the drama unfolding around them.
Wahlberg and Chow have both been better, but they each put forth the effort in "The Corrupter."
They are not two-dimensional, although the third dimension has been set up by every other cop drama.
Chow Yun-Fat dropped the cool to star with Jodie Foster in the drama "Anna and the King."
Foster if the Anna and Chow is the King. Both of them left their considerable talent in their other pants, because all
of the acting in the film stinks.
In the film, we are treated to awful acting, dreadful directing, tired plot, and the scum off
the bottom of your shoe. There's not a lot to like about "Anna and the King, but you can try if you have around two
hours of free time to waste.
Foster plays an Ameican school teacher who comes to Siam with her pansy son to teach the numerous
children of King Mongkut. But that's about it. Sure, there's a love story in there somewhere, along with a dramatic
sequence of events involving war, but that's besides the point. All you really need to know is that it stinks and you
shouldn't watch it.
The lone thing in the film's favor is the art direction and cinematography. But I'm still
mad at the movie, so I'm not going to talk about it.
Perhaps his best performance came in the Ang Lee's "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." He
plays the role of warrior Li Mu Bai with the same restraint and cool that he plays every role with, but there's emotions underneath
everything he says and every glance he gives, and you can see all of it as though it they your own. That's the
mark of a truly great performance.
Li Mu Bai comes to the village of his friend to bestow him with his sword, the Green Destiny.
He travels with his warrior companion and secret love, Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh). A masked theif steals the sword
in a grand chase scene that culminates in the revelation that Jade Fox, murderer of Li Mu Bai's master, is
behind the training of the theif and the theft itself. But I'll leave the rest for your viewing.
"Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" doesn't quite fit into any one genre. Instead, it's
story contains elements of drama, the old fashioned epic, romance, action, and the kung fu genres. But it does
so effortlessly, letting the seams of each genre blend together.
Before viewing the film, I must warn you. If you cannot accept flying as a skill of a
warrior, you should not watch the film. Without acceptance, the film will come off as petousterous and ham-handed.
With it, it can be the awe inspiring film that it is meant to be. And it does. Inspire awe, that is.
A Better Tomorrow **/12
A Better Tomorrow ***
The Replacement Killers ***
The Corrupter ***
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon ****