Saturday, April 26, 2014

Craft Corner : Making Laserdisc Covers

Well, this is as craft orientated as A Hero Never Dies is ever likely to be anyway!

A huge part of the never ending appeal of the laserdisc format is it's glorious artwork. If that is missing as it was for these discs I got a while back from Kingwho?, then it's just not the same. It's still all kinds of cool, but I NEED covers for them, otherwise I'm left with an uncomfortable itch I just can't scratch. So how to solve the problem?

While scouring the Hong Kong streets for rare movies and other swag, I came across the vcd release of The Underground Banker, and had the idea of using the cover artwork to fashion a sleeve for the laserdisc. As a vcd cover is roughly square, it should make for a pretty good fit.

I found a photo printing company who do 12" by 12" prints, scanned the cover at a ridiculously high resolution and sent the file, a few days later a tube arrived with two prints. They offered two types of paper, so I ordered one of each to see which looked better. In addition I got some plastic record sleeves via ebay to hold the cover and protect the disc. Here is the result, my "new" Underground Banker LD.

I'm not completely happy with the result, it turns out the vcd sleeve wasn't exactly square, which resulted in the one edge of the image being slightly cropped off. The 12" size isn't quite right either, the print needed to be slightly larger, but the company I used doesn't do the correct size. I was happy enough with it to try again though, but rather than farm the job out I bought this beast of a printer to do my own prints. It will print at the A3+ size meaning 13" by 19", so 13" by 13" is possible which is a much better fit. Not only that but it scans at A3 size, meaning a laserdisc cover will almost fit. The downside is the size of the thing, the printer is huge and the box is about the size of a small barge!

Going into anything like this inevitably results in a few teething problems and the first couple I did myself aren't quite right either. The size is perfect but the paper I used turned out to be not so great, they look good but having used a matt paper they lack a certain vibrancy due to the paper absorbing the ink a little too much. I think I may have been better off with a semi gloss finish, some of which is on it's way, and hopefully that will help create the finished article.

Here are the two I've completed with the printer, Street Of Fury (From the vcd) and Chungking Express (From the Ocean Shores dvd).

If anyone can help me out with vcd cover scans (600dpi should do) for The Private Eye Blues, Sexy And Dangerous, Days Of Being Wild and Happy Together, I'd be very grateful.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Dante Lam's That Demon Within

The closing film at the 38th Hong Kong film festival, Dante Lam's crime thriller That Demon Within sees him re-team with frequent collaborator Nick Cheung. Who recently made the headlines after winning the best actor award at the 2014 Hong Kong film awards for his last movie with Lam, 2013's Unbeatable. Despite Cheung sharing top billing here, it's actually Daniel Wu who takes the lead in Lam's latest, with Hong Kong's "best actor" having surprisingly little screen time.

Dave Wong (Daniel Wu) is a troubled police officer, a loner whose only friend is an old lady he calls granny. Shunted from precinct to precinct due to perceived mental problems, he winds up stationed at a police box inside a hospital. Wong is inextricably drawn into a violent armed robbery case when Hon (Nick Cheung), the cop killing leader of the gang of robbers, is seriously injured while trying to escape the scene of a heist, and is brought to Wong's hospital. Wong unwittingly provides the blood to save Hon's life, who subsequently escapes to continue his brutal work, leaving more cops and innocent bystanders dead. Berated by his peers for having saved the killer, Wong's already damaged and fragile psyche is pushed ever closer to the edge as he sets out to make amends.

That Demon Within is dark, black as night dark. Lam smothers his film in the iconography of death, from the obvious horrific violence to the more subtle references and everything in between, this film drips with it. As a result audiences will inevitably be divided by it. Seriously, look elsewhere for a good time! In spite of a few flaws, That Demon Within is an impressive addition to Lam's filmography. It looks superb, with a heavy oppressive atmosphere generated by the visuals, enhanced by an interesting score. The problems with the film are in the screenplay, the story feels somewhat confused, as though the psychological elements and the narrative were difficult to meld. This is perhaps not surprising given the attempt to mix cop thriller with horror, Chinese myth and superstition with true crime (inspired by Tsui Po Ko, a police officer turned bank robber and cop killer) along with the psychological theme. It's an admirable effort but it lacks the required focus and intricacy to deliver on it's ambition, resulting in a tacked on explanation after the narrative has played out, which doesn't feel quite right.

That Demon Within feels as though with a little more polish on it's screenplay it could have been a great film, rather than the decent effort it is. Once again the use of cg has to be mentioned. I understand audiences demand ever more spectacular sights in film, but really if the cg isn't up to standard then why bother? It takes the audience out of the movie, and almost ruins That Demon Within's hellish finale. That being said Lam's film is great looking, exciting and always interesting, it delivers something that feels fresh, never easy in the cops and robbers genre. It will be interesting to see where Lam goes next, given just how different That Demon Within is to the crowd pleasing Unbeatable, on the strength of this film, I'll be along for the ride.

That Demon Within was released on 18.04.2014 in Hong Kong and on selected screens in the US courtesy of China Lion Film.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Pang Ho Cheung's Aberdeen

Consistently one of Hong Kong's most interesting and diverse directors, Pang Ho Cheung attempts to show a different, more mature side to his work by capturing the soul of Hong Kong in Aberdeen, an ensemble piece based around the Cheng family (featuring amongst others Louis Koo, Miriam Yeung, Gigi Leung and Eric Tsang) which opened this year's 38th Hong Kong International Film Festival.

(Blurb taken from the 38th HKIFF programme) The sleepy fishing village of Aberdeen was where the British landed to take Hong Kong, hence it's Chinese name "Little Hong Kong". Likewise, the Cheng family embodies a microcosm of our city, with its contradictions between modernity and traditions, family and individuality. Aberdeen is at once intimate and sprawling, revealing uniquely troubled characters, from the eldest, the Taoist priest patriarch Dong (Ng Man Tat), to the youngest, the bullied elementary schooler Chloe (Lee Man Kwai). Pang mixes his signature humour with the fantastical, incorporating dreams, the supernatural and other surprises to distinguish this star-studded film from ordinary family drama.

Pang's Aberdeen has much to recommend it, yet somehow never quite feels like the finished article. It has a vibe of the director attempting to address some of the issues critics have with his work, particularly regarding the maturity of his filmmaking. However, (thankfully) he couldn't quite keep his mischievous instincts from occasionally bursting out, making his efforts to appease only partially successful. My issues with the film revolve around the film's structure, which has the distinct feel of a scattershot of random ideas thrown together and then pushed, pulled and moulded until they resembled something approaching a screenplay. This leaves elements of the individual stories having an unresolved feel and the film overall having loose ends. Knowing Pang's work, this could be entirely intentional, but to me, it left the drama feeling a little on the light side and lacking the complexity and depth I think Pang was aiming for.

Before this review begins to sound too negative, as I said, Aberdeen has much to recommend it and the more I've thought about it the better the film has become. The film's main asset is the lightness of touch with which Pang guides it. Considering the vanities and attitudes of the characters, Pang and his actors make them, if not fully rounded, then at least sympathetic and likeable. Louis Koo's Tao highlights this balance particularly well, a potentially hideous character who believes his already bullied daughter cannot be his own as she is so ugly, could have been a disaster, but in Koo's hands he just about gets away with it. A number of previous Pang collaborators make fun cameo appearances, including an amusing as always Chapman To. Pang's visual flair is also spotlighted in the film, with the place Chloe escapes to in her mind being a superbly rendered model of Hong Kong, which looks fantastic on screen. In addition, Peter Kam's excellent score adds texture and highlights to Pang's visuals.

Pang's film could prove to be a tough sell to audiences, neither consistently funny enough to be an out and out comedy, nor dramatic enough to be a full on drama, Aberdeen occupies the middle ground between easily categorised genres. As ever the director delights in subverting expectations and because of this, while I don't think the movie is entirely successful, it's never less than interesting and more importantly always entertaining. Aberdeen draws strength from and delights in being, a Hong Kong film for and about Hong Kong people, and in an age where the majority of Hong Kong movies have more than one eye on the mainland market, it's easy to overlook the film's minor flaws and celebrate it's love for the fragrant harbour.

Aberdeen is released in Hong Kong on 08.05.2014.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Hong Kong 2014

You may have noticed it's been a little quiet for the last couple of weeks around here (not that unusual for the past year or so I suppose, but anyway). The reason being I've been away to my beloved Hong Kong. I did intend to blog from HK, but a number of things conspired to prevent that from happening, including but not limited to, my phone not working for some reason, dodgy wifi connections, exhaustion from pounding the mean streets of Hong Kong for hours everyday, laziness and the fact I was having the time of my life. The photo above shows the gorgeous sunrise as I was flying back, so now that I'm home, let the blogging commence! To paraphrase Hellraiser's Pinhead, "I have such sights to show you"....

First up, sometime tomorrow will be my review of Pang Ho Cheung's Aberdeen from the opening screening of the 38th Hong Kong International Film Festival.

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