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Saturday, 13 January 2018

The Current Cinema - Supercinephile Barrie Pattison uncovers two new Jackie Chan movies playing the multiplexes

Well he’s done it again, after a thirty-year interval Jackie Chan had two films running simultaneously in down town Sydney again. Forget Tom Hanks. Chan’s the man.

I don’t know that I’d endorse Namiya (Jie Han, China, 2017) for any other reason than Jackie’s presence. He doesn’t appear till the piece is half over and they are playing with the audience having his entrance filmed from the back doing his old man act but the Chan body language is still immediately recognisable.

There’s a weird kind of plot where young hoodlums break into the rich woman’s flat, loot the place and, leaving her tied up and face painted, escape in her car. They then shelter in a deserted grocery store in an area they don’t know and find that the place is bewitched or haunted or caught in a time loop or something. Messages left in the milk delivery box twenty years back start falling through the mail shoot.

Turns out that the place was once run by elderly Jackie who doubled as agony uncle providing answers to life questions people left there.

This gets us into three flashback stories which prove to be related. Characters from one are glimpsed in the others and the letter writers are all connected to the House of Rainbows Orphanage. One is an aspirant musician whose now famous song and tragic fate the kids know. One is an artist obsessed with vindicated Michael Jackson (!) He progresses from daubing murals on the orphanage wall to prestige exhibitions and one is a bar hostess uncertain as to whether she should trust the customer who has taken an interest in her. Finally, the kids write an answer to her letter themselves.
 
None of this is particularly convincing or involving but it is mounted with Barbie Tung’s best production values including some elaborate digital composites - the one of the character bicycling past the Mao portrait in Tiananmen square is particularly striking. There’s a giant pop concert, a fire, a car crash and a few musical numbers. One transition as the light changes on the travelling shot of the shop facade to show time lapse is ambitious.  Throw in beautiful people and OK character bits.

The original Keigo Higashino novel apparently has a following in Japan where it was originally set and filmed. I can only speculate on the connection to Hyun-seung Lee’s Korean Siworae/Il Mare re-made by Alejandro Agresti with Sandra Bullock as The Lake House, all using this same letters across time format.

If you’re not a Jackie Chan completist or you’re someone who misses out on all the local references, with which the piece appears to be liberally studded, this one is at best a curiosity.

More interesting while still less than essential viewing is Bleeding Steel written and directed by  Leo Zhang/Lijia Zhang (2012’s cop movie Gei ye shou xian hua/Chrysanthemum to the Beast ). It kicks off with officer Jackie having to choose between rushing to the side of his leukaemia-victim daughter and his orders to join the squad giving Witness Protection to scientist Kym Gyngell from Callan Mulvey's phantom cyborg who is using the shiny black body armour  guys to blow up cop cars when not operating his digital space ship. They do manage to stage a few bits of action where our senior citizen hero can actually look as if he’s participating.

Well ten years later, the daughter has grown up to be Nana Ouyang who has only blurred flashbacks of her dad while she studies in Sydney where an unscrupulous author Damien Garvey (the Jack Irish films) has bought copies of her therapy sessions to use in his best seller book being plugged on TV by a giggly underclad blonde presenter Anna Cheney (McLeod’s Daughters) - a fine cross section of Australia’s own on display here.  His idea of fun is the transvestite in the scarlet stockings that it’s the security guy’s turn to feel up. Guess what? This one is not what she seems.

Enter menacing Tess Haubrich and shiny suit goons for some more biffo which puts Jackie on the roof of the Opera House for a spectacular but could be longer routine. Comedian romantic interest Sho Lo (Mermaid)  hoves into view with a speed boat.

Turns out that now teenage Ou-Yang is the living embodiment of Gyngell’s research, prized by Mulvey in spooky make up but protected anonymously by Jackie (one of those familiar obstacle routines of his great years). His decorative cop partner Erica Xia-Hou gets into the action showing some nice moves.

Jackie Chan atop the Sydney Opera House, Bleeding Streel
To perk this one up, it has the novelty of being filmed in Sydney, making it the third of Jackie’s Australian ventures. Glimpses of Sydney Town Hall, Sydney University, familiar street corners and the Opera House jostle studio constructions. The fluoro-coloured graffiti vice quarter slum where Ou-Yang repeatedly kicks the black mugger in the nuts is going to baffle anyone who is getting used to familiar sights.


What plays like dialogue balloons translated into sub-titles adds to the effect of the manga imagery making this a kind of weird entertainment. I’ve seen worse.

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