the mad monk (johnnie to and siu-tung ching, 1993)

The Johnnie To marathon continues with this one, which came between The Heroic Trio and Executioners. (Ching worked on all of these, as well ... he's the stunt guy, i.e. the martial arts director, i.e. wire fu). Probably the key collaborator here is star Stephen Chow (Kung Fu Hustle), a massive star in Hong Kong who later crossed over into U.S. popularity. Rumor is that Chow and To did not get along, although I can't see evidence of this one the screen. But it feels more like a Chow movie than a To movie, which doesn't help me, since Chow's specialty is comedy that doesn't always translate well across cultures. (There is a term for this, Mo lei tau, which refers to the kind of humor, often verbal, that involves nonsense and puns, just the kind of things that don't travel.)

There were a few things I liked. Maggie Cheung is always welcome at my house. The same goes for her Heroic Trio co-star Anita Mui, whose two appearances amount to an extended cameo. Anthony Wong is different than I usually see him (he plays "Nine Lives Beggar"). The less said about the loony plot, the better. If you like these movies, you'll like The Mad Monk OK, I suppose. But I'm giving it 6/10.


music friday: eric clapton, 1974

On this date in 1974, we saw Eric Clapton at the Cow Palace. The opening act was a band called Ross, about whom I remember nothing (they were label mates of Clapton at the time). Clapton was touring behind 461 Ocean Boulevard, which suffered, as every album he ever made after 1970, from not being Layla. Still, it was a good album in the laid-back mode that Clapton eased into around that time, with a hit single in Bob Marley's "I Shot the Sheriff". Clapton was finally off heroin.

For the concert, Clapton almost disappeared. He wore shades and, at least part of the time, a floppy hat. His band:

George Terry - Guitar
Dick Sims - Keyboards
Carl Radle - Bass
Jamie Oldaker - Drums
Yvonne Elliman - Backing Vocals

My memory is that he let Terry take too many solos.

The setlist:

"Smile" - the Charlie Chaplin song
"Let It Grow" - the best song from 461 Ocean Boulevard
"Can’t Find My Way Home" - from his Blind Faith days
"I Shot the Sheriff" - 461
"Let It Rain" - from his first solo album
"Willie and the Hand Jive" - Johnny Otis song from 461
"Get Ready" - 461
"Badge" - the first Cream song of the night
"Matchbox" - the Carl Perkins song (see below)
"Layla" - the biggest disappointment of the night, but you can't bring Duane back from the dead
"Tell the Truth" - also from Layla
"Blues Power" - another from his solo debut
"Have You Ever Loved a Woman" - Layla
"Steady Rollin’ Man" - by his muse, Robert Johnson, from 461
"Crossroads" - perhaps the Cream song most identified with Clapton, also written by Johnson
"Little Queenie" - finishing with Chuck Berry

Derek and the Dominos, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash, "Matchbox":


revisiting vengeance (johnnie to, 2009)

Continuing my mini-festival of Johnnie To's movies, prior to attending an interview with him in a couple of weeks.

I am surprised when I read what I wrote about Vengeance the first time I saw it. I liked it more than any other Johnnie To film I'd seen (that is still true, I suppose), gave it 8/10, but I seemed most interested in noting that it was the first movie I watched on my Kindle Fire.

My opinion hasn't changed over the last six years. Then, I said, "The action scenes (i.e. violence with lots of shooting) are top-notch, and a couple of HK veterans, Anthony Wong and Simon Tam, are good as ever. But it’s French pop star Johnny Hallyday who steals the movie as an aging Frenchman seeking revenge for the murder of his daughter’s family." Hallyday is the key. Without him, Vengeance is just another fine Johnnie To movie. He takes the movie to another level. Hallyday is often called "The French Elvis", which is accurate and a complement, except being the French Elvis is a bit like being the MVP of the 1962 Mets. Still, Hallyday's work here (and in The Man on the Train, which I also liked), makes me wonder once again about something I wrote years ago about The Man on the Train: "Watching this movie, you can't help but wonder, what if the real Elvis had made it through the 70s, what if he'd been rediscovered later in life as a character actor, what if he'd shown up in something like Jackie Brown?"

Vengeance will remind many of Memento, but there is also one scene that recalls Macbeth's birnam wood: