Monday, August 27, 2007

Report from the Jacky Cheung concert

Normally, this post would start with pictures, but they were so strict about people taking pictures at the concert that I'll just have to avoid posting any to avoid any possible legal action.

Because it's getting late, so I'll just write this post in the following format:

3 best things about the Jacky Cheung concert:

1) The singing - why else would you go to a Jacky Cheung concert? The dancing? Actually, that was pretty good too.

2) The hybrid musical of Snow Wolf Lake and Perhaps Love - Don't worry, it's not a spoiler, he tells you the first chance he gets that he's doing it, and it's been all over the Hong Kong papers. This is basically a 30-minute musical that blends songs from the stage and film musicals. It's a great idea to incorporate the Perhaps Love songs because he gives the film so much energy with his voice alone, so watching him do those songs live was quite amazing. Plus, the idea of a mini-musical within a concert just shows how much thought Jacky put into the this concert.

3) Stage design - the organizers decided to give away less seats (9000 instead of the usual 12,000) for a three-sided stage that makes the Hong Kong Coliseum look even smaller. The show felt very intimate, and this way, Jacky got to face all of his audiences. However....

3 worst things about the Jacky Cheung concert:

1) The audience - where to start? The average age of the audience was on the middle-age side: around 30-50, and apparently that generation has never heard of clapping. There were some very enthusiastic audience towards the second half, but the people around me just flat out didn't react. Some people even just spent their time watching the monitor, even when the man is within 50 feet of them, just to see how pretty his makeup is up close. Why don't they just save some cash for the DVD and give the tickets to those that really need it? Did someone point a gun at them and said "go watch Jacky Cheung sing or I'll shoot you?" And this audience was realistic as hell - as soon as Jacky gets to a song they don't know, they rush to the bathroom in droves. This was especially obvious during the transition to the mini-musical, when it seemed like at least a hundred people moving around the Coliseum. Then people started to file out before the 45-minute encore section started (the concert started at 8:20 and ended at 11:30, which might be bad for a weeknight), and half the place started emptying before Jacky even left the stage. He had this "oh, well, I'm used to this shit" expression on his face, but I couldn't help but feel sorry for him. Now I know why first shows and last shows sell out so quickly - first shows are for real devoted fans, and last show is to go overtime with songs everyone wants to hear, making everyone happy. My show was right in the middle of the tour, and I picked this date for personal reasons, not because I didn't care.

2) Audio volume level - maybe I'm getting old, but I was literally left with ringing ears after a section of fast songs. This can't be healthy, and I don't even think it's supposed to be normal.

3) Men in black and blue - the organizers were extremely strict about taking pictures and video recording. So strict that they had big men in black clothes and their better-dressed blue counterparts walk around the Coliseum at all times. When they catch someone, the men in black would approach the offender and shine the flashlight in his/her face. Sitting from above, this was incredibly distracting, and honestly a pretty bully-like thing to do. I can understand the no-videorecording rule; they have DVDs to sell. But the other show I've been to this year at the Coliseum (the Denise HOCC Ho show) was nowhere near this strict with picture-taking. It's not like spoilers here would destroy anyone's enjoyment - it ain't Harry Potter, people. Anyway, the real big complaint was how distracting they are, because their actions nad mannerisms just catch so much attention to themselves. What happened to giving free publicity?

Honorable mentions

Starting on time - Usually concerts at the Hong Kong Coliseum start at least 15 minutes late, and I mean that by starting all the warnings at least 15 minutes, which means the artist doesn't start singing until 25-30 minutes late. However, Jacky promised that this one would start on time because he wanted to pack as many songs as he can before getting penalized for over time. And he started promptly at 8:22 (the ticket says 8:15 and they started the warnings at 8:10) and ended at 11:32. I definitely got what I paid for (although those poor bastards that left didn't...).

My seat - I didn't change the seat because the seating chart on the ticket website indicates that I would be facing the stage head-on. Instead, I'm on the left side of the stage looking down, so Jacky's not even singing at me at least half the time. Worse yet, I paid the second-most expensive tickets just to not be able to look at the big screen behind him. And the real worst thing - I couldn't see Jun Kung live because he was drumming in the back of the stage. But still, I saw Jacky's face very clearly when he comes to our side of the Coliseum, so I'll let it go.

All in all, I had a very good time. This was a concert I've been waiting all my life to see (I've missed his America shows), and Jacky is an amazing performer in person. I would watch it again if he decides to end the tour in Hong Kong. This time, I'll pay for better seats, hoping for a better audience there.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Lazy Songwriting, or More Songs for Your Buck?

I was listening to Hins Cheung's latest album (honestly a little disappointing, but more in a later review elsewhere), and I'm reminded of an annoying trend in pop music. I'm not a music student (playing the trumpet in middle and high schools doesn't count), so the best way I can explain it is the use of two separate melodies for one song. For example, let's say a song builds a certain atmosphere in the verse, but the chorus (really the most important part of a pop song) suddenly changes into a different melody that seems to be from a whole different song.

Some songs do manage to pull this off well (Bohemian Rhapsody is a prime example), but when it doesn't, it shows either the songwriter got stuck with a chorus and couldn't think of a proper verse, or vice versa. Either way, when it happens, it takes attentive listeners out of a song, and I'm personally quite sick of it. Today, I offer examples from the different pop worlds I listen where this happens.

Hong Kong:




Thursday, August 23, 2007

Blood Brothers, or How I Will Learn to Write a Fuller Screenplay

There are certain things you learn in film school, especially about writing screenplays - three-act structure, character arcs, good and bad guys, things like that. Some of these show up quite obviously in Alexi Tan highly-anticipated (in some circles) feature-length directorial debut Blood Brothers, and some of them are desperately missing.

Supposedly somewhat based on John Woo's Bullet in the Head (John Woo and his producer Terence Chang are producers on this), three country bumpkins go out to Shanghai to make it big working under notorious gangster Hung (quite well-played by Sun Honglei). Of course, something tears these lifelong friends apart, and a lot of blood will be shed.

When I review a movie, I think about expectations, as in what the film is trying to achieve. Rush Hour 3 is a crappy movie, but at least it doesn't even strive too much for any type of artistic quality, and it's entertaining enough. Not entertaining enough to earn any recommendation, but I digress. Blood Brothers strives to be a very serious and affecting drama about brotherhood and loyalty, but its pretensions is what kills it. The mood of Blood Brother is very gloomy, almost to the point of screaming "look at everyone emote! Get nervous, some important characters will be killed! That's right, feeeel the sadness from my elegant dark violin leitmotif!" But characters are underwritten and the film just simply breezes by some important plot points, undermining its storytelling.

Simply said, It was very easy to see when the screenplay was being written, it was written to get to the plot points that separates the three acts, along with fillers that comes between it. The film lacked fluid progression, and was even strangely episodic, considering it's only 95 minutes long.

Don't even get me started on the actors - No matter how you mess with the hair or what kind of clothes you put him in, Daniel Wu is miscast as the moral compass, and Liu Ye is now the young master of overacting. Unlike Wu, who's forced to be the boring central character who gets to lecture everyone about morals, at least Liu actually seems to have a bit of fun, as is Sun Honglei. Chang Chen plays the character that stands out the most, but his role, which is bigger than the trailer suggests, is again so underwritten that he simply seems to give up in the end until he gets to hold a gun and be a badass motherfucker. Some actors will manage to survive this, but I doubt anyone's status would be elevated by this film, including Woo and Chang.

I suppose the best way to summarize this is to imagine Woo trying to emulate Wong Kar-Wai. This is your run-of-the-mill John Woo brotherhood film without the action, and we know that Woo's worst directorial trait is doing drama. If Tan really wanted to live up to the Woo/Chang name, then lighten the hell up, man. I honestly wasn't expecting much, and my instincts was sadly way too right on. That lowered expectation itself is what prevented Blood Brothers from being the disappointment of the year.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

General observations of Hong Kong - part 1

Hong Kong people would've probably taken photos of it anyway, with or without that "Welcome to take photo" sign.

Relying on English to live in Hong Kong might not be a very good idea.

Taking a cross-harbor bus into the heart of Causeway Bay in the middle of the rain? Not even the traffic cops can help you.

Going to movie locations when the Typhoon warning no.8 signal is hoisted will get you nowhere. Really, everything except restaurants and movie theaters were closed.

There ARE ways to improve on durian. That's a durian crepe. It was delicious. My breath stunk for the rest of the night.

A spin-off, you say?

Welcome to this spin-off blog for The Golden Rock. I've thought about this idea for a while, and realizes that the daily entries for the original blog were getting way too long because of extra things that weren't news aggregation. Since this writer just made a pretty big move to one of the most active cities in Asian films, I figure it would be an opportunity to cover it more.

So The Golden Rock will stick to news aggregating, while the blog will cover more on reviews and observations of life in Hong Kong and possibly film school here as well. It won't be daily, but I hope it'll be worth reading.

Oh, and the title would explain where the name of The Golden Rock comes from as well.