Friday, August 11, 2006

[FOCUS: First Cuts #4] Crazy Stone

Now Where Should I Hide It?

So far, the FOCUS: First Cuts series of movies have been rather mediocre. Taiwan's The Shoe Fairy was rather plain, Hong Kong's I'll Call You was concentrated too much on its effects, and Singapore's Love Story was just awful. The three aforementioned movies lacked a compelling story to tell, and I was holding my breath on how a movie titled Crazy Stone will present itself.

I bought into it, hook line and sinker, within the first ten minutes. The opening scenes were a class act in editing, presentation, with a mixture of humour, and wastes no time in introducing the ensemble characters of the movie - an ex-cop turned Chief Security Officer, his Toto-fanatical sidekick, the arrogant crony of an unscrupulous real estate developer, a skirt-chasing photographer, a trio of bumbling crooks, and a professional thief who just has no luck.

Directed by China's Ning Hao, Crazy Stone is one heck of a heist movie with deft touches in presentation. Never too flashy with its special effects, or repeating its non-linear narrative technique too often, it just about presents itself almost perfectly, keeping the audience constantly engaged throughout the movie. I can't finger a dull moment in any scene actually, and the real reward is when you pay attention to the little details, as these will be used at some point to deliver that awaited punctuation to the story. There're plenty of irony infused, which somewhat brings about certain pleasure in recognizing them. The sets are beautifully urban, and at times just plain ugly - the toilets just have to be seen.

The casts are a joy to watch, and although relative unknowns, they bring out just about the best in the story, which is something like a Spy Vs Spy, cat and mouse, cloak and dagger game between the protectors of a piece of valuable jade, and the crooks who want to steal it for the various motivations they have. The story's akin to the guessing game of correctly selecting which cup amongst three, is a coin hidden under, once the cups are shuffled randomly with sleigh of hand, and to the characters, presents itself like a huge maze, set to an eclectic soundtrack.

I don't get the opportunity to watch that many Chinese films (and here I mean those made in China), and I'd say that if this is how a heist movie can beat, in my opinion, some of the fare that Hollywood churns out in the same genre (not that they were fantastic, but I enjoyed them nonetheless), then I would be eagerly waiting for another Chinese movie from another genre proving itself to be amongst the best. This movie doesn't look expensive, and it's an apt reminder that it almost always boils down to the quality of the story, to make it a hit with a viewer.

As with the other First Cut movies, a touch of Andy Lau is included, and though he did not star in a cameo here, his song "Wang Qing Shui" was featured in part (I believe twice) in the movie, though only in passing, but enough to ID it.

Looks like his venture with these 6 films has uncovered a gem, and I'm secretly hoping the remaining films in this series - Malaysia's Rain Dogs (Yasmin Ahmad in a role you know?) and Hong Kong's Parental Guidance, will also prove to be as entertaining, and refreshing. Crazy Stone will go into my list as a contender for one of my favourite movies of this year. It's a pity it's only screening at ONE theatre in Singapore, so make every effort to watch it, soon!

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