Wednesday, March 28, 2007

[HKIFF] Ming Ming (明明) (World Premiere)

Nana and Ming Ming

Ming Ming is a very stylized movie, but that's not to say it has more style than substance. Unattainable love and infatuation play central themes in Ming Ming's world, one which contains fantasy martial arts elements, set in today's contemporary era. The titular character played by Zhou Xun cuts a willowy figure, dressed in black with her long dark tresses. One night she casts her eye on D (Daniel Wu), a street fighter whom she falls in love and spends a night with.

D, on the other hand, is an elusive lover. With secrets of the past which he seeks to unlock, he's never committed, giving out a promise to whoever can fetch him 5 million dollars, and with whom he'll travel to Harbin with. This sets in motion an entire chain of events, starting with Ming Ming stealing the money and a secret box from Brother Cat (the singer Jeff Chang, who has long been away from the public eye).

On the other hand, Ming Ming's friend Ah Tu (Tony Yang) is also infatuated with her, and chances upon Nana (Zhou Xun in her second role), with whom he brings along in their escape from Brother Cat's thugs, and whom too is also in love with D. Confused? Don't be, as Nana is distinctively different from Ming Ming, from hair and outfit (loud and garish) to mannerisms, not forgetting the languages used.

In fact, the movie can be renamed Nana, as this character had more screen time than Ming Ming, as we explore the unrequited love by so many characters in the movie. Love and its different incantations are put up on display, even parental ones, as the plot slowly unravels to its surprise ending. There are some zen like dialogue and moments in the movie, such as being able to be with a person even for a moment, is better than not being able to at all. And this is especially true for Ah Tu, even though he's with someone who resembles, and not with the actual person. I thought Nana and Ah Tu had the strongest storyline and the best character development, naturally so because of the screentime devoted to them.

Accompanying the superb story are both the music and action. The soundtrack is an eclectic mix and fusion of various influences, from electronica to jazz, and the theme used for chases is particularly catchy. Given that it adopted a fantasy martial arts style, most of the fights, especially Ming Ming's, were given distinct looks. Ming Ming's especially, is one adopted from flicking explosive projectiles at her enemies, while D's style is quick, brutal, and very short ranged. Plot elements from such fantasy movies, like mini quests, and the seeking of treasure, are staples too in the movie.

The filming style used is also a mixed bag, with repetitions, quick cuts and flashbacks the norm. It might require a little time to get used to, typically those used in fights. By the time you get through one or two action sequences, you'll be clamouring for more. Savour those moments, as they actually come few and far between. There are many "poser" moments as well, which gives the movie a certain "sexy" look as characters preen and pose when they deliver their dialogues.

I guess I'm fortunate to have caught this movie here, in its original language track, as compared to having to watch the dubbed Mandarin version back in Singapore if it gets played. Key languages used - Mandarin, Cantonese and Shanghainese, provide a certain flavour and utilized to distinguish characters. inevitably the effect will be lost in any dubbed version. Zhou Xun, and Tony Yang too, at times sounded a bit off in their Cantonese diction, but that doesn't mar their performances, in particular Zhou Xun's excellent delivery of dual roles.

For giving a contemporary fantasy martial arts movie a different and refreshing look, Ming Ming will get my vote.


Director Susie Au and the cast and crew, including Zhou Xun, Daniel Wu, Anthony Wong(music) and Veronica Lee (music) were in attendance at today's World Premiere, to introduce the film. Daniel Wu dedicated the evening of the premiere to the director, while Zhou Xun revealed that the movie was 3 years in the making, and joked she was glad that it comes to a finale today as many times director Sharon Au will forget about the passage of time while shooting the film, and the cast and crew had often missed their meal breaks and sleep!

There was also a post screening Question and Answer session, and Sharon Au explained that she was a film buff herself, and so was subconsciously influenced by other films, if any references could be drawn from Ming Ming. She's particularly immersed into the French New Wave, and their narrative approach, and wanted to make a film set outside reality, hence Ming Ming. As a martial arts movie, she needed Ming Ming to have a weapon, and why "beads" and "tan2 zhi3 shen2 gong1" was by chance - they were designing the costumes, and someone brought in a scarf with beads dangling from its ends. Hence it became the weapon of choice for Ming Ming.

Themes of Time and Fate make up the movie, and this was brought out through some of the techniques used, like a particular 1 second shot repeated over many times, to extend the feeling of that duration, as well as to accentuate the notion of Fate, that 1 split second decision can change a lot of things.

Susie Au also explained that the 3 years taken to make this movie was nothing to do with the creative process, but from external circumstances, and laughed when someone asked if there will be a director's cut - there will be, but it's not done yet, she joked.

Zhou Xun was asked if it was difficult playing two roles and to speak in different languages, and she shared that since the two roles of Ming Ming and Nana were completely different and at different ends of the spectrum, it was not so difficult. However, they shared similarities like their pursuit of happiness, and the character development that Nana undergoes. Zhou Xun too had acted in a prior movie before this which was in Cantonese, so it wasn't too difficult this time round in using the language.

Finally, someone asked Daniel, who plays the object of affection for both lady characters, what sort of girls he would prefer - that of Ming Ming or Nana, to which he side-stepped and said that in an ideal world, he would want to have both!

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